[Update, 5:24 pm Eastern: Audio and video clips from Acosta’s report added.]
CNN’s Jim Acosta continued his network’s bias against tea party protesters on Wednesday’s American Morning by depicting them as “recession raging,” and questioned one participant over her depiction of President Obama as the personification of death: “Do you think having the President dressed up as the Grim Reaper is a little over-the-top?” Acosta then asked, “You think it’s appropriate?” [audio clip available here]
The correspondent’s report on Wednesday was the first in a series titled “Welcome to the Tea Party.” During his presentation, which first aired 39 minutes into the 7 am hour, Acosta followed his network’s model of focusing on the negative depictions of President Obama at tea party gatherings and painting the protests in a negative light. Over 5 months earlier, his colleague Jim Spellman followed the cross-country caravan of the Tea Party Express organization before the massive 9/12 rally in 2009, and zeroed-in on the protesters who labeled the President a Nazi, brought firearms to rallies, or held “outlandish conspiracy theories.” He labeled all these “a dark undercurrent.” Much more infamously, former CNN correspondent Susan Roesgen took personal offensive at a depiction of the chief executive with a Hitler mustache, while three years earlier, she thought a similar portrayal of President Bush was “comic.”
Acosta depicted the tea party as if it were a recipe, a convergence of the “raging” activists and President Obama’s election, and played the clip of his questioning of the puppet-bearing demonstrator [video available here]:
ACOSTA (voice-over): (Protesters chanting, “Kill the bill!”) Take recession-raging conservatives and independents-
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: I think Barack Obama is anti-American.
ACOSTA: Add a Democrat to the White House-
ACOSTA (on-camera): Do you think having the President dressed up as the Grim Reaper is a little over-the-top?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: No, I do not.
ACOSTA: You think it’s appropriate?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: Nothing disrespectful about this.
ACOSTA (voice-over): And you get the tea party.
Earlier in the segment, Acosta did acknowledge that, contrary to the claims of many on the left, the tea parties weren’t engineered events: “[W]e did want to ask three questions. One was, are they for real? They’ve been called ‘astroturf.’ The answer is, they are for real. The other question, should they be taken seriously? The answer to that- well, you can ask President Obama and Martha Coakley. And the third question is, where do they go from here? The answer, nobody knows.”
The CNN correspondent also focused on a potential split in the tea party movement, between the more grassroots-style activists, and organizations such as the Tea Party Express, which is run by a pair of Republican consultants.
ACOSTA (on-camera): There may be leaders in the tea party movement, but nobody is in charge. In fact, rival groups from Washington, D.C. to Sacramento, California, are battling over who will carry the tea party banner, and that fight has some tea partiers feeling hung over.
What do you think is happening at the tea party?
JIM KNAPP, TEA PARTY ACTIVIST: Well, I don’t think the tea party knows what’s happening to the tea party.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Sacramento party activist Jim Knapp fears the movement is about to be hijacked by one of the established parties.
KNAPP: I don’t think there’s any question that the GOP has their tentacles into the tea party.
ACOSTA: (crowd cheers) Knapp points to the Tea Party Express, the conservative bus tour that crisscrossed the country last year. It’s run right inside a Republican political consulting firm. To the right, Sal Russo runs the firm and to the left, Joe Wierzbicki runs the Tea Party Express. Their offices are side-by-side.
ACOSTA (on-camera): Do you think a lot of those tea party activists know that the Tea Party Express is based in an office that’s run by Republican political consultants?
JOE WIERZBICKI, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: I think what you’ll find is at tea party rallies, a lot of those people who are mad at the Republican Party, many of them are Republicans themselves, us, included, you know?
ACOSTA: You’re Republicans?
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And that’s why we at the Tea Party Express endorse Scott Brown.
ACOSTA (voice-over): After spending $350,000 to air pro-Scott Brown campaign ads, these Republican consultants argue the tea party’s home is the GOP.
WIERZBICKI: The people who form this movement need a major political party.
ACOSTA: The movement’s future is on the agenda at the tea party’s first convention set for this week, but even with tea party favorite Sarah Palin headlining the convention, it’s being boycotted by some tea party activists, scoffing at the $550 admission fee.
MECKLER: There wasn’t the kind of grassroots organization that we are, so we declined to participate.
ACOSTA: Despite all that in-fighting, it’s clear that tea party is on a roll. Where it rolls is anybody’s guess.