After Sliming Movement as Racist Brew, NYT’s Zernike Suddenly Likes Taste of Tea Party

February 7th, 2017 8:01 PM

New York Times Kate Zernike made Monday’s front page praising the newly energized anti-Trump left with a back-handed compliment to a protest movement on the other side of the political spectrum: “Tea Party Reveals a Right Way For the Left to Make Its Stand.” That's not exactly what she was writing between 2009-2011, when she took every opportunity to smear the movement as old, white and possibly racist.

With congressional phone lines overloaded and district offices mobbed across the country, it’s beginning to look a lot like 2009.

That year, horrified by a new president they saw as a radical, activists took to the streets under the Tea Party banner to protest government bailouts, then stormed forums held by congressional Democrats to fight legislation that would become the Affordable Care Act.

With methodical door-to-door campaigns in the next year’s midterm elections, the Tea Party ended the careers of some of the nation’s most senior lawmakers. It pushed the Republican Party to the right, stymied the Obama agenda and ultimately paved the way for an outsider to win the White House.

Zernike’s new praise for the Tea Party is a bit much, given that she smeared the group as old, angry racists during her beat coverage of the movement (2009-2011) and in a book, Boiling Mad – Inside Tea Party America. But now that the left is gearing up for protests against the repeal of Obamacare and myriad other anti-Trump grievances, the movement is suddenly a role model.

This year, it is that new president, Donald J. Trump, who is cast as a radical. And as the resistance to him on the left tries to turn the massive protest rallies of the last two weeks into political power, it is borrowing explicitly from the Tea Party playbook. The early result has been the biggest outpouring of constituent anger on members of Congress since the Tea Party’s rise.


There’s some circularity here: The Tea Party loudly borrowed from the left, using as its guide “Rules for Radicals,” by Saul Alinsky, considered the father of modern community organizing. It urged followers to adopt the Alinsky playbook to block health care reform at the town halls of 2009: “freeze it, attack it, personalize it, polarize it,” as one widely circulated email advised.


The resisters insist theirs are more polite protests. “We send thank-you notes to members of Congress after we show up,” said Hillary Shields, a paralegal who helped start Indivisible Kansas City. But the Tea Partyers say they did the same thing.

And like the Tea Partyers, members of the resistance declare that the very soul of the nation is at stake.

Zernike took a jab at the Tea Party’s “uglier elements,” but left out some pertinent information about the spate of post-election Trump protests.

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Resisters want nothing to do with the uglier elements of the Tea Party -- the rallies where politicians were burned in effigy. But they are eager to model its electoral tactics.

“That whole strategy, most of it was legitimate,” said Michele DeVoe Lussky, a small-business owner who recently helped organize Indivisible West Michigan.

Ms. Shields, in Kansas City, said: “They call it resistance, but really it’s just being a good citizen, showing up at town halls, paying attention to legislation, calling your representative. That’s just civics.”

Despite the relatively kind treatment today, Zernike's contemperaneous coverage treated the movement as a frightening throwback.

In August 2010 Zernike wrote: “In the Tea Party's talk of states' rights, critics say they hear an echo of slavery, Jim Crow and George Wallace. Tea Party activists call that ridiculous: they do not want to take the country back to the discrimination of the past, they say, they just want the states to be able to block the federal mandate on health insurance. Still, the government programs that many Tea Party supporters call unconstitutional are the ones that have helped many black people emerge from poverty and discrimination....Even if Tea Party members are right that any racist signs are those of mischief-makers, even if Glenn Beck had chosen any other Saturday to hold his rally [the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech], it would be hard to quiet the argument about the Tea Party and race.”

In April 2010 she let her readers know that Tea Party supporters “tend to be white and male, with a disproportionate number above 45, and above 65. Their memories are of a different time, when the country was less diverse.”

During the heated protests before Congress voted on Obama-care, there were unsubstantiated claims that Obama-care protesters shouted racial slurs at John Lewis, the black congressman. In "Boiling Mad," Zernike claimed the Tea Party had "organized the rally," then blamed the entire group for any possible bad behavior by any individual in the vicinity, something Zernike completely failed to do when talking about widespread violence and property vandalism at the new anti-Trump protests. In fact, her story didn’t mention the criminal behavior at all.

In her book, Zernike got quite righteous about the Tea Party’s responsibility for racism: “It was difficult, if not disingenuous, for the Tea Party groups to try to disown the behavior. They had organized the rally, and under their model of self-policing, they were responsible for the behavior of people who were there. And after saying for months that anybody could be a Tea Party leader, they could not suddenly dismiss as faux Tea Partiers those protesters who made them look bad.”

That looks even more hypocritical now, with Zernike totally avoiding the issue of violence and property damage at left-wing anti-Trump protests.