NYT Celebrates ‘Grass-Roots Activism’ of Liberal Protests; Smeared Tea Party as Racist Astroturf

February 20th, 2017 9:51 AM

On the front of Saturday’s New York Times, reporters Kate Zenrike and Alexander Burns celebrated liberal “wrath” against Republican congressmen threatening to repeal Obamacare in “Wrath Awaits G.O.P. Leaders During Recess – Liberal Groups Vow to Fight for Health Law.

The positive story was a far cry from the hostility that the Times greeted the original protests against Obamacare in 2009, and the Tea Party rallies that followed – including smears by Zernike herself. From Saturday’s front-page:

As Republican lawmakers prepare to leave Washington for a weeklong congressional recess, liberal groups and Democratic Party organizers are hoping to make their homecoming as noisy and uncomfortable as possible.

But national organizers concede they are playing catch-up to a “dam-bursting level” of grass-roots activism that has bubbled up from street protests and the small groups that have swelled into crowds outside local congressional offices.

Protests against the Republican agenda have become routine since President Trump took office, with momentum building through widely shared videos of lawmakers being confronted by constituents angry over efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, national groups see the recess as the chance to capitalize on that local activism, with a show of might aimed at declaring the arrival of a new, and sustainable, political force -- barely three months after their humiliating defeat in November.

In email alerts, MoveOn.org is mobilizing members to attend town-hall-style meetings across the country, and it has set up a website, ResistanceRecess.com, to help people find them. The site includes a guide to “health care recess messaging.” (“The best and most impactful questions are ones where someone shares their story about what the Affordable Care Act has meant to them or their family,” it instructs.)

Organizing for Action, the political nonprofit group that grew out of former President Barack Obama’s election campaign, has created a “Recess Toolkit” with suggestions on how to effectively ask questions at the events. Last week, the group held an online seminar with members of Indivisible, the most prominent activist organization to emerge in response to Mr. Trump’s election, to coach supporters on how to challenge lawmakers -- in a “civil and respectful way” advised one strategist, according to a recording of the session.

While the left-wing national organizers aren’t being criticized by the NYT, their counterparts on the right and in the Tea Party certainly were when the town hall protests were organized against Democrats and Obama-care after Obama’s 2008 victory.

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The Times's treatment was snide and dismissive. Reporter Liz Robbins included these lines in the first filing of her April 16, 2009 story: "All of these tax day parties seemed less about revolution and more about group therapy. At least with the more widely known protest against government spending, people attending the rallies were dressed patriotically and held signs expressing their anger, but offering no solutions."

(As if the weekly protests against Trump, with their vulgar hats and signs, are masterpieces of intellectual consistency.)

From Ian Urbina's front-page story of August 8, 2009:

The bitter divisions over an overhaul of the health care system have exploded at town-hall-style meetings over the last few days as members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations. Democrats have said the protesters are being organized by conservative lobbying groups like FreedomWorks. Republicans respond that the protests are an organic response to the Obama administration's health care restructuring proposals. There is no dispute, however, that most of the shouting and mocking is from opponents of those plans. Many of those opponents have been encouraged to attend by conservative commentators and Web sites.

The paper’s Tea Party beat reporter Kate Zernike furnished this racist smear in her hostile 2010 book on the movement, “Boiling Mad”:

To talk about states' rights in the way some Tea Partiers did was to pretend that the twentieth century and the latter half of the nineteenth century had never happened, that the country had not rejected this doctrine over and over. It was little wonder that people heard the echo of the slave era and decided that the movement had to be motivated by racism.

Zernike co-wrote Saturday’s story, and as in her front-page story last week on liberal protests in favor of Obama-care, there was no hostility, only tribute.

While complaints about the health care act -- high premiums in particular -- helped elect Mr. Trump, polls show it has become more popular as voters realize that repealing it would mean that an estimated 30 million people lose health insurance.

There are few indications at this point that the conservative base of the Republican Party is mobilizing for action on a large scale during the recess. FreedomWorks, the Washington-based libertarian group that in 2009 nurtured Tea Party groups to rally against the legislation that became the health care act, said it was planning a Washington rally next month to let lawmakers know that there remained significant opposition to the Affordable Care Act.


Several Republicans, including Mr. Trump, have dismissed the pro-health care act crowds as “paid protesters,” not constituents. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, without offering evidence, called the protests a “very paid, AstroTurf-type movement,” unlike the Tea Party demonstrations against the drafting of the health care law in 2009, which he characterized as “very organic.”

The Times Liz Robbins relayed that same “Astroturf” insult from opponents of the Tea Party, but without a “without offering evidence” chiding caveat. Note the difference in tone:

Although organizers insisted they had created a nonpartisan grass-roots movement, others argued that these parties were more of the Astroturf variety - an occasion largely created by the clamor of cable news and fueled by the financial and political support of current and former Republican leaders.

After fawning over ads from “The Alliance for Healthcare Security, a coalition of health care worker unions and other groups,” Zernike and Burns pushed “creative” new anti-Republican activists who are into personal mockery of Republican officials, sometimes involving cupcakes. But they didn’t forget their more traditional social liberal allies:

Planned Parenthood is signing up “defenders” and holding 90-minute training sessions to help teach new activists how to tell reporters and lawmakers their personal experiences with the group’s health services, and what it would mean to lose them.