I've always liked the story, despite the fact that it may be apocryphal, about the brief fascination among the media in the 1980s and early 1990s with groups like the KKK. Supposedly the KKK itself had declined – other white supremacist and neo-nationalist groups were siphoning off members – to the point that one annual Klan rally was attended by only around 100 souls…more than half of whom turned out to be either undercover law enforcement or undercover journalists hoping for a salacious story.

I don't know if that's true, but it isn't hard to believe. The media have a strong interest in crowds of freaks, and they remain interested in such groups long beyond the point at which anyone else does.
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To the public, even among racists, the Klan rated a strong "Who gives a rat's ass?" by the Eighties. But among the media the response remained the same: make sure you get a burning cross picture and a few good quotes about the Jews or something. Journalistic interest in the group persisted beyond its relevance to the point that reporters began outnumbering participants.

Last week in Naples, Florida a group of around 15 journalists showed up to cover a book signing by Witch/failed Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. Exactly five members of the public attended the event, one of them apparently an odd teen who asked her to sign his book on demonology. Having five people in attendance doesn't even qualify something as an event. Basement punk shows can get 50 people to show up with little effort. The average PTA meeting has five times that many attendees. I could do a comedy show in Naples, Florida and get five people to show up.

I understand why the O'Donnell event is of interest to the media while events with larger crowds are not: they want to see the Tea Party Freaks in all their glory. They want misspelled signs, crackpots with guns, old people ranting about the gub'mint, flags aplenty, and some dipshit dressed as Paul Revere.
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Fox News aside, Teabaggers are entertainment for journalists and comedy relief in news broadcasts. The problem, of course, is that the continued obsession with the Tea Party ignores the fact that the Tea Party doesn't really exist anymore. For any number of plausible reasons the people showing up to events in 2009 and early 2010 aren't showing up these days. Tea Party USA is just another hacky activist group – as it always has been, arguably – fronted by dinosaur Beltway insiders like Ralph Reed and Dick Armey. It no longer even has the veneer of a populist uprising. Without the crowds of freaks it's neither entertaining nor a believable front group for a bunch of tycoons. It's just another fad entering its 15th minute of fame, a hollowed out orange peel from which the media are attempting to squeeze the last drop of ratings value. The unfortunate consequence is to further the false impression that the Tea Party continues to be politically relevant.

21 thoughts on “FREAKSHOW”

  • Most of the time the media flit between stories like a kid with ADD and a fresh 8-ball, but with the Tea Party they had dipshits dressed like Paul Revere, misspelled signs, and confused old people dressed in flags for a couple years. I imagine reporting the comings and goings of this group of uniquely American idiots got to be a bit of a habit.

  • media sensation says:

    I would like to see research on media sensations that pop up every so often. To me it seems that stories/events occur, get saturation coverage for 72 hours, then disappear. Why would someone like Witch Lady Christine O'Donnell merit more coverage than say, the deeper causes of the London Riots? It is a little perplexing. Just shows that we want things that we can simply laugh at and say, "hey at least I'm not that crazy."

  • The media circus is just one side of a vicious circle, complemented always by a public that would rather get its news from TV than from print media, that even with TV would rather look at pichurs than listen to pundits making reasoned arguments. Why are otherwise intelligent people driven to chain themselves to White House fences and get carried off in police vans, rather than give orations in the park? It's all to be part of the media's colorful roundup, which in turn serves a public more given to spectacle and visual symbology than abstract intellection. Infotainment! It also sells cars! And pichurs are more fun than dull typeface!

    So Ed, I know the linearity of this medium (verbal discussion) favors a cause > effect logic, but in this case the media adjust to a public who adjust to media who further adjust to…

    ah the ever descending spiral

  • Middle Seaman says:

    The joke is on us. Were we to stop watching, listening or reading our right to Der Stürmer media they would dry off and die. Actually, the real freak show is the media. Surfing infrequently through our Very Serious Magazines and Papers, I feel like grading work by my worst students. Some of the famous writers cannot buy a clue. But then, there are alternatives today, you know.

    The Baggers were always a front for tycoons that are eager to return to the robber barons times. The GOP is replete with haters, harassers, racists and freaks to form several fascist movements. Luckily, test tube fascists have a short shelf life. Too bad that our prez is also freaky.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Back in the day, TV news shows were loss leaders for decades.
    In other words, they didn't make any money, but, in the days before remotes, when people had to get up off their fat asees, they tended to stay on the same channel after watching the news. Hence, while the news shows 'lost' money,' they 'led' into the prime time programming.

    Then, someone decided to infect the news with more entertainment in order to make money. And now, that line long since crossed, you sometimes can't tell the two apart – and every news person knows that the news had better be damned entertaining, or heads will roll.
    The Founding Fathers never imagined that their treasured Fourth Estate would be brought to you with commercial interruptions, and where real news from around the world would get less time than Justin Bieber's new hair style, and what's that crazy Britney Spears up to now? – oh, and here's the latest superhero actor telling you what it was like to get into the shape for the roll, and his dieting secrets.
    The result is voters who are either stupid, ignorant, underinformed, misinformed, or some combination of the above.
    I have more hope for England than for America. I watch BBC America once in awhile to get my TV news, since they're still pretty good at seperating news from entertainment.
    If England had TV news channels like FOX or CNN, those London protesters would never have been covered unless they went rioting in Guy Fawkes outfits.

    Newspapers are dying, so are news magazines, TV news is a vast wasteland, and radio is dominated by right wing yappers. And have you tried to listen to NPR lately? The internet remains my only hope for the future of this country. But, Conservatives are hard at work on that, too, trying to eliminate net neutrality, to benefit themselves and their corporate sponsors.

    What's our future look like?
    Well, I keep telling people that "Idiocracy" was a future documentary – kind of like "1984" looks more and more like a work of non-fiction.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Ooops, in the 3rd paragraph above, it should say, "…the latest superhero actor telling you what it was like to get in shape for the 'role'," not 'roll.'

    Ok, it might be true if the superhero role was Kaiserroll Man, or Eggroll Woman.

  • Who says the Tea Party is gone? All the Faux news needs to do is bring up some stock footage of a crowded TP event in the national mall and, BAM! the revolution has begun again.

  • Last week in Naples, Florida a group of around 15 journalists showed up to cover a book signing by Witch/failed Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. Exactly five members of the public attended the event, one of them apparently an odd teen who asked her to sign his book on demonology.


    I've been telling people this forever, especially now that Michelle Bachmann has the obligatory book deal and Darth Cheney's book is hitting store shelves. These people, especially lesser ones like O'Donnell, are not offered book deals so publishers can make money and so they can sell books. Not at all. The book deal is the entree to spread their message to the media. When a winger has a book deal they are then sent out on a media tour to ostensibly hawk their book but what it's REALLY about is spreading the conservative message, polishing the brand, promoting conservatism. Christine O'Donnell was a big fail on this front because she's a joke but Michelle Bachmann and the others … they're attractive women, they can string three sentences together and not look like total idiots, and they get up there on the talk shows or at the book signing or at the AP interview and basically spread the winger message: government bad! Taxes bad! Democrats and liberals, EVUL!

    It's all about propaganda.

    Now, I ask you this: how many media show up when a prominent liberal has a book signing? When one of Arianna Huffington books comes out, or Markos Moulitsas or David Sirota? How many TV bookings do they get on the cable shows not The Daily Show or Bill Maher?

    The media is fascinated with Republicans and conservatism. I don't know why, I don't know if it's because the corporate media represents the interests of the ownership class or what, but that is the undeniable fact.

  • By the way, I'd love to show up to a Christine O'Donnell book signing and ask the "crowd" how many there were members of the media. And if anyone dared raise their hand I'd ask, "Why are you here? Why do you think this is news?"

    They really have to answer for this, at some point. Perhaps they are answering for it with their dwindling subscribers and tanking ratings.

  • The Tea Party, Inc., is a front company for tycoons who want to lure the masses into deregulating everything, abolishing taxes, eliminating corporate responsibility while maintaining the rights and privacy of corporate "personhood."

    The Tea Party-compatible masses are mostly old, churchy zenophobes — the ones who never fail to show up on voting day. They will overwhelmingly vote for whatever GOP slate TP Inc. sells them. Why bring up new blood when the current Republicans know what's best for them? Why deal with real problems when you can lead the socially regressive masses with buzzwords?

    While their voters froth about their feelings (so far out of date that you can't even call them issues,) the obscenely wealthy get downright perverted with it.

    Where's the media? Please. We have a for-profit media. Who owns them? We know.

  • Think Progress:

    'Tea Party organizing group FreedomWorks is planning to protest a Mitt Romney (R) appearance in New Hampshire this week that is aimed at appealing to the Tea Party. FreedomWorks had been working alongside other Tea Party groups to organize events along a bus tour but dropped out when the Romney event was planned. Said a lead organizer: “We have to defend our brand against poseurs.”'

    Wikipedia on Dick Armey:

    "At the start of 2003, Armey joined the Washington office of the law firm DLA Piper (formerly DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary) as a senior policy advisor.[22] Armey was also the firm's co-chairman of its Homeland Security Task Force.[23]

    In August 2009 Armey was asked to step down from his lobbying position at DLA Piper, which was doing lobbying work for the pharmaceutical industry regarding health care reform legislation. Armey was simultaneously chairing the conservative group FreedomWorks which was actively working to defeat health care reform by encouraging and organizing high conservative turnouts at congressional and senatorial town hall meetings. DLA Piper was concerned about the conflict of interest particularly since their clients were spending millions in advertising and lobbying money to support the passage of health care reform and FreedomWorks was linked to demonstrations at town hall forums where health care reform was being discussed.[24]"

    The tea partiers are too ignorant to realize they are providing free lobbying for the powerful. They are taken off the shelf when they are needed, wound up with the key sticking out of their backs, and set down to quack and waddle in front of the cameras.

  • I stopped watching the idiot box years ago. I feel like Margaret Meade when I visit someone else and the TV babbles on in a corner like one of Orwell's telescreens. It never fails to reinforce the feeling that I don't miss it.

  • Halloween Jack says:

    Well, one way of looking at the O'Donnell book-signing is that the press were there because only five customers showed up; if it had been five hundred, or even fifty, she'd have been just another also-ran who had managed to grift a few more bucks out of the rubes. In a way, she's a whipping girl for everything that the media hates about Sarah Palin, but won't say out loud because a) they're still a little scared of her and b) she can still pull in the ratings and page-hits, sort of.

  • Great points, Ed. But:

    "The problem, of course, is that the continued obsession with the Tea Party ignores the fact that the Tea Party doesn't really exist anymore."

    I realize that I'm possibly taking your quote too far out of context, but I've seen three ads in the last hour or so on CNN pimping their CNN/Tea Party debate. Yeah, the rubes are back at home listening to Rush for the time being, the Tea Party doesn't need them right now. But I'm sure they'll be back when the volume on dog whistles is cranked to 11… Especially if Guv'nor Goodhair actually is the nominee.

    Just imagine that shit and try not to drink yourself to oblivion.

  • My theory is that the 'bagger women, due to the overkill media exposure, suddenly and painfully noticed what every cinema actress always obsessed upon: the camera makes you look fat. I don't think their numbers will return to the '09 levels.

  • In a way, she's a whipping girl for everything that the media hates about Sarah Palin, but won't say out loud because a) they're still a little scared of her

    Yeah, I don't get that one — why on earth is the media a-skeert of Palin anyway? What the hell happened to not picking a fight with people who purchase ink by the barrel? It's a very very weird high-school dynamic going on there, with Saint Sarah somehow the head cheerleader, and the corporate media monkeys acting like a bunch of yearbook dweebs afraid of being disinvited to the Friday night kegger that she was never going to invite them to in the first place.

    Makes you wish they'd just stick to reporting on missing white women/children and impending weather events; it's about all they know how to do anymore without pissing their pants.

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