Anatomy of the Tea Party Movement: The Media

Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit

Some conservative American media personalities have developed a symbiotic relationship with the Tea Party movement. Right-leaning political commentators promote the Tea Parties, generating more anger and passion among their listeners, which in turn generates more fans and listeners, boosting ratings.

The Tea Party concept first gained widespread notice on February 19 after Rick Santelli's infamous rant live on CNBC. Within a few hours, Eric Odom had rolled out a professional website to coordinate Tea Party protests -- with a week's notice -- on February 27 in cities across the country.

Just days later, with the help of major conservative media figures and well-funded "activist" organizations, Odom posted specific logistical information for dozens of Tea Party rallies to take place the following week. The day after the initial February Tea Parties, Odom was ready with to coordinate the nationwide protests on April 15. He and other like-minded Tea Partiers launched full swing into a mass media campaign to promote the Tax Day Tea Parties. Odom appeared on a FOX News panel on April 14.

Long after the rallies died down, the Tea Party phenomenon surfaced in the headlines again during the NY-23 fiasco in which moderate Republican Congressional candidate Dede Scozzafava was forced to drop out of the race after far-right Tea Party activists descended on the sleepy upstate New York district. The Tea Partiers demanded that Scozzafava (deemed a RINO, Republican In Name Only) be scuttled in favor of more conservative candidate Doug Hoffman, a Tea Party favorite. Hoffman was even dubbed the "Tea Party Candidate," especially by FOX Nation, a website launched in March "where all Americans are encouraged to share, discuss, and debate" what they watch on FOX News. The story has earned so much media coverage that "Scozzafava" has become a verb (as in, will other candidates be Scozzafava'd in 2010?), and NY23 has gone from a little-noticed congressional district to become one of the most-recognizable political arenas in the country.

Prominent bloggers Michelle Malkin, RedState and SmartGirlPolitics have been forthright about their involvement with the Tea Party movement, openly promoting and participating in Tea Party events. SmartGirlPolitics was an original sponsor of the Tax Day Tea Parties. Michelle Malkin was openly promoting Tea Party protests before they were named Tea Parties. Erick Erickson of RedState has been an advocate for and speaker at Tea Party events.

Eric Odom, the political strategist who set up websites to organize anti-bailout Tax Day Tea Parties in February, again in April, and throughout the summer, is a self-described political web strategist who runs at least a half-dozen conservative blog sites. In September, Odom launched what he calls a "movement-minded news portal" and "a Huffington Post of our own." In his own words, Odom aims to turn into "the gathering spot for all the news" for their "side" of the issues. Odom was also a key organizer of RootsHQ2009, the conservative political new media conference (the right-side version of NetRootsNation).

Of the three major cable news networks, FOX provided some of the heaviest coverage of Tea Party events. From the early events on, FOX News lionized Tea Party organizers and protesters as "patriots" and "real Americans" who were "standing up" to "big brother."

Coverage of the Tea Party Express bus tour was especially intense. Griff Jenkins, who was embedded by FOX on the Tea Party Express bus tour, literally acted as a cheerleader at Tea Party events. His involvement in and enthusiasm for the Tea Parties was such that Greta Van Susteren felt the need to clarify his role for viewers:

Let me get this straight, Griff, so that the viewers understand. You aren't on this bus; you're following and reporting on what's going on, right? Am I right on that? You're not on this bus?

Jenkins responded that he was not on the bus -- yet. Sean Hannity probably put it best:

Griff Jenkins is having way too much fun.

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