One Nation Fails to Impress Corporate Media

Thanks to the efforts of independent media outlets like Free Speech TV (10/2/10), GritTV (10/4/10) and Democracy Now! (10/4/10), you may have been able to follow the happenings at last weekend's One Nation Working Together rally. Organized and endorsed by hundreds of progressive citizens' groups, labor unions and grassroots activists, the gathering drew tens of thousands to Washington, D.C., to make the case for jobs, peace and social justice. But the corporate media seemed mostly less than impressed, either ignoring the rally completely or framing it in the shadow of the Tea Party.

The network evening newscasts were mostly uninterested, with NBC Nightly News the only one of the big three to file a report, according to a search of the Nexis news database. The PBS NewsHour did not cover One Nation, though a few weeks prior Tea Party organizer Dick Armey was featured in a long one-on-one interview (FAIR Blog, 9/10/10). And far-right Fox News personality Glenn Beck's August rally in Washington was covered on the NewsHour before it happened (8/27/10) and afterwards as well (8/30/10).

The rise of the conservative Tea Party movement has been the subject of intense, often uncritical media coverage (Extra!, 5/10), so comparisons of One Nation to Tea Party rallies were inevitable. "Liberals Take Their Turn at Rallying," said the Washington Post (10/3/10), describing the event as "the left wing's first large gathering designed to counter the conservative Tea Party phenomenon."

That might comes as a surprise to the organizers of the U.S. Social Forum in June, where thousands of progressive activists rallied and strategized in Detroit (Extra!, 9/10). And it ignores the National Equality March for gay and lesbian rights in Washington, D.C. -- which, by some counts, drew more to Washington than a Tea Party rally in September, though it attracted a fraction of the corporate media coverage (Extra!, 12/09).

The Post continued its comparison: "The rally lacked central charismatic speakers like Beck and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin." This conclusion is typical for a corporate media that treats every Facebook post or public appearance by Palin as if it were inherently newsworthy.

Not all of the corporate media's coverage was dismissive; CNN featured regular reports on October 2, many from correspondent Kate Bolduan--though the network also made sure to give the Tea Party a platform on the subject of One Nation, interviewing National Tea Party Federation spokesman David Webb (10/3/10).

Some of the references to Beck and the Tea Party were bizarre -- an NBC Nightly News report (10/2/10) noted that "thousands of party liberals today borrowed a page from the Tea Party movement, gathering on the National Mall in Washington to try and stir up both passion and Democratic voters." Of course, rallying progressives around the theme of jobs and justice does not exactly require "borrowing" an idea from Glenn Beck; Martin Luther King delivered a rather well-known address on those themes some 40 years ago.

Beck's red-baiting of the rally was woven into some of the coverage. On ABC's Good Morning America (10/2/10), Deborah Roberts asked NAACP president Ben Jealous: "Now, Glenn Beck has said to some of his viewers and listeners on the radio, that among your organizers are Communist Party members and a New York City Democratic Socialist of America. What do you say to that?"

Many news accounts (e.g., New York Times, 10/3/10) concluded that the rally attracted fewer supporters than Beck's most recent Washington rally. That may very well be true, but numbers have never determined how much coverage corporate media devote to a given event. Anti-war protests before the invasion of Iraq, for instance, were massive gatherings that generated little media interest (FAIR Action Alert, 9/30/02, 10/28/02), while somewhat small Tea Party protests or anti-healthcare bill protests have been given abundant coverage. Such coverage helps foster a sense of a protest movement's strength, which has been the media's gift to the Tea Party movement over the past year. It is no surprise that progressive activists were not awarded a similar corporate media platform.