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Health Care Mobs = Swift Boat Vets... And the Press Plays Dumb, Again

Mini-mob members being treated as deeply important newsmakers is reminiscent of August 2004.

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That confrontation was looped endlessly on television.

But seriously, what kind of voter gets in the face of a 79-year-old U.S. senator and starts pointing his finger and screaming about Judgment Day because the guy's upset about the Q&A format at a town hall meeting? How did any part of the man's pointless tirade qualify as news?

Simple. He yelled! Just look at The New York Times' headline on its blog post about the same Specter town hall forum: "Eruptions at Sen. Specter's Town-Hall Meeting."

There were eruptions, and "questioners did not hide their anger," which meant -- of course -- it was news. (And naturally the man should be invited to rant more on TV.) More important, there were conservative eruptions. Because as a general rule for Beltway newsrooms, when conservatives get angry about public policy, it's news. When liberals get angry (think anti-war), it's annoying. (The Times, by the way, never reported whether any of the town hall claims that day were accurate or not. The paper simply repeated the claims as news.)

Like the Swifties and their fictitious allegations, the fact-free claims of the mini-mobs have been instantly embraced as significant and game-changing events. But what exactly were those "eruptions" about? At the highlighted Specter event, it turns out the "eruptions" and "anger" had very little to do with health care reform.

Here were some crowd highlights:

Reading those, I wonder if Democratic consultant James Carville was too polite when he told Good Morning America that the mini-mob members "don't even know what they're talking about."

But that didn't matter, because The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza announced that the Specter town hall event where the televised mini-mob fireworks exploded had become the iconic moment of the summer:

The back-and-forth between Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter and several attendees of a town hall meeting in Lebanon, Pa., this week may become the lasting political symbol of the summer of 2009: a politician and his constituents standing inches away from one another, angrily debating the merits (or lack thereof) of President Obama's health-care reform plan.

Debating the merits? Really? Because if somebody could point out to me in the transcript where any sustained, informed debate actually took place that day, I'd sure like to see it. To me, the event seemed more like a right-wing radio gabfest, with citizens spouting a collection of repetitive talking points.

It was just a tea party held indoors.

Did anything the Specter mini-mob said that day make sense? Was any of it connected to reality? The Post didn't care. It made great theater. It was news.

 
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