Health Care Mobs = Swift Boat Vets... And the Press Plays Dumb, Again
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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:
- "I did not want to pay on a health care plan that includes the right for a woman to kill her unborn baby."
- "The illegals. They shouldn't even be here. I would ask Congress to do something to send them home, so we don't have to deal with that."
- "Senator, if you wish to be remembered in the Congress by the American people, when you get back there, sponsor legislation that requires every House and Senate bill to be written in a junior high school level."
- "Would you go back to Washington and represent us first as an American and tell Mr. Obama he's an American, and if not, there's other countries."
- "But what about this Guantánamo closure? I don't want these criminals to come over here into our area and then escape and we find that a bunch of innocent people have been murdered. And that's what's going to happen."
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.