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The Tea Party Is Dangerous: Dispelling 7 Myths That Help Us Avoid Reality About the New Right-Wing Politics

It may be fashionable to dismiss the Tea Party and its radical, right-wing pals, but we do so at our peril.

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The personalities of Fox News and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal do more than magnify the Tea Party movement's messages; they are communications strategists that reinforce the movement's themes with cogent framing and clever wordplay, delivered incessantly across all forms of media in their purview and outside of it.

These media figures also function as movement organizers. Fox News targets the individual viewer and activist, repeating Tea Party themes relentlessly and spewing disinformation about progressives and the Obama administration, but also recommending courses of action, such as marching on Washington. Glenn Beck is Rupert Murdoch's community organizer. It doesn't matter to Murdoch how many advertisers Beck loses through his outrageous accusations against progressives or the White House; the deregulatory agenda Murdoch stands to gain through Beck's success with viewers could reap the media mogul billions more than the paltry millions to be gained through advertising on Beck's Fox NewsChannel show. (As the CEO of News Corporation, the parent company of Fox and WSJ, Murdoch's interest in deregulation extends to the financial industry, and just about every other industry in which his personal billions may be invested.)

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal editorial page carries the Tea Party message to elites, via columnists such as John Fund and Stephen Moore, who leverage their own perches at the Journal to appear, in the guise of experts, on television and radio news programs beyond the Murdoch empire.

The relentless repetition of Tea Party messages by Murdoch's minions, be they tropes about deficit spending or allegations of presidential ineptitude, seeps into the non-Murdoch media when they cover the controversies cooked up by Fox and WSJ. Even the New York Times is displaying symptoms of psychological infection, as my colleague Joshua Holland points out.

Progressives have no media structure that parallels Fox and the Wall Street Journal, and the nature of capitalism and for-profit media all but ensure they will not. Just because it features liberal and progressive program hosts and personalities, MSNBC is not a parallel entity to Fox NewsChannel. MSNBC is owned not by a progressive billionaire who seeks to impose the progressive agenda on the world. It is owned by General Electric, an immense corporation (and defense contractor). For GE, MSNBC is a profit center: the ideological bent of its liberal cable newschannel is the result of astute market research. Until MSNBC went liberal, there was a void in the market for a newschannel liberals could call their own.

Neither does the New York Times offer a parallel to the Wall Street Journal. It may have a largely liberal editorial board and op-ed page, but the New York Times is a paper of record for the nation on all manner of subjects whose readership includes elites of all sorts, not just the liberals who take comfort in the columns of Paul Krugman or Frank Rich. The Wall Street Journal, though national in scope, targets readers largely interested in business and finance -- the community that stands most to gain from a Tea Party triumph.

If anything, the media's role in fomenting and organizing the Tea Party movement is the number one reason to regard the movement as serious threat; not one to be used to dismiss it.

2. The Tea Party movement is not an authentic grassroots movement; it's the creation of astroturf groups.

Actually, no. The Tea Party movement began as an authentic grassroots uprising, the result of real, on-the-ground resentment against the government (for the bank bailout), the new African-American president and the falling fortunes of middle- and working-class white people in the devastated economy. Corporate-funded astroturf groups such as FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth saw in this burgeoning resentment the means to undermine progressives and to pave the way for enacting an anti-regulatory agenda that could spell billions in new profits for corporations and the financial industry at the expense of everyday people. And so they got busy, initially organizing the discontented in opposition to the health care reform legislation passed earlier this year.