In the past, major media outlets have given antigovernment 'tea party' protests – like the ones held today – short shrift. Critics say it is because they are out of touch with America.
They came to public squares and parks across the country by the hundreds and thousands on Tax Day, April 15, hoping for nothing less than a second American revolution. Their "tea parties" are part of a burgeoning national movement, they said – a nonpartisan wave of Americans outraged by Washington's profligacy and its intrusion into every aspect of daily life.
And yet ... only a whisper in the mainstream press, they complain.
To tea partyers, the disconnect points up the wide divide between elite media and the population at large. To others, any downplaying of the protests is just a symptom of the broader reordering of the media world.
The hold that a few media conglomerates have held on the dissemination of news is quickly vanishing. Blogs and upstart websites like HuffingtonPost.com are providing a wider array of voices and viewpoints. The decidedly liberal HuffingtonPost, for instance, sent 1,800 "citizen journalists," toting iPhones and laptops, to cover the tea parties. In response to such "competition," traditional newsrooms are beginning to shift their mind-sets, too, using Web-based networking sites like Twitter to try to become more immediate and relevant to people across the US.
In that vein, Wednesday's Tea Party protests are a kind of D-Day for alternative journalism.
"Today is one of those days that may lead to more awareness that this is a great tool and a great way to connect with people," says Jen Reeves, a new media specialist at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. "It's fabulous that more media outlets are looking in and peering in."
The mainstream media have, to some extent, questioned the real grass-roots aspect of the tea-party movement. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called it "astroturf" in a column this week – implying that political and corporate forces lie behind it. Critics say that mainstream and blogosphere ideologues are both acting as "parasites on a populist movement," skewing the truth and overstepping the bounds of responsible reporting in the process.