Ana Marie Cox – Media Whore: “I Think That It’s a Wonderful Expression of Democracy – I’m Not Sure If They’re AstroTurfed or Not Myself”

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CNN TRANSCRIPT AUGUST 9, 2009

Teabag-Cox

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Thanks, John. It’s one of the oldest rituals of democracy. Election officials getting an earful from the voters, but a handful of high decibel critics at a spate of town hall meeting on health care reform have turned out to be a magnet for the media. You know how it works. The meeting might be dull, 99 audience members might be civil, but one screamer draws the cameras. You have probably seen some of this footage constantly replayed on television and across the Web.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The cash for clunkers program is —

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You’re lying to me!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That’s right!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you waiting for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don’t have sophisticated language. I recognize a liar when I see one.

CROWD: Just say no! Just say no! Just say no! Just say no!

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: When they could no longer ignore the anti-Obama voters, Democrats began to dismiss them and demonize them as the hired guns of the insurance companies or Brooks Brothers protesters.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: When Hamas does it or Hezbollah does it, it is called terrorism. Why should Republican lawmakers and the AstroTurf groups organizing on behalf of the health care industry be viewed any differently?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now the press trying to unravel allegations that the Republicans have planted some of these protesters and countercharges that the Democrats are trying to discredit legitimate dissent.

Joining us now to talk about the coverage of President Obama’s health plan and whether he’s getting a bit overexposed on television, in New York, Mark Halperin, editor-at-large and senior political analyst for “TIME” magazine, and author of the blog “The Page.” S.E. Cupp, blogger and the co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right.” And here in Washington, Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for Air America Radio and a columnist for “Playboy” magazine.

Mark Halperin, are the media playing up the loudest and the angriest of these protesters to the point where it distorts what’s what’s going on at most of these town hall meetings?

HALPERIN: Yes, it distorts it and it’s also bad for America. I’m embarrassed about what’s going on as an American. I’m not an advocate for any position on the president’s proposals, but I think this is, Howie, something you have written about and seen for years, the lowest common denominator, people taking video that is meaningless.

Yes, there should be discussion. Dissent is fine. I don’t care why the protesters are showing up, but this is a horrible breakdown of our political culture and our media culture to allow people who are going in with the intent to disrupt to become the story. The biggest issue in the health care debate, things like, should there be a public plan, completely ignored by all media and crowded out the discussion by stunts and gimmicks, and the White House has exacerbated it by attacking back on the same style.

KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, Mark Halperin says this is a breakdown in the media culture, but we couldn’t not cover these people, and they do have a right to be heard, don’t they?

COX: Right, they do. And I actually do not think it’s a breakdown of democracy. I think that it’s a wonderful expression of democracy. I’m not sure if they’re AstroTurfed or not myself. I think they probably aren’t, but I think that’s almost a worse sign for the Republican Party.

I think this is actually the death throes of a dying Republican Party, or at least in this forum, and the not sort of the start of something new.

KURTZ: S.E. Cupp, you have to admit, if you want to look at the media’s performance here, that the various outlets, and particularly television, are giving these critics ample air time.

CUPP: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it makes for good TV. But, you know, it’s a really arrogant position.

Anyone on Madison Avenue will tell you, you don’t win new consumers by insulting them. So, it’s really, from a business standpoint, I think a really dumb move for both the liberal media and maybe even the Obama administration to start insulting and criticizing average Americans who have concerns about a sweeping health care program.

KURTZ: How are the liberal media insulting people who are showing up — except to the point where they are shouting down members of Congress and not giving them a chance to speak. That seems worthy of criticism.

CUPP: Well, sure. But when Keith Olbermann calls them terrorists or Paul Krugman calls them crazy, I mean, that’s really dismissive and, like I said, arrogant. You know, there’s a way to talk about the policies and the arguments that they’re making, but the liberal media is making this very personal. They are talking about the protesters, not the protests.

KURTZ: All right.

Let me read a memo that — one of the memos that we have seen in recent days. This one appeared on the Web site of TEA Party Patriots, giving people advice on how to behave at these meetings.

“You need to rock the boat early in the rep’s presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the rep’s statements early. The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down.”

Now, Mark Halperin, you said you don’t particularly care why people are showing up, and obviously some of them are passionate, but it does seem like there’s an effort here by some in the media to say, well, this is all being ginned up by the right wing, and therefore it doesn’t mean very much.

HALPERIN: Again, I could careless less why they’re there. Of course we want a full debate. Of course we want people who have dissenting views from the administration and Congress to have a full hearing. But that’s not what this is about.

That’s not the intent of most of these people. It’s not the way the press is covering it. What we’re having is a freak show display because there’s video on YouTube to talk about the protests, say what cities they’ve occurred in, to show the most violent disruptions or the most antagonistic. There needs to be a debate in America on whether we should have universal health care. There needs to a debate on the president’s ideas.

If these protesters have ideas, great. Let’s hear them. But if they are just stunts to cause a disruption that gets the media tripped in every time, again, I think it’s bad for the country whether you want the president’s plan or not.

KURTZ: OK.

Just stunts, Ana Marie Cox? We love stunts in the media.

COX: I love stunts. And also, I mean, I don’t agree with what — the kind of things these protesters are saying, but I’m appalled that Mark is calling it something other than what it is, which is a raw democracy.

I also think they give us time — we’ll start ignoring them. In the media, we’ll start ignoring these people as much as we ignore Code Pink now. This is actually really interesting in one way, which is that being in the minority and having an unpopular stance has forced the Republican Party into Saul Alinsky tactics.

KURTZ: I’ve covered a million town hall meetings, and often there are — not on this subject, but often there are protesters, and you have to decide, do you give them a paragraph, or do they become the story? Do they then, in fact, hijack the story?

Let me show a few seconds of footage of a town hall meeting in Tampa. This was on Thursday night, where members of the Service Employees International Union showed up, and a lot of people couldn’t get in. It was a big shouting match.

Let me turn to S.E. Cupp.

It seems to me that what we have now playing out on the media battlefield is a fight for the control of the images, and right now the media seem to be conveying a sense that much of America is rising up against the Obama health plan.

CUPP: Well, when they’re covering it at all. Like we saw with the TEA parties, you know, if you read “The New York Times,” they simply didn’t happen. When these are covered by the liberal media, they’re covered in a very, I think biased way.

You know, as someone who writes about liberal stereotypes against Republicans a lot, usually Republicans are called crazy or stupid. Now I think the worst indictment I can find here is that they’re organized. It’s a really sort of, you know, interesting and almost desperate, sort of paranoid-sounding attack.

KURTZ: On the other hand, Ana Marie Cox, you can’t blame the media if some of these protesters seem overly angry or confused, like the woman who said, “I don’t want the government getting involved in my Medicare.”

COX: Well, and also, it’s novel to have Republicans act this way. I mean, that’s one of the reason why this is getting so much coverage, is that we aren’t used to seeing Republicans take on, as I said, sort of Saul Alinsky-type tactics.

KURTZ: So you’re saying if Democrats had shown up to be angry or perhaps…

COX: Have you seen…

KURTZ: … disrupt meetings during the Bush administration, that would not be as newsworthy?

COX: Well, no. Well, I just think it wouldn’t be treated as newsworthy. I think that in the media, because it’s novel to have the Republicans sort of behave in this way, that that’s why we’re covering it. If this becomes commonplace, we’ll stop doing it. You know?

Comments

  1. Michael Gary says:

    Ms. Cox,

    I was listening to your comments on Air America Radio yesterday.
    I was quite astonished when I heared you come to the defense of Rep. Joe Wilson for saying “you lie!” to the President of the United States in an address to a joint session of Congress, saying to the effect that he was exercising his first amendment rights. I believe you said that you thought his apology was sincere. You also made an interesting comment about you having wished a democrat would have shouted the same thing to Bush when he invaded Iraq on false pretenses. I think you see a false equivalency between when progressives and liberals say Bush is a liar and when The far-right wing says Obama is a liar. The left says Bush is liar because he is in fact a liar and there’s been volumes of documentation to prove it. When a right-wing stooge yells out that Obama is a liar, he is lying himself. Right wing accusations, as a rule, have no basis in reality. As you must know, there is language in all four bills being proposed that bans funding health care for illegal aliens. Now that doesn’t mean that illegal aliens will be denied any care whatsoever or be turned away from emergency rooms. There may be some obligations to provide care for them in prior legislation or the from the fundamental sense of decency to care for our fellow human beings. You also came to the defense of those so-called “Protestors” at the recent town hall meetings held during August. I don’t believe as you do that what these hooligans were doing was “free speech. Shouting down a wheelchair-bound patient when that person is trying to make a point or asking a question is not the exercise of free speech. When these right-wing thugs do such things they are trying to silence other people and deny them the right to free speech. Maybe if these were isolated incidents you might have a point. This so-called “protest” is an orchestrated effort by the far-right neo-fascists and their corporate allies in the health insurance industry not only to derail healthcare reform but to de-legitimize the Obama Presidency. This could reasonably seen as sedition and treason. These people are the real fascists and they comprise a real threat to our democracy and our individul liberties. If you look at these events together and in context a pattern emerges; the shout-downs at town hall meetings, bringing firearms to these meetings, denouncing the President as a “fascist” and “socialist”, parents not allowing their children to watch a presidential speech on television – and by the way – you have to ask yourself, how many of these parents would have objected to a presidential address to their schoolchildren if the president was white or a Republican? As I was saying this is all part of a concerted effort to de-legitimize the President and overthrow our democratic system and replace it with a Christian-White Supremacist theocracy. One more thing, about those Blue Dog Democrat friends of yours: they are totally in the pocket of the Health Insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Their so-called concerns about the costs of a government-run public option strikes me as totally bogus. Where were their fiscal concerns when Bushed launched his unjustified and illegal invasion of Iraq? Where were their protests over the enormous cost of this illegal invasion and occupation? They kept their mouths shut and gave Bush a blank check to spend whatever he wanted.

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