Prof. Kevin Howley Examines Rise of Tea Party Movement
February 22, 2010
February 22, 2010, Greencastle, Ind. — As Democrats and Republicans debated the impact of the economic stimulus efforts on the nation, "All the while, the U.S. press corps -- seemingly addicted to official source stenography -- dutifully recorded the 'he said, she said' that passes for political debate in official Washington," according to Kevin Howley, associate professor of communication at DePauw University. "One story line that got lost in all the back and forth this week is the curious relationship between the stimulus package and the rise of the Tea Party movement."
Writing for the Bloomington Alternative, Dr. Howley continues, "To hear party activists and media pundits tell it, the Tea Party movement sprang from the depths of The Great Recession. This account certainly makes for a compelling news narrative, but it conveniently ignores the fact that the Tea Party movement is, if nothing else, a creation of the media. Recall that it was CNBC editor Rick Santelli who famously called for a 'Revolutionary War-style tea party' during a Feb. 19, 2009, telecast. The news media's initial response to Santelli's stunt was predictable enough: surprise, and some derision, followed by a collective shrug of the shoulders. By April, however, the Tea Party movement had organized anti-taxation demonstrations across the country.
"In the intervening months, the Tea Party moved from the margins to the mainstream of American political discourse," asserts the professor. "The Tea Party proved that it was a force to be reckoned with when party activists stole the show at last summer's town hall meetings. On this score, the Tea Party's role in derailing Obama's health reform initiative cannot be underestimated ... The list of career politicians taking early retirement this year indicates the growing power and influence of the Tea Party movement. And while they may be loathe to admit it, folks like Indiana's own Senator Evan Bayh are fearful of being swept out of office by a wave of anti-incumbency that has come to define the Tea Party."
Howley accuses media outlets of ignoring where the support for the upstart movement is coming from and suggests it is less spontaneous than it might appear. "Don't' get me wrong. The anger and the frustration that the Tea Party has tapped into is the real deal. With home foreclosures on the rise, record unemployment and a financial services industry that seems bound and determined to add insult to injury, it's no wonder that the Tea Party movement has captured the imagination of so many Americans ... By the same token, it would be a mistake to turn a blind eye -- as so many mainstream reporters and editors have done -- to the role that former Republican party operatives, Wall Street insiders and conservative news outlets like FOX News have played in the meteoric rise of the Tea Party."
Access the complete column by clicking here.
Kevin Howley is the editor of the recently published textbook, Understanding Community Media, and authored Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies. Read about another of his recent op-eds here.Back