The Tea Party was born in February 2009, in a speech by CNBC’s Rick Santelli, accusing Obama’s mortgage plan of “rewarding bad behavior”, and inviting all of America’s “capitalists” to a “Chicago Tea Party”. Despite owing its creation to CNBC, the Tea Party arguably owes much of its success to Fox News, a network specializing in the conservative news agenda.
Although the Tea Party may now appear as a strong political organization, it had the potential to be utterly unsuccessful. With no leader, few obvious political ideas and no central organization, the Tea Party could easily have become a passing comment on CNBC.
Fox’s relentless promotion of the Tea Party began in 2009, when it became a rallying point for the political movement. On March 24th, American Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer encouraged viewers to visit the Tea Party online, In order to encourage participation. He said “there’s a list of the nationwide Tax Day tea party events coming up on the 15th of April, which will be a huge deal for those organizations. So check it out online right now.” This message was repeated again and again after every mention of the Tea Party’s activism on Fox News.
Furthermore, Fox News offered an image of the Tea Party as an unstoppable, ever-expanding organization. Despite the fact that the organization was still very young, Fox News repeatedly assured viewers that the Tea Party was not a force to be reckoned with. On April 6th, Your World host Niel Cavuto said “This tea party movement that’s going against largesse, it is growing. And folks are fed up with out-of-control spending.” Again on April 9th, Cuvuto said “Is it any wonder these anti-tax tea parties are taking off?” He later added, “We’ll be all over this.” Even though the Tea Party remains relatively small within the American political sphere, Fox News’s exaggeration of the group’s influence and support served to stimulate interest. Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson sum up perfectly in a blog for Reuters.com, “For the Tea Party in its vulnerable infancy, the mobilizing impact of such advance coverage in national prime time was invaluable. The Tea Party idea was presented as the “coming thing” to an audience primed for the message. Conservative Fox viewers across America heard that people like them were ready to stand up to Obama and the Democrats—and they were told when and where.”
Furthermore, as mentioned by Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol and John Coggin in “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism”, Fox News’s constant coverage and focus on the Tea Party encouraged other major news networks like CNN and Sky News to pay attention to the group. Fox made the Tea Party newsworthy, forcing the movement to be covered not only by conservative news outlets, but also by mainstream, more balanced stations. This served to legitimize the Tea Party as a political faction and put them on the political agenda. In addition, coverage by mainstream media outlets meant the Tea Party’s message was delivered to those who were right leaning but did not pay attention to biased media like Fox News.
Fox provided interviews, endorsements and updates on Tea Party events, as well as absolute unashamed Propaganda. On March 24th, Bill Hemmer interviewed Lloyd Marcus, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Conservative people of Color. Marcus wrote a song for the Tea Party protests, the lyrics to which were later posted on FoxNews.com. Part of this song’s lyrics were:
“You wanna take from achievers Somehow you think that’s fair. And redistribute to those folks Who won’t get out of their easy chair.
We’re havin’ a tea party across this land. If you love this country, Come on and join our band. We’re standin’ up for freedom and liberty, ’Cause patriots have shown us freedom ain’t free.”
The song totally summed up the ethos of the Tea Party movement. Fox once again provided a rallying point for protesters, a song to unite the people and provide a sense of solidarity and identity at Tea Party events.
It is highly unlikely that the Tea Party would have become the success it is today without the help of Fox News. Fox helped spread the word of events, encouraged viewers to participate and provided a central identity for an un-centralized organization. Furthermore, it legitimized the Tea Party as a social and political movement, helping it gain coverage and gain influence in the American political sphere. Fox News provided invaluable aid to the Tea Party, and helped the organization expand on an unprecedented scale.
Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson (2011), “The Fox in The Tea Party”, Reuters, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2011/12/21/the-fox-in-the-tea-party/
Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol and John Coggin (2012) “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism”
Eric Hananoki (2009), “REPORT: “Fair and balanced” Fox News aggressively promotes “tea party” protests”, MediaMatters.org, http://mediamatters.org/research/2009/04/08/report-fair-and-balanced-fox-news-aggressively/149009