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Did I Blink And Miss The Story About Republicans Crashing The Tea Party?

Reported by Ellen - April 15, 2010 -

As Politico and MSNBC reported yesterday (4/14/10), the Tea Party Express is not exactly the grass roots movement it purports to be, and as Fox News always suggests, but a Republican-affiliated PAC raising money to support Republican candidates and attack Democratic ones. It was founded, Politico said, when Joe Wierzbicki, a Republican political consultant with the Sacramento firm Russo Marsh + Rogers, pitched it to his colleagues as a way to position their firm as "a growing force/leading force" in the 2010 elections. Along the way, it has earned some nice dough for the PAC. Yet, I saw nothing about this on The O’Reilly Factor, nothing about it on Hannity, nothing on On The Record (though, granted, I only watched the first half) and I could find nothing about this story on Foxnews.com. I did, however, find a post about it on Fox Nation and a report on Foxnews.com boosting the grass roots cred of the Tea Party Express even as the “fair and balanced” network reluctantly acknowledged that the operation is GOP run.

Politico also noted that Wierzbicki “posited that his PAC’s lack of establishment tea party backing could be offset by winning over ‘local tea party leaders and grass-roots conservatives’ and also by generating buzz including ‘mentions and possibly even promotion from conservative/pro-tea party bloggers, talk radio hosts, Fox News commentators, etc…’”

That certainly worked out well. Not only has Fox News tirelessly promoted the Tea Party Express, on April 4, 2010, Foxnews.com went out of its way to promote it as a grassroots organization. For example, the April 4 article opens,

“From a former Delta flight attendant to the mother of a fallen Iraq Navy SEAL, the activists and organizers aboard the Tea Party Express each seem to represent a slice of America.”
It’s not until the fourth paragraph that author Cristina Corbin lets on,
“There's also a strong organizing factor that makes the cross-country tour, which is on its third run and starting to carry some political heft, what it is.”
Finally, in the sixth paragraph, Corbin states,
“Staff members work 18-hour days, seven days a week, and the chief strategist behind the group, Sal Russo (Wierzbicki's partner), is a longtime Republican consultant from California who began his political career as a personal aide to Ronald Reagan.”

Throughout the rest of the article, Fox uses careful wording to paint Russo as a grassroots kind of guy, despite the fact that, according to the same article, his PAC

“raked in more than $4.5 million since forming in 2008 to help John McCain's presidential campaign -- some of it from corporate executives and high-end donors like actor Chuck Norris.”
In the next sentence, Corbin quickly replenishes Russo's grassroots plausibility by saying,
“Russo said the Tea Party bus tour will cost close to $1 million by the time it concludes in Washington on April 15, tax day -- a hefty sum he claims was entirely paid for by ‘ordinary folks’ donating to his PAC.”

Corbin did not point out, but we will, that her own reporting about high-end donors and corporate execs contributing to the PAC contradicts Russo's last statement.

Of all the staff members, Corbin highlights only the “regular folks,” such as “Tiffiny Ruegner, a massage therapist and single mother from Sacramento, Calif., who lost 90 percent of her clientele last summer after the economy crashed” and “Debbie Lee, from Phoenix” who said “her son's death (in Iraq) inspired her to join the movement, which she described as a place for people "who have never before attended political rallies."

Corbin even noted that, like the temperamental toilet, “The everyday logistics aboard the Tea Party Express don't always run smoothly, a sign that the movement's not quite as polished as its critics would make it out to be.”

Maybe the logistics aboard the bus don’t run smoothly, but there’s little doubt that the PR effort on Fox News is working just fine.


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