Liberal bloggers and media groups can’t get the Tea Party phenomenon out of their heads. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, to them. Ordinary people getting together to protest against the liberal establishment. There is a cognitive disconnect. There must be a plot; the vast right-wing conspiracy at work.

So true to form, Media Matters sounded the horn that this was not a real protest, it’s a Fox News segment. Kind of a made for T.V. reality show, with a cast of tens of thousands. Think Progress joined in with “Spontaneous Uprising? Corporate Lobbyists Helping To Orchestrate Radical Anti-Obama Tea Party Protests.”

And the netroot blogosphere heard the call. FireDogLake proprietor Jane Hamsher posted “What Part of ‘FNC TAX DAY TEA PARTIES’ Don’t You Understand?” Hamsher also promoted “citizen-organized protests” which were unlike the “Fox-organized” Tea Parties; I guess she didn’t catch the irony of promoting counter-protests to protest other people promoting protests. Anyway, almost no one showed up for the counter-protests.

Well-known blogger Oliver Willis protested that the Tea Parties are not really “Grassroots.” Willis works for Media Matters, but blogs under his own name. Yet another irony lost, a blogger who works for a media organization promoting opposition to a protest movement because the protest movement is promoted by a media organization.

Despite the attempts to paint the Tea Parties as Fox-created, the netroots are coming to grips with reality, as witnessed by this defeatist post from Washington Monthly, which cites Willis as authority without noting Willis’ connection to Media Matters (emphasis mine):

These right-wing events aren’t just coming together naturally; they’re the product of Fox News and corporate lobbyists. This is practically a textbook example of “astroturf.” That Glenn Beck is charging $500 a plate to have lunch with him, to help subsidize the effort, only helps reinforce the larger dynamic.

Conservatives too often think, “We’ll get some money together, deliver a right-wing message, and the grassroots will come together. It’ll be awesome.” Except, it never is.

This isn’t to say turnout will necessarily be low on Wednesday; I wouldn’t be surprised if far-right voters turned out in substantial numbers.

What is it with Media Matters and its progeny that must attempt to define and silence the Tea Parties? What do they care if people protest, if they are confident in the power of their views.

The answer lies in one of the most ingenious marketing events of all time, the Ben & Jerry’s “What’s the doughboy afraid of?” campaign. In the early 1980s, Ben & Jerry’s was an upstart “premium” ice cream maker in Vermont struggling to get shelf space to compete against Pillsbury’s HaaagenDaz brand. But Pillsbury, as do many food wholesalers, wasn’t keen on giving a competitor room to grow, so it pressured stores not to give Ben & Jerry’s shelf space.

In response, Ben & Jerry’s hit on a protest theme: “What’s the doughboy afraid of?” The campaign took off, sprouting bumper stickers, t-shirts, and generally great publicity for Ben & Jerry’s. Pillsbury eventually gave in, and Ben & Jerry’s got its shelf space

The doughboy campaign holds several lessons for the Tea Party movement. First, the left fears loss of control. As a really good blog post notes, the left dominates the mainstream media and to a lesser extent, the internet. So the right is moving to Twitter, and now to the streets, to avoid the filtering of its message. The left-wing media machine embodied in Media Matters has trouble dealing with these alternatives, and so it attacks. It seeks to assert its control by framing the protests as contrived, when in fact the opposite is true.

The second lesson is that the more Media Matters attacks the Tea Parties, the stronger the Tea Parties become. Pillsbury learned the hard way that trying to muscle a legitimate brand with a loyal following can backfire. And so it is here; my post Tea Parties Are Sooo Scaaary generated more hits for me from more sources (blogs, posting boards, elsewhere) than almost any other post I have written.

There is a sense that people are fed up with having liberal ideology and politics shoved down their throat, and that Obama’s overly ambitious agenda is a turning point. The movement may not be as organized as some would like, but that is what happens when movements truly start from the ground up, rather than in a community-organizer’s playbook or a media boardroom.

The disparate groups involved, the great variation from location-to-location, and the sometimes disorganized nature of the protests demonstrate the genuine nature of the movement. The fact that some have lent a promotional hand doesn’t take away from this. The mainstream media practically elected Obama through its over-the-top cheerleading coverage and refusal to ask hard questions. And Media Matters and other liberal organizations are extremely well funded in their efforts, far more so than the Tea Party movement. Nothing any conservative organization is doing to help the Tea Parties even comes close.
Getting law-abiding people onto the streets cannot be ginned up by promotion (ask Jane Hamsher). There has to be a true feeling to motivate people who never before have protested to get involved. And that is what frightens Media Matters and others most. Loss of control over the message, so they attack the messengers.

So I ask, “What are the liberal doughboys afraid of?”

UPDATE: Some of the comments on this and other posts have raised a good point. The Tea Parties are not “conservative” events. Most of the participants are people who are not necessarily political. Media Matters and others are attempting to define the Tea Parties as Fox News events in order to define the Tea Parties as being out of the mainstream (Media Matters already has defined Fox in that manner during the presidential campaign).

My question still holds. What are they afraid of? Clearly, competition in a free marketplace of ideas scares them. Otherwise they wouldn’t spend so much effort and money seeking to marginalize the Tea Parties.

UPDATE No. 2: In the e-mail, from one of the people Media Matters belittles:

Professor, I enjoyed my first visit to your blog (doughboy one). I wanted to comment but have no idea what all those hurdles were. I am 78 years old and haven’t a grandson nearby at the moment.

We are having a TEA party here in San Antonio Wednesday. The committee that set it up are diverse; Libertarians, Republicans, Independents etc., and are striving hard to keep it non partisan and reasonably polite.

My wife and I and most of our friends who are participating have never been to a protest before in our long lives but we have never seen government so out of control before so here we go…

UPDATE No. 3: Not surprisingly, the mainstream media has picked up on Media Matters’ smear of the Tea Parties. This is how it works, and why Media Matters is so successful in what it does. In a thoroughly dishonest column which twists the nature of the Tea Parties, Paul Krugman of the NY Times writes as follows:

Last but not least: it turns out that the tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects. In particular, a key role is being played by FreedomWorks, an organization run by Richard Armey, the former House majority leader, and supported by the usual group of right-wing billionaires. And the parties are, of course, being promoted heavily by Fox News.

I don’t recall Krugman complaining about all the support Media Matters and other liberal groups gave Barack Obama’s “grassroots” campaign. The enthusiasm for Obama’s campaign was genuine, and the organizational support brought that genuine feeling forward. So too, the enthusiasm for the Tea Parties is genuine, and any support merely helps get the word out which is otherwise not possible given the nature of the mainstream media. Krugman and other columnists at the NY Times can’t admit they were wrong in backing Obama, and that Obama is on the wrong course. But being honest in one’s own failings never has been the hallmark of the NY Times or Krugman. The only good thing is that fewer and fewer people are reading the NY Times, and this is a good example of why that is so.

UPDATE No. 4: At least Glenn Reynolds has it right (but oh, isn’t he part of the conspiracy?) writing in the NY Post:

Instead of the “astroturf” that has marked the ACORN-organized AIG protests, this movement is real grassroots. So if you’ve had enough, consider visiting a Tea Party protest in your area — there’s bound to be one.

It’s your chance to be part of an authentic popular protest movement, one that just might save America from the greed and ineptitude of the folks who have been running it into the ground.

UPDATE No. 5: Another good post pointing out the hypocrisy of Media Matters and Krugman:

ThinkProgress, Daily Kos, FireDogLake, DemocraticUnderground,, Media Matters for America, Organizing For America, and numerous other professional left-wing groups and blogs subsequently spent hundreds of millions of dollars from private financiers like George Soros in order to organize citizenry around the political Left. News coverage of liberal opinion and political activism became coordinated between liberal political activists, bloggers, and sympathetic journalists through JournoList. The organized, Web-savvy New Left flexed its political muscle and ultimately triumphed, as Barack Obama moved into his new digs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

UPDATE No. 6: And So It Goes In Shreveport has a round-up of the activity in …. Shreveport. A pretty good example of what the Tea Parties are all about, unfiltered through the Media Matters distorted filter.

Related Posts:
Liberal Ugliness Revealed On The JournoList
The American Left Outsources The Spanish Inquisition
Yet Another Cheap Attack On Michele Bachmann

Unrelated Post You May Enjoy:
Passover Is No Time To Wish For The End Of Christian America

Elsewhere on the Net – Check out these posts on the smear campaign against Tea Parties:
Memo to Steve Benen, et al. (Or How to Deal With a ‘Progressive,’ If You Must)
Stupid People at Fox News Forget to Ask for Money to Fund Tea Parties Be Sent to Them.
Propagandarama: Fear of Tea Parties and Tea Party Panic
GayPatriot » Further Attempts to Discredit Tea Party Protests

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