Here in Beltway land, people are still buzzing a bit about the whole Tea Bag and Talk Radio festival -- to use the most common mainstream media images -- that drew tens of thousands (police no longer give specific estimates in this cautious age) of protesters to the National Mall. Demonstrations of these kinds offer interesting choices for reporters.
Think of this rally, in a way, as a conservative version of a gay-rights march in San Francisco. Everyone knows that there are going to be some wild people in these scenes, people wearing interesting clothes and shouting wild things, perhaps even while armed with signs that are blunt, to say the least.
Reporters can focus on the wild people, of course, and there are journalistic reasons to do this. However, at some point one needs to ask this question: Is it fair and, yes, accurate to give the wild minority a major role or even the major role in this news story? Are these people typical of their cause?
I have attended plenty of rallies against abortion in which a few bizarre people with bloody posters received far more media attention than the throngs of ordinary teachers, pastors, pro-life teen-angers and post-abortion women who were present at the same event. This is kind of like covering a gay-rights march and only writing about the leather-clad lesbian bikers and the male pseudo nuns, while ignoring the ranks of ordinary gay and lesbian parents, teachers, clergy, etc.
So I am, at this point, a bit curious about this past Saturday's rally. I would like to know more about who was there and why they were there. In particular, it is hard for me to imagine a major conservative event today without a strong "Christian right" presence of some kind (although you know I am not fond of that label).
Several GetReligionistas are interested in writing about this event and our own MZ Hemingway was there as a press-card carrying reporter, so I am sure that her observations (when she can grab some time to write, while traveling) will be interesting. I will focus on the Washington Post report, which begins:
Tens of thousands of conservative protesters, many complaining that the nation is racing toward socialism, massed outside the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, angrily denouncing President Obama's health-care plan and other initiatives as threats to the Constitution.
The crowd -- loud, animated and sprawling -- gathered at the West Front of the Capitol after a march along Pennsylvania Avenue NW from Freedom Plaza. Invocations of God and former president Ronald Reagan by an array of speakers drew loud cheers that echoed across the Mall. On a windy, overcast afternoon, hundreds of yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags flapped in the breeze. ...
The demonstrators are part of a loose-knit movement that is galvanizing anti-Obama sentiment across the country, stoking a populist dimension to the Republican Party, which has struggled to find its voice since the 2008 elections.
Gosh, God and Ronald Reagan. That sounds pretty normal to me.
Later on, we are given some additional information on the content of the rally, in terms of the signs spotted in the crowd. Methinks the reporters present are giving us some of the milder content:
Saturday's demonstrators spanned the spectrum of conservative anger at Obama, including opponents of his tax, spending and health-care plans and protesters who question his U.S. citizenship and compare his administration to the Nazi regime.
Most signs were handmade: "Socialism is UnAmerican," "King George Didn't Listen Either!" "Terrorists Won't Destroy America, Congress Will!" and "The American Dream R.I.P." Many protesters carried the now-familiar poster of Obama made up to look like the Joker, captioned "Socialism."
There are people there who want to fight to keep their guns, of course, and the word "socialism" did seem to be the scary word of the day.
But if this rally "spanned the spectrum of conservative anger at Obama" and God talk was common, we really need to know more about the content of the rally, don't we? I imagine that there were speeches that that crowd thought were important, if not the reporters. Other than one-liners, what did the major speakers say? Were there any famous religious leaders? In other words, if reporters are going to drag God into this scene, they really need to offer some content to justify doing that, in my humble opinion.
The bottom line: Was this, in reality, a secular rally rooted in the anger and content of talk radio, a format in which many of the listeners are religious believers but the loud talkers -- think Rush Limbaugh -- are actually secular folks who lean toward moral libertarianism?