Today's cuppa: raspberry Ceylon tea
week ago today, people gathered in cities across the country to protest
a list of things, including high taxes, high government spending,
corporate bailouts, etc. Estimates on how many people showed up for
They weren't large protests historically speaking, but they did get a
lot of attention. In particular, they got attention from cable news
outlets, which dispatched anchors and reporters to cover them, with the
most intense coverage coming from News Corp. cable siblings Fox News
Channel and Fox Business Network.
By far, FNC was the ratings winner for the day, having rolled out many of its top anchors to selected events, including business editor Neil Cavuto in Sacramento, Calif., conservative commentator Sean Hannity in Altanta, Ga., and rising phenom Glenn Beck at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.
While Fox Business Network is not yet Nielsen-rated, a spokesperson said the channel did see an "uptick in viewers" for the day.
This is all a bit ironic, since many attribute the "tea party" phenomenon this year to an on-air rant against mortgage bailouts in February by Chicago-based correspondent Rick Santelli, who works for FBN's rival, CNBC.
I watched some of the tea-party coverage on my DVR when I got back from
the Discovery Networks upfront, and while I don't know whether this was
a one-time outpouring of frustration or the start of a real grassroots
movement — and you can find plenty of pundits and politicians to argue
both sides of that question — what I did notice was that the protesters didn't look like the usual folks that turn out for protests.
For those involved in such causes as the environment, the peace
movement, animal rights, etc., protests are a common and useful way of
garnering attention, galvanizing public support and networking.
A lot of the folks that turned out for the tea-party protests looked
more like a holiday picnic crowd or the the people you might find in
the infield at a sporting event than the experienced activists that
normally populate protests.
In TV terms, they'd be people you might expect to like "Deadliest Catch" or "Ghost Whisperer" rather than "Flight of the Conchords" or "Arrested Development." That's a gross exaggeration, of course, but that was the sense I got.
One man on hand for the event in Boston — home of the original Tea Party — was FBN's Cody Willard, who co-anchors the weekday "Happy Hour" show with Rebecca Diamond and Eric Bolling. As "Happy Hour" fans — or those who read this blog post
— know, Willard is pretty outspoken about his opposition to vastly
increasing government spending or giving bailouts with tax money.
He was also the subject of a recent profile in the Los Angeles Times.
I talked to him the day after the protests and was interested in
getting his take on what he saw. Now, Willard's a commentator, not a
news reporter, so his opinions are his own.
"It was an anti-partisan crowd," he said. "It was not a left or
right thing. I do think the Republican Party did try to make it a
right-wing thing, but that being said, I think basically the crowds
were anti-Republican and anti-Democrat.
"They were equally angry, and rightly so, at both parties."
He added, "One of the best signs I saw out there yesterday said, 'O is the new W.' And that's the problem. It's both parties equally."
Willard believes that the tea party protests are the beginning of a grassroots movement that threatens the political status quo.
"It was a protest against the incumbents," he said.
Asked what would replace the current political crowd if it's voted out, Willard said, "It's to be replaced with a much more fluid, free-thinking, less rigid democracy/republic, that this country was founded to be."
Reminded that, while people often talk about ditching the two-party
system, it hasn't actually happened yet, Willard turned to
technology as an answer.
"I know," he said, "but there hasn't been an Internet and YouTube and Twitter. I teach a class at Seton Hall University called 'Revolutionomics,'
that's the premise of the class, that the power of the center always
disperses to the edge over time, and it's done through technology.
"That's why, in 2009, why would you possibly want to align yourself
with a rigid, confusing political platform like Republicans or
Democrats when you could simply go to your constituents and get a
word out to your actual constituents and empower them and communicate
with them and get them to follow you? What if you could get a
groundswell underneath you via the technologies that are now available.
"You don't need the financial backing that you did to run for office
just 10 years ago. In modern America, you don't need a two-party
political regime anymore. You have technology that enables you to
distribute your message for free to everyone on the planet instantly."
Is Willard right about this? Will technology topple traditional
politics? We've all seen the effect technology has had on traditional
media, and media and politics go together like hand in glove. He might
be on to something, or it might be a case of post-tea-party euphoria.
As to what information Willard thought that any first-time protesters in the crowd took home with them, he said, "I
know for a fact that they took away a very powerful networking tool,
and that is connections from these people on the Internet.
"People were responding to this on a grassroots level, and that's what they're going to be able to take away — grassroots connections that are going to be meaningful in the next election and the next election after that."
The next big tea-party protests are being planned for the Fourth of
July, so time will tell. And you can be sure that TV will be there to
see what's brewing.