For Immediate Release
Town Halls Making a Comeback?
Ari Rabin-Havt, Media
Matters for America
Town halls making a comeback?
Date: Wednesday, November 11, 2009
It looks like the extreme anti-reform town hall protests from August
could be making a return during the November congressional recess. Politico recently reported
that "Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander said
Republicans are 'quietly' planning some 50 in-person and telephone
town hall gatherings over the next three weeks to drum up opposition to
Democratic health care bills."
Media Matters has put together background
information on the media's coverage of the August town halls, which includes following
- The town hall protests were characterized as
"organic," "real," and "genuine"
despite the fact that conservative groups were actively encouraging
members to attend.
- The media often gave a distorted view of the town
- Fox News featured extreme anti-reform rhetoric
and ignored substantive,
pro-reform questions from town halls.
details on those observations (included below) could be useful, should you
decide to cover any of the upcoming events.
IN AUGUST, the protests were
characterized as "organic," "real," and
"genuine" despite the fact that conservative groups were actively
encouraging members to attend town halls:
- Several conservative groups engaged in efforts to
encourage their members to attend town halls. Conservative
organizations opposed to health care reform -- including FreedomWorks,
Americans for Prosperity, and Conservatives for Patients' Rights -- conducted
a campaign to turn out their supporters to attend those events. CPR reportedly
"confirmed that it has undertaken a concerted effort to get people out to
the town hall meetings to protest reform," while FreedomWorks and
Americans for Prosperity reportedly "organized" the town hall protesters and were "harnessing
social networking Web sites to organize their supporters in much the same way
Mr. Obama did during his election campaign." [Greg Sargent, The Plum Line,
The New York Times, 8/3/09]
- America's Health Insurance Plans reportedly deployed employees
to "track where local lawmakers hold town-hall meetings,"
"rebut" Democrats. On July 30, The Wall Street Journal reported:
"[I]nsurers continue to wage an aggressive campaign against Democrats'
proposals to create a public health-insurance plan. America's Health Insurance Plans
has stationed employees in 30 states who are tracking where local lawmakers
hold town-hall meetings." And on August 5, the paper reported: "The
health-insurance industry said Tuesday it is launching an effort to send insurance-company
employees to public meetings nationwide this month to rebut increasing
criticism of the industry from the White House and top Democrats." [The Wall Street Journal; 7/30/09,
AUGUST, the media often gave a distorted view of the town hall meetings:
- Dionne: Media
"went out of their way to cover the noise" at town halls,
highlighted "fringe right-wing view." Washington Post columnist E.J.
Dionne wrote: "There is an overwhelming case that the electronic
media went out of their way to cover the noise and ignored the calmer (and
from television's point of view 'boring') encounters between elected
representatives and their constituents. It's also clear that the anger
that got so much attention largely reflects a fringe right-wing view
opposed to all sorts of government programs most Americans support."
[The Washington Post, 9/3/09]
- Kurtz: "[A]nger
at town-hall meetings ... became an endless loop on television."
Washington Post media
critic Howard Kurtz wrote: "The eruption of anger at town-hall
meetings on health care, while real and palpable, became an endless loop
on television. The louder the voices, the fiercer the confrontation, the
more it became video wallpaper, obscuring the substantive arguments in
favor of what producers love most: conflict." Kurtz added:
"Twenty members of Congress might have held calm and collected town
meetings on any given day, but only the one with raucous exchanges would
make it on the air." [The Washington Post,
- Fox News only
interested in covering "yelling" and "contentious
questions." As Kurtz reported: "In
fact, after the president convened a low-key town hall in New Hampshire,
press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters: 'I think some of you were
disappointed yesterday that the president didn't get yelled at.' There was
a grain of truth in that. As Fox broke away from the meeting, anchor Trace
Gallagher said, 'Any contentious questions, anybody yelling, we'll bring
it to you.' " [The Washington Post,
IN AUGUST, Fox News featured extreme
anti-reform rhetoric and ignored substantive, pro-reform questions from town
- Fox News aired 22
clips of attendees opposed to reform, none of supporters.
During the week of August 24, Fox News aired 22 clips in which town hall
attendees expressed an opinion against health care reform, but no clips of
attendees expressing support. CNN aired three clips of attendees
expressing support and five voicing opposition to reform; MSNBC aired one
clip against and none in support.
- Incendiary town hall
rhetoric highlighted by Fox. During that week, Fox News
provided a platform for incendiary statements about progressive reform
efforts. For example, on five separate occasions, Fox aired a clip of an
attendee who said at an August 25 town hall for Sen. John McCain: "No
compromises! Senator, nuke it now."
- Substantive, pro-reform
questions passed over. Despite providing a
platform for incendiary anti-reform claims, Fox News repeatedly passed
over substantive and pro-reform questions and comments from the town hall
meetings that they covered. While those questions could be heard and read
in unedited footage of the town halls online or in local coverage of the
events, they were not aired on Fox -- even when the network featured
footage critical of reform from the same meetings.
Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.