Town Halls Making a Comeback?

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brandon Hersh (202) 471-3205
bhersh@mediamatters.org

Town Halls Making a Comeback?

WASHINGTON -

To:                 
Interested Parties

From:
            
Ari Rabin-Havt, Media
Matters for America

Re:
                
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
observations:

  • 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
    hall meetings.
  • Fox News featured extreme anti-reform rhetoric
    and ignored substantive,
    pro-reform questions from town halls.

More
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,
    8/4/09;
    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,
    8/5/09]

IN
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,
    8/24/09]
  • 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,
    8/24/09]

IN AUGUST, Fox News featured extreme
anti-reform rhetoric and ignored substantive, pro-reform questions from town
halls:

  • 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.

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