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In Beltway Land Progressives Do Not Exist

A search for articles in the New York Times that reference the “People’s Budget” resulted in nothing but readers’ comments. Perhaps it’s a positive sign that a few Times readers are familiar with the progressive budget plan, even if the newspaper has neglected to cover it. Although, it’s rather puzzling that the “newspaper of record” has overlooked a budget proposal submitted by the largest Democratic Congressional Caucus, when the most intense national story for the past month has centered around budget proposals. At least the Washington Post devoted one article to the People’s Budget, even though the author, Dana Milbank, chose to write a scathing review of lunatic progressive ideas, without any factual evidence to back his claims.

The lack of reporting on the People’s Budget lies in stark contrast to the extensive, ’round-the-clock coverage of the right-wing Paul Ryan plan. Commentary on the Ryan plan has by no means been objective analysis. Instead, it has been infested with admiration for it’s “seriousness” and “bravery” in tackling the budget deficit. As Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) recently revealed, in the face of genuine analysis that demonstrated the many flaws in Ryan’s plan, the beltway media continued to report on it favorably.

On 4/14/2011, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, while interviewing Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, highlighted the media’s failure to discuss the People’s Budget:

We hear a great deal, Congressmember Grijalva, about the Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s budget proposals. All of the networks show comparisons of the Deficit Commission, what the compromise, so-called compromise, is between the Democrats and the Republicans, and then Paul Ryan’s. But we do not hear about the People’s Budget, and you’re the largest caucus in the entire House of Representatives.

Her assessment rang true on Sunday 4/17, when ABC’s This Week gave airtime to Tea Party House Freshmen Reps. Renee Ellmers, Steve Southerland, Joe Walsh and Allen West, to promote the Ryan Plan and more, with little to no challenge. At the very least, Christiane Amanpour could have invited members of the largest Democratic Congressional Caucus to discuss their newly unveiled plan as well. Then again, she is probably unaware that such a plan exists, since her fellow reporters have failed to cover it.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media’s neglect of progressives is not isolated to Congressional proposals. With the implementation of draconian budget cuts in states around the country at an ever accelerating rate, massive demonstrations are popping up in front of state capitals throughout the nation, attracting hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of people.

On Friday 4/8, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Olympia, Washington to protest a new state budget plan and corporate tax breaks, which passed the Washington State House the following day, slashing $4.4 billion from state programs including $485 million from higher education and another $216 million from programs aimed at reducing class size for young students. On Wednesday 4/13, more than 5,000 people converged on the Michigan Capital to protest Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed cuts to labor rights and government services.

Unsurprisingly, these remarkable demonstrations enjoyed scant coverage beyond the local papers, while in Tea Party land, it requires a minimal effort to capture nation-wide attention. This was clear on Thursday 3/11, during a Tea Party rally in Washington DC, where according to Slate, “There was at least one reporter for every three or four activists”. The article also quoted Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) as joking, “I think there are more press than Tea Party Patriots here”.

The media has a long pattern of blacking out progressives from national debate. Nonetheless, to watch as the measliest of Tea Party rallies, whose goal is to yell incoherent messages like “keep your government hands of my medicare” and simultaneously demand the dismantling of American’s few remaining safety nets, while thousands demonstrate around the country against tyrannical legislation only to be ignored, is infuriating and incomprehensible.

The media’s double standard has remained unchanged this Tax Day weekend. US Uncut has organized over 100 direct Tax Day actions around the country between April 15-18 targeting the largest tax dodging corporations at a time when working class and poor Americans are being forced to sacrifice due to an economic recession they did not cause. Besides the excellent coverage from The Nation, thus far the US Uncut protests have been largely absent from the headlines, which are dominated by coverage of small Tea Party rallies.

The most widely covered rally this weekend was on Saturday 3/16, in Madison, Wisconsin, where former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin addressed the Tea Party’s annual Tax Day rally in front of the capital. Ironically, the media was compelled to report on what became a counter-protest of thousands of union supporters, who surrounded and outnumbered Palin and her adoring fans as she spoke in support of Scott Walker.

Perhaps the Wisconsin labor movement is on to something. When organizing demonstrations, progressives must consider inviting Tea Partiers to counter-protest, since Tea Party presence, regardless of size, appears to be the only way to attract media coverage of progressive activism. For the time being, in the land of the mainstream, progressives do not exist.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized. Her work has appeared at Common Dreams, Salon, The Nation, In These Times, Citizen Radio and more. To see more of Rania’s work visit her blog Dispatches from the Underclass and follow her on twitter @RaniaKhalek.

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