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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

CNN-Tea Party Partnership an Unsavory Mix?

Feeling a little queasy about the partnering of Cable News Network with the Tea Party Express in presenting the GOP prez candidate debate last night? You’re not alone. Here’s Adele M. Stan, writing about it in her Alternet post, “When Did CNN Become a Shill for GOP Extremism and the Tea Party?“:

CNN, once known for its unflinching coverage of actual news events, last night decided to become a maker, not a chronicler, of news. When the cable news network decided to partner with the Tea Party Express for a debate among the Republican presidential candidates, it cast aside any ethical concerns a news organization might have about direct involvement in elections and active engagement in altering the dynamics of a political party.
You could say there was a bit of a payoff, after a fashion, for the American people in the bargain, though: an unvarnished look at who the rank-and-file of the Tea Party really are, and what they believe. The audience in Tampa was said to comprise members of 150 Tea Party groups from across the nation. True to form, they applauded at the notion of an uninsured person in a coma being left to die (as suggested by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas), and booed Texas Gov. Rick Perry for saying that undocumented citizens who were brought to this country as children, through no fault of their own, should be allowed to pursue a higher education here. And CNN surely could have put together an audience of Tea Partiers without partnering with an organization that makes direct payments to the campaign coffers of right-wing candidates.
If the Tea Party Express was nothing more than a political constituency of the Republican Party, that would be bad enough. But it’s not: it’s a political action committee, directly involved in electioneering, and the CNN event promises to aid the fundraising efforts of the Tea Party Express PAC. CNN’s co-sponsorship of the Tea Party Express debate amounts to an incalculable in-kind contribution to a far-right political PAC, elevating its brand name, providing free air time and event-staging, and conferring an aura of legitimacy on an organization that is essentially a fundraising operation for anti-government candidates. If this isn’t illegal, it’s time to scream from the rafters, why not?
In the 2010 midterm elections, Tea Party Express raised a total of $7.7 million, which it spent on the U.S. Senate campaigns of Christine (“I’m not a witch”) O’Donnell, Del.; Sharron Angle, Nev.; Joe Miller, Alaska; and Marco Rubio, Fla., among others. In fact, Tea Party Express donated the maximum allowable amount to the congressional campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann, something that none of the other contenders at last night’s debate can claim.

Stan goes on to further document the rabid partisanship of the Tea Party Express, well to the right of even the tea party, and concludes of CNN, “So, in its partnership with Tea Party Express, CNN is essentially (however inadvertently) deploying Wolf Blitzer, who moderated last night’s debate, to alter the political dynamic of the Republican Party to move it even further to the right than it already is.”
Stan suggests that CNN was trying to upgrade its wingnut cred to take a bite out of Fox News’ viewership, noting the network’s recent hiring of wingnut commentators. She concludes:

Each time a news organization partners with a constituency group in a presidential debate, it accords that group a greater impact than competing constituencies — and that’s troubling enough. But when a news organization partners with a group that gives money directly to candidates and that makes attack ads against candidates it doesn’t fancy, that news organization has crossed the line into electioneering. And that’s just plain wrong.

Not to demonize the entire network, because CNN does some good work, both on the little screen and on line. But I’d have to agree with Stan that this “partnership” is more than a little on the cheesy side. I doubt we will see CNN partnering with an equally-ardent progressive PAC to present a presidential debate anytime soon.

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