Tag Archives: Tea Party Rally

Numbers are relative

Blame heat waves in the Northwest, freak monsoons on the East Coast, skyrocketing unemployment or Brett Favre signing with the Vikings, but one things is certain: tempers have been high in America all summer. The health care debate is the greatest indication that people just aren’t getting along. Admittedly, a recession is a natural time to react against the government — though I’m wondering how long it’s been okay to refer to your president as a lying Hitler/Communist/Marxist/fascist/senior citizen killer. (I did find a couple photos of Bill or Hilary Clinton-as-Hitler, so my guess is since the early ’90s.)

So how many people really are upset? I can’t seem to get an accurate count. According to CNN’s coverage of the weekend march on the White House by a coalition of conservative groups — aka the “Tea Party Rally” — tens of thousands wanted to voice their opposition to the health care overhaul, among other things.

But the UK’s Daily Mail seems to think otherwise, with an Internet search headline putting the number of protesters at upwards of 2 million. Read here. The article goes on with a slightly more conservative estimate of 1 million — is the Mail agreeing to disagree with itself? Still, both numbers come without comment from police — a reporter’s go-to for crowd estimates. (See, I learned something in journalism school.)

To solve this math problem, I turn to an unlikely source: Hunter S. Thompson. In Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S Thompson — An Oral Biography by Jann S Wenner and Corey Seymour (Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY, 2007; p. 167 -168), there’s this quote from HST:

“I still insist ‘objective journalism’ is a contradiction in terms. But I want to draw a very hard line between the inevitable reality of ‘subjective journalism’ and the idea that any honestly subjective journalist might feel free to estimate a crowd at a rally for some candidate the journalist happens to like personally at 2000 instead of 612…or to imply that a candidate the journalist views with gross contempt, personally, is a less effective campaigner than he actually is.”

Apply this to the Tea Party Rally. Some claim CNN sways liberal, while the Mail is a long-time conservative tabloid. Essentially, both media outlets are reporting what they *think* is fact. No harm in that, right?

Not when it fuels a debate with misinformation. Isn’t this how coverage of the health care issue has been all summer? One side says “We’re becoming socialist!” so the people who agree repeat that mantra ad nauseum. The other side says “We need civil discourse!,” so the people who agree discredit any concerns the opposition holds.

Is this actually a debate? Or just two sides talking at each other? And is it impossible for change to take place when no one is listening?

Perhaps the economy has to rebound first and tempers need to cool before we can reach a compromise — or at least agree to disagree. Because right now, this political climate is the antithesis of a recession renaissance.

(Thanks to Greg for the links to the articles.)