Las Vegas Sun reporter calls tea parties a 'paranoid' fringe movement 

"For all its apparent freshness, however, the Tea Party movement is neither new nor novel, historians and political scientists say," writes the Las Vegas Sun's J. Patrick Coolican. "It is firmly rooted, in its ideology, rhetoric and — there’s no polite word for it — its paranoia, in the post-World War II American right."

You would think this is an opinion column, but Coolican is, in fact, a reporter. The so-called paranoid post-World War II right is defined as those who share these grievances:

The expansion of government is moving us toward socialism; there’s been a dangerous weakening of the national security apparatus but also, paradoxically, the threat of police state provisions at home; an alien subversive of nefarious intentions, composed of cosmopolitan elites and corrupt “one worlders” has infected the government.

That wasn't paranoia, but don't let Coolican know that. To him the opinion of select "historians and political scientists" matter more than the facts.

In fact, the whole "paranoid" accusation comes from liberal intellectual Richard Hofstadter, cited throughout the article, whose essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," is the blueprint of liberal condescension toward conservatives. In it, Hofstadter accuses conservatives of an irrational fear of socialism, of character flaws, of anti-Catholicism. The paranoid, or rather, the conservative, suffers doubly, "since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well."

Echoes of this condescension reverberate throughout Coolican's piece. In fact:

David Brown, a Hofstadter biographer and historian at Elizabethtown College, notes that Hofstadter places the populist right in the context of America’s long tradition of paranoid political movements that effectively “magnify the opposition.”

So insane are these protestors, they're getting guns to protect their compounds:

Gun sales have skyrocketed since Obama’s election. In November 2008, FBI background checks for prospective gun buyers rose 41.6 percent compared with a year earlier, even though Democratic politicians have shown no interest in meaningful gun control in years and have blamed the issue for electoral losses in 1994 and 2000.

Except this makes perfect sense in light of Attorney General Eric Holder's threat to ban "assault weapons":

"As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons," Holder told reporters.

Anyway, here is a false contrast. Tea Party protestors' concern for a growing government (which is a fact, not a fantasy) is fearmongering. President Obama's threat that if we don't pass the stimulus, the economy will get worse, is a paragon of pragmatism. Protestors' distrust is unwarranted and insane, but reports that the stimulus created fake jobs in fake districts with fake zip codes shouldn't be cause for alarm.

I called Coolican to discuss it with him -- specifically his inaccurate claim that Democrats' have made no meaningful effort on guns. After confirming that he was on the record, he claimed that talk of new gun regulations died down "only after a couple of months." Well, yes, but what an uncertain couple of months. If you're a hunter who's put off getting a new rifle and there's talk of a new ban, is it paranoia, or pragmatism that governs expediting the purchase?

"It's in the platform," I told him. (Page 48 to be exact.)

"Well, there's the platform that they actually pursue, and there's the platform," he replied.

He then asked me, somewhat accusatorily, whether I write for the op-ed page. Yes, I said, and in fact, I think this piece should have been an opinion piece, to which he replied, "We're a different kind of newspaper."

I then asked him, "There's no balance in this piece. All of your sources are calling the tea party movement paranoid. That's fine with you?"

He referred me to his editor, with whom I left a voicemail.

He would later call back. I asked him about the balance thing, and he said, "I think the piece is truthful and I stand by it."

He then clarified that there hasn't been much of an appetite for gun control in the Democratic Party for some time. But I reiterated, does that mean that gun statistics indicating a rising trend in purchases don't reflect "paranoia," so much as rational concern. He asked me if I believed there would be new gun regulations -- to which I replied yes. Was that still paranoid? He said he just disagreed is all.

Given the lack of balance in the story, and the factual error about gun control, the editors ought to offer some sort of correction.

About The Author

J.P. Freire

J.P. Freire is the associate editor of commentary. Previously he was the managing editor of the American Spectator. Freire was named journalist of the year for 2009 by the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). You can follow him on Twitter here. Besides the Spectator, Freire's work has appeared in... more
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