Thomas Frank's avoidance of facts while covering the tea parties 

Tea party protesters are in the pocket of the corporate right, either by manipulation or willing obedience, according to the Wall Street Journal's Thomas Frank:

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post sketched out a blueprint of the movement's leadership, naming the players and the organizations who have made the right's resurgence possible. It focused in particular on a shadowy but influential new outfit called the Conservative Action Project, which reportedly works to coordinate the movement's far-flung organizations, bloggers and publishers.

What struck me about the Post's story was the familiarity of it all. In particular, I kept being reminded of that ultimate conservative insider, the now-imprisoned superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, and the work he did on behalf of the Northern Marianas Islands, where garment factories churned out "Made in the USA" clothing under re-education camp conditions.

BLAST! Thomas Frank has blown our cover, where our volcano lair at the Marianas Islands was near certain to allow us to continue our plans to exploit child labor to produce real profit in the United States!

Frank's deep digging -- i.e. reading an article in the Washington Post -- has led him to greater understanding of the tea party movement, that is, to be the exact cabal he'd suspected to begin with. The catalog of characters creates the perfect guilt-by-association portrait he'd been hoping for -- Dick Armey, Grover Norquist, even a "shadowy but influential new outfit."

You'd think that Frank would feel obliged to pick up a phone and find out what all these ne'er-do-wells were up to. The Post article might have reminded him (as it mentions me, though not by name) that he has my number. I gave it to him at the very first tea party protest in Washington. We spoke for about 10 minutes, during which he took notes. I still have his personal business card.

If he did so, he would have found out that Grover Norquist's involvement at the outset was not, in fact, hands on. He gave me an opportunity to speak at a meeting of conservatives which has all the shadiness of a professional happy hour (only with bagels). There, I let people know they could attend our protest.

The protest was even scheduled at the same time as Newt Gingrich's CPAC speech, but we encouraged people to skip Gingrich and come wave signs. ATR's sponsorship was as simple as us slapping a logo on our website and asking for advice.

But Frank appears not much interested in the facts, or reporting them soberly.

In his report from the Feb. 27, 2009 protest, he described this scene: "When I showed up for one last Friday in Washington's Lafayette Park, however, my suspicions were immediately raised. A fellow in an expensive-looking pinstriped suit came hustling into the gathering knot of the discontented, handing out pink pig balloons."

Why yes, there was a fellow handing out pink pig balloons while wearing a suit, but those balloons were purchased out of the private savings of one of the protesters who felt it might be eye-catching to spend 300 bucks on balloons. In fact, this person was also handing out balloons, and her name was Megan Barth. She flew out from California to participate. This was for maybe five minutes, until a park police officer informed us we would have to do away with them. When one of the organizers passed the word on to a mother whose child held a balloon, the mother looked fearful and said, "Oh no. This is going to cause a meltdown. We're just going to have to take the balloon with us then."

So I'm not sure what Frank means when he says, "I got out of there quick. This was no place to find the changed, chastened conservatism that all the pundits are looking for." He was there long enough to see the pig balloons get handed out at the beginning, and spoke to me about an hour after that. (The protest only lasted about that long, given concern over impending rain.)

If he had recalled that conversation, or any other he had while he was there, he would have remembered that the tea party in D.C. was hardly a "scheme to make politics answer to money." That would have been news to me and the other coorganizers, given that we had absolutely no money to talk about.

Park permits are free, as are borrowed bullhorns. Regardless, Frank is happy to pull cheap shots. You can say the tea parties are no great awakening (I disagree), but whatever you do, don't take the misleading, nigh-truthful "reportage" of Thomas Frank seriously.

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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