Suddenly, Dems don't like coverage of town hall protests

Once, Democrats pushed stories about protesters; now, they're decrying the focus on them

Published August 14, 2009 5:45PM (EDT)

Democrats have a new message on the town hall protests, and the media coverage of them.

"I don’t think all the town halls are as you’re seeing them on TV," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at his briefing Thursday. "While I appreciate that you all have decided that every town-hall meeting ends in pushing, shoving and yelling ... well, I don’t know how many town halls you all have been to. They’re not completely indicative of what’s going on in America.”

And in an e-mail to reporters, the Democratic National Committee made a similar point: "Outside the echo chamber of 24-hour cable news, Americans ... are holding respectful, honest debates about the best way to achieve health insurance reform. Those open and honest conversations, however, are being crowded out by a national media obsession with a relative handful of sensational disruptions at other town halls."

I'm the last person to defend cable news, especially on this subject. And I agree with the DNC, as I've written before, that the town hall protests aren't really representative of the actual public mood. But it's more than a little hard to trust the Democrats' sincerity on this, as they've done a full flop on the subject. Once, when it appeared that playing up the "mob" aspect of the town halls would help the pro-reform cause, they were all over it. Now that there's some evidence that people might actually be swayed by the protesters, and with the national conversation having been taken away from the Democrats, they've changed their tune.

That's clear just from looking at all the other e-mails the DNC has sent to reporters about the town halls over the past couple weeks. Here's a sample of the subject lines from these blast e-mails: "The danger in the right's anger," "Town Hall Crashers: 'Turn the Tables on Our Fuhrer,'" "Mob actions backfiring on GOP," "Dem Congressman Life Threatened Over Health Care Bill," "Mob Compares President To Nazi in Swastika Sign," "Pelosi Protesters, Including Kid in Stroller, Compare Obama to Hitler," "Mob leaves behind a gun."

Those e-mails certainly didn't read like the DNC was trying to discourage coverage. That's not how they see it, though.

"We have said all along that a vast majority of Americans want a civil discussion about how to move health insurance reform forward," DNC National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan said in a statement provided to Salon. "But the media has focused on an vocal, venomous minority who are the most disruptive at events and suggested they are representative of what's going on in the country. And while it's important to point out who these folks are and how they are acting at a handful of the most sensational events, they are not representative of the tone of what's going on at most events. In the grassroots, there are thousands of town halls ... taking place where folks are talking about how to move forward to get reform done, not shouting one another down. That's the story that's not being told."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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