Tim Dickinson from Rolling Stone Magazine went on MSNBC's Morning Joe this morning to discuss his new article on the forces organizing the astroturf tea party protests. If you haven't read it yet, please check out "The Lie Machine--GOP operatives are running a secret campaign to kill health care reform, and it's based on Karl Rove's old playbook" in this month's issue.
Mcjoan also wrote an excellent piece about it on the front page on Tuesday: "Manufactured Outrage."
But this morning's program was less an opportunity for Dickinson to explain the now obvious truth about Freedom Works, Americans for Prosperity, and the GOP plan to gin up outrage against President Obama than it was an example about how DC pundits and media types seem incapable of grappling with these facts when they are staring them in the face.
Video after the jump.
The Morning Joe panelists included Mika Brzezinski, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, Mort Zuckerman of US News & World Report, apologist Pat Buchanan, and the always watchable Lawrence O'Donnell. Morning Joke himself was apparently away.
This panel, to say the least, was not a liberal love fest, but it did represent a pretty standard cable composition of a resident liberal, a resident conservative, plus two allegedly mainstream pundits who really carry water for the conservatives. Mika dutifully stood in as the MSM airhead, but she represents the control group for what kind of information can penetrate a newsroom.
Here's the video along with some transcripted highlights:
Mika (reading from the article):
Far from representing a spontaneous upwelling of populist rage, the protests were tightly orchestrated from the top down by corporate-funded front groups as well as top lobbyists for the health care industry. Call it the return of the Karl Rove playbook: The effort to mobilize the angriest fringe of the Republican base was guided by a conservative dream team... [that included the same GOP henchmen who Swift-boated John Kerry in 2004, smeared John McCain in 2000, wrote the script for Republican obstructionism on global warming, and harpooned the health care reform effort led by Hillary Clinton in 1993.]
Tim, is that true? Explain.
Dickinson: I said let's name names. We had Dick Armey's FreedomWorks. We had Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity. We had Rick Scott's Conservatives for Patients' Rights. He was aided by the PR firm that helped swift boat John Kerry. And so these people were working in conjunction with...
Mika (interrupting): No, no. But these people in these screaming things were orchestrated and hired and working for someone?
Dickinson: No, I'm saying this was an effort that was directed by these groups from the top. They worked through a subordinate of FreedomWorks called Tea Party Patriots, who got access to the Tea Party listserv and put out calls to activists to go out to, for instance, the town hall rallies with Kathleen Sebelius and Arlen Specter that turned into quite a riot. And then there's an aftermath email that said, "Great work. Keep up the action." They distributed a memo that talked about how to "rock" the town halls, that described how 30 or 40 people could easily take over a town hall and appear to be a much larger presence than they actually were.
Lawrence O'Donnell: Tim, what difference should it make to us in the way we read these events whether these protests were spontaneous or organized in the way that you described?
Dickinson: It should make all the difference in the world. The question is whether people are coming to these spontaneously or whether they're being directed by groups that take money from the largest health insurers and oil firms.
Mika, to be fair, let's Dickinson speak, but you can see she felt compelled to interrupt and contradict him at the suggestion that all those ordinary people at the town halls--or the "screaming things"--could ever be manipulated into carrying water for someone's agenda. This is how corporate PR pulls the wool over the press, if they have enough fireworks to make good video.
Apologist Pat Buchanan, who has an ideological interest in believing that the tea parties genuinely reflect a majority sentiment, chimes in:
Buchanan: Excuse me, but I find this non-credible. You had thousands of people, tens of thousands of people at hundreds of town halls. The idea that Dick Armey can organize that from DC, or a bunch of lobbyists who can't organize something like that out of K Street, can be organizing these things all over the country when they couldn't do it for John McCain's campaign at all--it's sounds to me just non-credible that it all had to be organized by a few people.
I hear this argument a lot, and it represents a disconnect I've never understood. After all, if FreedomWorks can organize 40 people--who are angry enough to believe Obama will pull the plug on grandma--to crash a town hall, why couldn't they elect McCain? I suppose if there were enough people, whacked enough to believe the most evil conspiracies about Obama, to make up 50 percent of the electorate, he may have a point. But the tea parties are made up of the same people who attended Sarah Palin rallies and screamed "Terrorist" when John McCain mentioned Obama. These are the folks who thought Joe the Plumber would win the election. There's a very clear path from A to B here. I'm still dumbfounded that the facts about the astroturfing get dismissed just because the fringiest elements of the population can't constitute a majority of the electorate.
Dickinson then responds to Buchanan:
Dickinson: Well, they're working from a playbook that was pioneered by Phillip-Morris in the 90s to defeat the Clinton health care plan. You had Phillip-Morris was paying Conservatives for a Sound Economy $400,000 to gin up town hall opposition to the Clinton thing because it was going to be funded by tobacco taxes. Who's Citizens for a Sound Economy now? Citizens for a Sound Economy now split in 2003 to become FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.
In other words, you don't have to believe Rolling Stone. Just look at history.
Maria Bartiromo then offers her insight, in what may be the dumbest thing she's said since she believed that people under 65 are eligible for Medicare:
Bartiromo: Are you sure the liberal left didn't create the playbook actually? I mean, this is exactly what's happening on the other side: grassroots organizations. I mean, who's directing MoveOn.org?
O'Donnell: Well, it's not Washington lobbyists who are directing MoveOn.org. It's a completely different operation.
Yes, Maria. The tea parties are exactly like MoveOn. And I'm sure there will be Republicans lining up to distance themselves from the venom pushed by Americans for Prosperity the same way Democrats run when MoveOn does something controversial. Oh, wait...
Zuckerman then adds what I suppose you can call the conservative/deficit-hawk perspective on the tea party "movement":
Zuckerman: With or without these people, don't you think there was a fundamental unease about the way this health care plan was being promoted? Don't you think there was a fundamental concern amongst other things, not just of the role of government, but the cost of government, at a time when the whole country was worried about debt, their own debt, and the debt of the country? I mean, there was a deeper issue that everyone seems to have tapped into. It surely could not all have been organized the way you've been talking about.
Translation: The tea partiers are responding to something I agree with, so they can't be astroturf.
Dickinson then carefully explains to Zuckerman how to find his nose on his face:
Dickinson: No, I'm saying the conditions for that are ripe because of that very fear. Clearly the Obama administration lost control of the message. But when you have experienced people--I mean, the Republicans may be out of power as a party, but their operatives, the same people who led us into the Iraq War on false information, are still out there. These people didn't go away. There are a lot of mature and powerful assets that the Republican Party and their corporate allies can deploy.
The only issue I'd take with Dickinson's assertion that Obama "lost" control of the message is similar to what I've been saying before on this site: It's hard to message your way out of having no bill to defend, especially when the other side is escalating the fight and out-organizing you. To say the Obama team "lost" control of the message is similar to saying a bank "lost" its money after being held up at gunpoint.
What I think this morning's program demonstrates is that the record establishing the connections between the Republican Party, the tea party, and the corporate interests vested in defeating Obama's agenda--and not just in health care, but in energy and everything else that depends on Obama succeeding first on health care--is clear as day. Some mainstream figures are wise to it, but the message will never quite penetrate the narrow minds of most Beltway reporters, so long as it's considered a partisan issue to point out the astroturf nature of the campaign.
The only solution is never to mention the tea parties without linking them back to the money behind them.
Actually, the solution is to beat them. Pass health care, and watch what happens.