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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

O'Donnell: Well, it's not Washington lobbyists who are directing  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.

Originally posted to Lib Stone on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 10:29 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Thanks for doing this (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      janmtairy, Lib Stone

      I've sworn off cable but like to know what's going on.

      •  I take cable in doses. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Kitty, janmtairy

        It's frustrating, but at least I'm less surprised when something stupid catches fire because I heard people spreading it on TV.

        Cable has provided a lot of material for me lately.

      •  watched this this am... agreed 100% (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Kitty, lamonth, Lib Stone

        it was sad to see Maria equate MoveOn With CPR, as if MoveOn was funded by an entire Industry or something.

        The IDK whats so hard about realizing

        1. Tea Party Goers emotions are real
        1. Their emotions are exploited by mis-truths and flat lies meant to target their social qualms (illegals, government involvement)
        1. This creates irrational people because they are worked up over fake information, thus, manufactured outrage (that they may or may not have had, or been as incensed over if they had non-corporation washed information)

        Tweetivism -- Tweet all members of the Senate on twitter at once, with one easy form. Push HCR, thats the current topic!

        by no puma on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 10:38:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Part of the "both sides" media cop out (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lamonth, Nada Lemming, no puma

          If one side is doing something, one can appear fair by saying the other side does it too.  When you consider that Maria is trying to discredit the argument for her own reasons, we see again how this technique is meant to benefit one side over another.

          •  dont even get me started on Grayson (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Lib Stone

            trying to compare him to Joe Wilson, and act as if what he did was some how out of line, while Republicans were screaming death to grandma and Death Panels for 2 months straight

            Tweetivism -- Tweet all members of the Senate on twitter at once, with one easy form. Push HCR, thats the current topic!

            by no puma on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 10:49:01 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  O'Donnell also had an interesting take on Grayson (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              no puma

              I've been less than enthused about the Grayson celebration.  I tend to think that episodes like his serve more to make our side feel better at the expense of alienating the middle and triggering the right-wing umbrage machine.  That's why Obama on balance has the winning formula.

              But O'Donnell this morning argued the whole controversy was actually a boon to Democrats because it provided a diversion to the Senate Finance Committee, allowing the Senate to work and keep the controversy away from taxes.

              It's an interesting thought, but it's also an indictment of how cable news taints the process.

              Fight a circus with a circus, I guess.

              •  well my take is this: (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                1. Grayson provided a huge leap of logic that is actually somewhat factual, as people are constantly dying by lack of care or denial of care.

                As opposed to republican death panels, pull plug, and take all their medicare money away and kill old people.... etc.

                1. Congress can be firey, Obama IS the balance.
                1. Grayson gets headlines calling Republicans on their game. All the headlines are Democrats want to kill you, why cant republicans get that same headline and even out the coverage. Crazy claims get coverage, but like I said before, his is actually backed up by facts and history.
                1. Lawrence is the only person I have heard talk about the taxes, however, they are on the insurance companies for offering expensive plans vs on people themselves.

                I personally like the idea as it creates a disincentive for companies to charge out the ass because they can

                Tweetivism -- Tweet all members of the Senate on twitter at once, with one easy form. Push HCR, thats the current topic!

                by no puma on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 11:00:53 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  Mika: (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      justmy2, Virginia mom, Lib Stone

      "I'm uncomfortable with this being only about the Right."

      I'll bet you are, Mika, I'll bet you are.  

      "Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House." -Bob Herbert

      by Nada Lemming on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 11:19:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  questions: (0+ / 0-)

    who is the "resident liberal" and who are the "allegedly mainstream pundits"?

    •  seems .... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lib Stone

      that lawrence and barnicle are the only real liberals on the show, sans a few guests.

      Mika has jumped shark after enough beatings from Joe and Willy just talks shit

      Tweetivism -- Tweet all members of the Senate on twitter at once, with one easy form. Push HCR, thats the current topic!

      by no puma on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 10:39:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Terms of art (0+ / 0-)

      I consider O'Donnell the resident liberal because he's a paid MSNBC analyst who's a regular feature on the network's panels.  The term might be a bit too dismissive because he's pretty good--not a potted plant like Alan Colmes--but I think he's there to serve a function.

      The mainstream pundits would be Bartiromo and Zuckerman.  Bartiromo is from CNBC and gets a lot of undeserved respect for "reporting" on Wall Street, when she in fact carries a pretty heavy pro-industry bias.  Zuckerman is the editor for a national news mag, and makes the rounds on lots of chat shows, but he's no liberal.

      These two seem to fill the "mainstream roles" by default since Pat Buchanan is the right wing paid analyst who offsets O'Donnell.

  •  Actually, I think the whole "astroturf" (0+ / 0-)

    thing is kind of a non-issue.  Yes, there are groups trying to organize people to come out in groups against health care.  Yes, there are groups trying to organize people to come out FOR health care.  The bottom line is that, to get LARGE groups of people out, the group organizing things has to say something that gets the interest of those people.  The organization is step 1; convincing the people to spend their day out there protesting against something, or gathering for something, is step 2.  And you don't get to step 2 unless you convince people that it is a cause worth their time.  

    If the people showing up either for or against something were being paid to do that, that would be a different story, of course.  But the fact that organized groups on both sides are trying to get people who agree with them to show up at rallies and town hall meetings -- well, it seems to me that's how democracy happens.  I don't think I've ever seen a very large gathering of people either supporting or against any single issue where there wasn't some kind of organization behind it.  I expect there to be some kind of organnization behind any large gathering on a political issue.  

    •  The big difference is the elemant of deception (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lamonth, progresso

      that is fundamental to the tea parties.  The corporate PR plan was to make this appear like a genuine grassroots backlash to what nodding news reporters would have to accept as something--who knows what?--fundamentally radical or controversial about the plans.

      If a winning message is Obama and the people versus the insurance companies, than it's good to know that the insurance companies are backing the tea partiers.

  •  There is a very real conspiracy by a lot of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lib Stone, progresso

    news organasions to spread misinformation and keep Americans stupid of all facts, that should be fought at all means.  

  •  Great analysis. I hate morning Joke. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lib Stone

    With the exception of Lawrence O'Donnell this show sucks. I love the primetime slots of Chris, Ed, Keith and Rachel, and you would think that they would have a morning show that complemented the liberal tilt of the network.

    "Once spirit was God, then it became man, and now it is even becoming mob."

    by progresso on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 10:53:53 AM PDT

  •  they understand perfectly well, they willfully (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lib Stone

    ignore it.

    OH NOEZ!! Obama is a huge gigantous failure!! Obama=Bush's 3rd term! OH NOEZ!! Make Sarah Palin President instead! /snark.

    by moja31 on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 11:24:05 AM PDT

  •  And this has been another episode of why (0+ / 0-)

    I don't watch Morning Joe.

    "Republicans drove the country into a ditch and now they are complaining about the cost of the tow truck"-Jim Cornette

    by justmy2 on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 11:34:10 AM PDT

  •  great insight. i truly believe progressives need (0+ / 0-)

    to start going after the media like conservatives do all the time in calling the media liberal. for years i have concluded that the media is not liberal at all they will just say and do anything to get viewers ie obama was popular so they showed everything he did everyday and then the media asks is obama over exposed (you just scratch your head)

    progressives need to start calling the media on asking republican talking points and not looking out for the best interest of the american people by asking intelligent questions. i like the part where you give a breakdown of the panelist one conservative and two conservatives disguised as mainstream media journalist - this use to happen all the time on sunday shows where the show would load the deck for the conservative point of view (this is how we really were fooled into going to war with iraq)

    is maria bartiromo really that flighty, i am not trying to be sexist but - wow!!!! how do you believe someone like her even when she does have a point.

  •  Rachel was huge on this subject during... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lize in San Francisco

    the August townbrawls... thanks for your diary, Lib Stone. :-)

    "There is no red America, or blue America, there is the United States of America." 2004 DNC Speech

    by BarackStarObama on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 11:50:22 AM PDT

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