For the Media, It's Tea Party On, Health Care Protest Off

05/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hey, did you hear about yesterday's pro-health care reform rally in Washington, DC?

You might not have if you watched any of the cable news networks.

Yeah, the protest sponsored by "Health Care for America Now!" and various other pro-reform groups got a couple of good hits on MSNBC and CNN, as well as at least one network news mention, but for a rally that brought thousands of people into the streets of DC, that's somewhat anemic. Contrast that with the slavish live team coverage that happens anytime a group of tea baggers gets together to bitch about everything from the encroaching communist threat to Obama's obvious resemblance to Adolf Hitler and the Biblically predicted Anti-Christ.

My good friend and fellow ex-CNNer Jacki Schechner is the national communications director for HCAN, which means that it's her job to push the group's message to the press -- and it goes without saying that she's got her work cut out for her, through absolutely no fault of her own. In keeping with tradition, it would take Spencer Tunick-style mass nudity or maybe a bonfire on the steps of the Capitol -- neither of which I'd recommend -- for a left-leaning rally to get wall-to-wall news coverage these days.

And that's obviously the problem, one that's highlighted by both Bob Cesca and Digby today. They've each noticed the discrepancy and have brought up separate relevant points.

Cesca argues that the lack of press -- or at least the disparity in coverage -- once again proves that the so-called liberal media is anything but. I've argued before that whether or not the people putting the news on the air stand on the left politically, the news you get from them is generally center-right -- the reason being that conservatives have become so admirably adept at using the "liberal media" label as a pejorative Scarlet Letter against a broad spectrum of news outlets that those outlets constantly overcompensate. There isn't a newsroom I've worked in during my career that the fear of being stigmatized as liberally biased wasn't always omnipresent. The usual suspects on the right consistently beat the drum of the supposed unfriendly media for one simple reason: They know that it works -- it allows them to control the narrative. Whenever you hear somebody blather on about how "liberal" the media are, trust me, it's propagandistic horseshit. Maybe some are in spirit, but absolutely not in practice. Certainly not these days.

Meanwhile, Digby expounds on the notion of what it takes for either side to get noticed by the press. For a long time, the most irritating aspect of any progressive political protest was its insistence on taking a page directly out of the 60s playbook, which meant dressing up like extras in Disney's Main Street Electrical Parade and dancing around like idiots. This accomplished nothing other than confirming the suspicions of those who were ostensibly being rallied against -- namely that the left was comprised of a bunch of children who couldn't get their act together and weren't to be taken seriously under any circumstances. The correct way to protest -- especially something like health care, which is, literally, serious as a heart attack -- was always to stand as one entity rather than as a series of individuals. That's because, while in the 60s the individual could be seen as a threat to the establishment, since that era, the entire notion of individualism has been co-opted by the establishment and watered down so that it's essentially meaningless. Anything you can possibly consider yourself -- any way you might hope to stand out -- has already been collected, repackaged and done to death by everyone from Hollister to Hot Topic.

The problem, though, is that the press does in fact love a freakshow. That's why it covers the hell out of the tea bagger rallies -- precisely because they're often packed to the brim with largely ignorant paranoiacs who are more than happy to grab the nearest mic and spout off one completely insane soundbite after another. These people feel nothing even approaching shame when they shout about how Barack Obama and the boogeyman of "big government" are going to bring about the End of Days (or at the very least the end of the country). That kind of crap makes for great TV. Much better TV than a large group of people focused on angrily demanding better health care.

Put these two things together -- the media's unwillingness to be perceived as favoring the left-wing perspective, even to the point of excluding the left-wing perspective, and their love of reality TV-style crazy -- and you've got a recipe for why a serious progressive politics rally would never get the kind of coverage a tea bagger gathering would.

The only thing that might tip the scales is sheer numbers -- a willingness to hit the streets by the hundreds of thousands. That's been one place where the left has lacked this time around -- and admittedly, for that, they have no one to blame but themselves. But who knows if even that would make any difference?