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Fox News investigates tea party conspiracy-mongering

CNN might have run the most positive take on the "tea party" movement of any mainstream media outlet. That cleared the deck for Fox News, which put up this Cristina Corbin piece on the "Tea Party Express tour" yesterday.

[W]hile organizers have held the tour as a way to stay front-and-center as a political force, the rallies have also attracted the kinds of mistruths, exaggerations and conspiracy theories that make Tea Party leaders cringe. Though the movement is still trying to shore up its credentials as a grassroots power that's here to stay, the so-called "fringe" and its accompanying antics continue to give critics fodder.

"Obama, to me, is a socialist. He's a Muslim and all he wants to do is bankrupt us and run us into the ground," Ken Schwalbach of Escanaba, Mich., said at a rally on Friday.

Though Obama is a Christian -- and his Christian faith was a focal point of debate during the campaign-era controversy over his former pastor Jeremiah Wright -- the allegations that the president is a secret Muslim persist years later.

Read the whole thing, which also lumps a man worried about "death panels" into the conspiracy camp and grabs this quote on the conspiracy theory that President Obama was born abroad from the TPE's Mark Williams.

It's an interesting constitutional exercise to wonder about and talk about it. But it's a dead end in terms of getting anything accomplished.

I like to provide some leeway on that issue, but "interesting constitutional exercise to wonder about" is not exactly a full-bore refutation of birtherism.

Why would Fox News run this? The wrap-up of the health-care debate produced around 72 hours of blisteringly negative coverage of tea parties, with local groups denouncing (or trying to debunk) the reports of ugly slurs on Capitol Hill. The following two weeks produced at least three stories of serious threats to members of Congress, and the suspects were not as far removed from the tea parties as organizers would have liked. This week's tea party protests, unlike the 2009 rallies or the taxpayer march on Washington, are going to be covered as legitimate news stories with real political impact. And if the media looks for kooks, kooks will be found. So some preemptive cooling of that narrative is in order.

By David Weigel  |  April 12, 2010; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  Fringe , Tea Party  
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