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Who's behind those embarrassing interviews with tea partyers?

During Sarah Palin's book tour, a group of Ohio college students who'd launched a project called New Left Media staked out one of the former governor of Alaska's appearances and asked supporters what they liked about her. The video got more than 1.4 million views.

On April 15, New Left Media attended the tea party at the Washington Monument and asked activists why they were protesting. That video's page on the Huffington Post is about to clear 10,000 comments.

A quick look at the rest of New Left Media's videos produces a trove of similar material -- open-ended questions, attempts to drill down into activists' thinking, and inclusion of answers that are ... less than eloquent. Sometimes, the subjects acquit themselves well and give answers that simply don't satisfy liberals. Other times, they're made to look like fools.

I e-mailed Chase Whiteside, the man conducting the interviews, and asked how all of this came together. First of all, even though the filmmakers are college students, this is not a class project.

"We do not have any financial backers," said Whiteside. "If you have George Soros's phone number, could you send it to us? We exist on the donations of our viewers, and what money we get from Google Ads."

The difference between what New Left Media does and how the rest of the press covers tea parties, said Whiteside, is that the rest of the press doesn't examine the role of media in popularizing the tea parties.

"More than doing the work the mainstream media should do, it is our intention to show the consequences of what the mainstream media is doing," said Whiteside. "It is our belief, and to us it is superficially evident, that the Tea Party movement, purported to be disparate grassroots organizations of people who all woke up one morning with the same ideas about government and the Obama administration, is the public manifestation of the narratives pushed by Fox News -- narratives that are good for television ratings, but bad for political discourse, policy, and even the Republican Party. David Frum might agree."

And what does New Left Media think of the competition?

"CNN, like Fox News and MSNBC, should be largely dismissed as serious sources of news," said Whiteside, "as these outlets are all in the market of selling journalism through personalities, talking haircuts who report as much on what each other are saying as they do on reality. We could gather similarly substance-less interviews from people whose primary news source is Ed Schultz, but until those people gather with misspelled signs to protest policies they don't understand, we have no reason to."

By David Weigel  |  April 22, 2010; 3:12 PM ET
Categories:  Media , Tea Party  
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