Tea Party Convention in Nashville to allow streaming Webcast and broadcast in response to critics

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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This weekend’s Tea Party Convention in Nashville, under criticism that high ticket prices are preventing true grassroots activists from attending, made a surprise announcement late Sunday night that the convention will be televised.

Tea Party Nation, the group sponsoring the event that starts Thursday, said it is working with internet media company PJTV, FOX News, CNN and Reuters TV to “allow the millions of Tea Party activists who could not be in attendance to view many of the proceedings live along with special interviews of delegates and speakers alike.”

Viewing times will be published on the National Tea Party Convention Web site, organizers said. Airings will include the live broadcast of the convention’s opening, keynote speeches during the conference and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin address, which reportedly cost the group $100,000.

The full ticket price — which does not include airfare or hotel accommodations at the Opryland Hotel — is $549 plus a $9.95 online booking fee.

While passes granting access to the full convention are sold out, the group is selling tickets to Palin’s address only for $349 on its Web site.

Organizers say the convention will feature well known speakers, workshops, seminars, information centers and organizational tools for leaders to take back to their respective local Tea Party organizations.

But Tea Party Nation founders Judson and Sherry Phillips have taken heat from those who say they are profiting from the convention and are trying to establish themselves as the leaders of the movement that has been defined so far by its resistance to any centralized leadership.

Nashville newspaper the Tennessean wrote that critics of the event fear it could ruin the movement with its emphasis on transforming the Tea Party from a grassroots uprising into a top-down organization.

A number of Tea Party groups and public officials have distanced themselves from the convention. Last week Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, both Republicans, canceled their scheduled appearances.

Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, acknowledged the controversy surrounding the event, saying the group and “my family have taken much criticism over the weeks preceding the convention.”

While working out the logistics to airing the convention, Phillips said the group has kept the “plans close to the vest.”

“Obviously, we believe that the delegates and banquet attendees are going to enjoy the networking and the excitement of being here directly. However, as we are all committed to grassroots activism, we wanted to share this event with those who could not come to Nashville,” he said.

Mark A. Skoda, founder of the the Memphis Tea Party and convention spokesman, also recognized the surprise element of the announcement.

“With our team effort and the many friends we had in the new media, we planned this surprise. We are hopeful that these millions of activists will participate with the local delegates through technology. As my father always said, you keep your powder dry until there’s something to shoot at,” he said.