CNN: Tea Party fluff piece not an attempt to woo conservatives

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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CNN says a glowing piece by one African-American producer about his experience on the Tea Party Express is not evidence of a scheme by the network to woo conservatives, but the blogosphere is skeptical.

“They’re more than a year late and a dollar short,” conservative commentator Michelle Malkin wrote. “After incessant mockery, vulgar epithets and condescension, desperate, ratings-starved CNN is now sending me e-mails touting the fact that one of their producers is saying nice things about Tea Party activists.”

Newsbusters’ Rusty Weiss, who appeared more pleased by piece but posted a critical e-mail sent to the Media Research Center from CNN, asked: “Is the network actively seeking a shift to more fair and balanced coverage, or are they seeking the admiration of conservatives driving the ratings of Fox News?”

A head CNN editor downplayed that being the case. The editor said the story is not part of any contrived scheme to attract conservatives, but is rather the “case of a reporter telling his editors he had a great story and his editors saying write it.”

Producer Shannon Travis wrote on that while media coverage of Tea Partiers often shows “offensive posters blasting President Obama and Democratic leaders; racist rhetoric spewed from what seems to be a largely white, male audience, and angry protesters rallying around the Constitution,” he witnessed, “Patriotic signs professing a love for country; mothers and fathers with their children; African-Americans proudly participating, and senior citizens bopping to a hip-hop rapper.”

Travis, according to the editor, did advance for CNN’s TV coverage of the Tea Party Express and sent some anecdotes about his experience to fellow producers, who in turn asked him to post his thoughts online. “He was asked to turn it into a reporter’s notebook and he did,” the editor said.

After the story posted, CNN did what many outlets do — including The Daily Caller — by having its PR department send out links to their stories to venues that may post the story and bring in traffic to the site. “They do this dozens a time a day with dozens of stories,” the editor said.

Those e-mails have been questioned by some of the recipients for their motive:

On Malkin’s blog, she posted an e-mail she received from CNN, that reads, “I thought this might be an interesting post for you — a behind-the-scenes piece about the Tea Party and how the stereotypes don’t tell the full story. Let me know if you need anything else!”

A CNN spokesperson said the network’s PR company did send out the story to outlets they thought would find the story interesting. It appears CNN’s political director, Sam Feist, also sent some.

In an e-mail to Newsbuters obtained by The Daily Caller, Feist wrote, “Clearly our critics from the left don’t think we should be covering the Tea Party movement in the way we are and clearly CNN thinks it’s a legitimate and important story.”

“We’re getting hit from the left for covering the Tea Party Express tour,” he continued. “It turns out that after the big event in Searchlight, Nevada last week — CNN was the only major news organization traveling with the Tea Party Express.”

Feist added: “I’m told there were no cameras or reporters from Fox News on the Tea Party tour.”

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