Yesterday, the Mizzou College Republicans hosted the Central Missouri Tax Day Tea Party in Jefferson City.
Yes, it was a tea party event — one of many in the national movement spurred by Rick Santelli’s call to action in February. Local legislators and several attendees spoke at the podium on the south steps of the state Capitol building. All but one were Republicans or like-minded as such.
I somewhat reluctantly covered the event for The Columbia Missourian.
I’d heard about the event a few days ago and knew I would have to check it out and probably write up an article about it. But until I heard my editor Phill ranting and raving about the event and then found out The Missourian did want a story, I wasn’t very serious about covering the tea party.
Let me make this clear from the start: My reluctance had nothing to do with any of my personal political affiliations or fiscal beliefs, both of which I always do my absolute best to distance from the quality and breadth of my reporting. (Side note: as a political reporter, I make a point of not revealing either my political affiliations or fiscal beliefs in public forums.)
Rather, my reluctance was due to the nature of the event. Whether Republican or Democrat in nature, politically-oriented rallies hold very little journalistic attraction for me. Providing coverage to such rallies seems almost like providing free PR and media attention to politically like-minded people who happen to be exercising their First Amendment right to free speech in a public area.
Or, as Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, put it:
It doesn’t have any meaning. The whole reason they did it was so you and I would have this conversation. And you are buying into that by having the conversation. So it’s a clear media manipulation. You have been successfully manipulated.
Again — I cannot emphasize enough that I would agree without Rep. Kelly about political rallies organized by either Republicans or Democrats. My reluctance truly goes either way.
It’s a strange line to try and tread, that line between journalism and PR. I feel the same reluctance when I discuss certain bills or other kinds of legislation. One of the best ways for me to resolve any natural slant for the political party whose views are being strongly promulgated via a rally or legislation is to include comment from the opposing party. But it can be difficult to prevent the article from becoming simply a political crossfire.