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Zack Christenson registers the Internet domain name “chicagoteaparty.com.” Christenson, a Republican, is the producer for the conservative Chicago radio host Milt Rosenburg, who is busily associating presidential candidate Barack Obama with former left-wing radical William Ayers (see August 2008). Christenson will not activate a Web site using that domain name until February 19, 2009, when CNBC commentator Rick Santelli engages in an “impromptu” on-air rant calling for a “Chicago tea party” in protest of the Obama administration’s economic policies (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009). (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009)
After the election of Barack Obama as president (see November 4, 2008), the Libertarian Party of Illinois begins formulating a concept it calls the “Boston Tea Party Chicago,” and begins advertising this through its Yahoo and “meetup” groups, through the Ron Paul Meetup and Campaign for Liberty groups, and through various anti-tax groups. Dave Brady of the Libertarian Party of Illinois later claims that “we gave [CNBC commentator] Rick Santelli the idea for the Tax Day Tea Parties” (see February 19, 2009). One of the Libertarian Party of Illinois list members, Eric Odom, with a history of campaigning against proposed regulations on offshore oil drilling, takes a position as the new media director of the Sam Adams Alliance. Odom and his fellow Illinois Libertarians begin expanding the original “Boston Tea Party Chicago” concept, creating an Internet-based network of conservative activists that will become a centerpiece of tea party organizing. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
FedUpUSA, a group of investors in Troy, Michigan, issues a call for people to send tea bags to Congress as a sign of their disapproval of Democratic economic policies. The group calls the event a “Commemorative Tea Party.” This will become one of the earliest events in the history of the “tea party” movement. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010) Nineteen days later, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli will launch what he calls an unplanned, “impromptu” rant against the Obama administration’s economic policies, in which he will call for a “tea party” protest (see February 19, 2009).
A rally in Seattle called “Porkulus,” a term popularized by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, draws about 100 participants. The rally is to protest the Obama administration’s economic policies. It is organized by area math teacher Keli Carender, who blogs under the moniker “Liberty Belle.” During the rally, Carender shouts, “We don’t want this country to go down the path to socialism!” eliciting “Hear, hear!” responses. She calls the government’s economic stimulus package (which Limbaugh has dubbed “porkulus”) “the reason we’re in this mess.” She also plays an audiotape of a speech by former President Ronald Reagan. Rally participant Connie White tells a reporter that Congressional Democrats are “ramming things through for their liberal agenda. I’m one of the poor. I used to be middle class. But I don’t want the government helping me.” Carender will become one of the area’s more prominent “tea party” organizers, and after she is brought to Washington, DC, for training by the lobbying group FreedomWorks, becomes part of the nationwide Tea Party Patriots organization. The next day, the day President Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, another “Porkulus” rally occurs in Denver, hours after Obama visits another site in the city to promote the bill. The Denver “Porkulus” rally is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and the Independence Institute. The next day, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli performs his five-minute “impromptu” rant against the legislation, and calls for “tea party” protests to oppose it (see February 19, 2009). (Kissel 2/17/2009; Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
National Review columnist Kathryn Jean Lopez says that the reaction to CNBC commentator Rick Santelli’s “tea party rant” (see February 19, 2009) has been so strong that she is speculating about the possibility of a presidential ticket for 2012 featuring former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and Santelli: “Palin-Santelli 2012.” She writes: “I’m noticing the tone. I’m seeing the enthusiasm. And I’m digging out from the sheer volume of e-mails I’ve been getting today about that CNBC dude. The reaction to Rick Santelli’s Chicago-trading-floor incident this morning echoes the emotional reaction my inbox had to Sarah Palin’s convention speech this summer. I make no endorsements. It’s just an observation.” She calls Santelli a “sign of life” for a flagging conservative opposition movement. (Lopez 2/19/2009)
In what is purportedly an impromptu on-air “rant,” CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli exhorts viewers to join in what he calls a “Chicago tea party” to oppose the Obama administration’s plans to bail out several large financial institutions. Santelli’s rant comes during CNBC’s Squawk Box broadcast. (CNBC 2/19/2009; CNBC 2/19/2009) Santelli’s “impromptu rant” is actually preceded by a number of “tea party” protests and activities, and some of the protests’ organizers claim to have given Santelli the idea for his on-air “tea party” statement (see After November 7, 2008, February 1, 2009, and February 16-17, 2009).
'It's Time for Another Tea Party' - Broadcasting from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Santelli tells viewers in part: “The government is promoting bad behavior. We certainly don’t want to put stimulus pork and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check and think that they ought to save it.… I have an idea. The new administration is big on computers and technology. How about this, Mr. President and new administration. Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages? Or would they like to at least buy buy cars, buy a house that is in foreclosure… give it to people who might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water? This is America! How many people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand! President Obama, are you listening?… It’s time for another tea party. What we are doing in this country will make Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin roll over in their graves.” Santelli also compares the US to Cuba: “Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy,” he says. “They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they’re driving ‘54 Chevys.” (RightPundits 2/19/2009) Santelli’s “tea party” metaphor is in reference to the Boston Tea Party, a Revolutionary War protest against taxation by America’s British rulers. (Connor 2/20/2009)
Financial Traders Are the 'Real Americans' - Santelli tells viewers that the “real” Americans are not the working-class citizens trying to pay mortgages larger than they can handle, but the stock traders and other members of the Chicago Mercantile, New York Stock Exchange, and other members of the financial industry. (Weisenthal 2/19/2009) Santelli says, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July (see After November 7, 2008), all you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Cheers and Applause - Behind Santelli, traders erupt in cheers and applause at his comments. (Graef 2/20/2009)
Active Promotion of the Video - Within hours, CNBC begins promoting the video of Santelli’s comments, calling it “the rant of the year” and posting it on YouTube and its own website. (CNBC 2/20/2009)
Protests, Organizations Begin Forming - Within minutes of Santelli’s broadcast, “tea party” organizations and groups begin forming (see February 19, 2009 and After).
More Studied Response - Three days later, Santelli will explain the thinking behind his comments, saying: “America is a great country and we will overcome our current economic setbacks. The issues that currently face us and the solutions to correct them need to be debated, vetted, and openly studied. This should not be an issue about the political left or right. This is an issue of discourse on a topic that affects the foundation and principles that make our country great… free speech, contract law, freedom of the press, and most of all the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren.” (CNBC 2/22/2009)
Human Rights Organization: 'Racial' Component to Santelli's Rhetoric - In 2010, a report by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) will say that “[a]n unstated racial element colored Santelli’s outrage over the Obama administration’s home mortgage rescue plan.” The report will explain that many of the “losers” responsible for the “bad loans” Santelli is criticizing were made by banks that “disproportionately targeted communities of color for subprime loans.” Santelli’s “losers” are largely African-American or Hispanic borrowers who had “been oversold by lenders cashing in on the subprime market. Their situations were worsened by derivatives traders, like Santelli, who packaged and re-packaged those loans until they were unrecognizable and untenable.” (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
The media responds strongly to CNBC commentator Rick Santelli’s call for a “tea party” to oppose the Obama economic stimulus. (CNBC 2/20/2009)
Santelli 'Equally Complicit' in Economic Crisis - Writing for College News, Jon Graef notes that Santelli has opposed virtually all of the Obama economic policies, including all the bailouts of the mortgage and automobile industries. He lauds Santelli for “embracing the democratic possibilities that the Internet allows,” but says that “Santelli and his ilk are equally complicit in the housing/finance crises as those who refused to live responsibly within their means. If Santelli doesn’t like the details of the mortgage bailout, then why is continuing to work in conjunction with an industry that received its own government bailout—and promptly spent it on press releases and product placement?” (Graef 2/20/2009)
'Mad as Hell' - Writer Jerome Corsi, who penned a lurid and highly inaccurate “biography” of President Obama before the 2008 election (see August 1, 2008 and After), notes that some are comparing Santelli’s rant to that of fictional news anchor Howard Beale in the movie Network, where Beale screams, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!” (Corsi 2/19/2009)
'Investors Have It All Figured Out' - Market analyst Donald Luskin writes that Santelli “went a little bit berserk in his broadcast… warning that all the bailouts, programs, rescues, stabilizations, and stimuli are turning our capitalist nation into Cuba. He got the floor traders so stirred up it seemed for a minute there that an armed revolution was going to start at any moment.” Luskin continues, with at least some sarcasm: “Santelli is right. This country is being rescued to death. The voters may be fooled, for a while at least. But obviously investors have it all figured out.” (Luskin 2/20/2009)
'Santelli Hates Poor People' - The avant-garde Washington political gossip blog Wonkette calls Santelli “unlikable” for calling Americans forced to default on their mortgage “losers,” and calls his on-air rant “apesh_t.” Commentator Jim Newell continues, “Maybe Obama’s plan isn’t so great, who knows, but one thing is clear, and that’s that Rick Santelli hates poor people—and by poor people we mean the bottom 50-90 percent of per capita income earners.” (Jim Newell 2/20/2009)
'Speaking Truth to Ego and the Far Left' - Financial blogger Thomas Smicklas writes that Santelli “sp[oke] truth to ego and the far left.… It is becoming more apparent each day of the new administration those who work hard, save, and are responsible citizens are getting hosed by the practice of class warfare.… Ladies and gentlemen, the politics of vote buying, legal extortion, and the re-distribution of wealth to the lazy and ill-educated has begun in earnest. And we haven’t even touched upon a deteriorating foreign policy. Thanks to CNBC’s Rick Santelli and the workers in the pit that deal in commodities who finally expressed it. We can all be grateful for the lesson.” (Thomas Smicklas 2/20/2009)
Rewarding Those Who Caused the Bad Lending - The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins writes that right-wing media figures such as Matt Drudge are “freaking out” over Santelli’s rant, “fomentin’ a revolution on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He’s assembled a small army of half-hearted, floor-trading broheims to cheer and hoot as he rails against President Obama’s plan to not immediately foreclose on everybody and kick them out into the streets, because that rewards ‘bad behavior,’ and clearly what we should be doing is rewarding people who incentivized all the risky lending, because until the house of cards collapsed, things were looking pretty for everybody!” (Linkins 3/22/2009)
'Hysteria a la Fox News' - Columnist Mary McNamara calls Santelli’s rant “colorful,” but says Santelli’s “rhetoric/hysteria a la Fox News is damaging to national discourse.” The financial crisis has hit hardest, not in the businesses and mansions of the people Santelli works with, but in the working-poor and lower-middle class families. “They work hard,” she writes. “They weren’t buying luxury homes. Sure, there were a few speculators. But mostly, they just wanted a little piece of the American dream, especially good schools for their kids and closer proximity to their work.” (McNamara 2/19/2009)
'Money for Idiots' - Conservative columnist David Brooks refers to Santelli’s “lustily” delivered rant in defending the necessity for the government to stabilize an economy sliding into chaos. (Brooks 2/19/2009)
'Pretty Awesome' - New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler writes that she finds Santelli’s “call for revolution… pretty awesome.” She writes, “Santelli is pissed off about the Obama administration’s bailout measures so far, in particular the housing plan the administration announced yesterday, and he wants America to stand up and revolt before we turn into some kind of not-even-tropical version of Cuba.” (Pressler 2/19/2009)
Favorable Coverage from Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge - Associated Content’s Mark Whittington notes that Santelli’s rant is garnering tremendous coverage from conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Drudge. “More importantly,” he writes, “Santelli’s attack on the Obama mortgage bailout scheme seems to reflect a growing disquiet over President Obama’s spending schemes, which started with the stimulus package, and will now not only include a bailout for mortgages but also a new bailout for the car companies and perhaps even a second stimulus.” (Whittington 2/19/2009)
'Almost Inciting a Riot' - Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal observes: “CNBC’s RIck Santelli is always pugnacious, but he outdid himself today, almost inciting a riot among the traders in Chicago when talking about Obama’s housing plan. Suffice to say, the capitalists on the floor do not want to pay for anyone else’s mortgage. Neither do we. That being said, his insistence that these guys represent the ‘real America’ won’t ultimately play that well among most people.” (Weisenthal 2/19/2009) Progressive columnist and blogger John Amato calls himself “disgusted” at Santelli’s “embarrassing diatribe at the expense of the American people,” and writes that watching Santelli “made me realize that these Wall Street frat boys still don’t get it. America is sick and tired of the riches they have manipulated out of the system and then be lectured by people who make more money than 100 middle class workers put together.” Referring to Santelli’s experience as a trader in the high-risk derivative market, an area that many have blamed for causing much of the economic downturn, Amato writes sarcastically, “The next time I want advice on how to live I’ll be sure to ask a man who was deeply involved in ‘derivatives.’” He concludes: “Don’t blame the crooked mortgage lenders who were having bidding wars to acquire their next mansion, but blame first time buyers or average Americans, the lifeblood of our society and call them ‘losers.’ Santelli needs to own that he is the loser and if it wasn’t for the gasbag insider crowd that gives his words a modicum of respect, crowds would gather outside his home with torches and pitchforks.” (John Amato 2/21/2009)
'Voice of the Silent Majority' - Progressive author and blogger Jane Hamsher writes: “Rick Santelli is just the explosive id of CNBC, saying what everyone else thinks. Somehow it’s not the pervasive institutional rot, the criminal malfeasance at the highest levels, or the chairman of the Federal Reserve telling Americans over and over again that housing prices would never go down. They have convinced themselves that the real problem is once again people at the absolute bottom of the economic scale. If they’d only used appropriate ‘judgment’ and lived within their means, we’d all be fine. Santelli is now being promoted by CNBC as a truth teller, a voice of the… ‘silent majority.’ ‘Would you join Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party?”’ they want to know. With 170,000 respondents, 93 percent say yes! I guess it was only a matter of time before a hero emerged.” (Jane Hamsher 2/20/2009; CNBC 2/20/2009)
CNBC stock analyst Rick Santelli’s “impromptu” on-air “rant” against President Obama’s economic stimulus program, in which Santelli calls for a “tea party” protest and tells viewers he intends to begin organizing a “Chicago Tea Party,” galvanizes nascent “tea party” groups around the nation. Chicago radio producer Zack Christenson has already registered the Internet domain “chicagoteaparty.com” (see August 2008), and hours after Santelli’s rant Christenson puts up a “homemade” tea party Web site. A Chicago Libertarian activist, Eric Odom (see After November 7, 2008), puts up a similar site at “officialchicagoteaparty.com.” The next day, the short-lived “Nationwide Tea Party Coalition” forms. At the same time, a new Facebook group, “Rick Santelli is right, we need a Taxpayer (Chicago) Tea Party,” is created by Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity, and is administered by Odom. The Facebook page leads back to a site called “taxpayerteaparty.com,” run by Americans for Prosperity. Simultaneously, Brendan Steinhauser, the campaign director of FreedomWorks (see March 2, 2009) and another administrator of the Facebook group, begins organizing “tea party” groups—or actually continues his efforts, since on February 9, 10 days before Santelli’s broadcast, he had contacted a Florida activist who had attended a FreedomWorks training session and asked her to organize a protest in Fort Myers. Steinhauser later writes that the day after Santelli’s broadcast: “I just wrote this little 10 quick easy steps to hold your own tea party, wrote it up, and kinda was proud of it and sent it to Michelle Malkin. She linked to it from her blog.” Malkin’s blog is overwhelmed by the response. FreedomWorks staffers call activists around the country asking them to organize “grassroots” tea party organizations, and on March 9, FreedomWorks announces a nationwide “Tea Party Tour,” saying in a statement, “From [Santelli’s] desperate rallying cry FreedomWorks has tapped into the outrage building from within our own membership as well as allied conservative grassroots forces to organize a 25-city Tea Party Tour where taxpayers angry that their hard-earned money is being usurped by the government for irresponsible bailouts, can show President Obama and Congressional Democrats that their push towards outright socialism will not stand.” By February 27, the first official “tea party” events take place, organized by the Sam Adams Alliance, FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity. Many of the original organizations will eventually be subsumed by, or merge with, national structures, again primarily organized and funded by FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and other right-wing lobbying organizations. Eventually, six nationwide networks will form (see August 24, 2010). (Hamsher 4/15/2009; Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010) During this period, conservative media outlets such as the Weekly Standard will claim that the tea party movement was entirely spontaneous in its origins (see March 2, 2009). However, facts stand in the way of that claim (see February 15, 2009, February 16, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 18, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 28, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 20, 2010).
A day after CNBC’s Rick Santelli engaged in a “rant” against President Obama’s economic policies, and called for a modern-day “tea party” to protest those policies (see February 19, 2009), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs invites Santelli to the White House for coffee and to discuss Obama’s plan to help homeowners. “I’d be happy to buy him a cup of coffee,” Gibbs says. “Decaf.” Gibbs has said that Santelli needs to learn more about the economic bailout before engaging in such sharp criticism. “I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so,” he says. “I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgages, stay in their jobs, pay their bills, send their kids to school.… Mr. Santelli has argued, I think quite wrongly, that this plan won’t help everyone. This plan helps people who have been playing by the rules.… I would encourage him to read the president’s plan.… It’s tremendously important for people who rant on cable TV to be responsible and understand what it is they’re talking about. I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Santelli, who has admitted to not reading the White House’s bailout proposals, tells CNBC viewers he “would love to accept” the invitation, but—holding a tea bag to the cameras—says he prefers “tea” to coffee. (CNBC 2/20/2009; Gerstein 2/20/2009; Fang 2/23/2009; Stelter 2/23/2009; Associated Press 3/2/2009) Shortly thereafter, Santelli will say that he felt “threatened” by Gibbs’s reference to not knowing where he lives (see February 23, 2009).
CNBC commentator Rick Santelli appears on two conservative radio programs, hosted by G. Gordon Liddy and Mike Gallagher respectively, to promote his “tea party” “rant” against the White House’s economic bailouts (see February 19, 2009). He tells both Liddy and Gallagher that he felt “threatened” by the White House’s response to his remarks (see February 20, 2009). Santelli tells Liddy that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs “started that press conference saying, ‘I don’t know where he lives, I don’t know where his house is.’ This is the press secretary of the White House. Is that the kind of thing we want?” Liddy calls Gibbs’s remark “a veiled threat.” Santelli replies: “It really is.… I don’t really want to be a spokesman, but I really am very proud of a) the response I’m getting, which is overwhelmingly positive, and b) discourse, that is debate. That if the pressure and the heat I’m taking from the White House—the fact my kids are nervous to go to school—I can take that, okay.” Santelli tells Gallagher he finds it “very scary” for Gibbs to say “we don’t know where he lives or where his house is.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress publishes Gibbs’s full quote from the February 21 press conference, which it says proves Gibbs made no such threats towards Santelli. Gibbs said: “I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so. I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgages, stay in their jobs, pay their bills, send their kids to school.” Think Progress’s Lee Fang writes, “Gibbs wasn’t threatening Santelli; he was pointing out the sheer absurdity of a well-to-do pundit criticizing Obama’s housing plan as seeking to simply [quoting Santelli] ‘subsidize the losers’ mortgages.’” (Fang 2/23/2009)
Yasha Levine, co-author of a Playboy article alleging that the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” on CNBC was part of a pre-planned rollout of corporate-funded tea party organizations (see February 27, 2009), attends a tea party event at the Santa Monica pier. The event, planned as a “spontaneous” citizen protest of the Obama administration’s economic policies, was planned and supervised by Tony Katz, who organized it through a Facebook page. The event is planned to last 45 minutes, and consists of a quick “meet and greet,” three keynote speakers (an actor, a writer, and a comedian), and as a finale, a quick teabagging ceremony. Levine says the event’s timing is not conducive to attracting large numbers of protesters, being as it takes place at the beginning of a workday. However, she notes, it is quite conducive for media coverage: journalists would “get the material and be back in the office before noon, enough time to write and edit their segments to appear that same day.” Levine arrives late, but in time to witness Katz finishing his closing speech and event organizers passing out tea bags. She estimates the crowd size at about 50, “not what you would expect from a grassroots movement that supposedly tsunamied so fast that a whole network materialized in just a few days” (see February 19-21, 2009). Some protesters hold anti-Obama signs, others wave signs with anti-tax slogans. At least a third of the crowd, Levine writes, is made up of reporters and other “media types.” At 9:35, Katz exhorts the crowd to throw their tea bags into a pot of water (as throwing them in the ocean constitutes littering) and scream out their anti-tax demands. Levine observes: “It was a total sham, a front in order to get TV facetime. It worked, too. Fox News sent a camera crew. So did NBC. Koch [the Koch family, whom Levine has accused of clandestinely funding many tea party organizations] was teabagging the media, and the media loved it.” (Yasha Levine 2/27/2009)
CNBC’s Rick Santelli has become something of a superstar among conservative media pundits and others exasperated by the Obama economic bailouts, after engaging in a purportedly impromptu “rant” during an on-air broadcast (see February 19, 2009). Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine discover that Santelli’s rant may have been a pre-planned incident timed to coincide with the launch of a so-called “tea party movement” predicated on opposing the Obama administration and supporting conservative and Republican ideas and agendas. In the hours and days following Santelli’s appearance on CNBC, the authors write, “[a] nationwide ‘tea party’ grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.”
Connections to the Koch Family - Ames and Levine write that Santelli’s CNBC “rant” was “a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a ‘Chicago Tea Party’ was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest right-wing oligarch clans this country has ever produced.” Ames and Levine are referring to the Koch family, headed by Fred Koch (see 1940 and After), the billionaire co-founder of the extremist John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) and whose sons are heavy donors to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups such as the Cato Institute (see 1977-Present) and FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After).
ChicagoTeaParty.com - On the air, Santelli said, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” Within minutes, Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report had posted headlines about the “tea party” rant on his Web site. Within hours, a new Web site, chicagoteaparty.com, had appeared, featuring a YouTube video of Santelli’s rant and calling itself the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain name had been registered months before by right-wing media figure Zack Christenson (see August 2008), but had remained dormant until after Santelli spoke on CNBC. Ames and Levine note that Christenson bought the domain around the same time that Milt Rosenburg, the Chicago talk show host whom Christenson produces, began attempting to link then-presidential candidate Barack Obama with “left-wing terrorist” William Ayers (see August 2008). Ames and Levine write: “That Rosenberg’s producer owns the ‘chicagoteaparty.com’ site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the ‘Obama is a terrorist’ campaign. It’s as if they held this ‘Chicago tea party’ campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.”
The Sam Adams Alliance - The ChicagoTeaParty.com Web site, Ames and Levine report, is part of a larger network of conservative Web sites set up over the last few months under the auspices of the “Sam Adams Alliance” (SAA), an organization linked to the Koch family and to FreedomWorks, a public relations group funded by Koch and headed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey (see April 14, 2009). The SAA is a Chicago-area libertarian/conservative group named for Samuel Adams, who led the Boston Tea Party protest in 1773. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) In 2008, the New York Times described the SAA as having “started an ambitious project this year to encourage right-leaning activists and bloggers to get online and focus on local and state issues.” (Phillips 7/19/2008)
OfficialChicagoTeaParty.com - Another Web site, officialchicagoteaparty.com, went live on February 19 as well. That site is registered to Eric Odom, a Republican specializing in faux-grassroots PR campaigns sometimes called “astroturf” (see April 15, 2009). Odom has worked with Koch Industries, a large oil and natural gas corporation and the source of the Koch family fortune, in supporting offshore oil-drilling legislation. Odom was, until January 2009, the “new media coordinator” for the Sam Adams Alliance. Upon his departure, the SAA removed Odom’s name from its Web site. The SAA also removed any mention of Koch’s funding, or any other connections between Koch and the organization, from its site. Two of the SAA’s board members, Eric O’Keefe and Joseph Lehman, are tied both to Koch and to FreedomWorks.
FreedomWorks - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, FreedomWorks posted a large photo of Santelli on its Web site’s front page with the caption: “Are you with Rick? We are. Click here to learn more.”
Other Sites - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, other Web sites such as Right.org, promoting a tea party support group that purports to be a citizen-launched organization “created by a few friends who were outraged by the bailouts” and headed by “Evan and Duncan,” and numerous pro-tea party Facebook pages, were launched. Right.org is sponsoring a $27,000 prize for an “anti-bailout video competition.” Ames and Levine ask: “Who are Evan and Duncan? Do they even really exist?”
No Connections on the Surface - Ames and Levine note that the numerous Web sites and Facebook pages have remarkable similarities in language and appearance, “as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company. Yet, on the surface, they pretended to have no connection. The various sites set up their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to the Chicago Tea Party movement. And all of them linked to one another, using it as evidence that a decentralized, viral movement was already afoot. It wasn’t about partisanship; it was about real emotions coming straight from real people.”
Santelli and the Tea Party Organizers - Ames and Levine ask why Santelli, and CNBC, would “risk their credibility, such as it is, as journalists dispensing financial information in order to act as PR fronts for a partisan campaign.” Santelli’s contract with CNBC is about to expire, they note. Until the “tea party” rant, Santelli was an obscure financial commentator with few prospects. Now, though, he is a “hero” of the right. As another Chicago tea party organization, the Daily Bail, wrote on its site: “Rick, this message is to you. You are a true American hero and there are no words to describe what you did today except your own. Headquartered nearby, we will be helping the organization in whatever way possible.” Ames and Levine speculate that Santelli may have been brought into the fold by one of his CNBC colleagues, Lawrence Kudlow, who himself has strong connections to FreedomWorks. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) Steve Megremis of the Daily Bail will call Ames and Levine’s allegations about his Web site’s involvement “categorically untrue,” writing: “It’s unfortunate because I believe that the article did some great investigative work and then at the end they threw me under the bus for no apparent reason. Apparently, the authors just assumed we were part of this conspiracy because of my own personal excitement about the prospect of a mid-summer tea party.” Megremis will post a response on his site, but the response will soon disappear. (Barry Ritholtz 2/28/2009)
Playboy Removes Article - By March 2, Playboy will remove the Ames and Levine article from its Web site. No explanation is offered. The article will instead become available on a Web site called “The Exiled,” which bills itself as an “alternative” press outlet. (Jeffrey Feldman 3/2/2009)
The Weekly Standard, in a column by Jonathan Last, promotes and celebrates the nascent “tea party” movement that started as a reaction to an on-air “rant” by CNBC commentator Rick Santelli (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009) against the government bailouts of large corporations. (The article is dated March 9, but is posted on the Standard’s Web site on March 2.) Last notes that previous organizations opposing the bailouts had been proven to be “astroturf” groups pretending to be grassroots, citizen-driven organizations, but in fact owned and operated by such conservative public relations firms as FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). Now, however, Last says the “tea party” organizations springing up around the country are actual grassroots organizations with no affiliations to conservative PR firms or political organizations. Last notes that conservative radio producer Zack Christenson had indeed bought chicagoteaparty.com in August 2008 (see August 2008), as noted by progressive reporters who have alleged that the “tea party” movement—and Santelli’s “spontaneous” rant (see March 2, 2009)—were part of a pre-planned launch effort (see February 27, 2009), but claims that Christenson merely bought the domain “thinking it might be a good name for a group,” and “retooled the site” hours after seeing Santelli’s rant. Last claims that dozens of other sites, including reteaparty.com (see March 2, 2009), were bought and posted “spontaneously” within hours of Santelli’s broadcast, as were dozens of Facebook “tea party” and Santelli fan sites. Last claims that reteaparty.com owner Anthony Astolfi, with the help of “his roommate and a cousin,” bought the domain, designed and posted the site, and promoted it on dozens of “high-ranking results pages” within 12 hours of Santelli’s rant, and awoke the next day to find they had had 40,000 visitors to their site and become “a minor sensation.” Last concludes by writing: “[I]t’s easy to see the groups that might make up a real grassroots movement: the Ron Paul libertarians, renters, housing bubble obsessives, disillusioned Democrats, stat-head financial types, and, of course, rich, heartless Republicans. And then there is Santelli, who, if so inclined, might put himself forward the way Howard Jarvis did with his property tax revolt in California in 1978. The question is whether or not these people can find each other and figure out a way to push back.” (Last 3/9/2009) Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine note that Astolfi’s Web site is indeed funded by a conservative political action committee (PAC), a fact that Last either does not know or chooses not to report. (Mark Ames and Yasha Levine 3/2/2009)
CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli, who caused a media sensation with his anti-bailout “rant” in mid-February (see February 19, 2009), and whose commentary has been alleged to have been part of a larger “tea party” rollout by several well-funded conservative organizations (see February 27, 2009), pens a disclaimer for the CNBC Web site. He writes that he has “NO affiliation or association with any of the Web sites or related tea party movements that have popped up as a result of my comments on February 19th, or to the best of my knowledge any of the people who organized the Web sites or movements.” He describes his on-air style as “aggressive and impassioned,” and says his February 19 rant was neither staged nor deliberate. “It was unique in that it obviously struck a chord with the public, thus inciting what can only be described as a groundswell of feedback from the public, the White House (see February 20, 2009), the Internet, and the media at large (see February 19-21, 2009). The president’s plan addressing issues in the housing market was the topic; but only the tip of the iceberg in fact. The real nerve struck seems to be the pent up emotions felt by millions of Americans regarding spending TRILLIONS of dollars to fix the housing market, the banks, and the economy. SPECIFICALLY WHO WILL PAY… WHO WILL BENEFIT.… and above all the government’s role in all of this.” He says he never supported government bailouts of any kind, neither by the Bush administration nor the Obama administration. His “rant,” he writes, “was spontaneous… not scripted… and any person, organization, or media outlet that claims otherwise IS INACCURATE.… Though it has been reported that I am a registered Republican, I have no political agenda and any person, organization, or media outlet that claims otherwise IS INACCURATE. I hope that the president and the final stimulus plan succeed.” (Santelli 3/2/2009) The same day that CNBC posts Santelli’s column, it also issues a denial to the press that Santelli has any connection to the “tea party” organizations (see March 2, 2009).
The Atlantic’s business blogger, Megan McArdle, lambasts Playboy for publishing an article that claims the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” (see February 19, 2009) may have been a pre-planned incident designed to coincide with the launch of a number of “tea party” Web sites and “grassroots” organizations (see February 27, 2009). McArdle says that the suspicious timing of the chicagoteaparty.com Web site launch, hours after Santelli’s “impromptu” rant on CNBC, was nothing more than an example of someone “leap[ing] in when opportunity arose.” McArdle denies that oil giant Koch Industries, or the Koch family, funds the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), and says, “[A]stroturfing [the practice of forming fake ‘grassroots’ organizations clandestinely organized and funded by lobbying groups or corporate entities] doesn’t really seem like their style.” McArdle may not be aware of a recent Wall Street Journal expose of a FreedomWorks “astroturf” endeavor (see May 16, 2008). She does acknowledge that since FreedomWorks does not publicize its donor list, she cannot be sure Koch is not funding the group. She admits that many “tea party” organizations are funded and operated by large conservative PR and lobbying firms, and writes: “So what? Groups—often funded by God knows who—coordinate protests.” McArdle calls the article’s allegation that Santelli participated in a pre-planned, scripted event “potentially libelous,” and writes, “If I were Santelli, I’d sue.” At the very end of her column, McArdle admits that she lives with a former FreedomWorks official, Peter Suderman. She denies that Suderman influenced her writing in any way except to give her an e-mail address of “the right employee to… make inquiries” of at the firm. “I haven’t asked him about his former employer, and he hasn’t told me anything. I debated whether to write about this, but since I’m not actually defending FreedomWorks, I think it’s kosher.” (McArdle 3/2/2009) Shortly after posting her column online, McArdle posts a follow-up, with details of her conversation with FreedomWorks official Brendan Steinhauser. She identifies Steinhauser as “the chap at FreedomWorks who has helped organize the tea parties.” She calls the firm “completely open about their interest in furthering the tea parties” (see May 16, 2008 and March 13, 2009 and After). She says Steinhauser got the idea for the “tea parties” from Michelle Malkin’s blog, which is at odds with Santelli’s claim of “spontaneously” using the term (see March 2, 2009). (McArdle 3/2/2009)
CNBC denies that its financial commentator, Rick Santelli, has any connection to the “tea party” organizations that apparently spontaneously erupted within hours of his February 19 “rant” against the government bailouts of banks and automobile manufacturers (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009). Santelli has also denied any affiliation with any “tea party” organizations (see March 2, 2009). The Associated Press notes that the Web site of one such organization, reteaparty.com, removed Santelli’s name from its front page after CNBC made it aware of its “dissatisfaction.” The site referred to “Rick Santelli’s Re-Tea Party” four times on its home page, urging people to organize for protests, featured an “About Rick” link with his CNBC profile, and said Santelli “voiced the sentiment of millions of Americans on the stock market floor.” The site is operated by an organization called the Political Exploration and Awareness Committee, and, in small type at the bottom of the home page, states that the “opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Rick Santelli.” The Re-Tea Party Web site is operated by California Web developer Anthony Astolfi, who worked for the 2008 presidential campaign of Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). Astolfi tells reporters that he put together the site overnight after seeing Santelli’s rant. According to the Associated Press: “He and others online are using Santelli’s statement to promote a Boston Tea Party-style protest against the government plan. Using Santelli’s name was the most effective way of drawing attention to his site, Astolfi said. He denied it was an attempt to mislead people into believing Santelli supported what they were doing.” (Associated Press 3/2/2009) CNBC has cancelled Santelli’s upcoming appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, with a spokesman saying, “It was time to move on to the next big story.” (Stelter 3/2/2009)
Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, the reporters-turned-bloggers who recently caused a firestorm of controversy with their article on Playboy.com accusing CNBC commentator Rick Santelli of colluding with FreedomWorks and the Koch family in launching the anti-Obama “tea party” movement (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009), discuss Playboy’s recent unexplained deletion of their article from its Web site. AlterNet editor Jan Frel writes that Playboy’s action was likely taken due to fear of libel suits. In an e-mail to Frel, Ames and Levine write: “There has been a lot of speculation as to why Playboy removed our original article from its site. Let us put it this way: When you look at the fallout from our article—FreedomWorks admits its role in the teaparty, Santelli issues a giant lawyer-penned opus about how he loves Obama (see March 2, 2009), and CNBC (whose parent company is the megaconglomerate General Electric) frightens a bunch of Astroturfing Web sites into dropping Santelli’s name and into revealing their own PAC sponsors (see March 2, 2009)—then it’s clear we hit the bull’s-eye and stirred up the wrath of a very scary monster. Given all of this, it would not be unreasonable for one to consider the possibility (as many have) that the multigazilliondollar megabeast GE threatened the much smaller independent media company Playboy with a terrifying and expensive lawsuit, which, given the current financial crisis, is not something anyone but another GE-sized megabeast could cope with. ‘Nuf said on that.” Frel notes that some of the critics of Ames and Levine have their own ties to the subjects of the controversy. Playboy has a film deal with NBC Universal, the parent company of CNBC. The New York Times, which has been critical of the story, has disclosed its content-sharing agreement with CNBC. And Atlantic Monthly blogger Megan McArdle, who has attacked the credibility of the story, has disclosed that she lives with a man who used to work for FreedomWorks and who has engaged in similar “astroturfing” incidents as the ones Ames and Levine reported on in their article (see March 2, 2009). (Frel 3/3/2009)
Rick Santelli, the CNBC commentator whose on-air “rant” is credited for sparking the right-wing “tea party” movement (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009), refuses to take part in the upcoming April 15 anti-tax rallies being put on across the country by various “tea party” organizations (see April 15, 2009). CNBC spokesman Brian Steel says Santelli is “not going and not in any way involved” in the protests. Fox News anchors Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity are joining with protesters in Sacramento and Atlanta, respectively, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich plans to attend a rally in New York. Organizers say over 300 different protests will take place across the nation. Eric Odom, who owns a Chicago-based “tea party” Web site, says, “We have fully confirmed protests in 360 cities” and he is “very confident that all the protests will happen.” Odom predicts that the rallies featuring Cavuto and Hannity will bring at least 5,000 to 10,000 participants. He stresses that the protests will be made up of people from “all walks of life,” not just conservatives opposed to the Obama administration’s policies. Odom does not mention Santelli’s non-involvement. (Delaney 4/2/2009)
US News and World Report reporter Paul Bedard notes that CNBC commentator Rick Santelli is being lauded as a “founding father” of the right-wing “tea party” movement. Santelli is cited in a number of sources, including the recently published A New American Tea Party by former Bush administration official John O’Hara, as having “kicked off” the tea party movement with his “impromptu” rant against the Obama administration’s economic policies on CNBC (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009). Santelli has refused to become a tea party spokesman (see April 2, 2009), but he says, “I still think that all the dynamics that I felt as it was happening are still in place today.” Santelli adds that like many “tea partiers,” he opposes the Obama administration’s health care reform efforts. O’Hara has written, “Santelli was very important” to the tea party movement. Before Santelli’s on-air rant, most Americans had just accepted the Bush and Obama administration claims that they had to bail out Wall Street and Detroit to avert catastrophic failures. “Santelli said what a lot of people were thinking and afraid to say” when he told viewers that “government is promoting bad behavior.” Santelli says: “It’s very gratifying to me that four minutes out of my life made a difference.… It seems to me that any reason for people getting more active in running or taking part in politics and government I think is just terrific.” Santelli says he has repeatedly turned down offers to run for public office in his home state of Illinois. (Bedard 1/25/2010) In an interview shortly after the US News and World Report article is published, Santelli says that he and the “tea parties” share many goals and beliefs. “I feel bad to a certain extent because, even though I may share many of the philosophies of the tea party and many believe I was instrumental in being a catalyst for its formation, I also think that considering what I do for a living—and I take it very seriously—I try to avoid political ties.” He then criticizes the mainstream media for not paying more attention to the tea parties and the economic issues that motivate them, saying: “Most of the mainstream coverage of most of the crisis—the economy, the road to get here, and the tea party—has been very much lacking. The fact that many traditional media avenues that have ignored or belittled the tea parties all of a sudden seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time trying to understand and explain them, I think that alone gives credibility to their girth.” (Pappas 2/2/2010)
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