On my desk right now, I'm looking at a pre-printed poster, in black and gold, handed out at yesterday's Market Square "tea party."
"A movement is brewing," it says -- just above the KDKA 1020 logo, and its daily program guide.
I guess it's not surprising KDKA embraced a one-sided political rally, where speakers repeatedly denounced the president. True, you could never imagine a local mainstream news outlet pandering to an anti-war protest this way. Handing out posters at a peace march would be ... unpatriotic! But hey, it's only talk radio, right? Nobody expects anything better -- even if the station does claim to be "committed to ... reliable, breaking news."
Anyway, Fox News has been using the tea parties to juice its ratings. So why should KDKA be different? Especially considering its lineup includes conservatives like Fred Honsberger and Mike Pintek?
Nor is KDKA alone. The MC of yesterday's events was Jim Quinn, of 104.7 FM (and formerly of a station owned by the family that owns City Paper). And the crowd was made up of people who could recite -- in unison -- some of Quinn's blithering axioms. (Nothing says "independent-minded citizens" like the ability to regurgitate propaganda on cue!)
But the KDKA poster is a sort of visual reminder that this whole supposedly "grassroots" protest is nothing of the sort. It's been co-opted by the special interests teabaggers want to depose ... and by the politicians they profess to hate.
Consider that yesterday's Market Square event was addressed by Glen Meakem, a local businessman who sometimes sits in for Quinn and has a radio show of his own. Meakem, long a political operator, has previously pledged to back any Republican who opposes Arlen Specter's re-election last year. And guess what else happened yesterday? Patrick Toomey formally announced that he was taking Specter on.
Consider too that yesterday's event was supported by FreedomWorks, who provided a speaker and some other posters I saw at the event. As I noted in the comments section of a previous post, the head of FreedomWorks is former GOP Congressman Dick Armey. Armey has been working as a -- brace yourself -- lobbyist for a prominent DC firm, DLA Piper. Among that firm's clients last year: Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Morgan Stanley.
The guy whose firm lobbied for bank bailouts, in other words, is pimping the backlash those bailouts caused. And these are the folks who are supposed to challenge the status quo?
That, more than anything else, is what made yesterday's events so small and ugly and sad. This little "revolution" was sold out before it even got started. It's like finding out the Founding Fathers were just trying to land a wig-endorsement deal.
Radio and cable-TV talkers pander to our darkest fears and deepest suspicions. The old politicians find new ways to bamboozle us, while a new generation of politicians steps up to the podium and promises to be different. Firearms dealers and the NRA rake in bucks as people make contributions and stockpile weapons. Everyone is making a quick buck off the enraged mob ... except for the people actually in it. They're getting used, and the seeds for next year's pitchfork rebellion are being planted even before this one is over.
It's easy to go to these rallies and dismiss the crowds as a bunch of paranoid fools. But maybe the real problem is ... they aren't paranoid enough.