Can a made-up story revive a ‘movement’?

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Can a made-up story revive a 'movement'?
Can a made-up story revive a 'movement'?
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The Wall Street Journal has a 2,000-word, front-page piece today, letting the public know that the Tea Party may have struggled for a while, but it’s back now. What’s more, there was one issue in particular that lit a fire under the so-called movement, getting Tea Partiers back on track.

After a tough 2012 election season, the tea-party movement is on the rebound. [Jenny Beth Martin], head of the Tea Party Patriots, is riding a revival of interest sparked by controversy over the IRS’s much-publicized targeting of conservative groups. She says the Patriots, the tea party’s largest umbrella group, suffered because of the IRS’s refusal to grant it tax-exempt status but now is benefiting from the backlash. Her group’s monthly donations, she says, have tripled recently, and its staff has doubled.

The uproar has revived media attention and renewed the intensity of many tea-party supporters…. “This is beyond anger and frustration,” she says…. Political operatives on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that the IRS scandal has reinvigorated the tea party.

There are a few relevant details that the Wall Street Journal neglected to mention. The article, for example, didn’t let readers know that the “IRS scandal” really isn’t a “scandal” at all – literally every relevant allegation raised by the right has been discredited.

But the larger takeaway is that there seems to be a pattern when it comes to the Tea Party: far-right activists are motivated by misleading claims they don’t know to be false. One of the earliest messages from the movement was that activists, outraged by President Obama’s economic policies, were “taxed enough already.” Obama, at the time, had just approved one of the largest middle-class tax cuts in American history.

Months later, Tea Partiers were eager to condemn the Affordable Care Act because, they said, it constituted a government takeover of the nation’s health care system and relied on socialized care. Some even talked up “death panels.” None of this was even remotely accurate.

And now the Tea Party has been re-energized by a trumped up controversy that doesn’t actually exist. This isn’t an impressive track record.

Postscript: I hope I’m not burying the lede here, but there was one tidbit in the WSJ piece that seemed new to me. It’s in reference to Jenny Beth Martin, “the woman sometimes described as the tea party’s den mother,” and what happened after news organizations first started trumpeting the IRS story in the spring.

On the weekend after the news hit, Mrs. Martin appeared on four television networks and released an urgent email fundraising appeal titled: “Project Phoenix: It’s time to rise again.”

Mrs. Bachmann called Mrs. Martin at home to brainstorm about holding a news conference on Capitol Hill later that week. Mrs. Martin wound up speaking alongside Mrs. Bachmann and other lawmakers calling for an investigation.

When Republican representatives scheduled hearings, Mrs. Martin located what she said were a dozen tea-party victims, prepped them and delivered them within 48 hours to congressional investigators, paying their airfares and hotels, according to several people involved in the process. (emphasis added)

I haven’t heard this before. Martin paid Tea Party “victims” to fly to D.C., put them up in a hotel, and arranged for them to talk to congressional investigators? Did she pay for this out of her own pocket, do the Tea Party Patriots have those funds available, or did an unnamed benefactor help pick up the tab?

Admittedly, this may be an unimportant tidbit, but it suggests a level of coordination surrounding this made-up scandal I hadn’t heard before.

IRS

Can a made-up story revive a 'movement'?

Updated