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'Learn to Speak Tea Bag': NPR's Ignorance Worse than Malice


I enjoy NPR. That is not to say I think the government should be funding radio programs (actually, in NPR’s case, they don’t). It is also not to say that NPR is not at times pretty left-leaning. Of course they are. Still, I find their programming quite compelling, far more in-depth and even centrist than a lot of television news, and frankly a better option while stuck in LA traffic than a lot of that crazy music kids listen to these days. Still, I was quite offended last week when NPR, on their new opinion pages, featured a video by Mark Fiore called Learn to Speak Tea Bag.

The video, which has already been discussed on these pages, is an assault on millions of middle-Americans who are distrustful of and frustrated with our federal government. Frankly, I find it repellent and was disappointed with NPR for running it. Not that I believe they, or any other organization, should whitewash political differences, but because the piece is beneath them. It lacks any substance, or for that matter, humor. Clearly the creator of the piece was not trying to please me with his work, but juvenile is juvenile, and NPR is, traditionally, not a home to juvenile work. I was pleased to see that NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard criticized the piece, and found her assessment to be spot on. Good on you, ma’am.

Shepard’s piece, however, reveals something that, if true, is even more insulting than the video itself. In it, Shepard suggests that both Fiore and Ellen Silva, NPR’s opinion editor, were ignorant of the sexual connotation of the term “tea bagger.” Silva even suggests that she has heard Tea Party participants referring to themselves in this fashion (I, who have attended Tea Party rallies, have never heard anyone in that movement use the term that I can recall).

I have no reason to doubt either Fiore or Silva, but I find it remarkable that a satirist who chose to take up the issue of Tea Partiers, and an editor employed by NPR could be ignorant of the demeaning offensiveness of this term. Tea Party participants and conservatives at large have been howling about this matter for months now, since Anderson Cooper himself employed the slur against us on CNN last year. To be unaware of the inherent insult of this term suggests a complete deafness to conservative voices in the culture by NPR and Fiore. Millions of people have been insulted by this term for months, publicly bemoaned its use, and none of these left-leaning media contributors were aware of that fact?

I take them at their word, but I am insulted that they are so out of touch with conservative points-of-view. A Code-Pink protester does not have to know what the right thinks, but a journalist or media contributor should not miss something as big and widely discussed on the right as this. It is clearly indicative a larger problem: Bubble mentality. Bubble mentality is not good for journalism or editorializing on either side of the political divide. NPR should know better.


Still, NPR was not alone in missing the fact that a term they were completely comfortable with was deeply insulting to millions of Americans. According to Shepard, the New Oxford Dictionary actually included Tea Bagger as a runner-up for Word of the Year! What a travesty. This term, a slur against half of the country and derogatory toward homosexuals too, has been legitimized by New Oxford and even celebrated? Not Tea Party, mind you, a word that is widely used by all Americans to refer to the movement, but Tea Bagger, a shameful insult wielded exclusively by the left and its agitators in the media to tear its participants down. It is the equivalent of a racial epithet, and both the premiere radio programming institution in the country and the authoritative English dictionary in the world seem oblivious to its malice. They are, both, completely secluded within the bubble of cultural liberalism.

No wonder they do not agree with us. They don’t even know what we think.

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