Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sean Hannity Tea Bags Cincinnati Tax Day Tea Party

Sean Hannity was supposed to do his Fox News show from a tea party event in Cincinnati last Thursday on Tax Day, April 15. Then he abruptly canceled on the day of the event, leaving the organizers holding the bag.

The Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati had been booked for the rally, which was hosted by the Cincinnati Tea Party, the Cincinnati 9/12 Project and the Ohio Liberty Council. That's ironic itself as Fifth Third Bank, for whom the arena is named, received $3.4 billion in bailout money and the tea party is very much against the bank bailouts.

Sean Hannity was the main attraction. When his cancellation was announced to the tea party rally, many wanted a refund on their admission tickets. Which begs the question, did they come for the tea party politics, or to see a Fox News celebrity in person? To their credit, the Cincinnati tea party organizers have promised to issue refunds to those who ask for their money back.

It has never been clear to many observers if the tea party groups are truly independent grass roots groups. Often, Fox News commentators such as Sean Hannity have been the main event at these tea party rallies. And they have promoted the rallies on their Fox News shows as public appearances and book signing events. It begged the question, were these rallies just clever marketing to promote Fox News stars and sell their books?

In the case of the 9/12 project, there can be no pretense of independence. This movement was started by Glenn Beck, who moved his cable show from CNN to Fox News after the 2008 election. The 9/12 project website is run by Glenn Beck's production company. But Glenn Beck and the local Cincinnati group bill the 9/12 project as a nonpartisan movement. So that begs the question, why is the 9/12 project co-hosting a political event like the tea party rally?

Back to why Sean Hannity bagged out at the last minute. The tea party organizers said Hannity's people told them that it was a personal emergency. They were surprised when later that evening the Hannity show aired from its usual studio in New York.

It's now being reported that the "personal emergency" was that Hannity was summoned back to New York to do his show by his bosses at Fox News. They were said to be shocked to learn that admission was being charged to the event and that the tea party organizers were making a profit out of the taping of a Fox News show. And that does beg the question, was Fox News hosting a fundraising event for the tea party, a political group.

That's something that Fox News may have every right to do, particularly in light of the recent Supreme Court decision on the free speech rights of corporations. But not something that they want to be seen as doing, any more. That's the word that came down earlier in the week from CEO Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., which owns Fox News.

Here's what Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace had to say about the cancellation the next day:

"I think what happened is that the Fox folks were upset when they found out that they were selling tickets to the rally, and that the idea that maybe they were going to be profiting from the rally, and from Sean's involvement in it. I don't know that Sean's in trouble, but I think that there's -- people are looking at Fox, and, you know, how do we avoid being taken advantage of."

So if Fox News thinks it is being taken advantage of, what do the Cincinnati tea party organizers think? They think they have been ill-used and Fox News is not telling the truth. Here's what they said in their press release:

Cincinnati Tea Party will profit from broadcasting Hannity Show
The Fox News Network was unaware of paid tickets

No member of the Cincinnati Tea Party has personally profited from any event.
All members are volunteers – we have no paid employees.
The cost of tickets was designed to offset the cost of the event – we did not make a profit."

The Cincinnati tea party organizers say they had expenses over $70,000, gave away $4,000 worth of tickets, and put over 4,250 hours of unpaid volunteer work into the event. So who is taking advantage of who? It looks to me that the Cincinnati tea party organizers were paying for Sean Hannity's book signing and a venue for Fox News to broadcast the Hannity how.

Here is my advice to the tea party. David Frum summed it up well last month when he observed, "Republicans originally thought Fox worked for us and now we're discovering we work for Fox." But in the case of the tea party, I would go further and say you used to work for Fox, now you're on your own.

And how did the Cincinnati tea party go without Sean Hannity? The main celebrity speaker ending up being Ohio's own Joe the Plumber. Joe Wurzelbacher had been scheduled to appear on Hannity's show in Cincinnati, but Hannity did not take him with him back to New York.

Joe had some good advice for the crowd to not depend on Sean Hannity and other talk show hosts for their political views. Then Joe was asked about his position on illegal immigration:

"Illegal immigration? Put up a fence and start shooting."

With invective like that, maybe the tea party deserves to get fired. And considering the now supposedly terminated association, maybe Fox News deserves to get fired too. But for a replacement many tea party goers are not hiring Joe the Plumber. Half the audience left at intermission.

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