A must read, today’s E.J. Dionne column in the Washington Post “The Real Town Hall Story,” recounts a side of the town halls that was missing from television news coverage: that the “highly publicized screamers represented only a fraction of public opinion” and “most of the town halls were populated by citizens who respectfully but firmly expressed a mixture of support, concern and doubt.”
According to the Dionne, many television networks have sent stringers to scout boisterous and hostile town halls:
The most disturbing account came from Rep. David Price of North Carolina, who spoke with a stringer for one of the television networks at a large town-hall meeting he held in Durham.
The stringer said he was one of 10 people around the country assigned to watch such encounters. Price said he was told flatly: "Your meeting doesn’t get covered unless it blows up." As it happens, the Durham audience was broadly sympathetic to reform efforts. No "news" there.
Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello (D), who represents the district formerly held by conservative Virgil Goode for more than a decade, described three different groups that he’s encountered in his 17 townhalls:
When I reached Rep. Tom Perriello last week, he divided the crowds at the 17 town halls he had held to that point in his largely rural Virginia district into three groups: conservatives, for whom the health-care battle is "about big government, socialism and all that"; the left, for whom "it’s about corporate accountability"; and a "middle" for whom "it’s about health care costs" and the problems with their coverage.
But the only citizens who commanded widespread media coverage last month were the right-wingers. And I bet you thought the media were “liberal.”
Have you looked at the news coverage of the health care debate and wondered where are the ordinary Americans in town hall meetings who support health care reform? They’re in the cities and suburbs, and rural America too. Or maybe you’ve been to a town hall meeting, and prepared yourself for loud, angry, violent opposition only to find reasonable voices on both sides of the debate willing to hear what their representatives had to say. Unfortunately, the media has ignored those voices in favor of tabloid TV.