“Can you hear me now” is a well-known clip from a commercial for a cellular telephone company.
On Saturday afternoon it took on a whole new meaning for more than 100 people who rallied against mainstream corporate media outside of Waterman Broadcasting in Fort Myers.
“Operation Can You Hear Me Now” started because of media bias, said Barry Willoughby who was one of the leaders of the “Mob,” which is what some media calls “tea party” participants across the country. People who attend the tea parties around the country do so to protest among other things, out-of-control government spending and taxation.
“We’re not singling out NBC,” Willoughby said. “We’re upset about their reporting, or lack thereof. This is a shot across the bow of the mainstream corporate media. The mainstream media used to be a watchdog (of government and its spending), and now they are a lapdog.”
No one at the local NBC affiliate would comment on the event.
A half-hour prior to the scheduled 3 p.m. rally, about a dozen people had gathered, ready to hold their signs and tell anyone who asked that they believe the media is doing an injustice by being biased when it comes to politics.
Willoughby, one of the organizers for the rally which drew dozens of people from Naples to Port Charlotte, many of whom heard about the event through the grapevine, Craigslist and the Mandy Connell show on WINK News Radio, got the day going by saying: “We’re going to see if we can wake them up.”
“USA, USA, USA,” the crowd chanted over and over again. “NBC hear us now,” they continued.
They also sang songs, such as “God Bless America” and “My Country Tis of Thee.” Many people carried American flags and placed their over their hearts during the songs. Some bowed as if in prayer.
A spokesman for the group provided information from a survey completed in September by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan organization which bills itself as a “fact tank.” The survey shows the American public believes the media is biased and toward the liberal side, said Stan Kabala, the spokesman for SWFL 9-12 Project and Naples Tea Party, which organized Saturday’s event.
According to Pew, 53 percent of the people surveyed in 1985 said they believed the media favored one side. In the September survey, 74 percent answered the same way. At the same time, 34 percent in 1985 responded they believe the media dealt fairly while the number fell to 18 percent in 2009.
Kabala pointed out that Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” spoke about the 2003 anti-President George W. Bush protests: “…it is political dissent that created this country and sustained it and improved it.”
Yet in speaking about the 2009 Tea Party protests, Olbermann said: “When Hamas does it or Hezbollah does it, it is called terrorism. Why should Republican lawmakers and the Astroturf groups … be viewed differently?”
That is one of many instances of media bias Kabala pointed out.
Those attending the rally ranged from Republicans to Democrats to independents, with most being independent voters, he said.
“We feel the Republican party has left us,” Kabala said in explaining why the majority are independents.
Tom Macchia of the grass-roots organization The Counsel for Constitutional Principals in Naples agreed with Willoughby. President Barack Obama’s spending plan has grown, but Macchia stayed positive.
“We only have until November 2010,” he said.
Macchia and others believe that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist should not be elected to the U.S. Senate.
“He turned on us,” Macchia said. “He’s not a conservative. He embraced Obama on the stimulus. Crist has got to go.”
Tony Rusk of Fort Myers said he was one of the air traffic controllers fired for striking in 1981. He still voted for Ronald Reagan after that because he believes Reagan “was good for the county.”
As for the media, none of those attending had much good to say.
“Let the people decide,” Rusk said. “Give them the facts and not a slanted view of the facts.”
Josh Williams, 34 and one of the youngest at Saturday’s rally, said he recently moved from Tallahassee to live with family in Port Charlotte.
“I lost my job due to the economy,” he said. “I want to see the truth brought out. The country needs to go back to the way it was.”
E-mail Valli Finney at firstname.lastname@example.org