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Boston Globe Rankled: 'Rockwellian Ideal...Replaced by Quarrelsome Masses Hollering'

Catching up with a front page Boston Globe story from late last week, the financially-troubled newspaper owned by the New York Times failed again to limit its liberal laments, and belittling of conservatives, to the editorial page. In "Foes' decibels replace debate on healthcare: Protesters' yells at meetings frustrate Democrats' push," reporter Lisa Wangsness rued:

This summer, the Rockwellian ideal of neighbors gathering to discuss community issues in a neighborly way is gone, replaced by quarrelsome masses hollering questions downloaded from activist websites, as video cameras record every word of the squirming lawmaker's response. Many seem to be following advice laid out in a memo circulating on the Internet advising activists to "watch for an opportunity to yell out" early in the presentation and "have someone else follow up with a shout-out."

Wangsness soon bemoaned the impact - "Political specialists say, endlessly looping images of these confrontations on cable TV could hurt the case for the healthcare overhaul" - before she set out to prove, as if it were something nefarious, how "conservative activist groups are deeply involved."

From the top of the article published on Thursday, August 6:

MARDELA SPRINGS, Md. - Repeated heckling and shouted interruptions - "Answer the question!'' "We're your employers!'' "You don't get it!'' - overtook a town hall-style meeting in rural Maryland this week, as US Representative Frank M. Kratovil Jr. withstood a verbal beating from a partisan crowd airing its displeasure with the healthcare overhaul working its way through Congress. The freshman Democrat fielded question after question about rationing, euthanasia, and abortion, as two state troopers stood guard and Kratovil's staffers looked on nervously. But at least Kratovil was not hung in effigy, as he had been at a recent protest outside his district office.

"Being as neutral as I can, being that it was me hanging, I do think that crosses the line in terms of political protest,'' Kratovil said.

Scenes like this are playing out across America. As Congress returns home for its summer break, conservative activists are packing community halls and school cafeterias to protest the healthcare legislation, hoping to derail President Obama's top domestic priority. In Texas, Representative Lloyd Doggett was confronted by a crowd chanting "Just say no!'' In Philadelphia, protesters shouted at Senator Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

This summer, the Rockwellian ideal of neighbors gathering to discuss community issues in a neighborly way is gone, replaced by quarrelsome masses hollering questions downloaded from activist websites, as video cameras record every word of the squirming lawmaker's response. Many seem to be following advice laid out in a memo circulating on the Internet advising activists to "watch for an opportunity to yell out'' early in the presentation and "have someone else follow up with a shout-out.''

Republicans say the crowds prove there is strong opposition to revamping the healthcare system at the grass roots.

Democrats complain about "mob rule,'' or dismiss the protests as "astroturf'' - not genuine public sentiment, but orchestrated outrage manufactured by wealthy Washington interests.

Either way, political specialists say, endlessly looping images of these confrontations on cable TV could hurt the case for the healthcare overhaul....

Conservative activist groups are deeply involved. A leading example is Americans for Prosperity, whose sister foundation is chaired by David H. Koch - a billionaire whose family made a fortune in oil production and whom Forbes magazine in March ranked as the world's 19th richest person - and which also coordinated the "tea parties'' in April protesting Obama's "irresponsible'' economic policies....

Another group organizing against the overhaul is Conservatives for Patients' Rights, led by Rick Scott, former head of Columbia/HCA, a healthcare company that paid $1.7 billion in fines for overcharging government programs in the 1990s. It has been working with a public relations group responsible for the "swift boat'' ads against Senator John F. Kerry during his 2004 presidential bid. Still another is FreedomWorks, a conservative group led by Dick Armey, a former Republican House majority leader....

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center