Part of the tea party brand was the idea that they were non-partisan. Freedom Works, a group chaired by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, was one of the day's big organizers. Freedom Works’ press secretary Adam Brandon talks about the groups' media strategy and why they're somewhat wary of elected officials getting in on their brand.
The Edge (Remix)
BOB GARFIELD: Adam Brandon represents one of those event organizers, Freedom Works, chaired, as you heard, by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Freedom Works’ heavy involvement in planning and organizing the tea parties is one reason the tax day gatherings have been called astroturf. But Brandon says his group is just helping the grass roots get off the ground.
ADAM BRANDON: When folks come to us and we help them organize, you know, we consider that great grass roots. And what I consider astro-turfing is when something comes together that claims to have a wide variety of support when really it isn't there. So if you look at our heritage on the issue, we've been making a lot of noise for years now, going back two Republican presidents and two Republican Congresses. It’s just people are starting to pay attention to us now, which is very exciting for us.
BOB GARFIELD: Could that have anything to do with the participation of FOX News, which has just embraced the notion of tea parties and flogged it relentlessly on its air, including just about all of its hosts? For them to be cheerleading you is, obviously, very significant, but what I want to know is, is it significant in a good way or can it have a backlash attached to it?
ADAM BRANDON: Well, it’s definitely significant in a good way in that it gets our message out, but we've also had folks interviewed on all major networks as of this point. Tonight Armey’s going to be interviewed on CNN, so we're getting decent coverage all over the place. So I welcome FOX’s involvement, and I'm very pleased that everyone – you know, it’s obviously reached your attention, and that’s good for us.
BOB GARFIELD: I sense hesitation from you in your answers. You seem loath to diss FOX News but you don't seem entirely delighted to me, as I read between the lines, with their full-throated participation. What is the risk of being associated with this particular media organization at a moment like this?
ADAM BRANDON: I'm trying to answer your question as best as possible here, but [BOB LAUGHS] – I do appreciate FOX’s coverage, but I'm not overly concerned about it because I believe probably a week or two from now we're going to be moving on to the next big issue. What I'm more interested in is the types of media that are going to continue to follow this taxpayer issue.
BOB GARFIELD: I don't ask the question for no reason.
ADAM BRANDON: Mm-hmm.
BOB GARFIELD: Eric Odum, of Taxdayteaparty.com, was complaining that the Republicans are trying to, quote, “ride on the brand that we created,” and, you know, implied that he wasn't necessarily delighted to be giving them that free ride. If we can assume for the moment that FOX is essentially a house organ for the GOP, do you share Eric Odum’s sentiments that they're kind of freeloading here?
ADAM BRANDON: I do agree with him that it’s very dangerous for the GOP to jump on this. We are a non-partisan organization. We are fiscal conservatives, so obviously many in the GOP like to hear what we say. But we're not trying to elect GOP folks. What we're trying to do is own the fear of politicians, whether they're from Republicans or Democrats.
BOB GARFIELD: Finally, going back to the questions of astro-turfing, and now that this is all played out, and considering the controversy that has erupted over the real grass roots versus fake ones, do you wish that your organization had behaved differently in trying to mobilize the turnout on April 15th?
ADAM BRANDON: Absolutely not. When we get our jobs in our organization, the first thing you do is you sit down with some of Saul Alinsky’s books, Rules for Radicals. And we read that book and we study that book, and everything that we've been trying to do here comes straight out of those pages. So we're very pleased. You know, we have spent almost zero dollars on this effort, other than staff time, and we've got tremendous media coverage of the movement, so for us this has been a very, very successful tool to organize and to bring new people into the small government conservative movement.
BOB GARFIELD: There is one last thing.
ADAM BRANDON: Mm-hmm?
BOB GARFIELD: When you appear at the Atlanta rally, will you be [PAUSE] – will you be in civilian clothing?
ADAM BRANDON: Well, actually, I am a Revolutionary War re-enactor, so I will be showing up in a late war Continental Line uniform.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about your shoes.
ADAM BRANDON: There’s no right or left. It’s just kind of a blob of leather with a buckle on it.
BOB GARFIELD: No right or left, eh?
ADAM BRANDON: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Only on your shoes, my friend, only on your shoes.
ADAM BRANDON: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Adam, thank you very much for joining us.
ADAM BRANDON: I really appreciate it, and we hope to speak with you guys again soon.
BOB GARFIELD: Adam Brandon is press secretary for Freedom Works, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s tax day tea parties.