Ruckus for the Benefit of the Media: Warning: Attending Town Hall Forums on Health Care Reform Issues May Be Dangerous to Your Health. Meetings in the St. Louis Area May Prove Especially Risky, According to Media Reports

By Corrigan, Don | St. Louis Journalism Review, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview

Ruckus for the Benefit of the Media: Warning: Attending Town Hall Forums on Health Care Reform Issues May Be Dangerous to Your Health. Meetings in the St. Louis Area May Prove Especially Risky, According to Media Reports


Corrigan, Don, St. Louis Journalism Review


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Since Congress went on summer recess, forums conducted by Sen Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, and Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, have been interrupted by shouting, name-calling and brawls. Some in attendance have labeled disruptions as "mob actions." Members of the St. Louis Tea Party conservative activist group have hailed all the ruckus as "democracy in action."

At a Carnahan meeting in south St. Louis County and a McCaskill meeting in Hillsboro, scuffles between health care reform opponents, and those who support Democratic initiatives on health care, have resulted in police intervention. Injuries and arrests have occurred in these incidents.

"Sadly we've seen stories about disrupters all around the country, and we have a handful of them here in Missouri," said Carnahan in the aftermath of a fracas at a Mehlville school location.

"Instead of participating in a civil debate, they have mobilized with special interests in Washington who have lined their pockets by overcharging Americans for a broken health care system," Carnahan said. "I will continue to engage with constituents that I am honored to represent in Congress," Carnahan added. "And I will fight to achieve long-overdue health insurance reform in our country."

Craig Niehaus of Webster Groves has attended several St. Louis Tea Party events, a group which has organized a number of the protests over President Barack Obama's effort to reform U.S. health care. The group has targeted Democrats in Congress who support an initiative which has yet to be taken up by the U.S. Senate.

"I went to the Carnahan event and could not get in--it was too crowded," said Niehaus, regarding the forum at a Mehlville elementary school on Aug. 6. "I think people were perfectly in their rights to organize and ask tough questions about Carnahan's vote in Congress on the health care bill.

"If you looked at the folks who came, most were older and carried hand-made signs. I don't think they looked like an organized mob," added Niehaus. "They are upset because health care is a complicated issue, and the new plan is just being shoved through too fast."

However, John Hickey, also of Webster Groves said protests against the health care plan recently passed by the House are not grassroots. He said people who are supportive of the efforts by Obama and Democrats in Congress--whom he said are in the majority--have not attended forums because they are happy to see that health care issues are finally being addressed.

"I think the protests have been organized by the Republican Party, FOX News on cable, and the medical insurance industry," said Hickey. "How would your Average Joe decide to go picket at a place like the SEIU labor union? That is a Republican target, but not something your Average Joe could even find."

Hickey said the St. Louis Tea Party protests are purely meant to intimidate legislators and to get TV coverage to hurt Obama. He said they remind him of protests against the recounts in Florida in 2000 during the contested presidential election.

Meant to intimidate

At her Hillsboro event, McCaskill pointed to the interruption caused when an anti-reform member of the audience tore up a black woman's sign. McCaskill remarked to the audience that the news media were likely to cover the scuffle, and not the discussion of issues regarding the need for reform.

"Give me a chance to hear from everyone in a way that is orderly and fair," said McCaskill to an audience of more than 2,000. "This can't be about who is the loudest."

Nevertheless, some in the audience shouted out about deficits, global warming, cap and trade, and Cash for Clunkers as a boondoggle. Virtually everything McCaskill said was met with boos, hisses and catcalls.

Supporters of health care reform worry that the noise and the prospect of violence are holding down the numbers of pro-reform proponents at the meetings. …

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