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Sean Hannity over the line in Atlanta rabble-rousing

While cable TV news seems to be built on blurring lines and transgressing boundaries these days, I still have to say that I am alarmed by what I saw on the Fox News channel Wednesday night with Sean Hannity's Tea Party in Atlanta.

Fox and Hannity promoted the event endlessly claiming that Hannity was going to Atlanta to cover a news story of anti-tax and anti-government-spending protest.

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What I saw Wednesday night had nothing to do with news coverage and everything to do with political rallies and propaganda. It was angry anti-Obama rhetoric and constant rabble-rousing of the crowd in the Atlanta streets as Hannity emotionally invoked the narrative of the nation's children having their futures stolen from them by Washington politicians. This had more to do with torch-light political rallies in Europe in the dark days of the 1930s Depression era than it does coverage by an American cable channel that claims its devotion to "fair and balanced" reporting in 2009.

Typical of the "coverage" was Hannity bringing Joe the Plumber (Joe Wurzelbacher) on camera and then praising the Ohio man, who has yet to actually earn a plumber's license, extensively for taking on President Barack Obama during the campaign.

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Hannity praised Wurzelbacher for getting Obama "off the TelePrompters" for "one second" so that Americans could hear what the candidate was really up to with his "spread the wealth around" remark made to Wurzelbacher during a campaign stop in Ohio.

Before I get carried away and write the longest blog post in history, let me just say two things.

One, it is all right, in fact, it is a good thing that those whose politics and ideologies were repudiated by American voters at the polls in November can have a day as they did Wednesday during which they can rally and state their views in front of God, country, each other and the TV news cameras. That is the way democracy works.

But it is a bad thing when one of the leading journalistic institutions in the country lets one of its most charismatic and ideologically-charged personalities help stage one of those rallies and then serve as chief rally master rather than offering coverage of the event as was promised.

And I am especially alarmed at how many of my colleagues in TV and media criticism are giving Fox News a free pass these days on actions that are so patently dangerous to democracy and the role of a free press that was established more than two centuries ago.

Yes, Fox has the best ratings in prime time. But that doesn't mean we have to be cowed about how they are getting those ratings -- or how they react when anyone dares criticize them for it. We should not abrogate our responsibility to call propaganda by its proper name when we see it whether its Sean Hannity on the right or Keith Olbermann on the left.

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