Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Wash Post Quotes Bogus Tea Party Leader

Looking for further evidence that the Washington Post has lost its edge covering politics? Try clicking on this story.

The piece, titled "Republicans woo 'tea party' members, but face activists' distrust of GOP," tells of RNC Chairman Michael Steele's attempt to bring this outrage movement into the Big Tent. Sounds like the kind of story that would feature lots of voices from the Tea Party.

There's one. The only representative of the Tea Party movement quoted by reporter Philip Rucker is one Dale Robertson, owner of TeaParty.org, who claims to represent 6 million people.  Robertson serves as the face of the "distrust" that the Post tries to portray in the piece. Rucker writes, "Robertson said he has reached out repeatedly to Steele but has been rebuffed. 'He hasn't called me back,' Robertson said. 'I find that disconcerting.'"

Also disconcerting is that the Post published that quote with a straight face. If the paper had bothered to assign someone to cover the burgeoning Tea Party movement, its editors would have known that Robertson doesn't actually represent anyone, except maybe himself. Nor is this the first time Robertson has complained to a gullible reporter that the GOP is ignoring him. But the Post should have known that Michael Steele, a black man, isn't likely to return the calls of a guy who just last week sent out a fundraising appeal featuring a photo of Obama dressed as a pimp.

Not convinced yet that the Post should have at least provided some context on Robertson's complaint about Steele's nonresponsiveness? Then consider this: Last year, Robertson was asked to leave a Houston Tea Party for carrying a sign comparing taxpayers to "niggars."

Like many of the media hounds claiming to represent the grassroots Tea Party movement, Robertson's main credential is opportunism. Last spring, as the movement was taking root, he had the foresight to register a whole bunch of tea party domain names, including teaparty.org, Texas Tea Party, Houston Tea Party, HoustonTXTeaParty, and so on. Then he tried to sell the names back to the actual Texas tea party leaders, making veiled threats about lawsuits over their use of the Tea Party name. The former Navy officer who claims to be running for governor of Texas has even put some of the domain names on eBay, with the stated intent of saving his house from foreclosure. While real Tea Party leaders have distanced themselves from Robertson, the media have embraced him and his false claim that he founded the entire Tea Party movement. Despite efforts by Tea Party leaders to publicize Robertson's phony creds and racist sign-making habits, Robertson has appeared on Fox News, C-Span, Russia Today, as well as a host of radio shows, and he's been quoted with authority in a variety of newspapers. The Washington Post quote, though, is definitely a coup for Roberston, and a true embarrassment for the Post, which really should have known better.

O'Keefe Might Have Been On To Something

James O'Keefe, the conservative activist of ACORN video fame who was arrested this week for his involvement in an alleged hare-brained scheme to tamper with Sen. Mary Landrieu's phone lines, posted a statement today claiming that the real aim of the caper was to prove that Landrieu's office wasn't answering constituents' calls. The explanation for why he, and three accomplices dressed up as phone company workers, allegedly entered a federal building under false pretenses has come off as laughable. Which is too bad. O'Keefe's suspicion about the Louisiana senator is a common one, particularly among Tea Party activists, and not just in Louisiana. Many of them are convinced that members of Congress are ignoring them, largely because the activists have a nearly impossible time getting any live person on the line in their offices.

Last month, I hung out with a group of activists from the Tea Party Patriots who were in DC trying to lobby the Senate against the health care bill. Mark Meckler, one of TPP's national coordinators, told me at the time that he was convinced that his senator, Barbara Boxer from California, had her staff take the phones and fax machine off the hook at night so that people couldn't leave messages or send faxes. He said he'd actually checked several times to see if he could get through to her office at 3 a.m., but says he never had any luck. That was one reason he camped out for hours in her office that day--to see if her staff ever answered the phone. I might chalk this up to conservative paranoia, except that when I tried calling Boxer's DC office just now, I had a pretty similar experience. When I pressed "3" to speak to a staff member, I was put on hold for a minute and then disconnected. Other reporters apparently have the same complaint about Boxer, and I've had similar experiences with other senators, most recently trying to get through the main line of the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). (His press secretary is still ignoring me.)

I suspect that the Tea Partiers are right: These aren't isolated incidents, which makes me wish that O'Keefe hadn't been such a bonehead and had actually, as he said, "used a different approach" to his investigation. A real expose on how little members of the Senate connect with constituents might have forced a few of them to at least staff up the phone lines. As it is, dealing with a Senate office is often worse than trying to get customer service from Comcast. No wonder the Tea Partiers are mad!

Is Russ Feingold in Trouble?

As if the Democrats' hopes for hanging on to the Senate in 2010 weren't bad enough, a new Rassmussen poll in Wisconsin suggests that liberal icon Sen. Russell Feingold could lose his seat in the fall. Feingold is most famous for serving co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that tried to limit the influence of money in politics (a law that has now been nearly shredded by the Supreme Court.) His good-government creds have made him a popular figure, at least outside of Wisconsin. But in his home state, he may have some work to do if he wants a fourth term.

Rassmussen's poll was based on a hypothetical race between Feingold and Tommy Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor and Health and Human Services secretary during the last Bush administration. Republicans are urging Thompson to challenge Feingold, but he hasn't decided yet. If he does, his odds right now look pretty good. Poll numbers suggest that Thompson would rout Feingold, with 47 percent of the vote, compared with Feingold's 43 percent. The news is particularly bad for dems because until now, Feingold has never been on anyone's watch list. His seat was supposed to be a safe one.

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