E.J. Dionne says the whole townhall phenomenon is being overblown thanks to the media’s preference for sensationalism:
The most disturbing account came from Rep. David Price of North Carolina, who spoke with a stringer for one of the television networks at a large town-hall meeting he held in Durham.
The stringer said he was one of 10 people around the country assigned to watch such encounters. Price said he was told flatly: “Your meeting doesn’t get covered unless it blows up.” As it happens, the Durham audience was broadly sympathetic to reform efforts. No “news” there.
Combining the House and Senate, there are over 500 people in congress. That provides for a lot of “at home” public events. If you decide you’re only going to cover the one percent of those events that feature outlier events, then you present the public with a very distorted view of things. And to take a bit of a self-critical look at things, this dynamic wasn’t helped by the rise of a left-wing mass media (blogs, Rachel Maddow, etc.) that was more interested in poking fun at the nuttiest voices on the right than in trying to amplify the concerns of pro-reform voters.