So, is it Tea Party, tea party or "tea party"?
Depends where you look.
News organizations have different approaches when it comes to the name of the populist movement, which gained its own entry in the AP Stylebook's 2010 edition: tea party.
A sampling of headlines in early February shows both upper- and lower-casing of tea party, and at least one news organization putting tea party in quotes. "Hatch and Lugar blaze different paths as tea party stalks" was one washingtonpost.com headline, but another headline on the site read, "Is the Tea Party cynical, after all?" In USA Today, there was "Tea Party movement to have own magazine"; the Christian Science Monitor topped one story with "Patriot Act upset vote: Can tea party lawmakers, liberals be friends?"; and the Los Angeles Times brought out the quote marks for "Conference to serve as preview of 'tea party' influence in 2012."
"Uppercasing 'Tea Party' isn't a political judgment, or really even a substantive one — just a style decision, a question of clarity and appearance," Philip B. Corbett, the New York Times' standards editor, wrote in the Public Editor blog in October. "In my view, it looks odd and distracting to refer to a lowercase 'tea party.' "
Ben Welter, news copy desk chief at Minneapolis' Star Tribune, says that publication decided to capitalize Tea Party, even if the much-ballyhooed phenomenon has no central body. "It's a widely known, easily identified political movement," he says. He goes on to say that the Star Tribune also capitalizes "First Lady" when it stands alone and "Up North," suggesting that maybe "our bar for capping things is lower than most publications'."
Welter and Corbett say using caps minimizes confusion by making clear the reference is not to an actual tea party, the kind that features scones. "As a common noun, a 'tea party' is a gathering where tea is served, or something Alice would attend," Corbett wrote. "And of course, the intended reference is to the Boston Tea Party, which we uppercase as a specific historical event."
While the Star Tribune capitalizes tea party in its own stories and headlines, it bows to the AP's preference in the wire service's stories posted on startribune.com.
David Minthorn, AP deputy standards editor, says because the tea party is more of a movement than a formal organization, the style bible decided to lowercase the name. "That could change, of course, if they ever establish a formal national entity," he says.
The AP Stylebook entry was expanded in late 2010, he says. Whereas the movement is not capitalized, formally named groups, such as the Tea Party Express, are. Adherents are tea partyers and not partiers, according to the stylebook. But that's another discussion.