And the truth is, while Smith and Martin are right that the movement has been hyped, it’s still a legitimate story. By all means, journalists should keep the Tea Parties in perspective, providing historical and electoral context. The movement shouldn’t be the frame for all political coverage, and we don’t need facile “what does the Tea Party think?” sidebars for every issue. But we should absolutely have a few sharp reporters on this beat. One of those reporters, Dave Weigel—the Washington Post blogger who is mentioned but not named in the Politico piece, and whom the Post hired after it had clearly fallen behind on this story—explained why today:

If a political movement, however loosely aggregated, is driving the policies of one party, it deserves copious and probing coverage. Yes, it’s frustrating for liberals that a few hundred tea party activists can steal the headlines by packing into town hall meetings. But understanding why that happened, how social networks and technology made that possible, and whether or not their worries were well-founded—that is obviously a job for political journalists.

“Driving” might be too strong a word, but this is basically right. (And, for those who are concerned, Weigel doesn’t accept the conservative critique of the coverage, either.) And if you’re not persuaded, consider this concluding point from Weigel:

Finally, every moment we’re talking about the grass-roots activists of the tea parties or the free-market groups who are trying to shape their messaging and strategy is a moment we’re not talking about Sarah Palin’s Facebook posts. Who can complain about that?

Amen to that.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.