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Tea party grows from 'imperial White House': Zell

The tea party represents a significant percent of the voting population, and for the media to treat it like "some kind of disease" is unfair, billionaire entrepreneur Sam Zell told CNBC on Tuesday.

"The tea party is a reaction to an imperial White House," Zell said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "The idea that they are treated as though they are crazy is ridiculous, and not very representative of a democratic society."

(Read more: No way US would allow debt default? Don't bet on it)

Commenting on the standoff over the government shutdown and the looming debt ceiling deadline, Zell said: "The way in which this is being postured is as though the president sits on high and says, 'I will not negotiate.' And everybody is expected to lay down. I don't understand that."

"What makes this man different than anyone else?" he asked. "The president is elected to negotiate."

Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments.

"We treat the tea party like they are some kind of disease, and the very same thing on the other side the press don't even cover it," continued Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments. "Can you imagine the press vilifying the ACLU?"

Zell said he's "not a big tea party fan at all," but added that they are "significant percent of the voting population" with a "right to have a view."

"The answer is somebody has to pull it all together and say, 'I represent everybody,'" he offered. "I don't think it's ever too late for reality to overcome ideology."

All the wrangling in Washington is having an effect on investor sentiment, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index dropping in 10 of the past 13 sessions. The Dow is coming off its lowest close in a month and has now given up just about half of its September gains.

"The events going on right now are an excuse for the stock market to correct," Zell said. "I run a lot of businesses. It's true that business is better than it was in 2009. But that's like comparing like cancer to leprosy; 2009 was horrific. It's definitely better today, but we're a long way from any kind of robust recovery."

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC.

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