James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Archive for the ‘Media literacy’ Category

What’s more American than stupid, dishonest Super Bowl advertising?

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2014

“What’s more American than America?” Bob Dylan asks in an ad for the Chrysler 200 that appeared during the Super Bowl (the ad is posted above).

The question is stupid — and in this case, largely irrelevant since in most years you can come closer to an “American car” with a Toyota than with a Chrysler. Last year’s Chrysler 200 was less than three-quarters “American.” The company itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of an Italian company, Fiat.

The Chrysler ad was also misleading in another way. You may have heard the line, “What Detroit created was a first, and became an inspiration to the rest of the world.” If the line refers to some specific type of car, such as Henry Ford’s revolutionary assembly line version, that line may be accurate — but the first two real automobiles were made in France and Germany (and the first American ones weren’t made in Detroit). The ad also shows a picture of an American freeway, followed by a sign for the German autobahn — which, in fact, inspired the American interstate highway system.

The Super Bowl must be a great place to sell cars: Besides the Chrysler ad, viewers saw commercials vehicles from Chevrolet, Ford, HondaHyundai, SuburuVolkswagen, Maserati and Jaguar.

Of course, the entire Chrysler ad fell short of what many of us would have expected of Dylan (though he had previously “sold out” to Cadillac and Victoria’s Secret). Designed to pull at the heartstrings like a campaign ad for Ronald Reagan, it was very similar to a Chrysler ad done by Clint Eastwood two years earlier. But it made me wonder how soon Dylan will stand alone on a stage, talking to a chair.

Coke did patriotism much better than Chrysler with its “America the Beautiful” ad. (Though the best Super Bowl ad of all was one apparently seen originally only in Georgia, for a personal injury lawyer.)

The Coke commercial also drew some criticism because of its use of multiple languages — which predictably offended Glenn Beck, some at Fox News, and other nitwits — and its portrayal of a gay family. The latter point is especially interesting, considering the fact that the words for the featured song were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a feminist who probably was a lesbian. Perhaps more surprising in regard to the Coke commercial is the reasoned liberal objection to the ad.

Incidentally, this was perhaps only the second time in decades that I’ve been more interested in the outcome of the game than in the advertising. As a longtime Seattle Seahawks fan, I was much happier with the result this year than when the Seahawks were robbed in 2006.

Next-day follow-up: Below is a video of Atlanta anchor Brenda Wood talking about the Coke ad.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Riding, writing and resting

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2013

For the past six months, politics has been relatively low on my list of concerns. Call it burnout, or simple disgust with almost everyone in politics (including those in the media who cover it), but after my sabbatical began at the end of May I probably watched and read less about contemporary politics (especially from cable news) for the next several months than during any similar period in perhaps a decade. I have to admit that I didn’t miss it.

Nor have I missed most things about my “real job” as a professor. Someone asked me a while back the most important thing I’d learned during my sabbatical. My answer: “That I probably won’t have any trouble adjusting to retirement in 12 to 15 years.” I love being in the classroom and interacting with students, but certainly haven’t missed grading, course prep or meetings.

During my sabbatical I added a regular Wednesday “guys’ breakfast” and a regular Thursday golf game to my Tuesday and Friday morning basketball games. I’ve read more — and more for fun — than usual. I worked in the yard and garden. I spent time with parents, siblings, kids and a grandchild.

Most importantly, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my wife of almost 33 years, especially during a 25-day 5,700-mile drive that included visits to various family members and the cities of Boise, Tucson, Santa Fe, New Orleans and Natchez — the lovely Mississippi city (with the troubling history) in which my wife was born. The cities of Las Vegas, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City we passed through quickly, but not too quickly to be reminded of the sprawling corporate sameness that scars the Great American Landscape (though perhaps not for much longer, if my brother and other “doomers” are correct about the fate of the world).

More directly related to my profession, while in New Orleans I attended the annual convention of the American Journalism Historians Association. The convention was held in the beautiful historic Hotel Monteleone, where, despite a steep discount, the nightly rate was more than I paid for my first car, and where it cost more to park my pickup each night than I’ve paid for a room in some motels.

Back home, I attended a breakfast at which I chatted with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and then (at her request) sent her a copy a book I wrote. (Unlike a similar event with George Will a year earlier, I didn’t notice any errors worthy of correction here.) Later that month I helped out with a high school journalism workshop.

In terms of writing, I have revised a book chapter, chipped away at a novel, compiled notes and done research for a new academic book, and written more than 90 posts for an ongoing blog project. Today I even started our annual Christmas letter, having put up and decorated the tree a couple of days ago. And naturally I’ve been writing on the most pervasive medium in America today: Facebook.

Yes, I’ve devoted too much time to one form of anti-social media, though I’ve managed to forego Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest and Alltherest. I don’t tweet, or even text, and I definitely don’t twerk, Thanks to modern media, sometimes I twitch.

What I’ve written on Facebook  was typically far less important than what I “shared” from elsewhere (the same sorts of things that have no doubt prompted some “friends” to hide me from their feeds). And in retrospect, at least some of what I took the time to share via Facebook also seems worth sharing here. Some examples follow, though for space reasons I obviously can’t include oh-s0-witty-and/or-insightful comments I offered with each post.

The eclectic mix includes: an 1812 test for eighth-graders that few of us today could pass; a professional football coach (who knocked me out in practice when we were on the same college team);  the discovery of a new dinosaur; police brutality in New Mexico; empathetic high school football players; a revised “U.S. map” based on watersheds; Boeing’s anti-union efforts; Richard Cohen’s racism and sexism; how some of Apple’s overseas employees end up as virtual slaves; “15 Ways The United States Is The Best (At Being The Worst)”; the highest-paid employees in each state; a lesson on being quick to judge; some bragging about my workplace; and “the incredible story of Marion Stokes,” an obsessive librarian who taped — on VHS videocassettes — 35 years of television news.

Related to media, I posted items about the dangers of texting while driving and  sexist cyber-bullying by football fans. I explained why my local newspaper screwed up, placing a beautiful photo of a Native American mother and child next to an unrelated headline stating, “Child porn cases result in prison.” I pointed out that a widely quoted ESPN piece about NFL hazing used faulty math and therefore probably drew erroneous conclusions. I made fun of a local television station for misusing a word during a hostage crisis. And I shared a funny piece about a newspaper that retracted its criticism of the Gettysburg Address as “silly remarks” worthy of “a veil of oblivion.”

As a feminist who sometimes teaches a class on women and media (while serving on the board for a local nonprofit devoted to media literacy), I shared various items related to women’s issues: a story about “how we teach our kids that women are liars“;  a piece about sexist treatment of Janet Yellen; how women like working for women; and one about the Bechtel test for movies. I also addressed males, sharing “Five Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Needs.”

I shared some items about religion, including mega-churches and the fact that the region of the country most opposed to government health care is the Bible Belt. Naturally I couldn’t avoid mention of the Affordable Care Act. Posts compared: Al Jazeera America’s coverage of Typhoon Haiyan and Obamacare with the coverage by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC; how journalists were fact-checking other journalists; Sean Hannity’s lies;

I didn’t managed to ignore other politics entirely, either, discussing such issues as Barack Obama’s judicial nominations; Senate filibusters and the “nuclear option”; nutjobs who advocate killing Obama; National Security Agency wiretapping; Texas textbooks and evolution (a subject of this blog in 2009 and 2010); George W. Bush addressing the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute; some loony Sarah Palin fiscal hypocrisy; Chris Christie’s flip-flop on immigration; and Rand Paul’s plagiarism. What, you expected me to go six months without criticizing a few conservatives?

Most of those Facebook comments came during the past month and a half, suggesting that I’m being sucked back into caring more about politics than may be healthy. Too bad; I’ll have to keep working on that for the couple of months that remain on my sabbatical. Perhaps I’ll report back after that.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Religion, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »

Comparing Obama to other presidents — and to mermaids

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2013

mermaidAfter watching an Animal Planet program about mermaids the other night, I realized that the sea creatures and President Barack Obama have some things in common. Perhaps the comparison is inevitable, considering that the Weekly World News, a “news source” at least as reliable as World Net Daily, assures me that Obama has met with mermaids. Less surprising is that the article tells us that the mermaids are being “kept at an undisclosed aquarium.” Perhaps in Cuba?

And yes, I know the show was fiction, even if many people have apparently been fooled by the “documentary” style and the lengths the network went through to trick viewers. The fact that folks were duped isn’t a big surprise, though one might hope they would check things out before buying into the latest version of “Alien Autopsy.” I am a bit disappointed to find that Animal Planet is apparently now as much about animals as the History Channel is about history and the Arts & Entertainment network is about the arts.

In part, though, people believe in mermaids (check out some of the claims and a bad poem about mermaids and sonar in the comments section here), for some of the same reasons they believed–and in some cases, continue to believe–that Barack Obama is liberal, anti-war, anti-business, Muslim, a gun-grabber, Kenyan-born, a supporter of economic regulation, deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, a socialist, or the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In fact, because both were relatively unknown and perhaps unknowable, mermaids and Obama became defined by how others want to see them. (We often elect “outsiders” for that reason.) But just for fun, here are some other comparisons:

  • Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid was translated into dozens of languages and led to an animated movie; Obama’s Dreams from My Father was translated into dozens of languages and led to an unanimated presidency.
  • Mermaids are famous for melodious singing that mesmerized sailors; Obama is famous for melodious speeches that mesmerized Democratic voters.
  • Mermaids hang out with fish; Obama also has been accused of having some fishy compatriots.
  • In some cultures, mermaids are thought to be seeking souls; Obama brought soul to the White House.
  • Mermaids can be found all over the world; Obama also has made appearances all over the globe.
  • Mermaids never appear on television without the help of CGI; Obama rarely appears without the aid of a teleprompter.
  • And perhaps most significantly, mermaids are thought to be half human, half fish; Obama seems to be half Democrat, half Republican.

In fact, Obama is pretty much like most other presidents, and that’s the problem. He’s certainly no liberal; like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama is a politically practical neo-conservative who relies on a combination of charm and corporate money for his power. Like FDRHarry Truman and Bush, he’ll freely kill civilians abroad to look politically strong while reducing American military casualties (for example, more Americans have been killed by guns in this country just since the Newtown massacre than were killed in the entire Iraq War). Like Bush and Roosevelt, Obama will overlook civil liberties to lock up potential “enemies.” Like Nixon and Bush, he is secretive. Also like Nixon and Bush, Obama is willing to let the government be intrusive, if not abusive.

I’ve noted previously the similarities between Obama and Ronald Reagan, and have become increasingly troubled by some of the current president’s similarities to Richard Nixon. (I agree with Bob Dole’s recent statement that neither Reagan nor Nixon could be elected as Republicans, though I think either might have a shot as a modern-day Democrat. After all, both Reagan and Nixon were more liberal in many respects than Obama.)

Obama is not particularly brave, nor especially effective in accomplishing his goals. He has accomplished some good things while doing some bad ones. He seems to be more reflective than Bush, but who isn’t? The one thing that liberals and conservatives might agree on in regard to Obama is that he has been … a disappointment.

Obama’s new support for a federal shield law and his nomination of James B. Comey as FBI director might seem to be encouraging notes in a presidency that has otherwise been marked by its obstruction and intimidation of the press and a general lack of once-promised transparency. But it’s worth noting that Obama previously helped kill the shield law (which probably would prove largely meaningless, and may actually make things worse for journalists, anyway) and the drone warrior’s latest “transparency” promise lasted all of about a week. And, of course, Comey may have had the gumption to bust Martha Stewart and WorldCom execs, but he also is another demonstration of how the president is continuing the work of George W. Bush, even if Comey proved to be a thorn in Bush’s side.

Obama’s attorney general apologized for the administration’s treatment of the press, but I wonder why he felt the need to offer the apology in an “off-the-record” meeting. (I’m also troubled by the fact that three of the five editors who attended the meeting promptly violated the terms to which they had apparently agreed; they should have done what most media organizations did and boycotted the meeting.)

So while it is true that some of Obama’s recent words sound good, we’ve heard false promises in the past. Until I see more evidence, I’m not putting a lot of faith in either Obama or mermaids.

Sunday follow-up: Slate offers some more perspective on the Animal Planet’s mermaid tales, and five things the channel could better be focusing in regard to the world’s suffering oceans. Related to#4 of the list, today I bought a tie covered with pictures of a dozen kinds of sharks. Maybe they ate the mermaids.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Inane confessions of the anonymous kind

Posted by James McPherson on February 23, 2013

When I was a kid, a friend’s mother always seemed to have copies of “confessional” magazines such as True Confessions or True Romance lying around. They seemed pretty silly and I didn’t understand their appeal, though of course I wasn’t among the target audience.

Such publications do have a long history (the issue pictured here is as old as I am). As a media scholar, I now have a better understanding of why those magazines became popular — why people choose the media they do — though at a personal level I still have trouble understanding the attraction of those particular publications.

And like some other forms of other print media, those magazines have largely disappeared. But of course the inane “true confession” style of media has only spread, from Oprah and Jerry Springer to reality television to the “anonymous” Facebook sites that have now become popular with the college crowd — including, sadly, among the generally more sensible students where I teach. Though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised or too disappointed by that; such sites can also be found for the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton.

In fact, if you want to depress yourself, the next time you’re on Facebook do a search for “university confessions.” Or put in the name of your own university — there’s probably at least one “confessions” page there (some have two or more), with dozens or hundreds of undergrads sharing their supposed insecurities, misdeeds, fantasies, sexual escapades, etc., so that other students can then provide a running commentary.

I wonder: Does the “confessor” who gets the mosts comments feel as if s/he has “won” something?

The Facebook confessions craze is relatively new, but seemingly nearly as ubiquitous as renditions of the “Harlem Shake.” “Confessions” pages have caused problems at a few schools, including the National University of Singapore, the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and Sam Houston State University. Mostly they just reflect poorly on the students involved and their universities.[Update: At the high school level, perhaps cause more problems have come from both confessions pages and the "Harlem Shake."]

As a writer and former college student who now spends most of his time around students, I suspect that many of the supposed “confessions” are fiction. Most seem to be trivial. A fair number are simply stupid. A few of the most troubling, whether true or not, seem to reflect a need for their writers to take advantage of the counseling services available (probably for free) at their institutions.

In part because media around the world have chosen to treat them as news, I decided to contribute my small bit here. Still, as far as making a meaningful contribution to the media world at large, the “confessions” might as well have been scribbled in crayon on notebook paper, folded into paper airplanes, and then launched into the wind.

I also suspect that the trend and the sites themselves will be fleeting, disappearing even before their student moderators graduate and go on to other things. In the meantime, the sites will worry some university administrators, titillate some juvenile readers, offend some people, and be ignored by most — pretty much like every other form of student media throughout history.

One thing I do somewhat appreciate about these Facebook sites, particulary compared to blogs: While the original posts may be anonymous, the commenters are not. That undoubtedly reduces some of the vitriol so often found among bloggers and among those who can comment anonymously on blogs — people who obviously should have no more credibility or popularity than the anonymous “true confessions” on Facebook and in once-popular magazines.

Oh, and if you’ve somehow managed to miss the whole “Harlem Shake” phenomenon (which may have absolutely nothing to do with the original “Harlem Shake”), here is a compilation of examples:

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Gulp; Rubio can’t help GOP — so I’ll try

Posted by James McPherson on February 14, 2013

Some Republicans have been talking about how their party needs to come up with a new message. Aside from trying to “stop being the stupid party,” though, they apparently haven’t figured out what that message might be, and so I want to help.

You might think I’m kidding because I generally oppose almost everything the modern Republican Party seem to favor, but in this case I’m absolutely serious. And I’m willing to help out the GOP for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not a loyalist of any party (I didn’t vote for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney). I want to see progress (and the end of pointess gridlock), regardless of who can claim responsibility. Second, the few Republicans who read this will probably automatically dismiss it, anyway, either because they can’t believe a liberal would have a good idea or because they’re so cluelessly entrenched in their own decreasingly relevant mindset that they can’t budge.

Before I get to what the national Republican message should be, though, a few words about the messages we heard Tuesday night. Obama’s State of the Union Address was about what you’d expect — not much discussion of the current  state of the nation, but a well-delivered (if sometimes inaccurate or misleading) speech that matters little in the long run. More interesting was poor dry-mouthed Sen. Marco Rubio. who became yet another victim of the official SOTU response, the latest Jindalesque would-be GOP savior to prove himself not ready for prime time. As Ian Crouch wrote for the New Yorker:

By the second minute of Marco Rubio’s official Republican response to the  President’s State of the Union address last night, it was clear that the  Senator’s body was betraying him. His lips caught each other in the way they do  at moments of stress, when we are suddenly confronted, after long lapses of  unthought, with the actual mechanics of speech. Under the hot lights, Rubio’s  mouth went dry. A few minutes later, sweat trickled down his right temple, and  he moved his hand instinctively to wipe it away. The dry mouth persisted, and,  at times, his eyes flashed with a kind of pleading and mounting desperation: the  speech was less than halfway over, with words and words to go. His hands,  already large in the frame when he kept them low in front of him, flashed a few  times to his lips. And then back to his temple.

And then, of course, came Rubio’s awkward eyes-forward stretch for what appeared to be Barbie’s water bottle (which did create a new marketing opportunity for his PAC), the moment destined to become the one thing most viewers would remember from his speech. However unfair, we live in a television age; as the Republicans who keep idolizing a misremembered Ronald Reagan should know, staging matters.

And instead of being able to cooly reach for a glass that should have been placed before him in case he needed it, Rubio ended up lunging as if he were trying to keep his presidential hopes from rolling off of an off-camera table. Or perhaps he just wanted to be sure to emphasize the GOP’s anti-environmental approach by highlighting not just bottled water, but water from  company that repeatedly has been the subject of a lawsuits over its product.

Rubio did follow up with a nice little story about how he still lives “in the same working-class neighborhood I grew up in,” a story that was irrelevant to any plan he might have for actually improving the state of the union. It also was a story that make Rubio look like just another shifty politician, since apparently he’s trying to abandon that “working-class home,”if he can get someone to shell out $675,000. And apparently it’s OK for Rubio to benefit from lots of government help, but others should make do with less.

From a substantive point, the worst thing about Rubio’s speech was what it didn’t offer: answers or solutions to anything beyond the rotely regurgitated but meaningless “free market solutions” that voters soundly rejected three months ago. As David Brooks pointed out immediately afterward, except for a vague mention of immigration reform, Rubio’s speech was virtually indisinguishable from one Mitt Romney might have given a day before he was hammered in the election. Or as I heard someone say the next day, Rubio was “another Romney — just add water.” Ouch.

As a Republican friend of mine has said, “We can’t just say no to everything.” And since national Republicans don’t know where to go, I’ll help them out: The “states’ rights” party should actually look to the states for direction. After all, despite its failures at the national level, the GOP controls most state legislatures and most governors’ seats. At that level, many party ideas obviously appeal to voters. Perhaps that’s because at the state level they’re actually more in touch with the voters, and less influenced by national lobbyists and interest groups.

Obama actually gave me the idea for a new Republican strategy, by highlighting the success of early-childhood education programs in the deep-red states of Georgia and Oklahoma. Recall that the model for Obamacare was signed into law by a Republican governor (remember him?). And some Republican states are now embracing expansion of Medicaid and the opportunity to create state-run insurance exchanges as ways to meet their obligations under the law while keeping some control over how the projects work.

What national Republicans ought to do is to start seeking out and embracing the various state-level successes, encouraging other states to adopt programs similar to those that work elsewhere. At the same time, they can then point out to voters what responsible leaders can accomplish without federal interference. And if they focus on the things that people actually want and need — better roads, schools and medical care, for example — maybe the nation as a whole will benefit.

In truth, I don’t think this plan will go anywhere. One problem is that some Republicans would be inclined to cite the dumbest state actions — such as Arizona’s immigration policies — as the models for others to follow. And too many states likely would simply continue to neglect their poorest and most needy residents, regardless of how much federal money and control was shifted their way, leading to all-new calls for federal intervention.

Most significantly, such a plan would require conservative voters to embrace some level of government (and some taxes), a hard pill to swallow for too many modern Republicans even at the state or local level — regardless of how many little bottles of fake spring water they may gulp to wash it down.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

My gift to anti-Obama conspiracy freaks

Posted by James McPherson on August 7, 2012

I confess. I’ve finally removed my blinders and have been won over by the conspiracy theorists. Admittedly, in the past I’ve made fun of birthers, truthers, gun nuts, Islamophobes, homophobes, Rush Limbaugh, the Texas Board of EducationPUMAs, lying Catholics, David Horowitz, flag fetishists, Pat Robertson, “Christmas warriors,” Michelle Malkin, “border warriors,” and other batcrap-crazy conspiracy nuts. But suddenly, with the mass killings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the depth of the Obama world-domination plan has all become clear to me. Clearer to me, apparently, than to anyone else. But after I explain it, I’m sure it will be plain to everyone. I’ll use lots of exclamation points and capital letters to help you understand. If only I had Glenn Beck’s chalkboard.

We now know that the racist lunatic who killed six people in Wisconsin was part of a vast Democratic/Socialist/Communist/Muslim conspiracy! The killer was born on Veterans Day 1971, meaning he was destined to become an American patriot. By then, 10-year-old Barack Obama was well on his way to becoming president of the United States. (You may laugh, but remember, someone had the foresight to plant birth announcements in Hawaii newspapers a decade earlier.)

Not surprisingly, the Wisconsin killer eventually joined the military.  He did so in 1992–the SAME YEAR that Barack Obama took his wife to Kenya, probably to wipe out any record of his birth there, and when he was starting a period as a “lecturer” teaching the methods of Saul Alinsky at the University of Chicago Law School! Furthermore, in that exact SAME YEAR of 1992–and I’m quoting word for word from Wikipedia here–“Obama directed Illinois’s Project Vote, a voter registration campaign with ten staffers and seven hundred volunteer registrars; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, leading Crain’s Chicago Business to name Obama to its 1993 list of ’40 under Forty’ powers to be.” Even more unbelievably, the husband of Obama’s future Secretary of State would win the presidency in that SAME YEAR, paving the way for America’s SECOND (the number is important, as I’m about to show) black president!

The Wisconsin nutjob apparently washed out of the military in 1998, the year Obama won his SECOND Illinois state Senate term, and the SAME YEAR in which eldest Obama daughter Malia was born on the FOURTH OF JULY! Gaining confidence in his power, he later gave his SECOND daughter, Natasha, a COMMUNIST name!

By the way, “they” want you to think the killer washed out of the military. Keep in mind that he had been working in psychological operations, making him the perfect patsy to turn into a Manchurian candidate time bomb waiting to go off. So who can really be surprised that he went off a mere 14 years later, as Obama was campaigning for his second presidential election?

No, it’s obvious. The attack couldn’t be on white people, because that had just happened. And it couldn’t be against Muslims, because that might generate sympathy for Islamists–and besides, Obama wouldn’t order an attack on his own religion, right? So Sikhs, who kinda look Muslim to lots of white folk anyway, were the ideal targets of this sinister plan.

And who better to take the blame, while supporting the Obama agenda, than a veteran “constitutionalist”? That’s the question prompted by Jone’s InfoWars (“because there is a war on for your mind and Jones has lost his”).

“The US government is not only coming after the 2nd Amendment, but now framing US Army veterans in a false flag operation where extremists are the new threat,” writes someone going by the name “Susanne Posel.” That name that just happens to be an anagram for “So Sensual Pen” or “Sees No US Plan” or “No US Paleness” or “Open Anus Less” or “Lone US Ass Pen.” Coincidence? I THINK NOT!

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Batcrap craziness

Posted by James McPherson on July 20, 2012

Batman: “No guns.” (In keeping with the superhero’s longtime no-gun rule.”)

Catwoman: “What fun is that?”

I guess we could ask the folks who attended the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, huh?

As I’ve written in what became my most-read post, I generally avoid using profanity. But one reason I generally oppose it it because its overuse has made appropriate use almost meaningless. Almost. And today is one of the exceptions, because there has perhaps never been a more appropriate day or week for the term “batshit crazy.”

This week gave us Rush Limbaugh suggesting that the name of a movie character (a name that originated in a 1993 comic book) was a liberal plot against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Then, of course, Rush lied about it the next day.

Next we had John McCain–the McCain we used to remember before he sold his soul to try to win the last presidential election–chastize Michele Bachmann for her latest Muslim plot nonsense. But we know that Bachmann is as batty as Limbaugh.

And though we all know that the blogosphere has become a nutty and nasty place, it was surprising that a negative review of the latest Batman movie would inspire batshit-crazy fans of a comic book character to make death threats against “Rotten Tomatoes” reviewers.

But all of that pales in comparison to today’s news about a costumed gunman killing at least a dozen people at a midnight opening of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” It didn’t take long for ABC to commit the first stupid reporting error, and of course the shooting has dominated the cable news networks all day. (It’s probably not such big news in Syria, where having a dozen killed by violence would be considered a good day.)

And so now we’ll have another few days of liberals pointing out the obvious, that easy access to guns in America makes these events far too common here and that conservative talking heads such as “shoot-them-in-the-head” Glenn Beck (however well he may cry about it afterward) and Rush Limbaugh, along with batshit-crazy extremist groups promote violence. Some conservatives will blame mass murder on gay marriage. If all else fails, blame it on violent movies or video games. It’s all so predictable, and too few will acknowledge that many factors are involved.

Perhaps less predictably, truly batshit-crazy NRA types, which Colorado has, may suggest that the carnage would have been reduced if other people in the theater were armed. Oh, wait–batshit-crazy Malkin  and batshit-crazy Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert have already done that. Gohmert also blamed the attacks on “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs”–as did the American Family Association, despite the fact that the killer reportedly was a “brilliant student” from a “church-going family.” Shades of Pat Robertson; life is just too scary when we realize what our demons have in common with the rest of us, I guess.

So, how long until someone (other than a batshit-crazy blogger or two) suggests that the killer is an Obama operative trying to help the president push through gun control, even though we know that it’s now easier to buy a gun and you can carry it in more places than before Obama was elected? Besides, we Americans love our guns. We really love our guns. If the shooting of a Congresswoman and the killing a a cute white girl or the slaughter of college students won’t spur a serious debate about American gun laws, this certainly won’t.

In fact, perhaps part of the “The Dark Knight Rises” should be rewritten.

Batman: “No guns.”

Catwoman: “In America? That’s batshit crazy!”

Next-day addendum: Above I asked how long it would take someone to suggest that the shootings were a government plot to help promote control. Not long at all, as it turned out, thanks to 9/11 “truther” Alex Jones, perhaps the most bat-shit crazy conspiracy theorist in America.

Sunday addendum: Batshit-crazy Truth in Action Ministries spokesman Jerry Newcombe chose today to go on the radio and “remind” listeners that some of the dead shooting victims were bound for hell. Say hello when you get there, Jerry.

Also, a question for any who care to answer: Why do so many conservatives apparently think it should be easier to carry a gun than to cast a ballot?

Tuesday addendum: Batshit-crazy Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, has also suggested that the Aurora killings are part of a gun-control plot, bringing familiar bogeyman, the United Nations, into it.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments »

Do you know what you’re investing in, and where?

Posted by James McPherson on July 11, 2012

The question above may be trickier than it looks, but since many right-wing media have decided that their readers are clueless about how investment funds work. Maybe they’re right–they’d know their audiences better than I do–but, regardless, the question in the headline seems worth asking today.

The Weekly Standard yesterday offered a post critical of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who while in enemy territory on Sunday commented about Mitt Romney and the millions of dollars he has apparently stashed in banks in offshore accounts in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, “Americans need to ask themselves, why does an American businessman need a Swiss bank account and secretive investments like that?”

The Standard post notes, “But disclosure forms reveal that in 2010, Wasserman Schultz invested between $1,001-$15,000 in a 401k retirement fund run by Davis Financial Fund. As the fund discloses, it is invested in the Julius Baer Group Ltd. and the State Bank of India GDR Ltd., as well as other financial, insurance, bank institutions.” Predicatably, the post was then picked up by Fox News, Human EventsNewsmax, examiner.com, Twitchy, and their conservative acolytes. You can see mostly identical examples here, here, hereherehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. (And no, I don’t expect anyone to go to all of the links; I simply wanted to partially demonstrate how far and fast ignorance can be repeated).

Some of the posts–like this one, which is actually kind of funny, if you overlook the inaccuracy–actually outrightly lie, saying that Wasserman Schultz “had her own Swiss bank account.” Keep in mind that I’m not defending the hypocracy or lying that run rampant in politics on both sides of the political aisle. But pretending that Wasserman Schultz’s foreign investments–and perhaps yours–are the moral equivalent of Romney’s is a major stretch. The two have almost nothing in common.

For one thing, the Congresswoman ISN’T RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT. Even if she were, her investments were public (declared on her financial disclosure form), pretty small (less than $15,000) and occurred years ago. Any idea how much Romney still has stashed abroad today? Most importantly, the investments–which, again, were far different from “overseas accounts”–were made by the manager of her retirement fund, not directly by her. For an embarrassing example of why that matters, I’ll share a brief story:

A few years ago, using an IRS Form 990, one of my students found out that the Christian university where I work was unknowingly investing in Abercrombie & Fitch–a company popular with many college students, but not one most Christian institutions would choose to affiliate with. The investments were made by a financial manager, of course, and the student’s story led to a change in investment policy by the university’s board of trustees. In fact, chances are that if you have a retirement fund you have no idea which companies your money is supporting at any given moment. (For the record, my own retirement fund is set up to avoid certain industries, based on my own politics, but the many individual companies that get small pieces of my money vary widely and change with time.)

Oh, speaking of money: Americans paid record-low amounts of federal income taxes during Barack Obama’s first year as president. I wonder if the Weekly Substandard will get a conservative meme going about that.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

First Internet photo? Photoshopped women, of course

Posted by James McPherson on July 10, 2012

So the first-ever Internet photo hs been found, reports Mother Board. Not surprisingly, it was a photoshopped photo of women. Call Julia Bluhm.

Somewhat surprising, considering most of what seems to show up nowadays on the Web, all of the women are fully dressed. And none of them are holding the camera.

By the way, I hadn’t known before this article that the first email came way before the parents of some of my students were born. The first YouTube video came seven years ago, and is posted below. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it didn’t involve cats.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Multi-level madness from to Zeekler to zombies

Posted by James McPherson on June 3, 2012

Which is worse, a Zeekler or a zombie? Lately, both have been popping up on anti-social media, so perhaps it’s just a matter of time until they show up at your door. In the case of zombies, the Centers for Disease Control may have you covered  — unless, of course, they’re involved in a cover-up. We even know the cause of a “Zombie Apocalypse.” But what’s a Zeekler?

As if Farmville, Mafia Wars, and seeing how much your high school classmates have aged didn’t make Facebook annoying enough, now people are using it to pimp their multi-level marketing or penny auction schemes. Yesterday I encountered a post from someone who was “so excited” to have been introduced to Zeekler — complete with documentation from a serious-sounding publication about its success.

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Zeekler. I’m not a fan of the likes of Amway and Nu Skin (especially not as much of a fan as Mitt Romney and many of his fellow Mormons) because I don’t like the apparent odds, but normally I might figure “caveat emptor.” I have no idea whether Zeekler (or ZeekRewards) is a scam, and I’ll let others (also here or via government advice here) try to figure it out. I now know that one Zeekler Facebook site has almost 13,000 “likes” and  another almost 1,300, but both include many negative responses in the comments sections and quite a few apologies from the “Zeek geeks” for delayed payments. I also see that Zeekler and its parent company, Rex Venture Group, are becoming increasingly well-known to the Better Business Bureau.

Still, normally I’d just ignore an obnoxious sales pitch and go on — but in this case, the inclusion of a “media” support message made me feel an obligation to respond, especially because I saw the same quote word for word on other sites. The comment reads as follows:

I am still just amazed at what we all have our hands on. This is “ground floor Microsoft”, “ground floor Google”. Thank you [name deleted] for showing this to me, my friend. This has changed out lives forever! MARKETING BUSINESS JOURNAL (April 2012), “What has happened in the last 14 months will be carved out in the history books of business and technology along with business icons such as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Google.” “If you are reading this now, you are witnessing history in the making.” “Pay attention here. You may never see anything like this again in your lifetime.”

These folks may be “amazed” by their multi-level marketing opportunity that they can’t help throwing in extra quotation marks, but I am regularly amazed that some of the same who don’t trust CNN will spend money based something they read on the Internet, or something backed by a supposed publication such as the “Marketing Business Journal.” Especially since it’s easy to see that part of the page is missing. For all we know, this “article” was a paid advertisement.

Still, even the visible part of the page has the Network Marketing Business Journal website. And what do you find at that site? A slogan stating that the NMBJ is the “newspaper for the newest network marketing, direct sales, homebased business opportunities and articles.” In other words, it’s a trade journal (previously called Money Maker’s Monthly) founded and run by a former Amway distributor. Its own readership profile states, “The readership of Network Marketing Business Journal consists almost entirely of businesses in network marketing and direct sales roles.” Gee, I’d bet that publication uncovers scandal in the industry every day — and who could you trust more for an honest evaluation of a multi-level “opportunity”?

The site boasts links for a company of the month, a product of the month, a supplier of the month, and others. Unfortunately, apparently those “feature articles” are blocked to would-be readers who are not “authorized” to read them. The companies featured must be so proud to be so highly touted.

But of course the magazine’s readers may not be the most important target. The promoters who “read” the publication can forever use some version of the published “article” to pass to their Facebook “friends.” And with friends like those, who needs zombies?

Posted in History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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