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 ‘Politics’ Category

GOP may help Democrats by claiming Senate

Posted by James McPherson on November 4, 2014

It’s been tough to get excited about today’s elections, the most expensive midterms in history, for which turnout will be low. A constant barrage of ads from political hate groups may depress the vote. Conservative voter suppression efforts may have a limited effect on election results in some states, while voter fraud, as usual, will be virtually nonexistent and will have no effect whatsoever.

Republicans have found that running without a platform or ideas, while hiding from their jobs, is more effective than the Democratic tactic of running without a clue, while hiding from the president who heads their party.

That means that the most interested/extreme voices will have more influence than usual. I expect the GOP to claim the Senate, though we may not know the final results for weeks because of close results in Georgia and Louisiana. Actually, I expect we will know. Having watched very brief (all I could stand) segments of shows on Fox News and MSNBC last night, I saw commentators on both predicting that Republicans will gain seats in the Senate. We know that Fox News would predict big Republican wins regardless of the likely outcome, but if MSNBC is pessimistic about Dems’ chances, that confirms the likelihood of a GOP victory.

Of course, having the Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress will mean … probably squat. Since it now takes 60 votes in the Senate to accomplish anything, and since the GOP would fall short of that total if it won every single seat up for election this year, little will change.

If anything, the worst Congress ever may get even worse. There will be a new, equally obnoxious, Senate majority leader, and new committee heads, but Democrats won’t be any less obstructionist during the next two years than Republicans have been for the past six. Both parties will continue to promote war and ignore climate change. No immigration reform will occur, which will make Latinos even more likely to vote Democratic in four years. Republicans will continue to have meaningless show votes on the Affordable Care Act, which will continue to provide health care to increasing numbers of Americans.

I heard someone say last night that GOP control of the Senate means President Obama will be unable to get his nominations approved. Apparently that person hasn’t noticed the current state of the nominating process, where Republicans have left record numbers of judicial seats vacant and where, despite a supposed Ebola crisis, the GOP and its gun lobby puppeteers have kept the U.S. from having a surgeon general for the past year.

If GOP “control” of the Senate helps anyone, it likely will be the Democrats — who two years from now will be able to point out that Republicans controlled both houses of Congress for two years without accomplishing anything. Obama can veto anything that Congress accidentally passes, of course, but with Senate Democrats manning the barricades in front of him, I doubt that the president will need to track down his veto pen.

Some interesting things will happen today, though, as usual, your vote won’t matter much in the Senate races. The GOP will expand its majority in the House, thanks to gerrymandering, though more Americans likely will once again vote for Democrats in the ill-named “people’s House.” Either party may gain a Governor’s seat. Most of the meaningful elections will occur at the state and local levels, and most Americans will neglect their own interests and ignore those elections.

Among other things, more people in Arkansas may get easier access to alcohol, and folks in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia may gain the right to legally smoke marijuana. They may need it, considering that campaigning for the 2016 election, which will be the new “most expensive election in history,” starts tomorrow.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

Elizabeth Warren is running for president

Posted by James McPherson on April 23, 2014

elizabeth warrenThough I rarely produce journalistic scoops these days, here’s something that you can say that you read here first: Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts will run for president in 2016, despite what she told ABC just a couple of days ago. Even if Chris Cillizza states flatly, “Elizabeth Warren is almost certainly not running for president in 2016.”

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps even Warren herself doesn’t know that she’ll be a candidate in 2016. And though I’m often blown away by her intelligence and her grasp of economic issues — and so I shouldn’t suggest that I know something she doesn’t — here are six reasons that I know she’ll run:

First, she wrote a book. And not just any book, as Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll pointed out yesterday, but “a campaign book.” Not a major policy work, but an autobiography, “nothing explosive, but juicy enough to feed the Washington media machine.” A book that “can, at times, read like an extended stump speech.”

Years ago, in my book about the post-World War II rise of conservatism in the U.S. (and previously on this blog), I compared Barack Obama’s campaign to those of earlier candidates. I wrote that Obama “wrote a popular book that might be compared to conservative icon Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. Obama’s The Audacity of Hope offered an image for the nation’s political future, calling for in one reviewer’s words, ‘a mode of liberalism that sounds both highly pragmatic and deeply moral.’”

A second reason I believe Warren will run is that we’re seemingly seeing her everywhere. Some of the most effective Senators — such as Hillary Clinton, for example — become what are known as legislative “work horses,” keeping their heads down and doing the hard work of legislating. Others become “show horses,” speaking out not only in public hearings but whenever they can on television. Do a search on YouTube for “Elizabeth Warren.” The result? “About 221,000 results.”

Third, Warren not only seems to be everywhere, but she also has something to say. As I wrote about Obama, in my book: Both Obama and Ronald Reagan “found themselves in demand as speakers inside and outside their parties. Though Reagan had a sharper wit, a folksier manner, and a more practiced delivery, both he and Obama spoke on behalf of their values in direct, positive and personal ways that connected with listeners.” Warren may be smarter than either of those men, and manages to tell us horrible news about financial institutions  in a way that makes it seem as if there might be an answer.

Fourth, Warren herself is the answer for the problems she raises, problems that most Americans can identify with. Without her, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would not exist. She rightfully should have been that agency’s first director, but Obama chickened out from appointing her, convinced that opposition from banks and Republicans would be too strong for her to be confirmed.

Fifth, as just pointed out, banks and Republicans don’t like Warren. That makes her appealing to Democrats who don’t happen to be bankers, and helps her raise money. Even if she were wishy-washy about the idea of running, she’d be getting a lot of pressure to run.

And finally, a sixth reason we should expect Warren to be a candidate: Her timing will likely never be better. Many said that Obama was running “too soon,” that he should wait four or eight more years to run. I think that his presidency — and the nation — has suffered in some respects because of his lack of experience. But as I have noted, we actually seem to prefer inexperience in our presidential nominees. Someone such as John Kerry or John McCain or Hillary Clinton who has served for a long period of time in government has a record that can be used and distorted by opponents.

Besides, if not now, when? If a Democrat should happen to win the presidency in 2016, that person would probably seek re-election in 2020. The earliest that Warren could run in that case would be in 2024, after she had already served a dozen years in the Senate (assuming she won a second term; if she lost a Massachusetts Senate race she couldn’t be a credible Democratic candidate afterward).

So, there you have it. She’s running. And if I’m wrong, well, I’ll be just like every other political pundit, hoping no one remembers later.

 

 

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , | 28 Comments »

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 »

Conservative quackery and Santa Claus

Posted by James McPherson on December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone. I hope your appreciation of the season hasn’t been dampened by recent controversy involving those wildly popular but oft-misunderstood bearded guys.

No, I’m not talking about “Daddy Duck” Phil Robertson and the other guys of “reality” television’s “Duck Dynastyclan, as I see no need to join the discussion over whether clan leader Phil Robertson is a homophobic racist or just a committed Christian (other than to point out that those who claim that Robertson’s free speech rights are being violated are clueless about the First Amendment).

I’m more interested in the controversy involving those other bearded guys — Santa Claus and Jesus — whom a defensive and “very, very blonde” professional spokesmodel Megyn Kelly brought into Fox News’ annual weird, wacky, hypocritical and ultimately pointless (except to fire up viewers and drive up ratings) “war on the war on Christmas” by insisting that both were white guys.

Not surprisingly, Kelly was wrong about both Jesus and the inspiration for Santa. (Incidentally, Bill O’Reilly has now declared the war over, making himself the commanding general in a Christian victory, and the “war on Christmas” is just a subset of the equally ludicrous (at least in this country) “Christians are persecuted” meme, anyway.)

The “white Santa/white Jesus” discussion continued over several days (not much real news before the holidays, apparently), and I actually heard someone on television question whether we even know Santa’s gender. I’m not making that up, though I wasn’t in front of the TV and so don’t know who said it.

Thinking more about it though, it occurred to me that since I am all for gender equality, I should examine the evidence. I then posted my findings on Facebook, but thought I’d share them here, too:

  1. Santa is beloved, despite his obvious weight problem — in fact, people leave Claus milk and cookies, rather than leaving an obnoxious note saying, “Lose some weight, fatso!”
  2. Santa spends a lot of time in a “workshop,” and apparently has a thing for toys.
  3. Santa needs a Rudolph Guidance System to make it through the fog and finds every house — despite no record of having ever asked anyone for directions.
  4. Mommy was spotted kissing Santa Claus.
  5. Santa stays out all night on the night before a holiday.
  6. Claus apparently hasn’t had a wardrobe update for decades.
  7. Santa has been accused of being a “peeping Tom,” spying on people while they’re sleeping.
  8. Santa prefers to do things the hard way — i.e., going down the chimney rather than simply using the spare key hidden near the door.
  9. Santa postpones delivery of gifts until the last possible moment — and then frequently gives you something that someone who really knew you would never give.
  10. Many people write to Santa, but he never writes back.

I report; you decide.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 20 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 »

On sabbatical

Posted by James McPherson on June 18, 2013

I’m on sabbatical from my “regular job” until the spring semester. Among other things, I’ll revise my small chapter of the the most popular media history text in the U.S., work on a new academic book, and perhaps finish writing a novel that I began some time back. That means I won’t be doing much, if any, writing here.

And however much as I may need a sabbatical break from teaching, I need one even more from the nonsense that now passes for political discourse in this country. I will be doing a bit of fun and easy blogging with a new project (which for the next few months will also become my primary WordPress blog).

And perhaps I’ll write something here once in a while. I can’t seem to help myself, despite my best intentions.

Posted in Education, History, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 42 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 »

Should football players be raped more often?

Posted by James McPherson on March 20, 2013

rape cultureObviously the question in the headline above is a stupid one. No one should be raped.

Repeat: NO ONE should be raped. Ever. It doesn’t matter what s/he was wearing or drinking or smoking or saying. Or where. Or when. Or how old or “experienced” s/he is. I use the “s/he” advisedly until now, as victims include men and boys. But of course most are women.

And yet we now live in a rape culture. We don’t just objectify and ridicule women, we revel in that objectification, with all sorts of media (including those pretending to complain about the objectification) using it to draw an audience — as if that doesn’t cheapen whatever else the publication or site has to offer.

The degree to which we have become a rape culture meant that my planned media criticism class for the day went out the window. Instead, we critiqued some news coverage of the Steubenville rape convictions and of rape in the military. And being immersed in the issue — and thinking about the tangentially related issue of how much we value athletes and athletics over many, many more important aspects of life — has prompted me to avoid filling out a March Madness bracket for the first time in years.

Rape occurs seemingly everywhere, not just in those scary foreign places where it has become a weapon of choice for intimidation and social control. Incidentally, even in those places, at least one study suggests “that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence in wartime are husbands, partners or other family members — reminding us to wonder again why spousal rape wasn’t outlawed in all 50 states until 1993 (yes, 20 years ago, probably after you were born) and why some conservatives think we should return to those “good ol’ days.

Rape happens here. On college campuses, even Christian college campuses. At high schools, in churches, and sometimes even on the street (though not as often there as the media might lead you to believe).

And rape happens in incredibly alarming numbers among those whom we trust to defend us in the U.S. military — where one in four women can expect to be raped by her male colleagues, and where a victim is more likely to be raped multiple times than is a non-military rape victim — and among those we idolize for their faux war skills on a football field (also here and here) or basketball court. Some statistics suggest that one-third of campus rapes are committed by athletes. (And regardless of the exact numbers, we never seem to see the band geeks or the academic scholarship winners accused of such crimes).

And what do we do about it? Too often we look to blame people other than the perpetrators. Interesting context comes from an academic report from about five years ago, citing a University of Nebraska policy manual for student athletes:

The paragraph dealing with rape appeared to not so subtly place blame on the potential victim:
“Be careful, especially if you have been drinking, (sic) that you do not misread signals. Trouble has often occurred when a woman has remained alone with several men after a drinking party. While some may feel that this shows poor judgment on the woman’s part, it certainly does not justify rape (The University of Nebraska, 2000, pg.2.)”
The handbook author may not have officially intended to endorse drinking and blame the woman who might be raped, but athletes may have seen this paragraph as containing a hidden message. This message reflects the process of objectification of groupies as deceivers who deserve the rape. In addition, an athlete, in rationalizing his behavior, may feel unfairly persecuted by individuals outside the athletic culture.

Of course it’s not hard to figure out why athletes might feel “unfairly persecuted,” considering that their fans are all too willing to blame the accusers, both before and after the facts of a case become known. The Steubenville rape case showed us that (along with some of the best and worst of what social media have to offer), but so have many other cases — including another one, reported just one day after the Steubenville verdict, this one involving a 13-year-old alleged victim.

But then we already knew years ago that fans were willing to attack alleged victims, from the cases involving Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant and Jake Plummer (the first two of whom exemplify why I will likely cheer against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Lakers for the rest of my life).

But we expect fans to be morons. More troubling to me is the fact that if athletes are involved, too often media concern seems to be on the athlete — the famous or semi-famous or seemingly pitiful person that for some reason we want to believe the best about — and too few news people ask the question posed this week by Time: “What about the victim?” An leading example this week was provided by CNN, with the video below. Another troubling example from the same case is that all three of the major cable news networks saw fit to air the name of the 16-year-old rape victim.

A Jezebel article last November concluded with: “Can legendary college athletes also be rapists? Of course they can. Can they be ever be convicted rapists? That’s less clear.” Maybe now they will be, more often, after Steubenville (or maybe on-campus rapes will decrease). Maybe this will be “rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment,” but I’m no more confident of that than I am that another gun massacre will lead to meaningful firearm regulations.

In fact, the only thing that I’m convinced would make most of America care about the frequency with which its young men commit rape would be if star athletes themselves were the victims — if some star football player or basketball player were held down, brutalized, urinated on, videotaped and cast aside.

And, sadly, even that might matter only if it were star male athletes.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 44 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 »

 
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