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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Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’

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 »

‘Newsweak': Plug pulled on comatose print magazine

Posted by James McPherson on October 19, 2012

Tina Brown has something else to swear about. Finally, mercifully, the once-proud print version of Newsweek will be allowed to die just short of its 80th birthday.

The magazine’s demise is no surprise. After all, the entire hemorrhaging operation sold two years ago for less than the cost of a single issue (one dollar), and then folks began refusing even free subscriptions because of an odd combination of controversialoutdated, lazy and juvenile editorial choices made by Brown and other editors in an apparent attempt to avoid the collapse.

So Brown will have another failure; sadder, more journalists will be out of work. Not that Brown didn’t try, apparently–like almost everyone else, she just happens to be clueless about how to make old-line media survive in a new media world. As noted by the New York Times, “Despite her best efforts to take a flagging product and rejuvenate it, much of what she tried fell flat, and her attempts to create buzz with cover articles that discussed sex addiction and called President Obama ‘the first gay president’ resulted mostly in puzzlement and, sometimes, ridicule.”

I remember having the same puzzled reaction to the first issue of another short-lived Brown project, Talk magazine. Launched with huge fanfare, the magazine was a disappointment from the start. That first issue (shown above, and I have a copy in my office) carried interviews of First Lady Hillary Clinton and presidential candidate George W. Bush, but highlighted glossy photos of Gwyneth Paltrow crawling across the floor in what appears to be black underwear.

Print magazines are not dead, as any visit to a bookstore or supermarket will show. But old “news” doesn’t sell in an internet age, and people interested in longer more literate analysis have a host of better magazines from which to choose.

Though I’m not sure it matters, perhaps the online version of Newsweek will hang around for a while, as U.S. News & World Report has since going entirely online (except for occasional special editions) at the end of last year. And with less competition, perhaps Time will have less reason to run stupid covers.

Posted in History, Journalism, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

More evidence that watching Fox News or NASCAR may make you dumber

Posted by James McPherson on November 22, 2011

When it comes to knowledge of world affairs, “no news is better than Fox News,” according to a study by researchers at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Sadly, that’s old news. Even sadder, as columnist Kathleen Parker (once considered a conservative, though now even Ronald Reagan wouldn’t qualify) has pointed out, the relative ignorance common to heavy watchers of Fox News is driving today’s Republican Party. Or, as Paul Begala has termed it, “the Stupid Party.”

I hesitate to paint with a brush so broad, though I have previously noted some activities by conservatives that seemed at least unenlightened. But presumably these are some of the same folks who actually booed the First Lady over the weekend at a NASCAR race (an action that the voice of the GOP, Rush Limbaugh, actually defended).

Think for a minute–as much as some people hated George W. Bush, can you imagine any of those folks openly and proudly insulting Laura Bush? In fact, to find such boorish behavior toward a First Lady you have to go all the way back to … Hillary Clinton. The worst example? Another Democratic First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson.

And when people are working as hard as the current crop of GOP candidates to look stupid, it’s difficult to conclude otherwise. Perhaps it’s simply a Wall Street plot to get Obama re-elected, despite all the reasons he shouldn’t be. See a couple of the more humorous recent examples–or at least they would be funny, if these weren’t people seeking to lead the free world–below.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Reagan at 100: A study in myth-making

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2011

 It is fitting to remember Ronald Reagan this week; since Super Bowl Sunday will mark would have been his 100th birthday. He was a fascinating character, so much so that I devoted quite a bit of ink to him in both my first book and my second (which includes a chapter titled “Reagan’s Cultural Revolution”). 

As a president Reagan was not as bad as many liberals remember–in fact many of his policies were more like those of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama than of George W. Bush (come to think of it, that’s more a criticism of Clinton and Obama than a compliment to Reagan).

But Reagan was nowhere near what many conservatives remember (and to their credit, some conservatives such as Alan Simpson and Ramesh Ponnuru are among those who point out his complexities).

Reagan is perhaps our most mythologized former president, and the Reagan myth has grown in recent years. Perhaps that’s appropriate for a former movie actor who sometimes “remembered” things that never happened, or simply made stuff up.

At a time when the economy may be our most important, problem, however, it would be nice if politicians on both sides noticed where Reagan came down on economic issues. Yes, he cut them–once, in his first year. And then he raised taxes each of the next seven years. He grew the size of government and of the deficit. Every budget he submitted to Congress was larger than the one Congress actually approved.

Perhaps if we stop pretending that Reagan was something he wasn’t, we can also get real about the current budget crisis. Remember, though the Gipper was famous for his quote that “facts are stubborn things,” he also said in his farewell address, “Don’t be afraid to see what you see.”

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Steele again suffers from inadvertent truth-telling

Posted by James McPherson on July 3, 2010

In a turnaround so quick that you’d think he had insulted Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele is now trying to explain away his latest gaffe: calling U.S. involvement in Afghanistan “a war of Obama’s choosing… not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”

Republicans are more up in arms over Steele’s comments than Democrats (who no doubt are enjoying the show), with neocon loony Bill Kristol and the GOP version of the Bride of Frankenstein among those calling for Steele’s resignation.

The interesting thing is, as when he made derogatory comments about Limbaugh, in this case Steele was somewhat accurate.  Under George W. Bush, the Afghanistan war “not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” because the Bush administration was far more interested in figuring out how to falsely tie Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. Unfortunately for the Bushies, Afghanistan is where 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden chose to hide, providing a brief diversion from Iraq.

The end result was two stupid mismanaged wars for the price of … well the price, now over a trillion dollars, may end up being a hundred times the original estimated cost of one war. 

In addition, though it wasn’t his war to start with, Barack Obama has ramped up U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan(perhaps the only thing he’s done that neocons like), increasing troop numbers and the usage of killing-from-home drone attacks. Interestingly, though predator drone operators may sit in a room outside of Las Vegas, they wear flight suits as if they were fighter pilots in jets fighters, or perhaps George W. Bush action figures.

By the way, what is it about the GOP and it’s attempts to appeal to African Americans? It’s answer to Thurgood Marshall, one of the best Supreme Court justices of all time (and perhaps the least conservative, though the two don’t necessarily go together) was Clarence Thomas, perhaps the dumbest and most conservative. Then Republicans responded to the election of America’s first African American president by choosing Steele as their leader. At least, unlike Steele, Thomas is quietly stupid.

On an unrelated but timely matter: Have a great Fourth of July. Be patriotic by not wearing an American flag, though you may want to burn one.

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Open letter to ‘journalist’ Michael Webster

Posted by James McPherson on June 17, 2010

Mr. Webster:

I am writing because, particularly as a journalism professor, I am troubled by the inaccuracy of an article you wrote this week, an article that, combined with a similarly misleading Fox News story, got quite a bit of attention in the conservative blogosphere. During the past couple of days I have made it a point to go to a number of conservative websites that have quoted from or repeated your piece or the Fox report, but of course I cannot know them all–and naturally, some of them are unwilling to run comments that contradict their opinions, anyway.

You call yourself an “investigative journalist,” yet it seems you did little or no investigation when it came to a report that happened to correspond with your political bias. For your June 14 piece titled, “The U.S. Gov: giving parts of Arizona back to Mexico,” you quoted some odd “reliable informant known to us as ‘Duck Hunter,” yet apparently didn’t even bother to pick up a phone to check with park officials.

As a result, you and Fox (though since neither of you is particularly good about attribution I can’t tell if one of you picked it up from the other, or if “Duck Hunter” served as the initial source for both)–published misleading articles based on a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report that came out in October 2006. For context, you’ll remember that was when George W. Bush was president and when John McCain–the senior senator of Arizona, the state you’re writing about–opposed a fence on the Mexican border.

By the way, if you had bothered to risk a less dramatic story by sending an email or making a phone call, you might have found out the same thing that another generally conservative writer did, after he was embarrassed by the Fox News report. Quoting a park source:

“The news coverage is out of proportion and a great misunderstanding. The Fish & Wildlife Service is working to correct the situation. We were not consulted about the television or other coverage.

“The refuge is open as always.  Erroneous information came out on Fox News and this has led to expansion of misinformation in Web blogs.

“The southernmost half-mile of the refuge has been closed to the public and refuge staff since 2006 so that Border Patrol can be unimpeded in their patrols. It also helps ensure public safety to not be in that area right along the border, just in case. There is less immigrant traffic along the southern boundary of the refuge now as a result of the 12-foot fence.  There is some drug traffic in the mountains to the east of the refuge.  But we are seeing fewer impacts from immigrant traffic than before the fence.

“The closure involves 3500 acres, which is 0.02% of the refuge.  The remainder of the refuge’s 118,000 acres is open to the public . . . . Hiking, camping, bird-watching, hunting . . . as usual.   The refuge is definitely open and no additional closures have been instituted since 2006.    Likewise the Arivaca Lake and Ruby Road areas are open as always. … You’re welcome to visit!”

You can see that full report here.

I honestly do not know why your pieces are so widely repeated, but, judging by your vita, I know that you take pride in the attention your work receives. I hope you also take enough pride in your work to print the clarification that is clearly in order.

Sincerely,
James McPherson

Next day update: I sent the letter above via email to Webster yesterday before I posted it here. So far I haven’t heard back from him either via email or via my blog, nor has he apparently responded publicly elsewhere. But the moderator for one of the sites that carried his column reports the following today:

I have had some communication from Michael Webster regarding this article. His position is that he stands behind every word he has written.

The issue as to whether or not Fox news reported this or didn’t….is not relative to Mr. Webster’s writing, in our opinion.

The article is Mr. Websters view of this situation.

My response, on that same site:

I have no problem with his opinion, of course, just with his distortion of facts and his laziness or carelessness in not following up with other sources–egregious behavior for someone claiming to be an “investigative journalist.” In fact, apparently in part because of his behavior, the park now has the correct info prominently posted on the front page of its website.

Posted in Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

MMS ‘troubled’–that’s big news?

Posted by James McPherson on May 28, 2010

CNN reports today that the Materials Management Service–now drawing increased attention because of the oil eruption in the Gulf of Mexico–“was a troubled agency before the oil spill and recent revelations of employee misconduct.”

That’s front-page news? Add in the typical government-big business revolving door to the Bush-era revelations of agency sex and drugs, and in this area, as with immigration and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (where we just had our 1,000th military death), the Obama administration  continues to mirror its predecessor. Sadly, that’s no longer news, either.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

More Bush-league antics: Did administration knowingly lock up innocents to play politics?

Posted by James McPherson on April 9, 2010

New revelations about the ongoing international embarrassment that is Guantanamo:  The Times of London today reports, “George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror.”

The claim is made by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and because Wilkerson has been a regular critic of the Bush administration his account will (and should) be questioned. Still, according to the newspaper, Wilkerson maintains that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld “knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was ‘politically impossible to release them.'”

Once again we’re left to wonder if the most dangerous post-9/11 war criminals were those who had offices in the White House.

Sadly, if Bush administration abuses are ever considered by the same Supreme Court that put Bush in office in the first place, the sole remaining real liberal on the court–Justice John Paul Stevens–will be gone.

It is a sad reflection of how far federal politics has shifted to the right, despite the fantasies of Glenn Beck and assorted Tea Party Mad Hatters, that the most liberal member of the court is someone who was appointed by Republican Gerald Ford. Sadder still is that a president whom loonies now claim to be a “socialist,” despite the fact that Barack Obama is more probably conservative than Richard Nixon, is the “liberal” who will get to try to replace Stevens.

At least the conservatives who will reflexively fight the nomination (and if Obama were to nominate Rush Limbaugh, those conservatives would suddenly be screaming that Limbaugh was “too liberal”) cannot hope to credibly claim that they don’t want “activist judges,” if they’ve paid any attention to Supreme Court decisions of the past few years.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

It’s only money: Another reminder of how little your voice matters

Posted by James McPherson on January 25, 2010

CNN reports that about $600 million–“enough to pay the annual insurance tab for $45,000 families”–has been spent on lobbying, advertising and campaign contributions to try to influence the health care debate. It has become the single most expensive legislative issue ever.

And as I noted the other day, the Supreme Court has guaranteed that things will get worse in terms of you having a voice. It almost enough to make you want to cheer for the Tea Party crowd, if they had a clue about where their money really goes, or which parts of society system are the most screwed up.

Also on the money front, Barack Obama apparently will call for a freeze on “non-security federal discretionary spending.” And Fox News reports that no-bid contracts for friends of the administration, the norm under George W. Bush, apparently continue under the Obama administration.

It’s a worthwhile story, and would be more so if Fox hadn’t predictably downplayed the Bush/Cheney contracts–citing dollar figures for such contracts under Bill Clinton and Obama but simply stating about the Bush Leaguers, “The OMB Watch figures show that the practice appears to have accelerated sharply during the Bush administration, but the figures are not adjusted for inflation.” Uh, guys–what were those figures?

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Stossel, Limbaugh jump on Pat Robertson’s idiot train

Posted by James McPherson on January 14, 2010

Among the lead stories on the Fox News Web site is a piece by John Stossel claiming that a lack of American-style economic freedom is primarily to blame for the number of deaths in Haiti.

“The ultimate tragedy in Haiti was not the earthquake, Stossel writes. “It was Haiti’s lack of economic freedom.” In the meantime, Rush Limbaugh complains that Americans already give Haiti too much aid, and that Barack Obama will use the disaster “to boost his credibility with the black community.”

Hmm… makes you wonder why George W. Bush didn’t try that after Hurricane Katrina, in an area where black people can actually vote for the U.S. president. Of course Rush says Bush couldn’t do more in New Orleans because of all the Democrats in Lousiana.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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