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 ‘Hillary Clinton’

‘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 »

Is the Tea Party racist?

Posted by James McPherson on July 23, 2010

“There is no racism in the Tea Party,” Rush Limbaugh says. “They don’t have racist signs.”

Just the fact that Rush says something would make most thinking people assume the opposite, and of course in this case he’s wrong again. I’ll paste a few of the obnoxious examples below.

But in one respect, it is wrong to say the Tea Party is racist, simply because there is no specific Tea Party (even if some of them now have their own lunatic queen in Congress). There are lots of different Tea Party groups, some loonier than others, who seem to be more offended by the actions of a black president than they were by the all-too-similar actions of the white president who proceeded him.

And there obviously are racists in the Tea Party movement, perhaps in bigger numbers than elsewhere in society. But racism won’t be the factor that makes the movement largely meaningless in the long run, other than affecting a few primaries (and thereby no doubt benefiting as man liberals as conservatives); their demise will result from a lack of cohesion or any significant goals beyond “waaah!” Take this example, from a USA Today story:

“I don’t really understand it, but I like what they stand for,” says Terry Rushing, 63, of Greensburg, La., who was among those surveyed. “They just support everything I’m looking for — lower taxes, less government. … All the good things, you know.”

No, we don’t know, any more than you do, Terry. But it probably doesn’t matter. Like the one-time media darlings of the pro-Hillary PUMAs, the tea partiers will fade away. Fox News will no doubt miss them, though five years from now probably most of us won’t remember them.

In the meantime, perhaps a few of them will go back to school and improve their spelling:


Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

‘Political porn’: Too-sexy Sarah and Michelle as a monkey

Posted by James McPherson on November 26, 2009

  

In what one critic calls “political pornography,” Newsweek has managed to again aid Sarah Palin’s ongoing campaign for … well, who knows what? The GOP candidate for the Mrs. America Pageant, perhaps? (After all, she’s not likely to face competition from fellow pageant princess Carrie Prejean for a title that requires a spouse, assuming Prejean continues to keep to herself, so to speak).

Newsweek is captivated by Palin, with its Web site now offering a “Palin book club quiz,” a slideshow with almost two dozen photos and at least three articles about her. One of the best is this piece by Julia Baird about “the ‘Palinization’ of Palin.” There’s also a link to this Palin-related blog post, which points out a fact long obvious to many, that mainstream political reporting in general is largely worthless.

David Bozeman, the conservative writer linked above, writes about the Palin cover: “The political junkie in me thought it a great piece of memorabilia. The regular guy in me thinks she looks awesome, and I can’t stop looking at it.” And that’s the problem, isn’t it? People just can’t stop looking at the ongoing train wreck of Palin.

I also thought the cover was silly–mostly because Newsweek (unlike most Americans) considered Palin to even be cover-worthy–though frankly I initially viewed it in a less sexist vein than did many. For one thing, I understood what I assumed to be an allusion to Palin’s “running,” even if she claims not to be campaigning. (She told Oprah that a presidential campaign was not “on my radar,” perhaps odd for someone who can see Russia from her house.)

I was surprised by Palin’s treatment of the American flag, which she seems to be leaning on. That’s no better than her usual method of wrapping herself in it, though perhaps better than a more appropriate GOP symbol–a flag draped over a casket.

Besides, unlike Hillary Clinton (who has been treated even worse, and for much longer), Palin has traded heavily on her looks, a fact recognized at some level even by conservatives such as the one quoted above. That willingness to capitalize on her appearance while acting aggrieved is a common trait for conservative women, of course, especially right-wing babblers such as Ann Coulter (the photo below is from her own Web site, unlike the sexist photo of Clinton), Michelle Malkin, and almost any blonde on Fox News, home of the daily “Pop Tarts.”

Just last week I saw another of those pieces–from a conservative, naturally–arguing that conservative women are “hotter” than liberals. My equally over-generalized and unfair thought, whenever I see that claim: liberal women are more likely to have brains and beauty; conservative women are more likely to have makeup and plastic surgery.

[michelle-obama.jpg]   In the meantime, speaking of brains and beauty, Google has apologized because searches for “Michelle Obama” produced an image (at left) in which the first lady’s picture had been altered to look like a monkey. While the image is reprehensible, I’m a bit concerned about how quickly Google reacted to take it down (though the company claimed it did so because of virus concerns).

After all, the image is hardly surprising considering the level of racist hatred that has been spewed by far-right nimrods during the past couple of years, and I want to know what the idiots are up to. Making the stupidity just a little harder to find doesn’t make it go away. More importantly, I don’t want Google–or any corporation–deciding what’s politically appropriate to view.

I just wish that more Americans, and the media they depend upon, would focus more on issues of substance. But the odds of that remain slim, despite a Pew study that the general population is smarter than the media on this issue.

Happy Thanksgiving. One of the things we can be most thankful for is that Palin isn’t a heartbeat away from the presidency–even if, as I suggested yesterday, I’m less impressed with the current Commander in Chief than I am with his wife.

      

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Best of the blog: 50 favorite posts (plus a few)

Posted by James McPherson on April 22, 2009

With yesterday’s post, I offered my reasons for ceasing regular blogging for the foreseeable future. But with more than 300 posts in the past year, it’s likely that you’ve missed a number of them. I’ll post a “top 50″ list below, and will continue update the links on the right side of this page.

Since my first post, in which I predicted success for Barack Obama (not yet then the Democratic nominee) and problems for John McCain, a number of my posts have focused on topics of relatively short-term interest. Those include my June suggestions for whom Obama and McCain should select as running mates: More than two months before they made their choices, I suggested Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

I predicted that despite their self-pitying self-righteousness and their ability to draw media attention, neither religious conservatives nor pseudo-liberal PUMAs would have much impact on the election. I anticipated that Hillary Clinton would fully support Obama, as she and Bill Clinton did. As a result, on the day that McCain took the lead in the polls for the first time two months before the presidential election, I predicted that Obama would win the election handily.

I’ve noted the passing of singer/storytellers Utah Phillips and Dan Seals, journalists (defining the term broadly) Robin Toner,  Tim Russert and Tony Snow, pinup queen Bettie Page, and various newspapers. Many of my posts were less timely, however, and have ongoing relevance. Fifty of my favorites can be found below. Enjoy.

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Twittering while Rome burns

Where the dead white girls are

Catholics and conservatives campaign against mythical threats

Family values

Is the worshipper beside you a heathen–or a spy?

Warku-go-’round: A 20-part history of Bush’s War

Bettie Page & Robin Toner: Two women who made media history

Gadgets create more ‘reporters’–and fewer journalists?

Post #200 of a stupid, outdated idea

Death and dancing, faith and journalism

With Jessica Alba too fat, Keira Knightly too flat, Faith Hill too plain & Sarah Palin too real, how should mags portray Michelle Obama?

Civil disobedience might bring national redemption

Save the economy by ending welfare to Republicans

MTV: Moronic TeleVision

Beating the Bushies to investigate war crimes

Journalism and blogging: Printing what’s known vs. what isn’t

Want to become a convicted sex offender? There’s an app for that

If you’re going to write anything stupid in the future, don’t come to my class

As Bush people approach endangered species status, scientists find other rats, vipers and creepie crawlers

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

Ignorance and the electorate

Stimulus prompts cartoonish monkey business

Veterans Day: Thank the slaves who let you shop and spew

‘Killer American Idol’: Mass murder no surprise, more likely to come

Speaking for the poor

Uneasy riders: Yen and the lack of motorcycle company maintenance

Barbie’s birthday bash

Sexism & feminism make women winners & losers?

Media organizations: Why you should hire my journalism students

Valuable lessons on ‘whom you know’ and on being in the right place at the right time in NY and DC

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Can a Christian lesbian Latina superhero save us?

Asteroid nearly wipes out Earth, international space station threatened, San Diego nearly destroyed in nuclear meltdown

Headaches, hot air and hell on earth

Killing youth

‘What’s happenin’ here?’ The news ain’t exactly clear: How to keep up with what’s going on, and why

Literary journalism & the Web: the newest “new journalism”? (Part II)

To Obamas, a reminder that familiarity can breed contempt

Homeland Insecurity: Need a passport quickly? Get a fake one

GOP doing Limbaugh Limbo; how low they can go to be ‘rest of the story’

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Thanks to Cruella economy, Grumpy’s attitude finally justified

Culture warriors were dreaming of a really white Christmas; others get coal in their stockings

Merry Christmas! Twelve YouTube Christmas videos

Christmas killers, foreign & domestic: More proof the world looks better from a distance

2012 predictions for GOP: Jindal, Huckabee, Romney, Palin or relative unknown?

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Music, Personal, Poetry, Politics, Religion, Science, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

As economy goes to pot, which ‘dope’ questions should Obama answer?

Posted by James McPherson on March 26, 2009

Barack Obama is hosting an “online town hall” meeting today, continuing his Roosevelt-esque creative use of technology to try to continue to connect with Americans. Unfortunately the site, despite being named “Open for Questions,”  is “no longer accepting new questions.”

But you can still vote for the questions you hope the president will answer. A quick review of a few of the more than 32,000 questions submitted shows too many questions that could be answered by reading news accounts about Obama’s many recent appearances, but considering how many respondents don’t even read comments above their own on a blog post, that’s not surprising. Besides, not everyone follows the news as closely as some of us.

In addition–and perhaps related to the issue of people not reading before they write (the equivalent of the too-common speaking before listening), apparently a number of the questioners spend much of their time sitting around the house smoking marijuana. Many of those  folks seem to be the target of Hillary Clinton’s comments of today, but their questions go directly to points made in my post of a couple of days ago.

Under the category of “Budget,” the FIRST SEVEN questions all ask about the legalization of marijuana, starting with Ryan Palmer from Dallas who asks: “With over 1 in 30 Americans controlled by the penal system, why not legalize, control, and tax marijuana to change the failed war on drugs into a money making, money saving boost to the economy? Do we really need that many victimless criminals?”

Brian of Minneopolis writes: “Mr. Obama, Thank you for allowing us to ask our questions of you, unfiltered [nice pun, Brian]. What is your stance on legalizing marijuana federally, taxing it and regulating it much like alcohol and tobacco? I believe that the Drug War has failed, and needs an overhaul.”

Ryan McLaughlin (Rindge, N.H.) states, “I am not a marijuana user, but I do believe that making marijuana legal could provide  some relief as to it could be heavily taxed and regulated. Legalization of drugs will also be a detriment to the drug cartels in Latin America.”

Matt S. (Huntsville, Ala.), Mark B. (Sterling, Va.), JHawk (Santa Barbara, Calif.) and T. Kapanka (San Fransciso) round out the top seven, all asking similar marijuana-related questions.

Under the category of “Financial Stability,” the first four questions all are drug-related. Anthony of Warrington, Penn., asks, “Would you support the bill currently going through the California legislation [stet] to legalize and tax marijuana, boosting the economy and reducing drug cartel-related violence?”

Sarah of Atlanta, Ga., asks: “Have the administration given any thought to legalizing marijuana, as a cash crop to fuel the economy? Why not make it available, regulate, and tax something that about 10 million Americans use regularly and is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.”

Peter McNamara of Minneapolis (a friend of Brian’s?) writes: “Growing up I have noticed many around me always talk about legalization of marijuana, and I always thought, why not put a tax stamp on it. If marijuana was legalized it could really change a lot of things. America had the same problem with Alcohol.”

And Andy Drake of New Brunswick, N.J., asks, “Could legalization of marijuana and laying a tax on it, given restriction allow the government make [stet] back some of the glaring debt considering it’s [stet] inelasticity and the history of economics of prohibition?”

Under the category of “Green Jobs and Energy,” the first question (from Green Machine of Manchester, Va.) asks: “Will you consider decriminalizing the recreational/medical use of marijuana (hemp) so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it [good luck with that], and create millions of new jobs and a multi-billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?” Apparently Green Machine is a farmer.

The second question in the same category comes from Ashley of Brooklyn, N.Y.: “Has your administration given any serious thought to how legalizing marijuana could help solve the economic crisis? We could tax this green product and create an influx of cash while reducing violence created by the war of [stet] drugs & illegal trafficking.”

In the first question under the category of “Jobs,” Matt B. of West Bend, Ind., asks, “What are your plans for the failing ‘War on Drugs’ that’s sucking money from taxpapers and putting non-violent people in prison longer than the violent criminals.” The third question comes from Phill of Georgetown, Mass.

Phill’s question (yes, his name has two “l’s,” though that may be an accident stemming from, well, you know…): “President Obama, do you plan on letting Science end the failed “War” on Marijuana for personal and medical use thus taking the strain off our prisons and police forces so we no longer have to arrest over 800,000 non-violent drug offenders?”

In addition, the second question under “Health Care Reform” is another marijuana question. Only the categories of “Home Ownership,” “Auto Industry,” “Veterans,” “Small Business,” and “Education” failed to see a marijuana question make the top seven (though it easily could have been an issue for at least the last three of those).

It seems obvious that if Obama is to take the town hall issue seriously–and despite Obama’s predilection for caring too much what other people think, I suspect it’s as much a ploy to look responsive more than it is to be responsive–he’ll have to go from talking smack to talking weed.

Same day update: Obama addressed–and dismissed–legalization of marijuana during today’s forum. More than 104,000 questions apparently were submitted.

Posted in Media literacy, Politics, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gregg not sold on Commerce; public not stimulated by discussion, anyway

Posted by James McPherson on February 13, 2009

Apparently Senator Judd Gregg finally got around to watching some of Barack Obama’s old speeches on YouTube, and suddenly realized, “Hey, he’s not a Republican–how did he get elected president?” Gregg then promptly withdrew his nomination as Commerce secretary. It’s just as well–apparently Obama hadn’t yet gotten around to reading that Gregg once voted to abolish the very department he would have been leading as the third Republican member of Obama’s cabinet.

Gregg is the second nominee, after Bill Richardson, to accept and then reject the commerce position. Tax problems have derailed nominees for two other positions. Yet while embarrassing–prompting Obama’s unnecessary “I screwed up” statement–the missteps will matter little in the long run. For one thing, people don’t really care about cabinet positions even under the best of conditions.

And these are far from the best of conditions, of course. People care far more about is the economy, and with Congress about to passa stimulus bill today, Obama again proved successful on that front. The success or failure of the stimulus plan will have a far bigger effect on the chances of re-election for the president and his fellow Democrats than does any flap over cabinet nominees.

If you need an illustration of how little they matter, ask the people sitting next to how many of Obama’s picks they can name. I’d be surprised if they get three, even counting Timothy Geithner and Hillary Clinton. And for the record, a dozen cabinet nominees have already been confirmed.

In the meantime, Alexander Zaitchik of Alternet has joined the list of people and publications asking why Howard Dean, the guy perhaps most responsible for Obama reaching the White House, hasn’t been tabbed for a cabinet post. Good question, especially with that Health and Human Services position still open.

Thursday update: While Dean is forced to turn to the Huffington Post to get someone to listen to him about health care, it appears that Obama has decided on Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for HHS chief. She’s not the best choice but probably not a bad one, assuming she pays her taxes.

Posted in Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Anticipating eruptions: Volcano and Palin prompt redoubt

Posted by James McPherson on January 29, 2009

One definition of the word “redoubt” is “to stand in dread of; to regard with fear; to dread.” That definition might apply to two events facing Alaska: the possible eruption of a volcano named Mount Redoubt, and an increasingly likely presidential run by Gov. Sarah Palin. We keep seeing more meanings  for her phrase, “I’ll get back to ya.”

In fact, Mount Redoubt has erupted a number of times. Despite being located about a hundred miles from Alaska’s largest city, it probably will never cause Alaskans the grief that those of us in the Pacific Northwest experienced with the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

A more ominous event for Alaskans and the rest of us may be the establishment of Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC.com, leading to a new eruption of speculation about her viability as a presidential candidate. Incidentally, what is it with leading political women–Hillary Clinton, this includes you–that they can’t get enough support by using their last names, as male candidates do?

The images used for the SarahPAC website are fascinating from a media literacy standpoint. The dominant image is of Palin, pictured from below so as to make her look more powerful, looking slightly upward while holding her hands in what could be a praying position. Behind and beside her is a scenic Alaskan vista–despite the fact that SarahPAC is based in Arlington, Va., a seat of power that hosts numerous other political organizations (including the Leadership Institute, which calls itself “the premier training ground for tomorrow’s conservative leaders,” though it is not above using dishonest means of self-promotion–more on that below.)

Finally on the SarahPAC website, next to letters spelling out “SARAHPAC,” is an image of the continental United States with Alaska superimposed over it. The image lets us see the immense size of the state that Palin governs, yet also manages to place her state literally in the heartland of America (apparently obliterating Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska, along with parts of a few other states). The Democratic bastion of Hawaii is nowhere to be seen–perhaps Republicans wish we’d stopped adding states after Alaska became the 49th.

SarahPAC should not be confused with another another PAC, PalinPAC.org based in Washington state, with a website that boasts a photo of cross-shaped sunlight shining through an American flag and prominent links to “Sarah Palin’s Page” and “Todd Palin’s Page.” But both SarahPAC.org and PalinPAC.org also demonstrate the games that politicians play (and perhaps must play, under the current campaign finance system). Despite the names of the organizations, the home pages of both include a line that disingenuously reads, “Not authorized by any candidate or any candidate’s committee.”

Palin says she may not run for president, of course, and says that the establishment of a PAC simply provides “an available source of funds so that we’re not coming close to any ethical line to be crossed in terms of travel or participation in events that will help Alaska, but could be seen perhaps as not worthy of state funding.” I wonder how big the clothing allowance is for “participation in events.”

And despite her protestations, a presidential bid is likely unless significant unexpected problems arise. We’ll see: As Robert Schlesinger writes for U.S. News & World Report, “A sure sign that Palin is gearing up specifically for a presidential run will be SarahPAC making contributions to New Hampshire and Iowa state-level candidates and parties.”

Following up his piece of yesterday, Schlesinger wrote today (in a piece titled, “Yes, Sarah Palin is Running for President, Or Getting Ready to Anyway”): “But politicians—especially rising star pols like Palin—don’t raise money and make national appearances out of the goodness of their hearts; they don’t do it because of unselfish dedication to party; and they don’t do it because they want to raise their state’s profile. She may not be running for president yet (though the FEC seems to think she is), but she’s positioning herself to run in a couple of years.”

Incidentally, other definitions of redoubt are “an entrenched stronghold or refuge” or “a small, often temporary defensive fortification.” In the case of Palin, despite my one-time support of her choice as John McCain’s running mate, I hope her political presence is more temporary than entrenched.

Oh, and as for the dishonesty of the Leadership Institute: As I’ve written elsewhere, a couple of years ago I checked out the membership of its “Bi-Partisan Congressional Advisory Board” and found that the board was comprised of “102 Republicans, all living, and one long-dead Democrat–ultraconservative Georgian Larry McDonald, who … was so conservative that at the time of he death he served as the second-ever national chairman of the John Birch Society, which had long since been rejected even by most conservatives as an extremist organization.”

McDonald died on a Korean airliner that was shot down by the Soviet Union after it apparently accidentally flew into Soviet airspace, prompting Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell to bizarrely state, “There is real question in my mind that the Soviets may have actually murdered 269 passengers and crew on the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 to kill Larry McDonald.”

You may also remember that one of the pithier complaints that popped up about Palin during the 2008 campaign was that she was “Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.” Palin and Falwell also apparently shared a debate coach.

Next day update: The volcano hasn’t blown yet, but remains on CNN’s front page.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Sexism & feminism make women winners & losers?

Posted by James McPherson on January 4, 2009

“When is it sexism?” asks a Daily Beast piece by Elizabeth Wurtzel, best known as the sometimes-controversial author of the books Prozac Nation (published when she was 26 and later turned into a straight-to-DVD Christina Ricci movie) and Bitch: In Defense of Difficult Women

Though the self-absorbed and one-time plagiarist Wurtzel apparently thinks she is a far more important cog in the overall scheme of feminism than she is, she does sometimes raise interesting questions about the nature of feminism–as with this piece, in which she determines that Sarah Palin’s “Wardrobegate” was “sorta” sexist, while questioning Caroline Bouvier Kennedy’s qualificatons is not (and yes, Wurtzel includes the middle name as a apparent “Hussein”-like punctuation of her central point).

Wurtzel writes that feminism is in “a fine mess,” thanks in part to prominent political women: “In 2000, New York elected Hillary Rodham Clinton to be its first female senator—and her primary qualification was her previous position as first lady. Now that she’s moving on, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy is likely to replace her—and her primary qualification is her previous position as first daughter.”

While I also don’t think Kennedy is the best choice to fill the vacant seat, I would point out that she has held several jobs. Like Wurtzel, she also attended law school (and apparently unlike Wurtzel, even passed her bar exam). Still, Wurtzel addresses an important overall theme when  it comes to working women:

The truth is, Kennedy long ago made choices that so many women make—she opted out of professional life, perhaps to be a mom and perhaps because she could—and now she’s hoping to reenter the commercial world at a level that far surpasses her exiting locale. All women who take time off to mother their children face similar sticker-shock when they decide to work again. Not only have they lost their qualifications by remaining dormant for a stretch, they also find that their earning power is much less than it was when they went into labor. In fact, studies show that there is salary penalty on motherhood: A woman with children will typically earn 10 percent less than any man doing the same job. In the meantime, a man with a stay-at-home wife gets a nice premium—he will usually earn 30 percent more than the husband of a working wife because he has “zero-drag” at home. Just the same, a woman who works a 40-hour week still spends about 86 percent as much time with her children as a nonworking mom—not much of a difference at all—and she is still the primary parent, delegating tasks to the father, who needs a list of instructions before he doles out child care.

Women should be hired and promoted based on their professional abilities, Wurtzel argues: “Women who want to succeed pretty much have to work as long and as hard as men typically do, and that’s that. What does Kennedy know of this hellishness? She hasn’t held a paid position since her children were born, nor did she have a proper job even before that.”

Still, aside from the question of what constitutes a “proper job,” I find it interesting that Wurtzel’s books seem to get more attention from reviewers than warranted by their insights–perhaps less because of her own hard work or academic qualifications than because of her own looks (which allowed her to pose provocatively for the cover photos of her books, apparently topless in at least three cases).

The fact that physical appearance matters is, of course, one of many complicating issues in regard to feminism. One of the respondents to the Daily Beast article applied some of the contradictions to Palin:

The problem with embracing Palin as a latter day sufferer of sexism is that ignores the object in favor of the symbol. Palin is one who used her sex whenever should get away with it to get ahead. Unlike so many women who have worked so hard to be appreciated for their skills and intelligence, Palin has often been content to get by with a wink and smile. Palin is a tough as nails politician and very ambitious, but beyond that it is hard to see what her skills are. Palin’s image is a throw back to the frontier woman who could both wield a weapon and satisfy her man -and cook moose stew, too! This image is what all these (mostly) old Republicans love. How this fits into idea of feminism that most of us grew up with is less clear. So, was Palin skewered in the press for her shopping spree because she was a woman or because she set herself up as a woman who was thrifty and had little use for East Coast types would call ‘fashionable’?

In truth, Palin would not have been chosen as John McCain’s running mate (nor would I have recommended that McCain choose her) if she were not a woman. I also happen to agree with Geraldine Ferraro that Barack Obama would not have been where he is if not for his race.

But so what? None of our previous presidents would have won the White House if they had not been white men. We likely would never have heard of John McCain after 1973, had he not been a former POW who left his wife to marry an heiress who could help fund his political ambitions. George W. Bush would be just another failed businessman if not for his father’s political clout–which came mostly because George H.W. Bush had been Ronald Reagan’s VP, not because of his own abilities.

Gender and race matter, in different ways at different times. But they are not the sole factors for anyone’s success or failure. Palin also would not have been tabbed by McCain if she hadn’t already been elected governor of Alaska, and Obama would not have just moved his family to Washington if he had not been a U.S. senator who ran a brilliant presidential campaign.

 Back to Wurtzel and feminism: Some critics have voiced similar criticism of another pretty face of “third-wave feminism,” former Al Gore advisor Naomi Wolf. But Wolf  is a former Rhodes scholar, a mother, and a lifelong explorer of ideas that range far beyond self-aggrandizement or even feminism to civil rights and citizenship.

To Wurtzel’s credit, at least she apparently recognizes the egocentricity of her own work, telling ABC: “I’m in on the joke. I know that it’s self-indulgent. I’m amazed that people don’t realize that I know what’s going on.”

So now that we all know she knows, I don’t suppose it’s sexist to start ignoring Wurtzel, as we look to the kind of women–including Wolf, Clinton, Kennedy, and Palin–more likely to make a meaningful difference for both women and men in America.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Posted by James McPherson on December 30, 2008

It’s the time of year for lists, and not surprisingly, the election of Barack Obama topped the annual Associated Press list of the top 10 stories of the year. The next three were the economic meltdown, oil prices and Iraq. The order of those three stories help explain the election of Obama.

In fact, Iraq has faded so much in importance that now NOT ONE of the three major broadcast networks has a full-time correspondent there (reaffirming once again how far the news operations of the Big Three have fallen).

China made the AP list in fifth and sixth place, with the Olympics and the May earthquake that killed 70,000 people.  I was happy to see no “Nancy Grace specialties (“pretty dead white woman stories) on the list, while two women in politics–Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton–finished seventh and ninth. Two more international stories, the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Russia-Georgia war, filled out the list.

CNN let readers and viewers vote on the top stories, and as of today those readers the respondents agreed with the AP on the top three. Further down, however, Michael Phelps, O.J. Simpson, Rod Blogojevich and same-sex marriage all made that list.

Fox News also lets “you decide,” though just through a running blog that lets people sound off. Some respondents’ ideas for “top story” (as written): “The biggest story of 2008 is that Barack Obama is not eligible to hold the office of the President, because he is not a Natural Born Citizen”; “It was the Democrat spawned credit crisis which they have worked so hard for to have it happen when the election was close”; “a made up money crisis to sway an election and Muslim financing in our institutions”; and “How the Democrats highjacked the economy and the white house.”

Time‘s list was considerably different and more internationally oriented than the others. The magazine put the economy at the head of its “top 10” list, followed by Obama’s election, but the next eight were the Mumbai attacks, terrorism in Pakistan, international piracy, the war in Georgia, poisonous Chinese imports, the Columbian rescue of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, and “Mother’s Nature’s double whammy” in China and Burma.

Time also offered a number of other top 10′s, including lists of crime stories, political gaffes (the Huffington Post also offers its own list of “top political scandals“), oddball news, and medical breakthroughs.

I found Time‘s list of underreported stories among the most interesting and disturbing. For example, No. 9 on the list: the shipment of 6,700 tons of radioactive sand–created by U.S. weapons during the first Persian Gulf War–from Kuwait to Idaho.

Fox News contributer K.T. McFarland offered her own “most important story everyone missed this year,” one particularly close to my own heart: “the death of news delivered in print and the birth of news delivered over the internet.” She also engaged in a bit of snarky broadcast-style self-promotional hyperbole: “Perhaps the most intriguing new way to deliver news is something FOX News came up with this summer–online streaming programming delivered right to your computer screen. FOX’s first foray into this medium, The Strategy Room, is part news program, part panel discussion, part chat room. It’s been called ‘”The View” for Smart People.’”

Actually, like “The View,” “The Strategy Room” is sometimes informative, sometimes a trivial and inane collection of posers. But if you want to be really afraid–and disgusted with the shortcomings of fading American journalism–read Project Censored’s annual list of the top 25 “censored stories.”

In truth, the stories were simply underreported or incorrectly reported rather than censored, but the fact remains that every story on the list is more important than the “accomplishments” of Britney Spears (who topped MTV’s list), Paris Hilton, and every other Hollywood nitwit combined. And speaking of nitwits, Fox News also produced a “top” list. On its Christmas Day front page, Fox–the great “protector” of Christmas–offered “2008′s Hottest Bods.”

Finally, on a personal note related to another list: I was excited yesterday morning to see my blog at #5 on the WordPress list of “top growing blogs,” with my post about Christmas killers hitting at least as high as #76 on the list of top posts for the day. Less encouraging were the responses from nutball racists (mixed in with several more thoughtful and thought-provoking comments) on both sides of the Iraeli-Arab issue over both that post and yesterday’s.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

 
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