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 ‘Iowa Caucus’

Excited about Obama vs. Romney?

Posted by James McPherson on January 3, 2012

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: As I predicted even before Obama was formally elected in 2008, the 2012 presidential election will be a contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Or more likely, a three-way race involving Obama, Romney and Voter Indifference. Unfortunately I later chickened out on my Romney prediction, and have wavered since then–stating on the radio and elsewhere that Romney had the best chance of beating Obama, but probably couldn’t win over enough evangelicals and Tea Party members to win the GOP nomination.

So assuming that Mitt will win the nomination, we can determine that another prediction in that October 2008 post also was accurate, that “the Religious Right will continue to decline in influence”–after all, many of evangelicals will end up voting for a Mormon over a Christian (though same may still insist they’re choosing a Mormon over a Muslim). Likewise, the Tea Party effect has apparently waned, so however much we may have enjoyed the loony antics of this Republican primary race, we may have fewer interesting characters getting serious consideration in 2012 Congressional races than we saw two years ago.

Of course tonight the three cable news networks are devoting all of their time to the Iowa Republican Caucus, trying to act as if it matters. Perhaps they really think it does, though I’m giving them–even Megyn Kelly on Fox News–the benefit of the doubt, assuming they’re smart enough to know better. But if they don’t put on the pseudo-breathless political horserace act, they know that no one other than media critics and political junkies will watch.

Maybe viewers would mostly tune out anyway, keeping in mind how few (thankfully) actually watch cable news regularly. Fox News likes to brag about how its talking heads draw bigger audiences than do those on either CNN or MSNBC, but that’s a bit like claiming to be the most popular hooker in church. All of the traditional network nightly news programs have dropped considerably, but NBC, ABC and CBS news shows all get far better ratings than anything on Fox News. And when it comes to cable, the top five networks are USA, the Disney Channel, ESPN, TNT and the once-credible, now badly misnamed, History Channel.

Of those top five, only ESPN offers anything resembling news. And its high standing simply demonstrates the key point of sports columnist’s Norman Chad’s outstanding column of this week. Even if you’re not a sports fan (and especially if you are), I encourage you to read the piece, in which Chad points out, “We spend more money on stadiums than schools,” and “At our institutions of higher learning, we care more about basketball than biology.”

Chad also writes: “Think about this: We have been at war somewhere in the world since 2001 — at war — and that gets less scrutiny than an average NFL game. For real. Buccaneers-Falcons is dissected in detail much more than U.S.-Afghanistan; that’s an NFC divisional game weighed against an international armed conflict.”

Back to the Iowa Caucus: Some may argue that Rick Santorum’s relatively strong showing means something. But that would be true only if Iowa had been significant in any election since 1976. But Iowa doesn’t matter–just ask John McCain, who finished fourth there four years ago.

Romney will be the GOP nominee, and he may even win. Looking at today’s Republican party, though, I seriously doubt it. More likely is that my next trip to Washington, D.C., will correspond with Obama’s next inauguration. And chances are, I’ll watch it on a hostel TV again, just as I did in 2009. With luck, maybe Chief Justice John Roberts will get the words right this time.

A final word about the Republicans who might end up voting for Romney. My favorite recent political quote comes from a music professor I won’t name because the words come from an email: “If you were for Michelle Bachman, before you were for Rick Perry, before you were for Herman Cain, before you were for Newt Gingrich, before you were for Rick Santorum–mainly because you were against Mitt Romney before you were for him–do you waive your right to complain about flip-flopping? For all time?”

Faced with that quandry, I suspect many voters will simply stay home, helping the Obama machine win again.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Music dies; parents watching Super Bowl nearly do the same

Posted by James McPherson on February 2, 2009

CNN reminds us that it has now been 50 years since “the day the music died,” coincidentally in the same state where many presidential campaigns throughout history have crashed and burned. Buddy Holly was the most important of the musicians who died in the crash, which also claimed teen singer Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper Richardson (and would have killed one of my personal favorites, Waylon Jennings, if he had not given his seat to a flu-bitten Richardson).

Holly brought us songs that included “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” and the last song he ever performed, the ironically titled “Not Fade Away.” The crash brought perhaps my favorite rock song, of all time, Don McLean’s “American Pie” (the meaning of which isn’t totally clear; McLean famously said, “It means I don’t ever have to work again.”), sung by Garth Brooks and a cast of thousands at Barack Obama’s Inauguration Concert.

I was at an impressionable age for music when the song came out (I turned 13 shortly after that) and a big fan of 1950s music in general (despite being only only six months old when Holly died). A few years later even modified McLean’s chorus to fit my first car (a 1966 Valiant): “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie; drove my Plymouth to the limit but the limit ain’t high. The others drinkin’ whiskey, and I guess so was I. If my ol’ man finds out then I’ll die.”

The song is also very long, meaning it never got as much airtime as I thought it deserved–and less after pre-programmed corporate radio meant fewer DJs who needed bathroom breaks. But you can see an early live YouTube video of McLean performing “American Pie” below.

On another media topic that brings to mind the words, “O, Boy!” and “Not Fade Away” (a song later recorded by the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, the Supremes, the Beatles, Deep Purple and Rush, among others), parents in Tucson have to wishing they could erase from memory the surprise images that appeared during yesterday’s game. Some residents of the Cardinals’ state saw what had to be the longest 10 seconds of any Super Bowl party in history.

Despite the fact that viewers saw the unzipping of pants in this case apparently not because of a “wardrobe malfunction,” but instead through the act of a hacker, cable executives are probably just hoping they can avoid a lawsuit.

That’ll be the day.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Music, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 »

On-the-mark election predictions, and why Obama won

Posted by James McPherson on November 5, 2008

Back in August, when the national polls had the presidential race as close as it got (Zogby gave John McCain the lead), I predicted that in spite of minor irritations offered by GOP mudslinging and PUMAs (who now are noteworthy only because they’re among the few people in America who have ended up on the wrong side in three consecutive presidential elections), Barack Obama would win by a substantial margin: “by the widest margin seen since at least Bill Clinton’s 379-159 victory over Bob Dole in 1996, and maybe since Ronald Reagan slaughtered Walter ‘I-won-my-home-state-of-Minnesota-and-the District-of Columbia’ Mondale 525-13 in 1984.”

With 26 electoral votes (Indiana and North Carolina) still undecided at this point, Obama now has 349 wrapped up, and as CNN notes, has “redrawn the electoral map.” The redrawing, by the way, is something I suggested would be important in my recent book (in which I also suggested that Obama might do well because of similarities to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan): “The question also remains whether any Democrat from outside the South can win the White House. If so, the party’s next-best option might seem to be still in the Sunbelt region but farther west. A logical choice might be a governor from a state such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, or even Colorado.”

New Mexico and Colorado went Democratic in this election (as California long has), but I was somewhat surprised that a candidate from the Midwest–though one that managed to draw a heavy Hispanic vote–was the one who turned those states from red to blue. The Midwestern connection also helped Obama win the traditionally red state of Indiana.

More surprising to me was the popular vote margin, with Obama getting 52 percent of the tally at this point. Electoral votes are what count, of course, but a candidate who gets a majority  of the popular vote (something Bill Clinton didn’t do with either of his victories, nor did George W. Bush in 2000) can argue that he has more of a mandate for change. Combined with a heavily Democratic Congress and a nationwide eagerness for change, Obama might actually be able to accomplish some goals.

Perhaps. But I also recognize that Obama is a pragmatic politician, and that perhaps the Democrats have learned from the Republican excesses of 2000-2006. As a result, my fear is that Obama and Congressional Dems will govern so cautiously for the next two years that they keep a majority in 2010–and so cautiously that, because not enough progress will have been achieved, they lose that majority and perhaps the presidency in 2012.

As for the election, some people blame McCain’s margin of defeat on the failing economy, and there’s some truth to that. But Americans realized they had serious economic problems even before the “collapse” of a few weeks ago, and if the economy hadn’t taken center stage, I’m convinced that the fact that the Iraqis want us out of Iraq would have numbed the Iraq War surge argument that McCain kept trying to push.

Some blame the McCain campaign for being too negative, or not negative enough, but he was in a tough spot. Trailing candidates most need to bring down their opponents through negative ads, and Republicans have used those ads to help depress turnout in the past. But in times of trouble the voters like optimists–like Obama, and like Reagan and Clinton before him.

Some blame Sarah Palin, who was badly misused by her GOP handlers and who proved to be at least as big a hindrance as a help. But the fact is that she gave McCain a serious boost when he needed it most (why I and some others recommended her selection before most people had ever heard of her). She probably kept the race from getting away from McCain earlier than it did.

I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of Palin, though I’m not as optimistic as some about her future chances. For one thing, this election seemed to prove that negative campaigning–one of the major jobs of a vice presidential candidate–by a woman is viewed as less acceptable than the same language coming from a man. It’s an old story for strong women: Men are viewed as forceful, while women who do the same thing are viewed as bitchy. Ironically, a woman might have better luck at the top of the ticket than as the VP nominee.

In fact, however, the biggest reasons for the Obama landslide were the incredible 50-state campaign strategy put together by Obama and the oft-maligned Howard Dean, the campaign’s use of the Internet for organizing events and fundraising, and the fact that real problems–problems created and compounded largely by the Bush administration and its Congressional lackeys–made this a year in which Republicans were almost guaranteed to lose.

McCain might have been the only Republican with a chance to win this year, and conditions would have had to be nearly perfect for him to do so. On the plus side, McCain got his Bob Dole moment in the sun (let’s hope he spares us from commercials for erectile dysfunction and Pepsi). It is sad that McCain sunk so low in his negative campaigning, but he gave a gracious and moving concession speech. The national political scene being what it is, he will find his way back into the good graces of the Senate and the national media (unlike “Joe the Turncoat” Lieberman, perhaps–a two-time loser of an “ally” that I predict no presidential candidate from either party will want in the future).

All in all, thank God it’s over. Now Obama’s real work begins, and Iowa can start gearing up for visits by possible 2012 candidates. With any luck, PUMAs, Obama Girl, and Joe the Plumber will fade away. Regardless, the GOP will be back, even if we (and they) don’t yet know when or in what form.

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

 
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