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 ‘Michelle Obama’

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 »

WorldNetDaily ‘journalism’ and ‘Christian’ racism

Posted by James McPherson on August 12, 2010

I have to admit that when I see the url for WorldNetDaily, wnd.com, I automatically start coming up with appropriate alternative meanings for the abbreviation: Phrases such as WackjobNewsDelivery, or WhyNotDeceive, or WildNewDistortions, or WhiteNutjobDelusions, or WhoNeedsDetails, or WeNeedDrugs.

But I read something the other day referring to WorldNetDaily as a leading “Christian website.” If that’s true (and despite the supposed Christian faith of its founder/editor and its promoting of some Christian books, I’m not sure I’d agree), it’s no wonder that Christianity has such a bad reputation with so many people.

WND claims to be a news site, but makes no effort to hide its clearly biased perspective (or its sales pitches to the gullible). For example, the third “story” right now is about a conference to “take America back” (back from whom, as usual, is unclear). The story quotes WND founder and editor Joseph Farah, while promising:

Speakers at the conference, which is followed by a weeklong Royal Caribbean cruise called “The Tea Party at Sea,” includes such stalwarts as Rep. Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Alan Keyes, Tom Tancredo, Jerome Corsi, Aaron Klein and David Kupelian. Farah – who’s also speaking – is now offering a peek at the conference’s still-developing program. With “this slate of speakers, topics and discussions,” he ensures, “the event will more than live up to its name.”

Not surprisingly, the conference will generate cash for Farah’s organization while also promoting his own book, which has the same title as the conference he is organizing.

The WND “daily poll” from yesterday asked the question, “What part of the Obama-eligibility saga has made you most doubt his legitimacy?” That’s about as unbiased as me asking, “Which WND conspiracy theory do you find to be the craziest?” The difference is, I don’t pretend to be “an independent news company dedicated to uncompromising journalism, seeking truth and justice.”

Besides Farah’s writings, WND regularly features the writing of such “journalists” as Coulter, Corsi and Michael Savage (and Pat Buchanan, but he apparently works for every media organization, including msnbc). But as with most websites, even scarier that the identifiable writers (well, maybe except for Savage) are the anonymous lunatics who post comments.

Here are a few examples, taken from almost 3,000 “questions” the commenters think the media should ask Barack Obama ((I’ve copied and pasted, so the goofy misspellings, random capitalization, and grammar and punctuation issues were in the original; all comments are from different people):

Wouldn’t you won’t you oh pretty please stop asking the Schutzstaffel SS (aka Secret Service) funnel you the white magic dust powder and charging it to me? This cracker works two jobs to just get by and can’t afford to pay for your drug habit. Are you leaving a disgusting white film all over the White House that will have to be ServiceMastered the day you are impeached and executed for treason or imprisoned for life for all of your felonies? Also, on that day, could you and Michelle refrain from stealing any of the objet d’art left over from the great Clinton burglary in the White House as they were packing up? Thank YOU Soetoro.

Yes, you have fooled the people, but you will be found out. God help you, because, Mr. Obama, I can assure your Muslim religion will not.

Hussein Obama is the biggest, most constant LIAR of all the Liars in D.C., and THAT is saying something. He took us decent folks by surprise, as we have never seen, or expected, a usurper for Pres, let alone such a LIAR and low-down Red Communist filth pig, make it into the Oval Office. … I am pleased at your miserable predicament – LIAR, spiller of innocent blood, Communist, the Holy One has a perfect count of how many babies you have conspired to murder. They cry for justice to th Holy One of Israel. You can believe this – He listens and soon justice, the thing you hate and fear, will be served to you because of your rebellion and evil. Do you think you can LIE your way out of God’s justice?

Dear usurping, racebaiting, America hating, teleprompting, mongrel in chief…

If you look nto obama’s back ground He has never been around anyone but comunist ,his white tras mother was a communist both his father and step father were America hating communist ,his grand parents were communist…

I hear Hillary Clinton may challenge you for the 2012 Democratic nomination.[?] Maybe you should prepare for “CRONE WARS”. :o)

Why do you direspect our flag, our rights to our official days of prayer, and brainwash our children into singing praises to you in official school class rooms where they’re not allowed to speak the name of Jesus Christ but they can worship Obama? Please explain why these things are happening in our country that was founded on the moral structure of the Word of Almgihty God, not Alah or Mohammed.

You bowing down to those countries who are against America,and telling them we aren’t a Christian nation, where did you get that? Do you really think we Christian Americans are that dumb to fall for your crap?

Your consistent twisting of the US Constitution’s wording of “Freedom of Religion” with your own devious “freedom of worship” makes me wonder if this is not Taqiyya under the guise of progressive ideology.  If “Religion” is used, an argument could be made that Islam is an “Ideology”, not a “Religion”. In substituting “Worship”, blanket protection is given to those who idolize Mohammed through the “Theocracy” that is Islam. This is an obvious chess board move.

WND editor Farah has become one of the leading proponents of the “birther” movement. Birther conspiracy also is the primary focus of the organization he founded–devoting much of its early effort to the wacky Vince Foster suicide conspiracy theory–before moving on to WND.

That organization, the Western Journalism Center, now is led by Floyd Brown, who also has his own website but is perhaps most noteworthy as the producer of perhaps the most infamous racist political ad in history, the “Willie Horton” ad used against Michael Dukakis in 1988.

The website of the Western Journalism Center (“journalism” apparently being used ironically in this case) also draws a smaller but perhaps even nuttier and scarier following of racist conspiracy loons, who keep asking questions along the lines of “When can we get this Muslim usurper out of the White House?” Samples from one post alone (about Michelle Obama’s trip to Spain) include comments such as the following (again, all from different commenters):

[Michelle Obama] cared less about the annoited ones birthday(maybe) and when she gets home she going on another vacation with her half black half and both piglets.

Does the word LYNCH ring a bell? We need to get the BIGGEST LYNCH PARTY together,and head for Washington, D. C.

I SAY US KICK THE MAKE BELIEVE MARIE ANTOINETTE AMAZONIAN BITCH OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE ALONG WITH HER HALF BREED OF A HUSBAND WHO PREFERS MEN.

Michelle is nothing more than a monkey bitch spending Americans tax money and she doesn’t give a rats a$$ about the rest of the Americans who are struggling financially. After all the monkey bitch and her magic negro husband were elected by the masses of liberals kool-aid drinkers and the whites who thought they could erase their collective guilt by electing Osama Obama the magic negro and his monkey bitch wife!!!

The idiots that voted for this muslim communist deserve him but We Americans that did not vote for that sleezy slime bag that came for the sewer have to be punished.

I was born in 1944, back before the blacks were allowed to set at the front of the bus, not in the back, and when they had to have their own fountains to drink from and their own public rest rooms. I will not use the N word, but what the Obamas are doing is what was called N_ _ _ _ r Rich back in those days. If they got a dollar for picking cotton, hey would go out and spend ten dollars. Looks like their intelligence level has remained the same over al these years. Guess you can take them out of the innercity, but you can’t take the innercity out of them.

Tea Party folks keep claiming they’re not racists. Maybe most of them aren’t. But a fair number of the “Christians” who hang out at wnd.com and the Western Journalism Center obviously are racists, along with being stupid in many other ways.

And though it may be impossible to keep up with the garbage spewing forth, it would be nice if more of those Christian readers and Tea Party fans of the two sites who aren’t racist jackasses would call out the ones who are.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Electronic Klansmen trying to make me famous

Posted by James McPherson on December 7, 2009

As any regular here knows, I read a lot of stuff from throughout the political spectrum. I think all Americans should do so, for reasons I’ve expressed previously. As I’ve also mentioned before, I also occasionally try to point out an error and/or to engage in dialogue with a blogger with whom I disagree, even though most blogs are largely meaningless expressions of ego.

I always try to remain civil in those cases, and I’ve made some new electronic “friends” as a result. Some conservative bloggers now link to this site, and I link to theirs. Even in cases where I didn’t win over the blog host, I’ve had good “conversations” via comments sections, and have drawn some readers over here.

Of course I hear in various forms from an assortment of crazies; it goes with the territory. But one particularly vile and cowardly crew has apparently decided to try to make me famous, devoting at entire posts to me, with my name and title in the headline. With an apparent regular readership of about half a dozen mother’s-basement-bound Orly Taitz wannabes, the blog  is unlikely to make me as recognizable as this James McPherson or this one or this one (the first two are Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, the third a Civil War general), but its anonymous (naturally) author is doing his/her best. The site is one of those racist paranoid New World Order sites, and had posted a warning about a Muslim stamp issued for the holidays under the “Muslim Obama administration.” One respondent cried, “The government is slowly becoming muslim-based,” while another suggested that Barack Obama was involved with a plot to kill off black people with vaccinations (no, I don’t get the Muslim stamp connection either).

I should have known better than to respond, since this site is one of those that proudly portrays the racist depiction of Michelle Obama that I mentioned in a recent post. But I felt obligated to note, “The stamp was first issued during the George W. Bush administration, in August 2001–about a month before 9/11, and then reissued in September 2007 ,” and that “there are lots of available Christmas stamps, along with stamps commemorating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Valentine’s Day, Black history, the Lunar New Year, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and the Simpsons,” and that a 10-second web search would do much to boost the credibility of ther arguments.

That prompted a serious of nutty personal attacks from other respondents. These folks are toxic fungus common to many blogs, using the pseudonym as a modern version of a Ku Klux Klansman’s outfit to hide their identity. Fortunately they spend most of their time hidden away from most of civilized society, trying try to abuse and intimidate others from the shadows. They generally lack either the intelligence or the guts to be willing to open up their ideas to public scrutiny (one even complained after my comment that I was on “a private blog,” whatever that is), and because they’re afraid to remove the electronic pointy hoods, their only real threat is that they might induce other morons to commit violence.

By the way, I don’t response to those sites to try to start arguments–life is too short for that. I do so because I know that too few readers seek out a variety of sources, and I feel that it’s part of my obligation as an academic to contribute when I can to general knowledge, and to the democratic process. Based on what happened this time, though, I think from now on I’ll limit my responses to sites with named contributors.

Of course, I wasn’t terribly surprised at the venomous responses I received in return after posting my comment. What did surprise me was that the site host approved my comments–and then changed one of them to make it look as if I’d said something that I hadn’t (something very profane, at that). It was the first time I’ve ever had to point out the key elements of libel law (probably something every blogger should be familiar with) to force someone to delete something from a blog.

In addition, the host then featured me in an entirely new post, calling me “another idiot liberal professor that wants to poison student minds.” No surprise there, either, but in this case the post included a couple of photos of me, a partial bio, contact information for a couple of school administrators, and a suggestion that readers call to complain about what I was doing on “company time.” It also included my office phone number and email, though so far no one has used them. For reasons I cannot fathom, the post also listed all of the editors (and their contact info) for the award-winning student newspaper that I happen to advise (students, of course, do all of the writing and editing).

I never know whether to be more impressed with the power that some people think college professors have, or more depressed by those same people’s lack of respect for the intelligence and integrity of young adults. I certainly can’t imagine my employers caring much what anonymous hatemongers might have to say about me. Besides, one of the things I love about working in academia is the respect that most people in it have for a diversity of opinions. And aside from the fact that I was writing on a Saturday morning after a 60-hour week, part of my job as a teacher is to share my knowledge beyond the confines of the classroom. That’s why academics from all disciplines write books, journal articles, guest opinions in newspapers, and, increasingly, blogs.

Since that Sunday post, the host of the site has also featured me in three other headlines, and parts of a couple of other articles. Among the things I’ve been called by various writers on the blog in the past couple of days: “a feminist sympathizer” (I’m actually a feminist), “a radical leftist” (no doubt, compared to these folks), “a spineless whimpy little coward” (despite usually being the only writer there using his real name), a “funny looking little nerdy chap” (hey, I’m no lumberjack, but still…), “a disgrace to America and to college professors everywhere,” “the poster boy for NAMBLA,” “a mother——– feminist,” and “a c——-ing squirrely nut holding gnarly Gilligan elitist liberal” (I edited out the profanity with two of those comments).

Unfortunately, one of my conservative and highly ethical students (the other person on the thread using a real name, and someone who–like most of my students–disagrees with me on most things political) came to my defense on the site (oddly, these people apparently believe in Jewish New World Order black spy helicopters, but seem clueless about Google alerts). That college student has been equally disparaged on the site since then. Brave and classy folks indeed.

Posted in Education, History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 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 »

If you knew Suze, like Oprah knows Suze… maybe you’d be richer

Posted by James McPherson on April 7, 2009

“Suze Orman decides what couples can afford,” reads a headline on the front page of the CNN Web site. The headline links to an Oprah.com story(headlined after the click, “Suze decides what you can afford).” As for Oprah.com, the lead story under “hot topics” is “Suze Orman’s Recession Rescue Plan.”

Suddenly with the economy in the toilet, Orman has become as omnipresent as two other women with O’s in their names–Michelle Obama (live or otherwise) being the third. Regular PBS viewers already knew Orman as perhaps the only openly lesbian financial expert in the country (relevant only because not long ago her sexual orientation would have kept her off of conservative airwaves, but may actually enhance her credibility with some of the PBS audience), but she seems now to be on everywhere.

She has her own show on CNBC, the generally conservative business network that goes along with MSNBC’s political liberalism to make a balanced peacock. (Rather than schizophrenia, I guess we should view it like the old golf joke in which a drive into the left rough followed by a shot into the right rough equals statistical perfection.) Orman also is an editor for Oprah’s magazine, and writes regularly for the Costco magazine.

Aside from the fact that the most powerful and perhaps richest woman in America (Oprah, not Michelle, though Barack wouldn’t be in the White House without both of them) is now giving us poorer folks economic advice herself, why should we now trust Oprah’s endorsement of Orman? I admit that I’ve distrusted Oprah since she foisted Dr. Phil on the American consciousness, but still, who is Orman that we apparently should trust to tell us what to do with our money, anyway?

Well, you can read her story here, and she did largely luck into a good education and a job and career in business. But she also has worked tough jobs, such as spending six years as a waitress (one of the tougher and more honorable jobs in America), so she may remember what it’s like not to have money. Considering that she has written a bunch of bestselling books telling us what to do with our money, perhaps the problem was that the right people just didn’t listen to her early enough.

Besides, consider the fact that the vast majority of people who have been guiding us into the current mess are men. Maybe it’s because today I went from teaching my “Women and Media” class to a moderated discussion of “The Vagina Monalogues” (which will be read publicly on my school’s campus later this month), but I can’t help but feel that the problem may be that there hasn’t been enough Orman to go around.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

To Obamas, a reminder that familiarity can breed contempt

Posted by James McPherson on March 21, 2009

Barack and Michelle Obama have seemingly been everywhere lately, with him even popping up on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno (where he managed to say something stupid in an ill-advised effort to be funny) and on the cover of Vanity Fair (though with a recycled photo), and her showing up on the cover of Vogue and as in a comic book.

As Barack tries to implement an Franklin D. Roosevelt-style remaking of government, Michelle plants an Eleanor Roosevelt-style “victory garden.” Perhaps trying to boost the idea that he is the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln (the first president ever photographed and perhaps the first to actively promote his own image), Obama has seen his own photographic image splashed everywhere imaginable.

Yet despite the Obama blitz, polls this week show a couple of interesting things. In addition to those that show the president’s approval rating slipping somewhat, one survey says most Americans now think that Obama is “trying to do too much.”

In truth, I think both responses show something else: not that Obama is doing too much, but that he is talking  too much (and not through answering meaningful questions from the news media). Obama’s taking time to address the comments of such inane and irrelevant critics as Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney are perhaps the most troubling examples, especially since the fact is that neither such criticism nor the polls are relevant at this point (one of the relatively few things that George W. Bush seemed to understand about governing).

Positive numbers may make it slightly easier for Obama to get gutless Congressional Democrats to pass some things, but the only current real benefits of those surveys are that they keep pollsters employed, conservatives hopeful, and political junkies entertained. With several big issues to tackle in the coming months (and tackle them, he should), Obama’s approval rating means almost nothing for most of the next two years–and then mostly only to other Democrats who will be running for election.

What will matter is the shape of the economy, and perhaps the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, months from now. Most Americans are willing to give the president they just elected a chance–after all, they waited out the Bush years without storming the White House, indicating a certain level of patience.

What happens over the next few years, not what happens in the first 100 days of the Obama presidency, will determine whether he is later viewed as an FDR or a Herbert Hoover. And there is no denying that, like FDR with radio and Lincoln with photography, Obama is great at using modern communication technology. Even Republicans recognize that skill and are trying to catch up.

But just because you have multiple ways to reach people doesn’t mean you should use them all, at least not all the time. As conservative B. Jay Cooper wrote in a column that appeared in my morning newspaper today, it’s time for the Obama adminstration to stop “running a campaign”: “It’s time to switch … to the grown-up governing mode. You now ‘own’ the media. They will cover what you do.”

So, Barack, in the words Nike has used with a generation of would-be athletes like you and me: “Just do it.” And for the next year or so, at least, stop worrying so much about what other people think about how you’re doing it.

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

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

Posted by James McPherson on December 11, 2008

Since one of the most glamorous women we’ll be seeing on magazine covers for the next few years will be Michelle Obama, and despite one magazine editor’s call (in a different context) to “let Michelle Obama’s real self shine,” one wonders how far editors and art directors might go to make the First Lady look better–or worse–than she appears in reality. Though Hillary Clinton and sometimes Nancy Reagan (neither of whom always acted as dutiful stand-by-their-man Bush ladies) were obvious exceptions, the media usually treat First Ladies nicely, and articles and TV pieces have already focused more on Obama’s style than on her substance.

Remember, Newsweek drew criticism for letting Sarah Palin look “too real” (despite Joe the Plumber/Author now calling Sarah Palin “the real deal” even as he disses John McCain, the man most responsible for what we can only hope will be fleeting fame for Joe). And while a good fake Barack Obama may be hard to find, as Time reports, much of the reason for the Palin uproar is that we aren’t used to reality with our magazine images. Virtually any image that appears on a magazine cover or in a calendar has been airbrushed or otherwise altered, especially if the image is that of a woman. A quick Google search shows you can even find “excellent body enhancement tutorials” online, to “improve” the people in your own photos.

News organizations might use Photoshop or airbrushing to fix flaws in a photo, but popular mags, movie posters and calendars use technical tricks to fix the “flaws” in a model. For a recent example, see Calipari’s treatment of Jessica Alba, as reported by the Daily Mail. (See the before and after photos below). Keira Knightly and Faith Hill (in Redbook, yet) are among the women who have also had parts of their bodies “enhanced”; see examples of others here.

At least we can probably be sure that Michelle Obama won’t be appearing in a future version of the latest Fox News slideshow.

alba-1alba-2

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Key presidential election question: ‘Which liar do you trust most?’

Posted by James McPherson on November 2, 2008

The presidential campaign seems to be “spinning” to an appropriately odd ending, with John McCain discussing strategy (“Reverse Maverick,” “Double Maverick” or “Sad Grandpa”) on “Saturday Night Live,” McCain robocalls using Hillary Clinton’s voice and words as an authoritative voice to try to boost Republicans, and Barack Obama’s latest ad promoting the endorsement of his opponent by a sitting vice president.

At least they don’t have anyone pretending to be the opposing candidate in those ads (a move that may cost Elizabeth Dole her Senate seat in the same election in which the GOP presidential candidate reminds voters of her husband’s 1996 “Sad Grandpa” bid). Dole’s Senate campaign provides a reminder that perhaps every political campaign has its share of distortions and outright lies. As campaigns grow increasingly desperate, the lying tends to increase. Fortunately for those of use who care, there are more ways than ever to check the accuracy of campaign ads and stump speeches.

The oft-criticized mainstream media do a better job than they once did at fact checking. Even more valuable are FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.org (a product of the mainstream St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly). On Friday, Factcheck.org released an updated version of “the whoppers of 2008,” including McCain camp lies about welfare, taxes, health care, terrorism and ACORN, and Obama lies about Medicare, stem cell research and job losses. The site also calls attention to distortions from other groups both liberal (MoveOn.org and VoteVets.org) and conservative (National Rifle Association and National Republican Trust PAC).

PolitiFact also released a Friday update, recalling some especially egregious “pants on fire” moments from the campaign. Those cited include Mike Huckabee, who falsely claimed that most signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen, and John Edwards who suggested that the president has power over Congressional health care. Of course other Edwards lies were to cause him more problems, but by then his campaign had ended.

PolitiFact gave most of its “pants on fire” ratings to e-mail messages: “They include the bogus list of books that Sarah Palin supposedly wanted to ban, the fake receipt that supposedly showed Michelle Obama ordered $400 in lobster and caviar from a New York hotel,  and the distorted Bible verses to suggest that Barack Obama was the Antichrist.”

It is sad and disturbing to see how often candidates and their supporters lie. But the increased oversight is a bright spot. As PolitiFact notes: “The 2008 election has been the most fact-checked campaign in American history. Between our 750-plus items, and dozens of articles published by our friends at FactCheck.org and other news organizations, the presidential candidates have been challenged about their accuracy more than ever before.”

In short, in this election–as with perhaps every election–Americans will choose between liars as they cast their ballots. The key question thus becomes, “Which liar do you trust most?”

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Pressure now on McCain, GOP

Posted by James McPherson on August 29, 2008

It appears that, as expected, John McCain will announce his running mate today in an effort to decrease Barack Obama’s post-convention bounce in the polls. Republicans should hope, of course, that voters don’t make one interesting coincidental connection–the fact that the Bush administration and McCain have made an art of releasing bad news on Fridays so as to draw as little attention as possible.

We don’t yet know what Obama’s convention bounce will be (I expect 8-12 percent over where he was when the convention started), and as I’ve stated previously, the polls don’t mean a lot at this point, anyway. Nor do we know what impact McCain’s choice for VP might have. One fascinating note for me: Fox News is noting this morning (though Drudge disagrees) that Sarah Palin might be the pick–which would mean both McCain and Obama made the selections I said they should (though I doubt either of them was reading my blog for advice).

It does seem that Obama and other key Democrats–Hillary and Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama in particular–did what they wanted to do in their convention, and that last night Obama gave a speech worthy of the grand venue chosen for it. That puts more pressure on McCain and his party to do well this week at their own convention, assuming the weather and events cooperate.

Incidentally, one respondent has suggested that because I noted that Tropical Storm Gustov may put a dent in the Republicans’ ability to get their message out, I actually was hoping for a hurricane. That contention is both ludicrous and insulting, of course. Unlike Pat Robertson and a few other assorted nuts, I don’t believe God uses hundreds or thousands of weather-related deaths to punish sinners (remember the Noah’s Ark rainbow story from Sunday School?), and no rational person would wish for a natural disaster under any circumstances.

Analyzing the media and politics is what I do in my real job, not just as a blog hobby. But suggesting that what I predict MAY happen is an expression of my own desire makes little sense. After all, you may recall that I predicted that Obama, Hillary Clinton and McCain would all be leading presidential candidates even before any of them announced their intent to run–even though none of the three were among my two favorite candidates. I predicted years ago that George W. Bush would be a disaster as president, though for the sake of my country and its people I hoped otherwise. I predicted that Bush and a gutless Congress would take us to war in Iraq and that the war would last for years, though I opposed the war from the outset.

Besides, I hope the GOP convention goes off without a hitch and that the Republicans get their message out. As I hope I’ve made clear elsewhere in this blog, I think we need as much information as possible–even (and maybe especially) from sources with which we generally disagree–to make the choices necessary for meaningful self-government.

By the way, speaking of my real job, today I’m off on a day-long retreat and next week I go back to teaching four classes, advising a student newspaper, and participating in various committee roles and other activities. I’ve also promised to complete a book chapter within the next couple of weeks, and am organizing a January study program taking a dozen students to New York and Washington, D.C.

The point isn’t to garner sympathy (though I’ll take it), but to note that, though I’ve tried to post entries here at least four days a week throughout the summer, my frequency likely will decrease during the school year. Of course, there are a multitude of good sources in the links at the right side of this page to keep you busy on days I don’t happen to post.

Thanks for reading, and for any comments you feel moved to make. And have a great weekend.

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

The New Yorker’s Obama cover

Posted by James McPherson on July 14, 2008

Finally, something the Obama and McCain camps can agree on.

“The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree,” says an Obama spokesman.

“We completely agree with the Obama campaign, it’s tasteless and offensive,” said McCain’s spokesman.

As Politico says, the cover of the issue that goes on sale today “certainly will be candy for cable news.”

Judge for yourself, then I’ll offer my take. Note the Muslim attire, the Afro, the fist bump, the AK-47, the picture of Osama bin Laden over the Oval Office fireplace, and the burning flag.

You can find a lot of comment in the responses at the Huffington Post and elsewhere, but as someone who has often misjudged what would be appropriate or funny, I find myself sympathetic to the New Yorker, which stated, “”Please note that it is satire–we are poking fun at the scare tactics and misinformation that some have employed to derail Obama’s campaign.” I would have perceived the cover as appropriate political satire–at least before reading the articles inside. Others agree, and some people think it may even help Obama in the long run.

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” yesterday, Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page  said the cover “is just lampooning all the crazy ignorance out there.” On CNN’s American Morning, liberal talk-show host Laura Flanders and conservative talk-show host Joe Pagliarulo agreed with one another that the cover was not critical of Obama, and that his campaign could and should have used it as an opportunity to criticize his real enemies–the ignorance of much of the electorate and the media that help perpetuate that ignorance.

A stunning example: A Newsweek poll released Friday still shows: “Twelve percent of voters surveyed said that Obama was sworn in as a United States senator on a Qur’an, while 26 percent believe the Democratic candidate was raised as a Muslim and 39 percent believe he attended an Islamic school as a child growing up in Indonesia. None of these things is true.”

But I’d be more sympathetic toward the New Yorker–which, frankly, I suspect would prefer Obama over John McCain–if the magazine hadn’t run the cover photo at the top of its Web page exactly between a teaser headline for “the Campaign Trail” subtitled, Hendrik Hertzberg, Ryan Lizza, and Jeffrey Toobin on flip flopping” and Hertzberg’s piece discussing Obama’s real and exaggerated “flip-flops.” And the main article, by Lizza, is generally negative. And yes, the Hertzberg article also discusses many of McCain’s flips, but groups them in a single paragraph at the end of the story. The magazine prompts Alternet’s Don Hazen to ask in an excellent article today, “Why are the New Yorker, Salon and other liberal media doing the right’s dirty work?”

Still, I tend to agree with Flanders that the photo “isn’t a jab at [the Obamas], terrorist or any other kind. This is a jab at the media. … It should be cause for our conversation to focus on the kind of fear mongering that the media and people on the right have engaged in.”

Hazen expands on that problem: “Unfortunately the impact of this image will extend far beyond the reading audience of the New Yorker; cable news and the right-wing media noise machine will amplify the derogatory image to millions more. And the New Yorker of course will reap enormous publicity, clearly translating to increased sales and notoriety for the brand, and for corporate owner Conde Nast–one of the largest and most powerful media companies in America.”

As for Flanders’ hope, good luck with the media indicting themselves in that discussion.

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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