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 and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for September, 2008

Leaders & would-be leaders fail in bailout

Posted by James McPherson on September 29, 2008

George Bush, Barack Obama and John McCain all supported the bailout that failed today in the House of Representatives. Admittedly Obama and McCain are senators, but they clearly are not viewed as strong enough leaders to pursuade the House members of their own parties to vote convincingly for a bill that might have kept the economy from tanking.

And that whole reach-across-the-aisle thing? Ain’t happenin’. Some Republicans blamed a partison speech by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though Barney Frank pointed out the self-centered goofiness of the claim: Because somebody hurt their feelings they decide to punish the country. … I mean, that’s hardly plausible … I’ll make an offer. Give me those 12 people’s names [12 more votes were needed to pass the bill] and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them.”

Considering the fall of the stock market, each of those 12 votes apparently was worth about 65 points on the Dow.

The situation is worse for Bush and McCain than for Obama, of course–at least the majority of Obama’s party voted for the bill. Frankly, I don’t know how I feel about the bill, but as I’ve written before, Bush himself is to blame for the fact that people now know he can’t be trusted. When in doubt, people tend to favor doing nothing over potentially doing something wrong–especially if that wrong might enrich the same people who have been ripping us off for the past seven years.

As I’ve also pointed out, the news media also share the blame for the failing economy, and our pitiful understanding of it. On the other hand, if opponents of the “doomsday machine” are correct, we won’t have to worry about something as trivial as the world economy for long.

Assuming they’re wrong and the world doesn’t explode within the next few days, I’ll be back next week. I’m off tomorrow to a conference in Seattle, one of my favorite cities, and usually try to avoid blogging when I travel. We all need an occasional break, and I’m obsessive enough about it when I’m here–tomorrow will be only the fourth day this month that I didn’t post at least once, with more than one post on several days.

Same day update: The Dow closed lower today than when Bush took office. In short, if you invested money in the market when he was sworn in and haven’t touched it since then, you’ve actually managed to lose money in those seven years. Put another way, you would have done better by stuffing that same money in your mattress. Presidents usually get too much credit when the economy does well and too much blame when it does poorly, but in this case, thanks to the impact of Bush’s dishonesty, he deserves a bigger share than usual.

Same day update #2: The stock losses were estimated at $1.2 trillion, or $500 billion more than the bailout plan.

Have a great week, if you can. And if you’re interested in more while I’m gone, check out the links at right or some of my previous favorites below:

Vice presidential debate strategies for Biden and Palin

McCain’s ‘no-talk express’ going where unwanted to avoid rough road

In search of Sarah, and where Congress spends your money

Craig Ferguson: “If you don’t vote, you’re a moron”

GOP view of Palin: pit bull or pretty little lady?

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

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

 PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Ignorance and the electorate

“Act now”: a new way for candidates to reach the electorate

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Speaking for the poor

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Democratic self-mutilation

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Here is the complete 20-part series chronicling the history of George W. Bush’s Iraq War, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history.

—————

Axis of evil

For sake of definition

Can’t beat the devil

—————

God’s soldiers attack

Saudi pilots slam towers

Time to hit Iraq

—————

They ripped out our heart

We must avenge them all

Chickenhawks are thrilled

_______

 Three thousand were killed

Nine-eleven is the call

We win at Wal-Mart

———

Yes, we must attack

We can’t find bin Laden’s cave

So we’ll bomb Iraq

_______

Bray it long and loud

Bush’s war will protect us

From a mushroom cloud

_______

Why attack Saddam?

Weapons of mass destruction

None there? We’ll be damned

_______

Please world wish us well

And God bless America

Killing infidels

_______

Flags throughout the land

Jingoistic fervor reigns

Don a black armband

_______

Let’s not be out-Foxed

Lapel flags in great demand

How about those Sox?

_______

Don’t count on the press

To learn what’s fact or fiction

The real truth? Just guess

_______

Soldiers bravely toil

Thousands come home draped with flags

From their war for oil

_______

 God save George the King

Chinese car magnets for troops

Who don’t mean a thing

_______

War is hell, he said

As if he had ever been

Your kids go instead

_______

Shake bittersweet Rice

From a sheltered brittle Bush

Harvest has its price

_______

Watch for terrorists

Those who’d offer civil rights

Must be communists

_______

They’ve not hit again

Three-fourths as good as Clinton

Check back in oh-ten

_______

Now the country’s broke

Try to change the rationale

Use mirrors and smoke

_______

Go to war we can

If we must we must, they say

What about Iran?

_______

Politicians’ game

Spin the bottle or the truth

Ending up the same

_______

 

 

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Palin, Pakistan & the press: ‘Cheez Whiz, people, don’t you know she doesn’t mean what she says?’

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Republicans are trying to keep Sarah Palin from speaking to the press, even as she makes the rounds of traditional campaign stops. As I noted in the comments section yesterday, with last night’s Tina Fey “Saturday Night Live” appearance, considering how tightly scripted and hidden away Palin as been, lately most of us will have seen more of Fey as Palin than we’ve seen of Palin as Palin.

Now GOP operatives apparently will need to simplify the instructions even further: “Sarah, don’t speak unless you’re on a stage, with a teleprompter, repeating things we’ve let you practice. Smile and nod and wave, but don’t speak. And for God’s sake, don’t ever answer a question. From anybody. Anywhere.” That might make Thursday’s debate a bit tricky.

Just one day after John McCain criticized Barack Obama for saying he would strike inside Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden–a view, incidentally, that McCain himself and most other Americans likely would support, and which goes along with what has become Bush administration policy–Palin (on a Philly cheesesteak run) had a Temple University grad student ask her if American troops should go from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Her response: “If that’s what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should.”

Though she said she had watched the previous night’s presidential debate, and praised the performance of McCain (whom she may believe once walked the earth with dinosaurs), she apparently missed one of her running mate’s strongest statements: “You don’t say that out loud.”

As a result, today the campaign was forced to retract one of the few things Palin actually has said out loud in public. With no apparent irony intended, McCain (talking this morning to George Stephanopoulos) said Palin was a campaign asset in large part because “She knows how to communicate directly with people.” That comment came almost directly on the heels of McCain weakly blaming her latest misstep on the existence of microphones at what was clearly supposed to be another beauty queen-style photo op:

“In all due respect, people going around and… sticking a microphone while conversations are being held, and then all of a sudden that’s—that’s a person’s position… This is a free country, but I don’t think most Americans think that that’s a definitve policy statement made by Governor Palin.”

Of course he’s right about that. Most Americans likely no longer believe that the McCain can offer a “definitive policy statement” about virtually anything. No wonder even many conservatives and their media supporters are jumping ship. One newspaper, endorsing its first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 (during the last Great Depression), noted accurately:

McCain, who has voted consistently for deregulation, started off two weeks ago declaring the U.S. economy fundamentally sound but ended the week sounding like a populist. Who is he really? …

While praiseworthy for putting the first woman on a major-party presidential ticket since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, his selection of Palin as a running mate was appalling. The first-term governor is clearly not experienced enough to serve as vice president or president if required. Her lack of knowledge is being covered up by keeping her away from questioning reporters and doing interviews only with those considered friendly to her views.

At the risk of repeating myself, Thursday night’s debate could be tricky, and I’ll again offer my recommended debate strategy of yesterday for both candidates: Try to let your opponent talk. Don’t complain if s/he goes over the time limit; you’ll probably benefit more from it.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some “family crisis” forces Palin to postpone or cancel the debate, if not withdraw from the race altogether. Whether anyone would buy that, after McCain’s recent erratic behavior, remains to be seen. And by the way, isn’t it long past time to stop calling McCain a maverick, and to start calling him simply a compulsive gambler?

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Vice presidential debate strategies for Biden and Palin

Posted by James McPherson on September 27, 2008

During the past week, Joe Biden managed to demonstrate that, whatever foreign policy credentials he may have, his apparent knowledge about radio, television and the Great Depression would cause him serious problems if he were in the mass media history class that I teach. 

On the other hand, Sarah Palin’s inability to answer even straightforward (and, one would presume, expected) questions, coupled with her apparent and unexpected insecurity, has even conservative columnist Kathleen Parker calling on her to step aside for the good of the Republican Party. The Democratic line from today that she is “a terrific debater” seems to me a clear attempt to counter the ankle-level expectations created by Palin herself.

So here’s my recommended debate strategy for both candidates: Try to let your opponent do most of the talking. On Thursday night the best defense may prove to be a look of stunned amazement while your opponent rambles on. Of course my strategy might be much tougher to follow for the loquacious Biden than for the not-ready-for-prime-time Palin (whom the GOP apparently wouldn’t even trust to speak after the presidential debate, while Biden has appeared seemingly everywhere):

Oh, and parents–You may want to keep your kids away from the TV during Thursday’s debate. Chances are they already lack much knowledge about either history or the electoral process; you don’t want them sliding further.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Warku #16

Posted by James McPherson on September 27, 2008

This is the 16th of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3#4#5, #6#7, #8, #9, #10#11#12, #13#14, and #15.

_________

Watch for terrorists

Those who’d offer civil rights

Must be communists

_______

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

The fool who cried (for) Wolf(owitz): Bush’s Iraq War lies complicate economic bailout

Posted by James McPherson on September 26, 2008

Paul Wolfowitz, of course, was the Bush secretary of defense and one of the architects of the Iraq War, which we now know to be based on administration lies. Now talks about how to “save” the economy have stalled, perhaps partly because John McCain felt compelled to try to play hero and ended up looking silly while doing more harm than good, but mostly because of opposition from conservative Republicans who refuse to go along with George Bush’s bailout plan.

A big reason those Republicans oppose a bailout is because of what they’re hearing from constituents, who apparently refuse to believe that the situation is as dire as the administration claims. “We’ve been listening to the American people, and the American people have told us that they don’t want to foot the bill,” Rep. Judy Biggert was quoted as saying in a CNN story today.

As for me, I don’t know what to believe, either, because Bush has proven he can’t be trusted. As the president himself has said, “Fool me once… Shame on… Shame on you… Fool me… Can’t get fooled again.”

Many people suspected that the Iraq War would seriously hurt the U.S. economy. Now it seems that we may have seriously underestimated just how devastating it might be.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

McCain ‘wins’ debate–before announcing he’ll participate

Posted by James McPherson on September 26, 2008

In the latest apparent misstep of the ongoing on-again off-again farce that the John McCain campaign has become, his campaign supposedly today released an ad announcing that he had “won” tonight’s debate–even before the candidate himself announced he would participate. (Note the qualifying words “apparent” and “supposedly”–I don’t discount the possibility of fakery, and have seen no confirmation yet from the McCain camp).

The best part of the story, if true: McCain campaign manager Rick Davis’ quote stating, “McCain won the debate–hands down.” You can see a screenshot of the ad (as linked from the Washington Post article) below.

Same day update: During the “suspended” part of his campaign, McCain apparently managed to work in at least a couple of hours of debate prep.

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

Warku #15

Posted by James McPherson on September 26, 2008

This is the 15th of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3#4#5, #6#7, #8, #9, #10#11#12, #13, and #14.

_________

Shake bittersweet Rice

From a sheltered brittle Bush

Harvest has its price

_______

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

McCain continues ‘suspended’ campaign

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2008

Though John McCain announced yesterday that he was suspending his political campaign to go where he was neither wanted nor needed, to join a process where he has relatively little knowledge and even less influence, he and his surrogates are apparently trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

They say they won’t campaign, but then do it, anyway. Both McCain and Sarah Palin submitted to interviews with CBS, and McCain even tried to bring a campaign staffer to his meeting/photo op at the White House today. By contrast, Barack Obama, who made no pretense of being unable to do two things at once, was taking along just a Senate staffer.

McCain ditched (and apparently lied to) David Letterman to talk to Couric, prompting one publication to recall earlier comments about why he liked to appear on Letterman’s show: “One reason I like to go on those shows, particularly ones like Leno or Letterman, is that they help you reach a wide viewing audience that otherwise would not be paying attention to the political scene—people who would never be exposed to the Sunday-morning shows or other programs that politicians are traditionally on.”

Not only have McCain and Sarah Palin largely avoiding the media (the CBS interviews providing rare exceptions), they apparently aren’t talking enough to each other. Last night Palin did her third interview since becoming the VP nominee, and it’s hard to believe she couldn’t be more specific about something her party’s presidential nominee has done (especially since her major point seemed to be to criticize Barack Obama’s lack of specifics).

I’ve posted much of the Palin interview below–the most enlightening (and perhaps the scariest) part comes at the end of the clip, with this response to a question about specific McCain actions regarding economic oversight: “I’ll try to find some and I’ll bring ’em to ya.” Below that is a clip of last night’s David Letterman highlights.

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

Warku #14

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2008

This is the 14th of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3#4#5, #6#7, #8, #9, #10#11#12, and #13.

_________

War is hell, he said

As if he had ever been

Your kids go instead

_______

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