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 November, 2008

Four reasons newspapers won’t soon disappear

Posted by James McPherson on November 30, 2008

A friend recently reduced his subscription to the local daily, to get it only Wednesdays and Sundays (so he gets the most important ads), while reading online the rest of the week. As much as I love newspapers, I still couldn’t offer him a good reason not to do make the change.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the decline of print media, and I suspect that my political science professor who predicted in 1993 that print newspapers would disappear “within 10 years” is still making the same prediction. Still, I expect that newspapers will be with us for some time to come, for the following reasons:

  1. Big events. People still turn to print newspapers for coverage of events ranging from elections to mass disasters. Print media provide more depth of coverage than broadcast media, and they also provide a physical reminder of the event. Internet newspapers might provide the former, but I can’t see most people wanting to print out a Web page to save in their family mementos.
  2. Supermarkets and department stores. This weekend provides a big reminder that there is no good alternative for some types of newspaper ads.
  3. Sundays. Too many of us like to peruse the newspaper in a leisurely fashion on Sundays, laughing at the funnies, and trading sections and observations with others whom we care about.
  4. Mass transit, which is necessary in some American cities (and more widespread overseas) and may become increasingly important in the United States if Barack Obama is serious about rebuilding infrastructure while reducing our dependence on oil. Some of the massive subsidies now used to prop up our highway-centric lifestyle might be diverted to more logical transit alternatives. And until handheld devices become as cheap, simple and portable as the New York Post or USA Today, subway riders will turn to print.

Newspapers will continue to change, in many ways not for the better, and the staff cuts at most publications are alarming to those of us who care about journalism and journalists. Some papers will publish less frequently in the future than they do now. Newspapers and other media will increasingly go online, and will figure out new ways to make a profit.

Student Jasmine Linabary, the Pew Research Center and various folks at the Poynter Institute are among those tracking the changes, some of which make the future of media look at least as exciting as it is scary. As for me, you’ll have to excuse me: It’s time to grab a bite and finish the Sunday paper.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Visiting D.C. during inauguration week

Posted by James McPherson on November 29, 2008

In January my wife and I will go with a dozen Whitworth University students to New York and Washington, D.C., to meet with about two dozen leaders and experts in various mass media agencies and industries. Sites and people we will visit include the Associated Press, Columbia Journalism Review, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Public Relations Society of America, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, NPR, PBS, Fairness & Accuracy in Media, the Onion, a couple of academics, a telecommunications lobbyist, and representatives from finance, newspaper, television and magazines.

The first version of this “media impact” study program went to those same two cities two years ago, meeting with some of the same people and some others. I remain impressed with how giving some very important people are of their time when it comes to helping students (and somewhat surprised at the outsized egos of some other people with jobs that are far less important).

The biggest difference between this trip and the one two years ago is that this year Barack Obama will be inaugurated during the same week that we’ll be in town, a day after Martin Luther King Day (which fell during the New York segment two years ago). As you might guess, scheduling for that week was a bit tougher this time around, and some folks we’d have liked to chat with will be unavailable. We’ll talk to a few more people in New York and not quite as many in Washington. Still, I expect the excitement of being in the city at that time, and seeing how the media cover the inauguration events, will be worth the tradeoff.

On the other hand, our group of 14 will be among more than a million extra people expected in the city during that week. Who’d have thought that of the two cities we’ll visit, New York might seem the less crowded? Fortunately our lodging was booked well in advance. One of the Washington media people I was talking to recently suddenly asked, “How did you get a place to stay?” It’s a logical question, considering that the New York Times reports today that the non-availability of Washington-area rooms has people asking for up to $60,000 to rent out their homes for the week and $25,000 for a weekend rental of a one-bedroom apartment.

And folks thought it was expensive to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom during the Clinton administration. I guess yet another area in which Democrats are better for the economy than Republicans is real estate prices.

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

Rupert Murdoch a pinhead? O’Reilly’s sleazy boss doesn’t like his star

Posted by James McPherson on November 28, 2008

Bill O’Reilly, the self-appointed culture warrior and would-be savior of Christmas (as if either the holiday or Christians face any real threat in America)  obviously has his fans, the conservative versions of those who admire Keith Olbermann on the other side. But O’Reilly’s boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, apparently isn’t among those fans.

Politico’s Michael Calderone offers a sneak peak of a Michael Wolff biography of Murdoch (longtime producer of sleazy tabloid newspapers and new owner of the Wall Street Journal). The book apparently states that Murdoch, Fox News chief Roger Ailes (whom O’Reilly recently termed “a patriot“), and “everybody else at News Corps’ highest levels … absolutely despises” O’Reilly.

Here’s a battle in which we can hope both sides lose. After all, O’Reilly is well known as a bully and a liar, while Fox News is both the network at which people are most likely to complain about trash on television and the news network most likely to provide that trash. For example, today’s lead stories on the Fox Web site include a piece (with slideshow) about “Playboy’s sexiest celebrity covers” and one about Ashley Dupre’s supposed desire to go “from hooker to singer” (also linked to a slideshow including pics of the prostitute who helped bring down New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer).

I don’t think I’d rank either O’Reilly or Murdoch as a patriot. And to use another O’Reilly phrase: “Pinheads? You decide.”

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

Thanksgiving reminders from the world’s most famous journalist and Deepak Chopra

Posted by James McPherson on November 27, 2008

One of the many hopes of those who voted for Barack Obama is that the embarrassment of Guantanamo might be closed. One of the very few benefits of Guantanamo, and of prisons in general, is the occasional glimpses of light cast on the humanity and hope of even the most destitute.

Cup poems,” words scratched with pebbles into Styrofoam, offer one example. Perhaps none of the writings offered in one collection are great poetry, and one Amazon reviewer writes about the book of collected poems: “This is not poetry. It’s a political agenda chopped up into lines.” But for me, that raises the eternal question of what makes poetry great.

I would put such things as timeless truths and important questions high on the list. Great poems also must include beautiful, or at least creative, use of language, and that may be where the collection falls short. Still, there are lines worth considering as we reflect today on what we are most thankful for, including these words from the “world’s most famous journalist,: Sami al-Hajj:

They have monuments to liberty

And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.

But I explained to them

That architecture is not justice.

Speaking of architecture, in January I will visit Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I’ve been thankful since the presidential election that the loss of the World Trade Center hasn’t quite managed to make Lady Liberty irrelevant.

Yet I also realize that despite the warnings of folks such as Deepak Chopra, yesterday’s unfortunate attacks and ongoing hostage situation in India (for which, despite hundreds of casualties, CNN felt obligated to provide a story headlined “Terrified Westerners describe Mumbai chaos” and a link to a separate story titled “Nashville woman hurt in Mumbai attacks”) make it likely that some will want to renew the same kind of policies that led to Guantanamo.

As we prepare to raise our own cups, let us be thankful on this day–but let us also pray for wisdom.

Next day update: While American media, including CNN, Fox News and The New York Times, bring the issue home by focusing stores on the Americans killed or injured in Mumbai–and Fox “terror expert” Walid Phares asks, “Are we at war, or not?” and argues that “the Jihadists are winning,” while Fox columnist John Avlon argues, “The war that was indelibly declared on September 11, 2001 continues unabated , not just against the U.S. but worldwide … ultimately a war between civilization and the terrorists”–Al-Jazeera again is left to remind us of the broader perspective, that the attacks are raising indigation around the world.

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

‘Unbearable’ Japanese gay marriage experiment fails

Posted by James McPherson on November 26, 2008

Japanese experts have encountered a sex problem that can’t be cured by Viagra or Cialis, nor is it caused by repeated watching of commercials for those products. It can’t even be blamed on the “arranged marriage,” which is common for these types of relationships.

The funniest story on CNN today states that Japanese zookeepers have finally figured out they keep failing in their attempts to mate a couple of polar bears: Both bears (along with the “brother” of one) are female.

Aside from the fact that the zookeepers apparently were chosen by the same method George W. Bush used in naming key members of his administration, the failed experiment might provide a valuable reminder to politicians, religious leaders and voters who base their arguments against gay marriage on their own religious principles or on the the belief that homosexuality is a “choice.”

I have no idea what makes someone gay, any more than I know what makes a Japanese polar bear straight. Nor do I care. I do notice that the key figures involved in both relationships apparently pay more attention to a multitude of issues other than their sexuality, even if outsiders keep trying to interfere with their sex lives. Nonetheless, as bears and even Utah legislators might point out, the tide is moving against the anti-gay forces. The military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy may be on the way out (and not just because we’re running out of “straight” soldiers). Many Americans, including politicians, now favor non-discriminatory civil unions.

Some also argue that churches should not be quasi-governmental agencies that “legalize” any marriage, gay or straight. Those critics point out that modern marriage laws violate the separation between church and state favored by early Americans. If legal marriage becomes simply a civil requirement (with churches allowed to add or withhold any religious blessing they choose), some of the arguments against gay marriage probably will fade.

Thanksgiving Day will mark 30 years since gay activist (and Korean War veteran) Harvey Milk (the topic of Sean Penn’s new film) was assassinated. Thirty years from now, I predict that my committed gay friends will be able to marry, and that very more Americans will consider such unions to be more a sign of “family values” than they are “unbearable.”

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

‘Breaking’ story: Ann Coulter shuts up

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2008

 It’s not like liberals need one more thing to feel thankful for this Thursday, but if the conservative New York Post is correct (never a totally safe bet), Ann Coulter won’t be speaking–at all–for a while. That’s assuming the wires, hold, of course.

We also are left wondering, so far, if someone punched Coulter or if her jaw simple wore out from excessive use.

True or not, the story about Coulter’s supposed broken jaw quickly became the most popular post at the Huffington Post.

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

Monica Crowley’s brother-in-law breaking up with Sean Hannity

Posted by James McPherson on November 24, 2008

Alan Colmes will step down from “Hannity & Colmes” at the end of this year. The big question: Will anyone notice that he’s gone? Hannity is quoted as saying he will “genuinely miss sparring with such a skillful debate partner,” but of course the program has provided little semblance of “debate.”

“Hannity & Colmes,” the second-most-popular show on Fox News, has long been one of the worst cable “news” programs in terms of learning anything. If you watch Bill O’Reilly, you know he’s a blowhard but that he will occasionally provide useful information and a modicum of wit. But with “Hannity & Colmes” you get Sean Hannity berating all things Democratic and fawning over all things Republican, while Colmes occasionally tries to insert something more liberal and/or rational.

I occasionally check in on Colmes’ blog, and can’t help but wonder if he’s leaving the show because so many people responding to the blog have criticized him for being too weak. I think much of that perceived “weakness” is an unwillingness to be as obnoxious as Hannity is–and unless Fox execs somehow persuade James Carville to take the job, I can’t imagine they’ll find anyone who is.

Not that they’d want someone like that, anyway. Hannity makes himself look like a fool often enough without having someone on the other side to help out, but he does appeal to the conservative Fox base.

Consideration of the program also again raises the issue of how conservative what passes for “liberalism” has become in America. Keep in mind that Colmes’ sister-in-law is the most obnoxious regular on “The McLaughlin Group,” conservative radio host and former MSNBC personality Monica Crowley.

Unlike other supposedly liberal media types Campbell Brown and Andrea Mitchell (and even Carville for that matter), Colmes may not literally find himself in bed with a conservative each night. If not, chances are he’s still sharing holidays with one. Somehow I don’t see Hannity holding hands with a liberal while saying grace this Thanksgiving–though he may be praying that Fox doesn’t find and pair him with a thinker who is as loud as he is.

Next day update: Apparently Hannity will host the show by himself, as he often seems to think he is doing, anyway.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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

Posted by James McPherson on November 23, 2008

December 6 update: CNN reports that its new poll has Huckabee and Palin as the frontrunners.

 Considering that Barack Obama won’t even taken office for almost two months, making predictions this far in advance of the 2012 presidential election is a bit silly. But hey, I’ve rarely shied away from silly, especially in a classroom, and I was put on the spot a couple of weeks ago when I guest lectured at the University of Idaho and a student there asked me who I predicted would be the Republicans’ presidential nominee in 2012.

Despite the fact that less than two weeks earlier on this site I had predicted that Mitt Romney would be 2012 nominee, I changed my mind and predicted that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will defeat Mike Huckabee.

I would point out, however,  that there’s a good chance that the nominee will be someone most of us aren’t yet aware of such as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and (before this election) Huckabee or Palin. All four had previously been in politics, of course, but few outside of their own states knew who they were. I will also note that four years is a long time in American politics. Any number of circumstances involving the economy, terrorism or problems yet unseen may change everything.

Jindal apparently is running in the right way, already making appearances in Iowa. Oddly, though, he may find himself hampered by the same things that helped Barack Obama win the White House. He is young, energetic, nonwhite, and politically adept. But if Obama’s first term is successful, no Republican has a chance of unseating him–even if a Republican Obama is seen as having the best chance–and if Obama’s presidency falters, Jindal might be viewed simply as a GOP version of an already-failed experiment.

In short, if Obama succeeds, Jindal has a better chance of being the Republican nominee who loses in 2012. If Obama fails, Jindal has less of a chance of being the Republican nominee who reclaims the White House for the GOP.

I’d lean toward Huckabee, who seems to be a nice guy with executive experience and some creative ideas, but I think that his Fox News program will simulaneously increase his visability among conservatives and decrease his credibility with everyone else. Much of his support also comes from the Christian right, which I’ve suggested previously (and still believe) will continue to lose influence among Republicans.

Sarah Palin clearly is also running, though I think her folksy mountain-mama version of a Christian Paris Hilton is already wearing thin. Besides, as I’ve pointed out previously, sexism in America makes it tougher for a woman than for a man to engage in negative politics of the sort Palin has tended to favor (at least so far, though the VP nominee’s role is different than that of the person at the top of the ticket).

My original prediction, Romney, will be in the mix, but now I also can’t see him wearing particularly well. He may be an economic whiz, if there is such a thing, but has too many faces–most of which wear condescending expressions. One bit of good news: Rudy Giuliani will be four years further removed from any relevance he ever had.

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Popular Palin’s ‘presidential’ pardon puzzles press (again); Obama proposes jobs even for some people who never worked for Clinton

Posted by James McPherson on November 22, 2008

Though a few potential candidates have apparently been scared off by the vetting process (or perhaps by the idea of being forced to take a pay cut, or just by the realization that things are so screwed up they have little chance of keeping  their political reputations intact), Barack Obama continues to work on choosing staffers and what is shaping up to be a conservative cabinet.

He also used his radio program today to propose a sweeping jobs program that would create 2.5 million jobs by 2011. That sounds great on its face, and I like the focus on rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, green technology, and possible public works programs.

Still, considering that we’ve lost more than a million jobs in the past year with no end to the layoffs in site, while the nation’s population continues to increase, I can’t help but wonder if it might take 2.5 million jobs just to put us about where we would have been in 2011 under growth that not long ago would have been considered “normal.” (For the record, I don’t consider constant growth to necessarily be a positive, but that’s a separate issue too complicated to get into for today’s post.)

By the way, I wonder if the 10 or 12 people listening to the broadcast were surprised to hear something substantive. After all, politicians usually use Friday and Saturday to release news they don’t want heard. John McCain’s announcement that he had chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate was one notable exception, though some Republicans delusional enough to think McCain had a realistic chance of beating Obama now wish no one had noticed that announcement, either.

Speaking of Palin, one apparent problem with the “land of the midnight sun”: It is apparently impossible for some losing political candidates to “go softly into that good night,” even long enough for the winner to take office. To quote another Dylan Thomas line, Palin continues to “rage against the dying of the light”–the little red light indicating that a TV camera is on, that is.

Like it or not, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Palin, as she reportedly is considering requests from almost every media organization you’ve ever heard of. Palin has become the new Paris Hilton, and many of those media types undoubtedly are hoping she’ll say or do something dumb–as she did this week when, after “pardoning” a Thanksgiving turkey, she submitted to an interview while two other turkeys apparently were killed on camera behind her. The good news: They weren’t shot from a helicopter.

In the interview Palin also notes that she’s “in charge of the turkey” for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner, despite a recent pro-Palin ad campaign that touts moose stew as an alternative to the traditional bird. Below you can see Obama’s radio address, followed by the Palin story. Watch both, and reflect on how lucky we are that the right one will be in the White House.

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

Obama the conservative, America’s decline, and stock market yo-yo

Posted by James McPherson on November 21, 2008

Though only compulsive gamblers, business junkies and the masochists are following the day-to-day fluctuations of the stock market, those fluctuations have reminded us that the market sometimes seemingly jumps or dives for little apparent reason. A stray comment from the Fed chairman is enough to make the Dow act like a kid’s kite encountering wind shear.

Today CNN reports that today’s gains came apparently as a result of reports “that President-elect Barack Obama will nominate New York Federal Bank president Timothy Geithner as his new Treasury Secretary.” I don’t know anything about Geithner, and I’m increasingly convinced that no one knows much about the economy. But the suggestion that Obama’s possible actions can help the market do give some support to my earlier contention that his election might save the country from economic collapse.

On the other hand, seeing the conservative (even neoconservative) nature of Obama’s possible appointments–including, apparently, Hillary Clinton–I’m more inclined to see his presidency as another step in the decline of America’s power–not because he’s a Muslim, a Communist or a New Dealer, but because at heart he’s a conservative. For their part, Asians won’t be surprised by the power shift.

Monday update: Geithner is the guy–or one of them–and the market continues to boom under Obamamania. No one knows how long it will last. Probably just long enough for me to shift more of my retirement funds back to stocks.

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