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

Yes we can steal: We are the ones we’ve been plagiarizing

Posted by James McPherson on November 18, 2008

One of the drawbacks of an Internet world for teachers and historians like myself is how easy plagiarism is to commit–even accidentally, for someone who gathers lots of information and fails to adequately keep track of it all, thanks to the easy of copying and pasting.

Even more troubling is how little theft seems to matter to many of those who commit it, and the difficulty in explaining to students why it is wrong. Check out PlagiarismToday for some great insights on the subject.

Plagiarism scandals have embarrassed reporters (costing some their jobs) and historians and once helped end Joe Biden’s presidential bid. During his campaign, Barack Obama drew fire for using the words of Deval Patrick. Yet Obama’s two favorite phrases: “Yes we can” and “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” both orginated with others. Writing a Washington Post blog back in February, Garance Franke-Ruta traced at least part of the lineage of both phrases.

For me, the blog post also raises another question: At what point does something become “common knowledge”? “A penny saved is a penny earned” is a phrase that Congress and Americans in general seem to have forgotten, but no one using it would be expected to know where it came from. Nor did most folks question the origin of “lipstick on a pig,” even if they questioned its use.

And while I knew that evangelical Sojourners leader Jim Wallis used the phrase in his book God’s Politics and in speeches (attributing the phrase to a young activist), until I read Franke-Ruta’s article I had no idea how common it had become–or its connection to a 2004 Jane Fonda speech. The Internet continues to make my job both easier and more difficult.

Just for fun, here’s will.i.am’s pro-Obama anthem version of “We are the Ones,” with lots of celebrity faces:

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hillary Clinton & John McCain joining ‘Obamanation’–of course

Posted by James McPherson on November 17, 2008

With the presidential election barely over and Barack Obama’s inauguration still a couple of months away, the president-elect and his vanquished rivals apparently are well on their way to patching up their differences. Many of those differences weren’t all that large to begin with, since both Obama and Hillary Clinton are more conservative than many think (and Obama will govern even more conservatively, I think and fear), and the pre-campaign McCain was a bit more liberal than the grumpy old conservative he became on the campaign trail.

Still, Obama and John McCain were never good friends in the Senate, and McCain and Clinton probably remains surprised by their losses. Nonetheless, this coming together to achieve a peaceful transition of power is one of the things about American politics that makes our system so strong. It’s also a political necessity, which is why we so often find ourselves puzzled when former enemies–even terrorist enemies–somehow become friends.

Of course, practical bipartisanship (largely absent during the past eight years, so we’ll see what happens from here) also is what most surprises some of those in other countries most unaccustomed to Democracy, and what makes even some rabid partisans in this country a bit crazy. But the middle has again shown that it matters most, so for now let’s hope that the far left and the far right stew in their juices. And let the racists hang themselves.

Despite the fact that Obama has yet to take office and the economy continues to crash (for which Rush Limbaugh has managed to blame Obama, while he and other nutjobs on the right try to capitalize on the historical ignorance of the populace and blame Obama or Bill Clinton for pretty much everything) you can tell many things are returning to normal.

After all, one of the two most popular stories for today’s Huffington Post is a meaningless piece from the New York Daily News (in the “gossip section,” as if the newspaper is ever much else) about Diane Sawyer (who also sang a duet with noted newsman Stephen Colbert on “Good Morning America”) landing an interview with Eliot Spitzer hooker Ashley Dupre.

Next day update: Despite the added “a bit crazy” link added above, more evidence of the forgiving nature of American national politics comes with today’s news that Joe Lieberman–thanks to the support of Obama–will keep his Senate leadership post.

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

Avatar marriage, affair, divorce: the definition of ‘get a life’

Posted by James McPherson on November 15, 2008

A British couple is apparently divorcing because the woman accused her husband–supposedly loyal in real life–of having an online affair after the couple had a glitzy Second Life wedding. According to CNN, the woman used on avatar detective to track her husband’s activities, and she is now “in a relationship” with someone she “met” playing World of Warcraft.

Oh, the games people play.

Posted in Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Obamatech: the presidential radio address & the presidential ride

Posted by James McPherson on November 14, 2008

A few days ago I noted that Barack Obama had used the Internet better than any candidate before him. In the comments section, reporter and fellow blogger Jeremy Styron wrote that Obama might take his weekly presidential radio address to the Web (thanks, Jeremy). I noted then that the address also could be posted on YouTube.

That is indeed the case, according to a Washington Post story by Jose Antonio Vargas, who also points out: “President Bush, too, has updated WhiteHouse.gov, which offers RSS feeds, podcasts and videos of press briefings. The site’s Ask the White House page has featured regular online chats dating back to 2003, and President Bush hosted one in January after a Middle Eastern trip.” Who knew?

Regardless of the Bush technology advances, Obama is likely to use the Internet to help govern in ways never seen before, even if it doesn’t reach the level of “the Internet-era version of President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous ‘fireside chats’ between 1933 and 1944.” On the other hand, with a new Great Depression perhaps starting, those who can still afford high-speed Internet connections may get some of the same reassurance from Obama that FDR gave people gathered around their radios.

Maybe Obama will even be able to broadcast from the new presidential limo–especially if it’s parked next to the White House because there’s no fuel to run it. I wonder if he’ll get the new car if Congressal Democrats fail next week to bail out General Motors.

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

Blog makes two “top 100” lists: Thanks, readers (and CNN)

Posted by James McPherson on November 14, 2008

A couple of days ago my blog ended up on the WordPress Top 100 “growing blogs,” at least as high as number 71 (I only checked because someone had linked from there to my own site). Thanks to a link to CNN and Sarah Palin, yesterday’s post ended up among the top 100 posts of the day.

That’s cool, especially considering that I started this thing as a way of connecting with students and to learn more about the process. To all of you who have boosted the numbers, thank you. As long as it seems people are interested, I’ll keep writing.

Posted in Education, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Sarah suddenly ubiquitous; MSNBC falls for Palin hoax

Posted by James McPherson on November 13, 2008

Before the election, the press rarely got to speak with Sarah Palin. Now she seems to be on a campaign to have an “exclusive” interview with every talking head on television, while offering public addresses wherever possible. Perhaps the oddest note, so far: Palin decrying “extreme partisanship” just after telling Wolf Blitzer that she still had “concerns” about Barack Obama’s “affiliations” with a “domestic terrorist.”

Though I recognize that her rambling, folksy answers may be appealing to some parts of the base, for some of us the Palin road show is demonstrating why the campaign kept her under wraps. But even Republicans seem to be acknowledging that Palin should not be the leading voice of the GOP if their party is to recover from the devastation of a week ago Tuesday.

Still, Palin’s performance continues to be no worse than that of many in the media. Fox News is trumpeting an Associated Press story about MSNBC “retracting” a story stating that Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent. The story, bound to be highlighted on “The O’Reilly Factor” tonight, was a hoax designed to rely too quickly on “experts” with fancy titles, especially if the story supports already-held biases.

Naturally MSNBC is not highlighting the hoax story or its retraction (I couldn’t find any mention of it in an admittedly hurried search of the network’s Web site), and somehow II doubt that Keith Olbermann will make himself one of tonight’s “worst persons in the world.” The same hoax perpetrator has fooled the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic and Mother Jones.

Same day update: Here’s a New York Times story about the perpetrator of the hoax. The story points out that SourceWatch.org had identified the supposed source, “Martin Eisenstadt,” as a hoax months ago. Perhaps one of MSNBC’s interns can teach the news folks there how to do a Google search.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments »

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

Posted by James McPherson on November 11, 2008

Appropriately for today, the 90th anniversary of the ended of the supposed “war to end all wars,” CNN has has a story about American World War II vets who were held in a Nazi slave camp, and then forced by their own government to keep quiet about it for more than 60 years.

Meanwhile, at the same time this morning, the second story on Fox News Web site is titled, “GOP Rep. Claims Obama wants ‘Nazi’-Like Security Force.” That’s the sort of hyperbole that gives Fox its good reputation among thinkers, of course, but also the kind of language used all too frequently by operatives of all political stripes for whom “Nazi” is a favorite fallback term for anyone who disagrees with them.

Most importantly, though, that is the kind of language that throughout American history men, and increasing numbers of women (remember when conservatives opposed letting women be killed in battle?), have fought and died to protect. Even though after 9/11 some “patriots” suggested that critics of the nation should just shut up, and President Bush suggested shopping as a way the non-soldiers among us could fight terrorism, most of us recognize that free speech is among the most important gifts our military protects.

Unfortunately presidents are all too willing to call upon that military to engage in stupid misadventures abroad. Those in the military then sacrifice so that others can shop and spew nonsense. In the words of Carl Sandburg, “And They Obey.” Today, let’s thank them. Better yet, let’s revitalize our efforts to reduce the likelihood that in the future we’ll be remembering new waves of them after their deaths.

Below, see a Pete Seeger medley of American war songs, and a video of Bruce Springsteen doing a live version of Seeger’s “Bring Them Home“:

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

Nothin’ but ‘Net’: Obama, the Web and the White House

Posted by James McPherson on November 10, 2008

Barack Obama won the presidency in part because his campaign used the Internet so well to raise money and connect with supporters. As a senator, he sponsored the law that meant any of us could see online where many of our federal tax dollars are being spent.

Now Obama is taking the presidential transition to the Web, with a new Internet site. A lot of talking heads have been discussing how this presidency could be a tranformational one in the same way that Ronald Reagan’s was, because of its effect on the youth vote. Young people who voted for Reagan tended to continue voting Republican. Democrats obviously hope that young Obama voters will stay with their party.

So far, Obama is doing the right things to keep those voters. How he performs after moving into the White House, of course, will matter most. For my part, after seven years of Bush/Cheney secrecy, I am encouraged by glimmers that Obama favors more openness in public policy. But I also know that Obama ran a tightly controlled campaign, and presidents tend to be bigger fans of secrecy when it’s their own secrets they’re keeping under wraps.

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

Off to Moscow (Idaho, of course)–come say hello

Posted by James McPherson on November 10, 2008

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll guest lecture at the University of Idaho, from which my wife, daughter, father, brother, sister, sister-in-law and son-in-law all have degrees. Yes, we’re an overeducated family, especially considering our history–though I didn’t attend UI, my brother and I both have doctorates, and my wife, father, sister and sister-in-law each have at least one master’s degree.

After the lecture from 5:30 to 7 p.m. I’ll read and sign books at BookPeople of Moscow, one of my favorite bookstores (along with Powell’s in Portland, Auntie’s in Spokane, and the Elliot Bay Book Co. in Seattle). Of course I’m also fond of the Borders Books in North Spokane, which invited me to do my first reading and treated me very well.

Posted in Education, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The force isn’t with CNN’s ‘holograms’

Posted by James McPherson on November 9, 2008

Obviously no news organization should fake the news. I also have serious reservations about “re-creations” sometimes used–especially, it seems, to dramatize the murders of attractive young women–to demonstrate what happened (or may have happened), typically with shadowy, shaky camera work and mood-inspiring music added.

Use of technology to report the weather is somewhat different. In that case, graphics on a green screen enhance the viewer’s ability to understand what’s going on. Election maps and various charts and graphs can do the same thing for a news organization’s ability to explain the news.

And while election night is a time when the networks like to bring out the toys, CNN went too far with its use of “holograms” (actually “tomograms”) that “chatted” with Wolf Blitzer (who sometimes doesn’t seem quite real, himself, but that’s a separate issue) and Anderson Cooper. As the Poynter Institute’s Amy Gahran notes, “This particular tool added absolutely nothing to the substance of the coverage–and thus, it became a mere stunt that trivialized CNN’s coverage.” (italics and bold type in original)

The problem is that Blitzer and Cooper were talking to blank space, rather than to actual images of correspondent Jessica Yellin and rapper Will.I.Am. Why not just use a traditional video screen? As for Yellin, who referenced Princess Leia (Will.I.Am also made a “Star Wars” reference), according to a CNN article, “Now, in hindsight, Yellin only wishes she could have come up with a better ‘Star Wars’ joke.”

You can see clips of the CNN experiment below, followed by a clip that explains some of the technology:

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