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 April, 2009

Pigs now fly: journalism at two levels

Posted by James McPherson on April 28, 2009

You may die. Today. Or, if you’re exposed to swine flu today, maybe next week. Especially if you’re in Mexico City, the 20-million-person “epicenter” of the potential pandemic, where swine flu is “suspected” in 152 deaths, which means the virus may have wiped out almost eight-one-thousandths of one percent of one third-world city’s population.

Gee, I haven’t been this frightened since the last bird flu pandemic, which I suspect killed your entire family. Bad enough that Lou Dobbs told me all the Mexicans wanted to give me leprosy while the druglords kill all my friends in Arizona. Now this.

And yes, I know that influenza can be deadly. All in all, though, you’re still more likely to die by choking on your sandwich today at lunch. But CNN’s top three stories right now (unless you count the White House plane that buzzed New York) are about swine flu.

The main reason for today’s special post, however, if to call your attention to a more responsible form of journalism than much of what we’ve been seeing in the national media. The Whitworthian has just won a number of regional Society of Professional Journalists awards, claiming the top prizes for online journalism, feature writing, general column writing, sports column writing, feature photography and editorial cartooning (for which it also won third prize). It placed second for “best all-around non-daily newspaper.”

The Whitworth student newspaper (which I happen to advise, but it is a totally student-run operation so they deserve all the credit) also recently was named one of 20 finalists for an American Collegiate Press Online Pacemaker Award. The Pacemakers are as good as it gets in college journalism.

The Whitworthian of today offers a lead story about an apparent hate crime near campus and is in the middle of an excellent series about pornography, and this week launches the most ambition project I’ve ever seen conducted by a student journalist–a multi-part multimedia package about gender issues produced by online editor Jasmine Linabary.

So now I’ll duck away from posting for yet another unknown period. But I’m proud to have recognition of some of my top students at the top of my blog. And if you want to read more from them, besides reading the Whitworthian, check out the blogs of this year’s editor-in-chief Joy Bacon, online editor (and last year’s editor-in-chief) Jasmine Linabary, photo editor Derek Casanovas (who blogs about sports), sports editor Danika Heatherly (who doesn’t blog about sports), prize-winning columnist Tim Takechi, and next year’s editor-in-chief Morgan Feddes.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Best of the blog: 50 favorite posts (plus a few)

Posted by James McPherson on April 22, 2009

With yesterday’s post, I offered my reasons for ceasing regular blogging for the foreseeable future. But with more than 300 posts in the past year, it’s likely that you’ve missed a number of them. I’ll post a “top 50” list below, and will continue update the links on the right side of this page.

Since my first post, in which I predicted success for Barack Obama (not yet then the Democratic nominee) and problems for John McCain, a number of my posts have focused on topics of relatively short-term interest. Those include my June suggestions for whom Obama and McCain should select as running mates: More than two months before they made their choices, I suggested Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

I predicted that despite their self-pitying self-righteousness and their ability to draw media attention, neither religious conservatives nor pseudo-liberal PUMAs would have much impact on the election. I anticipated that Hillary Clinton would fully support Obama, as she and Bill Clinton did. As a result, on the day that McCain took the lead in the polls for the first time two months before the presidential election, I predicted that Obama would win the election handily.

I’ve noted the passing of singer/storytellers Utah Phillips and Dan Seals, journalists (defining the term broadly) Robin Toner,  Tim Russert and Tony Snow, pinup queen Bettie Page, and various newspapers. Many of my posts were less timely, however, and have ongoing relevance. Fifty of my favorites can be found below. Enjoy.

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Twittering while Rome burns

Where the dead white girls are

Catholics and conservatives campaign against mythical threats

Family values

Is the worshipper beside you a heathen–or a spy?

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

Bettie Page & Robin Toner: Two women who made media history

Gadgets create more ‘reporters’–and fewer journalists?

Post #200 of a stupid, outdated idea

Death and dancing, faith and journalism

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

Civil disobedience might bring national redemption

Save the economy by ending welfare to Republicans

MTV: Moronic TeleVision

Beating the Bushies to investigate war crimes

Journalism and blogging: Printing what’s known vs. what isn’t

Want to become a convicted sex offender? There’s an app for that

If you’re going to write anything stupid in the future, don’t come to my class

As Bush people approach endangered species status, scientists find other rats, vipers and creepie crawlers

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

Ignorance and the electorate

Stimulus prompts cartoonish monkey business

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

‘Killer American Idol’: Mass murder no surprise, more likely to come

Speaking for the poor

Uneasy riders: Yen and the lack of motorcycle company maintenance

Barbie’s birthday bash

Sexism & feminism make women winners & losers?

Media organizations: Why you should hire my journalism students

Valuable lessons on ‘whom you know’ and on being in the right place at the right time in NY and DC

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Can a Christian lesbian Latina superhero save us?

Asteroid nearly wipes out Earth, international space station threatened, San Diego nearly destroyed in nuclear meltdown

Headaches, hot air and hell on earth

Killing youth

‘What’s happenin’ here?’ The news ain’t exactly clear: How to keep up with what’s going on, and why

Literary journalism & the Web: the newest “new journalism”? (Part II)

To Obamas, a reminder that familiarity can breed contempt

Homeland Insecurity: Need a passport quickly? Get a fake one

GOP doing Limbaugh Limbo; how low they can go to be ‘rest of the story’

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Thanks to Cruella economy, Grumpy’s attitude finally justified

Culture warriors were dreaming of a really white Christmas; others get coal in their stockings

Merry Christmas! Twelve YouTube Christmas videos

Christmas killers, foreign & domestic: More proof the world looks better from a distance

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

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Music, Personal, Poetry, Politics, Religion, Science, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Blogosphere of flying: Leaving cyberspace to become more grounded

Posted by James McPherson on April 21, 2009

Yesterday I gave some of the  reasons why I have enjoyed maintaining this blog, and what might tempt me to continue it (and the nice responses I’ve already had to that post make it even more tempting). I also noted that tomorrow’s post, to be mostly a list of previous favorites, may be my last. (Despite the fact that, as my brother reminded me, I said in passing back in December that I’d be blogging “as long as the power was on.” But hey, Bush and Cheney were still in the White House then; who knew we would  still have affordable energy four months later?)

Anyway, today I’ll explain why I’m at least partially leaving cyberspace. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the biggest reason is the time involved. I loved how one respondent put it yesterday: “the beast that is online journalism,” even though what I do usually isn’t quite journalism.

On some days I have spent hours crafting a blog post that very few people would ever read. Oddly, by far my most popular post (in one-day numbers, not overall) was a four-paragraph piece I wrote in about 15 minutes just before going to bed one night. I typically spend anywhere from five to 15 hours a week doing this. During the past year I’ve written more than 300 posts, and have probably produced more words than were in my first and second books combined.

That’s time that I can now spend doing other things, including other writing. During the past year I have managed to write chapters for the country’s leading journalism history textbook and a forthcoming book about popular culture, but have other more personal projects in mind (including the books of fiction I mentioned yesterday). I might try to rework my doctoral dissertation into a book, if I find a publisher interested in the story of Samuel Day Jr. (the publisher of the Progressive during the 1979 H-bomb case).

I also have at least three other books I’d like to write–one that combines history, politics and journalism (the three areas that I studied for my Ph.D. and which of course also led to my most recent book), and a couple that would be exercises in literary nonfiction. Chances are I’ll also write more letters to the editor of my local newspaper, assuming it survives, and will continue to contribute comments to other people’s blogs. Though I don’t expect it, perhaps I’ll get an “offer I can’t refuse” to write something yet unforeseen.

Aside from writing, I might also get more exercise, play more golf, do more camping and fishing, watch more Seattle Mariners games, or spend more time doing nothing while sitting by the small pond I built in my back yard–mostly things that have the extra benefit of giving me more time with my wife.

Other activities that we or I have barely tried, but have enjoyed and might pursue further, include learning Spanish, kayaking, chess, ballroom dancing, and  learning to play blues harmonica. In short, I won’t live long enough to run out of things to do, even if I suddenly stop finding new interests.

In terms of teaching and technology, I intend to keep learning about it for the sake of (and from) my students. In a comment on yesterday’s post, one outstanding student noted, “I’m interested to hear about the ways you will hope to continue to show that to students if you are not blogging.” (That’s something else I should have thought to mention yesterday about reasons for blogging–it helps keep me accountable to the people I’m working for.)

A year has been long enough to learn what I felt I needed to learn about intensive blogging, and I intend to keep finding new ways of learning along with new ways of teaching. That’s also why a few years ago I briefly hosted a radio program. I never expected to become either a radio celebrity or an Internet star, but I greatly enjoyed both, and in both cases the learning experience was a main point of the activity.

Among the possibilities I’m now exploring are public access television, another radio program, and ways that I might incorporate technology into the aforementioned literary nonfiction projects. In the classroom, I’m bringing in more multimedia, and am seeking funding for flipcams to use in my reporting class. I also would welcome suggestions from any of you for ways to continue to improve my (and my students’) skills.

I do think it is important to try to recognize what you’re trying to achieve with an endeavor, and then to move on to something else when you either get reach your goal or realize that you never will. Of course that’s the same thinking that went into my fighting to get to–and then to get away from–the Presidential Inauguration back in January, and why I strongly dislike the fact that politicians are accused of “flip-flopping” if they change strategies as circumstances change.

If I chose to keep with blogging, readership might have continued to rise. Over the past 12 weeks, I’m averaging more than 180 hits per day, but like most other bloggers I reached fewer readers in a year of blogging than I did in a week of newspaper writing. Yet despite the small readership, my natural competitiveness sometimes makes me take this too seriously. I admit that I check the daily traffic, and want it to keep increasing.

The positive aspect of my competitive streak  is that if I’m putting something “out there,” I want to be able to stand by it and take some pride in it. I’m more careful when writing an argument than when I engage in verbal exchanges. That awareness of “public vs. private” is also why I now make my reporting students post their work on a blog to be read by people other than just them and me.

And speaking of being more thoughtful: I’m a feminist male who was a teenager in the 1970s and who now teaches a “women and media” class, so yes, the Erica Jong reference in the title above was intentional. Those of you who are teaching or majoring in psychology, gender studies, or English lit can now feel free to start your analysis engines.

Besides having other things I want to do (and probably for the sake of continued growth, need to do), I also recognize that there’s already too much hastily written stuff whirling around cyberspace–and no shortage of people writing about the same topics I do. Many of them are idiots, of course–but many others are smarter than I am. Links to several of them can be found on this page, though I’d also encourage you to find some favorites of your own. I’d also remind you not to fully believe any of them.

I briefly considered trying to open the blog up to advertising as a further media experiment, but don’t want to feel obligated to write (even if I have been somewhat obsessive about doing so even without pay). Besides, despite the fact that for years it provided my salary, I hate most forms of advertising. I can’t imagine working hard enough at this to make a living at it, even if I didn’t already have a “real job” that I love.

I will keep the blog alive (as long as the power is on, brother Guy), and may occasionally feel moved to post something. I’ll keep using blogs as a part of my journalism classes, and will encourage students to create their own. I’ll keep reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, including those of professional journalists, academics, students and former students.

Of course if you enjoy my writing, I’d encourage you to read my books, especially the less-academic second one titled, The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right. Or just fire me off an note–if you care enough to find my email address (hint: check “About the blogger”) and send me something, I’ll answer it.

Even if I don’t write more posts, I’ll keep the blog so that I (and others) can keep using  some of the pieces I’ve written during the past year, and especially to provide easy access to the links I’ve put together. I’ll continue to add to those links from time to time as I encounter relevant sites in the ever-expanding blogosphere.

Thank you for joining me on part of my journey. I hope you enjoy your future travels in cyberspace, wherever they may take you.

     Peace,

                                         Jim McPherson

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Blogosphere and loathing in academia: To blog or not to blog

Posted by James McPherson on April 20, 2009

I created this blog it to try to reach students in a new way while learning some new technological skills and sharing information about two subjects in which I have some expertise. This Wednesday will be the one-year anniversary of the day I started blogging. It also may be my last day.

The blog has proven to be a valuable method for saving Internet links and ideas that I use in teaching and other writing, and to help students (and at least a few professionals) access some useful tools. I’ve been able to share a lot of information and some skills achieved through this experiment that I, and therefore my students, might not otherwise have picked up. An unexpected side benefit is that it actually seemed to boost my credibility–my “cool factor,” as one student put it–with some of those students.

All in all, my year of blogging has been a great experience–interesting, useful and usually fun. I would recommend it to about any teacher, in any academic discipline (though posting weekly might be more rational than my almost-daily approach).

But I’ve decided to step away from regular blogging, and this seems like a logical time. Tomorrow I’ll offer more details about why I’m quitting–or at least cutting back considerably–and Wednesday I’ll offer a list of my previous favorites, in case you want to check out any you’ve missed. Today I’ll note some of the things I’ve most appreciated about doing this.

Though I’ve tried to make the vast majority of my posts about media and politics rather than about me, please forgive this departure into the personal. Feel free to skip this post (and tomorrow’s), but if you’re a fellow academic or media professional interested in some of the reasons you may or may not want to actively participate in the blogosphere, you may want to read on.

After spending a few days at a Poynter Institute workshop and talking to some other professors and journalists about the idea, I wrote my first blog post (a prediction of success for Barack Obama and potential problems for John McCain) last April. But I’ve decided that one year (and more than 300 posts) is enough. And though I’ve been thinking about it for some time (and mentioned it in passing here a couple of weeks ago), my decision caught even my wife by surprise.

By the way, if you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that I never use her name. She actually appreciates a level of anonymity on the Web and elsewhere, as difficult as that may be to believe in this viral, egocentric, Twitterific, in-your-Facebook, screw-YouTube, blogtastic culture.

Like me, my wife has mixed emotions about my decision to step away from the biosphere… er, blogosphere (and no, the two are not synonymous). She’s happy that I’ll be a bit less compulsive about doing this (and of course will believe it when she sees it), but a bit disappointed that I won’t be sharing my ideas (most of which she likes) so regularly. At least I think that was the mixture of her emotions, and not the other way around–that she’s glad not to feel obligated to read so much of what I write, but unhappy that I may have more free time with her.

Her surprise at my decision came because she knew that I wasn’t bored with or burned out from blogging. In fact,  in some respects it energizes me. I feel more connected with the professional worlds of media and politics, and in some ways more connected with my students.

I’m not stopping because I dislike the writing. Like George Orwell and many others, I knew early in life that I would be a writer, and I love to write in varied ways. My published works include a couple of books, several book chapters, and articles in academic journals, newspapers and magazines. As-yet-unpublished works include a book of short fiction and a partially finished novel.

I love how words work, what Orwell called “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another.” I amuse myself, if not others, with a creative headline or turn of phrase (I hope you didn’t need to read the first five words of today’s headline out loud to get it), giving proof to Orwell’s statement, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”

Though I’d been warned about “trolls” and other crazies who might find me, and some did, but I’ve never worried much about criticism and frankly I’ve greatly enjoyed most of my interactions with people here (and on other people’s blogs). I take pride in the fact that even when I know I’ll offend people, I try to do it in a thoughtful way that encourages dialogue rather than closing it off. I try to do the same elsewhere, as well: At least one conservative blogger has me linked as the one liberal alternative on his site, as a result of our online discussions.

Via this blog I’ve “met” students who have never taken one of my classes, and have engaged in “discussions” with a number of professional journalists as well as with other bloggers. I’ve been enriched by all those who comment, and am especially grateful for the regulars such as Gabrielle, Luis, Zelda, Grady and Mike (at least two of whom disagree with me more often than they agree).

A few people have been very offended, of course. Blatantly stupid or offensive remarks have come from both conservatives and liberals. At least one parent of a college student has suggested that I be fired from my job as a professor–but the reaction he received from other readers who came to my defense was one of the highlights of my blogging experience.

The professional and student connections I made quickly helped me overcome some fears that blogging might somehow detract from my teaching. I don’t personally know many other faculty bloggers, and though there are some out there this is not a well-tested pedagogical approach.

I did have someone ask me how this might affect my future promotion possibilities, especially since my opinions often run counter to those of many  administrators, donors, students and parents associated with the institution where I teach. My wife chuckled at that question (which she wasn’t surprised that I hadn’t even considered), remembering what she used to call my “continuing efforts to avoid tenure.”

After all, since long before I started blogging I’ve been writing strong opinions in local newspapers, participating in political panel discussions, and joining political protests. More recently, I wore a black armband daily for several weeks to protest and mourn the Iraq War.

Along with a variety of media history artifacts, my office is decorated with items such as a large “No War” yard sign, a poster showing the 1963 March on Washington, a large 48-star American flag, a poster of a controversial Artis Lane lithograph of the Statue of Liberty, a stuffed “George W. Bush pants-on-fire doll,” and a framed copy of the 1979 “H-bomb” issue of the Progressive that led to what should have been a key First Amendment case. (I say “should have been,” because by the time the case was decided, as I’ve noted in both my first and second books, the mainstream media had mostly  given up engaging in the sorts of activities that the First Amendment was designed to protect.)

I do think that the fact that I have been tenured and promoted, and that this blog has actually been mentioned in the university’s alumni magazine, speaks well for the administration and the values of my institution–which a couple of years ago granted me one of its highest teaching awards. Yet most of my students disagree with me politically (further reflecting the idiocy of the “indoctrination” arguments made by David Horowitz and others like him), and those who disagree with me most strenuously tend to be among the students I tend to like most (yes, like parents, teachers have their favorites, and like parents we try to hide it).

I also am not ceasing blogging because I’m in danger of running out of ideas. I typically have parts of more than a dozen drafts under way. Some entries I quickly write and posted on one sitting. Others (including this one) I work on half a dozen times over a space of days or weeks before posting. Some I never finished, and they were eventually discarded or just forgotten in my “drafts” bin. Others I went back to after extended periods of thought or after an event suddenly makes them seem more timely.

So there are some of the reasons why I have reservations about stepping away from this year-long educational exercise. Tomorrow’s post will explain why it is time to do so.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Bye, Bye Miss American Spy

Posted by James McPherson on April 18, 2009

American journalist Roxana Saberi, a former Miss North Dakota, has been sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison after she was convicted in a secret court proceeding of being a spy. Saberi was working as a freelancer for National Public Radio at the time, and also has filed reports for Fox News and the BBC, according to one report.

The U.S. State Department, the Committee to Protect Journalists and NPR all have voiced concerns about the case. Saberi’s father said her testimony had been coerced, and that the sentence would be appealed.  Naturally I can’t logically weigh in about Saberi’s guilt or innocence–and neither can anyone else, because of the secrecy and obvious political bias involved.

In other words, a political and legal situation like the one offered in the United States by the Bush administration (including its treatment of foreign journalists such as Sami al-Hajj). And of course Bush did so much to promote good relations with Iran.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 31 Comments »

John McCain, torture MIA

Posted by James McPherson on April 17, 2009

John McCain’s campaign manager told fellow Republicans today that conservatives should support gay marriage, and that the party had been co-opted by the Religious Right. McCain himself recently insulted Sarah Palin, his own vice presidential choice, on national television.

No wonder his boss had trouble winning over conservatives, and these incidents remind me that I once was a McCain fan. Then I became so disgusted with McCain’s presidential campaign, which seemed to be mostly a series of  desperate “Hail Mary” passes that sent him lurching farther and farther to the right, that frankly I recently wished I’d never have to hear from him again.

And yet, today I do. A day after the Obama administration released proof that the Bush administration had indeed endorsed torture–and at the same time announced that it would not punish the torturers–I want to hear the views of torture victim John McCain on this issue.

Does McCain agree with Rush Limbaugh that torture, at least to the extent we know so far was done by Americans (my bet is there will be more and worse to report) was justified, and that a worse crime was in fact Obama’s release of the torture memos?

“My God, we’ve just shown our enemies what we do! We’ve just given away the effective elements of our techniques here,” said Limbaugh. “What he’s done now is, if we’re hit again, he owns it.  If we’re hit again, President Obama owns it.”

Limbaugh also implied that even McCain supported his view–even if the former torture victim himself might not be smart enough to know it: “The idea that torture doesn’t work, that’s been put out from John McCain on down.  McCain for the longest time said torture didn’t work, and then he admitted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last summer that he was broken by the North Vietnamese, so what are we to think here?”

That’s a good question, actually. Once we thought we knew the answer, as demonstrated by the three clips below (I appreciate the part of the second when McCain had no way of knowingly that he was comparing the Bush administration to Pol Pot).

There is no issue on which McCain should have more credibility than that of torture. As he reminded us thousands of time during the campaign, he has seen it, felt it, and lives daily with its effects. So here’s my plea to McCain:

Senator, the presidential campaign left us as confused about where you stand as it seemed to leave you. So please–and God knows, I can’t imagine asking again–let us hear from you now, before the nutballs can froth at the mouth for another day.

If your resounding defeat has restored your principles and your soul, let us know, so we can all start the process of rebuilding your reputation. And if you remain tortured by an inability to recognize the American values you once heralded, please, again, just go away.

Next day update: ThinkProgress and Huffington Post demonstrate how Limbaugh distorted McCain’s words, and offer video of Limbaugh’s quotes. We’re still waiting to hear from McCain.

Sunday update: In a headline that surely wasn’t accidental, the CNN Wire offers this: “Former CIA head slams Obama.” Get it? Head slams? The released memos show that slamming a suspect’s head against a wall was considered an appropriate means of interrogation. And we’re still waiting to hear from McCain.

Sunday update #2: What I didn’t know, and can barely believe considering how his admitted cluelessness about technology may have hurt him in the campaign, is that John McCain is now on Twitter.

If McCain really writing and sending the tweets (and I have doubts), that means there’s even less excuse for his silence about the torture memos. The most recent tweet, as of now, from 23 hours ago: “Chavez’s book–best cure for insomnia!!” Yes, with two exclamation points. Cute, but of course irrelevant.

Monday update: We now know that the CIA waterboarded suspects–in one case, apparently 183 times–and that the agency lied about it. You might want to check out this “tortured history” of the practice from NPR.

In the meantime, four minutes ago John McCain Twittered, “Turn on FOX News now! – Joe Lieberman and I are doing an interview with Jane Skinner.” He remains silent on the latest torture revelations, however. Maybe Skinner will ask him about it.

Tuesday update: Americans are split on torture, meaning they don’t know what to think, while paragon of evil Dick Cheney–who for most of us didn’t have any credibility even before he started his years-old campaign of lying about the Iraq War that would make him richer–continues to spew garbage. We seem to be hearing more from him now than when he was in office.

So, could McCain help? Maybe a little, if people listened closely enough. He finally did speak yesterday to Fox–somewhat contradicting himself with his own statement (basically saying, “Torture is bad; talking about torture is bad) and refusing to clarify it later. But clearly did say that the fact that America has tortured prisoners has helped our enemies, serving “as a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.” Thanks, John.

Wednesday update: Today we find that Condi Rice and probably Dick Cheney approved the waterboarding. I wrote more than a month ago that Cheney should be tortured; now it appears that Rice should be, too. We’ve probably had presidential administrations that were as inept as the Bush people, but I wonder if we’ve ever had a group that was as evil.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Homeland insecurity: DHS chief apologizes for something Bush appointee did right

Posted by James McPherson on April 16, 2009

Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano felt obligated to apologize to veterans today, reflecting a remarkable shift in national politics. We no longer have a presidential administration that is incapable of apologizing for–or even admitting–obvious blunders (though of course, “We’re sorry we were wrong about the weapons” won’t bring back thousands of dead Iraqi children). Instead, we have an administration that apologizes when it has done nothing wrong.

The apology came in reaction to a Department of Homeland Security report titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” The American Legion, various ill-informed bloggers, talk radio hosts, Fox News (surprise!) and others immediately and misleadingly feigned offense (while Fox also offered Web page front-page segments about”Porn Stars and Puppies,” “Bubble Baths in Tiaras,” and “10 Cuddly Cougars“).

Many conservatives have taken offense because Homeland Security has been doing part of its job–assessing threats. Perhaps I’ve forgotten, but I don’t remember similar complaints from conservatives about reports that cited threats from left-wing extremism in 2001 or in March of this year. Furthermore, I also haven’t seen any of the whiners point out the fact that the latest report came from a division headed by Roger Mackin, a Bush-administration appointee who contributed more than $4,500 to Republicans during the last presidential campaign.

Critics falsely complain that the report demonizes veterans while targeting virtually anyone who opposes abortion or illegal immigration. I fact, it mentions abortion exactly twice, once in a footnote and once in a historical note. For the record, the first reference states: “Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”

The other, historical, note states in full: “Paralleling the current national climate, rightwing extremists during the 1990s exploited a variety of social issues and political themes to increase group visibility and recruit new members. Prominent among these themes were the militia movement’s opposition to gun control efforts, criticism of free trade agreements (particularly those with Mexico), and highlighting perceived government infringement on civil liberties as well as white supremacists’ longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion, inter-racial crimes, and same-sex marriage. During the 1990s, these issues contributed to the growth in the number of domestic rightwing terrorist and extremist groups and an increase in violent acts targeting government facilities, law enforcement officers, banks, and infrastructure sectors.”

Immigration gets a bit more attention in the report, though again mostly in a historical context. And anyone with even a modest knowledge of history should be able to recognize that immigrants (legal and illegal) have been a common target of hate groups throughout history (and throughout the world). The supposed “anti-veteran” comments are equally weak, despite Napolitano’s need to apologize today.

The key point is this: Saying that some hate groups use abortion and immigration to justify their actions is in no way synonymous with saying that anyone opposed to abortion or illegal immigration is a terrorist. That would be like saying that because some terrorists are Muslims, all Muslims are terrorists. And I know that conservatives would never suggest such a thing.

Incidentally, the Obama administration should apologize for something else that it did do today, related to terrorism: It announced that CIA torturers will never be prosecuted.

Sunday update: Something else the Obama administrations should apologize for is announcing that it will keep Bush administration secrets regarding domestic spying. Unlike the DHS report that has people up in arms, that electronic spying, by either administration, is something that should worry all of us.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

Subjects of history and economics too taxing for tea party organizers

Posted by James McPherson on April 15, 2009

age-of-reason2Conservatives are waging “tea parties” today to protest Barack Obama’s economic policies. Protests are scheduled around the country for those who want to complain visibly about their taxes–or at least those few people who aren’t at work during the day and who aren’t frantically spending their day trying to actually file their taxes by midnight tonight.

Though of course I’m happy to see political protests–and to see them covered by the news media–to call today’s protests a “grassroots movement” is somewhat silly. After all, Fox News has been promoting them for weeks. Like other conservative organizations, Fox uses the “movement” to suggest that their side is “catching up” with liberals in their use of technology. And always mindful of the benefits of fear-mongering paranoia, Fox also warns of a potential “liberal backlash,” leading one story with this: “What would a party be without party poopers?” The story manages to get fictional ACORN threat in by the third paragraph. There’s “fair and balanced” for you.

Other ironies surrounding the event stem from the fact that conservatives typically benefit more from taxes than do liberals, the fact that untold numbers of today’s protests (including the one in my city) will be held at facilities paid for through taxes, and the fact that many of those who complain the loudest actually pay relatively little while many of those who pay the highest rates view doing so as patriotic. And speaking of patriots, journalist/blogger Jeremy Styron (who is not opposed to tweaking Fox News, himself) is among those who has pointed out the historical ignorance of many modern conservatives who keep using Thomas Paine as a model.

Paine believed that everyone had a right to free land (“socialism”?), and tended to be anti-religious. He also believed in a large inheritance taxes (what modern conservatives have managed to denegrate as “the death tax”), because he didn’t believe in royalty or pseudo-royalty like that created by unearned, handed-down wealth. Paine also favored various kinds of so-called “welfare,” including (but not limited to) public works, maternity benefits, free public elementary education, old-age pensions, and aid to poor people.

Speaking of conservatives who happen to be ignorant, Glenn Beck has even apparently turned his understanding of Paine into a stand-up comedy act. Beck calls himself a “poor-man’s Seinfeld,” which is pretty funny in itself considering he makes $10 million per year on his radio program alone–not counting his Fox salary. I’ve actually recognized that Beck was hilarious for some time, though I didn’t realize he was in on the joke. Unfortunately, neither do most of the people in his audience.

Beck and other conservatives who insist on referencing Paine should at least consult The Age of Reason. And maybe an online dictionary, so they’ll understand why so many other people have trouble keeping a straight face when they hear conservatives repeatedly using the phrase “tea bagging.”

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

Something you’ve seen before

Posted by James McPherson on April 14, 2009

fake-newspaper-clipping4You probably haven’t seen the exact headline contained on the newspaper clipping here, though perhaps you would expect to by now.

Though it won’t win me a “Webby” (not to poke fun at the awards, since PBS, NPR and FactCheck.org have all been among the winners), for my 300th post I thought I’d do something a little different–or pretty much the same, as has become the case for much of American journalism.

I wrote the original post contained in the “clipping” here back on April 1. Sadly, unlike my other post of the same day, the information here is all too real.

You can make up your own fake clippings (or many other items, such as the one below) at the Clipping Generator. clapperboard-2

Posted in History, Journalism, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »