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 December, 2009

Merry Christmas

Posted by James McPherson on December 24, 2009

From John Lennon & EMI Records:

Posted in History, Music, Politics, Religion, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The best Matt Damon/Morgan Freeman movie ever

Posted by James McPherson on December 14, 2009

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” is the theme of “The People Speak,” a film based on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Matt Damon was one of the film’s producers, and in the film Morgan Freeman read an 1852 Frederick Douglass speech, “”The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” Damon also reads from the Declaration of Independence.

Oh, you thought the headline referred to that other film out now? I hear it’s not bad, either, though I haven’t seen it yet. But I did watched the “The People Speak” on the History Channel last night. I was especially moved by Kerry Washington’s reading of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman,” Marisa Tomei’s reading of the memories of a factory striker, and David Strathairn’s words from an admiral about “good war.”

Less impressed, of course, are folks like David Horowitz and Michelle Malkin. For most folks, I suspect, the disapproval of those two immediately makes the film more credible, though I wonder if “Dirty Harry” Clint Eastwood knows he’s been hanging out with Communists.

Below is a video of a different, slightly longer Washington reading of  “Ain’t I a Woman?” from one of the traveling college readings. Zinn can also be seen in the video, along with some other people you may recognize.

Posted in Education, History, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hoving’s death a reminder of need for art–and marketing

Posted by James McPherson on December 11, 2009

Thomas Hoving, controversial former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, died yesterday. Because of what Hoving did for art, his death was deemed worthy of a front-page story in today’s print edition of the New York Times (and of  a story this morning on NPR’s “Morning Edition”). In what might be seen as a contradiction, as I write this the Times now prominently displays of its Web page a story questioning whether recent expenditures on art exhibit space around the country–expenditures that should be blamed at least in part on Hoving’s work with the Met–“ever made sense.”

I’ll let others answer that question about some of the more extravagant spaces, but as to the question of whether art deserves prominence in our society today, I definitely vote “yes.” In January when my wife and I took a dozen students to New York, the Met was one of the highlights–not just for us, but for the students. Some students admitted they didn’t expect to enjoy the museum, going because their friends went (it wasn’t a required stop) but all of them ended up spending several hours there.

I just finished walking through the newest academic building on my campus, the art building, where I viewed three-dimensional pieces that had been created to reflect of students’ worldviews. The small exhibit was inspiring–particularly considering the multiple hours students had put into work that few would ever see. Tonight I’ll attend an event at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, celebrating the opening of a new exhibit titled “Jumpin’ with the Big Bands.” In a bit of showmanship that Hoving might have enjoyed, the opening features a swing band (6 Foot Swing, whose lead singer, Heather O’Brien, also happens to be a former student of mine).

At the MAC I’ll also visit an exhibit titled “Art and People: Spokane Art Center and the Great Depression,” about the public works projects that employed artists and inspired others during the Depression. FDR knew that art mattered, and not just for the wealthy elites such as Thomas Hoving, even in tough times. Maybe especially in tough times.

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

Thank God It’s (almost) Christmas

Posted by James McPherson on December 10, 2009

We’ve had bitter cold temperatures here, and the weather has been even rougher in much of the nation. Shopping remains to be done and vacation plans made, at a time when many Americans suffer from economic hardships they’ve never known before. Meanwhile, people in other parts of the world have it even worse, and I’ve been thinking lately of the verse from Queen that goes,

Oh my love we’ve lived in troubled days
Oh my friend we have the strangest ways
All my friends on this one day of days
Thank God it’s Christmas

With that in mind, I offer the following along a few days early, with the brief heartfelt wish from the same song to “let it be Christmas ev’ry day”

Queen: Thank God It’s Christmas

Posted in Music, Personal, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poll puts Obama lower than Oslo’s temperature

Posted by James McPherson on December 9, 2009

Though often I wish that CNN would avoid editorializing and the sort of programming that I most disdain about Fox News and MSNBC (the departure of Lou Dobbs was a good step; if Nancy Grace and perhaps Jack Cafferty would follow Dobbs out the door I’d be even happier), I admit that I still appreciated the irony of this CNN lead today: “President Obama–fighting wars in two countries–will arrive in Norway on Thursday to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.”

The story also reminds us, “Nominations for the prize had to be postmarked by February 1, only 12 days after Obama took office. The committee sent out its solicitation for nominations last September, two months before Obama was elected president.” After last week, and especially since the number of Americans who think Obama deserves the prize has dropped below 20 percent, I wonder if the Nobel Committee would like a recount.

By the way, the expected low temperature for tomorrow in Oslo, where Obama will pick up the prize, is 26 degrees. The expected high is 32 degrees (right at freezing, though not as chilly as the reception he might get from former supporters when he campaigns for re-election). Come to think of it, many Americans may be thinking of traveling to Norway to warm up.

On the other hand, another 35 percent of those surveyed think it likely that Obama will eventually do enough to deserve the prize. Based on that thinking, with this semester nearing an end, perhaps I should assign final grades based on what I think students will someday achieve. But I can’t, since I keep telling them that actual performance matters and that actions have consequences.

Obama and the Democrats who let us think that poor Americans wouldn’t have to risk getting shot in Afghanistan to get a job or decent health care may find out in 2010 and 2012 just how much their actions matter.

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

Electronic Klansmen trying to make me famous

Posted by James McPherson on December 7, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Education, History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

‘Oh-bomb-a-nation’: Another chickenhawk president ‘Extenze’ a war

Posted by James McPherson on December 1, 2009

American commanders-in-chief apparently tend to have extremely small penises. I’m obviously in no position to know for sure (though perhaps Michaele Salahi is), but how else can you explain presidents’ unending need to prove their manhood through meaningless and ultimately counterproductive warfare?

Maybe it’s guilt, since recent presidents also have been “men” who managed to avoid military service themselves. Or maybe they feel shame because of their common inability to produce male offspring who might carry on the family name (or, in the case of George H. W. Bush, shame because of the males who will carry it on).

Whatever the reason, presidents do love their toy soldiers. And those soldiers generally remain willing to risk life, limb and marriage, guided by a combination of patriotism, presidential lies, and a lack of economic options (thanks in part to an economy hampered by war spending).

Instead of pulling his (Lyndon) Johnson, so to speak, to turn Afghanistan into another Vietnam, Obama should be pulling troops out of that unwinnable conflict. Through withdrawal he could be the first president since Jimmy Carter not to go out of his way to kill people to prove he’s a tough guy, and maybe in the process avoid being a one-term president. Of course we all know what a wuss Amy’s dad was.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »