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 January, 2010

Obama steps into lions’ den

Posted by James McPherson on January 29, 2010

I’ve noted previously that I’ve thought Barack Obama has spent too much time talking to too many groups, while accomplishing too little. But today’s session with House Republicans, captured on live television (except on Fox, which bailed early), was the most compelling political television I’ve seen in a while.

I’d like to see meetings of this sort become a monthly occurrence with both the House and the Senate–perhaps with a leading Republican standing before his Democratic colleagues in the same fashion. Unlike the warped Senate “filibuster” process in which no one has to take responsibility for perpetuating the “politics of no,” television used in this way lets us see and weigh arguments by those whom we elect–not just by those who pay for them.

It’s an idea that John McCain has favored in the past, so perhaps he’ll promote it. Oh, yeah–that was the 2008 McCain. Who knows what today’s version thinks?

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Born Again American offers Leary patriotism

Posted by James McPherson on January 26, 2010

Almost as if in answer to my post yesterday about where the power currently lies in America (hint: not with the people), today I received a link to an interesting video and Web site, both titled “Born Again American.”

Because of its religious-sounding title and because the link came to me from a generally conservative source, and because the video sounds like a country song and includes the words “my bible and the Bill of Rights,” I almost dismissed it fairly quickly as just another bit of right-wing propaganda. That dismissal would have been a mistake, though I do have mixed emotions about the group’s focus because of how easily patriotism sometimes seems to drift into xenophobia, and because I suspect so many listeners will hear “my bible” as “the Bible.”

As it turns out, the organization was founded by noted liberal Norman Lear, who produced “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Maude” (among other programs) on television and helped found the Civil Liberties-devoted organization, People for the American Way (which includes a “Right Wing Watch“). The singers on the collaborative “Born Again American” video include a Muslim, a Jewish cantor and the Harlem Gospel Choir. Performers include several whites and blacks, at least two Latino Americans and one Chinese-American. (Perhaps notably, however, there seem to be no Native Americans.)

According to the Web site, Born Again Americans “is committed to the rebirth and re-expression of citizenship through informed and thoughtful activism. It is an initiative of Declare Yourself, a national non-partisan, non-profit (501(c)3) organization dedicated to increasing young voter participation and civic involvement.”

I’ll post the video below, but still encourage you to check out the Web site for yourself. There’s good information for both supposed liberals and conservatives who care about civil liberties and citizen activism.

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

It’s only money: Another reminder of how little your voice matters

Posted by James McPherson on January 25, 2010

CNN reports that about $600 million–“enough to pay the annual insurance tab for $45,000 families”–has been spent on lobbying, advertising and campaign contributions to try to influence the health care debate. It has become the single most expensive legislative issue ever.

And as I noted the other day, the Supreme Court has guaranteed that things will get worse in terms of you having a voice. It almost enough to make you want to cheer for the Tea Party crowd, if they had a clue about where their money really goes, or which parts of society system are the most screwed up.

Also on the money front, Barack Obama apparently will call for a freeze on “non-security federal discretionary spending.” And Fox News reports that no-bid contracts for friends of the administration, the norm under George W. Bush, apparently continue under the Obama administration.

It’s a worthwhile story, and would be more so if Fox hadn’t predictably downplayed the Bush/Cheney contracts–citing dollar figures for such contracts under Bill Clinton and Obama but simply stating about the Bush Leaguers, “The OMB Watch figures show that the practice appears to have accelerated sharply during the Bush administration, but the figures are not adjusted for inflation.” Uh, guys–what were those figures?

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

YaVaughnie Wilkins should get a life

Posted by James McPherson on January 24, 2010

Chances are you’ve never heard of YaVaughnie Wilkins. But two of Rupert Murdoch’s “news” organizations, Fox News and the New York Post,  hope you will–and that you’ll somehow blame Barack Obama for the fact that Wilkins carried on a long affair with Oracle tech conglomerate owner Charles E. Phillips. I’m not kidding.

Yeah, as the articles breathlessly exclaim, Phillips is an “Obama advisor.” But he’s just one of fifteen members on one board, and the board is just part of a long list of folks advising the president on economic affairs. Presumably the board does not advise Obama on marital affairs. And by the way, weren’t conservatives just recently complaining–and lying –about the supposed lack of Obama advisors with practical business experience?

Besides, especially in a week when John Edwards finally ‘fessed up, do they really need this kind of goofy stretch to try to make Dems look bad? And do they want really want us thinking about the kind of sleaze engaged in by “the mostly-conservative (in recent years) “brotherhood of the disappearing pants“?

Wilkins has spent perhaps a quarter-million dollars to for billboards in three cities (though at least one was killed after just a day, something Fox fails to note in its front-page story today) proclaiming her “love” for Phillips, with a link to a Web site that the Post proclaims is “a veritable shrine to Wilkins’ ex-love.” But I spent a few minutes (as much as I could stand) checking out the site, finding more pictures of Wilkins (including a collection of swimsuit shots, which I assume are to show us what Phillips is missing)  and an assortment of now-exposed but unidentified other people–including children–who presumably are friends or family members of one of the two ex-lovers.

Because of those people, I won’t link to the site here. But they can now count themselves among the victims of Wilkins, Fox and the Post. As for Wilkins, someone stupid enough to be involved with a married man for more than eight years isn’t going to win much sympathy, I’d think.

Though I do wonder who is paying for those billboards. The newshounds at the Post and Fox didn’t bother to find out, of course.

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

Dead Air (America): Liberal talk radio alternative going silent

Posted by James McPherson on January 22, 2010

Air America is dead. The 6-year-old radio network set up to combat right-wing talkers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and which in the past provided an outlet for political voices for folks such as Al FrankenEd Schultz and Rachel Maddow, will cease programming today.

As the New York Times reports, “The closing did not come as a surprise.” Management problems and a bad economic climate for media hurt the network from the start, and even the best programs on Air America never provided much of an “alternative” to anything for most liberals. I suspected from the start that talk radio, like direct mail, would work better for conservatives, not just because of their head start but also because both of those media rely heavilty on the emotional appeals of fear and anger. As I wrote in my most recent book, conservatives have used fear and anger better than liberals have, though the Web has “helped” liberals learn more about the those emotions.

I was glad that Spokane had an Air America affiliate, KPTQ, when some larger cities did not, and I occasionally listened. But I and many others much prefer news over opinion and reasoned arguments over the shrill harangues (about the opposition) and nauseating fawning (toward anyone in agreement) that has long characterized talk radio.

With Fox News, MSNBC and the Internet now providing too much of that same sort of programming offered by talk radio, and with cheaper independent local stations such as my local favorite, KYRS, also picking up some of the slack, I’m not sure Air America served much of a purpose except perhaps as a farm club for MSNBC. Incidentally, Maddow was my favorite host; I liked her better before she moved to MSNBC and became more like Keith Olbermann.

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

Election ads to be even more obnoxious in 2010

Posted by James McPherson on January 21, 2010

Scott Brown’s election to the Senate, while interesting, isn’t the event this week that will have the biggest effect on the future of the American political process. A much more important (and activist, considering the overturning of legal precedent without corresponding new facts) decision is the one today by the Supreme Court to ban corporate spending limits on political speech, killing the McCain-Feingold act in the process.

McCain, still confused over whether as a Republican he’s supposed to be a shill for big business or a protector of the people, offered a weak criticism of the decision. The 5-4 decision (aren’t they all, anymore?) extends the conservative corporate tradition of treating corporations as if they are individuals (except with much more money and less moral guidance than most people have).

Frankly, as a near-First Amendment absolutist, I have mixed emotions about the decision from a theoretical perspective. From a practical view, however, I have little doubt that future campaigns will be even more negative and more riddled with lies and smears than past elections. An already-broken political process in which most Americans already get their political information from clearly biased pundits and paid advertising will become even worse.

With the news media flailing and perhaps less likely to have the ability to provide meaningful perspective to political events–even if they had the will to do so and more Americans had the will to pay attention–those who care about the process would be well advised to bookmark FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com, Open Secrets, SourceWatch.org and USAspending.gov, and plan to check them often.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Predictably ‘shocking’ Brown win makes Dems blue, but election’s meaning far from black & white

Posted by James McPherson on January 20, 2010

“In a stunning upset that reshaped the U.S. political landscape…” “… an upset victory of epic proportions…” “… one of the biggest political upsets in modern history…” Yeah, sure. Yawn.

Reactions from both sides of the political aisle after yesterday’s Massachusetts election were as predictable as they were meaningless. Lots of celebrating on one side, much gnashing of teeth on the other. Many on both sides predict/hope/fear that Congressional health care reform may be dead. (Though he also overstates the “stunning upset” angle, Chris Cillizza offers a good review of winners and losers.)

Maybe with an electorate as uninvolved as ours (and no, religiously watching Fox News or MSNBC, an activity likely to make voters stupider rather than politically smarter, doesn’t count as political involvement), we deserve to have such an abysmal health care system. Besides, it appeared that any health care plan coming out of Congress was going to do far more for insurance companies than for most Americans with poor health care.

Still, I hope the surprise voiced by so many “experts” in politics and the media over Brown’s victory is posturing on their part, and that they’re not really dumb enough to be shocked. If they are, it again raised the question of why they’re considered “experts.” In fact, Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley falls short of shocking for several reasons:

  • Though he’s a conservative in a blue state, Brown comes across as someone personally far more like Barack Obama than Dick Cheney, and he downplayed his Republican ties while raising funds in Obama-like fashion. While he may think like Sarah Palin and the Tea Party crowd (and gladly takes their money), he doesn’t say it out loud. He’ll probably end up as a moderate (and definitely not a “family values” icon), just to guarantee his future electability.
  • Coakley ran the worst campaign of anyone since, well, John McCain. She didn’t much seem to want the position.
  • Massachusetts isn’t as blue as some people keep pretending. Yes, Ted Kennedy was a god there–but then the same is true to a lesser extent of almost all longterm incumbents who bring lots of pork and attention to their home states. But keep in mind, this is the same state that elected Mitt Romney–perhaps the most credible 2012 GOP presidential candidate–as its governor.
  • The party in power typically loses midterm elections. And even though it came earlier than most, this was a midterm election. Incidentally, Brown will have to run again in 2012, when the turnout (because it’s a presidential election year) will be much higher.
  • The 60-vote Democratic majority in the Senate was a freak event–and, considering the conservatism of many of those Dems, largely meaningless except as a further example of how stupidly undemocratic the U.S. Senate is. By the way, even if they should win a majority in 2010 (my prediction: they won’t), those conservatives who think they’ll achieve any major legislative goals under the current system are delusional. The system works only for those who exemplify the “party of no.”
  • Finally, the result is unsurprising because American politics in general (including the politics of Barack Obama) are so conservative. But then I’ve devoted much of a book to that issue.

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

Stossel, Limbaugh jump on Pat Robertson’s idiot train

Posted by James McPherson on January 14, 2010

Among the lead stories on the Fox News Web site is a piece by John Stossel claiming that a lack of American-style economic freedom is primarily to blame for the number of deaths in Haiti.

“The ultimate tragedy in Haiti was not the earthquake, Stossel writes. “It was Haiti’s lack of economic freedom.” In the meantime, Rush Limbaugh complains that Americans already give Haiti too much aid, and that Barack Obama will use the disaster “to boost his credibility with the black community.”

Hmm… makes you wonder why George W. Bush didn’t try that after Hurricane Katrina, in an area where black people can actually vote for the U.S. president. Of course Rush says Bush couldn’t do more in New Orleans because of all the Democrats in Lousiana.

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

Pat Robertson makes radical Muslims look sane

Posted by James McPherson on January 13, 2010

As long as mainstream news organizations let Pat Robertson serve as one of the most prominent American voices for Christianity (his “700 Club” appears daily on my local CBS/Belo affiliate, just one of the things that make KREM 2 the worst of our local stations), it’s tough to argue that isolated Islamic suicide bombers represent the world’s craziest nation-supported form of religion.

Today’s lunacy, as reported by Politico, Gawker.com and others: Robinson says Haitian slaves of the 18oos are to blame for this week’s earthquake and the resulting tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of deaths. The TV preacher’s answer for  dealing with the devastated nation’s whole pact-with-the-devil problem is that Haiti needs “a great turning to God.”

By the way, the long-time official religion of Haiti, and still by far the most popular one, is Catholicism. I wish I were kidding about Robertson, or that he were commonly viewed as the joke he is, but you can see the video below.

Next-day update: CBN has issued a statement saying, in part, that Robertson’s comments: “were based on the widely-discussed 1791 slave rebellion led by Boukman Dutty at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French. This history, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed. Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath.”

I assume that in this case “countless scholars” means a number that can’t be counted–as in zero. Some research of scholarly via ProQuest and Ebscohost (which have combined access to more than 11,000 sources) from my desk turns up no mentions of the supposed “famous pact” between Boukman Dutty (the leader of a slave rebellion) and the devil. Of course I didn’t spend a lot of research on it, and Robertson seems to know Satan better than I do, so perhaps he has seen documents I haven’t. Regardless, the tie is a stretch–and lunacy. Not that that’s anything new for Robertson.

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

‘Foxy’ Palin will now be paid to lie

Posted by James McPherson on January 12, 2010

Below: How Sarah Palin indicates the size of a fish she almost caught, how close her house is to Alaska, or how close she came to telling the truth about something:

 FILE - In this July 26, 2009 file photo, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin ...

Now, to no one’s surprise, Palin will get to do her Fox-y lying on a paid basis, at least until she gets bored and quits. Working as a Fox News commentator is a perfect job, however, for someone who apparently “doesn’t know anything” about world affairs. According to a video on the Fox News Web site, she’ll get her start tonight with someone equally truth-challenged, Bill O’Reilly.

People keep talking about Palin as a possible 2012 Presidential candidate, but, as much as I wish that to be true, I (and others) have serious doubts. My prediction? Palin will end up as a contestant on a bad reality show (perhaps competing against her former future son-in-law) long before she ever lives in the White House.

One benefit to the new gig: I’ll bet Fox will give her a new hat. But at least for Fox, the network that leads in on-screen flag graphics, Palin won’t have to change her message much from the one she wore on her T-shirt (“If you don’t love America, then why don’t you get the hell out”). Come to think of it, didn’t husband Todd try that?

Thursday update: The Christian Broadcasting Network lists Palin as one of two women “front-runners” in the GOP. The other? None other than another common liar and general fruitcake, Michelle Bachmann, who perhaps more than anyone else exemplifies why the Minnesota state bird is a loon.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »