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 February, 2010

Going Dutch in Olympics may hurt, but U.S. on thinner ice elsewhere

Posted by James McPherson on February 25, 2010

First the brain freeze of Sven Kramer’s coach costs the world’s best 10,000-meter speed skater a gold medal. Then the Dutch four-man bobsled team has to withdraw, without competing, “because their driver was terrified.” It’s a bad week to be a fan of the Winter Olympics in the Netherlands. Oddly–and maybe this also is a Dutch thing–coach Gerard Kemkers’ job outlook may be brighter than that of John McCain.

On the other hand, the Dutch do have a multiple-party political system and logical libertarian policies on drugs, prostitution and same-sex marriage. They rank considerably higher than the United States in such areas as gender equitypress freedom, affordable education, prison incarceration, perceived soundness of its banks, infant mortality rates, life expectancy, preventable deaths (such as those on bobsleds, I wonder?), health care costs, and health care in general.

So today we have five times as many Olympic medals as the Netherlands, and one of the lead medical stories of the day is about a skier’s broken pinky (by the way, “pinky” apparently comes from the Dutch pinkje, for “little finger”).  And our political leaders preen and strut as the American health care system careens downhill like a German luger, taking the U.S. economy along for the ride. If you’ll pardon a mixing of metaphors, we’re going to need more than a little Dutch boy to keep our heads above water.

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

Winter Olympics & Hollywood suggest why politicians lie–or lose

Posted by James McPherson on February 24, 2010

“Remember when the Internet was supposed to kill off television?” asks a front-page story in today’s New York Times, before going on to point out that for at least some kinds of television, the Web actually boosts TV ratings. In an era in which families now no longer watch television together, the Internet lets people “talk” to each other about what they’re watching.

Also this morning, in a typically excellent commentary for NPR, Frank Deford marveled about the fact that NBC’s Olympic coverage one night last week beat even “American Idol” (a show I must admit that I can’t stand, and have never watched in its entirety, despite its huge following).

NBC won the night despite the fact that its “coverage” of Lindsey Vonn’s gold medal downhill run appeared hours after she had won and presumably after almost anyone who cared knew she had won. (Incidentally, I also find it interesting that the Olympics are a big TV hit, despite the fact that most Americans wouldn’t watch a non-Olympic ski race on a dare.) In fact, many people probably watched because they knew she had won. Or because they knew she had won.

“Perhaps this suggests that at this time when there is so little good news in America, when we do not enjoy the everyday success we used to rather expect, when we are so at loggerheads as a people, that there is something comforting about us coming together to watch a beautiful young woman, struggling with injury, secure in our knowledge that she will raise Old Glory on high,” said Deford. More important, I think (though perhaps too obvious), was his preceding statement: “Evidently, we would now rather revel in an assured triumph than suffer through a live competition with a problematic outcome.”

Well, yeah. Americans hate bad news. That’s why most American films–focus-group tested into homogenity–come with tidy, happy endings, usually (as I heard the great Roger Ebert note years ago) with a crowd of onscreen people cheering the heroes so that we might know to cheer along with them.

Now some DVDs come with alternate endings, and I asked students today to share examples they had seen. Apparently the main characters ended up dead in “The Butterfly Effect” and struck by lightning (though, unfortunately, not fatally) in “Sweet Home Alabama.” Many films now offer alternate endings, typically darker than the originals.

Unfortunately the “happy ending” syndrome extends to American public policy. We all know the economy, the environment and health care have serious problems. But we certainly won’t stand for some politician telling us bad news that really means anything–as in, we need to sacrifice something to fix the problem–and in fact would vote him out of office if he did. So they all promise wonderful things that we won’t let them deliver, and then blame the lack of resolution on the folks on the other side of the aisle.

After all, every American has also been conditioned to know that for every hero there must be a villian, whether that villian is a scheming movie girlfriend, a Russian ice skater, a Democrat or a Republican.

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

McCain in trouble? We can only hope

Posted by James McPherson on February 16, 2010

Even John McCain’s daughter and wife won’t speak on his behalf.

John McCain may be in danger of losing his seat. He still has Sarah, at least for now–though I’m not sure that’s a good thing and even he has to know she may not hang around if some shiny object distracts her–but Joe the Dumber now is opposing McCain and even his wife and daughter have publicly disagreed with him in recent weeks.

At least if McCain loses he can’t blame anyone other than himself. His conservative challenger, former radio host J.D. Hayworth, is at least partially right in noting, “”You could say they are two John McCains. The one who campaigns like a conservative and the one who legislates like a liberal.”

I’d break it down slightly differently, into the usually sane McCain of before the most recent presidential election campaign and the crazy old man who appeared during the campaign and never went away. We now can no longer be sure how McCain feels about his own ideas for campaign reform. We don’t know whether he’s for immigration reform or against it.

Sadly, considering his legacy, we can’t even be sure whether McCain is for trusting the military or not, or how he feels about torture.

Frankly, I don’t think Arizonans will give McCain the boot. I will somewhat miss him if they do, just because of my history with him, but I don’t think he’ll lose. But I wish he’d have the integrity to quit, before he embarrasses himself further.

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

Palin for president? Who’ll give her a hand?

Posted by James McPherson on February 8, 2010

2010-02-07-palinhandsmaller1.jpg     2010-02-07-palinhandclose.jpg

You have to “hand” it to Sarah Palin–she does know how to stay in the public eye, in large part by bashing the same masochistic media that have made her a media darling. I’ll miss hearing what John Murtha had to say about her (though, on a side note, I don’t think Dems will suffer near as much as Pennsylvania does from the loss the perhaps-corrupt pork king Murtha, despite his willingness to be blunt when others in his party cowered).

Yesterday, on her favorite media outlook outside of Facebook, Palin suggested that she might run for president in 2012. That probably sent yet another chill through scared Republicans and overly paranoid Democrats, while raising the hopes of folks like me. I’d place big money on Obama’s teleprompted speeches over whatever folksy, disjointed ramblings Palin might generate, and the opportunity to hear more from Palin–while watching her split Republicans even further–might make the next presidential election season more interesting than the corporate-funded semi-downer I now expect.

And what do you want to bet that if she runs, “populist” Palin will be heavily funded by the oil companies and insurance companies that now continually shaft her Tea Party constituency, a constituency that worries more about Obama birthplace conspiracies and fictional national security concerns than about how they’ll take care of their child if the kid happens to contract a serious illness?

Right now Palin gets a high percentage of her donations from small donors. But if she should ever been seen as a credible candidate, I predict that Big Oil and Big Pharma will jump to the top of the list.

Next day: Chris Cillizza offers an interesting take on Palin and her use of soundbites.

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

Howard Zinn and other dead warriors

Posted by James McPherson on February 1, 2010

A late mention, as I’ve been away: noted historian Howard Zinn died last week.

In honor of Zinn, I offer his speech on American’s “three holy wars”:

Feb. 8 update: I just came across an NPR bit from a few days ago discussing how the network was criticized for including a nasty quote from David Horowitz as part of its online obit of Zinn. I agree with some of the criticism–that Horowitz’s comments didn’t add anything particularly meaning ful, especially for NPR listeners (thought they did help further illustrate the stupidity of Horowitz)–but can’t help but think that Zinn might have appreciated the “alternative view” of his own history.

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