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 May, 2010

American flag fetishists and Obama

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2010

Today is one of those days when some conservatives like to pretend they’re more patriotic than the rest of us–and now, despite their all-too-common ignorance about such things as the U.S. Flag Code, even more patriotic than their president.

Such goofiness started before Barack Obama was elected, of course, but shows no sign of letting up. And if they have to lie to make a “patriotic” point, well, many talking heads and conservative bloggers apparently will do that, too. Take, for example, the claim that Obama is the first president (or the first “since the Civil War“) not to visit Arlington National Cemetary for Memorial Day.

That’s a blatant and easy-to-check lie, as previous “offenders” have included both George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and–gasp–Ronald Reagan. But, interestingly, never draft dodger Bill Clinton.

Or how about the claim (here, here, herehere and here, among others) that Obama is the first American president to give a news conference while not standing beside or in front of an American flag? Several even claim to have researched the issue, presumably so gullible readers won’t have to.

But a fairly brief Google search demonstrates that the claim also is a lie, with no American flags visible in news conferences from previous presidents that include George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and–gasp!–Ronald Reagan (examples below).

I suspect that some staffer forgot to move the flags from the side of the room–where the podium usually sits for East Room press conferences–to the end of the room. I think that’s a mistake, but it’s not like the president has nothing else to worry about.

And the mistake, if that’s what it was, is hardly on the level of, say, confusing Walter Reed Military Hospital with Walter Reed Middle School during the nominee’s speech at the Republican National Convention, or having the wrong speech on the teleprompter during a State of the Union address.

Frankly, of the many things for which Obama should be criticized, the patriotism angle is perhaps the silliest (though that’s difficult to judge considering various communist/socialist/Kenyon/Muslim claims). When it comes to press conferences, a bigger question than that of what’s behind the president is what’s behind his reticence to have such sessions at all, despite his supposed commitment to openness and the fact that we seem to see him everywhere.

Also worth noting: Never ones to let consistency get in the way of a good presidential bashing, it wasn’t long ago that a leading conservative newspaper suggested that Obama was surrounding himself with too many American flags. All in all, the anti-Obama posts once again demonstrate that the supposed defenders of American values care less about respecting the flag or America’s fallen dead than they do about disrespecting their president.

Same-day update: The writer of the “since the Civil War” post linked above has corrected his erroneous headline, which apparently he had based on another bad source. He still maintains that Obama should have been at Arlington, and frankly I tend to agree. But as noted above, Obama is hardly the first to honor vets elsewhere on Memorial Day, and he has spent more time on the job than his immediate predecessor did.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

MMS ‘troubled’–that’s big news?

Posted by James McPherson on May 28, 2010

CNN reports today that the Materials Management Service–now drawing increased attention because of the oil eruption in the Gulf of Mexico–“was a troubled agency before the oil spill and recent revelations of employee misconduct.”

That’s front-page news? Add in the typical government-big business revolving door to the Bush-era revelations of agency sex and drugs, and in this area, as with immigration and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (where we just had our 1,000th military death), the Obama administration  continues to mirror its predecessor. Sadly, that’s no longer news, either.

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

Other states should nix vexing Texas texts

Posted by James McPherson on May 26, 2010

OK, coming from a state where a substantial percentage of residents think their president is a Muslim socialist  illegal alien and perhaps the anti-Christ, a decision to ignore recommendations from a panel of experts and to insert more God and conservatism into social studies texts is no big surprise. After all, as one blogger notes, “Stupid is as stupid’s taught.”

Which raises a problem for me: I debated whether to write about this, because the Texas textbook decision seems to support so many flawed “dumb southerner” clichés. Having lived in the South, having been raised in Idaho, I know better than to buy into that stereotype. Three of the country’s best and brightest political writers of recent years have been Texans Bill Moyers, Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower (whose name raises the unrelated question, “Can there be a low tower?”).

I suspect and hope that the actual effect of the Texas folly will not be as large as feared. After all, though Texas often helps set the agenda for other states simply because of the number of textbooks it buys, other options such as e-books are becoming increasingly available (not to mention the Internet, though members of the Texas board may be unfamiliar with that particular invention). Besides, the content of most textbooks is far less likely to be read or remembered than any issue of People magazine featuring Jennifer Aniston (who today may be about as politically relevant as the Moral Majority, which makes its way into the Texas board mandate).

I also think other states should step up and tell book publishers that they refuse to follow the lead of Texas. If a few smaller states band together–perhaps even agreeing to accept the orginal recommendations of the Texas committee of experts–Texas could be the only state where children are subjected to the whims of ultraconservative wannabe educators.

One side note, in which I agree with the Texas board: It would be helpful to know more about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” After all, I wrote a book about the topic, and would give Texans a great deal on the book if they want to put a copy in every Texas school library. Still, as I suggested in the book, even more useful than having Texas kids learn about those conservative groups might be having American political journalist learn more about them.

Not surprisingly, as can be seen in the video below, The Onion offers some of the best commentary on the issue. Incidentally, one of the highlights of a trip to New York last year was a visit with Onion staffers, who were as funny and irreverent in person as in their work.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Religion, Science, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

‘Lost’ and soon to be forgotten

Posted by James McPherson on May 24, 2010

The series finale of “Lost” aired last night, and even hardcore Losties can’t agree on what it meant. Frankly, the ending was as disappointing as I expected it to be (too much hype to live up to and too much ground and too many actors to cover well)–not as dismal as the finale of “Seinfeld” (How could it be?) but not even on par with the overwrought conclusion of “M*A*S*H.”

In fact, the highlight of the evening was Jimmy Kimmel’s third “alternative ending,” starring Bob Newhart and Evengeline Lilly (who was my favorite actor on the show, while my wife’s favorite was Josh Holloway–go figure).

“Lost” is one of the few shows that I’ve somewhat committed to in recent years. In general I don’t like getting into shows that have to be watched regularly to keep up with, though “Lost” was made easier by frequent reruns and the Internet. InDemand has let me become involved with a couple of better shows, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

Last night’s finale also reminded me that “Lost” is probably too complicated to perform well in syndication. The DVDs will sell and rent well for awhile as some people try to catch up with what others are talking about, or as fans try to hold onto their good memories of the show. But no one will be spoofing the final episode in two years , let alone more than two decades from now.

And if you want to see probably the best series finale ever, from 1990, you can do so here:

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

Cheney & oil spill–Locke and & smoke monster?

Posted by James McPherson on May 14, 2010

NPR, CNN and others report that the government/BP estimate (and how nice it would be if we could separate the oil companies from government) of 5,000 barrels per day may be off–by 65,000 barrels or so. In other words, the spill may be 1,300 percent higher than suggested. Or more. And continuing unabated for the foreseeable future.

By the way, in the video of the spill did you notice how much the escaping oil looks like the smoke monster from “Lost”? Photos of both are below. Pure evil obviously takes various forms. For example, just as you never see John Locke when the smoke monster is around, likewise Dick Cheney seems to have vanished since his former employer and beneficiary became embroiled in yet another scandal.

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

The activist conservative Supreme Court and its contradictions

Posted by James McPherson on May 12, 2010

Remember when conservatives said they didn’t want activist judges, back in the days when they were still able to pretend (though the claim was pretty far-fetched during most our history) that activism somehow meant liberalism? We now have pretty good evidence that the current Supreme Court, in addition to being an activist court, is perhaps the most conservative in history.

Apparently four of the five most conservative judges who have served since 1937 are on the court today, with another current justice, Anthony Kennedy, ranked No. 10. Incidentally, Clarence Thomas–whom I had previously considered to be the equivalent of a ventriloquist’s dummy for Antonin Scalia (except that wooden dummies typically come across as smarter and more expressive than Thomas), is actually ranked as more conservative than Scalia. Or anyone else who has served since 1937.

And of course the most relatively liberal John Paul Stevens is the  justice who is leaving, with the largely unknowable Elena Kagan nominated by pseudo-liberal Barack Obama to take Stevens’ place on a court of contradictions. Assuming Kagan is seated, the court will have a record number of women on the court–and all of them from New York City. Her appointment means that four of the nine justices will have been appointed by Democrats, the “best” it has been for progressives for more than 40 years. Oh yeah, those damned liberal activist courts!

Except for his race, Thomas seems to be the justice who would feel most at home at a Tea Party gathering, but in fact most of today’s justices could hang out at such a gathering unnoticed (not least of which is because most tea partiers wouldn’t recognize a Supreme Court justice if they tripped over him). And the fact that the only black man on the court is its most conservative member–while the only other African American to serve, Thurgood Marshall is ranked as the least conservative since 1937–is only one current oddity of the court.

It appears that Protestants may want to start clamoring for more diversity on the court, considering that it is about to be made up of six Catholics and three Jews. NPR notes that half of the Roman Catholics who have ever served are on the court now. (The first Catholic also has the distinction of being perhaps the worst chief justice ever; Roger Taney wrote the Dred Scott decision, which some Arizonans are no doubt trying to figure out how to apply to Hispanics today).

I’ve complained in the past about how America’s leaders were more conservative than the people they pretend to serve. But as long as corporations have more political power and more interest in the process than people do, those in power will continue to benefit from an increasingly activist conservative court.

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