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 June, 2010

Open letter to ‘journalist’ Michael Webster

Posted by James McPherson on June 17, 2010

Mr. Webster:

I am writing because, particularly as a journalism professor, I am troubled by the inaccuracy of an article you wrote this week, an article that, combined with a similarly misleading Fox News story, got quite a bit of attention in the conservative blogosphere. During the past couple of days I have made it a point to go to a number of conservative websites that have quoted from or repeated your piece or the Fox report, but of course I cannot know them all–and naturally, some of them are unwilling to run comments that contradict their opinions, anyway.

You call yourself an “investigative journalist,” yet it seems you did little or no investigation when it came to a report that happened to correspond with your political bias. For your June 14 piece titled, “The U.S. Gov: giving parts of Arizona back to Mexico,” you quoted some odd “reliable informant known to us as ‘Duck Hunter,” yet apparently didn’t even bother to pick up a phone to check with park officials.

As a result, you and Fox (though since neither of you is particularly good about attribution I can’t tell if one of you picked it up from the other, or if “Duck Hunter” served as the initial source for both)–published misleading articles based on a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report that came out in October 2006. For context, you’ll remember that was when George W. Bush was president and when John McCain–the senior senator of Arizona, the state you’re writing about–opposed a fence on the Mexican border.

By the way, if you had bothered to risk a less dramatic story by sending an email or making a phone call, you might have found out the same thing that another generally conservative writer did, after he was embarrassed by the Fox News report. Quoting a park source:

“The news coverage is out of proportion and a great misunderstanding. The Fish & Wildlife Service is working to correct the situation. We were not consulted about the television or other coverage.

“The refuge is open as always.  Erroneous information came out on Fox News and this has led to expansion of misinformation in Web blogs.

“The southernmost half-mile of the refuge has been closed to the public and refuge staff since 2006 so that Border Patrol can be unimpeded in their patrols. It also helps ensure public safety to not be in that area right along the border, just in case. There is less immigrant traffic along the southern boundary of the refuge now as a result of the 12-foot fence.  There is some drug traffic in the mountains to the east of the refuge.  But we are seeing fewer impacts from immigrant traffic than before the fence.

“The closure involves 3500 acres, which is 0.02% of the refuge.  The remainder of the refuge’s 118,000 acres is open to the public . . . . Hiking, camping, bird-watching, hunting . . . as usual.   The refuge is definitely open and no additional closures have been instituted since 2006.    Likewise the Arivaca Lake and Ruby Road areas are open as always. … You’re welcome to visit!”

You can see that full report here.

I honestly do not know why your pieces are so widely repeated, but, judging by your vita, I know that you take pride in the attention your work receives. I hope you also take enough pride in your work to print the clarification that is clearly in order.

Sincerely,
James McPherson

Next day update: I sent the letter above via email to Webster yesterday before I posted it here. So far I haven’t heard back from him either via email or via my blog, nor has he apparently responded publicly elsewhere. But the moderator for one of the sites that carried his column reports the following today:

I have had some communication from Michael Webster regarding this article. His position is that he stands behind every word he has written.

The issue as to whether or not Fox news reported this or didn’t….is not relative to Mr. Webster’s writing, in our opinion.

The article is Mr. Websters view of this situation.

My response, on that same site:

I have no problem with his opinion, of course, just with his distortion of facts and his laziness or carelessness in not following up with other sources–egregious behavior for someone claiming to be an “investigative journalist.” In fact, apparently in part because of his behavior, the park now has the correct info prominently posted on the front page of its website.

Posted in Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Lying Fox News Pin(al)-headed about geography

Posted by James McPherson on June 16, 2010

Remember when “news” was supposed to be timely? Fox News and bimbo Megyn Kelly [sorry, even though it was Kelly’s name on the screen, it was a different woman doing the Kelly-style reporting] today led with a story that is more than three years old–while suggesting that the story and the direct quote that Fox lifts from an October 2006  public document are something new.

In addition to the misleading timing of the story, like far too many Americans, Fox News seems to have a geography problem. Or maybe it’s just trying to bolster John McCain’s Arizona campaign while making a hero of a certain Arizona sheriff.

How else do you explain that the current lead story on Fox’s website (above even the latest on the Gulf oil spill, Iran’s nuclear program and “Bipartisan Jeers for Obama Oil Speech”) relies most heavily on the sheriff who starts in John McCain’s ridiculous anti-immigrant commercial? That’s a sheriff, remember, whose county does not even border Mexico.

Why not quote a border sheriff? Perhaps because those from Pima, Yuma and Santa Cruz counties all disagree with the state’s stupid new anti-immigration law, and therefore with the reactionary rednecks who provide much of Fox’s primary audience.

Also, remember who was president at the time of the closure that Fox is now yipping about? And at that time, McCain opposed a border fence.

Same-day update: More unethical journalism–supposed “investigative reporter” Michael Webster at the American Chronicle offers most of the same garbage as Fox.

Numerous conservative blogs have knee-jerkedly repeated all or part of the misleading Fox/Webster story (some examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), as if their readers wouldn’t have already seen it; naturally several of those blame Barack Obama. I’ve only seen one correction.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Want smarter kids? Turn them over to lesbians

Posted by James McPherson on June 9, 2010

Heather has two mommies? No wonder she’s so well-adjusted.

That’s the conclusion of an article in New Science magazine–that “Compared with a group of control adolescents born to heterosexual parents with similar educational and financial backgrounds, the children of lesbian couples scored better on academic and social tests and lower on measures of rule-breaking and aggression.”

In other words, the children of lesbian parents were smarter and less obnoxious than most other kids.

Actually I’d never heard of New Science until Slate cited this study, and the research seems to have some flaws (maybe women just tend to be better parents than men, for example, making them superheroes in the traditional, often unappreciated,  sense). But the study does cast further doubt on the idea that gays shouldn’t be allowed to adopt. Homosexuals are legally prohibited from adopting in Florida, while joint adoption is illegal in several states.

Posted in Education, Legal issues, Politics, Science, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Why Arizona’s immigration law is a good idea

Posted by James McPherson on June 4, 2010

As one of my favorite conservative readers notes in a comment, Arizona Republicans “do seem intent on looking like racists.” Still, most Americans apparently join Arizonans in approving of that state’s new immigration bill, and obviously they aren’t all bigots (even if the governor there is an idiot, far from uncommon there).

But since the bill will cost the state millions–or billions–of dollars even aside from the boycotts and lawsuits it prompts, and since immigration actually seems to reduce crime rather than increase it, who would think it’s a good idea? Well, besides tourism-related businesses in other states and Democrats, it appears that Big Oil, gay couples and drug dealers all could benefit. I’m sure those are exactly the folks Arizona Republicans most wanted to help out.

Posted in Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

I’ll take the vote Tea Partiers don’t want

Posted by James McPherson on June 1, 2010

One thing that some Tea Party folks and I have in common: Apparently neither of us wants them voting for my U.S. senators.

The difference is, unlike some Tea Party Mad Hatters and conservative elitists such as George Will, I’m not willing to give up the right to vote for the Senate candidate of my choice, while bringing back the increased corruption that spawned the 17th Amendment in the first place.

As the New York Times suggests, imagine a thousands of Rob Blogojevich-wannabe-power brokers, and the return of “the old-fashioned American political machine–a condition voters in the Internet age would tolerate for about 10 minutes, maybe less.” (And remember, one of the most common complaints about Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel is their reliance on machine-style politics.)

The argument is that repeal of the 17th Amendment would give power back to states (perhaps by giving increased power to the 10th Amendment). The problem is that it would do so through state legislatures put in office by even fewer people than vote in Senate elections. A general rule of thumb: The smaller the election (and therefore the greater the chance that any individual vote will actually matter), the smaller the percentage of the electorate that will turn out.

State legislators probably are no better today than those chronicled by David Graham Phillips in 1906. I’ll keep my wimpy little vote and the illusion that it matters, thank you. Still, I don’t mind those Tea Partiers causing problems for Republicans, especially since the repeal movement–like the Tea Party movement in general–is likely to fizzle into distant memory in fairly short order.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »