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, 2012

Roberts rule the order in Obamacare decision

Posted by James McPherson on June 28, 2012

Like most people, including supposed experts, I was surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling today on the Affordable Care Act. Like most legal experts, I also thought it should be upheld under existing law regarding the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution. But Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority decision in a way that managed to agree with the four most conservative justices about the Interstate Commerce Clause, let agreed with the most liberal justices to keep Obamacare mostly intact.

I suspect Roberts’ decision will keep courts and legal scholars (and I don’t claim to be one) busy for years, though at least one Yale law professor predicted the winning argument. And unfortunately the one part of the bill that the court threw out–an expansion of Medicaid–will leave many poor people uncovered. Ironically, a disproportionate number of those people will be in conservative Southern states, where people were most likely to oppose Obamacare.

Obama obviously comes out a winner, at least in the short term. Some argue that the decision may fire up conservative independents enough to help Romney–especially if the word “tax” can be emphasized enough–but I don’t see how a guy who lies dozens of times in a single week,  whose own state plan was the well-known model for the Affordable Care Act, and whose reaction to the ruling was a weak promise to “act to repeal Obamacare” (which he would have no power to do) if he were elected, can overcome the hole he is in. Some Republicans claim that the decision will actually help kill Obamacare, but that argument is nonsensical on its face, simple posturing by the vanquished.

Another big winner is Roberts, who took advantage of his right as chief justice to write the decision. His interpretation will be debated for years, and likely will shape future policy in a number of areas–unlike any majority opinion written by longtime justices and conservative political hacks Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Conservatives may be cranky with Roberts now, but they’ll get over it when the “evil genious” quickly rejoins the reactionary side of the most conservative Supreme Court in history.

I do hope a Fox News column is right in predicting that the Obamacare decision might be a step toward a single-payer health care system. But I doubt it (and not just because the prediction comes from Fox). And until that happens, insurance companies and drug companies will reap big rewards including whatever company makes the drugs that Michael Savage blames for Roberts’ decision. Those beneficiaries demonstrate one consistency for Roberts: As with the horrendous Citizens United decision, he came down on the side of corporations.

Oh, another winner–all of us, if Rush Limbaugh would just keep his promise to move to Costa Rica.

Saturday follow-up: More evidence that this is the most conservative court ever.

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

Since your ballot won’t matter, why not vote against both Obama and Romney?

Posted by James McPherson on June 25, 2012

Newspapers tell you every election season that your vote counts. I’ve even said so myself in my pre-blog life, including six years ago with a guest opinion in my local newspaper. But at least I noted that people were “least interested in the local issues they could most influence and which usually affect them most. They’re much more likely to vote in national elections, especially if political ads and talk-show spin generate enough heat (though rarely much light) about inflammatory ‘threats’ such as flag burning, homosexuality, immigration and terrorism.”

But here’s a secret that all those folks who keep predicting (probably incorrectly) a close presidential election don’t mention — however close the election is, your vote probably won’t matter at all. “You have a better chance of being killed by a meteorite than you do of having your vote determine the next president,” I heard a political science professor professor say years ago. With that sentence in mind, I’ve since told my students, “If you go to the polls thinking you’ll affect the presidency, make sure you’re looking up as you go.”

Your vote won’t be rendered meaningless by voter fraud, by the way, or probably by voter suppression (though the latter is far more likely, regardless of what conservative jokers may claim). Your vote probably won’t be negated by Republican-controlled electronic voting machines. No, your vote for president — unless you’re a resident of one of a half-dozen to a dozen states — won’t matter because of where you live.

As I noted in a recent post that contained links to several electoral maps, most states are already out of the running unless something dramatic happens between now and November. That’s why, as CNN noted today, a new Barack Obama ad campaign “will run in Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Florida.” If you don’t live in one of those states, your vote for president likely won’t matter at all.

But wait, you say. A generally “blue state” like Washington could shift, leaning toward Mitt Romney or a virtual tie. It’s even remotely conceivable to imagine that a state such as Idaho or Texas could move toward the Obama side. But so what? If either of those were to occur, it would mean that the election was about to become a landslide. And the winner would be known long before individual Washington or Idaho votes were counted.

I’ve voted in heavily red states most of my life, and therefore have not voted for either major party candidate in most presidential elections. When I lived in Idaho and Arizona, I knew that the Republican candidate would get all of my state’s electoral votes. And since failing to vote at all might be viewed as simple apathy, instead I’ve voted for independent candidates who were most in line with my views. That is an especially appealing approach to me when we have two conservative candidates both fighting for the same corporate dollars, as we do now.

The so-called Republican “war on women,” Fox News, the economy, a gutless Congress, events abroad, the Supreme Court’s immigration decision today or its health care decision on Thursday may change the outcome of the election — but not the effect of your vote. (By the way, the Court ruling most likely to affect elections in general is another from today that is getting less attention that immigration or health care; it states that the court’s previous abysmal “Citizens United” decision overrides state election laws.)

So here’s what I suggest: Unless you live in one of those very few true battleground states, cast your presidential ballot for anyone other than Obama or Romney. Well, maybe not Ron Paul, because he’s crazy. OK, he’s not the only one, so even him. More importantly, how about reading up on your Congressional and local races? There your vote might actually matter.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

The daft and the spurious — another conservative conspiracy theory

Posted by James McPherson on June 21, 2012

One could spend all day trying to debunk just the conspiracy theories promoted on Fox News, and typically it’s not worth the trouble. Most people aren’t crazy enough to buy into the theories (and are too apathetic to pursue them, anyway). But one of the latest goofy theories on Fox News and elsewhere is apparently being promoted by an organization more powerful with legislators than Fox News — the National Rifle Association.

The claim comes from the current controversy over the truly stupid “Fast and Furious” program, which this week prompted House Republicans to recommend holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress (which means something different here than the “contempt of Congress” that most of us have). For its part, the Obama administration is maintaining that it has executive privilege to withhold some documents that House Republicans want. And frankly, I don’t care much about that — George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each successfully asserted executive privilege repeatedly (this is Obama’s first time), and this politically motivated attempt likely will go nowhere, and likely will hurt Republicans more than it hurts Obama.

But the NRA has latched onto a way to make the squabble into yet another way to bleed money from suckers while pressuring Congress to toe its any-gun-any-time line. In a letter to Congress, the organization supported the contempt citation — which, with the number of gutless folks eager to kiss the NRA’s brass, may actually prolong the inane process. It will still go nowhere, but will keep the issue alive for an extended period of time when Congress might instead be focusing on more important issues. And as a result, Obama gets to keep running against a partisan do-nothing Congress.

“Heightening the NRA’s concern — and requiring our involvement — is the White House’s use of this program to advance its gun control agenda,” the NRA letter states. Say what? What “gun control agenda”? It’s now easier to buy a gun in this country, and you can carry one in more places, causing destruction in more ways, than before Obama took office. In fact, Obama has been considerably weaker on the issue of gun control than Republicans Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, phony cowboy George W. Bush, or movie cowboy Ronald Reagan.

But Obama’s failure to try to take away our guns is simply a secret plot, say the NRA, Mitt Romney, and other loonies. He plans to start taking them after he’s re-elected. And while Obama’s re-election is likely, a thinking person might actually wonder … huh? Why would he wait? But if you actually followed that line of thought you’d foolishly be trying to apply reason.

For some of these folks, Obama’s lack of action — the fact that he’s done less to control guns than any president of our lifetimes — actually seems to be the evidence that he’s waiting to spring. They will not be deterred by something so basic as observable fact. The view of conspiracy theorists of all stripes might be well summarized by this paragraph (which is actually about media manipulation):

This manipulation is like one of those optical illusion pictures that you have to stare at until you suddenly see the image. Then, once you see it, you can see it every time you look for it, yet the person standing right next to you will insist there is no image in the picture – just like you did before you learned to see it. That’s what you need to do here: you need to start reading history – real history – until you start seeing how this works. Once you do and you start to see what they are doing to manipulate people and how their methods work, you will feel as though you have just been liberated. You will see it everywhere, and you’ll be right nearly every time. But I warn you, that sense of liberation will soon give way to a state of deep concern as you suddenly realize just how many of your friends are still denying the image in the picture. That’s when you come to understand just how much troublke [sic] we’re actually in.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Spitting on military service, especially by women

Posted by James McPherson on June 13, 2012

As is typical of election season, Mitt Romney’s military record (or, more accurately, his lack of one) became a news item for a few days. The issue may pop up again, though of course as a Republican Romney will never be punished for his record to the degree that actual servicemen John Kerry and Max Cleland were denigrated for their honorable service.

We pretend to honor those who serve in the military, but mostly we ignore them — or even go so far as punishing those with the guts to actually serve. The latest example comes with the news that Congressional Republicans will likely continue to prevent a female soldier who is raped by a serviceman from getting the same medical care that she would get if she were a secretary for one of those members of Congress. That inaction will come despite the fact that a woman is more likely to be raped by one of her countrymen while serving in the military than she is to be harmed in any way by an “enemy,” and more likely to be raped as a soldier than she would be if she didn’t serve.

Romney probably won’t be asked for his perspective on the issue, though he should have little credibility on anything related to the military, anyway. He is a chickenhawk, someone who supports war despite doing whatever is necessary to actually avoid service. So is Obama, the drone warrior — though he and his wife likely have done more for those who serve than Romney ever would, perhaps making the fact that military veterans tend to favor Romney a good example of how little attention people actually pay to issues (and military support for Republicans may be waning, anyway). Besides, don’t conservatives like unchecked presidential power when it comes to war?

Other notable chickenhawks include Roger Ailes, George Allen, Dick Armey, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, William Bennett, Roy Blunt, John Boehner, John Bolton, Jeb Bush, Saxby Chambliss, Dick Cheney, Tom Coburn, Ann Coulter, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity, Denny Hastert, Laura Ingraham, Alan Keyes, Charles Koch, David Koch, Bill Kristol, Jon Kyl, Rush Limbaugh, Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell, Thaddeus McCotter, Grover Norquist, Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin, Michael Reagan, Karl Rove, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Michael Savage, Ben Stein, Tom Tancredo, George Will, all five of Romney’s sons and, for that matter, most members of Congress. See the “Chickenhawk Hall of Fame” for others.

In fact, America is full of chickenhawks, as Rachel Maddow points out in her new book. Americans love to get behind a war, dispite the fact that few of us consider the long-term ramifications or actually choose to serve in the military. I’m one of those, by the way, who chose not to serve — and am one of a relatively small number of American men who has never actually registered for the draft. I have no idea how I’d have reacted had I been old enough to be drafted for the Vietnam War.

Unlike the chickenhawks named above, however, I’m opposed to most wars (and opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, wearing a black armband as a sign of protest and mourning from the day the war began through Memorial Day of that year). That’s why I can appreciate the sadly ironic story in the Onion today, headlined, “Few Years In Military Would Have Really Straightened Out Troubled Teen Killed On First Tour Of Afghanistan.”

June 21 follow-up: This post has been reprinted by a conservative blog (which unfortunately sometimes relies on Fox News-style sexism to draw readers, though this particular writer is a woman who regularly contributes to the sometimes-thoughtful interactions there), so if you want to read more discussion of the issue besides the comments below, you can go here. (Note: The previous sentence has been edited for clarification, because it apparently confused another regular at that site–thanks, Joe, for pointing out the poor wording.)

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments »

Washington State and gay marriage

Posted by James McPherson on June 7, 2012

I live in the most conservative part of a generally progressive state. Washington is the first state to ever have two female U.S. Senators and a woman governor at the same time. The state legislature recently approved gay marriage, which would have made Washington the seventh state to stop marriage discrimination.

That doesn’t mean that many people in the state don’t wish we were more like our neighbor to the east, the politically backward state of Idaho. That’s why the big news this week is that 200,000 people have signed petitions to put the issue to a vote in November. Perhaps we should vote on whether we should continue to allow interracial marriages, too. Sadly, the Washingtonians who signed are going in exactly the opposite direction as the rest of the nation (even if our president isn’t really gay).

Cherry-picked biblical quotes mean nothing in this argument. Even if the Bible argued more convincingly in opposition to homosexuality than, say, to making women married their rapists, religion isn’t supposed to dictate policy in America. Phony child-rearing arguments also are irrelevant — in fact, perhaps we should have more gay parents.

The solution is obvious — state-sanctioned marriages should take place in government buildings. Church ceremonies can be lovely, and would undoubtedly continue, but should have no legal standing whatsoever. And any two consenting adults should be able to legally enter into marriage.

Next-day update: Denmark just broadened its marriage equality law.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Multi-level madness from to Zeekler to zombies

Posted by James McPherson on June 3, 2012

Which is worse, a Zeekler or a zombie? Lately, both have been popping up on anti-social media, so perhaps it’s just a matter of time until they show up at your door. In the case of zombies, the Centers for Disease Control may have you covered  — unless, of course, they’re involved in a cover-up. We even know the cause of a “Zombie Apocalypse.” But what’s a Zeekler?

As if Farmville, Mafia Wars, and seeing how much your high school classmates have aged didn’t make Facebook annoying enough, now people are using it to pimp their multi-level marketing or penny auction schemes. Yesterday I encountered a post from someone who was “so excited” to have been introduced to Zeekler — complete with documentation from a serious-sounding publication about its success.

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Zeekler. I’m not a fan of the likes of Amway and Nu Skin (especially not as much of a fan as Mitt Romney and many of his fellow Mormons) because I don’t like the apparent odds, but normally I might figure “caveat emptor.” I have no idea whether Zeekler (or ZeekRewards) is a scam, and I’ll let others (also here or via government advice here) try to figure it out. I now know that one Zeekler Facebook site has almost 13,000 “likes” and  another almost 1,300, but both include many negative responses in the comments sections and quite a few apologies from the “Zeek geeks” for delayed payments. I also see that Zeekler and its parent company, Rex Venture Group, are becoming increasingly well-known to the Better Business Bureau.

Still, normally I’d just ignore an obnoxious sales pitch and go on — but in this case, the inclusion of a “media” support message made me feel an obligation to respond, especially because I saw the same quote word for word on other sites. The comment reads as follows:

I am still just amazed at what we all have our hands on. This is “ground floor Microsoft”, “ground floor Google”. Thank you [name deleted] for showing this to me, my friend. This has changed out lives forever! MARKETING BUSINESS JOURNAL (April 2012), “What has happened in the last 14 months will be carved out in the history books of business and technology along with business icons such as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Google.” “If you are reading this now, you are witnessing history in the making.” “Pay attention here. You may never see anything like this again in your lifetime.”

These folks may be “amazed” by their multi-level marketing opportunity that they can’t help throwing in extra quotation marks, but I am regularly amazed that some of the same who don’t trust CNN will spend money based something they read on the Internet, or something backed by a supposed publication such as the “Marketing Business Journal.” Especially since it’s easy to see that part of the page is missing. For all we know, this “article” was a paid advertisement.

Still, even the visible part of the page has the Network Marketing Business Journal website. And what do you find at that site? A slogan stating that the NMBJ is the “newspaper for the newest network marketing, direct sales, homebased business opportunities and articles.” In other words, it’s a trade journal (previously called Money Maker’s Monthly) founded and run by a former Amway distributor. Its own readership profile states, “The readership of Network Marketing Business Journal consists almost entirely of businesses in network marketing and direct sales roles.” Gee, I’d bet that publication uncovers scandal in the industry every day — and who could you trust more for an honest evaluation of a multi-level “opportunity”?

The site boasts links for a company of the month, a product of the month, a supplier of the month, and others. Unfortunately, apparently those “feature articles” are blocked to would-be readers who are not “authorized” to read them. The companies featured must be so proud to be so highly touted.

But of course the magazine’s readers may not be the most important target. The promoters who “read” the publication can forever use some version of the published “article” to pass to their Facebook “friends.” And with friends like those, who needs zombies?

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