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 September, 2012

NFL replacement refs: A matter of life and death?

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2012

I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan, but I don’t feel good about the results of last night’s “win” against the Green Bay Packers. Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ve no doubt heard that that officials blew the call–actually a couple of calls–on the final play of the game. Talking heads are going nuts about it, and not just on the sports channels. Even Paul Ryan used it to take a shot at Barack Obama today, while anti-union Gov. Scott Walker urged National Football League owners to give the regular union refs what they want.

On the other hand, the game had been officiated poorly throughout–had the officials not prolonged a Packer drive with two questionable calls, the Seahawks might have been ahead, anyway. Green Bay offensive guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sutton took to Twitter to blame the loss on the officials, but those two guys and their cohorts on the offensive line had managed to give up a near-record eight sacks in the first half. The replacement refs weren’t any more pitiful than the Packers’ pass blocking.

Still, fans and commentators are calling the officiating of NFL replacement refs (which goes beyond Monday night’s game) and the outcome of the game a tragedy. Abhorant. Appalling. Atrocious. Awful. Deplorable. Devastating. A disasterDisgusting. Dreadful. Hideous. Horrendous. HorrifyingInsane. MoronicPitiful. Stupid. Terrible. Unbelievable. Unfair.

Those people are understandably upset, but they’re also wrong. For better definitions of the words listed above, click on the links embedded in them. Then take a breath and count your blessings, if your life is secure enough that you can invest more emotion in a football game than in any of those issues (or many others that might have been included). Better yet, write a letter or a check that might help real victims–none of which played on Monday Night Football.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Ten things we’re told could influence the presidential election–but won’t

Posted by James McPherson on September 13, 2012

While President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney seems to be widening and Romney seems to be sinking stupidly into dishonest John McCain-style desperation, and despite the fact that I’ve been predicting an Obama victory for some time, I do recognize that there is time for the electoral picture to change. Perhaps the debates will swing things in Romney’s favor, if he doesn’t offer to bet Obama $10,000 or if he suddenly becomes the anti-war candidate that Obama once pretended to be.

Or if Obama suddenly starts referring to Romney as “John” because he forgets which tall, stiff, rich Massachusetts flip-flopper he is debating. (Romney’s practice opponent has done this gig before, pretending to be John Edwards, Al Gore and Obama).

With the possibility of an electoral shift in mind, I offer the following list of ten things that media folks and others (I’ve fallen into one or two of the traps myself) often suggest will make a difference in presidential elections–but which, in fact, almost certainly won’t matter  in this or any future presidential election:

1) Your vote. I’ve discussed this at length elsewhere, so won’t go into detail here. But your presidential ballot has virtually no chance of affecting who becomes president. Still, you should turn out to vote: Cast a protest vote for president, and recognize that your ballot might mean something in a local election where fewer people vote.

2) Public opinion polls. At least those measuring the popular vote, since it’s the electoral vote that matters (ask Al Gore). And if we look at the Rasmussen poll (which I chose because it is considered one of the most politically conservative), we see that Obama has a big lead in the electoral count. According to Rasmussen, only seven toss-up states remain–Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, Missouri and Colorado–and if Obama claims ONLY Florida, or Ohio and ANY ONE of the other six, or ANY THREE of the seven, he wins the election. By contrast, Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll would give you the impression that the election is close. And that impression would be wrong.

3) Citizens United. Yes, this was a horrible Supreme Court decision that lets corporations and lobbying groups spend too much power to try to influence elections. But that’s not necessarily much of a change. And there’s so much money in presidential politics that neither major party will lack enough funds to compete in the states that matter. On the other hand, just as your vote means more in local and state elections, big money also has more influence in those elections.

4) The current economy. Yes, since even before Bill Clinton, we’ve been hearing, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Maybe that was true in 1932. In fact, the economy today may even help Obama. To repeat, economic models tend to favor Obama, not Romney, in part because voters care more about trends than about where the economy sits.

5) Evangelical Protestants. Ironically, if these folks get their way in November, for the first time ever we won’t have a Protestant president, vice president or Supreme Court justice. Conservative Christian influence has probably peaked.

6) Candidates’ verbal gaffes. All candidates tire and say dumb things. The media then overplay the gaffes, but I doubt that voters make decisions based on the verbal slips of a candidate. (Again, the state level may be different.) Sarah Palin’s gaffes have mattered more than most because we heard so little else from her.

7) Cable news networks. There’s some evidence that Fox News changed the 1980 election, but probably not any election since then. Now every voter knows that Fox News is a house organ for the GOP, just as MSNBC has become for the Democrats. Besides, more Americans watch mainstream network news and any number of reality shows than watch anything on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.

8) Convention platforms. Yes, I previously suggested that these might matter, and both the GOP platform and its Democratic counterpart drew attention during the conventions. Now they’ll be largely forgotten, including by the candidates themselves, until 2016.

9) Vice presidential candidates. Here again, at times I’ve thought these people mattered, but they haven’t since at least 1960. People vote for presidents, not vice presidents. Palin may have hurt McCain a bit, but she helped him first. And after eight years of George W. Bush, even Jesus Christ would have had a tough time winning as a Republican in 2008.

10) Candidates’ wives. Some are more glamorous than others. Some are smarter. Some bake better cookies. And until they run for office themselves, as Elizabeth Dole and Hillary Clinton did, they’re entertaining diversions that don’t matter much in the big picture.

So take some time to study local issues and vote thoughtfully. If you’re in a swing state, worry about things such as voter suppression that actually might influence the election. But stop worrying about things that won’t matter, anyway.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 41 Comments »

Labor ‘wobbles’ or we all fall down: Belaboring a point about why unions matter

Posted by James McPherson on September 2, 2012

Labor Day is here, marking the unofficial end of summer–a time for every little rich kid to stop wearing white while poor kids risk getting maimed in factories. And if junior should happen to lose a limb or an eye while on the job, then mom and dad can spend some of their 60-hour work week trying to figure out how to pay the hospital bill, since their jobs provides no insurance.

What, that’s not how you think of Labor Day? You probably think I’m just exaggerating, perhaps to take another shot at the mean visions for America produced by folks lik Mitt RomneyPaul Ryan and Newt Gingrich. But no, I think that this weekend is the ideal time to remind us all of what we owe laborers in this country, particularly those laborers who fought to make things better for all workers–and therefore for all of us.

Remember when having a few Americans–say, more than 3,200 in a single year–die in mines was no big deal? Or when a person could be fired–or shot or lynched–for protesting dismal work conditions? You probably don’t remember it, but if some people (mostly Republicans) had their way we could go back there. There is no doubt that companies are doing better than their employees.

Admittedly, unions have been prone as other human endeavors to corruption, and some union members show a selfish, short-sighted streak when it comes to their neighbors–a regrettable attitude because it’s a view that (when held by others) weakens the influence of labor and the earning power of workers. The most notable example I’ve come across recently was a Wisconsin union worker (whom I won’t name) who offered a troubling combination of views within a space of moments.

“I can explain as best I can all of the horrible things that have happened to me in my work life, and everybody’s like, ‘Well, then find a new job,’ but it’s not that simple. And somebody still has to do the job one way or the other,” said the worker, who, according to the piece, “got really fired up in the fight to defend his union.”

“”I’ve never been involved in politics until what happened in 2011 was thrown in my lap, and I realized how much I’ve been affected by it,” he was quoted as saying–before then going on to complain about Obamacare:

“I don’t think that we should have a national health care plan [in which] everybody is put in the same category,” he says. “I feel like I joined the Department of Corrections, and I continue to work for the Department of Corrections because I have excellent health benefits. … So if health benefits are important to you, I feel like you should be able to go out and find a job where you can get excellent health benefits.”

Hmm. Really? When it comes to finding that a job with “excellent health benefits,” especially with ongoing Republican efforts to weaken unions, it seems as though someone might suggest “It’s not that simple.” And when it comes to those other less “excellent” jobs, it seems as though some wise person might point out, “Somebody still has to do the job one way or the other.” Right? Sigh.

By the way, if you’re too young to understand the pun in the headline above or don’t remember your labor history–or if you just want to see cool video of an old toy commercial–you can go here. And happy Labor Day, to all who work and all who wish they could in these difficult times. Below are a few of my favorite reminders of how far we have come, starting with the incomparable Paul Robeson singing the labor ballad “Joe Hill”–also sung by a trio in my church today (as my pastor, who preached about the value of work and workers, wore a long-sleeved T-shirt that had been given to her by the local sheet metal workers’ union), and which I’ve also heard performed in person by Utah Phillips.

P.S.: Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge of Labor Day.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments »