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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Riding, writing and resting

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2013

For the past six months, politics has been relatively low on my list of concerns. Call it burnout, or simple disgust with almost everyone in politics (including those in the media who cover it), but after my sabbatical began at the end of May I probably watched and read less about contemporary politics (especially from cable news) for the next several months than during any similar period in perhaps a decade. I have to admit that I didn’t miss it.

Nor have I missed most things about my “real job” as a professor. Someone asked me a while back the most important thing I’d learned during my sabbatical. My answer: “That I probably won’t have any trouble adjusting to retirement in 12 to 15 years.” I love being in the classroom and interacting with students, but certainly haven’t missed grading, course prep or meetings.

During my sabbatical I added a regular Wednesday “guys’ breakfast” and a regular Thursday golf game to my Tuesday and Friday morning basketball games. I’ve read more — and more for fun — than usual. I worked in the yard and garden. I spent time with parents, siblings, kids and a grandchild.

Most importantly, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my wife of almost 33 years, especially during a 25-day 5,700-mile drive that included visits to various family members and the cities of Boise, Tucson, Santa Fe, New Orleans and Natchez — the lovely Mississippi city (with the troubling history) in which my wife was born. The cities of Las Vegas, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City we passed through quickly, but not too quickly to be reminded of the sprawling corporate sameness that scars the Great American Landscape (though perhaps not for much longer, if my brother and other “doomers” are correct about the fate of the world).

More directly related to my profession, while in New Orleans I attended the annual convention of the American Journalism Historians Association. The convention was held in the beautiful historic Hotel Monteleone, where, despite a steep discount, the nightly rate was more than I paid for my first car, and where it cost more to park my pickup each night than I’ve paid for a room in some motels.

Back home, I attended a breakfast at which I chatted with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and then (at her request) sent her a copy a book I wrote. (Unlike a similar event with George Will a year earlier, I didn’t notice any errors worthy of correction here.) Later that month I helped out with a high school journalism workshop.

In terms of writing, I have revised a book chapter, chipped away at a novel, compiled notes and done research for a new academic book, and written more than 90 posts for an ongoing blog project. Today I even started our annual Christmas letter, having put up and decorated the tree a couple of days ago. And naturally I’ve been writing on the most pervasive medium in America today: Facebook.

Yes, I’ve devoted too much time to one form of anti-social media, though I’ve managed to forego Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest and Alltherest. I don’t tweet, or even text, and I definitely don’t twerk, Thanks to modern media, sometimes I twitch.

What I’ve written on Facebook  was typically far less important than what I “shared” from elsewhere (the same sorts of things that have no doubt prompted some “friends” to hide me from their feeds). And in retrospect, at least some of what I took the time to share via Facebook also seems worth sharing here. Some examples follow, though for space reasons I obviously can’t include oh-s0-witty-and/or-insightful comments I offered with each post.

The eclectic mix includes: an 1812 test for eighth-graders that few of us today could pass; a professional football coach (who knocked me out in practice when we were on the same college team);  the discovery of a new dinosaur; police brutality in New Mexico; empathetic high school football players; a revised “U.S. map” based on watersheds; Boeing’s anti-union efforts; Richard Cohen’s racism and sexism; how some of Apple’s overseas employees end up as virtual slaves; “15 Ways The United States Is The Best (At Being The Worst)”; the highest-paid employees in each state; a lesson on being quick to judge; some bragging about my workplace; and “the incredible story of Marion Stokes,” an obsessive librarian who taped — on VHS videocassettes — 35 years of television news.

Related to media, I posted items about the dangers of texting while driving and  sexist cyber-bullying by football fans. I explained why my local newspaper screwed up, placing a beautiful photo of a Native American mother and child next to an unrelated headline stating, “Child porn cases result in prison.” I pointed out that a widely quoted ESPN piece about NFL hazing used faulty math and therefore probably drew erroneous conclusions. I made fun of a local television station for misusing a word during a hostage crisis. And I shared a funny piece about a newspaper that retracted its criticism of the Gettysburg Address as “silly remarks” worthy of “a veil of oblivion.”

As a feminist who sometimes teaches a class on women and media (while serving on the board for a local nonprofit devoted to media literacy), I shared various items related to women’s issues: a story about “how we teach our kids that women are liars“;  a piece about sexist treatment of Janet Yellen; how women like working for women; and one about the Bechtel test for movies. I also addressed males, sharing “Five Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Needs.”

I shared some items about religion, including mega-churches and the fact that the region of the country most opposed to government health care is the Bible Belt. Naturally I couldn’t avoid mention of the Affordable Care Act. Posts compared: Al Jazeera America’s coverage of Typhoon Haiyan and Obamacare with the coverage by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC; how journalists were fact-checking other journalists; Sean Hannity’s lies;

I didn’t managed to ignore other politics entirely, either, discussing such issues as Barack Obama’s judicial nominations; Senate filibusters and the “nuclear option”; nutjobs who advocate killing Obama; National Security Agency wiretapping; Texas textbooks and evolution (a subject of this blog in 2009 and 2010); George W. Bush addressing the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute; some loony Sarah Palin fiscal hypocrisy; Chris Christie’s flip-flop on immigration; and Rand Paul’s plagiarism. What, you expected me to go six months without criticizing a few conservatives?

Most of those Facebook comments came during the past month and a half, suggesting that I’m being sucked back into caring more about politics than may be healthy. Too bad; I’ll have to keep working on that for the couple of months that remain on my sabbatical. Perhaps I’ll report back after that.

14 Responses to “Riding, writing and resting”

  1. Many thanks for the entertaining and comprehensive update James
    Right on partner…, write on.

  2. Reuel said

    Thanks goodness you are not twerking. Then I would worry about you. Yes I agree Hannity lies, Palin is like the toy that you put the dial over the animal and it makes the same sounds. I will finish by saying I will not talk down Barry anymore, in seeing his real clear politics polls, my job is done. I to will look forward to retirement, have about 8 years till then. See I don’t like some “conservatives” either. Oh and I ain’t twerking yet either. LOL 🙂

  3. melfamy said

    Welcome back, James

  4. William Gates said

    The RNL misses you guys.

  5. Thanks, Guys. William, you’re probably right — but though I can’t speak for the others here, I can’t say I’m missing them. 🙂 I did get involved in an interesting Megyn Kelly/Santa Claus/Jesus discussion on another conservative site a couple of days ago: http://netrightdaily.com/2013/12/megyn-kelly-targeted-left/

    Reuel, while I’d say Obama’s low rating is well-deserved, I don’t think it matters much at this point — especially if the GOP continues its self-immolation. Only eight years to retirement, huh? Of course, as we’ve seen with consecutive terms of both Bush and Obama, eight years can be a looooooong time. 🙂

  6. William Gates said

    It swings a bit too far right for me. To the point of some don’t care about the truth as much as they care about trying to make someone else look bad.

    I had a conversation with a couple of guys last week and one mentioned Dnish D’souza. How much he admired him. I said, “Really?” “Why?” Then the other guy said how Obama’s half brother called him, because he had no one else to turn to, and asked for $10,000 for an operation he had to have. He then said D’Souza gave it to him. I said that he must have an ulterior motive since people don’t just generally give $10,000 to anyone that just asks them for it. Anyways—

    A simple Google search stated it was $1000 not $10,000 and also D’Souza was allowed to interview him. So I immediately called those two guys on it and what was their response? “I swear the fish was THIS big.” Obviously referring to how the amount grew from $1000 to $10000, and how it was for nothing, but ended up being for an interview. At that point, that tells me they feel that lying is totally acceptable as long as it goes along with your beliefs, motives and agenda. I don’t agree with that on any level. Liberal or Conservative. So that’s what turned me off about those guys, some of the RNL guys, and some of the liberal blogs also.

  7. Thanks, William; I had forgotten that incident. I met D’Souza once years ago after he spoke where I work, and thought he was a phony — but I was also willing to attribute my feelings to the fact that he and I disagree on almost everything (and the fleeting unnatural setting of our meeting, after a speech). That was before his very-poorly-researched (but popular) Obama book and movie came out, and before he lost his job as president of a Christian college because he was cheating on his wife.

    One of the things I point out in my Media Criticism class is how common lying is in politics (sharing lots of examples from both sides) and how a big part of the problem is the fact that so many people are willing to accept the lies on behalf of their own side. I became disillusioned with the RNL in part because — despite their protestations to the contrary — the two “thinking” members of the blog’s leadership seemed to be doing the same thing.

  8. William Gates said

    Yeah. I was disappointed that they allowed that. But that’s all a part of that “your side-my side” mentality. I guess they feel there’s strength in numbers so they’re willing to take any one they deem are on their side. If they could have reigned Dusty in a bit…….

  9. Yeah, I actually started to feel sorry for Dusty. They banned him once for regurgitating easy-to-check falsehoods, but he immediately began doing the same thing once they let him start posting again. I finally realized that he might be mentally challenged, and that they were letting him post out of pity. At least, that would be a nicer reason than the alternative, which is that they just don’t care, or that they figure no one will notice.

  10. William Gates said

    I used to like posting there. When responses were reasonable. I don’t mind someone disagreeing with me but it got to the point of they didn’t care what was said it was who was saying it. So if I posted anything it was immediately dismissed because behind the scenes I was called a liar and (the ultimate insult in their minds) liberal. I totally believe people are conservative or liberal depending on the situation. Of course, with them, that didn’t/doesn’t fly even as they make their liberal decisions.

    I originally thought Joe was cool. Until I discovered he was talking behind my back. Same thing as he did with Greg. He’s not a bad person, he just has to be the smartest person in the room all the time that’s done more than anyone else. But, once he called me a liar, I was done. After all, we are supposed to be adults.

  11. Well, guys, I may have helped prolong the life of the RNL for a bit longer. Knowing that someone over there was bound to say something stupid about the whole “Duck Dynasty” controversy, I dropped in and commented. The post now appears to have far more comments than anything they’ve done for a while. It didn’t take long for the amateur proctologist to respond with profanity, but so far they haven’t thanked me for helping out. 🙂 http://therionorteline.com/2013/12/19/duck-calls/

  12. William Gates said

    Oh yeah. You got it started. Here’s one of my issues with them—not one of them will chastise the other but at least one of them knows it’s not a 1st amendment issue that everyone from Palin down is screaming (what does that tell you about our present day politicians?). They wait until someone outside the clique does it and then they all pounce and redirect the conversation. If they love each other like brothers, as they some times say, why wouldn’t they correct their brother when he’s wrong?

    Bottom line is he had the right to say what he did, A&E had the right to do what they did. Those guys over there are some of the first one’s to taunt “Employment at Will” and “Right to Hire and Right to Fire”. They’ve even said that “no one owes you a job.” So why isn’t that the case now?

    The Robertson family may be wealthy, but they definitely don’t have more money than A&E. They may say they don’t need that money, but they signed the contract to do that show for some reason.

  13. “They’ve even said that ‘no one owes you a job.’ So why isn’t that the case now?”

    ‘Cuz they’re a bunch of hypocritical whiners? 🙂

  14. melfamy said

    James, you are being too harsh on the boys, After all, only last week, Utah broke the story that shocked the world senseless, right there on the ol’ Rio Norte, that Nelson Mandela was no saint!

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