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, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Fake hair, white skin & tall tales

Posted by James McPherson on June 20, 2015

The headline above could refer to either Donald Trump, the latest passenger in the Republican clown car, or to serial liar and former Spokane NCAA president Rachel Dolezal, both of whom I commented on via Twitter and Facebook during the past week or so. Below are some of my tweets and Facebook posts from the period:

With Trump declaring his candidacy for president, I noted that I want to see his birth certificate because I don’t believe he’s from this planet. Also on the issue of politics, I commented on Jeb! Bush’s bad logo, and on the fact that President Obama had no objection to changing the name of Mt. McKinley to Denali. “Of course not; McKinley was a Republican,” I tweeted. “And Dinali means ‘Great One,’ so Obama can pretend it’s named for him.”

I commented on dumb complaints by Jerry Seinfeld and Bill O’Reilly about the supposed negative effects of “political correctness.” In a perhaps-related issue I shared a Psychology Today piece about how “Anti-intellectualism is killing America.”

Dolezal prompted widespread discussion about race  even before racist lunatic Dylann Roof killed nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church. The latest American massacre prompted the usual idiocy from the National Rifle Association, the expected cowardice of politicians, the typical dishonest of Fox News, and predictions from Jon Stewart and me that the long-term effect would be exactly zilch. As I noted on one post, “soul. ‪#‎Columbine‬ didn’t matter. ‪#‎VirginiaTech‬ didn’t matter. ‪#‎Aurora‬ didn’t matter. ‪#‎GabbyGiffords‬ didn’t matter. ‪#‎Newtown‬ didn’t matter. ‪#‎Charleston‬ won’t make a damn bit of difference, either.”

On a lighter note, there was one hero in the news this week: a cat named Tara that won a “Hero Dog Award.” I took it upon myself to come up with a quote for Tara: “Deep in my heart, I identify as a dog.”

I also commented on the fact that a woman’s picture will appear on the $10 bill, beginning in 2020. We don’t know which woman. We do know that she’ll be dead, which leaves out Sandra Day O’Conner, Hillary Clinton, Condi Rice and Caitlyn Jenner. I’m leaning toward favoring Eleanor Roosevelt, Sacajawea or Jeannette Rankin.

On the media front, I lamented the state of local journalism and the short-sighted critics who are helping kill it, and forwarded a tweet about the Charleston Post and Courier which put a stick-on advertisement for a gun store on its front page — directly over a huge banner headline stating, “Church attack kills 9.” I noted that the media coverage of the killer might encourage others, and criticized Howard Kurtz — who used to be a credible media critic but who has become just another pitifully biased Fox News shill.

I also shared an excellent Politico story about Bloomberg News. I’ve visited Bloomberg several times with students, who have chuckled over the fact that our hosts brag about the company’s “transparency” right after telling us that specific comments will be “off the record.”

OK, off to the lake for a few days escape from politics, media and home projects. Have a good week, everybody. Don’t shoot anyone.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Catching up: A brief social media summary

Posted by James McPherson on June 10, 2015

A couple of nice comments on my most recent post made me realize that it had been more than three months since I’d written anything for this blog. Twitter, Facebook, my classes and one letter to the editor about Baltimore protests have been my only outlets for commentary during that time.

I can’t recapture here what happened in classes, but thought it might be worth sharing a few highlights of what I’ve posted on social media. I’ll exclude my regular ranting about the ineptitude of the Seattle Mariners, and there’s no way to include my hundreds of witty or snarky or reflective comments; after all, I’ve posted more than 1,300 tweets since February. For those comments, you’ll need to friend me on Facebook and check out my Twitter feed.

Topics, in no particular order, have included:

The idiocy of John Thune complaining that a Supreme Court decision against the Affordable Care Act (a decision scheduled for this week or next) could cost 6 million people their health care subsidies, which helps show “why Obamacare is bad for the American people.” Of course, the subsidies would not exist without Obamacare, and are at risk now only because of a Republican lawsuit, King v. Burwell. And even Ted Cruz has signed up for Obamacare.

Related to health care, as many of us already knew, Americans pay more for worse care than some people elsewhere.

Evidence that American politics have shifted far to the right, even as the American people have not. The good news about that is that it makes it more difficult for Republicans to ever again win the presidency.

The unprecedented secrecy of the Obama administration (also here).

Evidence that the economy performs far better under Democrats than Republicans.

“Altruism pornography” via “The Briefcase“: Just because reality television and privileged Americans’  disdain for the poor haven’t quite hit bottom in a country that is become increasingly divided economically.

Doubts that allegations regarding the Clinton Foundation will amount to anything, though I also have concerns about the foundation and its donors.

Problems with journalism in regard to dying newspapers, how Facebook filters news, and Fox News viewers being LESS informed than people who watch no news.

Lies or hypocrisy by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in a fundraising email; Jeb Bush in talking about his brother’s rationale for the Iraq War; Ted Cruz over federal aid; Mike Huckabee over military service; Carly Fiorina about Chinese ingenuity; the State of Tennessee over a law making the Bible its official book; Idaho legislators worried about Sharia Law; the NRA restricting guns at its national convention; Cruz again about a variety of topics; Fox News over Benghazi.

In education, separating Wheaton (College) from the chaff (Dennis Hester), an arrogant professor, and the largely mythical idea that political correctness is scaring teachers. Plus God helping Ben Carson cheat in a chemistry class.

Craziness involving guns in Idaho, TexasHollywood (Vince Vaughn), an NRA seminar and the NRA’s national convention.

Race issues on Twitter and elsewhere on the World Wide Web, and new “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.

The “American tradition” of rioting, the deadliest hate crime in U.S. history, LGBT equality and Republicans who favor it.

An old negative review of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics, along with the insanity of Paula Geller, who compared herself to Rosa Parks, and of a Playboy-posing veteran who wants to “protect” the American flag.

The stupidity of war as tied to patriotism and the end of the world by the end of this year.

Why Americans should slow down and take it easier. Huh; maybe that’s why I haven’t posted for so long until now.

So there’s a small sample of what I’ve been thinking and writing about. But I’ll try to make better use of the blog as the political season heats up.


Posted in Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 19 Comments »

A weird, sad week in journalism

Posted by James McPherson on February 12, 2015

Journalism has taken a lot of hits in recent years, but this week has been weirder and sadder than most. Respected television journalist Bob Simon died Wednesday– not in one of the many wars he covered, but in that most mundane American way, a car crash. Two days earlier, even more popular (though less talented) journalist Brian Williams shot down his own career with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Frankly, though I liked Williams as an entertainer on “Saturday Night Live” and while “slow jamming the news,” I haven’t considered most television “news” people to be journalists since they began parading through “Murphy Brown” more than two decades ago. Identifying “real journalism vs. fake journalism” has become increasingly difficult.

This week we must also face the loss of two people who in recent years have done far more than most to keep journalists honest. On Monday, Jon Stewart (not a journalist, but for many of us a source for more news than Williams ever was), announced that he would leave Comedy Central’s most important program, “The Daily Show.” And tonight the New York Times’ David Carr, probably the best media critic in the business, died in the newsroom shortly after moderating a discussion involving Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.

Though I thought Carr was sometimes overly crabby in his public persona, I admired his work and liked him for more than his writing. Several years ago, he interviewed me for more than a half hour — then apologized after the story ran without my quotes because an editor apparently decided “one historian was enough.” I thanked him, and, as a recovering alcoholic, congratulated him on his successful fight with drug addiction. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve always suspected that he had a hand in my later being interviewed by another Times reporter for a story about Andrew Breitbart.

Interestingly, part of my quote about Breitbart in that story might apply to Brian Williams: “I think his actions show that if he’s not willing to distort, he is at least careless with the facts. … But there are no standards of fact anymore for some people.”

One of the few positive notes this week somewhat related to journalism is that WorldNutsDaily managed to tie Barack Obama’s birth certificate to the Williams story. That piece quotes Alan Jones, apparently no relation to the Jones whom I have previously called “perhaps the most bat-shit crazy conspiracy theorist in America.”

But for those of us who care about journalism, a dose of birther lunacy can’t come close to making up for how much the rest of the week sucked. A world without Jon Stewart, Bob Simon and David Carr is a meaner, dumber world.

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Stupor Bowl — enjoy it while you can

Posted by James McPherson on January 28, 2015

seahawk bandaide logo

On Sunday I hope to see my favorite professional football team win a second consecutive Super Bowl. So it feels odd that a column on the front page of my local newspaper this week would have me considering when professional football will end up like boxing, another American sport that glamorizes brutality.

Say what? Pro football is the most popular sport in America, with both viewers and gamblers, while professional boxing now barely hangs on. The National Football League’s championship game typically is the most-watched television program of the year, which is why companies this year paid an average of $4.5 million for 30 seconds of advertising. (Though GoDaddy has made more money from ads it supposedly couldn’t run than from ads it could.) We take football far more seriously than we do a lot of other far more important topics.

In short, if football is dying, some might say, give me the disease.

And maybe I’m nuts. After all, I have suffered multiple concussions and take a bit of weird pride in the fact that I was once knocked unconscious in a college football practice (yes, practice) by a guy who is (at least for now) the head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. But if I were a gambler, I’d bet that next year’s Super Bowl — the 50th — will be the high point for pro football before an inevitable downward slide.

Unless some prominent Republican politician’s kid gets killed on the gridiron, I don’t expect football’s decline to be sudden. There’s too much money involved — perhaps most importantly at the college level. As long as doddering alums will pay big bucks to relive their college days by cheering for nonstudent athletes clad (if only for a year or two before they go pro, get hurt or flunk out) in the alma mater’s colors, major universities will continue to pay football coaches far more than their presidents. And even if colleges start paying their players, the reason many of them play in college is for the chance to turn pro.

Still, the column by Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke helps demonstrates why I believe pro football may be peaking in popularity. At some point we will have to come to terms with the fact that our favorite sport kills and maims too many people, most of them kids. There’s a reason that, as Plaschke points out, even “Iron Mike” Ditka wouldn’t let his own son play football today.

Like football today, boxing was once one of the top three sports in America for viewers and gamblers,  Aside from the corruption that came to characterize the sport, those of us old enough to remember Muhammad Ali battling Joe Frazier could no longer in good conscience watch the bloodshed — especially after seeing what the sport did to the wit and vocabulary of a man who could have been the rhetorical model for Richard Sherman. (Even as young sportscasters now emulate others who copied Howard Cosell, perhaps without knowing who Cosell was.)

We’ve now seen the corruption that football madness can engender, even at the high school level. It’s much worse in college, and of course this year has been a bad one for the NFL. People still have a somewhat favorable view of the league, but disgust or disinterest has set in for many. As scandals and awareness of the bloodshed both increase, people will find other entertainment options.

I don’t know what might replace football in popularity. I’d hope for baseball, but basketball is more likely. Mixed martial arts, soccer, golf and auto racing all have rabid fans, but not enough to convince the rest of us to buy expensive apparel and plan our weekends around events.

Maybe we’ll give politics or community affairs or education more attention. Perhaps we’ll read more. Maybe we’ll go back to actually engaging in activities ourselves, rather than simply watching others do so. But probably not, unless those activities involve some form of video gaming that we can do while drinking beer, eating pizza and burgers, betting big money, and yelling at the screen.

In the meantime, of course, most of us will keep watching football, rooting for laundry, hoping “our guys” crush the competition without anyone getting killed in the process. Go Hawks!

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

GOP may help Democrats by claiming Senate

Posted by James McPherson on November 4, 2014

It’s been tough to get excited about today’s elections, the most expensive midterms in history, for which turnout will be low. A constant barrage of ads from political hate groups may depress the vote. Conservative voter suppression efforts may have a limited effect on election results in some states, while voter fraud, as usual, will be virtually nonexistent and will have no effect whatsoever.

Republicans have found that running without a platform or ideas, while hiding from their jobs, is more effective than the Democratic tactic of running without a clue, while hiding from the president who heads their party.

That means that the most interested/extreme voices will have more influence than usual. I expect the GOP to claim the Senate, though we may not know the final results for weeks because of close results in Georgia and Louisiana. Actually, I expect we will know. Having watched very brief (all I could stand) segments of shows on Fox News and MSNBC last night, I saw commentators on both predicting that Republicans will gain seats in the Senate. We know that Fox News would predict big Republican wins regardless of the likely outcome, but if MSNBC is pessimistic about Dems’ chances, that confirms the likelihood of a GOP victory.

Of course, having the Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress will mean … probably squat. Since it now takes 60 votes in the Senate to accomplish anything, and since the GOP would fall short of that total if it won every single seat up for election this year, little will change.

If anything, the worst Congress ever may get even worse. There will be a new, equally obnoxious, Senate majority leader, and new committee heads, but Democrats won’t be any less obstructionist during the next two years than Republicans have been for the past six. Both parties will continue to promote war and ignore climate change. No immigration reform will occur, which will make Latinos even more likely to vote Democratic in four years. Republicans will continue to have meaningless show votes on the Affordable Care Act, which will continue to provide health care to increasing numbers of Americans.

I heard someone say last night that GOP control of the Senate means President Obama will be unable to get his nominations approved. Apparently that person hasn’t noticed the current state of the nominating process, where Republicans have left record numbers of judicial seats vacant and where, despite a supposed Ebola crisis, the GOP and its gun lobby puppeteers have kept the U.S. from having a surgeon general for the past year.

If GOP “control” of the Senate helps anyone, it likely will be the Democrats — who two years from now will be able to point out that Republicans controlled both houses of Congress for two years without accomplishing anything. Obama can veto anything that Congress accidentally passes, of course, but with Senate Democrats manning the barricades in front of him, I doubt that the president will need to track down his veto pen.

Some interesting things will happen today, though, as usual, your vote won’t matter much in the Senate races. The GOP will expand its majority in the House, thanks to gerrymandering, though more Americans likely will once again vote for Democrats in the ill-named “people’s House.” Either party may gain a Governor’s seat. Most of the meaningful elections will occur at the state and local levels, and most Americans will neglect their own interests and ignore those elections.

Among other things, more people in Arkansas may get easier access to alcohol, and folks in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia may gain the right to legally smoke marijuana. They may need it, considering that campaigning for the 2016 election, which will be the new “most expensive election in history,” starts tomorrow.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 20 Comments »

Elizabeth Warren is running for president

Posted by James McPherson on April 23, 2014

elizabeth warrenThough I rarely produce journalistic scoops these days, here’s something that you can say that you read here first: Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts will run for president in 2016, despite what she told ABC just a couple of days ago. Even if Chris Cillizza states flatly, “Elizabeth Warren is almost certainly not running for president in 2016.”

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps even Warren herself doesn’t know that she’ll be a candidate in 2016. And though I’m often blown away by her intelligence and her grasp of economic issues — and so I shouldn’t suggest that I know something she doesn’t — here are six reasons that I know she’ll run:

First, she wrote a book. And not just any book, as Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll pointed out yesterday, but “a campaign book.” Not a major policy work, but an autobiography, “nothing explosive, but juicy enough to feed the Washington media machine.” A book that “can, at times, read like an extended stump speech.”

Years ago, in my book about the post-World War II rise of conservatism in the U.S. (and previously on this blog), I compared Barack Obama’s campaign to those of earlier candidates. I wrote that Obama “wrote a popular book that might be compared to conservative icon Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. Obama’s The Audacity of Hope offered an image for the nation’s political future, calling for in one reviewer’s words, ‘a mode of liberalism that sounds both highly pragmatic and deeply moral.'”

A second reason I believe Warren will run is that we’re seemingly seeing her everywhere. Some of the most effective Senators — such as Hillary Clinton, for example — become what are known as legislative “work horses,” keeping their heads down and doing the hard work of legislating. Others become “show horses,” speaking out not only in public hearings but whenever they can on television. Do a search on YouTube for “Elizabeth Warren.” The result? “About 221,000 results.”

Third, Warren not only seems to be everywhere, but she also has something to say. As I wrote about Obama, in my book: Both Obama and Ronald Reagan “found themselves in demand as speakers inside and outside their parties. Though Reagan had a sharper wit, a folksier manner, and a more practiced delivery, both he and Obama spoke on behalf of their values in direct, positive and personal ways that connected with listeners.” Warren may be smarter than either of those men, and manages to tell us horrible news about financial institutions  in a way that makes it seem as if there might be an answer.

Fourth, Warren herself is the answer for the problems she raises, problems that most Americans can identify with. Without her, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would not exist. She rightfully should have been that agency’s first director, but Obama chickened out from appointing her, convinced that opposition from banks and Republicans would be too strong for her to be confirmed.

Fifth, as just pointed out, banks and Republicans don’t like Warren. That makes her appealing to Democrats who don’t happen to be bankers, and helps her raise money. Even if she were wishy-washy about the idea of running, she’d be getting a lot of pressure to run.

And finally, a sixth reason we should expect Warren to be a candidate: Her timing will likely never be better. Many said that Obama was running “too soon,” that he should wait four or eight more years to run. I think that his presidency — and the nation — has suffered in some respects because of his lack of experience. But as I have noted, we actually seem to prefer inexperience in our presidential nominees. Someone such as John Kerry or John McCain or Hillary Clinton who has served for a long period of time in government has a record that can be used and distorted by opponents.

Besides, if not now, when? If a Democrat should happen to win the presidency in 2016, that person would probably seek re-election in 2020. The earliest that Warren could run in that case would be in 2024, after she had already served a dozen years in the Senate (assuming she won a second term; if she lost a Massachusetts Senate race she couldn’t be a credible Democratic candidate afterward).

So, there you have it. She’s running. And if I’m wrong, well, I’ll be just like every other political pundit, hoping no one remembers later.



Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Conservative quackery and Santa Claus

Posted by James McPherson on December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone. I hope your appreciation of the season hasn’t been dampened by recent controversy involving those wildly popular but oft-misunderstood bearded guys.

No, I’m not talking about “Daddy Duck” Phil Robertson and the other guys of “reality” television’s “Duck Dynastyclan, as I see no need to join the discussion over whether clan leader Phil Robertson is a homophobic racist or just a committed Christian (other than to point out that those who claim that Robertson’s free speech rights are being violated are clueless about the First Amendment).

I’m more interested in the controversy involving those other bearded guys — Santa Claus and Jesus — whom a defensive and “very, very blonde” professional spokesmodel Megyn Kelly brought into Fox News’ annual weird, wacky, hypocritical and ultimately pointless (except to fire up viewers and drive up ratings) “war on the war on Christmas” by insisting that both were white guys.

Not surprisingly, Kelly was wrong about both Jesus and the inspiration for Santa. (Incidentally, Bill O’Reilly has now declared the war over, making himself the commanding general in a Christian victory, and the “war on Christmas” is just a subset of the equally ludicrous (at least in this country) “Christians are persecuted” meme, anyway.)

The “white Santa/white Jesus” discussion continued over several days (not much real news before the holidays, apparently), and I actually heard someone on television question whether we even know Santa’s gender. I’m not making that up, though I wasn’t in front of the TV and so don’t know who said it.

Thinking more about it though, it occurred to me that since I am all for gender equality, I should examine the evidence. I then posted my findings on Facebook, but thought I’d share them here, too:

  1. Santa is beloved, despite his obvious weight problem — in fact, people leave Claus milk and cookies, rather than leaving an obnoxious note saying, “Lose some weight, fatso!”
  2. Santa spends a lot of time in a “workshop,” and apparently has a thing for toys.
  3. Santa needs a Rudolph Guidance System to make it through the fog and finds every house — despite no record of having ever asked anyone for directions.
  4. Mommy was spotted kissing Santa Claus.
  5. Santa stays out all night on the night before a holiday.
  6. Claus apparently hasn’t had a wardrobe update for decades.
  7. Santa has been accused of being a “peeping Tom,” spying on people while they’re sleeping.
  8. Santa prefers to do things the hard way — i.e., going down the chimney rather than simply using the spare key hidden near the door.
  9. Santa postpones delivery of gifts until the last possible moment — and then frequently gives you something that someone who really knew you would never give.
  10. Many people write to Santa, but he never writes back.

I report; you decide.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

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.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Religion, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »

Comparing Obama to other presidents — and to mermaids

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2013

mermaidAfter watching an Animal Planet program about mermaids the other night, I realized that the sea creatures and President Barack Obama have some things in common. Perhaps the comparison is inevitable, considering that the Weekly World News, a “news source” at least as reliable as World Net Daily, assures me that Obama has met with mermaids. Less surprising is that the article tells us that the mermaids are being “kept at an undisclosed aquarium.” Perhaps in Cuba?

And yes, I know the show was fiction, even if many people have apparently been fooled by the “documentary” style and the lengths the network went through to trick viewers. The fact that folks were duped isn’t a big surprise, though one might hope they would check things out before buying into the latest version of “Alien Autopsy.” I am a bit disappointed to find that Animal Planet is apparently now as much about animals as the History Channel is about history and the Arts & Entertainment network is about the arts.

In part, though, people believe in mermaids (check out some of the claims and a bad poem about mermaids and sonar in the comments section here), for some of the same reasons they believed–and in some cases, continue to believe–that Barack Obama is liberal, anti-war, anti-business, Muslim, a gun-grabber, Kenyan-born, a supporter of economic regulation, deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, a socialist, or the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In fact, because both were relatively unknown and perhaps unknowable, mermaids and Obama became defined by how others want to see them. (We often elect “outsiders” for that reason.) But just for fun, here are some other comparisons:

  • Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid was translated into dozens of languages and led to an animated movie; Obama’s Dreams from My Father was translated into dozens of languages and led to an unanimated presidency.
  • Mermaids are famous for melodious singing that mesmerized sailors; Obama is famous for melodious speeches that mesmerized Democratic voters.
  • Mermaids hang out with fish; Obama also has been accused of having some fishy compatriots.
  • In some cultures, mermaids are thought to be seeking souls; Obama brought soul to the White House.
  • Mermaids can be found all over the world; Obama also has made appearances all over the globe.
  • Mermaids never appear on television without the help of CGI; Obama rarely appears without the aid of a teleprompter.
  • And perhaps most significantly, mermaids are thought to be half human, half fish; Obama seems to be half Democrat, half Republican.

In fact, Obama is pretty much like most other presidents, and that’s the problem. He’s certainly no liberal; like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama is a politically practical neo-conservative who relies on a combination of charm and corporate money for his power. Like FDRHarry Truman and Bush, he’ll freely kill civilians abroad to look politically strong while reducing American military casualties (for example, more Americans have been killed by guns in this country just since the Newtown massacre than were killed in the entire Iraq War). Like Bush and Roosevelt, Obama will overlook civil liberties to lock up potential “enemies.” Like Nixon and Bush, he is secretive. Also like Nixon and Bush, Obama is willing to let the government be intrusive, if not abusive.

I’ve noted previously the similarities between Obama and Ronald Reagan, and have become increasingly troubled by some of the current president’s similarities to Richard Nixon. (I agree with Bob Dole’s recent statement that neither Reagan nor Nixon could be elected as Republicans, though I think either might have a shot as a modern-day Democrat. After all, both Reagan and Nixon were more liberal in many respects than Obama.)

Obama is not particularly brave, nor especially effective in accomplishing his goals. He has accomplished some good things while doing some bad ones. He seems to be more reflective than Bush, but who isn’t? The one thing that liberals and conservatives might agree on in regard to Obama is that he has been … a disappointment.

Obama’s new support for a federal shield law and his nomination of James B. Comey as FBI director might seem to be encouraging notes in a presidency that has otherwise been marked by its obstruction and intimidation of the press and a general lack of once-promised transparency. But it’s worth noting that Obama previously helped kill the shield law (which probably would prove largely meaningless, and may actually make things worse for journalists, anyway) and the drone warrior’s latest “transparency” promise lasted all of about a week. And, of course, Comey may have had the gumption to bust Martha Stewart and WorldCom execs, but he also is another demonstration of how the president is continuing the work of George W. Bush, even if Comey proved to be a thorn in Bush’s side.

Obama’s attorney general apologized for the administration’s treatment of the press, but I wonder why he felt the need to offer the apology in an “off-the-record” meeting. (I’m also troubled by the fact that three of the five editors who attended the meeting promptly violated the terms to which they had apparently agreed; they should have done what most media organizations did and boycotted the meeting.)

So while it is true that some of Obama’s recent words sound good, we’ve heard false promises in the past. Until I see more evidence, I’m not putting a lot of faith in either Obama or mermaids.

Sunday follow-up: Slate offers some more perspective on the Animal Planet’s mermaid tales, and five things the channel could better be focusing in regard to the world’s suffering oceans. Related to#4 of the list, today I bought a tie covered with pictures of a dozen kinds of sharks. Maybe they ate the mermaids.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »


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