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 the ‘Legal issues’ Category

Do you know what you’re investing in, and where?

Posted by James McPherson on July 11, 2012

The question above may be trickier than it looks, but since many right-wing media have decided that their readers are clueless about how investment funds work. Maybe they’re right–they’d know their audiences better than I do–but, regardless, the question in the headline seems worth asking today.

The Weekly Standard yesterday offered a post critical of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who while in enemy territory on Sunday commented about Mitt Romney and the millions of dollars he has apparently stashed in banks in offshore accounts in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, “Americans need to ask themselves, why does an American businessman need a Swiss bank account and secretive investments like that?”

The Standard post notes, “But disclosure forms reveal that in 2010, Wasserman Schultz invested between $1,001-$15,000 in a 401k retirement fund run by Davis Financial Fund. As the fund discloses, it is invested in the Julius Baer Group Ltd. and the State Bank of India GDR Ltd., as well as other financial, insurance, bank institutions.” Predicatably, the post was then picked up by Fox News, Human EventsNewsmax, examiner.com, Twitchy, and their conservative acolytes. You can see mostly identical examples here, here, hereherehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. (And no, I don’t expect anyone to go to all of the links; I simply wanted to partially demonstrate how far and fast ignorance can be repeated).

Some of the posts–like this one, which is actually kind of funny, if you overlook the inaccuracy–actually outrightly lie, saying that Wasserman Schultz “had her own Swiss bank account.” Keep in mind that I’m not defending the hypocracy or lying that run rampant in politics on both sides of the political aisle. But pretending that Wasserman Schultz’s foreign investments–and perhaps yours–are the moral equivalent of Romney’s is a major stretch. The two have almost nothing in common.

For one thing, the Congresswoman ISN’T RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT. Even if she were, her investments were public (declared on her financial disclosure form), pretty small (less than $15,000) and occurred years ago. Any idea how much Romney still has stashed abroad today? Most importantly, the investments–which, again, were far different from “overseas accounts”–were made by the manager of her retirement fund, not directly by her. For an embarrassing example of why that matters, I’ll share a brief story:

A few years ago, using an IRS Form 990, one of my students found out that the Christian university where I work was unknowingly investing in Abercrombie & Fitch–a company popular with many college students, but not one most Christian institutions would choose to affiliate with. The investments were made by a financial manager, of course, and the student’s story led to a change in investment policy by the university’s board of trustees. In fact, chances are that if you have a retirement fund you have no idea which companies your money is supporting at any given moment. (For the record, my own retirement fund is set up to avoid certain industries, based on my own politics, but the many individual companies that get small pieces of my money vary widely and change with time.)

Oh, speaking of money: Americans paid record-low amounts of federal income taxes during Barack Obama’s first year as president. I wonder if the Weekly Substandard will get a conservative meme going about that.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

The Affordable Care Act and the GOP’s really big lie

Posted by James McPherson on July 2, 2012

Washington Post chart

Defeated by the Supreme Court, Republicans and their conservative allies have apparently decided that their best strategy to try to overcome the Affordable Care Act is simply to lie. Now they’re calling it the biggest tax in U.S. history. And, as you can see from the Washington Post chart above, they’re lying.

Rush Limbaugh is lying (yeah, big surprise). Sarah Palin is lying (OK, that’s expected, too). Mike Huckabee is lying (especially disgraceful for a former pastor who claims he can teach history) Sean Hannity is lying. James Pinkerton, also of Fox News, is lying. Conservative author Edward Klein is lying. The Washington Times is lying. The Daily Caller is lying. My cardboard cutout Congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is lying. House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority leader Eric Cantor and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell all lied. Alaska Tea Party loser Joe Miller is lying. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummus is lying. California Congresswoman Mary Bono is lying. Louisiana Congressman Jeff Landry is lying. Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn is lying. Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais is lying. Georgia’s Republican governor is lying. Congressional candidate Ben Quayle, son of a former vice president, is lying. Forbes apparently wants to lie, but can’t decide. New York Congressional candidate Dan Hollaran is lying. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance is lying. Naturally, conservative bloggers are lying and lying and lying and lying and lying and lying and lying and lying.

Republicans now claim that Barack Obama knowingly lied when he said the individual mandate upheld by the Supreme Court, but that’s a little tougher to prove. Not only to legal scholars disagree about whether it is a tax or not, even Mitt Romney, Obama’s 2012 challenger, apparently agrees with Obama on the issue. (Of course this is Romney, so he may disagree with himself any time now.)

We know that politicians lie, generally to get elected. But rarely do they lie as blatantly or as widely as Republicans are lying now in reaction to a Supreme Court decision. And the problem is, their supporters don’t care. As Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts wrote:

Falsehoods are harder to kill than a Hollywood zombie. Run them through with fact, and still they shamble forward, fueled by echo chamber media, ideological tribalism, cognitive dissonance, a certain imperviousness to shame, and an understanding that a lie repeated long enough, loudly enough, becomes, in the minds of those who need to believe it, truth.

That is the lesson of the birthers and truthers, of Sen. Jon Kyl’s “not intended to be a factual statement” about Planned Parenthood, of Glenn Beck’s claim that conservatives founded the Civil Rights Movement, and of pretty much every word Michele Bachmann says. It seems that not only are facts no longer important, but they are not even the point.

Or, as I noted when interviewed by the New York Times for a story about right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart: “There are no standards of fact anymore for a lot of people. We have gone from selecting sources of opinion that we agree with to selecting facts that we agree with.” Republicans clearly  hope you’ll buy their lying “facts” about health care in America.

And if you want to see how much you’ve been swayed — or simply left ignorant — about the real effects of the health care bill, you can take a simple 10-question test. I missed one, which, sadly, still made my score “better than 97% of Americans.” Sigh.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

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 »

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 »

Cain for GOP? Nein, nein, nein

Posted by James McPherson on December 2, 2011

First, let me say that I don’t particularly care whether Herman Cain cheated on his wife. I might care, for her sake, but since she seems to be a “Cain en-able-er” (go ahead, say it out loud and groan), I’m certainly not going to lose sleep over what goes on in their 43-year marriage. Apparently something works.

The same generally goes for serial adulterers Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump. If they can govern, that’s mostly what I care about. Still, when Republicans keep preaching about family values, it seems a bit more hypocritical (and perhaps more politically relevant because of that hypocrisy) when the cheater is a Republican such as those three, Mark Foley, Arnold Schwarzenegger,  Larry Craig, Mark Sanford and John Ensign, rather than a Democrat such as Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Jim McGreevey, Anthony Wiener or Eliot Spitzer.

I grant you that all of the guys named above with the possible exception of Cain are sleazeballs that I don’t want to hang out with. But if I thought one of them could get the country on track, he’d get my vote. And the fact is, Cain would be a lousy president. Most conservatives would agree, if they actually know anything about him. Cain just happened to fill the “anybody but Mitt” slot that Gingrich now occupies, probably also temporarily because he’s also a loser, for the GOP faithful.

I would remind the Cain supporters not to be too hasty in their arguments that Cain is being maligned. Usually the women who make these kinds of claims are ridiculed and disbelieved at first–and usually they turn out to be telling the truth. But one of those Cain supporters made me laugh out loud today.

Floyd Brown, the creator of the infamous “Willie Horton” ad used against Michael Dukakis posted on his own blog a piece titled–and I promise, I’m not making this up–“Video: Herman Cain, Man of Character, Destroyed By An Evil Media.” In his post, Brown unbelievably writes the following: “I consider the attacks on Cain to be the most reprehensible series of unjustified media allegations I have seen in my 50 years of life.” Really, Floyd? Remember, you’re the guy who takes pride in introducing most of us to Willie Horton through the ad that–in case you need a reminder–you can find at the bottom of this post.

Brown also states that “the relentless assault planned by the Obama White House … is abhorrent.” Now that’s just goofy, and Brown–or any regular watcher of “The West Wing” or “The Good Wife”–should know it. If Democrats were behind this, don’t you think they’d wait to unleash it until after Cain had the nomination? If the supposed “attacks” are political in nature, my guess on who is behind it would be Gingrich–the guy who is supposedly staying above it all.

And while I thought Brown’s showing of support was funny, I found another to be simply sad. A new website, titled “Women for Herman Cain,” includes words of support from women around the country professing their belief in Cain. Most include photos of themselves, many of the self-shot variety that too many girls and young women commonly post on Facebook. But many of these women aren’t young, and shouldn’t be naive. And because I find them mostly pitiful, I won’t include their names below.

“Dear Mr. Cain, I am a 66 year old female architect in the State of Texas, and want to simply say… as a REAL woman I do not believe for one second any of these ‘women’ that have crawled out from under a rock somewhere to defame you and bring pain to you and your family. They are pitiful creatures at the very least, and evil at the most. Isn’t it convenient that they have suddenly become offended by supposed advances by you now after all these years, my goodness, poor babies, how have they been able to bare up under the pain for all these oh so many years… LIARS, LIARS, LIARS…”

Even as we wonder about the ironic misspelling of bear/bare, one wonders how this “real woman” knows that others are liars. Here’s another, with the original spelling and grammar intact:

” Hello, Herman Cain, you need to focus about this America” and don’t even listen to all this women ,that they don’t have nothing good to say about you… they they are money hungry… and women like this, Don’t care or don’t have no “SHAME to go on TV…to use lies, for money…somebody has been paying this women. They make me sick to my stomach…..they need to start digging a hole on the ground n till they rich china”

And another, from a woman who apparently missed the fact that Cain blames unemployment on the jobless: “”Mr. Cain, I support you very much. I am currently unemployed. I haven’t been able to find a full time job since I graduated college in 2009. … I do not believe a single one of the ‘women’ who have accused you.” What is it about Cain’s female followers and their use of quotation marks while disparaging possible “women” victims?

One writes to Cain’s wife, who is heading up the website: “Mrs. Cain, I’m so very sorry for the pain you’ve had to suffer at the hands of these seriously troubled women and those behind them. Such an elegant lady as you should never have to deal with such scum.”

I agree that Gloria Cain shouldn’t have to deal with scum. But apparently she chooses to do so. And I do wonder how often her husband checks out the photos on her new website, looking for new women to “help.” God knows that some there seem to need it.

Next-day follow-up: Cain admits that his campaign is toast, as he is “suspending” his campaign. He’s make an endorsement soon, as he continues his run for vice president–I’m betting it’s for Gingrich, since the two men obviously have much in common.

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

War on Drugs: 40 years of futility

Posted by James McPherson on June 17, 2011

Forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon officially declared  a “war on drugs.” Though Nixon probably wasn’t seeking a war that would last even longer, cost even more and perhaps produce even more violent deaths than the Vietnam conflict still going on at the time, that’s what we ended up with.

This month an international commission concluded what many have known for years, that the “war on drugs” is a “massive failure” that has brought “devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world”–and that it’s time to try something else.

Despite the pleas of even former cops who fought the drug war, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama–who seems to like wars as much as his presidential predecessors (with the same respect for Congressional approval and the War Powers Act)–naturally said, “Nah.”

Obama apparently will stop using the exact words, “war on drugs,” just as he gave up the “war on terror” term, but for all practical purposes the war will go on. With even more firepower on the front lines, thanks to a “catastrophic” weapons-tracking plan and American gun laws (which despite what your local gun dealer would have you believe have actually eased, not stiffened, since Obama took office).

In fact, as demonstrated by Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 declaration of a “war on poverty,” perhaps the best way to guarantee that something will last forever is to declare war on it. You can imagine my dismay when when a decade ago George W. Bush declared a “war on terrror.” (Speaking of terror, perhaps someone once made the mistake of declaring war on vampires–and on insipid vampire movies–also guaranteeing them eternal life.)

By the way, speaking of the Vietnam War, Nixon declared war on drugs came just four days after the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers and two days after Nixon attempted to legally stop their publication. The Times and other publications proceeded to publish lengthy excerpts from the papers, which were finally officially released in their entirety–all 7,000 pages–this week, on the 40th anniversary of the date the Times began publishing them.

By the way, if you didn’t notice the anniversaries of the war on drugs or the  Pentagon Papers, don’t feel bad. Other than a bit of coverage of the Seven GOP dwarves, most of this weeks cable news coverage was about Anthony Weiner and Caylee Anthony, a case involving another dead white girl.

The Pentagon Papers case demonstrates why we still need newspapers such as the New York Times. As Times media writer David Carr notes in this excellent interview by Aaron Sorkin: “There’s a system and a rigor to what we do, and you can laugh at it as archaic and silly in the 24-7 news cycle, but I do think that it has significant value to have a pretty big organization that is a lot of times saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute . . . ‘ on the really big stories of the day.”

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Gay apparel’ to soon include military uniforms; Senate deep-sixes ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Posted by James McPherson on December 18, 2010

In a 63-33 procedural vote, the U.S. Senate has effectively killed the ridiculous Clinton-era law regarding homosexual service in the military. The vote gives President Barack Obama his second big win in a week–and produces another high-profile loss for the increasingly irrelevant John McCain.

Though a formal vote  on the bill itself (which has passed the House and will require only 51 Senate votes to go to the president) is still to come this afternoon and the changes will take some time to implement, the United States is on the verge of joining the rest of the “civilized” world in allowing openly gay soldiers to serve their country and to be killed in stupid wars.

For the record, here are other countries that allow homosexuals to serve in the military: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Merry Christmas to the gay community and to all those who care about fairness.

Same day update: As expected, the Senate passed the bill. Two more Republicans joined the side of fairness, making the final count 65-31.

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

Columbia faculty support WikiLeaks, free press

Posted by James McPherson on December 15, 2010

The journalism faculty at one of the top j-schools in the country are urging the Justice Department not to prosecute WikiLeaks, noting that, “As a historical matter, government overreaction to publication of leaked material in the press has always been more damaging to American democracy than the leaks themselves.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. But perhaps New York Times columnist David Carr could (of course, he gets paid more for his media analysis of media than I do): This week he offers a cogent consideration of the evolution of WikiLeaks.

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

WikiLeaking probably little cause for alarm

Posted by James McPherson on November 29, 2010

I understand why world leaders and some dishonest brokers of information might be upset, but, try as I might, I’m having trouble worrying about whatever “secrets” might be revealed via WikiLeaks, for at least five reasons:

First, most people are getting most of the information not via the WikiLeaks website but from established news organizations such as the New York Times and the BBC.

Second, if the Pentagon Papers and the Progressive magazine “H-Bomb” case (a framed copy of which hangs on my office wall) of the 1970s taught us anything, it’s that governments lie, and then exaggerate the nature of threats posed by the release of information.

Third, that same Progressive case and the current Iraq War demonstrated that news organizations–at least those not privy to the “secret” information–tend to buy whatever the government is selling, and to criticize the leakers.

Fourth, previous cases demonstrate that historically leakers have done relatively little harm–while governments acting secretly have done a great deal of harm.

And fifth, the idea that media organizations reveal “secret” information is largely a myth. They publish information that someone with a beef inside of government wants revealed. In the process, they show where security may need to be tightened.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »