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 ‘Music’ Category

Born Again American offers Leary patriotism

Posted by James McPherson on January 26, 2010

Almost as if in answer to my post yesterday about where the power currently lies in America (hint: not with the people), today I received a link to an interesting video and Web site, both titled “Born Again American.”

Because of its religious-sounding title and because the link came to me from a generally conservative source, and because the video sounds like a country song and includes the words “my bible and the Bill of Rights,” I almost dismissed it fairly quickly as just another bit of right-wing propaganda. That dismissal would have been a mistake, though I do have mixed emotions about the group’s focus because of how easily patriotism sometimes seems to drift into xenophobia, and because I suspect so many listeners will hear “my bible” as “the Bible.”

As it turns out, the organization was founded by noted liberal Norman Lear, who produced “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Maude” (among other programs) on television and helped found the Civil Liberties-devoted organization, People for the American Way (which includes a “Right Wing Watch“). The singers on the collaborative “Born Again American” video include a Muslim, a Jewish cantor and the Harlem Gospel Choir. Performers include several whites and blacks, at least two Latino Americans and one Chinese-American. (Perhaps notably, however, there seem to be no Native Americans.)

According to the Web site, Born Again Americans “is committed to the rebirth and re-expression of citizenship through informed and thoughtful activism. It is an initiative of Declare Yourself, a national non-partisan, non-profit (501(c)3) organization dedicated to increasing young voter participation and civic involvement.”

I’ll post the video below, but still encourage you to check out the Web site for yourself. There’s good information for both supposed liberals and conservatives who care about civil liberties and citizen activism.

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

Merry Christmas

Posted by James McPherson on December 24, 2009

From John Lennon & EMI Records:

Posted in History, Music, Politics, Religion, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Hoving’s death a reminder of need for art–and marketing

Posted by James McPherson on December 11, 2009

Thomas Hoving, controversial former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, died yesterday. Because of what Hoving did for art, his death was deemed worthy of a front-page story in today’s print edition of the New York Times (and of  a story this morning on NPR’s “Morning Edition”). In what might be seen as a contradiction, as I write this the Times now prominently displays of its Web page a story questioning whether recent expenditures on art exhibit space around the country–expenditures that should be blamed at least in part on Hoving’s work with the Met–“ever made sense.”

I’ll let others answer that question about some of the more extravagant spaces, but as to the question of whether art deserves prominence in our society today, I definitely vote “yes.” In January when my wife and I took a dozen students to New York, the Met was one of the highlights–not just for us, but for the students. Some students admitted they didn’t expect to enjoy the museum, going because their friends went (it wasn’t a required stop) but all of them ended up spending several hours there.

I just finished walking through the newest academic building on my campus, the art building, where I viewed three-dimensional pieces that had been created to reflect of students’ worldviews. The small exhibit was inspiring–particularly considering the multiple hours students had put into work that few would ever see. Tonight I’ll attend an event at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, celebrating the opening of a new exhibit titled “Jumpin’ with the Big Bands.” In a bit of showmanship that Hoving might have enjoyed, the opening features a swing band (6 Foot Swing, whose lead singer, Heather O’Brien, also happens to be a former student of mine).

At the MAC I’ll also visit an exhibit titled “Art and People: Spokane Art Center and the Great Depression,” about the public works projects that employed artists and inspired others during the Depression. FDR knew that art mattered, and not just for the wealthy elites such as Thomas Hoving, even in tough times. Maybe especially in tough times.

Posted in Education, History, Music, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thank God It’s (almost) Christmas

Posted by James McPherson on December 10, 2009

We’ve had bitter cold temperatures here, and the weather has been even rougher in much of the nation. Shopping remains to be done and vacation plans made, at a time when many Americans suffer from economic hardships they’ve never known before. Meanwhile, people in other parts of the world have it even worse, and I’ve been thinking lately of the verse from Queen that goes,

Oh my love we’ve lived in troubled days
Oh my friend we have the strangest ways
All my friends on this one day of days
Thank God it’s Christmas

With that in mind, I offer the following along a few days early, with the brief heartfelt wish from the same song to “let it be Christmas ev’ry day”

Queen: Thank God It’s Christmas

Posted in Music, Personal, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Kanye not so Swift–but typical

Posted by James McPherson on September 15, 2009

Kanye West has apologized to Taylor Swift for his latest outburst, though one of the saddest facts of the whole affair is that West apparently has failed to figure out–even after his antics at other awards shows–that virtually all of the endless awards programs are stupid, a small step above the proliferation of “reality programming” that makes up so much of American television.

For example, how can the “Best Video,” when performed by a woman, not be the “Best Female Video”? (I’ve put both Beyonce’s video and Swift’s video  below, and don’t consider either to be particularly noteworthy, let alone among the top videos of all time.)

Barack Obama is right: West is a jackass (though isn’t that the official Democratic symbol?). And Terry Moran and ABC also look like twits. Still, Kanye-style idiocy seems to be rampant, from the U.S. Open to the U.S. Congress.


Posted in History, Music, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Best of the blog: 50 favorite posts (plus a few)

Posted by James McPherson on April 22, 2009

With yesterday’s post, I offered my reasons for ceasing regular blogging for the foreseeable future. But with more than 300 posts in the past year, it’s likely that you’ve missed a number of them. I’ll post a “top 50” list below, and will continue update the links on the right side of this page.

Since my first post, in which I predicted success for Barack Obama (not yet then the Democratic nominee) and problems for John McCain, a number of my posts have focused on topics of relatively short-term interest. Those include my June suggestions for whom Obama and McCain should select as running mates: More than two months before they made their choices, I suggested Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

I predicted that despite their self-pitying self-righteousness and their ability to draw media attention, neither religious conservatives nor pseudo-liberal PUMAs would have much impact on the election. I anticipated that Hillary Clinton would fully support Obama, as she and Bill Clinton did. As a result, on the day that McCain took the lead in the polls for the first time two months before the presidential election, I predicted that Obama would win the election handily.

I’ve noted the passing of singer/storytellers Utah Phillips and Dan Seals, journalists (defining the term broadly) Robin Toner,  Tim Russert and Tony Snow, pinup queen Bettie Page, and various newspapers. Many of my posts were less timely, however, and have ongoing relevance. Fifty of my favorites can be found below. Enjoy.

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Twittering while Rome burns

Where the dead white girls are

Catholics and conservatives campaign against mythical threats

Family values

Is the worshipper beside you a heathen–or a spy?

Warku-go-’round: A 20-part history of Bush’s War

Bettie Page & Robin Toner: Two women who made media history

Gadgets create more ‘reporters’–and fewer journalists?

Post #200 of a stupid, outdated idea

Death and dancing, faith and journalism

With Jessica Alba too fat, Keira Knightly too flat, Faith Hill too plain & Sarah Palin too real, how should mags portray Michelle Obama?

Civil disobedience might bring national redemption

Save the economy by ending welfare to Republicans

MTV: Moronic TeleVision

Beating the Bushies to investigate war crimes

Journalism and blogging: Printing what’s known vs. what isn’t

Want to become a convicted sex offender? There’s an app for that

If you’re going to write anything stupid in the future, don’t come to my class

As Bush people approach endangered species status, scientists find other rats, vipers and creepie crawlers

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

Ignorance and the electorate

Stimulus prompts cartoonish monkey business

Veterans Day: Thank the slaves who let you shop and spew

‘Killer American Idol’: Mass murder no surprise, more likely to come

Speaking for the poor

Uneasy riders: Yen and the lack of motorcycle company maintenance

Barbie’s birthday bash

Sexism & feminism make women winners & losers?

Media organizations: Why you should hire my journalism students

Valuable lessons on ‘whom you know’ and on being in the right place at the right time in NY and DC

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Can a Christian lesbian Latina superhero save us?

Asteroid nearly wipes out Earth, international space station threatened, San Diego nearly destroyed in nuclear meltdown

Headaches, hot air and hell on earth

Killing youth

‘What’s happenin’ here?’ The news ain’t exactly clear: How to keep up with what’s going on, and why

Literary journalism & the Web: the newest “new journalism”? (Part II)

To Obamas, a reminder that familiarity can breed contempt

Homeland Insecurity: Need a passport quickly? Get a fake one

GOP doing Limbaugh Limbo; how low they can go to be ‘rest of the story’

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Thanks to Cruella economy, Grumpy’s attitude finally justified

Culture warriors were dreaming of a really white Christmas; others get coal in their stockings

Merry Christmas! Twelve YouTube Christmas videos

Christmas killers, foreign & domestic: More proof the world looks better from a distance

2012 predictions for GOP: Jindal, Huckabee, Romney, Palin or relative unknown?

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Music, Personal, Poetry, Politics, Religion, Science, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Thanks to Cruella economy, Grumpy’s attitude finally justified

Posted by James McPherson on April 10, 2009

Following a headline that I wish I’d written–“Fewer Disney employees whistle while they work”–CNN reports that “the sappiest place on Earth” is laying people off. Even a company that withstood boycotts from Catholics,  Southern Baptists, the perhaps-bi-curious American Family Association, and other religious groups couldn’t avoid the effects of an economy seemingly designed by Cruella de Vil.

If a Prince Charming comes along and kisses awake the slumbering economy, some of the 1,100 people who were laid off (another 800 open jobs also were eliminated) may get their jobs back. And Disney seems to be treating the released employees fairly, as apparently they will “receive pay for 60 days; extended medical coverage; and severance packages that vary according to their years of service.”

It’s no golden parachute and won’t prompt widespread singing of “Hakuna Matata,” but at least the employees can afford the “bare necessities” a bit longer and probably won’t feel they have to kidnap Mickey Mouse (though Euro Disney’s Snow White better keep a close eye on the French Dwarfs, if the Disney layoffs go abroad).

And we can hope that the company’s problems permanently derail any plan to revive “Disney’s America.” Americans are stupid enough about their history, and about America’s relationships with others, without bringing Dopey, Dumbo and Goofy into it.

Posted in Education, History, Music | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Death and dancing, faith and journalism

Posted by James McPherson on April 6, 2009

I am glad to see the policy on pictures of American’s returning war dead overturned. I believe that covering those dead is both a sign of respect for those who died, and one of many areas in which the media have fallen short. Still, I also have to admit that journalism isn’t all about grim news, even if far less of it should be about celebrity journalism (or, God help us, celebrity journalists). Sometimes, journalism ought to be about life.

Even the most hard-bitten, caffeine-addicted journalist who got into the business to chase down dirty politicians and corporate misdeeds while aiding the democratic process–the major point of the First Amendment, and something that if practiced might actually improve Americans’ opinions about the new media–would do well to remember that to reach people in a meaningful way, you have to appeal to their better nature.

That’s why I started out my reporting class today asking students, “What is–or should be–the relationship between faith and journalism?” I happen to teach at a Christian university, where “faith” is generally taken to mean religious faith, but I would argue that the question is relevant regardless of the institution or faith(s) of those involved.

In response I got the expected (and important) answers about faith providing an ethical framework for one’s work. After a follow-up question–“Why do many conservative Christians hate the news media?”–and then a bit of probing to get beyond the usual (and wrong, in my view) answer about liberal media bias, they came to a couple of key points:

First, the news is typically “bad.” Even if it’s not about problems, it often focuses on negative aspects of humanity. Second, because of the nature of “news,” religion and other aspects of day-to-day life tend to be ignored or poorly covered. As I’ve noted elsewhere, journalists typically are neither anti-Christian nor anti-religious (like other Americans, many happen to be people of faith), it’s just that they don’t pay much attention to it except in cases involving culture wars or Muslim or Christian religious extremists who force their way into the news.

After showing the class an excellent positive example regarding religion from one “liberal media” icon, the New York Times, I let them hear an example from another common target, National Public Radio. NPR has a long-running series, called “This I Believe,”  based on a 1950s radio program by the same name. I have a book of the earlier essays, “written for, and with a forward by Edward R. Murrow,” on my shelf.

Not surprisingly, the book and the online collection are full of references to faith. Interestingly, for this week, the third-most-popular essay is by 7-year-old Tarak McLain, the second line of which reads, “I believe God is in everything,” while just above it is an essay by Penn Gillette that starts out, “I believe there is no God.” The well-deserved top spot, however, goes to world traveler and self-proclaimed “terrible dancer” Matt Harding.

Harding has his own Web site, titled “Where the Hell is Matt?” Among the “frequently asked questions” on the site is, “Are you religious?” It’s a dumb question, in my view, because Harding has managed to do something that journalists and Christians alike should be striving to do, and which they too often forget: reaching out to people, and sharing stories.

My friends who teach interpersonal and intercultural communication regularly point out that the most important communication skill is that of listening. I’d argue that the same may be true of journalism. If you don’t listen, you can’t understand. If you don’t understand, you can’t share.

As I told today’s class, I’d argue that Harding (who, incidentally, happens to call himself a humanist) has done far more to touch people and make the world a better place than most Christians or journalists (or Christian journalists) ever will. If you doubt it, watch the video below, and see what happens to your own emotions. If you don’t feel better about human condition–and if your faith, whatever that faith may be hasn’t been reaffirmed–you must be dead, yourself.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Music, Religion, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Freedom Tower goes way of freedom, making room for Chinese

Posted by James McPherson on March 28, 2009

Remember that “Freedom Tower” being built in New York where the World Trade Center once stood? It’s still going up, but don’t call it that. You wouldn’t want to confuse the Chinese tenants.

After a slow start, the building is now about one-eleventh of the way toward its eventual 108-story height. But the Port Authority, which owns the land, has announced that the name of the structure will be “One World Trade Center.” Is that to remind us that there will be “one” tall building where there used to be two?

Also announced was the first tenant of the tower: a Chinese corporation that will occupy more than five floors of the new building after it is completed in 2013. Somehow that seems appropriate.

After all, the Bush/Cheney administration lied us into an unending war in Iraq, and kept warning us about Iran, but continued warm relations with the equally nasty Saudi kingdom–where most of the 9/11 hijackers and money actually originated.

Then, to “get back” at the terrorists even as the economy was headed toward a cliff, Bush told us to “go shopping.” That was a great boost for the Chinese, who produce most of the stuff we buy. In the meantime, the administration (aided, of course, by gutless and clueless of Congress) spent the next few years doing all it could to strip us of freedom at home.

Now Barack Obama tells us the fate of the world rests in Afghanistan, and maybe we ought to worry about those crazy drug lords on our southern border. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first overseas trip was to China, the nation that will be–if it hasn’t already–the one that replaces us at the top of the heap in terms of world power.

Clinton went to plead with the Chinese to please, please, please don’t let us go bankrupt. Hey, soon perhaps freedom will return: After all, in the words written by Kris Kristofferson and famously sung by another Texan, Janis Joplin, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

You can hear the full song below, by both artists:

Posted in History, Music, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Bordertown and raging on: Remembering Dan Seals

Posted by James McPherson on March 26, 2009

I don’t often do more than one post in a day, but I just saw a report that singer/songwriter Dan Seals has died. Considering the topics in the news that I’ve been discussing lately, these videos seemed appropriate as a tribute:


“They Rage On”

Posted in Music, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »