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 ‘Religion’ Category

Insurrection, conspiracy theories and truth snippets

Posted by James McPherson on July 7, 2010

Today offers more evidence of why media literacy is so important in this country–and, sadly, why many people who rely on one-sided blogs for information are so politically ignorant.

Some blogs that appeal to right-wingers and conspiracy theorists, such as this one (also here, here, here, here and here) now offer YouTube “evidence” that Barack Obama had admitting he was “born in Kenya.” Watch it quickly, the reader is warned, “before it’s pulled.” (By socialist/communist government agents who monitor the Internet from mosques and black helicopters, no doubt.)

But if you go to the original posted video–and are capable of reading–you see a description from the person who posted it that starts out: “The video starts out with some content from obamasnippets.com, which, of course is contrived. And yet, there seems to be a synthetic truth about what the president says.”

Aside from the question of what is “synthetic” (and therefore by definition, fake) “truth,” the words clearly state that Obama’s “admission” is a creation of whomever created the video. And who is that?  Someone who states that his/her site is “not ‘political,'” not anti- or pro-Obama, and  “just for fun.” One of those who has done most to promote the video, on the other hand, getting more than 200,000 hits on it, does have a clear agenda, listing his favorite “news sources” as “Hannity’s America, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity Radio Show, Roger Hedgecock, Michael Reagan, Gordon Liddy, Sec. Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove…”

Ironically, he also states on the same page, “May the Glory of God be revealed so Truth can prevail.” Perhaps God might have an easier time revealing truth if there weren’t so many supposed Christians working so hard to distort it.

Another conspiracy site unintentionally (I hope) further illustrates the silliness of the whole argument and the futility in trying to convince conspiracy theorists of anything when it states: “Was Obama born in Kenya or America? Kenya….But we will never know the truth!”

Go ahead, read that last quote again. Yep, that’s what it says: “We’ll never know the truth, but here’s the truth.”

One thing many of the conspiracy sites have in common is that they often warn against the “lies” of the mainstream media. One of those linked above also reminds us why there may be good reason to fear some of the Tea Party crowd–or at least there might be if they had the numbers, youth and courage to back up their inane words. One commenter writes:

Someday American’s will realize there are only two options left if the desire for a sane government is the objective.
Number one would be to de-legitimize DC and reform independent States, with State owned Banks, which negates the power of the federal Banksters, and provides a method of political segregation so we would not have people like [a previous commenter] for neighbors.
Number two is civil war! Take your pick.

Insurrection, anyone? Or instead, how about just doing a bit of reading from a history book, a copy of the Constitution, or Snopes.com?

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 38 Comments »

Other states should nix vexing Texas texts

Posted by James McPherson on May 26, 2010

OK, coming from a state where a substantial percentage of residents think their president is a Muslim socialist  illegal alien and perhaps the anti-Christ, a decision to ignore recommendations from a panel of experts and to insert more God and conservatism into social studies texts is no big surprise. After all, as one blogger notes, “Stupid is as stupid’s taught.”

Which raises a problem for me: I debated whether to write about this, because the Texas textbook decision seems to support so many flawed “dumb southerner” clichés. Having lived in the South, having been raised in Idaho, I know better than to buy into that stereotype. Three of the country’s best and brightest political writers of recent years have been Texans Bill Moyers, Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower (whose name raises the unrelated question, “Can there be a low tower?”).

I suspect and hope that the actual effect of the Texas folly will not be as large as feared. After all, though Texas often helps set the agenda for other states simply because of the number of textbooks it buys, other options such as e-books are becoming increasingly available (not to mention the Internet, though members of the Texas board may be unfamiliar with that particular invention). Besides, the content of most textbooks is far less likely to be read or remembered than any issue of People magazine featuring Jennifer Aniston (who today may be about as politically relevant as the Moral Majority, which makes its way into the Texas board mandate).

I also think other states should step up and tell book publishers that they refuse to follow the lead of Texas. If a few smaller states band together–perhaps even agreeing to accept the orginal recommendations of the Texas committee of experts–Texas could be the only state where children are subjected to the whims of ultraconservative wannabe educators.

One side note, in which I agree with the Texas board: It would be helpful to know more about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” After all, I wrote a book about the topic, and would give Texans a great deal on the book if they want to put a copy in every Texas school library. Still, as I suggested in the book, even more useful than having Texas kids learn about those conservative groups might be having American political journalist learn more about them.

Not surprisingly, as can be seen in the video below, The Onion offers some of the best commentary on the issue. Incidentally, one of the highlights of a trip to New York last year was a visit with Onion staffers, who were as funny and irreverent in person as in their work.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Religion, Science, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

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 »

Pat Robertson makes radical Muslims look sane

Posted by James McPherson on January 13, 2010

As long as mainstream news organizations let Pat Robertson serve as one of the most prominent American voices for Christianity (his “700 Club” appears daily on my local CBS/Belo affiliate, just one of the things that make KREM 2 the worst of our local stations), it’s tough to argue that isolated Islamic suicide bombers represent the world’s craziest nation-supported form of religion.

Today’s lunacy, as reported by Politico, Gawker.com and others: Robinson says Haitian slaves of the 18oos are to blame for this week’s earthquake and the resulting tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of deaths. The TV preacher’s answer for  dealing with the devastated nation’s whole pact-with-the-devil problem is that Haiti needs “a great turning to God.”

By the way, the long-time official religion of Haiti, and still by far the most popular one, is Catholicism. I wish I were kidding about Robertson, or that he were commonly viewed as the joke he is, but you can see the video below.

Next-day update: CBN has issued a statement saying, in part, that Robertson’s comments: “were based on the widely-discussed 1791 slave rebellion led by Boukman Dutty at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French. This history, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed. Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath.”

I assume that in this case “countless scholars” means a number that can’t be counted–as in zero. Some research of scholarly via ProQuest and Ebscohost (which have combined access to more than 11,000 sources) from my desk turns up no mentions of the supposed “famous pact” between Boukman Dutty (the leader of a slave rebellion) and the devil. Of course I didn’t spend a lot of research on it, and Robertson seems to know Satan better than I do, so perhaps he has seen documents I haven’t. Regardless, the tie is a stretch–and lunacy. Not that that’s anything new for Robertson.

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

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 »

The best Matt Damon/Morgan Freeman movie ever

Posted by James McPherson on December 14, 2009

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” is the theme of “The People Speak,” a film based on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Matt Damon was one of the film’s producers, and in the film Morgan Freeman read an 1852 Frederick Douglass speech, “”The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” Damon also reads from the Declaration of Independence.

Oh, you thought the headline referred to that other film out now? I hear it’s not bad, either, though I haven’t seen it yet. But I did watched the “The People Speak” on the History Channel last night. I was especially moved by Kerry Washington’s reading of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman,” Marisa Tomei’s reading of the memories of a factory striker, and David Strathairn’s words from an admiral about “good war.”

Less impressed, of course, are folks like David Horowitz and Michelle Malkin. For most folks, I suspect, the disapproval of those two immediately makes the film more credible, though I wonder if “Dirty Harry” Clint Eastwood knows he’s been hanging out with Communists.

Below is a video of a different, slightly longer Washington reading of  “Ain’t I a Woman?” from one of the traveling college readings. Zinn can also be seen in the video, along with some other people you may recognize.

Posted in Education, History, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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 »

God Bless America: Land of the Great American Conspiracy Loon

Posted by James McPherson on September 27, 2009

Moammar Gadhafi got some attention (his apparent primary goal in life) this week with a rambling United Nations speech in which he alleged a number of weird conspiracies. It’s good to remember, however, that most of the nutball conspiracies that Americans deal with are hatched right here at home, by the likes of “birthers,” “deathers” and “truthers,” among others.

One of the latest came to me via email today. It starts out: “Did you know that the ACLU has filed a suit to have all military cross-shaped headstones removed and another suit to end prayer from the military completely.  They’re making great progress.” After a few other distortions and some nice photos of soldiers praying, it urged each recipient to pray for the troops and then pass on the message.

As a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a thinking person, I was relatively certain that claims had to be false. Less than a minute of research–which could have been done by any of the dozens of people whose email addresses showed up in the oft-forwarded message–showed four quick references discounting the fable. Though I probably had much more important things to do, I then took the time to send a message to each of the 30 or addresses on the list. It read:

I find it ironic that [name deleted] includes the words, “Think, Act, Survive” after his name. If he and others would do more of the former, we’d have fewer of these sorts of inflammatory lies whirling around the web, and we might actually pay more attention to the many real problems we face. Automatically forwarding myths that happen to support one’s preconceived biases do nothing but harm one’s credibility.

I’m always in favor of more prayers for those who serve in the military, but the claim made in this viral email is a blatant lie, perpetuated by people who don’t know, don’t care about and/or don’t bother to check the truth. Considering how many people receiving this are in education (judging by the email addresses), it seems more critical thinking would be in order.

Four sources I used to check this, in far less time than it took someone to write the original: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/cemetery.asp, http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/jul/02/chain-email/no-aclu-lawsuit-over-cross-shaped-headstones/http://www.factcheck.org/askfactcheck/print_is_the_aclu_suing_to_have_cross-shaped.html and http://www.aclu.org/images/asset_upload_file399_26244.pdf. You might also check out http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/marines.asp.

Now I trust that all you Christian people of integrity will pass on the truth as quickly and widely as you helped spread the falsehood.

I was kidding about the last part, of course. I assume that few if any of them will pass it on. I did get two responses back. One with a single word–“yea”–and a longer one, which tickled me enough that I’ll share it here (minus information that might identify the sender):

Mr. James McPherson thank you for kind rebuttal and quick checking of the facts. Also I commend you for noticing my many years of volunteer service to my community,  my Church and faith.

As to the forwarding of this important and patriotic email message. I can not speak for the many individuals cc’ed on this uplifting message, but I do speak for myself. This message is about supporting our troops not about the Anti-American Communist Liars Union (ACLU). It is about a love the awakened majority feels for our great nation.

It is understandable that persons of your ilk have no love for America, our Constitution, or our long history and way of life. Be forewarned, “We the People” are awake and we are coming for you, and your perversion of our country.

Lastly I do not give a Rat’s Rear End what these fine email messages of support for our American Patriots say, they will continue to be forwarded to all I know. Why because it is GOOD and RIGHT, something an educator like yourself knows little about. See, these people you sent your reply to are the backbone of our great nation. You Sir are an corrupter of young minds, and we the “backbone” count you with politicians, lawyers, used car salesmen, and journalist. Oh and I forgot pond scum.

As a Christian it is my obligation to call you to repentance, get with the program and forget your anal retentive fact checks.

Gee, how unChristian of me to check facts and to counter lies with truth (and grammar). And now that I know that the Backbone Brigade is “coming for me,” I’m not sure what to do in response. Flee in my black helicopter?

Of course I have to admit the fleeting unChristian notion that crossed my mind when the writer referred to himself as part of a “backbone”: I thought he was aiming a few inches high.

Same-day update: The guy mentioned above sent me a follow-up email, after I responded to his. Though it’s becoming increasingly tempting to do otherwise, I’ll still not include his identity, but will share part of his latest missive (I’ve simply copied and pasted, leaving spelling and grammar alone):

As to Whitworth University of Spokane Washington, a liberal arts institution, I’m sure they would be proud to know one of there own is picking fights with strangers, (who receives and forwards emails to their friends and family), over the web.

Your exhustive pursuit of this issue clearly puts you in the ranks of liberal zelot or those truly disturbed folks with and ax to grind…

Mr McPherson STOP your elitist little fingers right now. SEND no further emails. I’m sure this will be making a wide round on the web tomorrow. Either you will look foolish or I will. And like the content of the email that started this I don’t care what you think or find true. Have a pleasant day.

He also copied the message to my university’s human resources department, asking that they “forward this to your Deans to show what your faculty does with their free time.” But as I told him in response, the deans (and the university president) know about my various political activities. I suspect it may make them uncomfortable at times, but I don’t pretend to speak for them (you’ll notice the disclaimer at the top of this page), and they understand the role of political discussion in a free society.

Same-day update #2: I had emailed my new friend back, despite his request for me not to write again. I apologized for offending him, pointed out the relatively small number of people who had received my original message (with his name on the list), and noted that I had assumed his name had been passed on to me with his knowledge or permission. I also promised not to write him again, except at his own request. He promptly offered a most pleasant two-word reply: “Thank you.”

There are many lessons to be remembered regarding civility in this viral age, eh?

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 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 »

Homeland insecurity: DHS chief apologizes for something Bush appointee did right

Posted by James McPherson on April 16, 2009

Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano felt obligated to apologize to veterans today, reflecting a remarkable shift in national politics. We no longer have a presidential administration that is incapable of apologizing for–or even admitting–obvious blunders (though of course, “We’re sorry we were wrong about the weapons” won’t bring back thousands of dead Iraqi children). Instead, we have an administration that apologizes when it has done nothing wrong.

The apology came in reaction to a Department of Homeland Security report titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” The American Legion, various ill-informed bloggers, talk radio hosts, Fox News (surprise!) and others immediately and misleadingly feigned offense (while Fox also offered Web page front-page segments about”Porn Stars and Puppies,” “Bubble Baths in Tiaras,” and “10 Cuddly Cougars“).

Many conservatives have taken offense because Homeland Security has been doing part of its job–assessing threats. Perhaps I’ve forgotten, but I don’t remember similar complaints from conservatives about reports that cited threats from left-wing extremism in 2001 or in March of this year. Furthermore, I also haven’t seen any of the whiners point out the fact that the latest report came from a division headed by Roger Mackin, a Bush-administration appointee who contributed more than $4,500 to Republicans during the last presidential campaign.

Critics falsely complain that the report demonizes veterans while targeting virtually anyone who opposes abortion or illegal immigration. I fact, it mentions abortion exactly twice, once in a footnote and once in a historical note. For the record, the first reference states: “Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”

The other, historical, note states in full: “Paralleling the current national climate, rightwing extremists during the 1990s exploited a variety of social issues and political themes to increase group visibility and recruit new members. Prominent among these themes were the militia movement’s opposition to gun control efforts, criticism of free trade agreements (particularly those with Mexico), and highlighting perceived government infringement on civil liberties as well as white supremacists’ longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion, inter-racial crimes, and same-sex marriage. During the 1990s, these issues contributed to the growth in the number of domestic rightwing terrorist and extremist groups and an increase in violent acts targeting government facilities, law enforcement officers, banks, and infrastructure sectors.”

Immigration gets a bit more attention in the report, though again mostly in a historical context. And anyone with even a modest knowledge of history should be able to recognize that immigrants (legal and illegal) have been a common target of hate groups throughout history (and throughout the world). The supposed “anti-veteran” comments are equally weak, despite Napolitano’s need to apologize today.

The key point is this: Saying that some hate groups use abortion and immigration to justify their actions is in no way synonymous with saying that anyone opposed to abortion or illegal immigration is a terrorist. That would be like saying that because some terrorists are Muslims, all Muslims are terrorists. And I know that conservatives would never suggest such a thing.

Incidentally, the Obama administration should apologize for something else that it did do today, related to terrorism: It announced that CIA torturers will never be prosecuted.

Sunday update: Something else the Obama administrations should apologize for is announcing that it will keep Bush administration secrets regarding domestic spying. Unlike the DHS report that has people up in arms, that electronic spying, by either administration, is something that should worry all of us.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments »