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 ‘Video’ Category

A simple question regarding race and fear

Posted by James McPherson on December 12, 2014

Cop & klan

My question, of course, is based on events in Cleveland (well, there and elsewhere in Ohio), South Carolina, Florida, Phoenix, Michigan, Las Vegas, Portland, New Orleans (again), Oakland, Southern California (again and again and again), New York City (again and again and again and again and again), and too many other places to mention. Not to mention the more common indignities suffered regularly by people of color.

I wrote all but this sentence about a week ago, and couldn’t decide whether to post it. But reading this and this and this and this and especially this and this made me decide to go ahead.

And here’s a historical reminder from someone who isn’t a cop, but who plays one on TV about what discontent with the legal system can lead to — the sort of thing that disturbed even those right-wing gunslingers  (and their allies) who often act as if almost everyone should be armed:

Addendum: An interesting article about the science that turns most of us into racists.

Posted in History, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

What’s more American than stupid, dishonest Super Bowl advertising?

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2014

“What’s more American than America?” Bob Dylan asks in an ad for the Chrysler 200 that appeared during the Super Bowl (the ad is posted above).

The question is stupid — and in this case, largely irrelevant since in most years you can come closer to an “American car” with a Toyota than with a Chrysler. Last year’s Chrysler 200 was less than three-quarters “American.” The company itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of an Italian company, Fiat.

The Chrysler ad was also misleading in another way. You may have heard the line, “What Detroit created was a first, and became an inspiration to the rest of the world.” If the line refers to some specific type of car, such as Henry Ford’s revolutionary assembly line version, that line may be accurate — but the first two real automobiles were made in France and Germany (and the first American ones weren’t made in Detroit). The ad also shows a picture of an American freeway, followed by a sign for the German autobahn — which, in fact, inspired the American interstate highway system.

The Super Bowl must be a great place to sell cars: Besides the Chrysler ad, viewers saw commercials vehicles from Chevrolet, Ford, HondaHyundai, SuburuVolkswagen, Maserati and Jaguar.

Of course, the entire Chrysler ad fell short of what many of us would have expected of Dylan (though he had previously “sold out” to Cadillac and Victoria’s Secret). Designed to pull at the heartstrings like a campaign ad for Ronald Reagan, it was very similar to a Chrysler ad done by Clint Eastwood two years earlier. But it made me wonder how soon Dylan will stand alone on a stage, talking to a chair.

Coke did patriotism much better than Chrysler with its “America the Beautiful” ad. (Though the best Super Bowl ad of all was one apparently seen originally only in Georgia, for a personal injury lawyer.)

The Coke commercial also drew some criticism because of its use of multiple languages — which predictably offended Glenn Beck, some at Fox News, and other nitwits — and its portrayal of a gay family. The latter point is especially interesting, considering the fact that the words for the featured song were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a feminist who probably was a lesbian. Perhaps more surprising in regard to the Coke commercial is the reasoned liberal objection to the ad.

Incidentally, this was perhaps only the second time in decades that I’ve been more interested in the outcome of the game than in the advertising. As a longtime Seattle Seahawks fan, I was much happier with the result this year than when the Seahawks were robbed in 2006.

Next-day follow-up: Below is a video of Atlanta anchor Brenda Wood talking about the Coke ad.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

First Internet photo? Photoshopped women, of course

Posted by James McPherson on July 10, 2012

So the first-ever Internet photo hs been found, reports Mother Board. Not surprisingly, it was a photoshopped photo of women. Call Julia Bluhm.

Somewhat surprising, considering most of what seems to show up nowadays on the Web, all of the women are fully dressed. And none of them are holding the camera.

By the way, I hadn’t known before this article that the first email came way before the parents of some of my students were born. The first YouTube video came seven years ago, and is posted below. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it didn’t involve cats.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Happy Thanksgiving–even if you’re not a white middle-class American

Posted by James McPherson on November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving.

Above is a classic 1951 expression of what some of the things we have to be thankful for today as Americans (assuming we’re not those Native Americans typically cast as Pilgrim Squanto/Tonto helpmates in the traditional Thanksgiving saga, before William Bradford and other Colonial forefathers were expressing thanks that they could kill so many Indians.

Below are some highlights of the video, along with my related comments:

Expressing thanks for the “free public library,” public education and “hot water out of the tap”?

Sounds like socialism to me.

Thankful to “be able to go to any church I want”? Even one that’s not Christian? Hmm.

“For living where schools–all schools–open their doors to a guy who wants to learn”?

Well, a white guy, anyway, here in 1951.

“Thankful that my children have the privilege of being born safely, and of growing up healthy and strong”?

Not as privileged as kids in Canada or Australia or New Zealand or virtually any European nation, but much better than if they were poor or non-white Americans.

“Glad Dad doesn’t have to work slave hours, that there are evenings and Sundays and vacations when we can all be together”?

And so thank God for the unions that brought us those things?

Thankful for “a place we can be together in privacy” and “knowing the knock on our door is nothing to fear”?

At least for most white middle-class Americans, before the Patriot Act.

“And I’m thankful for my newspaper … more valuable than any amount of money, because in it the editor’s got the privilege of printing what he thinks, and I’ve got the privilege of agreeing with him or not, however the facts strike me.”

Hallelujah.

“And finally, I’m thankful for being able to believe, in spite of everything, that somehow, some way, the unity we’ve got here in the Johnson family will someday spread to men and nations throughout the world.”

However delusional the thought: Amen.

Posted in Education, History, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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 »

‘Lost’ and soon to be forgotten

Posted by James McPherson on May 24, 2010

The series finale of “Lost” aired last night, and even hardcore Losties can’t agree on what it meant. Frankly, the ending was as disappointing as I expected it to be (too much hype to live up to and too much ground and too many actors to cover well)–not as dismal as the finale of “Seinfeld” (How could it be?) but not even on par with the overwrought conclusion of “M*A*S*H.”

In fact, the highlight of the evening was Jimmy Kimmel’s third “alternative ending,” starring Bob Newhart and Evengeline Lilly (who was my favorite actor on the show, while my wife’s favorite was Josh Holloway–go figure).

“Lost” is one of the few shows that I’ve somewhat committed to in recent years. In general I don’t like getting into shows that have to be watched regularly to keep up with, though “Lost” was made easier by frequent reruns and the Internet. InDemand has let me become involved with a couple of better shows, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

Last night’s finale also reminded me that “Lost” is probably too complicated to perform well in syndication. The DVDs will sell and rent well for awhile as some people try to catch up with what others are talking about, or as fans try to hold onto their good memories of the show. But no one will be spoofing the final episode in two years , let alone more than two decades from now.

And if you want to see probably the best series finale ever, from 1990, you can do so here:

Posted in History, Media literacy, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A question for Tea Partiers who want to ‘take back America’

Posted by James McPherson on April 16, 2010

I’m not trying to be facetious; I really want to know. I keep hearing you talking about “taking back America.” Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann say it. You have a Web site that says it. You’ll sell me a bumper sticker that says it. Clinton-era whoremonger Dick Morris wrote a book that says it (though why conservatives listen to him, especially, escapes me). There was a whole conference about it. And there’s even a a weird song and video (below) that have Uncle Sam saying it. And still I don’t get it.

My question: Exactly whom or what are you taking America back from? Those of us who voted in the majority in the last election?

Same-day addition: Martin Lobel at Nieman Watchdog points out something else that seems to confuse the Tea Party crowd and reporters: If you reduce taxes, you increase the deficit. Except in that wonderland that provides a magical escape for many of today’s protesters and a few Republican members of Congress (some of the same folks who pretend they can repeal the just-passed health care bill, though they’re basically after your money).

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

Bipartisan agreement that conservatives should ease off the trigger

Posted by James McPherson on March 25, 2010

Having Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck of “The View” agree on something should give pause to those who would disagree with them. And if the agreement comes in the form of harsh criticism of Sarah Palin–for whom Hasselbeck stumped during the 2008 campaign–maybe it’s time for angry gun nuts and other Tea Party types to turn things down a notch.

The criticism revolves around Palin’s use of crosshairs on a map “targeting” Democrats, which Hasselbeck referred to as “purely despicable” and “an abuse of the Second Amendment.” Of course, John McCain defended Palin’s language–oddly, I agree with him in this case more than I do Hasselbeck, though I find the use of crosshairs more troubling. (By the way, if you Google “McCain defends Palin,” you get almost 3.9 million hits.)

I rarely agree with Hasselbeck, but I do sometimes feel sorry for her because she is so badly outnumbered on “The View,” just as I feel for Eleanor Clift when she frequently has to fight four conservatives on “The McLaughlin Group.” And as I said, I’m not sure that Palin’s language is that far over the line, in historical terms.

But if folks on your own side find problems with your methods, the proper response isn’t an Eric Cantor knee-jerk blame-the-Dems reaction. Instead, conservatives should be looking to how they might appeal more to the rational middle rather than to the the lunatic fringe that is now getting so much attention.

Republicans, you lost, despite your best and worst efforts. Get over it. Elections have consequences. Approval of both health care reform and Democrats is already climbing, probably in part because of your obstructionist methods.

Of course, you’ll probably focus on the part of the CBS poll that says most Americans want you to keep fighting health care reform, and either through ignorance or (more likely) willful distortion you’ll misinterpret that result the same as you did the polls showing that most Americans weren’t happy with the proposed health care bill.

You see, many of us opposed the bill not because it went too far but because it doesn’t go nearly far enough, even if we think it’s better than the nothing you would have given us. Likewise, many of us hope you keep fighting reform, because we want you to keep demonstrating how out of touch you are with most Americans, boosting the party of “Yes we can” even more over that of “Hell no you can’t.” (For more on that, see the video below).

Frankly, we aren’t crazy about the Democrats, but considering the mess you created when you were in charge, we much prefer a Democratic majority over a Republican one. Come to think of it, please keep listening to Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and ramping up the loony language–it seems to be doing wonders for our side.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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 »

Happy New Year

Posted by James McPherson on January 1, 2010

With a couple of looks back at 2009 from Uncle Jay and the JibJab folks (as they also did a year earlier):

Posted in History, Journalism, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »