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 ‘Women’ Category

Women lose ground in Congress for 1st time since 1978

Posted by James McPherson on November 18, 2010

It’s official. Even if Ann Marie Buerkle holds on to her narrow lead in New York, and despite the stunning write-in victory of Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, with the concession of Melissa Bean in Illinois, Congress will see a net loss in the number of female members for the first time since Rosalynn Carter was first lady.

It will also be the first decrease since a year after Indiana became the 35th and last state to ratify the failed Equal Rights Amendment (though one of the fears used to kill the ERA has come to fruition, anyway–we now do have women soldiers being killed in battle).

The United States has a dismal record overall on the percentage of women in its national leadership, ranking about 70th among the world’s nations and trailing such countries as Cuba, Afghanistan and Rwanda. Thirty-one of the 192 U.N. member nations have women at the head of their governments: 10 presidents, 11 prime ministers and three queens.

Of course, the pitiful lack of women in U.S. political leadership merely reflects our record elsewhere in American society. Despite some high-profile gains, with gender–as with race–we obviously have some distance to go.

Posted in Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Want smarter kids? Turn them over to lesbians

Posted by James McPherson on June 9, 2010

Heather has two mommies? No wonder she’s so well-adjusted.

That’s the conclusion of an article in New Science magazine–that “Compared with a group of control adolescents born to heterosexual parents with similar educational and financial backgrounds, the children of lesbian couples scored better on academic and social tests and lower on measures of rule-breaking and aggression.”

In other words, the children of lesbian parents were smarter and less obnoxious than most other kids.

Actually I’d never heard of New Science until Slate cited this study, and the research seems to have some flaws (maybe women just tend to be better parents than men, for example, making them superheroes in the traditional, often unappreciated,  sense). But the study does cast further doubt on the idea that gays shouldn’t be allowed to adopt. Homosexuals are legally prohibited from adopting in Florida, while joint adoption is illegal in several states.

Posted in Education, Legal issues, Politics, Science, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The activist conservative Supreme Court and its contradictions

Posted by James McPherson on May 12, 2010

Remember when conservatives said they didn’t want activist judges, back in the days when they were still able to pretend (though the claim was pretty far-fetched during most our history) that activism somehow meant liberalism? We now have pretty good evidence that the current Supreme Court, in addition to being an activist court, is perhaps the most conservative in history.

Apparently four of the five most conservative judges who have served since 1937 are on the court today, with another current justice, Anthony Kennedy, ranked No. 10. Incidentally, Clarence Thomas–whom I had previously considered to be the equivalent of a ventriloquist’s dummy for Antonin Scalia (except that wooden dummies typically come across as smarter and more expressive than Thomas), is actually ranked as more conservative than Scalia. Or anyone else who has served since 1937.

And of course the most relatively liberal John Paul Stevens is the  justice who is leaving, with the largely unknowable Elena Kagan nominated by pseudo-liberal Barack Obama to take Stevens’ place on a court of contradictions. Assuming Kagan is seated, the court will have a record number of women on the court–and all of them from New York City. Her appointment means that four of the nine justices will have been appointed by Democrats, the “best” it has been for progressives for more than 40 years. Oh yeah, those damned liberal activist courts!

Except for his race, Thomas seems to be the justice who would feel most at home at a Tea Party gathering, but in fact most of today’s justices could hang out at such a gathering unnoticed (not least of which is because most tea partiers wouldn’t recognize a Supreme Court justice if they tripped over him). And the fact that the only black man on the court is its most conservative member–while the only other African American to serve, Thurgood Marshall is ranked as the least conservative since 1937–is only one current oddity of the court.

It appears that Protestants may want to start clamoring for more diversity on the court, considering that it is about to be made up of six Catholics and three Jews. NPR notes that half of the Roman Catholics who have ever served are on the court now. (The first Catholic also has the distinction of being perhaps the worst chief justice ever; Roger Taney wrote the Dred Scott decision, which some Arizonans are no doubt trying to figure out how to apply to Hispanics today).

I’ve complained in the past about how America’s leaders were more conservative than the people they pretend to serve. But as long as corporations have more political power and more interest in the process than people do, those in power will continue to benefit from an increasingly activist conservative court.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

NPR asks, ‘Where are the women — at NPR?’

Posted by James McPherson on April 7, 2010

“When it comes to female voices from outside NPR, the network is not as diverse on air as it would like to think. NPR needs to try harder to find more female sources and commentators.”

Those words come from a piece by National Public Radio ombudsman Alicia Shepard (and highlighted today by Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore), who also points out that, to the network’s credit, that NPR “has been an industry leader with female correspondents and hosts. Three out of the five hosts of its biggest shows — Morning Edition and All Things Considered — are women. The CEO and the head of the news department are women, as are many other top executives throughout the company.”

The study conducted by Shepard and two NPR interns came up with a number of interesting statistics and graphs, which I encourage you to check out (one graph can be found below). And all that at a news organization which is doing a better job in terms of gender balance than perhaps any other national organization.

The article manages to demonstrate the value of both NPR and of ombudmen, which far too few news organizations are have the courage to employ–part of the reason that the media have such low credibility ratings.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Going Dutch in Olympics may hurt, but U.S. on thinner ice elsewhere

Posted by James McPherson on February 25, 2010

First the brain freeze of Sven Kramer’s coach costs the world’s best 10,000-meter speed skater a gold medal. Then the Dutch four-man bobsled team has to withdraw, without competing, “because their driver was terrified.” It’s a bad week to be a fan of the Winter Olympics in the Netherlands. Oddly–and maybe this also is a Dutch thing–coach Gerard Kemkers’ job outlook may be brighter than that of John McCain.

On the other hand, the Dutch do have a multiple-party political system and logical libertarian policies on drugs, prostitution and same-sex marriage. They rank considerably higher than the United States in such areas as gender equitypress freedom, affordable education, prison incarceration, perceived soundness of its banks, infant mortality rates, life expectancy, preventable deaths (such as those on bobsleds, I wonder?), health care costs, and health care in general.

So today we have five times as many Olympic medals as the Netherlands, and one of the lead medical stories of the day is about a skier’s broken pinky (by the way, “pinky” apparently comes from the Dutch pinkje, for “little finger”).  And our political leaders preen and strut as the American health care system careens downhill like a German luger, taking the U.S. economy along for the ride. If you’ll pardon a mixing of metaphors, we’re going to need more than a little Dutch boy to keep our heads above water.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

‘Political porn’: Too-sexy Sarah and Michelle as a monkey

Posted by James McPherson on November 26, 2009

  

In what one critic calls “political pornography,” Newsweek has managed to again aid Sarah Palin’s ongoing campaign for … well, who knows what? The GOP candidate for the Mrs. America Pageant, perhaps? (After all, she’s not likely to face competition from fellow pageant princess Carrie Prejean for a title that requires a spouse, assuming Prejean continues to keep to herself, so to speak).

Newsweek is captivated by Palin, with its Web site now offering a “Palin book club quiz,” a slideshow with almost two dozen photos and at least three articles about her. One of the best is this piece by Julia Baird about “the ‘Palinization’ of Palin.” There’s also a link to this Palin-related blog post, which points out a fact long obvious to many, that mainstream political reporting in general is largely worthless.

David Bozeman, the conservative writer linked above, writes about the Palin cover: “The political junkie in me thought it a great piece of memorabilia. The regular guy in me thinks she looks awesome, and I can’t stop looking at it.” And that’s the problem, isn’t it? People just can’t stop looking at the ongoing train wreck of Palin.

I also thought the cover was silly–mostly because Newsweek (unlike most Americans) considered Palin to even be cover-worthy–though frankly I initially viewed it in a less sexist vein than did many. For one thing, I understood what I assumed to be an allusion to Palin’s “running,” even if she claims not to be campaigning. (She told Oprah that a presidential campaign was not “on my radar,” perhaps odd for someone who can see Russia from her house.)

I was surprised by Palin’s treatment of the American flag, which she seems to be leaning on. That’s no better than her usual method of wrapping herself in it, though perhaps better than a more appropriate GOP symbol–a flag draped over a casket.

Besides, unlike Hillary Clinton (who has been treated even worse, and for much longer), Palin has traded heavily on her looks, a fact recognized at some level even by conservatives such as the one quoted above. That willingness to capitalize on her appearance while acting aggrieved is a common trait for conservative women, of course, especially right-wing babblers such as Ann Coulter (the photo below is from her own Web site, unlike the sexist photo of Clinton), Michelle Malkin, and almost any blonde on Fox News, home of the daily “Pop Tarts.”

Just last week I saw another of those pieces–from a conservative, naturally–arguing that conservative women are “hotter” than liberals. My equally over-generalized and unfair thought, whenever I see that claim: liberal women are more likely to have brains and beauty; conservative women are more likely to have makeup and plastic surgery.

[michelle-obama.jpg]   In the meantime, speaking of brains and beauty, Google has apologized because searches for “Michelle Obama” produced an image (at left) in which the first lady’s picture had been altered to look like a monkey. While the image is reprehensible, I’m a bit concerned about how quickly Google reacted to take it down (though the company claimed it did so because of virus concerns).

After all, the image is hardly surprising considering the level of racist hatred that has been spewed by far-right nimrods during the past couple of years, and I want to know what the idiots are up to. Making the stupidity just a little harder to find doesn’t make it go away. More importantly, I don’t want Google–or any corporation–deciding what’s politically appropriate to view.

I just wish that more Americans, and the media they depend upon, would focus more on issues of substance. But the odds of that remain slim, despite a Pew study that the general population is smarter than the media on this issue.

Happy Thanksgiving. One of the things we can be most thankful for is that Palin isn’t a heartbeat away from the presidency–even if, as I suggested yesterday, I’m less impressed with the current Commander in Chief than I am with his wife.

      

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Twit lit: Palin publisher hopes ‘rogue’ stays in vogue

Posted by James McPherson on October 3, 2009

Apparently not bothering to read much gives Sarah Palin lots of time to write, as her new book will hit bookstores next month, rather than next spring. Perhaps this Thanksgiving will go better than last year’s for Palin.

Publisher HarperCollins reportedly want to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season, though I suspect fears that the Alaska Abdicator may completely fade from relevance may also be a factor.

Some Republicans think a Palin nomination would be “catastrophic” for the party (admittedly that quote comes from a John McCain aide, but then, who knows GOP disaster better than McCain folks?), and the conservative New York Post reports that the Moose Killa from Wasilla has not proven to be much of a draw on the lecture circuit,

“The big lecture buyers in the US are paralyzed with fear about booking her, basically because they think she is a blithering idiot,” says one apparent insider. “What does she have to say? She can’t even describe what she reads.”

That doesn’t raise much hope for the book, whose “author” (not surprisingly, she has a co-author) can’t even stay honest on Facebook or Twitter (come to think of it, that seems to be a common problem on social networking sites, though most writers are lying about themselves, not about policy proposals).

Regardless, considering Palin’s level of accuracy within 140 characters, or speak coherently for 20 minutes, pity whomever decides to try to  wade through 400 pages.

Posted in History, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Blogosphere of flying: Leaving cyberspace to become more grounded

Posted by James McPherson on April 21, 2009

Yesterday I gave some of the  reasons why I have enjoyed maintaining this blog, and what might tempt me to continue it (and the nice responses I’ve already had to that post make it even more tempting). I also noted that tomorrow’s post, to be mostly a list of previous favorites, may be my last. (Despite the fact that, as my brother reminded me, I said in passing back in December that I’d be blogging “as long as the power was on.” But hey, Bush and Cheney were still in the White House then; who knew we would  still have affordable energy four months later?)

Anyway, today I’ll explain why I’m at least partially leaving cyberspace. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the biggest reason is the time involved. I loved how one respondent put it yesterday: “the beast that is online journalism,” even though what I do usually isn’t quite journalism.

On some days I have spent hours crafting a blog post that very few people would ever read. Oddly, by far my most popular post (in one-day numbers, not overall) was a four-paragraph piece I wrote in about 15 minutes just before going to bed one night. I typically spend anywhere from five to 15 hours a week doing this. During the past year I’ve written more than 300 posts, and have probably produced more words than were in my first and second books combined.

That’s time that I can now spend doing other things, including other writing. During the past year I have managed to write chapters for the country’s leading journalism history textbook and a forthcoming book about popular culture, but have other more personal projects in mind (including the books of fiction I mentioned yesterday). I might try to rework my doctoral dissertation into a book, if I find a publisher interested in the story of Samuel Day Jr. (the publisher of the Progressive during the 1979 H-bomb case).

I also have at least three other books I’d like to write–one that combines history, politics and journalism (the three areas that I studied for my Ph.D. and which of course also led to my most recent book), and a couple that would be exercises in literary nonfiction. Chances are I’ll also write more letters to the editor of my local newspaper, assuming it survives, and will continue to contribute comments to other people’s blogs. Though I don’t expect it, perhaps I’ll get an “offer I can’t refuse” to write something yet unforeseen.

Aside from writing, I might also get more exercise, play more golf, do more camping and fishing, watch more Seattle Mariners games, or spend more time doing nothing while sitting by the small pond I built in my back yard–mostly things that have the extra benefit of giving me more time with my wife.

Other activities that we or I have barely tried, but have enjoyed and might pursue further, include learning Spanish, kayaking, chess, ballroom dancing, and  learning to play blues harmonica. In short, I won’t live long enough to run out of things to do, even if I suddenly stop finding new interests.

In terms of teaching and technology, I intend to keep learning about it for the sake of (and from) my students. In a comment on yesterday’s post, one outstanding student noted, “I’m interested to hear about the ways you will hope to continue to show that to students if you are not blogging.” (That’s something else I should have thought to mention yesterday about reasons for blogging–it helps keep me accountable to the people I’m working for.)

A year has been long enough to learn what I felt I needed to learn about intensive blogging, and I intend to keep finding new ways of learning along with new ways of teaching. That’s also why a few years ago I briefly hosted a radio program. I never expected to become either a radio celebrity or an Internet star, but I greatly enjoyed both, and in both cases the learning experience was a main point of the activity.

Among the possibilities I’m now exploring are public access television, another radio program, and ways that I might incorporate technology into the aforementioned literary nonfiction projects. In the classroom, I’m bringing in more multimedia, and am seeking funding for flipcams to use in my reporting class. I also would welcome suggestions from any of you for ways to continue to improve my (and my students’) skills.

I do think it is important to try to recognize what you’re trying to achieve with an endeavor, and then to move on to something else when you either get reach your goal or realize that you never will. Of course that’s the same thinking that went into my fighting to get to–and then to get away from–the Presidential Inauguration back in January, and why I strongly dislike the fact that politicians are accused of “flip-flopping” if they change strategies as circumstances change.

If I chose to keep with blogging, readership might have continued to rise. Over the past 12 weeks, I’m averaging more than 180 hits per day, but like most other bloggers I reached fewer readers in a year of blogging than I did in a week of newspaper writing. Yet despite the small readership, my natural competitiveness sometimes makes me take this too seriously. I admit that I check the daily traffic, and want it to keep increasing.

The positive aspect of my competitive streak  is that if I’m putting something “out there,” I want to be able to stand by it and take some pride in it. I’m more careful when writing an argument than when I engage in verbal exchanges. That awareness of “public vs. private” is also why I now make my reporting students post their work on a blog to be read by people other than just them and me.

And speaking of being more thoughtful: I’m a feminist male who was a teenager in the 1970s and who now teaches a “women and media” class, so yes, the Erica Jong reference in the title above was intentional. Those of you who are teaching or majoring in psychology, gender studies, or English lit can now feel free to start your analysis engines.

Besides having other things I want to do (and probably for the sake of continued growth, need to do), I also recognize that there’s already too much hastily written stuff whirling around cyberspace–and no shortage of people writing about the same topics I do. Many of them are idiots, of course–but many others are smarter than I am. Links to several of them can be found on this page, though I’d also encourage you to find some favorites of your own. I’d also remind you not to fully believe any of them.

I briefly considered trying to open the blog up to advertising as a further media experiment, but don’t want to feel obligated to write (even if I have been somewhat obsessive about doing so even without pay). Besides, despite the fact that for years it provided my salary, I hate most forms of advertising. I can’t imagine working hard enough at this to make a living at it, even if I didn’t already have a “real job” that I love.

I will keep the blog alive (as long as the power is on, brother Guy), and may occasionally feel moved to post something. I’ll keep using blogs as a part of my journalism classes, and will encourage students to create their own. I’ll keep reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, including those of professional journalists, academics, students and former students.

Of course if you enjoy my writing, I’d encourage you to read my books, especially the less-academic second one titled, The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right. Or just fire me off an note–if you care enough to find my email address (hint: check “About the blogger”) and send me something, I’ll answer it.

Even if I don’t write more posts, I’ll keep the blog so that I (and others) can keep using  some of the pieces I’ve written during the past year, and especially to provide easy access to the links I’ve put together. I’ll continue to add to those links from time to time as I encounter relevant sites in the ever-expanding blogosphere.

Thank you for joining me on part of my journey. I hope you enjoy your future travels in cyberspace, wherever they may take you.

     Peace,

                                         Jim McPherson

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

Something you’ve seen before

Posted by James McPherson on April 14, 2009

fake-newspaper-clipping4You probably haven’t seen the exact headline contained on the newspaper clipping here, though perhaps you would expect to by now.

Though it won’t win me a “Webby” (not to poke fun at the awards, since PBS, NPR and FactCheck.org have all been among the winners), for my 300th post I thought I’d do something a little different–or pretty much the same, as has become the case for much of American journalism.

I wrote the original post contained in the “clipping” here back on April 1. Sadly, unlike my other post of the same day, the information here is all too real.

You can make up your own fake clippings (or many other items, such as the one below) at the Clipping Generator. clapperboard-2

Posted in History, Journalism, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »