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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Posts Tagged ‘9/11’

My 9/11 story

Posted by James McPherson on September 11, 2016

9-11

On Sept. 11, 2001, the first day of a new school year at Whitworth, I was getting ready to teach my first freshman seminar about media & society when the attacks came. Whitworth gave faculty the option of cancelling classes, but I decided that having an afternoon forum for discussion would be good for my freshmen and me.
Like most Americans, I spent the morning following the events of 9/11 on both television and my computer. Yet I remained strangely unmoved — perhaps partly because of my former training and experience as a reporter, but even more, I think, because of the unreality of it all.
Part of my brain just couldn’t process the pictures of a jetliner full of people slamming into a massive tower full of people, let alone the pictures of those two giant towers crumbling to the ground. And maybe the numbness of shock explains my relative lack of emotion.
Yet as a media scholar I suspect that part of my brain recognized what people at the scene kept saying: “It’s like something out of a movie.” Yet in the movies, we had often seen the sound and visuals “done better” than what live television had to offer — more “realistic”-looking explosions, from multiple angles, with music helping tell our brains how to feel.
So, though I am not proud of the fact, on that morning I couldn’t seem to make myself feel the emotions that I thought I should. Frustrated with the media coverage and myself, I walked outside into a beautiful fall day, though a door near which an American flag already flew at half staff. At the base of the flag were bright yellow flowers, planted to greet returning students and their parents. And there, a bee flitted among the blossoms. I stood and watched that lone bee, a tiny creature unaware of the events that would forever change all of our lives, doing what it was born to do.
“Well,” I thought. “Life goes on.” And then, standing there alone in the middle of campus, away from the media deluge and 3,000 miles away from New York or Washington, D.C., I began to cry.
Those tears weren’t the last I shed tears related to 9/11 — those came a little while ago when I read this story aloud to my wife. Insects play a role in Adam Langer’s story, too, and my wife and I have outlived a couple of dogs that looked like the author’s.
We all are witnesses to things we cannot fathom. And sometimes inexplicably, life goes on.

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Steele again suffers from inadvertent truth-telling

Posted by James McPherson on July 3, 2010

In a turnaround so quick that you’d think he had insulted Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele is now trying to explain away his latest gaffe: calling U.S. involvement in Afghanistan “a war of Obama’s choosing… not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”

Republicans are more up in arms over Steele’s comments than Democrats (who no doubt are enjoying the show), with neocon loony Bill Kristol and the GOP version of the Bride of Frankenstein among those calling for Steele’s resignation.

The interesting thing is, as when he made derogatory comments about Limbaugh, in this case Steele was somewhat accurate.  Under George W. Bush, the Afghanistan war “not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” because the Bush administration was far more interested in figuring out how to falsely tie Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. Unfortunately for the Bushies, Afghanistan is where 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden chose to hide, providing a brief diversion from Iraq.

The end result was two stupid mismanaged wars for the price of … well the price, now over a trillion dollars, may end up being a hundred times the original estimated cost of one war. 

In addition, though it wasn’t his war to start with, Barack Obama has ramped up U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan(perhaps the only thing he’s done that neocons like), increasing troop numbers and the usage of killing-from-home drone attacks. Interestingly, though predator drone operators may sit in a room outside of Las Vegas, they wear flight suits as if they were fighter pilots in jets fighters, or perhaps George W. Bush action figures.

By the way, what is it about the GOP and it’s attempts to appeal to African Americans? It’s answer to Thurgood Marshall, one of the best Supreme Court justices of all time (and perhaps the least conservative, though the two don’t necessarily go together) was Clarence Thomas, perhaps the dumbest and most conservative. Then Republicans responded to the election of America’s first African American president by choosing Steele as their leader. At least, unlike Steele, Thomas is quietly stupid.

On an unrelated but timely matter: Have a great Fourth of July. Be patriotic by not wearing an American flag, though you may want to burn one.

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

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 »

Why Dick Cheney should be tortured

Posted by James McPherson on March 15, 2009

Dick Cheney, perhaps the most evil chief executive in our nation’s history (yeah, I know–technically the president is the chief executive, but I’m talking about the person really in charge of policy), told CNN today that Barack Obama’s policies increase our risk of being attacked by terrorists.

Aside from the fact that it seems our risk might decrease from having a president who values diplomacy over bluster and who actually reads threat memos more closely than he reads The Pet Goat, Cheney’s argument is typically inane self-defense, perhaps offered as a means of trying to avoid justified prosecution of George W. Bush, Cheney and others for war crimes.

“Cheney said the harsh interrogations of suspects and the use of warrantless electronic surveillance were ‘absolutely essential’ to get information to prevent more attacks like the 2001 suicide hijackings that targeted New York and Washington,” according to the report.

In other words, it’s the old fascist argument, offered at a time when the American public is sick of the whole Bush/Cheney-caused mess, that “we have to strip your civil rights away to save them.” Not the sort of thing that conservatives once stood for, but then these weren’t your grandfather’s conservatives. Thank God they’re not ours, anymore, either.

Apparently CNN didn’t ask Cheney about recent  revelations by one of the nation’s top investigative reporters, Seymour Hersh, that the former vice president personally oversaw a military  “assassination ring” that bypassed the CIA and carried out clandestine murders in other countries.

“It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on,” Hersh reportedly stated. “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”

I have no idea whether Hersh’s report is accurate. If so, the illegal death squads clearly pose an international threat. I suggest we torture Cheney until he confesses.

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

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

Posted by James McPherson on March 14, 2009

More than seven years after 9/11 introduced most Americans to Osama bin Laden, it apparently is still fairly easy to get a fake passport in this country. (By the way, news this week prompts the question of why is it that we can track thousands of pieces of  space junk, but apparently remain clueless about the whereabouts of “Osama bin Hidin,” who celebrated his 52nd birthday on Tuesday.) 

Unfortunately those of us who have spent much time dealing with bureaucrats are unlikely to be overly surprised by the fake passport findings, considering how many government employees are lackadaisical, incompetent or overworked.

What is surprising, however, is the speed with which a Government Accountability Office investigator was able to get fake passports in the latter months of the Bush administration–the same day that he presented phony supporting documents, in one case, and in all four cases less than nine days. Even the government website says you should expect to wait four weeks for “routine service” and two to three weeks for expedited service. It took months for my passport to arrive (a couple of years ago), and my situation seems to be all too common.

Also somewhat surprising about the fake passport investigation were these lines in the Associated Press story: “The State Department has known about this vulnerability for years. On February 26, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of passport services issued a memo to Passport Services directors across the country stating that the agency is reviewing its processes for issuing passports because of ‘recent events regarding several passport applications that were approved and issued in error.'”

Interestingly, the media seem to be in no rush to give us all of the details, perhaps because the government followed the time-honored tradition of releasing bad news on a Friday. The CNN story linked above doesn’t mention how quickly the passports were issued (less time than it takes to purchase a handgun, in some cases), and neither the New York Times nor Fox News–which devotes an entire web section to “Homeland Security“–seemed to have the story at all this morning (perhaps Fox is trying to figure out a way to retroactively blame the Obama administration).

The lead story of Fox’s Homeland Security section is more than two years old, and ironically is titled “High Tech Passports Arrive.” The third story on the list, from about a year ago, underscores my comment about bureaucratic issues: “Homeland Security Employees are Unhappy with their Jobs, Survey Shows.”

Hey, with this latest news appearing just days after a U.S. Senate committee concluded that the threat of domestic terrorism is increasing, I have something in common with those Homeland Security folks: I’m pretty unhappy with the job they’re doing, too.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

More than a little sick of warmongers? Get on board the Sick Train

Posted by James McPherson on March 13, 2009

As much debate has there has been about the stimulus bill and the economy (debate spilling over into primetime television), it’s good to remember that the single biggest long-term drag on our economy for most of our lifetimes probably will be the Iraq War–which, we hear today, that the public is “a little sick” of hearing about, talking about, etc. If you want a better picture of what the war will cost you, and for how long, check out NationalPriorities.org.

And for those of you who have recently joined our ranks aboard the sick train (now there’s a song I can’t imagine Cat Stevens singing, even under the name Yusuf Islam): welcome aboard–but what took you so long? Some of us were more than a little sick of this war, and equally sick of the Bush/Cheney cabal that foisted it upon a generally clueless and revenge-seeking public, years ago.

As I’ve noted previously (in a book and repeatedly here), a gutless Democratic Party and a Bush-kissing mainstream press constributed to the problem in the first place. Both now seem largely determined to forget it, but it will be with us for decades to come.

It remains to see whether the “anti-war” Barack Obama will be any better than Bush in terms of war and related spending, and judging by his first steps into the quagmire of Afghanistan, I have my doubts. In the meantime, war also rages much closer, on our southern border. Though I’m not sure we should be helping out there, either, it may not matter–we can’t spare the troops, even if we wanted to help.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Soldiers still dying, but at least photos may be unburied

Posted by James McPherson on February 26, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces today that the Pentagon is overturning a Bushian policy that pretends dead soldiers don’t exist. (The ban on pictures of flag-draped coffins actually started under George H.W. Bush during the Persian Gulf War–another war in the region, as I and others have pointed out–that might never have begun without a misleading public relations effort.)

There have been occasional breaks from the official ban, but its reversal is overdue. Those favoring rejection of the “Dover policy” included the Army Times and the National Press Photographers Association. Families, who are split on the issue but mostly seem to favor the ban (apparently trusting the government more than they do the media, despite their losses), will still be allowed to keep the press away from their own deceased loved ones.

Call today’s action a partial victory for reason. After 9/11, George W. Bush told us to “go shopping.” In the meantime, the real price for his ensuing folly has remained largely hidden. You can get a better picture of that cost with two databases from the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Same-day update: Those who would protest overturning the ban might want to check out how sensitive and sensible the media can be at times of tragedy. Pulitzer Prize-winning Rocky Mountain News photographer Todd Heisler and reporter Jim Sheeler produce “A Final Salute” about a fallen Marine. Unfortunately, the News is closing its doors tomorrow, another in a recent series of great newspaper losses. Web content may be fine, but the best of it is still produced by the mainstream news organizations that are now going under.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

What a concept: woman to have input on women’s education in Saudi Arabia

Posted by James McPherson on February 14, 2009

Saudi King Abdullah has appointed a woman to the nation’s council of ministers for the country. Noor Al-Fayez will serve as deputy director for women’s education in Saudi Arabia, probably because there was no less-valued position on the council.

The appointment is a good sign, I suppose. Now she’ll just have to hope her husband is willing to drive her to work, so she can perform her new duties. But maybe there’s no reason for her to actually show up at the office, since as the State Department reports, under the traditional Saudi interpretation of Islamic law, men and women are not allowed to attend public events together, and are segregated in the workplace (pretty much like Democrats and Republicans in our Congress).

The United States won’t formally complain about any of that that, of course, because Saudi Arabia’s hold on the world’s largest oil reserves guarantees handholding on the part of American presidents. Despite our long series of misadventures in Iraq, the eye-gouging nation of Saudi Arabia also was the home country of 15 of the hijackers who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11 .

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Two days in ‘the Greatest City in the World’

Posted by James McPherson on January 11, 2009

Since 9/11, every episode of “The Late Show with David Letterman” has started with a reference to that slogan, “the Greatest City in the World.” I’m not sure I buy that–“greatest” is one of those phrases so common to advertising because it’s impossible to quantify–but New York is a very cool place.

Students are already picking up some interesting insights from their time here–check out their “Media Impact” blog, linked under “Students and Friends” at the right side of this page. (I’d embed the link, but the hostel computer system isn’t very link-friendly.)

We have the weekend off, and some of us spent most of yesterday at the Met after a walk across Central Park. Others made a quick visit there, then went on to Staten Island, Brooklyn, West Point and/or Times Square. We also had snow that remains on the ground today–though nothing compared to what we left in Spokane.

Today some of us are hitting the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero. Then for the rest of the week it’s back to work, meeting with media leaders. Tomorrow we’ll visit with The Onion and Channel 13, where Bill Moyers does his show.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Blind “love,” blind justice, and Bush’s shoe bomber

Posted by James McPherson on December 14, 2008

As far as we still have to go in this country in terms of equal rights for women and criminal justice, CNN today offers another reminder that things are worse elsewhere.

An Iranian stalker blinded his love object with acid, then “offered” to marry her after he disfigured her. The victim has now convinced an Islamic court that her attacker should face truth “eye-for-an-eye” justice, being blinded with acid himself.

Of all the troubling things about this particular case, perhaps the most disturbing is this line from the victim, recalling her thoughts when she realized that she was about to be attacked: “At that moment, I saw in my mind the face of two sisters who years ago had the same thing happen to them. I thought, ‘Oh, my God–acid.'”

The story also notes that Iran is one of only two countries in the world where “eye-gouging” is considered appropriate punishment. The other is the birthplace of most of the 9/11 World Trade Center attackers, and perhaps the world largest funder of Islamic terrorism–and our biggest ally in the region–Saudi Arabia.

After literally holding hands with the Saudis (some of whom have plenty of reasons for being upset, themselves), George W. Bush is fortunate that people (a journalist, interestingly) are throwing only shoes at him.

Thursday update: Bush obviously isn’t the only one beholden to the Saudis–CNN reports that Bill Clinton is, too, to the tune of perhaps $25 million.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Religion, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »