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’

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

Posted by James McPherson on December 2, 2008

I got a kick out of it a few months ago when former student and follow blogger Grady Locklear, wrote in a post that I seemed “to check in with every news source under the sun on a daily basis.” I don’t, of course, though I do follow the news more closely than most people. After all, it’s my job.

But if you’re an American citizen who cares about such things as freedom, self-government and democracy, paying attention to the news is your job, too. Fortunately, it’s also not all that difficult, though the news media don’t always make it as simple as it could be. It’s not totally your fault that you probably know more about Natalie Holloway than about NAFTA.

For example, a quick current events question: What outbreak of violence during the past week killed the most people? I’d be willing to bet that most folks would answer with the terrorist attacks in India. But they would be wrong, even though CNN, the New York Times and other news organizations still are focusing heavily on it. Other lead CNN stories today discuss genocide in Iraq, a much larger historical example of mass bloodshed and the possibility of future mass murder, but neither of those is related to the past week’s deadliest outbreak of violence, either.

Though I seem to get a lot of email from bankers, princes and government officials in Nigeria, apparently no one was twittering the violence there where election-related clashes between Christians and Muslims killed hundreds. I don’t think the story was in my local paper at all. CNN had a story Saturday, but unlike the India story today it is already “old news.”

To find anything about Nigeria on CNN today, you have to go to “world news” and then “Africa” (where you also can find a story about cholera killing hundreds of people in perhaps the world’s most screwed-up nation, Zimbabwe.and the New York Times carried it on an inside page.  On the New York Times site, again you must go to “world news,” where you can find a story about Myanmar’s government policies contributing to thousands of AIDS deaths but again nothing about Nigeria unless you click into the “Africa” section. There you’ll find it, if you’ve bothered to go that far.

Contrast that with al-Jazeera. It also leads with stories about India, and in fact there are a number of things that make the India story particularly important (links to terrorism, tensions between nuke nations India and Pakiston, the fact that every time I make a phone call for computer support the call is answered by someone in India, etc.). But al-Jazeera’s front page also has a story about the violence in Nigeria–along with important stories about Congo, Thailand, North Korea, Israel, Romania, Afganistan, Libya, Kuwait, South Africa, Venezuala, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia (the Georgia near Russia, not the one hosting the never-ending Sarah Palin road show).

In fact, American news media offer us far less international news than they once did, at a time when world events are perhaps more important than ever before. Foreign bureaus have been slashed, and many news organizations are letting their competitors pick up the slack–which might be fine, if more of us were reading a broader range of news sources. Most of us, however, rely on just a few. Worse, most of us rely on television, the single worst mass medium for provided context with the news.

So, back to how I follow the news. The first thing I do when I get up and start to get ready for work is flip on CNN, just to see if anything of major importance is happening (a habit I started with 9/11, after a colleague called me to tell me to turn on the television). I usually read my local paper with breakfast, then go to work. I listen to NPR on my way in, and frequently listen to conservative talk radio on my way home (except on the rare occasions I get out early enough to catch “Marketplace”).

At various times during the day, as I have short breaks, I then check in with other media. I always skim the headlines at CNN and the New York Times. If I have extra time, I’ll check Fox News and the Huffington Post, to get the extremes on both political sides. And then if something from any of those sites intrigues me, I’ll follow a thread, looking for other stories on the same topic. If the topic is politics, I’ll check out Real Clear Politics. If it’s international news I’ll check al-Jazeera, the Christian Science Monitor and/or the Guardian.

At night I typically watch some of “The Newshour” on PBS, and might check in with CNN again and/or Fox News or MSNBC. Or maybe I’ll read part of a magazine: I currently subscribe to The Nation, The Progressive Ode and Time, though I vary them at times as subscriptions run out or I get good deals. I generally avoid the whirling mess of irrelevant images and video news releases provided by local television news except to check the weather or occasional sports highlights. If I’m up late enough, I’ll tune into “The Daily Show” and perhaps “The Colbert Report,” both of which offer some interesting takes on the news.

To your right, you’ll also see links to a lot of other news sources. Most of those I check in with fairly rarely, but I try to hit each one–along with a variety of bloggers from various perspectives–once a month or so. Sometimes I add or delete a link, and your preferences may vary. The most important thing, as I’ve written before, is to get your news from a variety of sources.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Here is the complete 20-part series chronicling the history of George W. Bush’s Iraq War, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history.

—————

Axis of evil

For sake of definition

Can’t beat the devil

—————

God’s soldiers attack

Saudi pilots slam towers

Time to hit Iraq

—————

They ripped out our heart

We must avenge them all

Chickenhawks are thrilled

_______

 Three thousand were killed

Nine-eleven is the call

We win at Wal-Mart

———

Yes, we must attack

We can’t find bin Laden’s cave

So we’ll bomb Iraq

_______

Bray it long and loud

Bush’s war will protect us

From a mushroom cloud

_______

Why attack Saddam?

Weapons of mass destruction

None there? We’ll be damned

_______

Please world wish us well

And God bless America

Killing infidels

_______

Flags throughout the land

Jingoistic fervor reigns

Don a black armband

_______

Let’s not be out-Foxed

Lapel flags in great demand

How about those Sox?

_______

Don’t count on the press

To learn what’s fact or fiction

The real truth? Just guess

_______

Soldiers bravely toil

Thousands come home draped with flags

From their war for oil

_______

 God save George the King

Chinese car magnets for troops

Who don’t mean a thing

_______

War is hell, he said

As if he had ever been

Your kids go instead

_______

Shake bittersweet Rice

From a sheltered brittle Bush

Harvest has its price

_______

Watch for terrorists

Those who’d offer civil rights

Must be communists

_______

They’ve not hit again

Three-fourths as good as Clinton

Check back in oh-ten

_______

Now the country’s broke

Try to change the rationale

Use mirrors and smoke

_______

Go to war we can

If we must we must, they say

What about Iran?

_______

Politicians’ game

Spin the bottle or the truth

Ending up the same

_______

 

 

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Warku #6

Posted by James McPherson on September 14, 2008

This is the sixth of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3#4 and #5.

_________

Bray it long and loud

Bush’s war will protect us

From a mushroom cloud

_______

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

Warku #5

Posted by James McPherson on September 13, 2008

This is the fifth of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3 and #4.

_________

Yes, we must attack

We can’t find bin Laden’s cave

So we’ll bomb Iraq

_______

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

Warku #4

Posted by James McPherson on September 12, 2008

This is the fourth of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1#2 and #3

——-

They ripped out our heart

Nine-eleven is the call

We win at Wal-Mart

——-

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

Warku #3 (9/11 reminder)

Posted by James McPherson on September 11, 2008

This is the third of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1 and #2.

_________

Three thousand were killed

We must avenge them all

Chickenhawks are thrilled

_______

 

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

Warku #2

Posted by James McPherson on September 10, 2008

This is the second of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1.

—————

God’s soldiers attack

Saudi pilots slam towers

Time to hit Iraq

—————

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Warku #1

Posted by James McPherson on September 8, 2008

This is the first of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history.

—————

Axis of evil

For sake of definition

Can’t beat the devil

—————

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

GOP VP nominee not Palin’ by comparison to Biden

Posted by James McPherson on September 3, 2008

From “bullshit” to bull moose: In her speech earlier tonight, Sarah Palin showed that she can not only shoot down and field dress the meat, but she can also pitch that red meat to the Republican base. She has no apparent qualms about doing what good VP candidates are supposed to do, attack the other side. Joe Biden won’t be the only VP pit bull–with or without lipstick–in this campaign.

Palin gave a good speech, with the usual convention-sized helpings of exaggeration and mischaracterization sprinkled with lie or two (she should quit repeating her false-but-appealing “bridge to nowhere” story, or that’s where it the bridge may help take her campaign). Palin did well what she had to do, though now that she’s “out there” without days to prepare for each appearance things may get tougher. On the other hand, Jay Rosen offers this somewhat depressing quote in considering the apparent McCain-Palin strategy:

Strategy: Comes from Bush, the younger. When realities uncovered are directly in conflict with prior claims, consider the option of keeping the claims and breaking with reality. Done the right way, it’s a demonstration of strength. It dismays and weakens the press. And it can be great theatre.

Rosen discusses how the GOP might reignite the culture war (it’s best strategy in the past couple of presidential elections), and elements of that war could be seen tonight. There wasn’t much on abortion–after all, Palin’s warmup act was pro-abortion, pro-gay civil unions, pro-gun control Rudy “9/11” Giuliani (I would like to see Rudy try to wrestle a rifle from Palin). But there has been plenty in recent days from the GOP (and its Fox News mouthpieces) about “elites” (a funny term for a ticket with at least 10 houses between them) and about that old Republican favorite, “the liberal media.”

It also was interesting to hear Palin and other speakers during the evening talk about the need for “change” from Washington politics. They obviously hope that a fair number of Americans will forget that it’s their president–the one McCain votes with most of the time–who has occupied the White House for the past eight years, and that their party controlled Congress for almost that entire time (while holding enough seats to sustain George W. Bush’s vetoes for the last two years, after the electorate kicked many–but not quite enough–of them out of office).

McCain himself was a Senator for all of that time, though he hasn’t showed up for the past five months. Giuliani made fun of Obama for voting “present,” but it has been quite a while since McCain could even say that much.

One media problem the McCain camp is trying to head off, fresh on the heels of the Bristol Palin pregnancy: the latest National Enquirer story about an alleged Sarah Palin affair. This is the sort of story that many of us would consider to be unlikely and irrelevant trash–but the exact thing that many conservatives recently criticized the mainstream media for not following up after the Enquirer reported similar allegations about John Edwards.

Unfortunately, as long as the major media let bloggers and tabloids dictate news selection, the GOP will have a case against the press–but it’s not a case of bias, as Republicans now pretend, as much as it is a case of laziness and sensationalism. And the Democrats can made the same case.

A even more ludicrous complaint from the McCain folks is that criticism of Palin’s obvious lack of experience is somehow sexist. That’s just stupid, especially since the GOP has been citing Obama’s lack of experience for months. Using their own reasoning, one would be forced to assume their criticisms stem from racism.

Tomorrow night is McCain’s turn. Any bets on how many times his years as a POW will come up?

Thursday elitist note: Vanity Fair estimates that Cindy McCain’s outfit from the other night cost approximately $300,000. Most of those “small town Americans” that the Republicans keep talking about that didn’t pay that much for their houses. And most of them only have one house.

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

Bush administration uses anthrax to kill American soldiers, Iraqis, civil liberties

Posted by James McPherson on August 1, 2008

An Army scientist who may have mailed anthrax to various news organizations and government officials in 2001 is dead of an apparent suicide. (Despite the fact that he was reportedly a committed Catholic, for whom I think suicide would have been a mortal sin, letters to the editor show that he was obviously confused.) Though friends and family claim that Bruce E. Ivins was innocent and the victim of FBI harassment, he also had been accused recently of having “a history dating to his graduate days of homicidal threats, actions, plans, threats & actions towards therapist.”

Perhaps I’ve just watched too many episodes of “The X-Files,” “Prison Break” and similar programs, but If the accusation about long-time violent tendencies is true, one might wonder why Ivins was allowed to work in Army biodefense labs–WITH ANTHRAX, FOR GOD’S SAKE–for EIGHTEEN FREAKING YEARS! One would hope it was merely oversight or stupidity and not related in any way to all the help Ivins allegedly gave the Bush administration in its efforts to curb civil liberties in America and start a war in Iraq.

Perhaps no one has covered the anthrax issue better than Glenn Greenwald, who today offers another detailed and thought-provoking piece (one of a series of such stories). As Greenwald writes, “It was anthrax–sent directly into the heart of the country’s elite political and media institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets–that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.” Greenwald previously has pointed out that ABC played a significant role in the false impression that Saddam Hussein and Iraq may have been involved in the anthrax attacks.

I have suggested to many people over the years (though not previously in writing), that if the culprit was ever found, he or she would likely be someone or strongly sympathetic to–if not associated with–the Bush administration. I did note a couple of years ago in my first book that the anthrax scare came just before Congress was asked to pass the USA PATRIOT Act. You’ll notice that the targeted Congressmen were somewhat liberal members of Congress, who might some might have expected to opposed the administration’s attempts to run roughshod over civil liberties. Apparently the terrorist neglected to send an envelope to Russ Feingold, the only Senator to oppose the act (which passed 357-66 in the House).

Many aspects of the Patriot Act had been proposed before 9/11, but Congress hurried to push it through in October 2001, just after the anthrax mailings. President George W. Bush created the Office of Homeland Security at about the same time, and began a concerted effort to link Hussein and Iraq to anthrax and other weapons of mass destruction. John McCain made the same connection: thinkprogress has video.

Perhaps the anthrax culprit has been identified, is dead, and is no longer a threat. But so far the 2001 anthrax scare has helped kill thousands of American soldiers, tens of thousands of Iraqis, and American civil liberties.

AUGUST 3 UPDATE: Greenwald continues his excellent coverage of the issue, asking important questions about journalists’ knee-jerk protection of even obviously dishonest government sources.

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