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 ‘Abraham Lincoln’

Colorado Rocky Mountain sigh

Posted by James McPherson on February 27, 2009

Colorado saw two potential major changes today in media. One is sad and a reflection of many current media problems that bode ill for all of us. The other is overdue, and doesn’t yet go far enough.

First, the sad: The Rocky Mountain News, which began publication as Colorado’s first newspaper in 1859, put out its final issue today. You can see the final front page here:

final-rocky-mtn-news

Rocky” won four Pulitzer Prizes in its history, the last of those for a photographer who helped produce best multimedia presentation I’ve ever seen about the human cost of war. The newspaper’s history, of course, began before the war that claimed the most American lives and probably the nation’s best president.

Now the newspaper shuts its doors during our most fiscally expensive war ever, and just after the departure of a commander in chief whom I think is destined to be ranked as one of the nation’s worst presidents (I will agree with George W. Bush, however, that it’s too early to rank him in historical terms).

Denver will now be like most American cities, a one-newspaper town (not counting free weeklies or suburban papers, which have different roles). The Rocky Mountain News was killed by the same thing that is killing and crippling newspapers (and now local television stations–I was interviewed on that topic by a wire service yesterday) all over the country: higher costs and lower revenues. One of my students has produced a blog that has chronicled many of the problems.

Ironically, as several media professionals pointed out to a group of students I took to New York and Washington, D.C., in January, the demand for news remains as high as ever. The problem is that people want to read (and now watch) the news on their own schedule, from a variety of sources, without paying anything for it. Few consider or care that the “free” news they read is subsidized by subscribers and advertisers for the non-web versions of those same media outlets. When the major newspapers and broadcast stations die, their web operations die, too. (For example, I have no idea whether some of the links above will work after today.)

The result of fewer and smaller newspapers is less potential oversight. We can’t go to all of the city council and county commission meetings and legislative hearings, even if we want to. We don’t have the time or knowledge to investigate unsafe business practices, government corruption, or the best and worst hospitals and schools. Increasingly we find that there’s no one else to do it for us, either.

Our own voice also shrinks, as newspapers disappear. I occasionally write letters to my local paper. More people will read that letter than will come to this blog in the course of an entire month.

Speaking of voices, that brings me to the second potential big media event in Colorado today: just potential, because James Dobson’s will not disappear from the airwaves right away, but he is stepping down as chairman of Focus on the Family. As I’ve written previously, I don’t understand why Dobson has the following that he does, considering his lack of qualifications. I hope his retirement as chairman is just a first step in the fading from view of the neocon of child development.

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

How the GOP can hasten its race to irrelevancy and Confederacy

Posted by James McPherson on February 11, 2009

Some influential conservatives have promised to campaign against the three moderate Senate Republicans who supported the economic stimulus bill. As a liberal, I hope they keep their promise, and that their efforts succeed. Though it’s hard to imagine many ways that Republicans can make themselves even less relevant in national politics than they are now, this would be one of them.

Conservatives have long complained about the three Senators, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter and Maine’s two Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. In fact, the three are remnants of a moderate Republican Northeastern base which, as I’ve written elsewhere, began to lose influence in 1964.

The recent defeat of Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays ended GOP representation from the New England states complete in the House of Representatives. And if the conservatives have their way, defeating the moderate Senators in future Republican primaries, the primary winners will almost certainly become general election losers.

The Democratic Party has become too conservative, in my view. But that move to a center-right position has captured the very middle-of-the road voters that Karl Rovian Republicans have abandoned in their efforts to appeal to what they mistakenly viewed as a growing conservative base.

As some Republicans, including Virginia Rep. Tom Davis and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have pointed out, the result is that the GOP is on the verge of becoming a “regional party” based in the old Confederacy. The irony is notable in a year in which we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abe Lincoln’s birth, especially for those of us who are fans of Lincoln but not of the party that has abandoned his ideals.

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The real McCoy: Conservative cartoonist shows contempt for Americans

Posted by James McPherson on November 8, 2008

I have never understood the appeal of cartoonist Glenn McCoy to anyone other than a Sean Hannity fan, and McCoy (whose schoolyard-bully scribbles regularly appear in my own local newspaper) has for some time been one of my least-favorite cartoonists.

That’s not because he is a conservative–after all, one of my favorite cartoonists is the Arizona Republic’s Steve Benson–but because McCoy regularly combines a mean-spirited partisan approach with twisted logic and a notable ignorance (or willful disregard) of history. Americans and the news media are ignorant enough about their history without the distortions of the likes of Hannity and McCoy, whose Nov. 6 cartoon well demonstrates his shortcomings.

In that cartoon, Barack Obama stands holding a newspaper with the headline, “OBAMA WINS.” Next to Obama, Abraham Lincoln’s statute is thinking, “I guess you CAN fool all of the people all of the time.” Think about that for a moment, and then let’s first address the logical problems with McCoy’s argument.

  1. Most people are not Americans.
  2. While the presidential campaign was longer than most, two years hardly represents “all of the time”–and even many Obama supporters disagreed with some of his thinking (and pointed out his misstatements).
  3. Many Americans did not vote at all, either because they were not qualified to do so or because of apathy.
  4. About 53 percent of the those did vote cast ballots for Obama, meaning almost half of voters preferred someone else.
  5. Even many of those who voted for Obama would have preferred someone else: Hillary Clinton, Bob Barr, Mike Huckabee, or any number of others. But faced with the only real choice left–Obama or McCain–they rejected the candidate who represented the party blamed for many of the current problems we face, and instead chose the candidate who most represented hope, optimism and the likelihood of change. Voters did the same thing, of course, when they chose Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Outside of the logical arguments, McCoy also demonstrates an ignorance of American history. After all, this isn’t the first time Americans had elected a little-known candidate out of Illinois who:

  • opposed the war his country waged
  • was known largely for his oratory skill
  • served a brief and undistinguished stint in the Illinois legislature
  • ran for president after a mere two years in Congress.

The war that candidate opposed was the Mexican-American War, and the candidate was Abraham Lincoln.

Finally, McCoy demonstrates a partisanship that spills over into contempt for the American electoral system and the majority of voters who participated in it. Just two days after Americans had demonstrated–again–their desire to get past win-at-all-costs partisanship in the hope that their government might actually focus on the issues that matter most, McCoy chose to act like a spoiled child and call those voters idiots for voting the way they did.

Unfortunately, many newspapers–including the Spokesman-Review, which I read daily and which was among the minority of American newspapers that endorsed John McCain–chose to carry the cartoon on their editorial pages, demonstrating their own disregard for logic, history and the electorate. Such decisions make it somewhat easier to understand why the Spokesman and other papers have undergone serious financial problems, and why their very existence is threatened. The same editorial decisions also make it tougher for many of us to care whether those publications disappear.

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

Conservative media endorsing Obama; McCain’s options dwindle

Posted by James McPherson on October 18, 2008

I wrote earlier this month, a couple of times (here and here) last month, and even back in May about how the John McCain campaign has managed to turn off conservatives. The trend continues, as a number of newspapers and at least one conservative talk show host (who actually worked for George H.W. Bush) that traditionally support Republicans have come out in support of Barack Obama.

I’ve noted elsewhere how most of the newspapers that make up much of the so-called “liberal media” have endorsed Republican presidential candidates in every election this century except three: 1964 (when Barry Goldwater was viewed as too extremist; incidentally, now he’d be a moderate Republican); 1992 (when then-candidate George H.W. Bush was known to be involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and had shifted attention away from discussion of that issue by bashing the media); and very narrowly in 2004 (after George W. Bush and a Republican Congress had brought us the Iraq War, a spiraling deficit and the Patriot Act).

This clearly will be the first time this century that in back-to-back elections the majority of newspapers will endorse the Democratic candidate. Arguing that “McCain put his campaign before his country” and comparing Obama to Abraham Lincoln (making previously cited comparisons to Ronald Reagan, FDR and Goldwater and seem small), the Chicago Tribune is endorsing a Democrat for the first time in its long history (endorsing Lincoln, for example) as a proud conservative newspaper. Another nod came from from the Los Angeles Times, which last endorsed a candidate–Richard Nixon–in 1972.

Other key endorsements received by Obama include those from the Denver Post, the Miami Herald, the Kansas City Star, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Boston Globe, El Diario, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle (at least the last two of those would be expected in virtually any election year, of course) and newspapers in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

Some Republicans and media talking heads now are atwitter because the national polls seem to have tightened a bit. But as I’ve pointed out previously, national polls mean little–and Obama continues, at least for now, to control the national electoral map. As expected, most Hillary Clinton voters recognize that Obama better represents their interests than McCain. And both campaigns are hitting traditionally Republican states, Obama to try to expand his lead and McCain as a last-ditch strategy to try to eke out a narrow win.

There still is time for the election to swing toward McCain, of course. Perhaps Sarah Palin will be so impressive tonight on “Saturday Night Live” that she’ll trigger a wave of GOP support. Maybe she’ll start answering questions from the media, and manage to do so in a coherent fashion.

Maybe the don’t-look-at-the-economy-please negative attacks on Obama or on the media by the McCain camp and various nutball supporters like Michelle Bachman will start to take hold–or maybe the McCain folks will figure out that those attacks aren’t likely to depress the turnout enough to help their candidate win, so they’ll go back and dust off the kindler, gentler McCain.

Maybe Colin Powell will endorse McCain instead of Obama tomorrow morning on “Meet the Press,” and maybe he retains enough credibility despite helping lie us into the Iraq War to have an influence. Perhaps a new “terrorist attack” will occur just in time to chase fearful ignoramuses toward McCain. Perhaps Republicans will manage to simply steal another election, though their voter suppression tactics probably are more likely to prevent a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate than to keep Obama out of the White House.

Still, even if some of those factors come into play, it’s probably too late for a McCain victory–and, sadly, perhaps too late to save his reputation.

Next day update: Powell did endorse Obama this morning (prompting Pat Buchanan to question Powell’s loyalty just minutes ago on “Hardball“–saying the endorsement smacked of “opportunism”–while suggesting that Powell was basing his decision on race and that the most-respected military man in America was not a real Republican, anyway). Perhaps less importantly, Fareed Zakaria, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer (the biggest newspaper in Ohio, the state that gave the 2004 presidential election to Bush), and the Houston Chronicle also endorsed Obama this weekend.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »