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 ‘Afghanistan’

More evidence of the conservatism of the American press & politics

Posted by James McPherson on December 10, 2008

This, of course, is the main theme of my recent book–that the mainstream media and American politics have become more conservative over time. Though the book came out before the recent election, I had predicted there and elsewhere that Barack Obama would be a good candidate. Part of the reason for his success, of course, is his own conservative nature, as expressed through his campaign and his appointments–a conservatism almost guaranteed by his educational background.

One of the most troubling expressions of that conservatism for me has been his expressed policy toward Afghanistan. That nation might become for Obama what Iraq became for George Bush and Iran was for Jimmy Carter: a distant nation that Americans care little about but which uses an inordinate amount of U.S. resources in exchange for little perceivable benefit.

Unfortunately, as Fairness and Accuracy in Media’s Gabriel Voiles notes, Obama’s view has become the conventional wisdom in the mainstream media. The problem with conventional wisdom is that it is so often wrong, whether it suggests that Republicans are more patriotic or better for the economy (which has been stronger in virtually every way under Democrats) or that Democrats are more peaceful (until recently we’ve had more wars and longer wars, under Democrats) and better for the environment (Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act).

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

Palin, Pakistan & the press: ‘Cheez Whiz, people, don’t you know she doesn’t mean what she says?’

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Republicans are trying to keep Sarah Palin from speaking to the press, even as she makes the rounds of traditional campaign stops. As I noted in the comments section yesterday, with last night’s Tina Fey “Saturday Night Live” appearance, considering how tightly scripted and hidden away Palin as been, lately most of us will have seen more of Fey as Palin than we’ve seen of Palin as Palin.

Now GOP operatives apparently will need to simplify the instructions even further: “Sarah, don’t speak unless you’re on a stage, with a teleprompter, repeating things we’ve let you practice. Smile and nod and wave, but don’t speak. And for God’s sake, don’t ever answer a question. From anybody. Anywhere.” That might make Thursday’s debate a bit tricky.

Just one day after John McCain criticized Barack Obama for saying he would strike inside Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden–a view, incidentally, that McCain himself and most other Americans likely would support, and which goes along with what has become Bush administration policy–Palin (on a Philly cheesesteak run) had a Temple University grad student ask her if American troops should go from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Her response: “If that’s what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should.”

Though she said she had watched the previous night’s presidential debate, and praised the performance of McCain (whom she may believe once walked the earth with dinosaurs), she apparently missed one of her running mate’s strongest statements: “You don’t say that out loud.”

As a result, today the campaign was forced to retract one of the few things Palin actually has said out loud in public. With no apparent irony intended, McCain (talking this morning to George Stephanopoulos) said Palin was a campaign asset in large part because “She knows how to communicate directly with people.” That comment came almost directly on the heels of McCain weakly blaming her latest misstep on the existence of microphones at what was clearly supposed to be another beauty queen-style photo op:

“In all due respect, people going around and… sticking a microphone while conversations are being held, and then all of a sudden that’s—that’s a person’s position… This is a free country, but I don’t think most Americans think that that’s a definitve policy statement made by Governor Palin.”

Of course he’s right about that. Most Americans likely no longer believe that the McCain can offer a “definitive policy statement” about virtually anything. No wonder even many conservatives and their media supporters are jumping ship. One newspaper, endorsing its first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 (during the last Great Depression), noted accurately:

McCain, who has voted consistently for deregulation, started off two weeks ago declaring the U.S. economy fundamentally sound but ended the week sounding like a populist. Who is he really? …

While praiseworthy for putting the first woman on a major-party presidential ticket since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, his selection of Palin as a running mate was appalling. The first-term governor is clearly not experienced enough to serve as vice president or president if required. Her lack of knowledge is being covered up by keeping her away from questioning reporters and doing interviews only with those considered friendly to her views.

At the risk of repeating myself, Thursday night’s debate could be tricky, and I’ll again offer my recommended debate strategy of yesterday for both candidates: Try to let your opponent talk. Don’t complain if s/he goes over the time limit; you’ll probably benefit more from it.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some “family crisis” forces Palin to postpone or cancel the debate, if not withdraw from the race altogether. Whether anyone would buy that, after McCain’s recent erratic behavior, remains to be seen. And by the way, isn’t it long past time to stop calling McCain a maverick, and to start calling him simply a compulsive gambler?

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

What McCain might say to news media: “Who do you think you’re foolin’? Love me like Barack”

Posted by James McPherson on July 21, 2008

I said a couple of days ago that the primary benefit of Barack Obama’s ongoing tour of the Middle East and Europe would be the media attention he would get. Even I have been surprised at the extent of that coverage, however, and how much easier it has been for Obama to get positive coverage than long-time media darling John McCain.

McCain, used to winning adoration from the media with semi-coherent “straight talk,” has to be shocked. Even Lou “illegal-aliens-are-out-to-kill-us-all” Dobbs paused from his nightly xenophobia for a few moments to complain about how uneven the coverage of the two candidates has become, and has a poll on his Web site asking, “Do you believe the national media is biased in favor of Sen. Barack Obama?” Of 7,879 respondents when I checked, 74 percent said yes. Obviously the poll has problems, both in the language of the question (Why not ask, “Do you believe the national media is biased in favor of Sen. Barack Obama?”), and in the fact that the only people who will see the poll likely are already mostly Dobbs fans (though it’s tough for me to believe that he has almost 8,000 fans), but Obama clearly is getting most of the attention.

All three network anchors are on the Barack-and-roll world tour, and all three networks are boasting about having “exclusive interviews” with the candidate. One wonders at the value of exclusivity when all three will likely ask the same kinds of questions–and the same questions they could ask Obama at home–but the Obama campaign is so far mostly hitting the right media notes.

Meanwhile, all McCain and his surrogates can do is to try to avoid attention-getting gaffes while taking potshots from afar and hoping something sticks. “If Barack Obama’s policy in Iraq had been implemented, he couldn’t be in Iraq today,” Joe Lieberman says. That may be true, of course. It’s definitely true that if Obama’s opposition to the war had been heeded, thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis wouldn’t have died there during the past five years.

McCain’s people have gone so far as to float the possibility that he will name his running mate this week. That would be a mistake, in my view, but it wouldn’t be the first poorly timed McCain event during this campaign. Still, I think such an announcement is unlikely.

One warning for the networks: Part of the reason the Democratic primary race may have lasted as long as it did was because many people who otherwise would not have been Hillary Clinton fans grew disgusted with how poorly the news media treated her while fawning over Obama. In coming weeks, McCain may benefit from the same kind of backlash.

Posted in Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Barack-y road

Posted by James McPherson on July 19, 2008

Barack Obama visited Afghanistan today as part of a trip to the Middle East and Europe. His advisors and supporters hope the trip will boost his foreign policy credentials, while making him appear presidential.

The main benefit, as far as I can see, is that the trip will attract media attention throughout, continuing to make it difficult for McCain to draw significant airtime except through occasional gaffes. Obama’s trip might even tone down some of John McCain’s rhetoric about how Obama isn’t qualified to be a foreign leader because he hasn’t visited Iraq recently enough, or been to Afghanistan at all.

As Gail Collins points out, however, the trip is a rather silly political exercise, even if no more silly than some of George W. Bush’s recent travels and less bizarre than a heavily guarded and flak-jacketed John McCain strolling through a Baghdad marketplace and declaring that conditions in Iraq were improving (they have some since, but they weren’t then).

“Given the constraints under which he has to operate, the chance that he’ll see something enlightening seem to be lower than the chance of being shown something misleading,” Collins notes. “Really, anybody he needs to talk to would be happy to pick up a phone.”

In fact a phone call–or a couple of days watching taped editions of “Frontline World“–likely would be as useful as this trip in terms of gathering meaningful information. There’s a reason that universities encourage students to study abroad for a semester or year.

So what about GOP complaints that Obama hasn’t traveled enough? In fact Obama’s people might point out that his Middle East experience is somewhat broader than than that of … you guessed it … George W. Bush, “whose overseas experience was pretty much limited to trying to date Chinese women (unsuccessfully) during a visit to Beijing in 1975.” (New York Times)

Maybe they want to avoid such comparisons, since Bush’s foreign policy as president has turned out to be much worse than his attempts to attract Asian women. There doesn’t seem to be anyplace in the world that either Obama or McCain won’t likely do a much better job than Bush, whom much of the world now considers to be a war criminal. But neither of the candidates has particularly impressive foreign policy credentials, either. The key probably will be who they choose to help guide their foreign policy decisions (Joe Biden vs. Joe Lieberman?).

Having said that, the Iraqi leadership already agrees with at least part of Obama’s Iraq position over that of McCain or the president–as the White House itself accidentally told the media yesterday. No wonder no-timetable-ever-and-I-mean-it-even-if-Iraq wants-it-‘cuz-we-don’t-cut-and-run-or-look-weak-except-when-Clinton-was-president Bush said (also yesterday) that he had agreed to a “general time horizon” for troop withdrawals from Iraq.

Note that the announcement came on a Friday in an attempt to attract less attention. Expect McCain to agree soon, probably about the same time Obama is drawing rock-star crowds in Europe.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »