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 ‘Alaska’

Anticipating eruptions: Volcano and Palin prompt redoubt

Posted by James McPherson on January 29, 2009

One definition of the word “redoubt” is “to stand in dread of; to regard with fear; to dread.” That definition might apply to two events facing Alaska: the possible eruption of a volcano named Mount Redoubt, and an increasingly likely presidential run by Gov. Sarah Palin. We keep seeing more meanings  for her phrase, “I’ll get back to ya.”

In fact, Mount Redoubt has erupted a number of times. Despite being located about a hundred miles from Alaska’s largest city, it probably will never cause Alaskans the grief that those of us in the Pacific Northwest experienced with the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

A more ominous event for Alaskans and the rest of us may be the establishment of Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC.com, leading to a new eruption of speculation about her viability as a presidential candidate. Incidentally, what is it with leading political women–Hillary Clinton, this includes you–that they can’t get enough support by using their last names, as male candidates do?

The images used for the SarahPAC website are fascinating from a media literacy standpoint. The dominant image is of Palin, pictured from below so as to make her look more powerful, looking slightly upward while holding her hands in what could be a praying position. Behind and beside her is a scenic Alaskan vista–despite the fact that SarahPAC is based in Arlington, Va., a seat of power that hosts numerous other political organizations (including the Leadership Institute, which calls itself “the premier training ground for tomorrow’s conservative leaders,” though it is not above using dishonest means of self-promotion–more on that below.)

Finally on the SarahPAC website, next to letters spelling out “SARAHPAC,” is an image of the continental United States with Alaska superimposed over it. The image lets us see the immense size of the state that Palin governs, yet also manages to place her state literally in the heartland of America (apparently obliterating Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska, along with parts of a few other states). The Democratic bastion of Hawaii is nowhere to be seen–perhaps Republicans wish we’d stopped adding states after Alaska became the 49th.

SarahPAC should not be confused with another another PAC, PalinPAC.org based in Washington state, with a website that boasts a photo of cross-shaped sunlight shining through an American flag and prominent links to “Sarah Palin’s Page” and “Todd Palin’s Page.” But both SarahPAC.org and PalinPAC.org also demonstrate the games that politicians play (and perhaps must play, under the current campaign finance system). Despite the names of the organizations, the home pages of both include a line that disingenuously reads, “Not authorized by any candidate or any candidate’s committee.”

Palin says she may not run for president, of course, and says that the establishment of a PAC simply provides “an available source of funds so that we’re not coming close to any ethical line to be crossed in terms of travel or participation in events that will help Alaska, but could be seen perhaps as not worthy of state funding.” I wonder how big the clothing allowance is for “participation in events.”

And despite her protestations, a presidential bid is likely unless significant unexpected problems arise. We’ll see: As Robert Schlesinger writes for U.S. News & World Report, “A sure sign that Palin is gearing up specifically for a presidential run will be SarahPAC making contributions to New Hampshire and Iowa state-level candidates and parties.”

Following up his piece of yesterday, Schlesinger wrote today (in a piece titled, “Yes, Sarah Palin is Running for President, Or Getting Ready to Anyway”): “But politicians—especially rising star pols like Palin—don’t raise money and make national appearances out of the goodness of their hearts; they don’t do it because of unselfish dedication to party; and they don’t do it because they want to raise their state’s profile. She may not be running for president yet (though the FEC seems to think she is), but she’s positioning herself to run in a couple of years.”

Incidentally, other definitions of redoubt are “an entrenched stronghold or refuge” or “a small, often temporary defensive fortification.” In the case of Palin, despite my one-time support of her choice as John McCain’s running mate, I hope her political presence is more temporary than entrenched.

Oh, and as for the dishonesty of the Leadership Institute: As I’ve written elsewhere, a couple of years ago I checked out the membership of its “Bi-Partisan Congressional Advisory Board” and found that the board was comprised of “102 Republicans, all living, and one long-dead Democrat–ultraconservative Georgian Larry McDonald, who … was so conservative that at the time of he death he served as the second-ever national chairman of the John Birch Society, which had long since been rejected even by most conservatives as an extremist organization.”

McDonald died on a Korean airliner that was shot down by the Soviet Union after it apparently accidentally flew into Soviet airspace, prompting Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell to bizarrely state, “There is real question in my mind that the Soviets may have actually murdered 269 passengers and crew on the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 to kill Larry McDonald.”

You may also remember that one of the pithier complaints that popped up about Palin during the 2008 campaign was that she was “Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.” Palin and Falwell also apparently shared a debate coach.

Next day update: The volcano hasn’t blown yet, but remains on CNN’s front page.

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

Sexism & feminism make women winners & losers?

Posted by James McPherson on January 4, 2009

“When is it sexism?” asks a Daily Beast piece by Elizabeth Wurtzel, best known as the sometimes-controversial author of the books Prozac Nation (published when she was 26 and later turned into a straight-to-DVD Christina Ricci movie) and Bitch: In Defense of Difficult Women

Though the self-absorbed and one-time plagiarist Wurtzel apparently thinks she is a far more important cog in the overall scheme of feminism than she is, she does sometimes raise interesting questions about the nature of feminism–as with this piece, in which she determines that Sarah Palin’s “Wardrobegate” was “sorta” sexist, while questioning Caroline Bouvier Kennedy’s qualificatons is not (and yes, Wurtzel includes the middle name as a apparent “Hussein”-like punctuation of her central point).

Wurtzel writes that feminism is in “a fine mess,” thanks in part to prominent political women: “In 2000, New York elected Hillary Rodham Clinton to be its first female senator—and her primary qualification was her previous position as first lady. Now that she’s moving on, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy is likely to replace her—and her primary qualification is her previous position as first daughter.”

While I also don’t think Kennedy is the best choice to fill the vacant seat, I would point out that she has held several jobs. Like Wurtzel, she also attended law school (and apparently unlike Wurtzel, even passed her bar exam). Still, Wurtzel addresses an important overall theme when  it comes to working women:

The truth is, Kennedy long ago made choices that so many women make—she opted out of professional life, perhaps to be a mom and perhaps because she could—and now she’s hoping to reenter the commercial world at a level that far surpasses her exiting locale. All women who take time off to mother their children face similar sticker-shock when they decide to work again. Not only have they lost their qualifications by remaining dormant for a stretch, they also find that their earning power is much less than it was when they went into labor. In fact, studies show that there is salary penalty on motherhood: A woman with children will typically earn 10 percent less than any man doing the same job. In the meantime, a man with a stay-at-home wife gets a nice premium—he will usually earn 30 percent more than the husband of a working wife because he has “zero-drag” at home. Just the same, a woman who works a 40-hour week still spends about 86 percent as much time with her children as a nonworking mom—not much of a difference at all—and she is still the primary parent, delegating tasks to the father, who needs a list of instructions before he doles out child care.

Women should be hired and promoted based on their professional abilities, Wurtzel argues: “Women who want to succeed pretty much have to work as long and as hard as men typically do, and that’s that. What does Kennedy know of this hellishness? She hasn’t held a paid position since her children were born, nor did she have a proper job even before that.”

Still, aside from the question of what constitutes a “proper job,” I find it interesting that Wurtzel’s books seem to get more attention from reviewers than warranted by their insights–perhaps less because of her own hard work or academic qualifications than because of her own looks (which allowed her to pose provocatively for the cover photos of her books, apparently topless in at least three cases).

The fact that physical appearance matters is, of course, one of many complicating issues in regard to feminism. One of the respondents to the Daily Beast article applied some of the contradictions to Palin:

The problem with embracing Palin as a latter day sufferer of sexism is that ignores the object in favor of the symbol. Palin is one who used her sex whenever should get away with it to get ahead. Unlike so many women who have worked so hard to be appreciated for their skills and intelligence, Palin has often been content to get by with a wink and smile. Palin is a tough as nails politician and very ambitious, but beyond that it is hard to see what her skills are. Palin’s image is a throw back to the frontier woman who could both wield a weapon and satisfy her man -and cook moose stew, too! This image is what all these (mostly) old Republicans love. How this fits into idea of feminism that most of us grew up with is less clear. So, was Palin skewered in the press for her shopping spree because she was a woman or because she set herself up as a woman who was thrifty and had little use for East Coast types would call ‘fashionable’?

In truth, Palin would not have been chosen as John McCain’s running mate (nor would I have recommended that McCain choose her) if she were not a woman. I also happen to agree with Geraldine Ferraro that Barack Obama would not have been where he is if not for his race.

But so what? None of our previous presidents would have won the White House if they had not been white men. We likely would never have heard of John McCain after 1973, had he not been a former POW who left his wife to marry an heiress who could help fund his political ambitions. George W. Bush would be just another failed businessman if not for his father’s political clout–which came mostly because George H.W. Bush had been Ronald Reagan’s VP, not because of his own abilities.

Gender and race matter, in different ways at different times. But they are not the sole factors for anyone’s success or failure. Palin also would not have been tabbed by McCain if she hadn’t already been elected governor of Alaska, and Obama would not have just moved his family to Washington if he had not been a U.S. senator who ran a brilliant presidential campaign.

 Back to Wurtzel and feminism: Some critics have voiced similar criticism of another pretty face of “third-wave feminism,” former Al Gore advisor Naomi Wolf. But Wolf  is a former Rhodes scholar, a mother, and a lifelong explorer of ideas that range far beyond self-aggrandizement or even feminism to civil rights and citizenship.

To Wurtzel’s credit, at least she apparently recognizes the egocentricity of her own work, telling ABC: “I’m in on the joke. I know that it’s self-indulgent. I’m amazed that people don’t realize that I know what’s going on.”

So now that we all know she knows, I don’t suppose it’s sexist to start ignoring Wurtzel, as we look to the kind of women–including Wolf, Clinton, Kennedy, and Palin–more likely to make a meaningful difference for both women and men in America.

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

Post #200 of a stupid, outdated idea

Posted by James McPherson on December 18, 2008

Blogging apparently is stupid, at least for amateurs like myself (for whom this is my 200th post since I began April 22). We should be wasting our time and distributing our tidbits of wit or wisdom in other ways.

“It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter,”  Paul Bouten writes for Wired. Frankly, I get very few hecklers, and when I do I politely point out the error of their ways and they don’t write back. Of course, I also get relatively few readers (more on the numbers below).

Boutin points out that professionals such as the Huffington Post have taken over the blogging universe, and that “a stand-alone commentator can’t keep up with a team of pro writers cranking out up to 30 posts a day.” Incidentally, I got this bit of news via stand-alone commentator Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

I’d also argue that some of the professional blogs are doing so well because they provide more meaningful news and commentary than mainstream news sites.

Well, I’m on Facebook, but mostly to keep track of colleagues and former students. I rarely write anything there, or read much of what anyone else has written. My page has a link to my blog–if anyone cares what I think, they can jump over here.

I refuse to Twitter, at least for now (keeping in mind that less than a year ago I said I’d never be a blogger). Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it rips the soul from wisdom.

Few things worth saying or knowing can adequately be expressed in 140 characters, and most of those brief bits should be said more personally: “I love you.” “Drop dead.” “I’m sorry.” “Dear Mom and Dad: Send money.” “You’re fired.” “We’re having a baby.” “It’s time for Fluffy to be put down.” “Would you like fries with that?” “Look at all the freakin’ snow.” (Despite shoveling last night before I went to bed, I woke up to a two-foot snowdrift ON MY PORCH this morning.)

Maybe it’s a result of my experience as an academic, but I disagree with the premise that blogging is primarily a tool for self-promotion. That obviously is the case for some bloggers, but most probably feel they have something meaningful to share. Many of those are correct, and it’s not up to me–or, thank God, the corporate media–to decide which, for all readers.

Though I do get an ego boost on days when readership is up, I certainly don’t write for the attention or the money. If I did, I’d be trying to pen crime novels instead of well-researched books about journalism history and politics.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m doing this primarily for the same reason I do most things outside of my home: my students. And the number of “my students” has expanded as a result I now have regular student readers who have never taken a class from me. Responses from those students and former students are the ones I value most.

This experiment has taught me some interesting things, some more surprising than others. Not surprising is that my most popular post (approximately 1,700 views so far) was a misleadingly titled sociological experiment, sought out by people using terms that have nothing to do with media or politics.

More surprising is that the second-most popular post (about 1,300), and the one still getting a few views pretty much every day is one about the U.S. Flag Code that I wrote back in July, based on one of my favorite classroom lectures about symbols.

Also still among the top eight are my August prediction that Barack Obama would handily win the presidential election and my back-to-back June posts suggesting that the vice presidential nominees should be Joe Biden and Sarah Palin–though because a link to to it appears at the bottom of a popular CNN story, yesterday’s post (about to pass 500) about the Bush administration, science and endangered species may blow past those two. Maybe it’s because of the YouTube clip from “Them.”

Aside from the flag post, generally speaking the two best topics for generating traffic have been Palin and sex. On a typical day I get between 100 and 200 page views. The most for a single day was 876, coming mostly from one of those Palin stories (also with help from CNN).

Not surprisingly, that same Palin story generated the most comments. Many posts draw no response. Others get an occasional comment even weeks later, which strikes me as a bit odd.

Admittedly, there may be a bit of egotistical lunacy behind generating an average of about 25 posts per month in addition to teaching four classes, advising a student newspaper, remodeling my kitchen (yes, I did it myself–some academics can use a hammer and saw), helping organize and host a national journalism history convention in October, and organizing a Jan Term study trip to two dozen sites in New York and Washington, D.C.

Insomnia helps. And besides, writing is one of the fun parts of my job, and a big part of why I became a reporter and then an editor. In addition, writing these things here may keep me from verbally torturing my wife and others with my reactions to the news items that intrigue me.

Another obvious reason that I would engage in such an archaic form of communication as blogging is that I’m a media historian. I live for soon-to-be-extinct technologies. I don’t own an ipod or a Kindle, but my office holds a 1953 television set; probably a hundred pounds of newspapers, magazines and photos; hundreds of books; phonograph “records” of various sizes; a VCR and dozens of videotapes; some old film cameras; a cassette tape deck and dozens of cassette tapes; numerous CD’s, a couple of reel-to-reel tapes; and even an 8-track tape or two.

Also related to history: The American flag on my office wall, a flag that was in use when I was born, has 48 stars. At that time there was no state of Alaska for the future Sarah Palin to govern. Perhaps you think of that time as “the good ol’ days.”

Dec. 28 update: CNN names “the ascendance of Twitter” its top tech trend of 2008. Sigh. The story concludes, “One thing Twitter is lacking, though, is a profitable business plan.” In that respect, it’s like the newspapers I love so much.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Pipe dream: Palin’s ethics may mirror Cheney’s

Posted by James McPherson on October 25, 2008

As inept as the McCain/Palin campaign has been, and with the squabbles apparently going on within the campaign itself, at this point it may seem that any bad news regarding Sarah Palin is piling on. Still, a report today suggests that a desire for increased vice presidential power may not be the only characteristic Palin shares with Dick Chaney (who must be involved in lengthy political negotiations or a secret romantic tryst with North Korea’s Kim Jung Il, since both seem to have vanished from the face of the earth).

In another apparent case of Palin acting like Cheney with lipstick, the Associated Press reports today that “Palin’s signature accomplishment–a contract to build a 1,715 mile pipeline to bring natural gas from Alaska to the Lower 48–emerged from a flawed bidding process that narrowed the field to a company with ties to her administration.”

As a result of the deal, the state of Alaska may have to pay TransCanada $500 million for a pipeline that is never built. According to public records, Palin also spoke at least twice to Cheney on “energy issues” several months before the pipeline deal was approved.

On the plus side, Palin seems immediately ready to step in and help out Halliburton if she is somehow elected to help perpetuate the Iraq War and its free-flowing no-bid contracts to Cheney’s former employer.

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

Straight Talk Express derailed, falls off “bridge” to become mired in mud

Posted by James McPherson on September 13, 2008

It’s an old story, of course: Politicians lie. But usually in presidential campaigns the candidates let their surrogates take on the most egregious fabrications, staying somewhat above the fray themselves. John McCain and Sarah Palin seem to be the exception, cheerily tramping through the mud on their way to a lead in national polls.

The lies range from tales of the infamous “bridge to nowhere” (see video below) to taxes to health care to immigration (bilingual lying!) to sexism to Alaskan oil production to pig lipstick to kindergarten sex education to Cindy McCain’s drug theft problems to even the findings of  FactCheck.org. In the words of the Associated Press’ Charles Babington, “The “Straight Talk Express” has detoured into doublespeak.”

Considering how much admiration I once had for McCain, I am troubled that he has become not just a typical campaigner but even worse than most. The campaign he has chosen to run is costing him other one-time fans, as well, while supporting the latest Obama camp claim that McCain “would rather lose his integrity than lose an election.”

The lying has become so bad that even the women of “The View,” a morning show watched mostly by stay-at-home wives, feel compelled to question McCain about it. His response: Lying, of course. Unfortunately Barbara Walters, long one of the most overrated journalists in America, helped McCain out by following up his lie with a trivial lipstick diversion rather than confronting him with the truth.

I don’t think McCain and Palin can lie their way to the White House. But a part of me fears that too many voters don’t care about the lying even if they recognize it. If those voters happen to help McCain win, they deserve what they get–four more years of Bush Administration nonsensical tough talk and bumbling policy. Unfortunately all of us may get an even more conservative and out-of-touch Supreme Court that will last for a generation.

Same-day update: Apparently the McCain/Palin camp also misrepresented her “world travels,” falsely claiming she has visited Iraq. And in a lengthy story about Palin today, the New York Times reports: “Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records. ” She appears, as one of my colleagues noted recently, “Dick Cheney in a dress.”

Next day update: To John McCain–When you’re on the same side as Karl Rove and even he calls you a liar, maybe it’s time to dial it back.

Palin’s bridge to falsehood:

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

Don’t blame me: the photos came from Fox News (and other mixed messages)

Posted by James McPherson on September 5, 2008

To prove how Sarah Palin has been smeared by the media, Fox New was using the first pair of photos below as the main photo on its Web site for part of today. The photo at right is used with the linked story itself. And no, I didn’t enlarge them.

  

Maybe such behavior is to be expected from a site that boasts a regular section titled “Pop Tarts,” and which today also has a Britney Spears story (with photo) on the front page titled “Mom: Britney Spears Lost Virginity at Age 14.” Yet this is also the site hosted by the same network whose political commentators have been rightfully slamming the intense coverage of Sarah Palin, particularly as it pertains to her 17-year-old daughter.

Speaking of mixed messages (in addition to Cindy McCain wearing an outfit worth perhaps $300,000 while trying to drum up support from “middle America”) today John McCain and Palin start trying to convince voters that they are agents of “change,” despite how long McCain has been in office supporting almost everything promoted by George W. Bush (otherwise known as “the invisible man” of the campaign), and despite the fact that Palin’s socially conservative brand of politics seems to align even better with Bush’s politics.

It’s no wonder they want to run from the McCain/Bush record and campaign more like Barack Obama. Here are some other news items from the last couple of days:

“The U.S. jobless rate unexpectedly jumped in August to a nearly five-year high as employment fell for an eighth-straight month, raising the risk of recession as households face a struggling labor market and a high inflation rate.” (Wall Street Journal)

“The Bush administration has conducted an extensive spying operation on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the Iraqi government, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. … The book also says that the U.S. troop ‘surge’ of 2007, in which President Bush sent nearly 30,000 additional U.S. combat forces and support troops to Iraq, was not the primary factor behind the steep drop in violence there during the past 16 months.” (Washington Post)

In short, despite the harping of McCain/Palin and Bill Oh-Really, Obama’s more nuanced critique of the surge is more correct that the McCain/Bush/Fox News view of it. Incredibly, unlike every other new organization I’ve seen (and I haven’t read the book myself), Fox reports Woodward as saying he “acknowledged the success of Bush’s surge of additional troops into Iraq in 2007,” adding, “Woodward notes that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama opposed the surge, while GOP presidential candidate John McCain was ‘advocating more troops for years.'” There’s an interesting “fair and balanced” analysis. 

In international news, “The United States and Libya sealed a historic turnaround after decades of terrorist killings, American retaliation, suspicions and insults with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s peacemaking visit Friday with Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s mercurial strongman.” (New York Times) Thank God we don’t deal with terrorists. 

And in honor of Palin, this: “It’s the season for Alaskans to be rewarded just for living here and this year’s take is extra sweet: $3,269, a record share of the state’s oil wealth combined with a special cash payout to help with stratospheric energy prices.” (USA Today)

Sept. 10 update: Fox News found yet another reason to prominently display the same photo today. Apparently a stars-and-stripes bikini and a rifle are just too much for the network to resist.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Supreme Court OKs home executions

Posted by James McPherson on June 26, 2008

OK, that’s not quite true. The court did say that child rapists can’t be executed by the state, but that the victim can have ready access to the firearms necessary to kill the perpetrator him/herself.

The justices may want to avoid Cordova, Alaska, though–I suspect that almost everyone there already owns a gun.

Posted in Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »