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 ‘Alternet’

Gregg not sold on Commerce; public not stimulated by discussion, anyway

Posted by James McPherson on February 13, 2009

Apparently Senator Judd Gregg finally got around to watching some of Barack Obama’s old speeches on YouTube, and suddenly realized, “Hey, he’s not a Republican–how did he get elected president?” Gregg then promptly withdrew his nomination as Commerce secretary. It’s just as well–apparently Obama hadn’t yet gotten around to reading that Gregg once voted to abolish the very department he would have been leading as the third Republican member of Obama’s cabinet.

Gregg is the second nominee, after Bill Richardson, to accept and then reject the commerce position. Tax problems have derailed nominees for two other positions. Yet while embarrassing–prompting Obama’s unnecessary “I screwed up” statement–the missteps will matter little in the long run. For one thing, people don’t really care about cabinet positions even under the best of conditions.

And these are far from the best of conditions, of course. People care far more about is the economy, and with Congress about to passa stimulus bill today, Obama again proved successful on that front. The success or failure of the stimulus plan will have a far bigger effect on the chances of re-election for the president and his fellow Democrats than does any flap over cabinet nominees.

If you need an illustration of how little they matter, ask the people sitting next to how many of Obama’s picks they can name. I’d be surprised if they get three, even counting Timothy Geithner and Hillary Clinton. And for the record, a dozen cabinet nominees have already been confirmed.

In the meantime, Alexander Zaitchik of Alternet has joined the list of people and publications asking why Howard Dean, the guy perhaps most responsible for Obama reaching the White House, hasn’t been tabbed for a cabinet post. Good question, especially with that Health and Human Services position still open.

Thursday update: While Dean is forced to turn to the Huffington Post to get someone to listen to him about health care, it appears that Obama has decided on Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for HHS chief. She’s not the best choice but probably not a bad one, assuming she pays her taxes.

Posted in Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The New Yorker’s Obama cover

Posted by James McPherson on July 14, 2008

Finally, something the Obama and McCain camps can agree on.

“The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree,” says an Obama spokesman.

“We completely agree with the Obama campaign, it’s tasteless and offensive,” said McCain’s spokesman.

As Politico says, the cover of the issue that goes on sale today “certainly will be candy for cable news.”

Judge for yourself, then I’ll offer my take. Note the Muslim attire, the Afro, the fist bump, the AK-47, the picture of Osama bin Laden over the Oval Office fireplace, and the burning flag.

You can find a lot of comment in the responses at the Huffington Post and elsewhere, but as someone who has often misjudged what would be appropriate or funny, I find myself sympathetic to the New Yorker, which stated, “”Please note that it is satire–we are poking fun at the scare tactics and misinformation that some have employed to derail Obama’s campaign.” I would have perceived the cover as appropriate political satire–at least before reading the articles inside. Others agree, and some people think it may even help Obama in the long run.

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” yesterday, Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page  said the cover “is just lampooning all the crazy ignorance out there.” On CNN’s American Morning, liberal talk-show host Laura Flanders and conservative talk-show host Joe Pagliarulo agreed with one another that the cover was not critical of Obama, and that his campaign could and should have used it as an opportunity to criticize his real enemies–the ignorance of much of the electorate and the media that help perpetuate that ignorance.

A stunning example: A Newsweek poll released Friday still shows: “Twelve percent of voters surveyed said that Obama was sworn in as a United States senator on a Qur’an, while 26 percent believe the Democratic candidate was raised as a Muslim and 39 percent believe he attended an Islamic school as a child growing up in Indonesia. None of these things is true.”

But I’d be more sympathetic toward the New Yorker–which, frankly, I suspect would prefer Obama over John McCain–if the magazine hadn’t run the cover photo at the top of its Web page exactly between a teaser headline for “the Campaign Trail” subtitled, Hendrik Hertzberg, Ryan Lizza, and Jeffrey Toobin on flip flopping” and Hertzberg’s piece discussing Obama’s real and exaggerated “flip-flops.” And the main article, by Lizza, is generally negative. And yes, the Hertzberg article also discusses many of McCain’s flips, but groups them in a single paragraph at the end of the story. The magazine prompts Alternet’s Don Hazen to ask in an excellent article today, “Why are the New Yorker, Salon and other liberal media doing the right’s dirty work?”

Still, I tend to agree with Flanders that the photo “isn’t a jab at [the Obamas], terrorist or any other kind. This is a jab at the media. … It should be cause for our conversation to focus on the kind of fear mongering that the media and people on the right have engaged in.”

Hazen expands on that problem: “Unfortunately the impact of this image will extend far beyond the reading audience of the New Yorker; cable news and the right-wing media noise machine will amplify the derogatory image to millions more. And the New Yorker of course will reap enormous publicity, clearly translating to increased sales and notoriety for the brand, and for corporate owner Conde Nast–one of the largest and most powerful media companies in America.”

As for Flanders’ hope, good luck with the media indicting themselves in that discussion.

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »