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 ‘American flag’

Sarah Palin violates American Flag Code–again

Posted by James McPherson on November 23, 2010

I haven’t seen Sarah Palin’s new reality show, and probably won’t. But I did see a commercial for it and noticed an odd thing. There’s a big American flag hanging from the deck of her home in the background of one shot, and the flag is backward.

Maybe that’s not so odd. I’ve noted previously that the “all-American” Palin doesn’t seem to know how to treat the flag.

Then today it occurred to me that I keep seeing her name and the flag as two terms that commonly bring people to my blog, so just for fun I thought I’d check to see what search terms had brought the most visitors since I launched this site in April 2008. Some of the results were, well, a bit disturbing.

My name was second on the list, though I suspect most of those people were looking for info about the Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian, the Pulitzer Prize winning short story writer, the Civil War general (who has the coolest middle name, Birdseye), or the sculptor of demons, dragons and Batman.

At the top of the list (with 1,381 views, or 58 more than my name)  is the word “flag,” which apparently takes people to my most popular post. And third, with 667 visits, is the combination phrase, “Sarah Palin bikini.” Fourth is “2012 presidential predictions,” followed by “Iraqi porn.”

Incidentally, if Palin delights liberals and appalls Republicans by choosing to mount a 2012 presidential campaign, I’m sure conservatives will be as eager to point out her patriotic shortcomings as they have been with Obama’s. Right?

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

American flag fetishists and Obama

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2010

Today is one of those days when some conservatives like to pretend they’re more patriotic than the rest of us–and now, despite their all-too-common ignorance about such things as the U.S. Flag Code, even more patriotic than their president.

Such goofiness started before Barack Obama was elected, of course, but shows no sign of letting up. And if they have to lie to make a “patriotic” point, well, many talking heads and conservative bloggers apparently will do that, too. Take, for example, the claim that Obama is the first president (or the first “since the Civil War“) not to visit Arlington National Cemetary for Memorial Day.

That’s a blatant and easy-to-check lie, as previous “offenders” have included both George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and–gasp–Ronald Reagan. But, interestingly, never draft dodger Bill Clinton.

Or how about the claim (here, here, herehere and here, among others) that Obama is the first American president to give a news conference while not standing beside or in front of an American flag? Several even claim to have researched the issue, presumably so gullible readers won’t have to.

But a fairly brief Google search demonstrates that the claim also is a lie, with no American flags visible in news conferences from previous presidents that include George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and–gasp!–Ronald Reagan (examples below).

I suspect that some staffer forgot to move the flags from the side of the room–where the podium usually sits for East Room press conferences–to the end of the room. I think that’s a mistake, but it’s not like the president has nothing else to worry about.

And the mistake, if that’s what it was, is hardly on the level of, say, confusing Walter Reed Military Hospital with Walter Reed Middle School during the nominee’s speech at the Republican National Convention, or having the wrong speech on the teleprompter during a State of the Union address.

Frankly, of the many things for which Obama should be criticized, the patriotism angle is perhaps the silliest (though that’s difficult to judge considering various communist/socialist/Kenyon/Muslim claims). When it comes to press conferences, a bigger question than that of what’s behind the president is what’s behind his reticence to have such sessions at all, despite his supposed commitment to openness and the fact that we seem to see him everywhere.

Also worth noting: Never ones to let consistency get in the way of a good presidential bashing, it wasn’t long ago that a leading conservative newspaper suggested that Obama was surrounding himself with too many American flags. All in all, the anti-Obama posts once again demonstrate that the supposed defenders of American values care less about respecting the flag or America’s fallen dead than they do about disrespecting their president.

Same-day update: The writer of the “since the Civil War” post linked above has corrected his erroneous headline, which apparently he had based on another bad source. He still maintains that Obama should have been at Arlington, and frankly I tend to agree. But as noted above, Obama is hardly the first to honor vets elsewhere on Memorial Day, and he has spent more time on the job than his immediate predecessor did.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 15 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 »

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 #12

Posted by James McPherson on September 23, 2008

This is the 12th 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#5, #6#7, #8, #9, #10, and #11.

_________

Soldiers bravely toil

Thousands come home draped with flags

From their war for oil

_______

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

Warku #10

Posted by James McPherson on September 18, 2008

This is the 10th 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#5, #6#7, #8. and #9.

_________

Let’s not be out-Foxed

Lapel flags in great demand

How about those Sox?

_______

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

Warku #9

Posted by James McPherson on September 17, 2008

This is the ninth 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#5, #6#7. and #8.

_________

Flags throughout the land

Jingoistic fervor reigns

Don a black armband

_______

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

The last word on vice presidential choices–for now

Posted by James McPherson on August 4, 2008

Blogger Bil Browning predicts Barack Obama will name Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh as his running mate on Wednesday, while John McCain’s staffers apparently are saying that McCain will wait to name his own pick until after hearing Obama’s choice (and no doubt until the GOP smear machine gets fired up against whomever the Democratic choice may be).

I don’t think Bayh is a terrible choice, though I’d favor someone else. I also thought Obama should have named his pick a few weeks ago, as I wrote some time back. McCain also seems unlikely to pick the woman I thought would be his best choice, though I did suggest that he should wait to name her until Aug. 24, the day before the Democratic Convention begins. I now think McCain will name his running mate within about a week of whenever Obama makes his choice.

If neither candidate names his choice within the next couple of days, I predict they’ll wait a couple more weeks until the Olympics are over–though I disagree with many pundits and think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to name a running mate during the Olympics. After all, the VP choice isn’t supposed to overshadow the nominee, anyway, though I suspect that will be more of a potential problem for the apparently stuck-in-the-mud McCain campaign than for Obama.

My kind of town, Chicago is–this week, anyway

I’m spending much of this week in Chicago for the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication–the largest organization to which I belong, and the one with the bulkiest title. After the convention and a bit of vacation, I’ll be back in about a week. In the meantime, especially if you’re new to the site, you might want to check out some of my previous posts. Here in no particular order are a “top 20” of my favorites:

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

 PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Ignorance and the electorate

The New Yorker’s Obama cover

“Act now”: a new way for candidates to reach the electorate

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Speaking for the poor

Rush Limbaugh and Operation Chaos

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Democratic self-mutilation

Howard Dean and convention bloggers

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Have a great week!

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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 »

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Posted by James McPherson on July 3, 2008

The Fourth of July weekend is an appropriate time to discuss patriotism and its ultimate icon, the American Flag. Barack Obama and liberals draw considerable criticism for failing to honor the flag in ways deemed appropriate by conservatives, while some self-defined patriots apparently can’t wait to find new ways to use the flag to break the law.

As fearful as some conservatives and weak-willed legislators are about flag-burning liberals, I’d be willing to bet that more conservatives than liberals will engage in unlawful flag-related behavior this weekend–in many cases an unfortunate byproduct of combining patriotism with ignorance. And that would be true even if flag burning were made illegal, rather than just being the legally proper way to dispose of a worn flag.

Part of the problem comes because many people seem to consider the flag a religious symbol. Most don’t go as far as the Ku Klux Klan, which may offer the most extreme version of conflating patriotism and Christianity (its two “guiding principles) with its three primary symbols, “the Flag, the Constitution and the Holy Bible”–though for some modern variations of the Klan (others here and here), the Stars and Bars flag seems to be more important than the Stars and Stripes. But while most conservatives have little in common with the Klan, the various apparel versions of “these colors don’t run” T-shirts also fetishize the flag. I’m no Jehovah’s Witness, but I do appreciate the Witness’ Supreme Court-approved stance that saluting the flag (which I do, incidentally, though I don’t own a flag pin) might be deemed idolatry.

George H.W. Bush campaigned in front of a flag factory and won points by berating Michael Dukakis for vetoing a bill (which would have been unconstitutional), requiring public teachers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance (which Bush himself had never recited as a student, though Dukakis had). Bush’s actions prompted cartoonist Garry Trudeau to drape his invisible Bush characterization with a U.S. flag.

Conservative wingnuts, helped by the mainstream media, now are using flag pins and the National Anthem to try to portray Obama as non-patriotic (Time offers a short history of the relatively brief life of the flag pin). Yet many of those same conservatives regularly violate the U.S. Flag Code, adopted during the hyper-patriotism of World War II.

Here are some relevant sections of the flag code, along with examples of the law being violated–including by the current president Bush:

“The flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or monument, but it should never be used as the covering for the statue or monument.”

 

“The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.”

“The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.”

“The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”

 

“The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.”

 George Bush desecrates a flag:

“The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”

  

“No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.”

 

“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

The fact is, how best to express one’s patriotism can be complicated. For example, my three favorite versions of the National Anthem, all of which in the right circumstances can still bring tears to my eyes, all feature performers who would not even have been fully recognized as people when this nation was founded. The first, by Jimi Hedrix, is an anti-war version performed during Woodstock. The second might be viewed as a pro-war version, performed by Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl during the first Persian Gulf War. And in the third basketball coach Mo Cheeks rescued a young girl who under pressure forgot the words to the song. I’ve posted YouTube versions of all three below.

The complications of patriotism are discussed further in an excellent essay by Time‘s Peter Beinart, who points out that common liberal and conservative versions of patriotism both are flawed:

When it comes to patriotism, conservatives and liberals need each other, because love of country requires both affirmation and criticism. It’s a good thing that Americans fly the flag on July 4. In a country as diverse as ours, patriotic symbols are a powerful balm. And if people stopped flying the flag every time the government did something they didn’t like, it would become an emblem not of national unity but of political division. On the other hand, waving a flag, like holding a Bible, is supposed to be a spur to action. When it becomes an end in itself, America needs people willing to follow in the footsteps of the prophets and remind us that complacent ritual can be the enemy of true devotion.

Patriotism should be proud but not blind, critical yet loving. And liberals and conservatives should agree that if patriotism entails no sacrifice, if it is all faith and no works, then something has gone wrong. The American who volunteers to fight in Iraq and the American who protests the war both express a truer patriotism than the American who treats it as a distant spectacle with no claim on his talents or conscience.

So honor your country this Fourth of July by burning a U.S. flag, if your own flag is worn out. Then replace it with a clean new one, symbolic of America’s promise as well as its past.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock

Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl

Mo Cheeks and Natalie Gilbert

Posted in History, Legal issues, Music, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments »