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 ‘Andrew Breitbart’

A weird, sad week in journalism

Posted by James McPherson on February 12, 2015

Journalism has taken a lot of hits in recent years, but this week has been weirder and sadder than most. Respected television journalist Bob Simon died Wednesday– not in one of the many wars he covered, but in that most mundane American way, a car crash. Two days earlier, even more popular (though less talented) journalist Brian Williams shot down his own career with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Frankly, though I liked Williams as an entertainer on “Saturday Night Live” and while “slow jamming the news,” I haven’t considered most television “news” people to be journalists since they began parading through “Murphy Brown” more than two decades ago. Identifying “real journalism vs. fake journalism” has become increasingly difficult.

This week we must also face the loss of two people who in recent years have done far more than most to keep journalists honest. On Monday, Jon Stewart (not a journalist, but for many of us a source for more news than Williams ever was), announced that he would leave Comedy Central’s most important program, “The Daily Show.” And tonight the New York Times’ David Carr, probably the best media critic in the business, died in the newsroom shortly after moderating a discussion involving Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.

Though I thought Carr was sometimes overly crabby in his public persona, I admired his work and liked him for more than his writing. Several years ago, he interviewed me for more than a half hour — then apologized after the story ran without my quotes because an editor apparently decided “one historian was enough.” I thanked him, and, as a recovering alcoholic, congratulated him on his successful fight with drug addiction. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve always suspected that he had a hand in my later being interviewed by another Times reporter for a story about Andrew Breitbart.

Interestingly, part of my quote about Breitbart in that story might apply to Brian Williams: “I think his actions show that if he’s not willing to distort, he is at least careless with the facts. … But there are no standards of fact anymore for some people.”

One of the few positive notes this week somewhat related to journalism is that WorldNutsDaily managed to tie Barack Obama’s birth certificate to the Williams story. That piece quotes Alan Jones, apparently no relation to the Jones whom I have previously called “perhaps the most bat-shit crazy conspiracy theorist in America.”

But for those of us who care about journalism, a dose of birther lunacy can’t come close to making up for how much the rest of the week sucked. A world without Jon Stewart, Bob Simon and David Carr is a meaner, dumber world.

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Posted in Journalism, Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Obama slogan too common to be communist, too dull to be radical

Posted by James McPherson on May 1, 2012

Forward.” As the new Obama slogan? Really? The MSNBC version may be slightly worse, and unlike Joe Scarborough I doubt that this was a case of theft. More likely is that few in the Obama campaign–like relatively few elsewhere in America–actually watch MSNBC often enough to recognize its slogan. But still … “Forward”?

The slogan might made sense if any the flailing conservative wing of GOP competitors had fared better in the primaries, since “Forward” would look much better in contrast to the obvious conservative slogan of “Backward.” But now? It’s like the Obama folks know that victory will be so easy that they can save the really good slogans for Hillary in 2016. Maybe as a “thank you” for her service as Secretary of State and as an inept 2008 campaign foil.

Speaking of “foil,” the slogan has generated an interesting meme among the tinfoil hat club who think that everything Obama does is part of a communist plot. The Moony-tunes Washington Times showed its usual journalistic quality by relying on Wikipedia to claim in a headline, “New Obama slogan has long ties to Marxism, socialism”–and, predictably, Fox Nation and Glenn Beck were even lazier in then picking up the Washington Times piece. Sadly, the once-proud National Review continued to disgrace the memory of founder William F. Buckley by also “reporting” from Wikipedia.

One of Andrew Breitbart‘s nasty spawn joined in on the May Day Parade (see how I did that?). London’s political equivalent of the Washington Times, the Daily Mail, did so from abroad. And of course, various bloggers (also here, here, here, here, here and here for sampling) jumped on board. Not to be outdone, you can always count on the occasional goofball blogger to find a Nazi connection, even if Beck is no longer on Fox News to help diagram it on a bizarre chart.

The communist/socialist tie is just nutty, of course, as pointed out by Mediaite and ThinkProgress (both organizations that come closer to having socialist views than does the current conservative in the White House), unless Koch brothers buddy Scott Walker heads a socialist state. The big problem with Obama’s slogan isn’t it’s political perspective–it’s the boring lack of any meaningful perspective. Even Chrysler came up with a better slogan for Obama–though I suppose the problem there is that there’s no “o” in “halftime” to turn into an Obama symbol.

Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri has perhaps the best critique of the slogan, noting, “On average, President Obama’s slogans are pretty good. This is to say that his last slogan was extraordinary and this one is abjectly terrible.”

Same-night update: Rachel Maddow covered the same issue tonight, citing many of the same sources.

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

My first NYT quotes, and a wacky conservative reaction

Posted by James McPherson on June 26, 2011

I made the New York Times for the first time today, and hadn’t even noticed it until this blog got a pingback from a conservative blogger who chose to criticize me–not surprisingly, doing so inaccurately. (I’d been interviewed by the Times once before, but that time had my quotes end up on the cutting room floor., just like the time I was interviewed by C-SPAN.)

The Times piece, written by Jeremy W. Peters, is about conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, to whom Peters cogently refers as “part performance artist, part polemicist.” Neither my comments nor the article were particularly harsh in regard to the guy famous for distortion of stories about Acorn and Shirley Sherrod.

In fact, Breitbart himself commended Peters to Sean Hannity just a week ago, saying the author had defended him from liberal bloggers  during the Netroots Nation blogger conference. And the conservative Media Research Center complimented Peters for another article about Breitbart earlier this month, so the journalist could hardly be considered a Breitbart basher.

In fact, the person most critical of Breitbart in today’s article is… Andrew Breitbart, whom Peters quoted as saying: “I admit it. I’m from LA. I still am shallow. Don’t anyone think otherwise.”

My most critical comment (in the article, at least): “I think his actions show that if he’s not willing to distort, he is at least careless with the facts.” I was more critical of his followers (and by inference, at least, those who are similarly committed to left-wing bloggers): “There are no standards of fact anymore for a lot of people. We’ve gone from selecting sources of opinion that we agree with to selecting facts that we agree with.”

My only other quote in the article: “On the right, [Breitbart] is seen as an investigative journalist along the lines of Woodward and Bernstein.” Scathing, huh? Well, scathing enough to have a right-wing blogger criticize me in a silly and inaccurate post titled “NYT uses Blumenthal crony to attack Breitbart.”

The post was short, but  managed to get several things wrong. I followed up with a polite correction in the comments–which the blogger refused to approve, instead  following up with another short snide comment of his own. So for what it’s worth, I’ll go ahead and correct the record here.

First, blogger Moe Lane stated that I “wrote a book with Sid  Blumenthal.” Though I’m happy that Blumenthal wrote the foreword for my latest book–at the request of the publisher, Northwestern University Press–some time after I wrote the book (and in response to what’s in it), I have never met him, talked to him, or corresponded with him, let alone co-written anything with him. Lane’s reference to me as a “Blumenthal crony,” while in fact fairly complimentary, is in fact ludicrous.

Besides, I didn’t want a liberal to write the foreword in the first place, since the book is a scholarly work about the rise of modern conservativism. I had recommended that NU Press try to get George Will, Pat Buchanan or William F. Buckley to read and write about the book.

Lane also writes that “a perusal of McPherson’s blog indicates that, for somebody supposedly interested in objective journalism, he likes to call people names and babble about conspiracy theories.” As I pointed out to Lane–and frequently here–I’m hardly someone who would qualify as “supposedly interested in objective journalism,” since I don’t believe there is such a thing.

Though I don’t disput that sometimes I “call people names,” the post to which Lane links to prove the point is probably more critical of Barack Obama than of anyone else. And of course regular readers here know that I “babble about conspiracy theories” to make fun of them–as I clearly did with the one Lane linked to but apparenlty didn’t bother to read closely.

On the plus side, both Lane and Peters included the title of my book. And perhaps Oscar Wilde was right when he said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Even more to the point is the line attributed to Irish writer Brendan Behan, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”

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