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 ‘Baltimore Sun’

Maybe Big Media should get next bailout

Posted by James McPherson on December 9, 2008

It worked for the banks, and now apparently for auto makers (who may have become too accustomed to long-term financing, since they may be viewing the expected bailout as merely a down payment). Maybe Big Media should be the next poorly run industry in line for a government handout.

In what the Huffington Post termed “Media Meltdown Monday,” the New York Times, the Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times and Baltimore Sun, among others) and NBC all announced bad news yesterday.

That news came just days after the Scripps Company announced that its Rocky Mountain Newswas up for sale–or, as RMN writer Mike Littwin put it, “read: doomed“–and on the heels of announcements from newspapers all over the country that they were for sale and/or cutting back on people, production and public service (OK, I added the last part). “The Newshour” on PBS devoted a segment to the Tribune case and related issues last night, and offers a series of online videos about various aspects of the media crisis.

Piling on, today the New York Times’ Stuart Elliot writes–in a story bluntly headlined “Next Year is Looking Even Worse,” that “advertising is bracing for the possibility of the first two consecutive yearly declines in spending since the early days of the Great Depression.” And in the last line of its story about the Tribune Company, Columbia Journalism Review offers this dire warning: “Think the news has been bad for the industry in the last couple of years? The real blood-letting is about to begin.”

Just months after buying the LA Times (despite the fact that many regular watchers of CNBC–or of HGTV–could have pointed out that California property values were overinflated) the Tribune Company is filing for bankruptcy. Perhaps the Illinois governor should have been more worried about the company’s board of directors than about its editorial board.

Of the news organizations now suffering, the Tribune Company is perhaps the toughest of the group to feel sorry for, thanks to owner Sam Zell, “the newspaper mogul who despises journalism, the real estate tycoon who once told the Tribune’s Washington staff they were so much ‘overhead,’ the self-proclaimed Viagra of the industry whose ‘innovation’ guru he brought in from the radio world didn’t understand that L.A. Times reporters in Iraq were actually reporting from Iraq … In less than a year’s time, Zell took the Tribune private and then took the company to bankruptcy. That has to be some kind of record.”

Still, some of us remember that the conservative Chicago Tribune was doing meaningful investigative journalism before most other news organizations, regularly uncovering governmental abuses of the type now being reported about Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Of course, some might argue that finding corruption in Chicago is about as difficult as finding Easter eggs on the White House lawn during the annual hunt, but the same probably is true of most major cities–it’s just that most newspapers don’t work as hard to uncover the abuses as the Tribune once did.

The fact is, most newspapers don’t have enough staffers to do the most important things that journalists should do: keep an eye on government. Jennifer Dorroh, managing editor of American Journalism Review, recently pointed out that local reporters of the type who uncovered the corruption of California Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham are an “endangered species.”

There is another major reason for journalists and those of us who train journalists to be worried about the Trib’s collapse. Besides the harm that bankruptcy judges or others might do to the newspaper or to journalism, Littwin notes, “Apparently it’s hard to gloat and work on your resume at the same time.”

Even more troubling for most people who care about good journalism might be the news about the problems of the New York Times. Today the Times offers an Associate Press story about its talks with lenders, though the headline for that story is far less noticeable than the headline (with photo) about Christie Hefner resigning from her position as Playboy CEO.

As for NBC, it announced this week that it may cut back on programming (what, Fox got all the good reality shows?) and that late-night host Jay Lenowould be doing a five-nights-a-week 10 p.m. program. Interestingly, the MSNBC Web site went with the Associated Press reports for both stories about Leno (too many commentators, not enough reporters at the network?). As the report notes, “A talk show is considerably cheaper to produce than the dramas that usually air at 10 p.m.”

So maybe news organizations need to take the same step that GM has: announce that they’ve done a poor job of providing what consumers need, apologize for their mistakes, and beg for government help. As much as those organizations have sucked up to government in recent years, instead of investigating official misconduct (so what’s Judith Miller up to, nowadays?), perhaps they’d even get the bailout.

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Klein sweep: No room for lying ‘Joe the Columnist’ on campaign plane

Posted by James McPherson on October 21, 2008

Time magazine’s Joe Klein has apparently been banned from the John McCain’s campaign plane, a ban that apparently bugs the liberal bloggers at the Huffington Post, Politico and Think Progress more than it does Klein himself.

The McCain camp’s reasoning seems obvious: Klein has regularly criticized the campaign, for example noting that the candidate had a “fabulously loony weekend, flipping out charges like a mud tornado” while criticizing Obama for supporting ideas that McCain himself has supported. Still, others argue that in some cases, if any bias exists, it’s because Klein has been too kind to McCain.

Regardless, in this case perhaps the blame in the campaign plane isn’t mainly on McCain, so to speak. Frankly, if I were a candidate I wouldn’t let Klein on my plane (or, given a choice, in my bus, my car, my office, my gym, or even on the same elevator), either–but not because he’s hypercritical (as opposed to hypocritical). Usually he’s not, and even if he were, there’s something be be said for the old adage about keeping your enemies close.

I also wouldn’t ban Klein because he has been criticized for not being friendly enough toward Israel (too big a concern for many modern politicians, in my view), or because of the quality of his writing, which often is more interesting and wittier than that of many of his cohorts–even if, in overly broad but telling words of John Cook in Radar magazine, “Klein’s body of work amounts to little more than a festival of projection and poorly disguised vanity.” (And who am I, or almost any blogger, to criticize that?)

No, none of those reasons would keep Klein (with whom I often agree, by the way) as far away from me as possible. I’d keep him at a distance because I know him to be is a sneak and a liar, if not insane (though maybe no crazier than journalism as a whole). I’m guessing that literary forensics expert and Vassar College professor Don Foster feels same way, and not because of how Klein and Time butchered their coverage of FISA wiretapping rules last year. That coverage favored conservatives, incidentally, one more reason McCain might want “Joe the Columnist” on his plane.

Sixteen years ago, Klein covered Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Four years later, during Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, a fictionalized version of that campaign became a bestseller during Clinton’s  at least in part because its author–listed only as “Anonymous”–provided an obvious inside look at Clinton’s life and politics. Parts of Primary Colors (which then became a popular film) the book were fictionalized, but no one knew exactly which parts, and “Guess the Author” became a favorite Washington game.

New York magazine hired Foster to crack the case, and CBS (which also employed Klein at the time) then interviewed Foster about his conclusion that Klein wrote the book (a conclusion previously reached by former Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet in the Baltimore Sun). Klein adamently denied authorship until a handwriting analysis proved that he had lied even to his bosses at CBS and Newsweek.

Klein was forced to resign from CBS, but Newsweek merely made him apologize to readers whose trust he had betrayed. Even afterward, Klein showed no meaningful remorse and had no trouble finding subsequent media gigs–no surprise, since even after Oliver North lied under oath to Congress and the American people he became a network program host, even if it was on Fox News.

So there you have it, why I as a candidate would keep Klein off of my plane–along with the likes of fellow dissemblers George Will (read my book for a further discussion of Will’s lies), Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. Of course I also have this fantasy that if I were a candidate I’d actually talk to real reporters.

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