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 ‘Bill O’Reilly’

Juan gone: NPR, Fox and ‘news analysis’

Posted by James McPherson on October 21, 2010

National Public Radio has fired Juan Williams for making a remark that sounded too much like the only Jesse Jackson quote that conservatives like (well, maybe except this one).

I have mixed emotions about the firing, similar to those expressed by writers Glenn Greenwald and  Greg Sargent. But I also think it should never have come to this: NPR should have pushed Williams out long ago. After all, it’s not the first time he has been in trouble for comments on O’Reilly’s show.

Mostly, though, I’d have eased him out because I think his overall tone has changed over time to be more in line with Fox News/MSNBC-style “discussion” than with what his job was with NPR. After all, probably most people couldn’t name a regular commentator with NPR, while I think Williams likes being a celebrity.

Williams’ commentary in this case (and others) with Fox relied on personal feelings, rather than on political expertise. That made him inappropriate as a news commentator for NPR.

The Williams case also shows the difficulty of trying to be a rational and consistent commentator who works for markedly different audiences. One of my favorite conservatives, David Brooks, has the same problem.

By the way, I think CNN may have been trying to reclaim some NPR-style credibility with the firing of Rick Sanchez. But for the network that brought us Lou Dobbs and (via CNN Headline News) Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace, it’s probably too late.

Next day update: Williams defends his comments on Fox. His essay doesn’t change my mind, but it does illustrate some other key diversity-related problem similar to what I’ve discussed previously.

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

Right-wing lies lead to Vil-sacking

Posted by James McPherson on July 21, 2010

With the amazingly speedy news cycle we now have, it’s already old news that a right-wing blogger lied about an Obama administration official, that the lie was spread by Fox News, and that the official was wrongly forced to resign because her bosses were too lazy or cowardly or paranoid to check out the truth and stand up to the liars.

Fox then gained the added benefit of being able to then suggest that Shirley Sherrod had been railroaded by the administration, despite the fact that with this runaway train it was Fox News was among those pouring on the coal. (Sherrod apparently may have been fired even before the story appeared on Fox, though with the apparent knowledge that it would appear there.)

Today Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack accepted full responsibility for the mess, publicly apologized to Sherrod, and offered her another job.

“I didn’t take the time I should have,” said Vilsack, who was portrayed by himself and others as the villain in the case. And there’s no doubt that Vilsack blew it, though of course he had help. And others were equally quick to react badly, including the NAACP.

It’s no surprise that Fox would turn bad information from a questionable source into a biased story designed to make the administration look bad, of course–that’s what the network does. This is at least twice from the same Matt Drudge spinoff; the first was the much more widespread lying about ACORN. Sadly, also not surprising is that Bill O’Reilly thinks the false stories should get even more coverage from other media–perhaps so his employer won’t so often stand alone among major networks in its stupidity.

Nor should we be surprised that a multitude of kneejerk bloggers quickly relayed the bad info (sometimes adding their own obnoxious comments or misstatements); for examples, see here, here, here, herehere, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. At this writing, only the last two of those had offered a full correction or apology.

This case provides further evidence that you cannot fully trust video unless you shot it yourself. Another sad but probably true reminder comes from Bob Cesca at Huffington Post: “This will all happen again. Why? Because the traditional news media and, to a certain extent, the Democrats including the president, are too easily cowed by right-wing freakouts.”

Same-day update: Thanks to Poynter’s Jim Romenesko, I just came across this excellent summary of the case and some the media issues involved.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

‘Foxy’ Palin will now be paid to lie

Posted by James McPherson on January 12, 2010

Below: How Sarah Palin indicates the size of a fish she almost caught, how close her house is to Alaska, or how close she came to telling the truth about something:

 FILE - In this July 26, 2009 file photo, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin ...

Now, to no one’s surprise, Palin will get to do her Fox-y lying on a paid basis, at least until she gets bored and quits. Working as a Fox News commentator is a perfect job, however, for someone who apparently “doesn’t know anything” about world affairs. According to a video on the Fox News Web site, she’ll get her start tonight with someone equally truth-challenged, Bill O’Reilly.

People keep talking about Palin as a possible 2012 Presidential candidate, but, as much as I wish that to be true, I (and others) have serious doubts. My prediction? Palin will end up as a contestant on a bad reality show (perhaps competing against her former future son-in-law) long before she ever lives in the White House.

One benefit to the new gig: I’ll bet Fox will give her a new hat. But at least for Fox, the network that leads in on-screen flag graphics, Palin won’t have to change her message much from the one she wore on her T-shirt (“If you don’t love America, then why don’t you get the hell out”). Come to think of it, didn’t husband Todd try that?

Thursday update: The Christian Broadcasting Network lists Palin as one of two women “front-runners” in the GOP. The other? None other than another common liar and general fruitcake, Michelle Bachmann, who perhaps more than anyone else exemplifies why the Minnesota state bird is a loon.

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

Journalism and blogging: Printing what’s known vs. what isn’t

Posted by James McPherson on April 13, 2009

The panel discussion I contributed to on Saturday was well-attended, and people obviously care about news and where it comes from. I know of at least three other bloggers who have already discussed the panel–one who works in mainstream journalism, one who soon will, and the other an interested area resident.

Unlike in most of the city where I live and work (where people tend to argue that the news media have a liberal bias) the audience and most of the panel leaned left in their political views–probably a result of having the panel in a downtown independent bookstore as part of a literary festival. The soon-to-be journalist, one of my students, did the most complete reporting about the discussion, so rather than repeat what she wrote I’ll refer you to her site.

One thing I will mention is that much of the discussion (based on questions from an audience generally mistrustful of media) centered on who is a journalist, and why we should trust “trained journalists” over “citizen journalists.” I think the point I made at the time may be worth expanding: For me, one of the key points is that professional journalists know where to look and whom to talk to for information (they don’t always have the time or ambition to do so thoroughly, but that’s another point).

In addition, trained journalists have (or should have) a better understanding of an overall issue and how it fits into a bigger picture, they have a better understanding of ethical and legal guidelines, and their organizations can better afford to pursue an issue over time or create databases to compare relevant statistics (or to sue the city government, for illegally keeping the reporter out of a public meeting).

Because of the amount of online information now available, it can be easier than it once was for individuals or small organizations to use the kinds of documents that make up most of our most important news. Even so, and despite this story from yesterday’s New York Times, few private citizens can pursue and publish a story in the same way that  news organizations can. For one thing, anyone who makes the time to learn a lot about one issue is likely to be viewed as a biased crank by many of the rest of us. For another, even popular local bloggers just don’t get the size of audience that mainstream media do.

As a result, blogs tend to be biased and/or largely made up of news from elsewhere. This blog is no exception. I’m no journalist, though I once was one. Of course I also argue that the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann also are not journalists, even if they happen to share some news now and then. For me, one key distinction is one I made Saturday: Journalists typically do a lot of research that never formally shows up in a newspaper or on the air, and frequently let drop (or put on hold) stories that go nowhere.

Put simply: Journalists know a lot more than they report, while too many bloggers report more than they know.

That difference has less to do with bloggers making things up (though some do) than with the fact that those bloggers (including me) rely heavily on second-hand information from elsewhere–sometimes mainstream media, sometimes other bloggers–that they have no means of checking themselves. Mainstream news organizations have the money and manpower to better check the reliability of their sources.

Put another way: You probably don’t fully trust your boss or your brother-in-law, so why would you trust a random “citizen journalist”? I’m not saying to fully trust mainstream journalism, either–but I’d say that the vast majority of the time you’ll be better off relying on information that appears in your local newspaper than on some interested bystander. Better yet, use both–while you still can.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

‘G’ whiz: judging Obama’s summit performance

Posted by James McPherson on April 4, 2009

Writing for CNN, James Carvell called the final day of the G-20 Summit, “Barack Obama’s single best day since inauguration,” while Fareed Zakariah suggested, “President Obama is failing in his role as leader of the free world.”

Over on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly “asked” if Obama was “selling out America” (part of Fox’s ongoing “We distort, you decide” marketing strategy).  Former Democratic whoremonger and current Fox News whore Dick Morris lied about it (now there’s a surprise), saying the summit, which in truth achieved almost nothing of substance, “was a disaster, but it’s probably a disaster he [Obama] likes … in which, essentially, all of the U.S. regulatory bodies and all U.S. companies are put under international regulation, international supervision. It really amounts to a global economic government. … Just when Obama is accused of socialism, he’s essentially creating world economic governance.”

The blatant misrepresention (unless it’s just stupidity) by Morris would be bad enough, of course, but Fox still has his appearance (and O’Reilly’s question) on the front of its Web site–though of course both are posted below its daily “Pop Tarts” section and headlines about the “top 10 beach bodies” and a show starring Hugh Hefner’s ex-girlfriend.

Of course, on the most obnoxious network from the opposing perspective, MSNBC highlighted “Obama’s charm offensive” while its various hosts did their usual pro-bama fawning. So maybe for a better sense of the summit, we should look to what they’re saying in other countries. After all, the group is called the G-20, not the “Gee, the U.S. and 19 other countries Americans don’t care about.”

Zakaria quoted a column in the Guardian stating that Obama “looks neither like JFK nor FDR but rather JEC–that’s James Earl Carter–better known here as Jimmy Carter.” But the Guardian also considers Gordon Brown a big winner, while “fat cats” and world climate were losers. As long as even fired fat cats are collecting millions of dollars while millions of people worry about paying for groceries I can’t consider them “losers.,” at least not in the sense that the newspaper means.

As it turns, out, looking at media from around the world, the reviews are mixed. Media in those countries tend to be as ethnocentric as ours are, focusing on their own situations and how the summit might affect them. And the fact is, the effects–if any–of what happened in London likely won’t be know for some time.

Leave it to al-Jazeera to provide the best interpretation of the summit and Obama’s performance there: “It’s a start.”

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

Not-so-sweet sixteens: NCAA tourney and GOP ‘bracket of evil’

Posted by James McPherson on March 19, 2009

As of right now I’m looking good with my NCAA hoops bracket. Having picked both Maryland and Texas A & M, the only game I’ve missed so far today is LSU over Butler. But I was in good shape last year even after a couple of full days, and still kept intact my 10-year record of having never won the office pool.

At least I’m braver in my picks than Barack Obama, though we both put Memphis and Pitt in our Final Four (he has North Carolina taking the title, while I’m going with longshot Wake Forest) and I’m admittedly less likely to be criticized for my picks. Regardless, though, now there’s a March Madness bracket that maybe I can win: My long-distance phone provider has come up with a “bracket of evil” to let people judge the most malevolent forces in American politics.”

I was surprised to see that the selection committee left Dick Cheney and Sean Hannity out of the field of 32. For my Final Four I’m picking #1 seeds Rush Limbaugh (from the Media Division) and Karl Rove (Politics), #3 seed Exxon (Corporate), and #4 seed Grover Norquist (Maverick).

I see Limbaugh’s toughest competition coming before the final, with him out-trash talking Bill O’Reilly, edging Fox News, and then sliding past the slippery Karl Rove before drumming Exxon in the final. Unfortunately, the madness of all the contestants in this tourney will go on long after March is over.

March 26 update: The Elite Eight for the Bracket of Evil pits Rove against Mitch McConnell, Limbaugh vs. Fox, Blackwater against Exxon, and Newt Gingrich vs. Sarah Palin. I had the first six right, but missed the last two so three of my Final Four are still in the running.

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

A case in which conservatives might support abortion and liberals might favor welfare cuts

Posted by James McPherson on February 10, 2009

As the case of Caylee Anthony continues to draw an inordinate amount of attention from the media and others (the toddler’s funeral attracted more than 1,000 “mourners”), and even as Fox News is already breathlessly highlighting what its likely to be its next dead-kid story, the news media’s other family obsession, Nadya Suleman, now says she’ll use student loans to help support her 14 children (10 under the age of 2).

Suleman, who said she had no income and claimed to not be on welfare, but who admits to spending $100,000 for in vitro fertilization procedures, apparently gets almost $500 per month in food stamps along with untold amounts of money in disability payments for three of her first six children. She also received about $165,000 in disability payments after being injured in a riot at a state mental hospital (where she worked, not–as would seem appropriate–where she was a patient). You have to love the rationale offered by her “publicist” (and the fact that she has a publicist):

“In Nadya’s view, the money that she gets from the food stamp program … and the resources disabilities payments she gets for her three children are not welfare,” he said. “They are part of programs designed to help people with need, and she does not see that as welfare.” I suppose in a society where politicians can parse the definition of what “is” is, where oral sex with an intern is not “sexual relations,” where waterboarding is not torture and where leaders can lie us into a crippling war without facing legal consequences, Suleman is simply a product of her society–a good learner, so to speak.

I feel for Suleman’s kids, having a whacko as a mother, but beyond that I care very little about this story except for one concern: Especially at a time when the economy is so bad that it’s sending illegal immigrants home, boosting military enlistments and producing more new jobs for topless dancers than for auto workers, an unfortunate side effect of the Suleman case might be a crackdown in social programs and/or problems in reforming health care. After all, Ronald Reagan gained support for welfare cuts by exaggerating the extremely rare cases of “welfare queens in Cadillacs.”

Meanwhile, Bill O’Reilly is on the case: Today he offers “a ‘Factor’ investigation you won’t want to miss,” asking the question, “Is the octuplet mother obsessed with trying to look and act like  Angelina Jolie?” Looking perhaps. Acting, not really: After all, Jolie is adopting most of her children while Suleman is having hers the old-fashioned way–if artificial insemination can be considered old-fashioned.

The cases would be more similar, of course, if Jolie were farming out her uterus to “adopt” so-called “snowflake babies” of the kind that surrounded George W. Bush when he vetoed the first bill of his presidency–especially if, like Suleman, she could get a doctor to implant enough “snowflakes” to form a snowball.

By the way, Nancy Grace and other dead-kid fetishists might take note of the fact that another 35,000 or so youngsters also died the same day as Caylee–and every day since.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Dems act like Dittoheads by wasting time on Limbaugh

Posted by James McPherson on January 28, 2009

There can be little doubt for anyone other than a committed “Dittohead” that Rush Limbaugh is a bombastic idiot. Perhaps smarter and generally funnier than Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin, nonetheless Limbaugh is a one-note blowhard who has managed to combine his ability to get under the skin of liberals with the limited intelligence of his primary audience to make himself a multimillionaire and a significant–if declining–conservative voice.

I am continually surprised that much of anyone pays attention to Limbaugh, but now Congressional Democrats have joined the parade of overreactive respondents giving the talk show host the one thing he most craves: attention. As Fox News (Limbaugh’s biggest media ally) prominently reports today, the Dems have started an online petition for people to sign complaining about Limbaugh’s recent “I hope he [Barack Obama] fails” statement. The website promises, “We’ll send Rush your comments.”

I somehow don’t think Limbaugh will be troubled by the petition. In fact, I half expect that he’ll print out the comments and roll around naked on them. In the meantime, he has started his own “reverse petition” with a link to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, urging web readers to “tell the DCCC and all other Democrats it is time to stop lying about and distorting Rush’s comments on Barack Obama’s War on Prosperity.”

Incidentally, I’ll grant that many liberals have distorted Limbaugh’s comments, and that what he really meant was that he hopes Obama fails to create a liberal state. What I don’t get is why anyone still pays enough attention to Rush to think it necessary to hear his comments, let alone distort them. As the Huffington Post’s Joe Peyronnin writes, even Obama made a mistake in elevating Limbaugh’s status with recent remarks.

Peyronnin concludes his piece, “Mr. President, please do what most Republicans can’t do, ignore Rush Limbaugh.” Other Democrats should do the same.

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

Twits, tweets and Twittering: Anti-social networking

Posted by James McPherson on January 5, 2009

Apparently the Twitter accounts of Barack Obama, Bill O’Reilly, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez and at least 30 other people were hacked into today. Also affected was the account of Britney Spears (and no, she probably was not the inspiration for the name of the social networking site).

“The attacks came after Twitter suffered a vicious phishing scam over the weekend, during which everyday Twitter users may have been tricked into logging on to a page masquerading as the Twitter front page, according to the site,” CNN reports. In other words, if you communicate via Twitter, you may want to change your password.

As I’ve said before, I don’t get the appeal of Twitter–though I am impressed with Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial page editor Mark Trahant’s use of his 140 characters to produce a four-line poem each weekday. His latest “NewsRime,” which is related to today’s news: “Oh, NO! SPAM on Twitter/suffice to say the taste is bitter/140 characters has been such fun/please don’t make this a medium to shun.”

Not great poetry, but then as I’ve also noted previously, few things worth saying or knowing can adequately be expressed in 140 characters, and most of those should be said more personally. If Fox News really wants to admit that O’Reilly is gay, for example, he probably would do it himself on his own show, not via Twitter. And the message would spell his name correctly.

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

If you’re going to write anything stupid in the future, don’t come to my class

Posted by James McPherson on December 21, 2008

Though the event boasted about as much security as Barack Obama’s inauguration will (and probably was even more expensive), Iraq’s public Christmas celebration yesterday was a good sign. Despite the security, chances are good that Bill O’Reilly or some other right-wing self-appointed “protector of Christmas”  will make some ludicrous comment tomorrow about it supposedly being easier to celebrate Christmas publicly in Baghdad than in Washington.

I expect that O’Reilly will overlook the fact that it may be more dangerous to be a Christian in Iraq today than at any time in history, and that millions of Christians have fled the country or been killed for their religious beliefs. Still, I was struck by a quote from an Iraq Interior Ministry official at the Christmas party, attended by many Muslims, that “All Iraqis are Christian today!”

The quote and the party are nice symbols of unity (though I didn’t see anything about the event on al-Jazeera today). Unfortunately, here at home, George “I’m a Uniter, not a Divider” Bush has again gone the divisive route by apparently deciding that conservative Christians should be allowed to dictate health policy for America as a whole.

That might explain why among his various lame-duck actions–which so far include attempts to ease offshore drilling, weakening the Endangered Species Act, trying to rewrite the history of his administration while dodging shoes (and perhaps other objects to come), and perhaps wondering whether to pardon Dick Cheney or just shoot him in the face–George W. Bush on Thursday announced its new “conscious protection” rule to keep health care workers from doing jobs they find “morally objectionable.”

The regulation is set to take effect the day before Bush leaves office (I guess he thinks there’s no real hurry), giving Obama’s administration one more thing to work on overturning one day later. Of course assorted feministes, rape victims, those in favor of legalized abortion, those concerned about teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and other assorted people concerned about women’s health in general hate the new regulation.

My immediate reaction was similar to those in opposition–that this is yet another stupid, petty Bushian effort to impose the Religious Right’s beliefs on everyone else–but then I realized that, taken to its natural conclusion, this decision could make my own job as a college professor teaching journalism classes a lot easier.

See, I normally ask students at the beginning of a semester to write a short paper telling me why they’re in my class, what they hope it will teach them, and how they hope to use it in the future. I do the assignment mostly so that I can tailor the class to students’ needs, where appropriate. If I have several students in my media writing class who plan to enter public relations, for example, I’ll spend a little more time on that topic than if I have a class full of future broadcast journalists.

My obvious mistake is that I’ve made the assignment about them, instead of about me. In the past I’ve thought that it was my job to teach them the necessary skills to succeed in their chosen profession, and, if possible, to get them to look at things from a variety of perspectives. Since they’re adults, albeit young ones, I assumed that they might be capable of making the decisions that were right for them.

Yet many of those students eventually go on to write conservative columns, work for conservative politicians, or do public relations for conservative organizations. Despite the wailings of David Horowitz and similar fear-based donor-funded nuts, and to the probable dismay of some egotistical academics, we liberal professors just don’t have all that much political influence on our students (neither do the conservative profs, which, though outnumbered, still are relatively common).

So now when when I ask my opening questions I’ll be on the lookout for students who might plan to someday use any writing or editing skills picked up in my classes for evil purposes. Since I teach at a Christian university and most of my students are political conservatives, if we can get the latest Bush doctrine expanded, this might greatly reduce my workload.

A Christian myself, of course I’ll continue to teach journalism basics to the “right kind” of believers–those opposed to war and torture and in favor of tolerance, telling the truth, and helping the poor.

But as soon as a student suggests (as many have, over the years) that she hopes to go on to work in government or church activities, maybe even in a way that will help promote her own conservative views, I’m obviously going to have to know a lot more before I agree to share the wonders of the summary lead or the inverted pyramid.

Christmas Day update: Chrismas has been named a national holiday in Iraq for the first time, though there are far fewer Christians left in the country to celebrate it.

Posted in Education, Legal issues, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »