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 ‘Britney Spears’

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.

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

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Posted by James McPherson on December 30, 2008

It’s the time of year for lists, and not surprisingly, the election of Barack Obama topped the annual Associated Press list of the top 10 stories of the year. The next three were the economic meltdown, oil prices and Iraq. The order of those three stories help explain the election of Obama.

In fact, Iraq has faded so much in importance that now NOT ONE of the three major broadcast networks has a full-time correspondent there (reaffirming once again how far the news operations of the Big Three have fallen).

China made the AP list in fifth and sixth place, with the Olympics and the May earthquake that killed 70,000 people.  I was happy to see no “Nancy Grace specialties (“pretty dead white woman stories) on the list, while two women in politics–Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton–finished seventh and ninth. Two more international stories, the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Russia-Georgia war, filled out the list.

CNN let readers and viewers vote on the top stories, and as of today those readers the respondents agreed with the AP on the top three. Further down, however, Michael Phelps, O.J. Simpson, Rod Blogojevich and same-sex marriage all made that list.

Fox News also lets “you decide,” though just through a running blog that lets people sound off. Some respondents’ ideas for “top story” (as written): “The biggest story of 2008 is that Barack Obama is not eligible to hold the office of the President, because he is not a Natural Born Citizen”; “It was the Democrat spawned credit crisis which they have worked so hard for to have it happen when the election was close”; “a made up money crisis to sway an election and Muslim financing in our institutions”; and “How the Democrats highjacked the economy and the white house.”

Time‘s list was considerably different and more internationally oriented than the others. The magazine put the economy at the head of its “top 10” list, followed by Obama’s election, but the next eight were the Mumbai attacks, terrorism in Pakistan, international piracy, the war in Georgia, poisonous Chinese imports, the Columbian rescue of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, and “Mother’s Nature’s double whammy” in China and Burma.

Time also offered a number of other top 10’s, including lists of crime stories, political gaffes (the Huffington Post also offers its own list of “top political scandals“), oddball news, and medical breakthroughs.

I found Time‘s list of underreported stories among the most interesting and disturbing. For example, No. 9 on the list: the shipment of 6,700 tons of radioactive sand–created by U.S. weapons during the first Persian Gulf War–from Kuwait to Idaho.

Fox News contributer K.T. McFarland offered her own “most important story everyone missed this year,” one particularly close to my own heart: “the death of news delivered in print and the birth of news delivered over the internet.” She also engaged in a bit of snarky broadcast-style self-promotional hyperbole: “Perhaps the most intriguing new way to deliver news is something FOX News came up with this summer–online streaming programming delivered right to your computer screen. FOX’s first foray into this medium, The Strategy Room, is part news program, part panel discussion, part chat room. It’s been called ‘”The View” for Smart People.'”

Actually, like “The View,” “The Strategy Room” is sometimes informative, sometimes a trivial and inane collection of posers. But if you want to be really afraid–and disgusted with the shortcomings of fading American journalism–read Project Censored’s annual list of the top 25 “censored stories.”

In truth, the stories were simply underreported or incorrectly reported rather than censored, but the fact remains that every story on the list is more important than the “accomplishments” of Britney Spears (who topped MTV’s list), Paris Hilton, and every other Hollywood nitwit combined. And speaking of nitwits, Fox News also produced a “top” list. On its Christmas Day front page, Fox–the great “protector” of Christmas–offered “2008’s Hottest Bods.”

Finally, on a personal note related to another list: I was excited yesterday morning to see my blog at #5 on the WordPress list of “top growing blogs,” with my post about Christmas killers hitting at least as high as #76 on the list of top posts for the day. Less encouraging were the responses from nutball racists (mixed in with several more thoughtful and thought-provoking comments) on both sides of the Iraeli-Arab issue over both that post and yesterday’s.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Bettie Page & Robin Toner: Two women who made media history

Posted by James McPherson on December 13, 2008

Two women who made media history in different ways died a day apart this week. If you’ve heard of either one, it’s probably the first, Bettie Page, who died Thursday at age 85. The iconic 1950s pinup queen-turned born-again Christian had received a second round of fame in recent years because of books, a movie and television programs about her.

Bob Thomas of the Associated Press wrote that Page’s “controversial photographs in skimpy attire or none at all helped set the stage for the 1960s sexual revolution.” She inspired Madonna and numerous other stars, was perhaps the second-most-famous sex symbol of all time behind only Marilyn Monroe, and became famous in an age before Photoshop. She also suffered from molestation as a child, two failed marriages, and schizophrenia, spending almost two years in a mental hospital.

Page’s death was followed a day later by that of Robin Toner, who died yesterday at age 54. Toner was the first national political reporter for the best newspaper in the United States, the New York Times. The daughter of a former “Rosie the Riveter,” Toner covered Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and faced the tough choices that confront many women: “A few years later, after marriage and motherhood made long months on the campaign trail less practical for her, she became chief of correspondents on the paper’s national desk in New York.”

Toner joined the Times in 1985. That was just a few years after the newspaper agreed to settle Boylan v. New York Times and finally allow women into senior editorial and management positions. 

Perhaps the best part of Toner’s obituary from a journalistic standpoint: “In a craft in which small errors are commonplace and bigger mistakes a regular occupational hazard, Ms. Toner devised a meticulous personal method for checking and re-checking names, dates, facts and figures in her own raw copy, a step few reporters take. As a result: only half a dozen published corrections over the years, on more than 1,900 articles with her byline.”

Sadly, Toner leaves behind a husband and two 11-year-old twins. Her own daughter will face tough choices of her own, and perhaps will make some decisions she will later regret. Better news is that because of Toner and women like her, today’s girls have more options than did the girls of Page’s era–even if Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and innumerable other stars of today still far too often go the Bettie Page route.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Don’t blame me: the photos came from Fox News (and other mixed messages)

Posted by James McPherson on September 5, 2008

To prove how Sarah Palin has been smeared by the media, Fox New was using the first pair of photos below as the main photo on its Web site for part of today. The photo at right is used with the linked story itself. And no, I didn’t enlarge them.

  

Maybe such behavior is to be expected from a site that boasts a regular section titled “Pop Tarts,” and which today also has a Britney Spears story (with photo) on the front page titled “Mom: Britney Spears Lost Virginity at Age 14.” Yet this is also the site hosted by the same network whose political commentators have been rightfully slamming the intense coverage of Sarah Palin, particularly as it pertains to her 17-year-old daughter.

Speaking of mixed messages (in addition to Cindy McCain wearing an outfit worth perhaps $300,000 while trying to drum up support from “middle America”) today John McCain and Palin start trying to convince voters that they are agents of “change,” despite how long McCain has been in office supporting almost everything promoted by George W. Bush (otherwise known as “the invisible man” of the campaign), and despite the fact that Palin’s socially conservative brand of politics seems to align even better with Bush’s politics.

It’s no wonder they want to run from the McCain/Bush record and campaign more like Barack Obama. Here are some other news items from the last couple of days:

“The U.S. jobless rate unexpectedly jumped in August to a nearly five-year high as employment fell for an eighth-straight month, raising the risk of recession as households face a struggling labor market and a high inflation rate.” (Wall Street Journal)

“The Bush administration has conducted an extensive spying operation on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the Iraqi government, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. … The book also says that the U.S. troop ‘surge’ of 2007, in which President Bush sent nearly 30,000 additional U.S. combat forces and support troops to Iraq, was not the primary factor behind the steep drop in violence there during the past 16 months.” (Washington Post)

In short, despite the harping of McCain/Palin and Bill Oh-Really, Obama’s more nuanced critique of the surge is more correct that the McCain/Bush/Fox News view of it. Incredibly, unlike every other new organization I’ve seen (and I haven’t read the book myself), Fox reports Woodward as saying he “acknowledged the success of Bush’s surge of additional troops into Iraq in 2007,” adding, “Woodward notes that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama opposed the surge, while GOP presidential candidate John McCain was ‘advocating more troops for years.'” There’s an interesting “fair and balanced” analysis. 

In international news, “The United States and Libya sealed a historic turnaround after decades of terrorist killings, American retaliation, suspicions and insults with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s peacemaking visit Friday with Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s mercurial strongman.” (New York Times) Thank God we don’t deal with terrorists. 

And in honor of Palin, this: “It’s the season for Alaskans to be rewarded just for living here and this year’s take is extra sweet: $3,269, a record share of the state’s oil wealth combined with a special cash payout to help with stratospheric energy prices.” (USA Today)

Sept. 10 update: Fox News found yet another reason to prominently display the same photo today. Apparently a stars-and-stripes bikini and a rifle are just too much for the network to resist.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

McCain camp’s lie suggests early desperation

Posted by James McPherson on July 31, 2008

The John McCain-Karl Rove folks spent days telling us that Barack Obama changed his mind about visiting a military hospital because he could not take reporters. Right-wing media quickly began reinforcing the charge, despite a lack of any evidence to support it.

Tucker Knows-No Bounds, McCain’s primary spokesman, was spewing the same claim a couple of days ago. When pressed by a few reporters who saw fit to do their jobs and seek evidence, Bounds “provided three examples–none of which had alleged that Obama wanted to take members of the media to the hospital.” (Washington Post) In other words, the McCain camp spent days repeating a lie, then after all that time still could not find ONE shred of evidence to support what they’d been saying. But they didn’t stop there. They created a misleading commercial to reinforce the lie.

I view a lie as a bit different that a flip-flop, though both candidates have been guilty of too many flips. (See several examples of McCain’s flip-flops and misstatements in the videos below.) The latter might come from raised awareness, while the former simply reflects desperation or a craven indifference to both truth and the electoral process.

While Ben Stein and others may support such activities, they actually reveal a bit of desperation on McCain’s part. McCain, who criticized Obama for not visiting other countries while McCain did, then switched and criticized Obama for traveling abroad while McCain was at home, has no coherent message. As a result, he ends up running silly ads like the one that drew so much media attention yesterday for comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton–asking if he was “qualified to lead” while showing glowing images of Obama that show him apparently… er, leading. Doh! Even Rove, when asked about the ad in a Fox interview, called it “odd” and said he didn’t really understand it before quickly skipping to other issues, and sneaking in a sly reference suggesting yet again that the original McCain lie about the Obama troop visit was true. But even Andrea Mitchell–definitely no fan of Obama’s–points out that the lie is, in fact, a lie (see video here).

McCain apparently has gained a bit in the polls, but runs the risk that negative campaigning will alienate the less extreme (and fortunately for him, typically less informed) part of the electorate that traditionally has provided his base. He probably needs those folks, especially since many conservatives still don’t trust him. Rove knows that negative campaigning can reduce the overall turnout, though it seems a bit early for the GOP to consider that their only hope of victory.

Many gaffes are yet to come, and vice presidential candidates have yet to be named. Most voters aren’t yet paying close attention. Republicans can only hope that by convention time their candidate has come up with something better than a repeat of Bob Dole’s campaign against Bill Clinton.

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