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 ‘campaign ads’

Election ads to be even more obnoxious in 2010

Posted by James McPherson on January 21, 2010

Scott Brown’s election to the Senate, while interesting, isn’t the event this week that will have the biggest effect on the future of the American political process. A much more important (and activist, considering the overturning of legal precedent without corresponding new facts) decision is the one today by the Supreme Court to ban corporate spending limits on political speech, killing the McCain-Feingold act in the process.

McCain, still confused over whether as a Republican he’s supposed to be a shill for big business or a protector of the people, offered a weak criticism of the decision. The 5-4 decision (aren’t they all, anymore?) extends the conservative corporate tradition of treating corporations as if they are individuals (except with much more money and less moral guidance than most people have).

Frankly, as a near-First Amendment absolutist, I have mixed emotions about the decision from a theoretical perspective. From a practical view, however, I have little doubt that future campaigns will be even more negative and more riddled with lies and smears than past elections. An already-broken political process in which most Americans already get their political information from clearly biased pundits and paid advertising will become even worse.

With the news media flailing and perhaps less likely to have the ability to provide meaningful perspective to political events–even if they had the will to do so and more Americans had the will to pay attention–those who care about the process would be well advised to bookmark FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com, Open Secrets, SourceWatch.org and USAspending.gov, and plan to check them often.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Obama ready for prime time: half-hour infomercial airs tonight

Posted by James McPherson on October 29, 2008

Next day update: Reader Luis Lopez pointed out in the comments that you can already find the infomercial on YouTube. Thanks, Luis. For convenience, I’ll post the video here. Yesterday’s post continues immediately after the video.

Tonight Barack Obama will be on almost every television network that matters, talking to Americans for 30 minutes less than a week before the election. I suspect the message will be mostly positive and optimistic, with just enough policy ideas to demonstrate that he has some. I’d like to see him announce some cabinet appointments, but that would be viewed as too risky for someone with the lead he holds.

The New York Times announced this morning that, based on a one-minute preview “heavy with strings, flags, presidential imagery, and some Americana filmed by Davis Guggenheim,” the address will be “a closing argument to the everyman.” (So much for John McCain’s ongoing “Joe the Plumber Tour.”)

Unless Obama decides to use the opportunity to announce that he and Joe Biden plan to leave their wives and marry one another, or that he and Osama bin Laden once smoked dope together while plotting the overthrow of the U.S., I can’t imagine that in this particular race–shaping up to be a possible landslide–the half hour will make much difference.

The commercial may reassure some prospective Obama voters (and may look to others as if he’s trying to run up the score), though because of rain the mostly white male audience tuning into Fox for the World Series won’t be there as a lead-in. And by the way, despite the myth that John McCain has repeated on the stump, Obama’s ad was never going to delay any World Series game.

I think the address is a good idea. Recognizing how little meaningful information can be shared via political ads, modern pseudo-debates, or interviews with newspeople who tend too often to be either cowed or too interested in furthering their own careers, I’ve been a proponent of political infomercials for some time. I even wrote letters recommending them to the Democratic National Committee and other groups before the 2004 election, and suggested them again via this blog in early June of this year.

Other presidential candidates have tried similar commercials in the past. Those candidates include losers Adlai Stevenson and Ross Perot (who did well for a third-party candidate), and the successful John F. Kennedy (also the last successful young presidential nominee, and the last to hold his Democratic Convention speech outdoors). If tonight’s program goes well, and offers information that voters can use, I suspect we’ll see more such infomercials in the future.

Regardless of the effect, Obama’s message will provide media scholars and political pundits with analytical fodder for years to come.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

How many cell phone users won’t vote for a black guy?

Posted by James McPherson on October 15, 2008

I raise the above question–not a serious one–to highlight a couple of issues that concern pollsters who worry that today’s political polls may be flawed. The first is the so-called “Bradley effect,” which supposes that many people who tell pollsters they favor an African American candidate will then cast ballots for a white candidate instead.

With Barack Obama we’ve also heard discussion of a supposed “reverse Bradley effect,” which theorizes that some white people might not openly admit they’ll cross racial lines to vote, but under certain conditions (such as a compelling individual candidate or a collapsing economy while the white candidate’s party is in the White House)  will do so in the privacy of the polling booth.

Another issue, raised by the National Journal today, is related to cell phone usage. As I noted back in August when I predicted a substantial Barack Obama victory: “Many surveys rely heavily on phone interviews, which tend to underrepresent college students and techno-savvy people who rely on cell phones and/or computer phone services instead of traditional landlines. Yet those people are the ones who seem to be among Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters. I would not be surprised in this election to see Obama’s numbers underrepresented by 5 percent or more in many polls.”

I actually hope the polls are screwed up (assuming my favored candidate wins, of course); maybe then journalists will stop relying so much on polling for political coverage. Unfortunately if the polls are significantly wrong, many people will suspect another culprit: voter fraud.

Conservatives are now beating a drum about ACORN–despite the facts that the voter registration problems involving signature gatherers were discovered and reported by the organization itself, that no real problem exists (after all, “Mickey Mouse isn’t showing up on election day, and states have safeguards built in), and that the ploy is an obvious Republican smear designed to harm the credibility of the organization.

As Editor & Publisher points out, it is too bad (though perhaps not surprising) that so many in the media have helped hype the story, while turning a blind eye to the type of voter problems that may have cost Democrats the presidency in both 2000 (in Florida) and 2004 (in Ohio), and which Republicans are pursuing for this election, as well. “The allegations can also help cover up actual election fraud undertaken on behalf of McCain,” author Glenn W. Smith writes, adding that the media seem to find the more common situations that limit voter turnout to be somehow less egregious than the remote possibility that someone might accidentally be allowed to cast a vote: “Exclusion is a tradition with deep roots in our cultural narratives and founding documents. Historically accustomed as we are to exclusion, maybe we don’t judge it to be news.”

As for the supposed “threat” of ACORN, John McCain characterized the organization more fairly a couple of years ago as a keynote speaker FOR the group. You can see his remarks, along with more voter fraud discussion, in the first video (from “Countdown”) below. If you have the stomach for it, the second video–with claims similar to those made in an ad that drew a “pants on fire” rating from PolitiFact.org, shows the new, dishonest, attacking McCain perspective. In about an hour from this writing, we’ll see which version shows up for the debate.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Carbon paper offsets: drilling for logic in energy policy

Posted by James McPherson on September 14, 2008

The idea of more oil drilling has long been popular with oil companies and the lobbiests and members of Congress whom they fund. Lately those self-interested folks have been joined by a skittish populace and even more shaky members of Congress, and unless recent scandals manage to stop it, American’s shores are likely to see more offshore drilling.

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman, talking today to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about his new book, pointed out that calling for more drilling–while chanting “drill baby drill”–would be like calling for more IBM Selectric typewritters and chanting “carbon paper baby carbon paper” at the begining of the computer age. While other countries are going full-bore on new energy technology, Friedman said, the Bush/McCain/Palin folks give that research lip service while falling back on ideas guaranteed to help the United States slide further toward technological irrelevance.

I frequently disagree with Friedman, the author of The World is Flat. He favored the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and I think he sometimes glorifies international trade and the free market too much while downplaying their accompanying problems. He is better at identifying fairly obvious problems, though with well-turned phrases, than at coming up with meaningful solutions. Still, one quote from the new book should give both liberals and conservatives pause, whether they agree with him or not:

America is always at its most powerful and most influential when it is combining innovation and inspiration, wealth-building and dignity building, the quest for big profits and the tackling of big problems. When we do just one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, we are greater than the sum of our parts–much greater.

I do agree with Friedman later in that first chapter when he writes, “America has shifted from a country that always exported its hopes (and so imported the hopes of millions of others) to one that is seen exporting its fears.”

The book is drawing mixed reviews, and I haven’t read most of it. I probably won’t. For one thing, it appears that much of it has been both obvious and ignored for quite some time.

Besides, even if American leaders buy into Friedman’s premise in a meaningful way, it’s probably too late to make much difference, in terms of avoiding either worldwide catastophic climate change or a dramatic decline in American influence. The first of those is tragic but perhaps inevitable. The second probably wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, based on how we’ve managed that influence in recent years.

I would be more optimistic that we were still capable of greatness as a nation if we chose leaders based on their knowledge and abilities. In that case, the electorate would not now face a choice between an audacious optimist with little meaningful experience on one side and a May-December remix of Bush/Chaney on the other.

Further evidence of a lack of guts or integrity that would be necessary for meaningful change: Palin suddenly forgot to mention nuclear energy when campaigning in Nevada, where the nuclear waste might end up, while new McCain ads aimed at Hispanics lie about the difference between his position on immigration and Barack Obama’s position–and even about the flip-flop immigration position McCain himself “adopted” to appeal to conservatives.

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

McCain camp desperate, silly and sad

Posted by James McPherson on August 24, 2008

Affirming my observations of recent weeks that the John McCain campaign steadily becomes increasingly silly, increasingly desperate, and–despite recent polls–decreasingly likely to win the upcoming presidential election, the campaign is doing what it feels it must to have a prayer of victory.

Previously noted by many is how McCain now panders to the Religious Right figures whom he once termed “agents of intolerance.” At the same time that he engages in increasingly unchristian behavior, even to the point of adding to his own lies by refusing to criticize obvious lies from a man who has been one of McCain’s harshest critics. Nonetheless, his most recent ad must make “straight talk express” fans cringe when they hear the candidate intone, “I’m John McCain and I approved this message.”

This ad (the first clip below) asks why Hillary Clinton isn’t Barack Obama’s choice as running mate, and states that she was kept off the ticket “for telling the truth.” While that message might work with a few PUMAs, it seems likely that even many of them might be turned off by such blatantly pandering on the part of a man who consistently has done little on behalf of women–even if they believe that anyone in the McCain campaign knows the inner workings of their opponent’s operation.

McCain himself, it seems, once would have been embarrassed by such a commercial. Doesn’t he have some other means of attack other than to put his own face and voice in an ad that not only doesn’t say anything about himself or his candidacy but which actually promotes a losing candidate from the opposition party? Of course he obviously likes those folks, since he pals around with two-time loser Joe Lieberman. But isn’t McCain’s new language more befitting of Jon Stewart or bloggers than of a candidate for president? And does his new ad suggest that McCain like to replace sidekick Joe Lieberman with Clinton (a good idea if she’d go for it, but she’s far too smart for that).

One problem, I suppose, is that McCain has relatively few positive options because his own campaign message to voters might be boiled down to: “I was tortured before most of you were born (though if we do the same things now to scary Muslims I would no longer call it torture), I hate war but think we ought to engage in a lot more of it, I’m old, I’m cranky, and I disagree with almost everything else I said a year ago, back when I was still voting in the Senate–so elect me president before I die or before my rich wife leaves me for one of my lobbyist friends.”

Another somewhat silly McCain ad came out on the same day that Barack Obama announced what most followers had considered inevitable for days if not weeks, that Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee for vice president. That commercial (the second clip below) shows Biden criticizing Obama and complimenting McCain. The only problem with the ad is that it merely reflects the kind of rhetoric that happens in political races all the time–in fact, the third clip below is a version that might be used against McCain if he chooses Mitt Romney to be his running mate. Biden’s rhetoric also reflects the give-and-take nature of the Senate, reflecting why I was somewhat surprised when two Senators won their party’s nominations.

Obviously a current senator will become our next president, while another will go back to serving with Clinton in the Senate. Perhaps that’s why McCain is being so complimentary to her now–he figures she can remind him where things are in the Capitol once he gets back there. 

Posted in Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »