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 ‘CBS’

Howard Kurtz and the Democratic National Convention

Posted by James McPherson on August 25, 2008

“Four years ago in Boston, a young state senator named Barack Obama took the convention by storm with a rousing speech about unity and hope, an oration without which it is hard to imagine that he would be accepting the nomination this week. Neither ABC, NBC nor CBS carried it.”

Those lines are from a column today by Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, and of course I’ve agreed with the assessment that the speech helped launch Obama’s candidacy, comparing it to Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech for Barry Goldwater 40 years earlier.

Kurtz also offers much else, discussing the “newsworthiness” of political conventions, how the networks will cover the Democratic National Convention that starts today (CNN may have the best pictures), the coverage of John Edwards’ affair, Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as running mate, and Tom Brokaw’s contention that Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews have gone “too far” in their biased commentary during the presidential campaign.

The column doesn’t mention Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show,” which probably will offer some of the sharpest insights (mixed, unfortunately, with often sophomoric wit) about the convention.

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

The benefits of Chinese Rolexes, moving pyramids and expandable breasts

Posted by James McPherson on August 12, 2008

Politicians lie, and as long as the falsehoods come from the ones we like, we accept them gladly. If it’s our own candidate spinning the yarn, we adhere to the Fleetwood Mac strategy: “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.”

Iran recently used Photoshop to lie about a missile launch. China now admits faking its Olympics fireworks display, which seems a bit odd considering that fireworks would seem to be the last thing China would have to fake. What’s next–we find out the Giant Pandas are really Disney-style animatrons, or that the 360-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir is bulking up its performances with extra taped voices?

Still, even the fireworks deception is not a huge surprise. For one thing, China has long been known as a great place for fakes: Rolexes, designer clothing, DVDs, etc. For another thing, especially when it comes to the media, real just isn’t real enough.

While we overlook political falsehoods, we are more upset (and should be) because we all know the media lie (the problem is, we typically don’t know when). They may be lying now, in a sense, to make the presidential race appear closer than it is. Magazines airbrush every model, deleting acne and often enlarging breasts. National Geographic moved a pyramid, and CBS digitally dovered up an NBC logo with its own. (See a great range of such lies, with photo examples, here and here.) Smut peddlers use the same techniques to create fake pornographic images of movie stars and–more troubling from both ethical and legal perspectives–children.

But with the exception of the last example, one might ask, “so what?” After all, we are a nation of liars. We can’t seem to help ourselves. The biggest problem isn’t that people lie to us, in my view. A more serious problem is that we cannot recognize lying when we encounter it.

An excellent Columbia Journalism Review book review of Farhad Manjoo’s latest book, True Enough: How to Live in a Post-Fact Society, summarizes how Manjoo discovers and points out that thanks to “selective perception” we are largely incapable of distingishing truth from fiction. We all have our own “facts,” and we’re sticking to them.

That inability to discern truth from falsehood is perhaps the best reason for a liberal arts education, or at least a few classes in logic and media literacy. Since most Americans will get none of those, however, perhaps we should be thankful for the obvious prevalence of lying. As we increasingly encounter falsehood, recognizing that it comes from all angles, perhaps health skepticism will increase.

Trusting nothing is a start, better than trusting everything or better than trusting a select few media sources. Learning what to trust, and why, is a goal worth striving toward. No lie.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

What McCain might say to news media: “Who do you think you’re foolin’? Love me like Barack”

Posted by James McPherson on July 21, 2008

I said a couple of days ago that the primary benefit of Barack Obama’s ongoing tour of the Middle East and Europe would be the media attention he would get. Even I have been surprised at the extent of that coverage, however, and how much easier it has been for Obama to get positive coverage than long-time media darling John McCain.

McCain, used to winning adoration from the media with semi-coherent “straight talk,” has to be shocked. Even Lou “illegal-aliens-are-out-to-kill-us-all” Dobbs paused from his nightly xenophobia for a few moments to complain about how uneven the coverage of the two candidates has become, and has a poll on his Web site asking, “Do you believe the national media is biased in favor of Sen. Barack Obama?” Of 7,879 respondents when I checked, 74 percent said yes. Obviously the poll has problems, both in the language of the question (Why not ask, “Do you believe the national media is biased in favor of Sen. Barack Obama?”), and in the fact that the only people who will see the poll likely are already mostly Dobbs fans (though it’s tough for me to believe that he has almost 8,000 fans), but Obama clearly is getting most of the attention.

All three network anchors are on the Barack-and-roll world tour, and all three networks are boasting about having “exclusive interviews” with the candidate. One wonders at the value of exclusivity when all three will likely ask the same kinds of questions–and the same questions they could ask Obama at home–but the Obama campaign is so far mostly hitting the right media notes.

Meanwhile, all McCain and his surrogates can do is to try to avoid attention-getting gaffes while taking potshots from afar and hoping something sticks. “If Barack Obama’s policy in Iraq had been implemented, he couldn’t be in Iraq today,” Joe Lieberman says. That may be true, of course. It’s definitely true that if Obama’s opposition to the war had been heeded, thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis wouldn’t have died there during the past five years.

McCain’s people have gone so far as to float the possibility that he will name his running mate this week. That would be a mistake, in my view, but it wouldn’t be the first poorly timed McCain event during this campaign. Still, I think such an announcement is unlikely.

One warning for the networks: Part of the reason the Democratic primary race may have lasted as long as it did was because many people who otherwise would not have been Hillary Clinton fans grew disgusted with how poorly the news media treated her while fawning over Obama. In coming weeks, McCain may benefit from the same kind of backlash.

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