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 ‘Chris Matthews’

No news is bad news: Read this, and then pick up a newspaper

Posted by James McPherson on March 23, 2009

One sign indicating the seriousness of so many failing newspapers is the number of seeming competitors that are bemoaning the passing of those papers.

CNN is doing it today. Time did it last month, in a story titled “What happens when a town loses its newspaper?” Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has done it. Chris Matthews did yesterday, recalling his days as a delivery boy and concluding the segment by showing how to fold a newspaper for throwing and then hurling it at the camera.

A site titled “Newspaper Death Watch” keeps track of the metropolitan dailies that fold. Just over a dozen such papers have gone under in since last March, with more to come. One of my students (for whom it matters even more, since she is about to graduate and will need a job) and many others also are keeping track of the morbid and apparently endless decline.

“A century ago, 689 cities in the United States had competing daily newspapers,” Princeton University researchers recently noted. “At the start of this year, only about 15 did, but one of those has already lost its second newspaper and two more will likely become one-paper towns within days.”

Yet frequently when I (or others, with much bigger audiences) complain about the state of the media someone–usually a young person who doesn’t read a newspaper–asks why we should care. After all, there’s lots of news online, right?

This flawed thinking is in itself an obvious sign of the costs, which include, to use a favorite phrase of one of my regular commenters and others, the “dumbing down” of America. (In fact we may not be getting dumber, but despite an explosion of types of available media, neither are we getting smarter). And though I have written about the issue previously here  (including in response to comments) and elsewhere–all the new attention to the problem seems to warrant further discussion.

Actually Time did a good job of discussing some of the problems, citing the Princeton University study that found (as I also have noted) that the loss of a newspaper is bad for democracy. Voter turnout drops. Fewer people run for office. Incumbents, who rarely lose anyway, are re-elected at even higher rates (so perhaps Democrats should be hoping for more newspaper deaths).

The fact that most people got most of their political news before the last election from cable television–the likes of MSNBC and Fox News–also helps indicate why electoral knowledge is weak. At least one study has shown, as I’ve written elsewhere, that increased watching of Fox may actually make people less informed; I suspect the same is now true of MSNBC.

Relying on a single source for news is invariably a bad idea, which is why we should worry even though most of the newspapers now going out of business are in cities with other newspapers. Lack of competition creates complacency, and encourages the remaining survivor to do what’s easy and cheap–as my own local daily has become too accustomed to doing.

Some news organizations, including U.S. News & World Report, the Christian Science Monitor and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have gone online only, typically making deep staff cuts while shifting to a format that many Americans can’t or won’t use (though newspapers have for some time also neglected to serve wide segments of the population that seem unlikely to appeal to many advertisers).

Besides, those who point out that they can get their news from the Internet often neglect to notice that almost all of their favorite news sites–and by far the most accurate and useful sites–come from mainstream news organizations where web operations are being heavily subsidized (monetarily and in terms of content) by the traditional newspaper or broadcast operations.

In addition, the typical web-only reader tends to neglect local community news–about city hall, local schools, etc.–which happens to be the level of government where most citizens could have the most influence. As I’ve noted before, you have a far greater chance of being struck by lightning than you have of affecting a presidential election with your vote. But you can affect the course of your school district, and therefore the education of your kids.

Because no one has yet figured out a way to adequately “monetize the web” (to use a phrase students and I heard repeatedly in January from media leaders in New York and Washington, D.C.)  when traditional news sources disappear, their web presence also often disappears (or is dramatically reduced) along with them.

Despite the optimism of some (including some former journalists), if that happens then at least some of our ability to govern ourselves will go, too.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Headaches, hot air and hell on earth

Posted by James McPherson on March 10, 2009

Another sign that I may pay too much attention to politics and media: CNN this morning carries the headline, “Hot air linked to heachaches, but how?” and I immediately think of the pain in my temples caused by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews and Lou Dobbs.

Still, with what’s going on with housing, jobs, the stock market, the rest of the economy,  Iraq, Afghanistan and, face it,  the whole rest of the world, perhaps the wonder is that we don’t all have headaches all the time.

Of course one in seven women in England may have them more often than most of us, since that’s the number of people there who apparently think it’s OK to hit a woman who nags too much or dresses inappropriately. (Note to Ann Coulter: You may want to stay out of Great Britain.)

Greeted with the results of the survey, Rihanna and women in Saudi Arabia probably thought immediately, “Only one in seven?”

Thursday Rihanna update: Apparently she and her abuser, Chris Brown, have recorded a song together since getting back together. No details are available yet on the song title, though one logical remix possibility would include Ike and Tina Turner’s  “I’m Jealous” or “I’ve Been Loving You too Long” (with the final words, “Sock it to me”), which you can see below. When/if Rihanna gets her act together, she might look to this site for other possibilities.

Posted in Journalism, Music, Politics, Science, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

25 Democrats & 30 Republicans who should ‘go away’

Posted by James McPherson on December 6, 2008

Blogger Ben Cohen apparently got such an overwhelming response (with lots of hate mail) to a column titled “10 Republicans Who Should Go Away,” he has now offered a Democratic version.

The Democrats: Joe Lieberman, Mark Penn, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Chris Matthews, John Dingell, Robert Rubin, Steny Hoyer and Joe Lieberman (yes, Cohen hates Lieberman so much he put him on the list twice).

The Republicans: William Kristol, Sarah Palin, Michelle Malkin, Dick Morris, Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, Alan Greenspan, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and George Bush.

I would have rearranged the lists and bit and made a few changes, but having used this blog to criticize everyone on Cohen’s GOP list and almost everyone on the Democratic list (though often just through association, with such terms as “gutless Democratic Congress” (here, here, here and here), I can’t disagree much with Cohen’s rankings.

I might have put Lieberman on both lists, and can easily expand the Republican list to 30. Besides Lieberman, my list (alphabetically) might include Glenn Beck, Jerome Corsi, Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, James Dobson, Matt Drudge, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Nancy Grace, Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Miller, Rupert Murdoch, Darragh Murphy, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Pat Robertson, Karl Rove, Michael Savage and George Will.

The Democratic side is a little tougher for me to expand, perhaps in part because of personal bias but mostly because Dems haven’t had much power for quite a while. Still, even after eliminating the second mention of Lieberman, I can boost it to 25 by adding Bill Clinton, James Carville, John Edwards, Geraldine Ferraro, Al Franken, Christopher Hitchens, Jesse Jackson, Joe Klein,  Scott McClellan, Keith Olbermann, Ed Rendell, Randi Rhodes, Ed Schultz, Al Sharpton, Jerry Springer and Jeremiah Wright.

Cohen explains his reasons for each of his 19 nominees, though I won’t bother–other than to say the folks I’ve listed are among those who in my view have offered the least during the past year or so compared to the amount of visibility they’ve received. Obviously not all of those listed are formally affilitiated with the parties I’ve placed them with–but they might as well be.

Of course your picks might be different and others might be considered, including “Joe the Plumber,” “Obama girl,” and various filmmakers, political hacks, bloggers, and TV talking heads. And thankfully, many of those listed above are likely to disappear from public view in the near future, and from memory soon after.

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

MSNBC can’t out-Fox Fox, makes another course correction

Posted by James McPherson on September 8, 2008

Though it may be hard to believe for someone with a typical American attention span, not long ago MSNBC tried to be as conservative as Fox News. That strategy became particularly obvious when the network dumped Phil Donahue, blaming poor ratings despite the fact that his program was the most popular show on MSNBC, after he was deemed too liberal during the early stages of the Iraq War.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, MSNBC did have the popular Keith Olbermann as a token liberal but bracketed his show with programs hosted by conservatives Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson. Laura Ingraham once hosted an MSNBC program. So did conservative flamethrower Michael Savage, though he was fired for telling a gay caller: “Oh, you’re one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig.” Chris Matthews had a program, but was still in his kiss-up-to-anyone-in-power mode rather than the liberal stance he has since adopted.

After flailing along for period that unfortunately included the early part of the Iraq War, trying to out-Fox Fox, the network then decided to steer hard left, becoming the equally annoying liberal counterpoint to the ironically sloganed “fair and balanced” network. Ingraham was long gone, later to move to Fox. Carlson’s show was dropped. Scarborough was relegated to the early morning hours and election commentary, where he could be insulted by Olbermann.

Now MSNBC seems to be recognizing that its best news people are the ones who stay in the middle, and has demoted Olbermann and Matthews during election coverage. It’s probably too little too late. As for me, I’ll continue to watch them all at times, checking in on the zoos at MSNBC and Fox while putting the most faith in the coverage and commentary of PBS’s Jim Lehrer, Mark Shields and David Brooks.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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 »