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 ‘Civil War’

The coming U.S. civil war

Posted by James McPherson on April 28, 2012

“I fear we are headed for another civil war in this country,” wrote the author of a letter in my morning paper yesterday. I sighed audibly. That again?

I’ve been reading about the possibility of “Civil War II” at least since Obama was elected president–usually on blogs (other examples here, here, here)  or on YouTube, often in the form of prediction, sometime expressed hopefully. Sometimes I used to reply, “So who do you see as the ‘sides’ in this imaginary civil war?” I never got a good answer, but the goofy intellectually lazy “threat” keeps popping up. Even since Glenn Beck, one-time king of the conspiracy loons, has slunk into near-oblivion.

Frankly, the idea of a new U.S. civil war is ludicrous. Of course I’m not talking about the assorted conspiracy nuts who claim that we’re already in a civil war, even if most of us don’t know it. Nor do I classify economic inequity (which may be every bit as deadly) or our current battles over social issues as true warfare, as some do.

Still, the tone of our politics has prompted even a few folks beyond the fearful or crazy cyberspace cadets to raise the idea of a new rootin’-tootin’-shootin’ civil war. A former national editor of politics for National Journal even did so last year in an interesting piece that makes some comparisons between 1861 and 2011. Still, to her credit, she doesn’t predict civil conflict and does write: “After all, at the heart of the Civil War was a great conflict over human bondage. By comparison, today’s debate between the Democrats and tea party Republicans seems, picayune.”

Uh, yeah. And that’s the key point. Those who talk about how “bad” things are now, how “divided” we are, seem to have forgotten their history (no big surprise there, considering how little of it journalists seem to know). Economic divisions were greater before and during our two Great Depressions. Political divisions were wider in the 1950s and 1960s, with battles–some bloody–over civil rights and the Vietnam War. And Americans were far more willing to die for causes during our two world wars.

In fact, even if most of us could figure out who the two “sides” would be–keeping in mind that most Americans agree on more than they disagree about–the vast majority of Americans today lack the desperation (fortunately), the energy (unfortunately) or the focus (sadly) for any “war” that goes beyond words. Especially when those words tend to be regurgitated talking points of the far left and the far right, as relevant to most people as back-seat cup holders were for Mitt Romney’s Irish Setter.

It is true that people will continue to bicker, and some, like Beck, will take advantage of the rhetoric to enrich themselves or to incite others to acts of violence. Congress will continue to dither and achieve little, and Americans will keep dying needlessly.

But those Americans will die because of a pitiful health care system and stupid wars abroad, not because of a civil war at home.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 41 Comments »

Colorado Rocky Mountain sigh

Posted by James McPherson on February 27, 2009

Colorado saw two potential major changes today in media. One is sad and a reflection of many current media problems that bode ill for all of us. The other is overdue, and doesn’t yet go far enough.

First, the sad: The Rocky Mountain News, which began publication as Colorado’s first newspaper in 1859, put out its final issue today. You can see the final front page here:

final-rocky-mtn-news

Rocky” won four Pulitzer Prizes in its history, the last of those for a photographer who helped produce best multimedia presentation I’ve ever seen about the human cost of war. The newspaper’s history, of course, began before the war that claimed the most American lives and probably the nation’s best president.

Now the newspaper shuts its doors during our most fiscally expensive war ever, and just after the departure of a commander in chief whom I think is destined to be ranked as one of the nation’s worst presidents (I will agree with George W. Bush, however, that it’s too early to rank him in historical terms).

Denver will now be like most American cities, a one-newspaper town (not counting free weeklies or suburban papers, which have different roles). The Rocky Mountain News was killed by the same thing that is killing and crippling newspapers (and now local television stations–I was interviewed on that topic by a wire service yesterday) all over the country: higher costs and lower revenues. One of my students has produced a blog that has chronicled many of the problems.

Ironically, as several media professionals pointed out to a group of students I took to New York and Washington, D.C., in January, the demand for news remains as high as ever. The problem is that people want to read (and now watch) the news on their own schedule, from a variety of sources, without paying anything for it. Few consider or care that the “free” news they read is subsidized by subscribers and advertisers for the non-web versions of those same media outlets. When the major newspapers and broadcast stations die, their web operations die, too. (For example, I have no idea whether some of the links above will work after today.)

The result of fewer and smaller newspapers is less potential oversight. We can’t go to all of the city council and county commission meetings and legislative hearings, even if we want to. We don’t have the time or knowledge to investigate unsafe business practices, government corruption, or the best and worst hospitals and schools. Increasingly we find that there’s no one else to do it for us, either.

Our own voice also shrinks, as newspapers disappear. I occasionally write letters to my local paper. More people will read that letter than will come to this blog in the course of an entire month.

Speaking of voices, that brings me to the second potential big media event in Colorado today: just potential, because James Dobson’s will not disappear from the airwaves right away, but he is stepping down as chairman of Focus on the Family. As I’ve written previously, I don’t understand why Dobson has the following that he does, considering his lack of qualifications. I hope his retirement as chairman is just a first step in the fading from view of the neocon of child development.

Posted in History, Journalism, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »