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 ‘Daily Beast’

Culture warriors were dreaming of a really white Christmas; others get coal in their stockings

Posted by James McPherson on December 12, 2008

Writing for the Daily Beast, Max Blumental traces the idea of a “war on Christmas“–the bitter annual holiday tradition of right-wing moralists such as the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger, Utah Sen. Chris Buttars, several Fox News commentators, and Focus on the Family, which maintains a list of major retailers who prominently acknowledge” Christmas and those that have “apparently abandoned” the word–to former Fortune magazine editor, anti-immigrant, and perhaps anti-Semite Peter Brimelow.

Blumethal writes: “In his 1995 book, Alien Nation, Brimelow argued that the influx of ‘weird aliens with dubious habits’ from developing nations was eroding America’s white Christian ‘ethnic core,’ and in turn, sullying its cultural underpinnings. The War on Christmas was, in his view, a particularly pernicious iteration of the multicultural ‘struggle to abolish America.'”

For Bill O’Reilly this is the hap-happiest time of the year because he knows he’ll get to wade into a can’t-lose culture battle. He has repeatedly made the war on Christmas a central theme of his “talking points,” most recently on Dec. 3 and Dec. 5. Of course, the night after that last show, he referred to O.J. Simpson conviction as “karma,” not exactly a Christian term. One front of the war over (not “on,” in my view) Christmas (not the war that killed three people on “Black Friday”) is in my own state of Washingon, where atheists have been allowed to put up a sign near the capitol Christmas tree. Now someone wants to put up a “Festivus pole,” an invention of “Seinfeld.”

On an even weirder front, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Technology has put the holiday to its own use. As Rachel Maddow and others reported earlier this week, the group has put together a series of videos in which animated lumps of coal sing “carols”–changing the words to fit the coal message. Unfortunately, the ACCCT has removed the video from its site, but you can see a photo here:

cleancoal2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the Center for Media and Democracy’s Sheldon Rampton points out: “Some of the lyrics sung by the ‘Clean coal carolers’ might actually offend people who take Christmas seriously as a religious holiday. ‘Clean Coal Night,’ for example, uses the melody of ‘Silent Night’ but replaces the words, ‘Christ the savior is born’ with ‘Plenty of coal for years to come.”‘Similarly, the chorus praising Jesus in ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ is transformed from ‘Oh come let us adore him’ to ‘And we can count on clean coal.'” Citing O’Reilly’s annual rants about people using the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” Rampton writes, “Let’s see if O’Reilly even mentions the coal industry’s latest sacrilege.”

Clean coal actually is appropriate for the Christmas holiday, of course, because it has at least three things in common with another “weird alien with dubious habits [smoking a pipe, overeating, talking to animals, etc.]”: Santa Claus. Both Santa and clean coal make you feel warm and fuzzy, both end up in your chimney, and, most importantly, NEITHER IS REAL. Despite Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s kowtowing to the Pennsylvania and West Virginia coal industries, there is no such thing as “clean coal.”

Brimelow probably would be appalled by the Clean Coal Carolers. For one thing, all the singers are black. Of course, most of the 26,500 children under the age of 5 who will die on Christmas day also are black (and most of the rest are brown-skinned or Asian), as are the 26,500 who will die on Christmas Eve, and the equal numbers who will die every day from now through the forseeable future. Most of those children will die of things we could prevent today, if we had the will–things such as disease, starvation, bad water and war.

Put another way, a child under the age of 5 dies about every three seconds, about the same time it takes to say “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And until we dramatically improve that statistic, speaking as a Christian, I don’t really care what you call your damn tree.

Dec. 15 update: The state of Washington has put a moratorium on future displays.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The 3 E’s: education, economics and ethics

Posted by James McPherson on December 4, 2008

The lead news today continues to be about a possible government bailout of the Big Three auto makers, but frankly this week I’m more concerned about the long-term costs of another impending disaster for the U.S. economy.

Unless we fix some serious problems with our educational system, we won’t have people smart enough to design the cars of the future, or with jobs good enough to be able to afford those cars. And unless we start to pay some attention to how ethics in government, business and elsewhere are being internalized by our children (who, as George W. Bush would say, “is learning,” inside the classroom and out), we won’t be able to trust anything made or sold by an American graduate, anyway.

Though I teach at a highly ranked institution that boasts the smartest and most ethical students I’ve ever worked with, this has been a troubling week for news related to higher education. Tuition costs continue to rise, to the point where a study reported in yesterday’s New York Times predicts that college education may soon be unaffordable for those from the middle class (or what little remains of it) and below. Harvard, the school whose graduates we all most resent while we wish our own kids could get in there, saw its endowment drop by 22 percent in the first four months of the school year.

Maybe they can steal the tuition money. Another survey released this week shows that most high school students cheat–and about a third say they have stolen something from a store within the past year. Less surprising, is that more than 80 percent of public school and private religious schools admit lying to their parents about “something significant,” which prompts me to suspect that at least 10 percent lied about lying.

More troubling is that more than 90 percent of students surveyed reported being satisfied with their personal ethics (they may lie, cheat and steal, but they’re OK with it), with 59 percent agreeing that “In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.”

And then there’s this bit of trash: A supposed journalism student writing for “The Daily Beast” about her “sugar daddy” relationship. which she euphemistically calls “maybe even the distant cousin of—dare I say it?—prostitution.” (Yes, you may call it what it is.) She does offer a bit of good news for the reeling auto industry: “And the company car I drive costs him around $700 a month for the lease and the insurance.” She writes–as if she knows–that when the relationship is over, “I will part with a lifelong friend [Yeah, right; I see him on future guest list for her future wedding], a great career, and a killer wardrobe.”

Part of her justification is that “truth be told, women have used their wiles and charms to get ahead for years.” Perhaps. Students have also cheated for years (and with that in mind, maybe this “journalism student” is just spinning a provocative tale), and Americans in various business and government sectors have been ignoring negative economic indicators for years.

But as Dr. Phil might say, were he treating the nation as a sobbing, overweight, somewhat dim TV “client”: “How’s that working for you?

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