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 ‘David Brooks’

Juan gone: NPR, Fox and ‘news analysis’

Posted by James McPherson on October 21, 2010

National Public Radio has fired Juan Williams for making a remark that sounded too much like the only Jesse Jackson quote that conservatives like (well, maybe except this one).

I have mixed emotions about the firing, similar to those expressed by writers Glenn Greenwald and  Greg Sargent. But I also think it should never have come to this: NPR should have pushed Williams out long ago. After all, it’s not the first time he has been in trouble for comments on O’Reilly’s show.

Mostly, though, I’d have eased him out because I think his overall tone has changed over time to be more in line with Fox News/MSNBC-style “discussion” than with what his job was with NPR. After all, probably most people couldn’t name a regular commentator with NPR, while I think Williams likes being a celebrity.

Williams’ commentary in this case (and others) with Fox relied on personal feelings, rather than on political expertise. That made him inappropriate as a news commentator for NPR.

The Williams case also shows the difficulty of trying to be a rational and consistent commentator who works for markedly different audiences. One of my favorite conservatives, David Brooks, has the same problem.

By the way, I think CNN may have been trying to reclaim some NPR-style credibility with the firing of Rick Sanchez. But for the network that brought us Lou Dobbs and (via CNN Headline News) Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace, it’s probably too late.

Next day update: Williams defends his comments on Fox. His essay doesn’t change my mind, but it does illustrate some other key diversity-related problem similar to what I’ve discussed previously.

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

Funny Friday: Something to cheer up Sarah Palin

Posted by James McPherson on October 17, 2008

Sarah Palin’s staff and the Secret Service apparently not only keep her away from news people (with supporters willing to go so far as to assault reporters), staffers also keep her away from the news, so she won’t become too depressed. So just for Palin (who tomorrow will try for some laughs of her own on “Saturday Night Live“), below I’ll offer videos from Barack Obama and John McCain at last night’s Al Smith dinner. Both men were funny, and showed American politics as it can be, tough but respectful.

Fortunately for the Democrats, we haven’t seen nearly as much of the Smith Dinner/David Letterman McCain during this campaign as we’ve seen of the mudthrowing McCain. If we had seen more of the kindler, gentler McCain, conservative columnist David Brooks wouldn’t be comparing Obama positively with Ronald Reagan and FDR (for different reasons than mine months ago when I compared Obama  to Reagan and Barry Goldwater), and the race would be much closer.

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

More conservative disarray: National Review loses founder’s son

Posted by James McPherson on October 14, 2008

After endorsing Barack Obama in a piece titled, “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama,” Christopher Buckley felt compelled to leave the National Review, perhaps still the best conservative magazine in American despite its unfortunate descent into neoconservatism. Buckley’s endorsement and resulting departure are most noteworthy, of course, because “Dad” in this case founded the National Review at the remarkably tender age of 29.

Indeed, William F. Buckley was one of the founders of the modern conservative movement, and as such gets a fair amount of ink in my new book. As the younger Buckley points out, “The only reason my vote would be of any interest to anyone is that my last name happens to be Buckley—a name I inherited.”

There’s another reason to be interested in Buckley’s vote, however: because he is the latest in a line of conservative intellectuals to jump from the sinking McCain/Palin ship. Much of the blame is directed a Sarah Palin, about whom George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum and Ross Douthat all have expressed reservations. David Brooks has called her a “fatal cancer” for the Republicans. Kathleen Parker has called on her to drop out of the race, prompting conservative critics to call her a traitor and an idiot whose “mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn’t, I should ‘off’ myself.” Gotta love those family values.

On the other had, though it seems fairly clear that unless something dramatic and unexpected happens McCain will lose by a significant margin, it is worth remembering that many conservatives warned before the nomination that McCain “couldn’t win” the general election. My own suggestion back in June that McCain pick Palin as a running mate now looks a bit silly, though at least I can argue that I only spent a couple of hours on researching the issue and didn’t have a staff or tons of campaign funds to vet her (assuming the McCain camp did so). Still, Palin’s pick did energize the conservative base, and gave McCain a boost that perhaps no one else would have. Had he picked someone else, he might have been this far behind even sooner.

And did you notice that the day after Obama offered his economic plan and the stock market soared, McCain offered his plan this morning and the Dow fell by 302 points to close 76 points lower than where it started the day? Just coincidence, I’m sure. And the one argument that many conservatives have been trying to make, about Obama’s “associations,” may have taken a serious hit with today’s Huffington Post revelation that McCain’s presidential transition chief was a lobbyist for Saddam Hussein.

By the way, unlike some of my liberal friends, I don’t consider the term “conservative intellectual” to be an oxymoron–at least not yet, though Brooks is among those who points out that we may be headed that direction, noting, “What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole.” Brooks also notes accurately that the anti-intellectual conservative criticism of virtually all educated groups–journalists, educators, doctors, lawyers–gives young conservatives little incentive to enter those professions.

I would argue that other factors such as more education, a higher regard for public service, and less regard for personal wealth contribute more to the more relative (though far from absolute) scarcity of conservatives in journalism and education, but Brooks’ central point remains valid–if you favor leadership by stupid people, you’re more likely to get stupid policies.

Incidentally, the erudite William F. Buckley–who held relatively little regard for neoconservatives and once suggested that George W. Bush should resign over his inept foreign policy–would have made the same argument. With Buckley’s wit and wisdom, I wouldn’t put it past him to have died earlier this year just to avoid having to endorse Obama himself.

Saturday update: In her Wall Street Journal column, former Reagan staffer Peggy Noonan writes: “In the end, the Palin candidacy is a sympton and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It’s no good, not for politics and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.” Noonan said she expects criticism from the same anti-intellectual conservatives who have attacked Buckley, adding, “At any rate, come and get me, copper.”

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

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 »

Lying politicians

Posted by James McPherson on June 22, 2008

You may think that headline is the opposite of an oxymoron–so obvious as to be not worth stating. If so, you’re right; more on that in a moment.

David Brooks and others are beside themselves over Barack Obama’s change of heart–or lie–about accepting public financing. Of course, though I happen to think Brooks is a decent guy (and Slate magazine has called him “America’s one genuinely likable conservative”), he probably should be the last person to complain about inconsistency, based on his own record.

The point remains, however, that Obama flipflopped. He said he would accept public financing, then–when it was clear that he would raise a ton of money and be able to vastly outspend John McCain–Obama raise the spectre of conservative 527’s (think Swift Boats) expected to help McCain and declared that he would not accept it, after all. Personally, though I wish Obama hadn’t made the original pledge, I think a president who can change his mind when faced with new information is a good thing.

As several columnists and bloggers have noted, campaign financing is not the sort of issue that most voters are likely notice or care much about (especially this early in the campaign season). Brooks even suggests that the reversal indicates that Obama is “the most effectively political creature we’ve seen in decades” who boasts a necessary tough side that critics sometimes overlook: “Global affairs ain’t beanbag. If we’re going to have a president who is going to go toe to toe with the likes of Vladimir Putin, maybe it is better that he should have a ruthlessly opportunist Fast Eddie Obama lurking inside.”

McCain also has been crying foul, but of course he has flip-flopped on taxes and energy policy–two issues that voters do care about–and therefore has little room to complain. Besides, even if Obama “lied” (knowing that he would change positions if conditions changed), that merely puts him in good company. Almost all politicians lie (like most of the rest of us, for that matter). And presidents certainly do, as illustrated in Eric Alterman’s book When Presidents Lie, which my sister gave me for Christmas.

Alterman’s last chapter is titled “George Bush and the Post-Truth Presidency.” In fact, either Obama or McCain would have difficulty catching up with the lies of the current president, who seems bound to one day end up on this ignoble list.

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