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.

  • Archives

  • June 2021
    S M T W T F S
     12345
    6789101112
    13141516171819
    20212223242526
    27282930  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Posts Tagged ‘David Letterman’

Valuable lessons on ‘whom you know’ and on being in the right place at the right time in NY and DC

Posted by James McPherson on January 18, 2009

I’ve been blogging less than usual the past week or so for three reasons: because of various technology issues, because other parts of the program are keeping me busy, and because I’d rather you spend some of your free blogging moments checking out the class blog (including photos and video) for the program I’m now leading on the East Coast.

The group arrived in Washington, D.C., yesterday, and if you’ve been following their class blog you know they’ve met some interesting people and have learned some things (as have I). And despite the inconveniences of a visit from mice in New York, a broken heater here (in the women’s room in both cases), and some minor transportation issues, the students have had valuable experiences that have gone far beyond walking most of Manhattan, shopping, eating prodigious quantities of pizza and ice cream, passing Barack Obama’s train on the way from New York to Washington, and beating their professor at pool.

Perhaps most significantly, students have learned two of the most important things about how the world works, things that have little to do with the traditional education that universities typically provide.

The first of those lessons is that it really is often true that whom you know matters more than what you know. We’ve met a couple of people with great media jobs who had no formal training for those jobs, but got them largely as a result of personal contacts.

Of course the lucky recipients of those jobs had to prove themselves capable of doing the work, but the fact is that most of the six billion people on the planet–including many, many folks more initially qualified for the positions–had no chance of getting those jobs.

Most of us in our group will go to the Inauguration on Tuesday as part of the mob (which as a people-watcher with a journalistic mind I’m actually looking forward to), but three students managed to wrangle tickets thanks to a mother’s connections with a Congressman. Other connections–mine, those of colleagues, and in at least one case those of a student–also helped us get meetings with several of the great media sources we’re meeting with on this trip.

And of course all of us can cite examples (even if the meritocracy-preaching fortunate such as Supreme Court justice and affirmative action beneficiary Clarence Thomas sometimes ignore them) in which family connections or even seemingly minor incidental contacts have led to jobs.

Frankly, part of the reason I have the job I do is that I met a current department colleague while we coincidentally shared an airport shuttle in New Orleans a year earlier. In addition, I was invited to write both of my books (and several other chapters and articles) as a direct result of contacts made through the American Journalism Historians Association.

The second key lesson students have learned is that being in the right place at the right time can matter a lot. Students took in a church service at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem last Sunday, only to find that the day’s surprise guest preacher was Jesse Jackson.

An incidental contact led to two other students getting to see Conan O’Brien’s program, and because I was in the right place at the right time, I was offered two free tickets to see David Letterman last week–and am still getting grief from students because I turned the tickets down due to a conflict with one of our already scheduled class meetings.

In a terrible media market (something of which the experts we’ve been meeting keep reminding us) amid a collapsing national economy, it might be easy for students to become disheartened. Knowing that they spend most of their time in Spokane, Wash., where the “right people” rarely hang out, and knowing that most of them don’t have the kind of connections that will get them easy access to the jobs they want, has provided further moments of discouragement.

At the same time, rather than becoming depressed, Whitworth University journalism students have actively sought out the people and ways to make themselves more marketable. One is doing an impressive blog about the state of the industry, and used an independent study to create and develop the blog and to discuss key related issues with a number of media professionals.

Our journalism students attend national conventions and take part in programs like this one to further enhance their chances of making the right connections. Our department requires students to complete internships, and at least four of the student journalists on this trip have already worked for newspapers or television stations.

All of the student journalists with me work for the student newspaper (comprising most of the editorial staff) and/or radio station, and a couple are discussing adding a Web “television” station linked to the newspaper site.

Last night I went to bed thinking that four students were  staying up to play cards. Instead, the three who were already bloggers helped the fourth start a blog of her own, and the two with Twitter accounts helped the other two set up accounts.

Other media-related activities not formally part of the class, but which have been undertaken by students on this trip, have included seeking and getting enhanced training at College Publisher (which hosts the Whitworth student newspaper Web site), getting up early to visit “Good Morning America,” and taking in a taping of Sean Hannity’s show, in addition to the O’Brien experience.

Even more impressive, a group of a dozen students have asked me to oversee an independent study related to new media technology during the upcoming semester. A normal independent study involves one or two students working on something not covered by traditional classes, but in this case a dozen students have agreed to show up twice a week to teach each other more of the skills that might enhance their job prospects.

Though the university will provide a computer lab for a couple of hours a week in this case, professors are not paid for overseeing independent study programs of any size. We do it because we love to see and encourage enthusiasm about learning, and because such programs teach us more about things we also care about.

In this case, I’ll sit in with the students and let them teach me some technical skills that I can then share with even more students in the future. The students are amazing in their efforts to enhance their education–but the school and I are getting the better deal.

And so will future employers, should they be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to get to know these students.

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

Two days in ‘the Greatest City in the World’

Posted by James McPherson on January 11, 2009

Since 9/11, every episode of “The Late Show with David Letterman” has started with a reference to that slogan, “the Greatest City in the World.” I’m not sure I buy that–“greatest” is one of those phrases so common to advertising because it’s impossible to quantify–but New York is a very cool place.

Students are already picking up some interesting insights from their time here–check out their “Media Impact” blog, linked under “Students and Friends” at the right side of this page. (I’d embed the link, but the hostel computer system isn’t very link-friendly.)

We have the weekend off, and some of us spent most of yesterday at the Met after a walk across Central Park. Others made a quick visit there, then went on to Staten Island, Brooklyn, West Point and/or Times Square. We also had snow that remains on the ground today–though nothing compared to what we left in Spokane.

Today some of us are hitting the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero. Then for the rest of the week it’s back to work, meeting with media leaders. Tomorrow we’ll visit with The Onion and Channel 13, where Bill Moyers does his show.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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 »

McCain continues ‘suspended’ campaign

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2008

Though John McCain announced yesterday that he was suspending his political campaign to go where he was neither wanted nor needed, to join a process where he has relatively little knowledge and even less influence, he and his surrogates are apparently trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

They say they won’t campaign, but then do it, anyway. Both McCain and Sarah Palin submitted to interviews with CBS, and McCain even tried to bring a campaign staffer to his meeting/photo op at the White House today. By contrast, Barack Obama, who made no pretense of being unable to do two things at once, was taking along just a Senate staffer.

McCain ditched (and apparently lied to) David Letterman to talk to Couric, prompting one publication to recall earlier comments about why he liked to appear on Letterman’s show: “One reason I like to go on those shows, particularly ones like Leno or Letterman, is that they help you reach a wide viewing audience that otherwise would not be paying attention to the political scene—people who would never be exposed to the Sunday-morning shows or other programs that politicians are traditionally on.”

Not only have McCain and Sarah Palin largely avoiding the media (the CBS interviews providing rare exceptions), they apparently aren’t talking enough to each other. Last night Palin did her third interview since becoming the VP nominee, and it’s hard to believe she couldn’t be more specific about something her party’s presidential nominee has done (especially since her major point seemed to be to criticize Barack Obama’s lack of specifics).

I’ve posted much of the Palin interview below–the most enlightening (and perhaps the scariest) part comes at the end of the clip, with this response to a question about specific McCain actions regarding economic oversight: “I’ll try to find some and I’ll bring ’em to ya.” Below that is a clip of last night’s David Letterman highlights.

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

McCain’s ‘no-talk express’ going where unwanted to avoid rough road

Posted by James McPherson on September 24, 2008

John McCain has spent much of his time the past couple of weeks trying to overcome his comments about “not knowing much about the economy” and–on the day the current meltdown began–about “the fundamentals” of the economy being strong. The Huffington Post’s Bob Cesca today humorously wrote that McCain’s “very serious and mavericky campaign strategy can be described in four simple words: Blurt Out Random Crap.”

Even conservative intellectual George Will has compared McCain to a “flustered rookie playing in a league too high” and Alice in Wonderland’s decapitation-happy Queen of Hearts. This week Will called McCain’s behavior “childish” while noting: “For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are ‘corrupt’ or ‘betray the public’s trust,’ two categories that seem to be exhaustive–there are no other people.”

Now, despite the fact that he has had 26 years in Congress to try to help avoid the economic mess, McCain today suspended his campaign “to help negotiate a Wall Street bailout“–prompting David Letterman of all people (and doesn’t it get a bit frustrating having so much of the most relevant political commentary coming from late-night comedians?) to comment: “You don’t suspend your campaign. This doesn’t smell right. This isn’t the way a tested hero behaves.”

It seems to me that McCain recognizes that the electoral tide seems to be going against him, and he is again grasping at straws. After all, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already said McCain’s presence would be more of a hindrance than a help. That’s assuming McCain can still find the Senate–keep in mind that this is the same guy who hasn’t cast a vote in Senate since April 8. He couldn’t even show up to vote for a Medicare bill for which even a cancer-stricken Ted Kennedy appeared.

In addition to suspending his campaign, McCain called for a postponement of his scheduled Friday night presidential debate with Barack Obama–and the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and the suddenly helpless Sarah Palin, though Obama and debate organizers said the presidential debate, at least, would go on with or without the GOP nominee.

McCain also cancelled tonight’s appearance with Letterman. He bailed out despite the fact that the two men were in the same city (he apparently ditched Letterman for Katie Couric), and this might have been an opportunity for someone who wanted to act presidential to calm people’s fears–apparently prompting Letterman to comment, “What are you going to do if you’re elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We’ve got a guy like that now.” Incidentally, McCain was replaced on Letterman’s show by liberal MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann, who, oddly, might be the only person in America left who could generate sympathy for the GOP nominee.

My recommendation for when McCain should start his campaign back up: Nov. 5. After all, he’ll only be 76 for the 2012 election, he’ll have four more years to brush up on the economy (our woes probably won’t be close to over by then) and Palin will have four more years of moose-hunting experience–maybe enough time to work in a couple of press conferences and half a dozen media interviews.

Same night update: McCain’s odd “financial crisis timeline,” including an apparent visit with millionairess “financial advisor” Lynn Forester de Rothschild.

Friday update: The tide continues to rise for the McCain campaign. Today conservative columnist Kathleen Parker calls for Palin to step down because she is “clearly out of her league.” One of the most damning quotes: If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.”

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