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 ‘death penalty’

Economic health and inhuman services: Thanks to money woes, death may take a holiday

Posted by James McPherson on March 2, 2009

Mixed with all the bad economic news, a bit of good: the expense of killing someone may actually force states to put the death penalty on hold. As with much else in America, the decision to take capital punishment off the books comes down to money rather than any of the factors that should have ended it long ago, such as:

  • the fact that revenge killing is a barbaric practice that has been eliminated by the rest of the civilized world (why liberals might oppose it);
  •  the fact that it puts the power to decide life and death in the hands of state employees (why conservatives, who don’t trust government to handle even their money, should oppose it);
  • and the fact that we KNOW that bad eyewitness testimony and other factors have put innocent people (virtually always men of color) on death row (why everyone should oppose it).

Yet we still execute people here, even justifying it under religious pretexts. I’d be willing to be that many of the “pro-life” folks gearing up to oppose the appointment of Kathleen Sebelius as new secretary of Health and Services are all in favor of ending the lives of those who most scare them. And by the way, I do get it–I agree that there are people who deserve to die, even people that I might be willing to kill myself. That doesn’t mean that you should be willing to grant me the right to bump them off, and I’m certainly not willing to grant that right to you.

Another economic side note, which might irritate those who are suffering the losses or potential losses of jobs and homes, or those heavily invested in the stock market: CNN reports that  gadget-hungry folks are among those forced to change their habits because of the economy. Wah and boo-hoo. Still, as the story also points out, that the new buying habits affect the ability of gadget makers and sellers to stay in business, potentially putting more people on the street.

On the other hand, one bit of good news about having to postpose the buying of a new big-screen TV: If things continue at the current rate, you may soon be able to pick up a new one while looting after everything collapses–assuming you have the gas to get it home and the electricity to operate it.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Six more religious questions for McCain and Obama

Posted by James McPherson on August 18, 2008

In my view, John McCain and Barack Obama both did OK in their Saturday night back-to-back discussions with Rev. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church. McCain did better than I expected and probably came out a bit ahead.

McCain did so well, in fact, that some critics thought he must have had the questions ahead of time. Despite Warren’s assurrences (and apparent belief), McCain and/or his key staffers may in fact have heard most of Obama’s interview, since McCain was in a car with staffers rather than locked away in a soundproof room during that time.

Still, though I have decreasing regard for McCain’s honesty, I doubt that he needed to cheat. His answers were shorter and more direct, and he came across as more focused, largely because he used most of the questions–as good candidates do during what has come to pass for political “debates“–as opportunities to regurgitate his stump speech. He said almost nothing that regular watchers of politics hadn’t heard repeatedly, but his answers did play to much of the Saddleback audience.

Obama’s longer, more conversational and less focused answers weren’t helped by Warren’s repeated interjections of “uh huh,” but the pastor was clearly nervous at the beginning and got better as the evening went on. Obama gave the worst answer of the night (about when life begins), with McCain’s answer about what qualifies a person as financially rich the second-worst. Neither candidate made a huge gaffe, though it remains to be seen which segments will be most heavily viewed as out-of-context YouTube videos. McCain also benefited from getting to go last (ask Shawn Johnson and Sandra Izbasa if that matters).

In truth, however, I doubt that the discussion will have much of an effect on anything. Given a choice of a religious/political discussion on a Saturday night in August, most of the relatively few people who were home watching television were tuned to the Olympics. McCain was going to get the conservative evangelical vote, anyway, though he may have boosted his credibility with the folks he once termed “agents of intolerance.” Obama may have countered the ongoing fiction that he is a Muslim, though the people stupid enough to believe that may not be able to figure out how to vote, anyway–and if they do, they weren’t going to vote for Obama.

I am a bit troubled that the candidates felt they needed to attend a church-sponsored discussion at all, a further complication of what I see as an often negative relationship between religion and presidential politics. It would bother me less if the candidates felt equally compelled to answer questions from a union leader, a state governor, the mayor of a major American city (New Orleans or New York, perhaps?), a panel of teachers and parents, and a panel of economists.

And though I think Warren did a decent job, he failed to ask a few questions that I would have in a forum such as this one. Though I likely will never see them answered by the candidates, I’ll post a half-dozen of those questions here:

  1. Catholics who practice birth control or have abortions sometimes are criticized for hypocrisy because they act in opposition to what the pope has professed. Since the leadership of every major religious denomination in the United States opposed the Iraq War, does that suggest hypocrisy among those churchgoers who favored the war–including President Bush and those in Congress?
  2. What is or should be the role of a church denomination’s leadership, for you and for Christians in general?
  3. Catholics make up roughly a quarter of the U.S. population,  and Jews only about 2 percent. Since five of nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic and two are Jewish, isn’t the court seriously out of balance?
  4. How do your views of the death penalty correspond with your Christian faith?
  5. As president, you are expected to represent the entire nation. Name one Muslim and one atheist whom you count among your friends and advisors.
  6. Discuss your views of evolution and “intelligent design,” and how you feel they should be taught in public schools.

Posted in Education, Legal issues, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Supreme Court OKs home executions

Posted by James McPherson on June 26, 2008

OK, that’s not quite true. The court did say that child rapists can’t be executed by the state, but that the victim can have ready access to the firearms necessary to kill the perpetrator him/herself.

The justices may want to avoid Cordova, Alaska, though–I suspect that almost everyone there already owns a gun.

Posted in Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »