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 ‘economic stimulus’

Optimistic groundhogs, governors and economists: Jindal’s losing presidential campaign to begin after Obama address

Posted by James McPherson on February 24, 2009

CNN reports that President Barack Obama will try to “mix sober talk with an upbeat bottom line” in an address to a joint session of Congress tonight. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been tapped to provide the GOP answer to Obama’s and thereby take another step toward launching his own losing 2012 presidential bid–assuming his speech tonight doesn’t kill his hopes by falling as flat as Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’s Democratic response to George Bush’s State of the Union Address back in January 2008 (a speech the dropped her from serious vice presidential hopeful to possible second or third choice for secretary of Health and Human Services).

Though it’s too early for presidential predictions, I don’t see how Jindal can win. He’ll either be seen as a GOP attempt to “copy” a successful Obama, and will therefore lose the general election to Obama, or, if Obama falters, Jindal will be rejected in the Republican primary because he reminds voters too much of Obama. We can’t know what Obama’s future will look like four years from now, but we can guess that Jindal’s doesn’t look good for 2012.

However positive Obama’s tone, the news he delivers tonight likely will make Punxsutawney Phil look like an raging optimist. After all, the groundhog predicted “only” six more weeks of winter. The economic winter will continue much longer (despite some optimistic predictions by economists), with the Dow yesterday falling to about half of its high point. All in all, Phil might have some good advice to Jindal: Keep your head down.

Incidentally, if you want to see where the stimulus money is scheduled to go, and when, the government has launched a new website, www.recovery.gov with a timeline. You can also read the entire bill for yourself, if you have the time and determination to get through it. One weird thing about Recovery.gov–after you click on a link to exit the site and read the bill, you’re greeted with a message saying, “Thank you for visiting our site. … We hope your visit was informative and enjoyable.”

Two things bug me about that message. First, it’s not “their” site; it’s ours. They work for us. Second, the visit is unlikely to be “enjoyable,” at least for anyone who isn’t getting a bunch of money in a hurry. For the record, I’m not. And probably you aren’t, either.

Next-day update: Maybe Jindal won’t be a candidate in 2012 after all, after last night’s dismal speech. But American attention spans are short, and he does have plenty of time to recover.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Stimulus prompts cartoonish monkey business

Posted by James McPherson on February 18, 2009

I haven’t understood why the story of a crazy chimpanzee has been worth days of coverage on virtually every news site. In fact, until today I had not read any of the stories, and have managed to tune out most of the television discussion of Gonzo Bonzo.

Now there’s another reason to hate the fact that the media have gone ape, so to speak, over the story: It helped prompt a cartoon that some perceive as racist, on the same day that attorney general Eric Holder calls the United States “a nation of cowards” on the issue of race. Ah, remember the good old days, when all we had to worry about with the attorney general was his unwillingness to follow the Constitution, and his inability to remember if he had followed it?

Syndicated columnist and regular TV talking head Roland Martin is among those now arguing that a New York Post cartoon offers a racist portrayal of Barack Obama. For its part, the Post, drawing international attention, pleads innocence. It claims that the dead stimulus-writing monkey in the cartoon simply represents the widely reported chimp gone crazy, which police shot and killed, while making fun of the flaws in the stimulus bill.

The Post argument would be more convincing if it weren’t known as a conservative anti-Obama newspaper. It also doesn’t help that today’s first story highlighted on the Post Web page is titled “From baby to beast,” while the second is headlined, “Bam’s $75B house call.” (The site also prominently carries a “pop video quiz” titled “Wet hot swimsuit models”–those conservatives do like their T & A.) And while the first complainant about the cartoon was publicity hound Al Sharpton (and no, Rev. Al, I’m not comparing African Americans to dogs), who would call someone a racist for commenting that a plane crash occurred on a dark night, Martin is not the same kind of loony that Sharpton is.

Even if we give the Post the benefit of the doubt–and I think that when it comes to matters of race we should be as gracious as possible in assuming the motives of others–we also shouldn’t automatically ignore the aggrieved parties, either. Regardless of any racist intent, the cartoon still represents a cluelessness on the part of the newspaper, because in fact African Americans have been negatively compared to apes throughout history. Not long ago a Voguemagazine cover featuring basketball star Lebron James drew similar criticism. Much longer ago, noted sportscaster Howard Cosell referred to black wide receiver Alvin Garrett as a “little monkey,” drawing considerable criticism (despite the fact that at one time Cosell may have been one of the best friends that black athletes–especially boxers, and especially Muhammad Ali–had in any press box).

Still, the racial aspect that probably bothers me most about this incident is one I’ve noted before, that any dead or missing little white girl or pretty white woman will get far more attention from the media than a missing or dead black or Latino child–and now it is clear that a dead chimpanzee can get more ink, as well.

Next-day update: The New York Times reports that even employees of the New York Postapparently are among those troubled by the cartoon, which ran one page after a large photo of Obama signing the stimulus photo. Ted Rall, president of the Association of Editorial Cartoonists also dislikes the cartoon, but not because he thinks it’s racist (he doesn’t). According to a Poynter piecewell worth reading, Rall calls the cartoon “a cheap form of editorial cartooning,” in which a not particularly ambition tries to combine two unrelated news events into a cartoon that is “rarely clever” and typically “doesn’t mean anything.”

Another cartoonist, Chip Bok, also didn’t consider the cartoon to be racist–just “in bad taste” because the chimp had seriously injured a woman. As Rall noted, however, there are almost no cartoonists who aren’t white men, so their depth of understanding as a group may be a bit limited.

Next day update #2: The Post now “apologizes for” and defends the cartoon, after singer John Legend urged people to boycott the newspaper.

The new cartoon, followed by the Labron Vogue cover and one of the comparisons from various sites:

monkey1

lebron21

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments »

Save the economy by ending welfare to Republicans

Posted by James McPherson on February 16, 2009

Democratic strategist Paul Begala, in a piece for CNN, offers a suggestion that if taken to its logical conclusion might actually save the American economy: We should stop giving away money to the people–generally Republicans–who say we should stop giving away money.

Begala specifically addresses Mark Sanford, a vocal critic of the economic stimulus plan despite the fact that he is the governor South Carolina, a state that has been “a ward of the federal goverment” probably since slavery ended there. The nonprofit Tax Foundation estimates that South Carolina takes in $1.35 for every dollar it pays in federal taxes. And though we might quibble about the exact numbers, there is no doubt that the states that are most heavily Republican tend to suck in money–or, as some conservatives might term it, to engage in theft–from more progressive states that pay more in federal taxes than they get back.

Besides South Carolina, the welfare queens include  the red or usually red states of Alaska (what, you let Sarah Palin convince you that the oil up there made that state self-reliant–ha!), Arizona (maybe John McCain should pay more taxes on his houses), Alabama, Arkansas, both Dakotas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

There also are a few Democratic states on the list, but then Democrats almost all favored the stimulus plan. It is true that the numbers are a few years old, so some of those states may now be paying their own way–but with the way the economy has slammed the states, it’s more likely that they’ve become bigger bums than they were before. On the other hand, a minority of states–including Barack Obama’s Illinois, Joe Biden’s Delaware, New York and California–are subsidizing those conservative deadbeats elsewhere.

Since conservative critics think we should stop spending, the solution is obvious: Let’s stop giving them our money. The bank bailout was an obvious mistake, since most bankers are Republicans. But we should also stop giving subsidies to farmers, most of whom seem to be welfare-opposing conservatives. And it should be safe to assume that anyone who voted for Republican (or for Democrats who oppose the stimulus bill) automatically wants to forgo any stimulus benefits.

Wow, I’m feeling richer already. Of course I live in Washington, one of those states that’s been helping out most of the rest of you for a long time. Unfortunately, as Begala suggests about Sanford, it’s tough to wean a conservative off of welfare, “because for all his rhetoric about hating federal spending, he can’t wait to get his hands on our money.”

Thursday update: In a critique mostly of Sean Hannity, Huffington’s Bob Cesca points out that we’re all “socialists”–and that even the most fervent dittoheads are unlikely to be turning down any money.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Congress approving digital delay that few want?

Posted by James McPherson on January 27, 2009

After last night’s unanimous Senate vote, the House of Representatives will take “emergency action” to vote on a bill to delay the switch to digital television from Feb. 17 until June 12. The House vote may come as early as later today, though I suspect ongoing stimulus talks and other issues (which fortunately included passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) will delay it until tomorrow or later this week. So much for the idea that interest groups and lobbyists have all the power in Washington, since students and I learned first-hand last week that representatives for several powerful groups actually oppose the delay to digital.

The “emergency” aspect of the House action is somewhat humorous, since the switch to digital has been scheduled for more than a decade and those of use with cable or satellite hookups probably won’t be seriously affected (though even we may need an extra cable box or experience a slight  increase in the number of neighbors who want to watch football games at our houses). A January startup date previously had been moved to Feb. 17 after legislators realized what might happen if the switch screwed up people’s Super Bowl viewing or messed with the plans of advertisers, who will pay up to $3 million for 30 seconds of advertising during the game. No, that’s not a joke–at least three experts we spoke with in New York and Washington, D.C., verified the Super Bowl-related reasoning behind the February date.

I don’t know the significance of the June 12 date, which among other things happens to be George H.W. Bush’s 85th birthday, the 70th birthday of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the 22nd anniversary of the date Ronald Reagan urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and the 15th anniversary of when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered (an event that came 27 years to the day after the Supreme Court struck down state laws against interracial marriages, suggesting that O.J. may have an odd way of celebrating key anniversaries).

Regardless of the date, the Nielsen ratings folks are concerned about the switch to digital, as Dave Thomas, president of Global Media Client Services of the company, noted when we met him two weeks ago. He estimated that 5 to 6 percent of viewers are “completely unprepared” for the switch (despite the fact that as National Association of Broadcasters executive VP Marcellus Alexander told us last week, more than $1 billion has been spent on industry advertising warning viewers that “you may need a converter box” if your TV is too old and you don’t have cable or satellite television).

“What’s troubling is that it’s not going to fall evenly,” Thomas noted about the people who will be left without television. Young people, the elderly and poor people will be most likely to suffer problems, and not nearly enough cost-reducing coupons have been set aside for people who need converter boxes. I don’t know how much the problem might be aggravated by people like me who got converter boxes despite already having cable, just in case a natural disaster or the desire to watch a baseball game while camping forces me to rely on older, non-digital technology.

A bigger problem will be that some people won’t have signals even with their new converter boxes, as we were reminded last week by Seth Morrison, senior VP of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing. On the digital transition issue, members of CTAM–who naturally (but not “officially”) want everyone to switch to cable, anyway–find themselves in rare agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters in opposing the delay, in large part because in the meantime broadcasters and cable companies are paying to transmit both digital and traditional analog signals.

Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of PBS, told our group last Friday (and apparently told the Associated Press a few days later) that a four-month extension would cost PBS stations more than $22 million in extra transmission costs. Coincidentally, just a few minutes into our meeting, she had to leave the room to take a call from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the sponsor of the bill (favored by Barack Obama) to delay the transition to digital.

“It sounds like they won’t extend the date,” Kerger said when she returned, indicating that there didn’t seem to be enough Senate votes to force the extension. Assuming that Rockefeller wasn’t intentionally misleading Kerger, just three days later the tide shifted dramatically to make the vote for the extension unanimous, while illustrating another Kerger point: “The conversion has not been well managed.”

On the other hand, as more and more Americans find themselves without work, at least the delay will let more of those people spend their suddenly free time watching the antics of politicians and thieving financial fat cats, so viewers can better understand just how screwed they really are.

Incidentally, for tonight’s viewing I recommend FRONTLINE/World on PBS, which starts a new season with stories about Guantanamo prisoners, the Italian Mafia and Barack Obama’s Brazilian appeal.

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »