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 ‘energy policy’

Four reasons newspapers won’t soon disappear

Posted by James McPherson on November 30, 2008

A friend recently reduced his subscription to the local daily, to get it only Wednesdays and Sundays (so he gets the most important ads), while reading online the rest of the week. As much as I love newspapers, I still couldn’t offer him a good reason not to do make the change.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the decline of print media, and I suspect that my political science professor who predicted in 1993 that print newspapers would disappear “within 10 years” is still making the same prediction. Still, I expect that newspapers will be with us for some time to come, for the following reasons:

  1. Big events. People still turn to print newspapers for coverage of events ranging from elections to mass disasters. Print media provide more depth of coverage than broadcast media, and they also provide a physical reminder of the event. Internet newspapers might provide the former, but I can’t see most people wanting to print out a Web page to save in their family mementos.
  2. Supermarkets and department stores. This weekend provides a big reminder that there is no good alternative for some types of newspaper ads.
  3. Sundays. Too many of us like to peruse the newspaper in a leisurely fashion on Sundays, laughing at the funnies, and trading sections and observations with others whom we care about.
  4. Mass transit, which is necessary in some American cities (and more widespread overseas) and may become increasingly important in the United States if Barack Obama is serious about rebuilding infrastructure while reducing our dependence on oil. Some of the massive subsidies now used to prop up our highway-centric lifestyle might be diverted to more logical transit alternatives. And until handheld devices become as cheap, simple and portable as the New York Post or USA Today, subway riders will turn to print.

Newspapers will continue to change, in many ways not for the better, and the staff cuts at most publications are alarming to those of us who care about journalism and journalists. Some papers will publish less frequently in the future than they do now. Newspapers and other media will increasingly go online, and will figure out new ways to make a profit.

Student Jasmine Linabary, the Pew Research Center and various folks at the Poynter Institute are among those tracking the changes, some of which make the future of media look at least as exciting as it is scary. As for me, you’ll have to excuse me: It’s time to grab a bite and finish the Sunday paper.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Carbon paper offsets: drilling for logic in energy policy

Posted by James McPherson on September 14, 2008

The idea of more oil drilling has long been popular with oil companies and the lobbiests and members of Congress whom they fund. Lately those self-interested folks have been joined by a skittish populace and even more shaky members of Congress, and unless recent scandals manage to stop it, American’s shores are likely to see more offshore drilling.

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman, talking today to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about his new book, pointed out that calling for more drilling–while chanting “drill baby drill”–would be like calling for more IBM Selectric typewritters and chanting “carbon paper baby carbon paper” at the begining of the computer age. While other countries are going full-bore on new energy technology, Friedman said, the Bush/McCain/Palin folks give that research lip service while falling back on ideas guaranteed to help the United States slide further toward technological irrelevance.

I frequently disagree with Friedman, the author of The World is Flat. He favored the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and I think he sometimes glorifies international trade and the free market too much while downplaying their accompanying problems. He is better at identifying fairly obvious problems, though with well-turned phrases, than at coming up with meaningful solutions. Still, one quote from the new book should give both liberals and conservatives pause, whether they agree with him or not:

America is always at its most powerful and most influential when it is combining innovation and inspiration, wealth-building and dignity building, the quest for big profits and the tackling of big problems. When we do just one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, we are greater than the sum of our parts–much greater.

I do agree with Friedman later in that first chapter when he writes, “America has shifted from a country that always exported its hopes (and so imported the hopes of millions of others) to one that is seen exporting its fears.”

The book is drawing mixed reviews, and I haven’t read most of it. I probably won’t. For one thing, it appears that much of it has been both obvious and ignored for quite some time.

Besides, even if American leaders buy into Friedman’s premise in a meaningful way, it’s probably too late to make much difference, in terms of avoiding either worldwide catastophic climate change or a dramatic decline in American influence. The first of those is tragic but perhaps inevitable. The second probably wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, based on how we’ve managed that influence in recent years.

I would be more optimistic that we were still capable of greatness as a nation if we chose leaders based on their knowledge and abilities. In that case, the electorate would not now face a choice between an audacious optimist with little meaningful experience on one side and a May-December remix of Bush/Chaney on the other.

Further evidence of a lack of guts or integrity that would be necessary for meaningful change: Palin suddenly forgot to mention nuclear energy when campaigning in Nevada, where the nuclear waste might end up, while new McCain ads aimed at Hispanics lie about the difference between his position on immigration and Barack Obama’s position–and even about the flip-flop immigration position McCain himself “adopted” to appeal to conservatives.

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

Straight Talk Express derailed, falls off “bridge” to become mired in mud

Posted by James McPherson on September 13, 2008

It’s an old story, of course: Politicians lie. But usually in presidential campaigns the candidates let their surrogates take on the most egregious fabrications, staying somewhat above the fray themselves. John McCain and Sarah Palin seem to be the exception, cheerily tramping through the mud on their way to a lead in national polls.

The lies range from tales of the infamous “bridge to nowhere” (see video below) to taxes to health care to immigration (bilingual lying!) to sexism to Alaskan oil production to pig lipstick to kindergarten sex education to Cindy McCain’s drug theft problems to even the findings of  FactCheck.org. In the words of the Associated Press’ Charles Babington, “The “Straight Talk Express” has detoured into doublespeak.”

Considering how much admiration I once had for McCain, I am troubled that he has become not just a typical campaigner but even worse than most. The campaign he has chosen to run is costing him other one-time fans, as well, while supporting the latest Obama camp claim that McCain “would rather lose his integrity than lose an election.”

The lying has become so bad that even the women of “The View,” a morning show watched mostly by stay-at-home wives, feel compelled to question McCain about it. His response: Lying, of course. Unfortunately Barbara Walters, long one of the most overrated journalists in America, helped McCain out by following up his lie with a trivial lipstick diversion rather than confronting him with the truth.

I don’t think McCain and Palin can lie their way to the White House. But a part of me fears that too many voters don’t care about the lying even if they recognize it. If those voters happen to help McCain win, they deserve what they get–four more years of Bush Administration nonsensical tough talk and bumbling policy. Unfortunately all of us may get an even more conservative and out-of-touch Supreme Court that will last for a generation.

Same-day update: Apparently the McCain/Palin camp also misrepresented her “world travels,” falsely claiming she has visited Iraq. And in a lengthy story about Palin today, the New York Times reports: “Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records. ” She appears, as one of my colleagues noted recently, “Dick Cheney in a dress.”

Next day update: To John McCain–When you’re on the same side as Karl Rove and even he calls you a liar, maybe it’s time to dial it back.

Palin’s bridge to falsehood:

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Crude, sex & drugs: “MMS chicks” gone wild

Posted by James McPherson on September 11, 2008

It sounds like a show that might be titled “Girls Gone Wild: Oil, Drugs and Money.” Playboy is undoubtedly already trying to contact women involved for one of its “theme issues,” such as its earlier renditions of “Women of Wal-Mart” and “Women of Enron.”

And now that the title, the first line, and some of the tags below will undoubtedly draw more visitors to this site than anything else I’ve written (after all, by far the biggest draw up until now has been the tag “Sarah Palin bikini,” while tags associated with the world’s most famous journalist attract almost no one), let me ask this: After revelations of the past couple of days, does anyone still believe that the Bush administration–or the McCain/Palin ticket that wants to repeat or continue most of its policies–is remotely capable of handling U.S. energy policy or tax policy?

For those who missed it because they were caught up in stories about pigs with lipstick or Sarah Palin’s repeated lies about the “bridge to nowhere” and an Alaska oil pipeline, the story is that the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service has been caught up in an ethics scandal that includes “allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct. ” (New York Times) Agency employees, some of whom apparently were referred to as “MMS chicks,” are accused of accepting bribes from and having sex with oil company executives.

For the record, the MMS collects about $10 billion annually–“one of the government’s largest sources of revenue other than taxes,” but has been “riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch,” notes the New York Times. The agency apparently has been mismanaging the collection of fees from oil companies and writing faulty contracts for YEARS . Those “mistakes” have cost U.S. taxpayers (and awarded the companies) billions of dollars. The MMS defense apparently will be that they got stoned and missed it.

The only good news from the mess is that it may prompt Congress to hold off on what seemed to be an inevitable rush toward increased offshore drilling.

Posted in History, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »