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 ‘FactCheck.org’

Election ads to be even more obnoxious in 2010

Posted by James McPherson on January 21, 2010

Scott Brown’s election to the Senate, while interesting, isn’t the event this week that will have the biggest effect on the future of the American political process. A much more important (and activist, considering the overturning of legal precedent without corresponding new facts) decision is the one today by the Supreme Court to ban corporate spending limits on political speech, killing the McCain-Feingold act in the process.

McCain, still confused over whether as a Republican he’s supposed to be a shill for big business or a protector of the people, offered a weak criticism of the decision. The 5-4 decision (aren’t they all, anymore?) extends the conservative corporate tradition of treating corporations as if they are individuals (except with much more money and less moral guidance than most people have).

Frankly, as a near-First Amendment absolutist, I have mixed emotions about the decision from a theoretical perspective. From a practical view, however, I have little doubt that future campaigns will be even more negative and more riddled with lies and smears than past elections. An already-broken political process in which most Americans already get their political information from clearly biased pundits and paid advertising will become even worse.

With the news media flailing and perhaps less likely to have the ability to provide meaningful perspective to political events–even if they had the will to do so and more Americans had the will to pay attention–those who care about the process would be well advised to bookmark FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com, Open Secrets, SourceWatch.org and USAspending.gov, and plan to check them often.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

God Bless America: Land of the Great American Conspiracy Loon

Posted by James McPherson on September 27, 2009

Moammar Gadhafi got some attention (his apparent primary goal in life) this week with a rambling United Nations speech in which he alleged a number of weird conspiracies. It’s good to remember, however, that most of the nutball conspiracies that Americans deal with are hatched right here at home, by the likes of “birthers,” “deathers” and “truthers,” among others.

One of the latest came to me via email today. It starts out: “Did you know that the ACLU has filed a suit to have all military cross-shaped headstones removed and another suit to end prayer from the military completely.  They’re making great progress.” After a few other distortions and some nice photos of soldiers praying, it urged each recipient to pray for the troops and then pass on the message.

As a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a thinking person, I was relatively certain that claims had to be false. Less than a minute of research–which could have been done by any of the dozens of people whose email addresses showed up in the oft-forwarded message–showed four quick references discounting the fable. Though I probably had much more important things to do, I then took the time to send a message to each of the 30 or addresses on the list. It read:

I find it ironic that [name deleted] includes the words, “Think, Act, Survive” after his name. If he and others would do more of the former, we’d have fewer of these sorts of inflammatory lies whirling around the web, and we might actually pay more attention to the many real problems we face. Automatically forwarding myths that happen to support one’s preconceived biases do nothing but harm one’s credibility.

I’m always in favor of more prayers for those who serve in the military, but the claim made in this viral email is a blatant lie, perpetuated by people who don’t know, don’t care about and/or don’t bother to check the truth. Considering how many people receiving this are in education (judging by the email addresses), it seems more critical thinking would be in order.

Four sources I used to check this, in far less time than it took someone to write the original: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/cemetery.asp, http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/jul/02/chain-email/no-aclu-lawsuit-over-cross-shaped-headstones/http://www.factcheck.org/askfactcheck/print_is_the_aclu_suing_to_have_cross-shaped.html and http://www.aclu.org/images/asset_upload_file399_26244.pdf. You might also check out http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/marines.asp.

Now I trust that all you Christian people of integrity will pass on the truth as quickly and widely as you helped spread the falsehood.

I was kidding about the last part, of course. I assume that few if any of them will pass it on. I did get two responses back. One with a single word–“yea”–and a longer one, which tickled me enough that I’ll share it here (minus information that might identify the sender):

Mr. James McPherson thank you for kind rebuttal and quick checking of the facts. Also I commend you for noticing my many years of volunteer service to my community,  my Church and faith.

As to the forwarding of this important and patriotic email message. I can not speak for the many individuals cc’ed on this uplifting message, but I do speak for myself. This message is about supporting our troops not about the Anti-American Communist Liars Union (ACLU). It is about a love the awakened majority feels for our great nation.

It is understandable that persons of your ilk have no love for America, our Constitution, or our long history and way of life. Be forewarned, “We the People” are awake and we are coming for you, and your perversion of our country.

Lastly I do not give a Rat’s Rear End what these fine email messages of support for our American Patriots say, they will continue to be forwarded to all I know. Why because it is GOOD and RIGHT, something an educator like yourself knows little about. See, these people you sent your reply to are the backbone of our great nation. You Sir are an corrupter of young minds, and we the “backbone” count you with politicians, lawyers, used car salesmen, and journalist. Oh and I forgot pond scum.

As a Christian it is my obligation to call you to repentance, get with the program and forget your anal retentive fact checks.

Gee, how unChristian of me to check facts and to counter lies with truth (and grammar). And now that I know that the Backbone Brigade is “coming for me,” I’m not sure what to do in response. Flee in my black helicopter?

Of course I have to admit the fleeting unChristian notion that crossed my mind when the writer referred to himself as part of a “backbone”: I thought he was aiming a few inches high.

Same-day update: The guy mentioned above sent me a follow-up email, after I responded to his. Though it’s becoming increasingly tempting to do otherwise, I’ll still not include his identity, but will share part of his latest missive (I’ve simply copied and pasted, leaving spelling and grammar alone):

As to Whitworth University of Spokane Washington, a liberal arts institution, I’m sure they would be proud to know one of there own is picking fights with strangers, (who receives and forwards emails to their friends and family), over the web.

Your exhustive pursuit of this issue clearly puts you in the ranks of liberal zelot or those truly disturbed folks with and ax to grind…

Mr McPherson STOP your elitist little fingers right now. SEND no further emails. I’m sure this will be making a wide round on the web tomorrow. Either you will look foolish or I will. And like the content of the email that started this I don’t care what you think or find true. Have a pleasant day.

He also copied the message to my university’s human resources department, asking that they “forward this to your Deans to show what your faculty does with their free time.” But as I told him in response, the deans (and the university president) know about my various political activities. I suspect it may make them uncomfortable at times, but I don’t pretend to speak for them (you’ll notice the disclaimer at the top of this page), and they understand the role of political discussion in a free society.

Same-day update #2: I had emailed my new friend back, despite his request for me not to write again. I apologized for offending him, pointed out the relatively small number of people who had received my original message (with his name on the list), and noted that I had assumed his name had been passed on to me with his knowledge or permission. I also promised not to write him again, except at his own request. He promptly offered a most pleasant two-word reply: “Thank you.”

There are many lessons to be remembered regarding civility in this viral age, eh?

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Key presidential election question: ‘Which liar do you trust most?’

Posted by James McPherson on November 2, 2008

The presidential campaign seems to be “spinning” to an appropriately odd ending, with John McCain discussing strategy (“Reverse Maverick,” “Double Maverick” or “Sad Grandpa”) on “Saturday Night Live,” McCain robocalls using Hillary Clinton’s voice and words as an authoritative voice to try to boost Republicans, and Barack Obama’s latest ad promoting the endorsement of his opponent by a sitting vice president.

At least they don’t have anyone pretending to be the opposing candidate in those ads (a move that may cost Elizabeth Dole her Senate seat in the same election in which the GOP presidential candidate reminds voters of her husband’s 1996 “Sad Grandpa” bid). Dole’s Senate campaign provides a reminder that perhaps every political campaign has its share of distortions and outright lies. As campaigns grow increasingly desperate, the lying tends to increase. Fortunately for those of use who care, there are more ways than ever to check the accuracy of campaign ads and stump speeches.

The oft-criticized mainstream media do a better job than they once did at fact checking. Even more valuable are FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.org (a product of the mainstream St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly). On Friday, Factcheck.org released an updated version of “the whoppers of 2008,” including McCain camp lies about welfare, taxes, health care, terrorism and ACORN, and Obama lies about Medicare, stem cell research and job losses. The site also calls attention to distortions from other groups both liberal (MoveOn.org and VoteVets.org) and conservative (National Rifle Association and National Republican Trust PAC).

PolitiFact also released a Friday update, recalling some especially egregious “pants on fire” moments from the campaign. Those cited include Mike Huckabee, who falsely claimed that most signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen, and John Edwards who suggested that the president has power over Congressional health care. Of course other Edwards lies were to cause him more problems, but by then his campaign had ended.

PolitiFact gave most of its “pants on fire” ratings to e-mail messages: “They include the bogus list of books that Sarah Palin supposedly wanted to ban, the fake receipt that supposedly showed Michelle Obama ordered $400 in lobster and caviar from a New York hotel,  and the distorted Bible verses to suggest that Barack Obama was the Antichrist.”

It is sad and disturbing to see how often candidates and their supporters lie. But the increased oversight is a bright spot. As PolitiFact notes: “The 2008 election has been the most fact-checked campaign in American history. Between our 750-plus items, and dozens of articles published by our friends at FactCheck.org and other news organizations, the presidential candidates have been challenged about their accuracy more than ever before.”

In short, in this election–as with perhaps every election–Americans will choose between liars as they cast their ballots. The key question thus becomes, “Which liar do you trust most?”

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Corsi regains credibility with some right-wingers by lying to them

Posted by James McPherson on August 16, 2008

Despite what I wrote recently about people creating their own truths, it’s still difficult to believe that even the most hardcore delusional conservatives still believe anything Swift Boat loon Jerome Corsi has to say. Nonetheless, conservative organizations have placed enough bulk orders to scam the system and put his latest book at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Also among the top seven are the latest Dick Morris “non-fiction”–also a beneficiary of the conservative bulk sale gimmick, and books about Tori Spelling, Madonna and the Bush administration’s embracing of torture. Calling Corsi’s works non-fiction, of course, brings to mind the phrase “based on real events” used for bad TV movies. One of my favorite related headlines: “Jerome Corsi’s Anti-Obama Book Makes James Frey Look Like Plutarch.”

I won’t spend a lot of time on the subject, because there’s plenty to read about Corsi elsewhere on the Web. Suffice it to say in short that he is an inept researcher, a liar, a bigot, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, an apparent plagiarist, and an egotistical fool who has been adopted by some conservatives simply because he shares their disdain of Obama. In the words of historian and blogger Joseph Palermo, “Where does the Republican Right find these people?”

Corsi has no credibility with any network other than Fox News, though even Fox kept him off the air for a while between his 2004 and 2008 campaign hatchet jobs. Fox apparently was less enthused about Corsi’s allegations that George W. Bush was creating a secret North American government and should be impeached. Yet today even one-time smear victim and Corsi critic John McCain (criticized by Corsi for his getting campaign funding from supposed liberal billionaire George Soros and Teresa Kerry), is letting things slide this time, further demonstrating the desperation of his own campaign.

I spend a lot of time around people with doctoral degrees (and of course have one of my own), and I can assure you that having a Ph.D. doesn’t make you any less inclined to be a wacko. It just means some other wackos are more likely to listen to you.

Sept. 16 update: FactCheck.org is the latest of a long list of credible sources to call Corsi’s book a fabrication.

For your viewing pleasure: a couple of clips of Corsi in action:

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