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 ‘FAIR’

The Smoking Gun: FAIR criticism of media

Posted by James McPherson on January 9, 2009

Though I was leaving just hours later for the East Coast, I couldn’t pass up a chance to listen to media critic and Nieman Foundation program manager Callie Crossley speak at Whitworth University Wednesday night.

Crossley’s talk focused on the intersection of old and new media, and she reminded us that “four years ago, YouTube didn’t exist.” Among other things, that means we have no real idea what the media will look like four years from now.

But it will look different: As Crossley also noted, 15,000 American journalists lost their jobs in 2008, while for many journalists working for “multi-platform media”–what most media have become: “The print paper has become the last on the list of priorities” behind a news organization’s Web sites and journalists’ blogs.

Today was the first day of a “Media Impact” study program I am leading in New York and Washington, D.C., and the students and I were provided some more excellent insights on the issue of journalistic change.

First we visited Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a liberal media watchdog organization. Program director Janine Jackson pointed out that the mainstream news organizations do a particularly weak job with institutional structures and policies not because of a liberal or conservative bias, but because of a “top-down bias”–far too many of journalists’ sources continue to be the people in power (mostly white males).

The journalist is then put in the position, though his/her questions, of speaking for everyone else who might be affected by an issue (an even bigger problem when most nationally recognized newspeople also are privileged white males). 

From FAIR we went to The Smoking Gun, a three-man operation that was one of the first prominent Internet news sites–and still one of few that actually does journalism, as opposed to simply commenting on the journalism of others. That means, for example, that on any given day you may find more original hard news dug up by three guys in a single New York office than is uncovered and reported during a day’s on-air MSNBC coverage.

The amount and quality of work they do led to their being bought by TruTV (then Court TV) just three years after they started The Smoking Gun, making them (in the words of editor Bill Bastone) “the smallest division of Time-Warner that you can imagine.”

Bastone,  managing editor Andrew Goldberg and reporter Joseph Jesselli all demonstrated why they are great reporters: They love their work, they have a wide range of interests, and they boast “kind of a punk sensibility”–meaning they enjoy tweaking the powerful.

I also was thrilled to hear Jackson and Bastone highlight issues that I have tried to emphasize in this blog (which I would be first to agree is NOT journalism).

Jackson stressed the importance of media history and media literacy, gained from exposing oneself to multiple media (especially written media) from a variety of sources. Bastone expressed frustration with the number of college students he meets who don’t read enough, and who don’t try every possible avenue to get their writing into print.

I couldn’t have said it better myself–which, of course, is why we’re in New York.

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

More evidence of the conservatism of the American press & politics

Posted by James McPherson on December 10, 2008

This, of course, is the main theme of my recent book–that the mainstream media and American politics have become more conservative over time. Though the book came out before the recent election, I had predicted there and elsewhere that Barack Obama would be a good candidate. Part of the reason for his success, of course, is his own conservative nature, as expressed through his campaign and his appointments–a conservatism almost guaranteed by his educational background.

One of the most troubling expressions of that conservatism for me has been his expressed policy toward Afghanistan. That nation might become for Obama what Iraq became for George Bush and Iran was for Jimmy Carter: a distant nation that Americans care little about but which uses an inordinate amount of U.S. resources in exchange for little perceivable benefit.

Unfortunately, as Fairness and Accuracy in Media’s Gabriel Voiles notes, Obama’s view has become the conventional wisdom in the mainstream media. The problem with conventional wisdom is that it is so often wrong, whether it suggests that Republicans are more patriotic or better for the economy (which has been stronger in virtually every way under Democrats) or that Democrats are more peaceful (until recently we’ve had more wars and longer wars, under Democrats) and better for the environment (Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act).

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »