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 ‘Fairness Doctrine’

Catholics and conservatives campaign against mythical threats

Posted by James McPherson on February 19, 2009

You might think that with various economic crises, a housing crisis, worsening unemployment, rampaging monkeys and race issues, there would be enough to fear in America today. Obviously if you thought that you’d be wrong. A couple of days ago I wrote about Sarah Palin (who apparently pays taxes as if she were a Democrat) grabbing a bit of face time on Fox News (the sort of time she has billed Alaskan taxpayers for in the past)  to warn against the Fairness Doctrine. Now Time reports that Catholics are waging a lobbying effort and national postcard campaign against the Freedom of Choice Act.

The problem, of course, is that there is no such Freedom of Choice Act, just as–despite the wails of right-wing fear-mongers (including some who cloak themselves at “think tanks“–there is virtually no chance of the Fairness Doctrine ever returning. So why the campaign against them? Mostly, in my view, to keep “the base” (particularly the more ignorant parts of the base) constantly fearful. The Fairness Doctrine and the Freedom of Choice Act seem to be just the latest monsters under the conservative bed, keeping key parts of the base shivering under the covers.

As I wrote in my most recent book, conservatives gained power in part because they were so effective at engaging in scare tactics. Fox News and conservative talk radio often get the credit for bringing Republicans to power, but in fact direct mail was the most important medium in the conservative resurgence. Direct mail was most effective because, like the Internet today, it could reach people one-on-one and scare them with threats of what they feared most, even if the scaring often veered into exaggeration or outright dishonesty. It also was largely ignored by Democrats and by the mainstream media (and scholars of media and politics, for that matter), which is why so many of them were surprised by increasing conservative influence that often seemed to run counter to what most Americans said they believed.

Apparently one can’t have too many threatening bed monsters, so I’ve decided to do my bit to help conservatives in their cause. With my blessing, they can now start warning their followers about the following seven fictional threats that Congress may consider:

The First Peoples Trump Trump Act: Now that Native Americans have proven to be better at business than Donald Trump, all gambling properties in America–along with the entire states of Florida, Nevada and Arizona–will be given back to the Indians. Texas, New Mexico and California will be given back to Mexico. The non-gambling portion of New Jersey will be given to anyone willing to take it.

The Workers of Color Act: If two people want the same job, that job will automatically go to the person with the darkest skin. The exception is in the case of a conservative black person, who will be treated under this act as if s/he were white.

The Make Up for Slavery Act: Once promised “40 acres and a mule,” the descendents of slaves will finally be granted those awards, with interest. Because of the state of the economy, the interest will include the entire states of Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, both Carolinas, and any part of Virginia ever owned by George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.

The Congressional Clone Act: Any clone created from the DNA of a member of Congress will automatically be entitled to claim that Congressional seat when the original holder dies. Once Republicans have lost the remaining seats they now hold in Congress, the CCA will be the only means by which a new Congressman or Senator can be appointed, except via normal elections.

The ACORN Elections Act: Since normal elections will still take place, this bill will do away with the Federal Elections Commission and put ACORN in charge of all electoral activities at the federal and state levels.

The Test-Tube Voter Act: Any person who develops out of an implanted embryo that might instead have been used for stem cell research shall be denied all voting rights on account of selfishness.

The Happy Cheerful Gay Marriage Act: No person shall be allowed to marry unless both parties seem appropriately happy. Any two creatures judged to be appropriately happy can marry, regardless of sexual orientation, race, age or species. “Appropriate happiness” will be judged by a Congressional subcommittee chaired by Barney Frank–or his clone.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Bristol Palin’s realism, like, kinda trumps her mother’s

Posted by James McPherson on February 17, 2009

Bristol Palin tells Greta Van Susteren that expecting young people to be sexually abstinate “is not realistic at all.” In the meantime, her mother warns us about trumped-up dangers that don’t exist regarding the Fairness Doctrine–the reinstatement of which I’d rank in likelihood somewhere below the returns of John McCain’s integrity, the Soviet Union, Elvis, the passenger pigeon, or Jesus Christ astride a unicorn. 

First, Palin the younger: “It’s just, like, I’m not living for myself anymore. It’s, like, for another person, so it’s different.” (Note: Those quotes come from the Fox transcript; they are not an attempt to make the young woman look stupid just because she happens to speak like too many of my students.) She calls having a child “very overwhelming,” despite the fact that she has help with the baby from her parents, her sisters, aunts, and “especially my grandma.”

On a less hopeful note, Bristol says, “I hope that people learn from my story and just, like, I don’t know, prevent teen pregnancy, I guess.” Gee, maybe we could make teen sex illegal. After all, the “war on drugs” has prevented teens from smoking pot, and raising the drinking age to 21 stopped teenage drinking, right?

Palin also discussed her future with the baby’s father, Levi Johnston: “Eventually, we’d like to get married. We’re focusing on, like, getting through school and just getting an education and stuff, getting a career going.” My prediction is that the likelihood of a wedding will correspond with the likelihood of her mother becoming a credible presidential candidate for 2012. I could be wrong, but if Sarah Palin’s campaign looks like a nonstarter I’d be willing to cast a small wager that Bristol and Levi never tie the knot.

Palin also criticized the way she was portrayed by the news media and the amount of attention she got, and for that I sympathize. I didn’t agree with folks who said she “deserved” to be hounded because Sarah Palin used Bristol and the rest of her family as props during the Republican Convention and at other appearances–that’s what politicians do, and the choice was Sarah Palin’s, not her daughter’s.

But I would point out, now that Bristol is giving tips on what’s realistic, she might note that it’s also unrealistic to expect to fade away from sight if you’re giving interviews to a national television network–even a network that most Americans don’t trust. (Fox News is of course the official network of the Republican Party, and Van Susteren has apparently become the official reporter for all things Palin–as she notes, without irony, “You will not see this anywhere else.”) And since Bristol seems to be bucking the official Republican stance of abstinance-only sex education, she might also encourage consideration of whether it’s “realistic” to:

  • expect that after corporate tax cuts fail to forestall the biggest economic disaster of our lifetimes, the best way to fix the disaster is more corporate tax cuts;
  • expect those who head unregulated economic insitutions to do what’s best for people who have no power over them;
  • believe that the best way to find and punish a mass murderer hiding in one country is to attack another country;
  • expect people whose country we invade under false pretenses to view us as liberators;
  • expect the police or the media to pay as much attention to a missing black boy as a missing white girl. OK, Democrats seem to be at least as clueless as Republicans about that last one .

Sarah Palin took an opportunity at the end of her daughter’s interview to “submit” to some questioning, urging Barack Obama to veto the economic stimulus bill, and then warning of another fictitious danger that has become popular on right-wing airwaves despite the fact that it is an incredibly bad idea that has virtually no chance of happening:

Hey, another thing, though, that, Greta, I would add, too, is not–it’s not just a stimulus package that we need to keep our eyes and ears open about right now in America, but it’s this fairness doctrine. It’s these attempts in Congress that are being discussed at this point to shut down voices that are asking the tough questions. I know that you’re asking some tough questions, Glenn Beck, Hannity, Bill O’Reilly — you guys are asking tough questions about what’s in this package and about what government is doing. Now, if there’s any attempt to quash any of these voices, that’s a scary thing for our democracy, for our country. So we have to keep our eyes open and ears open also for that kind of discussion.

Yep, those Fox folks ask the “tough questions.” If you doubt it, look below the fawning interview of Palin–who almost entirely refused to answer any media questions–by Sean Hannity during the presidential campaign. And by the way, if the Fairness Doctrine actually comes back, I’ll volunteer to take a turn at babysitting Sarah’s grandkid myself.

Posted in Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »