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.

  • Archives

  • September 2021
    S M T W T F S
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    2627282930  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Posts Tagged ‘FDR’

To Obamas, a reminder that familiarity can breed contempt

Posted by James McPherson on March 21, 2009

Barack and Michelle Obama have seemingly been everywhere lately, with him even popping up on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno (where he managed to say something stupid in an ill-advised effort to be funny) and on the cover of Vanity Fair (though with a recycled photo), and her showing up on the cover of Vogue and as in a comic book.

As Barack tries to implement an Franklin D. Roosevelt-style remaking of government, Michelle plants an Eleanor Roosevelt-style “victory garden.” Perhaps trying to boost the idea that he is the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln (the first president ever photographed and perhaps the first to actively promote his own image), Obama has seen his own photographic image splashed everywhere imaginable.

Yet despite the Obama blitz, polls this week show a couple of interesting things. In addition to those that show the president’s approval rating slipping somewhat, one survey says most Americans now think that Obama is “trying to do too much.”

In truth, I think both responses show something else: not that Obama is doing too much, but that he is talking  too much (and not through answering meaningful questions from the news media). Obama’s taking time to address the comments of such inane and irrelevant critics as Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney are perhaps the most troubling examples, especially since the fact is that neither such criticism nor the polls are relevant at this point (one of the relatively few things that George W. Bush seemed to understand about governing).

Positive numbers may make it slightly easier for Obama to get gutless Congressional Democrats to pass some things, but the only current real benefits of those surveys are that they keep pollsters employed, conservatives hopeful, and political junkies entertained. With several big issues to tackle in the coming months (and tackle them, he should), Obama’s approval rating means almost nothing for most of the next two years–and then mostly only to other Democrats who will be running for election.

What will matter is the shape of the economy, and perhaps the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, months from now. Most Americans are willing to give the president they just elected a chance–after all, they waited out the Bush years without storming the White House, indicating a certain level of patience.

What happens over the next few years, not what happens in the first 100 days of the Obama presidency, will determine whether he is later viewed as an FDR or a Herbert Hoover. And there is no denying that, like FDR with radio and Lincoln with photography, Obama is great at using modern communication technology. Even Republicans recognize that skill and are trying to catch up.

But just because you have multiple ways to reach people doesn’t mean you should use them all, at least not all the time. As conservative B. Jay Cooper wrote in a column that appeared in my morning newspaper today, it’s time for the Obama adminstration to stop “running a campaign”: “It’s time to switch … to the grown-up governing mode. You now ‘own’ the media. They will cover what you do.”

So, Barack, in the words Nike has used with a generation of would-be athletes like you and me: “Just do it.” And for the next year or so, at least, stop worrying so much about what other people think about how you’re doing it.

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

Nixon tapes again reveal Bush-league president

Posted by James McPherson on December 5, 2008

A news batch of tapes recorded in the Richard Nixon White House were released this week, reaffirming that the president was, in the words of MSNBC’s John Rutherford, “ruthless, cynical and profane.” This was the 12th release of Nixon tapes, now totalling more than 2,200 hours. None of the releases have helped Nixon’s image.

Nixon may have been our most paranoid president, though despite leaving office in disgrace, he probably was a better chief executive than George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter. Perhaps we can no longer even consider Nixon to be the most criminal president of our lifetimes, despite the protests of Fox News’ Chris Wallace. On the other hand, with increased government secrecy, a relatively gutless Democratic Congress and no independent prosecutor–and thanks in large part to the circus that the Bill Clinton impeachment became–we’ll likely never know anything close to the full extent of the Bush administration’s crimes, even if the permitted crimes decrease under a new administration.

One thing is almost certain: At a time when some already are comparing Barack Obama to FDR (a comparison already beginning to change as the shine wears off of Obama’s newness and various messes fail to be resolved quickly enough), Nixon will be the standard by which Bush is compared. Many are already lumping the two together.

Having been a reporter and a professor, the lines I found most interesting from the latest Nixon tapes were these, said to Henry Kissinger in 1972: “The press is the enemy, the press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy, the professors are the enemy. Write that on a blackboard 100 times.”

I doubt that Bush would lump the press and professors in with “the establishment,” but he might agree with Nixon about professors and the press being enemies. Frankly, I hope so. Though if the news media had been more of an “enemy”–in other words, doing their job, regardless of GOP anti-press rhetoric–Bush might have been prevented from engaging in many of the actions that now have him so readily compared to the 37th president.

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

Obamatech: the presidential radio address & the presidential ride

Posted by James McPherson on November 14, 2008

A few days ago I noted that Barack Obama had used the Internet better than any candidate before him. In the comments section, reporter and fellow blogger Jeremy Styron wrote that Obama might take his weekly presidential radio address to the Web (thanks, Jeremy). I noted then that the address also could be posted on YouTube.

That is indeed the case, according to a Washington Post story by Jose Antonio Vargas, who also points out: “President Bush, too, has updated WhiteHouse.gov, which offers RSS feeds, podcasts and videos of press briefings. The site’s Ask the White House page has featured regular online chats dating back to 2003, and President Bush hosted one in January after a Middle Eastern trip.” Who knew?

Regardless of the Bush technology advances, Obama is likely to use the Internet to help govern in ways never seen before, even if it doesn’t reach the level of “the Internet-era version of President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous ‘fireside chats’ between 1933 and 1944.” On the other hand, with a new Great Depression perhaps starting, those who can still afford high-speed Internet connections may get some of the same reassurance from Obama that FDR gave people gathered around their radios.

Maybe Obama will even be able to broadcast from the new presidential limo–especially if it’s parked next to the White House because there’s no fuel to run it. I wonder if he’ll get the new car if Congressal Democrats fail next week to bail out General Motors.

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

Conservative media endorsing Obama; McCain’s options dwindle

Posted by James McPherson on October 18, 2008

I wrote earlier this month, a couple of times (here and here) last month, and even back in May about how the John McCain campaign has managed to turn off conservatives. The trend continues, as a number of newspapers and at least one conservative talk show host (who actually worked for George H.W. Bush) that traditionally support Republicans have come out in support of Barack Obama.

I’ve noted elsewhere how most of the newspapers that make up much of the so-called “liberal media” have endorsed Republican presidential candidates in every election this century except three: 1964 (when Barry Goldwater was viewed as too extremist; incidentally, now he’d be a moderate Republican); 1992 (when then-candidate George H.W. Bush was known to be involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and had shifted attention away from discussion of that issue by bashing the media); and very narrowly in 2004 (after George W. Bush and a Republican Congress had brought us the Iraq War, a spiraling deficit and the Patriot Act).

This clearly will be the first time this century that in back-to-back elections the majority of newspapers will endorse the Democratic candidate. Arguing that “McCain put his campaign before his country” and comparing Obama to Abraham Lincoln (making previously cited comparisons to Ronald Reagan, FDR and Goldwater and seem small), the Chicago Tribune is endorsing a Democrat for the first time in its long history (endorsing Lincoln, for example) as a proud conservative newspaper. Another nod came from from the Los Angeles Times, which last endorsed a candidate–Richard Nixon–in 1972.

Other key endorsements received by Obama include those from the Denver Post, the Miami Herald, the Kansas City Star, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Boston Globe, El Diario, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle (at least the last two of those would be expected in virtually any election year, of course) and newspapers in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

Some Republicans and media talking heads now are atwitter because the national polls seem to have tightened a bit. But as I’ve pointed out previously, national polls mean little–and Obama continues, at least for now, to control the national electoral map. As expected, most Hillary Clinton voters recognize that Obama better represents their interests than McCain. And both campaigns are hitting traditionally Republican states, Obama to try to expand his lead and McCain as a last-ditch strategy to try to eke out a narrow win.

There still is time for the election to swing toward McCain, of course. Perhaps Sarah Palin will be so impressive tonight on “Saturday Night Live” that she’ll trigger a wave of GOP support. Maybe she’ll start answering questions from the media, and manage to do so in a coherent fashion.

Maybe the don’t-look-at-the-economy-please negative attacks on Obama or on the media by the McCain camp and various nutball supporters like Michelle Bachman will start to take hold–or maybe the McCain folks will figure out that those attacks aren’t likely to depress the turnout enough to help their candidate win, so they’ll go back and dust off the kindler, gentler McCain.

Maybe Colin Powell will endorse McCain instead of Obama tomorrow morning on “Meet the Press,” and maybe he retains enough credibility despite helping lie us into the Iraq War to have an influence. Perhaps a new “terrorist attack” will occur just in time to chase fearful ignoramuses toward McCain. Perhaps Republicans will manage to simply steal another election, though their voter suppression tactics probably are more likely to prevent a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate than to keep Obama out of the White House.

Still, even if some of those factors come into play, it’s probably too late for a McCain victory–and, sadly, perhaps too late to save his reputation.

Next day update: Powell did endorse Obama this morning (prompting Pat Buchanan to question Powell’s loyalty just minutes ago on “Hardball“–saying the endorsement smacked of “opportunism”–while suggesting that Powell was basing his decision on race and that the most-respected military man in America was not a real Republican, anyway). Perhaps less importantly, Fareed Zakaria, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer (the biggest newspaper in Ohio, the state that gave the 2004 presidential election to Bush), and the Houston Chronicle also endorsed Obama this weekend.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Funny Friday: Something to cheer up Sarah Palin

Posted by James McPherson on October 17, 2008

Sarah Palin’s staff and the Secret Service apparently not only keep her away from news people (with supporters willing to go so far as to assault reporters), staffers also keep her away from the news, so she won’t become too depressed. So just for Palin (who tomorrow will try for some laughs of her own on “Saturday Night Live“), below I’ll offer videos from Barack Obama and John McCain at last night’s Al Smith dinner. Both men were funny, and showed American politics as it can be, tough but respectful.

Fortunately for the Democrats, we haven’t seen nearly as much of the Smith Dinner/David Letterman McCain during this campaign as we’ve seen of the mudthrowing McCain. If we had seen more of the kindler, gentler McCain, conservative columnist David Brooks wouldn’t be comparing Obama positively with Ronald Reagan and FDR (for different reasons than mine months ago when I compared Obama  to Reagan and Barry Goldwater), and the race would be much closer.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Palin, Pakistan & the press: ‘Cheez Whiz, people, don’t you know she doesn’t mean what she says?’

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Republicans are trying to keep Sarah Palin from speaking to the press, even as she makes the rounds of traditional campaign stops. As I noted in the comments section yesterday, with last night’s Tina Fey “Saturday Night Live” appearance, considering how tightly scripted and hidden away Palin as been, lately most of us will have seen more of Fey as Palin than we’ve seen of Palin as Palin.

Now GOP operatives apparently will need to simplify the instructions even further: “Sarah, don’t speak unless you’re on a stage, with a teleprompter, repeating things we’ve let you practice. Smile and nod and wave, but don’t speak. And for God’s sake, don’t ever answer a question. From anybody. Anywhere.” That might make Thursday’s debate a bit tricky.

Just one day after John McCain criticized Barack Obama for saying he would strike inside Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden–a view, incidentally, that McCain himself and most other Americans likely would support, and which goes along with what has become Bush administration policy–Palin (on a Philly cheesesteak run) had a Temple University grad student ask her if American troops should go from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Her response: “If that’s what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should.”

Though she said she had watched the previous night’s presidential debate, and praised the performance of McCain (whom she may believe once walked the earth with dinosaurs), she apparently missed one of her running mate’s strongest statements: “You don’t say that out loud.”

As a result, today the campaign was forced to retract one of the few things Palin actually has said out loud in public. With no apparent irony intended, McCain (talking this morning to George Stephanopoulos) said Palin was a campaign asset in large part because “She knows how to communicate directly with people.” That comment came almost directly on the heels of McCain weakly blaming her latest misstep on the existence of microphones at what was clearly supposed to be another beauty queen-style photo op:

“In all due respect, people going around and… sticking a microphone while conversations are being held, and then all of a sudden that’s—that’s a person’s position… This is a free country, but I don’t think most Americans think that that’s a definitve policy statement made by Governor Palin.”

Of course he’s right about that. Most Americans likely no longer believe that the McCain can offer a “definitive policy statement” about virtually anything. No wonder even many conservatives and their media supporters are jumping ship. One newspaper, endorsing its first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 (during the last Great Depression), noted accurately:

McCain, who has voted consistently for deregulation, started off two weeks ago declaring the U.S. economy fundamentally sound but ended the week sounding like a populist. Who is he really? …

While praiseworthy for putting the first woman on a major-party presidential ticket since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, his selection of Palin as a running mate was appalling. The first-term governor is clearly not experienced enough to serve as vice president or president if required. Her lack of knowledge is being covered up by keeping her away from questioning reporters and doing interviews only with those considered friendly to her views.

At the risk of repeating myself, Thursday night’s debate could be tricky, and I’ll again offer my recommended debate strategy of yesterday for both candidates: Try to let your opponent talk. Don’t complain if s/he goes over the time limit; you’ll probably benefit more from it.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some “family crisis” forces Palin to postpone or cancel the debate, if not withdraw from the race altogether. Whether anyone would buy that, after McCain’s recent erratic behavior, remains to be seen. And by the way, isn’t it long past time to stop calling McCain a maverick, and to start calling him simply a compulsive gambler?

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Vice presidential debate strategies for Biden and Palin

Posted by James McPherson on September 27, 2008

During the past week, Joe Biden managed to demonstrate that, whatever foreign policy credentials he may have, his apparent knowledge about radio, television and the Great Depression would cause him serious problems if he were in the mass media history class that I teach. 

On the other hand, Sarah Palin’s inability to answer even straightforward (and, one would presume, expected) questions, coupled with her apparent and unexpected insecurity, has even conservative columnist Kathleen Parker calling on her to step aside for the good of the Republican Party. The Democratic line from today that she is “a terrific debater” seems to me a clear attempt to counter the ankle-level expectations created by Palin herself.

So here’s my recommended debate strategy for both candidates: Try to let your opponent do most of the talking. On Thursday night the best defense may prove to be a look of stunned amazement while your opponent rambles on. Of course my strategy might be much tougher to follow for the loquacious Biden than for the not-ready-for-prime-time Palin (whom the GOP apparently wouldn’t even trust to speak after the presidential debate, while Biden has appeared seemingly everywhere):

Oh, and parents–You may want to keep your kids away from the TV during Thursday’s debate. Chances are they already lack much knowledge about either history or the electoral process; you don’t want them sliding further.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »