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, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Beck’

Batcrap craziness

Posted by James McPherson on July 20, 2012

Batman: “No guns.” (In keeping with the superhero’s longtime no-gun rule.”)

Catwoman: “What fun is that?”

I guess we could ask the folks who attended the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, huh?

As I’ve written in what became my most-read post, I generally avoid using profanity. But one reason I generally oppose it it because its overuse has made appropriate use almost meaningless. Almost. And today is one of the exceptions, because there has perhaps never been a more appropriate day or week for the term “batshit crazy.”

This week gave us Rush Limbaugh suggesting that the name of a movie character (a name that originated in a 1993 comic book) was a liberal plot against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Then, of course, Rush lied about it the next day.

Next we had John McCain–the McCain we used to remember before he sold his soul to try to win the last presidential election–chastize Michele Bachmann for her latest Muslim plot nonsense. But we know that Bachmann is as batty as Limbaugh.

And though we all know that the blogosphere has become a nutty and nasty place, it was surprising that a negative review of the latest Batman movie would inspire batshit-crazy fans of a comic book character to make death threats against “Rotten Tomatoes” reviewers.

But all of that pales in comparison to today’s news about a costumed gunman killing at least a dozen people at a midnight opening of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” It didn’t take long for ABC to commit the first stupid reporting error, and of course the shooting has dominated the cable news networks all day. (It’s probably not such big news in Syria, where having a dozen killed by violence would be considered a good day.)

And so now we’ll have another few days of liberals pointing out the obvious, that easy access to guns in America makes these events far too common here and that conservative talking heads such as “shoot-them-in-the-head” Glenn Beck (however well he may cry about it afterward) and Rush Limbaugh, along with batshit-crazy extremist groups promote violence. Some conservatives will blame mass murder on gay marriage. If all else fails, blame it on violent movies or video games. It’s all so predictable, and too few will acknowledge that many factors are involved.

Perhaps less predictably, truly batshit-crazy NRA types, which Colorado has, may suggest that the carnage would have been reduced if other people in the theater were armed. Oh, wait–batshit-crazy Malkin  and batshit-crazy Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert have already done that. Gohmert also blamed the attacks on “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs”–as did the American Family Association, despite the fact that the killer reportedly was a “brilliant student” from a “church-going family.” Shades of Pat Robertson; life is just too scary when we realize what our demons have in common with the rest of us, I guess.

So, how long until someone (other than a batshit-crazy blogger or two) suggests that the killer is an Obama operative trying to help the president push through gun control, even though we know that it’s now easier to buy a gun and you can carry it in more places than before Obama was elected? Besides, we Americans love our guns. We really love our guns. If the shooting of a Congresswoman and the killing a a cute white girl or the slaughter of college students won’t spur a serious debate about American gun laws, this certainly won’t.

In fact, perhaps part of the “The Dark Knight Rises” should be rewritten.

Batman: “No guns.”

Catwoman: “In America? That’s batshit crazy!”

Next-day addendum: Above I asked how long it would take someone to suggest that the shootings were a government plot to help promote control. Not long at all, as it turned out, thanks to 9/11 “truther” Alex Jones, perhaps the most bat-shit crazy conspiracy theorist in America.

Sunday addendum: Batshit-crazy Truth in Action Ministries spokesman Jerry Newcombe chose today to go on the radio and “remind” listeners that some of the dead shooting victims were bound for hell. Say hello when you get there, Jerry.

Also, a question for any who care to answer: Why do so many conservatives apparently think it should be easier to carry a gun than to cast a ballot?

Tuesday addendum: Batshit-crazy Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, has also suggested that the Aurora killings are part of a gun-control plot, bringing familiar bogeyman, the United Nations, into it.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments »

Obama slogan too common to be communist, too dull to be radical

Posted by James McPherson on May 1, 2012

Forward.” As the new Obama slogan? Really? The MSNBC version may be slightly worse, and unlike Joe Scarborough I doubt that this was a case of theft. More likely is that few in the Obama campaign–like relatively few elsewhere in America–actually watch MSNBC often enough to recognize its slogan. But still … “Forward”?

The slogan might made sense if any the flailing conservative wing of GOP competitors had fared better in the primaries, since “Forward” would look much better in contrast to the obvious conservative slogan of “Backward.” But now? It’s like the Obama folks know that victory will be so easy that they can save the really good slogans for Hillary in 2016. Maybe as a “thank you” for her service as Secretary of State and as an inept 2008 campaign foil.

Speaking of “foil,” the slogan has generated an interesting meme among the tinfoil hat club who think that everything Obama does is part of a communist plot. The Moony-tunes Washington Times showed its usual journalistic quality by relying on Wikipedia to claim in a headline, “New Obama slogan has long ties to Marxism, socialism”–and, predictably, Fox Nation and Glenn Beck were even lazier in then picking up the Washington Times piece. Sadly, the once-proud National Review continued to disgrace the memory of founder William F. Buckley by also “reporting” from Wikipedia.

One of Andrew Breitbart‘s nasty spawn joined in on the May Day Parade (see how I did that?). London’s political equivalent of the Washington Times, the Daily Mail, did so from abroad. And of course, various bloggers (also here, here, here, here, here and here for sampling) jumped on board. Not to be outdone, you can always count on the occasional goofball blogger to find a Nazi connection, even if Beck is no longer on Fox News to help diagram it on a bizarre chart.

The communist/socialist tie is just nutty, of course, as pointed out by Mediaite and ThinkProgress (both organizations that come closer to having socialist views than does the current conservative in the White House), unless Koch brothers buddy Scott Walker heads a socialist state. The big problem with Obama’s slogan isn’t it’s political perspective–it’s the boring lack of any meaningful perspective. Even Chrysler came up with a better slogan for Obama–though I suppose the problem there is that there’s no “o” in “halftime” to turn into an Obama symbol.

Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri has perhaps the best critique of the slogan, noting, “On average, President Obama’s slogans are pretty good. This is to say that his last slogan was extraordinary and this one is abjectly terrible.”

Same-night update: Rachel Maddow covered the same issue tonight, citing many of the same sources.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The coming U.S. civil war

Posted by James McPherson on April 28, 2012

“I fear we are headed for another civil war in this country,” wrote the author of a letter in my morning paper yesterday. I sighed audibly. That again?

I’ve been reading about the possibility of “Civil War II” at least since Obama was elected president–usually on blogs (other examples here, here, here)  or on YouTube, often in the form of prediction, sometime expressed hopefully. Sometimes I used to reply, “So who do you see as the ‘sides’ in this imaginary civil war?” I never got a good answer, but the goofy intellectually lazy “threat” keeps popping up. Even since Glenn Beck, one-time king of the conspiracy loons, has slunk into near-oblivion.

Frankly, the idea of a new U.S. civil war is ludicrous. Of course I’m not talking about the assorted conspiracy nuts who claim that we’re already in a civil war, even if most of us don’t know it. Nor do I classify economic inequity (which may be every bit as deadly) or our current battles over social issues as true warfare, as some do.

Still, the tone of our politics has prompted even a few folks beyond the fearful or crazy cyberspace cadets to raise the idea of a new rootin’-tootin’-shootin’ civil war. A former national editor of politics for National Journal even did so last year in an interesting piece that makes some comparisons between 1861 and 2011. Still, to her credit, she doesn’t predict civil conflict and does write: “After all, at the heart of the Civil War was a great conflict over human bondage. By comparison, today’s debate between the Democrats and tea party Republicans seems, picayune.”

Uh, yeah. And that’s the key point. Those who talk about how “bad” things are now, how “divided” we are, seem to have forgotten their history (no big surprise there, considering how little of it journalists seem to know). Economic divisions were greater before and during our two Great Depressions. Political divisions were wider in the 1950s and 1960s, with battles–some bloody–over civil rights and the Vietnam War. And Americans were far more willing to die for causes during our two world wars.

In fact, even if most of us could figure out who the two “sides” would be–keeping in mind that most Americans agree on more than they disagree about–the vast majority of Americans today lack the desperation (fortunately), the energy (unfortunately) or the focus (sadly) for any “war” that goes beyond words. Especially when those words tend to be regurgitated talking points of the far left and the far right, as relevant to most people as back-seat cup holders were for Mitt Romney’s Irish Setter.

It is true that people will continue to bicker, and some, like Beck, will take advantage of the rhetoric to enrich themselves or to incite others to acts of violence. Congress will continue to dither and achieve little, and Americans will keep dying needlessly.

But those Americans will die because of a pitiful health care system and stupid wars abroad, not because of a civil war at home.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 41 Comments »

Juan gone: NPR, Fox and ‘news analysis’

Posted by James McPherson on October 21, 2010

National Public Radio has fired Juan Williams for making a remark that sounded too much like the only Jesse Jackson quote that conservatives like (well, maybe except this one).

I have mixed emotions about the firing, similar to those expressed by writers Glenn Greenwald and  Greg Sargent. But I also think it should never have come to this: NPR should have pushed Williams out long ago. After all, it’s not the first time he has been in trouble for comments on O’Reilly’s show.

Mostly, though, I’d have eased him out because I think his overall tone has changed over time to be more in line with Fox News/MSNBC-style “discussion” than with what his job was with NPR. After all, probably most people couldn’t name a regular commentator with NPR, while I think Williams likes being a celebrity.

Williams’ commentary in this case (and others) with Fox relied on personal feelings, rather than on political expertise. That made him inappropriate as a news commentator for NPR.

The Williams case also shows the difficulty of trying to be a rational and consistent commentator who works for markedly different audiences. One of my favorite conservatives, David Brooks, has the same problem.

By the way, I think CNN may have been trying to reclaim some NPR-style credibility with the firing of Rick Sanchez. But for the network that brought us Lou Dobbs and (via CNN Headline News) Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace, it’s probably too late.

Next day update: Williams defends his comments on Fox. His essay doesn’t change my mind, but it does illustrate some other key diversity-related problem similar to what I’ve discussed previously.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

WorldNetDaily mad at Coulter because she shares founder’s values

Posted by James McPherson on August 18, 2010

You’d think hatemongers would hang on to any allies they could. But wnd.com founder/editor Joseph Farah, in today’s lead story, announces, “WND dumps Ann Coulter from Miami due to Homoconflict.”

Despite the interesting headline, Coulter isn’t fighting with a girlfriend, or going after Farah’s boyfriend. (And what is a Homoconflict, anyway? A fight between homo sapiens? A one-person fight involving someone with multiple personalities?)

Coulter is apparently being “dumped” (though probably not from all of Miami–I don’t think even Farah is delusional enough to think wnd has that much power) from her gig as a conference speaker because she agreed to speak for the “Republican group GOProud that promotes same-sex marriage and military service for open homosexuals.”

I did find the headline and lead surprising, at first, finding it difficult to believe that Coulter would be so enlightened as to speak for gay rights. But then I remembered: For enough money and attention, she’ll talk anywhere and say pretty much anything; getting her to shut up is the hard part.

Reading further confirmed the thought:

Asked by Farah why she was speaking to GOProud, Coulter said: “They hired me to give a speech, so I’m giving a speech. I do it all the time.”

Farah then asked: “Do you not understand you are legitimizing a group that is fighting for same-sex marriage and open homosexuality in the military – not to mention the idea that sodomy is just an alternate lifestyle?”

Coulter responded: “That’s silly, I speak to a lot of groups and do not endorse them. I speak at Harvard and I certainly don’t endorse their views. I’ve spoken to Democratic groups and liberal Republican groups that loooove abortion. The main thing I do is speak on college campuses, which is about the equivalent of speaking at an al-Qaida conference. I’m sure I agree with GOProud more than I do with at least half of my college audiences. But in any event, giving a speech is not an endorsement of every position held by the people I’m speaking to. I was going to speak for you guys, I think you’re nuts on the birther thing (though I like you otherwise!).”

Get that, birthers? Ann thinks you’re nuts. But at least the rubes who pay to attend Farah’s latest self-enrichment scam won’t have to hear her talk at his latest gimmick conference.

Of course you’ll get to keep reading her garbage at wnd.com. After all, she isn’t the only one whose “values” take a back seat to profit.

Funny next-day follow-up: Today wnd.com has a story whining that Ann Coulter “launched a verbal assault on WND Editor Joseph Farah today, calling the veteran journalist ‘swine’ and a publicity whore after she was dismissed as a keynote speaker for the news site’s upcoming “Taking America Back National Conference” here.”

Takes one to know one, I guess.

Coulter also took more shots at Farah’s ethics and at birthers:

Coulter took issue with WND’s publication of her e-mail discussion with Farah concerning her appearance.

“[T]his was an email exchange [between] friends and even though I didn’t expressly say ‘OFF THE RECORD’ and I believe everything I said, he’s a swine for using my private emails politely answering him,” Coulter wrote to the Daily Caller. “[W]hy would he do such a despicable thing? … for PUBLICITY.”

She continued: “I will say that [Farah] could give less than two sh–s about the conservative movement – as demonstrated by his promotion of the birther nonsense (long ago disproved by my newspaper, human events, also sweetness & light, american spectator and national review etc, etc etc). He’s the only allegedly serious conservative pushing the birther thing. for ONE reason: to get hits on his website.”

One good thing about wnd.com in dealing with Coulter: In the photos used to illustrate those stories, Coulter looks less like a hooker than usual.

Saturday update: The fun continues, with Coulter calling the wnd.com folks “fake Christians.” As I said early in this post, I suppose it takes one to know one.

But hey, at least she and fellow “gay-lover” Glenn Beck can be redeemed.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Little trust in government–does it matter?

Posted by James McPherson on April 19, 2010

So apparently record numbers of Americans distrust their government. As someone who still has a “Question Authority” pin in in his office (albeit pinned to a stuffed moose), I don’t think that distrust is necessarily a bad thing, and today NPR offers an excellent historical look (with a timeline that starts in 1775) at the issue.

Of course it is unfortunate and perhaps crippling if our distrust is so deep that it keeps us from even considering that government officials (whom, after all, we elected) and especially folks on the “other side” may have good ideas, and that they generally choose to serve because they want to do what’s best for the country or their community.

It’s even more dangerous for our democracy and our safety–as Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative writer Kathleen Parker and others point out–if at the same time that we seriously distrust government and mainstream media, we also decide to put inordinate trust in inflammatory whackjobs such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and various conspiracy theorists such as the “birthers” and “truthers.”

Domestic terrorism is nothing new in this country. There is little reason to think there isn’t more such terrorism on the horizon, fueled by incendiary rhetoric (often the ranting of anonymous cowards) on the airwaves and the Internet, and by and fearful, intellectually lazy Americans who place their trust in “authorities” even more questionable than those we elect.

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

More Bush-league antics: Did administration knowingly lock up innocents to play politics?

Posted by James McPherson on April 9, 2010

New revelations about the ongoing international embarrassment that is Guantanamo:  The Times of London today reports, “George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror.”

The claim is made by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and because Wilkerson has been a regular critic of the Bush administration his account will (and should) be questioned. Still, according to the newspaper, Wilkerson maintains that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld “knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was ‘politically impossible to release them.'”

Once again we’re left to wonder if the most dangerous post-9/11 war criminals were those who had offices in the White House.

Sadly, if Bush administration abuses are ever considered by the same Supreme Court that put Bush in office in the first place, the sole remaining real liberal on the court–Justice John Paul Stevens–will be gone.

It is a sad reflection of how far federal politics has shifted to the right, despite the fantasies of Glenn Beck and assorted Tea Party Mad Hatters, that the most liberal member of the court is someone who was appointed by Republican Gerald Ford. Sadder still is that a president whom loonies now claim to be a “socialist,” despite the fact that Barack Obama is more probably conservative than Richard Nixon, is the “liberal” who will get to try to replace Stevens.

At least the conservatives who will reflexively fight the nomination (and if Obama were to nominate Rush Limbaugh, those conservatives would suddenly be screaming that Limbaugh was “too liberal”) cannot hope to credibly claim that they don’t want “activist judges,” if they’ve paid any attention to Supreme Court decisions of the past few years.

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

Bipartisan agreement that conservatives should ease off the trigger

Posted by James McPherson on March 25, 2010

Having Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck of “The View” agree on something should give pause to those who would disagree with them. And if the agreement comes in the form of harsh criticism of Sarah Palin–for whom Hasselbeck stumped during the 2008 campaign–maybe it’s time for angry gun nuts and other Tea Party types to turn things down a notch.

The criticism revolves around Palin’s use of crosshairs on a map “targeting” Democrats, which Hasselbeck referred to as “purely despicable” and “an abuse of the Second Amendment.” Of course, John McCain defended Palin’s language–oddly, I agree with him in this case more than I do Hasselbeck, though I find the use of crosshairs more troubling. (By the way, if you Google “McCain defends Palin,” you get almost 3.9 million hits.)

I rarely agree with Hasselbeck, but I do sometimes feel sorry for her because she is so badly outnumbered on “The View,” just as I feel for Eleanor Clift when she frequently has to fight four conservatives on “The McLaughlin Group.” And as I said, I’m not sure that Palin’s language is that far over the line, in historical terms.

But if folks on your own side find problems with your methods, the proper response isn’t an Eric Cantor knee-jerk blame-the-Dems reaction. Instead, conservatives should be looking to how they might appeal more to the rational middle rather than to the the lunatic fringe that is now getting so much attention.

Republicans, you lost, despite your best and worst efforts. Get over it. Elections have consequences. Approval of both health care reform and Democrats is already climbing, probably in part because of your obstructionist methods.

Of course, you’ll probably focus on the part of the CBS poll that says most Americans want you to keep fighting health care reform, and either through ignorance or (more likely) willful distortion you’ll misinterpret that result the same as you did the polls showing that most Americans weren’t happy with the proposed health care bill.

You see, many of us opposed the bill not because it went too far but because it doesn’t go nearly far enough, even if we think it’s better than the nothing you would have given us. Likewise, many of us hope you keep fighting reform, because we want you to keep demonstrating how out of touch you are with most Americans, boosting the party of “Yes we can” even more over that of “Hell no you can’t.” (For more on that, see the video below).

Frankly, we aren’t crazy about the Democrats, but considering the mess you created when you were in charge, we much prefer a Democratic majority over a Republican one. Come to think of it, please keep listening to Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and ramping up the loony language–it seems to be doing wonders for our side.

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

Obama saves turkey, not soldiers or landmine victims

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2009

Some 34,000 troops face the prospect of celebrating their last Thanksgiving at home–or their last Thanksgiving, ever–as President Obama will apparently announce a plan Tuesday to send them to the bottomless pit of Afghanistan.

Naturally right-wing wackos such as Glenn Beck and Dick Cheney (aka Glenn the Weeper and the Grim Reaper) say that sending more troops into harm’s way earlier would actually be a way to support the military. (I haven’t linked to the info about Cheney, because frankly I wish he’d just shut up and crawl back into whatever hole he was hiding in during most of his vice presidency).

Of course American soldiers and Afghans won’t be the only ones who will be blown up during this holiday season (though one turkey has been saved). Millions of people–many of them in countries no longer at war (unlike the U.S., which is virtually always at war, though few of its citizens suffer beyond economics as a result)–face the possibility of being among the thousands killed each year by landmines scattered in fields throughout the world.

More than 150 countries have signed on to an international convention that bans the production, stockpiling and use of land mines. International organizations expressed concern last summer about the fact that Iraq (a signer of the ban) had an estimated 20 million mines (and 2.66 million kid-killing cluster bomblets, an American specialty) spread throughout various parts of the country. Iraq’s mines that will take decades to clear.

So who hasn’t signed on to the landmine ban? The U.S., of course. The Obama administration announced yesterday that it would not change George W. Bush’s policy because “we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we signed this convention” without mines and cluster bombs. Apparently Obama likes Tuesdays for announcing decisions about propagating of mass murder.

To be fair, the U.S. isn’t the only nation refusing to sign onto the treaty–others include the enlightened nations of China, Russia, Pakistan and Myanmar. And India, which saw its prime minister and Obama proclaim their “growing partnership” at a black-tie state dinner last night. Wearing black seems appropriate (though in India the traditional mourning color is white).

The dinner came almost exactly a year after deadly attacks in Mumbai–perhaps the last time that Twitter actually provided a useful service (though apparently it also helped terrorists track down victims, as discussed tonight on the PBS program “Secrets of the Dead“). Sadly, the current presidential administration seems dedicated to pursuing the kinds of policies produced by its predecessor, guaranteeing an increasing number of those kinds of “secrets.”

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Back from Bombingham

Posted by James McPherson on October 15, 2009

Spending most of last week in Birmingham, Ala., center of several key events in the Civil Rights movement, was a good reminder of how far we’ve come in the struggle for fairness in America. For someone who spends most of his time in the Pacific Northwest, the visit–and several of the papers and panels presented at the American Journalism Historians Association convention–also provided a good reminder of how far we haven’t come in dealing with race issues. (The ongoing health care debate also serves as a reminder of American inequities, of course.)

Known for a time as “Bombingham,” the city saw several church bombings during the 1960s. The most famous explosion killed four girls in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (which I visited last Friday). And though I knew much of the story of the four girls, until Friday I never knew that two African American boys had been killed–one by a police officer–in race-related attacks on the same day.

Still, as LZ Granderson reminds us, the issue of equality is complicated and goes far beyond race. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (which will inevitably be killed, eventually) and the issue of gay marriage (which eventually will be approved in most, if not all, of the United States) provide current examples.

There is no denying that much remains to be done, and sometimes it may seem that the nation is becoming more polarized in the discussion of difficult issues. Thankfully, despite our many differences, we seem to keep working on it. Nowadays the most important race-baiting bombthrowers such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh typically lob their explosives figuratively, out in the open, rather than burying them beneath church steps.

Below is an interesting student-produced video history of the 1963 bombing. And lest you think race problems are behind us, note the most recent ignorant comment, “black people are dumb lol.”

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »