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 ‘Iraq War’

Steele again suffers from inadvertent truth-telling

Posted by James McPherson on July 3, 2010

In a turnaround so quick that you’d think he had insulted Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele is now trying to explain away his latest gaffe: calling U.S. involvement in Afghanistan “a war of Obama’s choosing… not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”

Republicans are more up in arms over Steele’s comments than Democrats (who no doubt are enjoying the show), with neocon loony Bill Kristol and the GOP version of the Bride of Frankenstein among those calling for Steele’s resignation.

The interesting thing is, as when he made derogatory comments about Limbaugh, in this case Steele was somewhat accurate.  Under George W. Bush, the Afghanistan war “not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” because the Bush administration was far more interested in figuring out how to falsely tie Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. Unfortunately for the Bushies, Afghanistan is where 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden chose to hide, providing a brief diversion from Iraq.

The end result was two stupid mismanaged wars for the price of … well the price, now over a trillion dollars, may end up being a hundred times the original estimated cost of one war. 

In addition, though it wasn’t his war to start with, Barack Obama has ramped up U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan(perhaps the only thing he’s done that neocons like), increasing troop numbers and the usage of killing-from-home drone attacks. Interestingly, though predator drone operators may sit in a room outside of Las Vegas, they wear flight suits as if they were fighter pilots in jets fighters, or perhaps George W. Bush action figures.

By the way, what is it about the GOP and it’s attempts to appeal to African Americans? It’s answer to Thurgood Marshall, one of the best Supreme Court justices of all time (and perhaps the least conservative, though the two don’t necessarily go together) was Clarence Thomas, perhaps the dumbest and most conservative. Then Republicans responded to the election of America’s first African American president by choosing Steele as their leader. At least, unlike Steele, Thomas is quietly stupid.

On an unrelated but timely matter: Have a great Fourth of July. Be patriotic by not wearing an American flag, though you may want to burn one.

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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 »

Poll puts Obama lower than Oslo’s temperature

Posted by James McPherson on December 9, 2009

Though often I wish that CNN would avoid editorializing and the sort of programming that I most disdain about Fox News and MSNBC (the departure of Lou Dobbs was a good step; if Nancy Grace and perhaps Jack Cafferty would follow Dobbs out the door I’d be even happier), I admit that I still appreciated the irony of this CNN lead today: “President Obama–fighting wars in two countries–will arrive in Norway on Thursday to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.”

The story also reminds us, “Nominations for the prize had to be postmarked by February 1, only 12 days after Obama took office. The committee sent out its solicitation for nominations last September, two months before Obama was elected president.” After last week, and especially since the number of Americans who think Obama deserves the prize has dropped below 20 percent, I wonder if the Nobel Committee would like a recount.

By the way, the expected low temperature for tomorrow in Oslo, where Obama will pick up the prize, is 26 degrees. The expected high is 32 degrees (right at freezing, though not as chilly as the reception he might get from former supporters when he campaigns for re-election). Come to think of it, many Americans may be thinking of traveling to Norway to warm up.

On the other hand, another 35 percent of those surveyed think it likely that Obama will eventually do enough to deserve the prize. Based on that thinking, with this semester nearing an end, perhaps I should assign final grades based on what I think students will someday achieve. But I can’t, since I keep telling them that actual performance matters and that actions have consequences.

Obama and the Democrats who let us think that poor Americans wouldn’t have to risk getting shot in Afghanistan to get a job or decent health care may find out in 2010 and 2012 just how much their actions matter.

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

‘Oh-bomb-a-nation’: Another chickenhawk president ‘Extenze’ a war

Posted by James McPherson on December 1, 2009

American commanders-in-chief apparently tend to have extremely small penises. I’m obviously in no position to know for sure (though perhaps Michaele Salahi is), but how else can you explain presidents’ unending need to prove their manhood through meaningless and ultimately counterproductive warfare?

Maybe it’s guilt, since recent presidents also have been “men” who managed to avoid military service themselves. Or maybe they feel shame because of their common inability to produce male offspring who might carry on the family name (or, in the case of George H. W. Bush, shame because of the males who will carry it on).

Whatever the reason, presidents do love their toy soldiers. And those soldiers generally remain willing to risk life, limb and marriage, guided by a combination of patriotism, presidential lies, and a lack of economic options (thanks in part to an economy hampered by war spending).

Instead of pulling his (Lyndon) Johnson, so to speak, to turn Afghanistan into another Vietnam, Obama should be pulling troops out of that unwinnable conflict. Through withdrawal he could be the first president since Jimmy Carter not to go out of his way to kill people to prove he’s a tough guy, and maybe in the process avoid being a one-term president. Of course we all know what a wuss Amy’s dad was.

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

Kill ’em now or kill ’em later: Fort Hood’s more than 500 dead–and counting

Posted by James McPherson on November 6, 2009

Obviously yesterday’s killings at Fort Hood were a tragedy, with at least 13 people dead, so far. Still, I can’t help but think about the fact that if the dozen soldiers killed (one victim was a civilian) had died a couple of weeks from now–after they were in Iraq–the deaths would barely be a blip on the media screen.

One thing they have in common with their fallen comrades abroad is that they’ll now pass through Dover Air Force Base. I wonder if President Barack Obama will show up to “honor” their deaths.

Keep in mind that Fort Hood has lost more than 500–again, that’s more than five hundred–of its soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some about to be deployed for the fourth time. That’s in addition at least a dozen “suspicious deaths” at the base in recent months.

So yes, the latest deaths are tragic–but just a small part of an ongoing larger tragedy that will continue to play out for years to come.

Same-day follow-up: A student reminded me this morning (thanks, John) that as Rolling Stone reports, Fort Hood isn’t the only American military base with similar problems.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Blogosphere and loathing in academia: To blog or not to blog

Posted by James McPherson on April 20, 2009

I created this blog it to try to reach students in a new way while learning some new technological skills and sharing information about two subjects in which I have some expertise. This Wednesday will be the one-year anniversary of the day I started blogging. It also may be my last day.

The blog has proven to be a valuable method for saving Internet links and ideas that I use in teaching and other writing, and to help students (and at least a few professionals) access some useful tools. I’ve been able to share a lot of information and some skills achieved through this experiment that I, and therefore my students, might not otherwise have picked up. An unexpected side benefit is that it actually seemed to boost my credibility–my “cool factor,” as one student put it–with some of those students.

All in all, my year of blogging has been a great experience–interesting, useful and usually fun. I would recommend it to about any teacher, in any academic discipline (though posting weekly might be more rational than my almost-daily approach).

But I’ve decided to step away from regular blogging, and this seems like a logical time. Tomorrow I’ll offer more details about why I’m quitting–or at least cutting back considerably–and Wednesday I’ll offer a list of my previous favorites, in case you want to check out any you’ve missed. Today I’ll note some of the things I’ve most appreciated about doing this.

Though I’ve tried to make the vast majority of my posts about media and politics rather than about me, please forgive this departure into the personal. Feel free to skip this post (and tomorrow’s), but if you’re a fellow academic or media professional interested in some of the reasons you may or may not want to actively participate in the blogosphere, you may want to read on.

After spending a few days at a Poynter Institute workshop and talking to some other professors and journalists about the idea, I wrote my first blog post (a prediction of success for Barack Obama and potential problems for John McCain) last April. But I’ve decided that one year (and more than 300 posts) is enough. And though I’ve been thinking about it for some time (and mentioned it in passing here a couple of weeks ago), my decision caught even my wife by surprise.

By the way, if you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that I never use her name. She actually appreciates a level of anonymity on the Web and elsewhere, as difficult as that may be to believe in this viral, egocentric, Twitterific, in-your-Facebook, screw-YouTube, blogtastic culture.

Like me, my wife has mixed emotions about my decision to step away from the biosphere… er, blogosphere (and no, the two are not synonymous). She’s happy that I’ll be a bit less compulsive about doing this (and of course will believe it when she sees it), but a bit disappointed that I won’t be sharing my ideas (most of which she likes) so regularly. At least I think that was the mixture of her emotions, and not the other way around–that she’s glad not to feel obligated to read so much of what I write, but unhappy that I may have more free time with her.

Her surprise at my decision came because she knew that I wasn’t bored with or burned out from blogging. In fact,  in some respects it energizes me. I feel more connected with the professional worlds of media and politics, and in some ways more connected with my students.

I’m not stopping because I dislike the writing. Like George Orwell and many others, I knew early in life that I would be a writer, and I love to write in varied ways. My published works include a couple of books, several book chapters, and articles in academic journals, newspapers and magazines. As-yet-unpublished works include a book of short fiction and a partially finished novel.

I love how words work, what Orwell called “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another.” I amuse myself, if not others, with a creative headline or turn of phrase (I hope you didn’t need to read the first five words of today’s headline out loud to get it), giving proof to Orwell’s statement, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”

Though I’d been warned about “trolls” and other crazies who might find me, and some did, but I’ve never worried much about criticism and frankly I’ve greatly enjoyed most of my interactions with people here (and on other people’s blogs). I take pride in the fact that even when I know I’ll offend people, I try to do it in a thoughtful way that encourages dialogue rather than closing it off. I try to do the same elsewhere, as well: At least one conservative blogger has me linked as the one liberal alternative on his site, as a result of our online discussions.

Via this blog I’ve “met” students who have never taken one of my classes, and have engaged in “discussions” with a number of professional journalists as well as with other bloggers. I’ve been enriched by all those who comment, and am especially grateful for the regulars such as Gabrielle, Luis, Zelda, Grady and Mike (at least two of whom disagree with me more often than they agree).

A few people have been very offended, of course. Blatantly stupid or offensive remarks have come from both conservatives and liberals. At least one parent of a college student has suggested that I be fired from my job as a professor–but the reaction he received from other readers who came to my defense was one of the highlights of my blogging experience.

The professional and student connections I made quickly helped me overcome some fears that blogging might somehow detract from my teaching. I don’t personally know many other faculty bloggers, and though there are some out there this is not a well-tested pedagogical approach.

I did have someone ask me how this might affect my future promotion possibilities, especially since my opinions often run counter to those of many  administrators, donors, students and parents associated with the institution where I teach. My wife chuckled at that question (which she wasn’t surprised that I hadn’t even considered), remembering what she used to call my “continuing efforts to avoid tenure.”

After all, since long before I started blogging I’ve been writing strong opinions in local newspapers, participating in political panel discussions, and joining political protests. More recently, I wore a black armband daily for several weeks to protest and mourn the Iraq War.

Along with a variety of media history artifacts, my office is decorated with items such as a large “No War” yard sign, a poster showing the 1963 March on Washington, a large 48-star American flag, a poster of a controversial Artis Lane lithograph of the Statue of Liberty, a stuffed “George W. Bush pants-on-fire doll,” and a framed copy of the 1979 “H-bomb” issue of the Progressive that led to what should have been a key First Amendment case. (I say “should have been,” because by the time the case was decided, as I’ve noted in both my first and second books, the mainstream media had mostly  given up engaging in the sorts of activities that the First Amendment was designed to protect.)

I do think that the fact that I have been tenured and promoted, and that this blog has actually been mentioned in the university’s alumni magazine, speaks well for the administration and the values of my institution–which a couple of years ago granted me one of its highest teaching awards. Yet most of my students disagree with me politically (further reflecting the idiocy of the “indoctrination” arguments made by David Horowitz and others like him), and those who disagree with me most strenuously tend to be among the students I tend to like most (yes, like parents, teachers have their favorites, and like parents we try to hide it).

I also am not ceasing blogging because I’m in danger of running out of ideas. I typically have parts of more than a dozen drafts under way. Some entries I quickly write and posted on one sitting. Others (including this one) I work on half a dozen times over a space of days or weeks before posting. Some I never finished, and they were eventually discarded or just forgotten in my “drafts” bin. Others I went back to after extended periods of thought or after an event suddenly makes them seem more timely.

So there are some of the reasons why I have reservations about stepping away from this year-long educational exercise. Tomorrow’s post will explain why it is time to do so.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Freedom Tower goes way of freedom, making room for Chinese

Posted by James McPherson on March 28, 2009

Remember that “Freedom Tower” being built in New York where the World Trade Center once stood? It’s still going up, but don’t call it that. You wouldn’t want to confuse the Chinese tenants.

After a slow start, the building is now about one-eleventh of the way toward its eventual 108-story height. But the Port Authority, which owns the land, has announced that the name of the structure will be “One World Trade Center.” Is that to remind us that there will be “one” tall building where there used to be two?

Also announced was the first tenant of the tower: a Chinese corporation that will occupy more than five floors of the new building after it is completed in 2013. Somehow that seems appropriate.

After all, the Bush/Cheney administration lied us into an unending war in Iraq, and kept warning us about Iran, but continued warm relations with the equally nasty Saudi kingdom–where most of the 9/11 hijackers and money actually originated.

Then, to “get back” at the terrorists even as the economy was headed toward a cliff, Bush told us to “go shopping.” That was a great boost for the Chinese, who produce most of the stuff we buy. In the meantime, the administration (aided, of course, by gutless and clueless of Congress) spent the next few years doing all it could to strip us of freedom at home.

Now Barack Obama tells us the fate of the world rests in Afghanistan, and maybe we ought to worry about those crazy drug lords on our southern border. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first overseas trip was to China, the nation that will be–if it hasn’t already–the one that replaces us at the top of the heap in terms of world power.

Clinton went to plead with the Chinese to please, please, please don’t let us go bankrupt. Hey, soon perhaps freedom will return: After all, in the words written by Kris Kristofferson and famously sung by another Texan, Janis Joplin, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

You can hear the full song below, by both artists:

Posted in History, Music, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

More than a little sick of warmongers? Get on board the Sick Train

Posted by James McPherson on March 13, 2009

As much debate has there has been about the stimulus bill and the economy (debate spilling over into primetime television), it’s good to remember that the single biggest long-term drag on our economy for most of our lifetimes probably will be the Iraq War–which, we hear today, that the public is “a little sick” of hearing about, talking about, etc. If you want a better picture of what the war will cost you, and for how long, check out NationalPriorities.org.

And for those of you who have recently joined our ranks aboard the sick train (now there’s a song I can’t imagine Cat Stevens singing, even under the name Yusuf Islam): welcome aboard–but what took you so long? Some of us were more than a little sick of this war, and equally sick of the Bush/Cheney cabal that foisted it upon a generally clueless and revenge-seeking public, years ago.

As I’ve noted previously (in a book and repeatedly here), a gutless Democratic Party and a Bush-kissing mainstream press constributed to the problem in the first place. Both now seem largely determined to forget it, but it will be with us for decades to come.

It remains to see whether the “anti-war” Barack Obama will be any better than Bush in terms of war and related spending, and judging by his first steps into the quagmire of Afghanistan, I have my doubts. In the meantime, war also rages much closer, on our southern border. Though I’m not sure we should be helping out there, either, it may not matter–we can’t spare the troops, even if we wanted to help.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Two booming businesses: Iraqi sex trade and pretty dead white woman porn

Posted by James McPherson on March 8, 2009

Though it may be hard to pick them out among the stories of economic devastation here, new kinds of bad news just keep coming from the  Iraq War. Now, also related to the economy, Time reports that the American occupation of Iraq apparently has benefited one kind of trade there: the buying and selling of girls for sex trafficking:

Nobody knows exactly how many Iraqi women and children have been sold into sexual slavery since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, and there are no official numbers because of the shadowy nature of the business. Baghdad-based activists …  and others put the number in the tens of thousands. Still, it remains a hidden crime; one that the 2008 US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report says the Iraqi government is not combating. Baghdad, the report says, “offers no protection services to victims of trafficking, reported no efforts to prevent trafficking in persons and does not acknowledge trafficking to be a problem in the country.”

The story also reminds us that a woman who is raped in that part of the world might well be killed for “dishonoring” their families. Those victims likely will receive no media attention there, let alone here. Yet in the U.S. the case of another pretty dead (or at least probably dead, since she has been missing for more than two years) American white woman has remained among the top stories for CNN for several days.

Meanwhile, some news media today have reported that the body of another woman was found in the trunk of her own car yesterday, several days after her uncle says she had been reported missing to “unhelpful” police. If only someone had thought to send an angelic prom photo of 22-year-old Denise Figueroa to crime porn whore Nancy Grace, Figueroa’s disappearance might have got some more attention, earlier. Though perhaps not, with that last name.

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