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’

NFL replacement refs: A matter of life and death?

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2012

I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan, but I don’t feel good about the results of last night’s “win” against the Green Bay Packers. Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ve no doubt heard that that officials blew the call–actually a couple of calls–on the final play of the game. Talking heads are going nuts about it, and not just on the sports channels. Even Paul Ryan used it to take a shot at Barack Obama today, while anti-union Gov. Scott Walker urged National Football League owners to give the regular union refs what they want.

On the other hand, the game had been officiated poorly throughout–had the officials not prolonged a Packer drive with two questionable calls, the Seahawks might have been ahead, anyway. Green Bay offensive guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sutton took to Twitter to blame the loss on the officials, but those two guys and their cohorts on the offensive line had managed to give up a near-record eight sacks in the first half. The replacement refs weren’t any more pitiful than the Packers’ pass blocking.

Still, fans and commentators are calling the officiating of NFL replacement refs (which goes beyond Monday night’s game) and the outcome of the game a tragedy. Abhorant. Appalling. Atrocious. Awful. Deplorable. Devastating. A disasterDisgusting. Dreadful. Hideous. Horrendous. HorrifyingInsane. MoronicPitiful. Stupid. Terrible. Unbelievable. Unfair.

Those people are understandably upset, but they’re also wrong. For better definitions of the words listed above, click on the links embedded in them. Then take a breath and count your blessings, if your life is secure enough that you can invest more emotion in a football game than in any of those issues (or many others that might have been included). Better yet, write a letter or a check that might help real victims–none of which played on Monday Night Football.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Posted by James McPherson on December 30, 2008

It’s the time of year for lists, and not surprisingly, the election of Barack Obama topped the annual Associated Press list of the top 10 stories of the year. The next three were the economic meltdown, oil prices and Iraq. The order of those three stories help explain the election of Obama.

In fact, Iraq has faded so much in importance that now NOT ONE of the three major broadcast networks has a full-time correspondent there (reaffirming once again how far the news operations of the Big Three have fallen).

China made the AP list in fifth and sixth place, with the Olympics and the May earthquake that killed 70,000 people.  I was happy to see no “Nancy Grace specialties (“pretty dead white woman stories) on the list, while two women in politics–Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton–finished seventh and ninth. Two more international stories, the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Russia-Georgia war, filled out the list.

CNN let readers and viewers vote on the top stories, and as of today those readers the respondents agreed with the AP on the top three. Further down, however, Michael Phelps, O.J. Simpson, Rod Blogojevich and same-sex marriage all made that list.

Fox News also lets “you decide,” though just through a running blog that lets people sound off. Some respondents’ ideas for “top story” (as written): “The biggest story of 2008 is that Barack Obama is not eligible to hold the office of the President, because he is not a Natural Born Citizen”; “It was the Democrat spawned credit crisis which they have worked so hard for to have it happen when the election was close”; “a made up money crisis to sway an election and Muslim financing in our institutions”; and “How the Democrats highjacked the economy and the white house.”

Time‘s list was considerably different and more internationally oriented than the others. The magazine put the economy at the head of its “top 10” list, followed by Obama’s election, but the next eight were the Mumbai attacks, terrorism in Pakistan, international piracy, the war in Georgia, poisonous Chinese imports, the Columbian rescue of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, and “Mother’s Nature’s double whammy” in China and Burma.

Time also offered a number of other top 10’s, including lists of crime stories, political gaffes (the Huffington Post also offers its own list of “top political scandals“), oddball news, and medical breakthroughs.

I found Time‘s list of underreported stories among the most interesting and disturbing. For example, No. 9 on the list: the shipment of 6,700 tons of radioactive sand–created by U.S. weapons during the first Persian Gulf War–from Kuwait to Idaho.

Fox News contributer K.T. McFarland offered her own “most important story everyone missed this year,” one particularly close to my own heart: “the death of news delivered in print and the birth of news delivered over the internet.” She also engaged in a bit of snarky broadcast-style self-promotional hyperbole: “Perhaps the most intriguing new way to deliver news is something FOX News came up with this summer–online streaming programming delivered right to your computer screen. FOX’s first foray into this medium, The Strategy Room, is part news program, part panel discussion, part chat room. It’s been called ‘”The View” for Smart People.'”

Actually, like “The View,” “The Strategy Room” is sometimes informative, sometimes a trivial and inane collection of posers. But if you want to be really afraid–and disgusted with the shortcomings of fading American journalism–read Project Censored’s annual list of the top 25 “censored stories.”

In truth, the stories were simply underreported or incorrectly reported rather than censored, but the fact remains that every story on the list is more important than the “accomplishments” of Britney Spears (who topped MTV’s list), Paris Hilton, and every other Hollywood nitwit combined. And speaking of nitwits, Fox News also produced a “top” list. On its Christmas Day front page, Fox–the great “protector” of Christmas–offered “2008’s Hottest Bods.”

Finally, on a personal note related to another list: I was excited yesterday morning to see my blog at #5 on the WordPress list of “top growing blogs,” with my post about Christmas killers hitting at least as high as #76 on the list of top posts for the day. Less encouraging were the responses from nutball racists (mixed in with several more thoughtful and thought-provoking comments) on both sides of the Iraeli-Arab issue over both that post and yesterday’s.

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

Christmas killers, foreign & domestic: More proof the world looks better from a distance

Posted by James McPherson on December 28, 2008

The second-most popular CNN story right now is actually a series of photos taken of the Earth by NASA. They include photos of a hurricane, damaged Gulf Coast wetlands, disintegration of a massive ice shelf, flooding in the Midwest, wildfires in California, clearcutting of forests in Bolivia, and irrigated fields in Sudan.

The most-popular story? “Santa shooter carried secret guilt, attorney says.” Not guilt about dressing up as Santa and killing nine people on Christmas Eve, but over how his ineptitude as a parent left his son (a son that until recently he kept secret from his now-murdered ex-wife) a paraplegic.

In the meantime, Israel continues to celebrate the Christmas season by defying the United Nations–keeping with its long tradition of ignoring the UN and recognizing that sanctions only matter when those sanctions are violated by countries the United States want to invade–and waging war against Palestinians.

Israel knew, of course, that it would have the full support of the U.S., even as Bush Administration continues to contribute to a potential polar ice cap-like meltdown of the Middle East.

The New York Times leads with a story about the Israeli bombings entering their second day, but its lead sidebar is headlined, “Israeli Foreign Minister Says Hamas Is to Blame.” Now there’s a shock. The next story is more important, in the long run: “Across Mideast, Thousands Protest Israeli Assault.”

As a more positive offering marking the end of the Christmas season and the hopes for a better New Year,  I’ll end today’s post with a Christmas version of “From a Distance”:

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Science, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments »

Apparently 23 percent of Americans are stand-up comedians or Fox News hosts

Posted by James McPherson on December 26, 2008

That’s the percentage of Americans who say they’ll miss President George W. Bush, according to a CNN poll. Less surprising is that 75 percent will be happy to see “the decider“–who already is questioning one of his own pardons, from less than a week ago–ride off into the sunset.

 Many Iraqis feel the same way, of course, to the point that Time magazine writes that the recent Bush “shoe bombing” will have an effect on that nation’s upcoming elections. In the meantime, retailers just wish Bush–or anyone–would go shopping.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Blind “love,” blind justice, and Bush’s shoe bomber

Posted by James McPherson on December 14, 2008

As far as we still have to go in this country in terms of equal rights for women and criminal justice, CNN today offers another reminder that things are worse elsewhere.

An Iranian stalker blinded his love object with acid, then “offered” to marry her after he disfigured her. The victim has now convinced an Islamic court that her attacker should face truth “eye-for-an-eye” justice, being blinded with acid himself.

Of all the troubling things about this particular case, perhaps the most disturbing is this line from the victim, recalling her thoughts when she realized that she was about to be attacked: “At that moment, I saw in my mind the face of two sisters who years ago had the same thing happen to them. I thought, ‘Oh, my God–acid.'”

The story also notes that Iran is one of only two countries in the world where “eye-gouging” is considered appropriate punishment. The other is the birthplace of most of the 9/11 World Trade Center attackers, and perhaps the world largest funder of Islamic terrorism–and our biggest ally in the region–Saudi Arabia.

After literally holding hands with the Saudis (some of whom have plenty of reasons for being upset, themselves), George W. Bush is fortunate that people (a journalist, interestingly) are throwing only shoes at him.

Thursday update: Bush obviously isn’t the only one beholden to the Saudis–CNN reports that Bill Clinton is, too, to the tune of perhaps $25 million.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Religion, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 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 »

‘What’s happenin’ here?’ The news ain’t exactly clear: How to keep up with what’s going on, and why

Posted by James McPherson on December 2, 2008

I got a kick out of it a few months ago when former student and follow blogger Grady Locklear, wrote in a post that I seemed “to check in with every news source under the sun on a daily basis.” I don’t, of course, though I do follow the news more closely than most people. After all, it’s my job.

But if you’re an American citizen who cares about such things as freedom, self-government and democracy, paying attention to the news is your job, too. Fortunately, it’s also not all that difficult, though the news media don’t always make it as simple as it could be. It’s not totally your fault that you probably know more about Natalie Holloway than about NAFTA.

For example, a quick current events question: What outbreak of violence during the past week killed the most people? I’d be willing to bet that most folks would answer with the terrorist attacks in India. But they would be wrong, even though CNN, the New York Times and other news organizations still are focusing heavily on it. Other lead CNN stories today discuss genocide in Iraq, a much larger historical example of mass bloodshed and the possibility of future mass murder, but neither of those is related to the past week’s deadliest outbreak of violence, either.

Though I seem to get a lot of email from bankers, princes and government officials in Nigeria, apparently no one was twittering the violence there where election-related clashes between Christians and Muslims killed hundreds. I don’t think the story was in my local paper at all. CNN had a story Saturday, but unlike the India story today it is already “old news.”

To find anything about Nigeria on CNN today, you have to go to “world news” and then “Africa” (where you also can find a story about cholera killing hundreds of people in perhaps the world’s most screwed-up nation, Zimbabwe.and the New York Times carried it on an inside page.  On the New York Times site, again you must go to “world news,” where you can find a story about Myanmar’s government policies contributing to thousands of AIDS deaths but again nothing about Nigeria unless you click into the “Africa” section. There you’ll find it, if you’ve bothered to go that far.

Contrast that with al-Jazeera. It also leads with stories about India, and in fact there are a number of things that make the India story particularly important (links to terrorism, tensions between nuke nations India and Pakiston, the fact that every time I make a phone call for computer support the call is answered by someone in India, etc.). But al-Jazeera’s front page also has a story about the violence in Nigeria–along with important stories about Congo, Thailand, North Korea, Israel, Romania, Afganistan, Libya, Kuwait, South Africa, Venezuala, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia (the Georgia near Russia, not the one hosting the never-ending Sarah Palin road show).

In fact, American news media offer us far less international news than they once did, at a time when world events are perhaps more important than ever before. Foreign bureaus have been slashed, and many news organizations are letting their competitors pick up the slack–which might be fine, if more of us were reading a broader range of news sources. Most of us, however, rely on just a few. Worse, most of us rely on television, the single worst mass medium for provided context with the news.

So, back to how I follow the news. The first thing I do when I get up and start to get ready for work is flip on CNN, just to see if anything of major importance is happening (a habit I started with 9/11, after a colleague called me to tell me to turn on the television). I usually read my local paper with breakfast, then go to work. I listen to NPR on my way in, and frequently listen to conservative talk radio on my way home (except on the rare occasions I get out early enough to catch “Marketplace”).

At various times during the day, as I have short breaks, I then check in with other media. I always skim the headlines at CNN and the New York Times. If I have extra time, I’ll check Fox News and the Huffington Post, to get the extremes on both political sides. And then if something from any of those sites intrigues me, I’ll follow a thread, looking for other stories on the same topic. If the topic is politics, I’ll check out Real Clear Politics. If it’s international news I’ll check al-Jazeera, the Christian Science Monitor and/or the Guardian.

At night I typically watch some of “The Newshour” on PBS, and might check in with CNN again and/or Fox News or MSNBC. Or maybe I’ll read part of a magazine: I currently subscribe to The Nation, The Progressive Ode and Time, though I vary them at times as subscriptions run out or I get good deals. I generally avoid the whirling mess of irrelevant images and video news releases provided by local television news except to check the weather or occasional sports highlights. If I’m up late enough, I’ll tune into “The Daily Show” and perhaps “The Colbert Report,” both of which offer some interesting takes on the news.

To your right, you’ll also see links to a lot of other news sources. Most of those I check in with fairly rarely, but I try to hit each one–along with a variety of bloggers from various perspectives–once a month or so. Sometimes I add or delete a link, and your preferences may vary. The most important thing, as I’ve written before, is to get your news from a variety of sources.

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

Modern ‘poll tax’: Long lines hurt working class & democracy

Posted by James McPherson on November 3, 2008

Joe the Plumber may be able to take entire days off of work to campaign against the candidate whose tax plan would benefit him the most–however much one might wonder why he would do so, other than as a means of getting attention–but long lines at polling places may influence the ability of many other members of the working class to vote for their favored candidates.

Republicans and CNN’s Campbell Brown may see no problem with that, though as the daughter of a former Louisiana state senator Brown should know better. Of course Brown is yet another example of the so-called “liberal media” with obvious conservative ties. Daddy was a Democrat, but a southern Dem. Brown’s current husband, Daniel Senor, is a Republican consultant and Fox News regular who once served President George W. Bush as spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and then became a foreign policy advisor to Mitt Romney during Romney’s presidential bid.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has become increasingly strident and Keith Olbermann-like, but last night she pointed out the real problem with long lines–and why they pose a threat to democracy. I’ll post the video below.

I’m lucky, because I vote in Washington State and can do so by mail. Also fortunate, and smart, are those who can and do vote early. With luck, one day every American voter may be able to do the same. In the meantime, I agree with one thing that both Brown and Maddow said: Vote anyway, even if it’s difficult.

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

Warku #1

Posted by James McPherson on September 8, 2008

This is the first of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history.

—————

Axis of evil

For sake of definition

Can’t beat the devil

—————

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Bush administration uses anthrax to kill American soldiers, Iraqis, civil liberties

Posted by James McPherson on August 1, 2008

An Army scientist who may have mailed anthrax to various news organizations and government officials in 2001 is dead of an apparent suicide. (Despite the fact that he was reportedly a committed Catholic, for whom I think suicide would have been a mortal sin, letters to the editor show that he was obviously confused.) Though friends and family claim that Bruce E. Ivins was innocent and the victim of FBI harassment, he also had been accused recently of having “a history dating to his graduate days of homicidal threats, actions, plans, threats & actions towards therapist.”

Perhaps I’ve just watched too many episodes of “The X-Files,” “Prison Break” and similar programs, but If the accusation about long-time violent tendencies is true, one might wonder why Ivins was allowed to work in Army biodefense labs–WITH ANTHRAX, FOR GOD’S SAKE–for EIGHTEEN FREAKING YEARS! One would hope it was merely oversight or stupidity and not related in any way to all the help Ivins allegedly gave the Bush administration in its efforts to curb civil liberties in America and start a war in Iraq.

Perhaps no one has covered the anthrax issue better than Glenn Greenwald, who today offers another detailed and thought-provoking piece (one of a series of such stories). As Greenwald writes, “It was anthrax–sent directly into the heart of the country’s elite political and media institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets–that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.” Greenwald previously has pointed out that ABC played a significant role in the false impression that Saddam Hussein and Iraq may have been involved in the anthrax attacks.

I have suggested to many people over the years (though not previously in writing), that if the culprit was ever found, he or she would likely be someone or strongly sympathetic to–if not associated with–the Bush administration. I did note a couple of years ago in my first book that the anthrax scare came just before Congress was asked to pass the USA PATRIOT Act. You’ll notice that the targeted Congressmen were somewhat liberal members of Congress, who might some might have expected to opposed the administration’s attempts to run roughshod over civil liberties. Apparently the terrorist neglected to send an envelope to Russ Feingold, the only Senator to oppose the act (which passed 357-66 in the House).

Many aspects of the Patriot Act had been proposed before 9/11, but Congress hurried to push it through in October 2001, just after the anthrax mailings. President George W. Bush created the Office of Homeland Security at about the same time, and began a concerted effort to link Hussein and Iraq to anthrax and other weapons of mass destruction. John McCain made the same connection: thinkprogress has video.

Perhaps the anthrax culprit has been identified, is dead, and is no longer a threat. But so far the 2001 anthrax scare has helped kill thousands of American soldiers, tens of thousands of Iraqis, and American civil liberties.

AUGUST 3 UPDATE: Greenwald continues his excellent coverage of the issue, asking important questions about journalists’ knee-jerk protection of even obviously dishonest government sources.

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