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 ‘Jay Leno’

New ‘gotcha’ politics — making fun of ignorant fellow Americans

Posted by James McPherson on July 7, 2012

We know that politicians say dumb things, some more than others. And one of the more troubling-but-ubiquitous parts of campaign season has long been how much the news media and political campaigns play “gotcha,” blowing out of proportion the occasional inevitable gaffes made by politicians.

Admittedly, a series of gaffes–or the inability to answer even the simplest questions–may signify something important about a candidate’s qualifications, but most slips of the tongue can be attributed to the exhaustion and distraction that naturally come with a campaign. How many of us could be “on” all the time? My students can verify that I get tongue-tied or say something dumb on a fairly regular basis.

But at least politicians know what they’re getting into. I’m becoming increasingly concerned with another apparent trend–that of trying to make our neighbors look stupid

I don’t know if Jay Leno did it first or best, but his “Jaywalking“segment may be what introduced many of us to the phenomenon of using video to point out how stupid Americans can be about their history, politics and current events. I’ve laughed at some of those segments, though they also make me uncomfortable because, like too much other American humor, they strike me as mean-spirited. (I liked Leno better in his early days, anyway, when his humor seemed more thoughtful and less sophomoric. How long is he going to keep telling Bill Clinton sex jokes?)

Not surprisingly, following the apparent popularity of Leno’s segments, others followed. Howard Stern has done it. Of course, Stern has never been one to shy away from the stupid or mean if it would draw and audience–and while I don’t believe in astrology, it is an interesting coincidence that Stern and fellow blowhard Rush Limbaugh share a birthday. Australian news media and others have also joined in the fun.

But it’s not just “professionals”: Now you can find Jaywalking-style videos everywhere on the web, making fun of either conservatives/Republicans or liberals/Democrats. Which you find funniest, if any, probably depends on your own political biases. But we should find all of them depressing–not just because so many Americans wouldn’t be able to pass a citizenship test, but also because one-sided buffoons think making fun of their fellow Americans is all in good fun, and that video of a small group of people, perhaps subjected to Breitbert-style editing, somehow represent what’s typical of an entire group.

Some say that the way we treat our politicians discourages many qualified people from running for office. I don’t think it’s in our best interest, then, to discourage through ridicule the relatively few people actually interested enough in the process to take part. We want more public participation, not less. And we can hope the participants will learn more through the process.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Maybe Big Media should get next bailout

Posted by James McPherson on December 9, 2008

It worked for the banks, and now apparently for auto makers (who may have become too accustomed to long-term financing, since they may be viewing the expected bailout as merely a down payment). Maybe Big Media should be the next poorly run industry in line for a government handout.

In what the Huffington Post termed “Media Meltdown Monday,” the New York Times, the Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times and Baltimore Sun, among others) and NBC all announced bad news yesterday.

That news came just days after the Scripps Company announced that its Rocky Mountain Newswas up for sale–or, as RMN writer Mike Littwin put it, “read: doomed“–and on the heels of announcements from newspapers all over the country that they were for sale and/or cutting back on people, production and public service (OK, I added the last part). “The Newshour” on PBS devoted a segment to the Tribune case and related issues last night, and offers a series of online videos about various aspects of the media crisis.

Piling on, today the New York Times’ Stuart Elliot writes–in a story bluntly headlined “Next Year is Looking Even Worse,” that “advertising is bracing for the possibility of the first two consecutive yearly declines in spending since the early days of the Great Depression.” And in the last line of its story about the Tribune Company, Columbia Journalism Review offers this dire warning: “Think the news has been bad for the industry in the last couple of years? The real blood-letting is about to begin.”

Just months after buying the LA Times (despite the fact that many regular watchers of CNBC–or of HGTV–could have pointed out that California property values were overinflated) the Tribune Company is filing for bankruptcy. Perhaps the Illinois governor should have been more worried about the company’s board of directors than about its editorial board.

Of the news organizations now suffering, the Tribune Company is perhaps the toughest of the group to feel sorry for, thanks to owner Sam Zell, “the newspaper mogul who despises journalism, the real estate tycoon who once told the Tribune’s Washington staff they were so much ‘overhead,’ the self-proclaimed Viagra of the industry whose ‘innovation’ guru he brought in from the radio world didn’t understand that L.A. Times reporters in Iraq were actually reporting from Iraq … In less than a year’s time, Zell took the Tribune private and then took the company to bankruptcy. That has to be some kind of record.”

Still, some of us remember that the conservative Chicago Tribune was doing meaningful investigative journalism before most other news organizations, regularly uncovering governmental abuses of the type now being reported about Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Of course, some might argue that finding corruption in Chicago is about as difficult as finding Easter eggs on the White House lawn during the annual hunt, but the same probably is true of most major cities–it’s just that most newspapers don’t work as hard to uncover the abuses as the Tribune once did.

The fact is, most newspapers don’t have enough staffers to do the most important things that journalists should do: keep an eye on government. Jennifer Dorroh, managing editor of American Journalism Review, recently pointed out that local reporters of the type who uncovered the corruption of California Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham are an “endangered species.”

There is another major reason for journalists and those of us who train journalists to be worried about the Trib’s collapse. Besides the harm that bankruptcy judges or others might do to the newspaper or to journalism, Littwin notes, “Apparently it’s hard to gloat and work on your resume at the same time.”

Even more troubling for most people who care about good journalism might be the news about the problems of the New York Times. Today the Times offers an Associate Press story about its talks with lenders, though the headline for that story is far less noticeable than the headline (with photo) about Christie Hefner resigning from her position as Playboy CEO.

As for NBC, it announced this week that it may cut back on programming (what, Fox got all the good reality shows?) and that late-night host Jay Lenowould be doing a five-nights-a-week 10 p.m. program. Interestingly, the MSNBC Web site went with the Associated Press reports for both stories about Leno (too many commentators, not enough reporters at the network?). As the report notes, “A talk show is considerably cheaper to produce than the dramas that usually air at 10 p.m.”

So maybe news organizations need to take the same step that GM has: announce that they’ve done a poor job of providing what consumers need, apologize for their mistakes, and beg for government help. As much as those organizations have sucked up to government in recent years, instead of investigating official misconduct (so what’s Judith Miller up to, nowadays?), perhaps they’d even get the bailout.

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

McCain continues ‘suspended’ campaign

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2008

Though John McCain announced yesterday that he was suspending his political campaign to go where he was neither wanted nor needed, to join a process where he has relatively little knowledge and even less influence, he and his surrogates are apparently trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

They say they won’t campaign, but then do it, anyway. Both McCain and Sarah Palin submitted to interviews with CBS, and McCain even tried to bring a campaign staffer to his meeting/photo op at the White House today. By contrast, Barack Obama, who made no pretense of being unable to do two things at once, was taking along just a Senate staffer.

McCain ditched (and apparently lied to) David Letterman to talk to Couric, prompting one publication to recall earlier comments about why he liked to appear on Letterman’s show: “One reason I like to go on those shows, particularly ones like Leno or Letterman, is that they help you reach a wide viewing audience that otherwise would not be paying attention to the political scene—people who would never be exposed to the Sunday-morning shows or other programs that politicians are traditionally on.”

Not only have McCain and Sarah Palin largely avoiding the media (the CBS interviews providing rare exceptions), they apparently aren’t talking enough to each other. Last night Palin did her third interview since becoming the VP nominee, and it’s hard to believe she couldn’t be more specific about something her party’s presidential nominee has done (especially since her major point seemed to be to criticize Barack Obama’s lack of specifics).

I’ve posted much of the Palin interview below–the most enlightening (and perhaps the scariest) part comes at the end of the clip, with this response to a question about specific McCain actions regarding economic oversight: “I’ll try to find some and I’ll bring ’em to ya.” Below that is a clip of last night’s David Letterman highlights.

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