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 ‘Jimmy Carter’

‘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 »

Hannity snubbed for man of the year, but named liar of the year

Posted by James McPherson on December 19, 2008

I tend to pay less attention to Sean Hannity than to Bill O’Reilly or Ann Coulter, in large part because I have trouble believing that anyone really pays any attention to Hannity.

Mind you, I don’t understand why anyone listens to O’Reilly or Coulter, either, but since they are regular guests on the so-called “liberal media” I have to assume that they do have some sort of deluded following. I occasionally check in on all of them because it’s my job as a media scholar–kind of like a doctor who has to occasionally check a patient for prostate cancer.

Still, even Hannity gets more attention than he deserves. I noted pretty much in passing in my last book that he was a liar, but this week Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group, named him its “Misinformer of the Year.”

Even if you consider the source of the “award,” however, that doesn’t explain Hannity’s actions later that same night, when he suggested that Time magazine had named Barack Obama its “Person of the Year” so that a writer for the magazine would get a job in the Obama administration.

Hannity’s report begins: “So as 2008 comes to a close, Time Magazine picks its Person of the Year, and to no one’s surprise, Time has chosen President-elect Barack Obama to grace the cover. This honor comes as the magazine’s Washington bureau chief, Jay Carney, leaves his post to become Joe Biden’s director of communication.”

When Fox News personality Kirsten Powers noted the obvious, that there was “no connection” and that Obama “would have been Man of the Year anyway,” Hannity offered this gem: “You know what? There have been a lot of great people over the years. I know this burst Obama of the ‘yes, we can’ chanting, Obama mania media, but there are other good leaders in the world besides a man who’s done nothing so far.”

Powers, no doubt used to Hannity’s unique combination of bluster and ignorance, did not embarrass him by asking which of those “good leaders” he thought Time should have picked.

Incidentally I agree that the mainstream media love Obama too much–but this year was there any other choice? And for the record,  Time has named a just-elected president more often than not every four years since 1964 (Lyndon Johnson), also tabbing Richard Nixon (shared with Henry Kissinger), Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004. Apparently Time editors were as amazed as I was that Bush won twice.

Time also named Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and  Harry Truman in 1948, while picking John F. Kennedy 1961 because of his 1960 win. Presidents or future presidents named in non-election years were FDR (twice more), Dwight D. Eisenhower (twice), Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan (with Yuri Andropov), George H. W. Bush and Clinton (with Kenneth Starr). See all the “Person of the Year” covers here.

This year’s the runners-up were Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, French President Nicolas Sarkozy (also president of the European Union), Sarah Palin (if she had won, I’ll bet Hannity wouldn’t say she’d “done nothing”), and Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who produced the opening ceremony for the Olympics. Apparently, using Hannity’s logic, Jay Carney didn’t want a job in the EU or in the Chinese film industry.

Of course Hannity is right, in one respect: So far, Obama has “done nothing”: at least not much of anything other than coming from nowhere to inspire huge worldwide crowds, and then beating Hillary Clinton and the Republican Party to become the first African American to win the presidency.

On the other hand, Obama hasn’t cured cancer, stopped the Iraq War or saved the economy–or figured out a way to get Hannity to shut up.

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

2008 Election: the biggest TV night in four years, and why I’ll miss it

Posted by James McPherson on November 4, 2008

Considering the name of this blog, obviously election night is bigger for me than the Super Bowl and the World Series combined (and not just because I cheer for two Seattle pro sports teams that have never won a single championship). Normally tonight I might be at an election party, or hunkered down with my wife in front of the television from mid-afternoon on, sometimes yelling at the screen (much like I do during Mariner and Seahawk games), making occasional derogatory remarks about the comments coming from various spin rooms.

But as much as we love/hate election night television, my wife and I both have chosen in recent elections to be more involved in the process. We voted early by mail; as with most years, I voted for mostly Democrats and a couple of Republicans. She is volunteering with a get-out-the-vote effort that runs through the afternoon, then will be watching the election night coverage on her own or with a friend. She and most of you will know results before I will. (If you want some good tips on how to watch the coverage, check out Thomas Edsall’s Huffington Post piece.)

For my part, a bunch of my Whitworth University students and I (along with students and a few faculty from Gonzaga and Eastern Washington University) will be immersed in a small part of the electoral media process, a part in which no other universities in the nation outside of New York can participate.

Here in Spokane County, we’ll be working for the Associated Press keeping track of results of every race in 31 states. Those of us working in downtown Spokane will be the first to hear the results from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, among others. If you hear the networks make a call for one of those key states, they’ll do so largely based on the numbers from here, which will be updated via computer and sent to major news organizations every 30 seconds. (Incidentally, the Associated Press may have been the only news organization not make a faulty projection call during the 2000 election.)

Those of us in the call center, though, will hear the results one county at a time, and will be immersed in keeping track of numbers given to us over the phone for individual races. We won’t have time to check out who is winning overall, or to listen to the talking heads on the various networks. I will videotape the coverage, though with my home technology it will have to be from one of the major networks–I don’t have TIVO and my old machine can’t record from our CNN, MSNBC or Fox News stations.

I’ll tape coverage on the local ABC affiliate, KXLY, mostly because one of my Whitworth colleagues (academic vice president and political science professor Michael Le Roy) will do election night commentary for that network and I know that he is very good at it. KXLY has also invested quite a bit in technology for this election. You can see a preview of it at the station’s Web site. Le Roy has done the KXLY gig for years, though I did get the opportunity to fill in for him when he had to be out of town during the 2006 election.

I won’t be on television tonight, but if you’re in the Spokane area you can catch me on AM 790 radio with local journalist Rebecca Mack from 8 to 10 p.m. I’ll take a break from the AP call center and walk a block to the studio for the two-hour live show, then hustle back afterward to rejoin the call center.

I’ll get home in the wee hours of the morning, check out CNN, Fox and MSNBC before I go to bed, then teach three classes tomorrow morning. Since several students from the various classes will be with me at the call center, I assume they won’t expect me to be particularly coherent in class. Assuming, of course, they ever do.

I hope you, too, have found meaningful ways to be involved in this historic election. The American electoral system has numerous flaws, and the past two presidential elections have cause many to become cynical about the process. For that reason alone, we’d probably all benefit more from a Barack Obama landslide (which even Karl Rove predicts) than from a narrow John McCain victory (though even if Obama wins Virginia and Pennsylvania, indicating a landslide is in the offing, don’t expect an early McCain concession speech–both parties learned in 1980 how Jimmy Carter’s early concession affected other races in the West).

Frankly, unless you’re in a “swing state,” your individual vote for president won’t matter much. But you have a much greater chance of affecting local races, so take a bit of time to study the issues and local candidates, or to discuss them with trusted and more knowledgeable friends. Regardless of your favored candidates, you’ll probably feel better if you vote–and it might actually make a difference in the outcome. As Sarah Palin and I would agree about whether voting matters: You betcha.

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

Will Hillary sabotage Barack? Listen on the radio

Posted by James McPherson on August 26, 2008

If you’re interested in what’s to come at the Democratic Convention–who will speak when and about what, combined with some interesting convention history–Fox News has an interesting briefing book on line.

Unfortunately about the only meaningful question the talking heads seem to have about tonight’s convention are whether Hillary Clinton will speak forcefully and convincingly on behalf of the man who narrowly defeated her for the Democratic presidential nomination, and whether Mark Warner and other speakers will be tough enough on John McCain and the Republicans.

Despite the fact that Clinton has repeatedly endorsed Barack Obama, the media and her PUMA supporters apparently both hope to continue the controversy. Fortunately, that part will be over tonight–and then the pundits can immediately start debating whether Bill Clinton will forcefully and convincingly support Obama when he speaks tomorrow night.

I’d be amazed if either Clinton fails to give their full support to Obama, even if they fail to convince Bill O’Reilly, Darragh Murphy, or their followers. Then the newsies can start anticipating what “bounce” Obama may get from the election, how the GOP version will compare, and/or whom John McCain will choose as his running mate.

Of course they could also read the Fox briefing book or the schedule and come up with all sorts of actual news stories, but that might be difficult, time-consuming or meaningful. TV news as we know it might be ruined as a result.

Still on the remote chance they’re interested in pursuing news, I’ll offer some options (with similar possibilities bound to pop up for next week’s Republican Convention). Some of these have actually been covered in past years by PBS or other media, but the networks apparently don’t follow those media, either. A few ideas:

  • What is in the official party platform, and how does that correspond with the candidates say they’ll do? How does it compare to the GOP platform?
  • What was the “Interfaith Gathering” that kicked off this week, and why was it held?
  • How is technology being used? The convention is streamed online–is anyone watching?
  • What is the cost of the convention, and who pays for it?
  • Who is funding the various activities (and what are they) that are tangentially connected with the convention, and what do the funders hope to get in return?
  • Who are the protestors, why are they there, and how are they funded?
  • Who are some of the non-elected participants on the schedule, and why are they there? Some examples from just the first day: Judith McCale, Nancy Keenan, John Hutson, Randi Weingarten, John Legend, Ned Helms, Lisa Oliveres, Laura Tyson, Jon Schnur, Margie Perez, John Balanoff, Mike and Cheryl Fisher, and Don Miller. 
  • How much do the delegates care about what goes on during the day? What do they do in their free time in Denver?

Regardless of the shortcomings of the press, the conventions make for sometimes-interesting theatre. Ted Kennedy’s speech last night, following on the heals of a video about him, was an example. I happened to be in my car during the speech, listening to it on the radio–which reminded me of how much the spectacle matters.

Though I was somewhat impressed that Kennedy showed up speak despite his illness, listening on the radio I didn’t find the speech particularly impressive in either style or substance. But after I got home I watched it on television. Seeing the people in the crowd, some of them crying, gave the speech more impact even though I had already heard it once. Being in the hall itself had to be even more emotional, and I think the journalists there found themselves a bit caught up in it.

Some pundits and articles noted how the speech echoed parts of Kennedy’s 1980 convention address, which is sometimes ranked as one of the top speeches in American history. What I remember most about Kennedy and 1980, however, is less positive. The fact that he chose to run a bloody campaign against a sitting Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, may ultimately have cost his party the election and given us Ronald Reagan and his later neocon followers. Even the famous speech did nothing to call for party unity.

One unrelated electoral note, which I may expand on later: Both sides are fearful of the dirty tricks that are bound to appear during the election season, as sleazebags on both sides make use of the Internet. Those have already begun, of course, with a host of Web sites still alleging that Barack Obama is a Muslim, faked his birth certificate, etc. The problem, of course, isn’t just the promoters of such garbage; it’s also the number of lazy nutjobs who will believe it.

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

Favoring a Christian president–or not

Posted by James McPherson on August 19, 2008

Despite criticism leveled at John McCain for saying last year that he would prefer that the United States have a Christian president, most Americans apparently agree. Not that it matters much–despite the loons who still maintain that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, no non-Christian has mounted a serious candidacy for decades, other than perhaps Mormon Mitt Romney (a definitional issue too complicated to get into here, but which may cause interesting problems for social conservatives if McCain tabs Romney as his vice presidential nominee–see the arguments here and here).

The mixed emotions among people of faith about Romney’s candidacy point out a significant problem with the “Christian president” theme. Even those who prefer a Christian leader don’t agree is about what kind of Christian president they want. Should he (or she, assuming we’ll someday get there) be in line with John Hagee, Jeremiah Wright, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, the “Jesus for President” folks, or some other version of Christianity?

Should it be someone who believes that even Christian founding fathers intended for a separation of church and state, or someone who believes that those founders intended to create a “Christian nation” (though as religious scholar Stephen J. Stein points out in a recent article in Historically Speaking, “Virtually all Protestant clergy at the time were persuaded that the Antichrist was the pope”–the leader of the same church that now provides conservatives with much of their support (along with five of the nine members of the Supreme Court)?

How does one decide which candidates–or non-candidates–are Christian enough? Heavy conservative contributor Rev. Sun Myung Moon owns the Washington Times, which has become perhaps the best-known conservative newspaper other than the Wall Street Journal. Yet Moon, who also founded the American Family Coalition and calls himself a Christian, also refers to himself and his wife as “the first couple to have the complete blessing of God, and to be able to bring forth children with no original sin.” Despite Moon’s wacky views, I don’t know of any conservative Christian candidates who refuse his money or who seek to be excluded from the Times.

Like every other regular faculty member at the university in which I teach, I am a Christian. So is one of my best friends, but we disagree on many things. The university president, in his latest quarterly message to alums and friends of the university, lists among 15 things he loves about the school: “An environment in which people who disagree with each other protect each other. I have yet to meet a faculty member on the liberal-conservative continuum who wants to silence his or her counterparts. In fact, faculty and staff members at Whitworth recognize that, ultimately, freedom to disagree provides protection for their ideas.” I can’t think of any faculty member here, though, who would make a good U.S. president.

Many conservatives hated Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, all of whom were “Christian presidents” who expressed their faith more often and more comfortably than conservative heroes Barry Goldwater (who fell short of the presidency, of course) and Ronald Reagan. They generally disliked Roosevelt for his practical application (government intervention) of what he saw as Christian duty, while bashing Carter for failing to apply his own Southern Baptist views strictly enough. The two worst presidents of my lifetime–and the two generally recognized as the most religious–have been Carter and George W. Bush.

One key question is how a president should demonstrate his faith. Jerry Falwell once suggested that preachers should stay out of politics. But one of Bush’s biggest appeals was his willingness to state publicly his belief in Christ. One thing seems certain, however: a president who professes Christian principles and then seriously fails to live up to those principles–to me, Clinton and Bush are obvious examples–ill serves both the nation and his fellow Christians.

In addition, as I suggested yesterday with my discussion of the Saddleback Church forum, the nation also is poorly served when it stresses the faith of its president above all else. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted before the forum that Abraham Lincoln would likely fail to measure up to today’s religious standards for presidential candidates (he might also be viewed as too inexperienced and too homely to be a serious candidate, of course).

All else being equal, I’d prefer a Christian president. But if there’s an honest non-Christian candidate who will do more to reduce the budget deficit, produce a workable national health care plan, and keep us out of foolish illegal wars, I say bring on the heathen.

Added note: Somewhat related to this post (and perhaps slightly more related to yesterday’s), this al-Jazeera column offers an interesting discussion of religion in America and of evil as defined by U.S. presidential candidates. For example:

If religious interviews were done with such fanfare and influence in a Muslim country, democratic or otherwise, western and especially US media would have made mockery of such an imposition of religious fundamentalism on political process. 

For most outsiders, the US is in denial over its own “evil doing” around the world. Obama and McCain could see evil in Darfur but would not admit that the invasion and occupation of Iraq on false premises or for oil is no less an evil act.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Columnist Kathleen Parker, who takes a generally conservative position on most issues, also criticizes the Saddleback forum.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Posted by James McPherson on July 25, 2008

The PUMA is an interesting species. Some critics might view PUMAs in the way many wrongly characterized Hillary Clinton, as bitter harpies. Others might see them as the type of women that misogynists typically prefer: silly, irrelevant, perhaps even cute.

Either characterization is mistaken (PUMA, by the way, generally stands for “Party Unity My Ass,” though one group has claimed “People United Means Action.”). PUMAs obviously are wrong and misguided, in my view, but passionate. And now they’re getting what many of them want most, some media attention.

PUMAs are angry people, mostly women, many of whom now say they’ll support John McCain over Barack Obama. There’s no denying that there are quite a few of them (though how many are GOP fronts can’t be determined) or that many are bitter. A quick scan of some of their blogs comes across such charming comments as, “Whenever I see one of those stupid “O”s on the back of someone else’s care [sic] I just want to RAM THEM!!!” and “Isn’t ‘barack’ that noise people make when they puke?” and “Do obama supporters still get headaches after they had their lobomy? [sic]” and “Even if Hillary should publicly–in person–denounce all 527s who are trying to get her nominated and elected, we can’t give throw [sic] in the towel. Clearly, the Chicago political mafia is strong-arming her to disown us.”

One blog post is titled, “If we’re PUMAs, then Obamaphiles are CHEATahs.” Cute, huh? Of course the difference is that PUMAs proundly claim the title before going on to disparage those who would prefer a different candidate. (This might be an appropriate time to remind readers that I was not an Obama supporter in the primaries, though I can’t imagine not voting for him over McCain in the general election.)

The CHEATah post comes from a blog that in its “About Us” section states: “We will start with the Democratic party and then work to bring together the rest of the country. We will come together at our common goals and go forward together, strengthened and mighty.” Its “credo,” in part: “We will all need to come together before the fall. Let’s craft a message that even wingers will envy. … Some of us have lost our minds lately. We are putting conditions and litmus tests on our candidates. We are getting lost in the trees while failing to see the forest.”

All of that may sound good, but the blog actually devotes much of its attention to PUMA promotion and Obama bashing, and also has a heading titled “PUMA Power” that states: “There will be a lot of calls for ‘Unity!’. But let us acknowledge what this really is. ‘Unity’ is a weapon that the party is going to use against us.” Perhaps it’s time to update one or two of the above categories.

Despite their real or manufactured fury PUMAs probably will have no meaningful effect on the Democratic Convention as far as preventing Obama from claiming the nomination, especially since Clinton likely will speak on his behalf at the convention. Still, in a tight general election (the kind we typically have) they might conceivably make a difference. Sadly and ironically, it would be a difference that goes against most of their own primary interests (at least those who aren’t secretly McCain supporters to begin with–like perhaps Fox’s favorite PUMA spokeswoman and 2000 McCain donor Darragh Murphy).

PUMAs might make a difference in the same way that Ralph Nader did against Al Gore in 2000, Ross Perot did against George H.W. Bush in 1992, Ted Kennedy did against Jimmy Carter in 1980, and Ronald Reagan did against Gerald Ford in 1976–drawing just enough attention and votes to help put the candidate their supporters disliked most in the White House. The difference in each of those cases was that the candidate’s supporters actually had a candidate who obviously still sought the position, while Clinton likely will–as she has repeatedly on previous occasions–exhort her supporters to do what they can to avoid a continuation of the Bush policies. A McCain presidency would have a good chance of turning those 5-4 Supreme Court votes against progressives into 7-2 votes against them.

Thus far, consistency, except in avoid-Obama-at-all-costs rhetoric, has not been a key part of PUMA power. Even Fox News, which would undoubtedly love to see PUMAs help swing the election for McCain and which has aired more about the group than any other network, can’t help but point out the contradictions. For example, see the YouTube videos below. The last one starts out much the same as the first, but adds some interesting context (though it doesn’t explore the disconnect between, “I don’t think it’s just to prove a point; I think it’s a very important point we’re making.”).

It’s difficult to tell how much influence the PUMAs will have, especially since many of those now complaining will swallow hard, hold their noses and vote for Obama in the general election, perhaps without telling their fellow PUMAs. The influence of blogs on elections also is unknown, though I don’t believe the vast majority of blogs are very representative of much of anything since most tend to have a limited following of serious but somewhat cowardly anonymous supporters who talk mostly to each other–a sort of ooh-look-at-me-aren’t-I-clever form of text messaging with less emotional commitment and no added wireless fees.

PUMAs do have cause to be unhappy, though not nearly as much cause as many of them claim. The Democratic primary system was a mess, but it was a mess that Clinton helped create. Interestingly, some of her supposed staunchest supporters now hope to make a bigger one.

Note: The organization name is corrected above–thanks to the respondents who noted that I had it wrong.

Follow-up: Somewhat ironically for a group that complains about being heard, PUMA sites seem to be among those most likely to delete the responses of those who disagree with them.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »