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.

  • Archives

  • May 2021
    S M T W T F S
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    23242526272829
    3031  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Posts Tagged ‘Joe the Plumber’

McCain in trouble? We can only hope

Posted by James McPherson on February 16, 2010

Even John McCain’s daughter and wife won’t speak on his behalf.

John McCain may be in danger of losing his seat. He still has Sarah, at least for now–though I’m not sure that’s a good thing and even he has to know she may not hang around if some shiny object distracts her–but Joe the Dumber now is opposing McCain and even his wife and daughter have publicly disagreed with him in recent weeks.

At least if McCain loses he can’t blame anyone other than himself. His conservative challenger, former radio host J.D. Hayworth, is at least partially right in noting, “”You could say they are two John McCains. The one who campaigns like a conservative and the one who legislates like a liberal.”

I’d break it down slightly differently, into the usually sane McCain of before the most recent presidential election campaign and the crazy old man who appeared during the campaign and never went away. We now can no longer be sure how McCain feels about his own ideas for campaign reform. We don’t know whether he’s for immigration reform or against it.

Sadly, considering his legacy, we can’t even be sure whether McCain is for trusting the military or not, or how he feels about torture.

Frankly, I don’t think Arizonans will give McCain the boot. I will somewhat miss him if they do, just because of my history with him, but I don’t think he’ll lose. But I wish he’d have the integrity to quit, before he embarrasses himself further.

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

No more silent nights: Sarah Palin and media share sentiments

Posted by James McPherson on December 23, 2008

Apparently Sarah Palin’s biggest regret of her recent bid to take over Dick Cheney‘s job was she was “not allowed” to spend “enough time with the media.”

Of course Palin has been everywhere in the media since the election, but was kept under largely under wraps during the campaign itself. John McCain talked more about “Joe the Plumber” than he did about his own running mate.

Yet despite the fact that both McCain and Palin complained about the press treatment of her during the campaign, Palin now wishes she had spent more time with the media. On that, I suspect most people in the media agree with her.

Still, now she’s getting almost as much of airtime as her northern neighbor, Santa Claus. Perhaps tomorrow or the next day she could wish us all a Merry Christmas by singing a favorite children’s holiday song about Rudolph (a name, interestingly, that originally meant “famous wolf shot from a helicopter”) while somebody butchers a reindeer in the background.

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

With Jessica Alba too fat, Keira Knightly too flat, Faith Hill too plain & Sarah Palin too real, how should mags portray Michelle Obama?

Posted by James McPherson on December 11, 2008

Since one of the most glamorous women we’ll be seeing on magazine covers for the next few years will be Michelle Obama, and despite one magazine editor’s call (in a different context) to “let Michelle Obama’s real self shine,” one wonders how far editors and art directors might go to make the First Lady look better–or worse–than she appears in reality. Though Hillary Clinton and sometimes Nancy Reagan (neither of whom always acted as dutiful stand-by-their-man Bush ladies) were obvious exceptions, the media usually treat First Ladies nicely, and articles and TV pieces have already focused more on Obama’s style than on her substance.

Remember, Newsweek drew criticism for letting Sarah Palin look “too real” (despite Joe the Plumber/Author now calling Sarah Palin “the real deal” even as he disses John McCain, the man most responsible for what we can only hope will be fleeting fame for Joe). And while a good fake Barack Obama may be hard to find, as Time reports, much of the reason for the Palin uproar is that we aren’t used to reality with our magazine images. Virtually any image that appears on a magazine cover or in a calendar has been airbrushed or otherwise altered, especially if the image is that of a woman. A quick Google search shows you can even find “excellent body enhancement tutorials” online, to “improve” the people in your own photos.

News organizations might use Photoshop or airbrushing to fix flaws in a photo, but popular mags, movie posters and calendars use technical tricks to fix the “flaws” in a model. For a recent example, see Calipari’s treatment of Jessica Alba, as reported by the Daily Mail. (See the before and after photos below). Keira Knightly and Faith Hill (in Redbook, yet) are among the women who have also had parts of their bodies “enhanced”; see examples of others here.

At least we can probably be sure that Michelle Obama won’t be appearing in a future version of the latest Fox News slideshow.

alba-1alba-2

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Joe the Author: Writing worth flushing

Posted by James McPherson on December 7, 2008

Timothy Egan can write. I wish I had time to read everything he has written. Someday, perhaps, though there are a lot of other fine writers whose work I haven’t read enough of, either.

“Joe the Plumber,” on the other hand, is an “author” whose work I hope never to read. In fact, this worthwhile New York Times piece by Egan is the last thing I’d like to ever read about Joe.

December 20 update: Joe’s book is out. Naturally Fox News made it the lead story of the day.

Posted in Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

25 Democrats & 30 Republicans who should ‘go away’

Posted by James McPherson on December 6, 2008

Blogger Ben Cohen apparently got such an overwhelming response (with lots of hate mail) to a column titled “10 Republicans Who Should Go Away,” he has now offered a Democratic version.

The Democrats: Joe Lieberman, Mark Penn, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Chris Matthews, John Dingell, Robert Rubin, Steny Hoyer and Joe Lieberman (yes, Cohen hates Lieberman so much he put him on the list twice).

The Republicans: William Kristol, Sarah Palin, Michelle Malkin, Dick Morris, Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, Alan Greenspan, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and George Bush.

I would have rearranged the lists and bit and made a few changes, but having used this blog to criticize everyone on Cohen’s GOP list and almost everyone on the Democratic list (though often just through association, with such terms as “gutless Democratic Congress” (here, here, here and here), I can’t disagree much with Cohen’s rankings.

I might have put Lieberman on both lists, and can easily expand the Republican list to 30. Besides Lieberman, my list (alphabetically) might include Glenn Beck, Jerome Corsi, Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, James Dobson, Matt Drudge, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Nancy Grace, Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Miller, Rupert Murdoch, Darragh Murphy, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Pat Robertson, Karl Rove, Michael Savage and George Will.

The Democratic side is a little tougher for me to expand, perhaps in part because of personal bias but mostly because Dems haven’t had much power for quite a while. Still, even after eliminating the second mention of Lieberman, I can boost it to 25 by adding Bill Clinton, James Carville, John Edwards, Geraldine Ferraro, Al Franken, Christopher Hitchens, Jesse Jackson, Joe Klein,  Scott McClellan, Keith Olbermann, Ed Rendell, Randi Rhodes, Ed Schultz, Al Sharpton, Jerry Springer and Jeremiah Wright.

Cohen explains his reasons for each of his 19 nominees, though I won’t bother–other than to say the folks I’ve listed are among those who in my view have offered the least during the past year or so compared to the amount of visibility they’ve received. Obviously not all of those listed are formally affilitiated with the parties I’ve placed them with–but they might as well be.

Of course your picks might be different and others might be considered, including “Joe the Plumber,” “Obama girl,” and various filmmakers, political hacks, bloggers, and TV talking heads. And thankfully, many of those listed above are likely to disappear from public view in the near future, and from memory soon after.

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

On-the-mark election predictions, and why Obama won

Posted by James McPherson on November 5, 2008

Back in August, when the national polls had the presidential race as close as it got (Zogby gave John McCain the lead), I predicted that in spite of minor irritations offered by GOP mudslinging and PUMAs (who now are noteworthy only because they’re among the few people in America who have ended up on the wrong side in three consecutive presidential elections), Barack Obama would win by a substantial margin: “by the widest margin seen since at least Bill Clinton’s 379-159 victory over Bob Dole in 1996, and maybe since Ronald Reagan slaughtered Walter ‘I-won-my-home-state-of-Minnesota-and-the District-of Columbia’ Mondale 525-13 in 1984.”

With 26 electoral votes (Indiana and North Carolina) still undecided at this point, Obama now has 349 wrapped up, and as CNN notes, has “redrawn the electoral map.” The redrawing, by the way, is something I suggested would be important in my recent book (in which I also suggested that Obama might do well because of similarities to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan): “The question also remains whether any Democrat from outside the South can win the White House. If so, the party’s next-best option might seem to be still in the Sunbelt region but farther west. A logical choice might be a governor from a state such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, or even Colorado.”

New Mexico and Colorado went Democratic in this election (as California long has), but I was somewhat surprised that a candidate from the Midwest–though one that managed to draw a heavy Hispanic vote–was the one who turned those states from red to blue. The Midwestern connection also helped Obama win the traditionally red state of Indiana.

More surprising to me was the popular vote margin, with Obama getting 52 percent of the tally at this point. Electoral votes are what count, of course, but a candidate who gets a majority  of the popular vote (something Bill Clinton didn’t do with either of his victories, nor did George W. Bush in 2000) can argue that he has more of a mandate for change. Combined with a heavily Democratic Congress and a nationwide eagerness for change, Obama might actually be able to accomplish some goals.

Perhaps. But I also recognize that Obama is a pragmatic politician, and that perhaps the Democrats have learned from the Republican excesses of 2000-2006. As a result, my fear is that Obama and Congressional Dems will govern so cautiously for the next two years that they keep a majority in 2010–and so cautiously that, because not enough progress will have been achieved, they lose that majority and perhaps the presidency in 2012.

As for the election, some people blame McCain’s margin of defeat on the failing economy, and there’s some truth to that. But Americans realized they had serious economic problems even before the “collapse” of a few weeks ago, and if the economy hadn’t taken center stage, I’m convinced that the fact that the Iraqis want us out of Iraq would have numbed the Iraq War surge argument that McCain kept trying to push.

Some blame the McCain campaign for being too negative, or not negative enough, but he was in a tough spot. Trailing candidates most need to bring down their opponents through negative ads, and Republicans have used those ads to help depress turnout in the past. But in times of trouble the voters like optimists–like Obama, and like Reagan and Clinton before him.

Some blame Sarah Palin, who was badly misused by her GOP handlers and who proved to be at least as big a hindrance as a help. But the fact is that she gave McCain a serious boost when he needed it most (why I and some others recommended her selection before most people had ever heard of her). She probably kept the race from getting away from McCain earlier than it did.

I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of Palin, though I’m not as optimistic as some about her future chances. For one thing, this election seemed to prove that negative campaigning–one of the major jobs of a vice presidential candidate–by a woman is viewed as less acceptable than the same language coming from a man. It’s an old story for strong women: Men are viewed as forceful, while women who do the same thing are viewed as bitchy. Ironically, a woman might have better luck at the top of the ticket than as the VP nominee.

In fact, however, the biggest reasons for the Obama landslide were the incredible 50-state campaign strategy put together by Obama and the oft-maligned Howard Dean, the campaign’s use of the Internet for organizing events and fundraising, and the fact that real problems–problems created and compounded largely by the Bush administration and its Congressional lackeys–made this a year in which Republicans were almost guaranteed to lose.

McCain might have been the only Republican with a chance to win this year, and conditions would have had to be nearly perfect for him to do so. On the plus side, McCain got his Bob Dole moment in the sun (let’s hope he spares us from commercials for erectile dysfunction and Pepsi). It is sad that McCain sunk so low in his negative campaigning, but he gave a gracious and moving concession speech. The national political scene being what it is, he will find his way back into the good graces of the Senate and the national media (unlike “Joe the Turncoat” Lieberman, perhaps–a two-time loser of an “ally” that I predict no presidential candidate from either party will want in the future).

All in all, thank God it’s over. Now Obama’s real work begins, and Iowa can start gearing up for visits by possible 2012 candidates. With any luck, PUMAs, Obama Girl, and Joe the Plumber will fade away. Regardless, the GOP will be back, even if we (and they) don’t yet know when or in what form.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | 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 »

Fox, MSNBC offer semi-honest media bias; Barbara West, not so much

Posted by James McPherson on October 28, 2008

John McCain and Sarah Palin are spending much of their time bashing the mainstream media for bias, an argument that I frankly have little use for. Obviously I don’t disagree that media professionals are biased, and have written at length about that bias in my latest book (and to a lesser degree in the first one).

I do disagree that most of the media’s bias is liberal. After all, probably no modern politician has benefited more than McCain from friendly media treatment throughout his career, and I believe McCain chose Palin  largely because she was not well known but had a certain charm that might appeal to media folks willing to give her a pass on her relative lack of knowledge or experience. (I recommended back in June that he choose Palin, predicting that the resulting media coverage would be “superficial and glowing.”)

Unfortunately for McCain and Palin, the campaign at first chose to mostly hide her from the media, and the appearances they did permit (see the Katie Couric debacle) only served to highlight the candidate’s shortcomings while stunting her political and rhetorical gifts. That led to the goofy situation in which the campaign ended up trying to portray a random question from a college student as a “gotcha question” from the press. If Palin can’t handle a student’s question while she’s grabbing a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, let’s hope she’s never put in a position where Vladimir Putin can ask her a question at a state dinner.

Worse, because of Palin’s previous interviewing misadventures, now when she uses her pitbull-with-lipstick charm on the stump, she looks like a partisan hack. More people now view her unfavorably than favorably. No wonder even McCain’s buddy Joe Lieberman now says, “Thank God she’s not going to have to be president from day one.”

As for the guy at the head of the ticket press, McCain has proven not to be the macho character that the media helped create. He is neither a straight talker nor a stable influence.  Keep in mind, this is the same campaign that every day criticizes the media for “investigating Joe the Plumber,” but is incapable of uttering three sentences without blurting out the words “Joe the Plumber.” A McCain-Palin administration might be the first to eliminate the Department of Education while implementing a cabinet level position heading a new Department of Folksy Nicknames.

A lot of people complain about the obvious bias of Fox News toward conservatives or the obvious liberal bias MSNBC. I frankly don’t have a big problem with that. I think it’s good that we get a range of perspectives, which is why I force myself to watch both networks, listen to talk radio, and read (and link to) blogs of both liberals and conservatives–though admittedly the more thoughtful perspectives of National Review from the right and the Nation from the left are far more useful. Unfortunately far too many people on both sides rely only on messages from their own side.

I am more concerned about news people who try to hide their obvious biases. Far too many national news figures have previously worked for politicians (and though this is a guess, probably as many Republicans as Democrats). I’ve noted my problem with Andrea Mitchell–the wife of overrated economic apologist Alan Greenspan–working as an NBC reporter (despite the fact that she is less obviously partisan than some of her colleagues at the network). A more blatant, and much funnier, example came with Florida reporter Barbara West interviewing Joe Biden by using outlandish Republican talking-point questions that sounded as if they could have been provided to her by her husband, a former Republican media consultant.

Barbara the Talking Head did manage to get what she probably most wanted out of the interview: her own “Joe the Plumber” bit of attention, capped by appearances with Bill O’Reilly (who with no apparent sense of “pinhead” irony questioned her use of “buzzwords”) and on what may be the goofiest “news program” on television, Fox and Friends. The attention may have been too much for her employer, WFTV, which now blocks YouTube from carrying the interview after it received 1.2 million hits over the weekend.

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

‘Joe the Plumber’ steps into spotlight, gets singed

Posted by James McPherson on October 16, 2008

We heard about “Joe the Plumber” more than two dozen times during last night’s debate, when John McCain talked far more about Joe (though not always honestly) than he did about his own running mate, Sarah Palin. (I thought the oddest comment, said twice by McCain, was, “Joe, I’m glad you’re rich.”) McCain plans to spend some quality time with him, and Fox News refers to him as “every man,” and “a metaphor for the state of the American psyche.” For her part, Palin talked about “Joe the Plumber and Jane the Plumber” in her stump speech today, while Joe himself–whose real name is Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher–met the media.

I watched Wurzelbacher for a bit this morning on MSNBC, and he seemed clearly torn between enjoying the attention and being uncomfortable and afraid to say the wrong thing, asking at least twice if the interview was going to be national–pretty much like most of us would be on camera. Of course in a YouTube world, we should all assume that anything we do might turn into an international video. Wurzelbacher refused to endorse McCain, though his views obviously are conservative. More so than McCain’s actually, since he did say he would like to do away with Social Security. Somehow I don’t think that proposal will make it into the McCain/Palin plan.

Now it seems that Joe isn’t actually a plumber, or at least not one with a license (he says he doesn’t need one), he’s behind on his taxes, and he votes under the wrong name. I wonder if the GOP will seek to have his name purged from the electoral rolls?

I do feel a bit bad about what may end up happening to the guy. He came to public attention because he wanted to ask one of the candidates (Barack Obama) a meaningful question. Then, because of Obama’s answer, Wurzelbacher became a tool for the conservatives–and, as the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein wrote, the plumber has been more forthcoming with the media than Palin has. Of course, unlike Palin he doesn’t have the Secret Service to keep reporters away.

On the other hand, Wurzelbacher is taking advantage of his newfound celebrity. He’s already been on Fox, ABC, CBS and MSNBC, and is scheduled to appear on Fox’s “Huckabee” Saturday. Unfortunately he has no idea how brightly the spotlight might shine, or how soon conservatives will leave him alone in the dark if other potentially embarassing problems surface.

Below you can see the original comment and a Fox follow-up, in which Wurzelbacher refers to Obama having “kind of a socialist viewpoint.” The clip concludes with Neil Cavuto calling him “my kind of plumber.”

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