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 ‘John Edwards’

YaVaughnie Wilkins should get a life

Posted by James McPherson on January 24, 2010

Chances are you’ve never heard of YaVaughnie Wilkins. But two of Rupert Murdoch’s “news” organizations, Fox News and the New York Post,  hope you will–and that you’ll somehow blame Barack Obama for the fact that Wilkins carried on a long affair with Oracle tech conglomerate owner Charles E. Phillips. I’m not kidding.

Yeah, as the articles breathlessly exclaim, Phillips is an “Obama advisor.” But he’s just one of fifteen members on one board, and the board is just part of a long list of folks advising the president on economic affairs. Presumably the board does not advise Obama on marital affairs. And by the way, weren’t conservatives just recently complaining–and lying –about the supposed lack of Obama advisors with practical business experience?

Besides, especially in a week when John Edwards finally ‘fessed up, do they really need this kind of goofy stretch to try to make Dems look bad? And do they want really want us thinking about the kind of sleaze engaged in by “the mostly-conservative (in recent years) “brotherhood of the disappearing pants“?

Wilkins has spent perhaps a quarter-million dollars to for billboards in three cities (though at least one was killed after just a day, something Fox fails to note in its front-page story today) proclaiming her “love” for Phillips, with a link to a Web site that the Post proclaims is “a veritable shrine to Wilkins’ ex-love.” But I spent a few minutes (as much as I could stand) checking out the site, finding more pictures of Wilkins (including a collection of swimsuit shots, which I assume are to show us what Phillips is missing)  and an assortment of now-exposed but unidentified other people–including children–who presumably are friends or family members of one of the two ex-lovers.

Because of those people, I won’t link to the site here. But they can now count themselves among the victims of Wilkins, Fox and the Post. As for Wilkins, someone stupid enough to be involved with a married man for more than eight years isn’t going to win much sympathy, I’d think.

Though I do wonder who is paying for those billboards. The newshounds at the Post and Fox didn’t bother to find out, of course.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Barbie’s birthday bash

Posted by James McPherson on March 9, 2009

Barbie, the iconic American toy sex symbol, turns 50 today. CNN tells us that 8 million people collect Barbie items, that the doll is “owned by 90 percent of American girls ages 3 to 10 and sold in 150 countries” and that “Barbie attracts 50 million visitors to her Web site each month.” Barbie has inspired generations of girls, becoming one of the first “career girls.” She apparently has held 108 different jobs, including “a police officer, a doctor, a veterinarian, an astronaut and a presidential candidate.”

In that last case, John Edwards apparently was modeled after the Ken doll. … Ah, there I’ve done it, illustrating one of the reasons that Barbie is criticized: because of our too-common tendency to unfairly judge the intelligence of people (especially women) on their appearance. That’s why good looks (and geography) quickly led to perceived vice presidential lightweight candidate Sarah Palin as “Caribou Barbie.” One key difference was that Barbie originally was a dumbed-down version of a toy German sex object, while Caribou Barbie was a seemingly dumbed-down version of a female Democratic presidential candidate.

Back to Barbie the icon: Of course it’s not just toddlers and pre-teens who have gone ga-ga over the doll, as evidenced by the fact that three of the five main sections of the Barbie site are titled, “Press Site,” “Barbie Grownups” and “Barbie Collector.” Barbie’s popularity and her anatomically impossible proportions have brought the doll widespread attention, and, not surprisingly, inspired copycats.

Most famous among them are now-53-year-old Cindy Jackson (whose body now contains more plastic than does a real Barbie), and perhaps the Bratz dolls (who, naturally, also have a website) that may soon become unavailable because of the designer’s Mattel/Barbie connection. Barbie also provided the media with a name for two bank robbers.

As part of Barbie’s birthday celebration, Mattel paid a designer to create a real-life Barbie Dream House overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The house includes “an original Andy Warhol portrait of Barbie valued at over $200,000 and a chandelier–designed by ‘Project Runway’ contestant Chris March–that’s made up of over 30 blond wigs and took more than 60 hours to craft.”

It’s good to see that Barbie, at least, can still afford housing.

Below you can see the first Barbie TV commercial, followed by a funny Sarah Palin spoof:

Posted in History, Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Key presidential election question: ‘Which liar do you trust most?’

Posted by James McPherson on November 2, 2008

The presidential campaign seems to be “spinning” to an appropriately odd ending, with John McCain discussing strategy (“Reverse Maverick,” “Double Maverick” or “Sad Grandpa”) on “Saturday Night Live,” McCain robocalls using Hillary Clinton’s voice and words as an authoritative voice to try to boost Republicans, and Barack Obama’s latest ad promoting the endorsement of his opponent by a sitting vice president.

At least they don’t have anyone pretending to be the opposing candidate in those ads (a move that may cost Elizabeth Dole her Senate seat in the same election in which the GOP presidential candidate reminds voters of her husband’s 1996 “Sad Grandpa” bid). Dole’s Senate campaign provides a reminder that perhaps every political campaign has its share of distortions and outright lies. As campaigns grow increasingly desperate, the lying tends to increase. Fortunately for those of use who care, there are more ways than ever to check the accuracy of campaign ads and stump speeches.

The oft-criticized mainstream media do a better job than they once did at fact checking. Even more valuable are FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.org (a product of the mainstream St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly). On Friday, Factcheck.org released an updated version of “the whoppers of 2008,” including McCain camp lies about welfare, taxes, health care, terrorism and ACORN, and Obama lies about Medicare, stem cell research and job losses. The site also calls attention to distortions from other groups both liberal (MoveOn.org and VoteVets.org) and conservative (National Rifle Association and National Republican Trust PAC).

PolitiFact also released a Friday update, recalling some especially egregious “pants on fire” moments from the campaign. Those cited include Mike Huckabee, who falsely claimed that most signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen, and John Edwards who suggested that the president has power over Congressional health care. Of course other Edwards lies were to cause him more problems, but by then his campaign had ended.

PolitiFact gave most of its “pants on fire” ratings to e-mail messages: “They include the bogus list of books that Sarah Palin supposedly wanted to ban, the fake receipt that supposedly showed Michelle Obama ordered $400 in lobster and caviar from a New York hotel,  and the distorted Bible verses to suggest that Barack Obama was the Antichrist.”

It is sad and disturbing to see how often candidates and their supporters lie. But the increased oversight is a bright spot. As PolitiFact notes: “The 2008 election has been the most fact-checked campaign in American history. Between our 750-plus items, and dozens of articles published by our friends at FactCheck.org and other news organizations, the presidential candidates have been challenged about their accuracy more than ever before.”

In short, in this election–as with perhaps every election–Americans will choose between liars as they cast their ballots. The key question thus becomes, “Which liar do you trust most?”

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

Howard Kurtz and the Democratic National Convention

Posted by James McPherson on August 25, 2008

“Four years ago in Boston, a young state senator named Barack Obama took the convention by storm with a rousing speech about unity and hope, an oration without which it is hard to imagine that he would be accepting the nomination this week. Neither ABC, NBC nor CBS carried it.”

Those lines are from a column today by Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, and of course I’ve agreed with the assessment that the speech helped launch Obama’s candidacy, comparing it to Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech for Barry Goldwater 40 years earlier.

Kurtz also offers much else, discussing the “newsworthiness” of political conventions, how the networks will cover the Democratic National Convention that starts today (CNN may have the best pictures), the coverage of John Edwards’ affair, Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as running mate, and Tom Brokaw’s contention that Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews have gone “too far” in their biased commentary during the presidential campaign.

The column doesn’t mention Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show,” which probably will offer some of the sharpest insights (mixed, unfortunately, with often sophomoric wit) about the convention.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

Posted by James McPherson on June 20, 2008

Having offered my suggestions for John McCain a couple of days ago, I’ll now do the same for Barack Obama. It seems appropriate especially because of recent articles listing possibilities that include John Edwards, Al Gore, Sam Nunn, John Murtha and Ted Strickland. The Huffington Post and others have handicapped other top prospects, including western governors Janet Napolitano, Brian Schweitzer and Bill Richardson.

I doubt that Edwards or Gore are serious possibilities. Edwards has already failed in an attempt to be VP, and generated no more enthusiasm in this year’s presidential bid. Gore has been there, done that, and is more influential outside of office than he would be as Obama’s second banana.

Hillary Clinton is the obvious favorite of many who seek the so-called “Dream Ticket,” and it’s good that (as announced this morning) she is going to campaign with Obama, but she brings too much baggage for the “change candidate” that Obama claims to be. Besides, I think she’d be a better choice as secretary of state or perhaps attorney general, moving to the Supreme Court as soon as there is an opening (probably about two days after Obama takes the oath of office, if he’s elected). Of course conservatives couldn’t be told that she’d end up on the court before the election, or that would become their major talking point for the coming months.

Napolitano and her Kansas counterpart Kathleen Sebelius offer other strong female leadership possibilities, and both have succeeded in dealing with Republican majorities. Unfortunately neither helps counter Obama’s biggest perceived weakness–a lack of knowledge or experience in foreign policy.

Nunn and Murtha are better options in this regard because of their military experience, but Nunn has been out of the game for so long that few people outside of Georgia likely remember who he is, and Murtha is viewed by too many as a crank and/or a flake. If Obama were to go that route, a better choice would be Virginia Senator Jim Webb or retired General Wesley Clark, who is well known because of his own presidential bid four years ago. He also might help swing disgruntled Clinton supporters because he was a leading figure in her campaign.

The popular and conservative Southerner Webb would be a good choice (though it might cost the Dems a hard-won Senate seat in the long run) and Richardson may have the widest range of applicable experience of anyone available. Unfortunately, Richardson is unable to do one thing that my top choice can do: attack the Bush administration (and its continuation under McCain) in a credible, logical manner while not turning off listeners.

My preferred candidate, Joe Biden, happens to be stronger on both foreign policy and bipartisanship than McCain, and would reduce the exotic feel of the Obama campaign (something a woman or Richardson would be less able to do). Biden loves cameras, and performs well in front of them. Occasionally verbose, he has become increasingly adept at breaking policy into sound bites. More importantly, for a vice presidential nominee (and perhaps especially with Obama’s efforts to maintain niceness), Biden has no qualms about going on the attack when necessary.

If Obama chose Biden as VP, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and Republican Chuck Hegel as Secretary of Defense, the administration would likely be both functional and well repected. Of course the Senate would suffer greatly.

Whomever Obama chooses, he should name his running mate by mid-July. That would give the team plenty of time to make the rounds of talk shows and to hone their message throughout the dog days of summer, peaking just in time for the Democratic National Convention Aug. 25-28

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »