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 Kerry’

No horsing around: Obama kicking Romney’s rear, Chicago-style

Posted by James McPherson on August 1, 2012

  

Barack Obama is showing a nasty side in his campaign for re-election, in a way he never did four years ago (despite tough talk and a Chicago political background). And no, I don’t know the message of the bat in the photo at the far left.

The tough approach–from the candidate who came across as “nicer” than Hillary Clinton or John McCain four years earlier–seems to be working in the states that matter most. The Republicans’ response? Whining.

I don’t like the ubiquitous negative campaigning, and I especially dislike negative campaigns combined with lying (something being done by both Obama and Mitt Romney, with a little help from Fox News). Sometimes such campaigning reflects desperation, sometime perhaps a desire to depress electoral turnout. But it would seem to work against the candidate who has no coherent message–a candidate like John McCain in 2008, for example, or like Mitt Romney in 2012.

The Obama campaign is taking advantage of the void that is Mitt Romney. “Don’t want to run on your record at Bain Capital, Mitt? Here, let us define that for you.” “Want to avoid coming up with an economic plan, while proposed an indefensible tax plan? Well, let’s talk about your own taxes then–what exactly are you trying to hide?” “Don’t want to talk about your time as governor? Let’s remind folks often that as governor you provided the model for Obamacare.” CNN’s “Gut Check” defines the Obama strategy as “campaigning 101: Define your opponent before he defines himself.”

And Romney is apparently unable to define himself, though he is finally trying. It doesn’t help when the candidate cluelessly wanders abroad, insulting your hosts and others while commending another country’s version of Romney/Obamacare. Or when the GOP’s best attack on Obama in 2008 (and 2010) and on John Kerry four years earlier, that they were out-of-touch elitest snobs, works even better against Romney. OK, GOP, Dems will take your windsurfing (not really an elitest sport, anyway) and raise you dressage.” Americans may dig “Dancing with the Stars,” but they’re not really into dancing horses, at leastnot since Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger died.

Romney’s only defense, the old standby of blaming the media just doesn’t work as well as it once did. Newsweek went too far with its “Wimp” cover, shown above, but the floundering magazine is struggling for survival as much as the Republican candidate is. The fact is, we don’t know Romney well enough to know if he’s a wimp. But what we do know, we don’t much like.

All in all, Romney’s chances of winning the presidency still appear only slightly better than Rafalca’s chances of winning Olympic gold. In platform diving.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

“W” and “An American Carol”: losers left and right

Posted by James McPherson on October 11, 2008

Two politically oriented films have been released just before the election. One has an obvious liberal bias, the other an obvious conservative bias. Interestingly, these are entertainment films, not documentaries along the lines of “Farenheit 9/11” or the equally slanted ABC miniseries “The Path to 9/11“–which means their success will be determined as much by box office dollars as by political influence.

Oliver Stone, who has done some very good films (“Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Wall Street,” “World Trade Center“) and some bad history (“JFK” and “Nixon“), tells Maxim that his latest film, “W,” is being released this month not to influence the election but “because Bush is still around.” He also questions his potential influence: “I did three Vietnam movies, and what good did they do? People still lined up in support of the Iraq War. People don’t remember. It shows you the futility of what we do.”

The other film is largely an attack on Michael Moore, the creator of “Farenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.” The new film, “An American Carol,” is produced by another well-known filmmaker, David Zucker (“Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun,” from back in the day when we thought O.J. Simpson was funny). Zucker, who in 2004 produced anti-John Kerry ads, and who in an interview with the neoconservative Weekly Standard compares Barack Obama to “a really clever virus who adapts”–says he hopes his film will persuade people to vote against Obama.

That seems unlikely. In fact, neither film is doing particularly well, despite the unpopularity of President George W. Bush or the heavy promotion on Fox News for “An American Carol.”

Early reviews of “W” from Variety (an “unusual and inescapably interesting” movie that “feels like a rough draft of a film it might behoove him to remake in 10 or 15 years”) and Hollywood Reporter (“a bold but imperfect film about an imperfect man”) are obviously mixed. And it seems to me late-night TV hosts have skewered the president pretty thoroughly. Besides, watching the real Bush flounder is bad enough–and no longer particularly funny, considering the state of the nation thanks to the Iraq War and the economy.

Of course conservatives quickly and ludicrously complained that liberal bias and “ticket fraud” (?!) were keeping “An American Carol” from doing well, but judging by the preview, I suspect that the primary problem is the combination of unsubtle political commentary combined with even less subtle juvenile slapstick humor. It is notable that the filmmakers refused to release the film for critics, usually a sure sign that the filmmakers know they have a dud on their hands (though in this case they spun it as a defense against liberally biased critics).

It’s difficult to imagine whom “An American Carol” is trying to reach. After all, most of the college-age males that the preview seems to want to engage likely will turn to something equally goofy, but which also offers the prospect of nudity.

Young people look for Adam Sandler and David Spade, not Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper, and for Angelina Jolie rather than her father, Jon Voight. And even moviegoers who like Kevin Farley, the film’s star, want to laugh with their lovable losers, not at those losers, and they want to see their heroes win in the end. That doesn’t happen here. Instead–ironic spoiler alert–the end of the film apparently has the character intending to do a new, more accurate version of “JFK.”

Older audiences need a stronger reason to go watch a film than do older audiences, and I can’t see Farley being such a reason. The film is broadly obvious–and therefore uninspiring–in its intent, and apparently lazy in execution. And anyone who wants to see Bill O’Reilly acting stupid can do so five nights a week on television; there is little reason to pay 8 or 10 bucks to do so.

This won’t be an election turned by film fiction, or even by based-on-a-true-story depictions offered in movies (or in political ads, for that matter). The fact that soon perhaps no one will be able to afford to go the movies, anyway (though escapist entertainment films were popular during Depression), will play a much bigger role in the probably election of Barack Obama. By then you’ll probably be able to check out both of these films on video.

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

The Obama convention bump, and the McCain bump in the road

Posted by James McPherson on September 2, 2008

If the polls are to be believed (and as I’ve written before, at this point they shouldn’t be taken too seriously), Barack Obama apparently got a perhaps-significant bump out of the Democratic National Convention. The lastest Gallup national tracking poll has him getting 50 percent of registered voters, up from 41 percent early in the convention (right in line with the 8-12 percent increase I predicted).

Of course other polls have Obama moving up much less, if at all, illustrating that negligible value of these things at this point. But the media and bloggers on both sides keep using them to support faulty arguments.

For the record, I expect the GOP to get a much smaller boost from its convention, partly because it was shaping up to be less interesting to begin with (no stadium, older candidate, less conflict), partly because of Hurricane Gustav and the many political and personal questions surrounding Sarah Palin and her place on John McCain’s ticket.

McCain’s convention probably won’t copy the John Kerry trick of four years ago of actually bringing his party farther down, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see things stay where they are, and I’d be surprised at a jump of more than two or three points.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Sarah Palin draw a bigger audience Wednesday than John McCain does Thursday if their speeches are on consecutive nights. The Republicans may want to stay with their hurricane-induced proposal of having both speak on the same night, the last night of the convention. After all the Dems won’t be able to counter the next day with something as dramatic as what the Republicans did last Friday.

On the other hand, though I don’t expect it, the GOP may do something equally dramatic on bad-news Friday.

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