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 Legend’

Stimulus prompts cartoonish monkey business

Posted by James McPherson on February 18, 2009

I haven’t understood why the story of a crazy chimpanzee has been worth days of coverage on virtually every news site. In fact, until today I had not read any of the stories, and have managed to tune out most of the television discussion of Gonzo Bonzo.

Now there’s another reason to hate the fact that the media have gone ape, so to speak, over the story: It helped prompt a cartoon that some perceive as racist, on the same day that attorney general Eric Holder calls the United States “a nation of cowards” on the issue of race. Ah, remember the good old days, when all we had to worry about with the attorney general was his unwillingness to follow the Constitution, and his inability to remember if he had followed it?

Syndicated columnist and regular TV talking head Roland Martin is among those now arguing that a New York Post cartoon offers a racist portrayal of Barack Obama. For its part, the Post, drawing international attention, pleads innocence. It claims that the dead stimulus-writing monkey in the cartoon simply represents the widely reported chimp gone crazy, which police shot and killed, while making fun of the flaws in the stimulus bill.

The Post argument would be more convincing if it weren’t known as a conservative anti-Obama newspaper. It also doesn’t help that today’s first story highlighted on the Post Web page is titled “From baby to beast,” while the second is headlined, “Bam’s $75B house call.” (The site also prominently carries a “pop video quiz” titled “Wet hot swimsuit models”–those conservatives do like their T & A.) And while the first complainant about the cartoon was publicity hound Al Sharpton (and no, Rev. Al, I’m not comparing African Americans to dogs), who would call someone a racist for commenting that a plane crash occurred on a dark night, Martin is not the same kind of loony that Sharpton is.

Even if we give the Post the benefit of the doubt–and I think that when it comes to matters of race we should be as gracious as possible in assuming the motives of others–we also shouldn’t automatically ignore the aggrieved parties, either. Regardless of any racist intent, the cartoon still represents a cluelessness on the part of the newspaper, because in fact African Americans have been negatively compared to apes throughout history. Not long ago a Voguemagazine cover featuring basketball star Lebron James drew similar criticism. Much longer ago, noted sportscaster Howard Cosell referred to black wide receiver Alvin Garrett as a “little monkey,” drawing considerable criticism (despite the fact that at one time Cosell may have been one of the best friends that black athletes–especially boxers, and especially Muhammad Ali–had in any press box).

Still, the racial aspect that probably bothers me most about this incident is one I’ve noted before, that any dead or missing little white girl or pretty white woman will get far more attention from the media than a missing or dead black or Latino child–and now it is clear that a dead chimpanzee can get more ink, as well.

Next-day update: The New York Times reports that even employees of the New York Postapparently are among those troubled by the cartoon, which ran one page after a large photo of Obama signing the stimulus photo. Ted Rall, president of the Association of Editorial Cartoonists also dislikes the cartoon, but not because he thinks it’s racist (he doesn’t). According to a Poynter piecewell worth reading, Rall calls the cartoon “a cheap form of editorial cartooning,” in which a not particularly ambition tries to combine two unrelated news events into a cartoon that is “rarely clever” and typically “doesn’t mean anything.”

Another cartoonist, Chip Bok, also didn’t consider the cartoon to be racist–just “in bad taste” because the chimp had seriously injured a woman. As Rall noted, however, there are almost no cartoonists who aren’t white men, so their depth of understanding as a group may be a bit limited.

Next day update #2: The Post now “apologizes for” and defends the cartoon, after singer John Legend urged people to boycott the newspaper.

The new cartoon, followed by the Labron Vogue cover and one of the comparisons from various sites:

monkey1

lebron21

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments »

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 »