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 McCain’

Romney boards Con Ryan Express in desperate bid to get campaign back on track

Posted by James McPherson on August 11, 2012

So, it’s Con Ryan’s Express. For the second consecutive presidential election, Republicans will have a vice presidential candidate who is more dynamic and interesting than the guy at the head of their ticket. No wonder that in his introduction Romney called Paul Ryan “the next president of the United States.”

Unfortunately for Romney this Paul is no saint; the choice offers obvious strengths and weaknesses, along with the Palinesque risk that the presidential race will be more about the GOP’s vice presidential nominee than about anything else.

Like most people, I got it wrong, thinking Romney would likely go with Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty. I did mention Ryan almost as an afterthought, saying “Maybe Paul Ryan if he still thinks he needs to go right.” Apparently Romney is still more concerned with being viewed as a Massachusetts liberal healthcare pimp than as someone who has spent the campaign trying to hack off his left arm with his right.

The New Republic offers a quick look a quick look at what the party now officially stands for–ending Medicare and Medicaid we know them, privatization of Social Security, killing any semblance of government that works, and the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to rich in U.S. history. With Ryan, you can add climate change denial and “personhood” legislation.

Faced with the likelihood of defeat, Romney’s choice–like McCain’s choice of Palin–smacks of desperation. Ryan obviously is a lot smarter than Palin (OK, so Romney’s dancing horse is smarter than Palin), but could turn out to be equally polarizing. After all, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, John McCain and probably the Koch brothers all like the choice. But so do Democrats. One of the most notable things about the selection is that for perhaps the first time Romney has managed to please both liberals and conservatives at the same time, rather than having to flip-flop to do so.

In fact, as many did with Palin, conservatives might rue the choice more than liberals do. Ryan wasn’t Grover Norquist’s pick, for example, so perhaps this is another example that Norquist is losing some of his influence with Republicans. And that might be the best thing to happen in this election season, and the most positive long-term development for the GOP.

One might wonder, if Romney is enthused about his choice, why he would make the announcement early (6 a.m. where I live) on a summer Saturday. That’s a time when politicians typically are more likely to roll out bad news than good; Friday afternoon has long been recognized as best for avoiding media attention, because most of the front-line news media won’t be back until Monday, by when news can be a bit stale. That’s why I wrote last month that Romney “should release a deluge of his tax returns on a summer Friday, perhaps during the Olympics, definitely no later than the Friday before Labor Day.”

I suspect that desperation to change the conversation from his own taxes, the fact that even sources such as Fox News and the conservative-leaning Rasmussen poll had Obama leading, and perhaps a desire to make the announcement as low-key as possible (which is Romney’s style, if not Ryan’s) all combined to lead to the decision to make the announcement when he did.

Yes, a 24-hour news cycle tempers the “dead zone” timing a bit, and yes, the selection will now be the focus of the Sunday morning news shows. But the fact is, almost no one except true political junkies–virtually all of whom probably already know whom they’ll vote for in November–watches those Sunday shows. And Romney, of all people, should know that if Americans are turning on their TVs on this summer weekend it will be to watch the Olympics. On Sunday night and Monday morning more people will be talking the closing ceremonies with Adele and the Spice Girls than about Romney and Ryan. In fact, the few Americans who know anything about Ryan may outnumber those who know he has been chosen by Romney at this point.

Like most Hail-Mary passes in football or last-second half-courts shots in basketball, the effort probably will fail to deliver a victory in November, but will give the media and serious viewers a reason to hold their breath for a bit, just in case. There’s no doubt that the race just became more interesting–within the GOP, as well as over all.

Perhaps we’ll even start having a serious media conversation about what policy might look like in a Ryan/Romney–oh, sorry, Romney/Ryan–administration, if only during the vice-presidential debate. Perhaps. But I doubt it. After all, Ryan has a pretty wife and cute kids. And he’s a Catholic engaged in a “smackdown” with nuns. And now “Saturday Night Live” will have to figure out who to portray Ryan pushing granny off a cliff. I’ll bet Tina Fey could pull if off, with the right haircut.

P.S.: If you’re too young to get the reference to “Von Ryan’s Express,” it’s a film from 1965, before Paul Ryan was born.

P.P.S: Ironically, if the Christian Right gets its way in November, for the first time ever there won’t be a Protestant president, vice president, or member of the Supreme Court.

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Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Religion, Science, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

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 »

Jokers wild: Palin may fold as Trump & Bachmann deal themselves in

Posted by James McPherson on March 25, 2011

I’ve probably bragged too often about recommending Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate months before she was selected, and maybe I write too often about Palin. (In my defense–who doesn’t?)

But this seems like an appropriate time to point out that I wrote the following in January 2010, more than 14 months ago:

People keep talking about Palin as a possible 2012 Presidential candidate, but, as much as I wish that to be true, I (and others) have serious doubts. My prediction? Palin will end up as a contestant on a bad reality show … long before she ever lives in the White House.

Since then, of  course, Palin has been on a bad reality show, though her daughter was the only one who competed on one. But the chances of Palin winning the GOP nomination continue to decrease (the odds of her winning the presidency, of course, ranks slightly lower than the chance of Tina Fey becoming Barack Obama’s next secretary of state).

Fortunately for those of us who were afraid the GOP might simply produce another slate of boring candidates, Donald Trump (speaking of bad reality shows) and Michele Bachmann may ride to the rescue.

Tea Party-favorite Bachmann’s has demonstrated an appalling knowledge of U.S. history and geography (I wonder if she can see Boston Harbor from her house). And the egomaniac thrice-married Trump (like Newt and Rudy–ah, the GOP, where “family values” means “more families to value”) is scrambling to appeal to birthers and to overcome apparent previous conservative shortcomings related to gun control and abortion. He may even spend a ton of his own money doing so.

We may have some fun during Obama’s roll to re-election, after all–even if Palin doesn’t enjoy the show.

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

“Gay apparel’ to soon include military uniforms; Senate deep-sixes ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Posted by James McPherson on December 18, 2010

In a 63-33 procedural vote, the U.S. Senate has effectively killed the ridiculous Clinton-era law regarding homosexual service in the military. The vote gives President Barack Obama his second big win in a week–and produces another high-profile loss for the increasingly irrelevant John McCain.

Though a formal vote  on the bill itself (which has passed the House and will require only 51 Senate votes to go to the president) is still to come this afternoon and the changes will take some time to implement, the United States is on the verge of joining the rest of the “civilized” world in allowing openly gay soldiers to serve their country and to be killed in stupid wars.

For the record, here are other countries that allow homosexuals to serve in the military: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Merry Christmas to the gay community and to all those who care about fairness.

Same day update: As expected, the Senate passed the bill. Two more Republicans joined the side of fairness, making the final count 65-31.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

McCain ‘border sheriff’ relying on wacky Webster?

Posted by James McPherson on July 22, 2010

Talk about the blind leading the blind. Or dumb and dumber. Paul Babeu, the Arizona sheriff most famous for posing as a “border sheriff” in John McCain’s goofy “complete the danged fence” ad, apparently gets his own information from… wait for it … Michael Webster.

Yes, that Michael Webster, the loony “investigative reporter” whom I’ve highlighted previously on this site. Tim Steller of the Arizona Daily Star, reports in a piece headlined that after Babeu claimed that a Mexican “drug cartel top officer” sat down with a reporter in an interview and threatened Babeu:

“We believe it was American vigilantes, and that the sheriff of Pinal County, where my two soldiers were killed, is covering this up, and we’re going to hold him, Sheriff Paul Babeu” — they said it right in the paper, this guy’s telling the reporter — “and we’re going to hold him personally responsible for this.”

Unlike the type of “journalist” played by Webster, Steller then decided to follow up:

That piqued my attention, of course, since the Arizona Daily Star is the only daily newspaper in Tucson, and I hadn’t noticed this interview. So I asked Tim Gaffney, Babeu’s spokesman, what Babeu was referring to. Gaffney pointed me to this piece by “investigative journalist” Michael Webster. Please read the piece, along with some of Webster’s other writings at U.S. Border Fire Report and Laguna Journal  and tell me if you would trust this source of information, especially if you were a sheriff.

A subhead on the search page for the article refers to Webster as “a self-described ‘investigative journalist’ with sympathies toward the militia movement.” That may make his articles ideal for regurgitation by various anti-immigration and conspiracy sites (a few examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), but, as Steller suggests, hardly the kind of information you’d hope would be relied upon for any public officials with marginally more sense than Michele Bachmann.

And if he trusts Webster, I suppose this also means that Babeu, knowingly or unknowingly, is relying on outdated third-hand information from some secret “duck hunter.”

Incidentally, the reason I thought to check the Star (though I have family in Tucson and so read it on occasion, anyway), is because Steller has apparently come across one of my previous pieces on Webster and emailed me for contact info (not that it matters, because Webster apparently ignores attempts to reach him unless those attempts come from shadowy figures with drug war horror stories such as “duck hunter” or “HammerDown”  or “Juan” or “a self proclaimed Los Zetas drug cartel officer“).

In my response to Steller I pointed out Webster’s two websites and his some of his other writing, including three books–“one advertised with the line, ‘We, believe that fruit from the tree of life may be the lemon’ (the extra comma was already there), and one a ‘work of fiction’ promising, ‘The RedRoad is a journey through life learning to live in balance and harmony with Mother and if you walk soft and long you may teach others the walk of the RedRoad.'”

As I told Steller, I guess it’s when those red folks mixed with Spaniards that they became a problem. Of course the red men did an awful job with border security, which is why most of us are here with the likes of Babeu and Webster to protect us.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Lying Fox News Pin(al)-headed about geography

Posted by James McPherson on June 16, 2010

Remember when “news” was supposed to be timely? Fox News and bimbo Megyn Kelly [sorry, even though it was Kelly’s name on the screen, it was a different woman doing the Kelly-style reporting] today led with a story that is more than three years old–while suggesting that the story and the direct quote that Fox lifts from an October 2006  public document are something new.

In addition to the misleading timing of the story, like far too many Americans, Fox News seems to have a geography problem. Or maybe it’s just trying to bolster John McCain’s Arizona campaign while making a hero of a certain Arizona sheriff.

How else do you explain that the current lead story on Fox’s website (above even the latest on the Gulf oil spill, Iran’s nuclear program and “Bipartisan Jeers for Obama Oil Speech”) relies most heavily on the sheriff who starts in John McCain’s ridiculous anti-immigrant commercial? That’s a sheriff, remember, whose county does not even border Mexico.

Why not quote a border sheriff? Perhaps because those from Pima, Yuma and Santa Cruz counties all disagree with the state’s stupid new anti-immigration law, and therefore with the reactionary rednecks who provide much of Fox’s primary audience.

Also, remember who was president at the time of the closure that Fox is now yipping about? And at that time, McCain opposed a border fence.

Same-day update: More unethical journalism–supposed “investigative reporter” Michael Webster at the American Chronicle offers most of the same garbage as Fox.

Numerous conservative blogs have knee-jerkedly repeated all or part of the misleading Fox/Webster story (some examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), as if their readers wouldn’t have already seen it; naturally several of those blame Barack Obama. I’ve only seen one correction.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Armed and delirious: Save 2nd Amendment, to heck with the 4th

Posted by James McPherson on April 21, 2010

To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the actions of white domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, gun rights activists held a couple of rallies to express their fanciful concerns about another supposed government conspiracy. To quote the CNN story:

“We’re in a war. The other side knows they are at war, because they started it,” said Larry Pratt, president of the Gun Owners of America. “They are coming for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They are coming for everything because they are a bunch of socialists.”  

The protests come despite the fact, as I’ve noted previously, that  gun regulation has decreased since Obama took office, not increased. And with crowds much smaller than should be worthy of so much media attention, I find the protests interesting mostly because I’d bet that many of the same people who are now worried about some undefinable communist/socialist/facist/Muslim takeover of their civil rights were among the biggest supporters of the Patriot Act.

I’ll bet they also fully support the Arizona immigration bill under which “police would be required to question anyone they suspect of being undocumented.” Some of those same gun-toting irony-challenged folks will soon support similar legislation elsewhere–folks like “robincalif,” perhaps, who responds to a Fox News story with these words: “If your [sic] here ILLEGALLY then GET THE “F” OUT OF OUR COUNTRY PERIOD!! It’s time the American Citizens of the USA stop pandering and making excuses for criminals just because their [sic] of a deverse[sic] background. Justice should know NO color.” I assume, rockin’ Robin, that last line means you think that cops should be required to ask you for identification whenever they see you. (Of course John McCain supports the bill, but McCain has turned into such a hypocritical panderer that his opinion is essentially meaningless.)

The ancestors of many of those same people, no doubt, supported the illegal rounding up and mass deportation of a million Mexican Americans during previous economic hard times. After all, we have a great legacy of taking out our frustrations on people of color. And politicians of all stripes find the idea of “protecting America” from its farm, factory and construction workers to be a handy diversion.

By the way, I predict that the governor of Arizona will sign the immigration bill into law, and that a few years from now it will be overturned by the Supreme Court–which despite its recent conservative radicalism doesn’t have to pander (though it sometimes does) to populist paranoia. In addition to the millions of dollars Arizona will spend on legal fees to support its untenable position, it also will lose millions in lost tourist dollars.

Not that there will be anyone available to change the hotel sheets or wash the restaurant dishes, even if tourists do show up.

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Bipartisan agreement that conservatives should ease off the trigger

Posted by James McPherson on March 25, 2010

Having Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck of “The View” agree on something should give pause to those who would disagree with them. And if the agreement comes in the form of harsh criticism of Sarah Palin–for whom Hasselbeck stumped during the 2008 campaign–maybe it’s time for angry gun nuts and other Tea Party types to turn things down a notch.

The criticism revolves around Palin’s use of crosshairs on a map “targeting” Democrats, which Hasselbeck referred to as “purely despicable” and “an abuse of the Second Amendment.” Of course, John McCain defended Palin’s language–oddly, I agree with him in this case more than I do Hasselbeck, though I find the use of crosshairs more troubling. (By the way, if you Google “McCain defends Palin,” you get almost 3.9 million hits.)

I rarely agree with Hasselbeck, but I do sometimes feel sorry for her because she is so badly outnumbered on “The View,” just as I feel for Eleanor Clift when she frequently has to fight four conservatives on “The McLaughlin Group.” And as I said, I’m not sure that Palin’s language is that far over the line, in historical terms.

But if folks on your own side find problems with your methods, the proper response isn’t an Eric Cantor knee-jerk blame-the-Dems reaction. Instead, conservatives should be looking to how they might appeal more to the rational middle rather than to the the lunatic fringe that is now getting so much attention.

Republicans, you lost, despite your best and worst efforts. Get over it. Elections have consequences. Approval of both health care reform and Democrats is already climbing, probably in part because of your obstructionist methods.

Of course, you’ll probably focus on the part of the CBS poll that says most Americans want you to keep fighting health care reform, and either through ignorance or (more likely) willful distortion you’ll misinterpret that result the same as you did the polls showing that most Americans weren’t happy with the proposed health care bill.

You see, many of us opposed the bill not because it went too far but because it doesn’t go nearly far enough, even if we think it’s better than the nothing you would have given us. Likewise, many of us hope you keep fighting reform, because we want you to keep demonstrating how out of touch you are with most Americans, boosting the party of “Yes we can” even more over that of “Hell no you can’t.” (For more on that, see the video below).

Frankly, we aren’t crazy about the Democrats, but considering the mess you created when you were in charge, we much prefer a Democratic majority over a Republican one. Come to think of it, please keep listening to Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and ramping up the loony language–it seems to be doing wonders for our side.

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

Going Dutch in Olympics may hurt, but U.S. on thinner ice elsewhere

Posted by James McPherson on February 25, 2010

First the brain freeze of Sven Kramer’s coach costs the world’s best 10,000-meter speed skater a gold medal. Then the Dutch four-man bobsled team has to withdraw, without competing, “because their driver was terrified.” It’s a bad week to be a fan of the Winter Olympics in the Netherlands. Oddly–and maybe this also is a Dutch thing–coach Gerard Kemkers’ job outlook may be brighter than that of John McCain.

On the other hand, the Dutch do have a multiple-party political system and logical libertarian policies on drugs, prostitution and same-sex marriage. They rank considerably higher than the United States in such areas as gender equitypress freedom, affordable education, prison incarceration, perceived soundness of its banks, infant mortality rates, life expectancy, preventable deaths (such as those on bobsleds, I wonder?), health care costs, and health care in general.

So today we have five times as many Olympic medals as the Netherlands, and one of the lead medical stories of the day is about a skier’s broken pinky (by the way, “pinky” apparently comes from the Dutch pinkje, for “little finger”).  And our political leaders preen and strut as the American health care system careens downhill like a German luger, taking the U.S. economy along for the ride. If you’ll pardon a mixing of metaphors, we’re going to need more than a little Dutch boy to keep our heads above water.

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

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 »