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, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Posts Tagged ‘Jon Stewart’

A weird, sad week in journalism

Posted by James McPherson on February 12, 2015

Journalism has taken a lot of hits in recent years, but this week has been weirder and sadder than most. Respected television journalist Bob Simon died Wednesday– not in one of the many wars he covered, but in that most mundane American way, a car crash. Two days earlier, even more popular (though less talented) journalist Brian Williams shot down his own career with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Frankly, though I liked Williams as an entertainer on “Saturday Night Live” and while “slow jamming the news,” I haven’t considered most television “news” people to be journalists since they began parading through “Murphy Brown” more than two decades ago. Identifying “real journalism vs. fake journalism” has become increasingly difficult.

This week we must also face the loss of two people who in recent years have done far more than most to keep journalists honest. On Monday, Jon Stewart (not a journalist, but for many of us a source for more news than Williams ever was), announced that he would leave Comedy Central’s most important program, “The Daily Show.” And tonight the New York Times’ David Carr, probably the best media critic in the business, died in the newsroom shortly after moderating a discussion involving Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.

Though I thought Carr was sometimes overly crabby in his public persona, I admired his work and liked him for more than his writing. Several years ago, he interviewed me for more than a half hour — then apologized after the story ran without my quotes because an editor apparently decided “one historian was enough.” I thanked him, and, as a recovering alcoholic, congratulated him on his successful fight with drug addiction. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve always suspected that he had a hand in my later being interviewed by another Times reporter for a story about Andrew Breitbart.

Interestingly, part of my quote about Breitbart in that story might apply to Brian Williams: “I think his actions show that if he’s not willing to distort, he is at least careless with the facts. … But there are no standards of fact anymore for some people.”

One of the few positive notes this week somewhat related to journalism is that WorldNutsDaily managed to tie Barack Obama’s birth certificate to the Williams story. That piece quotes Alan Jones, apparently no relation to the Jones whom I have previously called “perhaps the most bat-shit crazy conspiracy theorist in America.”

But for those of us who care about journalism, a dose of birther lunacy can’t come close to making up for how much the rest of the week sucked. A world without Jon Stewart, Bob Simon and David Carr is a meaner, dumber world.

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

Dumb like a Fox: Olbermann suspended

Posted by James McPherson on November 5, 2010

Four days ago Keith Olbermann used his lead story (and Twitter) to criticize Jon Stewart for rally comments comparing the partisanship of MSNBC to that of Fox News. I agree that the comparison is inaccurate, but only slightly, and in fact have made similar comlaints myself–and for Olbermann to focus so much on that issue just looked like whining.

Today, Olbermann has been suspended indefinitely for … you guessed it … political activities–giving money to Democratic candidates who had been guests on his own show. He also used his show to heavily criticize the opponents of those whose campaigns he helped fund.

The amount of money involved is small. The principle is not. Because Fox News donates heavily to Republicans and has a stable full of Republicans on its staff, it cannot be considered a true “news” channel.

Fox folks apparently do what Olbermann did all the time. But in this case it’s Olbermann–not Stewart–who has helped confirm that MSNBC is in at least a dinghy version of the same boat.

Same-day follow-up: As reported by Think Progress, which has been providing regular updates, conservative William Kristol–who calls the suspension “ludicrous“–is among those coming to Olbermann’s defense. Odd to find Kristol and Olbermann on the same side, and me disagreeing with both of them.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

More than a little sick of warmongers? Get on board the Sick Train

Posted by James McPherson on March 13, 2009

As much debate has there has been about the stimulus bill and the economy (debate spilling over into primetime television), it’s good to remember that the single biggest long-term drag on our economy for most of our lifetimes probably will be the Iraq War–which, we hear today, that the public is “a little sick” of hearing about, talking about, etc. If you want a better picture of what the war will cost you, and for how long, check out NationalPriorities.org.

And for those of you who have recently joined our ranks aboard the sick train (now there’s a song I can’t imagine Cat Stevens singing, even under the name Yusuf Islam): welcome aboard–but what took you so long? Some of us were more than a little sick of this war, and equally sick of the Bush/Cheney cabal that foisted it upon a generally clueless and revenge-seeking public, years ago.

As I’ve noted previously (in a book and repeatedly here), a gutless Democratic Party and a Bush-kissing mainstream press constributed to the problem in the first place. Both now seem largely determined to forget it, but it will be with us for decades to come.

It remains to see whether the “anti-war” Barack Obama will be any better than Bush in terms of war and related spending, and judging by his first steps into the quagmire of Afghanistan, I have my doubts. In the meantime, war also rages much closer, on our southern border. Though I’m not sure we should be helping out there, either, it may not matter–we can’t spare the troops, even if we wanted to help.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 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 »

McCain camp desperate, silly and sad

Posted by James McPherson on August 24, 2008

Affirming my observations of recent weeks that the John McCain campaign steadily becomes increasingly silly, increasingly desperate, and–despite recent polls–decreasingly likely to win the upcoming presidential election, the campaign is doing what it feels it must to have a prayer of victory.

Previously noted by many is how McCain now panders to the Religious Right figures whom he once termed “agents of intolerance.” At the same time that he engages in increasingly unchristian behavior, even to the point of adding to his own lies by refusing to criticize obvious lies from a man who has been one of McCain’s harshest critics. Nonetheless, his most recent ad must make “straight talk express” fans cringe when they hear the candidate intone, “I’m John McCain and I approved this message.”

This ad (the first clip below) asks why Hillary Clinton isn’t Barack Obama’s choice as running mate, and states that she was kept off the ticket “for telling the truth.” While that message might work with a few PUMAs, it seems likely that even many of them might be turned off by such blatantly pandering on the part of a man who consistently has done little on behalf of women–even if they believe that anyone in the McCain campaign knows the inner workings of their opponent’s operation.

McCain himself, it seems, once would have been embarrassed by such a commercial. Doesn’t he have some other means of attack other than to put his own face and voice in an ad that not only doesn’t say anything about himself or his candidacy but which actually promotes a losing candidate from the opposition party? Of course he obviously likes those folks, since he pals around with two-time loser Joe Lieberman. But isn’t McCain’s new language more befitting of Jon Stewart or bloggers than of a candidate for president? And does his new ad suggest that McCain like to replace sidekick Joe Lieberman with Clinton (a good idea if she’d go for it, but she’s far too smart for that).

One problem, I suppose, is that McCain has relatively few positive options because his own campaign message to voters might be boiled down to: “I was tortured before most of you were born (though if we do the same things now to scary Muslims I would no longer call it torture), I hate war but think we ought to engage in a lot more of it, I’m old, I’m cranky, and I disagree with almost everything else I said a year ago, back when I was still voting in the Senate–so elect me president before I die or before my rich wife leaves me for one of my lobbyist friends.”

Another somewhat silly McCain ad came out on the same day that Barack Obama announced what most followers had considered inevitable for days if not weeks, that Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee for vice president. That commercial (the second clip below) shows Biden criticizing Obama and complimenting McCain. The only problem with the ad is that it merely reflects the kind of rhetoric that happens in political races all the time–in fact, the third clip below is a version that might be used against McCain if he chooses Mitt Romney to be his running mate. Biden’s rhetoric also reflects the give-and-take nature of the Senate, reflecting why I was somewhat surprised when two Senators won their party’s nominations.

Obviously a current senator will become our next president, while another will go back to serving with Clinton in the Senate. Perhaps that’s why McCain is being so complimentary to her now–he figures she can remind him where things are in the Capitol once he gets back there. 

Posted in Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »