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 ‘Keith Olbermann’

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 »

Dead Air (America): Liberal talk radio alternative going silent

Posted by James McPherson on January 22, 2010

Air America is dead. The 6-year-old radio network set up to combat right-wing talkers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and which in the past provided an outlet for political voices for folks such as Al FrankenEd Schultz and Rachel Maddow, will cease programming today.

As the New York Times reports, “The closing did not come as a surprise.” Management problems and a bad economic climate for media hurt the network from the start, and even the best programs on Air America never provided much of an “alternative” to anything for most liberals. I suspected from the start that talk radio, like direct mail, would work better for conservatives, not just because of their head start but also because both of those media rely heavilty on the emotional appeals of fear and anger. As I wrote in my most recent book, conservatives have used fear and anger better than liberals have, though the Web has “helped” liberals learn more about the those emotions.

I was glad that Spokane had an Air America affiliate, KPTQ, when some larger cities did not, and I occasionally listened. But I and many others much prefer news over opinion and reasoned arguments over the shrill harangues (about the opposition) and nauseating fawning (toward anyone in agreement) that has long characterized talk radio.

With Fox News, MSNBC and the Internet now providing too much of that same sort of programming offered by talk radio, and with cheaper independent local stations such as my local favorite, KYRS, also picking up some of the slack, I’m not sure Air America served much of a purpose except perhaps as a farm club for MSNBC. Incidentally, Maddow was my favorite host; I liked her better before she moved to MSNBC and became more like Keith Olbermann.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Journalism and blogging: Printing what’s known vs. what isn’t

Posted by James McPherson on April 13, 2009

The panel discussion I contributed to on Saturday was well-attended, and people obviously care about news and where it comes from. I know of at least three other bloggers who have already discussed the panel–one who works in mainstream journalism, one who soon will, and the other an interested area resident.

Unlike in most of the city where I live and work (where people tend to argue that the news media have a liberal bias) the audience and most of the panel leaned left in their political views–probably a result of having the panel in a downtown independent bookstore as part of a literary festival. The soon-to-be journalist, one of my students, did the most complete reporting about the discussion, so rather than repeat what she wrote I’ll refer you to her site.

One thing I will mention is that much of the discussion (based on questions from an audience generally mistrustful of media) centered on who is a journalist, and why we should trust “trained journalists” over “citizen journalists.” I think the point I made at the time may be worth expanding: For me, one of the key points is that professional journalists know where to look and whom to talk to for information (they don’t always have the time or ambition to do so thoroughly, but that’s another point).

In addition, trained journalists have (or should have) a better understanding of an overall issue and how it fits into a bigger picture, they have a better understanding of ethical and legal guidelines, and their organizations can better afford to pursue an issue over time or create databases to compare relevant statistics (or to sue the city government, for illegally keeping the reporter out of a public meeting).

Because of the amount of online information now available, it can be easier than it once was for individuals or small organizations to use the kinds of documents that make up most of our most important news. Even so, and despite this story from yesterday’s New York Times, few private citizens can pursue and publish a story in the same way that  news organizations can. For one thing, anyone who makes the time to learn a lot about one issue is likely to be viewed as a biased crank by many of the rest of us. For another, even popular local bloggers just don’t get the size of audience that mainstream media do.

As a result, blogs tend to be biased and/or largely made up of news from elsewhere. This blog is no exception. I’m no journalist, though I once was one. Of course I also argue that the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann also are not journalists, even if they happen to share some news now and then. For me, one key distinction is one I made Saturday: Journalists typically do a lot of research that never formally shows up in a newspaper or on the air, and frequently let drop (or put on hold) stories that go nowhere.

Put simply: Journalists know a lot more than they report, while too many bloggers report more than they know.

That difference has less to do with bloggers making things up (though some do) than with the fact that those bloggers (including me) rely heavily on second-hand information from elsewhere–sometimes mainstream media, sometimes other bloggers–that they have no means of checking themselves. Mainstream news organizations have the money and manpower to better check the reliability of their sources.

Put another way: You probably don’t fully trust your boss or your brother-in-law, so why would you trust a random “citizen journalist”? I’m not saying to fully trust mainstream journalism, either–but I’d say that the vast majority of the time you’ll be better off relying on information that appears in your local newspaper than on some interested bystander. Better yet, use both–while you still can.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Headaches, hot air and hell on earth

Posted by James McPherson on March 10, 2009

Another sign that I may pay too much attention to politics and media: CNN this morning carries the headline, “Hot air linked to heachaches, but how?” and I immediately think of the pain in my temples caused by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews and Lou Dobbs.

Still, with what’s going on with housing, jobs, the stock market, the rest of the economy,  Iraq, Afghanistan and, face it,  the whole rest of the world, perhaps the wonder is that we don’t all have headaches all the time.

Of course one in seven women in England may have them more often than most of us, since that’s the number of people there who apparently think it’s OK to hit a woman who nags too much or dresses inappropriately. (Note to Ann Coulter: You may want to stay out of Great Britain.)

Greeted with the results of the survey, Rihanna and women in Saudi Arabia probably thought immediately, “Only one in seven?”

Thursday Rihanna update: Apparently she and her abuser, Chris Brown, have recorded a song together since getting back together. No details are available yet on the song title, though one logical remix possibility would include Ike and Tina Turner’s  “I’m Jealous” or “I’ve Been Loving You too Long” (with the final words, “Sock it to me”), which you can see below. When/if Rihanna gets her act together, she might look to this site for other possibilities.

Posted in Journalism, Music, Politics, Science, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Rupert Murdoch a pinhead? O’Reilly’s sleazy boss doesn’t like his star

Posted by James McPherson on November 28, 2008

Bill O’Reilly, the self-appointed culture warrior and would-be savior of Christmas (as if either the holiday or Christians face any real threat in America)  obviously has his fans, the conservative versions of those who admire Keith Olbermann on the other side. But O’Reilly’s boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, apparently isn’t among those fans.

Politico’s Michael Calderone offers a sneak peak of a Michael Wolff biography of Murdoch (longtime producer of sleazy tabloid newspapers and new owner of the Wall Street Journal). The book apparently states that Murdoch, Fox News chief Roger Ailes (whom O’Reilly recently termed “a patriot“), and “everybody else at News Corps’ highest levels … absolutely despises” O’Reilly.

Here’s a battle in which we can hope both sides lose. After all, O’Reilly is well known as a bully and a liar, while Fox News is both the network at which people are most likely to complain about trash on television and the news network most likely to provide that trash. For example, today’s lead stories on the Fox Web site include a piece (with slideshow) about “Playboy’s sexiest celebrity covers” and one about Ashley Dupre’s supposed desire to go “from hooker to singer” (also linked to a slideshow including pics of the prostitute who helped bring down New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer).

I don’t think I’d rank either O’Reilly or Murdoch as a patriot. And to use another O’Reilly phrase: “Pinheads? You decide.”

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

Sarah suddenly ubiquitous; MSNBC falls for Palin hoax

Posted by James McPherson on November 13, 2008

Before the election, the press rarely got to speak with Sarah Palin. Now she seems to be on a campaign to have an “exclusive” interview with every talking head on television, while offering public addresses wherever possible. Perhaps the oddest note, so far: Palin decrying “extreme partisanship” just after telling Wolf Blitzer that she still had “concerns” about Barack Obama’s “affiliations” with a “domestic terrorist.”

Though I recognize that her rambling, folksy answers may be appealing to some parts of the base, for some of us the Palin road show is demonstrating why the campaign kept her under wraps. But even Republicans seem to be acknowledging that Palin should not be the leading voice of the GOP if their party is to recover from the devastation of a week ago Tuesday.

Still, Palin’s performance continues to be no worse than that of many in the media. Fox News is trumpeting an Associated Press story about MSNBC “retracting” a story stating that Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent. The story, bound to be highlighted on “The O’Reilly Factor” tonight, was a hoax designed to rely too quickly on “experts” with fancy titles, especially if the story supports already-held biases.

Naturally MSNBC is not highlighting the hoax story or its retraction (I couldn’t find any mention of it in an admittedly hurried search of the network’s Web site), and somehow II doubt that Keith Olbermann will make himself one of tonight’s “worst persons in the world.” The same hoax perpetrator has fooled the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic and Mother Jones.

Same day update: Here’s a New York Times story about the perpetrator of the hoax. The story points out that SourceWatch.org had identified the supposed source, “Martin Eisenstadt,” as a hoax months ago. Perhaps one of MSNBC’s interns can teach the news folks there how to do a Google search.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments »

McCain’s ‘no-talk express’ going where unwanted to avoid rough road

Posted by James McPherson on September 24, 2008

John McCain has spent much of his time the past couple of weeks trying to overcome his comments about “not knowing much about the economy” and–on the day the current meltdown began–about “the fundamentals” of the economy being strong. The Huffington Post’s Bob Cesca today humorously wrote that McCain’s “very serious and mavericky campaign strategy can be described in four simple words: Blurt Out Random Crap.”

Even conservative intellectual George Will has compared McCain to a “flustered rookie playing in a league too high” and Alice in Wonderland’s decapitation-happy Queen of Hearts. This week Will called McCain’s behavior “childish” while noting: “For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are ‘corrupt’ or ‘betray the public’s trust,’ two categories that seem to be exhaustive–there are no other people.”

Now, despite the fact that he has had 26 years in Congress to try to help avoid the economic mess, McCain today suspended his campaign “to help negotiate a Wall Street bailout“–prompting David Letterman of all people (and doesn’t it get a bit frustrating having so much of the most relevant political commentary coming from late-night comedians?) to comment: “You don’t suspend your campaign. This doesn’t smell right. This isn’t the way a tested hero behaves.”

It seems to me that McCain recognizes that the electoral tide seems to be going against him, and he is again grasping at straws. After all, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already said McCain’s presence would be more of a hindrance than a help. That’s assuming McCain can still find the Senate–keep in mind that this is the same guy who hasn’t cast a vote in Senate since April 8. He couldn’t even show up to vote for a Medicare bill for which even a cancer-stricken Ted Kennedy appeared.

In addition to suspending his campaign, McCain called for a postponement of his scheduled Friday night presidential debate with Barack Obama–and the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and the suddenly helpless Sarah Palin, though Obama and debate organizers said the presidential debate, at least, would go on with or without the GOP nominee.

McCain also cancelled tonight’s appearance with Letterman. He bailed out despite the fact that the two men were in the same city (he apparently ditched Letterman for Katie Couric), and this might have been an opportunity for someone who wanted to act presidential to calm people’s fears–apparently prompting Letterman to comment, “What are you going to do if you’re elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We’ve got a guy like that now.” Incidentally, McCain was replaced on Letterman’s show by liberal MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann, who, oddly, might be the only person in America left who could generate sympathy for the GOP nominee.

My recommendation for when McCain should start his campaign back up: Nov. 5. After all, he’ll only be 76 for the 2012 election, he’ll have four more years to brush up on the economy (our woes probably won’t be close to over by then) and Palin will have four more years of moose-hunting experience–maybe enough time to work in a couple of press conferences and half a dozen media interviews.

Same night update: McCain’s odd “financial crisis timeline,” including an apparent visit with millionairess “financial advisor” Lynn Forester de Rothschild.

Friday update: The tide continues to rise for the McCain campaign. Today conservative columnist Kathleen Parker calls for Palin to step down because she is “clearly out of her league.” One of the most damning quotes: If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.”

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

MSNBC can’t out-Fox Fox, makes another course correction

Posted by James McPherson on September 8, 2008

Though it may be hard to believe for someone with a typical American attention span, not long ago MSNBC tried to be as conservative as Fox News. That strategy became particularly obvious when the network dumped Phil Donahue, blaming poor ratings despite the fact that his program was the most popular show on MSNBC, after he was deemed too liberal during the early stages of the Iraq War.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, MSNBC did have the popular Keith Olbermann as a token liberal but bracketed his show with programs hosted by conservatives Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson. Laura Ingraham once hosted an MSNBC program. So did conservative flamethrower Michael Savage, though he was fired for telling a gay caller: “Oh, you’re one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig.” Chris Matthews had a program, but was still in his kiss-up-to-anyone-in-power mode rather than the liberal stance he has since adopted.

After flailing along for period that unfortunately included the early part of the Iraq War, trying to out-Fox Fox, the network then decided to steer hard left, becoming the equally annoying liberal counterpoint to the ironically sloganed “fair and balanced” network. Ingraham was long gone, later to move to Fox. Carlson’s show was dropped. Scarborough was relegated to the early morning hours and election commentary, where he could be insulted by Olbermann.

Now MSNBC seems to be recognizing that its best news people are the ones who stay in the middle, and has demoted Olbermann and Matthews during election coverage. It’s probably too little too late. As for me, I’ll continue to watch them all at times, checking in on the zoos at MSNBC and Fox while putting the most faith in the coverage and commentary of PBS’s Jim Lehrer, Mark Shields and David Brooks.

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