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 ‘lipstick on a pig’

Yes we can steal: We are the ones we’ve been plagiarizing

Posted by James McPherson on November 18, 2008

One of the drawbacks of an Internet world for teachers and historians like myself is how easy plagiarism is to commit–even accidentally, for someone who gathers lots of information and fails to adequately keep track of it all, thanks to the easy of copying and pasting.

Even more troubling is how little theft seems to matter to many of those who commit it, and the difficulty in explaining to students why it is wrong. Check out PlagiarismToday for some great insights on the subject.

Plagiarism scandals have embarrassed reporters (costing some their jobs) and historians and once helped end Joe Biden’s presidential bid. During his campaign, Barack Obama drew fire for using the words of Deval Patrick. Yet Obama’s two favorite phrases: “Yes we can” and “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” both orginated with others. Writing a Washington Post blog back in February, Garance Franke-Ruta traced at least part of the lineage of both phrases.

For me, the blog post also raises another question: At what point does something become “common knowledge”? “A penny saved is a penny earned” is a phrase that Congress and Americans in general seem to have forgotten, but no one using it would be expected to know where it came from. Nor did most folks question the origin of “lipstick on a pig,” even if they questioned its use.

And while I knew that evangelical Sojourners leader Jim Wallis used the phrase in his book God’s Politics and in speeches (attributing the phrase to a young activist), until I read Franke-Ruta’s article I had no idea how common it had become–or its connection to a 2004 Jane Fonda speech. The Internet continues to make my job both easier and more difficult.

Just for fun, here’s will.i.am’s pro-Obama anthem version of “We are the Ones,” with lots of celebrity faces:

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Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Media & GOP embrace socialism; Aerosmith offers emergency diet plan

Posted by James McPherson on September 21, 2008

Journalists now are lambasting the government for not warning us about the onrushing economic train. Aside from the fact that some economists and others have been trying to warn us, of course, the bigger problem is that the news media themselves just didn’t care enough about the issue.

Yet again the press has failed as miserably as the government, just as it did with the Iraq War. After all, charging bulls and bears are oh-so-boring compared to pigs with lipstick. Why attack complicated problems, when your audience is more entertained by political attack ads? Besides, in the words of Barbie and journalists everywhere, math is hard.

So now we have a nation in which “socialism” is bad if that government intervention would provide health care to all Americans, who live in a nation that despite its wealth is ranked just 37th in the world for quality of health care. Yet at the same time, “socialism” that bails out rich people who do stupid things with our money is good.

It almost makes you long for the stock market crash of 1929, when at least some bad investors supposedly had the moral fortitude to throw themselves off of buildings rather than begging for a handout. How many of these folks do you suppose are among the crowd that regularly criticize the poor for their own poverty because of “bad choices”?

The difference, of course, is that the poor–and their children–will pay disproportionately for their choices, aided in large part by the taxpaying largess of the dwindling middle class. Stupid bankers, who could get rich off of hair-brained schemes that went well, will now be bailed out by that same middle class since those schemes have gone awry. And neither Congress nor most of the media likely will demand reasonable concessions such as those described by former labor secretary Robert Reich, in return for the blank check we’ll all be backing.

It might be funny if it weren’t so disgusting. Now the nation is in the biggest economic trouble it has been in at least since the Great Depression (we may still fall much further), thanks to the actions of the current administration–and, to be fair, the three previous administrations. After all, despite his reputation as our “first black president” I’ve long called Bill Clinton our most successful recent Republican president, and though his economy was much stronger, he shares much of the blame for the deregulatory nightmare that allowed the current crisis.

I find it appalling and amazing that anyone wants to continue the policies of the current administration–policies supported strongly in most regards by John McCain, who tonight on “60 Minutes” said deregulation had probably helped the economy. But in truth it probably doesn’t matter a great deal whom we elect as the next president. Those current TV commercials that have news people saying this is “the most important election” of our lifetimes? They’re wrong. The last two were more important, and we managed to blow them both.

The Iraq War, the incredibly inept response of recent years to virtually every foreign and domestic crisis, and the massive bailout of Wall Street all mean that the next president’s hands will be tied in terms of the economy. And because things likely will get worse before they get better, I’d almost support McCain just so he might get a rightful share of the blame.

One huge problem with that, of course is that a McCain victory would also mean that he–or Sarah Palin, after McCain drops dead upon finally realizing the magnitude of the problems he faces–likely would end up nominating a couple of Supreme Court justices. Then we’d likely be in deeper trouble for a couple of generations, instead of “only” the decade or two that may be ahead of us (others such as my ecologist–yes, ecologist, not economist–brother, who long ago predicted the current crisis, anticipate an even an even more dire future, of course).

One bit of good news for rock music fans: I sense a comeback for Aerosmith’s 1993 song, “Eat the Rich”–even if a lack of electricity means it has to be an acoustical version. Perhaps that title might also be a survival plan for downsized journalists. Though one drawback to eating human flesh may be that it leads to insanity, many in journalism and government would seem to have little to lose in that regard.

NEXT DAY UPDATE: Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is trying to turn the bailout into yet another executive branch power grab. Also not surprisingly, most of the media are largely ignoring that attempt. One hope, however: Faced with the prospects of a Barack Obama presidency, some conservatives may help contain the proposal.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Crude, sex & drugs: “MMS chicks” gone wild

Posted by James McPherson on September 11, 2008

It sounds like a show that might be titled “Girls Gone Wild: Oil, Drugs and Money.” Playboy is undoubtedly already trying to contact women involved for one of its “theme issues,” such as its earlier renditions of “Women of Wal-Mart” and “Women of Enron.”

And now that the title, the first line, and some of the tags below will undoubtedly draw more visitors to this site than anything else I’ve written (after all, by far the biggest draw up until now has been the tag “Sarah Palin bikini,” while tags associated with the world’s most famous journalist attract almost no one), let me ask this: After revelations of the past couple of days, does anyone still believe that the Bush administration–or the McCain/Palin ticket that wants to repeat or continue most of its policies–is remotely capable of handling U.S. energy policy or tax policy?

For those who missed it because they were caught up in stories about pigs with lipstick or Sarah Palin’s repeated lies about the “bridge to nowhere” and an Alaska oil pipeline, the story is that the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service has been caught up in an ethics scandal that includes “allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct. ” (New York Times) Agency employees, some of whom apparently were referred to as “MMS chicks,” are accused of accepting bribes from and having sex with oil company executives.

For the record, the MMS collects about $10 billion annually–“one of the government’s largest sources of revenue other than taxes,” but has been “riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch,” notes the New York Times. The agency apparently has been mismanaging the collection of fees from oil companies and writing faulty contracts for YEARS . Those “mistakes” have cost U.S. taxpayers (and awarded the companies) billions of dollars. The MMS defense apparently will be that they got stoned and missed it.

The only good news from the mess is that it may prompt Congress to hold off on what seemed to be an inevitable rush toward increased offshore drilling.

Posted in History, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

GOP view of Palin: pit bull or pretty little lady?

Posted by James McPherson on September 10, 2008

Barack Obama did the right thing today in pointing out the ludicrousness of the McCain campaign’s latest charges of sexisim. Of course that didn’t stop John McCain’s smear merchants from immediately launching another negative ad–complete with badly out-of-context quotes from Obama and CBS anchor Katie Couric (funny how conservatives like the “liberal media” when the message is correct, or can be twisted to appear so). The ad can be seen below. (Note: CBS insisted that the ad be removed from YouTube the same day; see below for details.)

The charges, as I noted yesterday, are shameful and disgusting. Interestingly, they’re also more insulting to Palin than Obama’s comments were, demonstrating the problem conservatives often have in dealing with women. They can’t even decide if their own vice presidential candidate is a “pit bull” ready for prime-time politics, or a “pretty little lady” beauty queen who needs to be protected as if she were some Victorian-era teen-age wife.

The subtleties of most real women, who fall between the conservative archtypes wrapped in leather and lace, escape these hapless campaigners–somethng even PUMAs are bound to realize. Between that GOP cluelessness and the fact that people will eventually remember that John McCain heads the ticket, I suspect the positive post-convention GOP numbers will soon start to decrease.

Those numbers continue to mislead, anyway. National polls may show a slight edge for McCain, but every electoral map I’ve seen–whether produced by Democrats, Republicans or neutral parties–still shows Obama with the advantage. Unless some unforeseen dramatic event occurs–and especially if the McCain campaign continues to rely on negativity, and if even conservatives can’t figure out what kind of woman Palin is–I have no problem sticking with my pre-convention prediction that Obama will win handily in November.

Same day update: That didn’t take long. CBS insisted that the ad be taken off YouTube because it is misleading. The ad still can be seen at the McCain Web site, where they aren’t such sticklers for details such as truth and fact. McCain has apparently found that he loves to wallow in the muck, just like a certain farm animal.

Same day update #2: Some conservative writers agree that the GOP “lipstick” attacks are stupid. See pieces by Kathryn Lynn Lopez and Roger Kimball.

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Lipstick, pigs, pit bulls & Palin

Posted by James McPherson on September 9, 2008

“John McCain’s campaign mobilized its new ‘Palin Truth Squad’ Tuesday to accuse Barack Obama of comparing McCain’s running mate to a pig, and called on him to apologize.” That’s the first sentence of a ridiculous story that Fox News (surprise!) carried among its lead stories for much of yesterday.

The story is ridiculous because Obama of course never compared Palin to a pig. She has compared herself to a pit bull with lipstick, but let’s hope Obama never agrees with her–otherwise the “Palin Truth Squad” (as if that’s not an oxymoron) will be accusing him of calling her a bitch (you know, a pit bull could be female, and a female dog is …). A Wall Street Journal reporter also falsely asserted that Obama was referring to Palin with the “lipstick” comment.

Even the Fox story goes on to point out that Obama said: “John McCain says he’s about change, too, and so I guess his whole angle is, ‘Watch out George Bush.’ Except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics … That’s not change. That’s just calling something the same thing, something different … But you know … you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. You know, you can … wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it’s still going to stink after eight years.”

So if Obama was calling anyone a pig with lipstick, he was referring to McCain, but actually he was referring more specifically to the Bush policies that McCain supports. You may remember–even if McCain seems to have forgotten, and even if most of the GOP would like to forget–that John “I-was-a-POW” McCain is the one at the head of the Republican ticket. Even Mike Huckabee agrees, much to Sean Hannity’s dismay. (See second video below.)

As the Fox story also points out, the “pig with lipstick” phrase “is common in Washington, D.C.” How common? Well, it turns out that John McCain used exactly the same phrase last October when talking about a health plan proposed by–you guessed it, Hillary Clinton. So should we assume that the McCain camp thinks Obama was referring to Palin because that’s what McCain meant about Clinton?

Furthermore, the term is the title of a book written MORE THAN TWO YEARS AGO by Torie Clarke, one of McCain’s former advisors and a Pentagon communications director–another of those Bush-McCain connections the campaign would now like you to forget. Politicians and others have used the phrase–which also appears overseas–for years. As Politico’s Ben Smith points out, Obama has used it since before 90 percent of Americans ever heard of Palin. Back in April Elizabeth Edwards used the same phrase to criticize McCain’s health care plan.

Fox and other McCainiacs making the charge are making fools of themselves with this issue for a couple of reasons. First, as demonstrated, the phrase is so common as to be a cliche’. Second, isn’t it conservatives who are always whining that liberals are “too sensitive” about language and prone to take things out of context?

With how the selection of Palin has energized the Republican base, it appears that McCain may have managed to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But he obviously still is not very confident, since when it comes to sad and desperate negative campaigning, his campaign is going whole hog. When will the McCain folks start focusing on issues? All together now: When pigs fly.

Below is the video of what Obama actually said, so you can judge it for yourself. And below that is Huckabee’s comment.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »