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.

  • Archives

  • August 2021
    S M T W T F S
    1234567
    891011121314
    15161718192021
    22232425262728
    293031  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Posts Tagged ‘mainstream media’

Past-cool Facebook turns 5, but offers little financial guidance to media

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2009

Another reminder of how fast time flies: The social networking site Facebook celebrates its fifth birthday today. Started by a Harvard student Mark Zuckerman (soon making him the youngest billionaire on the planet, CNN reports) and once primarily the domain of other college students, now it seems almost everyone who wants to connect with others or sell something is on Facebook.

“I’m on Facebook,” or “We’re on Facebook,” several media leaders told the students in my recent Jan Term class visit to New York and Washington, D.C. As a further indication that social networking is way past cool, even I joined a couple of months ago. I remember to check in about once a week, and rarely update my status (using primarily as a way to direct people here), but CNN reports that according to Facebook, some 15 million users update statuses every day, adding more than 850 million photos per month. The average user has 120 “friends,” many of whom they’ll be soon able to follow even more closely and creepily.

The story credits social networking with making Zuckerman rich and helping make Barack Obama the president of the United States. Yet even Facebook does not demonstrate a workable “business model”–a term my students also heard repeatedly, as virtually all of the mainstream media struggle to make an acceptable profit in the Internet world. Adam Lashinsky of Fortune magazine reportedly told CNN that Facebook “is selling advertising, it is bringing in revenue but it’s not wildly profitable even if it is profitable at all.”

And that’s the problem all of today’s media face–the need for money from advertising, or something to replace that income stream, via a medium via which people are accustomed to getting content for free. If Facebook, now on the downside of cool, can’t do that, the prospects aren’t promising for mainstream news media sites.

Of course, more people may be looking to the Web for news after their TV service disappears with a shift to digital (a shift likely to be postponed later today), but in fact people continue to value news. Getting people to a news site isn’t a significant problem. Getting those people to pay for anything is the problem.

Same-day update: Congress approved the digital television extension today.

Next day update: Time disses a new Facebook trend.

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

The Smoking Gun: FAIR criticism of media

Posted by James McPherson on January 9, 2009

Though I was leaving just hours later for the East Coast, I couldn’t pass up a chance to listen to media critic and Nieman Foundation program manager Callie Crossley speak at Whitworth University Wednesday night.

Crossley’s talk focused on the intersection of old and new media, and she reminded us that “four years ago, YouTube didn’t exist.” Among other things, that means we have no real idea what the media will look like four years from now.

But it will look different: As Crossley also noted, 15,000 American journalists lost their jobs in 2008, while for many journalists working for “multi-platform media”–what most media have become: “The print paper has become the last on the list of priorities” behind a news organization’s Web sites and journalists’ blogs.

Today was the first day of a “Media Impact” study program I am leading in New York and Washington, D.C., and the students and I were provided some more excellent insights on the issue of journalistic change.

First we visited Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a liberal media watchdog organization. Program director Janine Jackson pointed out that the mainstream news organizations do a particularly weak job with institutional structures and policies not because of a liberal or conservative bias, but because of a “top-down bias”–far too many of journalists’ sources continue to be the people in power (mostly white males).

The journalist is then put in the position, though his/her questions, of speaking for everyone else who might be affected by an issue (an even bigger problem when most nationally recognized newspeople also are privileged white males). 

From FAIR we went to The Smoking Gun, a three-man operation that was one of the first prominent Internet news sites–and still one of few that actually does journalism, as opposed to simply commenting on the journalism of others. That means, for example, that on any given day you may find more original hard news dug up by three guys in a single New York office than is uncovered and reported during a day’s on-air MSNBC coverage.

The amount and quality of work they do led to their being bought by TruTV (then Court TV) just three years after they started The Smoking Gun, making them (in the words of editor Bill Bastone) “the smallest division of Time-Warner that you can imagine.”

Bastone,  managing editor Andrew Goldberg and reporter Joseph Jesselli all demonstrated why they are great reporters: They love their work, they have a wide range of interests, and they boast “kind of a punk sensibility”–meaning they enjoy tweaking the powerful.

I also was thrilled to hear Jackson and Bastone highlight issues that I have tried to emphasize in this blog (which I would be first to agree is NOT journalism).

Jackson stressed the importance of media history and media literacy, gained from exposing oneself to multiple media (especially written media) from a variety of sources. Bastone expressed frustration with the number of college students he meets who don’t read enough, and who don’t try every possible avenue to get their writing into print.

I couldn’t have said it better myself–which, of course, is why we’re in New York.

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

More evidence of the conservatism of the American press & politics

Posted by James McPherson on December 10, 2008

This, of course, is the main theme of my recent book–that the mainstream media and American politics have become more conservative over time. Though the book came out before the recent election, I had predicted there and elsewhere that Barack Obama would be a good candidate. Part of the reason for his success, of course, is his own conservative nature, as expressed through his campaign and his appointments–a conservatism almost guaranteed by his educational background.

One of the most troubling expressions of that conservatism for me has been his expressed policy toward Afghanistan. That nation might become for Obama what Iraq became for George Bush and Iran was for Jimmy Carter: a distant nation that Americans care little about but which uses an inordinate amount of U.S. resources in exchange for little perceivable benefit.

Unfortunately, as Fairness and Accuracy in Media’s Gabriel Voiles notes, Obama’s view has become the conventional wisdom in the mainstream media. The problem with conventional wisdom is that it is so often wrong, whether it suggests that Republicans are more patriotic or better for the economy (which has been stronger in virtually every way under Democrats) or that Democrats are more peaceful (until recently we’ve had more wars and longer wars, under Democrats) and better for the environment (Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act).

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

Key presidential election question: ‘Which liar do you trust most?’

Posted by James McPherson on November 2, 2008

The presidential campaign seems to be “spinning” to an appropriately odd ending, with John McCain discussing strategy (“Reverse Maverick,” “Double Maverick” or “Sad Grandpa”) on “Saturday Night Live,” McCain robocalls using Hillary Clinton’s voice and words as an authoritative voice to try to boost Republicans, and Barack Obama’s latest ad promoting the endorsement of his opponent by a sitting vice president.

At least they don’t have anyone pretending to be the opposing candidate in those ads (a move that may cost Elizabeth Dole her Senate seat in the same election in which the GOP presidential candidate reminds voters of her husband’s 1996 “Sad Grandpa” bid). Dole’s Senate campaign provides a reminder that perhaps every political campaign has its share of distortions and outright lies. As campaigns grow increasingly desperate, the lying tends to increase. Fortunately for those of use who care, there are more ways than ever to check the accuracy of campaign ads and stump speeches.

The oft-criticized mainstream media do a better job than they once did at fact checking. Even more valuable are FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.org (a product of the mainstream St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly). On Friday, Factcheck.org released an updated version of “the whoppers of 2008,” including McCain camp lies about welfare, taxes, health care, terrorism and ACORN, and Obama lies about Medicare, stem cell research and job losses. The site also calls attention to distortions from other groups both liberal (MoveOn.org and VoteVets.org) and conservative (National Rifle Association and National Republican Trust PAC).

PolitiFact also released a Friday update, recalling some especially egregious “pants on fire” moments from the campaign. Those cited include Mike Huckabee, who falsely claimed that most signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen, and John Edwards who suggested that the president has power over Congressional health care. Of course other Edwards lies were to cause him more problems, but by then his campaign had ended.

PolitiFact gave most of its “pants on fire” ratings to e-mail messages: “They include the bogus list of books that Sarah Palin supposedly wanted to ban, the fake receipt that supposedly showed Michelle Obama ordered $400 in lobster and caviar from a New York hotel,  and the distorted Bible verses to suggest that Barack Obama was the Antichrist.”

It is sad and disturbing to see how often candidates and their supporters lie. But the increased oversight is a bright spot. As PolitiFact notes: “The 2008 election has been the most fact-checked campaign in American history. Between our 750-plus items, and dozens of articles published by our friends at FactCheck.org and other news organizations, the presidential candidates have been challenged about their accuracy more than ever before.”

In short, in this election–as with perhaps every election–Americans will choose between liars as they cast their ballots. The key question thus becomes, “Which liar do you trust most?”

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Fox, MSNBC offer semi-honest media bias; Barbara West, not so much

Posted by James McPherson on October 28, 2008

John McCain and Sarah Palin are spending much of their time bashing the mainstream media for bias, an argument that I frankly have little use for. Obviously I don’t disagree that media professionals are biased, and have written at length about that bias in my latest book (and to a lesser degree in the first one).

I do disagree that most of the media’s bias is liberal. After all, probably no modern politician has benefited more than McCain from friendly media treatment throughout his career, and I believe McCain chose Palin  largely because she was not well known but had a certain charm that might appeal to media folks willing to give her a pass on her relative lack of knowledge or experience. (I recommended back in June that he choose Palin, predicting that the resulting media coverage would be “superficial and glowing.”)

Unfortunately for McCain and Palin, the campaign at first chose to mostly hide her from the media, and the appearances they did permit (see the Katie Couric debacle) only served to highlight the candidate’s shortcomings while stunting her political and rhetorical gifts. That led to the goofy situation in which the campaign ended up trying to portray a random question from a college student as a “gotcha question” from the press. If Palin can’t handle a student’s question while she’s grabbing a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, let’s hope she’s never put in a position where Vladimir Putin can ask her a question at a state dinner.

Worse, because of Palin’s previous interviewing misadventures, now when she uses her pitbull-with-lipstick charm on the stump, she looks like a partisan hack. More people now view her unfavorably than favorably. No wonder even McCain’s buddy Joe Lieberman now says, “Thank God she’s not going to have to be president from day one.”

As for the guy at the head of the ticket press, McCain has proven not to be the macho character that the media helped create. He is neither a straight talker nor a stable influence.  Keep in mind, this is the same campaign that every day criticizes the media for “investigating Joe the Plumber,” but is incapable of uttering three sentences without blurting out the words “Joe the Plumber.” A McCain-Palin administration might be the first to eliminate the Department of Education while implementing a cabinet level position heading a new Department of Folksy Nicknames.

A lot of people complain about the obvious bias of Fox News toward conservatives or the obvious liberal bias MSNBC. I frankly don’t have a big problem with that. I think it’s good that we get a range of perspectives, which is why I force myself to watch both networks, listen to talk radio, and read (and link to) blogs of both liberals and conservatives–though admittedly the more thoughtful perspectives of National Review from the right and the Nation from the left are far more useful. Unfortunately far too many people on both sides rely only on messages from their own side.

I am more concerned about news people who try to hide their obvious biases. Far too many national news figures have previously worked for politicians (and though this is a guess, probably as many Republicans as Democrats). I’ve noted my problem with Andrea Mitchell–the wife of overrated economic apologist Alan Greenspan–working as an NBC reporter (despite the fact that she is less obviously partisan than some of her colleagues at the network). A more blatant, and much funnier, example came with Florida reporter Barbara West interviewing Joe Biden by using outlandish Republican talking-point questions that sounded as if they could have been provided to her by her husband, a former Republican media consultant.

Barbara the Talking Head did manage to get what she probably most wanted out of the interview: her own “Joe the Plumber” bit of attention, capped by appearances with Bill O’Reilly (who with no apparent sense of “pinhead” irony questioned her use of “buzzwords”) and on what may be the goofiest “news program” on television, Fox and Friends. The attention may have been too much for her employer, WFTV, which now blocks YouTube from carrying the interview after it received 1.2 million hits over the weekend.

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

Johnny comes lately to change: Let the campaign begin

Posted by James McPherson on September 4, 2008

A week ago I wrote that the Democrats had achieved most of what they hoped for at their convention. After listening to John McCain tonight, I think the Republicans did the same. I now think the GOP might get more of a bounce than I previously predicted, though I disagree with the commentators who tonight predicted that he would at least briefly pull ahead in the race.

As for the McCain’s speech, I thought it was exciting for the last three minutes, and OK but fairly dull before that (though maybe I’m the only one tired of hearing the POW story and yearning for specifics). I wasn’t as impressed with the speech as some of the talking heads, though perhaps that’s a reflection of my own bias (and my conservative buddy Mike is the speech professor). Topping Sarah Palin’s speech of last night would have been tough for McCain. Not surprisingly Fox News commentators seemed to like his speech the best, though PBS folks (except for liiberal Mark Shields) also lauded it.

Some of the most honest parts of the speech came when McCain criticized the current administration (though never by name), following the “change” message of the entire convention. The Republicans ended up benefitting from Hurricane Gustav, which kept President Bush–the implied target of many of the negative comments–off of the convention floor.

McCain failed to say how he will do things differently than the current president or his fellow Republican congressmen, who waged power for six years and then still had enough power to keep Democrats from enacting any meaningful legislation for the past two years. He drew some of his best response with promises to reform education–but conservatives before Bush thought education should be left to the states.

Liberals generally think the feds should be involved in things as important as education, but not in the way that McCain and Bush think they should be involved. Most Americans will agree with McCain that Washington and America need change, but he is literally a “johnny-come-lately” to the idea. He’ll need some real ideas to back up the talk.

The next two months should be interesting. I’ve written repeatedly that not much that happened before now would matter much to voters. But now they’ve started paying attention, and each speech and perceived gaffe will matter more–especially what I call the “blogcessive compulsive” times. McCain appropriately said little or nothing about Republican hot buttons such as abortion and gay marriage in his speech, but he will have to address them in the weeks to come.

Now that people are tuned in, it would be nice if the mainstream news media would focus on the issues Americans will face and how each candidate might realistically affect those issues. Don’t hold your breath.

Saturday update: Al-jazeera summarizes what’s ahead in the election.

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

GOP VP nominee not Palin’ by comparison to Biden

Posted by James McPherson on September 3, 2008

From “bullshit” to bull moose: In her speech earlier tonight, Sarah Palin showed that she can not only shoot down and field dress the meat, but she can also pitch that red meat to the Republican base. She has no apparent qualms about doing what good VP candidates are supposed to do, attack the other side. Joe Biden won’t be the only VP pit bull–with or without lipstick–in this campaign.

Palin gave a good speech, with the usual convention-sized helpings of exaggeration and mischaracterization sprinkled with lie or two (she should quit repeating her false-but-appealing “bridge to nowhere” story, or that’s where it the bridge may help take her campaign). Palin did well what she had to do, though now that she’s “out there” without days to prepare for each appearance things may get tougher. On the other hand, Jay Rosen offers this somewhat depressing quote in considering the apparent McCain-Palin strategy:

Strategy: Comes from Bush, the younger. When realities uncovered are directly in conflict with prior claims, consider the option of keeping the claims and breaking with reality. Done the right way, it’s a demonstration of strength. It dismays and weakens the press. And it can be great theatre.

Rosen discusses how the GOP might reignite the culture war (it’s best strategy in the past couple of presidential elections), and elements of that war could be seen tonight. There wasn’t much on abortion–after all, Palin’s warmup act was pro-abortion, pro-gay civil unions, pro-gun control Rudy “9/11” Giuliani (I would like to see Rudy try to wrestle a rifle from Palin). But there has been plenty in recent days from the GOP (and its Fox News mouthpieces) about “elites” (a funny term for a ticket with at least 10 houses between them) and about that old Republican favorite, “the liberal media.”

It also was interesting to hear Palin and other speakers during the evening talk about the need for “change” from Washington politics. They obviously hope that a fair number of Americans will forget that it’s their president–the one McCain votes with most of the time–who has occupied the White House for the past eight years, and that their party controlled Congress for almost that entire time (while holding enough seats to sustain George W. Bush’s vetoes for the last two years, after the electorate kicked many–but not quite enough–of them out of office).

McCain himself was a Senator for all of that time, though he hasn’t showed up for the past five months. Giuliani made fun of Obama for voting “present,” but it has been quite a while since McCain could even say that much.

One media problem the McCain camp is trying to head off, fresh on the heels of the Bristol Palin pregnancy: the latest National Enquirer story about an alleged Sarah Palin affair. This is the sort of story that many of us would consider to be unlikely and irrelevant trash–but the exact thing that many conservatives recently criticized the mainstream media for not following up after the Enquirer reported similar allegations about John Edwards.

Unfortunately, as long as the major media let bloggers and tabloids dictate news selection, the GOP will have a case against the press–but it’s not a case of bias, as Republicans now pretend, as much as it is a case of laziness and sensationalism. And the Democrats can made the same case.

A even more ludicrous complaint from the McCain folks is that criticism of Palin’s obvious lack of experience is somehow sexist. That’s just stupid, especially since the GOP has been citing Obama’s lack of experience for months. Using their own reasoning, one would be forced to assume their criticisms stem from racism.

Tomorrow night is McCain’s turn. Any bets on how many times his years as a POW will come up?

Thursday elitist note: Vanity Fair estimates that Cindy McCain’s outfit from the other night cost approximately $300,000. Most of those “small town Americans” that the Republicans keep talking about that didn’t pay that much for their houses. And most of them only have one house.

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