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 ‘media bias’

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 »

Insurrection, conspiracy theories and truth snippets

Posted by James McPherson on July 7, 2010

Today offers more evidence of why media literacy is so important in this country–and, sadly, why many people who rely on one-sided blogs for information are so politically ignorant.

Some blogs that appeal to right-wingers and conspiracy theorists, such as this one (also here, here, here, here and here) now offer YouTube “evidence” that Barack Obama had admitting he was “born in Kenya.” Watch it quickly, the reader is warned, “before it’s pulled.” (By socialist/communist government agents who monitor the Internet from mosques and black helicopters, no doubt.)

But if you go to the original posted video–and are capable of reading–you see a description from the person who posted it that starts out: “The video starts out with some content from obamasnippets.com, which, of course is contrived. And yet, there seems to be a synthetic truth about what the president says.”

Aside from the question of what is “synthetic” (and therefore by definition, fake) “truth,” the words clearly state that Obama’s “admission” is a creation of whomever created the video. And who is that?  Someone who states that his/her site is “not ‘political,'” not anti- or pro-Obama, and  “just for fun.” One of those who has done most to promote the video, on the other hand, getting more than 200,000 hits on it, does have a clear agenda, listing his favorite “news sources” as “Hannity’s America, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity Radio Show, Roger Hedgecock, Michael Reagan, Gordon Liddy, Sec. Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove…”

Ironically, he also states on the same page, “May the Glory of God be revealed so Truth can prevail.” Perhaps God might have an easier time revealing truth if there weren’t so many supposed Christians working so hard to distort it.

Another conspiracy site unintentionally (I hope) further illustrates the silliness of the whole argument and the futility in trying to convince conspiracy theorists of anything when it states: “Was Obama born in Kenya or America? Kenya….But we will never know the truth!”

Go ahead, read that last quote again. Yep, that’s what it says: “We’ll never know the truth, but here’s the truth.”

One thing many of the conspiracy sites have in common is that they often warn against the “lies” of the mainstream media. One of those linked above also reminds us why there may be good reason to fear some of the Tea Party crowd–or at least there might be if they had the numbers, youth and courage to back up their inane words. One commenter writes:

Someday American’s will realize there are only two options left if the desire for a sane government is the objective.
Number one would be to de-legitimize DC and reform independent States, with State owned Banks, which negates the power of the federal Banksters, and provides a method of political segregation so we would not have people like [a previous commenter] for neighbors.
Number two is civil war! Take your pick.

Insurrection, anyone? Or instead, how about just doing a bit of reading from a history book, a copy of the Constitution, or Snopes.com?

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 38 Comments »

No more silent nights: Sarah Palin and media share sentiments

Posted by James McPherson on December 23, 2008

Apparently Sarah Palin’s biggest regret of her recent bid to take over Dick Cheney‘s job was she was “not allowed” to spend “enough time with the media.”

Of course Palin has been everywhere in the media since the election, but was kept under largely under wraps during the campaign itself. John McCain talked more about “Joe the Plumber” than he did about his own running mate.

Yet despite the fact that both McCain and Palin complained about the press treatment of her during the campaign, Palin now wishes she had spent more time with the media. On that, I suspect most people in the media agree with her.

Still, now she’s getting almost as much of airtime as her northern neighbor, Santa Claus. Perhaps tomorrow or the next day she could wish us all a Merry Christmas by singing a favorite children’s holiday song about Rudolph (a name, interestingly, that originally meant “famous wolf shot from a helicopter”) while somebody butchers a reindeer in the background.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 »

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 »

“W” and “An American Carol”: losers left and right

Posted by James McPherson on October 11, 2008

Two politically oriented films have been released just before the election. One has an obvious liberal bias, the other an obvious conservative bias. Interestingly, these are entertainment films, not documentaries along the lines of “Farenheit 9/11” or the equally slanted ABC miniseries “The Path to 9/11“–which means their success will be determined as much by box office dollars as by political influence.

Oliver Stone, who has done some very good films (“Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Wall Street,” “World Trade Center“) and some bad history (“JFK” and “Nixon“), tells Maxim that his latest film, “W,” is being released this month not to influence the election but “because Bush is still around.” He also questions his potential influence: “I did three Vietnam movies, and what good did they do? People still lined up in support of the Iraq War. People don’t remember. It shows you the futility of what we do.”

The other film is largely an attack on Michael Moore, the creator of “Farenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.” The new film, “An American Carol,” is produced by another well-known filmmaker, David Zucker (“Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun,” from back in the day when we thought O.J. Simpson was funny). Zucker, who in 2004 produced anti-John Kerry ads, and who in an interview with the neoconservative Weekly Standard compares Barack Obama to “a really clever virus who adapts”–says he hopes his film will persuade people to vote against Obama.

That seems unlikely. In fact, neither film is doing particularly well, despite the unpopularity of President George W. Bush or the heavy promotion on Fox News for “An American Carol.”

Early reviews of “W” from Variety (an “unusual and inescapably interesting” movie that “feels like a rough draft of a film it might behoove him to remake in 10 or 15 years”) and Hollywood Reporter (“a bold but imperfect film about an imperfect man”) are obviously mixed. And it seems to me late-night TV hosts have skewered the president pretty thoroughly. Besides, watching the real Bush flounder is bad enough–and no longer particularly funny, considering the state of the nation thanks to the Iraq War and the economy.

Of course conservatives quickly and ludicrously complained that liberal bias and “ticket fraud” (?!) were keeping “An American Carol” from doing well, but judging by the preview, I suspect that the primary problem is the combination of unsubtle political commentary combined with even less subtle juvenile slapstick humor. It is notable that the filmmakers refused to release the film for critics, usually a sure sign that the filmmakers know they have a dud on their hands (though in this case they spun it as a defense against liberally biased critics).

It’s difficult to imagine whom “An American Carol” is trying to reach. After all, most of the college-age males that the preview seems to want to engage likely will turn to something equally goofy, but which also offers the prospect of nudity.

Young people look for Adam Sandler and David Spade, not Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper, and for Angelina Jolie rather than her father, Jon Voight. And even moviegoers who like Kevin Farley, the film’s star, want to laugh with their lovable losers, not at those losers, and they want to see their heroes win in the end. That doesn’t happen here. Instead–ironic spoiler alert–the end of the film apparently has the character intending to do a new, more accurate version of “JFK.”

Older audiences need a stronger reason to go watch a film than do older audiences, and I can’t see Farley being such a reason. The film is broadly obvious–and therefore uninspiring–in its intent, and apparently lazy in execution. And anyone who wants to see Bill O’Reilly acting stupid can do so five nights a week on television; there is little reason to pay 8 or 10 bucks to do so.

This won’t be an election turned by film fiction, or even by based-on-a-true-story depictions offered in movies (or in political ads, for that matter). The fact that soon perhaps no one will be able to afford to go the movies, anyway (though escapist entertainment films were popular during Depression), will play a much bigger role in the probably election of Barack Obama. By then you’ll probably be able to check out both of these films on video.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 »

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 »

“Knowing” what isn’t true: Networks bash Obama more than McCain

Posted by James McPherson on July 29, 2008

We all know the mainstream media, especially the big three networks, love Barack Obama. John McCain’s campaign has complained about it at length, and I’ve recently written about it myself, here and here. A recent blog report of differing amounts of coverage devoted to the two fueled claims of bias.

The only problem? What we know apparently isn’t so, according to the nonprofit Center for Media and Public Affairs. Some anti-Obama bias has been clear, and no reasonable person expects anything resembling objectivity from the likes of Fox New, MSNBC, talk radio or bloggers. It also is true that Obama has received far more coverage–understandably so, because he is new, different, has been targeted by more negative bloggers, and has been doing far more interesting (that is, newsworthy) things than his Republican opponent. But contrary to the old public relations axiom that “any publicity is good publicity,” in fact Obama has drawn far more negative commentary (in both amount and percentage of coverage) than long-time media love object McCain.

The Los Angeles Times reports: “During the evening news, the majority of statements from reporters and anchors on all three networks are neutral, the center found. And when network news people ventured opinions in recent weeks, 28% of the statements were positive for Obama and 72% negative.”

The coverage is an apparent shift from primary coverage, when Obama received mostly positive coverage and Hillary Clinton was the target of the most media bashing.

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