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’

Democrats panicky: read all about it (while you still can)

Posted by James McPherson on March 11, 2009

Apparently some Democrats want Barack Obama, in the words of a CNN headline, to “Hurry up and fix the economy.” Put another way, members of the party without guts are joining members of the party without ideas in begging the new president–now in office for more than a month and a half, after all–to undo all that they have done (or failed to do) through greed and  partisanship for the past decade. Perhaps they wanted him to reject the funding bill they just passed, rather than offering threats about future such bills?

And speaking of a part of the economy near and dear to me, my home state legislature is about to approve a tax cut for newspapers (which may not be enough to keep one of the two newspapers in our biggest city from shutting down next week). Even politicians who proclaim to hate the media recognize the importance of newspapers for getting out their messages, and for citizens to be able to govern themselves.

Citizens themselves don’t get that, though–as demonstrated by a Time article listing 10 more newspapers about to fail, and a Wired article saying that even a New York Times employee thinks newspapers don’t matter. He’s wrong, of course. But more and more newspapers are disappearing, and all of us suffer as a result. Face it; even Obama can’t save us from ourselves.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 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 »

Out with the bad … and in with the worse?

Posted by James McPherson on December 31, 2008

Despite the election of Barack Obama, and largely due to economic issues, obviously 2008 has been a rough year in the worlds of politics and media (including movies, though I’m more concerned about the news media–thinking that my journalistic friends may need a New Deal-style program to be able to keep reporting the news).

Cable news networks may be doing OK, but more comprehensive (and therefore more useful) media are suffering. Just spend a half hour or skimming through the stories shared by Poynter’s Jim Romanesko and you’ll see at least a year’s worth of bad media business news.

And with even Obama promising that “things will get worse before they get better”–and some very smart people such as James Howard Kuntsler (author of The Long Emergency) and my ecologist brother saying much, much worse–it’s no wonder people are afraid to make New Year’s resolutions.

As for me, I resolve to keep writing as long as I can, blogging as long as the power is on, and teaching as long as my employer stays in business. I have good neighbors and a range of skills that might keep me fed. Besides, as my wife has reminded me, at various times in my life I’ve lived in a bus, a pickup camper and a tent.

Perhaps it’s simply denial (an oft-underated tool), but I trust that whatever happens, my family and I will be “fine in ’09.” I hope you will be, too. Happy New Year!

For a funny review of the year that’s about to be gone, check out the JibJab video below:

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

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 »

Web vs. bed: choosing surfing over sex

Posted by James McPherson on December 16, 2008

A story this week suggests that, according to a Harris poll commissioned by Intel, many people would forgo  sex before they’d give up the  Internet.

The story, based on an Intel news release, says most people find the Internet to be essential to daily lives. A CNET poll cited in the same CNN story offers this odd note: “Results as of Monday from CNET’s related online poll showed that 30.5 percent of respondents would give up sex for one year, while 26.1 percent would do without Internet access for a year. Almost 40 percent of voters didn’t want to sacrifice either.” Given no restrictions as a choice, it’s less than half?

Does this mean–despite Fox News content on any given day–that we are less sex-crazed than Web-crazed (after all, another Harris poll shows that 80 percent of us now use the Internet)? Or that Internet porn has displaced real-life sex? Would this explain how an avatar affair can lead to divorce?

Probably none of the above. Though the titillating story made CNN’s front page and probably will get a lot of attention–and generate lots of discussion about Internet addiction, American priorities, etc.–the two surveys have  several obvious flaws. The most obvious is that that both were conducted online.

In other words, those answering the questions were using the Internet at the time they answered. Probably none were having sex at the time they answered. We also don’t know how those  people are using the Internet. As anyone with an inadequate pop-up blocker can testify, many are apparently going online for sexual content.

And we can’t tell how many of those who answered are already going long periods of time without sex. Those most involved with technology may be least inclined toward human interaction of all sorts, though it may be impossible to determine which leads to which.

Regardless, most of us with Internet access are plugging in multiple times per day, while even a good good sexual experience, according to yet another study, takes less time than does a meaningful Web search.

According to the CNN story, a fourth survey does suggest that giving away big-screen televisions could promote abstinance, at least in the short term. Perhaps not surprisingly, that was more true for men than for women. No word on whether that survey was conduct during football season.

Posted in Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Blasts from the past: Sixteen selected posts

Posted by James McPherson on December 3, 2008

I realize that people find their way here at various times, and if you’re like me you’ll rarely go back and read many earlier posts. But I also think you might find some of those posts interesting, so here are 16 of my favorites:

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

2012 predictions for GOP: Jindal, Huckabee, Romney, Palin or relative unknown?

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

Ignorance and the electorate

On-the-mark election predictions, and why Obama won

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Veterans Day: Thank the slaves who let you shop and spew

Speaking for the poor

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Modern ‘poll tax’: Long lines hurt working class & democracy

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Warku-go-’round: A 20-part history of Bush’s War

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Poetry, Politics, Religion, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Four reasons newspapers won’t soon disappear

Posted by James McPherson on November 30, 2008

A friend recently reduced his subscription to the local daily, to get it only Wednesdays and Sundays (so he gets the most important ads), while reading online the rest of the week. As much as I love newspapers, I still couldn’t offer him a good reason not to do make the change.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the decline of print media, and I suspect that my political science professor who predicted in 1993 that print newspapers would disappear “within 10 years” is still making the same prediction. Still, I expect that newspapers will be with us for some time to come, for the following reasons:

  1. Big events. People still turn to print newspapers for coverage of events ranging from elections to mass disasters. Print media provide more depth of coverage than broadcast media, and they also provide a physical reminder of the event. Internet newspapers might provide the former, but I can’t see most people wanting to print out a Web page to save in their family mementos.
  2. Supermarkets and department stores. This weekend provides a big reminder that there is no good alternative for some types of newspaper ads.
  3. Sundays. Too many of us like to peruse the newspaper in a leisurely fashion on Sundays, laughing at the funnies, and trading sections and observations with others whom we care about.
  4. Mass transit, which is necessary in some American cities (and more widespread overseas) and may become increasingly important in the United States if Barack Obama is serious about rebuilding infrastructure while reducing our dependence on oil. Some of the massive subsidies now used to prop up our highway-centric lifestyle might be diverted to more logical transit alternatives. And until handheld devices become as cheap, simple and portable as the New York Post or USA Today, subway riders will turn to print.

Newspapers will continue to change, in many ways not for the better, and the staff cuts at most publications are alarming to those of us who care about journalism and journalists. Some papers will publish less frequently in the future than they do now. Newspapers and other media will increasingly go online, and will figure out new ways to make a profit.

Student Jasmine Linabary, the Pew Research Center and various folks at the Poynter Institute are among those tracking the changes, some of which make the future of media look at least as exciting as it is scary. As for me, you’ll have to excuse me: It’s time to grab a bite and finish the Sunday paper.

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

Craig Ferguson: “If you don’t vote, you’re a moron”

Posted by James McPherson on September 15, 2008

Craig Ferguson has been a U.S. citizen for just over seven months. But he has a grasp of some of what’s wrong with the media, and with the American people, during elections.

Since he’s on TV after my bedtime–and probably after many of your are either in bed or starting the homework you have due the next day–I’ll share the video below.

Some of the most important lines:

“If you watch the news, you’d think that Sarah Palin was running for president. Spoiler alert…”

“I think a lot of the reporters want to be as famous as the candidates they’re covering.”

About the candidates: “Shame on you, you manipulative hypocrites.”

“Which candidate would you rather have dinner with? Here’s an easy answer: ‘None!’ They’re politicians. I don’t dinner with you. I don’t want your friendship. Here’s what I want to know: What are you gonna do for this country, pal?”

“Are we so lost we need to be sold our own democratic right?” … If you don’t vote, you’re a moron.”

“Voting is not sexy. Voting is not hep. It is not fashionable. It’s not a movie, it’s not a video game, all the kids ain’t doin’ it. Frankly voting is a pain in the ass. But here’s a word–look it up–it is your duty to vote.”

“This country is at war right now. Americans in foreign lands, wearing uniforms representing this country, are losing their lives. Americans here in this country are losing their homes.”

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

Carbon paper offsets: drilling for logic in energy policy

Posted by James McPherson on September 14, 2008

The idea of more oil drilling has long been popular with oil companies and the lobbiests and members of Congress whom they fund. Lately those self-interested folks have been joined by a skittish populace and even more shaky members of Congress, and unless recent scandals manage to stop it, American’s shores are likely to see more offshore drilling.

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman, talking today to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about his new book, pointed out that calling for more drilling–while chanting “drill baby drill”–would be like calling for more IBM Selectric typewritters and chanting “carbon paper baby carbon paper” at the begining of the computer age. While other countries are going full-bore on new energy technology, Friedman said, the Bush/McCain/Palin folks give that research lip service while falling back on ideas guaranteed to help the United States slide further toward technological irrelevance.

I frequently disagree with Friedman, the author of The World is Flat. He favored the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and I think he sometimes glorifies international trade and the free market too much while downplaying their accompanying problems. He is better at identifying fairly obvious problems, though with well-turned phrases, than at coming up with meaningful solutions. Still, one quote from the new book should give both liberals and conservatives pause, whether they agree with him or not:

America is always at its most powerful and most influential when it is combining innovation and inspiration, wealth-building and dignity building, the quest for big profits and the tackling of big problems. When we do just one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, we are greater than the sum of our parts–much greater.

I do agree with Friedman later in that first chapter when he writes, “America has shifted from a country that always exported its hopes (and so imported the hopes of millions of others) to one that is seen exporting its fears.”

The book is drawing mixed reviews, and I haven’t read most of it. I probably won’t. For one thing, it appears that much of it has been both obvious and ignored for quite some time.

Besides, even if American leaders buy into Friedman’s premise in a meaningful way, it’s probably too late to make much difference, in terms of avoiding either worldwide catastophic climate change or a dramatic decline in American influence. The first of those is tragic but perhaps inevitable. The second probably wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, based on how we’ve managed that influence in recent years.

I would be more optimistic that we were still capable of greatness as a nation if we chose leaders based on their knowledge and abilities. In that case, the electorate would not now face a choice between an audacious optimist with little meaningful experience on one side and a May-December remix of Bush/Chaney on the other.

Further evidence of a lack of guts or integrity that would be necessary for meaningful change: Palin suddenly forgot to mention nuclear energy when campaigning in Nevada, where the nuclear waste might end up, while new McCain ads aimed at Hispanics lie about the difference between his position on immigration and Barack Obama’s position–and even about the flip-flop immigration position McCain himself “adopted” to appeal to conservatives.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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 »