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 ‘Michael Webster’

McCain ‘border sheriff’ relying on wacky Webster?

Posted by James McPherson on July 22, 2010

Talk about the blind leading the blind. Or dumb and dumber. Paul Babeu, the Arizona sheriff most famous for posing as a “border sheriff” in John McCain’s goofy “complete the danged fence” ad, apparently gets his own information from… wait for it … Michael Webster.

Yes, that Michael Webster, the loony “investigative reporter” whom I’ve highlighted previously on this site. Tim Steller of the Arizona Daily Star, reports in a piece headlined that after Babeu claimed that a Mexican “drug cartel top officer” sat down with a reporter in an interview and threatened Babeu:

“We believe it was American vigilantes, and that the sheriff of Pinal County, where my two soldiers were killed, is covering this up, and we’re going to hold him, Sheriff Paul Babeu” — they said it right in the paper, this guy’s telling the reporter — “and we’re going to hold him personally responsible for this.”

Unlike the type of “journalist” played by Webster, Steller then decided to follow up:

That piqued my attention, of course, since the Arizona Daily Star is the only daily newspaper in Tucson, and I hadn’t noticed this interview. So I asked Tim Gaffney, Babeu’s spokesman, what Babeu was referring to. Gaffney pointed me to this piece by “investigative journalist” Michael Webster. Please read the piece, along with some of Webster’s other writings at U.S. Border Fire Report and Laguna Journal  and tell me if you would trust this source of information, especially if you were a sheriff.

A subhead on the search page for the article refers to Webster as “a self-described ‘investigative journalist’ with sympathies toward the militia movement.” That may make his articles ideal for regurgitation by various anti-immigration and conspiracy sites (a few examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), but, as Steller suggests, hardly the kind of information you’d hope would be relied upon for any public officials with marginally more sense than Michele Bachmann.

And if he trusts Webster, I suppose this also means that Babeu, knowingly or unknowingly, is relying on outdated third-hand information from some secret “duck hunter.”

Incidentally, the reason I thought to check the Star (though I have family in Tucson and so read it on occasion, anyway), is because Steller has apparently come across one of my previous pieces on Webster and emailed me for contact info (not that it matters, because Webster apparently ignores attempts to reach him unless those attempts come from shadowy figures with drug war horror stories such as “duck hunter” or “HammerDown”  or “Juan” or “a self proclaimed Los Zetas drug cartel officer“).

In my response to Steller I pointed out Webster’s two websites and his some of his other writing, including three books–“one advertised with the line, ‘We, believe that fruit from the tree of life may be the lemon’ (the extra comma was already there), and one a ‘work of fiction’ promising, ‘The RedRoad is a journey through life learning to live in balance and harmony with Mother and if you walk soft and long you may teach others the walk of the RedRoad.'”

As I told Steller, I guess it’s when those red folks mixed with Spaniards that they became a problem. Of course the red men did an awful job with border security, which is why most of us are here with the likes of Babeu and Webster to protect us.

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

Open letter to ‘journalist’ Michael Webster

Posted by James McPherson on June 17, 2010

Mr. Webster:

I am writing because, particularly as a journalism professor, I am troubled by the inaccuracy of an article you wrote this week, an article that, combined with a similarly misleading Fox News story, got quite a bit of attention in the conservative blogosphere. During the past couple of days I have made it a point to go to a number of conservative websites that have quoted from or repeated your piece or the Fox report, but of course I cannot know them all–and naturally, some of them are unwilling to run comments that contradict their opinions, anyway.

You call yourself an “investigative journalist,” yet it seems you did little or no investigation when it came to a report that happened to correspond with your political bias. For your June 14 piece titled, “The U.S. Gov: giving parts of Arizona back to Mexico,” you quoted some odd “reliable informant known to us as ‘Duck Hunter,” yet apparently didn’t even bother to pick up a phone to check with park officials.

As a result, you and Fox (though since neither of you is particularly good about attribution I can’t tell if one of you picked it up from the other, or if “Duck Hunter” served as the initial source for both)–published misleading articles based on a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report that came out in October 2006. For context, you’ll remember that was when George W. Bush was president and when John McCain–the senior senator of Arizona, the state you’re writing about–opposed a fence on the Mexican border.

By the way, if you had bothered to risk a less dramatic story by sending an email or making a phone call, you might have found out the same thing that another generally conservative writer did, after he was embarrassed by the Fox News report. Quoting a park source:

“The news coverage is out of proportion and a great misunderstanding. The Fish & Wildlife Service is working to correct the situation. We were not consulted about the television or other coverage.

“The refuge is open as always.  Erroneous information came out on Fox News and this has led to expansion of misinformation in Web blogs.

“The southernmost half-mile of the refuge has been closed to the public and refuge staff since 2006 so that Border Patrol can be unimpeded in their patrols. It also helps ensure public safety to not be in that area right along the border, just in case. There is less immigrant traffic along the southern boundary of the refuge now as a result of the 12-foot fence.  There is some drug traffic in the mountains to the east of the refuge.  But we are seeing fewer impacts from immigrant traffic than before the fence.

“The closure involves 3500 acres, which is 0.02% of the refuge.  The remainder of the refuge’s 118,000 acres is open to the public . . . . Hiking, camping, bird-watching, hunting . . . as usual.   The refuge is definitely open and no additional closures have been instituted since 2006.    Likewise the Arivaca Lake and Ruby Road areas are open as always. … You’re welcome to visit!”

You can see that full report here.

I honestly do not know why your pieces are so widely repeated, but, judging by your vita, I know that you take pride in the attention your work receives. I hope you also take enough pride in your work to print the clarification that is clearly in order.

Sincerely,
James McPherson

Next day update: I sent the letter above via email to Webster yesterday before I posted it here. So far I haven’t heard back from him either via email or via my blog, nor has he apparently responded publicly elsewhere. But the moderator for one of the sites that carried his column reports the following today:

I have had some communication from Michael Webster regarding this article. His position is that he stands behind every word he has written.

The issue as to whether or not Fox news reported this or didn’t….is not relative to Mr. Webster’s writing, in our opinion.

The article is Mr. Websters view of this situation.

My response, on that same site:

I have no problem with his opinion, of course, just with his distortion of facts and his laziness or carelessness in not following up with other sources–egregious behavior for someone claiming to be an “investigative journalist.” In fact, apparently in part because of his behavior, the park now has the correct info prominently posted on the front page of its website.

Posted in Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Lying Fox News Pin(al)-headed about geography

Posted by James McPherson on June 16, 2010

Remember when “news” was supposed to be timely? Fox News and bimbo Megyn Kelly [sorry, even though it was Kelly’s name on the screen, it was a different woman doing the Kelly-style reporting] today led with a story that is more than three years old–while suggesting that the story and the direct quote that Fox lifts from an October 2006  public document are something new.

In addition to the misleading timing of the story, like far too many Americans, Fox News seems to have a geography problem. Or maybe it’s just trying to bolster John McCain’s Arizona campaign while making a hero of a certain Arizona sheriff.

How else do you explain that the current lead story on Fox’s website (above even the latest on the Gulf oil spill, Iran’s nuclear program and “Bipartisan Jeers for Obama Oil Speech”) relies most heavily on the sheriff who starts in John McCain’s ridiculous anti-immigrant commercial? That’s a sheriff, remember, whose county does not even border Mexico.

Why not quote a border sheriff? Perhaps because those from Pima, Yuma and Santa Cruz counties all disagree with the state’s stupid new anti-immigration law, and therefore with the reactionary rednecks who provide much of Fox’s primary audience.

Also, remember who was president at the time of the closure that Fox is now yipping about? And at that time, McCain opposed a border fence.

Same-day update: More unethical journalism–supposed “investigative reporter” Michael Webster at the American Chronicle offers most of the same garbage as Fox.

Numerous conservative blogs have knee-jerkedly repeated all or part of the misleading Fox/Webster story (some examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), as if their readers wouldn’t have already seen it; naturally several of those blame Barack Obama. I’ve only seen one correction.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »