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, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

  • Archives

  • March 2017
    S M T W T F S
    « Sep    
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    262728293031  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Posts Tagged ‘MSNBC’

GOP may help Democrats by claiming Senate

Posted by James McPherson on November 4, 2014

It’s been tough to get excited about today’s elections, the most expensive midterms in history, for which turnout will be low. A constant barrage of ads from political hate groups may depress the vote. Conservative voter suppression efforts may have a limited effect on election results in some states, while voter fraud, as usual, will be virtually nonexistent and will have no effect whatsoever.

Republicans have found that running without a platform or ideas, while hiding from their jobs, is more effective than the Democratic tactic of running without a clue, while hiding from the president who heads their party.

That means that the most interested/extreme voices will have more influence than usual. I expect the GOP to claim the Senate, though we may not know the final results for weeks because of close results in Georgia and Louisiana. Actually, I expect we will know. Having watched very brief (all I could stand) segments of shows on Fox News and MSNBC last night, I saw commentators on both predicting that Republicans will gain seats in the Senate. We know that Fox News would predict big Republican wins regardless of the likely outcome, but if MSNBC is pessimistic about Dems’ chances, that confirms the likelihood of a GOP victory.

Of course, having the Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress will mean … probably squat. Since it now takes 60 votes in the Senate to accomplish anything, and since the GOP would fall short of that total if it won every single seat up for election this year, little will change.

If anything, the worst Congress ever may get even worse. There will be a new, equally obnoxious, Senate majority leader, and new committee heads, but Democrats won’t be any less obstructionist during the next two years than Republicans have been for the past six. Both parties will continue to promote war and ignore climate change. No immigration reform will occur, which will make Latinos even more likely to vote Democratic in four years. Republicans will continue to have meaningless show votes on the Affordable Care Act, which will continue to provide health care to increasing numbers of Americans.

I heard someone say last night that GOP control of the Senate means President Obama will be unable to get his nominations approved. Apparently that person hasn’t noticed the current state of the nominating process, where Republicans have left record numbers of judicial seats vacant and where, despite a supposed Ebola crisis, the GOP and its gun lobby puppeteers have kept the U.S. from having a surgeon general for the past year.

If GOP “control” of the Senate helps anyone, it likely will be the Democrats — who two years from now will be able to point out that Republicans controlled both houses of Congress for two years without accomplishing anything. Obama can veto anything that Congress accidentally passes, of course, but with Senate Democrats manning the barricades in front of him, I doubt that the president will need to track down his veto pen.

Some interesting things will happen today, though, as usual, your vote won’t matter much in the Senate races. The GOP will expand its majority in the House, thanks to gerrymandering, though more Americans likely will once again vote for Democrats in the ill-named “people’s House.” Either party may gain a Governor’s seat. Most of the meaningful elections will occur at the state and local levels, and most Americans will neglect their own interests and ignore those elections.

Among other things, more people in Arkansas may get easier access to alcohol, and folks in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia may gain the right to legally smoke marijuana. They may need it, considering that campaigning for the 2016 election, which will be the new “most expensive election in history,” starts tomorrow.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 20 Comments »

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 »

How to be a better media user

Posted by James McPherson on March 16, 2010

Today I spoke to three groups of middle school students about media literacy, offering a few tips for becoming more knowledgeable media consumers. At the request of one of their teachers, I’ll post part of it here. Some of it I’ve gleaned from elsewhere over the years, but can’t remember where–let me know and I’ll add it. When I have more time, perhaps I’ll also come back to this and add relevant links and photos.

Four questions to ask yourself when watching/reading/hearing a media message:

1. Who controls the message? A relatively few media conglomerates control most of the media we get. And despite cries about supposed liberal media, News Corp is one of those biggies. All of them exist primarily to make money, not to enlighten, entertain, or provide a “fair and balanced” perspective.

That’s why the people who complain most about sex and violence on television are most likely to be found on Fox News, which uses the same methods to draw an audience–and which also is associated with the Fox Entertainment, the sleaziest major network on television. That’s also why MSNBC, when it couldn’t beat CNN, tried to out-Fox Fox with conservative hosts and commentators. Only after that failed did it become the liberal answer to Fox.

2. Is it real? There are a lot of ways to lie in and with the media. There are more public relations professionals than there are journalists. And everybody has access to Photoshop and a junior high student who can use it.

3. What are the underlying messages? That’s the point of one entire semester-long class that I teach, but in short, every media message offers implicit messages along with explicit messages. The messages about gender alone probably are worthy of a year’s lectures.

4. Why am I watching/reading/listening to this? Uses and gratifications theory points out that we use media for a reason, even if the reason is escapism. Thinking about the “why” can improve one’s motives (and life in general).

Four tips for making better use of the media:

1. Reduce the use of your favorite medium. Turning more often to a different medium–or to friends, family and personal observation–will likely broaden your perspective.

2. Actively watch/listen more often. Watch television with family members, rather than in separate rooms, and then talk about what you saw. Talk back to the screen. But not in a movie theatre, please.

3. Reduce the number of opinions you feel obligated to hold. Like talk show hosts, we often feel we must have an opinion on everything, whether we understand the subject or not, lest we appear either apathetic or dumb. It’s OK–and inevitable–not to be an expert about anything. And you’ll be taken more seriously when you speak about areas in which you do have some level of knowledge/expertise.

4. Consider a personal or family media code of ethics. Put it in writing: If something in the media offends you, what will you do about it? Just whine? Write a letter? Stage a protest? Are there certain kinds of shows, or certain number hours, that you won’t watch? Will you let your kid watch an hour of TV or spend an hour on the Internet if s/he then reads a book for an hour? Will you allow a television or personal computer in your child’s room?

In answer to that last question, by the way, I wouldn’t. I asked more than a hundreds kids today how many of them watch things on TV that they wouldn’t be allowed to watch if their parents knew the content (I didn’t even bother to ask about the Internet). Most of the students–a good group of kids, it seemed to me–raised their hands.

Of course, they might be forgiven for using media irresponsibly; after all, they’re kids. Most people reading this don’t have that excuse.

Posted in Education, Media literacy, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Poll puts Obama lower than Oslo’s temperature

Posted by James McPherson on December 9, 2009

Though often I wish that CNN would avoid editorializing and the sort of programming that I most disdain about Fox News and MSNBC (the departure of Lou Dobbs was a good step; if Nancy Grace and perhaps Jack Cafferty would follow Dobbs out the door I’d be even happier), I admit that I still appreciated the irony of this CNN lead today: “President Obama–fighting wars in two countries–will arrive in Norway on Thursday to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.”

The story also reminds us, “Nominations for the prize had to be postmarked by February 1, only 12 days after Obama took office. The committee sent out its solicitation for nominations last September, two months before Obama was elected president.” After last week, and especially since the number of Americans who think Obama deserves the prize has dropped below 20 percent, I wonder if the Nobel Committee would like a recount.

By the way, the expected low temperature for tomorrow in Oslo, where Obama will pick up the prize, is 26 degrees. The expected high is 32 degrees (right at freezing, though not as chilly as the reception he might get from former supporters when he campaigns for re-election). Come to think of it, many Americans may be thinking of traveling to Norway to warm up.

On the other hand, another 35 percent of those surveyed think it likely that Obama will eventually do enough to deserve the prize. Based on that thinking, with this semester nearing an end, perhaps I should assign final grades based on what I think students will someday achieve. But I can’t, since I keep telling them that actual performance matters and that actions have consequences.

Obama and the Democrats who let us think that poor Americans wouldn’t have to risk getting shot in Afghanistan to get a job or decent health care may find out in 2010 and 2012 just how much their actions matter.

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

If you knew Suze, like Oprah knows Suze… maybe you’d be richer

Posted by James McPherson on April 7, 2009

“Suze Orman decides what couples can afford,” reads a headline on the front page of the CNN Web site. The headline links to an Oprah.com story(headlined after the click, “Suze decides what you can afford).” As for Oprah.com, the lead story under “hot topics” is “Suze Orman’s Recession Rescue Plan.”

Suddenly with the economy in the toilet, Orman has become as omnipresent as two other women with O’s in their names–Michelle Obama (live or otherwise) being the third. Regular PBS viewers already knew Orman as perhaps the only openly lesbian financial expert in the country (relevant only because not long ago her sexual orientation would have kept her off of conservative airwaves, but may actually enhance her credibility with some of the PBS audience), but she seems now to be on everywhere.

She has her own show on CNBC, the generally conservative business network that goes along with MSNBC’s political liberalism to make a balanced peacock. (Rather than schizophrenia, I guess we should view it like the old golf joke in which a drive into the left rough followed by a shot into the right rough equals statistical perfection.) Orman also is an editor for Oprah’s magazine, and writes regularly for the Costco magazine.

Aside from the fact that the most powerful and perhaps richest woman in America (Oprah, not Michelle, though Barack wouldn’t be in the White House without both of them) is now giving us poorer folks economic advice herself, why should we now trust Oprah’s endorsement of Orman? I admit that I’ve distrusted Oprah since she foisted Dr. Phil on the American consciousness, but still, who is Orman that we apparently should trust to tell us what to do with our money, anyway?

Well, you can read her story here, and she did largely luck into a good education and a job and career in business. But she also has worked tough jobs, such as spending six years as a waitress (one of the tougher and more honorable jobs in America), so she may remember what it’s like not to have money. Considering that she has written a bunch of bestselling books telling us what to do with our money, perhaps the problem was that the right people just didn’t listen to her early enough.

Besides, consider the fact that the vast majority of people who have been guiding us into the current mess are men. Maybe it’s because today I went from teaching my “Women and Media” class to a moderated discussion of “The Vagina Monalogues” (which will be read publicly on my school’s campus later this month), but I can’t help but feel that the problem may be that there hasn’t been enough Orman to go around.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

‘G’ whiz: judging Obama’s summit performance

Posted by James McPherson on April 4, 2009

Writing for CNN, James Carvell called the final day of the G-20 Summit, “Barack Obama’s single best day since inauguration,” while Fareed Zakariah suggested, “President Obama is failing in his role as leader of the free world.”

Over on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly “asked” if Obama was “selling out America” (part of Fox’s ongoing “We distort, you decide” marketing strategy).  Former Democratic whoremonger and current Fox News whore Dick Morris lied about it (now there’s a surprise), saying the summit, which in truth achieved almost nothing of substance, “was a disaster, but it’s probably a disaster he [Obama] likes … in which, essentially, all of the U.S. regulatory bodies and all U.S. companies are put under international regulation, international supervision. It really amounts to a global economic government. … Just when Obama is accused of socialism, he’s essentially creating world economic governance.”

The blatant misrepresention (unless it’s just stupidity) by Morris would be bad enough, of course, but Fox still has his appearance (and O’Reilly’s question) on the front of its Web site–though of course both are posted below its daily “Pop Tarts” section and headlines about the “top 10 beach bodies” and a show starring Hugh Hefner’s ex-girlfriend.

Of course, on the most obnoxious network from the opposing perspective, MSNBC highlighted “Obama’s charm offensive” while its various hosts did their usual pro-bama fawning. So maybe for a better sense of the summit, we should look to what they’re saying in other countries. After all, the group is called the G-20, not the “Gee, the U.S. and 19 other countries Americans don’t care about.”

Zakaria quoted a column in the Guardian stating that Obama “looks neither like JFK nor FDR but rather JEC–that’s James Earl Carter–better known here as Jimmy Carter.” But the Guardian also considers Gordon Brown a big winner, while “fat cats” and world climate were losers. As long as even fired fat cats are collecting millions of dollars while millions of people worry about paying for groceries I can’t consider them “losers.,” at least not in the sense that the newspaper means.

As it turns, out, looking at media from around the world, the reviews are mixed. Media in those countries tend to be as ethnocentric as ours are, focusing on their own situations and how the summit might affect them. And the fact is, the effects–if any–of what happened in London likely won’t be know for some time.

Leave it to al-Jazeera to provide the best interpretation of the summit and Obama’s performance there: “It’s a start.”

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

Newspaper sales, media credibility skyrocket

Posted by James McPherson on April 1, 2009

While other economic news continues to be bad, CNN reports today that a survey shows that newspaper sales–and news media credibility in general–have soared in recent weeks. Sadly, the news apparently came just a little too late for the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and employees of my local newspaper, which today announced wage cuts of up to 10 percent for newsroom employees in its print edition (but apparently not online).

“Apparently the fine job the media did of covering issues instead of the horse race during the election had an impact,” said a media expert who, ironically, lost his job just last month. “The fact that cable news outlets such as Fox and MSNBC have focused so much on meaningful issues instead of on personalities apparently had a transference effect, making people hunger for more in-depth news in all formats.

By the way, it’s April Fools Day. One thing the CNN story did say that I agree with totally, however: “Geoffrey Davies, the head of the journalism department at London’s University of Westminster, said such pranks do not particularly affect the credibility of a news organization.”

The credibility of the media being what it is, how could those pranks have a negative effect?

Same-day addendum: Apparently lots of people are concerned about the Conficker worm.  I normally get between 100 and 150 hits on my blog in a day. So far today I’m over 1,460, putting me at #26 right now on the WordPress “growing blogs” list and at #70 on the WordPress “top posts” list. Gee, and it came on the same day I was interviewed by C-SPAN about my latest book. As if I didn’t have enough trouble keeping my ego in check.

Most of the blog traffic has come from a CNN link to my Conficker post of yesterday. It has already drawn more than 1,200 hits, making it the third-most-popular post of my 11 months of blogging. Maybe it’s because I mentioned my media criticism class in the post–that’s what I told them in class today, anyway. Each of the two posts ahead of yesterday’s entry has taken months to reach their current numbers of just over 2,200 and just under 2,000 hits.

Addendum #2: By the end of the “day” (which on the “stats” page ends at 5 p.m. my time), I’d had 1,612 hits for the day, and had reached at least as high as #29 on the WordPress “top posts” list (and #26 on “growing blogs“). Thanks to all who visited, and especially those who commented.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

No news is bad news: Read this, and then pick up a newspaper

Posted by James McPherson on March 23, 2009

One sign indicating the seriousness of so many failing newspapers is the number of seeming competitors that are bemoaning the passing of those papers.

CNN is doing it today. Time did it last month, in a story titled “What happens when a town loses its newspaper?” Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has done it. Chris Matthews did yesterday, recalling his days as a delivery boy and concluding the segment by showing how to fold a newspaper for throwing and then hurling it at the camera.

A site titled “Newspaper Death Watch” keeps track of the metropolitan dailies that fold. Just over a dozen such papers have gone under in since last March, with more to come. One of my students (for whom it matters even more, since she is about to graduate and will need a job) and many others also are keeping track of the morbid and apparently endless decline.

“A century ago, 689 cities in the United States had competing daily newspapers,” Princeton University researchers recently noted. “At the start of this year, only about 15 did, but one of those has already lost its second newspaper and two more will likely become one-paper towns within days.”

Yet frequently when I (or others, with much bigger audiences) complain about the state of the media someone–usually a young person who doesn’t read a newspaper–asks why we should care. After all, there’s lots of news online, right?

This flawed thinking is in itself an obvious sign of the costs, which include, to use a favorite phrase of one of my regular commenters and others, the “dumbing down” of America. (In fact we may not be getting dumber, but despite an explosion of types of available media, neither are we getting smarter). And though I have written about the issue previously here  (including in response to comments) and elsewhere–all the new attention to the problem seems to warrant further discussion.

Actually Time did a good job of discussing some of the problems, citing the Princeton University study that found (as I also have noted) that the loss of a newspaper is bad for democracy. Voter turnout drops. Fewer people run for office. Incumbents, who rarely lose anyway, are re-elected at even higher rates (so perhaps Democrats should be hoping for more newspaper deaths).

The fact that most people got most of their political news before the last election from cable television–the likes of MSNBC and Fox News–also helps indicate why electoral knowledge is weak. At least one study has shown, as I’ve written elsewhere, that increased watching of Fox may actually make people less informed; I suspect the same is now true of MSNBC.

Relying on a single source for news is invariably a bad idea, which is why we should worry even though most of the newspapers now going out of business are in cities with other newspapers. Lack of competition creates complacency, and encourages the remaining survivor to do what’s easy and cheap–as my own local daily has become too accustomed to doing.

Some news organizations, including U.S. News & World Report, the Christian Science Monitor and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have gone online only, typically making deep staff cuts while shifting to a format that many Americans can’t or won’t use (though newspapers have for some time also neglected to serve wide segments of the population that seem unlikely to appeal to many advertisers).

Besides, those who point out that they can get their news from the Internet often neglect to notice that almost all of their favorite news sites–and by far the most accurate and useful sites–come from mainstream news organizations where web operations are being heavily subsidized (monetarily and in terms of content) by the traditional newspaper or broadcast operations.

In addition, the typical web-only reader tends to neglect local community news–about city hall, local schools, etc.–which happens to be the level of government where most citizens could have the most influence. As I’ve noted before, you have a far greater chance of being struck by lightning than you have of affecting a presidential election with your vote. But you can affect the course of your school district, and therefore the education of your kids.

Because no one has yet figured out a way to adequately “monetize the web” (to use a phrase students and I heard repeatedly in January from media leaders in New York and Washington, D.C.)  when traditional news sources disappear, their web presence also often disappears (or is dramatically reduced) along with them.

Despite the optimism of some (including some former journalists), if that happens then at least some of our ability to govern ourselves will go, too.

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

Maybe Big Media should get next bailout

Posted by James McPherson on December 9, 2008

It worked for the banks, and now apparently for auto makers (who may have become too accustomed to long-term financing, since they may be viewing the expected bailout as merely a down payment). Maybe Big Media should be the next poorly run industry in line for a government handout.

In what the Huffington Post termed “Media Meltdown Monday,” the New York Times, the Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times and Baltimore Sun, among others) and NBC all announced bad news yesterday.

That news came just days after the Scripps Company announced that its Rocky Mountain Newswas up for sale–or, as RMN writer Mike Littwin put it, “read: doomed“–and on the heels of announcements from newspapers all over the country that they were for sale and/or cutting back on people, production and public service (OK, I added the last part). “The Newshour” on PBS devoted a segment to the Tribune case and related issues last night, and offers a series of online videos about various aspects of the media crisis.

Piling on, today the New York Times’ Stuart Elliot writes–in a story bluntly headlined “Next Year is Looking Even Worse,” that “advertising is bracing for the possibility of the first two consecutive yearly declines in spending since the early days of the Great Depression.” And in the last line of its story about the Tribune Company, Columbia Journalism Review offers this dire warning: “Think the news has been bad for the industry in the last couple of years? The real blood-letting is about to begin.”

Just months after buying the LA Times (despite the fact that many regular watchers of CNBC–or of HGTV–could have pointed out that California property values were overinflated) the Tribune Company is filing for bankruptcy. Perhaps the Illinois governor should have been more worried about the company’s board of directors than about its editorial board.

Of the news organizations now suffering, the Tribune Company is perhaps the toughest of the group to feel sorry for, thanks to owner Sam Zell, “the newspaper mogul who despises journalism, the real estate tycoon who once told the Tribune’s Washington staff they were so much ‘overhead,’ the self-proclaimed Viagra of the industry whose ‘innovation’ guru he brought in from the radio world didn’t understand that L.A. Times reporters in Iraq were actually reporting from Iraq … In less than a year’s time, Zell took the Tribune private and then took the company to bankruptcy. That has to be some kind of record.”

Still, some of us remember that the conservative Chicago Tribune was doing meaningful investigative journalism before most other news organizations, regularly uncovering governmental abuses of the type now being reported about Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Of course, some might argue that finding corruption in Chicago is about as difficult as finding Easter eggs on the White House lawn during the annual hunt, but the same probably is true of most major cities–it’s just that most newspapers don’t work as hard to uncover the abuses as the Tribune once did.

The fact is, most newspapers don’t have enough staffers to do the most important things that journalists should do: keep an eye on government. Jennifer Dorroh, managing editor of American Journalism Review, recently pointed out that local reporters of the type who uncovered the corruption of California Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham are an “endangered species.”

There is another major reason for journalists and those of us who train journalists to be worried about the Trib’s collapse. Besides the harm that bankruptcy judges or others might do to the newspaper or to journalism, Littwin notes, “Apparently it’s hard to gloat and work on your resume at the same time.”

Even more troubling for most people who care about good journalism might be the news about the problems of the New York Times. Today the Times offers an Associate Press story about its talks with lenders, though the headline for that story is far less noticeable than the headline (with photo) about Christie Hefner resigning from her position as Playboy CEO.

As for NBC, it announced this week that it may cut back on programming (what, Fox got all the good reality shows?) and that late-night host Jay Lenowould be doing a five-nights-a-week 10 p.m. program. Interestingly, the MSNBC Web site went with the Associated Press reports for both stories about Leno (too many commentators, not enough reporters at the network?). As the report notes, “A talk show is considerably cheaper to produce than the dramas that usually air at 10 p.m.”

So maybe news organizations need to take the same step that GM has: announce that they’ve done a poor job of providing what consumers need, apologize for their mistakes, and beg for government help. As much as those organizations have sucked up to government in recent years, instead of investigating official misconduct (so what’s Judith Miller up to, nowadays?), perhaps they’d even get the bailout.

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