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 ‘National Review’

‘What’s happenin’ here?’ The news ain’t exactly clear: How to keep up with what’s going on, and why

Posted by James McPherson on December 2, 2008

I got a kick out of it a few months ago when former student and follow blogger Grady Locklear, wrote in a post that I seemed “to check in with every news source under the sun on a daily basis.” I don’t, of course, though I do follow the news more closely than most people. After all, it’s my job.

But if you’re an American citizen who cares about such things as freedom, self-government and democracy, paying attention to the news is your job, too. Fortunately, it’s also not all that difficult, though the news media don’t always make it as simple as it could be. It’s not totally your fault that you probably know more about Natalie Holloway than about NAFTA.

For example, a quick current events question: What outbreak of violence during the past week killed the most people? I’d be willing to bet that most folks would answer with the terrorist attacks in India. But they would be wrong, even though CNN, the New York Times and other news organizations still are focusing heavily on it. Other lead CNN stories today discuss genocide in Iraq, a much larger historical example of mass bloodshed and the possibility of future mass murder, but neither of those is related to the past week’s deadliest outbreak of violence, either.

Though I seem to get a lot of email from bankers, princes and government officials in Nigeria, apparently no one was twittering the violence there where election-related clashes between Christians and Muslims killed hundreds. I don’t think the story was in my local paper at all. CNN had a story Saturday, but unlike the India story today it is already “old news.”

To find anything about Nigeria on CNN today, you have to go to “world news” and then “Africa” (where you also can find a story about cholera killing hundreds of people in perhaps the world’s most screwed-up nation, Zimbabwe.and the New York Times carried it on an inside page.  On the New York Times site, again you must go to “world news,” where you can find a story about Myanmar’s government policies contributing to thousands of AIDS deaths but again nothing about Nigeria unless you click into the “Africa” section. There you’ll find it, if you’ve bothered to go that far.

Contrast that with al-Jazeera. It also leads with stories about India, and in fact there are a number of things that make the India story particularly important (links to terrorism, tensions between nuke nations India and Pakiston, the fact that every time I make a phone call for computer support the call is answered by someone in India, etc.). But al-Jazeera’s front page also has a story about the violence in Nigeria–along with important stories about Congo, Thailand, North Korea, Israel, Romania, Afganistan, Libya, Kuwait, South Africa, Venezuala, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia (the Georgia near Russia, not the one hosting the never-ending Sarah Palin road show).

In fact, American news media offer us far less international news than they once did, at a time when world events are perhaps more important than ever before. Foreign bureaus have been slashed, and many news organizations are letting their competitors pick up the slack–which might be fine, if more of us were reading a broader range of news sources. Most of us, however, rely on just a few. Worse, most of us rely on television, the single worst mass medium for provided context with the news.

So, back to how I follow the news. The first thing I do when I get up and start to get ready for work is flip on CNN, just to see if anything of major importance is happening (a habit I started with 9/11, after a colleague called me to tell me to turn on the television). I usually read my local paper with breakfast, then go to work. I listen to NPR on my way in, and frequently listen to conservative talk radio on my way home (except on the rare occasions I get out early enough to catch “Marketplace”).

At various times during the day, as I have short breaks, I then check in with other media. I always skim the headlines at CNN and the New York Times. If I have extra time, I’ll check Fox News and the Huffington Post, to get the extremes on both political sides. And then if something from any of those sites intrigues me, I’ll follow a thread, looking for other stories on the same topic. If the topic is politics, I’ll check out Real Clear Politics. If it’s international news I’ll check al-Jazeera, the Christian Science Monitor and/or the Guardian.

At night I typically watch some of “The Newshour” on PBS, and might check in with CNN again and/or Fox News or MSNBC. Or maybe I’ll read part of a magazine: I currently subscribe to The Nation, The Progressive Ode and Time, though I vary them at times as subscriptions run out or I get good deals. I generally avoid the whirling mess of irrelevant images and video news releases provided by local television news except to check the weather or occasional sports highlights. If I’m up late enough, I’ll tune into “The Daily Show” and perhaps “The Colbert Report,” both of which offer some interesting takes on the news.

To your right, you’ll also see links to a lot of other news sources. Most of those I check in with fairly rarely, but I try to hit each one–along with a variety of bloggers from various perspectives–once a month or so. Sometimes I add or delete a link, and your preferences may vary. The most important thing, as I’ve written before, is to get your news from a variety of sources.

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

More conservative disarray: National Review loses founder’s son

Posted by James McPherson on October 14, 2008

After endorsing Barack Obama in a piece titled, “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama,” Christopher Buckley felt compelled to leave the National Review, perhaps still the best conservative magazine in American despite its unfortunate descent into neoconservatism. Buckley’s endorsement and resulting departure are most noteworthy, of course, because “Dad” in this case founded the National Review at the remarkably tender age of 29.

Indeed, William F. Buckley was one of the founders of the modern conservative movement, and as such gets a fair amount of ink in my new book. As the younger Buckley points out, “The only reason my vote would be of any interest to anyone is that my last name happens to be Buckley—a name I inherited.”

There’s another reason to be interested in Buckley’s vote, however: because he is the latest in a line of conservative intellectuals to jump from the sinking McCain/Palin ship. Much of the blame is directed a Sarah Palin, about whom George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum and Ross Douthat all have expressed reservations. David Brooks has called her a “fatal cancer” for the Republicans. Kathleen Parker has called on her to drop out of the race, prompting conservative critics to call her a traitor and an idiot whose “mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn’t, I should ‘off’ myself.” Gotta love those family values.

On the other had, though it seems fairly clear that unless something dramatic and unexpected happens McCain will lose by a significant margin, it is worth remembering that many conservatives warned before the nomination that McCain “couldn’t win” the general election. My own suggestion back in June that McCain pick Palin as a running mate now looks a bit silly, though at least I can argue that I only spent a couple of hours on researching the issue and didn’t have a staff or tons of campaign funds to vet her (assuming the McCain camp did so). Still, Palin’s pick did energize the conservative base, and gave McCain a boost that perhaps no one else would have. Had he picked someone else, he might have been this far behind even sooner.

And did you notice that the day after Obama offered his economic plan and the stock market soared, McCain offered his plan this morning and the Dow fell by 302 points to close 76 points lower than where it started the day? Just coincidence, I’m sure. And the one argument that many conservatives have been trying to make, about Obama’s “associations,” may have taken a serious hit with today’s Huffington Post revelation that McCain’s presidential transition chief was a lobbyist for Saddam Hussein.

By the way, unlike some of my liberal friends, I don’t consider the term “conservative intellectual” to be an oxymoron–at least not yet, though Brooks is among those who points out that we may be headed that direction, noting, “What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole.” Brooks also notes accurately that the anti-intellectual conservative criticism of virtually all educated groups–journalists, educators, doctors, lawyers–gives young conservatives little incentive to enter those professions.

I would argue that other factors such as more education, a higher regard for public service, and less regard for personal wealth contribute more to the more relative (though far from absolute) scarcity of conservatives in journalism and education, but Brooks’ central point remains valid–if you favor leadership by stupid people, you’re more likely to get stupid policies.

Incidentally, the erudite William F. Buckley–who held relatively little regard for neoconservatives and once suggested that George W. Bush should resign over his inept foreign policy–would have made the same argument. With Buckley’s wit and wisdom, I wouldn’t put it past him to have died earlier this year just to avoid having to endorse Obama himself.

Saturday update: In her Wall Street Journal column, former Reagan staffer Peggy Noonan writes: “In the end, the Palin candidacy is a sympton and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It’s no good, not for politics and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.” Noonan said she expects criticism from the same anti-intellectual conservatives who have attacked Buckley, adding, “At any rate, come and get me, copper.”

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

Bush, McCain reject Reagan foreign policy

Posted by James McPherson on May 22, 2008

I was never a fan of Ronald Reagan, and I think conservatives give him too much credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union (a largely economic collapse much like the impending one that some predict for this country). And of course even before the Iraq War began I thought it was a stupid idea, for a number of reasons common to progressive thinkers.

But Reason Magazine’s Steve Chapman reminds us that there were also conservative reasons (beyond the usual avoidance of foreign entanglements) to oppose the war, chief among them the fact that: “Amid all the war hysteria, it was easy to forget containment worked against Stalin and Mao–both unbalanced dictators with nuclear weapons. They were far more formidable tyrants with dreams of world domination. Yet we managed to preserve our security without pre-emptive war.” And we spent much less to do so than we’re spending on the current Bush-McCain war.

Of course conservatives also used to say they believed in smaller government, women’s rights and more public safety, and even Reagan gave up on those. Meanwhile, the Bush administration’s inept foreign policy has helped stir a rumble in the distance, a rumble that sounds much like a Soviet bear waking from hibernation. But “Hu” knows? Maybe “Putin” aside containment strategies will somehow persuade Saudis to stop sponsoring terrorism and sell us cheaper oil.

And no, I don’t see how that might happen, either, but surely Bush and McCain have a plan for how all of this will work out. Maybe they found Nixon’s secret plan for ending the Vietnam War, the one he inexplicably seemed to lose right after another presidential election. They say talking with dictators is a bad idea, though to read the conservative National Review, they must be basing that on Bush’s current experience with Iran. Or maybe it’s based on Bush’s previous experience with Putin, whom he met with early in his own presidency before famously declaring he had looked Vlad in the eye and “was able to get a sense of his soul.” That relationship has gone swimmingly, as suggested in the video below.

Putin and Bush

Posted in Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »