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.

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Posts Tagged ‘National Rifle Association’

The cowards among us: killers, legislators and the NRA

Posted by James McPherson on December 15, 2012

A question for parents: How many of you have toy guns or “first-person-shooter” video games nicely wrapped under your Christmas trees as you get ready to celebrate the birth of Christ?

Here in America, of course, that’s just the batcrap-crazy norm, as we go from one supposedly shocking mass killing to another and another and another. Maybe this year the deaths will hit triple digits. And unless you’re related to them, or it involves a member of Congress, you probably won’t remember any of their name  by New Year’s Day.

“They packed the pews to remember, mourn and pray,” wrote CNN’s Dana Ford. “What else can you do?”

What, indeed? Surely we can’t have a serious discussion about gun control, or get members of Congress to stand up to the National Rifle Association for even common-sense legislation. After all, some folks think it outrageous that “government” keeps us from easily owning automatic weapons, machine guns and hand grenades.

We also can’t adequately fund education or mental health care, especially at the risk of raising taxes or cutting military funding. We can’t rationally discuss what it is about US that makes mass murder now commonplace. To do that would be both too scary and too political.

Despite the fact that most Americans, including most members of the NRA, favor some gun laws, we apparently can’t have any millionaires or billionaires stepping up to found an organization with lobbying influence to combat the NRA. No reason they should, since they live behind gates and their kids are in private schools. (Ironically, the chidren of workers for the country’s second-biggest gun lobby could actually be among the Newtown, Conn., victims, considering that the National Shooting Sports Foundation–which offers members a newsletter titled “Pull the Trigger,” boasting such articles as “It’s the Indian, not the arrow“– is within walking distance of the school.)

We can’t have gun-totin’ conservatives admitting that Barack Obama doesn’t really want to take away our guns, or that it’s easier to own a gun today and you can carry one in more places than before he took office. Or that conservative “hero” Ronald Reagan actually supported stricter gun laws than we have today, or than have been supported by any so-called liberal president since. After all, one of the many things Obama and Mitt Romney shared duting the recent presidential campaign was cowardice when it came to talking about guns.

Oh, we can do a few things. We can breathlessly watch the news media report the tragedy as quickly as possible, guaranteeing that they’ll get some things wrong in the process–yet again. We can expect the NRA to somehow use this tragedy as an excuse to fundraise while its followers tell us that it’s “wrong” to use a tragedy to discuss the politics of gun control. And we can continue to have nutjobs such as Spokane city councilman Mike Fagan suggest that we arm teachers or administrators.

After all, what could go wrong having stressed, distracted people in charge of too many children also packing heat? Of course they’d have to lock the firearms away, to avoid letting kids get to them. And if the gun and ammo were locked away, it would probably be useless in an emergency situation–especially because anyone looking to wreak havoc would know to shoot the teacher first, because s/he might be armed.

So what can we really do, other than to remember, mourn and pray? Well, after doing that for a few days (and perhaps for a few minutes on every Dec. 14 for the next few years) we could just let things go back to “normal” until the next mass killing. That’s what I’m betting we’ll choose. After all, it probably won’t be in your kid’s school.

Merry Christmas.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Batcrap craziness

Posted by James McPherson on July 20, 2012

Batman: “No guns.” (In keeping with the superhero’s longtime no-gun rule.”)

Catwoman: “What fun is that?”

I guess we could ask the folks who attended the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, huh?

As I’ve written in what became my most-read post, I generally avoid using profanity. But one reason I generally oppose it it because its overuse has made appropriate use almost meaningless. Almost. And today is one of the exceptions, because there has perhaps never been a more appropriate day or week for the term “batshit crazy.”

This week gave us Rush Limbaugh suggesting that the name of a movie character (a name that originated in a 1993 comic book) was a liberal plot against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Then, of course, Rush lied about it the next day.

Next we had John McCain–the McCain we used to remember before he sold his soul to try to win the last presidential election–chastize Michele Bachmann for her latest Muslim plot nonsense. But we know that Bachmann is as batty as Limbaugh.

And though we all know that the blogosphere has become a nutty and nasty place, it was surprising that a negative review of the latest Batman movie would inspire batshit-crazy fans of a comic book character to make death threats against “Rotten Tomatoes” reviewers.

But all of that pales in comparison to today’s news about a costumed gunman killing at least a dozen people at a midnight opening of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” It didn’t take long for ABC to commit the first stupid reporting error, and of course the shooting has dominated the cable news networks all day. (It’s probably not such big news in Syria, where having a dozen killed by violence would be considered a good day.)

And so now we’ll have another few days of liberals pointing out the obvious, that easy access to guns in America makes these events far too common here and that conservative talking heads such as “shoot-them-in-the-head” Glenn Beck (however well he may cry about it afterward) and Rush Limbaugh, along with batshit-crazy extremist groups promote violence. Some conservatives will blame mass murder on gay marriage. If all else fails, blame it on violent movies or video games. It’s all so predictable, and too few will acknowledge that many factors are involved.

Perhaps less predictably, truly batshit-crazy NRA types, which Colorado has, may suggest that the carnage would have been reduced if other people in the theater were armed. Oh, wait–batshit-crazy Malkin  and batshit-crazy Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert have already done that. Gohmert also blamed the attacks on “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs”–as did the American Family Association, despite the fact that the killer reportedly was a “brilliant student” from a “church-going family.” Shades of Pat Robertson; life is just too scary when we realize what our demons have in common with the rest of us, I guess.

So, how long until someone (other than a batshit-crazy blogger or two) suggests that the killer is an Obama operative trying to help the president push through gun control, even though we know that it’s now easier to buy a gun and you can carry it in more places than before Obama was elected? Besides, we Americans love our guns. We really love our guns. If the shooting of a Congresswoman and the killing a a cute white girl or the slaughter of college students won’t spur a serious debate about American gun laws, this certainly won’t.

In fact, perhaps part of the “The Dark Knight Rises” should be rewritten.

Batman: “No guns.”

Catwoman: “In America? That’s batshit crazy!”

Next-day addendum: Above I asked how long it would take someone to suggest that the shootings were a government plot to help promote control. Not long at all, as it turned out, thanks to 9/11 “truther” Alex Jones, perhaps the most bat-shit crazy conspiracy theorist in America.

Sunday addendum: Batshit-crazy Truth in Action Ministries spokesman Jerry Newcombe chose today to go on the radio and “remind” listeners that some of the dead shooting victims were bound for hell. Say hello when you get there, Jerry.

Also, a question for any who care to answer: Why do so many conservatives apparently think it should be easier to carry a gun than to cast a ballot?

Tuesday addendum: Batshit-crazy Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, has also suggested that the Aurora killings are part of a gun-control plot, bringing familiar bogeyman, the United Nations, into it.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments »

The daft and the spurious — another conservative conspiracy theory

Posted by James McPherson on June 21, 2012

One could spend all day trying to debunk just the conspiracy theories promoted on Fox News, and typically it’s not worth the trouble. Most people aren’t crazy enough to buy into the theories (and are too apathetic to pursue them, anyway). But one of the latest goofy theories on Fox News and elsewhere is apparently being promoted by an organization more powerful with legislators than Fox News — the National Rifle Association.

The claim comes from the current controversy over the truly stupid “Fast and Furious” program, which this week prompted House Republicans to recommend holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress (which means something different here than the “contempt of Congress” that most of us have). For its part, the Obama administration is maintaining that it has executive privilege to withhold some documents that House Republicans want. And frankly, I don’t care much about that — George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each successfully asserted executive privilege repeatedly (this is Obama’s first time), and this politically motivated attempt likely will go nowhere, and likely will hurt Republicans more than it hurts Obama.

But the NRA has latched onto a way to make the squabble into yet another way to bleed money from suckers while pressuring Congress to toe its any-gun-any-time line. In a letter to Congress, the organization supported the contempt citation — which, with the number of gutless folks eager to kiss the NRA’s brass, may actually prolong the inane process. It will still go nowhere, but will keep the issue alive for an extended period of time when Congress might instead be focusing on more important issues. And as a result, Obama gets to keep running against a partisan do-nothing Congress.

“Heightening the NRA’s concern — and requiring our involvement — is the White House’s use of this program to advance its gun control agenda,” the NRA letter states. Say what? What “gun control agenda”? It’s now easier to buy a gun in this country, and you can carry one in more places, causing destruction in more ways, than before Obama took office. In fact, Obama has been considerably weaker on the issue of gun control than Republicans Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, phony cowboy George W. Bush, or movie cowboy Ronald Reagan.

But Obama’s failure to try to take away our guns is simply a secret plot, say the NRA, Mitt Romney, and other loonies. He plans to start taking them after he’s re-elected. And while Obama’s re-election is likely, a thinking person might actually wonder … huh? Why would he wait? But if you actually followed that line of thought you’d foolishly be trying to apply reason.

For some of these folks, Obama’s lack of action — the fact that he’s done less to control guns than any president of our lifetimes — actually seems to be the evidence that he’s waiting to spring. They will not be deterred by something so basic as observable fact. The view of conspiracy theorists of all stripes might be well summarized by this paragraph (which is actually about media manipulation):

This manipulation is like one of those optical illusion pictures that you have to stare at until you suddenly see the image. Then, once you see it, you can see it every time you look for it, yet the person standing right next to you will insist there is no image in the picture – just like you did before you learned to see it. That’s what you need to do here: you need to start reading history – real history – until you start seeing how this works. Once you do and you start to see what they are doing to manipulate people and how their methods work, you will feel as though you have just been liberated. You will see it everywhere, and you’ll be right nearly every time. But I warn you, that sense of liberation will soon give way to a state of deep concern as you suddenly realize just how many of your friends are still denying the image in the picture. That’s when you come to understand just how much troublke [sic] we’re actually in.

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

Supreme Court & NRA may kill 2nd Amendment, aid abortion

Posted by James McPherson on March 2, 2010

Remember when gun nuts were claiming that Barack Obama would take their firearms away? Those paranoid claims bolstered weapon and ammo sales, but in fact gun regulation has decreased since Obama took office, not increased.

It’s easier (though more expensive) to buy a gun now than before Obama was elected, easier than it was under Ronald Reagan (funny how getting shot clarified his mind). Even Yellowstone Park can now boast something scarier than grizzly bears. To be fair, though, those who feel a need to wear a gun just because they can often may not be able to afford new trucks or other traditional mechanical redneck means to public prove their manhood.

Now, in response to a Chicago case, the activist Supreme Court probably will further the Wild West approach to gun ownership favored by the National Rifle Association. Chicago allows homeowners to own shotguns (which are better for home protection that handguns), but not handguns. So how open should it be? As I heard on NPR this morning, ormer Bush administration Solicitor General Paul Clement, representing the NRA in the case, “says a bazooka is probably not even an arm ‘for purposes of the Second Amendment.’ But, he concedes, ‘A machine gun is a more difficult question.'”

I’m not against firearms, by the way. I grew up in Idaho, own a variety of long guns and handguns, and once taught gun safety. That’s how I know that that vast majority of homeowners (and their children) would be safer with a dog at home and pepper spray in their purse or pocket than having guns in either place.

And please forget the tired and inaccurate argument that we’re all safer if more of us have guns and regulation is less strict. As shown here, states that are the most pro-gun tend to have the highest firearms death rates. That would seem to be common sense, but when it comes to the gun debate, common sense often is in short supply. In fact, you’re more than three times as likely to be killed by a gun in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Lousiana, Mississippi or Tennessee than you are in New York.

In the category of unintended consequences, once gun ownership becomes more widespread, and deaths ranging from kids accidentally shooting themselves to Virginia Tech-style massacres to domestic terrorism become more common, expect a backlash. That backlash might even result in a new constitutional Amendment that overturns the Supreme Court interpretation of the current Second Amendment. The NRA may find that it has a much easier time buying off members of Congress than it will controlling an fearful anti-firearms movement that it helped start.

Interestingly, the case could end up being a good thing for liberals in another arena, as well. The Court’s pro-gun decision may also help preserve abortion rights, a result likely to bother many of the same folks who are apparently untroubled by the fact that a few dozen kids are killed each day by guns.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

‘Killer American Idol’: Mass murder no surprise, more likely to come

Posted by James McPherson on April 5, 2009

palin_with_gunOne of the most troubling leads I’ve read in a long time, from CNN today: “People who knew the suspected gunman in Friday’s shooting at an immigration services center in Binghamton, New York, were not surprised by his actions, the police chief said.”

I’m not shocked, in the abstract, by mass murder–though individual cases, like the one in my own state in which a father apparently shot and killed his five kids, do still surprise me. In a broader sense, though, killing a bunch of people is a too-common way for the clueless and the hopeless to gain attention, and the suicide (or “suicide-by-cop”) that almost always concludes these events keeps the cowardly killer from having to face his inability to deal with the world.

One notable and perhaps regrettable exception (I oppose the death penalty but agree that certain people deserve to be dead, and that there are certain people for whom I’d be willing to pull the trigger) is the nutcase who gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh. Because he wore a bulletproof vest–like his fellow coward in Binghamton, N.Y., who killed 13 other people–the Pittsburgh cop killer survived.

People have been committing mass murder for attention for a long time; consider it a form of “American Idol” for killers. The preponderance of guns in our culture doesn’t help–notably, one of the arguments of the Pittsburgh coward is that he, like the National Rifle Association and an assortment of other right-wingers,  “feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns.”

These cases also demonstrate, of course, that many of those who most love guns are among the people we should least trust with them. That obvious fact didn’t stop the Bush administration from making gun purchases easier to buy and carry, while making it tougher to track those purchases.

Nor has that fact, or the fact that most of the guns in the drug wars now going on in Mexico come from the U.S., managed to persuade the conservative Obama administration and a conservative Congress to get tougher on gun violence. Maybe a few more killings will do the trick–but probably only if they occur on Capitol Hill.

One thing we do know: With a faltering economy and a culture that glorifies violence, many more such killings will come. Especially if people are “not surprised” that a neighbor might turn out to be a mass murderer, but do nothing to prevent it.

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

Key presidential election question: ‘Which liar do you trust most?’

Posted by James McPherson on November 2, 2008

The presidential campaign seems to be “spinning” to an appropriately odd ending, with John McCain discussing strategy (“Reverse Maverick,” “Double Maverick” or “Sad Grandpa”) on “Saturday Night Live,” McCain robocalls using Hillary Clinton’s voice and words as an authoritative voice to try to boost Republicans, and Barack Obama’s latest ad promoting the endorsement of his opponent by a sitting vice president.

At least they don’t have anyone pretending to be the opposing candidate in those ads (a move that may cost Elizabeth Dole her Senate seat in the same election in which the GOP presidential candidate reminds voters of her husband’s 1996 “Sad Grandpa” bid). Dole’s Senate campaign provides a reminder that perhaps every political campaign has its share of distortions and outright lies. As campaigns grow increasingly desperate, the lying tends to increase. Fortunately for those of use who care, there are more ways than ever to check the accuracy of campaign ads and stump speeches.

The oft-criticized mainstream media do a better job than they once did at fact checking. Even more valuable are FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.org (a product of the mainstream St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly). On Friday, Factcheck.org released an updated version of “the whoppers of 2008,” including McCain camp lies about welfare, taxes, health care, terrorism and ACORN, and Obama lies about Medicare, stem cell research and job losses. The site also calls attention to distortions from other groups both liberal (MoveOn.org and VoteVets.org) and conservative (National Rifle Association and National Republican Trust PAC).

PolitiFact also released a Friday update, recalling some especially egregious “pants on fire” moments from the campaign. Those cited include Mike Huckabee, who falsely claimed that most signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen, and John Edwards who suggested that the president has power over Congressional health care. Of course other Edwards lies were to cause him more problems, but by then his campaign had ended.

PolitiFact gave most of its “pants on fire” ratings to e-mail messages: “They include the bogus list of books that Sarah Palin supposedly wanted to ban, the fake receipt that supposedly showed Michelle Obama ordered $400 in lobster and caviar from a New York hotel,  and the distorted Bible verses to suggest that Barack Obama was the Antichrist.”

It is sad and disturbing to see how often candidates and their supporters lie. But the increased oversight is a bright spot. As PolitiFact notes: “The 2008 election has been the most fact-checked campaign in American history. Between our 750-plus items, and dozens of articles published by our friends at FactCheck.org and other news organizations, the presidential candidates have been challenged about their accuracy more than ever before.”

In short, in this election–as with perhaps every election–Americans will choose between liars as they cast their ballots. The key question thus becomes, “Which liar do you trust most?”

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »