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 ‘New York Times’

Daschle and Killefer tax patience with Obama selection process

Posted by James McPherson on February 3, 2009

Citing the age-old excuse that the fight for his confirmation would be “a distraction,” Tom Daschle has “withdrawn” from consideration as secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle became the second Barack Obama nominee to jump ship in a matter of hours. The first, chief performance officer nominee Nancy Killefer withdrew earlier today, citing unspecified tax issues and, of course, the potential “distraction” issue.

I’m inclined to agree with my Republican friends who see irony in the fact that so many Dems have so many people providing “personal services” for them, and seem to have more trouble paying their own taxes than raising the taxes of others (Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, you’ll remember, was approved despite his own tax problems). I agree with most progressives that the tax rate should be higher than it is, and that a far lower percentage of it should go to military contracts and no-bid contracts, but Barack, in case you’re looking for help in your administration, I pay my taxes and have never had a nanny, driver or gardener.

Of course a better choice, would be Howard Dean, as I wrote a few days ago.

Same day update #1: I had missed this earlier, but Daschle’s withdrawal probably became inevitable after the New York Times editorialized yesterday that he should do so.

Same day update #2: Obama admits he “screwed up” by selecting Daschle. If he doesn’t choose Dean, in my view he’ll probably be screwing up again.

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

Christmas killers, foreign & domestic: More proof the world looks better from a distance

Posted by James McPherson on December 28, 2008

The second-most popular CNN story right now is actually a series of photos taken of the Earth by NASA. They include photos of a hurricane, damaged Gulf Coast wetlands, disintegration of a massive ice shelf, flooding in the Midwest, wildfires in California, clearcutting of forests in Bolivia, and irrigated fields in Sudan.

The most-popular story? “Santa shooter carried secret guilt, attorney says.” Not guilt about dressing up as Santa and killing nine people on Christmas Eve, but over how his ineptitude as a parent left his son (a son that until recently he kept secret from his now-murdered ex-wife) a paraplegic.

In the meantime, Israel continues to celebrate the Christmas season by defying the United Nations–keeping with its long tradition of ignoring the UN and recognizing that sanctions only matter when those sanctions are violated by countries the United States want to invade–and waging war against Palestinians.

Israel knew, of course, that it would have the full support of the U.S., even as Bush Administration continues to contribute to a potential polar ice cap-like meltdown of the Middle East.

The New York Times leads with a story about the Israeli bombings entering their second day, but its lead sidebar is headlined, “Israeli Foreign Minister Says Hamas Is to Blame.” Now there’s a shock. The next story is more important, in the long run: “Across Mideast, Thousands Protest Israeli Assault.”

As a more positive offering marking the end of the Christmas season and the hopes for a better New Year,  I’ll end today’s post with a Christmas version of “From a Distance”:

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Science, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments »

Bettie Page & Robin Toner: Two women who made media history

Posted by James McPherson on December 13, 2008

Two women who made media history in different ways died a day apart this week. If you’ve heard of either one, it’s probably the first, Bettie Page, who died Thursday at age 85. The iconic 1950s pinup queen-turned born-again Christian had received a second round of fame in recent years because of books, a movie and television programs about her.

Bob Thomas of the Associated Press wrote that Page’s “controversial photographs in skimpy attire or none at all helped set the stage for the 1960s sexual revolution.” She inspired Madonna and numerous other stars, was perhaps the second-most-famous sex symbol of all time behind only Marilyn Monroe, and became famous in an age before Photoshop. She also suffered from molestation as a child, two failed marriages, and schizophrenia, spending almost two years in a mental hospital.

Page’s death was followed a day later by that of Robin Toner, who died yesterday at age 54. Toner was the first national political reporter for the best newspaper in the United States, the New York Times. The daughter of a former “Rosie the Riveter,” Toner covered Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and faced the tough choices that confront many women: “A few years later, after marriage and motherhood made long months on the campaign trail less practical for her, she became chief of correspondents on the paper’s national desk in New York.”

Toner joined the Times in 1985. That was just a few years after the newspaper agreed to settle Boylan v. New York Times and finally allow women into senior editorial and management positions. 

Perhaps the best part of Toner’s obituary from a journalistic standpoint: “In a craft in which small errors are commonplace and bigger mistakes a regular occupational hazard, Ms. Toner devised a meticulous personal method for checking and re-checking names, dates, facts and figures in her own raw copy, a step few reporters take. As a result: only half a dozen published corrections over the years, on more than 1,900 articles with her byline.”

Sadly, Toner leaves behind a husband and two 11-year-old twins. Her own daughter will face tough choices of her own, and perhaps will make some decisions she will later regret. Better news is that because of Toner and women like her, today’s girls have more options than did the girls of Page’s era–even if Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and innumerable other stars of today still far too often go the Bettie Page route.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 »

Joe the Author: Writing worth flushing

Posted by James McPherson on December 7, 2008

Timothy Egan can write. I wish I had time to read everything he has written. Someday, perhaps, though there are a lot of other fine writers whose work I haven’t read enough of, either.

“Joe the Plumber,” on the other hand, is an “author” whose work I hope never to read. In fact, this worthwhile New York Times piece by Egan is the last thing I’d like to ever read about Joe.

December 20 update: Joe’s book is out. Naturally Fox News made it the lead story of the day.

Posted in Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The 3 E’s: education, economics and ethics

Posted by James McPherson on December 4, 2008

The lead news today continues to be about a possible government bailout of the Big Three auto makers, but frankly this week I’m more concerned about the long-term costs of another impending disaster for the U.S. economy.

Unless we fix some serious problems with our educational system, we won’t have people smart enough to design the cars of the future, or with jobs good enough to be able to afford those cars. And unless we start to pay some attention to how ethics in government, business and elsewhere are being internalized by our children (who, as George W. Bush would say, “is learning,” inside the classroom and out), we won’t be able to trust anything made or sold by an American graduate, anyway.

Though I teach at a highly ranked institution that boasts the smartest and most ethical students I’ve ever worked with, this has been a troubling week for news related to higher education. Tuition costs continue to rise, to the point where a study reported in yesterday’s New York Times predicts that college education may soon be unaffordable for those from the middle class (or what little remains of it) and below. Harvard, the school whose graduates we all most resent while we wish our own kids could get in there, saw its endowment drop by 22 percent in the first four months of the school year.

Maybe they can steal the tuition money. Another survey released this week shows that most high school students cheat–and about a third say they have stolen something from a store within the past year. Less surprising, is that more than 80 percent of public school and private religious schools admit lying to their parents about “something significant,” which prompts me to suspect that at least 10 percent lied about lying.

More troubling is that more than 90 percent of students surveyed reported being satisfied with their personal ethics (they may lie, cheat and steal, but they’re OK with it), with 59 percent agreeing that “In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.”

And then there’s this bit of trash: A supposed journalism student writing for “The Daily Beast” about her “sugar daddy” relationship. which she euphemistically calls “maybe even the distant cousin of—dare I say it?—prostitution.” (Yes, you may call it what it is.) She does offer a bit of good news for the reeling auto industry: “And the company car I drive costs him around $700 a month for the lease and the insurance.” She writes–as if she knows–that when the relationship is over, “I will part with a lifelong friend [Yeah, right; I see him on future guest list for her future wedding], a great career, and a killer wardrobe.”

Part of her justification is that “truth be told, women have used their wiles and charms to get ahead for years.” Perhaps. Students have also cheated for years (and with that in mind, maybe this “journalism student” is just spinning a provocative tale), and Americans in various business and government sectors have been ignoring negative economic indicators for years.

But as Dr. Phil might say, were he treating the nation as a sobbing, overweight, somewhat dim TV “client”: “How’s that working for you?

Posted in Education, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

‘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 »

Visiting D.C. during inauguration week

Posted by James McPherson on November 29, 2008

In January my wife and I will go with a dozen Whitworth University students to New York and Washington, D.C., to meet with about two dozen leaders and experts in various mass media agencies and industries. Sites and people we will visit include the Associated Press, Columbia Journalism Review, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Public Relations Society of America, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, NPR, PBS, Fairness & Accuracy in Media, the Onion, a couple of academics, a telecommunications lobbyist, and representatives from finance, newspaper, television and magazines.

The first version of this “media impact” study program went to those same two cities two years ago, meeting with some of the same people and some others. I remain impressed with how giving some very important people are of their time when it comes to helping students (and somewhat surprised at the outsized egos of some other people with jobs that are far less important).

The biggest difference between this trip and the one two years ago is that this year Barack Obama will be inaugurated during the same week that we’ll be in town, a day after Martin Luther King Day (which fell during the New York segment two years ago). As you might guess, scheduling for that week was a bit tougher this time around, and some folks we’d have liked to chat with will be unavailable. We’ll talk to a few more people in New York and not quite as many in Washington. Still, I expect the excitement of being in the city at that time, and seeing how the media cover the inauguration events, will be worth the tradeoff.

On the other hand, our group of 14 will be among more than a million extra people expected in the city during that week. Who’d have thought that of the two cities we’ll visit, New York might seem the less crowded? Fortunately our lodging was booked well in advance. One of the Washington media people I was talking to recently suddenly asked, “How did you get a place to stay?” It’s a logical question, considering that the New York Times reports today that the non-availability of Washington-area rooms has people asking for up to $60,000 to rent out their homes for the week and $25,000 for a weekend rental of a one-bedroom apartment.

And folks thought it was expensive to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom during the Clinton administration. I guess yet another area in which Democrats are better for the economy than Republicans is real estate prices.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thanksgiving reminders from the world’s most famous journalist and Deepak Chopra

Posted by James McPherson on November 27, 2008

One of the many hopes of those who voted for Barack Obama is that the embarrassment of Guantanamo might be closed. One of the very few benefits of Guantanamo, and of prisons in general, is the occasional glimpses of light cast on the humanity and hope of even the most destitute.

Cup poems,” words scratched with pebbles into Styrofoam, offer one example. Perhaps none of the writings offered in one collection are great poetry, and one Amazon reviewer writes about the book of collected poems: “This is not poetry. It’s a political agenda chopped up into lines.” But for me, that raises the eternal question of what makes poetry great.

I would put such things as timeless truths and important questions high on the list. Great poems also must include beautiful, or at least creative, use of language, and that may be where the collection falls short. Still, there are lines worth considering as we reflect today on what we are most thankful for, including these words from the “world’s most famous journalist,: Sami al-Hajj:

They have monuments to liberty

And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.

But I explained to them

That architecture is not justice.

Speaking of architecture, in January I will visit Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I’ve been thankful since the presidential election that the loss of the World Trade Center hasn’t quite managed to make Lady Liberty irrelevant.

Yet I also realize that despite the warnings of folks such as Deepak Chopra, yesterday’s unfortunate attacks and ongoing hostage situation in India (for which, despite hundreds of casualties, CNN felt obligated to provide a story headlined “Terrified Westerners describe Mumbai chaos” and a link to a separate story titled “Nashville woman hurt in Mumbai attacks”) make it likely that some will want to renew the same kind of policies that led to Guantanamo.

As we prepare to raise our own cups, let us be thankful on this day–but let us also pray for wisdom.

Next day update: While American media, including CNN, Fox News and The New York Times, bring the issue home by focusing stores on the Americans killed or injured in Mumbai–and Fox “terror expert” Walid Phares asks, “Are we at war, or not?” and argues that “the Jihadists are winning,” while Fox columnist John Avlon argues, “The war that was indelibly declared on September 11, 2001 continues unabated , not just against the U.S. but worldwide … ultimately a war between civilization and the terrorists”–Al-Jazeera again is left to remind us of the broader perspective, that the attacks are raising indigation around the world.

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

Sarah suddenly ubiquitous; MSNBC falls for Palin hoax

Posted by James McPherson on November 13, 2008

Before the election, the press rarely got to speak with Sarah Palin. Now she seems to be on a campaign to have an “exclusive” interview with every talking head on television, while offering public addresses wherever possible. Perhaps the oddest note, so far: Palin decrying “extreme partisanship” just after telling Wolf Blitzer that she still had “concerns” about Barack Obama’s “affiliations” with a “domestic terrorist.”

Though I recognize that her rambling, folksy answers may be appealing to some parts of the base, for some of us the Palin road show is demonstrating why the campaign kept her under wraps. But even Republicans seem to be acknowledging that Palin should not be the leading voice of the GOP if their party is to recover from the devastation of a week ago Tuesday.

Still, Palin’s performance continues to be no worse than that of many in the media. Fox News is trumpeting an Associated Press story about MSNBC “retracting” a story stating that Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent. The story, bound to be highlighted on “The O’Reilly Factor” tonight, was a hoax designed to rely too quickly on “experts” with fancy titles, especially if the story supports already-held biases.

Naturally MSNBC is not highlighting the hoax story or its retraction (I couldn’t find any mention of it in an admittedly hurried search of the network’s Web site), and somehow II doubt that Keith Olbermann will make himself one of tonight’s “worst persons in the world.” The same hoax perpetrator has fooled the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic and Mother Jones.

Same day update: Here’s a New York Times story about the perpetrator of the hoax. The story points out that SourceWatch.org had identified the supposed source, “Martin Eisenstadt,” as a hoax months ago. Perhaps one of MSNBC’s interns can teach the news folks there how to do a Google search.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments »