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 ‘Olympics’

No horsing around: Obama kicking Romney’s rear, Chicago-style

Posted by James McPherson on August 1, 2012

  

Barack Obama is showing a nasty side in his campaign for re-election, in a way he never did four years ago (despite tough talk and a Chicago political background). And no, I don’t know the message of the bat in the photo at the far left.

The tough approach–from the candidate who came across as “nicer” than Hillary Clinton or John McCain four years earlier–seems to be working in the states that matter most. The Republicans’ response? Whining.

I don’t like the ubiquitous negative campaigning, and I especially dislike negative campaigns combined with lying (something being done by both Obama and Mitt Romney, with a little help from Fox News). Sometimes such campaigning reflects desperation, sometime perhaps a desire to depress electoral turnout. But it would seem to work against the candidate who has no coherent message–a candidate like John McCain in 2008, for example, or like Mitt Romney in 2012.

The Obama campaign is taking advantage of the void that is Mitt Romney. “Don’t want to run on your record at Bain Capital, Mitt? Here, let us define that for you.” “Want to avoid coming up with an economic plan, while proposed an indefensible tax plan? Well, let’s talk about your own taxes then–what exactly are you trying to hide?” “Don’t want to talk about your time as governor? Let’s remind folks often that as governor you provided the model for Obamacare.” CNN’s “Gut Check” defines the Obama strategy as “campaigning 101: Define your opponent before he defines himself.”

And Romney is apparently unable to define himself, though he is finally trying. It doesn’t help when the candidate cluelessly wanders abroad, insulting your hosts and others while commending another country’s version of Romney/Obamacare. Or when the GOP’s best attack on Obama in 2008 (and 2010) and on John Kerry four years earlier, that they were out-of-touch elitest snobs, works even better against Romney. OK, GOP, Dems will take your windsurfing (not really an elitest sport, anyway) and raise you dressage.” Americans may dig “Dancing with the Stars,” but they’re not really into dancing horses, at leastnot since Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger died.

Romney’s only defense, the old standby of blaming the media just doesn’t work as well as it once did. Newsweek went too far with its “Wimp” cover, shown above, but the floundering magazine is struggling for survival as much as the Republican candidate is. The fact is, we don’t know Romney well enough to know if he’s a wimp. But what we do know, we don’t much like.

All in all, Romney’s chances of winning the presidency still appear only slightly better than Rafalca’s chances of winning Olympic gold. In platform diving.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Winter Olympics & Hollywood suggest why politicians lie–or lose

Posted by James McPherson on February 24, 2010

“Remember when the Internet was supposed to kill off television?” asks a front-page story in today’s New York Times, before going on to point out that for at least some kinds of television, the Web actually boosts TV ratings. In an era in which families now no longer watch television together, the Internet lets people “talk” to each other about what they’re watching.

Also this morning, in a typically excellent commentary for NPR, Frank Deford marveled about the fact that NBC’s Olympic coverage one night last week beat even “American Idol” (a show I must admit that I can’t stand, and have never watched in its entirety, despite its huge following).

NBC won the night despite the fact that its “coverage” of Lindsey Vonn’s gold medal downhill run appeared hours after she had won and presumably after almost anyone who cared knew she had won. (Incidentally, I also find it interesting that the Olympics are a big TV hit, despite the fact that most Americans wouldn’t watch a non-Olympic ski race on a dare.) In fact, many people probably watched because they knew she had won. Or because they knew she had won.

“Perhaps this suggests that at this time when there is so little good news in America, when we do not enjoy the everyday success we used to rather expect, when we are so at loggerheads as a people, that there is something comforting about us coming together to watch a beautiful young woman, struggling with injury, secure in our knowledge that she will raise Old Glory on high,” said Deford. More important, I think (though perhaps too obvious), was his preceding statement: “Evidently, we would now rather revel in an assured triumph than suffer through a live competition with a problematic outcome.”

Well, yeah. Americans hate bad news. That’s why most American films–focus-group tested into homogenity–come with tidy, happy endings, usually (as I heard the great Roger Ebert note years ago) with a crowd of onscreen people cheering the heroes so that we might know to cheer along with them.

Now some DVDs come with alternate endings, and I asked students today to share examples they had seen. Apparently the main characters ended up dead in “The Butterfly Effect” and struck by lightning (though, unfortunately, not fatally) in “Sweet Home Alabama.” Many films now offer alternate endings, typically darker than the originals.

Unfortunately the “happy ending” syndrome extends to American public policy. We all know the economy, the environment and health care have serious problems. But we certainly won’t stand for some politician telling us bad news that really means anything–as in, we need to sacrifice something to fix the problem–and in fact would vote him out of office if he did. So they all promise wonderful things that we won’t let them deliver, and then blame the lack of resolution on the folks on the other side of the aisle.

After all, every American has also been conditioned to know that for every hero there must be a villian, whether that villian is a scheming movie girlfriend, a Russian ice skater, a Democrat or a Republican.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Uncle Jay’s take on 2008

Posted by James McPherson on January 1, 2009

As a brief follow-up to yesterday’s JibJab post, here’s “Uncle Jay’s” musical look at the past year. (Thanks for the link, M&M.) Happy New Year!

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

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Posted by James McPherson on December 30, 2008

It’s the time of year for lists, and not surprisingly, the election of Barack Obama topped the annual Associated Press list of the top 10 stories of the year. The next three were the economic meltdown, oil prices and Iraq. The order of those three stories help explain the election of Obama.

In fact, Iraq has faded so much in importance that now NOT ONE of the three major broadcast networks has a full-time correspondent there (reaffirming once again how far the news operations of the Big Three have fallen).

China made the AP list in fifth and sixth place, with the Olympics and the May earthquake that killed 70,000 people.  I was happy to see no “Nancy Grace specialties (“pretty dead white woman stories) on the list, while two women in politics–Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton–finished seventh and ninth. Two more international stories, the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Russia-Georgia war, filled out the list.

CNN let readers and viewers vote on the top stories, and as of today those readers the respondents agreed with the AP on the top three. Further down, however, Michael Phelps, O.J. Simpson, Rod Blogojevich and same-sex marriage all made that list.

Fox News also lets “you decide,” though just through a running blog that lets people sound off. Some respondents’ ideas for “top story” (as written): “The biggest story of 2008 is that Barack Obama is not eligible to hold the office of the President, because he is not a Natural Born Citizen”; “It was the Democrat spawned credit crisis which they have worked so hard for to have it happen when the election was close”; “a made up money crisis to sway an election and Muslim financing in our institutions”; and “How the Democrats highjacked the economy and the white house.”

Time‘s list was considerably different and more internationally oriented than the others. The magazine put the economy at the head of its “top 10” list, followed by Obama’s election, but the next eight were the Mumbai attacks, terrorism in Pakistan, international piracy, the war in Georgia, poisonous Chinese imports, the Columbian rescue of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, and “Mother’s Nature’s double whammy” in China and Burma.

Time also offered a number of other top 10’s, including lists of crime stories, political gaffes (the Huffington Post also offers its own list of “top political scandals“), oddball news, and medical breakthroughs.

I found Time‘s list of underreported stories among the most interesting and disturbing. For example, No. 9 on the list: the shipment of 6,700 tons of radioactive sand–created by U.S. weapons during the first Persian Gulf War–from Kuwait to Idaho.

Fox News contributer K.T. McFarland offered her own “most important story everyone missed this year,” one particularly close to my own heart: “the death of news delivered in print and the birth of news delivered over the internet.” She also engaged in a bit of snarky broadcast-style self-promotional hyperbole: “Perhaps the most intriguing new way to deliver news is something FOX News came up with this summer–online streaming programming delivered right to your computer screen. FOX’s first foray into this medium, The Strategy Room, is part news program, part panel discussion, part chat room. It’s been called ‘”The View” for Smart People.'”

Actually, like “The View,” “The Strategy Room” is sometimes informative, sometimes a trivial and inane collection of posers. But if you want to be really afraid–and disgusted with the shortcomings of fading American journalism–read Project Censored’s annual list of the top 25 “censored stories.”

In truth, the stories were simply underreported or incorrectly reported rather than censored, but the fact remains that every story on the list is more important than the “accomplishments” of Britney Spears (who topped MTV’s list), Paris Hilton, and every other Hollywood nitwit combined. And speaking of nitwits, Fox News also produced a “top” list. On its Christmas Day front page, Fox–the great “protector” of Christmas–offered “2008’s Hottest Bods.”

Finally, on a personal note related to another list: I was excited yesterday morning to see my blog at #5 on the WordPress list of “top growing blogs,” with my post about Christmas killers hitting at least as high as #76 on the list of top posts for the day. Less encouraging were the responses from nutball racists (mixed in with several more thoughtful and thought-provoking comments) on both sides of the Iraeli-Arab issue over both that post and yesterday’s.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Another Clinton triumph; can GOP compete?

Posted by James McPherson on August 28, 2008

Like Hillary Clinton the night before, last night Bill Clinton did what I predicted he would at the Democratic National Convention, coming out strongly in support of Barack Obama. Bill Clinton gave a maybe the best speech of the convention so far, after getting an opening ovation even longer than that for Ted Kennedy two nights earlier (more cheers, fewer tears).

In other convention activities, the roll call vote offered some interesting drama, vice presidential nominee Joe Biden gave a sometimes touching, sometimes tough (but less effective than Clinton’s) address, and Obama made a surprise appearance at the end. All in all the night was a positive one for the Democrats. Still, the promise of drama outweighed the actuality, partly because the nervous Dems had both the roll call and Clinton’s speech early, not during prime time.

Maybe it was just me being tired and sometimes bored myself, but even the talking heads seemed a bit off after the night’s activities were over–less eager to compete for airtime, less enthused about making pro- or anti-Clinton points. An interesting thought occurred to me as a result. It could be that they’re all getting tired. If so, that might be a negative for John McCain.

Until yesterday, I thought the Republicans had an advantage in terms of potential post-convention “bounce,” because their convention comes just days after the Democratic Convention. In addition, McCain apparently will name his running mate today or tomorrow, in a further attempt to blunt the impact of Obama’s mile-high stadium extravaganza tonight (a reminder: CNN has paid for the best camera angles for the stadium coverage).

Now, however, I’m not sure that I’d want to be in the Republicans’ shoes. After two weeks of the Olympics and this week’s convention, and with summer coming to an end, it may be that most Americans are tired of made-for-TV specials and ready for regular programming to begin. Watching a four-day miniseries that revolves around an old white guy whom everyone thinks they know (and that’s one line the GOP has been pushing heavily, that you “know” McCain but not Obama) may turn viewers away in droves, especially if he selects another fairly dull white guy as his running mate.

Another potential problem for the McCain camp is the fact that a hurricane named Gustav may be bigger news than the convention next week, especially in places like Florida and Louisiana. If Gustav happens to hit near New Orleans on Monday or Tuesday, it might be a “perfect storm” for destroying Republican hopes of getting much positive coverage out of their convention.

Face it, people aren’t likely to spend much time watching a bunch of speeches from mostly white folks in Minnesota, especially if they’re looking to see if black people will again be stranded on rooftops in Louisiana–and how the Bush administration, which McCain hopes to continue in many ways, will respond this time around.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

The benefits of Chinese Rolexes, moving pyramids and expandable breasts

Posted by James McPherson on August 12, 2008

Politicians lie, and as long as the falsehoods come from the ones we like, we accept them gladly. If it’s our own candidate spinning the yarn, we adhere to the Fleetwood Mac strategy: “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.”

Iran recently used Photoshop to lie about a missile launch. China now admits faking its Olympics fireworks display, which seems a bit odd considering that fireworks would seem to be the last thing China would have to fake. What’s next–we find out the Giant Pandas are really Disney-style animatrons, or that the 360-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir is bulking up its performances with extra taped voices?

Still, even the fireworks deception is not a huge surprise. For one thing, China has long been known as a great place for fakes: Rolexes, designer clothing, DVDs, etc. For another thing, especially when it comes to the media, real just isn’t real enough.

While we overlook political falsehoods, we are more upset (and should be) because we all know the media lie (the problem is, we typically don’t know when). They may be lying now, in a sense, to make the presidential race appear closer than it is. Magazines airbrush every model, deleting acne and often enlarging breasts. National Geographic moved a pyramid, and CBS digitally dovered up an NBC logo with its own. (See a great range of such lies, with photo examples, here and here.) Smut peddlers use the same techniques to create fake pornographic images of movie stars and–more troubling from both ethical and legal perspectives–children.

But with the exception of the last example, one might ask, “so what?” After all, we are a nation of liars. We can’t seem to help ourselves. The biggest problem isn’t that people lie to us, in my view. A more serious problem is that we cannot recognize lying when we encounter it.

An excellent Columbia Journalism Review book review of Farhad Manjoo’s latest book, True Enough: How to Live in a Post-Fact Society, summarizes how Manjoo discovers and points out that thanks to “selective perception” we are largely incapable of distingishing truth from fiction. We all have our own “facts,” and we’re sticking to them.

That inability to discern truth from falsehood is perhaps the best reason for a liberal arts education, or at least a few classes in logic and media literacy. Since most Americans will get none of those, however, perhaps we should be thankful for the obvious prevalence of lying. As we increasingly encounter falsehood, recognizing that it comes from all angles, perhaps health skepticism will increase.

Trusting nothing is a start, better than trusting everything or better than trusting a select few media sources. Learning what to trust, and why, is a goal worth striving toward. No lie.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Academics, journalism, politics and getting away

Posted by James McPherson on August 11, 2008

As of 3 a.m. today, I’m back from Chicago, where I attended the national convention for the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication.  I also spent a week away from the Internet, checking my e-mail only once during that time (meaning most of my day until now has been devoted to catching up). I read a newspaper only once during the week (taking a day-old New York Times on the train) and caught only brief hotel lobby snatches of television news. Occasional breaks from the media and technology are among the most precious gifts we can give ourselves, part of why I don’t carry a cell phone.

For a political junkie, I picked a good week to be disconnected. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain picked a VP nominee and I’m back in time to hear George Bush bluster about Russia engaging in criminally insane American-style foreign policy.

Most of the news coverage seems to have been devoted to the Olympics, about which I care very little. I haven’t yet seen a single event on television, and have no idea of the medal count. I have great respect for the athletes–more so for those who compete from nations with limited resources–but am turned off by the hype, the money, the cheating, and the reliance on technology that surround the Olympics. It’s enough for me to deal with all of those things in the political races.

Like most such events, the AEJMC convention was a mix of good and bad:

  • Getting to hear from and talk to some of the smartest, funniest and nicest people in my field, including chats with old friends, enthusiastic young grad students, and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, who was given AEJMC’s First Amendment Award.
  • Hearing from people who were seriously underprepared or who think they’re much smarter than they are, and spending too much time chatting with people who were looking over my shoulder to see if someone more important (in terms of their personal career enhancement) came into view.
  • Being reminded that few of the hundreds of presentations at this convention–or almost any academic convention–matter to more than a half-dozen people, or will influence anything beyond possibly the presenters’ tenure or promotion possibilities. Even bloggers’ audiences are bigger and may care more about what they read, though I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.
  • Seeing copies of my latest book being sold, and being asked to sign it.
  • An afternoon visit to Navy Pier and its stained glass museum, and a sightseeing tour of the waterfront.
  • An amazing view from our 38th-floor hotel room window, and incredibly high prices for everything else associated with the hotel.
  • Nice people on buses and on the street but crabby people in the hotel, in restaurants and driving cabs (exactly the opposite of what I expected).
  • Amtrak, which we took to and from Chicago from Spokane. Admittedly no one should spend 73 hours on trains in a one-week period. Still, I’m a supporter of the idea of Amtrak, and have always thought we should subsidize train travel more heavily (as we already do with air and especially car travel, though those subsidies are better hidden). But Amtrak doesn’t do much for its own case. The first train was filthy and hours late, and far too many Amtrak employees come across as embittered small-town cops or bad junior high teachers. Amtrak could learn a lot from Southwest Airlines.
  • The reminder that even though I generally prefer the West over the East and small towns over large cities, Chicago keeps getting better in my eyes while the seeming hellhole of Shelby, Mont., gets worse. Admittedly both reactions are based on limited experience (in Shelby I never got farther than 50 feet from the train, nor had any desire to do so considering the locals I encountered there), the same kind of experience that leads me to think kindly of such wide-ranging locales as Seattle; Cleveland; Pittsburgh; Tucson, Ariz.; Raleigh, N.C.; St. Petersburg, Fla., Madison, Wisc.; Brookings, Ore.; and Moscow, Idaho; while having generally negative impressions of Los Angeles; Phoenix; Cincinnati; Richmond, Va.; Wilson, N.C.; Wickenburg, Ariz.; Ogden, Utah; Forks, Wash.; and Twin Falls, Idaho. Like most Americans, I have mixed feelings or am indifferent about many other places, including the hugely popular “san” cities of San Francisco, San Diego and San Antonio. My views about any of these places shouldn’t matter to anyone else, though unfortunately my reasoning is based on the same kind of experience that will prompt most people who are clueless enough not to have already made up their minds about how to vote in the November presidential election.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The last word on vice presidential choices–for now

Posted by James McPherson on August 4, 2008

Blogger Bil Browning predicts Barack Obama will name Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh as his running mate on Wednesday, while John McCain’s staffers apparently are saying that McCain will wait to name his own pick until after hearing Obama’s choice (and no doubt until the GOP smear machine gets fired up against whomever the Democratic choice may be).

I don’t think Bayh is a terrible choice, though I’d favor someone else. I also thought Obama should have named his pick a few weeks ago, as I wrote some time back. McCain also seems unlikely to pick the woman I thought would be his best choice, though I did suggest that he should wait to name her until Aug. 24, the day before the Democratic Convention begins. I now think McCain will name his running mate within about a week of whenever Obama makes his choice.

If neither candidate names his choice within the next couple of days, I predict they’ll wait a couple more weeks until the Olympics are over–though I disagree with many pundits and think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to name a running mate during the Olympics. After all, the VP choice isn’t supposed to overshadow the nominee, anyway, though I suspect that will be more of a potential problem for the apparently stuck-in-the-mud McCain campaign than for Obama.

My kind of town, Chicago is–this week, anyway

I’m spending much of this week in Chicago for the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication–the largest organization to which I belong, and the one with the bulkiest title. After the convention and a bit of vacation, I’ll be back in about a week. In the meantime, especially if you’re new to the site, you might want to check out some of my previous posts. Here in no particular order are a “top 20” of my favorites:

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

 PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Ignorance and the electorate

The New Yorker’s Obama cover

“Act now”: a new way for candidates to reach the electorate

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Speaking for the poor

Rush Limbaugh and Operation Chaos

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Democratic self-mutilation

Howard Dean and convention bloggers

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Have a great week!

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »