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 ‘Osama bin Laden’

Obama and Osama both make good career move

Posted by James McPherson on May 2, 2011

 In what virtually everyone other than Hamas and the Pakistani Talaban considers to be good news, Osama bin Laden is dead. Maybe even bin Laden would consider his death to be good news–or at least, according to a former CIA official, “a good career move.”

Barack Obama made the right call (and apparently a decisive one, for a change, drawing praise even from Rush Limbaugh), and now Obama and bin Laden will be connected forever. And not only in the too-hasty reaction of MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell, who apparently tweeted, “Obama shot and killed.” Oops. That’s another good reason for journalists to use last names, Norah.

Not that O’Donnell was the only journalist foiled by haste Sunday night. As I was scanning news websites after the first mentions on cable news that Obama was going to make an announcement relevant to bin Laden, the first source I saw to report bin Laden’s killing was Fox News. Unfortunately, Fox got the details of the story wrong–and stuck to the faulty story even an hour after CNN had it right.

This, from Fox News: “Usama bin Laden is dead, putting an end to the worldwide manhunt that began nearly a decade ago on Sept. 11, 2001. The architect of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil was killed a week ago inside Pakistan by a U.S. bomb.” Fox later corrected the story, though without an editor’s note saying that it had been changed.

Despite apparent DNA evidence, of course, conspiracy theorists are already claiming that either bin Laden wasn’t killed or that he died at another time and Obama just released the bin Laden information Sunday night for political reasons. Let’s look for a moment at the stupidity of such a claim, shall we?

If it were a political stunt, why would Obama make the announcement late on a Sunday, when reporters had to be called back in and when the story then wouldn’t be on the front pages of some West Coast versions of the New York Times or USA Today (including here in Spokane; I picked up both this morning)? Why wouldn’t he release it midday Monday or Tuesday, which any politician or political PR person knows are the best days for maximum news coverage?

And why would Obama chose to announced it on May 1 of an odd-numbered year (unless he wanted to commemorate the 66th anniversary of the announcement of Adolph Hitler’s death), rather than in the weeks just before an election? After all, bin Laden wasn’t going anywhere, and in late in campaigns is when we usually heard about bin Laden from the Bush administration.

No, the Obama administration chose to make the announcement when it had confirmed the information. Unless the decision to announce it when they did is merely reverse psychology, or a means of blunting wacky birther claims. Or maybe it’s just proof that the administration is politically inept, and therefore doesn’t deserve to be in power. Sigh.

We’re too far out from the next election for bin Laden’s death to guarantee victory for Obama. The state of the economy will matter far more. And, assuming they don’t get their act together, the continuing ineptitude of Republicans in identifying either a credible candidate or a coherent message likely will help Obama most of all.

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

Foreign worm and snakes slither through Web

Posted by James McPherson on April 9, 2009

Apparently the Conficker worm has “woken up” and done something. We’re not sure what, or if it matters, but once we identify and start following a scary threat or trend–however inconsequential it may be–we have to stay on its slimy trail. Unless it’s Osama bin Laden, of course.

And speaking of bin Laden and similar snakes, the Washington Post reports today that Taliban extremists are getting out their message via American Web hosts–including one in George W. Bush’s one-time hometown of Houston (while “serving” in the Air National Guard). Considering how much the Bush administration did to promote worldwide terrorism, I suppose that’s appropriate, in a twisted down-the-rabbit-hole (or snake hole) sort of way.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Homeland Insecurity: Need a passport quickly? Get a fake one

Posted by James McPherson on March 14, 2009

More than seven years after 9/11 introduced most Americans to Osama bin Laden, it apparently is still fairly easy to get a fake passport in this country. (By the way, news this week prompts the question of why is it that we can track thousands of pieces of  space junk, but apparently remain clueless about the whereabouts of “Osama bin Hidin,” who celebrated his 52nd birthday on Tuesday.) 

Unfortunately those of us who have spent much time dealing with bureaucrats are unlikely to be overly surprised by the fake passport findings, considering how many government employees are lackadaisical, incompetent or overworked.

What is surprising, however, is the speed with which a Government Accountability Office investigator was able to get fake passports in the latter months of the Bush administration–the same day that he presented phony supporting documents, in one case, and in all four cases less than nine days. Even the government website says you should expect to wait four weeks for “routine service” and two to three weeks for expedited service. It took months for my passport to arrive (a couple of years ago), and my situation seems to be all too common.

Also somewhat surprising about the fake passport investigation were these lines in the Associated Press story: “The State Department has known about this vulnerability for years. On February 26, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of passport services issued a memo to Passport Services directors across the country stating that the agency is reviewing its processes for issuing passports because of ‘recent events regarding several passport applications that were approved and issued in error.'”

Interestingly, the media seem to be in no rush to give us all of the details, perhaps because the government followed the time-honored tradition of releasing bad news on a Friday. The CNN story linked above doesn’t mention how quickly the passports were issued (less time than it takes to purchase a handgun, in some cases), and neither the New York Times nor Fox News–which devotes an entire web section to “Homeland Security“–seemed to have the story at all this morning (perhaps Fox is trying to figure out a way to retroactively blame the Obama administration).

The lead story of Fox’s Homeland Security section is more than two years old, and ironically is titled “High Tech Passports Arrive.” The third story on the list, from about a year ago, underscores my comment about bureaucratic issues: “Homeland Security Employees are Unhappy with their Jobs, Survey Shows.”

Hey, with this latest news appearing just days after a U.S. Senate committee concluded that the threat of domestic terrorism is increasing, I have something in common with those Homeland Security folks: I’m pretty unhappy with the job they’re doing, too.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Obama ready for prime time: half-hour infomercial airs tonight

Posted by James McPherson on October 29, 2008

Next day update: Reader Luis Lopez pointed out in the comments that you can already find the infomercial on YouTube. Thanks, Luis. For convenience, I’ll post the video here. Yesterday’s post continues immediately after the video.

Tonight Barack Obama will be on almost every television network that matters, talking to Americans for 30 minutes less than a week before the election. I suspect the message will be mostly positive and optimistic, with just enough policy ideas to demonstrate that he has some. I’d like to see him announce some cabinet appointments, but that would be viewed as too risky for someone with the lead he holds.

The New York Times announced this morning that, based on a one-minute preview “heavy with strings, flags, presidential imagery, and some Americana filmed by Davis Guggenheim,” the address will be “a closing argument to the everyman.” (So much for John McCain’s ongoing “Joe the Plumber Tour.”)

Unless Obama decides to use the opportunity to announce that he and Joe Biden plan to leave their wives and marry one another, or that he and Osama bin Laden once smoked dope together while plotting the overthrow of the U.S., I can’t imagine that in this particular race–shaping up to be a possible landslide–the half hour will make much difference.

The commercial may reassure some prospective Obama voters (and may look to others as if he’s trying to run up the score), though because of rain the mostly white male audience tuning into Fox for the World Series won’t be there as a lead-in. And by the way, despite the myth that John McCain has repeated on the stump, Obama’s ad was never going to delay any World Series game.

I think the address is a good idea. Recognizing how little meaningful information can be shared via political ads, modern pseudo-debates, or interviews with newspeople who tend too often to be either cowed or too interested in furthering their own careers, I’ve been a proponent of political infomercials for some time. I even wrote letters recommending them to the Democratic National Committee and other groups before the 2004 election, and suggested them again via this blog in early June of this year.

Other presidential candidates have tried similar commercials in the past. Those candidates include losers Adlai Stevenson and Ross Perot (who did well for a third-party candidate), and the successful John F. Kennedy (also the last successful young presidential nominee, and the last to hold his Democratic Convention speech outdoors). If tonight’s program goes well, and offers information that voters can use, I suspect we’ll see more such infomercials in the future.

Regardless of the effect, Obama’s message will provide media scholars and political pundits with analytical fodder for years to come.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Palin, Pakistan & the press: ‘Cheez Whiz, people, don’t you know she doesn’t mean what she says?’

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Republicans are trying to keep Sarah Palin from speaking to the press, even as she makes the rounds of traditional campaign stops. As I noted in the comments section yesterday, with last night’s Tina Fey “Saturday Night Live” appearance, considering how tightly scripted and hidden away Palin as been, lately most of us will have seen more of Fey as Palin than we’ve seen of Palin as Palin.

Now GOP operatives apparently will need to simplify the instructions even further: “Sarah, don’t speak unless you’re on a stage, with a teleprompter, repeating things we’ve let you practice. Smile and nod and wave, but don’t speak. And for God’s sake, don’t ever answer a question. From anybody. Anywhere.” That might make Thursday’s debate a bit tricky.

Just one day after John McCain criticized Barack Obama for saying he would strike inside Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden–a view, incidentally, that McCain himself and most other Americans likely would support, and which goes along with what has become Bush administration policy–Palin (on a Philly cheesesteak run) had a Temple University grad student ask her if American troops should go from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Her response: “If that’s what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should.”

Though she said she had watched the previous night’s presidential debate, and praised the performance of McCain (whom she may believe once walked the earth with dinosaurs), she apparently missed one of her running mate’s strongest statements: “You don’t say that out loud.”

As a result, today the campaign was forced to retract one of the few things Palin actually has said out loud in public. With no apparent irony intended, McCain (talking this morning to George Stephanopoulos) said Palin was a campaign asset in large part because “She knows how to communicate directly with people.” That comment came almost directly on the heels of McCain weakly blaming her latest misstep on the existence of microphones at what was clearly supposed to be another beauty queen-style photo op:

“In all due respect, people going around and… sticking a microphone while conversations are being held, and then all of a sudden that’s—that’s a person’s position… This is a free country, but I don’t think most Americans think that that’s a definitve policy statement made by Governor Palin.”

Of course he’s right about that. Most Americans likely no longer believe that the McCain can offer a “definitive policy statement” about virtually anything. No wonder even many conservatives and their media supporters are jumping ship. One newspaper, endorsing its first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 (during the last Great Depression), noted accurately:

McCain, who has voted consistently for deregulation, started off two weeks ago declaring the U.S. economy fundamentally sound but ended the week sounding like a populist. Who is he really? …

While praiseworthy for putting the first woman on a major-party presidential ticket since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, his selection of Palin as a running mate was appalling. The first-term governor is clearly not experienced enough to serve as vice president or president if required. Her lack of knowledge is being covered up by keeping her away from questioning reporters and doing interviews only with those considered friendly to her views.

At the risk of repeating myself, Thursday night’s debate could be tricky, and I’ll again offer my recommended debate strategy of yesterday for both candidates: Try to let your opponent talk. Don’t complain if s/he goes over the time limit; you’ll probably benefit more from it.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some “family crisis” forces Palin to postpone or cancel the debate, if not withdraw from the race altogether. Whether anyone would buy that, after McCain’s recent erratic behavior, remains to be seen. And by the way, isn’t it long past time to stop calling McCain a maverick, and to start calling him simply a compulsive gambler?

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Warku #5

Posted by James McPherson on September 13, 2008

This is the fifth of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3 and #4.


Yes, we must attack

We can’t find bin Laden’s cave

So we’ll bomb Iraq


Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »