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 ‘poverty’

Media & GOP embrace socialism; Aerosmith offers emergency diet plan

Posted by James McPherson on September 21, 2008

Journalists now are lambasting the government for not warning us about the onrushing economic train. Aside from the fact that some economists and others have been trying to warn us, of course, the bigger problem is that the news media themselves just didn’t care enough about the issue.

Yet again the press has failed as miserably as the government, just as it did with the Iraq War. After all, charging bulls and bears are oh-so-boring compared to pigs with lipstick. Why attack complicated problems, when your audience is more entertained by political attack ads? Besides, in the words of Barbie and journalists everywhere, math is hard.

So now we have a nation in which “socialism” is bad if that government intervention would provide health care to all Americans, who live in a nation that despite its wealth is ranked just 37th in the world for quality of health care. Yet at the same time, “socialism” that bails out rich people who do stupid things with our money is good.

It almost makes you long for the stock market crash of 1929, when at least some bad investors supposedly had the moral fortitude to throw themselves off of buildings rather than begging for a handout. How many of these folks do you suppose are among the crowd that regularly criticize the poor for their own poverty because of “bad choices”?

The difference, of course, is that the poor–and their children–will pay disproportionately for their choices, aided in large part by the taxpaying largess of the dwindling middle class. Stupid bankers, who could get rich off of hair-brained schemes that went well, will now be bailed out by that same middle class since those schemes have gone awry. And neither Congress nor most of the media likely will demand reasonable concessions such as those described by former labor secretary Robert Reich, in return for the blank check we’ll all be backing.

It might be funny if it weren’t so disgusting. Now the nation is in the biggest economic trouble it has been in at least since the Great Depression (we may still fall much further), thanks to the actions of the current administration–and, to be fair, the three previous administrations. After all, despite his reputation as our “first black president” I’ve long called Bill Clinton our most successful recent Republican president, and though his economy was much stronger, he shares much of the blame for the deregulatory nightmare that allowed the current crisis.

I find it appalling and amazing that anyone wants to continue the policies of the current administration–policies supported strongly in most regards by John McCain, who tonight on “60 Minutes” said deregulation had probably helped the economy. But in truth it probably doesn’t matter a great deal whom we elect as the next president. Those current TV commercials that have news people saying this is “the most important election” of our lifetimes? They’re wrong. The last two were more important, and we managed to blow them both.

The Iraq War, the incredibly inept response of recent years to virtually every foreign and domestic crisis, and the massive bailout of Wall Street all mean that the next president’s hands will be tied in terms of the economy. And because things likely will get worse before they get better, I’d almost support McCain just so he might get a rightful share of the blame.

One huge problem with that, of course is that a McCain victory would also mean that he–or Sarah Palin, after McCain drops dead upon finally realizing the magnitude of the problems he faces–likely would end up nominating a couple of Supreme Court justices. Then we’d likely be in deeper trouble for a couple of generations, instead of “only” the decade or two that may be ahead of us (others such as my ecologist–yes, ecologist, not economist–brother, who long ago predicted the current crisis, anticipate an even an even more dire future, of course).

One bit of good news for rock music fans: I sense a comeback for Aerosmith’s 1993 song, “Eat the Rich”–even if a lack of electricity means it has to be an acoustical version. Perhaps that title might also be a survival plan for downsized journalists. Though one drawback to eating human flesh may be that it leads to insanity, many in journalism and government would seem to have little to lose in that regard.

NEXT DAY UPDATE: Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is trying to turn the bailout into yet another executive branch power grab. Also not surprisingly, most of the media are largely ignoring that attempt. One hope, however: Faced with the prospects of a Barack Obama presidency, some conservatives may help contain the proposal.

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Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Beauty, depravity, religion & politics

Posted by James McPherson on September 9, 2008

A short post today to note that I was excited to see that one of my favorite religious blogs, Eugene Cho’s “beauty and depravity,” today linked to and reprinted my Aug. 19 post titled, “Favoring a Christian president–or not.

Cho is the founder and lead pastor for Seattle’s multicultural Quest Church. He has been featured in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Outreach magazine. He operates a nonprofit neighborhood cafe and is active in the fight against poverty both locally and globally. He has also been called “one angry Asian” and writes that he blogs in part to “reveal that pastors or Christians aren’t stupid religious people that don’t have the ability to engage in humor, critical thought, or have ‘regular’ lives. I’m a Christian and a follower of Jesus but I ain’t perfect, saintly, or perfectly holy. I fart just like you and sometimes, they’re bad. Really bad.” [bold type in original]

In short, though we’ve never met and I’m a middle-aged white guy, Cho seems like my kind of Christian, and I’m pleased that he found my piece worth citing. Check out his site.

Note: Two days after I wrote my August post, Pew released results of a survey showing that most Americans seem to agree with me.

Posted in Journalism, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 »

Speaking for the poor

Posted by James McPherson on June 12, 2008

Pultizer Prize winner Leonard Pitts Jr has long been one of my favorite columnists. Probably nobody writes better about issues of race, though he also focuses on a number of other themes relevant to American society and politics. His Sept. 12, 2001, column titled “We’ll Go Forward from this Moment” flashed around the world via the Internet and gave voice to the anger and determination of millions–an anger that might have made us stronger if the Bush administration hadn’t managed to tie it so heavily to fear and twisted it with lies to bog us down in an ill-advised war against an enemy totally unrelated to the 9/11 attacks still being used by some to justify that war.

On a personal note, I might add that Pitts also is interesting as a public speaker (not true of all writers) and in conversation. A few years ago my wife and I had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with him and a few others, and I’m convinced that the highlight of my student newspaper editor’s year was sharing conversation and a chocolate dessert with Pitts that evening.

Pitts’ column in my morning paper today, however, reminds me of another problem with modern media. It’s not the problem mentioned in his most famous column, and which I’ve often criticized: the fact that we’re so “capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae–a singer’s revealing dress, a ball team’s misfortune, a cartoon mouse.” No, today’s problem has to do with the poor, and their lack of a meaningful voice.

Crime news and entertainment media alike are more likely to portray minorities and the poor as perpetrators of crime. The fact that those same people are more likely to be victims is less obvious, and even the somewhat rosy FBI crime report released a few days ago may hide some disturbing trends. In addition, the media seldom remind us that most welfare recipients are white–even if we just go with traditional definitions of welfare and exclude farm subsidies, corporate tax breaks, homeowner exemptions, retirement benefits and the like. Still, despite the fact that most Americans probably don’t know those things, they’re all old news.

Also not new but worthy of discussion is something else Pitts points out, that poverty is not a black-white-brown issue, and that far too often, “The poor among us retreat instead into the easy comfort of tribalism, black with black, brown with brown, white with white, unable to conceive they might have common concerns that transcend melanin and ancestry. They divide themselves, and thus render themselves inconsequential so that those above in aeries of wealth and power can rest easy, unthreatened by demands for change.”

After eloquently and justifiably asking “who speaks for the poor?” Pitts concludes his piece with, “Or better yet, when do the poor finally speak for themselves?” And therein lies the problem. Assuming that their daily struggles with issues of family, food, shelter and gas prices allow them to time and energy to do so, how do they “speak” when their possible outlets for speaking have been so limited?

After all, the poor don’t “render themselves inconsequential” all by themselves, especially because those within “the aeries of wealth and power”–including corporate media owners–benefit so much from the current situation. I’m no Marxist, but I do know that local television news doesn’t adequately cover anything except perhaps the weather, and newspapers don’t cover the poor. Poor parts of town don’t appeal to advertisers, so newspapers have little incentive to sell papers there or to cover those areas. Newspaper subscriptions are expensive–and just try finding a newspaper vending box in the poorest part of your own city, even if you have the 50 cents or more to spend to try to find out what the City Council has planned for your neighborhood.

The rural poor may be even less represented, especially since news organizations continue to cut staffs–and because news from the outback has little chance of “paying off” in any meaningful way for a media organization. I grew up in a small town in Idaho, and was interested in journalism as early as junior high. But except when I went away to camp, I never had the chance to meet a real reporter until I was in college. Even our high school sports results were called in by the winning coach (though in some places newspapers hire college students as stringers to cover the games, while continuing to ignore issues related to rural poverty).

In addition, with the disparate state of education in poor neighborhoods compared to the suburbs, and with news media that seem to have little relevance to their own lives, the poor are less inclined to turn to the media to try to express their own concerns. They’re also far less likely to have computer skills or Internet access (in some cases, the rural poor still lack electricity), so they are unlikely to have the ability to speak for themselves via blogs such as this one (and with millions of blogs, the chances of any one being read and taken seriously are remote), or to use networking tools to discover and discuss their common interests.

An interesting related discussion comes in a piece today from the Poynter Institute’s Amy Gahran in which she asks, “Do most people really care about local community news?” and “If they really valued it, wouldn’t far more of them make more effort to find it, read it, share it, and preserve and expand it–as well as create their own?” The piece then focuses mostly on news about suburban issues, before asking, “What do you think–and even more importantly, what do you actually see and do in your own life and community?” If the question is aimed at journalists, an accurate answer likely would be “not much.” And if the question is aimed at the people who live in those communities, people in the poorest communities likely can’t answer at all, because they won’t see the question.

Incidentally, ignoring the poor is nothing new for the media. Many news organizations acted as though the Great Depression did not exist even while we were in the midst of it (it will be interesting to see if they do the same if the ongoing slump turns into a new depression). I do like Pitts’ idea of the poor joining together, rising up against the forces that divide and continually conquer them. But activist organizations of all stripes tend to be heavily made up of retirees and college students for a reason–because those folks have the time and money to spare. Sadly, the poor typically have neither.

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