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 ‘PUMAs’

GOP view of Palin: pit bull or pretty little lady?

Posted by James McPherson on September 10, 2008

Barack Obama did the right thing today in pointing out the ludicrousness of the McCain campaign’s latest charges of sexisim. Of course that didn’t stop John McCain’s smear merchants from immediately launching another negative ad–complete with badly out-of-context quotes from Obama and CBS anchor Katie Couric (funny how conservatives like the “liberal media” when the message is correct, or can be twisted to appear so). The ad can be seen below. (Note: CBS insisted that the ad be removed from YouTube the same day; see below for details.)

The charges, as I noted yesterday, are shameful and disgusting. Interestingly, they’re also more insulting to Palin than Obama’s comments were, demonstrating the problem conservatives often have in dealing with women. They can’t even decide if their own vice presidential candidate is a “pit bull” ready for prime-time politics, or a “pretty little lady” beauty queen who needs to be protected as if she were some Victorian-era teen-age wife.

The subtleties of most real women, who fall between the conservative archtypes wrapped in leather and lace, escape these hapless campaigners–somethng even PUMAs are bound to realize. Between that GOP cluelessness and the fact that people will eventually remember that John McCain heads the ticket, I suspect the positive post-convention GOP numbers will soon start to decrease.

Those numbers continue to mislead, anyway. National polls may show a slight edge for McCain, but every electoral map I’ve seen–whether produced by Democrats, Republicans or neutral parties–still shows Obama with the advantage. Unless some unforeseen dramatic event occurs–and especially if the McCain campaign continues to rely on negativity, and if even conservatives can’t figure out what kind of woman Palin is–I have no problem sticking with my pre-convention prediction that Obama will win handily in November.

Same day update: That didn’t take long. CBS insisted that the ad be taken off YouTube because it is misleading. The ad still can be seen at the McCain Web site, where they aren’t such sticklers for details such as truth and fact. McCain has apparently found that he loves to wallow in the muck, just like a certain farm animal.

Same day update #2: Some conservative writers agree that the GOP “lipstick” attacks are stupid. See pieces by Kathryn Lynn Lopez and Roger Kimball.

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Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Lies left and right: Kos, Drudge and Little Green Footballs

Posted by James McPherson on September 1, 2008

While I try to give people a variety of perspectives through my links at right, the Drudge Report and Little Green Footballs–two of the most popular conservative sites–have never been among them. That’s because I consider those two sites, while sometimes insightful, to be overly hateful and to have too little regard for truth. In short, they have carried blatant lies, either through intent or through a reckless disregard for fact. Both have unveiled big stories, but if you’re willing to print anything you’re more likely to occasionally stumble on a titillating bit of truth.

As of today, the Daily Kos–perhaps the most popular liberal blog on the Web–is gone for the same reason. A Kos writer with the name ArcXIX (another gutless wonder of the kind common to cyberspace, hiding behind a fake name) claimed that Sarah Palin’s youngest child is, in fact, her grandson, and the child of her daughter. The original link and yesterday’s followup from the same writer seem to be disappearing from many places (perhaps indicating how faulty the claims were), but the writer states unequivocally: “I’ve known liars in my life. … Well, Sarah, I’m calling you a liar. And not even a good one. Trig Paxson Van Palin is not your son. He is your grandson. The sooner you come forward with this revelation to the public, the better.” [bold type in original]

The writer goes on to offer a combination of highly questionable logic and photographic “evidence” that is obviously faulty to almost reasonable person who has had either a teenage daughter or a pregnant wife, or anyone who has worked in or around politicians (I once was a political reporter, and had two teenage daughters). Even granting the remote chance that the writer’s claim is true, there is absolutely no strong (let alone conclusive) evidence to support it.

As a result, even though I’ve never met ArxXIX or Palin (despite the fact that she and I were born less than a hundred miles apart), I have no trouble saying this: “I’ve known liars in my life. Well, ArcXIX, I’m calling you a liar. Or an idiot. Or probably both, since you’re not even a good liar. Based on the best “evidence” you’ve offered, you do not ‘know’ that Palin is a liar. You may suspect it, and you certainly hope so, but you don’t ‘know.’ The sooner you come forward with this revelation to the public, the better.”

That hasn’t kept the rumor from whirling around the world, of course, picked up by other liberal bloggers too stupid to realize that such garbage–like the rumors that claim Barack Obama is a Muslim–harm the credibility of those who spread it, while detracting from the multitude of meaningful reasons that a progressive should vote against McCain/Palin.

Unfortunately, the fact that the girl is now pregnant may add even more fuel to the rumor. But I would still argue that the girl’s unfortunate pregancy, despite what her status as an unwed mother-to-be might say about conservatives and birth control, is largely irrelevant to her mother’s somewhat limited qualifications to be vice president. And totally irrelevant to the Kos report.

I do not blame bloggers for heated rhetoric, literary exaggeration, or unintentionally getting things wrong on occasion. I certainly have made mistakes (and tried to correct them as soon as they were pointed out). Nor do I blame bloggers for the assortment of nutcases both liberal and conservative who contribute comments in response to posts. But operations with the scope and reputation of the three mentioned above should be able to do better than most with their posts, rather than seemingly seeking ways to be worse.

There are other sites that I read from time to time but avoid linking to because I am turned off by their constant whining or exaggeration. And of course I have deleted other sites in the past. Some bloggers stop writing after a while. Others just become monotonous. For example, one site that started out with the expressed interest of bringing people together, and which once offered meaningful commentary on a variety of political issues, became a tedious and often irrational all-PUMA-all-the-time site.

Worse, that site and some others engage in the practice of commonly deleting comments from those who disagree with them, regardless of how politely or logically those comments are offered. One bragged yesterday: “The Confluence is a refuge and a haven. And any comment that threatens our identity will be modified or deleted.” As I’ve noted repeatedly, I’m a believer in open discussion, not in paranoid conspiracy theories.

None of the sites mentioned here will miss having me offer direct connections to them; all have far larger readerships than this blog, in large part because they have chosen to appeal so strongly to their perceived political bases. Still, I will continue to add or delete links as they seem to meet the primary goal of this blog–to serve the needs of my students. And I hope you enjoy the variety.

Afternoon note: Today Kos himself starts out a post about the pregnancy with the words, “I don’t think the evidence is there to claim Trig is Bristol’s son, as some have speculated…” So I’d ask why, Kos, has your site done more than any other to promote the claim? After all, the most quoted of the “some” you refer to is in your own stable of writers.

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

Hillary’s convention speech and her “supporters”

Posted by James McPherson on August 27, 2008

As expected, Hillary Clinton came out in full support of Barack Obama in her Democratic Convention speech last night. As I also predicted, Fox News wasted no time in questioning whether Bill Clinton would do the same tonight.

Hillary gave an excellent speech, and after she finished speaking I spent a couple of hours flipping back and forth among the various network talking heads for their reactions. Even Chris Wallace of Fox News praised Clinton’s performance, after the other three Fox commentators had taken turns bashing her for giving a speech that was “all about her.” Most condescendingly dismissive, as might be expected, were Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol. Can anyone really watch those two preening clowns and still call liberals the “elitists”?

At least scared Foxes have some bitter company among the most diehard PUMAs, who have sought and achieved enough attention to be the focus of a segment ridiculing them on last night’s “The Daily Show.” Some PUMAs now are thrashing Hillary on the Web, and saying they will not follow where she has chosen to lead (so maybe she’s not as effective a leader as they maintain?).

Read the comment sections of a blog or two to see how much some of them are willing to twist their previous logic. (The latter of those two declares that Clinton’s message to PUMAs was to “keep running.”). Here are quotes from one PUMA who was live-blogging during Clinton’s speech:

WOW! She is really pushing Obama! Sorry, Hill. I own my vote! …

OH MY GOD! She used the Politics of FEAR! She did follow up with Universal Health Care. WOmen’s rights, civil rights, and GAY rights. Hell yeah!

Oh, no she di-in’t! Michelle can suck it!

FUCK. This is SO disheartneing! PUMAs are weeping all over the place!

She just lied about John McCain.

But at least she moved on to Seneca Falls.

Okay, that was nice. “MY mother was born before women could vote. My daughter got to vote FOR her mother.”

Nope. Not gonna do it. NOBAMA for me. No deal. Not even for you, lady.

On the other hand, many of the comments on blog posts suggested that many PUMAs will come around and vote in their best interests (again, assuming they weren’t conservatives to begin with). Another PUMA site offers this:

If anyone can make me for him, it’s her and only her. Fanboys, assholes, fauxgressives—if your asshole wins, you can thank Hills. She’s magnificent, magnanimous, and thrilling. She even manages to be kind to McCain. “Four more years of the last eight years.” …

I see her and I’m proud to be a liberal. You’re goddamned right I’m a liberal. I’m a liberal because I believe in moments like this: a woman standing on the podium at the DNC, surely thinking ahead to her next—and victorious!—run for President.

Hillary’s my President and one day I’ll see her take the oath of office. But, damn, what she stands for means enough to me to abide by her gracious wishes. She’s got more courage and class than I’ve ever had or will have, and hope never to need. …

God, I feel hope again. I feel like things can change. It’s not fear of the Them that I’m feeling; it’s the knowledge that as an American I’m part of something that’s meant to be bigger and better and nobler than what we have now.

I love the “bigger and nobler” line, which captures the essence of Clinton’s speech. And I am again reminded that seeing people strongly disagree–often with considerable justification–but still manage to come together for the greater good when the chips are on the line is one of the things that makes me most proud to be an American.

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

Will Hillary sabotage Barack? Listen on the radio

Posted by James McPherson on August 26, 2008

If you’re interested in what’s to come at the Democratic Convention–who will speak when and about what, combined with some interesting convention history–Fox News has an interesting briefing book on line.

Unfortunately about the only meaningful question the talking heads seem to have about tonight’s convention are whether Hillary Clinton will speak forcefully and convincingly on behalf of the man who narrowly defeated her for the Democratic presidential nomination, and whether Mark Warner and other speakers will be tough enough on John McCain and the Republicans.

Despite the fact that Clinton has repeatedly endorsed Barack Obama, the media and her PUMA supporters apparently both hope to continue the controversy. Fortunately, that part will be over tonight–and then the pundits can immediately start debating whether Bill Clinton will forcefully and convincingly support Obama when he speaks tomorrow night.

I’d be amazed if either Clinton fails to give their full support to Obama, even if they fail to convince Bill O’Reilly, Darragh Murphy, or their followers. Then the newsies can start anticipating what “bounce” Obama may get from the election, how the GOP version will compare, and/or whom John McCain will choose as his running mate.

Of course they could also read the Fox briefing book or the schedule and come up with all sorts of actual news stories, but that might be difficult, time-consuming or meaningful. TV news as we know it might be ruined as a result.

Still on the remote chance they’re interested in pursuing news, I’ll offer some options (with similar possibilities bound to pop up for next week’s Republican Convention). Some of these have actually been covered in past years by PBS or other media, but the networks apparently don’t follow those media, either. A few ideas:

  • What is in the official party platform, and how does that correspond with the candidates say they’ll do? How does it compare to the GOP platform?
  • What was the “Interfaith Gathering” that kicked off this week, and why was it held?
  • How is technology being used? The convention is streamed online–is anyone watching?
  • What is the cost of the convention, and who pays for it?
  • Who is funding the various activities (and what are they) that are tangentially connected with the convention, and what do the funders hope to get in return?
  • Who are the protestors, why are they there, and how are they funded?
  • Who are some of the non-elected participants on the schedule, and why are they there? Some examples from just the first day: Judith McCale, Nancy Keenan, John Hutson, Randi Weingarten, John Legend, Ned Helms, Lisa Oliveres, Laura Tyson, Jon Schnur, Margie Perez, John Balanoff, Mike and Cheryl Fisher, and Don Miller. 
  • How much do the delegates care about what goes on during the day? What do they do in their free time in Denver?

Regardless of the shortcomings of the press, the conventions make for sometimes-interesting theatre. Ted Kennedy’s speech last night, following on the heals of a video about him, was an example. I happened to be in my car during the speech, listening to it on the radio–which reminded me of how much the spectacle matters.

Though I was somewhat impressed that Kennedy showed up speak despite his illness, listening on the radio I didn’t find the speech particularly impressive in either style or substance. But after I got home I watched it on television. Seeing the people in the crowd, some of them crying, gave the speech more impact even though I had already heard it once. Being in the hall itself had to be even more emotional, and I think the journalists there found themselves a bit caught up in it.

Some pundits and articles noted how the speech echoed parts of Kennedy’s 1980 convention address, which is sometimes ranked as one of the top speeches in American history. What I remember most about Kennedy and 1980, however, is less positive. The fact that he chose to run a bloody campaign against a sitting Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, may ultimately have cost his party the election and given us Ronald Reagan and his later neocon followers. Even the famous speech did nothing to call for party unity.

One unrelated electoral note, which I may expand on later: Both sides are fearful of the dirty tricks that are bound to appear during the election season, as sleazebags on both sides make use of the Internet. Those have already begun, of course, with a host of Web sites still alleging that Barack Obama is a Muslim, faked his birth certificate, etc. The problem, of course, isn’t just the promoters of such garbage; it’s also the number of lazy nutjobs who will believe it.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Out-on-a-limb prediction: Obama will win handily

Posted by James McPherson on August 20, 2008

Is Barack Obama on the ropes? Tonight CNN is running back-to-back programs to “reveal” the candidates, and though I obviously don’t know the entire content of either portrayal, last night’s promos by the network focused heavily on the positive aspects of John McCain (war hero cheating death) and the more negative aspects of Barack Obama (hard-knuckled Chicago pol). The online materials also offer more  (and more positive) portrayals of McCain–perhaps no surprise, since, despite right-wing claims, coverage of Obama has been consistently more negative than that of Obama.

Another minor distraction for the Democrats comes from PUMAs who continue to gain some media attention by attacking Obama and saying they’ll vote for McCain, even though their supposed favored candidate will endorse Obama–again. (One perhaps-interesting side note: PUMA Web sites seem to be far more likely than even hardcore conservative or liberal sites to delete the comments of those who disagree with them, regardless of how polite the disagreement. I suppose that lets them keep things warm and fuzzy inside their bubble as they continue to persuade a few others to fund their merry adventures. My suggested name for the PUMA motorhome: Rocinante).

Now, to the glee of Obama opponents, Zogby reports that for the first time McCain is leading Obama in its national tracking poll. That comes on the heels of some other national tracking polls that indicated the race was getting closer. In short, the Democratic candidate seems to be in a downward slide.

So, which all those factors considered, this seems like a perfect time for me to predict that in November Obama will win the general election by the widest margin seen since at least Bill Clinton’s 379-159 victory over Bob Dole in 1996, and maybe since Ronald Reagan slaughtered Walter “I-won-my-home-state-of-Minnesota-and-the District-of Columbia” Mondale 525-13 in 1984.

At least no one can accuse me of jumping on a bandwagon. And lest you think my prediction is mere wishful thinking, let me explain.

Aside from the fact that Zogby disagrees with virtually every other poll (though others have tightened), and despite what Fox News would have you believe, national polls are meaningless in an environment in which key states, through the Electoral College, will determine the outcome. And even Zogby’s electoral map has Obama leading by a significant margin in electoral votes (273-146, with 119 “too close to call), though John Zogby puts it this way: “For the time being, Obama maintains the edge and has the strength of a majority of electoral votes. … But too many of these states are close and a sizable number are undecided or choosing a third party candidate. So there is a lot of fluidity.”

Ah, fluidity–so perhaps things really are falling apart for Obama? “For the first time since mid-May, Obama is now below the 270 electoral votes needed to win,” VoteFromAbroad.org reports today, while offering its own electoral map. “He is behind in almost all the swing states (Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Nevada) and tied in Virginia. He is ahead in Iowa and New Mexico, but these are seem to be fairly solid for him and may not be seen as swing states any more.”

Well, yeah, but… If you look at the map, you’ll see that while Obama is short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, he still leads 264-261, with a tie in the 13-vote state of Virginia. That’s razor-thin on its face, but look a bit closer and things look even better for Obama. The map breaks states down between strong, weak and “barely” Democratic or Republican states. If we go with just the strong states for each, Obama still only has a three-vote lead, 134-131.

Listed among the VoteFromAbroad “weak” states for Obama are New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, New Mexico and Iowa, all of which Zogby has more firmly in Obama’s camp. I would be surprised if McCain rebounds enough to win more than one of those. On the other hand, VoteFromAbroad lists only four states as weakly for McCain, and Zogby puts only two of those (West Virginia and Georgia) in McCain’s camp with Missouri and Indiana “too close to call.”

Even if McCain somehow manages to win all four of those and Michigan, Iowa and New Mexico (which I consider extremely unlikely), he gains a total of 66 more electoral votes, compared to 84 more for Obama. The generous-to-McCain running tally: Obama 218, McCain 197.

Turn now to the “barely” Democratic or Republican. VoteFromAbroad lists only New Hampshire and Minnesota (both of which Zogby now has Democratic) as barely for Obama, a total of 14 of “his” votes to lose. On the other hand, McCain’s “barely” numbers total 85, including Colorado (which Zogby has Obama leading) and the big states of Florida and Ohio. In short, of the very close states, with a total of 112 electoral votes, McCain has a lot more to lose–and even with the extremely generous running total above, would have to win 73 more, or almost two-thirds of what’s left.

Incidentally, the polls may have a misleading built-in advantage for McCain. Many surveys rely heavily on phone interviews, which tend to underrepresent college students and techno-savvy people who rely on cell phones and/or computer phone services instead of traditional landlines. Yet those people are the ones who seem to be among Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters. I would not be surprised in this election to see Obama’s numbers underrepresented by 5 percent or more in many polls.

Aside from the polls, which despite my lengthy discussion are fairly meaningless this early in the race, there are other reasons I believe Obama will win by a significant electoral margin. One is the news media. Having been called on their bias, perhaps they’ll start to look more critically at McCain. They’ll also lose interest in PUMAs within days of the Democratic Convention, though who knows what distractions the networks might find next.

Keep in mind that news organizations benefit from a tight battle, and you probably won’t hear any on-air pundits predict anything other than a close election. People watching television up until election day in 1996 probably thought Dole had a chance of winning, even though no close observers would have thought so.

McCain has benefitted in recent days from a flurry of negative campaigning, Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and the fact that Obama has been on vacation. But eventually McCain will have to say something about the economy–supposedly the top priority for voters this year. McCain has been spending more money than Obama during the past couple of weeks, but that will change about a week from now when Obama’s spending will increase dramatically just as McCain is forced to rely on far more limited federal funding. Obama also has been building operations in more states than McCain, putting more states in play. Ask Hillary Clinton if that organization matters.

McCain will keep hitting his supposed strong suit, international affairs, though at some point folks may begin to realize that foreign policy experience matters less when you’ve been wrong about most things and don’t seem to have learned from that experience. In fact, the Iraq War may help Obama. After all, Democrats swept into office two years ago largely because people were tired of the war. Though they may feel betrayed by Congress, they’re no less tired of the war today, and Obama has been a consistent opponent. Voters also are tired of Congressional corruption, and most of that (in recent months) has come from Republicans.

Wedge issues that have brought out large numbers of conservatives in recent presidential elections–especially abortion and gay marriage–will be on far fewer state ballots this year. Besides, it remains to be seen if McCain’s Saddleback Church appearance or his recent coziness with evangelicals has inspired conservatives. Many Republican voters may just stay home, especially since it seems clear that Democrats will gain even more seats in Congress. Someone who knows his or her favorite Congressional candidate is destined to lose may not bother to turn out for McCain.

The conventions and vice presidential choices to come in the next couple of weeks may make some difference, though probably not much (though if McCain chooses Joe Lieberman, that will signify some desperation). If VP choices matter, McCain might have more potential pitfalls, trying to choose someone who won’t offend abortion opponents or the women who make up much of the moderate middle.

So there you have it, my prediction that Obama will win fairly easily. Of course some unforseen October surprise could conceivable swing the election, or perhaps Obama’s masses will fail to show, but I doubt it. And if I’m wrong, you’ll be able to rub it in less than three months from now.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 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 »

Blog “power”: exercises in self-delusion

Posted by James McPherson on August 3, 2008

There are all sorts of good reasons to blog, such as blowing off steam, exploring ideas, checking assumptions, sharing cool videos, correcting the mainstream media, communicating with a small group of like-minded individuals, and providing a bit of context on issues about which the blogger happens to be knowledgeable.

One apparent problem, however, is that too many bloggers believe that other people actually much care what they think. Political bloggers seem to be especially susceptible to such delusions of grandeur. The fact is, in most cases, we bloggers just don’t matter very much (and anonymous respondents to blogs matter even less).

A few blogs have become significant (inspiring hope among many others) but the vast majority of blogs and Web pages have limited appeal, limited range, and, most importantly, a very limited audience. Look closely (if you can stand to do so) at the comments of even blog posts with hundreds of responses and you’ll tend to see three to six people using the forum to talk to–are argue with–each other. The same three to six people, some of whom choose to stay happily misinformed about most issues, will be the ones most likely to comment on the next day’s post at the same site.

Mainstream media sometimes pay a bit of attention to a topic or organization that seems odd or out of the mainstream, occasionally giving issues or groups more credibility than they’re probably due, before skipping blithely on to something else. Pro-Hillary Clinton PUMAs are a recent example. Unfortunately, some of the PUMAs seem to be buying their own hype, regularly pointing out that there are more than 230 pro-PUMA sites.

I don’t dispute that number, but I also don’t find it particularly impressive. Consider this: If each of 240 sites has a hundred unique fans (that is, counting only folks not counted on similar like-thinking sites)–and based on my perusal of several such sites, I doubt there are that many unique visitors–that makes for a total of 24,000 total PUMAs committed enough to the cause to regularly participate in the process. For context, that’s a couple thousand fewer than live in Marshalltown, Iowa, or about the same as the number of people who work in the Pentagon.

Even if I’m way off, and each of those 240 sites has a thousand unique and committed fans, that adds up to 240,000 PUMAs. That number is probably lower than the number of people who this year will cast ballots for John McCain in and around three or four counties surrounding Spokane, Washington, the city in which I happen to live–and to the chagrin of many on the east side of this state, those McCain voters here won’t keep all of the state’s electoral votes from going for Obama.

I’m glad the PUMAs and various political sites are out there, providing the opportunity for those of us who care to learn some new things and giving the bloggers and their respondents an outlet for expression. But let’s not get carried away with thinking that more than a handful of bloggers–if any–will even remotely influence how most of us vote or live our lives.

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

Stay home–your vote won’t count anyway

Posted by James McPherson on July 30, 2008

That headline is a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ve known for a long time that, for the vast majority of us, our votes don’t matter.

Aside from the fact that each individual vote is such a small percentage of the whole that your vote is far more likely to be subject to accidental disqualification than to be the electoral decider, relatively few of us vote in states where our individual votes are likely to count. I spent most of my life voting in very red states, so there was no reason not to vote for an independent candidate  (my way of registering a small protest, since the Republican candidate was assured all of my state’s electoral votes, and I figured staying home indicated nothing but apathy). That’s part of the reason that protest voters such as PUMAs usually don’t matter much.

We also saw massive ballot problems in 2000 in Florida, and in 2004 in Ohio. As it turns out, most of us had no idea how bad it is.  As Heidi Stevenson points out in a truthout article this week:

Voting rights are under systematic attack in the United States. Techniques include:

  • Outright disenfranchisement.
  • Vote switching in election machines.
  • Refusal to allow the public to see how votes are counted.
  • Use of the people’s courts by political parties and corporations to subvert the law.
  • Use of lawsuit threats by large corporations against cash-strapped local governments to prevent them from examining voting machines.

As we used to say when presenting a good hand during a dorm card game: “Read it and weep.” But then send a copy to your local mainstream media outlets and your legislators, demanding action.

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