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 ‘Rachel Maddow’

Spitting on military service, especially by women

Posted by James McPherson on June 13, 2012

As is typical of election season, Mitt Romney’s military record (or, more accurately, his lack of one) became a news item for a few days. The issue may pop up again, though of course as a Republican Romney will never be punished for his record to the degree that actual servicemen John Kerry and Max Cleland were denigrated for their honorable service.

We pretend to honor those who serve in the military, but mostly we ignore them — or even go so far as punishing those with the guts to actually serve. The latest example comes with the news that Congressional Republicans will likely continue to prevent a female soldier who is raped by a serviceman from getting the same medical care that she would get if she were a secretary for one of those members of Congress. That inaction will come despite the fact that a woman is more likely to be raped by one of her countrymen while serving in the military than she is to be harmed in any way by an “enemy,” and more likely to be raped as a soldier than she would be if she didn’t serve.

Romney probably won’t be asked for his perspective on the issue, though he should have little credibility on anything related to the military, anyway. He is a chickenhawk, someone who supports war despite doing whatever is necessary to actually avoid service. So is Obama, the drone warrior — though he and his wife likely have done more for those who serve than Romney ever would, perhaps making the fact that military veterans tend to favor Romney a good example of how little attention people actually pay to issues (and military support for Republicans may be waning, anyway). Besides, don’t conservatives like unchecked presidential power when it comes to war?

Other notable chickenhawks include Roger Ailes, George Allen, Dick Armey, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, William Bennett, Roy Blunt, John Boehner, John Bolton, Jeb Bush, Saxby Chambliss, Dick Cheney, Tom Coburn, Ann Coulter, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity, Denny Hastert, Laura Ingraham, Alan Keyes, Charles Koch, David Koch, Bill Kristol, Jon Kyl, Rush Limbaugh, Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell, Thaddeus McCotter, Grover Norquist, Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin, Michael Reagan, Karl Rove, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Michael Savage, Ben Stein, Tom Tancredo, George Will, all five of Romney’s sons and, for that matter, most members of Congress. See the “Chickenhawk Hall of Fame” for others.

In fact, America is full of chickenhawks, as Rachel Maddow points out in her new book. Americans love to get behind a war, dispite the fact that few of us consider the long-term ramifications or actually choose to serve in the military. I’m one of those, by the way, who chose not to serve — and am one of a relatively small number of American men who has never actually registered for the draft. I have no idea how I’d have reacted had I been old enough to be drafted for the Vietnam War.

Unlike the chickenhawks named above, however, I’m opposed to most wars (and opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, wearing a black armband as a sign of protest and mourning from the day the war began through Memorial Day of that year). That’s why I can appreciate the sadly ironic story in the Onion today, headlined, “Few Years In Military Would Have Really Straightened Out Troubled Teen Killed On First Tour Of Afghanistan.”

June 21 follow-up: This post has been reprinted by a conservative blog (which unfortunately sometimes relies on Fox News-style sexism to draw readers, though this particular writer is a woman who regularly contributes to the sometimes-thoughtful interactions there), so if you want to read more discussion of the issue besides the comments below, you can go here. (Note: The previous sentence has been edited for clarification, because it apparently confused another regular at that site–thanks, Joe, for pointing out the poor wording.)

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments »

Rachel Maddow stole my line

Posted by James McPherson on April 2, 2010

Actually I doubt that Rachel Maddow has ever read anything I’ve written, or overheard anything I’ve ever said. But my wife and I were surprised–and I felt affirmed, in an odd way–when the other night we heard her say something along the lines that she thinks “Bill Clinton was our best Republican president.”

I’ve been using that line, and that argument, for years. I don’t know if I’ve used in on my own blog, though my brother once wrote in his blog, ” I steal a line from my older and wiser brother in referring to Bill Clinton as the best Republican president since Eisenhower.” By the way, I’ll admit to being older, not necessarily wiser.

In my most recent book I didn’t go so far as to call Clinton a Republican (it was an academic work, after all), but I did write, “President Bill Clinton was lambasted as a liberal by Republican opponents, yet he drew critism for ‘stealing’ and implementing supposedly Republican ideas such as deficit reduction, international free trade, welfare reform, increased numbers of police officers, and charter schools.”

Of course we’re now seeing the same sorts of criticism and compromise with Barack Obama, though so far the Republicans are backing away from their previous ideas rather than complaining about theft–while Obama is well on his way to becoming at least our second-best Republican president. As for Clinton, elsewhere in the same book I wrote:

Bill Clinton might justifiably be considered the best conservative president of the modern age. After all, both his successes and his failures helped conservatives far more than they did liberals. By turning a federal deficit into a surplus (with considerable help from a Republican Congress, of course), overseeing sweeping welfare reform, and pushing through a North American Free Trade Agreement that corporations favored and most unions disliked, Clinton was truer to the policies of traditional conservatives than Reagan had been. … Further evidence of Clinton’s innate conservatism might be seen in the fact that many prominent neoconservatives turned their backs on Reagan’s former vice president to align themselves with Clinton when he campaigned for the presidency.

Elsewhere in the book I also note the observations of conservative George Will (before Will was apparently driven insane by Clinton’s sexual infidelities) and a couple of British observers that “Clinton’s big achievements–welfare reform, a balanced budget, a booming stock market and cutting 350,000 people from the federal payroll–would have delighted Ronald Reagan.”

In truth, I suspect that Maddow (an extremely intelligent and politically astute woman with a doctorate of her own) and I both have long been saying something that is obvious to most thoughtful followers of political history. But it’s something rarely acknowledged, and that I had never heard said by anyone other than myself until the other night.

And by the way, Rachel, I’ll forgive you if you let me pimp my book on your show.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Dead Air (America): Liberal talk radio alternative going silent

Posted by James McPherson on January 22, 2010

Air America is dead. The 6-year-old radio network set up to combat right-wing talkers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and which in the past provided an outlet for political voices for folks such as Al FrankenEd Schultz and Rachel Maddow, will cease programming today.

As the New York Times reports, “The closing did not come as a surprise.” Management problems and a bad economic climate for media hurt the network from the start, and even the best programs on Air America never provided much of an “alternative” to anything for most liberals. I suspected from the start that talk radio, like direct mail, would work better for conservatives, not just because of their head start but also because both of those media rely heavilty on the emotional appeals of fear and anger. As I wrote in my most recent book, conservatives have used fear and anger better than liberals have, though the Web has “helped” liberals learn more about the those emotions.

I was glad that Spokane had an Air America affiliate, KPTQ, when some larger cities did not, and I occasionally listened. But I and many others much prefer news over opinion and reasoned arguments over the shrill harangues (about the opposition) and nauseating fawning (toward anyone in agreement) that has long characterized talk radio.

With Fox News, MSNBC and the Internet now providing too much of that same sort of programming offered by talk radio, and with cheaper independent local stations such as my local favorite, KYRS, also picking up some of the slack, I’m not sure Air America served much of a purpose except perhaps as a farm club for MSNBC. Incidentally, Maddow was my favorite host; I liked her better before she moved to MSNBC and became more like Keith Olbermann.

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

Culture warriors were dreaming of a really white Christmas; others get coal in their stockings

Posted by James McPherson on December 12, 2008

Writing for the Daily Beast, Max Blumental traces the idea of a “war on Christmas“–the bitter annual holiday tradition of right-wing moralists such as the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger, Utah Sen. Chris Buttars, several Fox News commentators, and Focus on the Family, which maintains a list of major retailers who prominently acknowledge” Christmas and those that have “apparently abandoned” the word–to former Fortune magazine editor, anti-immigrant, and perhaps anti-Semite Peter Brimelow.

Blumethal writes: “In his 1995 book, Alien Nation, Brimelow argued that the influx of ‘weird aliens with dubious habits’ from developing nations was eroding America’s white Christian ‘ethnic core,’ and in turn, sullying its cultural underpinnings. The War on Christmas was, in his view, a particularly pernicious iteration of the multicultural ‘struggle to abolish America.'”

For Bill O’Reilly this is the hap-happiest time of the year because he knows he’ll get to wade into a can’t-lose culture battle. He has repeatedly made the war on Christmas a central theme of his “talking points,” most recently on Dec. 3 and Dec. 5. Of course, the night after that last show, he referred to O.J. Simpson conviction as “karma,” not exactly a Christian term. One front of the war over (not “on,” in my view) Christmas (not the war that killed three people on “Black Friday”) is in my own state of Washingon, where atheists have been allowed to put up a sign near the capitol Christmas tree. Now someone wants to put up a “Festivus pole,” an invention of “Seinfeld.”

On an even weirder front, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Technology has put the holiday to its own use. As Rachel Maddow and others reported earlier this week, the group has put together a series of videos in which animated lumps of coal sing “carols”–changing the words to fit the coal message. Unfortunately, the ACCCT has removed the video from its site, but you can see a photo here:

cleancoal2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the Center for Media and Democracy’s Sheldon Rampton points out: “Some of the lyrics sung by the ‘Clean coal carolers’ might actually offend people who take Christmas seriously as a religious holiday. ‘Clean Coal Night,’ for example, uses the melody of ‘Silent Night’ but replaces the words, ‘Christ the savior is born’ with ‘Plenty of coal for years to come.”‘Similarly, the chorus praising Jesus in ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ is transformed from ‘Oh come let us adore him’ to ‘And we can count on clean coal.'” Citing O’Reilly’s annual rants about people using the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” Rampton writes, “Let’s see if O’Reilly even mentions the coal industry’s latest sacrilege.”

Clean coal actually is appropriate for the Christmas holiday, of course, because it has at least three things in common with another “weird alien with dubious habits [smoking a pipe, overeating, talking to animals, etc.]”: Santa Claus. Both Santa and clean coal make you feel warm and fuzzy, both end up in your chimney, and, most importantly, NEITHER IS REAL. Despite Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s kowtowing to the Pennsylvania and West Virginia coal industries, there is no such thing as “clean coal.”

Brimelow probably would be appalled by the Clean Coal Carolers. For one thing, all the singers are black. Of course, most of the 26,500 children under the age of 5 who will die on Christmas day also are black (and most of the rest are brown-skinned or Asian), as are the 26,500 who will die on Christmas Eve, and the equal numbers who will die every day from now through the forseeable future. Most of those children will die of things we could prevent today, if we had the will–things such as disease, starvation, bad water and war.

Put another way, a child under the age of 5 dies about every three seconds, about the same time it takes to say “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And until we dramatically improve that statistic, speaking as a Christian, I don’t really care what you call your damn tree.

Dec. 15 update: The state of Washington has put a moratorium on future displays.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Modern ‘poll tax’: Long lines hurt working class & democracy

Posted by James McPherson on November 3, 2008

Joe the Plumber may be able to take entire days off of work to campaign against the candidate whose tax plan would benefit him the most–however much one might wonder why he would do so, other than as a means of getting attention–but long lines at polling places may influence the ability of many other members of the working class to vote for their favored candidates.

Republicans and CNN’s Campbell Brown may see no problem with that, though as the daughter of a former Louisiana state senator Brown should know better. Of course Brown is yet another example of the so-called “liberal media” with obvious conservative ties. Daddy was a Democrat, but a southern Dem. Brown’s current husband, Daniel Senor, is a Republican consultant and Fox News regular who once served President George W. Bush as spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and then became a foreign policy advisor to Mitt Romney during Romney’s presidential bid.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has become increasingly strident and Keith Olbermann-like, but last night she pointed out the real problem with long lines–and why they pose a threat to democracy. I’ll post the video below.

I’m lucky, because I vote in Washington State and can do so by mail. Also fortunate, and smart, are those who can and do vote early. With luck, one day every American voter may be able to do the same. In the meantime, I agree with one thing that both Brown and Maddow said: Vote anyway, even if it’s difficult.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »