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 ‘Real Clear Politics’

‘What’s happenin’ here?’ The news ain’t exactly clear: How to keep up with what’s going on, and why

Posted by James McPherson on December 2, 2008

I got a kick out of it a few months ago when former student and follow blogger Grady Locklear, wrote in a post that I seemed “to check in with every news source under the sun on a daily basis.” I don’t, of course, though I do follow the news more closely than most people. After all, it’s my job.

But if you’re an American citizen who cares about such things as freedom, self-government and democracy, paying attention to the news is your job, too. Fortunately, it’s also not all that difficult, though the news media don’t always make it as simple as it could be. It’s not totally your fault that you probably know more about Natalie Holloway than about NAFTA.

For example, a quick current events question: What outbreak of violence during the past week killed the most people? I’d be willing to bet that most folks would answer with the terrorist attacks in India. But they would be wrong, even though CNN, the New York Times and other news organizations still are focusing heavily on it. Other lead CNN stories today discuss genocide in Iraq, a much larger historical example of mass bloodshed and the possibility of future mass murder, but neither of those is related to the past week’s deadliest outbreak of violence, either.

Though I seem to get a lot of email from bankers, princes and government officials in Nigeria, apparently no one was twittering the violence there where election-related clashes between Christians and Muslims killed hundreds. I don’t think the story was in my local paper at all. CNN had a story Saturday, but unlike the India story today it is already “old news.”

To find anything about Nigeria on CNN today, you have to go to “world news” and then “Africa” (where you also can find a story about cholera killing hundreds of people in perhaps the world’s most screwed-up nation, Zimbabwe.and the New York Times carried it on an inside page.  On the New York Times site, again you must go to “world news,” where you can find a story about Myanmar’s government policies contributing to thousands of AIDS deaths but again nothing about Nigeria unless you click into the “Africa” section. There you’ll find it, if you’ve bothered to go that far.

Contrast that with al-Jazeera. It also leads with stories about India, and in fact there are a number of things that make the India story particularly important (links to terrorism, tensions between nuke nations India and Pakiston, the fact that every time I make a phone call for computer support the call is answered by someone in India, etc.). But al-Jazeera’s front page also has a story about the violence in Nigeria–along with important stories about Congo, Thailand, North Korea, Israel, Romania, Afganistan, Libya, Kuwait, South Africa, Venezuala, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia (the Georgia near Russia, not the one hosting the never-ending Sarah Palin road show).

In fact, American news media offer us far less international news than they once did, at a time when world events are perhaps more important than ever before. Foreign bureaus have been slashed, and many news organizations are letting their competitors pick up the slack–which might be fine, if more of us were reading a broader range of news sources. Most of us, however, rely on just a few. Worse, most of us rely on television, the single worst mass medium for provided context with the news.

So, back to how I follow the news. The first thing I do when I get up and start to get ready for work is flip on CNN, just to see if anything of major importance is happening (a habit I started with 9/11, after a colleague called me to tell me to turn on the television). I usually read my local paper with breakfast, then go to work. I listen to NPR on my way in, and frequently listen to conservative talk radio on my way home (except on the rare occasions I get out early enough to catch “Marketplace”).

At various times during the day, as I have short breaks, I then check in with other media. I always skim the headlines at CNN and the New York Times. If I have extra time, I’ll check Fox News and the Huffington Post, to get the extremes on both political sides. And then if something from any of those sites intrigues me, I’ll follow a thread, looking for other stories on the same topic. If the topic is politics, I’ll check out Real Clear Politics. If it’s international news I’ll check al-Jazeera, the Christian Science Monitor and/or the Guardian.

At night I typically watch some of “The Newshour” on PBS, and might check in with CNN again and/or Fox News or MSNBC. Or maybe I’ll read part of a magazine: I currently subscribe to The Nation, The Progressive Ode and Time, though I vary them at times as subscriptions run out or I get good deals. I generally avoid the whirling mess of irrelevant images and video news releases provided by local television news except to check the weather or occasional sports highlights. If I’m up late enough, I’ll tune into “The Daily Show” and perhaps “The Colbert Report,” both of which offer some interesting takes on the news.

To your right, you’ll also see links to a lot of other news sources. Most of those I check in with fairly rarely, but I try to hit each one–along with a variety of bloggers from various perspectives–once a month or so. Sometimes I add or delete a link, and your preferences may vary. The most important thing, as I’ve written before, is to get your news from a variety of sources.

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

Why conservatives may want to sit this election out and let Obama win

Posted by James McPherson on October 31, 2008

Obviously most conservatives will keep pulling for John McCain to pull out a win on Tuesday, and McCain likely will continue his unprecedented slog through the mud (tempered with an appearance this weekend on “Saturday Night Live,” where he can have a conversation with a fake Sarah Palin that is as convincing as his rapport with the real Sarah Palin).

Still, barring something dramatic, unexpected and/or illegal, Barack Obama is likely to win the election handily (as I predicted a couple of months ago). Even NBC’s electoral map, one of the most conservative, now predicts 286 electoral votes for Obama, with 89 too close to call. But Obama also leads in most of those “toss up” states, including Nevada, Florida, Ohio and Indiana. CNN’s electoral map now has Obama leading by significant margins in enough states to claim 291 electoral votes, with 84 more up for grabs. Even just the 291 count, which National Public Radio also predicts, is 21 more than needed (the exact total offered by Pennsylvania).

CBS has the only map I found that doesn’t yet push Obama over 270 (giving him a 259-163, but it also leaves more states uncommitted. As I’ve noted previously, the so-called liberal mainstream media want to keep things close, and don’t want to be proven wrong. Incidentally, Fox News doesn’t have an electoral map (perhaps because the network hates to air news that might be detrimental to the McCain campaign), but Bill O’Reilly does, and even he puts Obama’s current lead at 286-163.

Non-media maps have things looking even tougher for the GOP. Real Clear Politics and Congressional Quarterly gives Obama 311 electoral votes as of today. Even more notably, so does Karl Rove, the man once known as “Bush’s Brain” and on whom some conservatives now place much of the blame for the current woeful state of the conservative movement. Politico’s map gives Obama 353 electoral votes, and VoteFromAbroad.org pegs the count as 364-171.

So what’s a distraught Republican to do? For one thing, he or she might recognize that an Obama win might well turn out to be the best possible outcome for conservatives. It is well known that conservatives has been no big fan of McCain’s, and in fact they have only one good reason to support his presidential bid: the chance that he might be able to solidify the hard right perspective of the Supreme Court. But other than that somewhat iffy possibility, there are a number of reasons conservatives probably should favor Barack Obama, instead.

Addressing the court issue first, McCain may not be able to change the court even if he is elected. He would try to make the court even more conservative, but his nominations to fill the expected two or three vacancies would have to get through a Senate approval process. And the older, more liberal members of the court might decide not to retire, hoping to outlast or outlive McCain (and good luck to a President Palin trying to get anything past a Democratic Congress).

On the other hand, even if Obama has the opportunity to replace three justices, in all likelihood he’ll replace three of the more liberal members of the court with three others who think much like them. The overall makeup of the court itself won’t change, unless Obama makes a mistake–as Dwight D. Eisenhower and other presidents have done in the past–and accidentally appoints someone who turns out to be something other than what Democrats expect. Think of the delicious irony for conservatives if Obama should happen to appoint the justice(s) who solidifies or even strengthens the court’s conservative activist stance for a generation to come.

Even national politics are unlikely to change a lot–to to become in the words of a Times of London columnist “a liberal heaven“–or to change nearly enough, for some of us. We live in a country with politics that have become increasingly conservative, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere.

History also shows that presidents, once elected, tend to govern more like the opposite party, probably in an attempt to build larger coalitions and to recognize grand ambitions. That might explain why Richard Nixon went to China, Ronald Reagan went to the Soviet Union, and Bill Clinton approved NAFTA, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and welfare reform.

A decisive loss may help conservatives refocus their party. How they might do so remains anyone’s guess–Reagan managed to help create a coalition of otherwise distrustful neoconservatives, fiscal conservatives and social conservatives, before the neocons won. Conservative Republicans already have a meeting planned for just days after this election to try to rebuild the party, .

Finally, back in 1988, I told friends that Democrats should hope for a win by George H.W. Bush, because in my view the economy was about to hit a rough spot and whoever was in office would get much of the blame. Bush won, the economy plunged, and Bill “It’s the economy, stupid” Clinton won in 1992.

The same is true today, though of course the economy is already in the toilet. But it’s not going to be fixed in four years, and unless Obama and a Democratic Congress take dramatic steps that I think they’ll be afraid to take, they’ll get the blame for not fixing things quickly enough–setting the stage for yet another Republican revolution in 2012.

Other predictions for the GOP in 2012: Mitt Romney will be the likely GOP nominee, and the Religious Right will continue to decline in influence.

Posted in History, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

ACORN makes GOP & media nuts while others try to steal the election

Posted by James McPherson on October 22, 2008

A recommendation: Before you consider for one more second the potential problems associated with ACORN, read the latest issue or the online version of Mother Jones magazine, which offers “10 Ways to Steal an Election.” Some of the methods are illegal, some are just sleazy, all have been used by conservatives, and all are more insidious and more likely to affect the final vote count than anything ACORN is doing now.

The magazine also carries a story about the Republicans’ cynical last-ditch effort to win the election (or to raise doubts about the veracity of Barack Obama’s victory). Unfortunately, too many of the supposedly liberal mainstream media, not just Fox News, are devoting disproportionate amounts of time and energy to the GOP line about ACORN stealing the election (though they don’t seem to be yet buying the conservative talking point that perhaps ACORN is doing so with the help of Barack Obama).

Perhaps ACORN is worth looking into, though I have yet to see anyone explain how registration fraud equals voter fraud (or point out that inflated registration numbers may do more harm to Democrats, who might have unrealistic expectations about voter turnout, than to Republicans, who should know that Mickey Mouse won’t show up to cast a ballot). A bigger problem, though, is the relative lack of meaningful stories about the real election fraud threats. For those we have to turn to such media as last night’s episode of the Colbert Report (see the video of “The Word“) and Mother Jones.

Speaking of which, you also can see an interactive map of states in which election “shenanigans” are known to have occurred. I doubt that the mainstream media, interested in keeping the election close (and in not creating an anti-media backlash vote), will be moved to carry their own versions of the map. After all, unlike Real Clear Politics and CNN, over at MSNBC and CBS, they’re still running maps that show neither candidate having enough likely electoral votes to claim victory.

I dislike the fact that the media base so much election coverage on polls. But I dislike even more that they they misrepresent their own polling information, which now suggests, barring some nearly miraculous event, that Obama will win big and Sarah Palin will be sent packing back to Alaska (but apparently won’t be packing the $130,000 worth of new clothing bought for her by the GOP since she became the VP nominee).

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