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 ‘Republican National Convention’

Johnny comes lately to change: Let the campaign begin

Posted by James McPherson on September 4, 2008

A week ago I wrote that the Democrats had achieved most of what they hoped for at their convention. After listening to John McCain tonight, I think the Republicans did the same. I now think the GOP might get more of a bounce than I previously predicted, though I disagree with the commentators who tonight predicted that he would at least briefly pull ahead in the race.

As for the McCain’s speech, I thought it was exciting for the last three minutes, and OK but fairly dull before that (though maybe I’m the only one tired of hearing the POW story and yearning for specifics). I wasn’t as impressed with the speech as some of the talking heads, though perhaps that’s a reflection of my own bias (and my conservative buddy Mike is the speech professor). Topping Sarah Palin’s speech of last night would have been tough for McCain. Not surprisingly Fox News commentators seemed to like his speech the best, though PBS folks (except for liiberal Mark Shields) also lauded it.

Some of the most honest parts of the speech came when McCain criticized the current administration (though never by name), following the “change” message of the entire convention. The Republicans ended up benefitting from Hurricane Gustav, which kept President Bush–the implied target of many of the negative comments–off of the convention floor.

McCain failed to say how he will do things differently than the current president or his fellow Republican congressmen, who waged power for six years and then still had enough power to keep Democrats from enacting any meaningful legislation for the past two years. He drew some of his best response with promises to reform education–but conservatives before Bush thought education should be left to the states.

Liberals generally think the feds should be involved in things as important as education, but not in the way that McCain and Bush think they should be involved. Most Americans will agree with McCain that Washington and America need change, but he is literally a “johnny-come-lately” to the idea. He’ll need some real ideas to back up the talk.

The next two months should be interesting. I’ve written repeatedly that not much that happened before now would matter much to voters. But now they’ve started paying attention, and each speech and perceived gaffe will matter more–especially what I call the “blogcessive compulsive” times. McCain appropriately said little or nothing about Republican hot buttons such as abortion and gay marriage in his speech, but he will have to address them in the weeks to come.

Now that people are tuned in, it would be nice if the mainstream news media would focus on the issues Americans will face and how each candidate might realistically affect those issues. Don’t hold your breath.

Saturday update: Al-jazeera summarizes what’s ahead in the election.

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

GOP VP nominee not Palin’ by comparison to Biden

Posted by James McPherson on September 3, 2008

From “bullshit” to bull moose: In her speech earlier tonight, Sarah Palin showed that she can not only shoot down and field dress the meat, but she can also pitch that red meat to the Republican base. She has no apparent qualms about doing what good VP candidates are supposed to do, attack the other side. Joe Biden won’t be the only VP pit bull–with or without lipstick–in this campaign.

Palin gave a good speech, with the usual convention-sized helpings of exaggeration and mischaracterization sprinkled with lie or two (she should quit repeating her false-but-appealing “bridge to nowhere” story, or that’s where it the bridge may help take her campaign). Palin did well what she had to do, though now that she’s “out there” without days to prepare for each appearance things may get tougher. On the other hand, Jay Rosen offers this somewhat depressing quote in considering the apparent McCain-Palin strategy:

Strategy: Comes from Bush, the younger. When realities uncovered are directly in conflict with prior claims, consider the option of keeping the claims and breaking with reality. Done the right way, it’s a demonstration of strength. It dismays and weakens the press. And it can be great theatre.

Rosen discusses how the GOP might reignite the culture war (it’s best strategy in the past couple of presidential elections), and elements of that war could be seen tonight. There wasn’t much on abortion–after all, Palin’s warmup act was pro-abortion, pro-gay civil unions, pro-gun control Rudy “9/11” Giuliani (I would like to see Rudy try to wrestle a rifle from Palin). But there has been plenty in recent days from the GOP (and its Fox News mouthpieces) about “elites” (a funny term for a ticket with at least 10 houses between them) and about that old Republican favorite, “the liberal media.”

It also was interesting to hear Palin and other speakers during the evening talk about the need for “change” from Washington politics. They obviously hope that a fair number of Americans will forget that it’s their president–the one McCain votes with most of the time–who has occupied the White House for the past eight years, and that their party controlled Congress for almost that entire time (while holding enough seats to sustain George W. Bush’s vetoes for the last two years, after the electorate kicked many–but not quite enough–of them out of office).

McCain himself was a Senator for all of that time, though he hasn’t showed up for the past five months. Giuliani made fun of Obama for voting “present,” but it has been quite a while since McCain could even say that much.

One media problem the McCain camp is trying to head off, fresh on the heels of the Bristol Palin pregnancy: the latest National Enquirer story about an alleged Sarah Palin affair. This is the sort of story that many of us would consider to be unlikely and irrelevant trash–but the exact thing that many conservatives recently criticized the mainstream media for not following up after the Enquirer reported similar allegations about John Edwards.

Unfortunately, as long as the major media let bloggers and tabloids dictate news selection, the GOP will have a case against the press–but it’s not a case of bias, as Republicans now pretend, as much as it is a case of laziness and sensationalism. And the Democrats can made the same case.

A even more ludicrous complaint from the McCain folks is that criticism of Palin’s obvious lack of experience is somehow sexist. That’s just stupid, especially since the GOP has been citing Obama’s lack of experience for months. Using their own reasoning, one would be forced to assume their criticisms stem from racism.

Tomorrow night is McCain’s turn. Any bets on how many times his years as a POW will come up?

Thursday elitist note: Vanity Fair estimates that Cindy McCain’s outfit from the other night cost approximately $300,000. Most of those “small town Americans” that the Republicans keep talking about that didn’t pay that much for their houses. And most of them only have one house.

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

The Obama convention bump, and the McCain bump in the road

Posted by James McPherson on September 2, 2008

If the polls are to be believed (and as I’ve written before, at this point they shouldn’t be taken too seriously), Barack Obama apparently got a perhaps-significant bump out of the Democratic National Convention. The lastest Gallup national tracking poll has him getting 50 percent of registered voters, up from 41 percent early in the convention (right in line with the 8-12 percent increase I predicted).

Of course other polls have Obama moving up much less, if at all, illustrating that negligible value of these things at this point. But the media and bloggers on both sides keep using them to support faulty arguments.

For the record, I expect the GOP to get a much smaller boost from its convention, partly because it was shaping up to be less interesting to begin with (no stadium, older candidate, less conflict), partly because of Hurricane Gustav and the many political and personal questions surrounding Sarah Palin and her place on John McCain’s ticket.

McCain’s convention probably won’t copy the John Kerry trick of four years ago of actually bringing his party farther down, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see things stay where they are, and I’d be surprised at a jump of more than two or three points.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Sarah Palin draw a bigger audience Wednesday than John McCain does Thursday if their speeches are on consecutive nights. The Republicans may want to stay with their hurricane-induced proposal of having both speak on the same night, the last night of the convention. After all the Dems won’t be able to counter the next day with something as dramatic as what the Republicans did last Friday.

On the other hand, though I don’t expect it, the GOP may do something equally dramatic on bad-news Friday.

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

God’s will and praying for rain

Posted by James McPherson on August 31, 2008

A brief but disturbing post: Do you suppose that Stuart Shepard believes that God intends to punish those affected by Hurricane Gustav, including the more than 75 people killed so far? That Pat Robertson-style idea seems to be Shepard’s message with the latter part of his recent edition of “Stoplight.”

Incidentally, I agree with the GOP decision to scale back its convention because of the hurricane, and with Barack Obama’s call for his supporters to volunteer help the victims. Oh, and Stuart, in answer to your question: Yes, what you were proposing would be wrong. And unlike a few wackier liberals, as I wrote a couple of days ago, I had hoped the GOP convention would be able to proceed without problems so the Republicans could get their message out. I’m convinced that message, if heard clearly, will be what keeps most American voters from casting ballots for John McCain.

Below are Shepard’s video (since pulled from the Focus on the Family Web site) and a CNN video that provides a bit more info about it.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

McCain’s VP choice

Posted by James McPherson on August 30, 2008

So Sarah Palin it is. And even though I recommended her back in June, I’m surprised by the selection, in part because of some of the things that have happened in the past couple of months to cut into her approval ratings even in Alaska and in part because John McCain had spent so much time with better-known candidates while apparently having met Palin only once before her selection.

To me, her selection at this point is tinged with a bit of desperation, like the timing of Barack Obama’s selection of Joe Biden (whom I also had recommended). 

We’ll see how Palin holds up to national scrutiny, and whether the national media can focus on meaningful issues such as what she favors (including guns, teaching creationism in schools, and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge) and what she opposes (including abortion, stem cell research, the Endangered Species Act and state health benefits for same-sex couples), rather than on her physical appearance (she has already repeatedly been termed “America’s hottest governor”) or her voice (two irrelevancies for which Hillary Clinton was regularly criticized).

We’ll see Palin speak on Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention. It will be tough for Republicans to draw the number of viewers that the Democrats did at their convention, for reasons I’ve discussed previously, but her address is bound to draw the curious. Republicans are no doubt hoping that McCain can draw as many viewers as his VP nominee the following night.

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

Pressure now on McCain, GOP

Posted by James McPherson on August 29, 2008

It appears that, as expected, John McCain will announce his running mate today in an effort to decrease Barack Obama’s post-convention bounce in the polls. Republicans should hope, of course, that voters don’t make one interesting coincidental connection–the fact that the Bush administration and McCain have made an art of releasing bad news on Fridays so as to draw as little attention as possible.

We don’t yet know what Obama’s convention bounce will be (I expect 8-12 percent over where he was when the convention started), and as I’ve stated previously, the polls don’t mean a lot at this point, anyway. Nor do we know what impact McCain’s choice for VP might have. One fascinating note for me: Fox News is noting this morning (though Drudge disagrees) that Sarah Palin might be the pick–which would mean both McCain and Obama made the selections I said they should (though I doubt either of them was reading my blog for advice).

It does seem that Obama and other key Democrats–Hillary and Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama in particular–did what they wanted to do in their convention, and that last night Obama gave a speech worthy of the grand venue chosen for it. That puts more pressure on McCain and his party to do well this week at their own convention, assuming the weather and events cooperate.

Incidentally, one respondent has suggested that because I noted that Tropical Storm Gustov may put a dent in the Republicans’ ability to get their message out, I actually was hoping for a hurricane. That contention is both ludicrous and insulting, of course. Unlike Pat Robertson and a few other assorted nuts, I don’t believe God uses hundreds or thousands of weather-related deaths to punish sinners (remember the Noah’s Ark rainbow story from Sunday School?), and no rational person would wish for a natural disaster under any circumstances.

Analyzing the media and politics is what I do in my real job, not just as a blog hobby. But suggesting that what I predict MAY happen is an expression of my own desire makes little sense. After all, you may recall that I predicted that Obama, Hillary Clinton and McCain would all be leading presidential candidates even before any of them announced their intent to run–even though none of the three were among my two favorite candidates. I predicted years ago that George W. Bush would be a disaster as president, though for the sake of my country and its people I hoped otherwise. I predicted that Bush and a gutless Congress would take us to war in Iraq and that the war would last for years, though I opposed the war from the outset.

Besides, I hope the GOP convention goes off without a hitch and that the Republicans get their message out. As I hope I’ve made clear elsewhere in this blog, I think we need as much information as possible–even (and maybe especially) from sources with which we generally disagree–to make the choices necessary for meaningful self-government.

By the way, speaking of my real job, today I’m off on a day-long retreat and next week I go back to teaching four classes, advising a student newspaper, and participating in various committee roles and other activities. I’ve also promised to complete a book chapter within the next couple of weeks, and am organizing a January study program taking a dozen students to New York and Washington, D.C.

The point isn’t to garner sympathy (though I’ll take it), but to note that, though I’ve tried to post entries here at least four days a week throughout the summer, my frequency likely will decrease during the school year. Of course, there are a multitude of good sources in the links at the right side of this page to keep you busy on days I don’t happen to post.

Thanks for reading, and for any comments you feel moved to make. And have a great weekend.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Another Clinton triumph; can GOP compete?

Posted by James McPherson on August 28, 2008

Like Hillary Clinton the night before, last night Bill Clinton did what I predicted he would at the Democratic National Convention, coming out strongly in support of Barack Obama. Bill Clinton gave a maybe the best speech of the convention so far, after getting an opening ovation even longer than that for Ted Kennedy two nights earlier (more cheers, fewer tears).

In other convention activities, the roll call vote offered some interesting drama, vice presidential nominee Joe Biden gave a sometimes touching, sometimes tough (but less effective than Clinton’s) address, and Obama made a surprise appearance at the end. All in all the night was a positive one for the Democrats. Still, the promise of drama outweighed the actuality, partly because the nervous Dems had both the roll call and Clinton’s speech early, not during prime time.

Maybe it was just me being tired and sometimes bored myself, but even the talking heads seemed a bit off after the night’s activities were over–less eager to compete for airtime, less enthused about making pro- or anti-Clinton points. An interesting thought occurred to me as a result. It could be that they’re all getting tired. If so, that might be a negative for John McCain.

Until yesterday, I thought the Republicans had an advantage in terms of potential post-convention “bounce,” because their convention comes just days after the Democratic Convention. In addition, McCain apparently will name his running mate today or tomorrow, in a further attempt to blunt the impact of Obama’s mile-high stadium extravaganza tonight (a reminder: CNN has paid for the best camera angles for the stadium coverage).

Now, however, I’m not sure that I’d want to be in the Republicans’ shoes. After two weeks of the Olympics and this week’s convention, and with summer coming to an end, it may be that most Americans are tired of made-for-TV specials and ready for regular programming to begin. Watching a four-day miniseries that revolves around an old white guy whom everyone thinks they know (and that’s one line the GOP has been pushing heavily, that you “know” McCain but not Obama) may turn viewers away in droves, especially if he selects another fairly dull white guy as his running mate.

Another potential problem for the McCain camp is the fact that a hurricane named Gustav may be bigger news than the convention next week, especially in places like Florida and Louisiana. If Gustav happens to hit near New Orleans on Monday or Tuesday, it might be a “perfect storm” for destroying Republican hopes of getting much positive coverage out of their convention.

Face it, people aren’t likely to spend much time watching a bunch of speeches from mostly white folks in Minnesota, especially if they’re looking to see if black people will again be stranded on rooftops in Louisiana–and how the Bush administration, which McCain hopes to continue in many ways, will respond this time around.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 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 »

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Posted by James McPherson on June 18, 2008

There is naturally a lot of discussion over whom each of the candidates should choose as a running mate. The Los Angeles Times and others have named Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Mark Sanford, Richard Burr, Paul Ryan, Tim Pawlenty and Charlie Crist as possibilities–though since rumors that Crist is gay keep bubbling up and the last thing the party of Mark Foley and Larry Craig needs is another gay sex scandal, I doubt he’ll be any more than a campaigner for McCain. 

A popular choice among pundits–but probably no one else outside of Israel–is former Democratic vice presidential nominee and current McCain lapdog Joe Lieberman. (Yes, he acts more like an eager-to-please Labrador retriever than a lap-sized pocket pooch, but I can attest even a 100-pound Lab like mine considers itself to be a lapdog). Republican bloggers have broadened the list of potential running mates, including such possibilities as Condi Rice, J.C. Watts, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giulianni, Haley Barbour, Tom Coburn, Duncan Hunter, Marsha Blackburn or Sarah Palin.

Despite the advice he’ll get from the Huckabee Alliance and others, McCain should choose Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn or Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Both are young, attractive and female. That might make Cindy McCain, the one most familiar with his history, and some social conservatives a bit nervous, but in a post-Bill Clinton world I doubt that Democrats would raise improper questions. The youth and gender of either Blackburn or Palin would help McCain among young voters, disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters, and dirty old men. Of those two choices, I prefer Palin–a University of Idaho journalism graduate, former beauty pageant “Miss Congeniality,” mother of five, lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and very popular governor.

As for when McCain should name Palin as the nominee (though I hate to help the GOP): I suggest Sunday, Aug. 24. That’s the day before the start of the Democratic National Convention, which runs Aug. 25-28. That would greatly reduce the positive attention paid to the Dems, especially since the networks have largely abandoned most coverage of the highly scripted conventions, anyway. It would also leave Democrats scrambling to consider responding during the speeches of the Democratic VP choice that Wednesday night or of Obama that Thursday night. Frankly, I’d recommend that they not address it at all, since there are too many ways they could do so badly–another reason McCain should introduce her then.

Since the Republican National Convention isn’t until Sept. 1-4, that would give people a week to learn more about Palin and for the news media to come up with all they could–which with such short notice would almost certainly be superficial and glowing. And that’s still more than two months before the general election, which would generate buzz at exactly the time most Americans will finally start paying attention to the electoral process. 

AUGUST 1 UPDATE: Lots of other folks are discussing Palin as McCain’s choice.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 27 Comments »