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 ‘sensationalism’

Something you’ve seen before

Posted by James McPherson on April 14, 2009

fake-newspaper-clipping4You probably haven’t seen the exact headline contained on the newspaper clipping here, though perhaps you would expect to by now.

Though it won’t win me a “Webby” (not to poke fun at the awards, since PBS, NPR and FactCheck.org have all been among the winners), for my 300th post I thought I’d do something a little different–or pretty much the same, as has become the case for much of American journalism.

I wrote the original post contained in the “clipping” here back on April 1. Sadly, unlike my other post of the same day, the information here is all too real.

You can make up your own fake clippings (or many other items, such as the one below) at the Clipping Generator. clapperboard-2

Posted in History, Journalism, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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 »

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 »