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 ‘Shirley Sherrod’

My first NYT quotes, and a wacky conservative reaction

Posted by James McPherson on June 26, 2011

I made the New York Times for the first time today, and hadn’t even noticed it until this blog got a pingback from a conservative blogger who chose to criticize me–not surprisingly, doing so inaccurately. (I’d been interviewed by the Times once before, but that time had my quotes end up on the cutting room floor., just like the time I was interviewed by C-SPAN.)

The Times piece, written by Jeremy W. Peters, is about conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, to whom Peters cogently refers as “part performance artist, part polemicist.” Neither my comments nor the article were particularly harsh in regard to the guy famous for distortion of stories about Acorn and Shirley Sherrod.

In fact, Breitbart himself commended Peters to Sean Hannity just a week ago, saying the author had defended him from liberal bloggers  during the Netroots Nation blogger conference. And the conservative Media Research Center complimented Peters for another article about Breitbart earlier this month, so the journalist could hardly be considered a Breitbart basher.

In fact, the person most critical of Breitbart in today’s article is… Andrew Breitbart, whom Peters quoted as saying: “I admit it. I’m from LA. I still am shallow. Don’t anyone think otherwise.”

My most critical comment (in the article, at least): “I think his actions show that if he’s not willing to distort, he is at least careless with the facts.” I was more critical of his followers (and by inference, at least, those who are similarly committed to left-wing bloggers): “There are no standards of fact anymore for a lot of people. We’ve gone from selecting sources of opinion that we agree with to selecting facts that we agree with.”

My only other quote in the article: “On the right, [Breitbart] is seen as an investigative journalist along the lines of Woodward and Bernstein.” Scathing, huh? Well, scathing enough to have a right-wing blogger criticize me in a silly and inaccurate post titled “NYT uses Blumenthal crony to attack Breitbart.”

The post was short, but  managed to get several things wrong. I followed up with a polite correction in the comments–which the blogger refused to approve, instead  following up with another short snide comment of his own. So for what it’s worth, I’ll go ahead and correct the record here.

First, blogger Moe Lane stated that I “wrote a book with Sid  Blumenthal.” Though I’m happy that Blumenthal wrote the foreword for my latest book–at the request of the publisher, Northwestern University Press–some time after I wrote the book (and in response to what’s in it), I have never met him, talked to him, or corresponded with him, let alone co-written anything with him. Lane’s reference to me as a “Blumenthal crony,” while in fact fairly complimentary, is in fact ludicrous.

Besides, I didn’t want a liberal to write the foreword in the first place, since the book is a scholarly work about the rise of modern conservativism. I had recommended that NU Press try to get George Will, Pat Buchanan or William F. Buckley to read and write about the book.

Lane also writes that “a perusal of McPherson’s blog indicates that, for somebody supposedly interested in objective journalism, he likes to call people names and babble about conspiracy theories.” As I pointed out to Lane–and frequently here–I’m hardly someone who would qualify as “supposedly interested in objective journalism,” since I don’t believe there is such a thing.

Though I don’t disput that sometimes I “call people names,” the post to which Lane links to prove the point is probably more critical of Barack Obama than of anyone else. And of course regular readers here know that I “babble about conspiracy theories” to make fun of them–as I clearly did with the one Lane linked to but apparenlty didn’t bother to read closely.

On the plus side, both Lane and Peters included the title of my book. And perhaps Oscar Wilde was right when he said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Even more to the point is the line attributed to Irish writer Brendan Behan, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”

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

Right-wing lies lead to Vil-sacking

Posted by James McPherson on July 21, 2010

With the amazingly speedy news cycle we now have, it’s already old news that a right-wing blogger lied about an Obama administration official, that the lie was spread by Fox News, and that the official was wrongly forced to resign because her bosses were too lazy or cowardly or paranoid to check out the truth and stand up to the liars.

Fox then gained the added benefit of being able to then suggest that Shirley Sherrod had been railroaded by the administration, despite the fact that with this runaway train it was Fox News was among those pouring on the coal. (Sherrod apparently may have been fired even before the story appeared on Fox, though with the apparent knowledge that it would appear there.)

Today Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack accepted full responsibility for the mess, publicly apologized to Sherrod, and offered her another job.

“I didn’t take the time I should have,” said Vilsack, who was portrayed by himself and others as the villain in the case. And there’s no doubt that Vilsack blew it, though of course he had help. And others were equally quick to react badly, including the NAACP.

It’s no surprise that Fox would turn bad information from a questionable source into a biased story designed to make the administration look bad, of course–that’s what the network does. This is at least twice from the same Matt Drudge spinoff; the first was the much more widespread lying about ACORN. Sadly, also not surprising is that Bill O’Reilly thinks the false stories should get even more coverage from other media–perhaps so his employer won’t so often stand alone among major networks in its stupidity.

Nor should we be surprised that a multitude of kneejerk bloggers quickly relayed the bad info (sometimes adding their own obnoxious comments or misstatements); for examples, see here, here, here, herehere, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. At this writing, only the last two of those had offered a full correction or apology.

This case provides further evidence that you cannot fully trust video unless you shot it yourself. Another sad but probably true reminder comes from Bob Cesca at Huffington Post: “This will all happen again. Why? Because the traditional news media and, to a certain extent, the Democrats including the president, are too easily cowed by right-wing freakouts.”

Same-day update: Thanks to Poynter’s Jim Romenesko, I just came across this excellent summary of the case and some the media issues involved.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »