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 ‘stem cell research’

Catholics and conservatives campaign against mythical threats

Posted by James McPherson on February 19, 2009

You might think that with various economic crises, a housing crisis, worsening unemployment, rampaging monkeys and race issues, there would be enough to fear in America today. Obviously if you thought that you’d be wrong. A couple of days ago I wrote about Sarah Palin (who apparently pays taxes as if she were a Democrat) grabbing a bit of face time on Fox News (the sort of time she has billed Alaskan taxpayers for in the past)  to warn against the Fairness Doctrine. Now Time reports that Catholics are waging a lobbying effort and national postcard campaign against the Freedom of Choice Act.

The problem, of course, is that there is no such Freedom of Choice Act, just as–despite the wails of right-wing fear-mongers (including some who cloak themselves at “think tanks“–there is virtually no chance of the Fairness Doctrine ever returning. So why the campaign against them? Mostly, in my view, to keep “the base” (particularly the more ignorant parts of the base) constantly fearful. The Fairness Doctrine and the Freedom of Choice Act seem to be just the latest monsters under the conservative bed, keeping key parts of the base shivering under the covers.

As I wrote in my most recent book, conservatives gained power in part because they were so effective at engaging in scare tactics. Fox News and conservative talk radio often get the credit for bringing Republicans to power, but in fact direct mail was the most important medium in the conservative resurgence. Direct mail was most effective because, like the Internet today, it could reach people one-on-one and scare them with threats of what they feared most, even if the scaring often veered into exaggeration or outright dishonesty. It also was largely ignored by Democrats and by the mainstream media (and scholars of media and politics, for that matter), which is why so many of them were surprised by increasing conservative influence that often seemed to run counter to what most Americans said they believed.

Apparently one can’t have too many threatening bed monsters, so I’ve decided to do my bit to help conservatives in their cause. With my blessing, they can now start warning their followers about the following seven fictional threats that Congress may consider:

The First Peoples Trump Trump Act: Now that Native Americans have proven to be better at business than Donald Trump, all gambling properties in America–along with the entire states of Florida, Nevada and Arizona–will be given back to the Indians. Texas, New Mexico and California will be given back to Mexico. The non-gambling portion of New Jersey will be given to anyone willing to take it.

The Workers of Color Act: If two people want the same job, that job will automatically go to the person with the darkest skin. The exception is in the case of a conservative black person, who will be treated under this act as if s/he were white.

The Make Up for Slavery Act: Once promised “40 acres and a mule,” the descendents of slaves will finally be granted those awards, with interest. Because of the state of the economy, the interest will include the entire states of Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, both Carolinas, and any part of Virginia ever owned by George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.

The Congressional Clone Act: Any clone created from the DNA of a member of Congress will automatically be entitled to claim that Congressional seat when the original holder dies. Once Republicans have lost the remaining seats they now hold in Congress, the CCA will be the only means by which a new Congressman or Senator can be appointed, except via normal elections.

The ACORN Elections Act: Since normal elections will still take place, this bill will do away with the Federal Elections Commission and put ACORN in charge of all electoral activities at the federal and state levels.

The Test-Tube Voter Act: Any person who develops out of an implanted embryo that might instead have been used for stem cell research shall be denied all voting rights on account of selfishness.

The Happy Cheerful Gay Marriage Act: No person shall be allowed to marry unless both parties seem appropriately happy. Any two creatures judged to be appropriately happy can marry, regardless of sexual orientation, race, age or species. “Appropriate happiness” will be judged by a Congressional subcommittee chaired by Barney Frank–or his clone.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

If you’re going to write anything stupid in the future, don’t come to my class

Posted by James McPherson on December 21, 2008

Though the event boasted about as much security as Barack Obama’s inauguration will (and probably was even more expensive), Iraq’s public Christmas celebration yesterday was a good sign. Despite the security, chances are good that Bill O’Reilly or some other right-wing self-appointed “protector of Christmas”  will make some ludicrous comment tomorrow about it supposedly being easier to celebrate Christmas publicly in Baghdad than in Washington.

I expect that O’Reilly will overlook the fact that it may be more dangerous to be a Christian in Iraq today than at any time in history, and that millions of Christians have fled the country or been killed for their religious beliefs. Still, I was struck by a quote from an Iraq Interior Ministry official at the Christmas party, attended by many Muslims, that “All Iraqis are Christian today!”

The quote and the party are nice symbols of unity (though I didn’t see anything about the event on al-Jazeera today). Unfortunately, here at home, George “I’m a Uniter, not a Divider” Bush has again gone the divisive route by apparently deciding that conservative Christians should be allowed to dictate health policy for America as a whole.

That might explain why among his various lame-duck actions–which so far include attempts to ease offshore drilling, weakening the Endangered Species Act, trying to rewrite the history of his administration while dodging shoes (and perhaps other objects to come), and perhaps wondering whether to pardon Dick Cheney or just shoot him in the face–George W. Bush on Thursday announced its new “conscious protection” rule to keep health care workers from doing jobs they find “morally objectionable.”

The regulation is set to take effect the day before Bush leaves office (I guess he thinks there’s no real hurry), giving Obama’s administration one more thing to work on overturning one day later. Of course assorted feministes, rape victims, those in favor of legalized abortion, those concerned about teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and other assorted people concerned about women’s health in general hate the new regulation.

My immediate reaction was similar to those in opposition–that this is yet another stupid, petty Bushian effort to impose the Religious Right’s beliefs on everyone else–but then I realized that, taken to its natural conclusion, this decision could make my own job as a college professor teaching journalism classes a lot easier.

See, I normally ask students at the beginning of a semester to write a short paper telling me why they’re in my class, what they hope it will teach them, and how they hope to use it in the future. I do the assignment mostly so that I can tailor the class to students’ needs, where appropriate. If I have several students in my media writing class who plan to enter public relations, for example, I’ll spend a little more time on that topic than if I have a class full of future broadcast journalists.

My obvious mistake is that I’ve made the assignment about them, instead of about me. In the past I’ve thought that it was my job to teach them the necessary skills to succeed in their chosen profession, and, if possible, to get them to look at things from a variety of perspectives. Since they’re adults, albeit young ones, I assumed that they might be capable of making the decisions that were right for them.

Yet many of those students eventually go on to write conservative columns, work for conservative politicians, or do public relations for conservative organizations. Despite the wailings of David Horowitz and similar fear-based donor-funded nuts, and to the probable dismay of some egotistical academics, we liberal professors just don’t have all that much political influence on our students (neither do the conservative profs, which, though outnumbered, still are relatively common).

So now when when I ask my opening questions I’ll be on the lookout for students who might plan to someday use any writing or editing skills picked up in my classes for evil purposes. Since I teach at a Christian university and most of my students are political conservatives, if we can get the latest Bush doctrine expanded, this might greatly reduce my workload.

A Christian myself, of course I’ll continue to teach journalism basics to the “right kind” of believers–those opposed to war and torture and in favor of tolerance, telling the truth, and helping the poor.

But as soon as a student suggests (as many have, over the years) that she hopes to go on to work in government or church activities, maybe even in a way that will help promote her own conservative views, I’m obviously going to have to know a lot more before I agree to share the wonders of the summary lead or the inverted pyramid.

Christmas Day update: Chrismas has been named a national holiday in Iraq for the first time, though there are far fewer Christians left in the country to celebrate it.

Posted in Education, Legal issues, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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 »