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 ‘television’

Democrats panicky: read all about it (while you still can)

Posted by James McPherson on March 11, 2009

Apparently some Democrats want Barack Obama, in the words of a CNN headline, to “Hurry up and fix the economy.” Put another way, members of the party without guts are joining members of the party without ideas in begging the new president–now in office for more than a month and a half, after all–to undo all that they have done (or failed to do) through greed and  partisanship for the past decade. Perhaps they wanted him to reject the funding bill they just passed, rather than offering threats about future such bills?

And speaking of a part of the economy near and dear to me, my home state legislature is about to approve a tax cut for newspapers (which may not be enough to keep one of the two newspapers in our biggest city from shutting down next week). Even politicians who proclaim to hate the media recognize the importance of newspapers for getting out their messages, and for citizens to be able to govern themselves.

Citizens themselves don’t get that, though–as demonstrated by a Time article listing 10 more newspapers about to fail, and a Wired article saying that even a New York Times employee thinks newspapers don’t matter. He’s wrong, of course. But more and more newspapers are disappearing, and all of us suffer as a result. Face it; even Obama can’t save us from ourselves.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Kill your TV–or at least put it in a coma–before the government kills it for you

Posted by James McPherson on February 5, 2009

Congress has again delayed the required switch to digital, giving many of the elderly, the young, the poor and the clueless a few more months to switch to cable or to get the converter boxes that they hope will let them get a signal after the switch is made. The delay, unwanted by many, also will continue to burden broadcasters with the costs of transmitting both digital and analog signals–while to some degree reaffirming the generally positive news that traditional Democratic constituencies have gained some power while traditional Republican constituencies have lost some.

I am troubled by the fact that articles keep reassuring us that “People who pay for cable or satellite TV service will be unaffected by the change,” a claim that may be untrue. At the same time, the issue reminds us that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for more of us to kill our televisions for a while. killtv

In the days before the wonders of the Internet or the curse of talk radio, I once went from being a newspaper editor who read three or four newspapers every day and watched a lot of television news to living in a bus and consciously trying to avoid the news media. for The experiment lasted for just over a year, and proved enlightening. I read a lot more, and enjoyed a wider variety of reading. I spent more time outside, played more with my dog, and got more exercise. My wife and I talked more (and yes, after more than a year in a bus we’re still married–28 years next week). I thought more. And I missed almost nothing of consequence.

As a lover and scholar of media and a former media professional, it pains me a bit to note that when I went back to being a news junkie at the end of my media hiatus, the news was pretty much the same as it had been before. The Middle East was still screwed up, and Israel and its neighbors were fighting. Thousands were dying in Africa and elsewhere of things we could prevent. And an excessive amount of news coverage was devoted to entertainment news and random violence, especially violence against pretty dead white women.

Yesterday I asked students in my meda criticism class to try to go eight consecutive waking hours without radio, television, texting, print media or the Internet. Judging by the gasps and groans, I suspect that most won’t last two hours. Yet I have highly intelligent friends who rely very little on technology (they do tend to read more than most of us). My brother once went three years without watching television or a movie. A writer friend says watching the chickens in his backyard is more interesting than most of what’s on television. I understand, having seen for myself that a goldfish pond in the summer is more mesmerizing than almost anything on “American Idol.”

Still, I can’t see totally cutting myself off from media, at least before I have to. But I do think taking breaks from the barrage of media messages from time to time is valuable. Besides my bus sabbatical, I’ve spent a year or so without television a couple of other times. Even a few days in the mountains or by the ocean offers a sense of renewel and a reaffirmation of one’s own existence–an affirmation that doesn’t have to be generated by Facebook friends“–that is good for the brain and the soul.

I’ll conclude by letting Ned’s Atomic Dustbin say it in a different way:

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Web vs. bed: choosing surfing over sex

Posted by James McPherson on December 16, 2008

A story this week suggests that, according to a Harris poll commissioned by Intel, many people would forgo  sex before they’d give up the  Internet.

The story, based on an Intel news release, says most people find the Internet to be essential to daily lives. A CNET poll cited in the same CNN story offers this odd note: “Results as of Monday from CNET’s related online poll showed that 30.5 percent of respondents would give up sex for one year, while 26.1 percent would do without Internet access for a year. Almost 40 percent of voters didn’t want to sacrifice either.” Given no restrictions as a choice, it’s less than half?

Does this mean–despite Fox News content on any given day–that we are less sex-crazed than Web-crazed (after all, another Harris poll shows that 80 percent of us now use the Internet)? Or that Internet porn has displaced real-life sex? Would this explain how an avatar affair can lead to divorce?

Probably none of the above. Though the titillating story made CNN’s front page and probably will get a lot of attention–and generate lots of discussion about Internet addiction, American priorities, etc.–the two surveys have  several obvious flaws. The most obvious is that that both were conducted online.

In other words, those answering the questions were using the Internet at the time they answered. Probably none were having sex at the time they answered. We also don’t know how those  people are using the Internet. As anyone with an inadequate pop-up blocker can testify, many are apparently going online for sexual content.

And we can’t tell how many of those who answered are already going long periods of time without sex. Those most involved with technology may be least inclined toward human interaction of all sorts, though it may be impossible to determine which leads to which.

Regardless, most of us with Internet access are plugging in multiple times per day, while even a good good sexual experience, according to yet another study, takes less time than does a meaningful Web search.

According to the CNN story, a fourth survey does suggest that giving away big-screen televisions could promote abstinance, at least in the short term. Perhaps not surprisingly, that was more true for men than for women. No word on whether that survey was conduct during football season.

Posted in Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 »

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 »