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 ‘The Daily Show’

A weird, sad week in journalism

Posted by James McPherson on February 12, 2015

Journalism has taken a lot of hits in recent years, but this week has been weirder and sadder than most. Respected television journalist Bob Simon died Wednesday– not in one of the many wars he covered, but in that most mundane American way, a car crash. Two days earlier, even more popular (though less talented) journalist Brian Williams shot down his own career with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Frankly, though I liked Williams as an entertainer on “Saturday Night Live” and while “slow jamming the news,” I haven’t considered most television “news” people to be journalists since they began parading through “Murphy Brown” more than two decades ago. Identifying “real journalism vs. fake journalism” has become increasingly difficult.

This week we must also face the loss of two people who in recent years have done far more than most to keep journalists honest. On Monday, Jon Stewart (not a journalist, but for many of us a source for more news than Williams ever was), announced that he would leave Comedy Central’s most important program, “The Daily Show.” And tonight the New York Times’ David Carr, probably the best media critic in the business, died in the newsroom shortly after moderating a discussion involving Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.

Though I thought Carr was sometimes overly crabby in his public persona, I admired his work and liked him for more than his writing. Several years ago, he interviewed me for more than a half hour — then apologized after the story ran without my quotes because an editor apparently decided “one historian was enough.” I thanked him, and, as a recovering alcoholic, congratulated him on his successful fight with drug addiction. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve always suspected that he had a hand in my later being interviewed by another Times reporter for a story about Andrew Breitbart.

Interestingly, part of my quote about Breitbart in that story might apply to Brian Williams: “I think his actions show that if he’s not willing to distort, he is at least careless with the facts. … But there are no standards of fact anymore for some people.”

One of the few positive notes this week somewhat related to journalism is that WorldNutsDaily managed to tie Barack Obama’s birth certificate to the Williams story. That piece quotes Alan Jones, apparently no relation to the Jones whom I have previously called “perhaps the most bat-shit crazy conspiracy theorist in America.”

But for those of us who care about journalism, a dose of birther lunacy can’t come close to making up for how much the rest of the week sucked. A world without Jon Stewart, Bob Simon and David Carr is a meaner, dumber world.

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Posted in Journalism, Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

‘What’s happenin’ here?’ The news ain’t exactly clear: How to keep up with what’s going on, and why

Posted by James McPherson on December 2, 2008

I got a kick out of it a few months ago when former student and follow blogger Grady Locklear, wrote in a post that I seemed “to check in with every news source under the sun on a daily basis.” I don’t, of course, though I do follow the news more closely than most people. After all, it’s my job.

But if you’re an American citizen who cares about such things as freedom, self-government and democracy, paying attention to the news is your job, too. Fortunately, it’s also not all that difficult, though the news media don’t always make it as simple as it could be. It’s not totally your fault that you probably know more about Natalie Holloway than about NAFTA.

For example, a quick current events question: What outbreak of violence during the past week killed the most people? I’d be willing to bet that most folks would answer with the terrorist attacks in India. But they would be wrong, even though CNN, the New York Times and other news organizations still are focusing heavily on it. Other lead CNN stories today discuss genocide in Iraq, a much larger historical example of mass bloodshed and the possibility of future mass murder, but neither of those is related to the past week’s deadliest outbreak of violence, either.

Though I seem to get a lot of email from bankers, princes and government officials in Nigeria, apparently no one was twittering the violence there where election-related clashes between Christians and Muslims killed hundreds. I don’t think the story was in my local paper at all. CNN had a story Saturday, but unlike the India story today it is already “old news.”

To find anything about Nigeria on CNN today, you have to go to “world news” and then “Africa” (where you also can find a story about cholera killing hundreds of people in perhaps the world’s most screwed-up nation, Zimbabwe.and the New York Times carried it on an inside page.  On the New York Times site, again you must go to “world news,” where you can find a story about Myanmar’s government policies contributing to thousands of AIDS deaths but again nothing about Nigeria unless you click into the “Africa” section. There you’ll find it, if you’ve bothered to go that far.

Contrast that with al-Jazeera. It also leads with stories about India, and in fact there are a number of things that make the India story particularly important (links to terrorism, tensions between nuke nations India and Pakiston, the fact that every time I make a phone call for computer support the call is answered by someone in India, etc.). But al-Jazeera’s front page also has a story about the violence in Nigeria–along with important stories about Congo, Thailand, North Korea, Israel, Romania, Afganistan, Libya, Kuwait, South Africa, Venezuala, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia (the Georgia near Russia, not the one hosting the never-ending Sarah Palin road show).

In fact, American news media offer us far less international news than they once did, at a time when world events are perhaps more important than ever before. Foreign bureaus have been slashed, and many news organizations are letting their competitors pick up the slack–which might be fine, if more of us were reading a broader range of news sources. Most of us, however, rely on just a few. Worse, most of us rely on television, the single worst mass medium for provided context with the news.

So, back to how I follow the news. The first thing I do when I get up and start to get ready for work is flip on CNN, just to see if anything of major importance is happening (a habit I started with 9/11, after a colleague called me to tell me to turn on the television). I usually read my local paper with breakfast, then go to work. I listen to NPR on my way in, and frequently listen to conservative talk radio on my way home (except on the rare occasions I get out early enough to catch “Marketplace”).

At various times during the day, as I have short breaks, I then check in with other media. I always skim the headlines at CNN and the New York Times. If I have extra time, I’ll check Fox News and the Huffington Post, to get the extremes on both political sides. And then if something from any of those sites intrigues me, I’ll follow a thread, looking for other stories on the same topic. If the topic is politics, I’ll check out Real Clear Politics. If it’s international news I’ll check al-Jazeera, the Christian Science Monitor and/or the Guardian.

At night I typically watch some of “The Newshour” on PBS, and might check in with CNN again and/or Fox News or MSNBC. Or maybe I’ll read part of a magazine: I currently subscribe to The Nation, The Progressive Ode and Time, though I vary them at times as subscriptions run out or I get good deals. I generally avoid the whirling mess of irrelevant images and video news releases provided by local television news except to check the weather or occasional sports highlights. If I’m up late enough, I’ll tune into “The Daily Show” and perhaps “The Colbert Report,” both of which offer some interesting takes on the news.

To your right, you’ll also see links to a lot of other news sources. Most of those I check in with fairly rarely, but I try to hit each one–along with a variety of bloggers from various perspectives–once a month or so. Sometimes I add or delete a link, and your preferences may vary. The most important thing, as I’ve written before, is to get your news from a variety of sources.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hillary’s convention speech and her “supporters”

Posted by James McPherson on August 27, 2008

As expected, Hillary Clinton came out in full support of Barack Obama in her Democratic Convention speech last night. As I also predicted, Fox News wasted no time in questioning whether Bill Clinton would do the same tonight.

Hillary gave an excellent speech, and after she finished speaking I spent a couple of hours flipping back and forth among the various network talking heads for their reactions. Even Chris Wallace of Fox News praised Clinton’s performance, after the other three Fox commentators had taken turns bashing her for giving a speech that was “all about her.” Most condescendingly dismissive, as might be expected, were Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol. Can anyone really watch those two preening clowns and still call liberals the “elitists”?

At least scared Foxes have some bitter company among the most diehard PUMAs, who have sought and achieved enough attention to be the focus of a segment ridiculing them on last night’s “The Daily Show.” Some PUMAs now are thrashing Hillary on the Web, and saying they will not follow where she has chosen to lead (so maybe she’s not as effective a leader as they maintain?).

Read the comment sections of a blog or two to see how much some of them are willing to twist their previous logic. (The latter of those two declares that Clinton’s message to PUMAs was to “keep running.”). Here are quotes from one PUMA who was live-blogging during Clinton’s speech:

WOW! She is really pushing Obama! Sorry, Hill. I own my vote! …

OH MY GOD! She used the Politics of FEAR! She did follow up with Universal Health Care. WOmen’s rights, civil rights, and GAY rights. Hell yeah!

Oh, no she di-in’t! Michelle can suck it!

FUCK. This is SO disheartneing! PUMAs are weeping all over the place!

She just lied about John McCain.

But at least she moved on to Seneca Falls.

Okay, that was nice. “MY mother was born before women could vote. My daughter got to vote FOR her mother.”

Nope. Not gonna do it. NOBAMA for me. No deal. Not even for you, lady.

On the other hand, many of the comments on blog posts suggested that many PUMAs will come around and vote in their best interests (again, assuming they weren’t conservatives to begin with). Another PUMA site offers this:

If anyone can make me for him, it’s her and only her. Fanboys, assholes, fauxgressives—if your asshole wins, you can thank Hills. She’s magnificent, magnanimous, and thrilling. She even manages to be kind to McCain. “Four more years of the last eight years.” …

I see her and I’m proud to be a liberal. You’re goddamned right I’m a liberal. I’m a liberal because I believe in moments like this: a woman standing on the podium at the DNC, surely thinking ahead to her next—and victorious!—run for President.

Hillary’s my President and one day I’ll see her take the oath of office. But, damn, what she stands for means enough to me to abide by her gracious wishes. She’s got more courage and class than I’ve ever had or will have, and hope never to need. …

God, I feel hope again. I feel like things can change. It’s not fear of the Them that I’m feeling; it’s the knowledge that as an American I’m part of something that’s meant to be bigger and better and nobler than what we have now.

I love the “bigger and nobler” line, which captures the essence of Clinton’s speech. And I am again reminded that seeing people strongly disagree–often with considerable justification–but still manage to come together for the greater good when the chips are on the line is one of the things that makes me most proud to be an American.

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

Howard Kurtz and the Democratic National Convention

Posted by James McPherson on August 25, 2008

“Four years ago in Boston, a young state senator named Barack Obama took the convention by storm with a rousing speech about unity and hope, an oration without which it is hard to imagine that he would be accepting the nomination this week. Neither ABC, NBC nor CBS carried it.”

Those lines are from a column today by Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, and of course I’ve agreed with the assessment that the speech helped launch Obama’s candidacy, comparing it to Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech for Barry Goldwater 40 years earlier.

Kurtz also offers much else, discussing the “newsworthiness” of political conventions, how the networks will cover the Democratic National Convention that starts today (CNN may have the best pictures), the coverage of John Edwards’ affair, Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as running mate, and Tom Brokaw’s contention that Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews have gone “too far” in their biased commentary during the presidential campaign.

The column doesn’t mention Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show,” which probably will offer some of the sharpest insights (mixed, unfortunately, with often sophomoric wit) about the convention.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »