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 Nation’

Beating the Bushies to investigate war crimes

Posted by James McPherson on March 29, 2009

Those of us who believe that the Bush administration should be convicted of war crimes might be heartened by a Spanish judge’s order to investigate whether Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo and others should face charges, especially since the judge in question is the same one who issued an arrest warrant for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet more than a decade ago.

Unfortunately, though Pinochet was arrested, he died without being convicted of any crimes, still a millionaire from the proceeds of his evildoing. I suspect the same–though without the arrests–will be true of senior Bush administration officials. After all, I can’t see Barack Obama–who has already been following too much of the Bush strategy (including the use of independent contractors to supplement American troops) in international affairs–endorsing the Spanish judge’s actions.

Obama likely will ignore the issue, just as he has been creatively ignoring tough press questions while pretending to provide unprecedenced access, even if an investigation finds what already seems to be obvious–that actions at Guantanamo and much of the rest of the Bush administration “war on terrorism” violated international laws.

Since as a nation we selectively concern ourselves with human rights abuses in countries that we see some reason to demonize or invade (Iraq, perhaps Iran, sometimes Libya), but ignore those abuses elsewhere (Saudi Arabia, China, Darfur, sometimes Libya), I doubt that the Bush/Cheney underlings will be called to account.

Even less likely is that Bush and Cheney themselves will be held accountable for their crimes. Congress, mindful of how the Clinton impeachment circus went over–while forgetting that important investigations such as Watergate and the Church Committee actually increased respect for Congress–remains largely gutless and clueless.

The one hope for justice might be if a declining press suddenly figured out that a way to save themselves might be to somehow make themselves relevant again by serving as a voice and guardian for the American people (and people elsewhere, for that matter). By bringing enough attention to the issue, and investigating the Bush administration’s false claims in a way that they failed to do before the Iraq War began, the media might bring enough pressure to prompt the sort of  investigation that would send the weasels to jail–or at least scurrying to countries from which they couldn’t be retrieved.

In other words,  if those in charge of news media–along with those of us who care about democracy–would do more in the words of Poynter’s Roy Peter Clarke to “feed the watchdog, euthenize the lapdog.” But I suspect the media will continue to mostly roll over and play dead–until they’re no longer playing.

The one bright potential bright spot: As mainstream media continue to abdicate their watchdog role until most of them finally sink largely unnoticed beneath the waves, perhaps more people will find their way to sources such as the Nation and Mother Jones.

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

Clift note keeping hope alive: Dr. Dean gaining steam for HHS?

Posted by James McPherson on February 7, 2009

Writing for Newsweek, Eleanor Clift notes that the obvious choice to replace Tom Daschle as the nominee to head Health and Human Services is none other than Howard Dean. Clift, perhaps better known as the token liberal of “The McLaughlin Group” on the supposedly liberal PBS network, joins The Nation and a number of bloggers in recommending Dean, as I did back on Jan. 31 and Feb. 3.

Unfortunately Clift also notes, in more detailed terms than I used previously, that the doctor is unlikely to make a White House call:

Dean’s nomination probably won’t happen because he crossed swords with Rahm Emanuel over the allocation of resources during the lead-up to the congressional elections of ’06. Dean was the Democratic Party chairman and focused on implementing his brainchild, a 50-state strategy for a party that had narrowed its electoral base to 16 states. Emanuel was leading the Democratic effort in the House to regain the majority. He wanted money targeted to districts where Democrats had a real chance to win while Dean, despite being the brunt of several shouting matches, stuck to his script of spreading money and staff around even into states Democrats wouldn’t win in the short term.

The fact that Dean’s 50-state strategy proved to be the best one–and, I argue, is one of the reasons Barack Obama later was elected president–probably won’t matter, especially since Dean has a habit of appealing to the common man while insulting the monied interests that run American politics. Still Clift leaves room for hope: “Obama prides himself on how magnanimous he is, so you can’t rule out that he might reward someone who like him was an early and consistent opponent of the Iraq War, who helped lead the party out of the wilderness and who many Democrats think has been badly treated.”

Speaking of ‘hope,’ you may also have noticed that Obama’s nominees aren’t the only ones having legal problems: Shepard Fairey, the artist who produced perhaps the most popular image of the new president, has been arrested as a vandal. He also will have to cough up some dough to the Associated Press for basing his painting–which appeared as a Time magazine cover–on an AP photo. You can see both versions below:

obama-hope

Posted in History, Journalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Why Obama should dump Daschle and draft Dean

Posted by James McPherson on January 31, 2009

Tom Daschle’s tax issues are causing problems with his nomination to be Barack Obama’s health czar and secretary of Health and Human Services. Yet while I am constantly amazed that prominent politicians don’t have enough sense to pay (or hire competent  accountants  to pay) taxes on the kinds of “human services” that most of us can only dream about–drivers, maids, nannies, gardeners–frankly I’m more troubled by Daschle’s connections with the industry he would be seeking to reform.

So far, Daschle has mostly said the right things about the problems with health care (unlike Obama, who lately has gone silent on the issue). But as Kenneth P. Vogel reported yesterday for Politico, Daschle has made almost a quarter of a million dollars in just the past two years by giving speeches. “many of them to outfits that stand to gain or lose millions of dollars from the work he would do once confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services.”

In addition to the speeches, there’s the whole lobbyist issue that Obama promised he’d avoid, and which he is finding to be virtually unavoidable in the search for qualified people. Daschle went to work for a lobbyist (though he managed to avoid the title himself) after leaving the Senate, and as the Washington Post reported back in November, “He serves on the boards of Prime BioSolutions and the Mayo Clinic, among others, and his law firm lobbies for a number of industry clients, including CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and HealthSouth.” In addition, Daschle’s former beauty queen wife still is a lobbyist–who has worked for clients in the health care industry.

I’ve been a fan of Tom Daschle much of the time, and thought he did a good job of balancing his somewhat progressive leanings with the interests of his conservative state. I also still believe (one of my few departures into conspiracy theories) that the anthrax that was mailed to his office in 2001 came from a source interested in scaring Daschle into supporting the hastily-passed USA-PATRIOT Act.  The Bush administration tried to link the anthrax attacks to al Qaeda for the same reason, and, regardless of the reasons, Daschle unfortunately did support the faulty fear-inspired bill.

I also thought (and believe even more strongly today) that the Republican campaign to replace him with John Thune (a male version of Sarah Palin) in 2004 was politically smart (from a power-seeking position) for the party and its corporate benefactors in the short run, and bad for Congress and the country in the long run–pretty much like a lot of other GOP moves in recent years, particularly any involving Bill Frist, who traveled to South Dakota to campaign against Daschle.

Obama hasn’t made many mistakes since starting his run for the presidency, but Daschle was not the best choice for HHS secretary. The best option, as The Nation suggests in the issue that hit my mailbox yesterday, may have been the forgotten man who may be the one most responsible(yes, even more than Oprah) for Obama’s win–Dr. Howard Dean.

As governor of Vermont, Dean oversaw balanced budgets, income tax cutsand expansion of a universal health care system for children and pregnant women. He also happens to be married to another doctor, Judith Steinberg. Perhaps they even pay all their taxes.

Unfortunately Dean apparently made an enemy of Obama buddy Rahm Emanuel–who ironically is now chief of staff for a president who would not have been elected had Obama followed Emanuel’s favored Clintonesque key-state party-building strategy instead of Dean’s 50-state strategy.

Admittedly Dean may not as easy to like as Obama or Daschle (though he is at least as likable as Emanuel). But this administration isn’t supposed to be about who we’d like to have a beer with. It’s supposed to be about competence. The selection of Daschle somewhat calls that competence into question.

Sunday update: Today Glenn Greenwald offers an even more disturbing picture of Daschle.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 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 »