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 ‘U.S. Flag Code’

Sarah Palin violates American Flag Code–again

Posted by James McPherson on November 23, 2010

I haven’t seen Sarah Palin’s new reality show, and probably won’t. But I did see a commercial for it and noticed an odd thing. There’s a big American flag hanging from the deck of her home in the background of one shot, and the flag is backward.

Maybe that’s not so odd. I’ve noted previously that the “all-American” Palin doesn’t seem to know how to treat the flag.

Then today it occurred to me that I keep seeing her name and the flag as two terms that commonly bring people to my blog, so just for fun I thought I’d check to see what search terms had brought the most visitors since I launched this site in April 2008. Some of the results were, well, a bit disturbing.

My name was second on the list, though I suspect most of those people were looking for info about the Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian, the Pulitzer Prize winning short story writer, the Civil War general (who has the coolest middle name, Birdseye), or the sculptor of demons, dragons and Batman.

At the top of the list (with 1,381 views, or 58 more than my name)  is the word “flag,” which apparently takes people to my most popular post. And third, with 667 visits, is the combination phrase, “Sarah Palin bikini.” Fourth is “2012 presidential predictions,” followed by “Iraqi porn.”

Incidentally, if Palin delights liberals and appalls Republicans by choosing to mount a 2012 presidential campaign, I’m sure conservatives will be as eager to point out her patriotic shortcomings as they have been with Obama’s. Right?

Posted in Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

American flag fetishists and Obama

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2010

Today is one of those days when some conservatives like to pretend they’re more patriotic than the rest of us–and now, despite their all-too-common ignorance about such things as the U.S. Flag Code, even more patriotic than their president.

Such goofiness started before Barack Obama was elected, of course, but shows no sign of letting up. And if they have to lie to make a “patriotic” point, well, many talking heads and conservative bloggers apparently will do that, too. Take, for example, the claim that Obama is the first president (or the first “since the Civil War“) not to visit Arlington National Cemetary for Memorial Day.

That’s a blatant and easy-to-check lie, as previous “offenders” have included both George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and–gasp–Ronald Reagan. But, interestingly, never draft dodger Bill Clinton.

Or how about the claim (here, here, herehere and here, among others) that Obama is the first American president to give a news conference while not standing beside or in front of an American flag? Several even claim to have researched the issue, presumably so gullible readers won’t have to.

But a fairly brief Google search demonstrates that the claim also is a lie, with no American flags visible in news conferences from previous presidents that include George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and–gasp!–Ronald Reagan (examples below).

I suspect that some staffer forgot to move the flags from the side of the room–where the podium usually sits for East Room press conferences–to the end of the room. I think that’s a mistake, but it’s not like the president has nothing else to worry about.

And the mistake, if that’s what it was, is hardly on the level of, say, confusing Walter Reed Military Hospital with Walter Reed Middle School during the nominee’s speech at the Republican National Convention, or having the wrong speech on the teleprompter during a State of the Union address.

Frankly, of the many things for which Obama should be criticized, the patriotism angle is perhaps the silliest (though that’s difficult to judge considering various communist/socialist/Kenyon/Muslim claims). When it comes to press conferences, a bigger question than that of what’s behind the president is what’s behind his reticence to have such sessions at all, despite his supposed commitment to openness and the fact that we seem to see him everywhere.

Also worth noting: Never ones to let consistency get in the way of a good presidential bashing, it wasn’t long ago that a leading conservative newspaper suggested that Obama was surrounding himself with too many American flags. All in all, the anti-Obama posts once again demonstrate that the supposed defenders of American values care less about respecting the flag or America’s fallen dead than they do about disrespecting their president.

Same-day update: The writer of the “since the Civil War” post linked above has corrected his erroneous headline, which apparently he had based on another bad source. He still maintains that Obama should have been at Arlington, and frankly I tend to agree. But as noted above, Obama is hardly the first to honor vets elsewhere on Memorial Day, and he has spent more time on the job than his immediate predecessor did.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Post #200 of a stupid, outdated idea

Posted by James McPherson on December 18, 2008

Blogging apparently is stupid, at least for amateurs like myself (for whom this is my 200th post since I began April 22). We should be wasting our time and distributing our tidbits of wit or wisdom in other ways.

“It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter,”  Paul Bouten writes for Wired. Frankly, I get very few hecklers, and when I do I politely point out the error of their ways and they don’t write back. Of course, I also get relatively few readers (more on the numbers below).

Boutin points out that professionals such as the Huffington Post have taken over the blogging universe, and that “a stand-alone commentator can’t keep up with a team of pro writers cranking out up to 30 posts a day.” Incidentally, I got this bit of news via stand-alone commentator Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

I’d also argue that some of the professional blogs are doing so well because they provide more meaningful news and commentary than mainstream news sites.

Well, I’m on Facebook, but mostly to keep track of colleagues and former students. I rarely write anything there, or read much of what anyone else has written. My page has a link to my blog–if anyone cares what I think, they can jump over here.

I refuse to Twitter, at least for now (keeping in mind that less than a year ago I said I’d never be a blogger). Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it rips the soul from wisdom.

Few things worth saying or knowing can adequately be expressed in 140 characters, and most of those brief bits should be said more personally: “I love you.” “Drop dead.” “I’m sorry.” “Dear Mom and Dad: Send money.” “You’re fired.” “We’re having a baby.” “It’s time for Fluffy to be put down.” “Would you like fries with that?” “Look at all the freakin’ snow.” (Despite shoveling last night before I went to bed, I woke up to a two-foot snowdrift ON MY PORCH this morning.)

Maybe it’s a result of my experience as an academic, but I disagree with the premise that blogging is primarily a tool for self-promotion. That obviously is the case for some bloggers, but most probably feel they have something meaningful to share. Many of those are correct, and it’s not up to me–or, thank God, the corporate media–to decide which, for all readers.

Though I do get an ego boost on days when readership is up, I certainly don’t write for the attention or the money. If I did, I’d be trying to pen crime novels instead of well-researched books about journalism history and politics.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m doing this primarily for the same reason I do most things outside of my home: my students. And the number of “my students” has expanded as a result I now have regular student readers who have never taken a class from me. Responses from those students and former students are the ones I value most.

This experiment has taught me some interesting things, some more surprising than others. Not surprising is that my most popular post (approximately 1,700 views so far) was a misleadingly titled sociological experiment, sought out by people using terms that have nothing to do with media or politics.

More surprising is that the second-most popular post (about 1,300), and the one still getting a few views pretty much every day is one about the U.S. Flag Code that I wrote back in July, based on one of my favorite classroom lectures about symbols.

Also still among the top eight are my August prediction that Barack Obama would handily win the presidential election and my back-to-back June posts suggesting that the vice presidential nominees should be Joe Biden and Sarah Palin–though because a link to to it appears at the bottom of a popular CNN story, yesterday’s post (about to pass 500) about the Bush administration, science and endangered species may blow past those two. Maybe it’s because of the YouTube clip from “Them.”

Aside from the flag post, generally speaking the two best topics for generating traffic have been Palin and sex. On a typical day I get between 100 and 200 page views. The most for a single day was 876, coming mostly from one of those Palin stories (also with help from CNN).

Not surprisingly, that same Palin story generated the most comments. Many posts draw no response. Others get an occasional comment even weeks later, which strikes me as a bit odd.

Admittedly, there may be a bit of egotistical lunacy behind generating an average of about 25 posts per month in addition to teaching four classes, advising a student newspaper, remodeling my kitchen (yes, I did it myself–some academics can use a hammer and saw), helping organize and host a national journalism history convention in October, and organizing a Jan Term study trip to two dozen sites in New York and Washington, D.C.

Insomnia helps. And besides, writing is one of the fun parts of my job, and a big part of why I became a reporter and then an editor. In addition, writing these things here may keep me from verbally torturing my wife and others with my reactions to the news items that intrigue me.

Another obvious reason that I would engage in such an archaic form of communication as blogging is that I’m a media historian. I live for soon-to-be-extinct technologies. I don’t own an ipod or a Kindle, but my office holds a 1953 television set; probably a hundred pounds of newspapers, magazines and photos; hundreds of books; phonograph “records” of various sizes; a VCR and dozens of videotapes; some old film cameras; a cassette tape deck and dozens of cassette tapes; numerous CD’s, a couple of reel-to-reel tapes; and even an 8-track tape or two.

Also related to history: The American flag on my office wall, a flag that was in use when I was born, has 48 stars. At that time there was no state of Alaska for the future Sarah Palin to govern. Perhaps you think of that time as “the good ol’ days.”

Dec. 28 update: CNN names “the ascendance of Twitter” its top tech trend of 2008. Sigh. The story concludes, “One thing Twitter is lacking, though, is a profitable business plan.” In that respect, it’s like the newspapers I love so much.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »