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.

  • Archives

  • May 2017
    S M T W T F S
    « Sep    
     123456
    78910111213
    14151617181920
    21222324252627
    28293031  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Posts Tagged ‘Utah Phillips’

Eggs. Or Samuel, Utah and James.

Posted by James McPherson on September 12, 2014

I sat on a metal chair in a small room, chatting with James Garner. I remember thinking that the last time we’d met the chair was made of wood, and in a different corner of the room.

Garner was surprised when I mentioned the death of Utah Phillips, saying that they were friends and had eaten eggs together but that he hadn’t known about the other man’s passing. He asked about the cause of death, seemingly concerned about his own mortality, and I filled him in on the details.

Then my alarm went off, and I awoke, realizing instantly that I’d conflated details about Phillips with the life and death of Sam Day, Jr. And since Garner was also dead, I’d never be able to correct my error. Maybe they’re all friends now.

I got up and went to play basketball, forsaking sleep for exercise in hopes of outliving three men whose work I admired: one I knew, one I met only once, and one I never met but managed to mislead in a dream. And because I feel guilty about that, I promise that every word above is true.

Except the part about the eggs. Though I’ve tried, I can’t remember what James Garner said he ate with Utah Phillips. Still, eggs feels right.

Posted in History, Personal | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Labor ‘wobbles’ or we all fall down: Belaboring a point about why unions matter

Posted by James McPherson on September 2, 2012

Labor Day is here, marking the unofficial end of summer–a time for every little rich kid to stop wearing white while poor kids risk getting maimed in factories. And if junior should happen to lose a limb or an eye while on the job, then mom and dad can spend some of their 60-hour work week trying to figure out how to pay the hospital bill, since their jobs provides no insurance.

What, that’s not how you think of Labor Day? You probably think I’m just exaggerating, perhaps to take another shot at the mean visions for America produced by folks lik Mitt RomneyPaul Ryan and Newt Gingrich. But no, I think that this weekend is the ideal time to remind us all of what we owe laborers in this country, particularly those laborers who fought to make things better for all workers–and therefore for all of us.

Remember when having a few Americans–say, more than 3,200 in a single year–die in mines was no big deal? Or when a person could be fired–or shot or lynched–for protesting dismal work conditions? You probably don’t remember it, but if some people (mostly Republicans) had their way we could go back there. There is no doubt that companies are doing better than their employees.

Admittedly, unions have been prone as other human endeavors to corruption, and some union members show a selfish, short-sighted streak when it comes to their neighbors–a regrettable attitude because it’s a view that (when held by others) weakens the influence of labor and the earning power of workers. The most notable example I’ve come across recently was a Wisconsin union worker (whom I won’t name) who offered a troubling combination of views within a space of moments.

“I can explain as best I can all of the horrible things that have happened to me in my work life, and everybody’s like, ‘Well, then find a new job,’ but it’s not that simple. And somebody still has to do the job one way or the other,” said the worker, who, according to the piece, “got really fired up in the fight to defend his union.”

“”I’ve never been involved in politics until what happened in 2011 was thrown in my lap, and I realized how much I’ve been affected by it,” he was quoted as saying–before then going on to complain about Obamacare:

“I don’t think that we should have a national health care plan [in which] everybody is put in the same category,” he says. “I feel like I joined the Department of Corrections, and I continue to work for the Department of Corrections because I have excellent health benefits. … So if health benefits are important to you, I feel like you should be able to go out and find a job where you can get excellent health benefits.”

Hmm. Really? When it comes to finding that a job with “excellent health benefits,” especially with ongoing Republican efforts to weaken unions, it seems as though someone might suggest “It’s not that simple.” And when it comes to those other less “excellent” jobs, it seems as though some wise person might point out, “Somebody still has to do the job one way or the other.” Right? Sigh.

By the way, if you’re too young to understand the pun in the headline above or don’t remember your labor history–or if you just want to see cool video of an old toy commercial–you can go here. And happy Labor Day, to all who work and all who wish they could in these difficult times. Below are a few of my favorite reminders of how far we have come, starting with the incomparable Paul Robeson singing the labor ballad “Joe Hill”–also sung by a trio in my church today (as my pastor, who preached about the value of work and workers, wore a long-sleeved T-shirt that had been given to her by the local sheet metal workers’ union), and which I’ve also heard performed in person by Utah Phillips.

P.S.: Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge of Labor Day.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments »

Best of the blog: 50 favorite posts (plus a few)

Posted by James McPherson on April 22, 2009

With yesterday’s post, I offered my reasons for ceasing regular blogging for the foreseeable future. But with more than 300 posts in the past year, it’s likely that you’ve missed a number of them. I’ll post a “top 50” list below, and will continue update the links on the right side of this page.

Since my first post, in which I predicted success for Barack Obama (not yet then the Democratic nominee) and problems for John McCain, a number of my posts have focused on topics of relatively short-term interest. Those include my June suggestions for whom Obama and McCain should select as running mates: More than two months before they made their choices, I suggested Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

I predicted that despite their self-pitying self-righteousness and their ability to draw media attention, neither religious conservatives nor pseudo-liberal PUMAs would have much impact on the election. I anticipated that Hillary Clinton would fully support Obama, as she and Bill Clinton did. As a result, on the day that McCain took the lead in the polls for the first time two months before the presidential election, I predicted that Obama would win the election handily.

I’ve noted the passing of singer/storytellers Utah Phillips and Dan Seals, journalists (defining the term broadly) Robin Toner,  Tim Russert and Tony Snow, pinup queen Bettie Page, and various newspapers. Many of my posts were less timely, however, and have ongoing relevance. Fifty of my favorites can be found below. Enjoy.

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Twittering while Rome burns

Where the dead white girls are

Catholics and conservatives campaign against mythical threats

Family values

Is the worshipper beside you a heathen–or a spy?

Warku-go-’round: A 20-part history of Bush’s War

Bettie Page & Robin Toner: Two women who made media history

Gadgets create more ‘reporters’–and fewer journalists?

Post #200 of a stupid, outdated idea

Death and dancing, faith and journalism

With Jessica Alba too fat, Keira Knightly too flat, Faith Hill too plain & Sarah Palin too real, how should mags portray Michelle Obama?

Civil disobedience might bring national redemption

Save the economy by ending welfare to Republicans

MTV: Moronic TeleVision

Beating the Bushies to investigate war crimes

Journalism and blogging: Printing what’s known vs. what isn’t

Want to become a convicted sex offender? There’s an app for that

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

As Bush people approach endangered species status, scientists find other rats, vipers and creepie crawlers

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

Ignorance and the electorate

Stimulus prompts cartoonish monkey business

Veterans Day: Thank the slaves who let you shop and spew

‘Killer American Idol’: Mass murder no surprise, more likely to come

Speaking for the poor

Uneasy riders: Yen and the lack of motorcycle company maintenance

Barbie’s birthday bash

Sexism & feminism make women winners & losers?

Media organizations: Why you should hire my journalism students

Valuable lessons on ‘whom you know’ and on being in the right place at the right time in NY and DC

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Can a Christian lesbian Latina superhero save us?

Asteroid nearly wipes out Earth, international space station threatened, San Diego nearly destroyed in nuclear meltdown

Headaches, hot air and hell on earth

Killing youth

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

Literary journalism & the Web: the newest “new journalism”? (Part II)

To Obamas, a reminder that familiarity can breed contempt

Homeland Insecurity: Need a passport quickly? Get a fake one

GOP doing Limbaugh Limbo; how low they can go to be ‘rest of the story’

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Thanks to Cruella economy, Grumpy’s attitude finally justified

Culture warriors were dreaming of a really white Christmas; others get coal in their stockings

Merry Christmas! Twelve YouTube Christmas videos

Christmas killers, foreign & domestic: More proof the world looks better from a distance

2012 predictions for GOP: Jindal, Huckabee, Romney, Palin or relative unknown?

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Music, Personal, Poetry, Politics, Religion, Science, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The last word on vice presidential choices–for now

Posted by James McPherson on August 4, 2008

Blogger Bil Browning predicts Barack Obama will name Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh as his running mate on Wednesday, while John McCain’s staffers apparently are saying that McCain will wait to name his own pick until after hearing Obama’s choice (and no doubt until the GOP smear machine gets fired up against whomever the Democratic choice may be).

I don’t think Bayh is a terrible choice, though I’d favor someone else. I also thought Obama should have named his pick a few weeks ago, as I wrote some time back. McCain also seems unlikely to pick the woman I thought would be his best choice, though I did suggest that he should wait to name her until Aug. 24, the day before the Democratic Convention begins. I now think McCain will name his running mate within about a week of whenever Obama makes his choice.

If neither candidate names his choice within the next couple of days, I predict they’ll wait a couple more weeks until the Olympics are over–though I disagree with many pundits and think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to name a running mate during the Olympics. After all, the VP choice isn’t supposed to overshadow the nominee, anyway, though I suspect that will be more of a potential problem for the apparently stuck-in-the-mud McCain campaign than for Obama.

My kind of town, Chicago is–this week, anyway

I’m spending much of this week in Chicago for the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication–the largest organization to which I belong, and the one with the bulkiest title. After the convention and a bit of vacation, I’ll be back in about a week. In the meantime, especially if you’re new to the site, you might want to check out some of my previous posts. Here in no particular order are a “top 20” of my favorites:

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

 PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Ignorance and the electorate

The New Yorker’s Obama cover

“Act now”: a new way for candidates to reach the electorate

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Speaking for the poor

Rush Limbaugh and Operation Chaos

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Democratic self-mutilation

Howard Dean and convention bloggers

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Have a great week!

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Folk music, storytelling and the Bush administration’s “935 lies”

Posted by James McPherson on May 27, 2008

Utah Phillips is gone and another of my favorite songwriter/storytellers, Rosalie Sorrels, is a mostly retired 74-year-old great-grandmother. Of course there are other folk singers and storytellers, some much better known than those two. Pete Seeger just turned 89, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down much. A combination of government malfeasance, coffeehouses and assorted free thinkers and semi-hippies of all ages probably will assure the survival of the genre. But it’s doubtful that any will characterize the West or the labor movement–How many today knows what a Wobbly is?–in the same way as Utah or Rosalie

We need their ilk. Slaves, civil Rights leaders and others have long known that when you’re singing it’s more difficult to be fearful. And politics is one of those things–maybe the main thing–made for the saying, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.” So in memory of Utah Phillips, in a music video you won’t see on MTV (come to think of it, that now includes pretty much any video), here is a link to comic Harry Shearer’s “935 Lies,” based on the Center for Public Integrity’s Iraq War Card project.

That project documented 935 false statements about Iraq from George Bush  and seven other top administration officials in the two years following September 11, 2001. “Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses,” note the authors of the project.

Shearer is best known for his work on The Simpsons, This is Spinal Tap, Saturday Night Live, For Your Consideration and A Mighty Wind.

Posted in Media literacy, Music, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Posted by James McPherson on May 25, 2008

This is the weekend that we honor those who died while serving their country. I also appreciated Bob Schieffer’s “Face the Nation” words from this morning: “Let us remember as well the wounded, those who came home from the battle not as God made them, but as war has left them.” Schieffer’s comments came after he offered a short eulogy for Jimmy Carter’s former chief of staff Hamilton Jordan, who died last week.

Of course this weekend is and should be primarily about dead soldiers, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice while trying to defend the nation’s values. Their service is not made less honorable–though it is more tragic–because their deaths were often unnecessary, precipitated by criminally stupid national leaders who themselves sacrificed almost nothing. But the Memorial Day weekend also has become a time for many families to remember other loved ones who have died, and I would like to take the opportunity to note a couple of other men who died in the past couple of days.

One of my favorite patriots, Utah Phillips, died Friday night. He was a former homeless hobo and Korean War veteran who became famous as a folk singer and storyteller (coincidentally, I quoted him in a post just last week). After serving for three years in the military he became a pacifist and a major supporter of workers’ rights. I have a brief recording of Phillips reciting World War I anti-war poetry, which I use in my media history class. One of the poems, titled “I Love My Flag,” goes:

I love my flag, I do, I do.
Which floats upon the breeze,
I also love my arms and legs,
And neck, and nose and knees.
One little shell might spoil them all
Or give them such a twist,
They would be of no use to me;
I guess I won’t enlist.

I love my country, yes, I do
I hope her folks do well.
Without our arms, and legs and things,
I think we’d look like hell.
Young men with faces half shot off
Are unfit to be kissed,
I’ve read in books it spoils their looks,
I guess I won’t enlist.

While still in college in the 1970s, I became a member of a loose-knit “Utah Phillips Fan Club” made up mostly of a group of my father’s friends, which “convened” on occasion to drink Olympia beer, tell stories (some from Phillips, most generated by members of the club) and listen to music. Though I’m sure many others have done the same, I’m the only person I know who saw him perform in three different states: in Idaho while I was in college in the late ’70s, at a private home when I lived in Arizona in the late ’80s or early ’90s, and later when I was in grad school at Washington State University. My wife was with me on the latter two occasions, and Utah memorably told her daughter–who had proclaimed him her new “hero”–not to have any still-living heroes, because they’d inevitably end up disappointing her.

“Good Though” (Moose Turd Pie) was Utah’s most famous story, but my favorite morality tale of his involved a little bird that postponed its flight south for the winter, nearly froze to death, was warmed by cow manure and then, after singing happily, was eaten by a cat. The moral: “The one who craps on you isn’t necessarily your enemy, the one who digs you out of a pile of crap isn’t necessarily your friend, and if you’re up to neck in crap it’s best to keep your mouth shut.” 

Another noteworthy passing, from yesterday, is that of Dick Martin. He was most famous for “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which debuted in 1968, which Richard Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan called the worst year in American history. What many people forget today, when it has become commonplace for political figures to appear with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, is that in September of that year Nixon appeared on “Laugh-In.” Less than two months before being elected president, the famously uptight Nixon intoned one of the show’s catchphrases as a question, “Sock it to me?” Perhaps a 25-year-old Bob Woodward and a 24-year-old Carl Bernstein were watching.

Below: Utah Phillips, in one of his later appearances, shares some of his politics.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Music, Personal, Poetry, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »