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 ‘Vladimir Putin’

Fox, MSNBC offer semi-honest media bias; Barbara West, not so much

Posted by James McPherson on October 28, 2008

John McCain and Sarah Palin are spending much of their time bashing the mainstream media for bias, an argument that I frankly have little use for. Obviously I don’t disagree that media professionals are biased, and have written at length about that bias in my latest book (and to a lesser degree in the first one).

I do disagree that most of the media’s bias is liberal. After all, probably no modern politician has benefited more than McCain from friendly media treatment throughout his career, and I believe McCain chose Palin  largely because she was not well known but had a certain charm that might appeal to media folks willing to give her a pass on her relative lack of knowledge or experience. (I recommended back in June that he choose Palin, predicting that the resulting media coverage would be “superficial and glowing.”)

Unfortunately for McCain and Palin, the campaign at first chose to mostly hide her from the media, and the appearances they did permit (see the Katie Couric debacle) only served to highlight the candidate’s shortcomings while stunting her political and rhetorical gifts. That led to the goofy situation in which the campaign ended up trying to portray a random question from a college student as a “gotcha question” from the press. If Palin can’t handle a student’s question while she’s grabbing a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, let’s hope she’s never put in a position where Vladimir Putin can ask her a question at a state dinner.

Worse, because of Palin’s previous interviewing misadventures, now when she uses her pitbull-with-lipstick charm on the stump, she looks like a partisan hack. More people now view her unfavorably than favorably. No wonder even McCain’s buddy Joe Lieberman now says, “Thank God she’s not going to have to be president from day one.”

As for the guy at the head of the ticket press, McCain has proven not to be the macho character that the media helped create. He is neither a straight talker nor a stable influence.  Keep in mind, this is the same campaign that every day criticizes the media for “investigating Joe the Plumber,” but is incapable of uttering three sentences without blurting out the words “Joe the Plumber.” A McCain-Palin administration might be the first to eliminate the Department of Education while implementing a cabinet level position heading a new Department of Folksy Nicknames.

A lot of people complain about the obvious bias of Fox News toward conservatives or the obvious liberal bias MSNBC. I frankly don’t have a big problem with that. I think it’s good that we get a range of perspectives, which is why I force myself to watch both networks, listen to talk radio, and read (and link to) blogs of both liberals and conservatives–though admittedly the more thoughtful perspectives of National Review from the right and the Nation from the left are far more useful. Unfortunately far too many people on both sides rely only on messages from their own side.

I am more concerned about news people who try to hide their obvious biases. Far too many national news figures have previously worked for politicians (and though this is a guess, probably as many Republicans as Democrats). I’ve noted my problem with Andrea Mitchell–the wife of overrated economic apologist Alan Greenspan–working as an NBC reporter (despite the fact that she is less obviously partisan than some of her colleagues at the network). A more blatant, and much funnier, example came with Florida reporter Barbara West interviewing Joe Biden by using outlandish Republican talking-point questions that sounded as if they could have been provided to her by her husband, a former Republican media consultant.

Barbara the Talking Head did manage to get what she probably most wanted out of the interview: her own “Joe the Plumber” bit of attention, capped by appearances with Bill O’Reilly (who with no apparent sense of “pinhead” irony questioned her use of “buzzwords”) and on what may be the goofiest “news program” on television, Fox and Friends. The attention may have been too much for her employer, WFTV, which now blocks YouTube from carrying the interview after it received 1.2 million hits over the weekend.

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

Using the threat of Iran to bring back the Cold War

Posted by James McPherson on July 8, 2008

Apparently longing for the bad old days when it actually mattered much as a nation in the overall scheme of world politics, the Czech Republic has agreed to let the U.S. deploy part of a disputed, unproven and perhaps unworkable anti-ballistic missile defense shield in former Soviet-held territory.

“Ballistic missile proliferation is not an imaginary threat,” said Condi “Mushroom Cloud” Rice, an expert on imaginary threats. The Bush administration promotes the shield as it has promoted pretty much everything else it has wanted to do since Saddam Hussein was dug out of a hole, as a defense against Iranian extremism. In this case, the shield would supposedly defend the U.S. and European allies from long-range missiles launched from Iran.

Even if Iran had weapons capable of reaching the U.S. and a reason to risk total annihilation by using them, of course, this would be a ludicrous argument. On the other hand, Bush and his cronies know that most Americans couldn’t use a globe to find Iowa, let alone Iran. If we really worry about missiles from the Middle East hitting the U.S., we should be building defenses in Canada. But then the Canadians aren’t as easily swayed by promises of foreign aid as are the eastern Europeans (and even Poland, another planned shield location, is holding out for a bigger U.S. payoff, which may force a shift to another former Soviet territory, Lithuania).

Iran’s missiles could reach Europe, and so maybe that alone is an argument for the shield, and of course the Bush administration strives to never avoid exaggeration, unless outright lying might work better. But Europeans also have little to fear from Iran, since the European Union is Iran’s biggest trade partner. Eastern Europeans do fear Russia, however, so they’ll appease Bush’s bait-and-switch if the U.S. might protect them from the Russians. And speaking of the Russians, of course they’re protesting the U.S.-Czech plan, with Mad Vlad Putin claiming it could lead to a new Cold War. They were already upset and understandably suspicious because Bush had previously rejected a missile treaty that even Ronald Reagan thought was OK.

And perhaps a new Cold War–which more than anything else helped give various forms of conservatism both the enemy and the credibility they needed to gain power–is Bush’s real aim. After all, just before he ran for office he bought a ranch like Reagan had, fashioned himself as a bumbling cowboy like Reagan did (OK, how much of that was intentional is debatable, but still…), attacked a country he thought would be easy to whip (sorry, Gee-dub, Iraq ain’t no Grenada), and tried to bring back the Gipper’s “Star Wars” defense system.

And still Bush’s approval ratings hover in the 20s. So maybe if he can get Putin (or Putin puppet Dmitri Medvedev) to rebuild the Berlin Wall, then insist that he tear it down, all in the next five months…

We could even lend some wall-building expertise and some undocumented labor.

Next day update: The Bush and news organizations are making a big deal of the fact that Iran just just fired nine missiles–with a maximum range of 1,200 miles. Of course Fox’s headline (for what it made the lead story of the day) was the scariest: “Iran Test-Fires Missiles Capable of Hitting Israeli, U.S. Bases.” Not Europe or the U.S., of course, meaning it took only a day for Condi Rice to be again revealed as a serial exaggerator. But with media attention spans being what they are, if the administration screams loud enough, perhaps people will think today’s story actually supports yesterday’s claims. The least surprising part of today’s story? “Oil prices jumped on news of the missile tests.”

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »