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 ‘Wall Street Journal’

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

Posted by James McPherson on December 12, 2008

Writing for the Daily Beast, Max Blumental traces the idea of a “war on Christmas“–the bitter annual holiday tradition of right-wing moralists such as the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger, Utah Sen. Chris Buttars, several Fox News commentators, and Focus on the Family, which maintains a list of major retailers who prominently acknowledge” Christmas and those that have “apparently abandoned” the word–to former Fortune magazine editor, anti-immigrant, and perhaps anti-Semite Peter Brimelow.

Blumethal writes: “In his 1995 book, Alien Nation, Brimelow argued that the influx of ‘weird aliens with dubious habits’ from developing nations was eroding America’s white Christian ‘ethnic core,’ and in turn, sullying its cultural underpinnings. The War on Christmas was, in his view, a particularly pernicious iteration of the multicultural ‘struggle to abolish America.'”

For Bill O’Reilly this is the hap-happiest time of the year because he knows he’ll get to wade into a can’t-lose culture battle. He has repeatedly made the war on Christmas a central theme of his “talking points,” most recently on Dec. 3 and Dec. 5. Of course, the night after that last show, he referred to O.J. Simpson conviction as “karma,” not exactly a Christian term. One front of the war over (not “on,” in my view) Christmas (not the war that killed three people on “Black Friday”) is in my own state of Washingon, where atheists have been allowed to put up a sign near the capitol Christmas tree. Now someone wants to put up a “Festivus pole,” an invention of “Seinfeld.”

On an even weirder front, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Technology has put the holiday to its own use. As Rachel Maddow and others reported earlier this week, the group has put together a series of videos in which animated lumps of coal sing “carols”–changing the words to fit the coal message. Unfortunately, the ACCCT has removed the video from its site, but you can see a photo here:

cleancoal2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the Center for Media and Democracy’s Sheldon Rampton points out: “Some of the lyrics sung by the ‘Clean coal carolers’ might actually offend people who take Christmas seriously as a religious holiday. ‘Clean Coal Night,’ for example, uses the melody of ‘Silent Night’ but replaces the words, ‘Christ the savior is born’ with ‘Plenty of coal for years to come.”‘Similarly, the chorus praising Jesus in ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ is transformed from ‘Oh come let us adore him’ to ‘And we can count on clean coal.'” Citing O’Reilly’s annual rants about people using the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” Rampton writes, “Let’s see if O’Reilly even mentions the coal industry’s latest sacrilege.”

Clean coal actually is appropriate for the Christmas holiday, of course, because it has at least three things in common with another “weird alien with dubious habits [smoking a pipe, overeating, talking to animals, etc.]”: Santa Claus. Both Santa and clean coal make you feel warm and fuzzy, both end up in your chimney, and, most importantly, NEITHER IS REAL. Despite Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s kowtowing to the Pennsylvania and West Virginia coal industries, there is no such thing as “clean coal.”

Brimelow probably would be appalled by the Clean Coal Carolers. For one thing, all the singers are black. Of course, most of the 26,500 children under the age of 5 who will die on Christmas day also are black (and most of the rest are brown-skinned or Asian), as are the 26,500 who will die on Christmas Eve, and the equal numbers who will die every day from now through the forseeable future. Most of those children will die of things we could prevent today, if we had the will–things such as disease, starvation, bad water and war.

Put another way, a child under the age of 5 dies about every three seconds, about the same time it takes to say “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And until we dramatically improve that statistic, speaking as a Christian, I don’t really care what you call your damn tree.

Dec. 15 update: The state of Washington has put a moratorium on future displays.

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Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Rupert Murdoch a pinhead? O’Reilly’s sleazy boss doesn’t like his star

Posted by James McPherson on November 28, 2008

Bill O’Reilly, the self-appointed culture warrior and would-be savior of Christmas (as if either the holiday or Christians face any real threat in America)  obviously has his fans, the conservative versions of those who admire Keith Olbermann on the other side. But O’Reilly’s boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, apparently isn’t among those fans.

Politico’s Michael Calderone offers a sneak peak of a Michael Wolff biography of Murdoch (longtime producer of sleazy tabloid newspapers and new owner of the Wall Street Journal). The book apparently states that Murdoch, Fox News chief Roger Ailes (whom O’Reilly recently termed “a patriot“), and “everybody else at News Corps’ highest levels … absolutely despises” O’Reilly.

Here’s a battle in which we can hope both sides lose. After all, O’Reilly is well known as a bully and a liar, while Fox News is both the network at which people are most likely to complain about trash on television and the news network most likely to provide that trash. For example, today’s lead stories on the Fox Web site include a piece (with slideshow) about “Playboy’s sexiest celebrity covers” and one about Ashley Dupre’s supposed desire to go “from hooker to singer” (also linked to a slideshow including pics of the prostitute who helped bring down New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer).

I don’t think I’d rank either O’Reilly or Murdoch as a patriot. And to use another O’Reilly phrase: “Pinheads? You decide.”

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

More conservative disarray: National Review loses founder’s son

Posted by James McPherson on October 14, 2008

After endorsing Barack Obama in a piece titled, “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama,” Christopher Buckley felt compelled to leave the National Review, perhaps still the best conservative magazine in American despite its unfortunate descent into neoconservatism. Buckley’s endorsement and resulting departure are most noteworthy, of course, because “Dad” in this case founded the National Review at the remarkably tender age of 29.

Indeed, William F. Buckley was one of the founders of the modern conservative movement, and as such gets a fair amount of ink in my new book. As the younger Buckley points out, “The only reason my vote would be of any interest to anyone is that my last name happens to be Buckley—a name I inherited.”

There’s another reason to be interested in Buckley’s vote, however: because he is the latest in a line of conservative intellectuals to jump from the sinking McCain/Palin ship. Much of the blame is directed a Sarah Palin, about whom George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum and Ross Douthat all have expressed reservations. David Brooks has called her a “fatal cancer” for the Republicans. Kathleen Parker has called on her to drop out of the race, prompting conservative critics to call her a traitor and an idiot whose “mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn’t, I should ‘off’ myself.” Gotta love those family values.

On the other had, though it seems fairly clear that unless something dramatic and unexpected happens McCain will lose by a significant margin, it is worth remembering that many conservatives warned before the nomination that McCain “couldn’t win” the general election. My own suggestion back in June that McCain pick Palin as a running mate now looks a bit silly, though at least I can argue that I only spent a couple of hours on researching the issue and didn’t have a staff or tons of campaign funds to vet her (assuming the McCain camp did so). Still, Palin’s pick did energize the conservative base, and gave McCain a boost that perhaps no one else would have. Had he picked someone else, he might have been this far behind even sooner.

And did you notice that the day after Obama offered his economic plan and the stock market soared, McCain offered his plan this morning and the Dow fell by 302 points to close 76 points lower than where it started the day? Just coincidence, I’m sure. And the one argument that many conservatives have been trying to make, about Obama’s “associations,” may have taken a serious hit with today’s Huffington Post revelation that McCain’s presidential transition chief was a lobbyist for Saddam Hussein.

By the way, unlike some of my liberal friends, I don’t consider the term “conservative intellectual” to be an oxymoron–at least not yet, though Brooks is among those who points out that we may be headed that direction, noting, “What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole.” Brooks also notes accurately that the anti-intellectual conservative criticism of virtually all educated groups–journalists, educators, doctors, lawyers–gives young conservatives little incentive to enter those professions.

I would argue that other factors such as more education, a higher regard for public service, and less regard for personal wealth contribute more to the more relative (though far from absolute) scarcity of conservatives in journalism and education, but Brooks’ central point remains valid–if you favor leadership by stupid people, you’re more likely to get stupid policies.

Incidentally, the erudite William F. Buckley–who held relatively little regard for neoconservatives and once suggested that George W. Bush should resign over his inept foreign policy–would have made the same argument. With Buckley’s wit and wisdom, I wouldn’t put it past him to have died earlier this year just to avoid having to endorse Obama himself.

Saturday update: In her Wall Street Journal column, former Reagan staffer Peggy Noonan writes: “In the end, the Palin candidacy is a sympton and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It’s no good, not for politics and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.” Noonan said she expects criticism from the same anti-intellectual conservatives who have attacked Buckley, adding, “At any rate, come and get me, copper.”

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

Lipstick, pigs, pit bulls & Palin

Posted by James McPherson on September 9, 2008

“John McCain’s campaign mobilized its new ‘Palin Truth Squad’ Tuesday to accuse Barack Obama of comparing McCain’s running mate to a pig, and called on him to apologize.” That’s the first sentence of a ridiculous story that Fox News (surprise!) carried among its lead stories for much of yesterday.

The story is ridiculous because Obama of course never compared Palin to a pig. She has compared herself to a pit bull with lipstick, but let’s hope Obama never agrees with her–otherwise the “Palin Truth Squad” (as if that’s not an oxymoron) will be accusing him of calling her a bitch (you know, a pit bull could be female, and a female dog is …). A Wall Street Journal reporter also falsely asserted that Obama was referring to Palin with the “lipstick” comment.

Even the Fox story goes on to point out that Obama said: “John McCain says he’s about change, too, and so I guess his whole angle is, ‘Watch out George Bush.’ Except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics … That’s not change. That’s just calling something the same thing, something different … But you know … you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. You know, you can … wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it’s still going to stink after eight years.”

So if Obama was calling anyone a pig with lipstick, he was referring to McCain, but actually he was referring more specifically to the Bush policies that McCain supports. You may remember–even if McCain seems to have forgotten, and even if most of the GOP would like to forget–that John “I-was-a-POW” McCain is the one at the head of the Republican ticket. Even Mike Huckabee agrees, much to Sean Hannity’s dismay. (See second video below.)

As the Fox story also points out, the “pig with lipstick” phrase “is common in Washington, D.C.” How common? Well, it turns out that John McCain used exactly the same phrase last October when talking about a health plan proposed by–you guessed it, Hillary Clinton. So should we assume that the McCain camp thinks Obama was referring to Palin because that’s what McCain meant about Clinton?

Furthermore, the term is the title of a book written MORE THAN TWO YEARS AGO by Torie Clarke, one of McCain’s former advisors and a Pentagon communications director–another of those Bush-McCain connections the campaign would now like you to forget. Politicians and others have used the phrase–which also appears overseas–for years. As Politico’s Ben Smith points out, Obama has used it since before 90 percent of Americans ever heard of Palin. Back in April Elizabeth Edwards used the same phrase to criticize McCain’s health care plan.

Fox and other McCainiacs making the charge are making fools of themselves with this issue for a couple of reasons. First, as demonstrated, the phrase is so common as to be a cliche’. Second, isn’t it conservatives who are always whining that liberals are “too sensitive” about language and prone to take things out of context?

With how the selection of Palin has energized the Republican base, it appears that McCain may have managed to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But he obviously still is not very confident, since when it comes to sad and desperate negative campaigning, his campaign is going whole hog. When will the McCain folks start focusing on issues? All together now: When pigs fly.

Below is the video of what Obama actually said, so you can judge it for yourself. And below that is Huckabee’s comment.

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

Favoring a Christian president–or not

Posted by James McPherson on August 19, 2008

Despite criticism leveled at John McCain for saying last year that he would prefer that the United States have a Christian president, most Americans apparently agree. Not that it matters much–despite the loons who still maintain that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, no non-Christian has mounted a serious candidacy for decades, other than perhaps Mormon Mitt Romney (a definitional issue too complicated to get into here, but which may cause interesting problems for social conservatives if McCain tabs Romney as his vice presidential nominee–see the arguments here and here).

The mixed emotions among people of faith about Romney’s candidacy point out a significant problem with the “Christian president” theme. Even those who prefer a Christian leader don’t agree is about what kind of Christian president they want. Should he (or she, assuming we’ll someday get there) be in line with John Hagee, Jeremiah Wright, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, the “Jesus for President” folks, or some other version of Christianity?

Should it be someone who believes that even Christian founding fathers intended for a separation of church and state, or someone who believes that those founders intended to create a “Christian nation” (though as religious scholar Stephen J. Stein points out in a recent article in Historically Speaking, “Virtually all Protestant clergy at the time were persuaded that the Antichrist was the pope”–the leader of the same church that now provides conservatives with much of their support (along with five of the nine members of the Supreme Court)?

How does one decide which candidates–or non-candidates–are Christian enough? Heavy conservative contributor Rev. Sun Myung Moon owns the Washington Times, which has become perhaps the best-known conservative newspaper other than the Wall Street Journal. Yet Moon, who also founded the American Family Coalition and calls himself a Christian, also refers to himself and his wife as “the first couple to have the complete blessing of God, and to be able to bring forth children with no original sin.” Despite Moon’s wacky views, I don’t know of any conservative Christian candidates who refuse his money or who seek to be excluded from the Times.

Like every other regular faculty member at the university in which I teach, I am a Christian. So is one of my best friends, but we disagree on many things. The university president, in his latest quarterly message to alums and friends of the university, lists among 15 things he loves about the school: “An environment in which people who disagree with each other protect each other. I have yet to meet a faculty member on the liberal-conservative continuum who wants to silence his or her counterparts. In fact, faculty and staff members at Whitworth recognize that, ultimately, freedom to disagree provides protection for their ideas.” I can’t think of any faculty member here, though, who would make a good U.S. president.

Many conservatives hated Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, all of whom were “Christian presidents” who expressed their faith more often and more comfortably than conservative heroes Barry Goldwater (who fell short of the presidency, of course) and Ronald Reagan. They generally disliked Roosevelt for his practical application (government intervention) of what he saw as Christian duty, while bashing Carter for failing to apply his own Southern Baptist views strictly enough. The two worst presidents of my lifetime–and the two generally recognized as the most religious–have been Carter and George W. Bush.

One key question is how a president should demonstrate his faith. Jerry Falwell once suggested that preachers should stay out of politics. But one of Bush’s biggest appeals was his willingness to state publicly his belief in Christ. One thing seems certain, however: a president who professes Christian principles and then seriously fails to live up to those principles–to me, Clinton and Bush are obvious examples–ill serves both the nation and his fellow Christians.

In addition, as I suggested yesterday with my discussion of the Saddleback Church forum, the nation also is poorly served when it stresses the faith of its president above all else. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted before the forum that Abraham Lincoln would likely fail to measure up to today’s religious standards for presidential candidates (he might also be viewed as too inexperienced and too homely to be a serious candidate, of course).

All else being equal, I’d prefer a Christian president. But if there’s an honest non-Christian candidate who will do more to reduce the budget deficit, produce a workable national health care plan, and keep us out of foolish illegal wars, I say bring on the heathen.

Added note: Somewhat related to this post (and perhaps slightly more related to yesterday’s), this al-Jazeera column offers an interesting discussion of religion in America and of evil as defined by U.S. presidential candidates. For example:

If religious interviews were done with such fanfare and influence in a Muslim country, democratic or otherwise, western and especially US media would have made mockery of such an imposition of religious fundamentalism on political process. 

For most outsiders, the US is in denial over its own “evil doing” around the world. Obama and McCain could see evil in Darfur but would not admit that the invasion and occupation of Iraq on false premises or for oil is no less an evil act.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Columnist Kathleen Parker, who takes a generally conservative position on most issues, also criticizes the Saddleback forum.

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