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 ‘war on terrorism’

Foreign worm and snakes slither through Web

Posted by James McPherson on April 9, 2009

Apparently the Conficker worm has “woken up” and done something. We’re not sure what, or if it matters, but once we identify and start following a scary threat or trend–however inconsequential it may be–we have to stay on its slimy trail. Unless it’s Osama bin Laden, of course.

And speaking of bin Laden and similar snakes, the Washington Post reports today that Taliban extremists are getting out their message via American Web hosts–including one in George W. Bush’s one-time hometown of Houston (while “serving” in the Air National Guard). Considering how much the Bush administration did to promote worldwide terrorism, I suppose that’s appropriate, in a twisted down-the-rabbit-hole (or snake hole) sort of way.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

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 »

Why Dick Cheney should be tortured

Posted by James McPherson on March 15, 2009

Dick Cheney, perhaps the most evil chief executive in our nation’s history (yeah, I know–technically the president is the chief executive, but I’m talking about the person really in charge of policy), told CNN today that Barack Obama’s policies increase our risk of being attacked by terrorists.

Aside from the fact that it seems our risk might decrease from having a president who values diplomacy over bluster and who actually reads threat memos more closely than he reads The Pet Goat, Cheney’s argument is typically inane self-defense, perhaps offered as a means of trying to avoid justified prosecution of George W. Bush, Cheney and others for war crimes.

“Cheney said the harsh interrogations of suspects and the use of warrantless electronic surveillance were ‘absolutely essential’ to get information to prevent more attacks like the 2001 suicide hijackings that targeted New York and Washington,” according to the report.

In other words, it’s the old fascist argument, offered at a time when the American public is sick of the whole Bush/Cheney-caused mess, that “we have to strip your civil rights away to save them.” Not the sort of thing that conservatives once stood for, but then these weren’t your grandfather’s conservatives. Thank God they’re not ours, anymore, either.

Apparently CNN didn’t ask Cheney about recent  revelations by one of the nation’s top investigative reporters, Seymour Hersh, that the former vice president personally oversaw a military  “assassination ring” that bypassed the CIA and carried out clandestine murders in other countries.

“It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on,” Hersh reportedly stated. “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”

I have no idea whether Hersh’s report is accurate. If so, the illegal death squads clearly pose an international threat. I suggest we torture Cheney until he confesses.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

George W. Bush: We don’t need no stinking Constitution; GOP rushes to public trough

Posted by James McPherson on March 3, 2009

As Republicans try to figure out whether they fear Rush Limbaugh more than they dislike him, and as the media fall all over themselves to cover the largely irrelevant GOP circus, we keep learning new depths of disturbing information about the Bush administration, information that makes some of us hope that circus never comes back to town.

We’ve known for years that George W. Bush was a liar, a criminal, a fool and an egomaniac, a combination that made him probably the most dangerous president in our history (Richard Nixon may have been as bad, but that was during a time when Republicans still elected members of Congress who put country over party).

Thanks to documents that Barack Obama has ordered released and the efforts of some good reporters, we’re learning more about just how dangerous Bush was. Now Newsweek reports that the Bush administration even considered trying to overturn the First Amendment. The idea came via a memo co-written by the scariest lawyer in America, John Yoo (scarier than Alberto Gonzales only because he’s a lot smarter).

Newsweek’s Michael Isakoff writes: “The Oct. 23, 2001, memo suggested the president could even suspend press freedoms if he concluded it was necessary to wage the war on terror. ‘First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully,’ Yoo wrote in the memo entitled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activity Within the United States.”

Somebody in the administration (maybe a leftover “limited government” conservative who somehow snuck in) apparently questioned the memo (or realized that most of the media had pretty much ignored their First Amendment rights to question the government, anyway, so it would be silly to stir them out of their slumber). Finally the idea apparently was considered “so extreme that it was essentially (and secretly) revoked–but not until October of last year, seven years after the memo was written and with barely three and a half months left in the Bush administration. (emphasis added)

I have many mixed emotions about Barack Obama, but at least there’s no such problem with George W. Bush–unless a combination of disgust, revulsion and curiosity about why that war criminal isn’t facing charges would be considered “mixed emotions.”

Fortunately, Bush and most of his ilk have moved on, even if they don’t know where they’re headed. Anyplace they can get us to pay for the trip, perhaps–maybe you noticed who benefits most from the new stimulus bill that virtually all Republicans voted against. Yep, red states.

Conservatives do love their earmarks (just as they also apparently subscribe to the most online pornography). And as the Huffington Post reports, the new stimulus bill, like the tax system in general, rewards red state porkers the most. As I’ve noted previously, one way to fix the economy might be to enforce a sort of Golden Rule by just treating Republicans as they would treat others: Cut off the tap, and let the piggies fend for themselves.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

A ‘stimulating’ Limbaugh lesson, and battles in Afghanistan and Tampa

Posted by James McPherson on February 1, 2009

Normally I have about the same respect for James Carville that I do for Rush Limbaugh. But sometimes it is interesting to watch a contest in which you wish both sides could lose, such as when a skinny bald blowhard gives the pompous drug-addicted blowhard a lesson about history and government.

Carville is making fun of Limbaugh’s supposed call for bipartisanship regarding the stimulus bill being considered by Congress. In the meantime, in a true show of Senate bipartisanship, Maine Republican Susan Collins (whom some Republicans think should be a Democrat) and Colorado Democrat Ben Nelson (whom some Dems think should join the GOP) are working to create a stimulus package that majorities in both parties could support. Mostly what they’re trying to do is “slash what they call wasteful spending from the bill.”

Republicans, many of whom consider almost any spending not related to killing someone to be wasteful, continue to call for the least effective means of stimulus (tax breaks) while rejecting the most effective (programs for poor people). Regardless of the outcome, a big stimulus package will be passed and much will be spent on infrastructure–a good thing except for the fact that too much of it will go to reinforcing a car-centric culture and not enough to mass transit (the benefits of which I greatly enjoyed last month in New York and Washington, D.C.).

Related to the economy, the stupidist spending under the George W. Bush adminstration was, and continues to be, expensed related to the Iraq War. While I am encouraged that President Barack Obama will likely reduce our presence there, I am troubled that he may be aiming toward creating his own Vietnam/Iraq-style quagmire in Afghanistan.

Obama probably will double the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, which might have been a good idea seven years ago. But keeping in mind that the current U.S. presence is smaller than the number of police deemed necessary to patrol friendly, celebratory crowds without guns in our nation’s capital on Inauguration Day, Obama’s plan seems mostly like a way to temporarily look semi-strong on defense while accomplishing no clear goals. Among those continuing to pay the price will be American soldiers and their orphaned children, and American taxpayers and their bewildered grandchildren.

Incidentally, Senators Collins and Nelson and I do have something in common, if the two really are working through the weekend to fix the stimulus package–we’ll be among that distinct minority of Americans not watching today’s Super Bowl. I’ve skipped viewing most Super Bowls, often other matchups in which I hope both sides lose, though I did hang on every second of the Seattle Seahawks’ 2005 loss to the Steelers (part of why today I’m rooting for the Cardinals–another area in which I disagree with Obama).

While I like football (I played in college, and still prefer the college game), with a few obvious exceptions the Super Bowl generally is not a particularly good game. With every key play to be shown endlessly in coming days, the halftime show a watered-down performance by a popular star provided with poor sound, and (thanks to YouTube) every commercial worth watching available anytime after the game, there is little reason to tune in.

I also don’t think the game will be close. My prediction: 34-13, Steelers. I figure today might be the perfect time to finally brave the mall and exchange the shirts I got for Christmas, since there will be few other guys there.

Same day update: So much for my career as a sports prognosticator. I walked into the house and flipped on the TV just in time to see the last play of the first half–the longest play in Super Bowl history. I then watched Bruce Springsteen in a halftime show that was every bit as weak as I expected, and then turned the TV back off until just before the Steelers gave up a safety to let the Cardinals get within four points.

To my credit, I did then have enough sense to watch the rest of the game, which the Steelers probably deserved to lose–after all, how do you NOT cover Larry Fitzgerald closely enough to prevent the last Cardinal touchdown? On the other hand, can you cover Santonio Holmes any better than he was covered on Pittburgh’s last TD? Who knows, after the last couple of years, I may have to start watching Super Bowls again.

Posted in History, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

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

Posted by James McPherson on December 17, 2008

Now here’s an intriguing lead:  “A rat believed to be extinct for 11 million years, a spider with a foot-long legspan, and a hot pink cyanide-producing ‘dragon millipede’ are among the thousand newly discovered species in the largely unexplored Mekong Delta region.”

That’s the first sentence of a CNN story today. Apparently Agent Orange, war-ravaged and starving natives and other Vietnam War-associated horrors failed to kill off the rat. Come to think of it, judging by 1950s films such as “Tarantula,” “Earth vs. the Spider,” The Deadly Mantis,” “The Black Scorpion,” “Them” (giant ants), and “Beginning of the End” (giant grasshoppers), Agent Orange may even have created the spider and the millipede.

Based on a World Wildlife Fund report, the  story later states: “Perhaps a more startling discovery than the rat was a bright green pit viper scientists spotted slithering through the rafters of a restaurant in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand.” Maybe it was searching for an 11-million-year-old rat. Regardless, Southeast Asia just slipped a notch or two on my list of desired travel locations.

The WWF offers a list of endangered species to watch, and uses government science to point out the increased danger to species from global warming. Unfortunately, as with other areas of public policy, when it comes to global warming and endangered species the Bush administration has a perhaps-criminal disregard for science.

In a typical Friday move, at the end of last week the administration announced a plan that will let bureaucrats instead of scientists determine the fate of some endangered species. Three days later, in what has become a regular occurrence, a government report revealed wrongdoing on the part of Bush officials involved with at least 15 endangered species cases.

And no, those aren’t cases regarding retirement funds, the Big Three auto makers, or the endangered folks who were tortured by the Bush war team captained by Dick Cheney or and its allies.

Though it’s probably coincidental, perhaps the latest actions by the outgoing Liar in Chief explain why Barack Obama introduced key members of his own “environmental team,” including Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, this week.

On the other hand, to be fair, maybe Bush has a good reason for ignoring scientists: Maybe he saw those same 1950s horror movies. For something considerably less scary than the Bush administration, see almost eight minutes of “Them” below:

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Science, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 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 »

Thanksgiving reminders from the world’s most famous journalist and Deepak Chopra

Posted by James McPherson on November 27, 2008

One of the many hopes of those who voted for Barack Obama is that the embarrassment of Guantanamo might be closed. One of the very few benefits of Guantanamo, and of prisons in general, is the occasional glimpses of light cast on the humanity and hope of even the most destitute.

Cup poems,” words scratched with pebbles into Styrofoam, offer one example. Perhaps none of the writings offered in one collection are great poetry, and one Amazon reviewer writes about the book of collected poems: “This is not poetry. It’s a political agenda chopped up into lines.” But for me, that raises the eternal question of what makes poetry great.

I would put such things as timeless truths and important questions high on the list. Great poems also must include beautiful, or at least creative, use of language, and that may be where the collection falls short. Still, there are lines worth considering as we reflect today on what we are most thankful for, including these words from the “world’s most famous journalist,: Sami al-Hajj:

They have monuments to liberty

And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.

But I explained to them

That architecture is not justice.

Speaking of architecture, in January I will visit Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I’ve been thankful since the presidential election that the loss of the World Trade Center hasn’t quite managed to make Lady Liberty irrelevant.

Yet I also realize that despite the warnings of folks such as Deepak Chopra, yesterday’s unfortunate attacks and ongoing hostage situation in India (for which, despite hundreds of casualties, CNN felt obligated to provide a story headlined “Terrified Westerners describe Mumbai chaos” and a link to a separate story titled “Nashville woman hurt in Mumbai attacks”) make it likely that some will want to renew the same kind of policies that led to Guantanamo.

As we prepare to raise our own cups, let us be thankful on this day–but let us also pray for wisdom.

Next day update: While American media, including CNN, Fox News and The New York Times, bring the issue home by focusing stores on the Americans killed or injured in Mumbai–and Fox “terror expert” Walid Phares asks, “Are we at war, or not?” and argues that “the Jihadists are winning,” while Fox columnist John Avlon argues, “The war that was indelibly declared on September 11, 2001 continues unabated , not just against the U.S. but worldwide … ultimately a war between civilization and the terrorists”–Al-Jazeera again is left to remind us of the broader perspective, that the attacks are raising indigation around the world.

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Here is the complete 20-part series chronicling the history of George W. Bush’s Iraq War, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history.

—————

Axis of evil

For sake of definition

Can’t beat the devil

—————

God’s soldiers attack

Saudi pilots slam towers

Time to hit Iraq

—————

They ripped out our heart

We must avenge them all

Chickenhawks are thrilled

_______

 Three thousand were killed

Nine-eleven is the call

We win at Wal-Mart

———

Yes, we must attack

We can’t find bin Laden’s cave

So we’ll bomb Iraq

_______

Bray it long and loud

Bush’s war will protect us

From a mushroom cloud

_______

Why attack Saddam?

Weapons of mass destruction

None there? We’ll be damned

_______

Please world wish us well

And God bless America

Killing infidels

_______

Flags throughout the land

Jingoistic fervor reigns

Don a black armband

_______

Let’s not be out-Foxed

Lapel flags in great demand

How about those Sox?

_______

Don’t count on the press

To learn what’s fact or fiction

The real truth? Just guess

_______

Soldiers bravely toil

Thousands come home draped with flags

From their war for oil

_______

 God save George the King

Chinese car magnets for troops

Who don’t mean a thing

_______

War is hell, he said

As if he had ever been

Your kids go instead

_______

Shake bittersweet Rice

From a sheltered brittle Bush

Harvest has its price

_______

Watch for terrorists

Those who’d offer civil rights

Must be communists

_______

They’ve not hit again

Three-fourths as good as Clinton

Check back in oh-ten

_______

Now the country’s broke

Try to change the rationale

Use mirrors and smoke

_______

Go to war we can

If we must we must, they say

What about Iran?

_______

Politicians’ game

Spin the bottle or the truth

Ending up the same

_______

 

 

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »