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 ‘Will.I.Am’

Yes we can steal: We are the ones we’ve been plagiarizing

Posted by James McPherson on November 18, 2008

One of the drawbacks of an Internet world for teachers and historians like myself is how easy plagiarism is to commit–even accidentally, for someone who gathers lots of information and fails to adequately keep track of it all, thanks to the easy of copying and pasting.

Even more troubling is how little theft seems to matter to many of those who commit it, and the difficulty in explaining to students why it is wrong. Check out PlagiarismToday for some great insights on the subject.

Plagiarism scandals have embarrassed reporters (costing some their jobs) and historians and once helped end Joe Biden’s presidential bid. During his campaign, Barack Obama drew fire for using the words of Deval Patrick. Yet Obama’s two favorite phrases: “Yes we can” and “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” both orginated with others. Writing a Washington Post blog back in February, Garance Franke-Ruta traced at least part of the lineage of both phrases.

For me, the blog post also raises another question: At what point does something become “common knowledge”? “A penny saved is a penny earned” is a phrase that Congress and Americans in general seem to have forgotten, but no one using it would be expected to know where it came from. Nor did most folks question the origin of “lipstick on a pig,” even if they questioned its use.

And while I knew that evangelical Sojourners leader Jim Wallis used the phrase in his book God’s Politics and in speeches (attributing the phrase to a young activist), until I read Franke-Ruta’s article I had no idea how common it had become–or its connection to a 2004 Jane Fonda speech. The Internet continues to make my job both easier and more difficult.

Just for fun, here’s will.i.am’s pro-Obama anthem version of “We are the Ones,” with lots of celebrity faces:

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The force isn’t with CNN’s ‘holograms’

Posted by James McPherson on November 9, 2008

Obviously no news organization should fake the news. I also have serious reservations about “re-creations” sometimes used–especially, it seems, to dramatize the murders of attractive young women–to demonstrate what happened (or may have happened), typically with shadowy, shaky camera work and mood-inspiring music added.

Use of technology to report the weather is somewhat different. In that case, graphics on a green screen enhance the viewer’s ability to understand what’s going on. Election maps and various charts and graphs can do the same thing for a news organization’s ability to explain the news.

And while election night is a time when the networks like to bring out the toys, CNN went too far with its use of “holograms” (actually “tomograms”) that “chatted” with Wolf Blitzer (who sometimes doesn’t seem quite real, himself, but that’s a separate issue) and Anderson Cooper. As the Poynter Institute’s Amy Gahran notes, “This particular tool added absolutely nothing to the substance of the coverage–and thus, it became a mere stunt that trivialized CNN’s coverage.” (italics and bold type in original)

The problem is that Blitzer and Cooper were talking to blank space, rather than to actual images of correspondent Jessica Yellin and rapper Will.I.Am. Why not just use a traditional video screen? As for Yellin, who referenced Princess Leia (Will.I.Am also made a “Star Wars” reference), according to a CNN article, “Now, in hindsight, Yellin only wishes she could have come up with a better ‘Star Wars’ joke.”

You can see clips of the CNN experiment below, followed by a clip that explains some of the technology:

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »