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 ‘YouTube’

First Internet photo? Photoshopped women, of course

Posted by James McPherson on July 10, 2012

So the first-ever Internet photo hs been found, reports Mother Board. Not surprisingly, it was a photoshopped photo of women. Call Julia Bluhm.

Somewhat surprising, considering most of what seems to show up nowadays on the Web, all of the women are fully dressed. And none of them are holding the camera.

By the way, I hadn’t known before this article that the first email came way before the parents of some of my students were born. The first YouTube video came seven years ago, and is posted below. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it didn’t involve cats.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Happy New Year

Posted by James McPherson on January 1, 2010

With a couple of looks back at 2009 from Uncle Jay and the JibJab folks (as they also did a year earlier):

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

Social networking numbers ad up, even if they don’t add up

Posted by James McPherson on October 20, 2009

One of the things I talk about in media history is how each new form of technology brings with it an aura of credibility–as if because the information is coming via a new medium, that information automatically is more credible, more useful, etc. Now that students know that “the Internet” alone isn’t a credible source, though, I had hoped we were beyond that assumption of credibility with modern electronic media.

Or perhaps not, judging by the video below. A student sent me a link to the video, which is “wow-imagine-that” interesting and which offers a lot of startling claims and numbers about social networking (though it doesn’t seem to mention the criminal aspects). Unfortunately, with virtually no attribution of sources, we must take the video for what it’s worth, and I fear that most viewers will believe most of it. I do think that it’s worth seeing for anyone interested in marketing or mass media. That’s why I’ve included it below–with reservations.

One of my favorite claims from the video: “If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s fourth largest.” Of course it would also be the world’s most self-involved and boring country. One of the claims I would question–that Wikipedia is more accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica–apparently led to my favorite comment in response to the video: “i could hardly believe some of those statistics…until i looked them up on wikipedia.”

Others also questioned the numbers, leading the apparent producer of the video to respond in the comments section, “All sources for the stats can be found on my blog socialnomics[dot]com.” Like the video, the blog seems to exist largely as a means of promoting a book, but by going there I was able to find sources for the material. Sadly, those sources included Facebook (hmm, no incentive for them to boost their states), Huffington Post, an unidentified “metro newspaper,” wikipedia.org (really?), some that couldn’t be found, and a couple of blogs–and almost nothing I would accept from a college junior for a class paper.

It would be nice, of course, if  American viewers also had a better understanding of media literacy. One of the more amusing things I noticed: The most recent response–from a marketing firm–calls the piece a “brilliantly illustrated video that truly highlights the social media revolution that is taking place every hour of every day! Thank you so much for posting this important piece that I will continue to share when I guest lecture to entrepreneurs about marketing! Social Media is not a fad, and will only continue to evolve into exactly what people want it to be–free of ads and full of targeted and useful content that can better their lives.”

Free of ads? The video itself is an advertisement full of other ads, many of the comments like the one just cited are themselves ads, and various clickable promos run along the bottom of the screen throughout the video. Another of its stats: “Only 14 percent [of consumers] trust advertising.” Fourteen percent is too many, of course–but it also means that 86 percent shouldn’t trust anything in this video without doing some independent research.

Posted in Media literacy, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How about just a robot to grade papers?

Posted by James McPherson on September 23, 2009

CNN reports that movie-style androids such as those in the movie “Surrogates” may not be far off. And we’ve already seen a teaching robot (and a robotic “supermodel”) in Japan.

Others warn that technology may make my job obsolete, and the amount of education that has gone online in recent years sometimes worries me, a bit. But then I remember how few people actually watch educational television or make use of the wealth of educational opportunities on the web (some of which are linked to your right).

In fact, anyone could get the equivalent of a very good liberal arts education from his or her home, though of course the student would be giving up other valuable parts of the college experience–and the external motivation that some of us require to buckle down and learn, rather than spending the time on video games, YouTube videos or trashy crime novels.

Posted in Education, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

‘Dead’ beats: Vampire-like bill collectors collect from concientious kin

Posted by James McPherson on March 4, 2009

Worried about the economy because of the falling stock market?  Afraid you won’t get anything from the stimulus bill? (If so, maybe should should move to a red state.) Concerned that you might lose your job and not be able to pay your bills? Just wait ’til you get your dead grandmother’s cell phone bill.

As the New York Times reports today, by taking advantage of technology and the fact that most people don’t know they are not responsible for the bills left behind by deceased relatives, credit agencies are going wherever they might be able to get someone–perhaps by using deceit or by playing on survivors’ guilt–to pay off unpaid balances. The Times notes: “Scott Weltman of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis, a Cleveland law firm that performs deceased collections, says that if family members ask, ‘we definitely tell them’ they have no legal obligation to pay. ‘But is it disclosed upfront–“Mr. Smith, you definitely don’t owe the money”? It’s not that blunt.'”

Not surprisingly, collecting from poor widows is stressful for the people who happen to be scummy or desperate enough to take the job. It’s even more stressful for the grieving poor, of course, and there will be more folks on both ends of those calls in months to come.

On the plus side, if someone has to sell the big screen TV to pay off someone else’s debts, at least their own children may be less likely to grow up stupid from watching reality television (and in case you’re lucky enough not to know what I’m talking about, and for whatever perverse reason happen to care, the clip below will fill you in):

Posted in Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Music dies; parents watching Super Bowl nearly do the same

Posted by James McPherson on February 2, 2009

CNN reminds us that it has now been 50 years since “the day the music died,” coincidentally in the same state where many presidential campaigns throughout history have crashed and burned. Buddy Holly was the most important of the musicians who died in the crash, which also claimed teen singer Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper Richardson (and would have killed one of my personal favorites, Waylon Jennings, if he had not given his seat to a flu-bitten Richardson).

Holly brought us songs that included “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” and the last song he ever performed, the ironically titled “Not Fade Away.” The crash brought perhaps my favorite rock song, of all time, Don McLean’s “American Pie” (the meaning of which isn’t totally clear; McLean famously said, “It means I don’t ever have to work again.”), sung by Garth Brooks and a cast of thousands at Barack Obama’s Inauguration Concert.

I was at an impressionable age for music when the song came out (I turned 13 shortly after that) and a big fan of 1950s music in general (despite being only only six months old when Holly died). A few years later even modified McLean’s chorus to fit my first car (a 1966 Valiant): “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie; drove my Plymouth to the limit but the limit ain’t high. The others drinkin’ whiskey, and I guess so was I. If my ol’ man finds out then I’ll die.”

The song is also very long, meaning it never got as much airtime as I thought it deserved–and less after pre-programmed corporate radio meant fewer DJs who needed bathroom breaks. But you can see an early live YouTube video of McLean performing “American Pie” below.

On another media topic that brings to mind the words, “O, Boy!” and “Not Fade Away” (a song later recorded by the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, the Supremes, the Beatles, Deep Purple and Rush, among others), parents in Tucson have to wishing they could erase from memory the surprise images that appeared during yesterday’s game. Some residents of the Cardinals’ state saw what had to be the longest 10 seconds of any Super Bowl party in history.

Despite the fact that viewers saw the unzipping of pants in this case apparently not because of a “wardrobe malfunction,” but instead through the act of a hacker, cable executives are probably just hoping they can avoid a lawsuit.

That’ll be the day.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Music, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 »

Obama’s selective openness a bad sign for him and us

Posted by James McPherson on January 30, 2009

Barack Obama has been justifiably praised for his efforts to use technology to talk directly to the American people, and, since his election, for his orders to increase the transparency of government. 

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency,” Obama promised on his first day in office. And as a former journalist and a citizen concerned about the workings of government, I’m happy about the promises of increased openness.

Unfortunately those promises may go largely unfulfilled, as indicated by Columbia Journalism Review writer David Cay Johnston’s  experience. Not only is the press staff difficult to reach and sometimes apparently ignorant about how the media work, Johnston reports that the administration is also editing briefing transcripts before posting them–a practice used by the Bush administration to “polish the record.”

 “Politicians make choices and have to live with them,” Johnston notes. “How they deal with journalists—especially whether they are candid and direct about dealing in facts—sets a tone that will influence the administration’s ability to communicate its messages, especially those Obama messages that run counter to deeply ingrained cultural myths about the economy, taxes, and the role of government.”

Obama’s decisions likely will keep getting tougher, not easier, and with each he’ll have to decide anew his commitment to open government. Will he open the windows on U.S. torture policy? Will he keep the Bush administration’s secrets, even if it means that war crimes go unpunished? Worse, might he continue some of the abuses? How will he protect us from the end of the world less than two months after his 2012 re-election? OK, I’m kidding about that one: I’m not at all convinced he’ll be re-elected, even if we happen to survive that long.

Though Obama has been talking a lot about the economy and the need to spend lots of money to forestall total economic collapse, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wonders if the president is giving any consideration to a central theme of his campaign–how health care, perhaps the biggest draw on the economy, might be fixed? Obama and his people aren’t saying, so we don’t know.

There’s a lot they aren’t saying, despite the fact that Obama now seems to be on television constantly. As can be seen nightly on the Vegas strip or with the Three-card Monte games of New York City, the most effective magicians work not by openly hiding things but by using charm, patter, and perhaps a pretty girl or two to keep us from looking where we should. And it is worth remembering that Obama drew kudos for the “discipline” of his button-down presidential campaign, from which leaks did not escape.

Naturally politicians hate it when everyone knows what they’re doing, sometimes for good reasons. For one thing, if ideas are revealed too early, critics can jump in before plans can be given thorough consideration or a fair hearing. For another thing, leaks make a course change tougher if people know you originally intended something else. You might even become known as a flip-flopper. And sometimes information can simply be embarrassing.

But the Bush administration convincingly reminded us why we can’t simply trust officials to tell us what we need to know (even an official with his own Blackberry and YouTube channel), and why we need journalists to dig for us, to follow up on statements, to explore alternatives. After the press and government failures of the Iraq War, domestic spying and the economy, we can hope that even journalists have learned the same thing.

Incidentally, Johnston’s article also reminds us of why CJR (where editor Mike Holt graciously met with a dozen of my students in New York earlier this month) is such a valuable source both for and about journalism. I renewed my subscription this week.

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

The Smoking Gun: FAIR criticism of media

Posted by James McPherson on January 9, 2009

Though I was leaving just hours later for the East Coast, I couldn’t pass up a chance to listen to media critic and Nieman Foundation program manager Callie Crossley speak at Whitworth University Wednesday night.

Crossley’s talk focused on the intersection of old and new media, and she reminded us that “four years ago, YouTube didn’t exist.” Among other things, that means we have no real idea what the media will look like four years from now.

But it will look different: As Crossley also noted, 15,000 American journalists lost their jobs in 2008, while for many journalists working for “multi-platform media”–what most media have become: “The print paper has become the last on the list of priorities” behind a news organization’s Web sites and journalists’ blogs.

Today was the first day of a “Media Impact” study program I am leading in New York and Washington, D.C., and the students and I were provided some more excellent insights on the issue of journalistic change.

First we visited Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a liberal media watchdog organization. Program director Janine Jackson pointed out that the mainstream news organizations do a particularly weak job with institutional structures and policies not because of a liberal or conservative bias, but because of a “top-down bias”–far too many of journalists’ sources continue to be the people in power (mostly white males).

The journalist is then put in the position, though his/her questions, of speaking for everyone else who might be affected by an issue (an even bigger problem when most nationally recognized newspeople also are privileged white males). 

From FAIR we went to The Smoking Gun, a three-man operation that was one of the first prominent Internet news sites–and still one of few that actually does journalism, as opposed to simply commenting on the journalism of others. That means, for example, that on any given day you may find more original hard news dug up by three guys in a single New York office than is uncovered and reported during a day’s on-air MSNBC coverage.

The amount and quality of work they do led to their being bought by TruTV (then Court TV) just three years after they started The Smoking Gun, making them (in the words of editor Bill Bastone) “the smallest division of Time-Warner that you can imagine.”

Bastone,  managing editor Andrew Goldberg and reporter Joseph Jesselli all demonstrated why they are great reporters: They love their work, they have a wide range of interests, and they boast “kind of a punk sensibility”–meaning they enjoy tweaking the powerful.

I also was thrilled to hear Jackson and Bastone highlight issues that I have tried to emphasize in this blog (which I would be first to agree is NOT journalism).

Jackson stressed the importance of media history and media literacy, gained from exposing oneself to multiple media (especially written media) from a variety of sources. Bastone expressed frustration with the number of college students he meets who don’t read enough, and who don’t try every possible avenue to get their writing into print.

I couldn’t have said it better myself–which, of course, is why we’re in New York.

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

Uncle Jay’s take on 2008

Posted by James McPherson on January 1, 2009

As a brief follow-up to yesterday’s JibJab post, here’s “Uncle Jay’s” musical look at the past year. (Thanks for the link, M&M.) Happy New Year!

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