Tom Johnson covers mostly websites (e.g., Salon, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos) for NewsBusters. He blogged frequently for the site from 2005 until 2007 and has been a regular contributor since 2011. From 1989 until 2002, he was an entertainment analyst for the Media Research Center and its spinoff, the Parents Television Council. From July 2004 until June 2005, he monitored National Public Radio for the MRC. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona.

Latest from Tom Johnson
November 29, 2015, 2:20 PM EST

You’ve probably heard the phrase “too smart for the room.” Penn State professor Sophia McClennen thinks that Stephen Colbert is too smart for America, or at least a huge chunk of it, and that consequently he’s fallen to third place in late-night television’s ratings race. In a Monday Salon piece, McClennen argued that even though Colbert has “moved his satire into a more centrist mode” since joining CBS, that hasn’t increased his appeal to conservatives, since their dislike for his comedy has as much to do with form as content.

“Satire,” wrote McClennen, “uses irony, sarcasm, and parody to encourage critical thinking…[I]t is the sort of humor that is much less likely to appeal to Republican viewers because it depends on questioning beliefs and criticizing the status quo…[I]t is not just a question of who Colbert targets in his joke; it is also a question of how he makes the joke itself.  Nuance, irony, and layered thinking may be…the problem.”

November 27, 2015, 11:56 PM EST

In the race for next year’s Republican presidential nomination, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have made media bias an issue, as did Newt Gingrich during the 2012 contest. Irony alert: Martin Longman believes that it was one of the media’s favorite GOPers, John McCain, who planted the seeds for such press-bashing when he chose his  running mate.

Longman contended in a Wednesday post that “something broke on the right when they were forced to spend September and October of 2008 pretending that it would be okay if Sarah Palin were elected vice-president. The only way to maintain that stance was to jettison all the normal standards we have for holding such a high office. But it also entailed simply insisting that the truth doesn’t matter…Seven years down the road, it’s gotten to the point that Republicans have realized that they can say anything they want and just blame media bias if anyone calls them on their lies.”

November 27, 2015, 12:23 AM EST

If frontrunner Donald Trump or currently surging Ted Cruz gets the 2016 Republican presidential nod, it may have a strange sort of bipartisan effect, according to Tomasky, who in a Wednesday column asserted that GOP bigwigs “despise” both Cruz and Trump to the extent that they’d “actually prefer” presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to win the general election.

“No one’s ever going to say that publicly,” acknowledged Tomasky. “But half a lifetime of covering these people has taught me a few things about how they think…Intra-party personal hatred is much more visceral than inter-party personal hatred. The prospect of someone they hate in their own party having more power than they have is like the bitterest, foulest bowl of hemlock these people can drink.”

November 25, 2015, 9:15 PM EST

Republicans have the upper hand in Congress and in a clear majority of state governments. To Alterman, that state of affairs is a “mystery,” since GOPers typically hold “extreme” and “silly” views “that are not only beyond the boundaries of the beliefs of the vast majority of Americans, but also contrary to the laws of physics, economics, and, of course, common sense.”

In the December 7 issue of the magazine, Alterman analyzes how Republicans can be so nutty yet so empowered. He blames 1) Democrats, for “allow[ing] themselves to be defined as elitist snobs who view the everyday struggles of working-class Americans—especially white males—with contempt,” and 2) “so many members of the mainstream media [who have] run interference for—and therefore legitimize[d]—the [GOP’s] dangerous nonsense in the guise of allegedly objective reporting.”

November 24, 2015, 11:25 AM EST

Liberals sometimes say that law enforcement’s approach to the Mafia offers a model for how to deal with jihadists, even though the latter tend not to limit their demands to protection money. This past Sunday, Egberto Willies claimed that if terrorist attacks were “treated as they should be, like organized crime, it would neuter ISIS. After all…the group is no more powerful than a large band of thugs with weapons.”

But crimefighting methods weren’t the main concern of Willies’s piece. Rather, it was his belief that “neocons” wish to exploit fear of terrorism in order to start a war which would “transfer wealth from the masses to the few owners of the defense industrial complex.” Willies also ranted that conservatives don’t take a back seat to Islamist fanatics when it comes to lethality: “America's right-wing mass killers and gang bangers have killed more people in the West than ISIS has.”

November 22, 2015, 1:28 PM EST

The left tends to believe that Republicans, for whatever reason, are a lot better than Democrats at messaging and salesmanship. In that vein, Martin Longman argues that GOPers have a flair for fabricating issues -- “non-problems,” Longman calls them -- which distract the public from real problems.

“There was the non-problem with Fast & Furious,” wrote Longman in a Friday post. “There was the non-problem of professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Shirley Sherrod and Solyndra and ACORN and in-person voter fraud and the IRS and the so-called Benghazi cover-up and the Ebola panic and now Syrian refugees…We seem to be living in a political world that is driven less by problems than non-problems that the Republicans have dreamed up or trumped up.”

November 21, 2015, 11:56 AM EST

President Obama deserves high marks for his ISIS policy only if you’re grading on a curve and the other students are Republicans who “can't be bothered to take any of this seriously,” suggested Kevin Drum in a Thursday post.

Drum charged that GOPers “blather about Obama being weak, but when you ask them for their plans you just get nonsense…Obama's ISIS strategy has [not] been golden. But Republicans make him look like Alexander the Great. They treat the whole subject like a plaything, a useful cudgel during a presidential campaign. Refugees! Kurds! Radical Islam! We need to be tougher!...That isn't leadership. It barely even counts as coherent thought. It's just playground jeering.”

November 18, 2015, 11:25 PM EST

Almost two years ago, in an interview with The New Yorker’s David Remnick, President Obama drew one of the worst sports-related analogies ever when he likened ISIS to a JV team. Last month, Obama sat for an interview with an actual sportswriter, Bill Simmons, who pretty much pitched batting practice, thereby minimizing the chance of presidential gaffes, sporting or otherwise. The Q&A appears in the new issue of GQ.

Simmons, the former ESPN and Grantland personality who’s developing a show for HBO, set the highly deferential tone in his introduction, declaring that Obama “carries himself like Roger Federer, a merciless competitor who keeps coming and coming, only there’s a serenity about him that disarms just about everyone…He casually compared himself to Aaron Rodgers, and he wasn’t bragging. Obama identified with Rodgers’s ability to keep his focus downfield despite all the chaos happening in front of him. That’s Obama’s enduring quality, and (to borrow another sports term) this has been his ‘career year.’”

November 17, 2015, 9:27 PM EST

Last week, ex-Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala snarked on CNN that during the most recent Republican presidential debate, the candidates mentioned Hillary Clinton so often that they came off as “creepy…in a stalker sort of way…Maybe it's affectionate…Maybe they’re like junior high schoolboys.”

Vox's David Roberts has joined Begala in likening the GOP contenders to middle- or high-schoolers, but his concern is aggression, not affection. In a Monday series of sixteen tweets later collated and posted on the magazine’s site, Roberts argued that when the candidates talk about how they’d deal with ISIS, they sound like “insecure, hormone-ridden teenage boy[s]” and “status-obsessed, chest-beating adolescents.”

November 16, 2015, 5:52 PM EST

Many on the left have accused conservatives of exploiting the Paris terrorist attacks for political gain. On Monday, Daily Kos founder and publisher Markos Moulitsas jumped on the pile, alleging that the right’s main reaction to the attacks was not sadness or outrage, but “excitement” over the prospect of stirring up Islamophobia -- perhaps to the point of getting the Middle East war that they supposedly want so much.

“Finally! An excuse to wield their favorite tool—fear!” wrote Kos. “Because if there’s one sentiment that defines conservative ideology, it’s fear. Fear of the blacks, the communists, the immigrants, the liberal college professors, the Mexican rapist/drug dealers, the sleeper cells hiding amidst Syrian refugees…This is a movement that can’t speak to people’s economic plight, but it sure can rail about the monsters under the bed!”

November 15, 2015, 10:26 PM EST

Over the past several years, many former or reformist conservatives have wondered how the Republican party might be reclaimed from its volcanically angry, Fox-News-and-talk-radio-driven base. One ex-conservative, The Week columnist Linker, suggests that righty intellectuals ought to catalyze the process.

In a Friday column, Linker wrote that he couldn’t understand “how an intelligent, well-read” person of any political stripe could have watched last week’s GOP presidential debate “and not come away disgusted.” He issued a challenge to “conservative speak up and call the GOP field what it is: ignorant, insulting, and dangerous.”

November 14, 2015, 12:31 AM EST

The war of words between Bill O’Reilly and George Will over the long-term effects on Ronald Reagan of the 1981 assassination attempt amounts to a loose thread that could eventually cause the unraveling of conservatism, argued Sean Illing in a Friday article.

Illing opined that “conservatism, as a governing philosophy, continues to resonate because of Reagan’s perceived success” -- “perceived” being the operative word, since Illing went on to argue that “Reagan’s policies…made government more bloated, more defense-oriented, more oligarchic, and less democratic. Conservatives never reckon with these facts because the ahistorical canonization of Reagan prevents them from doing so.”

November 12, 2015, 6:01 PM EST

It’s often noted that Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, just as Democrats had lost five of six before that. Dems snapped out of it thanks to a Bill Clinton-led tack towards the center, but Michael Tomasky predicts that the GOP will stay to the right in 2016, thereby extending its slump.

After Michael Dukakis’s defeat in 1988, observed Tomasky in a Tuesday piece, Democrats at last could “say to themselves, OK, we’re screwed unless we change. Welfare reform? Free trade?...Whatever, man…The question for the Republicans is, is this 1988 or 1992? I think it’s 1988, because they haven’t yet lost that third one [in a row]. It’s the third one that drives it home. Especially if it’s to you know who.

November 11, 2015, 5:29 PM EST

Robin Williams’s first album was called Reality…What a Concept. More than one lefty blogger implied that Unreality…What a Concept would have been a fitting title for Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate.

November 9, 2015, 9:38 PM EST

Why are Republicans so angry at Washington? According to David T. S. Jonas, a onetime aide to Sen. Al Franken, it results from 1) “the expansion of economic and political rights for women, people of color, LGBT Americans, [and] immigrants” over the past few decades, and 2) the failure of Republicans in power to stop or reverse 1).

In a Sunday article for Salon, Jonas argued that “the majority of Republican primary ballots cast today end up conveying a kind of protest message: give me back my power, or nobody else gets anything…And that’s where Republican anger ultimately comes from…You are told that you can win every election you want, but eventually, you’re going to have to compromise your beliefs…And you, as a voter, hear all of this, and you proudly stand up and shout…‘You know what? Fuck that!’”

November 8, 2015, 5:14 PM EST

Many products long not advertised on television now are commonly promoted during ad breaks. Writer Danielle Campoamor would like to add one more type of commercial to that list.

“Why is it that I never see an ad for abortion services?” wondered Campoamor in a Sunday piece. “Why are we willing to use women’s bodies in ads, but rarely see ads that would benefit women’s bodies?...Society has manipulated abortion and the way in which it is viewed, changing it from a medical procedure to an exhausted topic of debate.”

November 7, 2015, 11:26 AM EST

In a Friday article, Brian Beutler expressed a combination of disgust and resignation that the ideological “absurdity” and supposedly dubious autobiographical “veracity” of Ben Carson don’t matter to conservatives.

Beutler acknowledged that Carson’s poll numbers may take a hit because of the flap over the West Point “scholarship,” but wondered, “Could Carson’s supporters prove so uninterested in his genuine merits and demerits that they might look past this transgression? The very fact that this doubt exists incriminates both the conservative-entertainment complex and the nature of the Republican electorate.”

November 5, 2015, 6:18 PM EST

The heyday of patent medicine, medicine shows, and related phenomena has been over for more than a century, right? Yes and no, implied Esquire's Pierce in a Thursday post. While it’s true that (for example) Coca-Cola no longer is sold as a cure for impotence, political snake oil, Pierce asserted, has become the chief product of the Republican party.

Pierce’s peg was Ben Carson’s involvement with Mannatech, but as far as the GOP angle was concerned, “the process began with Ronald Reagan, the greatest patent-medicine salesman of them all. It was he who marketed the economic snake-oil with a wink and a smile…It was he who gulled the country with tales of Sandinistas driving jeeps across the Rio Grande, and dangerous Cuban adventurism in Grenada, while Marines were being slaughtered in their barracks. He was the best show in town.”

November 4, 2015, 9:14 PM EST

“Cocooning” in the sense of staying at home rather than going out is not a political term, but Jeet Heer suggests that conservatives are prone to a sort of ideological cocooning, eschewing non-conservative media to the point that it can be hard for them to “engage with reality at all.”

In a Wednesday article, Heer argued, “Distrusting the mainstream media as too liberal and putting their trust on sources like Fox News, American conservatives have increasingly taken on the characteristic of a sect where the members share an arcane language and mythology which they have trouble discussing with the outside world.”

November 3, 2015, 9:41 PM EST

Wednesday is the thirty-sixth anniversary of the seizure of the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran. Moreover, it is the thirty-fifth anniversary of what D.R. Tucker calls “one of the great tragedies in American history”: the election of Ronald Reagan as president. (The two events are, of course, related.)

Tucker asserted in a Sunday post that “Reagan’s election nearly destroyed this country” and commented, “Sometimes you have to wonder if the folks who cast their ballot for Reagan…really knew what they were doing. Did they realize what sort of ideology they would inflict upon this country and world over the course of the next thirty-five years? Did they understand that they were, in effect, voting to hold back the hopes and diminish the dreams of their children and grandchildren?”