Tom Johnson

Contributing Writer


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.

Latest from Tom Johnson

In the 19th century, hunters put the passenger pigeon on the road to extinction, and here in the 21st century, zealous supporters of President Trump may have done the same to honorable conservatives, suggested Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall on Sunday.


Salon's Marcotte has some advice for Ben Sasse: There's no future in being the respectable face of the Party of Deplorables. In a Wednesday piece, Marcotte pooh-poohed the idea that it might be worth Sasse's while to primary President Trump in 2020. She did so partly because the Nebraska senator is "less than worthless" as an anti-Trumper, partly because Sasse's image as "a man of courage and integrity" is "utter malarkey," but mostly because new-school Republicans like unadorned cruelty and ignorance, and Sasse won't quite go there.


On Tuesday, Daily Kos founder and publisher Markos Moulitsas instructed Democrats that the first rule of Impeachment Club is that you do not talk about Impeachment Club, at least in mixed company. "The signs are clear we are headed for a massive Democratic wave" in the midterm elections, exulted Kos, but he warned that for the wave to crash, Dems first need to "avoid issues that energize conservatives," most of all one mega-issue: "Talking about impeachment in campaign settings effectively puts Trump on the ballot. And if Trump is on the ballot? His supporters will turn out. We don’t want his supporters to turn out. We want them home, sulking about the swamp and how McConnell and Ryan have stood in the way of Trump’s efforts to Make America Great."


New York magazine's Jonathan Chait is glad that the era of conservative media bias on tax cuts is over. In a Thursday post, Chait observed that Republicans have "complain[ed] bitterly" about the MSM's coverage of the just-passed tax bill. Those gripes, he suggested, aren't surprising, given that the coverage "has been generally clear about the undeniable fact that [the GOP] plan overwhelmingly benefits the affluent," whereas previously Republicans had "succeeded in bullying the news media into treating this provable truth as an unimportant, contested partisan accusation."


On Tuesday, Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall called the bill "a heist," while Vox's Matthew Yglesias charged that "moral and political responsibility for the looting ultimately rests on the shoulders of the GOP members of Congress who decided that the appropriate reaction to Trump’s inauguration was to start smashing and grabbing as much as possible for themselves and their donors rather than uphold their constitutional obligations."


News stories might have cost Hillary Clinton the presidency, but they were real stories from Manhattan, not fake stories from Macedonia. That’s the major takeaway from a new content analysis of media coverage of the 2016 campaign that the Columbia Journalism Review published on Tuesday. 


Democrats have taken two high-profile casualties this week in the war over sexual misconduct, while Republicans, at least for now, are unscathed. That state of affairs doesn’t sit well with Dahlia Lithwick, who worries about principled Dems putting themselves at a general competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis sleazy GOPers.


Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Bill O’Reilly. Mark Halperin. Any one of those guys is just like the others in two important and intertwined ways, suggested Salon’s Marcotte on Wednesday: each is an alleged sexual harasser who has lost at least one high-profile media gig as a result, and each had a sexist fixation on Hillary Clinton’s “nothing-burger” e-mails.


The “IRS scandal” is best understood as a significant work of fiction, suggested New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait on Tuesday. As Chait tells it, conservatives’ false belief that the tax agency subjected righty groups to especially exacting treatment “prefigure[d] the Republicans’ own blueprint for the use of government as an implement of partisan domination and revenge.”


Liberals have little chance of converting conservatives on climate change, but eventually righties will get swept to the left on the issue whether they like it or not, believes David Roberts. In a Friday piece, Roberts maintained that “the weather is only getting worse, young people are only getting more engaged, and clean energy is only getting cheaper” and therefore “climate change and clean energy will be winning issues in the long term.”


For three weeks, Justin Peters binged on Fox News, and on Friday, he related in a piece for Slate that his voluminous viewing had left him with “a persistent headache...and a keen sense of the many ways in which we all are screwed. Though you might not watch Fox News on a regular basis, lots and lots of people do, including President Donald Trump. The results illuminate the wisdom of the phrase ‘garbage in, garbage out.’”


Crooked Media, founded earlier this year by former Obama-admin staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor, recently expanded its efforts to help “get [liberals] through this roiling clusterfuck of a presidency.” One of Crooked Media’s new hires is editor-in-chief Brian Beutler, formerly of Salon and The New Republic. In a Tuesday piece, Beutler contrasted the liberals' handling of the recent ambush of U.S. soldiers in Niger with conservatives' treatment of the 2012 Benghazi attack, arguing that the difference “illustrates a fundamental characterological difference between the American left and the American right.”


In theory, the larger and stronger a nation’s private sector, the more robust and diverse its news media. Nonetheless, New York’s Eric Levitz suggested on Tuesday that the American media aren’t robust enough. As Levitz sees it, though “democracy cannot function without a well-funded, adversarial press...market incentives do not adequately reward news outlets for investing in high-impact investigative journalism.”


Many persons have started thinking about President Trump’s re-election campaign. One, of course, is Trump himself. Another is lefty pundit Paul Waldman, who in a September 27 column for The Week argued that while recent approval ratings for Trump don’t augur well for his winning a second term, he might pull it off if he cribs from Karl Rove’s 2004 playbook.


Megyn Kelly now hosts the third hour of the Today show, and it’s a less-boozy Today With Kathie Lee and Hoda than it is a daytime version of The Kelly File. Kelly has said that she’s “kind of done with politics for now,” and that she’d like her hour to be “a unifying force” in a sundered America. To which The New Republic’s Clio Chang retorts, “Too little, too late.” In a Wednesday piece, Chang charged, “Among her peers in the mainstream network television circuit, there are few who have so clearly built their career on divisive politics than Kelly.”


Since Tuesday night, many lefty pundits have been mostly (though not completely) distracted from President Trump by Roy Moore’s win in Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate primary. Their message: Just when you thought the GOP had hit bottom, the bottom dropped out. Two especially noteworthy commentaries came from Esquire’s Charles Pierce and New York’s Jonathan Chait.


According to New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, the Democratic party is far saner than the Republican party. One reason for that, Chait suggested this past Sunday, is that Democrats benefit from powerful forces that help keep them rational -- forces that include CBS News and The Washington Post. “The fact is that the Democratic Party is fundamentally accountable to the mainstream news media. And that media…try to follow rules of objectivity that the right-wing alternative media does not bother with,” argued Chait. “Democratic politicians need to please a news media that is open to contrary facts.”


Was Ronald Reagan the original Washington wizard? Esquire’s Charles Pierce seems to think so. Pierce argued on Wednesday that in the 1980s, an ideological “spell…was cast” by the Gipper and his allies, and that as a result of various right-wing policies enacted since then, Harvey-related damage to the Houston area will be a lot worse than it should have been. “The spell…was cast 30 years ago, when conservative movement politics pitched deregulation as a panacea,” wrote Pierce. “It was cast 30 years ago when conservative movement politics declared that important decisions on things like the environment and public health were better left to the states, despite the fact that many states, like Texas, were unable or unwilling to pay to do these jobs properly.”


Many years ago, Rush Limbaugh started calling the MSM “state-run media.” Sarah Jones indicated on Wednesday that Rush’s description might better fit righty outlets whose agendas dovetail with President Trump’s. Jones also suggested that conservatives are taking the mainstream media for a ride: “It has become an article of faith on the right that non-right media is malicious propaganda, even as the right itself has been almost entirely overtaken by actual propaganda. But does the mainstream press understand this?”


Writer Eric Alterman presents the relationship between President Trump and journalists as if it were a plot from a horror movie, and the audience knows what’s going to happen before the victim does. In Alterman’s view, the “racist, sexist, Islamophobic psychopath” Trump threatens the mainstream media, but reporters and editors are oblivious to the danger “not only to their livelihoods, but to their entire reason for being.”