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
May 23, 2015, 1:55 PM EDT

“The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.” That proverb sums up Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein’s Friday analysis of the policy and politics of Obamacare.

In this metaphor, the dogs are ideologues on both sides who, heedless of evidence, have been barking (and snarling and growling) at each other about the Affordable Care Act. As Klein noted, “Social scientists have [determined that] the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become. When it comes to politics, people reason backward from their conclusions.” The caravan is Obamacare itself, which, Klein opined, is “nowhere near perfect” but in general is succeeding by “doing pretty much what it said it would do, at a lower cost than anyone thought.”

May 21, 2015, 9:35 PM EDT

When it comes to taking questions from representatives of the legacy media, Hillary Clinton has been making herself rather scarce, and Daily Kos founder and publisher Markos Moulitsas thinks that’s just peachy.

“The day when the political media was instrumental in getting a candidate's message out is over,” wrote Kos in a Thursday post. “Candidates now have myriad vehicles to communicate their message straight to the voters without having it wrung through the old media's filter…So yes, if you're Hillary Clinton, you damn right ignore the dinosaur press corps. Fuck them.”

May 20, 2015, 5:56 PM EDT

Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall sees a pattern of self-deception among Clinton-loathing conservatives. Marshall acknowledges that Bill and Hillary Clinton routinely “play close to the line” and “refus[e] to play by rules tighter than those applied to anyone else,” but argues that right-wingers fool themselves when they insist that behind those tendencies lies criminality.

“It's never enough for the Clintons' perennial critics to be satisfied with potential conflicts of interest or arguably unseemly behavior,” wrote Marshall in a Tuesday post. “It always has to be more. There have to be high crimes, dead people, corrupt schemes. And if they don't materialize, they need to be made up. Both because there is an organized partisan apparatus aimed at perpetuating them and because there is a right-wing audience that requires a constant diet of hyperventilating outrage from which to find nourishment.”

Marshall commented that “freak show conspiracy theories…inevitably bubble up around [the Clintons], a symbiotic embrace of grievance, aggression and derp. It's painful to admit, but the two sides feed on each other.”

May 19, 2015, 9:36 PM EDT

Demography may not always be destiny, but according to Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, the “best bet” is that over the next decade-plus, the Republican party as a whole will move towards the center-right as young, relatively moderate voters join and elderly right-wingers shuffle off this mortal coil.

In a Monday article, Bouie predicted that “eventually, the GOP will find a working national majority, even if the country becomes as brown and liberal as some analysts project.” That said, he added, “the real question” is “whether a future, younger Republican Party will still have a conservative movement.”

May 18, 2015, 6:07 PM EDT

Over the past decade or so, David Letterman has become outspokenly liberal, but according to cultural critic Scott Timberg, the seemingly apolitical comedy that Dave did in the 1980s actually hurt the left. Specifically, it served as a sort of opiate which left his audience disinclined to push back against Reaganism.

“For those on the progressive or liberal side of the aisle,” wrote Timberg last Tuesday in Salon, “the irreverent irony ‘Late Night’ brought to the table probably helped neuter the American left…The helpless bemusement behind it certainly became -- for anyone aiming at social or political or economic change -- a dead end.” In Timberg’s telling, laughter, rather than activism, became the “default response” to “the stupid stuff thrown to us by cheap consumerism and the Reagan-Thatcher takeover.”

May 17, 2015, 5:22 PM EDT

In the wake of the furor over his gifts to the Clinton Foundation, George Stephanopoulos has taken himself out of the running to moderate a Republican presidential debate set to air on ABC next February. That development gave Salon’s Jim Newell a peg for his Friday argument that GOPers are off-base in their recent push for conservatives (or at least non-liberals) to moderate their party’s debates.

“The mainstream media moderator serves a useful function in Republican presidential debates,” wrote Newell. “If [he or she] asks a difficult or uncomfortable question, the Republican candidate can simply badger the moderator for pursuing a stealth liberal agenda. Whenever the candidate is on the verge of embarrassing him or herself, he or she can lash out at the moderator for trying to embarrass the cause of conservatism as a whole. All of the Republican voters in the audience are conditioned to hoot and holler with approval whenever this happens.” Newell added that if the moderator is a bona fide righty, however, “it eliminates [the candidates’] escape hatch. It’s much harder to yell at a Fox News host or a Hugh Hewitt about how they’re protecting Democrats.”

May 15, 2015, 10:38 AM EDT

In the uproar over George Stephanopoulos’s hefty, long-undisclosed contributions to the Clinton Foundation, New York magazine blogger Jonathan Chait casts himself in a role similar to that of the child in the tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” who, after so many have admired their ruler’s supposedly magnificent outfit, points out that the monarch actually is wearing nothing at all.

“Everybody agrees this is terrible,” wrote Chait in a Thursday post. “But…why? [Rand] Paul accuses Stephanopoulos of harboring a ‘conflict of interest.’ But donating money to a charitable foundation is not an interest…It’s true that some donors have an incentive to use the Foundation to get close to the Clintons in a way that might benefit their business interests…But none of those problems reflects poorly on Stephanopoulos.”

The Clinton Foundation, Chait remarked, “is, after all, a charity. It used to have non-partisan overtones…Stephanopoulos’s defense — that he just wanted to donate to the Foundation’s work on AIDS prevention and deforestation — seems 100 percent persuasive. He is the victim of the ethical taint of the Clintons’ poorly handled business dealings, combined with an underlying right-wing suspicion of the liberal media, but what his critics have yet to produce is a coherent case against him.”

May 14, 2015, 2:26 PM EDT

There’s been plenty of mockery of the three actual or potential Republican presidential candidates who named Ronald Reagan as the greatest living president, but New York magazine's Chait feels their pain, sort of.

Chait observed in a Wednesday post that GOPers are in a bind when choosing the best living POTUS given that 1) for obvious reasons, they wouldn’t pick Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton; 2) George H. W. Bush “betrayed Reaganism”; and 3) George W. Bush suffered a “second-term collapse into deep unpopularity” despite “govern[ing] in a more consistently conservative fashion than Reagan had.”

May 13, 2015, 10:38 AM EDT

A new Pew Research study found that between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of Americans self-identifying as Christian fell from 78.4 to 70.6. In a Tuesday post, Martin Longman speculated about causes for the dropoff, commenting that “the Republican Party’s embrace of a very conservative interpretation of Christianity” may be “undermining people’s faith.”

Longman added that it’s not solely the fault of the domestic religious right: “Islamic radicals…committing unspeakable atrocities in Allah’s name” and “Jewish radicals…standing in the way of [Israeli-Palestinian] peace negotiations” share the blame. “Most of the war and killing that is going on in the world today is generated by disputes between or within a small handful of very well-established traditional religions,” he remarked. “If the whole world woke up tomorrow with no memory of the New Testament, the Torah, or the Koran, it’s quite possible that peace would break out in ways that seem unthinkable today.”

May 12, 2015, 10:28 AM EDT

Mainstream pundits generally have seen the protests over Jade Helm 15 as an embarrassment to conservatives, but blogger Leslie Savan of The Nation suggested in a Friday post that looking silly now may benefit the right in the long run.

The Jade Helm uproar, opined Savan, “is like Obamacare death panels, or Sharia law coming to a court near you, or fluoride in the water supply. It doesn’t matter if the particular charge is proven to be completely false. Just getting the larger idea (don’t trust Obama’s feds, they want to un-cling you from your guns and religion) into the mainstream media is a victory. It validates the paranoia.”

May 10, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT

According to columnist Eric Alterman, prominent journalists tend to realize that most Republicans are “ideological extremists” whose agenda, dictated by “the super-wealthy,” warps our politics. The problem, he added, is that the news stories those journalists write don’t reflect that realization.

Instead, argued Alterman in a piece for the magazine’s May 18 issue, “even our best reporters feel the need to put forth a fairy-tale narrative in which the United States enjoys a fully functioning democracy…When you consider that far-right billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch have the power to demand that presidential aspirants pledge fealty to their ideological preferences and financial interests, the notion that our laws represent the collective will of the American people appears comical at best.”

May 9, 2015, 8:58 PM EDT

Edmund Burke wrote that “a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” To American Prospect blogger Paul Waldman, “change” for conservatives means living to fight another day by conceding battle after battle to liberals.

“Much of the history of the United States,” wrote Waldman in a Friday post, “is a slow but inexorable movement in a progressive direction, as one issue after another is eventually settled in favor of the position liberals had been advocating, from slavery to women's suffrage to Jim Crow to the legalization of contraception to sex discrimination and up to gay rights today. You can find exceptions…but the fundamental trend in social relations moves in only one direction.”

Waldman stated that right-wing “rhetoric…is absolutely awash in nostalgia” but added that some conservatives seem to be making their peace with an America no longer ruled by older men of northern European ancestry.

May 8, 2015, 6:10 PM EDT

The faltering religious right would be well served to borrow a strategy from gay activists, but it almost certainly won’t, contended The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky in a Friday column.

In Tomasky’s telling, the gay-rights movement in the 1980s alienated many because it could be self-righteous to the point of belligerence, but eventually “the leaders of the movement saw that it was more important to persuade public opinion than to shock it. And so the public-relations strategy around the movement for same-sex marriage became ‘we’re just like you.’ And it worked.”

The religious right, Tomasky argued, “can’t change. When you believe the Big Guy Himself handed you down your positions, you’re not going to alter them or indeed even the way you talk about them. What is the religious right’s version of ‘we’re just like you’? I don’t think there is one. Because they are not like the rest of us, at least when it comes to politics.”

May 6, 2015, 9:32 PM EDT

In a Monday blog post, Michelle Goldberg suggested that the takeaway from Carly Fiorina’s presidential candidacy is that Republicans may be as cynical as they are dumb.

For Goldberg, the cynicism is two-pronged. One prong is the hope that Fiorina will attract the same sort of “anti-feminist” voters that Sarah Palin did. The other is that she’ll be able to needle Hillary Clinton in a manner that men wouldn’t for fear of being called sexist.

The dumb part, claimed Goldberg, is that Republicans seem to assume voters won’t figure out that Fiorina “is as bad as any of the male candidates on issues of unique concern to women. She’s implacably anti-abortion…and is against equal pay laws. The question…isn’t whether Fiorina will appeal to women, but whether Republicans are blinkered enough to think that she will.”

May 6, 2015, 11:25 AM EDT

Some pundits have speculated that the Baltimore riots may benefit Republicans in next year’s elections. On the other hand, Walsh, of Salon and MSNBC, thinks that the unrest has yielded an opportunity for liberalism.

In a two-part series, Walsh argued that one lesson of Baltimore is that Democrats' Bill Clintonesque center-left “approach to race, crime and inequality” has proved inadequate, and that the party now must confront “the big structural issues driving poverty and rising inequality, not the behavior of the poor.” Meanwhile, sniped Walsh, when it comes to those problems the GOP is “still race baiting” and “still stuck in the 1980s.”

May 4, 2015, 9:18 PM EDT

Salon’s Jim Newell doesn’t think Ben Carson will be the 2016 Republican presidential nominee, but he doesn’t see him as a garden-variety wanna-be. Rather, Newell believes that Carson is likely to incur one “spectacular humiliation” after another on the campaign trail. In a Monday article, Newell contended that the “free-flowing style [Carson] showed at the [2013] National Prayer Breakfast has been subject to diminishing returns in the last two years. The novelty is wearing off, and now he’s in a position where he makes a fool of himself just about every time his mouth opens.”

Also on Monday, Steve Benen, a former Salon and Washington Monthly blogger who’s now a producer for MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, opined on the show’s blog, "As a candidate for national office, [Carson is] likely to keep sharing ridiculous thoughts, which may endear him to some GOP factions, but which probably creates a ceiling for his presidential ambitions.”

May 2, 2015, 1:59 PM EDT

All week, liberals and conservatives have accused each other of causing the longstanding socioeconomic woes of Baltimore. TNR's Rebecca Leber had a subtler take in a Friday piece: she put part of the blame on liberals, but only because they went along with conservative ideas.

“Democrats exacerbated these problems [in Baltimore] not by embracing the policies of the left. Rather, they dug the hole deeper by yawing to the right,” contended Leber. “Aggressive policing, tougher drug sentencing, slashing the budgets of school and public housing and parks—throughout Baltimore’s history, lawmakers at the local, state, and federal level adopted policies that entrenched poverty and segregation in the city.”

April 30, 2015, 6:06 PM EDT

Apple Inc. is not merely a tech company; it’s also a destroyer of right-wing doctrine. That was the main argument of a Tuesday blog post by Daily Kos founder and publisher Markos Moulitsas.

Kos asserted that the huge success of the California-based Apple refutes the “conservatives [who] bray incessantly about the Golden State's ‘high taxes and burdensome regulations.’” He also lauded the company for supporting gay rights (“unlike conservative orthodoxy, tolerance and respect for people's private life are good for business”) and “tak[ing] global climate change seriously.”

April 29, 2015, 10:51 AM EDT

Late in the Reconstruction period and for many years thereafter, white-supremacist paramilitary groups often committed acts of terrorism in the southern United States. That much is clear. Also clear, at least to Daily Kos's Denise Oliver-Velez, is that the spirit of those groups lives today in American police departments and in the viewership of Fox News.

“They don't kill us in bunches anymore. Now they just murder us one by one,” argued Oliver-Velez in a Sunday post. “One by one, as we are murdered by red shirts in blue, the message is re-enforced by bullets in the back, and chokeholds around our necks, no different than the nooses hung from trees. The audience is now on Fox News, rather than standing around the bonfires of death.”

April 28, 2015, 1:08 PM EDT

In a Monday-night blog post, the writer for The Atlantic argued that calls for non-violence in response to the rioting in Baltimore are essentially “a ruse” and “a con,” given the city’s recent history of police brutality.

“When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out,” wrote Coates, “it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is ‘correct’ or ‘wise,’ any more than a forest fire can be ‘correct’ or ‘wise.’ Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.”