Friday, November 12, 2010

Olbermann, O'Reilly and the death of real news

To witness Keith Olbermann - the most opinionated among MSNBC's left-leaning, Fox-baiting, money-generating hosts - suspended even briefly last week for making financial contributions to Democratic political candidates seemed like a whimsical, arcane holdover from a long-gone era of television journalism when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust.

Back then, a policy against political contributions would have aimed to avoid even the appearance of partisanship. But today, when Olbermann draws more than 1 million like-minded viewers to his program every night precisely because he is avowedly, unabashedly and monotonously partisan, it is not clear what misdemeanor his donations constituted. Consistency?

We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly - individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.

The commercial success of both MSNBC and Fox News is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's oft-quoted observation that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts," seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.
Read the rest here.


melxiopp said...

I find it actually a little quaint that people are so up in arms over bias in journalism and news. For most of journalism's history, bias has reigned supreme. Take a look at the newspapers of the 19th and early 20th centuries in both the US and Britain. Editorial slant was as skewed or more than what we see on Fox News, MSNBC or 'the blogs'.

Such yellow journalism and muckraking was made possible by the low cost of producing newspapers, their popularity and ubiquity. Since they were for profit, their bottom line was profit. They printed what people would buy, and they did their darndest to get people interested in what they printed.

Cable TV and the internet have decreased the costs of production further and they have both done a good job producing things people (or niches of people enough to make a buck) are interested in consuming; the ubiquity of both media is that much more than newspapers and magazines ever was before, too.

In fact, I would argue that it is the ability to make money in a ubiquitous medium that has fractured 'unbiased Journalism'. When it cost a lot to produce a newspaper or TV show, or when class and quality were more rigidly defined, then we experienced a golden age of 'serious Journalism' that had not been known previously - and will likely not be known again for some time.

It also takes awhile for people to cotton on to the self-interest and manipulation behind such news and information. Of course, you primarily see it in those you disagree with, not in those you agree with. But, it's a start. Sooner or later people start to pick up on the difference between gossip and spin, news and facts. Not everyone, unfortunately.

On the upside, easy media allows voices to be heard that never would have been heard before. Media homogenized society, but easy media is helping to relocalize it, to allow for and reinforce diversity in a thousand blooming subcultures. That's good and bad, depending.

The Archer of the Forest said...

I never quite got why MSNBC was so up in arms about Olbermann giving money to Candidates. I mean, its not like his political views and endorsements aren't on stage for all to see every night on his show. If they let him do that so brazenly, then I don't see why it was against policy for him to give money to candidates in private. said...

melxiopp makes the point as well as I could. "news" has always been a collaboration of agenda and profit. What we had for a brief time in America was an aberration of fained "objectivity" that took advantage of the exceptionally powerful new mediums (radio, TV) to promote their charade. (The deceptive power was so great that many in the industry itself were drawn into this and into self-deception.)

I still believe civility should reign, I simply accept that it hasn't ever and likely won't ever.