Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews were leaning so far to the left during coverage of the Democratic and Republican Party conventions that they were bound to fall off of those anchor chairs sooner or later. As it turns out, they didn’t fall off — they were thrown.
Just before midnight, the New York Times released a piece, apparently to run today, describing the decision to boot Olbermann and Matthews from the anchor chair in favor of David Gregory, who will replace the two liberal commentators for the coming debates and election night. Personally, if it’s liberal bias that the network is concerned about, tapping Gregory to replace Olbermann and Matthews would be like curing diarrhea with a tapeworm.
MSNBC’s coverage has been embarrassing and disgusting. The network’s addition of liberal radio talk show host Rachel Maddow to the prime time lineup confirmed a liberal slant, but it’s not so much her show that betrays the bias–her show is advertised as commentary, like FNC’s The O’Reilly Factor–as her regular appearances filling in for Gregory and Olbermann on shows that make no journalism/commentary distinction.
See, news programs should be like the ideal first few pages of a good newspaper, presenting stories objectively, while commentary programs such as The O’Reilly Factor should be reserved for and identifed as the “opinion pages” of a network’s lineup. CNN’s Glenn Beck, for instance, makes sure that viewers know his show is the manifestation of his conservative perspective on the news of the day; Bill O’Reilly does the same, as does Rachel Maddow.
That’s where the concern arises with regard to Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and the pair’s effect on the rest of the cable network. Anchors should not let personal ideology interfere with a news broadcast, and both have been doing so. Olbermann’s show masquerades as an objective recap of the day’s stories and, while there is a commentary section at the end of each show, the bias is displayed throughout.
With MSNBC, though, it’s not just the individual shows. People turn to that network for objective coverage of an event such as a convention, for instance, from anchors — and analysis from analysts. Blending the two roles erodes credibility faster than Joe Biden’s pre-enhanced hairline. And, worse yet, the blending of objective news reporting and commentary at MSNBC has been bleeding into the rest of its programming, as the New York Times notes.
NBC Universal executives are also known to be concerned about the perception that MSNBC’s partisan tilt in prime time is bleeding into the rest of the programming day. On a recent Friday afternoon, a graphic labeled “Breaking News” asked: “How many houses does Palin add to the Republican ticket?” Mr. Griffin called the graphic “an embarrassment.”
Actually, the whole thing is kind of funny, an article on liberal bias in the media published in perhaps the most biased newspaper in the country. Even here, what the New York Times doesn’t mention was that the “recent Friday afternoon” in question was the afternoon that McCain named Palin as his VP. So, while other networks showed “Breaking News” notices stating things like “McCain Chooses Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for VP” or “Palin is McCain’s Running Mate,” MSNBC was taking the Air America approach to rapidly yellowing journalism.
When former Republican congressman and MSNBC morning anchor Joe Scarborough flipped out at MSNBC reporter David Shuster for accusing him of bias and defending his own with claims he is a registered independent, it became apparent that the problems at the network went far deeper than Keith Olbermann.
“Oh, I feel so comforted by the fact that you’re an independent,” Scarborough said. “I bet everyone at MSNBC has ‘independent’ on their voting cards. Oh, we’re down the middle now!”
The truth is, Scarborough was right. The media has been absolutely out of control, and that’s what happens when members of the most radical wing of the progressive movement are given media credentials. Olbermann has no business whatsoever doing anything but serving as a commentator or hosting a show identified obviously as a commentary program. Perhaps it’s a throwback to the days of evening newspapers and Walter Cronkite, but the vast majority of people trust what they read in a newspaper and what is put in front of them in a Cronkite-like mold on television.
Tom Brokaw is a liberal democrat, but rarely shows it when in anchor mode. Tim Russert? Forget it — whether you were a democrat or republican, you were getting skewered on Meet the Press. Brit Hume, obviously a conservative, dons an objective hat when hosting Special Report.
And yes, Fox News Channel does skew to the right, but only as much as CNN skews to the left, and nowhere near as much as MSNBC. For the most part, viewers of CNN and Fox News know when they are being fed news and analysis and when they are looking at commentary. Even Fox’s resident blowhard, O’Reilly, despite proclaiming his show “The No-Spin Zone,” does not waver in presenting it as the opposite of objective news reporting.
During the recent conventions, FNC and CNN both came out nicely. While CNN’s analysis certainly leaned to the left, they still provided conservative analysts to counter liberal thought. Fox News did the same, with Hume’s excellent Special Report crowd presenting the best and most fair coverage of all.
Any way you look at it, however, the mainstream media in this country is in deep trouble. Trust and objectivity are equally difficult to come by, and even the newspapers have proven that agenda-setting has reached its partisan zenith. Between the delayed reporting of the John Edwards scandal, to the groupie-like following of Barack Obama on his whirlwind European tour, to the travesty which has been the feeding frenzy at Sarah Palin’s expense and everywhere inbetween, the mainstream media has proven time and time again that true, objective journalism is dead in the United States of America.
The only way out, I think, is an embarrassment for the media on a grand scale, far greater than any embarrassment from the train wreck at MSNBC. Only then will the media work overtime to prove objectivity and restore lost faith.
Since it will be up to the mainstream media largely to report on its own failure, however, I don’t plan on holding my breath.