Saturday, November 6, 2010

Keith Olbermann suspended for supporting political candidates. I'm not lying.

Olbermann has been suspended from his MSNBC anchor duties for a while because he was making financial contributions to political causes. 
Yeah, you read that correctly. 
Keith Olbermann contributes more to socialism by opening his mouth on TV than he could ever hope to contribute by giving money to politicians. 

Here's Rick Moran from Pajamas Media:

None of this is news to anyone who has a passing familiarity with political debate in America. Yet the rapidity with which MSNBC bounced Olbermann from the network begs several questions. What did he do that other journalists — including those at Fox News — haven’t done? Why now? And why should MSNBC all of a sudden feign an interest in impartiality?

Alas, Babylon. The press in America have never been “impartial,” and the grandiose proclamations of objectivity and neutrality in covering politics this last century made by sober-minded newspaper editors were always more for purposes of marketing than related to any claim based in reality. “Yellow journalism” aside, the great publishers in the 19th and early 20th century were all house organs for one of the two political parties. Major dailies were political kingmakers, and a word from a Horace Greeley or Robert McCormick could make or break a politician’s career.

What made this arrangement preferable to the insufferable hypocrisy we experience today with the media is that everybody knew which side the press was on. Being forewarned is being forearmed, and at a time when there were a dozen dailies in New York City alone, if you didn’t like Hearst’s take you could always read what the Sulzbergers had to say about politics. There was never a lack of choice as far as the news consumer being exposed to the spin from both parties.

Today, even little children know that MSNBC has a strong, pronounced liberal Democratic bias and a demonstrated animus against conservative Republicans. This is not a secret nor is it necessarily bad. If you don’t like the network’s tiresome promotion of Democratic candidates and causes, you can always switch over to Fox’s equally tiresome boosting of conservatives and the GOP.
And here's Jonah Goldberg:
Look, I understand why everyone is pouncing on Olby. And given his sanctimony and hypocrisy, not to mention the fact that he seems to have broken the clear rules of his own employer, I have no problem with him getting whipsawed.

But there are two problems with these kinds of journalistic ethics “scandals.”

The first is that they aren’t a scandal. So Olbermann gave money to some Democratic candidates. Ostensibly the rules against this are intended to prevent journalists from giving the appearance of bias. Whether or not such rules make sense for actual reporters, such rules are silly for someone like Olbermann. Does anybody, and I mean anybody, suddenly trust Olbermann’s opinion less because of this news? I’m waiting. Does anyone think he’s less biased? More biased? Un-biased?

Second, the larger problem with these kinds of rules is that they do little to prevent media bias and a great deal to hide an important form of evidence of it. Banning liberal journalists from giving money doesn’t prevent them from being liberal, it just gives them a bit more plausibility when they deny it. Now, I can see the argument that someone who makes a donation would be more interested in protecting their investment, as it were. So I don’t think the policy is completely misguided. But at a certain level banning donations is like NPR barring staff from attending the Jon Stewart rally. It doesn’t fool anyone, but gives the accused a lawyerly rebuttal to accurate accusations.
When you sit down in front of a camera, behind a typewriter, or at a laptop to deliver consumable political opinions to large groups of people, you can pretend to be objective but you'll never pull it off. 
No one ever has. 
So let's drop the pretense, and put warning lables of "REPUBLICAN" on Faux News, "DEMOCRAT" on MSDNC, and "SLOWLY LEANING TOWARDS LIBERTARIAN, BUT NOT FAST ENOUGH" on Fox Business. 

This post was written by The Whited Sepulchre, who arrived at these opinions through painstaking research, academic training, reading a lot, common sense, and a vigorous editorial process designed to remove any hint of bias from these pages. 

Does anyone believe that?  Good. 
Don't believe it in reference to CNN, The New York Times, Fox News, or anyone else. 


Cedric Katesby said...

A "news host" giving political donations to somebody that they promote or interview is...creepy.

If this sort of thing happened in Australia, there would be hell to pay.
Not even touching politics, there was outrage over the "cash for comments" media scandal.
That touched only commercial interests.
Had it actually been over politics, the fallout would have been on an order of magnitude greater.
I thought Rachel Maddow was very clear and uncompromising about this.
Journalistic integrity is an ultimately unreachable ideal.
Yet that should not stop people reaching for it with all their might.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

The idea that we have a class of people who are above the fray, and who don't bring their prejudices, desires, and personal biases to the table just doesn't make sense to me.
I bet I could find bias in three accounts of a car wreck.
Do you think that, say, the BBC doesn't display a political bias in its reporting ??

Cedric Katesby said...

The idea that we have a class of people who are above the fray, and who don't bring their prejudices, desires, and personal biases to the table just doesn't make sense to me.

The topic of ethics and journalism is vast and complicated.

I doubt that comments on a blog is a very effective medium for such a discussion.
So I'll take a quick stab at it and leave it alone for now.

Being 'above the fray' is something that we expect from various different classes of people.
Teachers, police, medical personel, journalists etc.
It's often honoured only in the breach but it's there.
A professional career bureaucrat (for example) is supposed to keep the machinery of government running and not abuse their office to promote or sabotage either the incumbent or the loyal opposition.

Where I come from, if a civil servant (for example) was caught abusing their powers and connections in such a manner it would be a scandal of major proportions.
It would reek of corruption and dangerously blur the separation of powers.

The BBC (and it's antipodian daughter, the ABC) are both government-funded media organisations.
The public scrutiny of how impartial such organisations are has always been of intense interest by political groups and other elements of the media.
All I can say on the subject is that both the BBC and the ABC have an official policy of being apolitical.
A quick look at the history of either one (especially the ABC)reveals a rich, gleeful record of annoying whatever the current administration happens to be.

It's a tradition for a recently outraged MP to make a fool of themselves in the House and demand that the ABC have it's budget cut to punish them for not being the government's lapdog over some new interview or something.
Happens every few years and journos around the country just roll their eyes and point out that if the right honourable MP is upset then the ABC is doing it's job.
Of course, you can then look at opposition or special-interest groups who will say that the ABC just follows "the establishment" and once they get into power "things will be different".

Depends on who you ask but I'd personally say the the ABC has done a rather good job of balanced journalism and has managed to provoke anger at groups right across the political spectrum.

The ABC has often been accused of having a bias to the left wing of politics. Coalition members of parliament and some right wing commentators(..) have accused the Corporation of left-wing bias, however similar criticism has come from the left, including former New South Wales premier Neville Wran,Bob Hawke, and Paul Keating.

Conservative Liberal Party governments in the 1960s and 1970s attempted to influence the Corporation's political coverage by threatening to reduce funding for its news and current affairs division, while the Hawke government unsuccessfully proposed merging it with the Special Broadcasting Service.

A 2004 Roy Morgan media credibility survey found that 25% of Australian journalists viewed the ABC as Australia's most partisan media outlet, second only to News Limited. At the same time, the poll found that ABC Radio was seen as the most accurate news source in the country.

South Australian state treasurer Kevin Foley accused ABC Radio of right-wing bias in February 2008 for its reporting of state economic issues, claiming that it is not "an objective media organisation".

A number of former journalists and presenters have moved from positions at the corporation to politics.(...) Research undertaken by the broadcaster has indicated that out of a total of 19 former staffers moving into party political positions, 10 have joined the Labor Party, and 9 the Liberal Party.