Alfred E. Neuman on cable news: ‘Yes, me worry!’


We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of [Keith] 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.

— Ted Koppel, The Washington Post, Nov. 14

Reading Koppel’s piece, I remembered his old TV news show Nightline — his measured tones and smug Alfred E. Neuman-esque visage. He was so sure of everything.

Now he wants America to be sure about the decline and fall of TV journalism. To be nostalgic for the era of unbiased news, which never really existed, as Charles Kaiser persuasively argued this week. Walter Cronkite took to the airwaves to state the obvious about the Vietnam War in 1968, but you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times mainstream journalists have shown such courage in the face of opposition from their “parent organizations.”

It’s easy to condemn others for bias when you’ve made a career of walking the thin line between impartial reporting and self-serving avoidance of news stories that cast an unflattering light on your network bosses and friends in government. (On Nightline, Koppel turned to the likes of Henry Kissinger for news analysis.) However, it’s inexcusable to pretend Olbermann and the other commentators on MSNBC are on the same gutter level with the frauds on Fox.

I can only take Olbermann in small doses, he can be a windbag and narcissist, but I’ve never heard him make any on-air assertions that weren’t backed by fact. Fox rarely traffics in facts. Its modus operandi is to take slanderous online items (from Andrew Breitbart and his ilk) and present them as news. I like this from an online piece by Rachel Maddow: “Pretending that MSNBC’s analysts and evening hosts do not have a liberal bias is not my point, they clearly do. However, Fox has proven in the past 18 months that it is not an actual news organization, but rather the media arm of the Republican Party.”

And yet no one in the so-called unbiased news racket, from Koppel on down, seems willing to acknowledge Maddow’s point. To do so would be to concede that unbiased news is a badly flawed concept that doesn’t serve the public any better than news that doesn’t pretend to be neutral. Koppel would rather push a false equivalence between MSNBC and Fox than admit mainstream news outlets are too complacent or scared to take on the powers that be, even when the stakes are as high as war in Iraq.

Footnote: Thomas Friedman recently dissed rightwing frauds for spreading the absurd rumor that Barack Obama’s recent trip to Asia was costing taxpayers $200 million a day. A little late, Tom, but good job. Too bad your colleagues in the news department seem determined to avoid any reporting on the link between media liars and the Republican Party.

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