Entry from November 17, 2010

Not being a regular reader of the Daily Kos or watcher of “Countdown” on MSNBC, I missed Keith Olbermann’s extraordinary apolgia pro vita sua after his suspension by his network for political contributions to Democratic candidates. My attention was called to it by Matt Lewis of Politics Daily, who was as amazed as I was that, for perhaps the first time in his life, the “progressive” champion and nightly ranter was right about something. The media, he said, were not only biased — which some of us have been saying for years — they had always been biased. The idea of a Golden Age of objectivity and non-partisanship was a myth.

Mr Olbermann was answering a piece that ran in Sunday’s Washington Post by Ted Koppel that was smarmy, self-righteous and disingenuous even by Mr Koppel’s own world-class standards for those qualities. He had written it to cry “a plague o’ both your houses” to Mr Olbermann and MSNBC on the left hand and Bill O’Reilly and Fox on the right. “We live now,” he had written with his customary ponderousness,

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 Fox News and MSNBC 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. And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose.

As it happens, of course, “news we can choose” is precisely what America’s Founding Fathers did intend for us — and gave us, too, in the proliferation of party-sponsored newspapers. Perhaps the Post’s lower-casing them was meant to show that Mr Koppel had some other founding fathers in mind. But I find it as hard to believe that he doesn’t know the gross imposture of journalistic “objectivity” was a progressive invention dating at least a century after the Founding as I do to believe he doesn’t know the network news he holds up as his contrasting example to the “highly profitable” cable talkers always made far more money than any of them will ever do. Mr Olbermann points us to the demolition job Jack Shafer of Slate did on the latter bogus claim, then goes to work on the reputation of the late, great Walter Cronkite for objectivity and impartiality:

There was the night Cronkite devoted fourteen minutes of the thirty-minute long CBS Evening News to a report on Watergate which devastated the Nixon Administration, one so strong that the Administration pressured CBS just to shorten the next night’s follow-up to eight minutes. There was the extraordinary broadcast on Vietnam from four-and-a-half years earlier in which he insisted that nothing better than stalemate was possible and that America should negotiate its way out, “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” All that newscast did was convince the 36th President of the United States to not seek reelection. The deserved and heartfelt sadness at the loss of a great journalist and a great man had been turned into a metaphor for the loss of a style of utterly uninvolved, neutral “objective” reporting. Yet most of the highlights of the man’s career had been of those moments when he correctly and fearlessly threw off those shackles and said what was true, and not merely what was factual.

Ah! “True,” eh? And he was doing so well there! Of course, the virtue of Cronkite’s sticking his own opinion into his report was that he was honest about its being his opinion and, for once, did not try to hide it behind a false façade of objectivity — not that the opinion itself was true. It wasn’t. Scholars of the war now pretty much agree that the Tet Offensive of 1968, which is what inspired Cronkite’s defeatism, was a victory for America and that further victories and not just stalemate would have been possible with greater resolution.

But having walked right up to the obvious truth that the media have their biases and always have had them, Mr Olbermann then turns around and does what he accuses Mr Koppel of doing, which is arrogating to himself and his ideological confreres the one true bias, or rather a bias towards the Truth only — thus, both implicitly and explicitly, identifying any other opinion and any other bias than his own as Lies. Mr O’Reilly or Mr Beck and Fox News are not to be distinguished from himself and MSNBC by being biased toward the right as he is biased toward the left. Oh no! They are to be distinguished from him by being “doctrinaire” and without any basis in fact except for the made-up kind. Needless to say, he offers no examples of Fox’s alleged falsehoods, but only of his own exposure of what he calls “the utter falsehood and dishonesty of the process by which this country was committed to the wrong war, by which this country was committed to dishonesty, by which this country was committed to torture.” What a lot of falsehood and dishonesty there seems to be in everybody but K. Olbermann! After all, Mr Koppel turns out not to have been self-righteous enough for him. But that’s the media for you.

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