The Devil and MSNBC

Published: September 17, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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“MSNBC is behaving like a heroin addict.  They’re living from fix to fix and swearing they’ll go into rehab the next week.”

There’s too much commentary disguised as news, these days.

According to a New York Times article (Sept. 8), “In January, [Keith] Olbermann [host of MSNBC’s ‘Countdown’] and [Chris] Matthews, the host of ‘Hardball,’ began co-anchoring primary night coverage.  While some critics argued that the assignment was akin to having the Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly anchor on election night — something that has never happened — MSNBC insisted that Mr. Olbermann knew the difference between news and commentary.”

And, no surprise, it was a ratings winner.

The Fox News Channel, the Internet, the explosion of YouTube and political blogs has created a perfect storm of confrontational commentary that is drawing viewers like crazy.

However, “On the final night of the Republican convention,” the Times reported, “after MSNBC televised the party’s video ‘tribute to the victims of 9/11,’ including graphic footage of the World Trade Center attacks, Mr. Olbermann abruptly took off his journalistic hat.  ‘I’m sorry, it’s necessary to say this,’ he began. After saying that the video had exploited the memories of the dead, he directly apologized to viewers who were offended. Then, sounding like a network executive, he said it was ‘probably not appropriate to be shown.’”

Memo to the News Director: Guys like Olbermann and Matthews don’t report the news; they’re the guys you go to when you want two frat boys arguing over the designated hitter rule or Astroturf, not politics.

At such a critical time in political affairs, do we really need a pair of talking heads giving us provocative rhetoric masking as objective reporting?  Is this the way to have reasoned debate about the issues and the candidates that will have a significant and lasting affect on all of our lives?

And what about the cable channels that consistently give far too much time to partisan loyalists who offer up nothing more than the party line in their so-called analysis of their own candidates?

There’s got to be a better way.

CBS News offers two, regular segments on the candidates: “Reality Check” and “Where They Stand.” The first segment examines the reality behind the statments both candidates make in their speeches and ads. The second objectively contrasts and compares Senators Obama and McCain on issues like housing costs, the war in Iraq and income tax – issues that directly affect us all.

And we need more of that.

At the end of the day, this election is not about hockey-moms, lipstick, community organizers, race or someone’s age.  It’s about serious issues and who has the statesmanship and integrity to successfully lead us through the morass of troubles we now find ourselves in. This is what the media and all of us should focus on.

In the meantime, MSNBC might try airing shows on fly-fishing until they decide to be part of a balanced and reasonable debate, instead of offering well-dressed, performance artists peddling their personal ideology.

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