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Olbermann’s Special Comment on Koppel

We Americans have been questioning the role of journalism in our society since our founding. We’ve called it the fourth branch of government. Over the past five or six years, it appears that journalism has declined. We look at the Iraq war, torture, warrantless wiretaps and wonder what has become of mainstream journalism.

I want journalists to speak out when they see something that is wrong. I want them to report facts and then comment on those facts. I also want journalists to understand that everything cannot be a five alarm fire. Everything cannot demand my attention right now. If you are on television, you have an obligation to the American people. Your obligation is to prioritize what’s important and what isn’t. (I fully realize that we won’t always agree on the priorities.)

I don’t agree with Koppel’s assessment of Olbermann, Maddow and others. But, my opinion isn’t important. What is important is what these journalists are bringing to the table. Are they furthering division or are they furthering debate? Are they simply an echo chamber or are they drawing the red hot spotlight of the mainstream media onto problems in need of illumination? Veteran journalist Ted Koppel did not attempt to answer these questions.

Keith Olbermann has more:


When Walter Cronkite died sixteen months ago, he was rightly lionized for the quality of his work, and the impact he effected on television news. He was praised for his utter objectivity and impartiality, and implicitly – and in some cases explicitly – there was wailing that this objectivity had died with him.

Yet invariably the same few clips were shown with each obituary: 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.

It has been the same with every invocation of Edward R. Murrow: Murrow would never have stood for the editorializing of today in his newscasts! The Murrow radio reports from London rooftops during the Blitz of 1940 are replayed – and forever should be – and their creator is offered as a paragon of “straight” reporting. Yet it is never mentioned, that as they happened, CBS was pressured to stop those searing explosions of truth, because our political leaders believed they would unfairly influence Americans to side with the British when the nation was still officially neutral and the Republican Party was still completely convinced that there was a deal to make with the Nazis. President Roosevelt did not invite Murrow to the White House to congratulate him on his London reports because they were “fair and balanced.”

Similarly, the journalism students of now seven different decades have studied the Murrow broadcasts about Senator Joseph McCarthy from 1954. These are properly lauded as some of the greatest moments not merely in the history of American Journalism; they are considered such in the history of America. The story is told that a cowering, profit-hungry press stood idly by – or even rode McCarthy’s paranoia for circulation and ratings – while the blacklist and the fear grew. And then Murrow slayed the dragon.

Always left out, sadly, is the fact that within hours of speaking truth based on facts, Murrow was attacked as a partisan. The Republicans, and the Conservative newspapers, and the Conservative broadcasters described – in what they would have insisted was neutral, objective, unbiased, factual reporting – that in smearing the patriotic McCarthy, Murrow was a Democrat, a Liberal, a Socialist, a Marxist, a Communist, a traitor. Always left out, sadly, is the fact that these attacks worked. Within 12 months, Murrow’s “See It Now” program had lost its sponsor and been reduced from once a week to once a month. Within 18 months it had been shifted from every Tuesday night at 10:30 to once in awhile on Sunday afternoons at 5 — becoming, as one CBS producer put it “See It Now And Then.”

By |2010-11-16T07:00:06-04:00November 16th, 2010|Media|2 Comments

Olbermann is suspended and I have a few questions

Here’s what I don’t understand. Is there a policy at MSNBC or not? If there is, then is it being applied to everyone or only to Keith Olbermann?

From Josh Marshall at TPM:

I find the Keith Olbermann story bizarre, on both sides but mainly on MSNBC’s. First, political contribution records are the most public thing in the world for anyone who is even somewhat in the public eye, certainly for someone who courts controversy. So political giving strikes me as something done entirely in the open for someone of Olbermann’s stature. On the one hand that sounds like MSNBC is flipping out about something that must have been all but an open secret. On the other, if this is MSNBC’s policy, why was Olbermann openly flouting it?

Second, MSNBC’s policy forbids employees from making donations to political candidates, unless they ask for permission to do so, in which it seems usually to be granted. That seems to me to undercut the principle behind the policy.

But of course all of this pales behind the larger point which is that Olbermann’s job at MSNBC is to be an extremely opinionated commentator on politics. And he’s the centerpiece (along with Maddow and more equivocally, Matthews) behind the business strategy of making MSNBC the liberal cable news/chat network. (How they square that with simultaneously having a more traditional and by the books NBC News is something they clearly have yet to work out.) But when you take that all into account, seeing him now all but canned over a handful of individual political contributions because he’s compromised the objectivity he’s supposed to bring to the job sounds like a bit of a joke.

Greg Mitchell comments on the media for The Nation. Here’s what he has had to say:

Just hours after Politico dug up the fact that MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, a few days ago, had donated to three Democrats running for office, the cable news network suspended the newsman / commentator without pay indefinitely.  Olbermann has not yet responded and it is unclear when, or if, he will return.

A little later, Rachel Maddow tackled the episode, saying that she understands the NBC rules about asking permission before making a donation–as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough apparently did at least once.  But she insisted that the “point” had been made and “we need Keith back.” She then profiled the multitude of Fox hosts donating to, fundraising for and outright endorsing Republicans.  “We are not a political operation,” she said. “Fox is. We are a news operation. And the rules around here are part of how you know that.”  Here’s a transcript.

More from Greg Mitchell:

Liberal bloggers were quick to point out that  Scarborough, once and current MSNBC host, donated $4200 to a House candidate in 2006.   Records also show that Scarborough made a $5000 contribution to a candidate earlier this year.  He claims the records are wrong — the donation was from his wife.

It recently came to light that Fox’s Sean Hannity, and his wife, each gave $5000 to Michele Bachmann.  Neil Cavuto has also donated to candidates.

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post raises the question: Did Olbermann even violate the network’s policy?   Activists are already circulating petitions — more than 100,000 signed by the end of the evening —  and jamming NBC phone lines.

By |2010-11-06T11:15:28-04:00November 6th, 2010|Countdown, Media, Rachel Maddow Show|Comments Off on Olbermann is suspended and I have a few questions

Civil Liberties and Obama

From time to time, my conservative friends and followers have accused me of being blind. They have asserted that my admiration for Barack Obama has no bounds; therefore, I have completely lost my objectivity. No, I don’t think I’m blind, but I have cut this president a significant amount of slack. I am hoping that the president begins to craft policies on civil liberties that parallel progressive ideals and his rhetoric. For the last couple of months, I feel as though I’ve been watching an episode of The West Wing, an episode where President Bartlet is not really making decisions but is instead just sticking his toe in the water to see how it will play politically.

I watched the President’s speech last night with great anticipation. I was almost salivating. I was hoping the president would boldly do something, anything. Now, I’m not one of those who has been criticizing the president for not fixing the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. I know that he is not an engineer and does not have a degree in oceanography or hydrodynamics. He is the president of the United States, however, and he should have and could have introduced some programs, to be reimbursed by BP, for the Gulf Coast residents. He could have and should have asked Congress to introduce legislation to restore the Superfund. This fund would be used to clean up toxic spills like this. The fund would be paid for by taxes and fines on industry. He did none of this. Basically he said nothing new. I found it extremely disappointing.

Let me get back to civil liberties — out of all the issues I had with the Bush administration, this was the worst. The Bush administration claimed that the president had the power to detain somebody indefinitely, without trial. The Bush administration claimed that to protect the United States they should be able to snatch somebody and take them somewhere without any judicial oversight — renditions. All of this has been endorsed by the Obama administration. As a matter fact, in court, the Obama administration has been arguing to keep all of the Bush administration’s transgressions in place. I was hoping that Barack Obama would slowly and steadily phase out these transgressions. Not only has he not phased them out, he has aggressively embrace them. Mister President, as one of your biggest supporters, I ask you to stop this.

Glenn Greenwald has a lot more:

When ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero last week addressed the progressive conference America’s Future Now,he began by saying:  “I’m going to start provocatively . . . I’m disgusted with this president.”  Last night, after Obama’s Oval Office speech, Jon Stewart began his show with an 8-minute monologue on Obama’s executive power and civil liberties record which, in essence, provided just some of the reasons why Romero’s strong condemnation is so justified.  None of this will be remotely new to any readers here, but it’s still nice to see its being distilled so clearly by a voice which even the most hardened Obama loyalists have decided is a credible and trustworthy one (at least when he’s mocking Sarah Palin and exposing Fox News; we’ll see what reaction this provokes from them, if any).  One point:  contrary to the blatant strawman incessantly raised by those loyalists, note that the criticisms here are not grounded in complaints that Obama has failed to act quickly enough to usher in progressive policies — let’s repeat that:  the vast bulk of criticisms of Obama are not grounded in complaints that he has failed to act quickly enough to usher in progressive policies — but are insteadbased on horrendous policies which Obama himself has affirmatively and explicitly adopted as his own, many of which directly contradict what he vowed to do as President (speaking of which:  see this NYT Editorial today lambasting what it describes as the Obama administration’s disgraceful and inexcusable conduct in the Maher Arar case):

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By |2010-06-16T16:18:11-04:00June 16th, 2010|Civil Liberty, Environment, Legal, Obama administration, Supreme court|Comments Off on Civil Liberties and Obama
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