Tag Archives: Derek Thompson

MSNBC In Denial

Keith Olbermann in a saner momentApparently MSNBC thinks it is still an unbaised, balanced news organization. This comes as a surprise to me, and based on the latest evidence, it probably comes as a surprise to some of its more prominent staff.

Keith Olbermann has been suspended indefinitely without pay by MSNBC after Politico reported he’d donated to three candidates in the recent elections.

MSNBC appears to be surprised by this, and there is a policy against such private donations.

MSNBC president Phil Griffin said in a statement Friday: “I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.”

According to a 2007 summary on MSNBC.com, parent company NBC warns each staff member to avoid activities that “could jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Fox News talking heads give money to candidates and are allowed to by policy so long as they use personal funds and not corporate funds.

This highlights a major issue I have with the main stream media.

Friends of mine had a banner in their school room that read to the affect Nothing is unbiased.” A good rule to live by, especially for me as I tend to err on the side of trust and amicability. A necessary, but not negative, level of shrewdness is a primary part of what we’d call wisdom. Being aware of and searching out the biases of those we are involved with personally and professionally will tend to enable better relations as there is less chance of being surprised or manipulated.

The main stream media still seems to think they can be unbiased in their reporting of the news when significant percentages of the rest of the world are aware of their 80-90% support of leftist or Democrat ideas.

The goal of a news organization ought not to be a lack of bias but a pursuit of trustworthiness. To be trustworthy that organization must first be self-aware enough to realize their own biases, then be honest about those biases.

If I know where an idea or report or thought is coming from, what perspective it is giving to the story it is reporting, I can form a more accurate picture of the actual event they wish to inform me about.

But even my being aware of their bias isn’t sufficient. They must be aware and honest about their bias so that their bias can inform their reporting rather than detract from it.

True accuracy in reporting comes from being trustworthy and honest more than from claiming to be unbiased.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, whose story on this I linked above, notes that bloggers have been critical of this. I’d say the blogger they’ve quoted was ignorant:

Many media blogs were critical of the MSNBC move, on a variety of grounds. Derek Thompson of the Atlantic wrote that news of Olbermann’s contributions “reaffirms the biases we all knew he had. But does it jeopardize his standing as impartial?”
Keith Olbermann is not impartial. He never had standing as impartial, except possibly in his own mind and those of his employers. His biases were evident every time he opened his mouth, which is part of why his time anchoring for football games was so short. Olbermann is a man particularly and completely engaged in the political side of American life.

And so Fox News’ policy allowing their staff, as private citizens, to support candidates of their choice, allows me to trust their reporting more than I’d trust MSNBC’s reporting for their own policy against such private action.

Perhaps the Inquirers ignorance comes from their own policies, which they are honest enough to post as part of the article:

Inquirer policies and procedures make clear that “staff members may not make contributions of money or time to candidates, parties or groups taking a partisan stance.” Staff members also are instructed to “avoid activity that could create the appearance of a conflict” with their professional duties.

Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., says that while the NBC policy is “pretty clear,” it is also likely to have been “formulated in an earlier time.”

“No one should expect journalists to be civic celibates,” Clark says, “but you can’t put a campaign sign on your lawn or bumper sticker on your car. If I’m supposedly nonpartisan, I shouldn’t wrap myself in public in the flags of partisanship.”

This suspension has put MSNBC in a bit of a bind:

In a bizarre turn of events yesterday, the network gave Olbermann’s slot to Chris Hayes, editor of the liberal Nation magazine — only to withdraw the decision after it was reported that Hayes also had doled out campaign contributions.

Hayes gave $2,000 to Democratic office seekers in Alabama and Illinois in 2008 and 2009.

Olbermann is MSNBC’s cash cow. His ratings are far and above the best on that channel, though they lag far behind his nightmare, Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel. However, MSNBC’s ideas of their own impartiality are so ingrained, they have not considered simply amending the policies to be more in line with our modern reality.

They are focused on the external evidence of an internal fact: Olbermann couldn’t be impartial even if he gave no money at all. And his giving money serves no purpose except to bolster those he supports. His own words and actions speak volumes louder, and combined with his microphone, completely eclipse any need for the confirmation money would’ve provided.

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