29 August, 2008


...apparently MSNBC has turned into the convention sideshow. No wonder I can't see their commentary on internet feed anymore. I've posted all of the videos from these incidents below the text. First, Keith Olbermann mutters under his breath "Jeez Joe, why don't you get a shovel?" while Scarborough defends the McCain campaign's ability to stay on message. Second, Scarborough explodes at David Shuster, who dares to suggest that Scarborough should not mock the idea of a timetable in Iraq. (This one is...pretty great, I love his co-host awkwardly trying to keep him under control.) Next, Chris Matthews is talking about women voting for Hillary Clinton, a subject that he hasn't exactly been politically correct about in the past, and his producers attempt to shoo him on to the next segment. When that doesn't work, Olbermann gets creative with hand gestures. Finally, we have Olbermann trying to hurry Republican Mike Murphy off-stage while he claims that the Clintons are going to vote for John McCain.

Entertaining indeed. Here's more from the Politico on the infighting at MSNBC and even more from Page Six.

The underlying tension, I think, derives from an internal battle over whether MSNBC should attempt "objectivity" or should become an Olbermann-esque left-leaning news/commentary hybrid. It seems that the passing of Russert has left a bit of a power vacuum--on one hand we have Olbermann and Matthews seeking to make MSNBC the network of Obama and on the other is Brokaw and Scarborough, who want anchors to read the news without a voice. (Although I'll bet the reason Scarborough doesn't want the network to become more liberal is maybe because he's conservative?) The former camp looks to be winning since they just hired Rachel Maddow, a prominent liberal radio personality and frequent MSNBC contributor to do a one-hour show every night. But, apparently Olbermann has gone so far as to call for Brokaw's banishment from the cable network.

This is relevant to a discussion that Elliot and I have had on more than one occasion--should the news media strive for objectivity or should we just have liberal news and conservative news, each presenting the days events with their own "biased" perspective? Now, there's no completely impartial way to tell a story...and what would impartiality mean in an operational sense anyway? After all, what the news media does is record events and imbue them with meaning by weaving them into a narrative. The selection of such a narrative (not to mention the language used to tell it) is inherently political, and so there can be no media that exists outside of politics. (And thus Elliot advocates what he or I might call "adversarial journalism".)

So are we doomed to the insularity that having a purely partisan news media would surely bring? If I may use a metaphor: we can imagine the various political parties as planets floating in space. What the argument of the previous paragraph shows is essentially that there's no Sun. There is no center view from which to calmly and dispassionately observe the goings-on. The clever journalist will now argue that, well, since there's no perfect point of view, let's just report on ALL the points of view. But this would get us what we've had for the last 5-10 years. CNN is a prime example. If Fox leans conservative and MSNBC liberal, CNN is the court stenographer. What passes for "unbiased" news on CNN these days is simply a report of the positions and statements of the different parties and candidates and some largely inaccurate speculation about how these positions will affect public opinion. This is, of course, ridiculous. As Paul Krugman famously wrote, if George W. Bush claimed the world was flat, the headlines would read "Shape of Earth: Opinions Differ". "Crossfire" may have been the height of this ridiculousness but it was certainly not the end.

However, all is not lost. I think there's another way out that is neither reporting from one partisan perspective or another nor is it merely transcribing what each party says. An enterprising journalist could, if she dared, create a new perspective based around propositions that we know with a high degree of probability to be true. For example, there are a wide variety of facts that are beyond dispute. Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border, Iraq is not now a "peaceful and stable nation", $5 million is not middle class. One could draw upon the work of scientists, economists, philosophers, Latin American studiers, academics and experts of all stripes. One could point out obvious contradictions in the positions of the candidates and the unsavory implications of certain beliefs. When there were legitimate differences of opinion, one would report both sides of the issue and the differences between the underlying assumptions of each. In essence, one would seek to understand the arguments involved and evaluate their premises and validity. This may be a bit much to ask from our current media, brought up to simply repeat statements instead of think about them, but it's possible that we may someday have a press corps that even Brad Delong would respect.


Elliot said...

"One could draw upon the work of scientists, economists, philosophers, Latin American studiers..."

Destined to be forever pigeonholed.

Cassady said...

Pigeonholed? You've just been offered a chance to take the lead of a new, thoughtful, and responsible media outlet!