From the Department of False Equivalencies
One can hardly argue that something awful hasn’t happened to our news media in the last few decades, but those actually in the media still steadfastly, and at times almost comically, refuse to see it. In short, a calculated plan by the right, beginning in the 1970′s, has reached glorious fruition in 2010: the right no longer needs the media; its candidates proudly run for office speaking only to cheerleaders, of whom there always seem to be a lot. This was no accident. Burned by a powerful free press, Nixon was the first Republican to begin attacking the very notion of adversarial reporting, and didn’t hesitate to single out outlets like CBS and the Washington Post, who exposed him as the sleazy authoritarian he was, and threaten, sue, or contest broadcast licenses as punishment for doing their jobs as outlined in the First Amendment. Later, he tossed out the carrot of the Newspaper Preservation Act, which furthered consolidation of media monopolies, rightly assuming that larger, more profitable conglomerates would be friendlier to Republicans, and worry less about high-level corruption.
Reagan took this a step further when he did away with the Fairness Doctrine, all but eliminated the public service requirements of broadcasters, and jovially needled major outlets for their imagined “liberal bias,” which at the time was a pretty laughable notion, given the reverence with which the media treated the Great Communicator, but is even funnier now, since they still do. Before long, the AM Radio dial was (and remains) 99% conservative, even in Democrat-dominated markets, and a whole new consciousness emerged, untethered from reality. Bill Clinton greatly exacerbated the problem with his Telecommunications Act of 1996, which is incidentally the same year Rupert Murdoch spent a half billion dollars launching Fox News, and further consolidation quickly followed.
All this time, newspapers, the last bastion of in-depth news and community service in the industry, continued to cannibalize once-revered names in journalism; clobbered by the ever-increasing demands of Wall Street for the kind of profits that would make Nike blush, formerly independent papers like the LA Times, Washington Post, and yes, the New York Times cut staff and content, raised prices, and thereby steadily drove readers to cable and the internet. Politicians now proudly ignore the media entirely and benefit from it; Rick Perry was elected governor in Texas without a single newspaper endorsement. CNN’s John Avlon was moved to write about this sorry state of affairs, at some length, while ignoring the, well, elephant in the room:
Keith Olbermann’s suspension for making political contributions to three Democratic candidates is just the latest example of the problems that come with the rise of partisan media.
In the fallout, other MSNBC personalities were also found to have given to Democratic candidates, while Media Matters uncovered the fact that more than 30 Fox News hosts and contributors had donated to conservative candidates.
No such Democratic contributions have come to light, of course, but Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan, and other MSNBC contributors did contribute to Republicans. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, I say.
Whole news networks are being transformed into little more than on-air advocates for political parties. The idea of objectivity is now increasingly dismissed as a myth rather than honored as an ideal toward which the news industry should strive.
Uh, only one network is such an advocate, and that’d be FOX. MSNBC has four liberal hosts, along with the Bush-worshipper Chris Matthews and, of course Joe Scarborough. MSNBC has sponsored no rallies, made no large corporate contributions, and, by the way, does manage to do its advocacy without flat-out lying, unlike at Fox.
Americans are self-segregating themselves into separate political realities — responding to the proliferation of information by consuming news that confirms their political prejudices. Loyal viewers see opinion-anchors like Olbermann or Glenn Beck as the only “truth-tellers” in town, while dismissing the rest of the media as cowardly or biased. We are devolving back to the era when newspapers were owned and operated by political parties.
See, Glenn Beck is JUST LIKE Keith Olbermann, even though Olbermann doesn’t, say, compare any President to Hitler or tell people, nightly, to stockpile guns, gold, and canned goods for the imminent apocalypse. But, as Murdoch himself said, Fox beats CNN in the ratings, and I’m beginning to see why.
The result: Partisan warfare is on the rise, and trust in media is on the decline. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has documented the trend and concluded that “virtually every news organization or program has seen its credibility marks decline” over the past decade.
Well, the abysmal performance of the media during the Bush years, with the glaringly ironic exception of Keith Olbermann, may have had something to do with this sad state of affairs, but since Avlon works for Glenn Beck’s old employer, he’s paid not to see this.
Even C-Span, which offers unedited coverage of public events without commentary, has experienced a steep — and absurd — decline in believability. In this hyperpartisan environment, people literally don’t trust what they see with their own eyes. Polarizing for profit might be good for ratings in the short run, but its bad for the country.
And who has the highest ratings? Who is the most polarizing? And finally, whose audience believes the most false things? If you guessed Fox, you’re considerably smarter than Avlon.
Olbermann’s on-air protégé Rachael Maddow described the difference between MSNBC and Fox as this: “They run as a political operation, we are not.” She added, “The point has been made and Keith should be back hosting ‘Countdown’” — less than 24 hours after his suspension.
Avlon naturally sidesteps the plain factuality of Maddow’s statement…
It’s natural for Maddow to defend Olbermann — they are close colleagues, talented broadcasters cut from the same ideological cloth. What was more surprising was the number of conservative commentators who rushed to Olbermann’s defense. They embrace the idea of hyperpartisanship in all things news and opinion.
No, stupid, they embrace their own hyperpartisanship, and as expected are clinging to the coattails of a legitimate news organization to justify their own behavior.
Fox News — which rarely loses an opportunity to attack the left — gave comparatively little coverage to Olbermann’s suspension. Here’s the reason for their reaction: Conservative media warriors welcome outright liberal advocates, because they justify the right’s own ideological approach.
No, because they lie 24/7, they like to foster the idea that everyone else lies, too. Fact checking would help here, but isn’t forthcoming.
Olbermann symbolizes a fight for public opinion that the right believes it can win. After all, at any given time roughly 50 percent more Americans self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. A 2009 Pew poll found that 15 percent of Americans call themselves conservative Republicans while just 11 percent describe themselves as liberal Democrats.
The reason the right believes it can win is because “neutral” outlets like CNN routinely give lies and truth equal billing, and as always, the lies overwhelmingly come from just one side of the political spectrum. Further, the polls he so grandly cites are just the usual lazy and pointless ones about labels rather than policy; when people are polled about actual policies, liberal policies (regarding taxation, war, social spending, and on and on) reliably win hands-down over conservative ones.
If right-wingers give Americans false choices between the two, they know they can win. But this approach ignores the plurality of Americans who are in the center — and the fact that independent voters are the largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate. That is a huge unmet market looking for a strong advocate.
That’s what CNN thinks it’s doing, and look how that turned out. Never mind the idiocy of anyone needing a “strong advocate” for the “center,” which has steadily marched further and further right than ever before in American history, thanks in part to muddle-minded gasbags like Avlon, who never tire of seeing Republican shit and telling America it’s really Shinola.
In the current hyperpartisan media environment, it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t always been this way. Broadcast icon Edward R. Murrow was not a registered Democrat or Republican — he was an independent. Before courageously taking on Sen. Joe McCarthy, he was considered an anti-communist, supporting, for example, the execution of the Rosenbergs as spies for the Soviet Union. He wouldn’t have dreamed of giving donations to political candidates.
Murrow was anti-crazy. CNN, on the other hand, thinks crazy people are worthy of a fair, non-fact-checked airing, balanced by someone relatively sane. Olbermann is sick of that false dichotomy, and gave a few bucks to keep crazies out of Washington.
Murrow’s colleague Charles Collingwood said, “His politics were based on old-fashioned notions of morality and honor, not ideology.” If this sounds simply old-fashioned, it should not. This idea is at the enduring heart of both good government and good journalism.
Sounds like Keith to me, but unfortunately, not like CNN.
Sen. Patrick Daniel Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” But the current polarized political environment results in Americans engaging in civic debates armed with only their own exaggerated partisan “facts” — for example, the latest overheated myth that President Obama’s trip to India was going to cost $200 million a day and be accompanied by 34 warships — and cynicism becomes justified with the knowledge that news anchors are shilling for political parties. This is ultimately dangerous for a democracy.
See? Republicans lie, every day, so that means liberals should just let them, for fear of being “partisan.”
The current spin cycle might be hitting such a sickening extent that there is a demand for something different — that’s the impulse that I believe was behind the success of Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity last weekend. After all, 44 percent of Americans born after 1977 identify themselves as independent, according to the Pew Center. The American people want something more than the predictable parroting of partisan talking points.
Independent on-air journalists don’t have to be without opinion to be nonpartisan — they just have to be honest brokers, punching left and right as their conscience and common sense dictates. We need to play offense from the center and create a strong alternative.
The ideal of independence is being degraded by the proliferation of partisan media. The fact that undisclosed donations by opinion anchors like Olbermann are being defended is evidence of how far off course we’ve gotten. The lines between political and media figures are blurring; we are getting used to journalists functioning as party apologists while elected officials sound increasingly like radio talk show hosts.
But the search for the truth doesn’t conform to a partisan prism. Reasserting reasonable standards of independence can help restore trust in the news media and help stop the political Balkanization of the United States.
Oh, for Pete’s sake. It’s telling that a dozen years of Fox News’ systematic, flagrant and consequential journalistic malpractice didn’t ever spur Avlon to write this astonishingly inept and clueless piece, back when such a thing might have helped stop an idiot like George Bush from being elected, and/or stopped a disastrous war or two. He finally got off his lazy ass yesterday to pompously and long-windedly whine about Keith fucking Olbermann’s (disclosed) contributions to a few pretty unimportant Democratic candidates.
I guess at CNN, that’s enterprise reporting.