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Olbermann saga highlights the decline of journalism

By DOUG THOMPSON
November 8, 2010

Keith Olbermann returned to his chair as host of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on MSNBC Tuesday night — ending his short suspension without pay for violating the rules of his employer.

His suspension — such as it was — kept him off the air for Friday and Monday nights. When you make about $7 million a year, a couple of days without pay won’t send you to the poorhouse.

Olbermann contributed to three political candidates in the midterm elections — something that other overtly partisan “news” personalities on cable channels do all the time but something that real journalists don’t do as a matter of ethics.

But Olbermann isn’t a journalist — not by a long shot. He’s a talking head on a psuedo “news” hour that is mostly opinion sprinkled with juvenile puppet shows and segments like “worst persons in the world” — a segment that we are now told will be scrapped.

What should be scrapped is Olbermann himself along with all the other partisan hacks who dispense the sham journalism that is anything but news.

That won’t happen, of course, because Olbermann is MSNBC’s “star,” the host of the show with the highest ratings for the channel, even though Olbermann’s ratings lag way behind Bill O’Reilly’s right-wing rants on Fox and don’t come close to the ratings of regular news shows on NBC, CBS and ABC.

MSNBC casts itself as the liberal alternative to Fox, the propaganda arm of the GOP and the rabid right wing. Actually, the libs who genuflect at Olbermann’s feet call their politics “progressive,” which would be really funny if they weren’t so somber and serious about such a ludicrous label.

Calling any political philosophy “progressive” makes about as much sense as calling Corrupt New York Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel “ethical.”

Labels aside, Olbermann’s short suspension highlights the sad state of journalism as practiced by the many partisan media outlets that dispense propaganda as “news” and substitute bias for truth.

NBC’s policy does not prevent an on-air personality like Olbermann from contributing to a political candidate.  It only requires that the talking head get permission before making the contribution.

But Olbermann stopped believing that rules apply to him long ago.  His monumental ego triggers many backroom shouting matches at the MSNBC studios and his relationship with MSNBC President Phil Griffin.

MSNBC insiders say Olbermann is an out-of-control egomaniac who makes increasingly onerous demands from the network, berates colleagues without mercy and demands “star treatment” from all who deal with him.

Former co-workers describe him as a bully who considers himself above all others at the network.

So it’s no surprise he didn’t see the need to obtain approval before writing out checks to candidates.

With permission or not, Olbermann and his colleagues in phony news channels like MSNBC and Fox enjoy a privilege that average, hard-working journalists don’t.

Every newspaper I have worked for over the last 45 years had a ironclad rule against any kind of political activity by those who report the news.  Even the weekly that I write for now in retirement prohibits political contributions, signing a petition for a political cause or putting a candidate sign in our front yard.

As a journalist, I never registered as a member of any political party, contributed to a candidate or participated in political activity.  When I took a sabbatical from journalism for a decade I worked for Republican candidates and served as chief of staff to a GOP congressman but — even then — didn’t register as a Republican or Democrat.

But those were the old days and the old ways. In the world of “new journalism,” opinions are welcome — and often encouraged — and attempts to remain non-partisan or objective are frowned upon as “passe” or “old fashioned.”

That was then. This is now.

Yet given the current state of politics and governance in this nation, maybe “then” should replace “now.”

Then everything old could be new again.

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19 Responses to Olbermann saga highlights the decline of journalism

  1. gene

    November 8, 2010 at 9:34 am

    This “dumbest journalist in America” should be star of Dumb and Dumbist for his stupid remarks on MSNBC

  2. todd

    November 8, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Good points that were completely missed by the main stream media. It doubly represents the decline in journalism as the reporting of suspension was consistently incomplete and inaccurate. In fact, I couldn’t find anyone who pointed out that what the NBC policy actually says is that you can suspend someone for contributing to campaigns who “have controversial positions.” Did any of the candidates hold controversial positions? (No one addressed that issue). Most ignored the issue of NBC being sold to Comcast or Comcast idea of putting a Republican fundraiser for Bush in charge of the network. Most except for Senator Sanders and Spitzer failed to mention 1st amendent issue, particularly in the light of Citizen’s United. My conclusion is serious journalists are not given the time to do research and they should. News personalities should have a warning label at the beginning of their broadcasts “This may make you feel good or bad depending on your own opinions but it has little to do with reality.” Not that Olberman isn’t better than most in the sense that he has reported on real things that other professional editors ignored such as the lying about the war. I guess the problem isn’t just news personalities, it’s also editors that edit the news as if they were news personalities. I know you couldn’t say that so I just did.

  3. Sandune

    November 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Olberman picked up the stories about Blackwater and the Senate’s use of the “C” Street property. When the GOP runs on ethics and morals, it should be a point of interest to the readers of Capitol Hil Blues.

  4. Sandune

    November 8, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Hal Brown and I both read the books on Blackwater the “C” Street and brought the information to CHB but it was Olberman and Maddow who brought the stories to their large audiences. I watch both Olberman and Maddow as often as possible because I trust their stories to be researched and documented.

    I am not insulted by any poliical point of view as neither side of the aisle has it right (correct) but it is essential to learn how the left looks at the Obama agenda. The GOP point of view is based on a 2000 year policy that all that is needed for good government is prayer. I was raised on presenting hard work for a decent set of policies are what bring results. There is no party that works for the individual freedoms for all Americans.

  5. Almandine

    November 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    It has been clear for too long now that Olberman is not a journalist… but, as you’ve noted, a mere talking head… and he was much better at it when his topics were confined to the Rams, Cowboys, Packers, etc.

    The problem, as Sandune illustrates, is that such a disctinction is lost on many.

  6. Angie

    November 8, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Amen Brother Doug. With the amount of lies, damn lies and stats running around Washington and Wall Street, you’d think the news business would keep him busy.

  7. bogofree

    November 8, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Progressive certainly sheds the nasty label of “liberal.” Like calling a used car “pre-owned.” Still a used car no matter how you label it.

  8. Keith

    November 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Come on man, this isn’t about politics, it’s about a companies policies. He violated a company policy and got spanked. So what? He got lucky, you violate a company policy where I work and you get fired. As far as I’m concerned, he got lucky. Don’t go into the first amendment and how nothing can infringe upon it because it’s a weak arguement. Yes, you signed a contract giving up your rights and no, there’s nothing you can do about it and yes, it’s legal. He signed a contract, he violated his contract. He knew about it when he signed it. If he doesn’t like it, he can work somewhere else.

  9. Jon

    November 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    There is a legitimate place for opinion in journalism. It’s called the ‘Opinion’ page.

    Journalists are human. They have opinions.

    It is the mark of a really good journalist when they have strong opinions about something and yet are able to completely detach themselves from those and write about something they strongly disagree with reasonably impartially (as an aside, ACLU lawyers may often have similar issues with detaching themselves from their work).

    This is, of course, impossible, but still worth striving to get closer to.

    Bringing it back to the question at hand, I think “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” ought to make it obvious to the audience that what you are getting is opinion on the news. Not news by itself. Not impartially reported facts. What you’re getting is a televised ‘This is Keith Olbermann’s Opinion Page’.

    This may be true of all televised “news”, even those who do not make it quite so obvious (or deliberately disguise the fact) that what you’re getting is opinion.

    J.

  10. griff

    November 8, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    There is no real news on television.

    • woody188

      November 8, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      Except Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura on TruTV! It’s my favorite show to watch, and the only show talking about what’s really going on. He’s done 9/11, Wall Street’s recent money grab, global warming, the police state, 2012, etc. You should check it out if you have that channel.

      Oh, and don’t forget The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Yeah, it’s supposed to be fake news, but it’s odd how it’s often more accurate than the “real news.”

      • Carl Nemo

        November 8, 2010 at 11:16 pm

        Thanks Woody for referencing Jesse’s new series. I personally think it’s an excellent expose’ of the criminally disposed shenanigans in which our rogue government is now engaged 24/7365. I know some folks will say, hey it’s simply a TV program and if all this stuff is going on why would anyone sponsor such a program without bringing hazard to themselves?

        My thoughts are that the oligarchs through their solely owned government subsidiaries have become so brazen that they don’t give a rats butt less what comes to light since they own everything within our field of vision; ie., the government, banks, the stock and commodity markets, the media, natural resources, real estate and infrastructure. To them we’re simply serfs to do with what they see fit.

        I thought the Bilderberg episode was interesting to witness these filthy rich, fat, ugly, out of shape mattoids along with their running dog intellectuals like Henry Kissinger et al. scuttling into the hotel via an endless line of Mercedes sedans while unwitting policing serfs were guarding their ‘compound’ simply doing their ‘jobs’ for a days wage, little realizing the people inside were possibly planning their ultimate demise through an engineered “mass culling”. |

        The Bilderberg group and the referenced “Seven” that operate the puppet paddles are highly compartmentalized with a core or planetary ‘planners’ at the top while the rest are nothing but “useful idiots” for the most part, little realizing they are facilitating a monstrous scheme to depopulate the earth via food additives, engineered vaccines, and GMO’d seedstock for the purpose of eliminating useless eaters via a first wave of deadly flu with secondary sterilization effects.

        I’ve been saving them to DVR and watch them when I have time. A great series and I highly recommend CHB and RR participants to view the programming even if you have reservations about so-called conspiracies.

        What I found interesting is much of what is discussed at the end, I’ve researched myself over a number of years and there’s truth in this aired programming.

        Carl Nemo **==

  11. woody188

    November 8, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    For those of you that don’t have cable/satellite: Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura Online

    I’ve noticed a few times the guide says it’s going to be the 9/11 show, it ends up being the HAARP show instead. Weird right?

    I also felt he let his buddy Al Gore off the hook too easy on the Global Warming episode. But in another aside, the Chicago Climate Exchange announced they are going out of business. That means cap and trade is a failure and us little people have won…for now anyway. :)

  12. Sandune

    November 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    As far as I’m concerned, all cable television poliical programs are opinions of the host. I spent the Bush years believing the crap from Fox News; saving my morning programming on Imus in the Morning. The change of programs allowed me to understand another point of view on MSNBC. I came to the conclusion that neither party had it right and I was hopelessly left out of the standard of political opinions I wanted.

    I like Olbermann and Maddow for their honest opinions on matters of political news. Both believe deeply in individual freedoms without exception! I cannot find another station or commentator that can be as honest as those two.

    Every political commentator has a litmus test of their own. Most members here have their own litmus list. At home I am surrounded by Palin lovers who have no honest opinions about her except she looks good with a gun. I was taken in by Obama’s apparent lack of homophobia but his promise of an open armed forces, has left me with a lack of respect for his words. He will not keep his word and apparently this is not the only subject he backed out of.

    I will have to wait for a third party, but until then I will watch Olbermann and Maddow and weed out what shows me little.

  13. Almandine

    November 12, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Olberman and his ilk are just symptoms…

    How about a meatier look at it:

    http://involuntaryservant.blogspot.com/2009/03/bought-and-paid-for-central-bankster.html

  14. Sandune

    November 12, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Almandine, I learned the hard way to stay away from political blogs. Honest opinions must never be written if they seem unpopular to others. I have worked through 3 major presidential elections where a party of new opinions made it to the ballots. They are laughed at all over the net.

    Three major political forums were unable to report the news with honest replies. I learned that on the Conservative groups the members had to wait for Limbaugh and Beck’s views before joining the discussions. The Conservative members cannot think through their political point of view without the leadership of the talking heads reporting.

    The opinion on the right has been fine-tuned into a white Christian homophobic group based on male opinions wanting their candidates to look like them. I saw this start under Bush 41 and I dropped out of the GOP quickly. Searching for a simple interpretation of the Constitution is no where to be found. Olberman/Maddow has never influenced my voting and certainly the GOP shows me how many years I was fooled by them.

    I enjoy the replies on CHB’s home page but even here the concept of individual freedoms is a joke. I am usually familiar with the stories and find the replies wonderful. It is my only group. I cannot post at the forum and that suits me just fine.

    Sandy

    • Almandine

      November 12, 2010 at 11:43 am

      Honest opinions must ALWAYS be written if they seem unpopular to others.

  15. brian

    November 12, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Doug: Normally I agree with you. This time, though, I think that Megan McCain actually has it right: Olberman is no journalist.

  16. Sandune

    November 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Did anyone see Maddow’s interview with Jon Stewart? I am hoping someone will write something about the comments he made to Rachael and how “right on” they were. I found the entire hour stimulating as Jon spoke about corruption vs noncorruption instead of right vs left. Anyone who has been around here should remember my many commentaries on that subject. I gave up after being banned by most of the forums on the net. I am a humanist with no time for superstition.

    Almandine, one of the best television shows on the air came from Imus in the Morning. Nobody called him a journalist but he did what many shows on MSNBC do and that is interview the authors of the new books. It is much better when the host actually reads the books and ask questions for my audience benefit. When I want journalist’s comments I will head for my long list of newpaper stories.

    Sandy