On Sunday, the Washington Post posted an opinion piece by Ted Koppel (the former host of ABC’s Nightline) decrying the “death of real news.” He mentions the current crop of “news hosts” from the evening cable news channel shows, O’Reilly and Olbermann and Beck and Maddow and the rest, though he doesn’t exactly blame them but their employers’ focus on the financial bottom line. It’s a combination of that fiscal conservatism, and the misguided notion that people want what O’Reilly and Olbermann et al. are selling instead of actual news, that has left us where we are today.
I don’t know what any of the other evening cable news hosts is saying, but Keith Olbermann seems particularly stung, as he’s made at least two comments about it on Twitter, this being the latest:
@KeithOlbermann FYI Special Comment tomorrow night: Koppel, False Equivalence, and his part in the real “death of news”
Remember a few months ago when Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show had Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Mad Money on and went off on Mr. Cramer in a most vehement and above all serious way? That was the point when I decided Stewart had lost me. It’s all well and good to be a comedian with a particular interest in the news, but it’s another thing to start to take yourself so seriously that you jump out of character to exact a punishment on someone who basically does the same damn thing as you do for a living. I don’t think I’ve watched an entire Daily Show since.
And now Olbermann is, to me, making the same mistake. He’s going to apparently have a Special Comment where among other statements he’s going to say to Ted Koppel, “Me? What about YOUR contributions to the demise of daily news?” which is about what I’d expect a 9-year-old to say about his 11-year-old brother when caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Thing is, the demise of real news not really Olbermann’s fault. OK, maybe he is a raving leftie, but he’s one on TV because NBC pays him to do it. He could stand up for journalistic standards, but he’s just a footsoldier in the war. Blame the networks for putting this drivel on. Blame the networks for “If it bleeds, it leads,” and blame the networks for the constant stream of medical news designed to scare people into buying new prescription medications. But especially blame the networks for supporting the notion that what people think about the news is the news.
And blame the viewers for eating this crap up with a spoon. Sure, I like when Olbermann and Maddow hand some troglodyte his head over some conservative shibboleth, just as someone else really likes when O’Reilly or Beck hoists President Obama on his own petard. But that’s not news, and I’m beginning to see watching MSNBC on weeknights as a guilty pleasure. It’s political porn. It isn’t news. It’s only what people mistakenly think of as news.
Olbermann can be on TV spouting off. This is all well and good. But we the viewers, we the news consumers, are fooling ourselves when we think it’s just as valid as the news Cronkite and Chancellor and Reynolds would tell us when I was a kid.