Sunday, September 21, 2008

Civil war at MSNBC

The media is one of the most important elements of any election season, especially when we are electing a president.

Its primary role is to act as an advocate for the people. After all, none of us will likely have access to any of the major players as we approach the election.

Some forums do provide citizens the chance to ask questions to candidates, but those events are usually tightly controlled and don't allow any significant give and take.

Therefore, the media's responsibility should be to ask the questions we would ask if we had the opportunity.

While that seems pretty clear cut, it is not always that easy because many voters believe certain media outlets have a bias against certain candidates.

For example, conservatives often complain about newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post as examples in the media that present news with a liberal slant.

Conversely, most liberals will express similar frustrations against a news outlet like Fox News. Such criticisms from both sides are pretty common during elections.

However, voters very rarely get a glimpse inside a news organization as it develops its strategy to cover a campaign. We got that glimpse recently when MSNBC demoted Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as co-anchors of political night coverage.

Both will remain as commentators, but their roles have been diminished.

Most who follow politics know Olbermann and Matthews from the shows they host each weeknight on MSNBC. Both shows are commentary shows meaning that very little actual news reporting is done. Basically, both men provide their points of view on the issues of the day.

Both (but especially Olbermann) have recently enjoyed a surge in popularity from liberals because of their criticism of the Bush administration. In watching both men perform, it is pretty clear that their political ideology leans to the left.

Within the context of their shows, there is nothing wrong with that. They are paid to present opinions, and they both do so with passion and flair.

However, things went wrong when both were awarded anchoring duties during the recent national political conventions. Basically, MSNBC put commentators into a situation best handled by a news reporter, and as most understand, there is a big difference between being a reporter and a commentator.

The situation reached a low point when Olbermann made several sarcastic comments at the Republican convention. For example, after vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin made her acceptance speech, Olbermann compared her to Reese Witherspoon's character 'Tracy Flick' in the film Election.

If you didn't see that film, trust me, the comment was not intended as a compliment.

MSNBC made a big mistake by putting these men into these roles. However, what is perhaps even more puzzling is that there wasn't much of an outcry when they were first chosen.

If ABC had assigned a conservative pundit like Rush Limbaugh to anchor its coverage at the conventions, criticism would have been loud and long. However, the selection of Olbermann and Matthews caused little criticism.

Based on published reports, it took an internal rebellion from within NBC's news division to get Olbermann and Matthews demoted.

Now, newsman David Gregory will handle anchoring duties for upcoming events.

One has to wonder whether this problem would have occurred if Tim Russert were still alive. Russert was known for his ability to remain impartial and had the most clout within both the NBC and MSNBC news divisions.

My guess is this never would have happened.

Chalk this up to growing pains caused by Russert's loss. However, it couldn't have occurred at a worse time.


Joltin' Django said...

"Reese Witherspoon's character 'Tracy Flick' in the film Election"

I read Election long before it was put to screen. I never thought that it would become a great film. But it did.

It was a damn shame that Reese Witherspoon received NO Oscar consideration for her turn at Tracy Flick. It remains her best acting "flick" to date ... indeed.

Chris said...

I agree. Excellent film. Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick are first-rate actors.