Saturday, November 6, 2010

Right and Wrong: The Post Election Edition

When Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly were helping to define what news reported on television would mean determined that
the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly
requiring that the entire half hour of their See It Now broadcast of March 9, 1954 be devoted to an examination of what that Senator, Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, was doing, CBS declined to advertise it. As Friendly told it later he and Murrow ponied up the money, $1500 (or about $12,000 in today's money) for a small box to appear in the New York Times, near the television listings advertising the program.

Even when accolades for the broadcast began pouring in, CBS did not identify itself with the work of its correspondents and producer lest those who sided with Senator McCarthy (Fulton Lewis and others of the FOX News of its day, jumped right in to call Murrow a communist and the like. Today they like to point to Murrow and See It Now as examples of their commitment to good journalism.

That's progress, in a way.

Keith Olbermann did a dumb and destructive thing by contributing to the political campaigns of three candidates. The meager amounts he gave to those candidates was not even remotely worth what it says about what Olbermann and others like him should be trying to do. He is entitled to his opinions and his views, as with everyone's, unquestionably color his broadcast, but he should not endorse candidates, implictly by making contributions, any more than he would be explicitly doing so. To interview one of those candidates without telling his viewers that he has contributed to that campaign is so wrong as to be beyond serious debate.

But television news has done such damage to our the environment in which our politics have declined that an apology from Olbermann, to be followed by others who have placed their personal interests over their obligations to us, their listeners, viewers and readers, should suffice. Now is not the time to remove one of the few television broadcasters who do something beyond reading press releases or reporting hogwash as if it were news.

As always Rachel Maddow nailed it just right. I am for her. As always.

But the more important thing, way more important than Keith and even Rachel is that there be alternative voices out there. Anyone could have pointed out what Sen McCarthy was doing; on television and radio in 1954, though, there was silence, or reporting that he said this, and others said that. No context. Just two opposing views. You could not watch See It Now and not know what Murrow was saying. But not for a second would any reasonable person think he was reporting on what was happening because either he or Friendly wanted to help elect a Democrat in Wisconsin.

That is what this is all about. You know me as Barth, a fierce partisan and I am that under this name and, of course, in my real name. I do not broadcast those opinions, nor put my professional name behind them because to do so renders what I say to be suspect. Separating my opinions from the exercise of what I do in my professional capacity is as important as anything I do. Same, in a different way for Keith and Rachel.

Without them, the noise machine just gets reported as if the idea that the President's trip to India will cost some astronomical sum is arguably possible. Without them, the idea that the budget can be cut without harming the services the government provides that are essential parts of our life, gets reported as if it is possible.

And this phony "balance"---actually an abdication of responsibility---is what leads to what happened on Tuesday, or, for that matter, what happened in 2006 and 2008. We swing back and forth based on what passes for reporting but is nothing more than the mindless repetition of nonsense. People with beautiful haircuts tell us what "Obama will do" or how he will govern, without acknowledging that ours is not a monarchy or a dictatorship and that "doing things" requires the affirmative vote of each house of Congress and the President consent. Instead, we dwell on whether two cities have imposed sharia law in their communities. We went almost two weeks in 2008 discussing whether the use of the old phrase about lipstick on a pig was meant to call Gov Palin a filthy name but the idea that we are running backwards fast while the rest of the world leaps ahead is just lost.

Senator McConnell did us all a favor, perhaps. The main goal of his party should not be to identify and try to solve the problems that beset us, but to defeat the president's candidacy for re-election because politics is more important than anything else. Lawrence O'Donnell apparently agrees with this idea since yesterday morning he advised that the job of the Speaker is to maintain majority control in the next Congress. Passing legislation that is good for the country but which can be twisted to make it seem bad and to hurt candidates who voted for it, should be subordinated to the goal of re-election.

With a moment's thought, most people know this is wrong, yet, with a cynical eye these political goals are reported as synonymous with policy. If Keith is no there, and Rachel is not there, who will say that is wrong on the medium which so many people depend upon for information?

That is so much more important than some measly contribution. Keith knows better, I am sure. Let's see if MSNBC does.

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