Monday, November 15, 2010

Actual Impropriety

This piece on Slate.com well enough exemplifies the chatter concerning MSNBC's recent suspension of Keith Olbermann:

Keith Olbermann is back on MSNBC, but anger over l'affaire Olbermann has not yet subsided, the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz reports, and it's coming from his colleagues. The MSNBC anchor was booted off the air without pay after Politico revealed that he had donated to the campaigns of three Democratic candidates, a violation of what Olbermann called an "inconsistently applied" network rule. While he returned to TV after three days, Kurtz writes that the scuffle exposed deeper fractures between the Countdown frontman and MSNBC staffers, who describe the incident with phrases like "scorched-earth policy" and "totally narcissistic response."
The diligent reader who follows the bouncing gossip ball from Slate to Daily Beast to Howard Kurtz to unnamed colleagues to Politico to unnamed staffers (and back through a few times) learns that -- get this -- a television personality may be narcissistic, and may be in conflict with his corporate overlords. The information age is vindicated!

Granted, Olbermann violated MSNBC's policy against having left-liberal opinions and donating money to political candidates, but I must say the peace of my nightly rest does not depend on the observance of this policy among MSNBC's presenters. I would be more interested to know if someone could credibly connect flawed reporting by Olbermann with these donations. Did he distort, mislead, conceal? That would be a disservice to the audience, but notwithstanding the weird tendency speak of "impropriety and the appearance of impropriety" as though they're equals or near equals, I am far more interested in actual impropriety. (Yes, even in instances such as this one.)

Addressing the different but related case of Stewart, Colbert, Sanity, et. al. vs. Maddow, Maher, Olbermann, et. al., Amanda Marcotte has captured it perfectly:
To hear Jon Stewart talk about it, the main problem with Fox News is that they’re conservative and that they’re passionate about it. This is not what’s wrong with Fox News. A conservative news outlet that still practiced real journalism wouldn’t be a problem like Fox is. The problem with Fox is that they promote misinformation at a breath-taking clip. Any given moment during the day, you can turn it on and whatever they’re saying is probably dishonest on some level, or even an open lie. They set out to confuse instead of enlighten. They want the average viewer to be more, not less, ignorant for watching them.
Fox is a problem and an unfunny joke on journalism because it spreads lies, distortions, and half-truths, not because of "bias." With or without any appearance of impropriety, it actively subverts reality.

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