Generally not a fan of Keith Olbermann (I don’t even own cable, SIR!) but his calling out of Ted Koppel’s false equivalencies of FOX NEWS and MSNBC was finely welcomed. Of course, it is hardly controversial to say that “objectivity,” though altogether not an appalling idea, by nearly any measure inevitably falls short of pure, perfect impartiality. More importantly, and as Olbermann emphasizes in his response to Koppel, the discourse and norms of objectivity in journalism have all too often served propagandists and talking-heads of all stripes to spin, mislead, or downright lie to the public without critical scrutiny. Indeed the Nothing-But-The-Facts brand of journalism that Koppel and others venerate itself tries to delude the public into thinking that “facts” are simply out there waiting to be conveyed as “unbiased accounts” in all-too-brief news segments and spaces. The truth is that Nothing-But-The-Facts is myopic and slightly misleading at best, it is irresponsible and downright disingenuous at worse, the work of, in Olbermann’s words, “glorified stenographers” who edit, aid, and abet – often unknowingly – ideological and partisan thugs.
Koppel admitted in the WaPo, 11/14/10, that “the commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me.” Both networks, he continued, were to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to financial investment. “He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.” Surely, Koppel could also be referring to Charlie Rose, Jim Cramer, Anderson Cooper, and, one of Teddy’s favorites, sleepy Jim Lehrer and his gang at the NewsHour – but he isn’t. Koppel points his finger at the two most politicized cable networks on American TV, and is even careful enough to balance his naming of names to three each side, (Olbermann, Maddow, Matthews for the partisan liberals, Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly for the childish and emotionally challenged partisan blowhards on the right.) More remarkably, Koppel reserves special ennobled status for the three major news networks, at least as he knew them years back, writing that “fear and innocence” made network news a more “virtuous operation” in comparison. The three networks, according to Koppel, “offered relatively unbiased accounts of information that their respective news organizations believed the public needed to know. The ritual permitted, and perhaps encouraged, shared perceptions and even the possibility of compromise among those who disagreed…It was an imperfect, untidy little Eden of journalism where reporters were motivated to gather facts about important issues.”
In his long career, Koppel seems never to have fully reflected on the benefits to journalism if some of that “untidy little Eden” were to be abandoned for more investigative sensibilities – prejudices even – which don’t easily fit the sheltered template of impartial and neutral reporting but are still informed, incisive, and intelligent nevertheless to yield real insights. Isn’t a poor person’s reality different than a rich person’s? So why not clarify those differences by calling attention to them openly? Asked more generally, does not "objectivity" in the best sense of the word only require the kinds of impassioned interest and dedication Koppel only decries?
Today the news networks and cable outlets are not just part of the partisan banter; they not only air all kinds of extreme and simplistic viewpoints but are at the forefront in pushing what one ex-media executive aptly described as “a fun, non-linear creative environment” for political analysts as well as political hucksters and demagogues to attract their audiences. They provide caricatures of all sorts, and exhibit some of the most garish yet yawningly predictable forms of political neuroses and fears, some surely more informed than others.
That Olbermann made a couple donations to Democratic candidates, thus breaking MSNBC policy, we are now well aware. Big fucking deal. I only wonder what Koppel thought of Rachel Maddow’s honest and direct commentary on the issue which pointed out how FOX, unlike MSNBC, has no prohibitions on hosts making political donations, and has even openly solicited for Republican candidates and causes. Ahh, Teddy’s silence here speaks volumes. Perhaps he hasn’t gotten around to doing the research? Or maybe he’s just too indifferent or impartial to even care about such details? And, as Olbermann suggested in historical context, it has been exactly this kind of “that’s all we have for tonight, folks” treatment that so often enabled Koppel and the networks to fluff up the experts and partisan hacks as they monumentally failed the public during the leadup the war in Iraq.
Most recently, Koppel sounded a little more thoughtful in an interview on NPR where he fielded good questions from callers, and debated Jeff Jarvis who pushed Koppel on several points. Yet when Koppel admitted to his dread of the “man on the street interview,” he concluded that “you'd get one for, one against, and one who really hadn't made up his mind - and the end result is, you had nothing.” Come again, Teddy? “I am not presenting objectivity as though it were some form of castrated truth. I'm presenting objectivity as something that is presented to the public at large so that you out there have enough information that you can make intelligent decisions of your own.” But isn’t it the job of journalists to let subjects speak while using their informed judgment qua journalists to provide relevant context to what “the man on the street” says...you know, so that we don’t end up with “nothing?” Even more revealingly, when asked directly by a caller about his false equivalencies of FOX and MSNBC, Koppel refused to answer by fleeing into Parrot mode: “But if you ask anyone who considers himself right of center whether he regards MSNBC News, and the people who appear on MSNBC, and the information that is conveyed on MSNBC as being objective, you're clearly going to get a different kind of answer.” My god, can you, Mr. Kopple, just answer the question put to you in the first person? Can you for the love of sweet Jesus just say it already!!! “The test, I suppose,” he then added, “is whether someone watching who is a regular MSNBC viewer can watch Fox without feeling that it is totally biased - and whether the opposite is also true. And if the equivalency is not perfect, I think there is enough equivalency there to justify the central point that I was making.” Huh? “Enough equivalency”? This is all getting very Koppelesque! I’ll just let the man with the whitey-fro speak for himself, and give him the last word…you decide.
Expectantly the Democrats lost big last Tuesday. And the purging of the Blue Dogsshould demonstrate to even the most fashionably cluelessamong us of the political failure of Democratic “centrism.” Looking on the bright side, we could be tempted to say that the midterms have at least crystallized the liberal and progressive platform, even if Pelosi gets demoted in the process. As Ari Berman anticipated about a month before Nov. 2, “Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus.” True, less blue-dogs in Congress would be a benefit insofar Democrats are able to shape and control their narrative without party bickering. And though I would love for this to be the takeaway of the 2010 midterms, I also detect some stupid here not getting the scrutiny it deserves. First of all, the remaining 24 Blue Dogs in the House, true to form, are already calling for Pelosi to quit. More obviously, if less numbers overall ostracize the Democrats as an ineffectual incumbency it will only require from Brand Obama and members of the party brass more leadership, more heavy-lifting. And given the statements already being made by Obama it is clear the White House intends to remain at odds with the party’s liberal base, and do its best by clinging to the diminishing “center.”
So why would Obama once again reaffirm his willingness to “compromise” rather than try to fire up his own troops in his own party – especially when the signals sent by the GOP tell us that it has no intentions of compromising whatsoever? You know, there was a time not all that long ago when Obama was considered not just a great orator but some new kind of inspirational leader. You know, he had charisma in a good er, "progressive" way. He was even a "community organizer" guys!!! So how can the President continue to foolishly reach across the aisle only to be taken for another ride? Can it be he is just another inside-man for the corporate plutonomy? (Hey everybody! look at Mika!)
One sure lesson to be learned from 2010 it is that even without enough votes to get its policies enacted the gains made by the GOP enables it to simply watch “gridlock” take its toll and dismantle what’s left of the age of Obama.
Energized by the Theo-Cons of the religious right, as well as Tea Party antics and rhetoric, the GOP has been able to rise from the dead in just two years to effectively denounce and repudiate Obama and the Democrats. How did they do it? Sensing weakness in the Dems, they fought and fought continuously. Republicans knew nothing could be gained for their party if they simply went along with the policies of a majority party: Obama and the Dems would get the credit if their policies succeeded and were popular, just as they would surely get blamed if their policies stalled, needed cover, or downright failed. Thus the Republicans became known on MSNBC as The Party of No.
In reinventing themselves the Republicans were also able to distance themselves from the Democrats in a very clear way. What they did was take a feudal turn to the right, and got a huge push from "outsiders" otherwise known as The Tea Party. This New Feudalism is evident not only in the House of Representatives but also in the Senate where old white men parody 1950s middle-class America by evoking the spirit of Balance-the-Budget hardhead Calvin Coolidge and the coming specter of A Socialist Takeover. These New Feudalists speak everyday of America’s ennobled place in history as it soldiers on against infidels, libertines, and the shiftless. They plunder the serfs back home. They make others fight their wars. They spread the gospel of wealth while speaking in tongues. They steal from the poor to give to the rich. Some of their additional accomplishments? Presiding over economic and financial collapse through financial deregulation and disregard; dilapidated and starved social institutions; unprecedented expansions of executive power and surveillance; two losing wars; a bloated military budget which – when paired with rising health care expenses – is bankrupting the country; xenophobia; a plutocratic “austerity” agenda which professes to cut state spending “across the board” by privatizing social security, Medicaid, and Medicare, while making the Bush tax-cuts permanent; and, of course, extolling of private wealthgrowing disparities in income and wealth inequality. Republicans have also gotten older. But perhaps the most telling sign of the coming of a New Feudalist establishment is the redistricting of congressional seats it is about to redraw.
Surely it isn't new to say that the GOP is radically at odds with the demos. For no matter how much talk there is today of a “populist” Tea Party take over of government don’t expect the Marco Rubios of the world to rock the boat of the Republican establishment. We'll see how much of that Defense budget Rand Paul wants to cut. We'll see how much executive power Dick Armey or that guy in Wisconsin who beat Feingold wants to cut back. Can't wait for Sarah Palin to fight for the unemployed and uninsured. Yeah, both parties are
joined at the hip in profound ways which make meaningful distinctions between them utterly specious: thoroughly corporatist, militaristic, neo-liberal, anti-democratic, and dispassionately fascist just poised at the edge waiting to wage a jingoistic boot stomping of all opposition into oblivion perchance the opportunity ever presented itself. How totally awesome is that? Yet unlike the Democrats who are plagued by caution and "thoughtfulness," (as any good latte drinking feminist sympathizer is,) Republicans can dress themselves up in callous, go it alone, cowboy regalia and rhetoric to give them the semblance and reputation of inherent autonomy, of a Going Rogue toughness and independence, which many, many Americans find appealing. And so by STAYING ON MESSAGE they can position themselves to pull this whole fucking mess of a country continually to the right. You see, Rush and Hannity know stuff. They and their propogandist blowhards know how to create reality so liberals can report it.
“Obama To Make Reassuring Eye Contact With Every Last American” What else can the poor President do? Surely not follow all those “bipartisan” impulses (read “dirty fucking hippies!”) we’ve heard about so much the last few years. Aw heck, looks like Obama and the Dems have no choice but bellyflop their way into 2012 as well. Just consider this with this. Do you remember the part when Jaws started chasing the boat! “He’s chasing us, I don’t believe it,” a befuddled Richard Dreyfuss muttered. With swing-states Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania looking bad for Obama in the mid-terms, and without an about face from the Dems, the Republicans are just licking their chops anticipating 2012.