Friday, November 5, 2010

Objective media and media objectives

The news today of Keith Olbermann’s indefinite suspension from MSNBC was just the latest in a series of recent affronts to North American progressives. In case you haven’t heard, Olbermann, the host of the network’s popular Countdown with Keith Olbermann, was suspended for having made political donations of $2400 each to three Democratic candidates in this week's U.S. election. The problem for the network was that his support constituted a breach of their journalistic code of ethics, which strives to maintain objectivity in its reporting. Or in slightly more legal terms, it strives to avoid any conflicts of interest.

If you follow Olbermann, you know that his political leanings are no secret. In fact, his career is defined by his savvy political commentary. Whether or not he is a journalist is debatable, but his employer seems to think he is one. If the network hadn't reacted, most people wouldn't have batted an eyelash over this. As Matt Taibbi puts it, "NBC punishing Olbermann for donating to Democratic candidates is like Hugh Hefner fining the Playmate of the Year for showing ankle."

So what gives? The response does seem completely punitive. All debate about journalistic objectivity aside, the network's grandstanding certainly has helped to give due public attention to some of the really big political investments recently made by media types. Rachel Maddow exposes some here. In the American media, journalistic integrity is apparently applied selectively. And this whole debacle is falling on the heels of several recent media reports about just how powerful a force the very rich and the very crazy can be.

I don't know if there's anybody who still believes that journalism can be wholly objective. But if recent election results in North America are anything to go by, objectivity is something that not enough people care about.

2 comments:

  1. Update: Olbermann's suspension will end on Tuesday. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40062578/ns/politics-decision_2010/

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  2. http://www.examiner.com/political-buzz-in-national/kieth-olbermann-comments-on-his-suspension-his-return-to-countdown

    Here's some followup.

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