In Uncategorized on November 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Here’s the thing: Keith Olbermann is right: MSNBC is not as awful as Fox News. But 24-hour cable “news” … still … is … awful.

Let’s back up a bit. Olbermann, in response to Jon Stewart’s railing against cable TV news during the Rally to Restore Sanity/March to Keep Fear Alive last weekend in D.C., and Newsweek/MSNBC contributor Jonathan Alter, whose wife works for The Colbert Report, said on Monday that comparing the two networks is unfair. MSNBC, both men argued—here’s the clip—is more sane. MSNBC doesn’t make things up. MSNBC isn’t ideologically driven so much as it’s accompanied by an ideology. MSNBC hosts who get angry are doing so because they’re angry with actual facts, not fake or exaggerated “facts.” Olbermann basically said the “MSNBC is on the left, and Fox News is on the right” argument is too simplistic, “a false equivalence,” adding:

“What are the odds of two cable channels on opposite sides of the political spectrum being exactly the same in every other respect—exactly as bad in dividing the country, exactly as bad in twisting facts, exactly as bad in demonizing religious minorities, exactly as bad in defending the corporatization of the country?”

He’s correct. But here’s my question: Does that matter? Is it not the fault of those at MSNBC for allowing the network to be perceived in such a way? If the only people demonstrably saying, “Hey, MSNBC isn’t as crazy as Fox News!” also work for MSNBC, who’s going to pay attention?

For the record, I’m an enormous fan of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Keith Olbermann. I actually sat next to Olbermann in the press box at a Major League Baseball game three years ago, and he was genuinely polite and congenial. We talked sports—particularly the first Brett Favre comeback—we double-checked our scorecards against each others’ and he seemed, frankly, like a really good dude. Per his show, I usually agree with what he says. Same with Stewart and Colbert, who despite constant denials—especially from Stewart—should be considered journalists and not only satirists or comedians.

But here’s the thing: No matter how fact-based and interesting and important and non-Fox-Newsy Olbermann’s—or Rachel Maddow’s or whoever else’s show on MSNBC—is, and no matter how much lower Fox News sinks, erasing that “Left vs. Right” stigma is vital if MSNBC wants an audience where it’s preaching less to the converted.

Olbermann just announced that he’s putting on hiatus and possibly retiring his “Worst Person in the World” segment because “its satire and whimsy have gradually gotten lost in some anger.” Maybe that’s a good start. But most of the rest of the crap filling MSNBC’s 24-void isn’t news. Same for Fox News. Same for CNN, which may eventually change its motto to “All the news fit to reprint from viewers’ Twitter feeds.” And until this changes and until these networks’ mostly-all-opinion-show lineups are replaced with actual news broadcasts, the overwhelming majority of viewers will continue to perceive, correctly or incorrectly, that cable TV hosts are biased and want little more than to shout into an echo chamber.


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