Thursday, October 22, 2009

When cable news becomes government propaganda

The propaganda of Fox News is legendary among reasonable people these days, count me as one of them. In fact, recently White House officials Anita Dunn, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel have been making the rounds on the cable shows criticizing Fox News. While I agree with their characterizations overall, I also believe they're making a major mistake in pointing this out. For one, it reduces the prestige of the White House as it looks petty and whining. Secondly, it gives Fox News a publicity they don't deserve. Thirdly, it plays directly into the narrative that Fox, and particularly wingnuts like Beck and Limbaugh have been trying to create—the liberal 'establishment' is out to use the government to persecute conservatives.

There is something else I find negative about the White House coming out against Fox News, it looks like hypocrisy. Sure Fox News provides “a viewpoint” rather than reporting the news, but if one were to be honest they'd have to admit that they are not the only ones. In particular, MSNBC pushes a viewpoint, an ideology, a partisan agenda. But yet the White House doesn't call them out on this. That's where the hypocrisy comes in.

Here is an excellent op-ed at Newsweek about the obvious bias of Fox news and how it has lead to a rampant partisan/ideological bias in the rest of cable news.

Now I admit that I watch MSNBC with regularity. I certainly lean more left than right and, frankly, I enjoy some of the wit and style presented by the likes of Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. Having said that, the bias on the network is obvious. Less so than Fox (at least MSNBC begins its day with several hours of an articulate, former Republican congressman serving as its conservative voice), but obvious none the less.

Frankly, I am becoming increasingly cynical about MSNBC. Part of this is because it is cable news with all the sensationalist, hashed and re-hashed, commercialized faux coverage that comes with mainstream media. And much of the programming is pundits and political hacks who offer mere talking-points. But then there is something else that bothers me about it—it often smacks of propaganda.

I must say that I appreciated news media via MSNBC taking on the right-wing establishment over the past several years. Speaking truth to power is what the media is supposed to do, afterall. But now that the establishment is left-wing, or at least Democratic, it just doesn't feel right anymore. To me, news organizations should not be apologists for those in power. And unfortunately, that is just what MSNBC has largely been doing.

I've also found the quality of MSNBC has been suffering, as well. Chris Matthews rarely plays 'hardball' anymore. He used to refuse BS to go unchallenged. Not so much anymore. All too often he tends to stroke egos and sways with the wind from day to day. It's hard to tell really what he does and does not support. He also talks over his guests chronically when it is completely unwarranted. If in the end it is all about him and what he thinks then he should just stop having guests at all.

Ed Shultz, who follows Chris, is so thoroughly leftist in his ideology that it borders on the absurd. It's guys like him that remind me that I am definitely not a “liberal”... I should say that I do appreciate his populist bent, particularly toward the middle-class in this country. But he is delusional in his belief that the majority of this country wants the far-left-of-center policies that he does.

Ditto for Keith Olbermann who has become increasingly acidic in his description of the issues and the “opposition”. He comes across more and more as having an over-inflated value of himself. And his total lack of presenting opposing viewpoints on his show renders his program just about worthless when it comes to genuinely informing the public. This may be because he doesn't want to give them a platform, but that is an unacceptable excuse in journalism. It makes him appear more as a coward who is too afraid to face opposition directly. His rival, Bill-O is a belligerent blow-hard and a moron, but at least the goon bothers to go toe-to-toe with those he opposes. Keith could do much better, at least he's intelligent, articulate and has no apparent need for raising his voice.

Conversely, Rachel Maddow, lovable geek, is also highly ideological and partisan but she goes out of her way to book guests with opposing views. And not just some right-wing pundit, by the way, she actually gives interviews with the very persons she or her coverage has been critical of.  Furthermore, I have generally found her to be very fair in her statements and characterizations. She doesn't just pull opinion out of the air and makes it a point to retract her (infrequent) mistakes. While some of her depictions can come off as guilt by association, there is nothing unreasonable in pointing out that a former politician is now a lobbyist for a corporation that stands to make a great deal of profit if a certain piece of legislation is passed or shot down. Quite the contrary, its a service to the public, no matter how much these special-interests think they have a legal and ethical right to hide. So, kudos to her for that.

Getting back to the main issue at hand. In regards to MSNBC I have found myself slowly over time moving down the same path I did with Fox News several years ago. I used to watch Fox daily. In fact, I was awakened to the events of 9/11 by coverage on Fox News. The ultimate pinhead, Bill O'Reilly had already pissed me off for years. And I despised the smirking, know-nothing weasel, Sean Hannity. But I was a news junkie and I appreciated the 24/7 coverage and listening to views that I often disagreed with. Having some moderate to conservative stances on some issues, I could even find myself in agreement with some of the opinions there.

After the war in Iraq and the disgustingly jingoist nature that Fox took on, I watched it less and less. There was and is nothing fair or balanced about Fox News, and this was made especially unacceptable when considering that Fox became such a right-wing propaganda machine at a time when the party and ideology that ruled our government was also right-wing.

Now MSNBC seems to embarking down a very similar path. It's a real shame.

Having said all of this, before anyone gets the idea that the two are moral equivalents, they are definitely not. I've lost a lot of faith in MSNBC and increasingly turn elsewhere for TV news coverage, but I have seen far more criticism of the Obama administration from MSNBC than I ever saw the Bush administration receive from Fox News.

MSNBC, like Fox News, may be highly ideological, but their ideology is often to the left of the current administration and they let it show. There is obviously no Reaganesque “11th Commandment” among leftists. That, too, shows an integrity the right doesn't have.

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