September 21, 2008

More Opinion Than News

The NBC television network, which is owned by General Electric, tacitly acknowledged how far away from journalism some of the news business has grown when it was shamed into removing Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann from anchor seats in news broadcasts. This ended the spectacle of highly partisan entertainers one moment playing the role of neutral reporters the next.

The more blatant offender was Mr. Olbermann, who entered the business as a sports reporter, and who has become the Democrats' answer to Rush Limbaugh -- the bumptious right-wing radio host. Both men are blowhards of the first order, and neither makes the least attempt to present more than one side of an issue. The difference is that whereas Mr. Limbaugh represents only what he can sell of himself to radio stations, Mr. Olbermann represents a putatively serious national news organization. For that network to let him sound off in the seat of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw was a travesty.

Mr. Matthews, a former aide to Democrats Former President Jimmy Carter and the late House Speaker Thomas ("Tip") O'Neill, hosts the roundtable Hardball, which he has the honesty to call "the show." He greatly offended Hillary Clinton supporters during her campaign when he declared on air that she owed her political prominence to the fact that "her husband messed around." Matthews also famously opined that "I felt this thrill going up my leg" when he heard Barack Obama speak. One might prefer getting stuck in an elevator for six hours with him than with Mr. Olbermann, but he, too, is an entertainer who did not belong at the anchor desk.

The chattering class seems to have followed the political class in using the tactics of the competition to justify ever lower standards and conduct. Many on the left consider Fox News to be a mouthpiece of what Mrs. Clinton once called the "vast right-wing conspiracy." (Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, stridently conservative radio talk-show bloviators who host Fox News shows, have recently pretended to conduct unbiased interviews with such newsmakers as Senator Obama and Governor Palin.) Fox's example led to rationalizing Mr. Olbermann's diatribes about "the worst people in the world" (i.e., political and other figures with whom he disagrees).

Messrs. Matthews and Olbermann have not been fired and are free to continue to fulminate on their own shows. They just won't be allowed to represent NBC when it is supposedly trying to do straight news. That's a small step in the right direction.

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