Monday, July 21, 2008

Keith Olbermann

I read in a blog recently that Keith Olbermann, who hosts the show Countdown on MSNBC, had turned his show into the left-wing equivalent of Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. That Olbermann had become so blatantly partisan that he had lost all credibility and had sunk to Limbaugh's and O'Reilly's level. I hadn't watched Olbermann in a while, so I decided to watch a little and see what I thought.

Naturally, when I started this experiment, Olbermann was on vacation and the show was being guest-hosted by Rachael Maddows (I believe is her name), whose regular job is hosting a radio show on the clearly left-wing Air America radio network. That Olbermann chose her as his guest host did seem to be prima facie evidence of a strong left-leaning bias in the program.

When Olbermann got back, I watched, and here's what I found.

Countdown is clearly a show coming from the left. Olbermann pillories Republicans and conservatives and defends Democrats and progressives fairly unrepetently. I don't see much of an attempt to present a balanced picture.

Despite this, I think it is wrong to call Olbermann the left's answer to Rush or Hannity or O'Reilly. Because, though Olbermann's show shares with those hosts' shows a slanted political view, there is one big difference that I was able to discern: While Olbermann does choose stories that present the left in the best light and the right in the worst, Olbermann doesn't blatantly lie and make shit up to make his point.

I didn't find that anything Olbermann said was false or untrue. From what I saw, he doesn't intentionally decieve the audience in order to get them to believe what he is saying. He certainly does choose his stories with an eye to supporting the positions of the left, but he chooses real, true stories to present. He chooses the best of the true stories out there that support his view of things.

It's not unbiased journalism, to be sure. There's definite glee in how Olbermann points out the mistakes Republicans (particularly McCain) make and a definite protective edge in how he refutes the bullshit that is said about Obama. But, by and large, he doesn't seem willing to lie on a nightly basis to make his point,* in contrast to the right-wingers I've mentioned above.

Now, I don't know if that's because Olbermann is a better person, or simply because, as a quote I have used before says, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias." It may be that Olbermann doesn't have to lie to make his point. I'm not sure. But I think it is inaccurate to call Olbermann the "O'Reilly [or Limbaugh] of the left," because the fact that Olbermann isn't a lying sack of shit like those guys are is a significant difference. (To me, at least).

So, to say that Olbermann, due to his obvious bias, has no more credibility than an O'Reilly or Limbaugh is to say that it makes no difference if one tells the truth or not. Whether one has a political bias or not isn't the most important thing in terms of credibility, to me. I'd give more credence to someone biased but who tells the truth than someone who has no discernible bias but spews bullshit all the time.

* I'm not saying that Olbermann has never been wrong, or even that he's never said anything that turned out to be untrue. I'm saying that, from what I could see, Olbermann isn't habitually lying his ass off, making bunches of untrue assertions night after night, as O'Reilly, Rush, and Hannity do. You only have to watch, say, O'Reilly for about a minute before he says something that is blatantly false, something that has been completely and utterly refuted, something he can't possibly say over and over again without knowing it is complete and utter bullshit.


At 11:27 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

This is an interesting point. I've not really spent any serious time watching Olbermann. But I have had the misfortune of listening to a fair amount of Rush (don't ask).

So I cannot make comparisons, but I can say that what Rush says bears little resemblance to the truth. He spews constant, feckless nonsense and vehemence without even the slightest hint of conscience. His goal is to anger and frighten people, not to inform them.

Bias I can take, but absurd and willful dishonesty is something entirely different.

But there are also a rash of "news" shows that are quite clearly and intentionally positioned (e.g., Lou Dobbs). Is Olbermann one of these?

Here's why I ask: Lou Dobbs makes no pretense of being objective. His show, though not my cup of tea, is at least above board about the slant. Likewise, Hannity is the "right" side of a "right/left" show ... without getting into whether that show gives a fair representation to both sides ... so there's really no pretense about his bias, either.

But O'Reilly specifically bills himself as unbiased. He markets himself that way. So this might be another difference (assuming Olbermann is honest about the slant): It's one thing to have a liberal or conservative leaning news-ish show ... it's quite another thing to claim to have a balanced show that really has a right/left agenda.

If Olberbmann purports to have an objective news show, but really has a clear left-bias, that would irritate me even if his facts were on the level. It would be particularly frustrating since it would give a valid example to the otherwise baseless right-wing accusations that the media has a leftist bias.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger mooglar said...

Olbermann's show isn't explicitly advertised as being from the left, as far as I know. It doesn't have a tagline or something indicating that fact. On the other hand, I haven't seen him make claims like O'Reilly either, saying that his show is "fair and balanced" or a "no spin zone" or any crap like that. And, at least in my recent viewing, the fact that Olbermann is coming from the left point of view is manifestly obvious. I don't think you could watch more than five minutes of Olbermann and not be able to tell he's clearly going after conservatives. But he doesn't, as far as I can tell, claim otherwise.

Take that as you would.

At 7:54 PM, Blogger reunionpi said...

Keith Olbermann: the overdue New York State Tax Warrant, Chinese American Trading Company the buyers of his real estate, the corporation

Keith Olbermann: the address from 2001 of his, the parents of Katy Tur and the civil actions


Post a Comment

<< Home