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9/22/2007
IS KEITH OLBERMANN REALLY A JOURNALIST?
CATEGORY: History, Media, Politics

I have to confess that I’ve always found Keith Olbermann to be a great entertainer. He has a keen sense of timing and an educated eye for the absurdities in life and politics (and in sports as his stint at the anchor desk of ESPN showed) that makes a lot of what he does funny and even provocative at times.

In short, he is a first class clown, a talented comedian whose shtick is, unfortunately, too narrowly defined for stand-up and too intelligent for a sitcom. But he seems to have found a comfortable niche in the Howard Beal inspired “news as entertainment” field that Bill O’Reilly and other prime time cable hosts have settled into.

The problem is, like O’Reilly, Olbermann thinks he’s a journalist. Just where this notion is advanced on his show, I am unable to determine. Only an idiot would see the blatantly partisan attacks and relentlessly exaggerated rhetoric employed by Olbermann as anything except exactly what they are; an attempt to promote an ideology at the expense of informing the public by using tactics worthy of a Goebbels or TASS in order to discredit opposing viewpoints.

Well, meet an idiot:

In short, what CBS (and all the others) need is a new Ed Murrow. Good news! There’s already one out there on the launchpad who has demonstrated his qualifications. I’m talking about Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. He has the journalistic chops and the mind, heart, instincts and courage.

Olbermann, who anchors a one-hour nightly news show on MSNBC called Countdown With Keith Olbermann, closes his show every night by saying “1,547th [for instance] day since Mission Accomplished in Iraq,” an homage to Ted Koppel’s “Iran Hostage” coverage, which evolved into Koppel’s late-night ABC news show Nightline (the MSNBC show was originally Countdown: Iraq). Then Olbermann throws his crumpled script at the camera, which shatters, a simulated digital effect (something Koppel never did).

These quotes are from a gushing piece on Olbermann by Marvin Kitman in the online edition of The Nation magazine. It isn’t surprising or disturbing that Kitman likes Olbermann. But positing the notion that the Clown Prince of MSNBC is a modern day Murrow?

A tip off to Mr. Kitman’s bona fides as a judge of who is a journalist is found in the above quote where Kitman seriously informs us that Ted Koppel never crumpled his script and threw it at the camera - unlike Olbermann who does it to sign off his show.

Perhaps the reason Koppel never crumpled his script and threw it at the camera was because he was, like, you know, a real journalist and not a poseur. Real journalists don’t do histrionics. Olbermann is the master of the craft.

Kitman also shows a breathtaking stupidity about Murrow, about journalistic standards, and the difference between advocacy and news. In fact, Kitman proves himself to be an ignoramus regarding just about everything he comments on in his article with the possible exception of his references to celebrities. There, I am not competent to judge his perspicacity.

For instance, Kitman demonstrates a shocking ignorance about Edward R. Murrow and his place in broadcast news history. He believes the problem with modern day news presentation is that it tries to be balanced and objective rather than taking a decided point of view in order to advocate a clear ideological position (liberal) as Murrow’s broadcasts did:

So, as a TV critic who has logged millions of hours of viewing to help save one of my three favorite commercial networks, I decided to volunteer my services to the Save CBS Campaign. Here’s what I would do: First, I would dump the Walter Cronkite school of reporting, of which Katie Couric is the latest practitioner. The objective that’s-the-way-it-is style they use at all the network evening news shows is so old, so over. No wonder all the network news programs are falling in the ratings. Katie Couric is just the hardest hit.

What the evening news shows need is less “objectivity” and more analysis. The problem with objective journalism is that it doesn’t exist and never did. Molly Ivins disposed of the objectivity question for all time when she observed in 1993, “The fact is that I am a 49-year-old white female, a college-educated Texan. All of that affects the way I see the world. There’s no way in hell that I’m going to see anything the same way that a 15-year-old black high school dropout does. We all see the world from where we stand. Anybody who’s ever interviewed five eyewitnesses to an automobile accident knows there’s no such thing as objectivity.”

This is the tired, old canard that leftists have used for 40 years; that news written by white males is not “objective” because the journalist has no life experience as a woman or other minority to inform his writing and point of view. Somehow, this is supposed to slight issues and concerns near and dear to the hearts of liberal interest groups.

It is the “journalism as a crusade” school of thought that rejects the idea that news gathering and writing is not art, but craft. Clearly, much of the “craft” aspect of becoming a newsman has been lost today. Everyone wants to be a creative writer rather than a journalist. Newspapers especially encourage this because it makes their product livelier and, I suppose, easier to read. But for an old fuddy-duddy like me who looks in wonder even at wire service copy today and sees jaw dropping examples of blatant bias, I still believe it the job of a news writer to try their best to leave their ideological crusades at the newsroom door.

Not according to Kitman. And he holds up as a shining example of how the news should be reported, none other than the sainted Murrow:

What I’m proposing is nothing new. Before Walter Cronkite became the model “objective” newsman, there was Edward R. Murrow. In the late 1930s Murrow started the tradition of reporting the news and analyzing it, giving his opinion of what it all meant. The Murrow legend was built on his opinionated analyses on the CBS Evening News.

This is true as far as it goes. The fact is, Murrow’s editorials - which usually closed the news broadcast - were clearly labeled as such. Kitman is advocating that the entire news program be given over to editorial analysis:

For those who never saw Murrow’s news show, here’s how it would go: After running through the headlines, he would call on reporters at home and abroad to give reports on the scene. These so-called Murrow’s Boys were real TV journalists, not actors who played them on TV. CBS News in the Murrow years had people we respected because of their expertise, not because they were famous TV names. The foreign correspondents weren’t empty trench coats but real experts like William Shirer, who reported from Berlin on the menace of Hitler in the 1930s. It didn’t matter that Murrow’s Boys were bald like David Schoenbrun, who reported from Paris in the glory days, or older than the 18-49 demographic like Dan Schorr. They were specialists in specific areas.

Then Murrow would do his closing essay, in which he would comment on some hot issue, continually treading dangerous waters: McCarthyism at home, apartheid abroad, J. Edgar Hoover, the atomic bomb, stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction–all of which he opposed. He was pro-union and anti-business. He was a dissident on US foreign policy post-World War II.

The problem here is that Kitman has combined several different Murrow programs over the years in both radio and television in order to make an obscure point; that Murrow’s broadcasts had a definite ideological point of view.

Starting in the late 1930’s, Murrow’s reports from Europe were either special broadcasts (as his famous 1938 round up of European opinion about the Anschluss) or his regular reports from London that were part of H.V. Kaltenborn’s 15 minute news reading at night. Murrow was never an anchor for CBS News as Kitman intimates above. In fact, Murrow’s war reports were so good not because he injected opinion into his pieces but because he was able to write clear, concise summaries of what it was like to be in London during the blitz. Whatever opinions he gave were in the context of the deliberate targeting of civilians by Hitler - hardly courageous or even novel.

After the war, Murrow’s Hear it Now radio program and the TV version See it Now tackled the toughest controversies of the time. But these shows were totally independent of the nightly news program. It is clear by the description above that Kitman doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to Murrow’s duties at CBS. He never started See it Now by reading the headlines. The show was a one issue program. It was the beginning of TV documentaries, something that Murrow would continue to perfect until the early 1960’s when he wrote and broadcast perhaps the most memorable documentary in over the air TV history, Harvest of Shame that profiled the plight of migrant workers.

In short, Kitman’s laughable misunderstanding of what Murrow actually did for CBS News makes his subsequent gushing about Olbermann ridiculous.

And this curious historical revisionism about Murrow is almost unfathomable. It is either deliberate obfuscation of the facts or unbelievable stupidity on the part of Kitman:

“No one can eliminate prejudices–just recognize them,” Murrow said. His approach was so successful that all the other network news hours copied him.

Finally, CBS president William Paley made Ed Murrow shut up–by canceling his shows. In the dark ages after Murrow, the most powerful commentary on network news was the raised eyebrow of David Brinkley after reading a piece of news on NBC. A generation of telegenic and totally uninvolved journalists followed.

Um…no, the other networks “news hours(??)” did not try to copy him (news on TV at the time was 15 minutes). In fact, NBC steered clear of controversy as much as possible. ABC News was a joke at the time, not even considered much of a network at all.

And the fact is, See it Now as a weekly program was not cancelled by Paley but rather the weekly show went dark because it lost its sponsor in 1955, Alcoa Aluminum and was unable to secure another permanent one. This was back in the day when corporations would sponsor individual shows and losing a sponsor meant either getting another one or going dark. See it Now was on the air fitfully as a series of specials until 1958 when according to Murrow’s long time producer Fred Friendly, the broadcaster told Paley he refused to do any more shows because of the network’s habit of giving equal time to Murrow’s targets. (Something Olbermann never does).

Putting aside Kitman’s obvious lack of knowledge of who Murrow was and what he did, the question of whether Murrow was “journalist” or an “analyst” remains unanswered. As a first person witness to history he was very good, a pioneer in radio and we have Murrow to thank for much of the structure found in modern news broadcasts. As an advocate for liberal reforms, he was tireless but his legend sometimes outstrips the facts. His McCarthy broadcast was aired in March of 1954, long after most major Democratic newspapers (and even many Republican ones) came out against the Wisconsin Senator. Murrow came late to the bash McCarthy party and most historians agree the Wisconsin Senator sealed his fate a month prior to Murrow’s See it Now broadcast by sliming World War II hero Ralph Zwicker that brought widespread editorial condemnation as well as denunciations from veterans groups and finally, President Eisenhower himself.

Comparing Olbermann to Murrow then is a monumental stretch - just from the standpoint that Murrow relied on a cold, journalistic recitation of the facts in order to make his points. Olbermann wouldn’t know a “fact” if it came up and bit him on his rear end. This from his first “Special Comment” segment where Olbermann tries to evoke the memory of Murrow:

I accuse you, Mr. Bush, of lying this country into war. I accuse you of fabricating in the minds of your own people a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. I accuse you of firing the generals who told you that the plans for Iraq were disastrously insufficient…. I accuse you of subverting the Constitution, not in some misguided but sincerely motivated struggle to combat terrorists, but to stifle dissent. I accuse you of fomenting fear among your own people, of creating the very terror you claim to have fought. I accuse you of exploiting that unreasoning fear, the natural fear of your own people who just want to live their lives in peace, as a political tool to slander your critics and libel your opponents. I accuse you of handing part of this Republic over to a Vice President who is without conscience and letting him run roughshod over it….

It would be tiresome to rebut what Olbermann has laid out as his “case” for a Bush resignation. If you believe that Bush “fabricated in the minds of your own people a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11″ then there is no hope for you. You might as well believe in Santa Claus. I only highlight it to contrast the way Murrow went about savaging McCarthy:

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men— not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

Murrow could have been referring to Olbermann during most of that analysis.

Olbermann is a clown. An excellent clown but an entertainer nonetheless. It has been said that he is the first on-air blogger in that his rants are reminiscent of much that passes for analysis on the web. Of this, I have no doubt. His exaggeration, his cruel twisting of facts and circumstances, and his outright deliberate obscuring of the truth - 3 Congressional Committees have found Bush did not lie us into war not to mention assigning unproven and unsubstantiated motivations to the President for his actions - are part and parcel of the way many popular right and left blogs operate. But Olbermann as Murrow?

For ten minutes, Olbermann spoke with fierce clarity and surgical precision, drawing a comparison to President Nixon’s resignation. He had obviously done his homework. His recitation of Bush’s crimes concluded with his observation that the President had been “an accessory to the obstruction of justice” in the Libby case. “From Iraq to Scooter Libby,” Olbermann said at the time, “Bush and Cheney have lost Americans’ trust and stabbed this nation in the back. It’s time for them to go.” The highest praise I can give is to say I can imagine Ed Murrow speaking those words.

If Kitman can imagine Murrow saying those words, he’s a fool. Murrow would have marshaled the facts not gone off on ad hoc rants substituting ill formed opinions for clear, concise analysis. The idea that Kitman can’t recognize this only shows him to be an idiot.

Which is why any comparisons between Olbermann and Murrow are found only in the minds of Kitman and Olbermann himself. No serious journalist would entertain such a comparison nor would any serious person period. It is beyond belief that anyone could be so obtuse as to believe that Olbermann was anything except a clever entertainer who knows his audience expertly and panders to their biases and worldview.

Kitman’s vision of a future nightly news broadcast featuring Olbermann-like rants and ravings is pretty frightening. Thankfully, if such a nightmare were to occur, such relentless partisanship would appeal to an even smaller segment of the population than over the air news appeals to now which would cause Mr. Olbermann to retreat ignominiously back to the cable backwater of MSNBC where he belongs.

By: Rick Moran at 9:38 am
11 Responses to “IS KEITH OLBERMANN REALLY A JOURNALIST?”
  1. 1
    muirgeo Said:
    1:02 pm 

    So Rick which are the best TV/Cable News programs to watch in your opinon?

    For me it’s PBS/NOW, Olberman, Frontline, Meet The Press, CSPAN, The Daily Show and Hanity & Colmes.

  2. 2
    Larry Sheldon Said:
    2:33 pm 

    “IS KEITH OLBERMANN REALLY A JOURNALIST?”

    No.

    Good thing I am not paid by the word.

  3. 3
    Mike Volpe Said:
    7:52 pm 

    Rick,

    This is excellent analysis.

    The article you referenced is from the Nation magazine. It is as left wing as Olbermann. The idea that they would shower him with such praise is not very surprising. The analysis is as biased as Olbermann himself.

  4. 4
    Zbigniew Mazurak Said:
    8:10 am 

    Is Rick Moran really the best essayist on the blogosphere?

    http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2007/09/france_and_us_see_eye_to_eye_o.html

    That is a naive post, written obviously by a naive person who thinks Sarkozy is pro-American.

    Sarkozy is an anti-American socialist just like Chiraq. His government opposes the ABM defence network in Poland, opposes free trade agreements, doesn’t want to abolish subsidies for farmers, won’t abolish national caveeats and doesn’t want to deploy French soldiers to Iraq. France has always been, and still is, America’s enemy.

  5. 5
    tHePeOPle Said:
    12:00 am 

    “It would be tiresome to rebut what Olbermann has laid out as his “case” for a Bush resignation. If you believe that Bush “fabricated in the minds of your own people a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11” then there is no hope for you. You might as well believe in Santa Claus. ”

    Until I read your post, I hadn’t paid much attention to Olbermann. I just youtubed a bunch of his special comments. I know that the above exercise would be “tiresome” for you, so I’m not going to ask you to rebut. After all, it’s your blog, and you can write about whatever you want.

    Plus, I know that there is no hope for me, but after listening to Bush speak, and hearing him say Saddam and 9/11 over and over again, the implied link is quite obvious. I don’t understand how anyone could discount the onslaught of association. Anyone who knows anything about advertising or basic psychology can see what the administration is doing. Asked point blank, Bush denied it. But that’s a one time question. When every speech mentions Saddam/Iraq and 9/11 within mere sentences of each other, the unspoken implication becomes obvious. Maybe I should start writing my Christmas list early this year. Santa just might be listening.

  6. 6
    bobwire Said:
    12:07 am 

    Rick, you wrote quoting Olbermann:
    If you believe that Bush “fabricated in the minds of your own people a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11” then there is no hope for you.

    There is no hope for those that view other sources of information. I offer up other sources than Rick’s prose. The word of the day is ‘conflation’. Look it up. Or I will give you an example.

    “The FDA recommends that you eat from ALL food groups to achieve a sound mind in a sound body. But let us not forget that Hitler was a vegetarian.”

    “The link between fascism and vegeratianism has yet to be disproven.”

    media inflation later…conflation proves that facism=vegetarianism.

    This is what the Bush administration has succeeded in doingwith 9/11 and Saddam/Iraq, that is to conflate two different ideas/events together. Rick you are correct to state that Bush never made this connection directly, but then you would be a legalistic weasel. Is Keith incorrect for his choice of words, ie ‘fabricated?’.

    Perhaps we can consult other sources…
    Here we can see example of conflation:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3119676.stm

    The administration has clearly succeeded with conflating 9/11 with Saddam

    Has this been successful? We must calibrate for best results at two points, before and after.
    Before, from this link:http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0314/p02s01-woiq.html

    Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein.

    And after…

    But by January of this year, attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either “most” or “some” of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.

    So Rick, how did people become so confused? Was it the Main Stream Media acting as mouthpieces for the administration? Was conflation a “success”?
    Absolutely. Get legalistic on Olbermann and you become a weasel.

    Why are you then so upset? The Democrats have been your enablers all along. Your inchoate, desperate plea becomes “Stop me before I kill again.” But I’m wrong on that bit, and in your eyes my whole post becomes suspect.

    “Don’t stop me, I know when to kill. Trust me on this.”
    Carte Blanche, thanks to your enablers.

  7. 7
    bobwire Said:
    12:16 am 

    If you believe that Bush “fabricated in the minds of your own people a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11” then there is no hope for you.

    Thank you Rick, here’s your bro’ from the New Republic:

    If the president is guilty of anything, it’s not that he’s dwelling on 9/11 enough. It’s that the administration has not done a good enough job of probing and underscoring the nexus between the Saddam regime and al Qaeda. It is absolutely appropriate, it is vital, for him to stress that connection.

    Link 6/29/05 http://www.nationalreview.com/mccarthy/mccarthy200506290912.asp

    What if someone reads that and concludes conflation?

  8. 8
    David M Said:
    10:25 am 

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/24/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  9. 9
    Kurt Said:
    11:39 am 

    Good post, but inaccurate with respect to Bill O’Reilly. He has always been a broadcast journalist, having spent most of his career prior to the O’Reilly Report working at local and national broadcast stations.

  10. 10
    RGL Said:
    5:53 pm 

    You are right on target, Rick.

    There is no doubt he is a clown, but an entertainer? Unless you think of his audience as those who think of Oprah as an icon.

    Olberman rants, instead of thinking. He moans and groans, instead of reflecting. He almost reminds me of a a child with ADD trapped in a grown man’s body. Would Ritalin perhaps help?

    Just study the contrast in the writings of Murrow and Blabber man highlighted here, and one can see how preposterous it is to compare the two. The fact is Blabberman thrives on nothing but his big mouth, with no cerebral feedback, while Murrow writes not only with grace and intelligence, but with a civility that most liberals have lost.

    Am so glad Rick had the guts to expose this phony. It’s no wonder MSNBC is always at the bottom of the ratings. Time to kick hard his butt.

  11. 11
    edward cropper Said:
    7:44 pm 

    Keith Olbermann? Keith Olbermann? I don’t believe I ever heard fo him. What does he do? MSNBC. Is that a medical condition? I never heard of that either.

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