media bias and the punditocracy

MSNBC suspended Keith Olberman recently for making political campaign contributions, providing a relevant development for our discussion of media bias on Tuesday.  It illustrates that the norms of objectivity are still being worked out in uneasy tension within the new cable news environment.

The indefinite suspension was a stark display of the clash between objectivity and opinion in television journalism. While Mr. Olbermann is anchor of what is essentially the “Democratic Nightly News,” the decision affirmed that he was being held to the same standards as other employees of MSNBC and its parent, NBC News, both of which answer to NBC Universal. Most journalistic outfits discourage or outright prohibit campaign contributions by employees.

When coupled with the recent revelation that Rupert Murdoch, owner of Newscorp of Fox News fame, contributed millions to the Republicans, these events make perfect dual illustrations of competing critiques of media bias.  The liberal MSNBC focused on the personal bias of the news figure Olberman, following policy intended to avoid individual conflict of interest.  The conservative Fox News was targeted by critics, who were more concerned with the ownership corporate level of conflict, which is argued to be at the root of bias.  So, on the left, individual level–on the right, corporate level critique of bias.  The difference:  on the left, the NBC network actually had a policy against political contributions and punished a violation;  on the right, Murdoch basically said, “Yeah, so what?”

Another perspective is provided by the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.


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