Monday, September 8, 2008

Olbermann and Matthews

OK, so MSNBC has announced that Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews won't be anchoring coverage of political news any more.

Now, I happen to like Olbermann. Yes, yes, he's over the top at times, and I wish he would tone it down a bit. (Memo to Keith: Calling people names [viz, "pinheads"] is the spécialité de la maison over at Fox. You don't need to sink to that level to make your point--your vocabulary didn't stop expanding in third grade as theirs apparently did.)

Nevertheless, this is the right move. Reporting should be separate from opinion, and the anchor desk should be manned by a reporter, not by op-ed people (MSNBC has tapped the excellent David Gregory as the new anchor). Doing this not only separates news from opinion, it affords Olbermann and Matthews the opportunity to voice what they think without the constraints of being reporters. They both crossed that line more than once; they knew it; so they fixed it.

What's really interesting to me is the gloating going on over at Fox. To see this in perspective, first look at what the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz has to say:
Olbermann and Matthews will remain as analysts during major political events, and officials at [both NBC and MSNBC] ... said Olbermann had initiated the discussions to clarify his role. They said Olbermann's influence at MSNBC would in no way be diminished and that the shift would enable him and Matthews to offer more candid analysis during live coverage. Olbermann confirmed yesterday he had initiated the discussions [emphasis added].

"[MSNBC president Phil Grffin] and I have debated this set-up since late winter/early spring (with me saying, 'Are you sure this flies?' and him saying, 'Yes, but let's judge it event by event') and I think we both reached the same point during the RNC," Olbermann said by e-mail.

So Olbermann agrees that this is the right thing to do, and he initiated the discussion about the change in role.

OK, now here's how Fox "reports" the same story (under the enormous blood-red headline, "KEITH OLBERMANN, CHRIS MATTHEWS BOOTED FROM MSNBC POLITICAL ANCHOR DESK"):
Keith Olbermann may be the “voice” of MSNBC, but network executives have decided to yank the talkmeister off its political anchor desk after the cable channel finished dead last in the Nielsen rankings of all news coverage during the two weeks of political conventions.
The network’s weak ratings during the conventions may have given MSNBC executives the cover they needed to boot Olbermann and Matthews. FOX News Channel topped all broadcast and cable networks with 9.2 million viewers on each of the last two nights of the convention. MSNBC got barely more than a quarter of Fox’s total –2.5 million viewers.

MSNBC also ranked last among the three cable channels during primetime coverage of the last two nights of the Democratic convention.

A portion of the O’Reilly interview with Obama aired last Thursday and earned O’Reilly his second highest rating ever, with more than 6.6 million viewers.
Ratings-obsessed, much? It appears that Fox has fully internalized O'Reilly's mantra: "Good ratings prove I'm right." This is all about ratings, and not about reporting, not about integrity. Don't bother to mention that Olbermann himself appears to have initiated the change. That wouldn't fit the storyline, so let's leave that part out, OK?

But we didn't get to the really funny bit yet:
The network announced Monday that Olbermann and Chris Matthews have both been booted as co-hosts on political night coverage in favor of David Gregory, whose White House press corps experience may make him better suited to deliver sober and less opinion-driven assessments of the news.
Fox News thinks someone else delivers "opinion-driven assessments of the news"? Are they serious? They had to be howling with laughter when they finished typing that sentence, right? I visualize them gasping for breath, holding their sides, falling to the floor in gales of hilarity. Oh, the irony.

The big difference here, really, is that MSNBC saw that there was a problem in using pundits as anchors, and they did something about it. Fox News, which doesn't seem to have anyone who can report news without sharing an opinion, will never understand that. Not in a million years.

1 comment:

  1. Chris, I think you know there is also the 'saving face,' politically-wise handling of such things. At $4 million a year, KO deserves that.

    It's considered top-stuff to anchor debates and election programs.

    Matthews loves politics and his enthusiasm shows through, so I like him even if I might disagree with a few of his less thought-filled utterings -- but Olbermann has morphed into the mirror-image of O'Reilly this year.

    For many of us, KO's an intolerable embarrassment, making sure that those who don't agree with him no longer show up on his show (that includes Craig Crawford), and all his guests are mainly nodding-heads. His exaggerated Comments feature was a favorite of mine last year but is insufferably self-important and inflated now -- hyper intensity with no structure or discipline of either mind or time in the ones this year.

    But that's just my view :-)