August 2, 2014

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Journalism and Politics

Reporters should cover political figures, not support them.

Something must be in the water over at MSNBC.

First, its nighttime host/commentator, Keith Olberman (a onetime Howard Cosell-wannabe sportscaster on ESPN) is suspended for making campaign contributions to political candidates.  Then, its morning host Joe Scarborough, a former U.S. congressman, is suspended for doing the same, albeit several years ago.

This raises red flags on several levels.  One is that both appear on what is supposed to be a 24-hour news channel, but both host programs which truly are opinion programs.  The second is that they both appear on a cable channel which is under the umbrella of NBC News, which has policies against making such financial contributions.

But then, whether it bills itself that way or not, MSNBC has nonetheless positioned itself as the "liberal alternative" to Fox News Channel, which is seen as leaning (or completely committed to, depending on your opinion) to the conservative side.

The question has been raised as to whether either Olberman or Scarborough, or any of the hosts at Fox, should be considered journalists, since their programs deal more with opinion and interviews rather than straight news.

What arguably started the trend years ago toward prime-time talk shows on cable news channels was neither MSNBC or Fox (which weren't on the air at the time), but CNN, which had great success with "Larry King Live".  King, who will retire soon, has never called himself a journalist, but his CNN program for years was one of the network's highest-rated shows.  King has long acknowedged he is a Democrat, but, as of this writing, there's been nothing to indicate he has ever contributed money to a political candidate.

King has interviewed people from both political parties on his TV show, as well as on his long-running radio program, which aired nationally from 1978 to 1994. (And it should be pointed out that both MSNBC and Fox regularly interview both Democrats and Republicans as part of their news coverage.)

For the record, I have never given money to a political figure's campaign, or even displayed a campaign sign outside my private home.  I once signed a petition for the re-election campaign of a member of a local school board, considered a non-partisan office.  And that was nearly 30 years ago.

I believe that any organization which is under the watch of a traditional news organization (such as NBC News) or calls itself a "news channel" (such as Fox News) should make it clear to its on and off-air employees: there should be no activity, particularly financial contributions, to candidates for political offices.  And if there isn't, those employees should conduct themselves as though there is.

The issue here isn't "fair and balanced".  It's objectivity.

 

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