Keith Olbermann on being a counterbalance to Fox News

Keith Olberman… SHHH!Never mind what series of links I followed to get to this (suffice to say, I do not make a regular habit of following the inside scoop on TV news), but I just had to share this quote from Keith Olbermann. Even though I rarely get my news from television, much less trust the “cable news networks” (capitalized or otherwise) as a source of any kind of information (whether or not you call what they spew “news”), I have a soft spot for Keith Olbermann and his frequent head-on confrontation of the prevailing bullshit in his industry. To wit:

I’d like it to be the accurate counterweight to Fox. My attitude is not to counterbalance them because they’re conservatives; it’s counterbalancing because some of their stuff is outlandishly in violation of every tenet of responsible broadcasting.

A former network reporter speaks out

Kudos to former NBC reporter John Hockenberry for sharing his observations about the woeful state of network news reporting in a Technology Review article entitled “You Don’t Understand Our Audience.” Modern “reporting” is worse than a bad joke: it’s an affront to critical thinking and a disgraceful shirking of an important responsibility to the public.

As much as I’m willing to rant against the “mainstream media” (and even worse, the bogus claims of “liberal bias” in said media by the partisan hackery of the likes of Fox News), my perspective carries far less impact than that of someone who’s been on the inside and managed to escape with his integrity and commitment to truth intact.

He even gets a bit theoretical at one point, and comes pretty close to my oft-rehearsed tirade against commercially-driven news programming:

Networks are built on the assumption that audience size is what matters most. Content is secondary; it exists to attract passive viewers who will sit still for advertisements. For a while, that assumption served the industry well. But the TV news business has been blind to the revolution that made the viewer blink: the digital organization of communities that are anything but passive. Traditional market-driven media always attempt to treat devices, audiences, and content as bulk commodities, while users instead view all three as ways of creating and maintaining smaller-scale communities. As users acquire the means of producing and distributing content, the authority and profit potential of large traditional networks are directly challenged.

But the real value of Hockenberry’s perspective comes from his insider experience — a look at the real Jack Donaghys of the world that I only wish was unbelievable:

I knew it was pretty much over for television news when I discovered in 2003 that the heads of NBC’s news division and entertainment division, the president of the network, and the chairman all owned TiVos, which enabled them to zap past the commercials that paid their salaries. “It’s such a great gadget. It changed my life,” one of them said at a corporate affair in the Saturday Night Live studio. It was neither the first nor the last time that a television executive mistook a fundamental technological change for a new gadget.

Yes, this person is an idiot. And he’s one of the people who are deciding what “news” the public receives.

Of course, the network heads cannot accept all of the blame for the current state of affairs, nor is the Internet the panacea of truth and intellectual freedom that it may, at first, seem to be. Consider this: the community-built Wikipedia article on Jack Donaghy is longer and more detailed than that of his real-life counterpart.

On a tangent (not that I wasn’t already on a tangent), I did a Google image search for “dunce executive” in vain hope of finding a copyright-free photo to use with this post, and I was led to a British blogger’s post about Minneapolis’s own James Lileks’s (yes, two in one sentence!) reassignment to beat reporting at the StarTribune. I was momentarily outraged, until I realized that this reassignment took place seven months ago; if I’m just now learning of it, it must not really be that big of a deal to me. Besides, this news pales in comparison to the same blog’s more recent announcement that China has banned reincarnation. So um, yeah… Internet… news… wow, I really feel informed now.

Meanwhile, the story has gotten even more grim at the Strib, where the “reader rep” (known in more perspicacious, if gender-biased, times as an ombudsman) whom Lileks somewhat desperately implored his fans to contact regarding his reassignment, was herself let go (without replacement) five months later. So much for journalistic accountability. And now I’ve somehow managed to come full circle.

Fair and balanced, my ass!

Yes, my ass is fair and balanced. At least as fair and balanced as Fox News. I opened up Google News today to check the goings-on, as I usually do at lunchtime, and discovered a section at the top of the page regarding this week’s “likely” announcement of Al Gore as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. As usual, Google picked up headlines from a variety of sources.

CNN offers us Gore to learn whether he’ll win Nobel Peace Prize.

CBS News offers the somewhat more leading (and perhaps slightly biased in its own right — er, left) Could Nobel Prize Spur Gore To Run In ’08?

And, good ol’ (boy) Fox News gives us a commentary from some guy named Greg Gutfeld (great name, BTW) with the interesting headline Does Al Gore Deserve to Win the Nobel Peace Prize? Well, does he? Let’s see what Mr. Gutfeld has to say on the matter:

Al Gore is a heavy favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize this Friday. The reason: His relentless nagging about the environment — as well as his awesome backrubs, which he performs shirtless.

Um, yeah. That’s great. And it just gets more ridiculous and offensive from there. But the bottom line for me with such flippant global warming denial is this: why are you fighting so hard to deny that this is happening? What’s in it for you? Even if the situation is not as bad as the more alarmist end of the spectrum paints it to be, there are still plenty of reasons why pollution is bad for the environment, and bad for us. This utter disregard for the planet we live on and its sustainability for future generations is abhorrent. Not to mention the fact that we’re going to run out of petroleum in this century anyway, so there’s more than one reason to move beyond our reliance on fossil fuels.

So is this stupidity the extent of Fox’s coverage of the story? I checked their home page to find out. Turns out this commentary didn’t bubble up to the surface (yet somehow it attracted the attention of Google’s news aggregating algorithm… and yes, Al Gore did invent the “Al Gore Rhythm” [sorry, I couldn’t resist]), but the following items did:

I’ll leave it to you to pursue the matter further. I’m already feeling dirty. It’ll be interesting to see how my search engine placement is affected by so many links to Fox News, though.

Pointless? Probably. Cool? Maybe.

I’ve just added a new panel to the right side of The Home Page (and any other page that happens to use the same right column set)… News of the Moment.

News of the Moment displays a randomly selected link from a randomly selected RSS newsfeed in my database of feed sources.

If, like me, you occasionally (OK, frequently) find yourself trying to kill some time with aimless “surfing,” but you are so aimless that you don’t even know where to begin, this new feature will do the work for you (allowing you to move one step closer to true laze-nirvana).