It was quite a segment on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation today when the iconic Ted Koppel defended an op-ed piece in the Washington Post that managed to put Keith Olberman and Bill O’Reilly on the same side of an issue.
As you may know, Olbermann returned to his MSNBC program after just two days of enforced absence. (Given cable television’s short attention span, two days may well have seemed like an “indefinite suspension.”) He was gracious about the whole thing, acknowledging at least the historical merit of the rule he had broken: “It’s not a stupid rule,” he said. “It needs to be adapted to the realities of 21st-century journalism.”
There is, after all, not much of a chance that 21st-century journalism will be adapted to conform with the old rules. Technology and the market are offering a tantalizing array of channels, each designed to fill a particular niche – sports, weather, cooking, religion – and an infinite variety of news, prepared and seasoned to reflect our taste, just the way we like it. As someone used to say in a bygone era, “That’s the way it is.”
Olbermann, who’s become a caricature of himself, fired back last night:
Koppel’s problem was using Olbermann as an example at all. There’s simply no ethical guideline in the present, past, or future that’s ever going to OK giving someone a campaign contribution, then inviting that person on your show, and not revealing the tie. Somewhere between that extreme, and the “old days” lies journalism in 2010.
So it was a good idea for the Talk of the Nation producers to book Jeff Jarvis instead, but perhaps a bad idea to chase the question of objectivity. Jarvis suggested if news is dead, Koppel’s industry killed it.
“Television is responsible for killing many of the voices — the cacophony of democracy — newspapers, many times 6, 7, 8 newspapers in a town became one, maybe two because television came in an essentially killed them, “Jarvis said. “Television was given a government mandate to have this neutral voice… to have this one-size-fits-all… and I think we lost a lot of democracy.”
He called television’s news offerings “tapioca.”
“The new media is probably going to be responsible for the last few newspapers that are still out there,” Koppel replied. But he said his op-ed has nothing to do with a search for truth, but with the corporations who own the cable TV networks “and their interest in making money.” He says the problem is too many voices on cable TV.
Here’s the full segment:
By the way, next month I’ll participate in a Policy and a Pint discussion at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis that considers “The Line Between News and Opinion.” I suspect some of these same themes will emerge. It’s on December 15. Details later.