“We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly – individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.
“The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that ‘everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,’ seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.
“And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose. Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.”
“He thinks there really was a time when the networks ‘considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust.’ Is that like the years when the late Peter Jennings, his colleague he cites as one who earned the public trust, demonstrated hostility to Israel and a pro-Palestinian point of view that was apparent to most anyone who watched his broadcasts? The same Jennings whose prime-time ABC special on the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima endorsed entirely and uncritically Gar Alperovitz’s discredited thesis that the U.S. dropped the bomb only to pressure the Soviets, and that its use was completely unnecessary?…
“It was true that back then, the networks tried to pretend to be non-partisan and objective. They forbade their employees, for example, to attend anti-war marches even if they were completely partisan and on the movement’s side. An old friend of mine was a top producer in those years for 60 Minutes, and she recently told me of her conversations with the president of CBS News in which she argued with him that the entire news division should be allowed to protest the war and attend rallies if they wished. He turned her down, but her partisanship — and that of her colleagues — was apparent, and readily visible in the stories they put on the air.”
“Koppel is correct when he cites the success of 60 Minutes as a news-business turning point, one that proved a news-division program could make entertainment-division-size profits. But to say, as Koppel does, that because of 60 Minutes, ‘a light went on, and the news divisions of all three networks came to be seen as profit centers, with all the expectations that entailed’ is beyond stupid. It’s bad reporting.
“If Koppel is so keen on criticizing the sensationalizers and popularizers of TV news who are bent on turning profits, won’t he please look in the mirror? In 1979, when American hostages were taken in Tehran, ABC News capitalized on being the only one of the big-three networks with a presence in the country to start nightly special broadcasts titled The Crisis in Iran: America Held Hostage. That Koppel-anchored show morphed into the profitable Nightline franchise. I can’t take a wrecking ball to everything Koppel has done in his life. He obviously did some good work with Nightline. But the ambulance-chasing and audience-pandering contained in that show set the template for the coverage of O.J. Simpson, Natalee Holloway, Anna Nicole Smith, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, the Balloon Boy, and others.”