NBC Does Some Spin-Busting of Its Own

by Dr. David Gruder

In a refreshing example of self-policing, even if arguably occurring later than it should have, MSNBC announced that it is replacing Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as co-anchors of their political night coverage.

According to David Bauder, of the Associated Press, "the change reflects tensions between the freewheeling, opinionated MSNBC and the impartial newsgatherers at NBC News. Throughout the primaries and summer, MSNBC argued that Olbermann and Matthews could serve as dispassionate anchors on political news nights and that viewers would accept them in that role, but things fell apart during the conventions." (Olbermann is a darling of many of those who are left-leaning.)

Even though Olbermann and Matthews had pledged to function as journalists rather than commentators, this seems to have proved too difficult a task.

David Gregory is expected to replace Olbermann and Matthews in anchoring MSNBC’s coverage of the presidential and vice presidential debates as well as on election night. Olbermann and Matthews will continue as commentators.

Kudos to NBC for taking this step. It is high time that news providers take more aggressive steps to help the public distinguish between ‘pure reporting’ and spin-based commentary.

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  • Libby
    September 10, 2008

    "Keith Olbermann is a darling of many of those who are left-leaning."  Well, as a left-leaner myself, I’m probably a lot more sensitive to spin that turns the other way, but – whose darling is Chris Matthews?  Is Keith Olbermann the only darling of the two?  Why is he singled out?  And darling?  There’s a loaded word – perfectly respectful in the context of intimate relationships, or pets, but not entirely respectful in this context.  

    I realize this is a very mild spin.  Real spin would have been to call him a lapdog of the lunatic left (and it probably wouldn’t have been his first time).   But even in what’s supposed to be a spin-free zone – well, it goes to show you, it’s not so easy, is it?

  • David
    September 10, 2008

    Your points are wll taken, Libby.

    My impression is that Matthews is generally viewed as being more incendiary whereas Olbermann is unabashedly liberal. I singled out Olbermann because right-leaning pundits constantly complain about what they consider to be a liberal bias in the mainstream media. I was trying to compliment NBC, which these pundits lump into the "liberal press," for taking an unabashed liberal out of an anchor role and reassigning him to a role that fits someone with political bias: that of commentator.

    I used the word "darling" as a way of emphasizing Olbermann’s bias. I agree with you that this could be seen as mild spin. I agree with you that it’s sometimes not easy to avoid mild spin even when spin is not my intention. I was trying to be dramatic emphasize my praise of NBC for their decision. On the other hand, I also have no interest in "political correctness," which I judge to be a form of spin as well (but that’s another topic for another time. My point for now is that I try not to restrain myself too much in how I word things.)

    I believe that repositioning Matthews into that same kind of commentator role is also the responsible thing because the role of an anchor is unbiased reporting and Matthews appears to take too much pleasure in being an instigator to be cut out for an anchor role.

    I have no criticism at all of Olbermann being a liberal or of Matthews being an instigator. My criticism was not of them, but rather of MSNBC and their parent company NBC. Jim Collins, the author of the brilliant business book, Good to Great, talks about how crucial it is to not only get the right people on the bus but to get those people in the right seats on the bus.

    My piece was not about suggesting that either Olbermann or Matthews shouldn’t be on the MSNBC bus. My piece was all about saying that anchoring is the wrong seat for these two folks to occupy.

    I would also add that there is an even bigger problem here that goes far beyond NBC, or media in general that are rightly or wrongly considered to be left-leaning. For instance, Fox is just as guilty of what I am about to say as any left-leaning media. This problem has to do with blurring the line between true reporting and biased analysis. My over-riding point is that news reporting agencies have a responsibility to draw that line in much more blunt, clearn hard-to-confuse ways.

    Getting Olbermann and Matthews out of anchor roles is one small step in that direction by one news provider. May this prove to be but a small beginning in a much larger trend.

    Thank you again, Libby, for speaking up! I value your perspective.

    ~~ David Gruder

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