MSNBC Case Study: When the Media Decides To Tell The Whole Truth

Yesterday, as she fumed at President Obama’s compromise with Republican to preserve most of the Bush tax cuts for two more years, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did something she has scrupulously avoided doing in the past: she actually called the President on an outright lie. Mocking Obama’s claim that he got major concessions from Republicans, Maddow read a series of reports proving that the “Child Tax Credit,” which Obama had said was something he had to bargain to get included in the package against GOP opposition, was in fact something the Republican leadership always supported. Good for her…except….

Except that Maddow has refused to be so fair and enlightening when the Administration’s lack of truthfulness bolstered her own political agenda. Take, for instance, Obama’s claims that the health care bill wouldn’t add to the deficit, which was obviously nonsense when he made the claim, and has since been proven so by revised figures by OMB. Not a peep from Maddow.  The Obama promise that his health care reform would allow anyone who liked their current plan to keep it has been proven false as well, since it is now clear that the bill’s requirements will cause many previously favorable plans to end.  But Maddow favors the bill, so Obama’s misrepresentation wasn’t worth mentioning.


Meanwhile, her male counterpart at MSNBC, Keith Olberman, said this in the course of the kind of pompous, indignant rant that he routinely aimed at President Bush, but only now has sent President Obama’s way:

“Yesterday I had an exchange with a very Senior member of this Administration who wanted to sell me on this deal. I pointed out that was fine, except that — as I phrased it to him — ‘frankly the base has just vanished.’  ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘then they must not have read the details.’ There, in a nutshell, is this Administration. They didn’t make a bad deal — we just don’t understand it.”

This, of course, has been the constant complaint of Obama’s critics on the Right, who have accused the President of blaming the public’s failure to understand and appreciate what an excellent job he has been doing, rather than the inadequacy of his own policies and priorities. As Olbermann might say to himself: “So, sir, you knew all along that the Administration prefered to regard its critics as unsophisticated and uninformed rather than to accept responsibility for its own mis-steps, and yet kept the truth from the public, preferring instead to denigrate others for stating views that you yourself hold!! Fie, oh, fie, sir!”

Bias from the media, I can accept, though I don’t like it. A biased reporter sees events in a slanted fashion, but reports the news honestly within his and her perception and ability to do so.

Maddow and Olbermann, however, are not just biased. They are advocates, and they only choose to use their analytical abilities and reporting skills to tell their audiences what they know and believe when it suits their own agendas. They pick and choose when to tell the truth.

It was not until the President did something that they felt undermined their own preferences that they decided to tell the whole truth. You can excuse this as commentator’s license if you wish.

I think it reveals a lack of integrity.




Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Literature, U.S. Society

7 responses to “MSNBC Case Study: When the Media Decides To Tell The Whole Truth

  1. libertarianrooster

    Jack, at the end of your post you mention “commentator’s license” which goes to the journalistic bifurcation of news and opinion. A good commentator obviously has a bias and it is his job to convince others that his bias is the correct position. But he should build his argument with factual support and also by providing a fair summary and critique of the best argument from the other side. Olbermann and Maddow play fast and loose with the facts and never give a fair airing to those who disagree. Two questions for you. First, assuming a commentator builds his argument based on fact, but fails to discuss reasonable counter-arguments, is the commentator not only a poor commentator but is he also unethical? Second, going to the “both sides do it” argument, from an ethics standpoint, do you see a difference between professional commentators on the left visa vis the right?

    • Second question first: much as they would have it otherwise, there is no difference between the Right and the Left, other than the fact the Right, as of now, has the more talented practitioners. No Left commentator is anywhere close to Rush Limbaugh when it comes to finding the Left’s hot nerves…see the ridiculous spectacle of Ed Schultz today seriously trying to rebut Limbaugh’s completely tongue in cheek claim that all the progressives criticizing Obama for the tax compromise must be racists.

      I don’t think advocates who genuinely respect facts and do not engage in dishonesty by omission (you can’t factually say someone was convicted of a crime but leave out the fact that the conviction was overturned, for example) are unethical, just useless. It is obvious that they allow any counter-arguments, so they aren’t deceiving anybody. Bullies and blow-hards that they are, I have to give O’Reilly on the Right and Matthews on the Left credit for going head-to-head with those who have contrary opinions.

      I am increasingly impressed with John Bachelor, who has a serious and lively public issue talk show on the radio. He is the closest thing I have found to a fair commentator, though both Chris Wallace and Christine Amanpour also are gaining my respect.

  2. I like your analysis of Maddow and Olbermann, if not of Obama. But my main point here is that I like your new look–striking AND readable–not a common combination.

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