“Neutrality” is bogus

MSNBC’s suspension of Keith Olbermann for contributing to the re-election campaign of Rep. Raul Grijalva, D, Ariz., and two other Democrats has been the occasion for much discussion about the issue of journalistic standards. Rachel Maddow, for example, said MSNBC’s ban on partisan contributions by its news people shows the superiority of its standards to those of Fox News, which is an open propaganda outlet for the Republican Party. Much of the corporate media charges that Olbermann has been hypocritical in criticizing the partisan role of Fox when he is giving money to Democrats.

Underlying these criticisms of Olbermann is the false notion that journalistic standards require neutrality, not partisanship. But there is no virtue, journalistic or otherwise, in neutrality. The aim of journalism is to tell the truth, to be objective, and the truth is rarely neutral.

Olbermann, Maddow, Ed Schultz and other journalists are clearly partisan.  They are partisan to democratic and progressive values. They are passionate in their opposition to racism, sexism, homophobia and attacks on organized labor. When they expose the endless and highly coordinated campaigns of lies, hatred and bigotry emanating from Fox, the Republicans and their billionaire backers they are courageously representing the highest standards of journalism. It is only natural that Olbermann would make financial contributions to Grijalva, the target of a racist, anti-immigrant hate campaign by fascist-like elements in the Republican Party.

It would be inconsistent with the democratic and progressive ideals he promotes not to support Grijalva.

To be neutral between democracy and fascism reflects either moral bankruptcy or extreme opportunism. Yet that is exactly how most of the corporate media behaves when it is not openly partisan to the ultra-right, like Fox and its kind. The ultra-right, euphemistically called “conservatives,” must be given equal time and respect allegedly to preserve journalistic standards and “neutrality.” In reality, this reflects craven subservience to the dominant right-wing section of corporate power and those who own and fund the corporate media.

The fact is, democratic, progressive voices like those on MSNBC are extremely rare in the corporate media. That is why Olbermann’s suspension provoked such an immediate and outraged reaction from some 300,000 people who signed an online petition that won his reinstatement within a few days.  MSNBC was threatening to shut down and sacrifice one of the few and most outspoken media defenders of democracy and progress to uphold a fraudulent standard of journalistic neutrality.

The response by Olbermann’s supporters demonstrates the massive hunger for truth, clear and partisan, in a sea of lies packaged with a veil of “neutrality.”

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  • "Underlying these criticisms of Olbermann is the false notion that journalistic standards require neutrality, not partisanship. But there is no virtue, journalistic or otherwise, in neutrality."

    Wow, you are kidding, right? Journalists do not need to be neutral? Well, that pretty much blows away the FIRST rule of journalism. To be compleely neutral.

    Perhaps you feel this way because it is a person on the left who is affected and this is where I part from my brothers and sisters on the left. We are sooooo busy hammering away at the right and the GOP we feel we can do no wrong.

    Olbermann couldn't possible be neutral in his coverage of any races in which he contributed. It would be not be humanly possible. Also Olbermann was suspended for what, one day? Not much of a penalty.

    Many years ago when I was a journalist I saw, and heard, fellow reporters speak ill of certain candidates and it showed in their reporting. Yet, when in public they falsely attempted to show they were neutral.

    It matters not the radiowaves are mostly conservative hosts. The left is to blame for that because of our failed support of liberal talk radio, but that is another topic.

    As I started, the first rule of a journalist is to be completely fair. If a reporter has interest then they should stay away from that topic.

    Posted by detectivetom, 11/15/2010 7:47am (5 years ago)

  • An honest journalist would say that it is difficult to report anything beyond a traffic accident with true neutrality. Still, it should remain the goal of big city newspapers and TV newscasting to strive to transcend the crass dissemination of propaganda. Fox News clearly does not strive for that transcendence. But even journalists for a venerable icon of journalistic excellence like the New York Times are faced with bumping up against their corporate owner if they cross a certain line. (Of course in their distorted fantasy world the far-right considers the NYT to be liberal propaganda.) Intellegent and honest readers and viewers should become aware over time of the inevitable slant of a particular news source, and adjust their perceptions accordingly. Often the slant involves not reporting certain news at all. This is where overtly progressive news sources like the People's World, The Nation, Mother Jones, etc., are especially essential: they report important news that effects the lives of the vast majority of us that don't have a corporate sponsor, and don't share the corporate sponsors unabashed capitalist agenda. Neutrality should clearly be a goal for a certain type of journalist, but not so much for others. It is only a journalistic farce when a news source claims to be "fair and balanced" when it is nothing but a mouthpiece for a particular political position.

    Posted by Gregory Clark, 11/13/2010 6:49pm (5 years ago)

  • Neutrality is only bogus, to you, because you cannot see past your own biases and values. You clearly lack objectivity in your approach to this topic and you're making me a little embarrassed to be supportive of Olbermann.

    Posted by Keith, 11/13/2010 12:29am (5 years ago)

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