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Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson
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New York City, New York, USA
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March 25
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Professor
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Fordham University
Bio
Paul Levinson's The Silk Code won the 2000 Locus Award for Best First Novel. He has since published Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), and The Plot To Save Socrates (2006). His science fiction and mystery short stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Sturgeon Awards. His eight nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), and Cellphone (2004), have been the subject of major articles in the New York Times, Wired, the Christian Science Monitor, and have been translated into ten languages. New New Media, exploring how Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogging have changed our lives, was published in September 2009. Paul Levinson appears on "The O'Reilly Factor" (Fox News), "The CBS Evening News," the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” (PBS), “Nightline” (ABC), and numerous national and international TV and radio programs. He reviews the best of television in his InfiniteRegress.tv blog. Paul Levinson is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City

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SEPTEMBER 9, 2008 4:02AM

Pros and Cons of Olbermann and Matthews Departures

Rate: 9 Flag

It's being reported all over that Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews will no longer be anchoring special election coverage on MSNBC. In terms of what's ahead in this political season, this means we won't see them anchoring election night or debate coverage. They will both continue in their Countdown and Hardball shows.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I've criticized Olbermann's tirades on everything from 24 to Hillary Clinton and Bill O'Reilly. Matthews is not as extreme, but he had problems talking about Hillary Clinton, too - and I noticed that as an Obama supporter. In the Democratic and Republican convention coverage, Olbermann dissed Joe Scarborough on the air, and Matthews and Pat Buchanan went at it tooth and nail.

The last two incidents get at why I feel more than one way about MSNBC's change of anchors. I agree politically with everything Olbermann said to Scarborough, and everything Matthews said to Buchanan. Further, a leftist tilt at MSNBC balances the rightest tilt at Fox News, which is certainly not "balanced" on its own.

In the end, I guess MSNBC did the right thing, though. There is a distinction between an anchor and a commentator, one which Fox News respects by not putting its commentators - such O'Reilly, Hannity, and Colmes - in the anchor chair. Our politics is indeed better served when we can get some semblance of objectivity in our anchors and let the commentators have at it.

But if this signals a retreat by MSNBC from the Democratic leanings of its commentators, I'll be sure to complain loudly about that, too.

 

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Paul, MSNBC did the WRONG but expected thing in this case. Pulling Olbermann and Mathews is ridiculous.

Glenn Greenwald explains it perfectly on his blog at regular old salon.com.

quoting Greenwald: "[we're told that] Olbermann's role as anchor somehow destroys the journalistic brand of both MSNBC and NBC, while Fox News continues to be deemed a legitimate news outlet by our political and media establishment. Fox does this despite (more accurately: due to) its employing Brit Hume as its main anchor -- someone who is every bit as partisan and ideological as Keith Olbermannn is (at least), who regularly spews the nastiest and most vicious right-wing talking points, yet because he's not a liberal, is deemed to be a legitimate news anchor."
I was unhappy but not surprised to hear the news of the anchoring change today. I have noticed that David Gregory is hardly unbiased in his coverage of stories, and his religion has crept into some of his reporting (especially when Tim Russert died) and recently giving some enthusiasm about Sarah Palin's pro-life stance. I'm going to start paying a lot more attention to the NBC anchors and how their opinions slip into the anchor chair. There is a specific incident where Brian Williams was extolling the writing and opinions of Peggy Noonan on his blog that really rubbed me the wrong way...
Since both Olberman and Matthews seem to have uncontrolled sexist tendencies, I figured the network pulled them due to Palin. Either one of them could eat her alive on any given day. I am not a fan of either the men or the woman, but felt a familiar dichotomy:

Now that McCain and the right have complained LOUDLY about the few breaths of "liberal" talk eveidenced by their anchors, they feel they have to pull them. So, two less voices to possibly sneak in a bit of truth in an election season filled with right wing lies and half-truthes.

I was literally sickened today by the news -- they will rein in CNN, as well. In the end, it will be the god and goddess of the right vs. the inexperienced upstart and his inefficient VP stooge of the left.

I don't believe any of that about the Obama ticket, but it is already starting on the ads, and the so-called "balanced" commentary on CNN. How can we get past this rut within the all-pervasive media focused world in which we now live?

I read on an AOL poll that 64% of those polled learned the majority of their political information from the television. Not much to be done to bring the truth to the masses via this medium...
Paul, I just wanted to note that your post may mark the first time the words "Fox News" and "respects" have appeared in the same sentence.
I wonder if Olbermann's departure is at least in part due to his denouncement of the 9/11 video shown during the RNC. McCain canceled a scheduled interview at CNN because Brown handed one of McCain's henchman a smack-down; he may have also told MSNBC that he won't do interviews with them if Olbermann (and Matthews, due to their similar stances) are covering the election.

I personally think it's reprehensible.
Paul, I love that you wrote about this. I'm going to read it again later--I've had a very busy day, but wanted to quickly tell you I agree with you. I'm a huge fan of Chris Matthews, and especially Keith Obermann...part of me agrees with the decision and part of me doesn't.

I look at Fox and CNN and I've heard a whole lot worse from their anchors.

I'm also concerned that there is some GOP strong arming here.

I'm taping Keith O for tonight. Obama will be on and I want to say if he addresses this....

Thanks for such a great and thoughtful post.
one which Fox News respects by not putting its commentators - such O'Reilly, Hannity, and Colmes - in the anchor chair.

I like the nuance of your post; that's the way it usually is with me: On the one hand, but on the other...

But I did want to say that your "respect" for FOX news for not putting in O'Reilly et al should be tempered just a bit by thinking about the sneering Brit Hume and the Beltway Boys, none of whom are particularly neutral.
Jake: "Paul, I just wanted to note that your post may mark the first time the words "Fox News" and "respects" have appeared in the same sentence."

I think it never does us any good to demonize those we strongly disagree with. As I made clear in my post, I'm no fan at all of Fox News - but that doesn't mean that they can never doing anything at all better than MSNBC, which in general I do like very much.
I hope MSNBC's decision will prove wise. I agree with Adam McKay's post on HuffPo today:

"There is no more fourth estate. Wait, hold on...I'm not going down some esoteric path with theories on the deregulation of the media and corporate bias and CNN versus Fox...I mean it: there is no more functioning press in this country. And without a real press the corporate and religious Republicans can lie all they want and get away with it."

What we need is honest journalism and, as much as I like Chris and Keith, what they and the other networks did at the conventions was not honest journalism. I know it's probably a pipedream, but maybe MSNBC will start a move in that direction. I don't think David Gregory can get them there, but it's a start.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-mckay/were-gonna-frickin-lose-t_b_124772.html
I was a huge Chris Matthews fan at one time; now, not so much. Olbermann was a great sportscaster. There's no arguing with how he has taken on O'Reilly and taken the fight to the conservatives and to Fox News, though.

I think you are wrong on this. Greenwald makes a persuasive case that this was done for all the wrong reasons and simply to appease a cacophony of screeching conservatives. This diminishes MSNBC, and it makes me less likely to watch them in the future.
I think I understand it: who wants to see these guys squabbling? Like you, often enough I agree with them, but I think throwing Buchanan into the mix is always likely to cause trouble. His only tone is rant and condescension.

Even so, David Gregory may be a sweet person, but the depth of his thinking is too easy to reach. Today, he asked someone about feminism from a really dumb angle. If he doesn't know what feminism is, how can he ask a good question about it? If MSNBC thinks they have improved anything by appointing Gregory, they have failed miserably. I bet they just couldn't get Chuck Todd to take it. Whatever we might say about his shortcomings, I really miss Tim Russert. At least with him I knew what to expect. Now I am disappointed fairly often.
My pleasure, Mary!

Stella - yeah, there are mirror images in many ways...
I agree that Fox News is absolutely not balanced on its own. I have come to feel that MSNBC, and particularly these two guys, really add back some of the balance.

I'm not sure I agree, though, with the notion that Fox News respects any boundaries on the news/opinon line. I can see why you might say it does, but every minute they have an opinion like O'Reilly or Hannity on the screen, the word "News" is on the screen with them (in the Fox News name). I know you might say that's a logo, and that I ought not take it for its dictionary meaning, but I think the logo is cynically chosen and the format of the shows is cynically chosen to look like news, so that people watching will think they're being fed truth. So once they do that in a manner that's anything but balanced and fair, I really think all bets are off.

Your post is where I learned these guys have been scaled back from anchoring. I think it's a shame. I think it upsets the balance. They're partisan, sure. They're even off the mark sometimes. But without them front and center, I think the Fox News charade will stand frequently unanswered.
Tonight Anderson Cooper showed a clip
from his stint at the Republican Convention
where he interviewed Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. Triumph reported that Matthews
and Olberman both climaxed together at the
end of Obama's acceptance speech!
I used to watch MSNBC but Olberman with his rants and Matthews with his upper leg tingling
proved to be too much. No mas.
Paul, I was only making a joke, not demonizing Fox. MSNBC and CNN certainly have their risible qualities, too. (I mean, have you seen "The Situation Room"?) And for the record, I agree that Olbermann and Matthews had no business anchoring the network's convention coverage, however much I may appreciate them as commentators (well, Olbermann, anyway). Finally, if we can't laugh at a network that calls itself "fair and balanced" and then hires Karl Rove as an analyst, who can we laugh at? PBS? CSPAN?
Thanks for a great conversation-starter, Paul.
I applaud the changes, but I doubt it is any more than window dressing for MSNBC. Their obvious bias will continue. But I do take note that Mr. Olbermann has changed jobs/networks more often than anyone in the business. His overall arrogance and demeaning personality is likely the culprit for his continuing downfall. Good riddance. And Chris Matthews....there is not enough space to post points about his.....style. Again, good riddance.
For years, I've watched Matthews and Olbermann. They were interesting to watch and yes, they were opinionated and arrogant but I agreed with most of what they were saying. But when they took sides in the Democratic primary and were so obvious in their misogynistic rantings about Senator Clinton, I stopped watching them regularly. Then I noticed they no longer had guests who did not absolutely adore and worship Senator Obama. It was so disgusting and so unlike the two commentators. They had discussions with "opposing" sides but both sides supported Senator Obama, having a black conservative female who could say nothing but accolades for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton was a racist and bitch. The only person who occasionally spoke up for Senator Clinton was of all people Pat Buchanan. Occasionally, Joan Walsh would be a guest and she was always fair and praised and criticized both Senators Obama and Clinton. But for the most part their mean-spirited partisanship got worse and worse until I just couldn't take it anymore.

I believe it was the management of MSNBC that was forcing this unyielding support for Senator Obama. Maybe it was for ratings or maybe management just wanted Obama to win. Who knows? I know their coverage (as well as CNN's) was so slanted that I actually watched the primary coverage on Fox. I was shocked that they were more fair than the other networks...maybe because they didn't really care which one won, they were interested in the Republican race. They called states when they thought it was clear, whereas MSNBC and CNN waited hours later to call states for Senator Clinton but were quick to call them for Senator Obama. If I noticed these slights, millions of others noticed these slights. I wrote letters of complaint and I'm sure millions of other did also but MSNBC and CNN held tight. CNN still has completely biased coverage of the election. Senator Obama brings tears to the eyes of Susanne Malvoe (sp) and Cafferty is downright mean when he talked about Senator Clinton, always praising Senator Obama for any insignificant action.

I see MSNBC's actions as a first step. Obviously Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw were embarrassed to be part of the rantings about Senator Clinton and Tom Brokaw did make it clear to Olbermann and Matthews that he thought they were over the line. Tim Russert, when he was there, though, was right there with Matthews and Olbermann and I believe he had a lot to do with the slant of the programs. He became so unprofessional is his praise of Obama and hatred toward Clinton, I lost all respect for him also. He was clearly obsessed with Obama winning the nomination.

Having been what I consider a liberal Democrat for years, I have now dropped out due to the extremely prejudiced coverage by the east coast media. I truly have never seen anything like it and it does not bode well for the future of the east coast media. If they think that all they need as viewers and readers are the extremely liberal, they are truly mistaken. Most extreme liberals don't even watch those programs. MSNBC got their boost in viewership from Obama supporters who probably never watched these programs until Obama became a candidate and they won't continue after November, whether or not he wins.

The management of these companies must be idiots. They can't stay in business without appealing to a large segment of the population. It seems MSNBC and CNN have forgotten that and they will suffer financially because of it. When the integrity of news organizations is gone, their worth is also gone.

The integrity of
There was a lot wrong with both Olbermann's and Matthews' coverage of the primary campaign.

Still... there is something even more wrong with our corporate-owned media who consistently cave so easily to the tiniest criticisms from the GOP, yet will not merely ignore valid criticisms from their viewers on their network's misogynistic POV, but will actually defend it. I know, I know, different rules for them vs us.

Of course GE must be expected to hew to the Republican side of things, since that's who butters their bread. Or, more accurately, wants to fund their guns.
Jake - absolutely - cable news gives more good laughs than just about anything else on television, other than Curb Your Enthusiasm...
Other than PBS, I don't think there is any other media outlet including TV, Radio, or print or online journal that is unbiased. You can distinguish between anchors and commentators, however, over the last 10 years that line has grown increasingly thinner.

If you decide to go with the flow and understand that the audience naturally gravitates to the media outlet that best exemplifies their view of the world, then it becomes frustrating to lose an outlet that professed your views. MSNBC's strategy was to be the antithesis of the Fox Network and it was getting better each year. For me this is a serious travesty when I learn that the GOP pressured NBC's management and by association its owner (GE) to put the kibosh on Matthews and Olbermann.

Anytime there is an overt manipulation of the media, one has to question whether we are in danger of diminishing the First Amendment. I think every American needs to be concerned with the Republican’s recent attempts to willfully trample on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
I think MSNBC caved to pressure that they were too liberal so they gagged their anchors to appease the Republicans. They should be a check on Fox who are not balanced. Why even watch cable news if they change to go along with the Republicans.
Without Olbermann and Matthews on Elections/Debates nights, there'll be no reason to watch MSNBC on those occasions. Rather than be put to sleep by the others , I'll watch C-SPAN or CNN. Gregory is nice but so boring. Mitchell is so bland she's almost invisible, and , by the way, her Republican bias breaks out. Buchanan's shouting, shrill, tinney, whining voice grates on me. Olbermann and Matthews and also Dan Abrams were the MAGIC of MSNBC, the glue that held the network together. MSNBC has sidelined all three, their best talent. MSNBC has succumbed to the ongoing Republican War on the Media---to incessantly accuse the media of liberal bias--and the Repugs have won. Now all the media bend over backwards to be oh so nice to Republicans and short and snippy to Democrats. Their little ploy works every time, and MSNBC's removal of Olbermann and Matthews is one more catastrophe. And MSNBC has lost one more viewer on the big nights--me!
Hi Paul,

I have two major problems with your argument. First, Chris Matthews is NOT a liberal. He openly supported George Bush in 2000 and 2004, and regularly gushes about Ronald Reagan. So, to imply that his presence on the air acts as some kind of balance to the likes of Bill O'Reilly is utter folly.

Second, as Glenn Greenwald points out, we've known these guys were biased for a long time -- no more so than in their coverage of Hillary Clinton (and, like you, I supported Obama, but even I could taste their bile). And yet it's only now, when a conservative candidate complains -- one who, by the way, is sequestering his running mate from any journalist who may ask a tough question -- that MSNBC reacts?!

I don't value Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann for their in-depth, balanced coverage. But on the other hand, at least they wear their bias on their sleeves -- you know what you're getting with them. Meanwhile, the "mainstream" media gets more and more insidiously conservative, as the likes of Ted Koppel, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw get replaced by spineless, right-leaning lapdogs like Brian Williams and Charles Gibson. (Katy Couric, for all the flack she gets, is the only one of the three who owns up to the media's utter failure to unearth the truth in the build-up to the war in Iraq. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24855902/ )

It's about time we had some liberal bias in the media. Unfortunately, I'm still trying to find it...
Don - I agree completely that every American needs to be concerned about the government's trampling of the Bill of Rights - see my Flouting of the First Amendment.


But bear in mind that Olbermann and Matthews will continue with their nightly shows - all that is changing is they won't anchor special coverage (but they'll continue as commentators then as well).
Dana: "to imply that his [Matthews'] presence on the air acts as some kind of balance to the likes of Bill O'Reilly is utter folly."

That much folly, huh? :)

I agree that Matthews' is not as leftist as O'Reilly is rightist - but I think they nonetheless provide a balance across the networks . . . well, maybe not an utter balance, but a balance...
Just heard that it was the ohhhh so boring Tom Brokaw who was responsible for elbowing NBC into getting rid of Olbermann and Matthews on the big events. Were I Tom Brokaw, I'd be envious of Olbermann and Matthews, too. I don't even bother to watch Meet the Press anymore. The mumbling sound of Brokaw's voice and lack of sparkle in his face --I roll over and fall asleep again. ZZZZZzzzzzzzz
I believe the only reason MSNBC caved to Republican pressure is that they knew the Republican machinery could do financial damage. And isn't that the only reason networks do their thing? The old bottom line. And I still believe they encouraged Olbermann and Matthews to be obnoxious toward anyone opposing Senator Obama. I'm not sure why though, what could they have to gain. Oh well, I won't miss grown commentators acting like a bunch of frat brats, giggling and make snide remarks about the female candidates. It wasn't just Senator Clinton...Matthews in particular was constantly trashing Nancy Pelosi and ridiculing her ability to be Speaker. He'll still be doing much the same things. I checked him out for a few minutes tonight and he is a little more subdued but not much change. I still can't watch Olbermann for even a few minutes. His humor, which I so enjoyed, has been replaced by bitterness.
Yes Paul, utter folly. Chris Matthews is not remotely leftist. At best, he is a centrist -- though really, he's just a guy who gets starry eyed over anyone with an ounce of charisma.

No liberal would support a radical demagogue like GW, which Matthews did, enthusiastically, for several years. The fact that you, and others, consider Matthews a liberal only proves that the media spectrum has shifted so far right as to make anyone who doesn't slap a rubber stamp on the Bush administration's policies a leftist.
I'm sorry, since you are a professor in media studies, and my son is currently studying journalism at a NY-area university, that you are so naive or misguided as to suggest Fox News "respects" the so-called "Chinese Wall" between punditry and anchoring, or in the much larger context, that any of these networks is driven at this sad moment in history by anything other than ratings, competition for an ever-shrinking audience and corporate profits.

What world are you living in, when you can state with an apparently straight face that Fox is providing "some semblance of objectivity" by not allowing Sean Hannity to anchor election coverage, but Brit Hume instead? Brit Hume? He'd make a great press secretary for Tom DeLay, but he's not remotely any reasonable person's idea of an objective TV anchor. What Koolaid have you been sipping?
Not Koolaid, Stonecutter - white tea, at the moment ... you should try it sometimes, it's delicious...

It might also help your disposition a little.

As for the points you raise, your merely stating them doesn't make them facts. Give me examples in which Britt Hume was noticeably right wing in his anchoring of any of the conventions, or even in the news reporting part of his daily show.

And try making your points a with a little more civility - otherwise, I'll likely just keep sipping my tea without answering them.
reader99: But Matthews also supported Obama (as do I) - rather than Hillary Clinton or John Edwards - and last time I checked, Obama was on the leftist side of his party.

And, when, exactly did Matthews "enthustically" support Bush "for several years"?

Even if he did, that would not change the fact that he is currently leftist (which, again, I'm glad about).
Paul,

Until the past 2-3 years or so, when the tide throughout the country began to shift after Katrina and other debacles, Chris Matthews consistently sided with the Bush administration, and even misstated facts in their defense. He has said outright that he voted for Bush in 2000.

See this article in Media Matters, from May of 2005:
http://mediamatters.org/items/200505310005

The fact that, thus far, he seems enthusiastic about a Democrat this year, only shows that he's smart enough to see that the past 8 years have been disastrous for this country.

That makes him LUCID, not leftist.

Again, it is completely ridiculous to call someone "leftist" or "liberal" just because they are not a talking piece for the failed Bush administration.

Matthews is a CENTRIST. That might make him seem like a liberal to right-wing nut jobs like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson, but it certainly doesn't make it true.
reader99: thanks for the link to the May 2005 Media Matters article. Significantly - as you know - the purpose of the article is to refute the claim that Matthews is leftist. Which obviously means that I am by far not the only person to think this.

You even admit that Matthews became much more critical of the Bush administration 2-3 years ago.

Lots of people have changed their views in the past few years.

I voted for Gore, thought the Supreme Court in effect staged a coup d'etat by stopping the Florida recount, and although I thought the war in Iraq was unconstitutional, I believed the government that Saddam had WMDs.

Did that make me a centrist?

The fact, in any case, is that labels do as much to distort as to identify. Matthews now is left of center. I agree that the exact point in that continuum is hard to precisely identify. You want to think that saying Matthews is now left of center is "utter folly," and cite a Media Matters article from 2005 as evidence of the folly, be my guest...
Paul, you asked for evidence of Chris Matthews's support of Bush. I gave it to you.

Matthews's strong support of Rudy Giulliani's campaign for president is a more recent example of his centrism. There are articles about that on Media Matters as well. But I guess that too is old news -- by your limited standards.

By your definition, any person who supports Obama is automatically a liberal, no matter what their position may be on any other issue? That's quite a narrow litmus test.

Had Hillary Clinton won the primary, would Matthews still be a "liberal"? I doubt it. Those are weak credentials, if you ask me.

But I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.
reader99: Nope - Matthews has been highly critical of the Iraq war - pretty much from the beginning - and that obviously predates Obama's candidacy by years.

As for your "evidence" - it was evidence that supported both of our positions - a Media Matters piece that attempted to refute, in 2005, claims that Matthews was a liberal.

But we don't have to agree to disagree - we can just disagree, and see where that goes ... :)