Talking Points | September 12, 2008 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - September 12, 2008

Talking Points

MSNBC's gaffe puts holes in the defensive line

At least twice a month I end up in a conversation about the "media's liberal bent" with friends and family, and I staunchly defend my brethren in both print and broadcast.

Most media organizations, and all that I have been part of, don't allow their newsroom staff to back one candidate. This goes as far as not allowing signs in front yards of personal homes and memos reminding journalists that political bumper stickers are not allowed.

Repeatedly I point out these policies. Repeatedly I explain the editorial endorsement process of candidates and how measures are taken to keep personal bias out of the stance of the newspaper's endorsement. Repeatedly I defend and defend...until, that is, someone I often debate brought up MSNBC.

"That," I said sheepishly, "I can't argue."

On Monday, MSNBC removed from their posts the two anchors, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, tapped to lead the election coverage on the cable station.

These two were selected for the coverage specifically because of their liberal views. Fox News and political blogs have seen much success by giving more than just straight news. The blurring of news and provocative comments seemed to be working, so it seems MSNBC wanted to try it, much to the chagrin of its more conservative parent, NBC.

The leaning to the left, and the tension it created--between the cable station, its parent company, the Republican party and even between the anchors themselves--was obvious. In August, NBC's Tom Brokaw said that MSNBC was "the official network of the Obama campaign." When Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin bemoaned media bias at the Republican National Convention, the audience started chanting "N-B-C." When an MSNBC anchor spoke on-air about a resurgence in the McCain campaign, Olbermann recommended the other anchor "get a shovel." (I can see the NBC bigwigs cringing now.)

Phil Griffin, MSNBC's president, is quoted in the New York Times denying the station has an ideology. "I think ideology means we think one way, and we don't," he said, adding that it does, however, have "passion" and "point of view."

The NBC executives have been supportive of MSNBC's strategy…at least until Monday. It's no mystery why they were in the beginning: commentary = controversy = ratings = cash. What I am still trying to resolve is why they took the action they did Monday. At my most Pollyannaish, I want to say that the NBC honchos rethought their responsibility to provide unbiased, straight news to their viewers and allow these adults to draw their own conclusions. You know, stand up for journalism, the Fourth Estate, democracy.

More likely it was because Hillary Clinton supporters voiced their complaints about MSNBC's blatant support of Obama during the primaries and now Republicans and former Hillary-supporters everywhere are chanting NBC's call letters with disdain. With that many people unhappy, ratings fall and the $$ equation doesn't look as rosy.

I'm not sure why the action was taken. What I do know is that this has perpetuated the "liberal media" perception because in this case it was validated.

I also know that news anchors will be taking note of what happened in this case and I would bet that if viewers are looking for insults and snarky comments, they'll have to watch football.

Gina Channell-Allen, a 21-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Sep 12, 2008 at 7:54 am

Media's real bias is towards what makes it money.

Faux News is mostly editorial presented as news and everyone just laps it up. Go watch the excellent Sidney Lumet movie Network from 1976 to understand the transformation that has occurred in media.

Posted by MSNBC pushed envelope, a resident of Mohr Park
on Sep 12, 2008 at 11:46 pm

You (mistakenly) say media doesn't allow staff to support. How naive! Easy to tell in matter of minutes. MSNBC pushed the envelope too far. Olberman was a vicious, destructive liar. His followers syrocketed, others left in droves. Matthews thought it was cute to spout bias like Olberman, & followed in his wake. 'Ol one bad apple, spoils bunch. Williams & Brokaw got tarnished with the blatent over-the-top excesses of Olbereman & Matthews. So?Nothing has changed...they're at their mikes spewing their bias, insults,& snarky comments. Big deal, called commentators, not newscasters, they're still on preaching bias on a major network. So Fox Republican, MSNBC Democrat, CNN populist/socialist, what's one to do?
CBS & ABC Very, very biased, but plain NBC tries to get it right.

Posted by Grow Old Waiting, a resident of Mohr Park
on Sep 12, 2008 at 11:54 pm

It's risky reelecting Hosterman Mayor,(Brozosky either) who would have the
swing vote for Stoneridge extension. Opportunties for corruption are huge. What quarantees would we have as a swing vote.
Once November's over, we're stuck.
I'll root for Haggerty and Dublin, until I see Stoneridge extension.

Posted by MainStreetDiva, a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 13, 2008 at 7:58 pm

I like the London model better. There are two main newspapers. One is openly left, the other openly right - they don't pretend to be fair.

Personally, we subscribe to several different newspapers, including the WSJ, to get a more balanced picture of events and issues. When you lay out articles side-by-side, it's easier to see which papers aer biased, and in which direction. You can't see it as easily just getting news from one source (print or online).

Sometimes the bias is as subtle as burying a story on page 8 below the fold versus placing it on page 1 or 2. Other times it's careful undermining by word choice in the headline. Sometimes it's the picture the editor choose to run alongside the article - it's pretty easy to find an unattractice photo for a candidate that doesn't fit the paper's ideology.

What we noticed recently, for example, is one party getting 8-9 articles written about their activities versus 1-2 for the other party, consistently, for weeks. In most cases, over time (and I'm talking weeks/months not days), the number of stories should be close to even. When you see a pattern (again, over time) of significantly more stories about one party or the other, it's time to question why.

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