(Washington Post) Ted Koppel: Olbermann, O'Reilly and the death of real news

The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.

And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose. Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.

It is also part of a pervasive ethos that eschews facts in favor of an idealized reality. The fashion industry has apparently known this for years: Esquire magazine recently found that men’s jeans from a variety of name-brand manufacturers are cut large but labeled small. The actual waist sizes are anywhere from three to six inches roomier than their labels insist.

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, History, Media, Movies & Television

22 comments on “(Washington Post) Ted Koppel: Olbermann, O'Reilly and the death of real news

  1. MargaretG says:

    I am outside the US so perhaps I am wrong, but I have had the impression that Fox News only grew because it provided an alternative to the standard news services which constantly carried “in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their [reporters’] own biases”

  2. robroy says:

    Margaret is correct. The three networks insert their bias by simply ignoring news zstories only covered on fox. A good example is the climate gate scandal that was revealed in th released emails. The manner in which the “scientists” suppressed conflicting data and used their positions to garner lucrtative grants was A crime against science. And yet my mother who is well read but only through the nyt and nbc news had never heard of it.

  3. midwestnorwegian says:

    Dan Rather fraudulently reporting all kinds of made-up “news”) killed it long before Olbermann or O’Reilly IMHO. But then, my old man thought of Cronkite and Murrow as commies 40 and 50 years ago.

  4. Joshua 24:15 says:

    With all due respect to Ted Koppel and his generation of broadcast (and print) journalists, I really wonder how nonpartisan their “untidy Eden” really was. As #3 points out, “Gunga Dan” Rather engaged in rank fabrication. The MSM has been left-leaning for decades; the difference nowadays is that they are dropping any pretense of objectivity and impartiality in their desperation to battle an ascendant Fox, which I will freely concede leans right.

  5. Bill Matz says:

    What bitter irony to see Koppel lecturing about journalistic ethics. I lost all respect for him @20 years ago when he did the hatchet job job on Al Campanis.

    Dodgers VP Campanis was a last-minute replacement on a Nightline segment about the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the MLB color barrier. When the conversation moved to why so few minorities became managers, Campanis remarked that they lacked the “fundamentals”. This clearly referred to his earlier statement about how difficult it was for minority stars to take the huge pay cut to go to minor league managing positions in order to acquire management skills.

    However, Koppel, seizing a chance to embarass his last-minute and not so articulate fill-in, jumped on Campanis and accused him of racism, i.e. suggesting that minorities somehow lacked the ability to be managers. Campanis’ stumbling response was no match for the verbally-agile Koppel, even tho’ Koppel clearly misrepresented his position. As a result, the cowardly Dodgers either fired or accepted the resignation of Campanis.

    The only journalist I recall protesting Koppel’s bullying ambush was Chicago’s Mike Royko. Another sad example of playing the race card for sensational purposes, not to advance any legitimate debate. I never watched Nightline again.

  6. Katherine says:

    Does MSNBC have a news division, as distinguished from its opinion programs, which attempts to present news in a balanced manner? Fox News does. Viewer surveys indicate quite a few liberals watch Fox News programs. Viewership at MSNBC, CNN, and the evening news on broadcast is dropping. Customers know where they can expect to get news and where they can’t.

    Yes, highly ironic to see a mainstream newsman complaining about bias.

  7. swac says:

    The death of real news began when corporations started to influence what was news. Then came Rupert Murdock and news is now what he says it is.

  8. Dale Rye says:

    Re #2: Perhaps the reason that Fox News viewers knew about Climategate but NYT readers didn’t is that Fox made it up. Don’t bother writing back to “refute” me. I won’t believe you any more than I believe Rupert Murdock.

    That is an example of what Koppel is talking about. From my perspective, the anti-global-warming movement is a group of true believers who feed on one another’s opinions without any effort to check them against independent data. I’m sure you feel the same way about people who believe in global warming (and perhaps even in evolution and a non-geocentric universe). We live in increasingly non-commensurable universes with increasingly little in common, which is what divides our country as well. As Moynihan said, it is one thing for two political parties to be divided by clashing opinions–it is quite another for them to be divided by inconsistent facts simply because neither side wants to be confused by the truth.

  9. John Wilkins says:

    Dale, are you sure the world actually revolves around the sun? Unless Fox says it, I doubt others would believe. After all, the bible describes the opposite.

  10. Sarah says:

    RE: “Don’t bother writing back to “refute” me.”

    No worries — why would we?

    RE: “We live in increasingly non-commensurable universes . . . ”

    Yes — I agree.

    That’s why I relish the polarity in the news services — it’s always good to have reality actually reasonably represented, rather than the pretenses that the mainstream news media [now blessedly no longer mainstream] offered up as “majority” opinion.

    Political liberals had their “choice” and unfortunately it was inflicted on the rest of us too. Now that conservatives have their choice, there’s a whole lot of bleating about it, from predictable groups.

    We should both be happy. The libs get their opinion pieces — as they have for decades — and the conservatives get theirs. The main difference is that the conservatives don’t have inflicted on them the opinion pieces of the left as we did for so long before we got choices.

    And the country can duke out the “non-commensurable universes” on a nice less-unequal playing field.

  11. robroy says:

    I am not saying whether anthropormorphic global warming is occuring or not. That is a religious topic.

    But climategate certainly did happen, even the New York Times eventually acknowledged this – [url=http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html?_r=1 ]E-Mail Fracas Shows Peril of Trying to Spin Science [/url]. This was written by John Tierney, the NYT’s science columnist. In it we (belatedly) have acknowledgment of the problem:
    [blockquote]…the climate scientists are e-mailing one another with strategies for blocking outsiders’ legal requests to see their data.[/blockquote]
    [blockquote]When a journal publishes a skeptic’s paper, the scientists e-mail one another to ignore it. They focus instead on retaliation against the journal and the editor, a project that is breezily added to the agenda of their next meeting: “Another thing to discuss in Nice!”

    As the scientists denigrate their critics in the e-mail messages, they seem oblivious to one of the greatest dangers in the climate-change debate: smug groupthink. These researchers, some of the most prominent climate experts in Britain and America, seem so focused on winning the public-relations war that they exaggerate their certitude — and ultimately undermine their own cause.[/blockquote]

    And we had [url=http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/science/earth/03climate.html ]this NYT front page story[/url] that occurred months after British papers had been running the story:
    [blockquote]The e-mail episode, dubbed “climategate” by critics, revealed arrogance and what one top climate researcher called “tribalism” among some scientists. The correspondence appears to show efforts to limit publication of contrary opinion and to evade Freedom of Information Act requests. The content of the messages opened some well-known scientists to charges of concealing temperature data from rival researchers and manipulating results to conform to precooked conclusions.

    “I have obviously written some very awful e-mails,” Phil Jones, the British climate scientist at the center of the controversy, confessed to a special committee of Parliament on Monday. But he sharply disputed charges that he had hidden data or faked results. [/blockquote]

    So don’t believe me, believe the NY Times.

    By the way, I am completely fine with the frame of reference with the earth fixed at the center of the universe. Einstein certainly did not object to accelerating frames of reference. The geocentric frame of reference is the best, for example, in studying the dynamics of particles moving around the Laplace stable points. If you don’t understand this, you don’t understand Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity.

  12. Sarah says:

    It’s hopeless, RR — their political worldview and goals don’t allow them to see the things you point out.

  13. swac says:

    This blog should be about truth. Truth, or as close we can get to it, in all things.
    “Climategate” was basically a lie. The Scientists accused were investigated by a UK Government panel and exonerated. The real crime was the theft of emails.

  14. Mark Baddeley says:

    #13 It really isn’t as simple as that, as shown by the issues raised by the resignation letter from the American Physical Society by Professor Emiritus Hal Lewis http://my.telegraph.co.uk/reasonmclucus/reasonmclucus/15835660/professor-emiritus-hal-lewis-resigns-from-american-physical-society/

    Global warming, and human technology’s role in it is the subject of its own debate.

    But everything about “climategate” smells, and those who exonerated those involved were the people who had most to lose if they were not exonerated, as Hal Lewis points out. Reading the letter you get the sense of someone who in his old age is witnessing a discipline he invested his life in, be corrupted by politics and money. The scientists mightn’t have forged information, but they certainly tried to control which papers got published in order to manage the scientific debate. That poisons the well of any scholarly discipline, and should have come with far more significant consequences for their careers than actually occurred.

  15. Sarah says:

    RE: “The Scientists accused were investigated by a UK Government panel and exonerated.”

    ; > )

  16. swac says:

    Professor Emiritus Hal Lewis resigns. He was not a climatologist. He was not a AGW expert. He resigned in a huff. I can understand that, I’m an older citizen and I have resigned from two organizations in a huff.
    Just another denialist diversion.

  17. Mark Baddeley says:


    No, and if he criticized the science directly, that might be an argument. But any competent scientist/engineer (and he was more than just competent) can read emails and see that the behaviour was the opposite of how the scientific process of publishing, peer referencing and debate is supposed to work. And then be alarmed that those so blatantly guilty of such corruption were so easily and faciley exonerated. He is also qualified to observe a failure to follow the constitution of his own society. Those things don’t require expert knowledge of climatology.

    I actually believe in global warming, and think it is probable that human technology is contributing. I’m not a ‘denialist’ – but for you to join a thread where the post is about how people just want to edit what facts they want to hear and speak like this is irony beyond belief. You’re exemplifying the very behaviour that fuels the suspicion of global warming denialists.

  18. robroy says:

    “The Scientists accused were investigated by a UK Government panel and exonerated.” Scary delusional.

    Actually, they were described as “mostly exonerated”. And the panel that investigated the East Anglia CRU did not look into the science but only the behavior of the scientists.

    Patrick Michaels, is the past president of American Association of State Climatologists. He wrote the following article in the Wall Street Journal (yes I know, it isn’t the New York Times): [url=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html ]The Climategate Whitewash Continues [/url]. He quotes one of the leaked emails:
    [blockquote] It’s impossible to find anything wrong if you really aren’t looking. In a famous email of May 29, 2008, Phil Jones, director of East Anglia’s CRU, wrote to Mr. Mann, under the subject line “IPCC & FOI,” “Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith [Briffa] re AR4 [the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report]? Keith will do likewise . . . can you also email Gene [Wahl, an employee of the U.S. Department of Commerce] to do the same . . . We will be getting Caspar [Amman, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research] to do likewise.”

    Mr. Jones emailed later that he had “deleted loads of emails” so that anyone who might bring a Freedom of Information Act request would get very little.[/blockquote]
    Now, what does “mostly exonerated” mean? Here Phil Jones is seen to be actively colluding/conspiring to destroy evidence to thwart the Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. I really don’t need to hear any more. This is a guy who is caught with his pants down in bed with the wife of his best friend. There doesn’t need to be any other investigation. This guy received millions of dollars of public grants. He should be have been asked if he sent that email and then summarily fired. Jones admitted to “deleting loads of emails” but the investigating panel didn’t even ask him about it!!!:
    [blockquote] According to New Scientist writer Fred Pearce, “Russell and his team never asked Jones or his colleagues whether they had actually done this.”[/blockquote]
    We will ignore the sick emails celebrating the untimely death of a fellow scientist who dared question their methods.

    The matter of the thread is the turning journalism into biased outcome oriented public opinion manipulation. The New York Times, in July, months after Jones had been caught with the smoking gun emails wrote that climategate was a “manufactured controversy.” Again, the admission of Phil Jones “deleted loads of emails” along with the email describing the collusion should have been the end of discussion as well as the end of Jones’ career. I really can’t understand how a newspaper can willfully ignore this.

  19. Katherine says:

    There is an increasingly visible diversion of opinion between the right and the left in the country, and the news media, mostly new, now reflect that.

    It is sad to see how quickly those who resent the existence of platforms for the expression of alternate opinions descended here into intellectual snobbery — i.e., non-acceptance of human-caused global warming theory is just like young-earth creationism or believing that the sun revolves around the earth (#8).

    Prof. Lewis’s resignation letter makes clear that he tried repeatedly to go through accepted scientific channels to open discussion and allow the back-and-forth testing of evidence and hypotheses which is the essence of the scientific method. The refusal to permit this was, as he pointed out, contrary to what science is supposed to be about.

  20. robroy says:

    Again, I didn’t mean to take the thread off-topic. But my point was that the liberal media has been biased for a long time and has shown their bias by ignoring news stories that don’t fit their paradigm. The blogosphere and Fox News are now calling them on it.

    Another example, Renee Elmers is a North Carolina nurse and wife of an orthopedic surgeon who ran successfully against a Democratic congressman Bob Etheridge. The main reason why she won was a [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oqIP9yagkQ ]video of Bob Etheridge basically assaulting a student with a microphone[/url] who approached him and asked about him about Obamacare. Etheridge went postal on the kid.

    Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story. Elmers beat Etheridge by greater than a 1% margin so there shouldn’t be a recount. But, miracle of miracles, the Etheridge campaign found ~450 extra ballots and, you guessed it, all 100% of them were for Etheridge. This put him within the 1% margin and apparently there will be a recount.

    But the point is, the [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oqIP9yagkQ ]video is amazingly damning[/url]. The New York Times/MSNBC didn’t cover it. If it had been a Tea Partier going beserk? We all know it would have been front page.

  21. swac says:

    Free Press. What does that mean? Free to lie?
    The news has always been manipulated. We used to have many news outlets before Murdock: We could compare and sometimes find the truth.
    Those days are over.

  22. Katherine says:

    #21 swac, so far as I know the NY Times, Wash. Post, NBC/ABC/CBS, CNN, the Huffington Post, NewsBeast, etc., etc., are still in business and will continue in some form. Liberals and conservatives are free to watch them or read them as they choose. It’s the emergence of one set of news outlets with a different set of opinions and the fact that large numbers of people read or listen that seems to drive conventional liberals mad.