Communication Matters - our blog on trends and events


Olbermann is suspended and the media have a transparency problem (Updated)

Let’s be honest. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC is paid to give his opinion as he reports on the current events of the day. He reports with a particular political slant, and his audience watches him with full knowledge of his politics.

Today, he was suspended indefinitely for giving political donations to people he interviewed on his show and who share his political viewpoint. What is so wrong with his spending his money to support his stated views? 

Less than three weeks ago, Juan Williams was fired from NPR after making prejudicial statements while on Fox News. Williams is paid to provide his opinion. He provides it with a particular political slant, and his audience is fully aware of his politics.  

The media reflect the events and conversation of our country. The difference today is that the media are not only reflecting the national political debate, increasingly they are taking part in it. In Williams’ case, he even mixed in some poorly chosen words with his freely expressed opinion. 

The fact is the media are drifting into the realm of opinion. In some cases, they have been sprinting toward it. Objectivity, what some call bland or boring reporting, is missing from an ever growing number of media outlets.  

If the media wish to report with a slant, they ought to just come out and declare it. Reporters paid to express their opinion, often vociferously, should be able to disclose if they are interviewing someone on their show that they intend to support financially.  As media expert Jeff Jarvis said on the Huffington Post, “The problem with Olbermann's contributions is not that he made them, but that he hid them.”

The media that embrace more opinion in their journalism need to embrace more transparency as well. Of course, that just one person's opinion.

Update: Keith Olbermann's suspension ends tomorrow evening when he returns to his show. In trying to draw a line between Fox News and her cable channel, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow argued that MSNBC's enforcement of its policies illustrates the difference between Fox News and MSNBC. In reality, the channels simply fall at slightly different positions on the opinion spectrum. Both offer opinion far more often than objective journalism.

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