This past week, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews were demoted off of campaign coverage and relegated to “analysis.” This, according to the New York Times, after many complaints about the outspoken duo in general, but specifically the incident where Olbermann voiced his objections to the graphic and dramatic footage of New York after the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Olbermann said that the film was something viewers should have been warned about beforehand, much the way members of a cult might want to be forewarned about the imminent decapitation of roosters in the hunt for the Devil’s work. He didn’t really say that about the roosters but he did strongly object to the film, especially when the whole point of showing that footage of 9/11 was to get the crowd riled up.
With Olbermann and Matthews at the helm, there was no other station worth watching, unless you happened to be a conservative, and in that case you’d be watching Fox News anyway, right? The truth is that Olbermann and Matthews were entertaining. Sure, they were overtly biased, but they had guests on who took them to task for this. There were open, passionate debates going on constantly.
That meant high ratings for MSNBC, and it also meant strong objections from the McCain campaign aimed at NBC and Universal, by association. It also meant a convention full of conservatives responding to vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s accusation of media bias by shouting “NBC” again and again. Someone perched on high doesn’t feel comfortable with the idea that all of NBC has been painted with the same shade of liberal blue.
It’s a cynical stretch to accuse NBC of the opinions of those on MSNBC. You’ll never see Brian Williams or Tom Brokaw shaming the Republicans for anything they do. But Olbermann and Matthews have made their careers on being outspoken; does NBC really think that taking them off convention coverage is going to change anything?
More and more, people are seeking out commentary and editorial, or opinion that can exist alongside hard news. The popularity of the blogs and the constant criticism of the media by the bloggers have created an environment where those who do more than just state the news are the ones people listen to. This isn’t new but it is more popular than it ever has been.
If you happen to be a liberal, Olbermann is one of the only reasons to tune into to MSNBC in the first place. Before he came along, they were one in a sea of identical cable news programs. MSNBC, thanks to Olbermann, has managed to distinguish itself, albeit as the left wing alternative to Fox. Does that make NBC lose credibility? Does that make viewers tune out Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw because of it?
Brokaw and his ilk have expressed frustration, again, according to the New York Times, that the conservatives who were complaining painted all of NBC with the same brush, simply because Olbermann and Matthews are making some people angry.
What is baffling, though, is why MSNBC would get rid of their golden goose at a time when they’re riding high. Could it be that their credibility matters more than the bottom line? Naaaa.