Koppel laments ‘the death of real news’

KOPPEL LAMENTS ‘THE DEATH OF REAL NEWS’…. Ted Koppel, a long-time giant of broadcast journalism, had a rather lengthy rant yesterday, incorporating complaints about Keith Olbermann into a larger tirade about “the death of real news.” Some of his concerns were compelling, but most fell into familiar traps.

Koppel was right, for example, to lament major news organizations closing international bureaus, but he points the finger in the wrong direction. As he sees it, it’s the fault of Americans, especially younger news consumers, who have no appetite for international affairs, and who prefer opinion-based programs.

I have a hard time believing that news consumers’ attitudes have really changed that significantly in recent decades. For that matter, Koppel said ABC’s “bean counters” started applying cost-benefit ratios to overseas bureaus in the “mid-90s,” which largely pre-dates the very opinion-style programs he disapproves of.

More important, though, was Koppel’s condemnation of the cable news outlets, especially their prime-time lineups.

We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly — individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.

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…. It is also part of a pervasive ethos that eschews facts in favor of an idealized reality.

There are some legitimate concerns about news consumers having the option of surrounding themselves only with news they want to hear, but Koppel is painting with an overly-broad brush.

For one thing, he’s confusing ideology and partisanship — Rachel Maddow is a liberal; Sean Hannity is a Republican. MSNBC’s lineup criticizes President Obama and congressional Democrats nearly every day on ideological grounds; Fox News’ lineup wouldn’t dare chastise their Republican brethren.

For another, Koppel insists MSNBC and Fox News are somehow mirror images of one another. This remains the laziest and most unpersuasive observation in all of American media criticism. Fox News is a Republican propaganda outlet, plain and simple. MSNBC is a straight-news network, with some opinionated program in the early morning (a former Republican congressman gets three hours a day) and in prime time.

As for Koppel’s insistence that all of this is “part of a pervasive ethos that eschews facts,” I can only assume that he hasn’t actually watched MSNBC’s prime-time lineup, or he’d know this is plainly false.