Am I Getting Through To You, Mr. Beale?

I was fond of Keith Olbermann’s “Special Comment” of last evening; I even embedded it here for a moment with a headline that indicated that Olbermann’s soliloquy had provided me with a certain bodily release. This made me laugh quite a bit, and then, for reasons to follow, I killed the post.

Because then I actually read Koppel’s column. And, I have to say, Keith missed the boat on this one.

The bulk of Koppel’s opinion piece isn’t a simple examination of “commentary” versus “he said she said” journalism, which is how Keith framed it last evening. Koppel centrally argues, and I think pretty forcefully, that it’s not simply a matter anymore of whether or not good, credible journalism practices are followed. It’s a matter, says Koppel, that even if a reporter wanted to follow those good old-fashioned 5-Ws, he or she would be structurally prohibited from doing so.

Anotherwerds, it’s not a question about what good journalism is or what it isn’t anymore. It’s that good journalism cannot exist.

Koppel recounts a history that anyone who’s spent any time observing or working in media is familiar with: Once upon a time, the federal government required broadcasters to provide some sort of public interest programming. To keep their licenses, the networks established news divisions, which they never expected to be anything more than a cost of doing business. When this notion changed, and news divisions became expected to bow to the profit motive like any other division, Koppel argues, good journalism became structurally impossible.

Koppel presents one concrete symptom of this new reality in media: The modern dearth of real, fully-staffed news bureaus overseas.

Keith did not refer to any of these points in his commentary. Yet they are the central thesis of Koppel’s article.

It is true, one cannot fairly conflate the journalistic practices of Mr. Olbermann’s employer with those of the Fox “News” Channel. However, to attempt to argue that one of these news networks is more or less beholden to corporate interests is absurd. In our brave new world, news is just another commodity.

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