Olbermann vs. Koppel on what is ‘real news’

When I heard about Ted Koppel’s editorial in the Washington Post, entitled “Olbermann, O’Reilly and the Death of Real News“, and later that Olbermann would respond — I though “food fight.”

The kind of complaining I expected from Koppel is, after all, the faux-adult high ground, the “reasonable” man’s meme-du-jour. Jon Stewart put on his “above it all” cloak during the interview with Rachel Maddow and wore it like a flag. And as you many have heard, our own president is doubling-down on the bipartisanship. (Way to keep those check-filled cards and letters coming.) And so I expected counter-complaining. Sigh.

It’s true that there is a lot of screaming; it’s true that the right-wing guys almost always start it; and it’s also true that the rest of us are truly tired of it. Thus the mask of the “reasonable” man, a perfect public face for a public figure. Thus Koppel and his editorial.

But there are two things I didn’t count on. One was the sneering tone of Koppel’s writing — the man has a serious bone to pick. There’s meanness and dig in almost every paragraph. The second was that Olbermann would respond on non-personal grounds — that Koppel was in fact precisely wrong — and that Olbermann would say exactly why.

First, Koppel being precisely wrong (I’ll skip the sneer):

a long-gone era of television journalism, when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust.

And Olbermann telling him exactly why:


Olbermann is right about Cronkite and Murrow. These juxtaposed thoughts capture the point perfectly:

Most of the highlights of [Cronkite’s] career had been those moments when he fearlessly threw off the shackles by saying what was true, not merely what was factual.

[And yet] the deserved and heart-felt sadness at the lost of the journalist and the man turned into a metaphor to the loss of a style of utterly uninvolved neutral “objective” reporting.

And Olbermann is right about Koppel as well. Keith says it differently; I’ll speak for myself. Koppel is a closeted rightie, angry with the left for having a winning argument and using it (go back to the sneering), while at the same time revealing his own agenda — as every one of the faux-journalists did — in the run-up to the Iraq war.

I’ll say it again. If you are an unreconstructed Bush War apologist, you’re at least a right-wing sympathizer, and at most a Movement operative, no matter what comes out of your mouth. No reasonable-man argument for you, sir. Or, to borrow from a currently-raging religious debate, good deeds really do matter; it’s not just about the words, or what you imagine is in your heart.

Very good segment from Olbermann. He nails it. Real news, defined.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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