I am a political moderate.
“Daily Show” anchor Jon Stewart discusses commentator Keith Olbermann’s return to MSNBC following a brief suspension for making unapproved political contributions.
There. I said it.
I could write paragraphs about how I sway a little left or a touch right, depending on the issue, but I would have to qualify each and every sentence with words like “usually” and “often,” and phrases such as “in my experience.” I have no loyalties to liberalism or conservatism, and so in the end, my stances on various topics come out sounding a bit wishy-washy.
It’s the plight of living in the aisle that so many politicians struggle to “reach across.”
Following last month’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington, D.C., some of my more liberal friends expressed great disdain at moderate “Daily Show” anchor Jon Stewart for acknowledging that left-wing commentators like MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann can be just as damaging to truth and public knowledge as his right-wing contemporaries: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and so forth.
Indeed, here’s a clip from a January episode in which Stewart calls Olbermann out for attacking Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) as an “irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees.”
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Special Comment – Keith Olbermann’s Name-Calling|
Olbermann says that Scott Brown supports violence against women because, shortly after a Brown supporter screamed at a political rally that someone should “shove a curling iron up [opponent Martha Coakley's] butt,” Brown smiled and said “we can do this.”
I admit the timing doesn’t exactly work in Brown’s favor (see the following video), but it’s a long stretch to say that the statement was in any way related to the Coakley comment. More likely, since Brown was about to leave the platform, his smile and “we can do this” words of encouragement were just his closing gestures to his audience.
That said, there is no way to misinterpret Olbermann’s own words, where he likens Michelle Malkin (also not one of my favorite talking heads) to a “mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it.” Olbermann’s rant begins at 1:03.
To a moderate, Olbermann sometimes just goes to far, as does Malkin, as does Limbaugh, as do Bill O’Reilly and the whole crew. The most detestable talking heads on the left and right twist language to make opinions sound like facts. They make a living demonizing the opposition. But, as the late Democrat senator (New York) and United Nations ambassador to India, Pat Moynihan, once said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
This twisting of language is the root cause for why so many lefties can say that “at least Olbermann is telling the truth” while many righties, by the same token, say the exact same of Rush Limaugh. Point out any misleading, corrupted statements from either-or, and supporters will claim hyperbole or that their favorite talking head was “just being facetious” (I’ve heard that one before). Point out similar misleading, corrupted statements from the other side, and those same audiences will spout angrily about “lies” and “deception.”
Here’s the thing about moderates. We see both sides to every coin. We can’t help it.
There was a great piece in yesterday’s Washington Post from one of my favorite living journalists, Ted Koppel, in which he lamented about “Olbermann, O’Reilly and the death of real news.”
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.
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. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.
It is also part of a pervasive ethos that eschews facts in favor of an idealized reality. The fashion industry has apparently known this for years: Esquire magazine recently found that men’s jeans from a variety of name-brand manufacturers are cut large but labeled small. The actual waist sizes are anywhere from three to six inches roomier than their labels insist.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter that we are being flattered into believing what any full-length mirror can tell us is untrue. But when our accountants, bankers and lawyers, our doctors and our politicians tell us only what we want to hear, despite hard evidence to the contrary, we are headed for disaster. We need only look at our housing industry, our credit card debt, the cost of two wars subsidized by borrowed money, and the rising deficit to understand the dangers of entitlement run rampant. We celebrate truth as a virtue, but only in the abstract. What we really need in our search for truth is a commodity that used to be at the heart of good journalism: facts—along with a willingness to present those facts without fear or favor.
Unfortunately, as Koppel goes on to say: “The transition of news from a public service to a profitable commodity is irreversible.”
And there you have it. We as a nation, as a planet, have turned our one source of truth and information into something tailored just for us and our sensibilities—into some ridiculous venti, skinny, half-caf, caramel-mocha latte-on-ice version of news.
We don’t have to hear about how the people we support aren’t necessarily the “good guys” today because all of that air time is now taken up with filler, hyperbole, conjecture, and brutal verbal attacks on the opposition that aren’t quite as clever as we (the Maddows and the Malkins) seem to think they are.
The worst part is, there’s nothing left to stop us.