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McCain/Palin Get Olbermann Censored, Bask in Media Double Standard

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by Elliot D. Cohen

On September 7, The New York Times printed a story titled, "MSNBC Takes Incendiary Hosts from Anchor Seat."

The "incendiary" hosts in question were Countdown's Keith Olbermann and Hardball's Chris Matthews, and the anchor seat referred to was that of the upcoming presidential debates as well as election night.

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According to the Times, the McCain/Palin campaign had filed letters of complaint to NBC about the coverage these pundits were giving the McCain campaign. Unfortunately, the climate of media hypocrisy and censorship that now feeds this campaign may be a predictor of its intolerance for healthy, reciprocal disagreement, and freedom of the press should it ascend on the White House in 2009.

What did Olbermann do to warrant a complaint lodged by the McCain/Palin campaign?

The Times accounted that after showing a "tribute to the victims of 9/11," on the last night of the Republican National Convention, which contained graphic footage of the World Trade Center attacks, he claimed it exploited the memories of the dead and that it was probably inappropriate. Olbermann has been a critic of Palin's alleged lack of experience and misrepresentation of facts about her record. He has also steadily attacked McCain's record since the inception of the campaign.

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But why should Olbermann's left-leaning arguments have been called out given the assembly of anti-Obama attacks launched from the right?

There was, after all, no complaint filed by the Obama campaign against Fox when Karl Rove was on hand to criticize Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention for not showing enough love for her country, despite the fact that she repeatedly talked about her love for America. Nor was a complaint filed with Fox when Bill Kristol was on hand to say the speech was "generic" and that Michelle Obama "really didn't say that much that was interesting." Isn't this Bias?

Let's not even consider the fact that Kristol was a cofounder of the Project for the New American Century, the premier neo-con organization that actually favored McCain over Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Let's also keep in mind that Kristol is a McCain foreign policy adviser who now writes for The New York Times, a paper which has just called Olbermann and Matthews "incendiary." As for "Bush's Brain," McCain has already called him "one of the smartest political minds in America" and said that he'd "be glad to get his advice.

But so far, no one in the Democratic campaign has tried to censor Fox's "all star team," and The New York Times has been free to call Olbermann "incendiary" while at the same time employing the likes of William Kristol.

As for the Times calling Matthews "incendiary," this epithet does not hold water, especially because for many years he was a major poster child for General Electric, parent company of NBC. On May 1, 2003, when Bush declared "mission accomplished," Matthews took the bait:

"We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president."

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Such sexist-like machismo rants that demerit Dems is no longer part of Matthews routine. Now he is riding on Olbermann's popularity. Olbermann attracts about one million viewers each night and MSNBC sees his quick-witted political commentary as a cash cow. Matthews, as a good company man, has once again changed his stripes and has jumped on the Olbermann bandwagon, but that only makes him a conformist. The problem is that Matthews has no personal biases, only corporate ones.

Now that NBC's bottom line may be threatened by the Republicans who are gaining strength in the presidential polls, it is beginning to get nervous. And Olbermann is, after all, not invincible like Fox's brightest star, Bill O'Reilly, who has managed to get away with almost anything without censor. If Olbermann is incendiary, what does that make O'Reilly who has once gone so far as to welcome terrorists to strike San Francisco because its citizens voted against having military recruitment at public colleges and high schools.

But what Olbermann can rightly be called is a political pundit, and political punditry is never value neutral. Critiquing the political assumes values and there is no universal set of values to which all good pundits must subscribe. Still, value judgments worth their salt must be anchored in the facts. So the question is not whether there is bias in Olbermann's coverage but rather whether it is guilty of making misstatements of fact, intentionally attempting to deceive the public, making groundless claims, or engaging in other forms of misrepresentation and chicanery. The answer is that Olbermann has worked hard to get the facts straight and has been an ardent critic of those who don't -- most notably, Fox's very own Bill O'Reilly.

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Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D. is a political analyst and media critic. His most recent book is Technology of Oppression: Preserving Freedom and Dignity in an Age of Mass, Warrantless Surveillance(Palegrave Macmillan, 2014.) He is a Fellow at the (more...)

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