(Update, Monday, 8:30 a.m.: It’s a good thing I posted this entry last evening [it had been drafted a day or two earlier], since MSNBC announced this morning that it is ending Olbermann’s suspension and bringing him back on the air Tuesday night. The suspension turns out to be as much of a scam as the rest of the network. See the responses at Lucianne.)

When MSNBC suspended Keith Olbermann for violating journalistic ethics by making donations to Democratic congressional candidates, my initial response was: you’ve got to be kidding. Of course Olbermann is not a journalist with claims to non-partisanship. He’s a highly opinionated commentator, indeed a frenetic champion of the Democratic left and a goggle-eyed hater of Republicans. So how it is a violation of his job for him to donate money to leftist Democrats? Supporting leftist Democrats is the very nature of his job.

However, the problem with that argument, as brought out by Michelle Malkin, is that MSNBC itself takes the position that Olbermann is a journalist, not a partisan commentator.

There is thus a marvelous poetic justice at work in this affair. We all know how left-liberals constantly insist that they are not liberals, not leftists, not partisans, but simply neutral speakers of truths that no rational and decent human being would ever question. And now the left-liberals at MSNBC have been caught in the coils of this lie. If they had been honest, and had admitted that Olbermann is a leftist commentator, and had put rules in place for Olbermann and their other on-air personalities that were appropriate to leftist commentators instead of to journalists, then they wouldn’t have had to fire him. But because they insist on the transparent and ridiculous lie that Olbermann is a neutral journalist, they’ve been forced to cashier their top star.

In short, Olbermann has been brought down, not by his own misbehavior, but by the self-serving myth of neutrality that is the keystone of liberalism.

- end of initial entry -

Mark P. writes:


I am about to use this in a “debate” i’m having with my law professor friend.

Jeff C. writes:

“Olbermann has been brought down … by the self-serving myth of neutrality that is the keystone of liberalism.”

That is, he was brought down by the myth of HIS neutrality. A real journalist strives to be disinterested, and that striving is an ideal. We want scientists and judges to be impartial. We want people to want to restrain themselves.

Now, maybe the ideal cannot be made real. Maybe the best we can do is to be informed by our opinions while testing against new evidence.

In any case, the leftist insistence is more along these lines: people are focused on their material interests, or should be. Neutrality (which I take to mean impartiality) is not an ideal. Who whom?

LA replies:

But the issue here is not some general ideal of neutrality and whether Olbermann succeeds in living up to it. The issue is that Olbermann is explicitly the very opposite of neutral, yet he (or at least his employers) goes on insisting that he is neutral.

Barbara V. writes:

Beautifully and clearly argued

Paul Mulshine writes:

As someone who has been a journalist since 1975, I have to point out that you are getting the terms wrong. “Journalist” applies to anyone who writes or edits a periodical, literally a daily one. It derives from the French word “jour” meaning “day.” A journalist can be either a reporter, an opinion columnist, or an editor.

It’s a “reporter” who is supposed to be neutral, not a journalist. The mistake of assuming journalists are by definition neutral is one I see constantly on the comments on my blog. But it is a mistake nonetheless. Quite obviously, there were journalists long before there were reporters. The supposedly neutral reporter is a relatively recent invention.

Donating money to candidates is an entirely separate issue.

LA replies:

Ok, but changing the terminology from “journalist versus commentator” to “reporter versus commentator” changes nothing of substance.

David B. writes:

Yes, for decades I’ve seen media types claim that they are “not biased.”

November 8

Kristor writes:

Why would we trust someone who insisted that he is not biased? I mean, is not the claim to be unbiased by one’s own peculiar perspective a plain falsehood? Anyone who makes such a claim is either a na├»ve simpleton or a liar.

The claim that one is an unbiased observer is formally analogous to the claim that one should be tolerant of others and their divergent points of view, and flows from the same basic skepticism about our ability to apprehend the truth. The only way to apprehend anything, including the truth, is to take up a point of view, and be honest with oneself about having done so. The only way to be, is to be particular. So, to reject particularity is to reject one’s own being. And this rejection is precisely the project of liberalism.

LA to Kristor:
Thanks for helping keep VFR at the cutting edge of societal evolution!

Kristor replies:

Did you notice how very short and concise that comment was?

I would have contributed more lately, but for two things: (1) I’ve been in a very busy period at work and at home, and (2), I’m not very good at coming up with anything insightful or original about the back and forth of electoral politics, which have of course dominated the discourse at VFR of late, and rightly so. I have no good insights into political races. Plus my hunches about such things are wrong most of the time.

Lots of really fascinating entries lately, though. I may not be good at politics, but it is interesting as hell. So to speak.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 07, 2010 06:50 PM | Send

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