Tag Archives: 24-hour news networks

Worse than Olbermann

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC photo)

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC photo)

You know, I’m starting to understand why the Republicans don’t like MSNBC (and, by extension, NBC News).

For those of you who don’t subscribe to this digital cable channel, your exposure to MSNBC might be limited to those “Special Comments” of Keith Olbermann that get so much play on the intertubes. They’re popular because they’re well researched, very well written, and well delivered. They don’t mince words and don’t try to be diplomatic. They call out the administration (and, more lately, the McCain campaign) on those things they have done which are wrong.

It’s part of what got me to subscribe to the channel (other reasons include the fact that I’m interested in how various media outlets cover important events, and the fact that most cable television is a crapfest of old reruns that I refuse to hand over even the most nominal amount to support).

But the rest of Olbermann’s Countdown infuriates me, even though I agree with him. He picks on the most trivial of missteps by his political opponents, making fun of them for simple errors. His comments are sarcastic and mean-spirited, and not nearly as funny as he thinks they are. It’s ridiculously one-sided, especially for a supposed “news” network. His interviews consist mainly of regulars who agree with him on everything and laugh at his jokes. On the occasion when he has an actual, respectable journalist on the air, the guest becomes visibly uncomfortable as Olbermann blurts out leading questions that assume he is right and the Republicans are wrong.

And then, of course, there’s his childish feud with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, which he insists on wasting airtime pursuing. He’ll run off demographic ratings whenever an outlier puts him ahead, or take any opportunity to make fun of O’Reilly for whatever reason.

It’s the Fox News of the left. Daily Kos on TV. The ultimate in preaching to the choir, and hence educating and informing no one. Olbermann is like a schoolyard bully who thinks he’s cool because all his friends like it when he picks on the nerd.

But, for the same reason Rush Limbaugh has high ratings, Olbermann is also popular (enough so that he’s starting to catch up to CNN and Fox News). And not having any better ideas to increase its ratings, MSNBC has decided to replicate him.

That brings me to Rachel Maddow (hence the picture above). She’s the host of her own one-hour show which airs right after Olbermann’s. At 10 p.m., MSNBC repeats Olbermann’s show, proving I guess that nobody watches MSNBC for more than two hours.

Maddow, an Air America radio host and former Countdown contributor, is essentially the same thing as her lead-in. The same sarcastic remarks. The same partisanship. The same ego.

It irritates me. But what irritates me more is that the network has taken all three hours of primetime and devoted them to these two characters.

And yet, like Olbermann, Maddow seems to be drawing in the ratings (by MSNBC standards, anyway).

So look for this not to change anytime soon. Fox will have its Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, while MSNBC has Olbermann and Maddow. CNN, which is already giving too much airtime to blowhards like Lou Dobbs, is the only one left that seems to make any attempt at staying neutral, of being cautious in its declarations, and seeking the truth no matter which side it may favour.

Maybe we need to create a place for these kinds of people. An all political opinion channel could put them all under one roof so they can be quarantined. You could create two – one run by the Democratic Party and one by the Republican Party – so they don’t have to see each other in the parking lot. And you can leave the news networks to doing what they’re supposed to be doing: bringing us the news.

Oh, and leave the political commentary for Stewart and Colbert (and, to a lesser extent, SNL and Bill Maher). They, at least, use partisan politics to improve their humour, not the other way around.

Cable news is too fast-paced

The director of Al-Jazeera slammed 24-hour news channels for their obsession with breaking news (via J-source). He argues that there should be more investigative journalism and analysis than constantly pestering with minute updates as they happen.

Of course, this isn’t just a problem for Arabic news channels, it’s a problem all around the world.

But I’d like to take his thesis and modify it slightly: What bugs me isn’t so much that cable news channels are obsessed with “this just in” news, it’s that the networks are too obsessed with their schedule.

Tune to CNN during the day and watch an interview. It usually follows a predictable path: A news story introduces an issue, and then the anchor speaks to someone by satellite (or two people to get a “debate” going). The guests are asked a few questions, and inevitably end up being cut off by the anchor because they’re “out of time”.

Setting aside for a moment the inherent rudeness of inviting someone on your show and then interrupting them to cut them off, what do you mean you’re out of time? It’s a 24-hour news network. The show doesn’t end.

The problem is that these networks have such rigid schedules. They can be thrown out the window when breaking news happens (a plane crashes, a celebrity gets arrested, a white girl disappears), but they can’t be delayed even by a couple of minutes to let an expert explain a point.

But, of course, actually explaining things isn’t the goal of these news networks, is it?