Pick One

Keith Olbermann, according to the New York Times, is “the leading liberal voice on American television in the age of Obama.” So, it was no surprise, last week, when it became evident that he had contributed financially to the campaigns of three Democratic candidates.

Olbermann’s left-wing leanings are no secret in the realm of political television. He often does a segment at the end of his show that he calls his “Special Comment.” In the context of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, the word “special” can be roughly translated to “vitriolic,” and “comment” to “anti-Republican tirade.” During the Bush years, they were often directed at the president and vice president themselves.

When he and Chris Matthews covered the 2008 presidential campaign for MSNBC, they were prematurely replaced by David Gregory–two months prior to election day–in response to widespread criticism of their partisan coverage. It’s clear that he hasn’t tried to conceal his political ideology. So why is it such a big deal that he made these campaign contributions? What’s everyone yelling about?

I’m the son of a journalist and have (for the most part) been versed on the “dos” and “don’ts” of objective news coverage. For much of the presidential election, my dad–whose political opinions are just as potent as the next guy’s–refused to put a sticker on his 1998 Toyota Sienna that would indicate his support of one candidate over another. Jon King, Anderson Cooper, Brian Williams, even Larry King–guys who cover politics on a daily basis–ask the tough questions, and don’t disclose their political views, and remain as unbiased and uninvolved as possible.

Because, at the end of the day, if you want a forum where you can holler your opinions at someone and spawn claims that you are corrupt, then run for Congress. Objective journalism does not go hand in hand with the endeavor to move a political agenda. How reliable is a “reliable news source” when its anchor just dumped a heap of cash into the reelection campaign of the person whom he’s interviewing?

If you want to wield your domineering outlook on the public stage, don’t run a news show on a news network, or claim that what you’re doing qualifies as neutral reporting. Just as it’s irresponsible for Sean Hannity of FOX News to give to right-wing political campaigns and subsequently claim that his network is “fair and balanced,” it’s irresponsible for Keith Olbermann to similarly deceive his viewers.

“When a journalist becomes an activist, the principle of independence is not just eroding, it’s corroding from within,” says Bob Steele, an ethics professor a DePauw University. And Steele is right. So, on that note, here is my special comment, directed at Mr. Olbermann himself:

Hey, Olbermann. Pick one.


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