In Tuesday's Los Angeles Times, on the verge of MSNBC's latest presidential debate, media reporter Matea Gold explored MSNBC's funky brew of news and (mostly) left-wing hectoring. Gold found some liberal media experts said that blend "gives partisans fodder to argue bias." Can anyone locate the line dividing news from editorializing?
"In an environment where opinions are flying, words escape easily," said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a nonpartisan research group. "It gets harder and harder to define the line of what's acceptable."
Tom Fiedler, the visiting Murrow lecturer at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, rejected the idea "that you can move from one side to the other and not confuse most viewers. I don't think even Fox would attempt to take Bill O'Reilly and put him in a position of being seen as a news anchor."
Both experts had regular media jobs at one point. Jurkowitz was a media reporter for the Boston Globe (and the alternative liberal rag the Boston Phoenix). Fiedler was a longtime political reporter and editor at the Miami Herald.
MSNBC executive Phil Griffin pooh-poohed the charge. He acknowledged that MSNBC's "unrestrained culture" disturbs some NBC News veterans who appear on the cable channel, but claimed "people feel more comfortable with the crossover" than ever before.
Brian Williams -- man, is that guy funny! -- played Mr. Objective as Gold explained "he does not have qualms about giving reports on the opinion-saturated network," but they must work with his rigid objectivity:
"They know my limits; I don't do opinions," said the anchor. "But that doesn't mean that a skilled broadcaster or journalist can't inhabit both worlds at the same time."
"I don't do opinions." He should have used that one on SNL! Hilarious. (MRC's Brian Williams Profile in Bias is here.)
That sounds like last week's Time magazine "10 Questions" interview with Tim Russert, where he tried the same routine, about how he's always persistently objective and adversarial with guests:
Do you have strong political views, or have you found the ability to rise above it all? -- Carole Ramsay, Morris Plains, N.J.
Lawrence Spivak, who founded Meet the Press, told me before he died that the job of the host is to learn as much as you can about your guest's positions and take the other side. And to do that in a persistent and civil way. And that's what I try to do every Sunday. My views are not important.
Well, not every Sunday. Bill Clinton didn't exactly find Russert persistently taking the other side in '06. He wasn't an interviewer that day. He was acting as a statesman's facilitator.