I lean right on most issues, and I’m well aware of how MSNBC leans. I’ve read the channel’s web reporting and watched some of its video clips, all of which reinforced the image the channel has cultivated in recent years.
Sites like Newsbusters.org do a thorough job exposing some of the more outrageous comments uttered on the network.
But I never watched MSNBC for an extended period until Tuesday night, during the coverage of the Massachusetts Senate special election. I was genuinely curious how they would cover a breaking news story with the potential to run afoul of their most popular hosts’ belief systems.
I wish my curiosity hadn’t gotten the better of me.
The channel assembled Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, two unabashed liberals and Barack Obama supporters, to comment on the breaking news. And who was anchoring this portion of the programming? Keith Olbermann, someone whose tone appears far more intense than his peers. (I’m trying to be gentle.)
Three hardcore liberals assigned to report on a major senatorial race, each looking as if someone was torturing their dog off camera. Norah O’Donnell looked equally pained, and she was stationed at Brown’s camp. Typically, when a newscaster is situated in the winner’s circle, the jubilation can be infectious. She was immune.
Fair and balanced? Doom and gloom is more like it. Where was the jovial Matthews, the feisty political observer, during one of the biggest nights in recent electoral memory? This is meaty stuff, an historic night with plenty to chew on, but Matthews looked as if he had eaten something that disagreed with him. It’s safe to assume he didn’t get a tingle all night.
Over at Fox News, liberal pundits like Alan Colmes and Susan Estrich were chipping in their thoughts, adding balance to the station’s news coverage. Fox News, including Bill O’Reilly’s heavily watched program, routinely invites liberals to comment on the news of the day.
If the slant of the MSNBC experts wasn’t unbalanced enough, they all contributed ideas regarding how the Democrats could fight back. Olbermann even used the term “we” when discussing the Democratic response. I use that term to describe my beloved Yankees — in that context, “we” is totally appropriate. “Fan” is shorthand for “fanatic,” right?
To cap off the night, Olbermann doubled down on his insulting, ill-informed rant from the night before about Scott Brown. I won’t repeat what he said here, but it’s on the web for all to see.
Before MSNBC took a hard turn left, media critics routinely bashed Fox News for its lack of objectivity. And they have a point. The show’s signature talkers lean right, even though O’Reilly’s program doesn’t veer right nearly as often as many think. O’Reilly strains at times to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. And though O’Reilly occasionally loses it on screen, barking at a guest or out-shouting someone in rough fashion, he’s never unleashed a torrent of abuse like Olbermann did for Brown.
Since MSNBC tacked left, Fox News bashing doesn’t appear as often. If it does, critics tend to lump the networks together and bemoan “opinion” journalism, wailing that CNN can’t compete with either MSNBC or Fox News. No mention is ever made of how CNN tacks left as well, often referring to roughly half of its potential viewers as “teabaggers.”
I’m not a hard news reporter — I cover entertainment and features for a variety of outlets — but I felt embarrassed for the folks at MSNBC all the same. Though it’s unlikely shame is an emotion they spend much time wrestling with.