Olbermann and the Cult of Objectivity

I agree with Keith Olbermann (11/15/10) about the dubious value of “objectivity” as a journalistic value; he makes a telling point about how journalistic icons like Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow are most honored for the moments when they reached conclusions and asserted values.

And I think he’s right that the U.S. media establishment’s failure to see through the lies that sold the Iraq War is a singular failure of our journalistic system–one that does indeed suggest that we need an entirely different system that better serves our democracy.

Olbermann’s MSNBC forerunner, Phil Donahue, was fired in the run up to the war not because he wasn’t neutral enough, after all, but because he would hamper the network’s ability to be “waving the flag” like its competitors (All Your TV, 2/25/03). What NBC and its corporate parent GE were looking for was not objectivity but the right kind of bias.

Which is to say, Olbermann is right that it’s necessary to have journalists who express values and draw conclusions–but not sufficient. We also need to talk about which values our corporate-dominated media system is likely to tolerate, and which conclusions are allowed to be drawn.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.