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.