MSNBC Wrong to Have Keith Olbermann Anchor Obama Speech Coverage

Commentators should not anchor news coverage.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I've heard a couple of times on MSNBC today that Keith Olbermann will be anchoring coverage of President Obama's don't-call-it-a-State-of-the-Union speech this evening.

Didn't they learn their lesson the first time?

Recall that in September the cable news network announced that neither Olbermann nor Chris Matthews would anchor live political events anymore. It was a decision that came after considerable criticism from the right about a liberal commentator like Olbermann anchoring news coverage for an ostensibly nonpartisan network. And of course it triggered a torrent of anger from the left for caving to conservative critics.

But it was the correct call.

I'm an Olbermann fan. I enjoy his show (mostly). But he's not a news reporter, he's a commentator. The anchor role should be reserved for a straight news man, with the Keith Olbermanns, Pat Buchanans, Rachel Maddows, and so on giving their expert opinion and analysis.

MSNBC has increasingly moved to fill a sort of Fox News-of-the-left role, and that's fine. They can even do that while remaining a straight news organization if they treat their prime-time lineup like a televised op-ed page. The news you get will be straight, the analysis will tilt left. But to have Olbermann in the main role during news coverage is like the New York Times enlisting Paul Krugman to write its main news story covering the speech, or the Washington Times having Rush Limbaugh write its lead story.

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