Part of the fun—well, torture really—of election night is flipping between the three “news” channels, mostly to avoid their most irritating commentators (hello Messrs. O’Reilly and Schultz) or channel-hopping pols (our inability to escape Michael Steele literally made my wife scream). But one thing I find really striking is how the three cable networks are approaching their coverage—most particularly that MSNBC has given up any pretense of being a straight news channel.
Here’s how it breaks out:
- CNN is anchored by Wolf Blitzer who occasionally throws it over to Anderson Cooper and CNN’s cast of roughly 435 pundits from across the opinion spectrum. Blitzer is a patented, non-partisan anchor (or as they say more accurately in Great Britain, news presenter) and this is a rather traditional, dare I say sensible, setup.
- Fox News Channel takes a similar tack, with Brett Baier and Megyn Kelly, two of the channel’s anchors, leading the coverage and then throwing it over to in-house conservative commentators like Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin. Even assuming that Baer and Kelly tend to ape the channel’s general ideological tilt, Fox is at least making a pretense of maintaining the traditional separation between news and commentary.
- Then there’s MSNBC, which is being anchored, more or less, by liberal yakker Keith Olbermann, flanked by fellow progressive commentators Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Eugene Robinson, and Chris Matthews. Occasionally they bring in the hyper-aggressively liberal bloviator Ed Schultz, setting up the image of the left quizzing the far left.
Part of the reasoning no doubt is that NBC is using straight news anchors to present its coverage: Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, Savannah Guthrie. But they have plenty of daytime news presenters (who of course are roughly as nonpartisan as their Fox News counterparts) who could fill the lead role or roles while bringing in the commentators to, you know, commentate.
I suppose there’s something to be said for MSNBC for not making any bones about having an ideological tilt. One could argue that it’s better than Fox’s wink-and-nod “fair and balanced” sloganeering. But while the blurring of the line between news and commentary might be good business for MSNBC, Fox, and other media organizations, it’s not helpful for our democracy.
Update: MSNBC at least gets points for being entertaining. Case in point was Chris Matthews asking Rep. Michele Bachmann whether she wants the new House GOP majority to use its subpoena power to investigate Democrats for being anti-American (because in 2008 she made comments about the Dems being anti-American). When she doggedly stuck to her talking points he asked whether she were hypnotized, because she kept repeating the same thing no matter what he asked. Comedy highlight of the night.