National Commentary

Olbermann Calls Out O’Reilly

bentonmugThe dismal state of American journalism was further demonstrated in the past week in a couple of cases that were called out in compelling ways by critics.

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC TV News took Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly down in one of the more eloquent and truth-telling commentaries this week, expressing appropriate outrage for O’Reilly’s pattern of incendiary rhetoric aimed at Dr. George Tiller, the abortion doctor who was gunned down in a Kansas church last week.

Olbermann called O’Reilly’s relentless use of terms like “Dr. Tiller the Baby Killer” to describe the doctor as tantamount for inciting murder and domestic terror, and called on the American public to “quarantine” Fox News, insisting it not be aired in lobbies, restaurants, bars or wherever it is apt to be shown on a screen in a public place.

In the other case, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters for America identified this week a consistent pattern of the major media’s perpetuation of right wing slanders against President Obama’s choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

It involves the now-infamous quote made in 2001 by Judge Sotomayor to the effect that a “Latina woman” judge may reach a better conclusion in court than a white male counterpart. The right wing has seized up on this comment, and used it to proclaim, as in the cases of the unfortunate Newt Gingerich and Glenn Beck, that Sotomayor is a “racist.”

The fact is, of course, that the comment was taken totally out of context, which was from a speech Judge Sotomayor gave at the University of California in Berkeley in which she explored what it would mean to have more women and minorities on the bench. There is nothing about the speech, taken as a whole, that would warrant anything like the kind of ranting the right wing has undertaken solely on the basis of one single line.

Naturally, this is lost on the major media, which has chosen to repeat the line over and over and over, and will add as a caveat only, the claim from the judge’s supporters that the remark was “taken out of context.” However, the major press has never reported what the actual context was, leading to the suspicion that it is perpetuating the myopic right wing mania in hopes it can build enough controversy in the judge’s confirmation process to keep it interesting for their readers and viewers.

Boehlert documents the consistent pattern throughout the major media in this case.

So, there it exists both in the case of O’Reilly’s incitements and the general media’s collusion with right wing objectives the fact that journalism in America is veering way off course, a course that few seem motivated to correct.

While the questionable state of Bill O’Reilly’s immortal soul may be held as accountable to an extent, there is an environment of dumbed-down journalism that makes his and seemingly more innocuous, if not ultimately as threatening, cases seem merely par for the course.

At best, journalism today appears dominated by a combination of laziness and incompetence, accelerated by the industry’s economic demise. It regurgitates press releases and spins the news provided by special interests and considers “fair” coverage that which includes contrary points of view.

It is doing less and less of a truly independent, critical nature in the tradition of Edward R. Murrow, wherein the journalist sees himself as responsible to the public for getting to the truth of a matter, rather than simply to rehearse the arguments of contrary views.

Olbermann commented in his well-justified indictment of O’Reilly and Fox News that news reporting in general these days is “just about two inches from carnival barking.”

It is an alarming development that an independent press is vanishing in America, not so much due to the touted demise of print media in the electronic era, or of news in general during a deep recession, but with a certain moral laziness at its root.

Only a broad-based revival of critical thinking and discerning in the general population can reverse this trend. Enough of superstition. Enough of making everything in life a metaphor for sports.