Editor’s Column – The Politics of Media

Chris Neefus

As a new school year begins, so soon will a new political era, one in which African-Americans and women finally reside in America’s seat of power as they have in other nations’ for years. You’ll see it discussed right here in the Maroon-News Commentary section today and in the weeks ahead, with “Being Right” and “Nothing Left Unsaid.”

The historic nature of both parties’ political conventions this year, though, seems to have sent the news networks into a tailspin trying to cover them properly. As Hillary Clinton implored delegates to end a roll call vote and nominate Barack Obama, the sound system at the Pepsi Center echoed a hallowed mandate: “People all over the world, join hands, ride the love train, love train, woo!” Outside in the parking lot, though, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews were snapping at each other in front of guests. Olbermann often seemed not to know when his microphone was live, dismissively telling Joe Scarborough to “get a shovel” when he criticized the Obama campaign and demanding that producers “wrap this guy up,” when a conservative commentator tried to paint Obama in a negative light. Earlier that morning, the relatively conservative Joe Scarborough was entering hour five of a special edition of Morning Joe, extended so NBC could cut costs and talent transported to Denver, when he exploded at liberal columnist David Shuster for calling him a Republican. The fight turned ugly, with Scarborough accusing Shuster of missing his hits on the show because he’d slept through his alarm on three occasions.

The carnage wasn’t limited to MSNBC, though. FOX News won the lottery to place cameras inside the convention center, meaning their footage would be broadcast across all outlets. They were immediately criticized for undermining Obama with too many cut-aways to the Clintons. Anchor Megyn Kelly then was accused of making racist comments for criticizing Michelle Obama’s teal dress, saying it was “not the color for these women.” She was referring, of course, to the clashing blue background on stage. In the meantime, Bill O’Reilly has taken every opportunity to trot out Howard Wolfson to attack Olbermann and sing the praises of FOX’s “fair and balanced” reporting.

At ABC, George Stephanopoulos saw his role reduced after having been seen as an attack dog for the Clintons during the Philadelphia Democratic Debate, and then the network was embarrassingly walloped in the ratings by CNN, the only political team that’s been able to remotely shelve its own feelings (except for you, Campbell Brown). By the time this makes print, the same circus will have repeated itself, as the news media continues to parody itself and the old boys’ club must tacitly admit it’s lost in uncharted waters. I see Olbermann protégé Rachel Maddow accusing Sarah Palin of betraying her gender. I see Keith Olbermann comparing Cindy McCain to the Crypt Keeper.

I’ve already seen NBC fail to feed through the applause from delegates in St. Paul during President Bush’s speech, making him appear that he’s just pausing randomly and grinning like an idiot. They’ll be lucky if they can manage to air a test signal by the time November 4 rolls around. As I watched Hillary Clinton cede her claim to the Democratic nomination last week, I wondered why the network teams couldn’t stop tearing themselves and each other apart with ego and partisanship.

At a moment when good people of every gender, color, and orientation are accomplishing like never before, both nationally and right here on this campus, I wondered, why can’t Olbermann and O’Reilly join hands and ride the love train during these two historic celebrations? Then I looked closer, as FOX’s pooled video zoomed in on Hillary Clinton’s gyrating to The O’Jays, her haltingly disingenuous grin spread a bit too wide across my television. Forget it. This love train’s not headed far from the station.