Simple explanation for media behavior

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on
his not understanding it. -- Upton Sinclair

Much has been made of Keith Olbermann's recent slide into virulent anti-Clinton spin. Is he a misogynist? closet righty? Obamaniac? Acting on double-secret marching orders from the VWRC? It seems to me there is a much simpler explanation - straightforward careerism.

Jack Welch bought NBC/CNBC/MSNBC for GE, and stocked the top star news positions with a cadre of Irish Catholic Reagan Democrats Brian Williams, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert. The top boys have long been very chummy with Welch, and he pays them well, so they put out the kind of news product they know will please him. Welch still has enormous influence at NBC, although he is now technically retired. Welch does not have to call a meeting and tell people to go after Clinton. He made his feelings known long ago while summering with Brian, Chris, and Timmy on Nantucket, and they set the tone for the rest of the news talkers.

Along comes rising star KO, who of couse would love to break into the top tier at NBC. Williams, Matthews, and Russert have consistently gone after Clinton, so it is not too hard for Keith to see which way the wind is blowing. If you want to make it at NBC, being fair to Clinton is not your best play.

Careerism easily explains the baffling anti-Clinton unanimity among lefty radio talkers as well. With the rise of liberal talk radio, many of these personalities have become well known. But very few people achieve true superstar status via radio. Rush Limbaugh is the only one I can think of who was really famous before he ever went on TV. He sucked at it, by the way, but is still a mega-star on radio. Rush is the exception that proves the rule - all the other right wing talkers, Hannity, O'Rielly, et al, made it big by making onto TV.

OK, so Ed Schultz gets invited on Hardball as a guest, and Matthews is there slamming Hillary, and Ed is a smart guy, he knows how Chris feels about her. Does he stand up for her, and probably blow any chance of ever getting invited back? Or does he pretend not to notice, or even voice agreement about the nastiness of vile Clinton? After all, how can we blame Big Eddie for having a preference, just because that preference happens to also be good for his career? And just because every other lefty radio personality has the same preference, even though they are all over the left half of the map demographically and ideologically, maybe it is just a coincidence. But that is not the way to bet.

The same career dynamic has driven liberal superstar print pundits to stare blankly into space as big name Democrats have been trashed for the past couple of decades. Again, maybe it is a coincidence that Paul Krugman, the only liberal print pundit who has been willing to take a hard look at Obama's policy proposals and pronounce them below par, is a college professor, whose real career success depends on peer reviewed articles in economics journals, and does not hinge on what mass media big wigs think of his ideas.

Even on the web, the large majority of the big liberal web pundits are either in the Obama camp (Kos, JMM, Kevin Drum), or trying desparately to remain neutral (Digby, Atrios). Obama fans like to complain about how biased MyDD is toward Clinton. Frankly, I think the front page is fairly balanced, and the comments are more balanced lately (though the rhetoric in the comments is getting to be somewhat "unbalanced", if you get my drift). But even stipulating that MyDD is some sort of Clinton propaganda catapult, that makes one out of how many?

It is certainly a very odd coincidence to see such a large differential in preference among liberal commentators in all media forms. One would think Obama was leading Clinton 30 to 1, rather than 16 to 15.

Tags: Air America, Maddow, Olbermann, Shultz (all tags)



Re: Simple explanation for media behavior

As an Obama supporter, I think there is something to the conspiracy you talk about, but I highly doubt KO would stoop so low. He's way too rebellious for that. That is a good point about the Irish Catholic Reagan Democrats. I never thought about it that way.

Frankly, I'd have to disagree with your assessment that MyDD's front page is fairly balanced. The "moderator" Todd Beeton's comments are clearly pro-Hillary a majority of the time. You are right that the rest of the site is much more pro-Hillary than the front page, though. But, we're not talking about biases of Fox News proportions, more like slight biases like the MSM (not including Fox of course).

I really think it's hard for many activists to accept the new kid on the block, regardless of his race. Can you imagine how all these senators must feel knowing Obama just comes in and is on the brink of being the nominee after not paying his dues? Look at John Kerry. He let the guy speak at the 2004 Convention, and would BO be here had he not had that opportunity? I think there's a racist element to it, though. All the people - mainly on the right - that said George Bush was experienced enough to be Commander in Chief in 2000 are now claiming BO is not. BO has served on the Foreign Relations committee for 3 years now (2 really if you account for his non-stop campaigning over the last year). What did Bush know about foreign policy in 2000? I think many people use racism, anti-progressivism, etc. to justify not voting for someone on the experience issue, on all sides of the political spectrum.

by fsugrad 2008-03-13 12:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Simple explanation for media behavior

I would not call it a conspiracy. That's kind of my point - these are bright, ambitious folks. They can see which way the wind blows.

Are there racists? Sure. Do they come in all colors and political parties? Sure. But realistically, most of the classic white racists - unreconstructed segregationist types - migrated out of the Democratic party after the Civil Rights Acts were passed. The process took several decades.

If Obama does become our nominee, we'd better be prepared for an absolute shitstorm of race hatred - coming form multiple sources, all carefully disconnected from any detectable links to the RNC or the McCain campaign. These people will not go gently, and they do not care one bit about the good of the country as a whole.

by itsthemedia 2008-03-13 01:30AM | 0 recs
Crucial lacks - experience and honesty

I think that many people are beginning to see that this debate has nothing to do with anything other than one candidate (Hillary) being exceptionally well qualified and straightforward and the other (Obama) being very inexperienced and often deceptive, in a way that reminds me, at least, of our current nightmare of a President.

I don't want to see us make a big mistake again..

by architek 2008-03-13 01:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Simple explanation for media behavior

calling brian williams a reagan democrat has made me lol.


by theninjagoddess 2008-03-13 12:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Simple explanation for media behavior

WILLIAMS (12/26/04): I do listen to Rush. I listen to it from a radio in my office, or depending on my day, if I'm in the car, I will listen to Rush. And he will tell you I've been listening for years. I think it's my duty to listen to Rush. I think Rush has actually yet to get the credit he is due, because his audience for so many years felt they were in the wilderness of this country. No one was talking to them.


Rush said to millions of Americans, "You have a home. Come with me. For three hours a day you can listen and hear the like-minded calling in from across the country, and I'll read to you things perhaps you didn't see that are out there." I think Rush gave birth to the Fox News Channel. I think Rush helped to give birth to a movement. I think he played his part in the Contract with America. So I hope he gets his due as a broadcaster.

Seriously, if you think Williams is not sympathetic to the right, go to and type "Brian Williams" into the search window.

by itsthemedia 2008-03-13 01:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Simple explanation for media behavior

I don't see this as "sympathetic to the right." It's his job to listen to Limbaugh, to know what's being said out there. He's also correct when he speaks of Limbaugh's connection with the disaffected right and of Limbaugh's tremendous impact on US politics.

Where does he say that he agrees (or disagrees) with the vitriol that spews from Limbaugh's ungainly mouth?

by vermontprog 2008-03-13 01:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Simple explanation for media behavior

go to and type "Brian Williams" into the search window.

by itsthemedia 2008-03-13 02:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Simple explanation for media behavior

Excellent dairy. I wish Jack Welsh would stop hurting this country. Surely, he must have some love of the country that gave him so much.

By the way, some of comments have begun to be unballanced. Mine included. My bad.

That said, Obama really ...

by moi moi 2008-03-13 08:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Simple explanation for media behavior

I found the behavior of people like Welch, Bush, Cheney, et al much less baffling once I finally got my head around the idea that they really DO NOT care about the country, or about anybody they don't know personally. They just have a pathologically stunted sense of empathy.

by itsthemedia 2008-03-13 10:07PM | 0 recs


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