08/2/09 - 3:25am
by Chas Danner

“Wasn’t Good for Either Parent”

The New York Times yesterday published an eye-opening story about how the corporate parents of Fox News and MSNBC had ended on on-air feud between Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann because the feud “wasn’t good for either parent” (corporation). Then Glenn Greenwald did exactly what a smart blogger should and took the NYT pass and scored a bigger point by examining the implications of this news. His piece is a bit too long but needs to be read by anyone that lets themselves forget that what they see on TV every day is not “pure” journalism but an evolution of information and entertainment driven as much by profit interests as by any other force. That is not some whacko media watchdog rant either; it is a plain fact. Rarely however is there such a big smoking gun like the ending of this feud…

So now GE is using its control of NBC and MSNBC to ensure that there is no more reporting by Fox of its business activities in Iran or other embarrassing corporate activities, while News Corp. is ensuring that the lies spewed regularly by its top-rated commodity on Fox News are no longer reported by MSNBC.  You don’t have to agree with the reader’s view of the value of this reporting to be highly disturbed that it is being censored.

GE’s silencing of Olbermann and MSNBC’s sleazy use of Richard Wolffe – Glenn Grenwald @ Salon

And then bookend that story with Frank Rich’s new column about Gates/Crowley, the “Beer Summit,” and the Birthers – in which he mentions at a glance how an MSNBC anchor actually admitted that health care, the most important political issue facing the country right now by far, is a ratings bore and the effect that has. From the orginal Politico reporting of that admission:

Ratigan said that “cable networks’ ratings go off a cliff” during the health care debate, which eventually “forces the conversation out of the TV.”

The free press is supposed to be the most effective way that important information is shared in a Democracy. We see every day how the lack of a free press negatively effects a country like Iran or any of the former Soviet states. But even our treasured free press, on the right or left, is not free from the bias of corporate profitability. That may be a complaint people have heard too often or from someone with too outraged a tone to be properly respected – but it is still a *really* important reality that people should try to understand. It isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s a business model.

And to some extent it’s also up to the journalists themselves to stand up to their bosses. Keith Olbermann pays tribute to Edward R. Murrow every night by duplicating his sign off, but would Murrow have listened to GE?

There is no suggestion here that networks or individual stations should operate as philanthropies. But I can find nothing in the Bill of Rights or the Communications Act which says that they must increase their net profits each year, lest the Republic collapse.