Bottom lines over free press: why the cable news truce will ruin believable reporting

On the front page of today’s New York Times, an article sits non-threateningly below the fold, with only a headline above two-inch columns. With readers accustomed to flashing, neon web ads and a barrage of online images, the article is non-descript, innocuous.

But delve into Brian Stelter’s article on the nightly battle between MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, and it’s clear that the cease-fire amounts to more than the termination of a heated media feud. In the Times article, Stelter recounts O’Reilly’s attack on MSNBC’s parent company, G.E., in 2007, sparking G.E. to ask Olbermann to quell his attacks on O’Reilly because the anchor of Fox News’ 8 p.m. news show was damaging G.E.’s reputation. Said Gary Sheffer, a spokesman for G.E.:

We all recognize that a certain level of civility needed to be introduced into the public discussion.

But the agreement between the leaders of the corporations that own the news channels is more than a plea for polite discourse to replace the malicious attacks between the bombastic news personalities.

In the middle of the article, Stelter’s writes:

Shortly after, Phil Griffin, the MSNBC president, told producers that he wanted the channel’s other programs to follow Mr. Olbermann’s lead and restrain from criticizing Fox directly, according to two employees. At Fox News, some staff members were told to “be fair” to G.E.

Fox News’ parent News Corporation and G.E. have initiated corporate censorship, valuing their bottom lines more than free press. The media détente has suppressed the daily bickering, but it has also restricted the democratic hallmark of public opinion.

Earlier this month, CNN’s Campbell Brown hailed her news station for being “the only one that is still doing journalism,” claiming, “Fox has made a choice to go in one direction, MSNBC has made a choice to go in the other direction.” The declaration riled other news stations and even led to Vanity Fair locking one of their interns in a room for four days watching four leading cable news stations to determine if Brown’s statement had merit.

And with it now obvious that corporations would rather protect their earnings than fearlessly report the news, maybe Brown’s declaration was not so outlandish. And given that the Times article did not address the question of corporate censorship, maybe they, too, are afraid to speak against the news corporations that provide funding for most newspapers.

But here’s what makes this ready censorship so frightening: Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, a media conglomerate with newspapers across the world in addition to its cable news stations and internet holdings, recently told Fox Business he could “see the day — and it may be 20 years away — where you don’t actually have paper and ink and printing presses.”

If, as Murdoch predicts and has power to control, there is no print media, television and the Internet will be the only sources of news. And if television is already censored, the Internet will become the only way to deliver credible news.

At least online, anyone can be a reporter, even once-suppressed maliciously spiteful egotists.

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One response to “Bottom lines over free press: why the cable news truce will ruin believable reporting

  1. Watchdog of free expression of ideas rides herd and reads beyond the headline/

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