Rules Made to Be Broken

Keith Olbermann discovers previously unknown exceptions to the code of journalistic ethics. Updated!

It has been said that anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals. The quote has been attributed to Eugene McCarthy, but whoever said it understood a greater truth. Often people are so blinded by their own light that they can't see when they engage in the very behavior they criticize in others. This includes politicians, bloggers, and--yes--journalists.

For months we have documented the attacks (and slanders) directed at Fox News. These are invariably launched with righteous allegations of inaccuracy (Fox gets it wrong; O'Reilly is a liar), as well as partisanship (the "propaganda arm of the GOP" mantra)--all presented in the context of other media outlets never making a mistake, never telling an untruth, never having any kind of ideological slant.

As FNC's popularity and influence increase, the naysayers become increasingly reckless. Standards of logic, journalistic ethics, and responsibility suddenly do not apply, as long as the purpose is to smear Fox News. Hatred of Fox is the new anti-Semitism of the "intellectual" class, and no holds are barred.

Mistakes. Everyone makes them; humanity is not perfectible. But when the target is Fox News, suddenly rules are inoperable. publishes a factually incorrect article about FNC. There is no correction, nor any reply to email inquiries. The New Republic makes up a story about Fox News, easily demolished with just a few minutes of Lexis/Nexis research. Did they publish a retraction?

TVNewser prints an alleged quote from Bill O'Reilly, reported by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC using his typical bedsnide manner. Both parties are provided with proof they were wrong. No corrections. And this site is littered with scores of articles detailing doctored and fabricated quotes from the newshounds, in almost every case never retracted.

When O'Reilly said Peabody instead of Polk, he corrected it. On air. When Brit Hume got a statistic about Iraq wrong, he corrected it. On air. But the very people who sneer at Fox News, who demand retractions, are themselves above all that.

This is all permissible, in an ends-justifies-the-means sort of way, because Fox News only tells one side of a story, don't you know? And what could be more antithetical to honest, responsible journalism than just telling one side?

Follow: Keith Olbermann takes a shot at Bill O'Reilly. This particular example of Olbermann's Obsession deals with O'Reilly's college football career. Within four hours' time, TVNewser has posted the verbatim transcript of Olbermann's "report" for all to read. The next evening, as expected, Bill O'Reilly airs a response to Olbermann's report. That text will be up on TVNewser within a few hours, right? Well, then maybe the next day? Sorry, no. There is no need to present both sides of the story--it's Keith Olbermann attacking O'Reilly. That makes it gospel.

One more day passes, and there's another turn of events. The President of Marist College issues a press release: they checked with the 1970 football staff and verified that O'Reilly was right, and Olbermann was wrong. Surely this will be reported by TVNewser, since he thought Olbermann's original "news story" was so significant. But this development does not make Keith Olbermann look good, or Bill O'Reilly look bad. It does not appear in TVNewser's column.

Meanwhile, Olbermann continues to flog the story day after day. When Marist weighed in we wondered how he would handle it, because a responsible journalist would never deliberately tell just one side of a story. The answer is obvious: those pesky rules of journalistic ethics are inoperable--after all, it's an attack on Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. And he's Keith Olbermann, the man who doesn't have to correct false stories, and screens out news that makes him look bad. He doesn't report the Marist statement.

This is an issue that transcends the question of who is factually correct. It's basic fairness, journalistic equity, and balance. To report only one side of a controversy, and pretend like the other side doesn't even exist, is a lie--a lie of omission. It deceives readers and viewers; it misleads the public. And whether it's an ambitious blogger, or the host of a national "news" hour, it's flat out wrong.

Update: TVNewser put up a link to another Olbermann article, which according to TVN "wraps up" the story. A few hours later, citing reader responses, he did another follow up and reported the Marist College statement. Thanks! TVN's readers now know both sides of the story. When will Olbermann's viewers be granted the same privilege?

posted: Thu - February 10, 2005 at 04:06 PM       j$p  send 

Robert Cox
This is a terrific post...nice work!
February 10, 2005, 3:31:15 PM EST – Like – Reply

good post, I have never ceased to be amazed how open for attack Fox is by the rest of the media and how little responsibility they take for how inaccurate most of it is. Time to mount a major counter offensive, especially in O"Reilly's case. I have almost never seen someone so dishonestly maligned as this guy.
February 10, 2005, 6:16:35 PM EST – Like – Reply

Ditto to Bob Cox's comment.
I have also noted that whenever Brian Stetler (TV Newser)posts an item about O'Reilly, it is usually from a third person source, such as, an Olbermann blog or a transcript from a hostile website. In the name of journalistic integrity, you would think that Stetler would bother to occasionally watch the O'Reilly Factor or listen to our "humble correspondent" on radio. Maybe "boy wonder" is too busy with his college studies, hopefully he is not majoring in journalism!
Johnny: Been meaning to ask, but you are not the "John Dollar" who was arrested with his wife in Utah on child abuse? 
Just kidding!
February 10, 2005, 6:28:42 PM EST – Like – Reply

johnny dollar
no relation!
February 10, 2005, 6:38:31 PM EST – Like – Reply

Example: Last week Al Franken played Boxer telling Rice that her "loyalty to the mission outweighed (her) loyalty to the truth." He then plays O'Reilly talking to a caller on his radio show saying that Boxer had told Rice that it outweighed her loyalty to the "troops." The same sort of piddly bullshit that Franken tries to turn into some sort of scandal... except a quick check of the transcript, easily found at and elsewhere, showed that Boxer did indeed imply that Rice didn't care about the troops, saying she hadn't mentioned them in a statement about Iraq. Look for it yourself, search for the word "troops." O'Reilly made a silly slip-up but he was ultimately in the right. Of course no "boring correction" from Franken (the DNC adviser, who all but personally hand-picked Kerry for the nomination, and called reporters to his show to tell them that Limbaugh, Hume and Bennett are liars and he's not running for the Senate) is forthcoming.
February 10, 2005, 9:57:17 PM EST – Like – Reply

And let's not forget the Ann Coulter "lie" (one of many) that turned out to be true as well - Canada absolutely supported the Vietnam war, but was only "officially neutral" and the CBC itself reported this.
February 10, 2005, 9:58:48 PM EST – Like – Reply

Trackback message
Title: Olbermann goes Olber the top.
Excerpt: \"Is it just me, or is there something borderline homoerotic about this guy\'s fixation on O\'Reilly and the tapes?\"
Well, I guess it wasn\'t just me. Olby has cracked up. He\'s lettin\' it all hang out. See the video at Olbermannwatc...
Blog name: EtherHouse
February 12, 2005, 6:53:52 AM EST – Like

Worst case, not the truth, but absolutely worst case scenario let’s say that Fox News is the new propaganda wing of the GOP, just for sake of argument. SO WHAT!? The left has had their propaganda wing for decades and the GOP deserves the same. Now, with that said, I propose that we look at this without political blinders on. 
The left has a self-defeating argument using an intellectual analysis. For a long time, republicans have been saying that the mainstream media has a political tilt to the left, while the left argued that even though elitists in the media agree with them they still reported in a fashion that was not biased. That their beliefs did not show in their reporting. Well, if this is the case, then why can’t a news outlet like Fox have more than its fair share of people who tilt to the right while reporting and brining discussions in an unbiased fashion. 
One comment about the Fox Coverage of the inauguration said well it was only twelve hours of coverage. That is pat
February 12, 2005, 11:19:31 AM EST – Like – Reply

Continuing... ...One comment about the Fox Coverage of the inauguration said well it was only twelve hours of coverage. That is patently irrelevant. Many of the comments were directly related to that particular coverage and debates. You can’t say that twelve-hour event was all right wing propaganda then turn 180 degrees around and say well that was only twelve hours that he analyzed.
February 12, 2005, 11:20:41 AM EST – Like – Reply