They came, they were adored, they conquered.
No, not the president, his family or the numerous actors and political heirs who spoke glowingly of Barack Obama during the Democratic National Convention.
I’m talking about the media – and especially MSNBC, whose presence and influence in Charlotte were nearly as grand as the president’s.
No one pretends anymore that MSNBC is an objective observer to the news. Obviously, the decision was made to be aggressively progressive. With the exception of “Morning Joe,” where Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski co-host a roundtable of commentators, politicos and actors who dispense praise and criticism equally to Democrats and Republicans, the cable network’s other political shows are unapologetically pro-Democratic, pro-Obama.
Thus, the powers that be correctly imagined themselves as co-players at the Democratic convention. A section of downtown Charlotte was reinvented as MSNBC Plaza, which included an open-air studio, a cafe, a lounge and the “MSNBC Experience,” for which fans stood in long lines to enter, cheering as their favorite stars appeared. A looming tower above the outdoor stage featured huge headshots of the well-known anchors. The president’s visage on T-shirts here and there was a mere comma to the anchor’s exclamation points.
But that’s show biz! MSNBC’s charming and self-aware Willie Geist compared the bling, tchotchkes and network-branded paraphernalia to North Korean propaganda.
I happened to be in the MSNBC Plaza during a daytime concert when the lead singer announced, “Chris Matthews is in the hall, Chris Matthews!” All I could think was, good thing Obama didn’t show up at the same time. He might have been ignored. In fairness to the anchors, most are reluctant participants in this strange pas de deux. That television personalities are also celebrities is, alas, unavoidable. We naturally feel a bond with people who are in our kitchens and living rooms every day. Producers count on this connection. What is not counted on by casual consumers is the merging of a television personality’s politics and the viewer’s understanding of the world.
The blending of news and opinion isn’t new, but activism posing as journalism is a cancer on the body politic. While some viewers may be savvy enough to understand the difference and choose their medicine accordingly, many are not.
Perhaps the answer is a more honest approach and greater transparency. Surrendering pretentions to objectivity, news organizations (including Fox) can declare their political objectives and make the best case. In a sense, this is what Rachel Maddow does with her nightly monologues. As such, she is essentially a televised opinion columnist.
Just to be clear, opinion columnists are supposed to be opinionated. It’s what they’re paid to do. But this arrangement is understood between writer and reader. Some television news organizations still make an attempt to be balanced. But the larger observation remains: news consumers are increasingly less likely to get the impartial information they need to make smart decisions.
No longer do we get what we pay for, as the adage goes. We get what the activists want – and we all pay for it.