Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's the Difference Between Fox News and MSNBC?

I don't think I need to explain why I think Fox News is an insult to the very concept of journalism. There is no reporting they offer, just poorly presented propaganda. I have written about Fox News before and don't find it necessary to repeat myself. Today, however, I caught myself in a realization that I dislike MSNBC just as much and for the same reasons.

As a progressively-minded individual I am supposed to like MSNBC and use them as one of my main news sources. And I honestly tried to join my fellow liberals in their love for this channel. Of course, there is no doubt in my mind that Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, Keith Olbermann and Co are better human beings and more intelligent journalists than Brit Hume, Bill O'Reilly, and all those other screamers from Fox News. But the journalism these people with opposing political views end up producing is, in my opinion, of equally low quality.

I can't applaud any journalist who faithfully reiterates the party line with a single-minded abandon of a religious fanatic and without questioning any part of said party agenda. I can't do it even when the party line in question coincides with my own political beliefs. "The-Democrats-are-the-anti-Christ" agenda of Fox News is just as disappointing in its simplistic attitude to reality as the MSNBC's "the-Republicans-are-the-anti-Christ" spiel.  

Let's take Rachel Maddow, for example. I admire her a lot because it's impossible not to when seeing somebody so talented, beautiful, charming, and articulate. But has anybody noticed how much she has in common with Bill O'Reilly? Their politics are as different as night and day, of course, but their journalistic methods are eerily similar. It took me a while to notice this because as somebody who agrees with Maddow's politics, I am very inclined to admire her no matter what. Still, the more I watched her show on MSNBC, the more convinced I became that I'd already seen all these tricks somewhere else: the endless repetitions of very simple sentences of undisputed ideological power, the body language, the raised voice that keeps going up and up to accompany statements that become more simplified with each reiteration, an unwavering, fanatical party allegiance*. I knew I'd seen all that before. Finally, I couldn't keep hiding this from myself much longer: Maddow and O'Reilly have a lot more in common than their differing political view-points might lead us to expect.

I am convinced that progressive fanaticism is just as dangerous and scary as its conservative counterpart. There is nothing more terrifying than an unthinking agreement with any political agenda, irrespective of how attractive this particular agenda might look. Any thinking individual will unavoidably find him or herself in disagreement over a variety of subjects even with their closest allies. Intelligence always looks for its own way. Conformity is an impossible proposition for anybody who values their own intellectual independence. No promise of future political change can justify renouncing the right to one's own point of view.

This is why it's sad to see that these two major news stations have abandoned any attempt at real journalism in favor of spreading propaganda and ideological simplifications. Of course, that's easier than offering profound analysis, original thinking, difficult questions. Who needs to go to all that trouble when you can just repeat the same tired old mantras that the public is likely to eat up for lack of anything better anyways?

* Yes, this is just my opinion, like everything else on this blog (see the blog's header.) It will be fantastic if people avoid stating this very obvious fact of objective reality in the comments.

16 comments:

sehkmet said...

I had stopped watching Rachael Maddow precisely because of this repetition. I got tired of waiting for her to get to the point I already knew was coming. Having never made it through more than 60 seconds of any of the conservative shows, I never noticed the similarity. Thanks for nudging me into this insight.

Pagan Topologist said...

MSNBC has Morning Joe, which is really conservative, so much so that I have trouble watchihng it. I confess that I think that Rachel Maddow is a centrist, and the only thing I don't like about her is that she takes too much time to say things.

eric said...

I don't watch Faux, though I catch MSNBC occasionally when I'm bored. I prefer the Daily Show and Colbert report, which make no pretense toward being real news shows, but ironically, are. I realize the shortcomings of MSNBC when I watch it, keeping in mind a pithy quote from one of my intellectual heroes, Richard Rorty: "...the only difference is that I serve a better cause."

Clarissa said...

"MSNBC has Morning Joe, which is really conservative, so much so that I have trouble watchihng it"

-I don't watch television in the morning but maybe I should try this show at least once to see how bad it is.

"I don't watch Faux, though I catch MSNBC occasionally when I'm bored."

-What do you watch for news then? CNN is annoying, and there is nothing much left otherwise.

eric said...

There's local news. Actually, the local news on the Fox affiliate where I live is surprisingly populist, in the good sense. So it's Fox, but not Faux.

Pagan Topologist said...

I very much like BBC America News. And, I wish I could get the English language Al Jazeera, but I cannot.

Lindsay said...

Due to sensory issues, I don't watch much TV at all, and read my local newspaper, the New York Times and various websites for news.

(I cannot comprehend spoken language as well as I can written language, so for me watching TV for informative purposes is ... possible, but much harder than reading the same information would be).

I think you make a good point, though. Ideology is ideology, and even if MSNBC might not distort the facts as much as Fox News does (which seems to be the case given that study you blogged about recently that found Fox viewers to be the most misinformed), it's still probably not showing us everything that's going on.

(I also like Pagan Topologist's idea to watch Al Jazeera, if you can get it --- they're probably a lot better at reporting what's going on outside the U.S.!)

V said...

Al Jazeera is good indeed. It appeared one day spontaneously in my TV. Must have been some sort of a conspiracy - I live in a Jewish neighborhood. :) :)

Tom Carter said...

I agree with you in general. However, it's important to distinguish between Fox's news programs and its opinion shows. The news programs aren't so bad.

Truth is, all the media are biased in one way or another because the people who run them and the reporters are human beings. What bugs me is people who praise some of the more biased as being "centrist" or "moderate" when just the opposite is true.

About the only thing we can do is read or watch critically, trying to separate the legitimate news from the bias. Not always easy to do.

Pagan Topologist said...

Put simply, there are no leftist shows available. Maddow is a moderate. I have never heard her, for example, advocate nationalizing the airline industry, which I think would be a good idea.

Lindsay said...

Here's an idea --- it might be dumb, it might be something you've already thought of and rejected, but whatever --- I think the Spanish-language TV channel, Univision (there's an accent on that final O, but I am not sure if the HTML for that will show up in comments! Please do not think I am diacritical-mark-illiterate!!) has some news programming.

I haven't watched much of it, due to my non-propensity for watching TV news in general, so I can't tell you how good it is. But it is another option, and one that would be open to you, as you are a Spanish speaker.

Clarissa said...

Univision is a brilliant idea, actually. Why have I never thought of it before? Thanks for making me think of it!

PT: why would nationalizing the airlines be a good idea?? I always thought that would be the worst thing that can happen for frequent air travellers like me.

Pagan Topologist said...

It seems to me that airlines cannot make a consistent profit, yet we need them for our culture to function, just as we need roads. So freeing them to some extent from the pressures of the marketplace would guarantee thae availability of air travel on a consistent basis. The nearest airport ot me, Airport of New Castle County, (ILG) some years has airline service while some years it does not. The result is that most people here drive to Philadelphia International Airport and never even check whether there is currently service to the much closer airport.

Clarissa said...

I understand your argument but I believe that the only areas that profit from being nationalized are the ones where competition doesn't make the services (goods) offered better but rather makes them worse. Such areas are, in my opinion, medical care and education. So I think nationalizing these areas might make sense, although there are some complications in terms of education.

I confess, though, that I haven't thought enough about the airlines issue, so maybe you are right and I will see it if I think about it some more. Maybe should blog about it and see what people have to contribute.

Anonymous said...

I listen to BBC and CBC radio podcasts, skeptical podcasts, and a read few web news sites, and the local paper for the news. I used to watch the PBS News Hour until it became like network news and listen to NPR until the hosts became too annoying (I miss Bob Edwards).

Pagan Topologist said...

AMTRAK kept passenger train service available in this country. I love it. This service would have disappeared except for local commuter trains without it. I suppose it is arguable whether AMTRAK constitutes nationalization of the passenger rail industry, but it seems equivalent to me.