In an analysis of TV journalism on Wednesday night, I wrote that a red-ball event like the terrorist attacks in Mumbai often provided a great look into a news organization.
But in expressing my dismay at the way MSNBC couldn't let go of the comedic shtick of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow to provide viewers with a steady diet of hard news and information on Mumbai during prime time, I missed a key point: MSNBC isn't a news channel any more in any way, shape or form. It is a 24-hour used-to-be-news channel that now appears to want to be a cross between Comedy Central's The Daily Show and Fox News from the left.
There are a bunch of implications to that. First and foremost, if true, it means that we are down to one trustworthy cable channel for news and information, CNN, and that is a dangerous situation when there is only one reliable outlet for news in a democracy.
On a less cosmic level, I wonder if maybe I should quit judging MSNBC as a news channel? But by what standards should it then be judged? Comedy? Is it as funny as The Daily Show? Is that what I should asking? I know the answer to that one?
While I have written several pieces since Maddow joined the MSNBC lineup in September expressing my concern about channel embracing an ideologically-oriented, propaganda-tinged approach to news (like Fox at the other end of the spectrum), it was a comment posted yesterday by my colleague, Aaron Barnhart, that got me thinking this way. Barnhart urged me to think of MSNBC as news-talk rather than news. But I think he's being too generous.
Here's part of what I said to Barnhart about the way the Olbermann and Maddow shows broke away from Mumbai coverage after about 10 minutes to go with their usual lists and laughs. (You can read Barnhart's comment and the full response here.):
Many readers of Z on TV like Maddow and Olbermann, and I totally understand that. Everyone who believes in science and hates the way we wound up in two wars and on the very brink of economic collapse (me included), couldn't help but welcome Olbermann's assault on the Bush administration. But that is not journalism, and it is my job to keep repeating that -- even if no one wants to hear it.
And lots of folks do not. I am surprised at how many readers want to defend MSNBC for leaving Mumbai for fun and games with Keith and Rachel after 10 minutes at the top of each prime-time hour that they control.
To me, that's a loss.
(Above: MSNBC photo of Rachel Maddow)