Keep Your Opinions to Yourself

by Melissa Brunner

For those not in the news business, Keith Olbermann's suspension might not make much sense. After all, we're always telling people to get involved, cast their ballot and make their voice heard.

In case you're not familiar, Olbermann hosts "Countdown" on MSNBC. The network suspended him last week upon learning he'd made financial contributions to three political candidates. The network has a policy that employees cannot donate to political candidates without prior consent.

Here's where the discussion turns: Is Olbermann a journalist or a commentator? And should the two be treated differently when it comes to the political contribution policy?

It's a question I encounter quite often when I'm speaking to groups or classes. I caution people to take note of whether they are viewing a news program or what I call "news-o-tainment." 13 News at 5, 6 and 10 are news programs. We will tell you about an issue or about a candidate, but we will not tell you what to think about that issue or that candidate. Our news programs are there to give you the information and the views from those on both sides, and then you use that information to form your own opinion. We as reporters and anchors must be an extension of that. I will not be an active participant at a political rally, decline to sign petitions and would not make a financial contribution to a candidate.

However, "news-o-tainment" shows make no secret of their views, positions and philosophies. If you watch Keith Olbermann - or Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow - you will know their opinion of the issue at hand. As such, do you think they should be held to the same standard as others in news? At MSNBC, hosts like Olbermann fall under the news division. I've read, too, that part of the criticism comes because Olbermann anchored part of MSNBC's election night coverage, which they believe should be an unbiased presentation.

I'm interested in your thoughts because the issue of news versus opinion keeps cropping up. As the major broadcast networks' evening news program ratings continue to decline, the "news-o-tainment" shows continue to develop growing and devoted followings. It begs the question - does the public no longer want unbiased presentation? do you prefer a dash of opinion with your information?


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