Partisan media not necessarily bad

On the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Keith Olbermann delivered perhaps the harshest rebuke of President Bush. That night, he asked President Bush how he dared take the actions he did in Iraq and accused him of using 9/11 as a way to instill fear amongst the American people. It was as strong a condemnation as any liberal television host has offered.

“Countdown with Keith Olbermann” has been a staple on the left-leaning cable news network MSNBC since 2003. Olbermann has won over a solid group of dedicated fans who have gravitated to his special comment sections criticizing Republican policies and the actions of the Bush administration.

Until recently, Olbermann featured a “Worst Person in the World” segment in which he has granted the title repeatedly to conservative Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, conservative commentator Ann Coulter and various Republican officials.

Since President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, Olbermann has signed off his show each night by counting the number of days it has been since that faulty proclamation was made.

It’s been no secret that Olbermann considers himself a liberal. The same can be said for other prime time hosts on MSNBC — Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. All have made obvious statements in support of Democrats.

Matthews briefly considered running as a Democrat for a Pennsylvania Senate seat. Maddow has participated in White House discussions when liberal commentators have been invited to sit with President Obama.

In a way, while the network has an obvious liberal slant, it seems that MSNBC wanted to differentiate itself from Fox — a network that unabashedly puts forth right-wing commentators who have openly made donations to Republican candidates and have issued endorsements of Republicans.

Network executives seem to want to create the image of MSNBC as less partisan in nature than Fox.

The question is: should MSNBC be running from the partisan label?

Partisan news has its advantages. First, it works. MSNBC used to be stuck in a solid third place in the cable news ratings. Fox News and CNN were both heavily outpacing it. Then, MSNBC decided to become the liberal alternative to the conservative Fox. When the line-up cemented itself, MSNBC leapfrogged CNN to become the second-place cable news network in America.

Second, it gives politicians an opportunity to speak to their bases. During the health care debate, Democratic representatives and senators took to MSNBC to make the case for the bill and soothe fears among progressives that the bill was not comprehensive enough. It allows partisans to hear about the issues that matter to them.

That being said, partisan news only works if there is a compelling alternative on each side of the political spectrum. The proposal has been made to bring “Sun TV News” to Canada (what many have termed “Fox News North”). The argument has been that the supposedly liberal-leaning CBC should have a conservative counterpart.

While I would wholeheartedly dispute the equivalency of a corporate media conglomerate dominating the right-wing in Canada to a publicly owned broadcasting company with a shaky (if any) liberal edge, I also don’t think we should pretend that we are above partisanship in Canada.

One needs only to tune into one day of Question Period to see that we too have reduced politics to a childlike frenzy of partisan exchanges.

A partisan news network on both sides of the aisle might add some interesting spice to Canadian politics. Let’s face it: an Olbermann or Maddow-like figure critiquing Prime Minister Harper could bring some passion and provocative and compelling news coverage that might bring some much-needed excitement to the Canadian political landscape.

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