Something's rotten in the state of Denmark

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Olbermann: "Ohio really, really messed up."

The Online Journalism Review has a great interview with Keith Olbermann on their website.

Here's the relevant material:

OJR: What first got you interested in voting irregularities, and why do you think you're the only mainstream news guy up on this?

KO: Ironically enough it was a piece in a newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer. MSM [mainstream media] in the heartland. It was the story of the still unexplained "lockdown" of the vote-counting in Warren County, Ohio. That just struck me as a terrific, very strange story. That was my doorway to a lot of terrific, very strange stories.

The MSM is beginning to get on board, as I suggested they might, as the Ohio recount becomes a reality. Chip Reid, a friend of mine who reports for NBC, went from doing a piece for Nightly News dismissing everything to just recently doing a piece on the Ohio recount, the reports of the flaky computer voting, etc. There was a Bev Harris sound bite in an Aaron Brown package on CNN the other night. They've only put a toe in the water, but they may yet dive in.

Relative to my being first, I think it's largely because I'm not a full-time political guy and not a partisan. The MSM political reporters are: 1) outcome-driven (when Kerry conceded, they checked out, largely because of exhaustion), and 2) driven by what the parties say about one another (Kerry concedes, Democrats stay in the background, Republicans say nothing -- so in their minds, where's the story?). My thought is that there are three components in the two-party system: Republicans, Democrats, and Voters.

Also I think TV has been reluctant because as an industry, we can soft-soap it all we want, but we did use those "early wave" exit polls to shape the tone of the early hours of election night coverage. We took so much grief in 2000, I think there's a natural reticence to publicize the fact that something might have gone wrong this time, too, especially when few of our critics in the newspapers are bringing it up themselves. There's a lot of passivity going around.

OJR: In your gut feeling, what do you think all the irregularities and recounts in Ohio and Florida will show, in the end?

KO: I can guarantee that they'll show that this Rube Goldbergian system of different voting laws, voting equipment, voting auditing we have in this country can't be taken for granted any more and must be standardized nationally, or we face a real threat to the democracy. As John Zogby said on the show the other night, yeah, it's great that 80% of the public thinks the election was absolutely legitimate. But, my God, that means one in five don't. That's an incredibly dangerous truth. We have to fix that.

Practically speaking, I suspect that the Ohio recount and whatever happens in Florida will not alter the outcome -- although I don't think that's the billion-to-one shot people assume. I'd say it's closer to 8:1. Ohio really, really messed up. And I think we'll see a lot of proved computerized disasters, and a lot of inappropriate partisanship.

OJR: How would you describe yourself politically on the liberal-to-conservative spectrum? How important do you think it is for MSM to be transparent on their political affiliations?

KO: I'm not political. I don't vote -- I don't believe journalists covering politics should (and I don't think the democracy would suffer if however many of us there are, recused ourselves). I have no more interest in the political outcome of an election than I did in the winner or loser of any ballgame I ever covered. I think transparency is vital; I think it's also, in these super-heated political times, unintentionally inescapable. If a reporter's work in turn winds up criticizing a candidate or party in some cases, and praising that same candidate or party in others, he's as close to neutral as he can be. If not, he's a partisan. The partisans outnumber the neutrals 1000:1.

It's a great interview, especially for anyone interested also interested in the topic of how blogging is changing how mainstream media covers the news.

(Thanks to Derelection for the tip.)