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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

note to journalists: when the people in power don’t like your tone, you’re doing something right

Cenk Uygur was a host for an MSNBC news talk show. I say was because MSNBC let him go this week because he was not sufficiently deferential to the power structures in Washington. Uygur talks to Keith Olbermann about his ouster:

Key points: The head of MSNBC, alleged to be a journalistic endeavor, should have been ecstatic to hear from big players in Washington that those big players are “concerned” about the “tone” of one of its journalists. That’s when you throw a party for that employee, and give him a fat raise. The job of a watchdog media — which is what we’re supposed to have — is to make the powerful uncomfortable, and here’s proof that you’re doing that! But MSNBC doesn’t see its position as an outsider snarling at the heels of the powerful. As Uygur was told — by the head of MSNBC — “we’re insiders, we’re the establishment.” We being MSNBC, of course.

They’re not even pretending anymore.

(I sympathize with Uygur, having had my own run-in, if on a much smaller scale, with the powerful over my “tone.”)

Glenn Greenwald, as always, gets right to the heart of the matter in “Cenk Uygur and the ethos of corporate-owned media”:

Uygur often refused to treat members of the political and media establishment with deference and respect. He didn’t politely imply with disguised subtleties when he thought a politician or media figure was lying or corrupt, but instead said it outright. In interviews, he was sometimes unusually aggressive with leading Washington figures, subjecting them to civil though hostile treatment to which they were plainly unaccustomed.

It’s perfectly fine in establishment discourse to express contempt for one of the two political parties. It’s equally fine to periodically criticize your own. But what is most assuredly not fine — particularly in a high-profile nighttime spot and without having a real power base that comes from mammoth ratings — is to be aggressively adversarial to the political establishment itself and the financial interests that fund, own and control that political system. That is what Uygur was…

Nobody succeeds at a large corporation without understanding and accommodating the prevailing ethos and the interests of that corporation as perceived by one’s bosses.

This is what happens when journalism becomes big business: it becomes about money first, second, and third. Journalism can no longer be done if the money is at risk.

And they’re no longer even pretending this isn’t the case.

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