If the head of NBC News has to hastily and defensively rationalize the difference between journalism and opinion programming to his own staffers (which he did in a conference call last Friday), is it any wonder why the public’s trust of media is so low?
So many of journalism’s problems are self-inflicted. Including this latest one.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is leaving the Biden Administration to take a job at MSNBC. But she hasn’t left yet.
Yeah, that’s a problem.
Sure, Psaki has every right to move anywhere she wants to. But she should have stepped down from her White House position the instant she accepted MSNBC’s offer. This is pretty basic.
The appearance of even a temporary conflict of interest is troubling, and serves the interests of neither the American people nor the media.
So here’s how NBC News President Noah Oppenheim tried to babble his way out of this. When staffers expressed their concern and even alarm about the Psaki hiring, Oppenheim told them that they needed to understand the difference between the NBC News core brand and the “opinion arm” of MSNBC content. Psaki, he said, will host an opinion show on the MSNBC’s streaming “Peacock” platform. He told the staffers not to worry about it and just keep doing their jobs.
Then Oppenheim tried to further wash his hands by saying he had nothing to do with the Psaki hiring on MSNBC. It is true that Oppenheim does not oversee MSNBC, a role that has been filled for the past year by former NBC News Vice President Rashida Jones.
Jones has made no secret of her efforts to steer MSNBC toward more “opinion arm,” and “perspective” content. OK. MSNBC has every right to run its business.
But here’s the rub. Even as MSNBC increasingly becomes an “opinion” outlet with a particular and obvious political and social orientation, NBC News journalists continue appear on the cable network.
That’s not fair to those journalists. Their work naturally gets associated with the over-arching philosophy of MSNBC, making them “guilty by association” in the eyes of many news consumers and inevitably extending and reinforcing public perception of “media bias.”
There is absolutely a place, and even a need, for opinion-based content. What the hell do you think this very website is?
It’s the blurring of the lines and the absence of truth in labeling that fuels public mistrust.
Unforced error. So many of journalism’s problems are self-inflicted.
And for now, we have Jen Psaki attempting to serve two masters, and failing both.
I regard Psaki as an able person with a facile mind. She will do a good job for MSNBC in the role that is being carved out for her. I also think she has done a good job as White House Press Secretary, particularly when her performance is contrasted with that of the clown parade that occupied that role in the Trump Administration.
But particularly now, as we are in an extremely perilous time, the last thing we need is a short-timing presidential press secretary whose current point of focus can be rightly questioned.