Cable News Ombudsmen?

All Your TV’s Rick Ellis writes about whether Cable News Networks FNC and MSNBC should have an Ombudsman… (via J$)

But while I think that a newly-created ombudsperson position makes a lot of sense, it will only work if the person is given a wide range of autonomy and the ability to take on the stars of the network. Not in an unfair way, but if someone on Fox News or MSNBC accidentally misstates a fact (or just makes up a tidbit because it sounds logical), this ombudsman needs the respect of the talent and the support of the management.

They also need a regular spot on their respective network. They need to be on the air daily, most likely in the early daytime hours. A short several-minute segment should do it, but they need the time to say “here’s the clip, here’s the complaint, this is what I’ve uncovered.” And the reality is that in many cases, they may find the network talent to be correct. Every viewer complaint isn’t valid and every call for a correction isn’t logical. But no matter what the ultimate finding, the viewers need to trust the results and the autonomy of the ombudsman.

Ellis’ question of a cable news ombudsman isn’t a new one. I asked the same question myself two years ago. However Ellis zeroes in too much on the prime time pundits at the expense of the bread and butter news gathering and reporting side of the operation.

Having an Ombudsman covering a Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, or Glenn Beck…how would that work? Having someone say they shot their mouth off too much? Had their facts wrong? Cherry picked their arguments? Were too crass? Didn’t give a fair representation of both sides of the issue? Um…wellll…duh. That’s what the majority of them already do. And everybody knows it. That’s why it’s considered opinion TV rather than an honest even handed TV. Putting an Ombudsman on primetime punditry is not only a waste of time, it further legitimizes something inherently illegitimate.

But dayside news operations are another matter entirely. There is no accountability for news coverage or reporting. Someone should be there, and not just at FNC and MSNBC but all the cable news networks to deal with controversies in coverage and reporting which occur far more often than get reported by the MSM or than the cable news networks want to cop to. Why didn’t FNC cover a Gay Rights March but did cover 9/12 rallies? Why did MSNBC let Olbermann back on anchoring special news events after what happened last year? Why didn’t Rick Sanchez apologize for using a Limbaugh quote that never happened?

Serious questions all. But there’s no accountability to the public. An Ombudsman would help. But, while I’m all for an Ombudsman, I fully realize that cable news will never allow that to happen. They get enough flack from internet ideologues on an hourly basis. They’d never sit still for someone internally second guessing them. And I imagine Editorial Directors wouldn’t sit still for it either.

One Response to “Cable News Ombudsmen?”

  1. Unworkable.

    It’d be like the Secretary General of the UN.

    Only less powerful (ahem).

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