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MSNBC's Inaugural Gloating

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Remember during the campaign, when MSNBC decided to pull Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews from anchoring its coverage of political events? Remember when it seemed someone had realized that maybe it wasn’t the best journalistic idea to have straight-news coverage anchored by two hosts who so clearly had a dog in the fight? 

Well, that decision has been suspended for the Inauguration, for which they, along with Rachel Maddow, will lead MSNBC’s coverage. MSNBC president Phil Griffin defended the decision, saying that Jan. 20 will be “a whole day of color commentary… a day of watching the festivities and pomp and circumstance.”

Or: a day on which MSNBC has decided it’s OK to relax and let its pro-Bama freak flag fly. As if to confirm every “real vs. fake America” stereotype Sarah Palin and company perpetrated during the campaign, MSNBC’s inauguration coverage will even run in Starbucks in New York, San Francisco and Seattle. (Seriously: did David Brooks think up that promotion?) On one of its incessantly running Inauguration Day promos, a narrator gushes, “When a new President inspires the nation, one day Americans will ask: where were you when Barack Obama became President?”

Besides the confusing timeline of that sentence, there’s something almost bludgeoningly hortatory about it. Mind you, I voted for Barack Obama enthusiastically, in the primaries and the general election–and yet hearing stuff like this (Obama = The Moon Landing) I can empathize with the people who didn’t.

Refresh my memory if I’m forgetting something, but when President Bush was inaugurated in 2001, I don’t remember promos this blatantly triumphalist even on Fox News. It passive-aggressively defies you to disagree with it, as it asserts that this guy who hasn’t even been sworn in yet will undeniably be an inspirational, nay, an historic figure. Even if you didn’t vote for him, you have to admit that Jan. 20 will be a truly amazing day. Right? You have to admit it, right? Well, admit it!

As I’ve written tiresomely before, I have no problem with opinionated journalists covering politics—everyone has opinions, and better that they not hide them. But if your news organization has decided that certain hosts are too opinionated to effectively anchor election coverage, there’s something smug about declaring that the inauguration of a winning candidate is such a universal cause for celebration that no one could object to having them cover it. If you have one rule for the conventions, keep that rule for the inauguration. 

Of course, an Inauguration is an historic event, the triumph of the peaceful transfer of power, a day for the nation to come together, etc.–but as the culmination of an election, it is also, inevitably, a political event. As an Obama voter, I’m personally as delighted as anyone with what will be happening on stage Jan. 20. But I’d hope a news organization would make some effort to acknowledge that not everyone else is. Nor do they have to be.

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