So here's a question: Does the deal between Rupert Murdoch and Jeffrey Immelt -- the supreme leaders of NewsCorp. and GE, respectively -- to end the idiotic Keith Olbermann-Bill O'Reilly feud, constitute an antitrust violation?
No, I don't mean legal antitrust. Few worry about that anymore. I'm referring to the fragile kind of trust based on the belief that media should not be beholden to the owners' business interests.
In this case, the behemoths that own Fox News and MSNBC were clearly finding the bitter prime-time bomb-throwing an embarrassment and therefore a potential threat to the two conglomerates' bottom lines.
They obviously decided they couldn't just end the squabbling by sending the guys over to the White House for a beer, so they exercised absolute authority, ordering these two to stop it. Now.
There's a risk, of course. Will putting an end to the bickering alienate viewers who love it? As H.L. Mencken famously said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."
Notwithstanding that, there is another way to look at this: Survey after survey shows that the credibility of the so-called mainstream media has seriously eroded. Maybe Fox and MSNBC realized it was time to protect the bottom line and rein in the buffoonery just a teeny bit with a cease-fire.
Let's face it though: buffoonery sells. Whether it's on O'Reilly's and Olbermann's shows, whether it's whatever that is in the middle, whether it's out there on the crazy fringes of extremist talk radio, or whether it's this column, foolishness is definitely the way so much information is dispensed these days.
There's a reason to care about this, though. In the United States, the media are supposed to expose what's going on in government. That's not their only role, but it's the most important one. When we use our precious and shrinking time and space in trivial pursuits, it allows leaders in government and the corporate and financial worlds to work out their deals with few paying serious attention.
A case in point is health care reform. Most of the special interests have a lot to gain if no one understands the complexities. When we dumb-down our coverage, or make it too mind-numbing, citizens turn away. That's when bad things happen.
So more power to the leaders of GE and NewsCorp. No matter what their motives, they just might have taken us in the right direction. It's a small step, though. Those of us who pretend to bring you journalism have a long way to go.
Maybe that's why the polls name Jon Stewart as respondents' most trusted source of information. At least his comedy is intentional.
How sad that the alternatives to mindless shouting are often so boring -- the presentation seriously flabby and patronizing. On either side, the reader and viewer is treated as a dummy, who deserves only a choice between condescension and pandering. Surely they're hungering for another choice: Reliable facts and context, delivered in an understandable way.
Meanwhile, are you wondering, as I am, how long the Keith Olbermann-Bill O'Reilly cease-fire will last? Olbermann is dropping hints we should watch tonight. Are we being had? It won't be the first time.