As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Countdown To Telling The Truth

You've probably been following the very strange deal between Fox and GE to silence a feud between Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann that threatened to sully the two corporate parents.

At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

In early June, the combat stopped, and MSNBC and Fox, for the most part, found other targets for their verbal missiles (Hello, CNN).

Glenn Greenwald has been following this issue with the depth it deserves, noting it as part of the larger danger about corporate control of the media, and how certain subjects get denied coverage because it would bother those corporate benefactors. It's a serious issue.

Therefore, I was a bit dismayed by Olbermann's non-denial denial about any "deal":

On his show last night, Keith Olbermann essentially issued a non-denial denial about the GE-MSNBC-Fox story, saying that he himself was "party to no deal" - exactly what he said in the original New York Times article. There's no reason to doubt Olbermann - however, as journalism prof Dan Kennedy suggests (h/t Glenn Greenwald & Jay Rosen), Olbermann's own personal lack of involvement in a "deal" is far less important than the simple fact that GE started trying to give blatant news-content orders to MSNBC's newsroom - orders that may have been followed in places well beyond Olbermann's control.
Certainly, the fact that Olbermann resisted those orders is good news - but again, as I said in my original post, this story wasn't an indictment of Olbermann - it was an indictment of the entire corporate-news structure of the networks in question.

Indeed, in Olbermann's non-denial denial last night, he didn't refute the quotes from General Electric management, he didn't refute that MSNBC execs told its producers that they "wanted the channel's other programs [to] restrain from criticizing Fox directly," and he didn't refute this report from TV Newser saying that the parent companies for Fox and MSNBC have been in negotiations for months.

It was a weird segment last night, with Olbermann hitting O'Reilly on a ticky-tack maneuver, noting the coincidental timing of the George Tiller death as the reason he temporarily "retired" his O'Reilly character, and hitting Brian Stelter, the writer, without disagreeing with a word written in the piece.

It is very good that Olbermann has apparently stopped using Richard Wolff. But his dodgy statements last night about the provenance of any "deal" between GE and Fox leave me fairly cold. He claims that he was party to no deal and yet praises Greenwald's coverage of the story, which asserts that there, in fact, was a deal.

Olbermann has now made two contradictory statements about his role in the affair:

He confirms what Glenn Greenwald wrote, which is that he stopped covering O'Reilly because he was told to do so by his bosses at GE

He says that his decision to stop covering O'Reilly was purely a response to O'Reilly's role in the Tiller incident, and that any assertion to the contrary is a blackmail attempt by Roger Ailes

It is clear that there was a deal between GE and News Corp, because both are confirming it. So Olbermann is, at best, guilty of obfuscation by claiming that he was not "party" to any deal.

I'm mildly a fan of Olbermann, and his willingness to tell the truth about health care and the money drowning the process is significant and vital. But his cloying behavior in this episode thus far has damaged his reputation to an extent.

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