By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A cheap shot from Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann issued his declaration of independence last night. But in doing so, he smeared New York Times reporter Brian Stelter (photo), whose account of a peace settlement between Olbermann’s employer, MSNBC, and his nemesis Bill O’Reilly’s employer, Fox News, had created the need for Olbermann to renew his feud with O’Reilly in the first place.

Stelter reported last Friday that executives at both networks had moved to stop the on-air sniping between the two hosts. “Bill-O the Clown,” Olbermann’s pet nickname for O’Reilly, was frequently featured in his “Worst Persons in the World” segment. O’Reilly, for his part, had started taking aim at the corporate agenda of MSNBC’s owner, General Electric.

Although Stelter, not surprisingly, was forced to rely quite a bit on unnamed sources, he had an on-the-record comment from GE spokesman Gary Sheffer, who confirmed that a deal had been cut: “We all recognize that a certain level of civility needed to be introduced into the public discussion. We’re happy that has happened.”

Stelter also included a quote from Olbermann: “I am party to no deal.”

Seems pretty well nailed-down. Yet Olbermann, on last night’s “Countdown,” designated Stelter as his number-three villain in the “Worst Persons” segment, with O’Reilly coming in at number two. Among other things, Olbermann said:

Problem, Mr. Stelter asks me at least twice last week if there was such a deal, and I told him, on and off the record, there was not. And told him I rather obviously would have to be a party to such a deal. And I told him that not only wasn’t I, but I had not even been asked to be by my bosses. And he printed it anyway.

This is intellectually dishonest, as it implies that Stelter deliberately did not use Olbermann’s quote because it didn’t fit with what he wanted to write. In fact, Stelter did use it, and he placed it in context. It’s very clear from Stelter’s story that the deal had been cut by higher-ups, and that Olbermann might or might not go along.

Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch came in at number one for trying to muzzle O’Reilly. Hmmm … doesn’t that confirm that Stelter got it right?

Glenn Greenwald, who’s been blogging away at Salon ever since the Stelter story came out, criticized his ideological soulmate Olbermann last night, writing on Twitter, “Really surprised by the Olbermann denial – there’s lots and lots of evidence that the NYT’s description about what GE did is 100% accurate.”

Stelter himself took it in good humor after seeing his photo plastered on the “Worst Persons” segment. “Tonight: a reminder to take a new head shot,” he wrote on Twitter.

All in all, not a good moment for Olbermann. He may have reclaimed his independence. But he did so at the expense of sliming a journalist who’d broken an important, unflattering story about collusion by media moguls. At the very least, Olbermann ought to award himself the bronze.

Photo from Stelter’s Twitter feed.

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  1. lkcape

    Ahh… the War of the Wing-Nuts continues.Good entertainment, little value.

  2. An Astute Observer

    I'm glad to see that you recognize Olberman for what he is..For those that complain about the over-the-top style of the "neocons"….you can see Olberman is simply a Left-wing version of the same. His egotistical style adds nothing to the discussion…and more to the name calling mocking and noise.

  3. Sean Roche

    If Olbermann actually told Stelter that he had not been asked by his bosses to cool it on O'Reilly, that's a significant omission from the story. It's one thing to deny being party to a deal and another to deny being asked to adhere to the deal.

  4. John

    Well put, though I disagree that Olbermann is Greenwald's "ideological soulmate." Regular followers of both know there's quite a bit of daylight between the two.

  5. Ralph

    I'm with Sean Roche on this. The subtleties of verbal communication between individuals are often lost when one has only short quotes on paper to work with. Both Olbermann and Stelter seem to be doing work that serves the public. I think they each deserve the presumption of innocence in this exchange of accusations. If more evidence comes out, we should reexamine the case. Meanwhile, I don't think there is much that we non-participants can add.

  6. lkcape

    Look for the scenario that will allow them both to be telling the truth….'cuse they both think they are

  7. mike_b1

    The difference is, liberals tune in to Olbermann not for their marching orders but because he's funny, while conservatives tune in to O'Reilly so they know what to think.

  8. lkcape

    Could you cite the empirical evidence you have that supports this claim? Or was this printed on the last sheet you used off the roll?

  9. Steve G.

    I agree with Ikcape, Mike. It seems disingenuous to claim that Olbermann has some sort of idelogical or moral high ground here; both he and O'Reilly come off as preaching to their demos, to me. Olbermann just happens to be funny from time to time. It's not like The Daily Show and Jon Stewart, who (at least IMO) is clearly gunning for humor and not on a news network, although he commentates on political issues.

  10. Peter Porcupine

    Mr. Steve – Actually, O'Reilly IS funny…you just have to 'get' the standard Boston-issue, Triple Eagle, smugness.

  11. Steve G.

    Hey Peter, sorry, didn't mean to imply he isn't a funny guy :)And getting back to the post as opposed to the debate in the comment, I agree totally with Dan's take. Olbermann should have slammed his bosses, and O'Reilly, and O'Reilly's bosses, instead of killing the messenger.

  12. J. Businger

    "We all recognize that a certain level of civility needed to be introduced into the public discussion. We're happy that has happened."I wouldn't necessarily call this confirmation of a deal, Dan. It could just have been an expression of satisfaction with the fact that on-air attacks had ebbed in July. It could be confirmation, but it doesn't have to be. Given Olbermann's insistence to Stelter that he himself wasn't involved in any deal, I'd say it's not totally clear what the GE spokesman was referring to.Perhaps a more accurate way for Stelter to have framed his story would have been to note that higher-ups at both channels had been seeking a detente, but that it was far from clear whether Olbermann and the other on-air voices would play along?

  13. mike_b1

    O'Reilly's not funny. He's just weird. Olbermann's been funny since he was on SportsCenter.

  14. lkcape

    Oberman's wierd, too, as is the guy that gets tingles down his legs.But what does that have to do with the issue of the war between Fox and MSNBC?

  15. daphne

    No, "that" confirms only that Stelter got "it" right about Murdock, not about Olbermann. Cheap shot, indeed.

  16. bostonmediawatch

    Aren't NBC Universal and News Corp. partners in

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