The Times takes on Barry Nolan v. Bill O’Reilly

Keith Olbermann

Brian Stelter of the New York Times weighs in on the matter of Barry Nolan versus Bill O’Reilly, quoting me while so doing. Here is what I wrote for the Boston Phoenix about Comcast’s firing of Nolan in 2008, and here is Terry Ann Knopf’s recent Columbia Journalism Review piece on Nolan’s wrongful-termination suit against Comcast.

Comcast, you may recall, fired Nolan from his talk show on CN8 after he organized a protest of a local Emmy award for O’Reilly. Comcast could soon find itself to be the proud owner of NBC Universal, which would put the company in the awkward position of doing business with other networks (including O’Reilly’s employer, Fox News) as a cable provider and competing with them as a content provider.

Which is to ask: Will MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann be the next Barry Nolan? Comcast president David Cohen and Olbermann both tell Stelter no. I hope they’re right.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

O’Reilly called Nolan’s protest “outrageous”

Barry Nolan
Barry Nolan

Two years ago, the Phoenix newspapers bestowed one of their annual Muzzle Awards on Comcast for firing Barry Nolan, the Boston-based host of “Backstage,” which appeared locally on CN8.

Nolan’s apparent offense: speaking out against a decision by the National Academy of Arts & Sciences to present a coveted Governors Award to Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly. Nolan showed up at the Boston Emmy Awards to protest the choice.

“I got fired for saying demonstrably true things in a roomful of news people that people agreed with,” Nolan told me at the time. “Which tells you more, I think, about the times we live in than about the idiosyncrasies of somebody at Comcast.”

Now, at long last, Nolan’s story — and his $1.2 million wrongful-termination suit against Comcast — is getting a full airing. Earlier this week, the Columbia Journalism Review posted on its website a 2,700-word story by veteran Boston journalist Terry Ann Knopf. The chief revelation: a “carefully worded, lawyerly letter” from O’Reilly to Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts in which O’Reilly said he considered Nolan’s one-man crusade to be “outrageous behavior” and “a disturbing situation.” O’Reilly wrote:

We at “The O’Reilly Factor” have always considered Comcast to be an excellent business partner and I believe the same holds true for the entire Fox News Channel. Therefore, it was puzzling to see a Comcast employee, Barry Nolan, use Comcast corporate assets to attack me and FNC.

(Disclosures: Knopf, a former longtime television critic for the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, interviewed me for her story, and quotes me. Also, I have spoken twice to her media-criticism students at Boston University.)

Now, it’s true that Nolan publicly referred to O’Reilly as “a mental case.” But the fact that O’Reilly would reach out to crush a critic who was in no position to do him any real harm only serves to underscore his reputation for bullying people. It’s even more disturbing that Comcast, which is now trying to acquire NBC, would cave.

Oddly enough, Knopf’s story was originally slated to run in the Boston Globe Magazine. When Knopf interviewed me, she was on assignment for the magazine. In late July, I received a call from a Globe Magazine fact-checker. Both Knopf and Globe Magazine editor Susanne Althoff declined to comment this week when I asked them why the piece was killed.

The story of Barry Nolan and Bill O’Reilly is the story of what happens when someone goes up against two of the most powerful media corporations on the planet. In the Age of the Internet, the moguls may not be what they used to be. But they’re still moguls. And they’ve still got a lot of power.

Photo (cc) by Bev Sykes and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Muzzling freedom of speech

Please have a look at The Phoenix’s annual Muzzle Awards, a Fourth of July roundup of local anti-constitutionalism that I’ve been writing since 1998. You’ll see why Nat Hentoff likes to say that the human sex drive is exceeded only by the urge to censor.

Among those who get singled out are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, whose agencies have banned a respected academic, Adam Habib, from the United States. Habib is scheduled to appear at an academic conference in Boston on Aug. 1, but that’s not going to happen unless the ban is lifted.

Habib is supposedly being kept out because he has ties to terrorism. But he denies it, and the government has provided no evidence to back up its claim. What we do know is that Habib, of South Africa, is a Muslim and has criticized the war in Iraq and U.S. policies in the Middle East.

Also getting whacked is Comcast, for firing longtime Boston television personality Barry Nolan over his campaign against Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly. Comcast was within its rights to terminate Nolan, but it was an utterly unnecessary, no-class move.

I’ll be on “NightSide with Dan Rea,” on WBZ Radio (AM 1030), at 9 p.m. today to talk about the Muzzle Awards. If you feel like calling in, don’t be shy.

Illustration is copyright © 2008 by K Bonami.