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The Keith Olbermann flap

September 8th, 2008 · 3 Comments

By Brian Stelter, from today’s New York Times:

MSNBC Takes Incendiary Hosts From Anchor Seat

MSNBC tried a bold experiment this year by putting two politically incendiary hosts, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, in the anchor chair to lead the cable news channel’s coverage of the election.

That experiment appears to be over.

After months of accusations of political bias and simmering animosity between MSNBC and its parent network NBC, the channel decided over the weekend that the NBC News correspondent and MSNBC host David Gregory would anchor news coverage of the coming debates and election night. Mr. Olbermann and Mr. Matthews will remain as analysts during the coverage.

The change — which comes in the home stretch of the long election cycle — is a direct result of tensions associated with the channel’s perceived shift to the political left.


In January, Mr. Olbermann and Mr. Matthews, the host of “Hardball,” began co-anchoring primary night coverage, drawing an audience that enjoyed the pair’s “SportsCenter”-style show.  While some critics argued that the assignment was akin to having the Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly anchor on election night — something that has never happened — MSNBC insisted that Mr. Olbermann knew the difference between news and commentary.

But in the past two weeks, that line has been blurred. On the final night of the Republican convention, after MSNBC televised the party’s video “tribute to the victims of 9/11,” including graphic footage of the World Trade Center attacks, Mr. Olbermann abruptly took off his journalistic hat.

“I’m sorry, it’s necessary to say this,” he began. After saying that the video had exploited the memories of the dead, he directly apologized to viewers who were offended. Then, sounding like a network executive, he said it was “probably not appropriate to be shown.”

In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Olbermann said that moment — and the perception that he is “not utterly neutral” — restarted months-old conversations about his role on political nights.

“I found it ironic and instructive that I could have easily said exactly what I did say, exactly when I did say it, if I had been wearing a different hat, and nobody would have taken any issue,” he said.

The 9/11 film, from the Republican National Convention, followed by Olbermann’s brief commentary:

This kind of honest commentary from Keith Olbermann would fit right in on Countdown and is why so many people tune in to his show.  It is no surprise that Countdown is MSNBC’s highest-rated program, given that Olbermann knows and has cultivated his audience.  I don’t doubt that the NBC heads would have let the thing go if it had happened within the confines of his show, but to step over the line during a prime-time major network broadcast and speak editorially for the entire company is probably what did Olbermann in.  The good news is that his recent contract extension will keep him on Countdown for a few more years, at least, and he’ll still be around to terrorize Pat Buchanan as a commentator during the big broadcasts.


And, since Mr. Olbermann brings up the whole Neville Chamberlain “appeasement” topic, did you catch this Hardball confrontation (an earlier Spitball Army post)?

Tags: politics · TV

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Stu // Sep 8, 2008 at 9:34 AM

    Olbermann is sorely needed these days. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend watching the commentary he did about Rumsfeld a while back. Potent stuff, but very on the mark.

  • 2 spitballarmy // Sep 8, 2008 at 12:47 PM

    Yep, Stu, that was a good commentary, filled with lots of big words and outrage. I posted it above as an addendum (the YouTube versions were all very poor quality videos – this one is from the MSNBC website).

    Ironic, this news today, as Barack Obama is doing an interview this evening (7:00 CST) with Keith Olbermann. And frequent fill-in host of Countdown, Rachel Maddow, is premiering her new show on that same channel immediately after Countdown. So all is not lost.

    On second thought, it would probably be more ironic if Keith were conducting an interview with Sarah Palin tonight.

  • 3 Cuz // Sep 9, 2008 at 12:37 AM


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