The story I wrote two days ago (mostly repeating the great commentary by Glenn Greenwald) regarding a deal struck between the corporate parents of MSNBC and Fox News seems to have widened last night with direct confirmation from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.
I wrote that story on Monday afternoon and Olbermann tried to address it on his show later that evening (not because of me, obviously, but because of the New York Times story that publicized the deal.)
In Countdown's regular "Word Person in the World" segment, Olbermann denied that he was a part of any deal and implied that Brian Stelter printed something that was not true, even after Olbermann told Stelter that it was not true. That, amusingly, is not true either:
Mr. Stelter asked 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 I told him that I would obviously 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.
It's true that Stelter and the Times printed the story, but what Olbermann implies here is that Stelter didn't report that Olbermann said on the record that he was a part to no deal, when in fact Stelter printed that quote from Olbermann in the original story.
More importantly, what Glenn Greenwald noticed immediately is that while Olbermann denied being a part to any deal, he didn't deny that there was a deal between General Electric and News Corp, or that he had been given orders from GE to stop reporting on Fox News and/or Bill O'Rielly. It should be obvious that you can say – truthfully – that you are not a willing participant to a deal, while still being subject to the terms of that deal.
When confronted about this, Olbermann issued a statement (written about and included here) affirming that there were no factual inaccuracies in Greenwald's reporting, about as explicit as a confirmation as you're likely to get:
I honor Mr. Greenwald's insight into the coverage of GE/NewsCorp talks, and have found nothing materially factually inaccurate about it. Fox and NewsCorp have continued a strategy of threat and blackmail by Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and Bill O'Reilly since at least 2004. But no matter what might have been reported by others besides Mr. Greenwald, and no matter what might have been thought around this industry, there's no "deal." I would never consent, and, fortunately, MSNBC and NBC News would never ask me to.
Again, it is worth noting the very carefully chosen words here. NBC News and General Electric don't have to ask one of their employees – top rated host and MSNBC's most valuable asset or not – to comply with their wishes, they can, will, and apparently have ordered him to comply with the deal which we know for certain exists due to this confirmation.
Most of what needs to be said can be gotten by reading Greenwald's coverage, but the argument over whether or not such a deal ever happened is now pretty much over. Around the time the alleged deal was truck, Olbermann stopped reporting on Fox and O'Reilly, and O'Reilly stopped talking about General Electric. It seems absurd to believe that these two people would agree amongst themselves to give up their favorite targets and beyond absurd to believe that MSNBC and Fox News would pass up the increased ratings the feud has given them both.
But I'd like to remind you that calling this a simple personal feud is disingenuous. Olbermann's reporting on the immoral and ethnically challenged behavior of O'Rielly and Fox News is about as close as you're likely to come to real journalism on either MSNBC or Fox News. And despite his dubious intentions, O'Reilly's reporting on GE's business dealings with Iran were troubling and almost certainly worth further investigation.
Like it or not, these two issues are real news. Intentionally or not, these two men were committing incidents of journalism by reporting them. If journalism-by-accident is all we had left before, even that is gone now.
Moreover, I agree that Olbermann's attack on Fox News on Monday evening was nothing more than GE and NBC News looking the other way for a single evening so as to protect the false image of journalistic integrity they are now projecting. I wouldn't be surprised if Fox and O'Reilly have already done the same thing in the last two days, or will do so before the week is out.
And so I'll just conclude by saying this: You may like Keith Olbermann (as I do), but if your love of Keith Olbermann makes you refuse to defend/demand respect for independent journalism, then you ought to consider how fucked up your value system really is. Loyalty to an individual over loyalty to principles is the definition of cultism. MSNBC partisans insisting that we should ignore General Electric's manipulation of the news out of deference to Keith Olbermann's supposedly infallible awesomeness are at best being intellectually dishonest, and at worst endorsing in precisely the kind of propagandistic pro-censorship sycophancy that is at the heart of this scandal.
What Sirota said reminds me of how some of the fiercest critics of the Bush administration's abuse of the state secrets doctrine immediately fell in line behind President Obama when Obama not only resumed Bush's abuse of that doctrine, but actually went further than Bush did. It became clear that their opposition to the abuse of state secrets was more the result of a pathological hatred of Bush than it was true opposition to an abuse that seeks to destroy the concept of the rule of law.
And this also bears repeating:
My response is simple: We can all agree on the quality of Olbermann's work, while disagreeing on the significance of this particular story - and additionally, there's no contradiction in simultaneously believing that Olbermann does great work and that this is an important story.
This isn't just an important story, it's a critical nightmare. It used to be that everyone would revolt at the mere suggestion that a corporate parent would hand down marching orders to a news division based solely on the business interests of that parent, but news, entertainment, and business have become so incestuously intertwined in recent years that this is merely the next logical step in the transformation of news that serves the public to news that serves corporate America's bottom line.
What comes next should be equally logical and obvious: the corporate parent handing down marching orders, ordering the news division to run stories that reflect on the business dealings of that corporate parent in the best possible light. News anchors and even commentary pundits like Olbermann will be replaced with pretty faces from the corporate parent's press department.
All news will consist of press releases and promotional videos.
That's where we're headed because that's all that's left.
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