Over the weekend, the Times had a somewhat unsettling story about how in May, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt and News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch communicated directly (with the help of PBS’s Charlie Rose) to stop the nasty, childlike feud that has been raging for years between Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. This collusion by the heads of two corporate giants over coverage by two cable-news anchors upset Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who points out that the decision to call a cease-fire was not made to save Olbermann and O’Reilly from each other, but rather to save their parent companies from further reputation damage. “Now GE is using its control of NBC and MSNBC to ensure that there is no more reporting by Fox of its business activities in Iran or other embarrassing corporate activities, while News Corp. is ensuring that the lies spewed regularly by its top-rated commodity on Fox News are no longer reported by MSNBC,” Greenwald writes, saying that people should be “highly disturbed” by this curtailment of (occasional) genuine reporting.
But Lloyd Grove over at the Daily Beast argues that we shouldn’t worry: Olbermann will be pointing out the lies of the man he calls “Bill-O the Clown” again soon enough, and O’Reilly will be going after his old enemies at GE. “The positive ratings impact of the Double O feud” has “reached the point of diminishing returns,” Grove writes. “Which is also why the deal won’t last: The second the higher-ups make the calculation that there’s a legitimate business purpose in reviving the slapfest, it’s game on.”
We’d argue that it probably won’t be directly related to profit, so much as Olbermann’s team realizing that the methodical takedowns of O’Reilly (and Olbermann’s wicked glee while delivering them) are half of why people watch Countdown in the first place. Plus, both anchors were thrown under the bus by their distant parent company CEOs with this Times story. Now they look like patsies, instead of the big, tall, tough warriors for truth they like to paint themselves to be. “I am party to no deal,” Olbermann sniped to the paper when asked about the arrangement — but the truth is, both anchors have laid off one another since then. Olbermann certainly wasn’t a represented “party” in the talks, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t told what to do. Now, even more than keeping up the entertainment value in his show, Olbermann has to go after O’Reilly in order to retain his dignity. It won’t take O’Reilly long to feel he has to fight back.
Thank goodness. We wouldn’t know what to do without our petty cable catfights. Still, one has to wonder whether Philippe Dauman, whose Viacom owns Comedy Central, was offended not to be invited to this little CEO confab. Jon Stewart has been shredding talent from both networks for years, and he gets no censorship love?