Bill O’Reilly-Keith Olbermann Feud Ends with a Corporate Handshake?

Bill O'Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Rupert Murdock, and Jeff Immeldt (clockwise from top left)

Bill O'Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Rupert Murdock, and Jeff Immeldt (clockwise from top left)

According to Brian Stelter, writing in the New York Times business section, it was FOX News director Roger Ailes who cooked up the original scheme to blunt Keith Olbermann’s withering criticism of Bill O’Reilly. The plan entailed O’Reilly and Glenn Beck aiming their barbs, not at Olbermann or his show Countdown on MSNBC, but at Olbermann’s boss at General Electric (MSNBC’s parent company) and its CEO Jeffrey Immelt.

It turned out Immelt had no stomach for the bad publicity O’Reilly and Beck were heaping on his corporation so he cut a deal with Rupert Murdoch agreeing to end the O’Reilly-Olbermann feud. The Murdoch-Immelt handshake agreement that enacted a “cease and desist” order to their two star anchors looks more like a corporate merger than anything having to do with journalism.

It was Murdoch of the media conglomerate News Corporation who chose the Republican strategist Ailes to head his FOX News division. When Murdoch hired him, the single most important achievement on Ailes’s resume was his co-authorship of the racist Willie Horton ad of the 1988 George H. W. Bush campaign. Since that fateful day in 1996 Ailes’s right-wing “news” outfit has become one of the most important sources of disseminating Republican talking points in American political discourse.

General Electric is responsible for catapulting Ronald Reagan’s early political career (GE even gave Reagan his own designer kitchen to show off the “fully electric home”). Later, when Reagan became president, GE paid ZERO taxes for several years. GE is also known for dumping carcinogenic PCBs in the Hudson River and lying about it, and receiving billions of dollars in no-bid military contracts (including contracts for the Iraq war). And it was GE that forced MSNBC to cancel Phil Donahue’s show because he was one of the only people on cable television who had the temerity to question George W. Bush’s bogus claims that Iraq possessed an arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction.” Both practically and ideologically there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Jeffrey Immelt’s General Electric .

Corporate honchos making back-room editorial decisions for the “news” subsidiaries they control? I’m not a professional reporter but I cannot help but think that that practice might not be the best thing for the integrity of journalism.

From the time the O’Reilly-Olbermann rivalry began the media frame from CNN, NPR, the New York Times, and even The Daily Show has constructed a false equivalency between O’Reilly (the Republican partisan) and Olbermann (the Democratic partisan). But that is an inaccurate narrative. Olbermann differs from O’Reilly in that he cares about truth and falsehood, and he understands the distinction between journalism and propaganda. Bill O’Reilly is a liar and a demagogue and a right-wing propagandist. Just do a quick Media Matters search under “Bill O’Reilly” and you won’t believe what you’ll find.

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Keith Olbermann is one of the only cable television personalities who uses his allotted time on Countdown each night to trying to keep the record straight. Jeffrey Immelt, Rupert Murdoch, and Bill O’Reilly were the big winners in this corrupt bargain. The only thing Olbermann got from the episode was his integrity questioned by accusations he was a party to this tawdry “deal” struck between Wall Street titans and orchestrated by a Republican strategist.

Joseph Palermo

Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author

Published by the LA Progressive on August 10, 2009
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).