Phil Griffin: MSNBC’s Embeded Fox News Groupie

I was reminded of an article I wrote last May by a Twitterer who apparently knows my work better than I do. Below are a few choice excerpts that paint a clearer picture of the man that just put Keith Olbermann on suspension.


Phil Griffin Of MSNBC ♥’s Roger Ailes Of Fox News
 

Roger AilesPhil Griffin, president of MSNBC, was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune and provided an outstanding example of the sort of clueless, illogical, journalistic myopia that is rotting away the American press. When asked about his rival Roger Ailes at Fox News, he gave an almost fawning response that makes one wonder if they are really rivals at all.

“He’s changed media. Everybody does news differently because Roger’s changed the world. Roger early on figured it out and was brilliant.”

Indeed. Roger Ailes changed media – for the worse! His “brilliant” idea was to transform the news into a rancorous, talk-radio style, shoutfest that manufactured conflict and spun every story as far to the right as their ideological wheel could turn. The inspiration behind Fox’s brand loyalty is talk-radio, soap operas, and tabloid news vendors like the National Enquirer.

[…]

If Griffin really believes that his mission is to emulate Fox from the opposite end of the political spectrum, he will only succeed in further debasing the media. In addition, he will miss the opportunity to effectively compete in the cable news marketplace. He needs to realize that, not being a news network, Fox is no more his competition than is Nickelodeon (which I’ve said before is a better source than Fox for news and plays to a smarter audience).

[…]

If Griffin were to apply basic fundamentals of entertainment to a more journalistically ethical approach he could attract a much larger and more loyal audience. He needs to give news consumers a little more credit for being discriminating, skeptical, curious, and capable of understanding the issues that bear directly on their lives. The last thing we need is more of the cheapening of journalism that Ailes has proffered. And we certainly should not be honoring him for the damage he has already done.


Why does MSNBC have a president who idolizes Roger Ailes? He should not be a role model for anyone who reveres journalism and public service. If there is any justice in this world Olbermann will be back on the air next week and Griffin will be suspended for incompetence and a debilitating lack of vision.

Keith Olbermann Suspended For Acting Like Fox

MSNBC released this notice today regarding their primetime host, Keith Olbermann:

“Msnbc TV host Keith Olbermann was suspended indefinitely on Friday for making campaign donations to three Democratic congressional candidates, apparently in violation of NBC News ethics policy. “

Upon learning of Olbermann’s contributions MSNBC took swift and decisive action to reprimand the talk show host. Some people may argue about whether the punishment is too severe, but I have to commend the network for maintaining a strict policy of ethical conduct. If Olbermann worked for Fox News he would be getting a bonus for this.

No matter what your political leanings (forward or otherwise), you must be accountable for your actions and you must adhere to the standards established by your employer and the journalism community. For the record, here is the policy MSNBC has for its staff:

“Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee.”

Olbermann apparently did not obtain the required approval for his contributions. Of course, it is difficult to see how his donations would have “jeopardize[d] his…standing as an impartial journalist,” in as much as he has never portrayed himself as either impartial or a journalist. What’s more, MSNBC has not been consistent in the execution of their policy as they have permitted Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan to continue working despite having made numerous political contributions.

Nevertheless, MSNBC chief Phil Griffin suddenly feels compelled to make an example of Olbermann. MSNBC personnel simply cannot be allowed to behave as if they were on Fox News. Unless, that is, they actually ought to be on Fox News like Scarborough and Buchanan. If you are contributing to Republicans, Griffin has no problem with it. Perhaps he is kissing up to his new bosses at Comcast in advance. For the record, here is the policy Fox has for its staff:

“The prohibitions and limitations on political contributions outlined above relate only to the use of corporate funds and services and are not intended to discourage employees from making personal contributions to candidates or political parties of their choice. Personal involvement in political activity is permitted as long as the activity does not interfere with or impair the performance of the employee’s duties for the Company. In addition, any employee who becomes involved with a political group must make it clear that his or her activities are being conducted purely in a personal capacity and not on behalf of or in connection with the Company.”

So at Fox there is virtually no barrier for employees who wish to donate time or money to political concerns. And dozens of them take advantage of that freedom every day. Even worse, Fox personnel from Sean Hannity to Dick Morris to Greta Van Susteren and more actively solicited donations for their pet GOP candidates and causes. Glenn Beck came right out and asked his viewers to donate so much to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that it would become their biggest fundraising day ever. And we know that the corporation has no barriers either as News Corp was caught making multimillion donations to GOP organizations. The last thing we need now is for other media figures to adopt the standards (or lack thereof) of Fox News.

For that reason it is important to insure compliance with strict standards for ethical behavior. Olbermann is being held to those standards even if other MSNBC personnel are not. Such inconsistency would make Phil Griffin a candidate for Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World.” Lucky for him that Olbermann has been suspended (and Olbermann also recently suspended that segment).


There is no indication from MSNBC how long the suspension will remain in effect. It could, however, be a thorny issue for them. Olbermann’s Countdown is the number one show on the network. He has almost single-handedly thrust MSNBC into the number two slot ahead of CNN. It would be in the interest of the network to keep the suspension short. They may also run the risk of alienating Olbermann who may find greener pastures elsewhere. CNN would very likely give him anything he wanted, including his present time slot that CNN is wasting with Parker/Spitzer. And can you imagine the success that MSNBC would have if they moved Scarborough into the 8:00pm slot?

The reactions to Olbermann’s suspension are already reverberating throughout the blogosphere. Some are calling for boycotts of NBC/MSNBC. That would be stupid. Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and Lawrence O’Donnell had nothing to do with this.

The most likely reason for Olbermann’s suspension probably has nothing to do with ethics or political contributions. It is almost certainly related to Phil Griffin’s lust for power. With Jeff Zucker out as network CEO and Comcast looming on the horizon, Griffin sees this as an opportunity to elevate his status. Olbermann represents the 800 pound gorilla at MSNBC and Griffin gets to knock him down a peg by exerting this show of authority. That would explain why Griffin never demonstrated any concern for other MSNBC personalities who did the same thing Olbermann did. They didn’t have any of the heft that Olbermann has and thus it would serve no purpose to bother with them.

While Olbermann may have made a mistake by contributing to candidates when it is against company policy to do so, the punishment is far in excess of the crime, and it has been wielded in a grossly unfair manner. Griffin is revealing himself to be unethical and power mad (or at best a sycophant to his incoming masters).

NBC/MSNBC needs to set aside this unnecessary controversy that only benefits their competition. Fox, and their cultist followers, are reveling in this soap opera. They will get significant mileage out of asserting that MSNBC is unethical while remaining oblivious to their own infractions. That’s what makes this such a idiotic play even if there is some technical justification for it.

In the end it is terrible for business and the executives at NBC/MSNBC have a fiduciary duty to advance the interests of shareholders. So have your little suspension, get it over with, and put Olbermann back on the air by Tuesday.

You can help to resolve this mess by expressing yourselves to Phil Griffin and Co. here:

212-664-4444
phil.griffin@nbcuni.com

[Update:] Nice work, people. MSNBC/Griffin fold. Olbermann will be back on the air Tuesday, just as I demanded. Wow…I have more clout than I thought.

Olbermann Features News Corpse On Countdown

On yesterday’s broadcast of Countdown on MSNBC, host Keith Olbermann featured a story about News Corpse. I couldn’t be more proud.

Actually, it was a story on the $1 million donation from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to the Republican Governor’s Association. Although I did report on this unprecedented bankrolling of GOP candidates by a major pseudo-news organization, Countdown’s segment was an interview of Media Matters’ Eric Burns on the subject.

It was an informative and entertaining discussion that hit on most of the salient points. I would have liked it if they had also pointed out that some of the funds received by the RGA would likely be stuffed right back into Murdoch’s pocket via ads they purchase on Fox News and in the Wall Street Journal, but in the end I was just jazzed to see my web site name on the screen for several minutes.

Keith should be grateful that I am not as litigious as Murdoch, whose company is presently harassing the folks at Skype because they think the name is “confusingly similar” to their Sky satellite television service. I’m still waiting for Murdoch to come after me.

Fox News: Monopolize Globally, Proselytize Locally

Tonight on Countdown Keith Olbermann awarded the coveted “Worst Person in the World” trophy to Rupert Murdoch (again) and the president of the Fox Stations Group, Dennis Swanson. The honor was attributed to a new initiative to extend the Fox propaganda down the line to their local affiliates:

“For a long time, the one saving grace of the Fixed News propaganda machine was that it did not extend to the local stations Murdoch owns, like Channel 5 in New York, Channel 11 in Los Angeles. Well, you can forget the one saving grace. Multiple industry sources say that within the last six weeks or so, local news directors at the local Fox O&Os have been receiving memoranda and e-mails from Swanson and other executives, and even from Murdoch himself. ‘Content directives,” they’re called, to make the local news on Fox broadcast stations around the country look and sound just as shaded, just as biased as that on Fox News Channel.”

Fox Television controls one of the largest station groups in the country with 27 stations, including nine of the top ten markets. The combined audience for local news programming nationwide is far greater than that of the cable Fox News Channel. Local viewers are often more engaged by content that impacts their daily lives and thus, more vulnerable to disinformation. The potential for propagandizing is enormous and apparently this has not escaped Murdoch’s attention.

This is precisely why media reform is so critical to our fragile democracy. With giant, multinational corporations forming media monopolies, the threat to independent and diverse opinion is growing. Fox not only owns stations that cover a third of the country, in some markets they own TV stations, radio stations, and the major daily newspapers. And that doesn’t even include their affiliate relationships with independent stations and station groups throughout the country. This is an obvious impediment to the free marketplace of ideas. It is the reason that it is so imperative to roll back the corporate consolidation that has taken place in the last couple of decades, and to restore reasonable media ownership regulations.

If we, the people, don’t stand up and take action to preserve a free and unfettered press, we are likely to see more of these “content directives” from Fox and others. Before long we will have mini-Beck’s and Hannity’s in every city, delivering the local news in their typically dishonest and self-serving style. And the last thing this country needs is more of the lies, divisiveness, and manufactured ignorance that Fox is so good at disseminating.

Glenn Beck: The Jews Killed Jesus

How many times, and in how many ways, can Glenn Beck insult and offend people of different ethnicities than himself – and get away with it?

I missed this morsel from earlier this week, but Keith Olbermann picked it up:

Beck: “Jesus conquered death. He wasn’t victimized. He chose to give his life. He did have a choice. If he was a victim and this theology was true then Jesus would have come back from the dead and made the Jews pay for what they did, that’s an abomination.”

Olbermann correctly pointed out that it was the Romans who crucified Jesus and that most Christian doctrine, including the Catholic Church, repudiated the accusation against the Jews. Although Jesus may not have made the Jews pay, generations of his followers picked up the cause and still endeavor to extract payment to this day. And now we can count Glenn Beck amongst them.

The discussion of this subject occurred during an interview with Alexander Zaitchik, author of Common Nonsense, Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, a highly recommended read. Watch the video from Countdown:

Tucker Carlson vs. Keith Olbermann: Master Of Your Domain

Tucker Carlson - Biggest LoserIf there were a contest for Most Pathetic Pundit, Tucker Carlson would get the Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been a recidivist failure on PBS, CNN, and MSNBC. After being canceled more times than a Shane MacGowan dentist appointment, Carlson was picked up as a pity play by Fox News, an organization he previously called “…a mean, sick group of people,” but for whom he now dutifully performs his organ-grinder monkey routine.

Now Carlson is proving that he is not merely an incompetent boob, but a hypocritical jerk as well. With the brashness of a child delighted at his ability to pull the wings off a fly, Carlson has announced that he, and his web site the Daily Caller, has acquired ownership of the domain name KeithOlbermann.com:

“This is part of our long-term growth strategy,” added Publisher and CEO Neil Patel. “Our future acquisition targets include several other annoying cable news commentators.”

Daily Caller - CrybabyThat seems like a brilliant business plan, and in keeping with their mission, having been founded by one of the all-time annoying cable news commentators, Carlson himself. On today’s front page of the the Daily Caller is a big, close up photo of Olbermann beneath an all-caps headline shouting, “CRYBABY.” The sub-head says, “Keith Olbermann threatens legal action against TheDC.”

This is a typical case of cybersquatting, wherein someone takes possession of an Internet asset that belongs to someone else. Domain names are subject to laws that protect intellectual property, trademarks, and copyrights. The hypocrisy comes into play when you learn that just two years ago. Carlson pursued a complaint against someone squatting on his domain name. He filed his complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization and won a decision to reclaim his name. The complaint said in part…

Complainant states that he is “an internationally famous television news anchor and author, most famous for his role as anchor of the eponymous televised newsmagazines Tucker (MSNBC) and Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered (PBS), as well as for his role as co-host of Crossfire (CNN).” Complainant states that his television debut came in 2000 as co-host of The Spin Room (PBS) and that he has also appeared on television as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars (ABC), the Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Complainant states that his writings “are regularly featured” in Esquire, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic and The New York Times Magazine. And, Complainant states that he has appeared as an actor in various television shows and movies.

Apparently Carlson is “internationally famous” for getting canned repeatedly. It is also notable that just a couple of years ago it was Carlson who was the crybaby. His complaint conveniently outlines the very same arguments that Olbermann could make to retrieve ownership of his domain name. He even damages his own case by confessing that he intends to use the name for a commercial purpose.

As an added bonus, Carlson implied that Olbermann would be infringing on his First Amendment rights if he were to sue Carlson for the name. Of course, having to turn over the name does not in any way restrict Carlson from speaking. Especially since the name is only being used presently to pull up the Daily Caller home page. And accusing Olbermann of violating his rights would also be admitting that he violated the rights of the party he sued to get his name back.

So go ahead and cry about it, Tucker. You are only affirming your place in history as a miserable louse with no talent, intellect, or ethics. But most of us already knew that.

Rick Barber Spills The Beans, Glenn Beck Froths At The Mouth

Rick Barber Founders

The new campaign ad for Alabama congressional hopeful, Rick Barber, is going to anger some very prominent people. The unintentionally hilarious ad features Barber playing the role of a modern revolutionary recruiting Sam Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, into a conspiracy against the IRS, health care, and President Obama. The high school quality playlet concludes with Barber asking the founders if they are with him. To which Washington replies, “Gather your armies.”

First of all, historians will be shocked by the numerous inaccuracies crammed into the sixty second commercial. Then there are the veterans who would be offended by the suggestion that armed insurrection against the U.S. is an acceptable form of political dissent. And other patriots will object to these pretend revolutionaries using the American flag as a table cloth. And, of course, Stephen Colbert will likely want to sue Barber for appropriating his persona (but not nearly as funny).

But who could have anticipated that Glenn Beck would emerge as the harshest critic of Barber? Beck called Barber “a dope” and said that he is “one of dumbest people I have seen.” You have to wonder what would set Beck off to this degree. After all, Barber’s ad was as close to a tribute to Beck as could be imagined. He featured Beck’s three favorite Founders. He mirrored Beck’s disingenuous devotion to the Constitution. He covered the conspiratorial territory that Beck plods incessantly. He did everything but genuflect and chant Beck’s name. Beck even prefaced his criticism by saying that he agreed with Barber’s description of the IRS.

So why is Beck so outraged and offended? Perhaps the answer lies in these remarks by Beck on his radio program today:

“How many times did they stand up peacefully? How many times did they stand up and get onto a ship and vomit off the side of it so they could go deliver a letter to the king? Well, I know it’s been a tough couple of years, it may not be time yet to gather your armies.”

Setting aside the vomiting Founders, Beck tells us here precisely why he’s mad: Barber jumped the gun, and in the process, spilled the beans. Beck isn’t upset at Barber for overtly advocating violent rebellion. He’s upset that Barber spoke too soon. Beck isn’t ready yet. And Barber committed the cardinal sin of upstaging Beck and usurping his role as the Messianic leader of the revolt.

This conclusion is painfully obvious. Why else would Beck get so worked up over a call to “gather your armies?” The last sentence of his new novel (released today by coincidence(?)) menacingly declares…

“We’re everywhere. Stay with us. I’ll see you soon. The fight starts tomorrow.”

How exactly is that different than Barber’s call to arms? OK, Beck’s book is fiction, or as he calls it, “faction.” Beck says that the events in the book are made up, but he also says that the ideas are rooted in the truth. But Barber’s ad is not exactly non-fiction, given that he is seen conversing with long-dead historical figures.

So there really is no difference between them other than Barber’s audacity for getting out in front of Beck’s parade. Beck has an event coming up in August that is scheduled to be the launch party for his next book, “The Plan,” a 100 year blueprint for the restoration of America. I can understand why Beck would be angry at Barber for stealing the thunder he hopes to rain down on his disciples. He has been planning for the release of The Plan for months. How dare Barber spoil it all by promoting his own crackpot schemes to get elected to Congress? That’s what Beck is so infuriated by. Beck will lead his troops into battle when the time is right and not before. And woe be to anyone who imperils his plot or gets in his way.

Bonus Hypocrisy: Keith Olbermann also criticized Barber’s ad, but Beck found no common quarter with him. In fact, Beck bashed Olbermann as a…

“…two-faced, no talent, soon to be washed up, alcoholic, throw yourself off the ledge of a building cause you such a loser, kind of guy.”

So when Beck calls Barber out it’s righteous indignation. When Olbermann does it, it makes him a loser. More importantly, I’ve never heard any suggestion that Olbermann was an alcoholic. But Beck’s litany of insults paint an accurate picture of Beck himself. Beck is a former abuser of alcohol and drugs. He admits to being suicidal on multiple occasions. He has lost about half his audience since the beginning of the year. And neither of his faces have any talent.

Dick Cheney’s Campaign Of Treason Is Unraveling

Since at least last May, I have been unveiling the efforts of extremist right-wing politicians and pundits to signal our enemies in Al Qaeda that now is the time to strike (See: The Republican Advance Team For Terrorism). They have been waving their arms excitedly and shouting to anyone who will listen that America is less safe and, therefore, vulnerable. They have been partnering with their pals in the press to make sure that the message gets out. And they know full well that the enemy is paying attention.

Dick Cheney is the de facto leader of this forward brigade. He outlined the theme over five years ago when he said:

“Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.”

And ever since Barack Obama took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Cheney and his comrades have endeavored to produce the very perception of weakness about which he pretended to warn. The question is, how does announcing to the terrorists that our nation is weaker make us safer? Are they just pasting a big bulls eye on America and hoping for an “I told you so” moment? I desperately hope that that’s not the case, but there aren’t many other plausible explanations.

Finally, some in the media are beginning to recognize the danger into which Cheney et al are leading us:

Keith Olbermann: “We are at war,” Dick Cheney came down from Mt. Megalomaina to announce, “and when President Obama pretends we are not it makes us less safe.” If Mr. Cheney believes we are at war, then he, as the most recent former occupant of the vice-presidency is under the strictest obligations to put aside his case of terminal partisanship and rally to the support of his president at a time of war. Instead his remarks not only give encouragement to the enemies of this country, they give them an exact measure as to how successful they have been in damaging our freedoms.

Jonathan Alter: The problem I think we have now is sort of crystallized by former Vice-President Cheney’s role in this debate. I think that he has actually gotten to a place where he is actually emboldening the terrorists.

It’s about time that these traitors are called to account for their actions. If they believe that our country is at risk, they should consult privately with the administration and/or national security officials to alleviate that risk. They could work behind the scenes to close any security gaps and contribute to enhancing our safety without alerting the enemy to our alleged shortcomings. They certainly should not be coaching the opposing team from the sidelines.

It is bad enough that Americans have had to surrender so many basic freedoms in the face of terrorist threats. And every new attempt results in another knee-jerk response to prohibit an otherwise ordinary activity. This continually tightening noose of restrictions that we are forced to endure can only be celebrated by our enemies. They know they can alter our way of life and each time they do they gain encouragement to proceed. As I wrote in my 2006 ode to the Pre-9/11 Mindset:

They’ve seen the passage of the Patriot Act that limits long-held freedoms. They’ve seen our government listening in on our phone calls and monitoring our financial transactions. They see us lining up at airport terminals shoeless and forced to surrender our shampoo and Evian water. They see us mourning the loss of our sons and daughters who are not even engaged in battle with the 9/11 perpetrators. They see us as fearful and submissive. Is this not emboldening the terrorists for whom this perception of weakness will be seen as yet another invitation to attack?

We need to find a way to defend ourselves that protects both our lives and our way of life. We cannot allow terrorists to take control of our daily affairs. When they observe the effect of their attacks, even those that don’t succeed, they regard it as a victory. They cheer as we establish ever more restrictive and intrusive policies that cost us billions of dollars. They see themselves as winning tactically and at the same time draining our financial resources, which is a prime objective of theirs.

This is unacceptable. And the irresponsible, unpatriotic actions of Dick Cheney and company play right into the hands of the enemy. It is good to see Olbermann and Alter honestly discuss the vile and reckless behavior of these rightist thugs. It would be even better if more of the media were equally as candid. But this is a start and it should be encouraged. Because if the Cheneys of the world have their way it will be a dark world indeed.

GE And News Corp: The Saga Continues

As previously reported, executives at GE and News Corp have been attempting to broker a deal that would end the bickering between the networks and, mostly, Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. I continue to maintain that it would be a violation of journalistic ethics for the execs to interfere with the judgment of their commentators. But the brass at GE and News Corp don’t seem to agree with me.

The first attempt at a truce was broken within 48 hours by Olbermann who, on returning from vacation, skewered O’Reilly royally, just like the good old days. O’Reilly took up the gauntlet and, as per his routine, ignored Olbermann and went straight after his boss at GE, Jeffrey Immelt. The tactic of bypassing Olbermann and aiming at Immelt is said to have been personally suggested by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. With the war on again, the combatants began to reveal some of their innermost thoughts – particularly Ailes who, according to the Washington Post, summarized the situation thusly:

Ailes offered a blunt, if slightly jocular, diagnosis of the problem. He could control his nutcases, Ailes said, but Immelt couldn’t control his.

That says so much. First, Ailes is acknowledging that his people are nutcases (as if we didn’t already know). And second, Ailes is admitting that he has the power to manipulate the content and views of the nutcases who host Fox programs.

GE has issued a statement saying that they haven’t “told anyone at NBC News or MSNBC how to report the news.” But the New York Times claims to have sources who said that, not only was there a deal that covered Olbermann and O’Reilly, but also…

“Employees of daytime programs on MSNBC were specifically told by executives not to mention Fox hosts in segments critical of conservative media figures.”

What I want to know is, how can you produce a segment critical of conservative media figures without mentioning Fox hosts?

Olbermann (and anyone in his position) deserves respect for standing up to interference from the suits in the suites. It is the ethical thing to do in the news business. You simply do not let them intrude on your news judgment, especially if your job is to provide analysis and opinion. Unless, of course, you’re Bill O’Reilly, who is a coward, and a puppet for Ailes, who has previously admitted that he has the ability to direct what is said by Murdoch-owned pundits on TV and in print (over which he has no executive authority):

“Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

This was basically extortion on the part of Ailes who literally served notice on GE saying that, “If you stop, we’ll stop.” The objective by both the GE and News Corp executives has nothing to do with the pursuit of news. Rather, it is a self-serving plot to tamp down any criticism of the parent companies. They are looking after their corporate interest, not the public interest.

This whole affair is a near perfect illustration of why monolithic corporations, with vested interests in far flung business and government affairs, should not be permitted to own news enterprises.

GE And FOX Agree To Censor Their News Divisions

In a report in the New York Times, the corporate parents of NBC and Fox News were brought together at a summit for CEO’s in an attempt to settle a long-simmering feud. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, and Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp, sat down to try to work things out.

What they were striving to resolve was the eternal and bitter competition between MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. This affair has been a rancorous, and often humorous, battle wherein Olbermann frequently awarded O’Reilly his “Worst Person in the World,” trophy, and O’Reilly countered by slandering NBC, GE, and Immelt personally (O’Reilly would never utter Olbermann’s name). According to the Times’ Brian Stelter…

“It was a media cage fight, televised every weeknight at 8 p.m. But the match was halted when the blood started to spray executives in the high-priced seats.”

There are two things that are immensely disturbing about this backroom handshake. First and foremost, the corporate parents of news enterprises ought not to be dictating the content of their news divisions, or the opinions of their commentators. That is especially true if the reason for the ivory tower interference is to dampen any blowback on the parent company’s business or executives resulting from controversial positions. This is about the best example of why it is unwise for corporations with vested interests in broader business and government affairs to own news publishers to begin with.

Secondly, the result of this inter-cable warfare is precisely what Fox News wanted. MSNBC is caving in to a deliberate tactic designed to halt criticism of Fox and its personnel. It is a one-sided victory for Fox that comes at the expense of MSNBC’s best interests and dignity. It was less than four months ago that Fox News CEO, Roger Ailes, laid down the threat from which they are now reaping the harvest. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post reported the tantrum Ailes threw in response to the escalating on-air debate:

“Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

That’s precisely what happened, and it didn’t even take two weeks for Fox to follow through on its threat. Now we see this truce in effect at least partly because Immelt doesn’t like being called “a despicable human being” by O’Reilly. And the worst part is that Fox’s blatant bullying is being rewarded with a complete capitulation by MSNBC.

For these networks to enforce this agreement is nothing short of censorship. Olbermann responded with an email that said that he was not a party to any agreement, but he also seems to have halted his once routine attacks on O’Reilly and Fox News. As for Fox, their position now is that it is appropriate to direct their commentators to steer clear of certain topics. But that appears to apply only to topics that negatively impact the company brass. Just last week, after Glenn Beck called President Obama a racist, Fox released a statement that said that beck had merely…

“…expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.”

That freedom, of course, has limitations. From the Fox News point of view, it is alright for one of their hosts to comment disparagingly on the President of the United States, but it is not OK to comment on the president of the company. The company, after all, is sacrosanct and its interests are superior to those of the nation.

It is disheartening to see this sort of corporate thuggery imposed on what should be independent news divisions. One can only hope that the truce will fail and free expression will prevail.

Update: Olbermann returned from vacation and struck down any notion that the network brass would dictate the content of his program. To prove it, he returned Bill O’Reilly to the “World’s Worst” list and reprised his old “Bill-O the Clown” routine. Apparently, news of a network truce were exaggerated. That’s good news.