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.