Olbermann Refutes NYT Allegations on GE Deal with Murdoch over O’Reilly

Keith Olbermann debunks the report that General Electric (owner of MSNBC and NBC) and Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox Cable News) made a deal to halt the feud between Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly.

[Update: Glenn Greenwald explains that there were two issues, 1) whether GE made a deal with Murdoch, and 2) whether Olbermann was party to it. Apparently, contrary to my doubts, Greenwald has an insider’s assurance that 1) was correct, and Olbermann himself now confirms it. It is the question of 2) that Olbermann was addressing– whether he himself signed off on such a deal, which he did not. 8/5/09)

Brian Stelter of the NYT had made the allegation on Saturday.

Glenn Greenwald explained the ramifications of the story in a impassioned column at Salon.com on Monday.

I did not find the original story very plausible. The allegation was that Rupert Murdoch had Fox attack GE over its (then) Iran investments, and more or less blackmailed the company into leaving O’Reilly alone. But if Olbermann’s attacks on O’Reilly generated ratings and therefore ad revenue (and they do), then a corporation would be loathe to give them up. And a big corporation like GE was unlikely to be that worried about some negative sniping from Fox. Rupert would have had to have some serious dirt on GE, and if he had that, he wouldn’t have had to make a mutual deal, he could have just dictated terms.

Moreover, my estimation of Olbermann is that he would have resigned before allowing himself to be strong-armed that way. MSNBC had until Olbermann been floundering, and he now often wins the 8 pm time slot, so no tv executive in his right mind would have risked putting him in that position.

I’m not saying that Stelter made it all up out of whole cloth. There might have been GE-Murdoch discussions about whether they were hurting each other’s image. But obviously they didn’t result in a specific deal, or Olbermann could not so cavalierly have abrogated it.

As for Greenwald’s larger point, that corporate media, contrary to what is often alleged, does interfere in media reportage, I don’t think there is any doubt of that. It is why we had 8 years of reporting on ‘Progress in Iraq.’ (There were only two speeds, ‘slow progress’ and ‘progress.’ A big bombing that killed 200 was slow progress. Very slow.) But Olbermann is a commentator, not a news gatherer, and I think commentators get away with more rocking of the boat when they prove there is a substantial advertisement-watching, credit-card-using constituency for rocking the boat. That is the only way to explain the anomaly that General Electric gives us Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, among the more progressive voices on television. And GE-owned NBC was the first network to call what was going on in Iraq in 2006-2007 a civil war, for which it was lambasted by the Bush White House. Just goes to show how complex things are in media; you can’t imagine GE approving of that editorial line.

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