MSNBC’s Phil Griffith the Worst Person in the World, as Olbermann Joins Donahue, Banfield

With regard to the ‘indefinite suspension’ of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC for having donated small sums to three Democratic candidates, here is a little piece of irony.

Olbermann began his long-running feature, “Worst Person in the World” (which he recently shelved) in reaction to a critic-consultant that NBC hired to advise on shows that needed to be canceled. He complains that NBC cancels shows at the drop of a hat without giving them a chance to build an audience, almost capriciously: “Our network used to change shows every hour and a half. I don`t mean we have a new show because the old one is over. It was just we would cancel everybody and have another new show.” When the consultant urged that a show be canceled after only two weeks, Olbermann thought, that’s it, he’s the worst person in the world.

So I guess MSNBC’s Phil Griffith, who summarily ‘suspended’ Olbermann is the Worst Person in the World today, in exactly the original sense of the term.

‘MSNBC

November 10, 2008 Monday

SHOW: COUNTDOWN 8:00 PM EST

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, “THE VIEW”: The feature, the worst person in the world, how did this come about?

OLBERMANN: It started because, honestly, we had one — it`s an old Bob and Ray sketch, the great comedians. It`s an old — The worst person in the world, there had to be somebody. As George Carlin pointed out, there had to be a worst doctor in the world. Just, there has to be one. And somebody`s got an appointment to see him tomorrow. These two things were rolling around in my head one day. There was a critic came in.

Our network used to change shows every hour and a half. I don`t mean we have a new show because the old one is over. It was just we would cancel everybody and have another new show. We had a critic in the “New York Times” who came on and criticized, of all people, Tucker Carlson for not doing a good enough job, and after two weeks wanted the show canceled. First, they`re criticizing us for canceling shows too soon. Then, I said, I`m reading you want us to cancel a show after two weeks. This is one of the worst persons in the world. OK, we`re going to start it tonight. ‘

That Olbermann is being treated unfairly is obvious. Joe Scarborough has also donated to a political campaign while at MSNBC. And Sean Hannity at Fox has given far more money to candidates than Olbermann ever did. In fact, Hannity donated to Michele Bachmann, which suggests he is better suited to playing a bit part in a remake of the Night of the Living Dead than to anchoring a major ‘news’ show.

Hell, most of the main Republican candidates for president are working for Fox Cable News! So it goes beyond giving some campaign a couple thousand dollars, nowadays!

Fox argues that Hannity is not a news anchor but the equivalent of an op-ed columnist, a purveyor of opinions, and so may also be a political actor.

But MSNBC has already marked Olbermann also as an opinion person, not a hard news anchor, when it took him off election coverage in 2008. So MSNBC has put Olbermann in the same category as Fox has put Hannity. But one is on the air and the other is not.

MSNBC has a long history of throwing liberals under the bus, despite its recent strategy of trying to use them to counter-program against Fox.

In the build-up to the Iraq War, MSNBC had Phil Donahue, whose evening magazine show was the highest-rated thing on the network. As the momentum for war built, the top corporate management became very nervous about having a show starring an anti-war liberal, so they fired Donahue Rick Ellis wrote at the time that General Electric-owned NBC had commissioned a study of its public image, and that the consultants produced a report in which they wrote, that Donahue was a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war……He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” The report worried that the war fever would benefit rival, pro-war, pro-Bush networks and implied that Donahue might succeed in branding NBC in a way that caused viewership and therefore advertising revenues to plummet.

MSNBC replaced Donahue with far right wing shock jock Michael Savage, Dick Armey and Republican Joe Scarborough (who went on to donate to a Republican politician while on the air).

Then there was Ashley Banfield, a television reporter who was almost killed on 9/11.. She went off on this quest to understand Pakistan and Afghanistan, about which she had known nothing, and she risked life and limb to get up to Kabul as soon as the Taliban fell, and when the road from Jalalabad was very bad. She was on a steep learning curve and tried to take her MSNBC television audience along on this quest to understand the forces that had nearly snuffed her out. Then on April 24, after the successful Bush invasion of Iraq, she gave a public speech in which she criticized US television news for its rah-rah cheerleading of the war, which was not exactly in the best tradition of sober reporting. She was marginalized and ultimately fired.

The summary firing of Donahue and the disposal of Banfield may have been in part the situation to which Olbermann was referring when he told Whoopi Goldberg that NBC used to cancel shows frequently and arbitrarily.

And it was precisely that sort of corporate shooting-from-the-hip decision-making on programming that inspired him to start his ‘Worst Person in the World’ segment. But in the end, the Worst Person got him, too.

26 Responses

  1. These guys are very good, Media executives I mean, are very good, or, think they are very good, at being one of the first to grasp ‘which way the wind is blowing’. And the truth of the matter is, the long knives have been out for Keith’s scalp for some time now. They got it.

    • They ARE the wind that blows. Corporate owned, they create the hunger, the thirst for what they deliver. They create their own truth. How often was Keith the rare bit of sunlight. Look back.

      Turn them off.

  2. I wonder how those individuals in the decline of the Roman Empire felt as they saw what was going to happen, and then what was happening in the early stages, and found that nothing could be done about it. Probably like those of us feel now. While the exact details cannot be predicted, the overall results are fairly clear.

    It seems to me that the United States and other militarized countries will behave like cornered rats, attacking and trying to kill those around them, and wiping out all of what we laughingly call civilization. But actually quite uncivilized. Civilization is a very fragile thing, and we should take better care.

    • At least the Roman Empire wasn’t able to pull the whole world down with it when it fell. I hope there’s a “conspiracy of good” working on a remote device that will disable nuclear weapons by pressing a few buttons. Or maybe it’s been done already…

  3. As well as being outraged, I’m puzzled. Do they not understand that we now live in a globally-connected world and that anyone not employed by them is a free agent to do whatever they can and will? Blogs? Tweets? YouTube? And those are only the easy, informal ones. I’m hoping we’ll be seeing Mr. Olbermann a lot in a variety of venues, more even than when he had the MSNBC pulpit.

  4. Interesting that in all of the discussion on this subject, on both sides, I have not seen one mention of Olbermann’s almost endless excoriation of Fox News and its various commentators for their political contributions to Republicans and his claims of the “lack of journalistic integrity” that such contribution and lack of disclosure reflects.

    Yet he and his supporters seem to think that when he is suspended for contributing to Democrats and failing to disclose it, that his suspension is merely for the contributions and not for any “lack of journalistic integrity.”

  5. Juan, the big difference with Joe Scarborough was that he came on as an oped writer, not a news network anchorman who is supposed to be politically independent in the first place. Unfortunately his show morphed into an opinion show and MSNBC is responsible for greying the journalistic boundaries.

    On top of that, Scarborough gave in 2006 with permission. Another donation Scarborough allegedly made earlier this year was by his wife, Susan Scarborough. In a nutshell, Scarborough was in line with NBC policy. Olbermann wasn’t and he sacrificed his journalistic independence as a result. He needs to regain that back.

    I think Olbermann learned his lesson and I think he should come back soon. He’s not expendable like Juan Williams, David Shuster, or Rick Sanchez. He brings in viewers and rating for MSNBC. Give him one more chance, but that’s it IMO.

  6. I love Olbermann … we owe him a great debt for all his hard work. But WTF??? Why can’t Liberals get it? We live in an America with two set of rules. Keith knows this. Republicans and their supporters can do whatever they want. Democrats are held to very different standards. Dems are under a microscope. Keith also knew this as well. His contract prohibited donating to candidates. Keith knew this??? This is similar to Eliot Spitzer; similar to ACORN.

    If one want to take on the RIGHT WING system, you have to be flawless. Now it appears we might lose another HERO of America.

    DAMN!!! Another terrible tragedy for good; for Middle Class struggling families; for the real America!

    • Maybe Olbermann is trying to challenge the double standard. He’s popular enough that there is already some strong audience pushback.

      I’m going to watch the next show (sans Keith), note down all the advertisers, and write them little notes about how I am now avoiding their products, and why.

      And, lest they think I’m some degenerate washed-up hippie, I’ll be mentioning the significant household income which I control.

  7. There’s also a Facebook page: “Let’s Bring Keith Back.” It contains the contact information (emails, phone numbers) to the MSNBC brass responsible for silencing him: link to facebook.com.

  8. Dear Professor,

    I find little in your posts with which to quibble. Your clear thought process is what sets you apart. But I will quibble with your occasional descent to euphemism, which is a current American epidemic. Ollie North may find this useful, but transparency and clarity are not his business. You typically set the tenor of Informed Comment against this kind of intellectual laziness and intentional misdirection. The term you used today is “throw under the bus” which may be chic, but also has vastly different meanings to an incompetent editor at a loss for words, and a mafiosa talking about a client. I do note with no small satisfaction that you have finally found other, more accurate words to describe the thuggery, brutality, immorality, and illegality of “settler”, as in Jewish “settler”.

    The current Olbermann episode may be significantly clarified by dispensing with the idea that there is little neutral news in America, anywhere, any more. Edward R. Murrow, his shadow, and his cautionary echoes are long gone. The word “show” outnumbers the word “news” in your short post by more than three times, 16 to 5. A final score of 16 to 5 in any sports contest would clearly demonstrate the team “News” suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the powerful team “Shows”. But while American “news” has thoroughly become a “show”, most major news shows today also clearly possess a political purpose, and minor news shows either respond or imitate them. That is, American news content today is mostly propaganda.

    The intent or direction of this propaganda is perhaps clearest with a review of the annual earnings of the top ‘news show celebrities’. We can also dispense with the confusing terms “news broadcaster”, “commentator”, “host” and anything similar because there are no longer any national, regional, or even local news show presenters who are not Celebrities, who maintain their celebrity and create their own facts by referencing each other. According to Newsweek (I am open to other sources) the earnings leaders on the “Right” are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Sarah Palin with a total of $147 million. On the “Left” we have Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann with a total of $22 million. Bill Clinton, as all ex-Presidents, has rather special earning powers. Milling about somewhere else are Don Imus and Rudy Giuliani.

    What is important is not how much money each of these people made last year. Top notch Entertainers and Sports Figures can also make a lot of money, but that is due to the marketability of their current batting average or personality appeal. Political celebrity is different because rather than earning the money, the measure is more: How much money are people (or corporations) willing to pay these people to be in the public eye so that their message can saturate and influence the public debate? Given that Stewart and Olbermann may arguably be termed Entertainers, the sports score of 147 million to something less than 22 million indicates just how much some people are willing to spend to bend American public opinion to their own purpose. In American today, that purpose is the accrual of power and money, not egalitarian American idealism.

    Americans, unfortunately, seem to really enjoy propaganda, and to genuinely prefer it to strictly informational information that requires more of the recipient than experiencing a series of quick adrenal flushes in the comfort of their Barcaloungers. No amount of education or information can overcome gullibility. The huge dollar amounts cited above indicate the degree to which American gullibility and ignorance are being targeted and encouraged.

    Canadian Professor Bob Altemeyer at the University of Manitoba deftly points out that while most people offer the names of leaders when asked for examples of authoritarians, it is a population’s percentage of authoritarian citizens that enables authoritarian leaders to rise and rule. Altemeyer also points out that a significant percentage of any human population is authoritarian by preference. This percentage is an important target component of American news propaganda, that is, an important base that may be convinced to vote against their abest interests. Combine the populations of citizen authoritarians with the ignorant and the gullible and you can win elections. Olbermann’s sacking is a case study in gullibility prevailing over critical thinking.

    Bob Altemeyer’s book The Authoritarians is available free online as a PDF file at:
    link to home.cc.umanitoba.ca

  9. Professor Cole, Thank you for this article about Olberman. Most of the people I know are in a state of anxiety as a result of the election. It looks to many of us that the liberal instinct has been trashed thoroughly and the book I’ve been reading by Matthias Chang, “Programmed for War” which was written in 2005 is unfolding as fact even as I read it.
    I have asked people who correspond through The Nation magazine’s Discussion Group, to start thinking of ways the voters of this country can find to counter the grotesque distortion of our electoral system. I think a form of Referendum Voting combined with clear truth telling education might be the only chance we have to recover the kind of democracy we started losing when we joined World War One. rmdw

  10. I believe that Pat Buchanan also made contributions a few years back while occupying a chair at MSNBCs’ babble-klatch. But his and Scarboro’s offerings went to Republicans so the treatment must be different.

    • You’re better off not knowing. Stick to PBS, NPR, Free Speech Radio/TV and community stations.

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