Ever-feuding Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann were asked by their corporate overlords to cool it, the New York Times reported, over concerns that the fights were hurting respective parents companies News Corporation and General Electric. Both anchors are highly partisan and opinionated -- no Walter Cronkites here -- but does the exertion of corporate control over punditry indicate inherent bias in the news?
Bad news for journalism. Glenn Greenwald of Salon thinks this is a big deal, calling "GE's forcibly silencing the top-rated commentator on MSNBC" evidence of "pernicious corporate control over America's journalism" and that "the corporations that own our largest media outlets controlling and censoring the content of their news organizations." Greenwald's position begins with the assumption of a firewall between corporate and news: "Why is GE even speaking for MSNBC's editorial decisions at all?" His conclusions got nods of agreement from the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, The Nation's Christopher Hayes, Salon boss Joan Walsh, Editor & Publisher boss Greg Mitchell, and Ana Marie Cox.
Citing Fox News' criticism of GE's dealings in Iran and its government lobbying, Greenwald veered a bit into conspiracy theory territory in a follow-up. He suggested GE's position to be: "GE's journalists will stop reporting critically on Fox and its top assets because Fox can expose actions of GE that we want to keep concealed." Greenwald warned, "GE constantly manipulates our political process and institutions for its own self-interest. And it now manipulates our political debates, through its control over our leading news outlets, for the same purposes." Greenwald wants the wall between corporate and news rebuilt -- he urged NBC employees to "stand up for their journalistic freedom" -- and encouraged Fox News to continue to hammer GE's "profoundly sleazy" behavior.
Nothing to worry about. Some see this as simply the grown-ups from corporate stepping in to end a childish spat. The Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove called the armistice the same "self-serving opportunism" for O'Reilly and Olbermann as the feud itself. Grove argued the deal isn't worth getting worked up over, calling the pundits "two megalomaniacal cable-TV demagogues who really deserve each other." He concludes that the fights were probably only halted because they had become predictable and boring -- "the point of diminishing returns" -- but will return "the second the higher-ups make the calculation that there's a legitimate business purpose in reviving the slapfest."
Chris Rovzar of New York Magazine also believes the ceasefire will be short-lived, citing O'Reilly and Olbermann's notorious egos. "Both anchors were thrown under the bus by their distant parent company CEOs with this Times story. Now they look like patsies, instead of the big, tall, tough warriors for truth they like to paint themselves to be," Rovzar wrote. So when is it back on? "Now, even more than keeping up the entertainment value in his show, Olbermann has to go after O'Reilly in order to retain his dignity. It won't take O'Reilly long to feel he has to fight back."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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