Given his philosophical bent, it is not surprising that Mr. Keith Olbermann would join in the assaults. Still, it is unusual for an on-air personality to regularly attack the personnel of a competitor. Whether this violates some sort of unwritten rule or protocol in the journalistic community we cannot say. But when the vilifications are of dubious accuracy, and the tone becomes personal, they are not principled criticisms, but rather egotistical indulgences.
At my personal blog, I have detailed Mr. Olbermann's November 2004 insults about Bill O'Reilly, how O'Reilly didn't say what Mr. Olbermann claimed, and how Mr. Olbermann--even when proven wrong--refused to make any kind of correction. In February, he ginned up an issue about Mr. O'Reilly college punting record. This was fodder for three broadcasts and a blog entry, but through it all he never bothered to note the official statement from Marist College. They concluded Mr. Olbermann's remarks were erroneous, as did others.
Similar snipes were increasingly common as the months went by: references to "the Jeff Gannons of Fox News", and "the President's fan-club tv network at Fox News"; he wrote that Fox was equivalent to the propaganda newscasts from 1984 (a novel and film about a totalitarian society). But anyone who thought Mr. Olbermann had learned a lesson about recklessly inaccurate charges was in for a disappointment.
Item: On May 23, 2005, Mr. Olbermann commented that you will hear how President Karzai criticized Newsweek on "the 1984 channel", but:
You are less likely to hear the President agree with the US Commanders in Afghanistan that the rioting and deaths were not the result of what Newsweek reported.Mr. Olbermann's snide comment simply wasn't true. Hours earlier, Carl Cameron had reported on Fox:
Karzai confirmed US military assertions that the real instigators were extremists who'll do anything to disrupt democracy.Cameron continued with a clip of Karzai--the same clip Mr. Olbermann showed. It was hardly "less likely" that Fox would run it, since they had already done so.
By August, Mr. Olbermann was doing a regular "worst person in the world" segment. Sometimes his choices were ordinary people who said or did something stupid, but more often the feature was used as a way to skewer someone on his enemies list. Among political types, that means Republicans or conservatives (we are aware of no Democrat or liberal ever being named "worst"). And among media personnel, that means anyone connected with Fox News.
Item: In August, Bill O'Reilly was the "worst person in the world" because he disagreed with John McCain about coerced interrogation. (The quote was lifted from the hard-left website Media Matters, the source for most of these attacks.) Mr. Olbermann opined:
If this were 1972, Bill O'Reilly would be Jane Fonda.Item: On August 24 Brit Hume was named "worser", for something he didn't even say. No correction, retraction, or apology was forthcoming.
Item: Repeating a secondhand story from an anonymous source, on September 6 Mr. Olbermann named Geraldo Rivera "worst person", claiming Mr. Rivera staged a rescue. Mr. Olbermann presented the rumor as fact. But long before he went to air, Fox had released a statement detailing what actually happened. These facts were easily confirmable with a few phone calls. But Mr. Olbermann did not report the existence of Fox's statement, let alone its contents. The slur, like so many others, remains uncorrected to this day.
Item: O'Reilly had made a tongue-in-cheek comment on the radio about how Katrina should have just hit the UN building. Mr. Olbermann ranted about how O'Reilly gets "dumber" all the time, because such a flood would also engulf Fox News, just a few blocks from the UN. The name-calling and personal attacks were escalating, but not the accuracy quotient. O'Reilly's actual words:
Bush to address the UN, says we must be steadfast in battling terrorism. I'm sure all the UN people fell asleep. They don't really care about anything over there at all. I just wish Katrina had only hit the United Nations building, nothing else, just had flooded them out.However "dumber" Mr. O'Reilly may have been getting, he understood the meaning of the phrases "only" and "nothing else". If Mr. Olbermann did grasp their meaning, he considered it less important than insulting a perceived enemy.
Item: A few days later, Geraldo Rivera was "worst" again. He was an "absolute asinine jackass" when he insisted that the New York Times correct a false story. We can see where corrections might be a sore point with Mr. Olbermann.
Item: On October 24, it was Bill O'Reilly once more, in an especially instructive example of Mr. Olbermann's tendency toward misrepresentation. Mr. O'Reilly was quoted as saying:
Now in the Great Depression, every American got spanked. And those Americans went to war during World War II and won the very intense conflict and showed bravery across the board, the Greatest Generation. The Greatest Generation, almost down to the man, was spanked, 'cause that's the way we did it in America. OK?Mr. Olbermann reacted:
The Big Giant head again, explaining to his radio audience that we won the Second World War because of spanking.... He's about four minutes away from being committed.But Mr. Olbermann's characterization of what O'Reilly said was backwards. O'Reilly did not claim that we won World War II because of spanking. The discussion was about capital punishment. Mr. O'Reilly said that spanking did not prevent us from winning the war, that it did not psychologically damage children. This becomes clear when one reads the next sentences of O'Reilly's comment, the sentences Mr. Olbermann left out:
So I'm not believing all these sociologists, these fruitcakes, who run around going, you know, you look at a kid cross-eyed, he's going to grow up to be a heroin addict. I'm not buying that.Keep this practice of selective quotation in mind; we will return to it.
Item: November 1, Mr. Olbermann again proclaims Geraldo Rivera worst, because Mr. Rivera said he's tired of people making fun of him.
Item: A few days later, the Fox News Channel was deemed "worst", because it paid the sizeable expenses for a guest's travel to appear on Fox News Sunday. (Fact check: Fox News Sunday is produced for the Fox broadcast network, not FNC.) On another night, Jeanine Garafalo and Mr. Olbermann devoted several minutes to bad-mouthing Fox News. By this time Mr. Olbermann was ready to ratchet up the invective.
Item: On November 11, Mr. Olbermann spent an entire segment attacking Bill O'Reilly for some tongue-in-cheek hyperbole revolving around the notion that if San Francisco doesn't want want to allow military recruiting in schools, then maybe we shouldn't protect them from an Al-Qaeda attack. In a sudden fit of literalism (not evident when the topic was a flood at the UN), Mr. Olbermann took every word like a fundamentalist interpreting the Bible. The comments were "demagogic". They were "treasonous". A few days later, he attacked Mr. O'Reilly again, on the same topic, because O'Reilly had defended himself by pointing out the satiric nature of his comments. But Mr. Olbermann was having none of it. "And you thought Sen Joe McCarthy was dead," he intoned, charging falsely that O'Reilly was "changing his story again". He described the comments as "hate speech", and wished "good luck" to those attempting to silence O'Reilly.
Item: O'Reilly is worst person for November 16, because of a joke about San Francisco.
Item: On November 30 Keith Olbermann contrived to give Bill O'Reilly all three "worst person" slots: winner and both runner-ups:
This whole attack on Christmas nonsense that he made up, some sort of fantasy in which the liberals are coming to your town to force you and your family to not call it Christmas anymore.Did Mr. O'Reilly ever claim liberals were going to force people not to use the word "Christmas"? No. Apparently Mr. Olbermann is being--dare we say it?--satirical. But why is it that he is permitted to use hyperbole to make a satirical point, but when Mr. O'Reilly does so, his words get parsed like the fine print of a notarized contract? Then, remarking that one can buy "holiday" ornaments at the Fox News online store, Mr. Olbermann moves in for the kill:
Who is trying to change Merry Christmas into Happy Holidays? Bill O'Reilly, that's who!
So eager was Mr. Olbermann to find a way to give O'Reilly all three "worst" slots that he misled his viewers once again. Bill O'Reilly doesn't run the Fox news online store; he doesn't sell the items; he doesn't write the descriptions. He has his own online store, proudly labeled a "Christmas store":
Mr. Olbermann considers the whole Christmas controversy to be "nonsense" and something O'Reilly made up. Yet on the MSNBC website, one can find Joe Scarborough railing against "PC police" who "create new words for Christmas trees", and promoting stories about "yet another chapter in the war on Christmas". If Mr. Olbermann can deem O'Reilly responsible for content he had nothing to do with, why can't one apply the same standard to Mr. Olbermann:
Who is promoting the nonsensical War on Christmas? Keith Olbermann, that's who!
Item: The next night, after the webmasters at Fox changed the wording to "Christmas" ornaments, Mr. Olbermann made Fox News Channel (not O'Reilly this time, though he never did acknowledge that error) worst because now it was not selling "holiday" ornaments.
All of this brings us to the most recent instance of Mr. Olbermann's jihad against Fox News; it is also one of the most distasteful. On December 2, he quoted Fox's John Gibson as saying:
I would think if somebody is going to be -- have to answer for following the wrong religion, they're not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to.
Based on this, Mr. Olbermann suggested that Gibson believes his religion is the only true one--something Mr. Gibson never said--and accused him of "intolerance".
The notion that one religion is as good as another is a favorite construct among relativists and skeptics. Believers wonder how all religions can be equally valid, since they all differ in matters of doctrine. It would seem logical that they cannot all be correct. Could a religion that, for example, justifies mass murder possibly be the "wrong" religion, wrong either in theological terms, or just for purely sociological reasons? Mr. Olbermann does not concern himself with such distinctions. As he stated, one's faith does not matter: "What's the difference?"
Instead, he charged Mr. Gibson with "intolerance". We mentioned earlier Mr. Olbermann's technique of selective quotation. Here he has employed it in a particularly despicable manner. For in reporting Mr. Gibson's statement, Mr. Olbermann excluded the rest of what Gibson said:
as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us without causing trouble, and I think most Americans are fine with that tradition.
Where exactly is the "intolerance" in a statement that says we should tolerate religions we do not agree with? The omission of the rest of this quote--with its specific use of the word "tolerate", the root of "tolerance"--was deliberate. The purpose was to distort John Gibson's meaning, giving Mr. Olbermann the opportunity to launch another salvo at his enemy supreme, Fox News.
It was bad enough that he was again altering the purport of someone else's words to suit his personal agenda. But Mr. Olbermann, as he twisted the knife, made it a point to note that he considered Mr. Gibson a personal "friend". As malignant as some of Mr. Olbermann's attacks on FNC personnel have been, that smarmy aside renders this latest one uniquely loathsome.
Mr. Olbermann purports to be a journalist at a prestigious news organization, but for well over a year he has used his platform at MSNBC to malign people at Fox News. That the attacks have devolved into personal insults and name calling is noteworthy. That they have proven time and again to be misleading or downright inaccurate is striking. That they are permitted to continue is inexplicable.
Cross-posted at Johnny Dollar's Place.