Waxing Hypothetical, Olbermann Hails Demise of Fox News as 'Best Hope of Mankind'

March 13th, 2006 5:22 PM

On C-SPAN’s Sunday night Brian Lamb interview show "Q & A," MSNBC "Countdown" host Keith Olbermann lit into Fox News Channel in an extended rant, suggesting that its demise was the "best hope of mankind." He could not believe their "fear"-based marketing strategy about being an oasis of balance in a liberal media world, was just agog at "the idea that there are vast [media] structures designed to foment liberal causes."

He also oddly claimed that while now he’s described as a "screaming liberal," no one called him that in his previous MSNBC stint during the Lewinsky scandal. Correction: the MRC gave him an award for outrageousness for comparing Clinton prosecutor Ken Starr to Nazi commander Heinrich Himmler.

After discussing how he had spoken at a graduation ceremony at Cornell University, his alma mater, in 1998, complaining of the "dry heaves" he had at being forced to report on Lewinsky. (The speech when he noted he "prayed that I would wake up in a more honorable time, like maybe the McCarthy era.") Lamb turned to Fox about 12 minutes and 45 seconds into the show:

Brian Lamb: "Quote. Keith Olbermann: ‘I loathe Fox.’"

Olbermann: "I do. I worked there [for Fox Sports]. I had an idea before I worked there what they were doing to the news business. And how cynical they were about television. But I really had no idea until after I had worked within that company just how bad it was."

Lamb: "Let me run a clip. Roger Ailes was on this program at the end of the year before last. Let's watch what he had to say."

Ailes in late 2004: I think Fox News has come on the scene and identified itself as fair and balanced. We try to do that every day. I think others, instead of trying to get more fair and balanced probably are offended by that or worried about it. You know, we get attacked and we get copied, usually at the same time by the same people. And basically it's fear that we're doing something that they're not doing. And they try to pretend that we're doing something political that they are not doing. But that's nonsense. We've been around for eight years. We're not retracting stories. We don't have a former attorney general looking into us to try to determine how we screwed it up [a reference to Richard Thornburgh investigating Rathergate for CBS]. We're just doing the news every day."

Olbermann, complete with smirk: "Contained in that -- and you can ana– we can play it several times again, and I can stop it at moments like the Zapruder film, and say, well, now here -- what he just said there means -- If you noticed there's no way for him to describe Fox and Fox News without taking a shot at somebody else. He's got references to CBS and the Dan Rather memo story from 2004. He's got shots at other broadcast networks, the other cable operations. Political parties, political interests. It is from the point of view of ‘they're all against you and we're the only ones telling you the truth.' That's the fundamental -- it's the inspiration of fear in people that they're being misled. I've been in broadcasting for 30 years. Your greatest danger from watching television is watching someone who's tired and says something wrong. The ability to -- the necessary structure to manipulate a message, liberal or conservative, is very hard to maintain. They've done a fairly good job of maintaining it. Occasionally they wander off into, away from their preferred political points of view, but the idea that there are vast structures designed to foment liberal causes. No one in 1998, no one accused me of being a liberal in 1998 because I was covering the Clinton-Lewinsky story and whatever I had to do about it, I tried to be fair and honest and as accurate and informed as possible, and allow my viewer to be the same way. And nowadays it's the same way. Now, all of a sudden I'm a screaming liberal."

Stop the tape! Olbermann was a very biased liberal analyst of the Lewinsky scandal and a very regular MRC target. In 1998, he even won our year-end "Corporal Cueball Carville Cadet Award (for Hating Ken Starr) when he suggested Starr looked like Nazi commander Heinrich Himmler.

"Can Ken Starr ignore the apparent breadth of the sympathetic response to the President’s speech? Facially, it finally dawned on me that the person Ken Starr has reminded me of facially all this time was Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses. If he now pursues the President of the United States, who, however flawed his apology was, came out and invoked God, family, his daughter, a political conspiracy and everything but the kitchen sink, would not there be some sort of comparison to a persecutor as opposed to a prosecutor for Mr. Starr?" — Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s Big Show, to Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau Chief James Warren, August 18, 1998.

Back to the interview:

Lamb continued: "Got some other quotes about Fox from you: ‘Fortunately for the Free World, NewsCorp is very aggressive but ultimately not very bright.’" [Citation on screen was April 22, 2003, Professor Barnhardt's Journal]

Olbermann: "Yes. They are somewhat self-destructive and that's the best hope for mankind, relative to them. In other words, you know, Bill O'Reilly who has an audience at 8:00 that even with recent programming gains on part of my show, the total audience that he has is still what, six, seven times what we're doing, even the -- as Fox, Newscorp put it, the money demo, the 25 to 54 news viewers who don't watch news, even there, they're still about double what we're doing. When I attack Bill O'Reilly or criticize something he said on the air, some ludicrous suggestion like we should let al-Qaeda go in and blow up San Francisco because he doesn't like San Francisco, just lunatic things. If I punch upwards at Fox News, the clever response, the cynical and brilliant response is to just ignore it. It's like, why do we have to worry? They have one-seventh of our audience. They attack. Bill O'Reilly's agent calls the head of NBC week after week , saying ‘you've got to get Olbermann to stop this.' As if, for some reason, there are rules here. These are the people who suspended the rules, and they want the referee to stop in and protect them against my little pinky."

Lamb: "More quotes. This is about Rupert Murdoch: ‘His covey of flying monkeys do something journalistically atrocious every hour of the day.’"

Olbermann: "Yeah. I think that's probably true. I think, uh, well, sometimes they miss. There's, sometimes, a few hours in a row where there might not be a flying monkey appearing, devastating society."

Lamb: "Doesn't this [Olbermann/O’Reilly feud] work for both of you?"

Olbermann: [Sighs.] "I don't think so. I haven't -- I haven't, I haven't met a lot of flying monkeys at NBC. I have met people who -- and, by the way, this is the great freedom and the great protection of american broadcasting -- commercial broadcasting. We made a mistake in the 1920's. We let broadcasting in this country develop with commercial broadcasting taking the lead and all other kinds of information on radio or television secondary or tertiary. But the protection of money at the center of everything, including the news, to the degree that it is now, is as long as you make them money, they don't care what it is that you put on the air. They don't care. There are people I know in the hierarchy of NBC, the company and GE, the company, who do not like to see the current presidential administration criticized at all. Anybody who knew anything about American history that stepped out at any point in american history and got an assessment of this presidential administration would say, yeah, I don't know how much they need to be criticized but they need to be criticized to some degree. There are people I work for who would prefer, who would sleep much easier at night if this never happened. On the other hand, if they look at my ratings and my ratings are improved, and there is criticism of the President of the United States, they're happy. If my ratings went up because there was no criticism of the President of the United States, they’d be happy."

Lamb: "What does that say about moral force?"

Olbermann: "It says that moral force and money often do not mix in the slightest. They’re often separate beams of light through the universe and you might have to jump off one to ride another for a while."

About 51 minutes into the show, Lamb returned Olbermann to the topic of Bill O’Reilly after playing a clip of his regular "Worst Person in the World" antics:

Lamb: "Is it fair to say you hate the man, or is this -- is it just an act?"

Olbermann: "Somebody asked me the other day if he was -- if it seemed to me that he was going to retire soon or leave the air. I went, boy, I hope not. Because he provides me with so much material. I can't hate him. He's so extraordinarily obvious, and the antithesis of what broadcasters should do, and what journalists should do, and what people should do that he's necessary in some way. I would be lost without him in some respects. But what he does on the air, everything is a simplification. It goes back to what we were talking about earlier, inspiring fear in people in terms of what the world is going to be like and also what the rest of the media is like. I don't hate him. I'm entertained to some degree by him. I wouldn't watch him with a gun pointed to my head because people watch and actually think they're hearing the truth."

After telling a story of how they sort of met at a charity dinner thrown by "my friend Joe Torre," he added:

"But I -- I used to -- I think I did used to hate him. This segment has become so useful to me and allows me to express that hatred in a positive ratings growing way." [Laughs at himself.]