Olbermann Responds to Koppel, Claims Criticized Obama More in a Week that FNC Did Bush in 8 Years

 On Monday’s Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann used his latest "Special Comment" to respond to former ABC anchor Ted Koppel’s inclusion of him and MSNBC in his recent Washington Post op-ed criticizing the modern news industry. After praising former news man Edward R. Murrow for taking a stand on Senator Joseph McCarthy and Walter Cronkite for doing the same on the Vietnam War and Watergate, Olbermann complained that, unlike himself, Koppel had "worshiped before the false god of utter objectivity" instead of going after the Bush administration over the Iraq war, and claimed that last week he criticized President Obama more than Fox News primetime did President Bush in eight years. Olbermann:

Moreover, while Fox may be such, we are not doctrinaire. I cannot prove it, so I'll have to estimate it here, and if I'm proved wrong I'll happily correct it, but my intuition tells me I criticized President Obama more in the last week than Fox's primetime hosts criticized President Bush in eight years.

And, even though Olbermann has a history of distorting the words of conservatives to portray them in the worst possible light, and of passing on incorrect information without retraction, Olbermann congratulated himself for recently deciding not to include misinformation about President Bush on his show, and suggested that FNC or CNN would not have made sure not to include such incorrect information. Olbermann:

We do not make up facts here and when we make mistakes we correct them. Friday night I found, as we rehearsed its presentation, that a segment implying that former President Bush had lifted parts of his autobiography from other works of recent history, was largely based on excerpts that mostly required heavy editing and still produced only weak evidence. We killed the segment. Would Fox have? Would CNN have?

He soon attacked Koppel for not going after the Bush administration over the war in Iraq:

Just as the story of Mr. Murrow's career emphasizes McCarthy but not the fact that the aftermath of the McCarthy broadcast buried Murrow's career, the stories of Mr. Koppel's career will emphasize the light he so admirably shone on the Iran hostages. Those stories, though, will probably not emphasize that in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005 Mr. Koppel did not shine that same light on the decreasingly coherent excuses presented by the government of this nation for the war in Iraq.

He ended up accusing Koppel of "worshiping before the false god of utter objectivity":

Fourteen consecutive months of nightly half-hours on the travesty and tragedy of 52 hostages in Iran, but the utter falsehood and dishonesty of the process by which this country was committed to the wrong war, by which this country was committed to dishonesty, by which this country was committed to torture, about that Mr. Koppel, and everybody else in the dead "objective" television news business he so laments, about that Mr. Koppel could not be bothered to speak out. Where were they? Worshiping before the false god of utter objectivity.

Below is a transcript of a portion of the 12-minute "Special Comment" from the Monday, November 15, Countdown show on MSNBC:

These were not glorified stenographers. These were not neutral men. These were men who did in their day what the best of journalists still try to do in this one. Evaluate, analyze, unscramble, assess, put together a coherent picture, or a challenging question, using only the facts as they can be best discerned, plus their own honesty and conscience.

And if the result is that this story over here is a presidential chief of staff taking some pretty low-octane bribes and the scandal starts and ends there, you judge all the facts, and you say so. And if the result is that that other story over there is not just a third-rate burglary at a political office, but the tip of an iceberg meant to sink the two-party system in this country, you judge all the facts, and you scream so.

Insist long enough that the driving principle behind the great journalism of the television era was neutrality and objectivity and not subjective choices and often dangerous evaluations and even commentary, and you will eventually leave the door open to pointless worship at the temple of a false god.

And once you've got a false god, you're going to get false priests. And sooner rather than later, in a world where subjective analysis is labeled evil and dangerous, some political mountebank is going to see his opening and seize the very catechism of that false god, words like "objective" and "neutral" and "two-sided" and "fair" and "balanced," and he will pervert them into a catch-phrase, a brand name, and he can create something that is no more journalism than two men screaming at each other as a musical duet.

 But, as long as there are two men, as long as they are fair and balanced, is not the news consumer entranced by the screaming and the fact that his man eventually and always outscreams the other? Is not he convinced that he has seen true journalism, true balance, true objectivity?

I have read and heard much of late including from Mr. Koppel in the Washington Post yesterday about how those who succeeded his grand era of false objectivity are only in it for the money or the fame or the chance to push a political party. Mr. Koppel also implied as others have that the men behind this network saw in the success of Fox News, a business opportunity to duplicate the style but change that content. Mr. Koppel implied that yesterday.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, and the very kind of fact-driven journalism Mr. Koppel seems to be claiming he represents and I fail, would not stand for his sloppy assumptions and his false equivalence of "both sides do it."

 We do not make up facts here and when we make mistakes we correct them. Friday night I found, as we rehearsed its presentation, that a segment implying that former President Bush had lifted parts of his autobiography from other works of recent history, was largely based on excerpts that mostly required heavy editing and still produced only weak evidence. We killed the segment. Would Fox have? Would CNN have?

Ten days ago, Anderson Cooper 360 presented a political story in the most cataclysmic of tones. There were three guests: an on-line magazine editor, a staunch liberal, and a staunch conservative, and they were in agreement: the story just wasn't that big a deal. The segment ran anyway.

Moreover, while Fox may be such, we are not doctrinaire. I cannot prove it, so I'll have to estimate it here, and if I'm proved wrong I'll happily correct it: but my intuition tells me I criticized President Obama more in the last week than Fox's primetime hosts criticized President Bush in eight years. To equate this network with Fox, as Mr. Koppel did, to accuse us of having our own facts is another manifestation of a dangerously simplified understanding of modern news. This guy says the moon is a planetary fragment orbiting the Earth. This other guy says it's actually the body of the late Vince Foster. Have them both on and let them debate. It's fair and balanced.

And to the charge that a bunch of bean counters seized upon a business opportunity, I have been here for every moment of this network's evolution. It began in 2003 when slowly, one fact at a time, we began to challenge the government's rationalization for the war in Iraq.

A year later, I was told by the former president of this network that he did not want me or us to be a liberal answer to Fox News. The man whose hour followed mine then was a conservative ex-Congressman.

The year after that, I offered evidence that there seemed to be a disturbing juxtaposition of government terrorism warnings or counter-terrorism detentions with political bumps in the road for the Republican Party. The woman whose hour followed mine then had been hired by us away from Fox.

The year after that, I did the first of these Special Comments and I fully expected that I might be fired after it. The year after that, I had to spend urging my employers to give my guest host her own show.

Now there are three shows in primetime in which the content usually lines up with the small L liberal point-of-view even as it needles and prods and sometimes pole-axes the Democrats. And that conservative ex-Congressman is still on the air here, every day, and he has as much time as the three of us at night do put together.

If this was a business plan, it was not as good as the one at the nearest kid's lemonade stand. This network came to this place organically.

And therein lies the final irony to what Mr. Koppel wrote yesterday. We got here organically in large part because of Mr. Koppel. His prominence, you will recall, came when ABC News and Sports president Roone Arledge who never permitted business or show business to interfere in his judgments and his journalistic pledge of allegiance, when Mr. Arledge made the subjective, and eminently correct, decision that the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Teheran merited half an hour or more each night of the network's time in 1979, this was not the no-brainer that retrospect may suggest. CBS and NBC and PBS certainly did not do it. Even when CNN signed on in the middle of the next year, it did not do it. Arledge made his decision just four days after the hostages were seized, and stuck with the story until it ended, defying the conventional wisdom of television, and constantly pressing the government and questioning the official line.

And even after those hostages were freed more than a year later, the half an hour of news, now renamed Nightline, continued. And each night, for 26 years, Mr. Koppel and his producers and his employers subjectively selected which, out of a million stories, would get the attention of his slice of American television for as much as a half an hour at a time. Which story would be elevated and amplified, and which piles upon piles of stories would be postponed, or tabled, or discarded, or ignored.

I may ultimately be judged to have been wrong in what I am doing. Mr. Koppel does not have to wait. The kind of television journalism he eulogizes failed this country because when truth was needed, all we got were facts most of which were lies anyway. The journalism failed, and those who practiced it failed, and Mr. Koppel failed.

I don't know that I'm doing it exactly right here. I'm trying. I have to. Because whatever that television news was before we now have to fix it. Good night and good luck.

On Monday’s Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann used his latest "Special Comment" to respond to former ABC anchor Ted Koppel’s inclusion of him and MSNBC in his criticism of the modern news industry. After praising former news man Edward R. Murrow for taking a stand on Senator Joseph McCarthy and Walter Cronkite for doing the same on the Vietnam War and Watergate, Olbermann complained that, unlike himself, Koppel had "worshiped before the false god of utter objectivity" instead of going after the Bush administration over the Iraq war, and claimed that last week he criticized President Obama more than Fox News primetime did President Bush in eight years. Olbermann:

Moreover, while Fox may be such, we are not doctrinaire. I cannot prove it, so I'll have to estimate it here, and if I'm proved wrong I'll happily correct it: but my intuition tells me I criticized President Obama more in the last week than Fox's primetime hosts criticized President Bush in eight years.

And, even though Olbermann has a history of distorting the words of conservatives to portray them in the worst possible light, and of passing on incorrect information without retraction, Olbermann congratulated himself for recently deciding not to include misinformation about President Bush on his show, and suggested that FNC or CNN would not have made sure not to include such incorrect information. Olbermann:

We do not make up facts here and when we make mistakes we correct them. Friday night I found, as we rehearsed its presentation, that a segment implying that former President Bush had lifted parts of his autobiography from other works of recent history, was largely based on excerpts that mostly required heavy editing and still produced only weak evidence. We killed the segment. Would Fox have? Would CNN have?

He soon attacked Koppel for not going after the Bush administration over the war in Iraq:

Just as the story of Mr. Murrow's career emphasizes McCarthy but not the fact that the aftermath of the McCarthy broadcast buried Murrow's career, the stories of Mr. Koppel's career will emphasize the light he so admirably shone on the Iran hostages. Those stories, though, will probably not emphasize that in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005 Mr. Koppel did not shine that same light on the decreasingly coherent excuses presented by the government of this nation for the war in Iraq.

He ended up accusing Koppel of "worshiping before the false god of utter objectivity": Fourteen consecutive months of nightly half-hours on the travesty and tragedy of 52 hostages in Iran, but the utter falsehood and dishonesty of the process by which this country was committed to the wrong war, by which this country was committed to dishonesty, by which this country was committed to torture, about that Mr. Koppel, and everybody else in the dead "objective" television news business he so laments, about that Mr. Koppel could not be bothered to speak out. Where were they? Worshiping before the false god of utter objectivity.

Below is a transcript of a portion of the 12-minute "Special Comment" from the Monday, November 15, Countdown show on MSNBC:

These were not glorified stenographers. These were not neutral men. These were men who did in their day what the best of journalists still try to do in this one. Evaluate, analyze, unscramble, assess, put together a coherent picture, or a challenging question, using only the facts as they can be best discerned, plus their own honesty and conscience.

And if the result is that this story over here is a presidential chief of staff taking some pretty low-octane bribes and the scandal starts and ends there, you judge all the facts, and you say so. And if the result is that that other story over there is not just a third-rate burglary at a political office, but the tip of an iceberg meant to sink the two-party system in this country, you judge all the facts, and you scream so.

Insist long enough that the driving principle behind the great journalism of the television era was neutrality and objectivity and not subjective choices and often dangerous evaluations and even commentary, and you will eventually leave the door open to pointless worship at the temple of a false god.

And once you've got a false god, you're going to get false priests. And sooner rather than later, in a world where subjective analysis is labeled evil and dangerous, some political mountebank is going to see his opening and seize the very catechism of that false god, words like "objective" and "neutral" and "two-sided" and "fair" and "balanced," and he will pervert them into a catch-phrase, a brand name, and he can create something that is no more journalism than two men screaming at each other as a musical duet.

 

But, as long as there are two men, as long as they are fair and balanced, is not the news consumer entranced by the screaming and the fact that his man eventually and always outscreams the other? Is not he convinced that he has seen true journalism, true balance, true objectivity?

I have read and heard much of late including from Mr. Koppel in the Washington Post yesterday about how those who succeeded his grand era of false objectivity are only in it for the money or the fame or the chance to push a political party. Mr. Koppel also implied as others have that the men behind this network saw in the success of Fox News, a business opportunity to duplicate the style but change that content. Mr. Koppel implied that yesterday.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, and the very kind of fact-driven journalism Mr. Koppel seems to be claiming he represents and I fail, would not stand for his sloppy assumptions and his false equivalence of "both sides do it."

We do not make up facts here and when we make mistakes we correct them. Friday night I found, as we rehearsed its presentation, that a segment implying that former President Bush had lifted parts of his autobiography from other works of recent history, was largely based on excerpts that mostly required heavy editing and still produced only weak evidence. We killed the segment. Would Fox have? Would CNN have?

Ten days ago, Anderson Cooper 360 presented a political story in the most cataclysmic of tones. There were three guests: an on-line magazine editor, a staunch liberal, and a staunch conservative, and they were in agreement: the story just wasn't that big a deal. The segment ran anyway.

Moreover, while Fox may be such, we are not doctrinaire. I cannot prove it, so I'll have to estimate it here, and if I'm proved wrong I'll happily correct it: but my intuition tells me I criticized President Obama more in the last week than Fox's primetime hosts criticized President Bush in eight years.

To equate this network with Fox, as Mr. Koppel did, to accuse us of having our own facts is another manifestation of a dangerously simplified understanding of modern news. This guy says the moon is a planetary fragment orbiting the Earth. This other guy says it's actually the body of the late Vince Foster. Have them both on and let them debate. It's fair and balanced.

And to the charge that a bunch of bean counters seized upon a business opportunity, I have been here for every moment of this network's evolution. It began in 2003 when slowly, one fact at a time, we began to challenge the government's rationalization for the war in Iraq.

A year later, I was told by the former president of this network that he did not want me or us to be a liberal answer to Fox News. The man whose hour followed mine then was a conservative ex-Congressman.

The year after that, I offered evidence that there seemed to be a disturbing juxtaposition of government terrorism warnings or counter-terrorism detentions with political bumps in the road for the Republican Party. The woman whose hour followed mine then had been hired by us away from Fox.

The year after that, I did the first of these Special Comments and I fully expected that I might be fired after it. The year after that, I had to spend urging my employers to give my guest host her own show.

Now there are three shows in primetime in which the content usually lines up with the small L liberal point-of-view even as it needles and prods and sometimes pole-axes the Democrats. And that conservative ex-Congressman is still on the air here, every day, and he has as much time as the three of us at night do put together.

If this was a business plan, it was not as good as the one at the nearest kid's lemonade stand. This network came to this place organically.

And therein lies the final irony to what Mr. Koppel wrote yesterday. We got here organically in large part because of Mr. Koppel. His prominence, you will recall, came when ABC News and Sports president Roone Arledge who never permitted business or show business to interfere in his judgments and his journalistic pledge of allegiance, when Mr. Arledge made the subjective, and eminently correct, decision that the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Teheran merited half an hour or more each night of the network's time in 1979, this was not the no-brainer that retrospect may suggest. CBS and NBC and PBS certainly did not do it. Even when CNN signed on in the middle of the next year, it did not do it. Arledge made his decision just four days after the hostages were seized, and stuck with the story until it ended, defying the conventional wisdom of television, and constantly pressing the government and questioning the official line.

And even after those hostages were freed more than a year later, the half an hour of news, now renamed Nightline, continued. And each night, for 26 years, Mr. Koppel and his producers and his employers subjectively selected which, out of a million stories, would get the attention of his slice of American television for as much as a half an hour at a time. Which story would be elevated and amplified, and which piles upon piles of stories would be postponed, or tabled, or discarded, or ignored.

Just as the story of Mr. Murrow's career emphasizes McCarthy but not the fact that the aftermath of the McCarthy broadcast buried Murrow's career, the stories of Mr. Koppel's career will emphasize the light he so admirably shone on the Iran hostages. Those stories, though, will probably not emphasize that in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005 Mr. Koppel did not shine that same light on the decreasingly coherent excuses presented by the government of this nation for the war in Iraq.

Fourteen consecutive months of nightly half-hours on the travesty and tragedy of 52 hostages in Iran, but the utter falsehood and dishonesty of the process by which this country was committed to the wrong war, by which this country was committed to dishonesty, by which this country was committed to torture, about that Mr. Koppel, and everybody else in the dead "objective" television news business he so laments, about that Mr. Koppel could not be bothered to speak out. Where were they?

Worshiping before the false god of utter objectivity. The bitter irony that must some day occur to Mr. Koppel and the others of his time was that their choice to not look too deeply into Iraq, before or after the war began, was itself just as evaluative, just as analytically-based, just as subjective as anything I say or do here each night.

I may ultimately be judged to have been wrong in what I am doing. Mr. Koppel does not have to wait. The kind of television journalism he eulogizes failed this country because when truth was needed, all we got were facts most of which were lies anyway. The journalism failed, and those who practiced it failed, and Mr. Koppel failed.

I don't know that I'm doing it exactly right here. I'm trying. I have to. Because whatever that television news was before we now have to fix it. Good night and good luck.