CNN’s Kurtz Defends Olbermann & MSNBC from Comparisons to Glenn Beck

 In spite of former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann’s history of using distortion and even misinformation to attack conservatives, and his infamously recurring conspiracy theory that the Bush administration made terrorism-related announcements to distract from politically embarrassing news, CNN host Howard Kurtz on Sunday’s Reliable Sources defended Olbermann’s Countdown show and MSNBC generally when right-leaning guest Amy Holmes of America’s Morning News pointed out the excesses of left-wing MSNBC anchors during a discussion of FNC host Glenn Beck’s upcoming departure from the network.

Kurtz: "Now, I don't put Keith Olbermann in the same category as Beck at all. His MSNBC show, agree with it, disagree with it, was a very well-researched program."

He later added: "I've got to push back on this, though. You say that some of the people at MSNBC, just as bad. Now, they may be as opinionated, they may be as strident, they may occasionally be irresponsible. But they are not trafficking conspiracy theories, they're not making things up."

During the segment which also included liberal talk radio host Bill Press and the more centrist David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun, Holmes raised MSNBC’s history:

If you were to compare Glenn Beck to many of the folks on MSNBC, Ed Schultz, he certainly is activist, he has a message, one that he believes needs to get out there into the public conversation. Lawrence O'Donnell declares himself to be a socialist. Well, a lot of people would say moving America to a social democracy is far more dangerous than going after some low-level functionary at the White House.

She later added:

But you could string together sound bite after sound bite from MSNBC of their primetime lineup. Ed Schultz, you have "Worst Person in the World" when Keith Olbermann was on. You have, as I said, Lawrence O'Donnell declaring himself to be a socialist, which he has every right to do, but it is extreme.

Kurtz soon responded:

Let me pick up on Amy's point about MSNBC. Now, I don't put Keith Olbermann in the same category as Beck at all. His MSNBC show, agree with it, disagree with it, was a very well-researched program. But he also became increasingly opinionated, he also clashed with his bosses, and he also left.

Zurawik incredulously shot back:

Howie, he was the guy who said, right after the episode I cited in October, he did the same thing Beck did. He said give me all the dirt you have on, and on Roger Ailes, too. I mean, it was so personal. This is not what you're doing on cable television.

After Holmes noted that Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had taken part in Becks’s "Restoring Honor" rally, Kurtz again defended MSNBC:

I've got to push back on this, though. You say that some of the people at MSNBC, just as bad. Now, they may be as opinionated, they may be as strident, they may occasionally be irresponsible. But they are not trafficking conspiracy theories, they're not making things up.

Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Sunday, April 10, Reliable Sources on CNN:

   HOWARD KURTZ: The ratings were simply remarkable. Nobody draws 2.5, 3 million people on cable news at 5 in the afternoon, but Glenn Beck did. Yes, his numbers were down 40 percent, and, yes, more than 400 advertisers had fled, but the reason he and Roger Ailes’ network are getting a divorce has to do with the question of independence. Beck’s brand was threatening to overshadow Fox, much to the consternation of the journalists there. And Beck increasingly wanted to build his own brand without interference. Here’s how he gave viewers the news.

[GLENN BECK]

KURTZ: So what are the lessons of this television breakup? Joining us now, Amy Holmes, co-host of the radio show America’s Morning News; David Zurawik, TV and media critic for the Baltimore Sun; and Bill Press, host of radio’s nationally syndicated Bill Press Show. David Zurawik, did Glenn Beck, standing at that blackboard every day, spinning those conspiracy theories, did he do himself in?

DAVID ZURAWIK, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Oh, I think he absolutely did himself in. And I’ll tell you what, in a way, it’s interesting to see the marketplace function. You can have that audience and yet not have advertisers, in the way. But here’s how he did himself in, Howie. He went too far with - remember back in October of 2009, when he went on the Van after, he went after-

KURTZ: Van Jones.

ZURAWIK: Van Jones?

KURTZ: White House official.

ZURAWIK: When he started saying send me everything you have on members of the Obama White House, and then Keith Olbermann said send me everything you have on Beck, that was a toxic climate for talk radio, for talk television.

KURTZ: The beginning of the end maybe.

ZURAWIK: Yeah, and that was too much.

KURTZ: Let me ask Amy Holmes, Beck had this huge audience, very successful. In my view, he became radioactive at times. Did he go too far? What do you, how do you attribute his demise?

AMY HOLMES, AMERICA'S MORNING NEWS: Well, I saw that there was certainly the conspiracy side of the Glenn Beck Show, but there was also the tutorial side. I mean, Glenn Beck was a person who was putting on scholars and researchers from conservative think tanks, not the media-accepted Brookings Institution. But I think that Glenn Beck was a force of nature, and oftentimes, forces of nature are feared, they have to be explained. He attracted all of his attention. And all of these viewers, I would have to surmise, I don’t know this, but him not being able to keep that show is in part because he wasn’t following orders from Roger Ailes.

KURTZ: Well, clearly, there was tension from the two sides. And a hurricane is also a force of nature, but eventually it goes out to sea. Bill Press, you said on this program just a few months ago, Glenn Beck was a ticking time bomb. What made him explode?

BILL PRESS, TALK RADIO HOST: Couple of things. First, I got to say, the first lesson I learned in television, it doesn’t matter how big, I saw it in L.A. when I started, it doesn’t matter how big you are, how popular you are, your days can be numbered. I mean, you can go and nobody will miss you. And I think that’s what happened to Glenn Beck. But what made him explode, I think, is building on what some of the other stuff, I think he had this messianic complex. I really think he started to take himself too seriously. He thought he had a God-given mission. He talked, you know, he became very televangelistic. He talked about this mission. He talked about-

KURTZ: Some people like that. PRESS: Well, I think it’s okay from Rick Warren. I think it’s okay from Pat Robertson. I don’t think you want it, Roger Ailes didn’t want it at 5:00.

HOLMES: But, I mean, if you were to compare Glenn Beck to many of the folks on MSNBC, Ed Schultz, he certainly is activist, he has a message, one that he believes needs to get out there into the public conversation. Lawrence O’Donnell declares himself to be a socialist. Well, a lot of people would say moving America to a social democracy is far more dangerous than going after some low-level functionary at the White House.

PRESS: There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, but, you know, Howie used the word "incendiary," or "toxic," whatever you want to call it, or "radioactive." When you say that the Japan earthquake was God punishing the people of Japan, or the democratic uprisings in Egypt, or some conspiracy between American liberals and Islamic fundamentalists-

ZURAWIK: What Bill is saying is really, he’s back to a, he’s back to, really, Father Coughlin and that brand of extreme right-wing radio talk.

KURTZ: Since we’re all citing examples, let me play you a few of his greatest hits for the audience, and we’ll pick it up on the other side.

[GLENN BECK]

KURTZ: David Zurawik, let me pick up the metaphor here. Get your seatbelts strapped on. There’s little question that he was forced out. Why do you think Fox pulled the plug at this point?

ZURAWIK: Well, you know, Fox has this tension. You know, they’re really pushing the Bret Baier image hard and saying we are a news, and they behaved really well on the midterm election night. But there’s this tension between that vision of who they are and what Glenn Beck did. And for all of the good things they tried to do as a journalistic, presenting themselves as a journalistic institution, he shredded it with that kind of talk every day at 5:00. Howie, that really is crazy, apocalyptic, extreme right-wing radio talk. It has no place on television. And we’ve never had that before. That’s the scary thing about it.

KURTZ: -but obviously some people tuned in. Now, you might say the liberal media targeted Beck. The liberal advocacy group Media Matters certainly had a campaign against him, but Roger Ailes told me some months ago that he asked Beck in a friendly way to tone things down.

HOLMES: Sure, and you know what, Roger Ailes is the boss. And, generally, you’re supposed to do what the boss says. And if you don’t, then you don’t get to keep your show. But you could string together sound bite after sound bite from MSNBC of their primetime-

PRESS: Nothing like that, nothing like that, that’s-

HOLMES: -lineup. Ed Schultz, you have "Worst Person in the World" when Keith Olbermann was on. You have, as I said, Lawrence O’Donnell declaring himself to be a socialist, which he has every right to do, but it is extreme.

PRESS: There’s nothing to compare to that. But look, let’s face it, I come back, look at Bill O’Reilly, okay? Only Glenn Beck could make Bill O’Reilly look like a statesman. Bill O’Reilly knows, Rush Limbaugh knows, 25 years, they know there are some limits. Beck is such a megalomaniac that he thought he could say anything, and he thought he didn’t need Fox. Well, we’ll find out.

KURTZ: Let me pick up on Amy’s point about MSNBC. Now, I don’t put Keith Olbermann in the same category as Beck at all. His MSNBC show, agree with it, disagree with it, was a very well-researched program. But he also became increasingly opinionated, he also clashed with his bosses, and he also left.

ZURAWIK: Howie, he was the guy who said, right after the episode I cited in October, he did the same thing Beck did. He said give me all the dirt you have on, and on Roger Ailes, too. I mean, it was so personal. This is not what you’re doing on cable television. Now, let me say this in the middle of these two because it’s true. And this is like, which carcinogen do you want in your water? Which one in the public? Look, Olbermann, all of the others on MSNBC, O’Donnell, they are just as bad in one way. But in another way, Beck was worse. Here’s how Beck was worse. Beck understood the fault lines in our sort of history and moral consciousness. And he went with the Nazi stuff. And when he tried to appropriate the moral authority of Martin Luther King with that rally, he went right at things that are important to groups like African-Americans and Jews, and he would offend you in your face and not care. Olbermann didn’t do that. I’ll say that for Olbermann.

HOLMES: He had Alveda King at his rally standing by his side, who agrees with his message and is the niece of Martin Luther King.

KURTZ: Here’s Beck talking about, and he apologized for this, how liberal Judaism, excuse me, reform Judaism was like radical Islam. I’ve got to push back on this, though. You say that some of the people at MSNBC, just as bad. Now, they may be as opinionated, they may be as strident, they may occasionally be irresponsible. But they are not trafficking conspiracy theories, they’re not making things up.

ZURAWIK: No, Howie, I’m saying they didn’t go there. That’s the difference. They didn’t go where he did in the case of Jewish identity.

PRESS: They’re not calling people Nazis. They don’t go in this anti-Semitic rant that he did about George Soros. They don’t call the President of the United States a racist.

ZURAWIK: That’s exactly what I said.

PRESS: Let me tell you something, wait a minute, there are strong opinions on MSNBC, and they’re paid to give their strong opinions, but they don’t go over the line the way Glenn Beck did with all of the stuff that Howie just said.

HOLMES: -conspiracy theories about Fox News being some sort of, you know, blight on American political discourse, you hear that on MSNBC all the time. And unlike MSNBC, Fox was not presenting Glenn Beck as a journalist. They did not have him moderating political debates as MSNBC. MSNBC has far more of a tension between their opinion and their journalism than Fox does.

PRESS: Wait. I just want to make it clear, okay? Roger Ailes fired Glenn Beck. You can’t blame MSNBC. You can’t blame Media Matters. You can’t blame Bill Press. We clashed as well. Roger Ailes knew he was toxic for that network. And you know what else? I’m telling you, I’ll bet you that the other hosts went to Roger Ailes and said you’ve got to get this loon off this air, he’s making us all look bad.

KURTZ: -before I ask my last question to Zurawik, I will tell you that a lot of journalists at Fox News feared that Beck was becoming the face of the network. And a lot of the executives felt he was an unguided missiles. And at the same time, Beck didn’t actually work at Fox. In other words, he only showed up to do the show. He had his own production which is going to continue. He’s got his syndicated radio show. He gives speeches. He’s got a Web site called the Blaze, which sets me up for this question: How much more influence will he continue to have without that Fox platform? I mean, he’s still got quite a following.

ZURAWIK: Howie, he will have influence. There’s no doubt about it. And he has all this source of revenue, and probably the Fox money wasn’t that important. But when you go to radio, and also, his Web site was useful to people on the left for a while with the NPR thing. But he’s going to be marginalized, in a way.

HOLMES: I disagree with that.

ZURAWIK: He will, because it’s a difference of being on television, and we have a history, we have a history of right-wing extremist radio talk.

KURTZ: You disagree because?

HOLMES: Because of Rush Limbaugh. Let’s look at Rush Limbaugh and his influence. It is profound on American politics and American discourse. Radio as a medium, as you know, Bill Press, that it’s very intimate, you’re talking directly to your listener in a way oftentimes on TV that you’re not.

PRESS: He needs Fox more than Fox needs him.

KURTZ: All right, got to get a break.