Hypocrisies Galore from Olbermann and Kurtz on ‘Reliable Sources’

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was Howard Kurtz's guest on CNN's "Reliable Sources" Sunday, and unfortunately, viewers were treated to a litany of hypocrisies from both media personalities, so much so that it seemed like a lengthy advertisement for the controversial "Countdown."

Although Kurtz did present his guest as being mostly liberal and decidedly anti-Bush, he never once mentioned "Countdown's" actual ratings, or how Olbermann is often in last place in his time slot behind "The O'Reilly Factor," "Nancy Grace," and whatever is being offered by CNN.

You would think that since Kurtz works for CNN, he might have mentioned this.

But that wasn't the only hypocrisy Sunday morning, for when Olbermann made clear just how biased he is, Kurtz seemed to be totally oblivious (video available here, liberal website warning):

KURTZ: You've been co-anchoring MSNBC's news coverage on primary nights. Is there a collision of roles between being a neutral anchor and the very opinionated guy we see on "Countdown?"

OLBERMANN: I don't think there's that much of a collision. I think if you're smart enough to know when to do one and do the other, there shouldn't be a problem.

In areas that I thought might be particularly sensitive -- for instance, if for some reason the president of the United States wanted to come on and make a statement during our coverage of the Republican primary, I would step aside for that interview. I would not take advantage of that situation, you know, and shout nasty things about him.

This statement by Olbermann was extraordinarily telling, as he admitted to Kurtz that he is so antagonistic towards President Bush that he can't be involved in an interview with him.

That's pretty biased, wouldn't you agree?

Yet, earlier he said, "I think if you're smart enough to know when to do one and do the other, there shouldn't be a problem."

Well, didn't Olbermann just admit that he's not smart enough to know when to be a "neutral anchor" versus "the very opinionated guy we see on 'Countdown?'" If he can't hide his biases well enough to be able to interview the President of the United States, how can he be trusted to ever be impartial in any setting?

Sadly, Kurtz missed this delicious irony completely, and gave Olbermann a pass.

But there was more:

[W]e had Rudy Giuliani on twice, and he was the subject of one of my comments, and I didn't think it was appropriate for me to -- you know, to be part of that interview, so I literally recused myself in each case and let Chris Matthews do the entire interview, which I don't think that hurts anybody.

Amazingly, Olbermann also admitted that he's too biased to be able to interview one of the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. As such, he clearly acknowledged that his political proclivities are at times too strong for him to be impartial.

Yet, this totally eluded Kurtz's attention or scrutiny. Why?

But there was still more:

KURTZ: But you almost never have conservatives on your show other than Pat Buchanan, of course, from MSNBC. And I've always wondered about that, wondered how people aren't dispirited.

OLBERMANN: I don't like those fistfight things. Early on in the show -- and this was particularly true in 1998 -- every time you had a liberal or neutral person, you had to have a conservative on with them. And it devolved into the thing that really personally made me want to leave the news business. In fact, I did in 1998.

We had the chairmen of the DNC and the RNC on. I talked to them personally by phone before the interview and said, "Look, I don't want you answering each other. I will give you a balanced opportunity. You'll get an issue, we do a five-minute interview, each of you will have two and a half minutes. I swear."

"You will each start one set of response..."

KURTZ: Right.

OLBERMANN: "I'm going to play this down the middle. Just don't jump in and scream at each other."

I asked one question, they went for five minutes. And I never got a word in. And we never came back to the second part of the interview. I said, "They're finished."

And I pretty much felt like I was too. I just -- I can't -- there's almost nothing that ever comes out of those interviews other than arguments, heat, and ratings. And I don't want to go through that again, and I think the success of "Countdown" suggests the audience doesn't want that.

Hmmm. So, in 1998, almost five years before "Countdown" debuted on MSNBC, Olbermann had a bad experience having a Republican and a Democrat on at the same time. And that explains why ten years later, he rarely has Republicans or conservatives on his show?

Hey, Keith: Did you ever consider learning how to be a better moderator? After all, you've had ten years to improve.

Or, how about having a Democrat on to present his or her views, and then following it with a Republican to do the same? Mightn't this also eliminate the screaming?

Sadly, Kurtz, who often has Democrats and Republicans on his program at the same time -- including this Sunday! -- without it turning into a shouting match missed this hypocrisy, and gave Olbermann another pass.

Of course, maybe this shouldn't be a total surprise, as Kurtz seemed at times to be acting as Olbermann's press agent rather than a fellow journalist:

Do you think that your denunciations of the president is one of the factors -- certainly not the only one -- that has contributed to the popularity of your show?

Contributed to the popularity of your show? Howard, are you aware of "Countdown's" ratings?

Regardless of how they have improved in the past twelve months, as noted earlier, Olbermann is very often in fourth place in his time slot, with O'Reilly typically getting three to four times as many viewers. And, shows aired by Kurtz's own network often garner more eyes than "Countdown."

With this in mind, how could Kurtz with a straight face actually suggest that Olbermann has a popular show?

In the end, one has to wonder what the top brass at CNN felt about this interview, as with all the hypocrisies exhibited and missed by their employee, this segment almost came across as an advertisement for a primetime television show on a competing network.

Imagine that.

As a post facto sidebar, Kurtz also chose not to question Olbermann about his new position as a Daily Kos blogger. Why might that be?

What follows is a full transcript of this interview.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Keith Olbermann is a man of many opinions. And increasingly, those seem to be liberal opinions.

The host of MSNBC's "Countdown" has been drawing praise, criticism, and ratings with his thundering on-air editorials called "Special Comments," almost all of which eviscerate President Bush and the Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, "COUNTDOWN": You can fool some of the people all the time, can't you, Mr. Bush? You are playing us.

And as for the most immediate victims of the president's perfidy and shameless manipulation, those troops yesterday, sweating, literally, as he spoke at Al-Asad Air Base, tonight again sweating, figuratively, in the valley of the shadow of death. This country cannot run the risk of what you still can do to this country in the next 500 days, not while you, sir, are playing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Olbermann has just published these "Special Comments" in a book called "Truth and Consequences."

I spoke to him earlier in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Keith Olbermann, welcome.

OLBERMANN: A pleasure to be here, sir.

KURTZ: You've been co-anchoring MSNBC's news coverage on primary nights. Is there a collision of roles between being a neutral anchor and the very opinionated guy we see on "Countdown?"

OLBERMANN: I don't think there's that much of a collision. I think if you're smart enough to know when to do one and do the other, there shouldn't be a problem.

In areas that I thought might be particularly sensitive -- for instance, if for some reason the president of the United States wanted to come on and make a statement during our coverage of the Republican primary, I would step aside for that interview. I would not take advantage of that situation, you know, and shout nasty things about him.

We've had Rudy Giuliani...

KURTZ: You'd get good ratings if you did that.

OLBERMANN: Well, yes, but -- OK, but -- but that, to me, is a secondary point there. There is some personal responsibility. You have to say, no, I don't think I should be here.

More practically, we had Rudy Giuliani on twice, and he was the subject of one of my comments, and I didn't think it was appropriate for me to -- you know, to be part of that interview, so I literally recused myself in each case and let Chris Matthews do the entire interview, which I don't think that hurts anybody. I think it just gives you that -- that little amount of wiggle room that you need in these scenarios.

The question of whether or not somebody like me should be involved in the actual anchoring of coverage like that is posed, I think, wonderfully by people who don't notice that their guys at FOX, who are fully invested in one candidate -- I saw Sean Hannity on the other air the other night doing the South Carolina Republican primary. No -- you know, no appreciation, no warning, no statement of the irony, even no possible suggestion that there might be a conflict.

If you recognize that some people might perceive it's a conflict, and you state that, you've probably done enough.

KURTZ: You write in your book, "I'm frequently accused of being a liberal or a flack for the Democratic Party. And it's true that the vast majority of my commentary over these past few years has targeted Republicans."

Does that create a perception problem for you?

 

OLBERMANN: Perception problem? Yes. So obviously it must.

I don't think it -- I don't think anybody who's watched those broadcasts would say, well, you know, this is what we expected from a guy who said this about the Republicans. We didn't get -- democracy did not come to an end, for instance, when Matthews and I co-hosted the coverage of the election last year.

It was -- it was -- let me see. I know about two terms to use and describe it. It was fair and balanced, I think.

KURTZ: Some people look at prime time -- Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Dan Abrams -- and they think that MSNBC is consciously moving to the left, alternative to FOX News.

OLBERMANN: No. If you -- if you look at the left, the reaction at the left, particularly with Matthews, I don't think anybody's going to argue that point. I always like to point out when it is suggested that I'm a flaming liberal, that in 1998 I was never accused of that when we did 218 consecutive shows about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

Nobody considered me a liberal.

KURTZ: But you weren't pro-impeachment.

OLBERMANN: I was -- I was neither. I was pretty much -- that was the problem with the show, was that, you know, here's where absolute neutrality and journalistic balance works against fairness, because here's a story that certainly, if there's no news in a story for two weeks, if there are no actual developments, how is it that you keep putting a show on just about that one topic every night and call it news? So this was -- this was -- my objection, that was more journalistic than it was left or right, but I don't think we have -- we deliberately went in this way.

As late as 2005, I was told by the then president of the network, "I don't need you to be the left wing response to FOX News." Anything that happened, anything that happens, is, I think, organic.

I think it sprung up from the fact that, you know, if you're going to be -- serve one of journalism's principal tenets, if you're going to be contrary, if you're going to be questioning whoever is in charge, if you're going to say power may be abusing its own power, it tends to be politically to the opposite level of whoever's in charge. And that has been primarily the right wing for the last several years.

KURTZ: But you almost never have conservatives on your show other than Pat Buchanan, of course, from MSNBC. And I've always wondered about that, wondered how people aren't dispirited.

OLBERMANN: I don't like those fistfight things. Early on in the show -- and this was particularly true in 1998 -- every time you had a liberal or neutral person, you had to have a conservative on with them. And it devolved into the thing that really personally made me want to leave the news business. In fact, I did in 1998.

We had the chairmen of the DNC and the RNC on. I talked to them personally by phone before the interview and said, "Look, I don't want you answering each other. I will give you a balanced opportunity. You'll get an issue, we do a five-minute interview, each of you will have two and a half minutes. I swear."

"You will each start one set of response..."

KURTZ: Right.

OLBERMANN: "I'm going to play this down the middle. Just don't jump in and scream at each other."

I asked one question, they went for five minutes. And I never got a word in. And we never came back to the second part of the interview. I said, "They're finished."

And I pretty much felt like I was too. I just -- I can't -- there's almost nothing that ever comes out of those interviews other than arguments, heat, and ratings. And I don't want to go through that again, and I think the success of "Countdown" suggests the audience doesn't want that.

KURTZ: Do you think that your denunciations of the president is one of the factors -- certainly not the only one -- that has contributed to the popularity of your show? And to some extent, are you reaching to the converted people who don't like George Bush and would root for what you say?

OLBERMANN: I can only judge that based on reactions that I get from that, which we see sometimes show up in terms of the ratings. That's the easiest way.

But the personal ones -- when this started, the first one I did was the end of August of 2006. And the reactions I started to get in those first six or eight "Special Comments" through the end of 2006, around the election time, were people coming up and saying, "I didn't know there was anybody on television allowed to say that. This is exactly how I felt. In fact, let me tell you something else."

And then they would go on. And another point that had been particularly bugging them for a period of years.

There was a sense, I think, and a palpable one. And this is where structurally you can almost look at that experience of FOX News and where they come from. And you can see how these things developed.

That, and particularly the conservative talk radio that preceded FOX News, succeeded because there was a huge amount of this country -- people in this country who believed their voices were never being heard, that they had no saying in the media, that there was no echo. Whether or not that was true, whether or not their positions were correct, is one thing.

 

KURTZ: And that's how you now feel about your willingness to take on the president in very stark and passionate terms?

OLBERMANN: Yes.

KURTZ: Let me ask you -- we have a couple of minutes left.

A couple of years ago, you started poking Bill O'Reilly in the eye. And I thought, well, this is a clever way you get some attention, the guy who dominates his ratings...

OLBERMANN: It wasn't the point of it either, by the way.

KURTZ: Well, let me come back to that.

Now hardly a night goes by without an O'Reilly segment, an O'Reilly item (ph), O'Reilly as the worst person in the world on your show.

Are you obsessed with the guy?

OLBERMANN: No. I just -- it's -- I promise every week to myself that I'm going to, you know, sort of back off. And then he does something so outrageous, so offensive, that I feel obligated to do something about it.

KURTZ: And you feel like you should, if not tone it down, then reduce the frequency? It's become so personal.

OLBERMANN: Well, but I do -- but I feel that way about everything in the show. My -- people ask me for advice on how to write. And I always say, "Never use the same word twice."

Well, think about that. Obviously, you can't. You can't go a second without using the same word twice. But I would like to extend that to broadcasting.

I'd love not to do the same segment twice. So everything that is repeated in the show -- you know, I want to be creative and original at all times -- the viewers really not only enjoy this segment, but expect it, because there is a sense that if you do not answer in any way, shape or form, or put on the record somewhere that O'Reilly has just denied that there are 200,000 homeless vets, if you don't do it somehow, the lie will go into the record books.

KURTZ: But you could ignore him. He's on another network.

OLBERMANN: Indeed. But the reason that he has such sway and swathe -- cut such a wide swathe in this business, and why so many people try to emulate him, and why he believed that -- you know, if somebody called up and said something not nice to him on his show, he could call the police on them, was because nobody did say anything. Nobody came out and said, hey, this guy's making it up as he goes along.

KURTZ: Well, he would certainly dispute that. We can take that -- we can get into the details another time.

OLBERMANN: Yes. Go right ahead.

KURTZ: If Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is elected the next president of the United States, would your role change? Would the role of "Countdown" change?

OLBERMANN: Other than the fact that we'd have, like, the presidential seal of approval at the beginning of the broadcast? No, I don't think so.

Seriously, the show would necessarily change, I think. But maybe not as much as people expect. Several of the "Special Comments" have taken the Democrats, especially the ones in Congress -- if that's where they are right now -- to task for caving in...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: For not ending the war.

OLBERMANN: For not ending the war. For, in other ways, collaborating with that agenda. That could very easily continue. I mean, again, no one in 1998 accused me of being liberal when we came out every night for 218 shows and talked about Bill Clinton negatively.

KURTZ: But in a sense, the Bush administration has been very, very good for Keith Olbermann.

OLBERMANN: Honestly, no. I'm an American citizen. I think this has been a disastrous presidential administration.

I would have given what I have in terms of broadcasting success and the nature of this newscast. I would have easily said -- if I was given a choice of this or some responsible presidency in the last four years or eight years, I would have taken the responsible presidency.

KURTZ: Keith Olbermann, thanks very much for sitting down with us here in New York.

OLBERMANN: A pleasure.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.