Media critic David Zurawik and former MSNBC contributor David Shuster got into quite a heated debate Sunday over the surprise exit of Keith Olbermann.
Appearing on CNN's "Reliable Sources," the pair also quarreled about the difference in journalistic standards at Fox News and MSNBC (video follows with transcript and commentary):
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: David Zurawik, had Olbermann simply become too difficult and too much of a disruptive figure within MSNBC to continue?
DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I think he did become too difficult during that period right after the November election with the donations, but also, Howie, the one thing that wasn't mentioned, that election night, when he and the four other hosts and commentators he had with him started literally heckling and abusing the conservative politicians who won victories when they came on to do interviews, I think --
DAVID SHUSTER, FMR. ANCHOR AND REPORTER, MSNBC: That's a little unfair.
ZURAWIK: Well, no. It's not unfair. David, it's not even close.
ZURAWIK: Yes, they were laughing at him. They were making fun of him.
KURTZ: Well, they poked fun at John Boehner for crying, but --
ZURAWIK: No, no, no. I mean when they interviewed him, Howie.
KURTZ: OK. But it's a management decision not to put on news anchors on election night. Instead, to put on Olbermann, Maddow, Schultz.
KURTZ: Let me turn --
ZURAWIK: And they were very upset about it at MSNBC and at NBC News. They felt the brand was really diminished because politics and media meet on cable TV.
KURTZ: Let me turn to David Shuster.
SHUSTER: I'm not sure if I can accept your assertions of what was going on at NBC, but in any case --
KURTZ: But you worked there a long time.
Not surprisingly, Zurawik was correct and Shuster was wrong.
As NewsBusters reported on Election Night, the MSNBC crew belittled Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) during their interview with her. I guess Kurtz and Shuster forgot that.
That said, things heated up again a few minutes later after Kurtz played a small portion of Olbermann's special comment from the evening of the shootings in Tucson:
KURTZ: Olbermann had great passion. Television likes that. But he also often made it personal. In fact, you were "The Worst Person in the World" I think on a couple of occasions.
ZURAWIK: More than once, yes. That, to me, Howie, is typical of his recklessness and his character assassination. That's why I said he wanted to be Edward R. Murrow and he was more McCarthy than Murrow because --
SHUSTER: Oh, come on, David.
SHUSTER: There's a false equivalency that you and other folks make between Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck, and it's not fair.
ZURAWIK: David, let him finish. Let's finish. This isn't one of your MSNBC shows.
KURTZ: I'm going to let you respond in just a moment.
Finish your point.
ZURAWIK: I think that he will absolutely attack people and try to assassinate their character just the way Joe McCarthy did without facts. And to say that Bill O'Reilly, who has been much more reasonable in the last year than Keith Olbermann ever was on the air, much more responsible, to try to pin that on Bill O'Reilly, link him to that, is outrageous, Howie.
KURTZ: David Shuster.
SHUSTER: Look, the fact of the matter is, is there are people who have tried to carry out acts of violence who were inspired by Glenn Beck. That is not --
KURTZ: Wait a minute. Bill O'Reilly -- (CROSSTALK)
SHUSTER: The fact of the matter is you're making a moral equivalency between Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann, and it's simply not fair.
ZURAWIK: I'm not making --
SHUSTER: And the fact of the matter is, when people say that --
ZURAWIK: I'm not making a moral equivalency.
SHUSTER: -- MSNBC is the liberal antidote to Fox News, and that there's an equal balance there, that's simply not true.
KURTZ: But are you willing to say -- and then I'll get to Jane-- that sometimes Olbermann went too far?
SHUSTER: Yes, of course. And, look, I consider myself a friend of Keith Olbermann's. I like his work.
I'd like to say that his friendship was what was clouding his objectivity, but as NewsBusters has chronicled over the years, David Shuster is hardly a bastion of impartiality. Earlier this month, he even made the indefensible claim that MSNBC will never be as liberal as Fox is conservative.
But I digress, for a few minutes later, former Fox contributor Jane Hall chimed in setting off some more fireworks:
JANE HALL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT AMERICAN UNIVERSITY'S SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: I want to say one thing since I've been supportive of him. I think that some people on Fox had more people who disagreed with him on the air than Keith Olbermann did.
KURTZ: Well, I've talked to him about this every time I interviewed him.
HALL: I think he was pretty narrow, and therefore he left them open to the moral equivalence that people have been drawing.
KURTZ: Well, I mean, let's be careful here. But, I mean, he did put on an hour which was very popular with his most passionate fans on the left, but which basically he did not invite guests who disagreed with him. And so there was a certain element of preaching to the choir.
SHUSTER: Well, in part because most of the guests that he had on were journalists. I mean, he was interested --
HALL: And they all agreed with him.
SHUSTER: -- in getting people on who provided information in a factual base to sort of set up Keith's analysis.
KURTZ: But many of them were liberal columnists, too.
HALL: Yes. They were more columnists than --
SHUSTER: There were some, but --
ZURAWIK: Howie, I just want to make one point about --
SHUSTER: But it was a very different type of show though than what Hannity or O'Reilly have been doing.
ZURAWIK: I don't agree with him being a poetic voice for the left and all of the things that were said. What I am upset about is the recklessness he exhibited.
When people say, oh, he was a little over the top, and, oh, he was a little bit too much, no. That is dangerous. That is the dangerous kind of rhetoric we have.
And NBC News is absolutely right to say this does not belong on our airwaves, we're going to dial it back. And that's what's happening here. You watch how fast Maddow and all of the rest of them dial it back in a week.
SHUSTER: Well, David, that may be true, that, in fact, NBC News want to put a certain set of journalistic standards on MSNBC, and a lot of people will cheer them on to do that, including people at MSNBC who respect Steve Capus.
However, there are journalistic standards on many of these shows on Fox News. With the exception of a couple of new shows, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, they don't even attempt to subscribe to the journalistic principles that --
KURTZ: He said except for some news shows.
Honestly, what can you expect from a liberal shill like Shuster?
As for Zurawik, bravo!