Olbermann Sneers at ABC's Lack of 'IQ' for Claiming Obama Flip-Flopped

In 1992, reporters like Joe Klein and Sidney Blumenthal were mocked as Clinton Conformity Cops, telling other journalists that the goal of electing Bill Clinton was too important to create any obstacle of objectivity that might get in the Democrat's way. This came to mind when watching MSNBC on Thursday night, but Keith Olbermann took it a step further. He attacked ABC’s Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos for having "bigger IQs" than to make the apparently simple-minded statement that Barack Obama reversed himself on accepting public financing for his campaign.

His guest, Newsweek political reporter Howard Fineman, also played Obama Conformity Cop by completely agreeing with and hailing Obama’s lame line that taking millions of small private contributions really is "public financing." He claimed Obama wasn’t really flip-flopping: "I don't think of it as an 180-degree reversal. I think of it as a recognition of reality, and one he's been signaling for a long time. This guy cares about changing the system, paradoxically in his mind and I think to some extent, he's right. This is what he has to do to try to change the system."

Doesn't this sound like they're desperately spinning that Obama has to burn the McCain-Feingold village in order to save it? 

Olbermann began the show by aggressively attacking any notion of moral superiority the McCain campaign might try to muster on the public-financing issue. About ten minutes into the program, he asked Fineman about the idea of fake balance between truth and falsehood, that it's self-evidently false that Obama flip-flopped on public financing:

OLBERMANN: When people [translation: liberals] wag a finger at the media and say, in trying to be balanced, sometimes we actually give the same credence to the truth and the not-so-much truth, is this the sort of thing they're talking about? I mean, I understand this is complicated, and people don't want to hear complicated, and it’s nuanced, and you have to go through it and read a long wonkish statement from one guy. But I heard Charlie Gibson tonight call this a clear reversal by Obama and George Stephanopoulos chimed in with 'It's a flip-flop.' And I just thought, well, you guys have bigger IQs than that. Can't you read the whole paperwork?

FINEMAN: Well,look, I do think that to some extent it goes against the grain of what Obama has been arguing, except for the fact I think his strongest argument is the one that you alluded to before. That this is a form of public financing in the sense that he does have a genuine grassroots movement and he is proposing a sort of Net-based alternative to collecting taxpayer money for public financing. It is a form of public financing in that sense, and I don't think that's an argument he should shy away from.

So, sure, I mean, hes doing what’s required to win this election. The republicans will have the 527 groups, although, interestingly, the most active 527 group right now is one supporting Obama. But that's just the beginning of what will happen in the rest of the year. So, I don't think of it as an 180-degree reversal. I think of it as a recognition of reality, and one he's been signaling for a long time. This guy cares about changing the system, paradoxically in his mind and I think to some extent, he's right. This is what he has to do to try to change the system.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of MSNBC and Newsweek, who will never shy way from nuance and subtlety in explanation. As always, sir, great thanks.

Media bias-watchers never try to find bias on Countdown, which is like trying to sip water out of an open fire hydrant. But the audacity of obedience in this exchange is overwhelming. It's bad enough that Olbermann and Fineman so precisely mouth the Obama party line. But then to insist that your humiliating apparatchik-style obedience is also the very pinnacle of "nuance and subtlety" is breathtaking.

So what exactly did Gibson and Stephanopoulos say? It came eight minutes into the ABC newscast, and it was simply an interview. There were no soundbites from McCain, and no outrage from liberal campaign "reform" advocates, just a horse-race conversation. But Gibson demonstrated the flip-flop by directly quoting from Obama remarks from last December. How this displays a lowered IQ is not clear:

GIBSON: Barack Obama announced today he will not take public funds to pay for his general election campaign. As of the end of April, Obama held a 3-to-1 fundraising advantage over John McCain, who said today he would take public financing. Our Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos is joining us now. George, this is a direct contradiction to what Barack Obama said early on in the primary campaign. I got a quote here from December. "I wrote a letter to the FEC," he said, "saying if my Republican opponent is willing to abide by public financing, I would abide by public financing as well." So he's changed. How come?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Charlie, that flip-flop is a price they're willing to pay, because they believe they need more than the $85 million they would get under public financing to compete in the number of states they want to compete in in the fall. They also argue that they've already democratized the system, because they have more than 1.5 million contributors giving on average 100 dollars or less. And they say that John McCain has also gamed the system by going in and out of the public financing system. But this is a clear flip, Charlie.

Stephanopoulos not only relayed to viewers the Obama campaign arguments, went on to say that Democrats he’s talked to think Obama’s campaign is likely raise more than double McCain’s $85 million limit for September and October and put McCain at a great financial disadvantage. Neither man said anything to suggest that Obama was conceding the moral high ground on this issue, or that John McCain had a record of campaign "reform," trying to impose government restrictions on political speech. This was hardly a hard-hitting piece against Obama. Underlining the fact that Obama declared (repeatedly) his intent to support and use taxpayer subsidies should have been the bare professional minimum of any reporter on this story.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis