WashPost Profiles Keith Olbermann...Who Denies Having an Agenda

Howard Kurtz profiled Keith Olbermann for his Monday "Media Notes" column in The Washington Post with the headline "A Gadfly With Buzz: MSNBC's Olbermann Exercising The Right." For his part, Keith showed his membership in the liberal media elite by beginning with the utterly fatuous claim of nonpartisanship: "The former sportscaster denies that he's pushing an ideological agenda, noting that he relentlessly covered the uproar over Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in his first incarnation as an MSNBC anchor in 1998."

Kurtz isn't buying, either: "Of course, he was so sickened by the spectacle that he quit, complaining about the media's role in the tawdry process, though he now gives every indication of enjoying his anti-Bush program." (There's also the on-air content that displays an agenda, such as...comparing Ken Starr to Himmler.)

Kurtz also knows that the show's guest list is incredibly one-sided:

While his main guests are journalists, he sometimes interviews Democratic lawmakers but almost never brings on Republicans or conservatives, except for MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan. "There are not a lot of conservative guests who are happy to be on the show," Olbermann admits.

The article opened this way: "Night after night, President Bush is being kicked, punched, slapped, poked, stomped and otherwise disrespected in one small corner of the cable television world. And Keith Olbermann doesn't deny it has been good for ratings." That's being a bit kind, as Kurtz reports in a few paragraphs. (He also includes on a list of "the most promiment opinion-mongers in cable" Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson.) Here's what Scarborough would call the Real Deal:

"Countdown" is still in third place among the cable news networks -- Fox's "O'Reilly Factor" dominated the first quarter, with 2.26 million viewers, followed by CNN's Paula Zahn with 632,000 and Olbermann with 404,000. But the MSNBC show boasts of a 41 percent jump over last year among viewers age 25 to 54, edging CNN in that category.

To borrow from Olbermann's old sportscasting gig, this is a bit like arguing that the Houston Texans may be 2-14, but the quarterback's passing accuracy is up. Or to use a broadcasting analogy, it's like arguing that Bravo's ratings are up 40 percent over its own 2005 total, when almost nobody watched them last year. O'Reilly is trumping Olbermann in this "good news" by a factor of five.

Then there's the happy talk from Rick Kaplan, the Clinton golfing buddy:

"Keith's show is the best show on television, period -- interesting, edgy and really well written," says MSNBC President Rick Kaplan. He says Olbermann is "incredibly aggressive" toward anyone in power: "In the same way that people who think the president needs to be supported more have turned to Fox, a lot of people who think the president needs to be taken on more have found a friendly voice in 'Countdown.' "

Of course, this is especially hilarious coming from Kaplan, who was famous for not liking anyone being "incredibly aggressive" toward his boy Bill. While Olbermann was doing the "dry heaves" over Monica coverage in 1998 at MSNBC, Kaplan was running hour-long specials attacking the media's ferocity and the depravity of Ken Starr over at CNN.

Conservative critics of Olbermann finally appear in the second-to-last paragraph: Kurtz quotes a commenter on Robert Cox's Olbermann Watch blog: "Hello! Earth to Krazy Keith! When was the last time anybody who disagreed with your spin was permitted to sit for an interview with your almightyness?" It's too bad Kurtz didn't seem to talk to Robert, or the rest of us who have endured the Keith content.

We might have said this: if you looked up "pomposity" in the dictionary, there ought to be a picture of Olbermann there. Or maybe just under "smug." The program is overwritten, snide, conspiratorial, and loose with the facts.

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