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Olberman’s Obfuscation Can’t Obscure Truth: GE Controls MSNBC’s News Reporting

Yes, Keith. We know you weren’t “party to any deal,” because you were quoted as saying so in the original New York Times story on GE’s control of your joke of a “news” show, “Countdown.” As Glenn Greenwald pointed out in his latest update on this tale of Corporate control of “journalism,” it is utterly irrelevant whether you were party to the deal that your corporate bosses made with Rupert Murdoch. You weren’t invited to the meeting and didn’t need to be consulted. On Monday, Greenwald wrote (bolding added):

I want to return to the subject of GE’s silencing of Keith Olbermann both because there are new facts I’ve obtained that shed light on what happened here and because this is one of the most blatant examples yet of pernicious corporate control over America’s journalism. The most striking aspect of this episode is that GE isn’t even bothering any longer to deny the fact that they exert control over MSNBC’s journalism. They’ve brazenly dispensed with the long-held fiction of the sanctity of journalistic independence from interference by the corporate parents that own America’s largest news organizations.

Later in the same post, Greenwald says that GE’s control over NBC’s and MSNBC’s news coverage is “an open secret in Washington,” and he quotes Washington Post “media critic” Howard Kurtz to support this statement:

In the days before President Obama’s last news conference, as the networks weighed whether to give up a chunk of their precious prime time, Rahm Emanuel went straight to the top.

Rather than calling ABC, the White House chief of staff phoned Bob Iger, chief executive of parent company Disney. Instead of contacting NBC, Emanuel went to Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric. He also spoke with Les Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, the company spun off from Viacom.

As Greenwald says, “Apparently, Rahm Emanuel isn’t confused about who the real bosses are at America’s major news networks.”

Furthermore, Greenwald states in the same post that he (Greenwald) has his own inside “management source” who has corroborated the story that Jeff Imhelt ordered Olbermann to stop attacking Bill O’Reilly and told MSNBC to strongly suggest that the other on-air talent do the same.

Immelt was essentially being blackmailed by News Corp.: we will continue to report on GE’s corporate activities unless you bar Keith Olbermann from criticizing Fox and O’Reilly. And now, Immelt has succumbed to those threats and ordered Olbermann to cease reporting on Fox. There is simply no doubt — none — that this happened. That is the reason that O’Reilly’s name has not passed Olbermann’s lips since June 1 — because GE, petrified of further reporting by Fox of its corporate activities, has barred Olbermann from doing so. Another source who regularly appears on MSNBC — demanding anonymity for fear of jeopardizing further appearances — was recently told by a segment producer that explicit mentions of Fox News were prohibited.

After Greenwald’s piece appeared, Keith Olberman did a “special comment” on his show in which he claimed (again!) the he was “not a party to any deals.” As several bloggers in addition to Greenwald have pointed out already (see here, here, and here), whether Olbermann was informed of the negotiations or the deal between GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt and NewsCorp is utterly irrelevant. Olbermann’s opinion wasn’t requested.

In his August 4 post on this issue, Greenwald writes that he received confirmation directly from Olbermann that everything he (Greenwald) has written in his blog posts is accurate.

I certainly believe that Olbermann is telling the truth when he says he was never a party to any deal and that nobody at GE or MSNBC asked him to consent. That’s because GE executives didn’t care in the least if Olbermann consented and didn’t need his consent. They weren’t requesting that Olbermann agree to anything, and nobody — including the NYT’s Stelter — ever claimed that Olbermann had agreed to any deal. What actually happened is exactly what I wrote: GE executives issued an order that Olbermann must refrain from criticizing O’Reilly, and Olbermann complied with that edict. That is why he stopped mentioning O’Reilly as of June 1.

Once the NYT exposed this deal between GE and News Corp., MSNBC executives allowed Olbermann to attack O’Reilly last night because neither Olbermann nor MSNBC could afford to have it appear that their top journalist was being muzzled by GE. For obvious reasons, such an impression would be humiliating and would harm MSNBC’s “journalism” brand. But over the last two months, muzzled by GE is exactly what Olbermann was — precisely as I (and Brian Stelter) wrote.

I appreciate that Olbermann is now confirming that nothing I wrote about this matter was inaccurate. This GE/News Corp. quid pro quo is an extremely significant incident, entailing one of the most transparent acts of extreme corporate censorship and suppression of journalistic freedom in one of our country’s major news organizations (as well as at Fox News). Making it far worse is that GE was motivated by nothing more than a desire to suppress all reporting (whether by Fox News, The Wall St. Journal or other Murdoch-owned outlets) that reflects poorly on them and their corporate activities.

So let’s be very clear about what is happening. GE’s top corporate officers are no longer even pretending that they aren’t controlling and censoring what passes for news at NBC and MSNBC. I have little doubt that the same kinds of corporate control are in effect at the other network and cable “news” outlets. I think most of us have assumed this for a long time, but now it’s out in the open–so much so that the President’s chief of staff doesn’t mind it being known that he goes directly to the corporate controllers rather than news executives when he wants to influence how the networks cover the Obama administration.

In a previous post I wrote about the undue influence that GE has on the Federal Government. I also posted this update. Here is a site with information about corporate control of media outlets.

Is there any point is stating once again that the broadcast networks are using the public airwaves and they are required by law to act in the public interest? I suppose not. We simply don’t a a free press in the U.S. just as we don’t have many constitutional rights remaining. I don’t know about you, but that makes me mad as hell!

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54 Responses

  1. When did MSNBC start reporting news?

    I thought they were a spoof network – kinda like a 24/7 Colbert show.

    • That’s MSNBC’s demo — the Cartoon Network demo.

      • I meant the Comedy Central demo, Cartoon Network demo is probably more mature.

        • Um, actually, you’re absolutely right. Cartoon channels have been running almost nonstop at my house what with the grandkids visiting and, yep, it’s definitely more mature. Handy Manny bets KO any day of the week for calm and conscientious discourse. Heck, even the Imagination Movers are more thoughtful than the sputtering-n-spewing KO.

  2. Thanks for continuing to follow this BB. This is extremely bad news for a democracy loving people. It’s no wonder our news outlets appear to be little more than cheerleading outfits for pro-corporatist government policy.

    • They are all cheerleaders for the oligarchy. The only difference is which team jersey their preferred oligarchy participants wear.

      When a Republican is in office, MSNBC seems more balanced because they will point out the failings of the administration. When a Democrat is in office, Fox will seem more balanced, since they will then point out the failings. But there are always limits to what either of them will touch – like the big money boys behind the scenes.

      NONE of them are fair, or balanced, or have any journalistic integrity. They just flip sides every few years on who gets the token political attack dog role.

      • MSNBC sold the war – then sold Obama.
        Profits! Profits! Profits!

      • I think it’s time to start pressuring our Senators and Congressmen to force the FCC to act against the media monopolies. Otherwise democracy is dead.

  3. I don’t know about you, but that makes me mad as hell!

    It scares the hell out of me.

    • Thank goodness they still let the foreign press in our we’d be held hostages by these folks! I just wish more people knew not to trust the major news sources in this country.

      • Some CNN junkies think it’s just Fox and MSNBC that are the problem, but CNN is part of the problem too.

        • CNN has morphed into people magazine recently. Nothing they do has any news content any more. They’ve dropped their programs that had in depth looks at politics and things. There’s these bursts of one hour appeals to specific demographics and it’s not even subtle!

      • Yes, if there were any doubt before, which there shouldn’t have been to anyone paying attention, but now at least it’s official. MSNBC and Foxnews are officially propaganda arms of their parent corporations with any and all information coming out of them officially and openly filtered. Of course we know CNN is the same as are the four major networks (two of which are just arms of the same as above, NBC and FOX). And add to that many newspapers in the same parent corporation filtering arrangement.

        So if you read or watch any corporate news, please filter accordingly, and check with other sources. Not that it’s new, but isn’t that just the saddest thing.

      • Thank goodness for bloggers like Glenn Greenwald!

    • Yeah, that too.

  4. As usual, Greenwald seems to be on the case. Sometimes wish he were independent and not writing for the Berkeley-esque Salon. Here for instance is Juan Cole in Salon today with his version of opinion journalism. Is it just progressive politics, misogyny, or some other agenda. Have no idea, but it’s out of line imo.


    • I generally find Salon’s Joan Walsh worth listening to otherwise, but she’s not very good when it comes to Palin.

      • p.s. Cole wrote the article, but I brought up Walsh because she’s Salon’s editor-in-chief.

        • Interesting. I had a twitter conversation with Joan Walsh last week. She agreed Andrew Sullivan’s Trig obsession was way out of line. But she said Palin “tries her patience,” whatever that means. In any case, she apologized for taking some cheap, sexist shots at Palin during her resignation. I personally don’t have a deep opinion on Palin’s politics, whatever her future, mainly because it’s three and a half damn years till the next Potus election. But the rampant media misogyny is outrageous. Then, here comes this Juan Cole piece from Salon’s resident Mideast expect comparing Palin to Ahmadinejad, after all we’ve seen in Iran the past couple of months. For me, it’s about Salon’s credibility. At this point, I might have more respect for the Nation. These “new progressives” continue to befuddle and alienate me.

    • I’ve seen Juan Cole do this before, in the primaries. It’s why I backed off considering him a primary source.

  5. FWIW, here’s what Keith the Plumber had to say:

    Primarily, there is no “deal” between MSNBC and Fox over what we can and cannot cover. This is part of a continuing strategy of blackmail by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, that reaches back to 2004, and has as its goal the cancellation of “Countdown.” This stuff has ebbed and flowed for five years, it’s part of my daily job to push it back with whichever strategy I think will best work at a given moment. For the last two months I’ve been employing “News Jujitsu.” If you watch tonight and catch the references to Fox and its rogues gallery you will know that the most recent tack has worked, but the fight is endless and there will be reversals in the future, I’m sure.
    Ailes himself is tonight quoted as saying he tried to ‘broker peace’ by restraining his hosts. This is the same Ailes who insisted he would never interfere with what Bill O’Reilly said on the air. Even naked hypocrisy is not too much if Fox can make itself seem victimized, or can muzzle dissent.
    But there is no “deal.” I would never consent, and, fortunately, MSNBC and NBC News would never ask me to.

    Mayby I should stick with Bob Somerby (is it me or is he getting even angrier?)

    For ourselves, we’d rather believe that Olbermann did accept the truce. In our view, that would be better than believing that he’s really as dumb as he often seems when discussing O’Reilly. (Back on June 1, for example, when he explained why he’d war with BillO no more.) Last night, refreshed by vacance, Olbermann returned to his pitiful wars, journeying back to 2007 to offer the most pleasing claim of them all: O’Reilly is a “racist clown,” our own side’s sexist clown snarled.

    Make your pick.

    • Easy. Somberby. His other articles about Olbermann call Olbie a performance artist, and not a journalist. He says Olbie literally performs for his young, male audience. (ie, Obots)

      Besides, Glen Greenwald has a huge reputation for journalistic integrity, and never strayed from it. I’d trust his sources and his analysis any day.

  6. Bill’s recent trip to Korea has unleashed the dormant (but not dead, no no) CDS lurking in the hearts of our proggy buddies. No links, I refuse, but reports are that both Booman and Arianna have become totally unhinged over this.

    • Arianna’s people are predictably tabloid, they ran with the Bill upstages Hillary meme.

    • Arianna has to be sick over this. She was absolutely sure that the Clintons were finished and out of power. Think again, Arianna. They are back and stronger than ever and you are not on their good side!

    • The CDS Failbots are pouring Kool-aid on their cheetos and stirring it into a glop they can snort through a straw.

    • Arianna was sooooooooo in love with Margaret Thatcher when she was at Cambridge (UK).

      They try to spin her leftward switch as a return to her origins, but she remains a purebred easily deranged right winger.

    • I recommend leaving them to stew in their own juices while savouring this moment.

  7. Perhaps an ISO 9000 certification for news organizations is in order.

    • I like the sound of that. At any rate, if these people have no journalistic integrity, why do they get press passes, access, and some protection in the law as if they were useful professionals that contributed to society? Oh yea, money.

  8. Why has anyone ever treated Olbermann as some sort of serious news agent? He was a hack sportscaster. He’s on MSNBC=Infotainment. If you watch cable news and believe it’s news, you get what you deserve.

  9. OT, but think it’s just right-wingers who are pissed off at these town halls? That’s the meme that the media and Obama keep pushing.

    Think again. Here is a pissed off Democrat going after Steny Hoyer.

    • Does anyone know what he was saying about 53%? On the health reform, I have to agree, they are stuffing it down our throats pretty quickly. The woman who just kept calling him a “liar” was rude and disruptive, but the guy asked some pretty pointed questions.

      • I don’t at all deny that some bad winger groups are leeching onto and seeing an advantage in driving these protests. Of course they are. Just as some very bizarre and radical groups that were everything from extreme communists to batshit anarchist/libertarians latched onto the anti-war protests and tried to further their agendas.

        But that sort of no-holds-barred activist element did not negate that there was a very real, broad-based opposition to the war among very normal middle-of-the-road people. It didn’t mean that people like Code Pink had somehow “manufactured” all that anger. They took advantage of it, but no, they did not create it.

        This townhall thing is no different. And people are not as stupid as the media thinks. They talk to their neighbors, their families, their coworkers, people they personally KNOW who have protested. And they are asking, “Did you go to that thing because you were “astro-turfed?” “Um, no, Bob, I went because I think the bill sucks, and the hurry to pass it unread and unfunded is alarming me.”

        • Yep.

          And the tapes of Lloyd Doggett’s townhall?

          Doggett is from Austin. It is the bluest city in all of Texas. These were Democrats showing that anger, at the brushing off of single payer, at the selling out to insurance and pharmaceutical companies, at the rushing of the legislation without clear explanations , at the Congressmen not reading the bills.

          They were Democrats. My son was there.

          Did you hear Barbara Boxer’s latest bullshit? She says the protestors are “too well-dressed” to be sincere. Stupid, stupid woman.

      • Masslib, I listened again trying to make out the 53% part. It had something to do with housing – something being down 53% per their morning paper there in Utica. Looks like Hoyer was trying to spout greenshoots, and the locals weren’t buying it.

    • You should have save that for my next post that’s coming at 3pm est.

      Then it would be on topic.

  10. Hi Boomer! great post.

      • Wingers tend to be paranoid – the WH threw fuel on the fire.

        • I guess I’m confused.

          • Volokh is just making clear why this is not something unseemly or nefarious.

            The Administration is trying to promote a particular political agenda. They are naturally and reasonably interested in hearing what the arguments against it are, and doubtless sincerely believe that many of the arguments may be unsound or even factually false. They want to rebut such arguments, but they can’t do so promptly unless they hear about it promptly.

            There’s nothing totalitarian about asking supporters to gather this information. And there’s nothing morally contemptible (as the terms “snitch” and “rat” suggest) in passing along this information, if you genuinely think that the information is misleading.

            I didn’t say you got it off a “winger” site. Lynn Samuels is one of my favorites and she’s as Left as they come.

            It’s just that this is certainly not as conspiratorial as it looks.

          • I wouldn’t say it is certain – and I can see why the wingers are upset.

            If Bushco was asking for tips about anyone who disagreed with them Left Blogistan would assume the worst.

    • Someone should send in the Obama admins own misleading statements on healthcare.

  11. Jane Hamsher covers Keith’s statement and finds a contradiction:

    Keith Olbermann Gives Contradictory Statement to Glenn Greenwald

    Either Glenn’s reporting is right, as Olbermann confirms, and he was silenced by GE. Or Glenn’s reporting is wrong, as Olbermann said last night, and the GE-News Corp deal had nothing to do with his actions.

    There will be a cloud over Olbermann’s credibility until he clarifies what really happened.

    • mablue,

      Even if he clarifies what really happened, it’s hard to imagine that the sulphurous plume that surrounds Olbermann will dissipate any time soon. 😉


  12. BB…….O’Reilly did the GE $50 million SEC fine for accounting fraud tonight. I watched, just to see if Fox would let him report it, given Olbermann’s claim there was no deal.

    Then he ran through describing government loan guarantees, government contracts, MSNBC supporting Obama , etc.

    Called for Obama to distance himself from Obama immediately . Mentioned that some stockholders are calling for Immelt’s firing.

    Just wanted you to know, that Fox hasn’t stopped O’Reilly from reporting on them, as you feared.

    • Sorry. That should read “Called for Obama to distance himself from Immelt & GE immediately.”


  13. […] two big corporations that own shit like money losing MySpace, Fox News, NBC, and the Pretendident make a pact, reported in the news, to get their on-air “talent” to stop fighting each other about […]

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