Saturday, August 01, 2009


[A version of this post previously ran as my regular Friday night column on Firedoglake.]

Hey, waddya say tonight we go after some big game? Yeah, I know what you’re thinkin’: elephants by definition are big game. Or, maybe you’ve watched the video clip here, and you’re thinking, Bill O’Reilly is a big target, but kind of an easy one. Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, think bigger:

For years Keith Olbermann of MSNBC had savaged his prime-time nemesis Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel and accused Fox of journalistic malpractice almost nightly. Mr. O’Reilly in turn criticized Mr. Olbermann’s bosses and led an exceptional campaign against General Electric, the parent company of MSNBC.

It was perhaps the fiercest media feud of the decade and by this year, their bosses had had enough. But it took a fellow television personality with a neutral perspective to bring it to an end.

At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the two networks. Then — even though the feud had increased the viewing audience of both programs — they instructed lieutenants to arrange a cease-fire, according to three people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

In early June, the combat stopped, and the anchors for the most part found other targets for their verbal missiles (Hello, CNN).

“It was time to grow up,” a senior employee of one of the companies said.

Instructed lieutenants??? Oh, wait, I should add this:

The rapprochement — not acknowledged by the parties until now — showcased how a personal and commercial battle between two men could create real consequences for their parent corporations. A G.E. shareholders’ meeting, for instance, was overrun by critics of MSNBC (and one of Mr. O’Reilly’s producers) last April.

And there we have it, don’t we? It wasn’t that it was personal, it’s that it was business—and not the news business, G.E.’s business.

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