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MSNBC Cuts Hosts' Election Coverage Amid Criticism
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MSNBC Cuts Hosts' Election Coverage Amid Criticism

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MSNBC Cuts Hosts' Election Coverage Amid Criticism
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This election season has been filled with charges of media bias. It was a recurring theme at last week's Republican convention, and many Republicans have directed their criticism at the cable channel MSNBC and its co-anchor Keith Olbermann.

Now MSNBC says it will not be using Olbermann and fellow talk show host Chris Matthews to anchor some of the channel's election newscasts this fall. They will, however, continue to host their nightly programs. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now from our bureau in New York. And David, what gives?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's been this tension between the role of Keith Olbermann, who's this liberal, prime-time, nightly talk show host for MSNBC, and the idea that he and Chris Matthews, a fellow liberal talk show host for MSNBC, would be anchoring. The immediate cause was last week at the Republican National Convention, it flared up when the Republicans showed this video about 9/11, presumably to remind people of that terrible day, with very vivid photographs - footage rather. Olbermann said that, you know, this should not have been shown by the Republicans. It shouldn't have been shown by the network. I believe we have a clip about that.

(Soundbite of TV show "Countdown")

Mr. KEITH OLBERMANN (Anchor, MSNBC): If you reacted to that videotape the way I did, I apologize. It is a subject of great pain for many of us still, and was probably not appropriate to be shown.

FOLKENFLIK: And the question about whether it was appropriate for an anchor to be making that point of view came up. Olbermann and MSNBC say that he brought up that question and that he thought he should perhaps be wearing a different hat. This has to, however, be seen in the context of the campaign. You know, Matthews and Olbermann have been anchoring MSNBC's coverage since the beginning of the year for the political events, major primary nights and the like.

The Clinton campaign, during the primaries, Senator Hillary Clinton felt that MSNBC was far too pro-Obama. And the McCain campaign has made the same case as well. This has even flared up on the air. There's been tension between Olbermann and, say, former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, who's also one of their hosts, about whether or not the station is being fair.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, let's look back. Why did MSNBC elevate Matthews and Olbermann to anchoring duties?

FOLKENFLIK: No show on MSNBC in its dozen years has fared as well on the ratings as Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" for the network. And it's been - they've sort of backed in this position where they found that - if they give voice to their liberal host, they seem to have shown a fair degree of ratings success. One of his proteges, Rachel Maddow, this week is making her debut in a show following his.

MONTAGNE: So what does that mean for NBC News, which runs of course MSNBC?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, NBC News sees itself as an objective evenhanded non-ideological source of news. And it's been a source of real tension. If you watched the conventions last week, you heard at times chants on the floor by delegates of "NBC, NBC" as a jeer when speakers from the podium would assail the liberal media elites. That can't be good.

It's been a source of some concern for people like former "NBC Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw. You know, Phil Griffin is the president of MSNBC. He said that Olbermann and Matthews knew how to walk the line. But, you know, clearly, there's some discomfort in the two hats.

MONTAGNE: Well, given everything that people have to watch nowadays politically, you know, in a sense you want to say, well, why not just turn the dial?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, and that's certainly doable. What you're seeing now is a question of the evolution of whether or not media outlets can have a strong point of view. You know, Fox News is often seen as being very conservative, particularly with its talk show hosts, although it says, you know, its reporters are straight down the line.

MONTAGNE: Right, David.

FOLKENFLIK: The difference is Fox News doesn't have its political- conservative hosts serve as their anchors.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much. NPR's David Folkenflik from our studios in New York. And this is NPR News.

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