Olbermann-O'Reilly Battle Climbs Up the Ranks It began as a classic broadcast feud between two big egos — Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. Now it's escalated, involving the corporate bigwigs at Fox and NBC-parent company GE. Even the White House has weighed in.
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Olbermann-O'Reilly Battle Climbs Up the Ranks

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Olbermann-O'Reilly Battle Climbs Up the Ranks

Olbermann-O'Reilly Battle Climbs Up the Ranks

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This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, he admits that he invented portions of his best-selling memoir. Now, the author of "A Million Little Pieces" is back with a novel. It's a big take on Los Angeles. A conversation with James Frey coming up.

CHADWICK: First, the beginnings of a classic broadcast feud.

(Soundbite of TV show "Countdown with Keith Olbermann")

Mr. KEITH OLBERMANN (Host, "Countdown with Keith Olbermann"): Bill O'Reilly has left the human race, the worst person in the world.

CHADWICK: That's MSNBC's Keith Olbermann attacking cable competitor Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. And there was return fire, but O'Reilly was after the corporation that employs Keith Olbermann.

(Soundbite of TV show "The O'Reilly Factor")

Mr. BILL O'REILLY (Host, "The O'Reilly Factor"): Is General Electric, the parent company of NBC, doing business with Iran, and did they do business with the bin Laden family after 9/11?

CHADWICK: It's a spat between two big egos, and now the White House is criticizing NBC as well. Here with us, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, what is going on here?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: You know, the other night I was watching "Gladiator" on TV, and it was like a cable news fight broke out. We've seen this coming for awhile. Keith Olbermann has won ratings on MSNBC by voicing this antiwar sensibility, really taking on the Bush administration rhetorically. But he's also done it by beating up on the leading cable news figure in the country and that's Bill O'Reilly, who's got by far the top ratings at Fox News. He's made it kind of personal. He's gone after him with, the worst person in the world. The clip that we played was relatively mild by comparison to what he does some nights.

Olbermann's made it very personal, and he's won gains among liberals who are tired of the seeming conservative dominance of the cable news world. O'Reilly has responded, and it's interesting, O'Reilly doesn't want to ever mention Olbermann by name. So what they've done instead is they've gone after other figures at NBC. They climbed the corporate ladder, they've gone all the way to the top, as we could tell, with General Electric's CEO Jeffrey Immelt, criticizing him for some business the company has in Iran.

CHADWICK: Well, OK. Let's get to this White House letter because there also is a letter from the counselor to President Bush. His name is Ed Gillespie, and he kind of gets into this. He's writing a letter yesterday, very critical of NBC and correspondent Richard Engel, who had interviewed the president a couple of days ago.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. Engel had asked President Bush whether the president had intended his remarks at the 60th anniversary of the creation of Israel, at the Israeli Knesset, to refer to Senator Obama, when he warned against talks with enemies being a form of appeasement.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. RICHARD ENGEL (Chief Foreign Correspondent, NBC News): Were you referring to Senator Barack Obama?

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, my policies haven't changed, but evidently the political calendar has.

FOLKENFLIK: He didn't include the rest of the answer, which went on to say, "Your question was a little bit wrong, Richard." The president's counselor, Ed Gillespie, essentially said this was horribly misrepresented, this claim that the president had intended to attack Senator Obama, and nothing of the sort was intended. But I've got to say, having looked at both the edited version and the original interview, I'm not sure I would have taken that away.

CHADWICK: I just was interested to see this letter from the White House to NBC. I haven't seen a letter like this to a broadcast news operation in decades.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. It does really bring to mind some of the senior White House, call it interference, call it pressure from the Vietnam era and, you know, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon administration complaints to network executives. It does seem to be an effort in some ways to undercut a little bit NBC's standing - NBC the network, after all, that first called what was happening in Iraq a civil war among the television networks.

You know, NBC is linked to MSNBC, its cable sibling. And the White House and Fox, in these separate but seemingly linked attacks, is saying, look, the liberal-slanting MSNBC is somehow dragging down the credibility of NBC's correspondents and anchors. And I think that can be a concern for MSNBC and NBC, even as the cable channel has had some success with that formula.

CHADWICK: A link, you say, between the White House letter and this real, ongoing and increasing dispute between Fox and MSNBC.

FOLKENFLIK: A link is probably too strong. It does seem to be related, both in nature and in timing. You know, the White House is complaining that the strong liberal figures on MSNBC is perhaps infecting NBC's objective and independent ability to report on the news. Fox is saying that MSNBC has somehow lost its bearing.

It's personalized things too strong, you know, in a way that's unfair, not connected to the fact. And they have a whole litany of complaints, some of them minor, some of them more far-reaching. It seems as though MSNBC has gotten under the skin of Fox News. It seems as though the White House is annoyed at NBC. And they're both using the other's argument, to some degree, to press their case.

CHADWICK: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thank you again.


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