Big Bad Wolffe: Different Standards for Moonlighting Television Pundits

wolffeolberman-300x225Almost lost in the brouhaha over the reported truce between GE/Keith Olbermann and Fox News/Bill O’Reilly was the news that Olbermann had kicked replacement host Richard Wolffe off of Countdown. Olbermann cited the appearance of a conflict of interest between Wolffe’s consulting job and his duties as a political analyst for MSNBC. But given the landscape of cable news, in which many big name “politicos” consult on the side quietly or not-so-quietly, why was Wolffe singled out?

Wolffe consults for a firm called Public Strategies, Inc.: in his Salon column, Glenn Greenwald made the point that “Wolffe’s role in life is to advance the P.R. interests of the corporations that pay him, including corporations with substantial interests in virtually every political issue that MSNBC and Countdown cover.” Responding on Daily Kos, Olbermann wrote, “What appears to be the truth here is certainly not what Richard told us about his non-news job … until we can clarify what else he is doing, he will not be appearing with us.”

But nearly all of the established political analysts in cable news do exactly the same thing. In fact, many of them would consider themselves consultants first, who then appear on television as a means to a larger end. Should they disclose any conflicts of interest? Absolutely. But it makes little sense that Wolffe would be singled out for so commonplace a practice. Consider these pundits, all paid contributors to the networks:

  • CNN’s Donna Brazile is the founder and managing director of Brazile & Associates. From their website: “Brazile & Associates LLC assists corporate clients with diversity training, earned media strategies, crisis management and message development. Working with groups of all ages and orientations, Brazile & Associates seeks to provide its clients with the skills to develop a greater civic focus with a stronger advocate voice.” When we called the firm, a spokesman declined to name any clients.
  • Fox’s Newt Gingrich founded The Center for Health Transformation, a for-profit network of health care professionals and companies “striving towards system-wide transformation.” His client list includes AstraZeneca, Microsoft, UPS, NextGen, and the American Cancer Society.
  • MSNBC’s Mike Murphy has independently consulted for senators and governors including Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney (not presidential campaign), Christine Whitman, and McCain’s presidential campaign.
  • CNN’s James Carville has consulted for many foreign leaders.  To name a few: the former PM of Israel, the former PM of Greece, Bolivia’s former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and now, Ashraf Ghani, a challenger in Afghanistan’s presidential election.
  • MSNBC’s Harold Ford works as vice chairman and senior policy advisor for Merrill Lynch where he “advises senior management on domestic policy issues, and supports a variety of business development initiatives in the institutional and retail markets”.
  • Fox’s Frank Luntz’s Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research has consulted for, among others, AOL, 20th Century Fox, Pfizer, NBC, Freddie Mac, and USA Today.
  • CNN’s J.C. Watts’s Watts Companies consults for, among others, ACLU, AT&T, NASCAR, West Point, Aetna.
  • Fox’s Al D’Amato’s Park Strategies has a $50,000 contract with World Trade Center Memorial Fund.
  • CNN’s Ed Rollins‘ New Strategies Group consults for FairTax.org; they would not disclose other clients when we called them.

If we were to hold these commentators as the same standard that took Wolffe off the air, cable news would be dangerously low on punditry. So, why did Richard Wolffe get singled out?

Kevin Gotkin contributed additional reporting.

Bill O’Reilly To Glenn Beck: “I’m Not A Fearmonger Like You”

beck_8-12We’ll have to stop this daily look at how failed the GE/FOX deal has been at some point. But here’s what happened last night, on both networks.

Bill O’Reilly did his teased “Factor Investigation” about GE, and later had Glenn Beck on to expand on the “evil” company. Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann knocked Fox in general, and Bill-o specifically. Yes, just another night in Cabler-land.

Here’s O’Reilly’s first segment about GE, in which he expands on the GE/Iran connections. But the Beck segment is particularly juicy. After an initial debate over whether GE is actually an “evil” company, they decide it may be evil and move on.

At one point, Beck says, “The last thing I want to do is be the fearmonger.”

This sets O’Reilly off down a path that, while laughing, leads to him saying, “I’m a pretty straight talker, but I’m not a fearmonger like you.” Important note: O’Reilly is absolutely right. More on Beck’s fearmongering later.

Here is the O’Reilly/Beck segment:


And then there’s Olbermann. He found a way to attack O’Reilly based on his “televised self-gratification” (isn’t that what this entire feud has been?). But it also led to FNC in general. “What they do at Fox News…is not news,” said Olbermann.

Here’s his segment:


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Campbell Brown Cheers On Fighting 8pm’ers From Sidelines

brown_8-12While her competitors at 8pmET are embattled in a continued feud in the face of a supposed ‘deal,’ CNN’s Campbell Brown has not weighed in – until last night.

Jumping snarkily into the debate, Brown knocked the “big swinging anchors,” and also the ‘breathless’ coverage.

Here’s how she describes the situation:

Big swinging anchor number one thinks that big swinging anchor number two is the worst person in the world. Big swinging anchor number two is so full of disdain of big swinging anchor number one he won’t even say his name, so he just goes after his boss the CEO of General Electric.

She continued to joke about the mock seriousness. “Don’t laugh people. This is a very important story,” she said. “The New York Times has been covering it breathlessly and those big swinging anchors have ratings a lot bigger than mine.”

Well that’s true – and that couldn’t possibly be a reason for jumping into the ring herself, right?

Here’s the clip:

Advertisers Wimp Out: ‘Boycott’ Glenn Beck, But Stay On Fox News

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Glenn Beck is in even deeper trouble over his remarks that the president is “racist” now that GEICO has joined Progressive Insurance, Lawyers.com, and Procter & Gamble in pulling advertisements from Beck’s Fox News show. Or is he?

Color of Change, a web-based grassroots group with more than 600,000 members that bills itself as “the largest African-American online political organization in the country,” has led a campaign to drive advertisers away from Beck’s show. They’ve been successful to a point, but the advertisers haven’t moved away from Fox:

From the GEICO press release: (emphasis added in bold)

“On Tuesday, August 4, GEICO instructed its ad buying service to redistribute its inventory of rotational spots on FOX-TV to their other network programs, exclusive of the Glenn Beck program,” said a spokesperson for GEICO Corporate Communications in an email to ColorOfChange.org.  “As of August 4, GEICO no longer runs any paid advertising spots during Mr. Beck’s program.”

From the P&G/Progressive/Lawyers.com press release:

“No P&G ads should have appeared on this program in the first place,” said Martha Depenbrock, Brand Building Stakeholder Relations for Procter & Gamble in an email. “To be clear, if any of our advertising appeared on the Glenn Beck show, it was in error and we appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention…”

“Our (advertising) order specifies no Glenn Beck,” said Linda J. Harris, Media Director at Progressive Insurance in an email to ColorOfChange.org. “We have confirmed with the network that our spots should not be running there.”

The reason these spokesmen were able to blame their ads appearing on Glenn Beck on technical problems with a straight face is because cable ad buys work differently from network purchases. Networks sell ads by time slot, but cable channels sell ads by number of eyeballs. If GEICO, Progressive, and the rest initially expressed preference for Beck’s slot, it’s relatively easy for them to heroically shift their ads to different slots while still getting their dollars’ worth. Fox holds onto the marquee advertisers. And as long as they can find replacements to air during Beck’s slot — and given his ratings, they likely will be able to — Fox and the advertisers are able to please everyone without addressing the gaping hole that is Glenn Beck’s initial remarks. Call it advertising shuffleboard.

Color of Change scored a legitimate political victory in keeping high-profile advertisers away from Beck’s program, but it’s unclear whether the move will have much financial impact, thanks to the tricks at Fox’s and advertisers’ disposal.

O’Reilly Prepares To Light Up GE Again Tonight

oreilly_8-11All day yesterday Bill O’Reilly’s Website teased a segment equating GE and Enron (with Bernie Goldberg weighing in), but when The O’Reilly Factor aired last night, Goldberg and O’Reilly just chatted about how awesome Fox News was. So where did it go?

In the post-’Truce’-gate world, Inside Cable News asked if it was “spiked” for some reason. Here’s the answer: it’s happening tonight.

The story, based around this Floyd Norris article in the New York Times, was brought up several times on Fox News yesterday.

A Factor insider tells Mediaite the show is “doing it tonight,” and that it was always planned for Tuesday’s show. The promo department apparently jumped the gun. So no ‘corporate pressure’ on O’Reilly’s side – and the battle continues…

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Mourning The Death of The GE/FOX Deal

countdown_8-8One week after news of a supposed “truce” (or “ceasefire” or “deal” or…) between GE/NBC and News Corp./Fox, it’s clear the deal has passed away.

Following Keith Olbermann’s strong attack on Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and Fox News in general again last night (video after the jump), and another story about in-house tensions at 30 Rock, it’s time to talk about the supposed ‘truce’ in the past tense. So what killed it?

According to the New York TimesBrian Stelter, it all started to deteriorate, as one might imagine, after Monday night. “Fox News executives felt that MSNBC had broken the deal when Keith Olbermann, in an apparent show of independence, insulted his 8 p.m. rival, Bill O’Reilly, and the News Corporation’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, on Monday,” writes Stelter.

O’Reilly responded, in a way, with his attack on GE two nights later. But in Stelter’s story, Fox says it’s not about them:

“At this point,” a Fox spokeswoman said Friday, “the entire situation is more about major issues at NBC and G.E. than it is about Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann.”

So that puts the pressure on Olbermann and his bosses to stop their personal attacks. Which, to the detriment of salvaging any remnants of a deal, was not heeded last night. Instead, Olbermann set his sights on O’Reilly, but also, oddly, Fox Chairman Ailes. The basis for the attack was essentially something written about Ailes by the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz. “Negotiating with the people that his ‘nutcases’ might cover about whether or not those nutcases will or will not cover them might seem like journalism to Mr. Ailes, but clearly no actual journalist would agree with him,” said Olbermann last night.

Does Olbermann not see the hypocrisy here, or is he just hoping his viewers don’t notice? This is the exact same situation he himself is in. In the Times story today, both GE and FOX said the deal did not involve telling their talent how to cover stories. It’s a matter of how each network, and host, deal with this non-directive directive.

It’s clear what happened here: in the wake of the news going public, Olbermann reacted defensively by going on the offensive. O’Reilly responded, and Olbermann, still being questioned in the liberal blogosphere, went back and attacked. Here’s what will happen next: O’Reilly will attack GE next week. And the story of the deal that was, then wasn’t, will disintegrate.

But GE will not be happy. Will they be unhappy enough to officially reign in Olbermann, who essentially killed this deal and isn’t necessarily afraid to quit if he doesn’t get his way? We’ll see. Olbermann is still the top-rated host on MSNBC. He doesn’t pull in anywhere near the ratings of O’Reilly and others at Fox News, but he has a built-in, loyal audience. Now that he’s “going rogue,” GE will have to decide whether they’re with him or against him.

Here’s last night’s “Worst Persons”:


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Bill O’Reilly Puts His Love For Barack Obama Into A Parade Column

Say what you want about Bill O’Reilly, but he never shies away from surprising people. Take this weekend’s upcoming Parade magazine, in which the Fox News host writes a lengthy column headlined, “What President Obama Can Teach America’s Kids” (first reported by Politico).

This is just about as glowing as any profile of Barack Obama written by a fawning lefty. But there’s nothing like seeing it in print to get the full impact. Here’s a sneak peek:

parade_8-7

The Fox News host, surrounded by children of various races, writing about our liberal, Democratic President. It’s enough to make Keith Olbermann throw up a little in his mouth.

Here are some passages:

As has been widely chronicled, Barack Obama had a tough childhood filled with instability and loneliness. However, that did not stop him from rising to become the most powerful man in the world. His breathtaking achievement presents five important lessons for all children.

Those lessons are forgiveness, respect, persistence, hard word, and ‘anything is possible.’

More, from the powerful conclusion:

What he has achieved in his 48 years is simply astounding. Consider the odds. The United States is a nation of more than 300 million citizens. Only one person is currently the Commander in Chief. That man had no fatherly guidance, is of mixed race, and had no family connections to guide him into the world of national politics. That adds up to one simple truth that every American child should be told: “If Barack Obama can become the President of the United States, then whatever dream you may have can happen in your life.”

For those who are absolutely floored, you probably don’t watch enough of The O’Reilly Factor. The top-rated cable news host undeniably leans right, but by no means can be grouped with conservative Sean Hannity or pseudo-conservative Glenn Beck.

What’s more, O’Reilly has a very clear respect for Obama that comes directly from the then-Senator’s decision to come on The Factor for a lengthy interview during the presidential campaign. It was a self-serving mission for both – Obama picked his appearance to compete with the Republican National Convention, O’Reilly got a multi-night, highly-rated ‘get.’ But there’s a reason VP candidate Sarah Palin wouldn’t go toe-to-toe with O’Reilly – he’s not an easy interview. That respect has translated to some dividends for Obama.

While Hannity plays “Carmina Burana” and Beck plants ‘is he racist’ seeds, O’Reilly stays largely above the fray. Still – some conservatives and liberals will be in for a surprise when they open their Sunday newspapers this weekend and see a smiling O’Reilly espousing the life lessons of our Commander in Chief.

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