This is the direct sequel to this earlier blog entry:
The feud between these TV news titans came to a head on June 1, 2009. The previous day, Dr. George Tiller, who O’Reilly had stigmatized for years as “Tiller the baby killer” because he was one of the few doctors who provided late-term abortions, was shot to death at his Lutheran church by an anti-abortion fanatic.
That prompted Bill O’Reilly to attempt some damage control:
At the same time, Keith Olbermann was dealing with the situation in his own way. He made his most bitter attack against O’Reilly and FOX News yet, accusing them of responsibility for Tiller’s death, and declared that FOX News needed to be subjected to a “quarantine”.
Thus, he made the decision to retire his mocking of O’Reilly, merely being content to quote his words. Frankly, I would have done the same. The whole situation was just too disgusting to make fun of.
And that’s where it stood until July 31, when this article was published in the New York Times:
Voices From Above Silence a Cable TV Feud
Virginia Sherwood/NBC, left; Steve Fenn/ABC
Keith Olbermann of MSNBC Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel regularly trade swipes at each other on their cable news shows.
Published: July 31, 2009
It was a media cage fight, televised every weeknight at 8 p.m. But the match was halted when the blood started to spray executives in the high-priced seats.
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 help bring it to at least a temporary end.
At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-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 networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.
In early June, the combat stopped, and MSNBC and Fox, 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.
The reconciliation — 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.
“We all recognize that a certain level of civility needed to be introduced into the public discussion,” Gary Sheffer, a spokesman for G.E., said this week. “We’re happy that has happened.”
The parent companies declined to comment directly on the details of the cease-fire, which was orchestrated in part by Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president who oversees corporate affairs at the News Corporation.
Mr. Olbermann, who is on vacation, said by e-mail message, “I am party to no deal,” adding that he would not have been included in any conversations between G.E. and the News Corporation. Fox News said it would not comment.
Civility was not always the aim of Mr. Olbermann and Mr. O’Reilly, men who, in an industry of thin skins, are both famous for reacting to verbal pinpricks. Both host 8 p.m. programs on cable news in studios a few blocks apart in Midtown Manhattan.
The conservative-leaning Mr. O’Reilly has turned “The O’Reilly Factor” into a profit center for the News Corporation by blitzing his opponents and espousing his opinions unapologetically. He found his bête noire in the liberal-leaning Mr. Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s “Countdown,” who saw in Mr. O’Reilly a regenerating target he nicknamed the “Bill-o the Clown.”
The 6-foot-4 Mr. Olbermann started sniping regularly at the also 6-foot-4 Mr. O’Reilly in late 2005, sometimes making him the subject of the “Countdown” segment, the “Worst Person in the World.” Mr. O’Reilly was also a stand-in for the perceived offenses of the top-rated Fox News.
By punching up at his higher-rated prey, Mr. Olbermann helped his own third-place cable news show. “Honestly, I should send him a check each week,” he remarked to a reporter three years ago. Fox noticed. Mr. Murdoch remarked to Esquire last year that “Keith Olbermann is trying to make a business out of destroying Bill O’Reilly.” Mr. O’Reilly refused to mention his critic by name on the “Factor,” deeming him a “vicious smear merchant,” but he regularly blamed Mr. Zucker for “ruining a once-great brand,” NBC.
In late 2007, Mr. O’Reilly had a young producer, Jesse Watters, ambush Mr. Immelt and ask about G.E.’s business in Iran, which is legal, and which includes sales of energy and medical technology. G.E. says it no longer does business in Iran.
Mr. O’Reilly continued to pour pressure on its corporate leaders, even saying on one program last year that “If my child were killed in Iraq, I would blame the likes of Jeffrey Immelt.” The resulting e-mail to G.E. from Mr. O’Reilly’s viewers was scathing.
The messages hit nerves on both sides. Mr. Immelt remarked to MSNBC staff members last summer that he would “never forgive Rupert Murdoch” for Fox’s behavior, according to two people who were present. In private phone calls, the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, told NBC officials to end the attacks.
In February, Mr. Zucker told Newsweek what he had told Mr. Olbermann privately: “I wish it weren’t so personal.” The previous year, Mr. Murdoch said that Mr. O’Reilly “shouldn’t be so sensitive” to the attacks lobbed by MSNBC.
Over time, G.E. and the News Corporation concluded that the fighting “wasn’t good for either parent,” said an NBC employee with direct knowledge of the situation. But the session hosted by Mr. Rose provided an opportunity for a reconciliation, sealed with a handshake between Mr. Immelt and Mr. Murdoch.
But like any title fight, the final round could not end without an attempted knockout. On June 1, the day after the abortion provider George Tiller was killed in Kansas, Mr. Olbermann took to the air to cite Mr. O’Reilly’s numerous references to “Tiller, the baby killer” and to announce that he would retire his caricature of Mr. O’Reilly.
“The goal here is to get this blindly irresponsible man and his ilk off the air,” he said.
The next day, Mr. O’Reilly made the extraordinary claim that “federal authorities have developed information about General Electric doing business with Iran, deadly business” and published Mr. Immelt’s e-mail address and mailing address, repeating it slowly for emphasis.
Then the attacks mostly stopped.
Shortly after, Phil Griffin, the MSNBC president, told producers that he wanted the channel’s other programs to follow Mr. Olbermann’s lead and restrain from criticizing Fox directly, according to two employees. At Fox News, some staff members were told to “be fair” to G.E.
The executives at both companies, it appears, were relieved. “For this war to stop, it meant fewer headaches on the corporate side,” one employee said.
Tensions still simmer between the two networks, however, and staff members have been unwilling or unable to stop the strife altogether. This week, for instance, the Fox host Glenn Beck called Mr. Obama a racist, prompting rebukes on a number of MSNBC shows. But for now, the daily back and forth has quieted.
“They’ve won their respective constituencies,” said a former member of MSNBC’s senior staff. “They don’t need to do this anymore, really.”
Olbermann was returning from a two week vacation. When he resumed hosting his show on August 3, he addressed that article directly:
He must have been furious! Had he kept his word and never made fun of Bill O’Reilly again, it would have made him look like a corporate shill, not a legitimate newsman. So in this case, he had to break his word in order to preserve his credibility!
And his action proved to be justified on August 11, when O’Reilly attacked General Electric the parent company of MSNBC:
Thus it appears there was no deal on the side of O’Reilly and FOX News as well. Olbermann shot back the next evening:
So now, I have just one question: Has Brian Stelter been fired from the New York Times yet?
Oh and by the way, Keith Olbermann would not need to do damage control if someone was insane enough to kill Bill O’Reilly. He already denounced one such threat made against his rival on August 19, 2008. That’s right, ONE YEAR AGO!
And that’s why Olbermann is the better man.