MSNBC trying out “unbiased” replacement for Imus; whither Olbermann?

So, Matt Drudge is reporting that MSNBC is going to try out Michael Smerconish for the Imus spot. Word floating around is that they won’t even consider a progressive host (like the folks at Air America, for instance) because they’re “too biased.”

Okay, that’s fine in principle. So this means that Smerconish is “unbiased” – cool! Except, well, judge for yourself, courtesy of Media Matters:

  • On the June 20 edition of Scarborough Country, Smerconish trivialized reports of detainee abuse as “naked pyramid pictures” at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and “play[ing] Christina Aguilera music a bit too loud” at the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay.
  • Substituting for host Bill O’Reilly on the April 4, 2006, broadcast of Westwood One’s The Radio Factor, nationally syndicated radio host Michael Smerconish repeatedly discussed “the sissification of America,” claiming that political correctness has made the United States “a nation of sissies.” Smerconish also claimed, several times, that this “sissification” and “limp-wristedness” is “compromising our ability to win the war on terror.”
  • On the November 23, 2005, broadcast of The Radio Factor, while guest-hosting, Smerconish took issue with a decision by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to provide a designated prayer area at Giants Stadium. The decision was in response to a September 19 incident involving the FBI’s detention and questioning of five Muslim men who were observed praying near the stadium’s main air duct during a New York Giants football game. Smerconish stated: “I just think that’s [the men’s public praying] wrong. I just think they’re playing a game of, you know, mind blank with the audience. And that they should know better four years removed from September 11.”
  • On the November 23, 2005, edition of The Radio Factor, Smerconish interviewed Soo Kim Abboud, author of Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers — and How You Can Too (Penguin, 2005). Smerconish asserted that “if everyone follows Dr. Abboud’s prescription … you’re going to have women who will leave the home and now get a great-paying job, because you will have gotten them well educated.” He continued, “But then they’re not going to be around to instill these lessons in their kids. In other words, it occurs to me that perhaps you’ve provided a prescription to bring this great success to an end.”

Now, I’m not here to argue politics. But I do take issue with the suggestion that Air America is biased and Smerconish isn’t. If you’re saying that either you’re stupid or you think I am, and neither path leads to Credibility City, you know?

So I got an e-mail from somebody we’ll call a “well-placed source in the broadcasting industry,” and said person prefers to remain anonymous. Here’s what he said:

This is outrageous. So, Smerconish who is a complete right-wing conservative, Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Glenn Beck are not biased because they are conservative but all liberals are biased by definition.I am seething over this. This is what I’ve been screaming about for the last four years – if they only put conservatives on cable news, our message gets bottled up and dies on the vine.

77% of Americans still get their news from television. Plus, those three stations (CNN, MSNBC, and Fox) are on in every newspaper, radio, magazine and television office in the country. They have undue influence on the rest of the media.

How do you fire Imus and hire another right-winger? And Smerconish by the way will be a lot more right wing and Republican than Imus ever was.

It would be a crime if they put this guy into that slot under the radar and then we have another conservative talk show host on cable. And yet another slot doesn’t go to a progressive. And this is MSNBC for Christ’s sake, the only reason they have any ratings is because of Olbermann. Will these guys never learn?

The Olbermann issue is the most interesting for me, and the more we see this kind of behavior from MSNBC the more I think it opens KO up to charges that he’s not really Ed Murrow, he just plays him on TV. If you really are the thing that Olbermann presents himself as, how do you sit quietly?

I’m not punking Olbermann – I’m asking what strikes me as a valid question. Maybe there are good answers there, and given the righteously well-deserved nard-stompings he’s laid on Dubya and Cheney and other members of the Kleptocracy I want to give Keith every benefit of every doubt. But the easy question, the one those of us who follow the money tend to ask first, is whether he sees political perspective as product. If I’m asking the question, you can bet there are those out there looking for a way of depostioning him who might want to work the angle, too.

NOTE and UPDATE: I have edited slightly since my original post. Feedback at that time (Booth, Marsh, Nix) made clear to me that I hadn’t communicated very clearly on my Olbermann point and that I was coming off as being unduly critical of him.

Perhaps violating blog etiquette a bit, I “fixed” my post in ways that I hoped came closer to my original intent. In the process, I may have inadvertently pulled the rug out from under those commenters – in the context of the post as it now reads, their concerns may seem a bit off-base.

I apologize for inadvertently decontextualizing them. Their remarks were dead-on as the post originally appeared, and I’m grateful to them for illustrating my errors. Mea culpa.

7 replies »

  1. Attacking Olbermann is a misstep, Sam. I can tell you with authority that this conservatives-only-for-Imus’s-spot issue is not sitting well with the Countdown crew, and to make the insinuation that Olbermann has blinders on about this is unfair.

    Let’s go after those who actually deserve it, OK? It’s the network execs who decree that liberals are biased, while allowing conservatives to squat and spew all over OUR airwaves. (Bill Wolff, VP of MSNBC) (Dan Abrams, General Manager of MSNBC)

  2. I’m absolutely not attacking Keith. I’m asking a question that I do think is fair. If the answer is that he’s disgusted and working to do something about it, that’s a great answer and I’m pleased to accept it. Furthermore, I wish him all the best and will gladly do what I can to help.

    This may be the first time you’ve run across anything I’ve written. If so, trust me, letting network execs off the hook is pretty much at the top of the list of things I’m really NOT known for. I flog them every chance I get and agree with completely about the source of the problem.

  3. Jennifer is exactly right. I’ve been involved in media and radio for years and to widen this to include Olbermann is wrong indeed. Focus, people. Jennifer provided the correct emails, use ’em.

    I’d also suggest that we have more choices than just men. Offering up a female’s name would be nice for a change. Stephanie Miller comes to mind.

  4. I have to agree with those who suggest that this gives the perception that you’re criticizing KO, Sam. I know that isn’t your intention, but I also know this:

    1) KO is the only progressive voice appearing regularly on cable TV right now; even if he’s “playing Ed Murrow on TV” he is also the only progressive voice strong enough to handle Bill “I play Joe McCarthy on TV” O’Reilly;
    2) The enemy here is conservative demagoguery – not progressive demagoguery;
    3) I heard Colin Cowherd, ESPN radio’s “objective” (read right wing) sports talk host, attack Olbermann as a “Northeast Liberal” and say that he shouldn’t have been tapped to be part of NBC’s NFL coverage…! As if liberals can’t report football scores without endangering the country….
    4) When Dan Patrick kidded Olbermann about being a little slow on the trigger about Imus’s dismissal, Olbermann made some very sensible observations about how, while Imus wouldn’t necessarily go after him, that he’d make life hell for his staff – and Imus, don’t be fooled, still has tremendous pull – in fact, don’t be surprised to see Imus make a deal with XM radio as Bob Lefsetz suggests might happen – which would give the merged satellite monopoly the two most heinous voices in radio – Imus and Howard Stern….

    If we’re going to follow the money – and you know I’m all for that, as I know you are – let’s follow it upline. That’s where this stuff is emanating from….

  5. I’ve also heard from a couple folks offline about this, and yeah, I can see where I come off like I’m busting his chops. And I agree that isn’t quite fair.

    I suppose what was motivating me was pretty simple. I’ve seen Olbermann stomp all manner of bullshit and corruption out in the big wide world, and I’d like to see him turn that same flamethrower on bullshit and corruption in his own house.

    I know there have been times in the course of my own career where I’ve had to hold my nose as my employer engaged in things I really had issues with. I couldn’t afford to quit – my landlord was unwilling to accept my high moral principles as payment for the rent – and I wasn’t in a position in the organization to force people to behave themselves.

    That’s bad enough as it is, and then somebody else – a friend, a relative, an asshole in a bar – wants to know why I’m willing to whore myself, etc. etc. etc. It’s hard question to answer, and even though I know I’m doing what I can behind the scenes, I feel the erosion of my own credibility. And when you have nothing in life but your integrity, it hurts extra bad to feel it seeping away.

    So I guess I want Olbermann to be a political action hero for us, telling the truth and letting the chips fall where they may. Do I understand why that might not be entirely possible, or even prudent? Yup – all those company experiences taught me some lessons about organizational politics and in-fighting, to the point where when I taught Organizational Structure and Behavior in IMC Master’s Program at my former university I assigned THE PRINCE by Machiavelli. My students didn’t all appreciate what I was trying to teach them there, but in time I suspect some of them will look back and wish they’d engaged a bit harder.

    The upshot seems to be that you and others are right, and I’m assured that if I knew the whole story (and I’m assured this by people in a position to know a lot more about that story than I am) that I’d be far more supportive than this post made me seem.

    So if I seemed unduly critical before, apologies. And count me as “on the bus” – Jennifer offers a couple important e-mail addresses above, and I encourage all S&R readers to make appropriate use of them.

  6. I like Olbermann. He’s the first person in the major media who’s sense of outrage begins to approach mine. But MY GOD!!! anyone using “good night and good luck” is begging for comparison with a legend–one that one will inevitably lose.

    Plus, the “addressing the President like he’s listening” is a bit much. If POTUS spared anytime away from the umpteenth biography of Winston Churchill to watch he wouldn’t understand anymore than if Keith was speaking esperanto. And for that matter the running feud with Bill O’Reilly is unbecoming.

    Finally, Keith proudly claims participation in the “employee revolt” that forced (or gave cover to) MSNBC’s decision to drop Imus, that he stopped appearing on Imus’ show in 1998 (presumably when Lars-Erik Nelson first told the punditocracy just how base the I-man really was), then he spent a segment with Harry Schearer ostensibly about how the 1st amendment didn’t guarantee Imus’ right to keep his job.

    Strictly speaking that’s true, but to think there won’t be repercussions on free speech to be hopelessly naive. Already, there’s a mini-crusade for “rap to clean up its act.” Joe Scarborough and preening metrosexual Steve Adubato have long called for Rosie O’Donnell to be fired.

    Keith’s epitath may well read.

    “first, they came for Don Imus
    and I said nothing because I no longer appeared on he show.

    then they came for the rappers
    and I said nothing because I didn’t care for that music


    Just a thought.