Oct 27 2005

Too Many Liberals?

Olbermann says MSNBC bosses upset by liberal guests

MSNBC host Keith Olbermann recently revealed that network bosses were upset when he had two liberal guests too close together on his show in September 2003.

Speaking on October 25 to comedian and talk show host Al Franken, Olbermann said the following:

You were good enough to come on this newscast with me late in the summer of 2003. It was August or September. And by coincidence, either the next day or the day before, Janeane Garofalo had been a guest on the newscast. And I got called into a vice president‘s office here and told, “Hey, we don’t mind you interviewing these guys, but should you really have put liberals on, on consecutive nights?”

Olbermann added, “Al, can you believe that the country was actually at that point that recently?” Later he would answer his own question, saying, “Thank goodness we have steered out of that time.”

Franken was interviewed on September 2, and Garofalo on September 4. Apparently having them both on over three days–a period of time in which Olbermann’s show interviewed a total of 9 guests–was grounds for being called on the carpet at MSNBC.

This incident is consistent with the phobia MSNBC executives have displayed about hosts featuring too many left-of-center views. Phil Donahue’s talkshow was cancelled in February 2003–despite being the channel’s highest-rated show at the time–explicitly for his left-of-center political views. An internal management memo worried that his program could become “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda” (All Your TV, 2/25/03).

As FAIR founder Jeff Cohen–who went on to be a senior producer on MSNBC‘s Donahue show–explained to the American Journalism Review (12/04-1/05): “In the last months of Donahue, we were ordered to book more right-wing guests than left-wing, more pro-war than antiwar to balance the liberalism of host Phil Donahue.” Cohen added that orders that Donahue‘s guestlist favor conservatives were stated repeatedly to the show’s staff.

Cohen also noted that such dictates for counterbalance did not seem to apply to every MSNBC show: “Joe Scarborough is a current MSNBC right-wing host, and there are no orders from management demanding that his guest list favor the left wing.”

But has MSNBC truly “steered out of that time,” as Olbermann suggests? If MSNBC management were genuinely worried about ideological balance, then the fact that the channel currently has two one-hour programs hosted by well-known conservatives (Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough) and none hosted by liberals would be of considerable concern. Or MSNBC could fret over Hardball‘s right-leaning panel discussion after a 2004 election debate (FAIR Action Alert, 10/12/04), or the Hardball “town meeting” on the Iraq war that skewed heavily towards the pro-war side (FAIR Action Alert, 6/29/05). The group Media Matters for America (10/21/05) recently documented that Hardball‘s discussions of the Plame Wilson leak case frequently skewed to the right, citing nine examples of panels that included only conservatives, or conservatives “balanced” by centrists; the group found only one case where a panel similarly leaned to the left.

Having too many conservatives on, it seems, doesn’t bother anyone in power at MSNBC.

(Read the Olbermann transcript at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9827774/)