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Thursday, October 29, 2009

O'Reilly vs. Olbermann

The recent brouhaha between the White House and Fox News, and subsequent comparisons between Fox and MSNBC, spurred me to quantify an impression I’d had in the past: that primetime Fox News regularly has guests with opposing viewpoints, whereas MSNBC does not.

To that end I watched both Bill O'Reilly on Fox and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC from 8 to 9PM on Monday and Tuesday evenings. (Olbermann wasn't on Wednesday night.) I flipped back and forth to make sure I didn't miss any guests.

My impression was confirmed.

On Monday evening, most of O'Reilly's guests had conservative views, but he did have Juan Williams, a liberal, and also Mary Ann Marsh, a Democratic strategist. Williams generally tones himself down when on Fox, so let's count Monday night's tally as one and a half Democrats. On Tuesday, O'Reilly interviewed Joe Sestak and Anthony Weiner, both Democratic Congressmen. He interviewed Alan Colmes, one of Fox's two token in-house liberals. And he had on legal expert Jennifer Smetters, who argued vigorously with O’Reilly, although she didn't seem a political animal. We’ll call that three and a half Democrats for Tuesday night.

Keith Olbermann had on exactly zero Republicans Monday night. His guests included Chuck Schumer, Ariana Huffington, Chris Hayes (the Washington editor of The Nation), Richard Wolffe, an MSNBC analyst, and author Susie Essman. Tuesday night’s lineup also featured zero Republicans. Olbermann had on Senator Wyden, Rose Ann Demoro (from the National Nurses Organizing Committee), Howard Fineman, an MSNBC analyst, and Gene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist.

This trend tends to continue, by the way, for the next hour. Sean Hannity of Fox does occasionally have Democrats on (though generally not as many as O'Reilly), whereas Rachel Maddow of MSNBC has no Republicans on her show.

What does it say about a talk show host that he won’t allow any opposing viewpoints? Is he afraid to get into an argument because he knows, or at least senses, that the facts won’t back him up? Is it intellectual laziness? Is he afraid that the brittleness of his personality will be exposed by having to face an actual opponent?

Is it all of the above?

Liberals are always forever congratulating themselves on their open-mindedness. Yet one would think true open-mindedness would require at least hearing the counter argument. But neither Olbermann nor Maddow is willing to do this. (So much for "diversity.")

This is in keeping with attitude of liberals on campus, who will often shout down conservative speakers in an effort to prevent them from getting their message across. Part of the reason for this, of course, is their fear that an audience might be swayed by their opponents' arguments. (Conservatives on campus simply don’t do this to liberal speakers.)

In election years, candidates will often try to make it appear that their opponent is the one unwilling to debate. Fox seems to have won this battle.

Watch O'Reilly, and after a while it becomes apparent that crocodile smile exudes smugness. His driving force seems to be egotism. Watch Olbermann, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s driven by hate, the emotion liberals love to disparage yet themselves indulge in so frequently. With Olbermann, it’s his very lifeblood. You’ll never hear him say much positive about the left; he far prefers to spend his hour insulting Republicans.

There are also undercurrents of hysteria and compulsiveness that pervade Olbermann's presentation. He doesn't seem able to help himself: he absolutely must sneer at every Republican he mentions. On Tuesday night alone, Obermann referred to Rick "Mad Dog" Santorum," "Failed presidential candidate Fred Thompson," "Lead teabaggist Dick Armey," "apparent Adirondack expert Newt Gingrich" (who had gotten into an argument with other Republicans over whether to support the Republican or Conservative candidate in a local race), "streetwalker for the insurance industry" (in reference to a Republican who didn't support the health bill, I didn't catch the name), and "the torture President" (Bush).

The reference to Armey, for those unfamiliar with it, was Olbermannn's way of twisting the Republican term "tea parties," named after the famous Boston one which preceded the Revolutionary War, into "teabagging," a sexual practice among gay men. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other, making this a completely gratuitous and nonsensical reference on Olbermann's part. Had a Republican said this, he would of course have been accused of being homophobic.

When O'Reilly and Sean Hannity have Democrats on their show, they are generally polite, if argumentative. One gets the sense that this would be beyond Olbermann's capacity.

This isn't even an indictment of all of MSNBC. Chris Matthews, a liberal who hosts an earlier show, exudes earnestness and good will. Pat Buchanan, of all people, is a regular commentator. Unfortunately, MSNBC has reserved prime time for their most rigid, strident voices.

[This post was accepted by; here is the link:

I hadn't been sure what the etiquette/rules are for this, but the editor there, Richard Spencer, told me it was fine to have it both places.]


Anonymous said...

Once again, an outstanding post...your right on the money. As a regular fox viewer I realize they are slightly to the right. Whereas MSNBC is skewed way left! When the president of the United States has Rachel & Kieth in the oval office for 2.5 hours you know something has to be up there. Talk about getting your talking points ! I try occasionally to watch MSNBC for a short time but the hate and propaganda that comes out of that channel is to much for me to take. It reminds me of " Bagdad Bob" during the war. What the american people want is facts, and the COLD HARD TRUTH. We all know the future does not look good but please stop feeding us misinformation and spin. Your right about O'Reilly, its all about him, but having the number one cable show for 12-13 years does give you some bragging rights. I try to get past his smugness and just listen to both sides of the argument. Thanks for posting your views in a straight, concise manner and not sugarcoating it.
Mad Dog

John Craig said...

Tom -- Thank you very much. What kills me is that the White House says Fox isn't a legitimate news organization, but they say nothing about MSNBC, which, as you say, is far more rigidly extremist. I hadn't realized the President had had Maddow and Olbermann to the Oval Office for two hours. Wow.

Anonymous said...

That was an interesting analysis, John. I salute your bravery at sitting through Olbermann, who I don't watch. I do watch Matthews who is OK, but has a hard time letting his guests speak. I watch O'Reilly, but only in small doses. I think you characterized him well.

Generally I find facts and analysis in very short supply anywhere on TV. I think TV (on both sides of the political spectrum) has concluded that we're too dumb to deal with them. Thank god the internet is such a powerful tool for searching for information, but you still have to fight through opinion, spin and disinformation.

BTW, I think the White House stance on Fox only discredits them and makes them look like pouting juveniles.


John Craig said...

Thank you Guy. Sitting through Olbermann didn't require bravery so much as a strong stomach. You're right, Matthews does interrupt his guests too much, but he still emits good guy vibes. Olbermann emits pure snippiness and hatred.

Couldn't agree with you more about the White House declaring war on Fox.