Moyers and Olbermann Savage Michael Savage on PBS

When you put two extreme liberals like Bill Moyers and Keith Olbermann together on tax-supported PBS, the consequences are likely to be ugly. December 14th's broadcast of Bill Moyers Journal, a weekly, hour long program, proved no exception.

Moyers chose to start his program with a half hour conversation with Keith Olbermann, a former sportscaster who, since 2003, has anchored an increasingly strident left wing nightly news and commentary program on MSNBC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann. (From 1997-'98, Olbermann had a similar show on MSNBC in the same time slot but he quit -- and established his cachet with the left -- after protesting the network's policy of reporting on the scandals that were leading to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.)

Moyers' gushing introduction of Olbermann on December 14 was classic Moyers-spin. From the transcript at PBS' Web site:

Despite the clutter and conglomeration in commercial broadcasting a new voice occasionally emerges that proves the exception to the rule. The rule is either echo right-wing ideology or bow your knee to the god of "objectivity," meaning you simply counter a pound of official propaganda with an ounce of counter spin. Jon Stewart broke this mold with his daily show on comedy central. And now MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has done the same for cable news.
On what planet has Bill Moyers been living? American broadcasting is either right wing or objective? I beg your pardon, Mr. Moyers, but what about CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, NPR, Air America and their well-documented, endemic left wing bias?

After about eight minutes describing how his "anger" had led him to mercilessly attack Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and so on, Olbermann turned his attention to Michael Savage -- a man whom the left, and many on the right for that matter, love to hate:

There were circumstances in this [Olbermann's MSNBC Countdown] show, there was one occasion where I was prepared to go out the door an hour before one of the shows because we had one of those conflicting moments. This is very early on again. This is 2003. When we were all still in that kind of, "Gee, should we suspend our disbelief? What if he's-- what if George Bush is right and this is the kind of threat that he portrays?" He-- it's probably exaggerated because he's a politician, number one. But number two, what if he's right? I think a lot of us were saying, "Well, okay, let's just tread gently." MSNBC hired a guy named Michael Savage. And he came on and did-- not only did he do a show once a week that was basically just spattering invective on people he didn't like and these people change from week to week, but it was terribly produced. I mean, it was an awful show. And he was-- he looked like he was standing in front of a chalkboard somewhere in somebody's basement with a camera. One night I walk in, my boss is out of town. And the guy actually running the show at the point said, at countdown, said-- "We're going to run a Michael Savage commentary. I've got to go now." And he ran away. And I said, "We're not running a Michael Savage commentary. That's in the"-- and he was gone. I called my agent. Now, I'd just gotten back to MSNBC. I left, as you said, under the Lewinsky circumstances. A lot of bridges were burned. Came back. Everybody hugged. It's three or four months in. I'm enjoying it. I think I'm making a difference. I'm getting that little sort of skeptical thing back. And here we're going to have a Michael Savage commentary in the middle of it. So I finally got a hold of my agent. And I said, "I have to walk out, don't I?" She said, "Yep, you do." And I said, "Yeah, I guess so. Well, it was a nice career." I'm going to try to get a hold of my boss in Washington. And I called him and I said, "I can't"-- he said, "Can you find some reason not to run it that doesn't pertain to the politics?" I said, "Are you saying to me if I go and look at it and it doesn't meet production standards we don't have to run it?" "I might be saying that, yes. Just give me something to work with." And I went in and looked at it and the guy repeated himself nine times. So I called the guy back and said-- "It's very badly produced. He's repeating himself. I don't think you should run it." "Okay, good enough." But those things still happen, and I'm sure they'll still happen.
It's not clear why Olbermann should cite his behavior in this instance as a badge of honor. First, in 2003 both and he Savage had shows on MSNBC. It is routine for a host on a cable TV news channel program to have on his show, as a guest, another of the network's hosts, politics or ideology aside. This  is typical of almost all on air media professionals. On MSNBC, for example, right of center host Tucker Carlson often has left of center host Chris Matthews on, and vice versa. Conservative Pat Buchanan, also employed by MSNBC, appears on virtually all of the channel's shows.

The second point is that Olbermann (and presumably Moyers), both of them so quick to condemn Bush et al for allegedly trying to stifle debate, are content with Olbermann's effort to censor Savage, to keep his commentary off MSNBC prime time. (At the time, until he was fired by MSNBC later in 2003, Savage's weekly program was on for a half hour on Saturday afternoons Pacific Time.)

Olbermann seems to be confessing conspiring with his unnamed boss to find a nonpolitical pretext to deep six Savage's commentary. At best he was insincere, alleging to management that his objection was due to lousy production values rather than the fact that he (Olbermann) couldn't stand Savage and wouldn't tolerate him on his show.

Instructive, if disconcerting, candor about dishonesty and pretext-finding from two liberals posing as morally superior.

Peter Barry Chowka is a widely published writer and investigative journalist who writes about politics, health care, and the media. His Web site is
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