He said/She said/Shut Up

by digby

Joan Walsh has a great post up today about the town hall nonsense and taking the press to task for its coverage of the health care debate in general (while giving Stephen Pearlstein a well deserved shout-out for this excellent article in the Washington Post.) She rightfully singles out the New York Times for its tepid, he said/she said (and tardy) coverage today of the town hall mobs and rightfully so. It just doesn't get any worse than this:

The tenor of some of the debates has become extreme. Ms. Pelosi has accused people at recent protests of carrying signs associating the Democratic plan with Nazi swastikas and SS symbols, and some photographs showing such signs have been posted on the Web.

Far be it for the NY Times to actually assess whether such things are true. Maybe Pelosi's lying when she "accuses" people of such things. After all, the pictures that have been posted on the web don't prove anything , right? Or the videos. Or the non-stop Nazi analogies coming from talk radio gasbags and Fox News nutballs. It just too much to expect that the NY Times would actually investigate such a charge and report on their findings.

But then I'm finding that media is behaving even more irresponsibly than usual, particularly in the cable gasbag world. For instance, take the GE/Newscorp scandal, which Glenn Greenwald has analyzed extensively. Here's the latest from today's NY Times:

Executives at two of the country’s largest media companies are still trying to salvage what was essentially a cease-fire between MSNBC and the Fox News Channel.

The two cable news channels temporarily resumed their long-running feud this week after The New York Times reported that their parent companies, General Electric and the News Corporation, had struck a deal to stop each other’s televised personal attacks.

Fox News executives felt that MSNBC had broken the deal when Keith Olbermann, in an apparent show of independence, insulted his 8 p.m. rival, Bill O’Reilly, and the News Corporation’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, on Monday. On his show, “Countdown,” Mr. Olbermann called Mr. O’Reilly a “racist clown.”

Mr. O’Reilly responded with his own attack two days later on his program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” where he claimed that G.E., through MSNBC, was “promoting the election of Barack Obama and then seeking to profit from his policies.”

The chief executives at General Electric, whose NBC News division operates MSNBC, and News Corporation, which owns Fox News, reached an unusual agreement last spring to halt the regular personal assaults on each other’s channels.

Eric Burns, the former host of Fox’s media criticism show “Fox News Watch” and the author of “All the News Unfit to Print,” said, “Even in an age where there seemed to be no boundaries, people at the very top of two networks thought, ‘Well, I guess there are boundaries, because they’ve been crossed.’ ”

Let's just stop right there. It's ok for the likes of Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly to compare liberals to Nazis and incite poeple to murder doctors, but things have really gone too far when they start criticizng corporations and insulting talk show hosts? Can everyone see just how absurd this is?

As I wrote before, the fact that NBC was willing to shut down criticism of O'Reilly in order to protect their corporate brand and keep Fox from sending angry mobs to their CEOs house and shareholder meetings is another sign of the corruption of journalism by its corporate owners. On the heels of the Washington Post Pay2Play scandal, it's a stunner.

But as bad as that is, I still just can't get past the fact that Roger Ailes went nuclear on NBC merely to protect Fox's insane gasbags from insults.

The deal extends beyond the prime-time hour that Mr. Olbermann and Mr. O’Reilly occupy. Employees of daytime programs on MSNBC were specifically told by executives not to mention Fox hosts in segments critical of conservative media figures, according to two staff members. The employees requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal matters.


Frustrated by the refusal by NBC’s chief executive, Jeffrey Zucker, to halt the attacks on Mr. O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, personally instructed Mr. O’Reilly’s program to aim at Mr. Immelt, people familiar with the situation said.

Peace talks, such as they were, resumed in the spring between G.E. and News Corporation executives. At a lunch in April, Mr. Ailes and Mr. Immelt agreed to tone down the attacks. It was not visible to viewers until after Mr. Immelt and Mr. Murdoch shook hands at an off-the-record conference sponsored by Microsoft in May and word of a cease-fire trickled down to both news divisions.


In the months after, when MSNBC would say something that strained the agreement, Fox News would respond accordingly, and vice versa.

In July, after Mr. Olbermann condemned Fox’s Glenn Beck for letting a guest assert that a terrorist attack in the United States might be a good thing, Mr. Beck booked a segment about G.E. and declared that a “merger between G.E. and the Obama administration” was “nearly complete.”

After the detente was reported by The Times on Monday, the fighting resumed and Mr. Olbermann claimed there was no deal among the parent companies. That was met by heated skepticism among bloggers.

Two days later, Mr. O’Reilly had his turn. His news hook: The Securities and Exchange Commission had fined G.E. $50 million on charges of misleading investors. And on Thursday, Mr. O’Reilly showed Mr. Immelt’s and Mr. Zucker’s faces and wondered how long they could allow “this barbaric display” — that is an Olbermann reference — “under the NBC News banner."


“At this point,” a Fox spokeswoman said Friday, “the entire situation is more about major issues at NBC and G.E. than it is about Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann.”

Nice little corporation you've got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

Again, I am not defending GE. Their behavior is worse than cowardly and it should bar them from media ownership. But the thuggish behavior of Fox for the trivial purpose of protecting Glen Beck and Bill O'Reilly strikes me as bordering on psychotic. These demagogues are out there every night fomenting revolution, inciting violence and assassinating the characters of everyone they consider an "enemy." And their bosses are blackmailing those who criticize them for this with thinly veiled threats to unleash the wingnut mobs on the corporation and its executives.

And the corporation is capitulating. After all, GE is not without its resources. It could, presumably, unleash hell on News Corps the same way if it chose to play Ailes' game. It's not like Rupert Murdoch is beyond criticism. But they won't because they know that Fox can mobilize its viewers in ways that NBC can't -- and the executives just don't think freedom of the press is worth fighting for: it's not a profit center.

This is a serious problem. If Ailes can shut down criticism of its network by blackmailing the corporations that own the others, then they are exerting a form of corporate power that far outstrips any other, at least in the political realm. Fox News, by successfully blackmailing GE, has sent a message. And the rest of the corporate owned media have undoubtedly received it. Don't cross them --- or their agenda --- because there will be hell to pay. With the media in financial turmoil, that's a powerful message indeed.

One can't help but notice that while the NY Times mentioned in passing that Limbaugh had commented on a supposed similarity between Obama's health care logo and Nazi symbols (which was the most benign of such things he said all week) they didn't mention the numerous examples of the Hitler imagery coming from Fox News or that Glen Beck's web site is credited with getting the mobs out in force.