Pitchforks and Torches

Every Hero needs a villain. And for Markos Moulitsas, the Villain of the Olbermann Window Closing is MSNBC President Phil Griffin:

Remember how I told you about Phil Griffin, and how he’s done everything possible to keep MSNBC from going the full liberal?

I rest my case. MSNBC has suspended Olbermann indefinitely without pay for giving political contributions to several candidates this cycle.

The Kos Case — repeated ad infinitum across the Web — goes something like this: Griffin is a Joe Scarborough partisan who grudgingly puts up with Olbermann because Keith made MSNBC a (relative) success, after years of failure. But Griffin undermines the left-leaning nature of that success every chance he gets, because it chaps his ass.

This should be easy to document.

Except for one problem: It isn’t.

Kos, it should be noted, is not an innocent bystander. He got into a twitterfight with Scarborough earlier this year, and was subsequently — what’s that phrase? — suspended indefinitely from appearing on the channel. (As far as we’re concerned, he never added anything to the conversation on Countdown, but that’s another matter.)

So let’s check his evidence. In his July post about his “blacklisting,” Kos put Griffin in the crosshairs:

With the impending acquisition of NBC by Comcast, Griffin fears for his job, and Scarborough is his meal ticket. You see, Griffin had nothing to do with Olbermann’s show, and had little to do with Rachel Maddow’s — a project spearheaded by Olbermann.

Kos links to a November 2008 New York magazine article on Maddow to make his case:

With Olbermann’s urging, Maddow, who had never even used a TelePrompTer before February, began guest-hosting Countdown last year, and soon Olbermann was pressuring Phil Griffin, his friend and producer, to give her Abrams’s slot. In July, Griffin told the Times he planned to give Maddow a show when the opportunity arose. “And a month later, when [Griffin] was promoted to president,” Olbermann says, “he did.”

He may not have had much of a choice. According to MSNBC insiders, as Olbermann’s ratings have risen, so has his level of power at MSNBC. “Phil Griffin didn’t hire Rachel,” says one person who works at the network. “He didn’t want to hire Rachel. Keith hired Rachel.” Olbermann plays down his involvement: “It was nothing more sophisticated than being the person who nominated her for membership in the club.” But he was the one who broke the news of Maddow’s show on August 19, on the liberal Website Daily Kos, writing coyly, “Yes, I had something to do with it.”

Slight problem here: MSNBC employs about five hundred people. And as any reader of Spy or early Gawker knows, the Manhattan media world is deliciously cutthroat and gossipy. You can’t take unnamed sources at invisible-face value — just like in politics, everybody has an agenda. This includes media reporters, whose agenda includes using unnamed sources to look like they’re plugged in.

But there’s another problem: Kos only quotes the second of these two paragraphs. He skips the line describing Griffin as Olbermann’s “friend and producer.”

This complicates things. You can’t have Heroes palling around with Villains. Unless Griffin is a wolf to Olbermann’s sheepdog, we’re having a hard time imagining the two sharing beers after punching out from a day of antagonistic mayhem. Something about the Evil Phil Griffin angle isn’t panning out.

Here’s what we do know: Phil Griffin and Keith Olbermann go back almost thirty years. Griffin was the producer for Olbermann’s first television job, at CNN in 1981 — when Keith was 22. Sixteen years (and more than a few flame-outs) later, Griffin was again the producer for Olbermann’s first show at MSNBC. A few more years, a few more flame-outs, and Griffin steps back in the picture: “But Phil Griffin continued to admire Olbermann’s on-air talents, and helped to bring him back to MSNBC in 2003, to do a new show called ‘Countdown.'”

This does not fit the Narrative.

Make no mistake: Phil Griffin is a Suit. While Keith was enduring countless episodes of Sturm und Drang, Phil was gliding up the 30 Rock elevator. He left that early CNN gig for the Today show in the Eighties. He was a producer for NBC Nightly News in the Nineties, and jumped to MSNBC when it launched in 1996. He reached Senior Veep in 2005, and finally MSNBC President in 2008.

But unlike, say, CNN’s recently departed Jon Klein, we can’t find any evidence of Griffin making in-house mortal enemies. He certainly has had to ride herd on a cantankerous on-air staff, telling MSNBC’s hosts to play nice with each other. And he definitely has had to deal with criticism from the traditional NBC News crew that MSNBC was staining their reputation — Olbermann and Chris Matthews were pulled from election hosting in 2008 after it got too hot in the kitchen.

That kind of intramural sniping is very easy to document, by the way. And it’s even easier to document that Olbermann, Tweety, Rachel and Lawrence O’Donnell were all on board for MSNBC’s midterm coverage last week. And that Griffin is quite proud of the new Lean Forward slogan, with a marketing budget and Spike Lee commercials to promote it.

This doesn’t seem to back the charge that Griffin is desperately trying to trim MSNBC’s sails before Comcast takes over from GE. If anything, he’s presenting the new regime with a fait accompli.

There is, however, one episode from Griffin’s past that Kos and others use as a trump card: Phil Donahue’s cancellation.

It’s a messy, unpleasant story. MSNBC hired Donahue in 2002 to great fanfare, but after a spectacular (for MSNBC) debut, Donahue started hemorrhaging viewers. By the following spring, he was gone.

That would be Spring 2003. You know, the Iraq invasion.

Like Olbermann, Donahue was outspoken against the war. And soon after his firing, a consultant memo emerged telling MSNBC to tack Hard Right, to out-Fox Fox. Donahue, like Bill Maher eighteen months earlier, was considered Broadcast Suicide — “a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace.”

Oh, and despite the audience drop, Donahue still had MSNBC’s highest-rated program.

Griffin, then MSNBC’s vice president of primetime programming, is credited as Hatchet Man in the drama. Problem is, if you want to crucify him for firing Donahue on February 25, you also have to credit him for hiring Olbermann — Countdown debuted March 31. Eleven days after the bombs started dropping. In Donahue’s timeslot.

Which, to put it delicately, seems to prove that Kos is full of shit: “Griffin had nothing to do with Olbermann’s show,” he wrote in July. “NBC/GE truly loves Griffin for holding the line against the transformation of MSNBC into a true progressive outpost.”

Well, yeah, except that every time we find an example of MSNBC moving in that direction, Phil Griffin is in the room.

But let’s grant to the Prosecution that Phil Griffin is also in the room when the pendulum swings back. If MSNBC had succeeded in building an audience to the right of Fox News, we find nothing on the record suggesting that Griffin wouldn’t have been happy to lead the charge. Things just happened to work out in the other direction.

In other words: All Company Man Griffin has wanted is to ride MSNBC to success. The horse doesn’t matter.

For all we know, maybe Griffin does bleed Blue, but puts career over politics. Or he bleeds Red, but prefers success over dogma. All we can say with certainty is that the Ballad of Evil Phil doesn’t fit the facts we can muster. Phil Griffin may yet prove to be The Worst Person in the World, but before we gleefully toss our script at the camera, the interns will have to provide better evidence.

After we spent all day Sunday working on this fucking monster, MSNBC announced that Olbermann will return to Countdown on Tuesday. Kos remains full of shit.


After we spent all day Sunday working on this fucking monster, MSNBC announced that Olbermann will return to Countdown on Tuesday. Kos remains full of shit

Let’s face it: there are enough liberals out there who don’t die a little inside every time Olbermann delivers one of his self-important “special comments” to justify his $7 mil salary. You don’t permanently fire a guy who brings home the bacon like that (and you can bet that MSNBC is still smarting from losing Imus).

Dear Nojo,

Thanks for the monster. I like reasoned discourse. It’s thin on the ground these days.

The new narrative – The peepul have spoken and the evil corporatist Phil Griffin has knuckled under before their awesomeness.

Whatever. It’s probably a welcome distraction from the election results.

Should be good for a nice ratings pop on Tuesday.

Nice work.

@libertarian tool: Whatever. It’s probably a welcome distraction from the election results.

Should be good for a nice ratings pop on Tuesday.

Nice work.

Dingfuckingding – that too jibes with Nojo’s well-crafted piece. Is it billboard time?

Speaking of pitchforks and torches, think I’ll get run out of the VA hospital if I wear my Tabitha Gnillort shirt? It’s time for her debut, and it’s a fitting one when you consider that I’ll probably be in that joint for at least four hours. I think the shirt will tell my shrink loads that I can’t tell him verbally, but I’m wondering how others will react. I’ll hide it under a hoodie and a jacket just in case. Meh. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke deal with me.

@JNOV: More likely they, like me, will have no earthly idea who you’re talking about/wearing on your shirt.

Today’s Bulwer-Lytton award entry, from the pages of nojo’s former employer:

The Willamette River snakes around Lambert Bend, separating the peninsula of farmland from its opposite shore in a horseshoe shape, like a thin band of blue cartilage lining a ball and socket joint.

The article, which goes downhill from there, is about erosion of farmland.

@Serolf Divad: it’s no longer “special” when one does it every fucking day. That may have been the truly insufferable point I reached with K.O. — my father and I were both loyal viewers.

@Signal to Noise: I was also a loyal viewer for a while but no more. If any show on a broadcast or cable network ever begins to discuss the differences between a human being and a corporation and why one deserves all of the rights of a citizen and why one deserves none of the rights of a citizen, then I’ll tune in again. In the meantime I just finished reading “The Jungle” and it appears nothing has really changed since the boom days of the big trusts.

@Mistress Cynica: Holy mixed metaphors, Batman! Glad to see the reporter is putting his/her MFA to good use!

Semi-related: Oh, fuck you and your ego, Olbermann. Apparently an unnamed exec says Keith wants an apology from the network he feels he helped make and wants the ethics rules changed because Faux News can give to whomever they want.

“In addition to an apology, Keith is demanding that the rules be changed,” an executive tells me. “Keith thinks it’s unfair that FOX News anchors can make contributions and support candidates and he can’t. It’s his money that he has earned, he should be allowed to do whatever he wants with it. What sort of country do we live in where an actor can trash a hotel room with an escort and drugs and Keith can’t donate money to people running for office he believes in? It makes no sense. If they think they can slap Keith’s wrist and have him to return a few days later like nothing happened, they are wrong. They picked the wrong guy.”

What a fucking peach.

@Dave H:

Re: “The Jungle” – isn’t Upton Sinclair on Beck’s chalkboard-shit-list for the unforgivable sin of daring to tell the world what Big Business was up to?

@Mistress Cynica: Heh. File under so bad it’s great.

Wasn’t there a recent request for Shelly in a sari pics? Well this is pretty close: check out her Bhangra dance skilz (plus the POTUS doing some endearingly uber-nerdy dancing of his own).

@Mistress Cynica: She’s my gravatar. They likely won’t know her name, but they’ll get her meaning. Last time I spoke with a jar head here, he was kind enough to call me a “corps whore.” Brought back memories. “Join the Navy; ride a Wave!” <- another lovely name for female service members in the Navy. They call female Marines "WAMs" <- Wide Ass Marines. Hate this place. All those feelings of camaraderie I had the first time I was here have evaporated.

@Mistress Cynica: Jeb, Jeb, Jeb. I hope that one didn’t cross your screen before print.

@Signal to Noise: If that proves true, I might as well start working on Wednesday’s doorstop. The ethics policy may be quaint, but it’s a handy thin band of blue cartilage lining a ball and socket joint fig leaf that differentiates MSNBC from Fox.

@flippin eck: What the Preznit shoulda done:


@JNOV: I didn’t join when I was a college drop out because (a) there was a real possibility that I could have been sent to kill other Indians in Central America at the time (early 80s)* and (b) my buddy who was in the Israeli army said that armies were the stupidest organization he had ever dealt with and that I would really, really hate it. I’ve done my national service working with the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, legal aid and as a prosecutor.

*Mrs RML’s cousin was an infantry instructor at the School of the Americas, btw.

@SanFranLefty: No MFA needed — the J-school teaches that shit these days.

@Signal to Noise: The public doesn’t see any difference between dumFux Nooz and MSNBC, nor do they value any perceived difference in professionalism, so why shouldn’t MSNBC-newsers be able to donate money to anyone they want? In fact, opinion polls and ratings confirm that the public believes and trusts dumFux Nooz even more, the more biased and detached from reality they act.

Unless the Establishment Media is willing to hammer home all day and all night that dumFux Nooz is a right-wing propaganda outfit, they’re not ever going to differentiate themselves, earn the public’s trust, and add value to the media marketplace via some random ethics policy. In upside-down, neo-fascist Retreadican World, being a thoroughly corrupt, deceitful piece of shit is seen as “strong leadership.”

@Signal to Noise: It’s his money that he has earned, he should be allowed to do whatever he wants with it.
Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh, right–Teabaggers and Republicans.

@Signal to Noise: Punchlines We Reserve for Future Use:

“Now we’re settling on the price.”

@nojo: @Signal to Noise: “Everybody else gets to do it. It’s not fair!” didn’t work on my grandmother when I was five, and it shouldn’t work for Keith now. If Fox “news” personalities are our ethical benchmarks, we have already lost everything worth fighting for.

@¡Andrew!: I never quote scripture, but I can’t get this out of my head: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”

@Mistress Cynica: I actually agree with you, but I’m sure you’ve noticied that the Retreadicans and their apologists/propagandists haven’t even had an ethics debate. Not in at least in over a decade or more.

If they did, it was by accident ’cause they thought the sign said “Ethnics Debate,” and they couldn’t stop shrieking about how all of society’s problems are caused by non-cream cheese-colored Americans. “Ethnics Debate: Should all Non-Whites be Exterminated or Compassionately Deported (to the Colonies perhaps)? We report, you decide. And later, the Hummuhsekshal Menace: Is Stoning or Hanging Too Good For Them? We’ll look at both viewpoints after the break.”

grumble grumble grumble. When did Stinque implement a punch-line reservation policy? I already had the comment written in my head.

@¡Andrew!: True, but as you also note, they’re winning with the connivance of other journalists who should know better — starting with the White House Press Corps.

I don’t expect MSNBC to be “balanced” — I expect them to cover stories of interest to their audience, to do so with the facts, and to editorialize at will based on those facts. As everyone says, Keef’s in-kind donations far outweigh his political contributions.

It’s not traditional (i.e., 20th Century, but not 19th) journalism — it’s what we used to call “advocacy journalism”, the kind alt weeklies used to be known for. Nail your opponents, but nail them fair & square — if you start cheating, you lose your credibility, even if I’m inclined to agree with you.

There’s plenty of room as well for Conservative Advocacy Journalism, following the same principles. Fox is bad not because I disagree with them, but because they’re fundamentally a propaganda outfit. I can’t trust what they report, just like I can’t trust Kos.

The NBC News ethics policy may be an artifact of an older approach to broadcast journalism, but it’s still highly useful in our Brave New Media World. If you learn that reporters or ranters are placing bets behind the scenes — without disclosure — they’re undermining their own credibility, just like when they omit an important detail from a story that doesn’t fit the narrative. Trust is all, advocacy or not.

Bottom line: If Olbermann sticks to his guns on this, I’ll have a very difficult time differentiating what he does from Beck shilling for Goldline. Yes, you can map out important distinctions between the two, but you really, really don’t want to go down that road.

@Signal to Noise: The source looks a little iffy for that story. I cannot believe that even Olbermann would make that demand. It would completely undermine Maddow’s rant. She would not have gone down that road if KO was really demanding Fox-slime-parity. It strains credibility.

@nojo: You like the “left of Kucinich, right of Sanders” positioning”? I got a chuckle out of that.

@nojo: Yes, but it was a low-blow to describe us as a blog that “sits well left of Dennis Kucinich and a bit right of Bernie Sanders.” I’ll have you know libertarian tool that I voted yes on Prop. L! And our ginger-loving FlyingChainSaw would point out that he’s sitting wherever Mrs. Kucinich may be. Other than that nit-pick, good post.

@libertarian tool: Yeah, I’m already on record fretting about “inside sources” with this story — I’m not sure how much credibility to extend to “AOL’s Popeater blog”.

But the “insider” as quoted at length, so I’ll grant it’s a real insider. However: When you do that, you should provide some context, similar to how the NYT does it. (Which may not be ideal, but it’s better than nothing.)

To the point: “It would completely undermine Maddow’s rant.” Yes. Precisely. I don’t think she threw Keef under the bus with that, but revoking the policy would certainly put her in the headlights.

@libertarian tool: @SanFranLefty: Low blow? Nah. I smiled at it. I’ve already called myself a Lefty Fellow-Traveler (if not a doctrinaire Lefty), and I’m the last person who should complain about political caricature.

My problem is that if I stand to the left of Kucinich, I can’t see him. I’m 6-2.

@SanFranLefty: @libertarian tool: I like “not riding with the herd”, although – and I’m not a rancher by any means – aren’t herds driven?

@redmanlaw:Hmmm. Me neither, but I guess it depends on whether or not you’re cattle.

@libertarian tool: If you are cattle, then you run with the herd. I think it could be said that stinque does not run with the herd.

tj/how ’bout that Treehouse of Horror last night?

Speaking of Bernie

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he would look to block a merger between NBC and Comcast, citing the decision last week by MSNBC to suspend liberal anchor Keith Olbermann…

Sanders expressed concern that the precedent set by that suspension would result in MSNBC becoming more like Fox News…

Has everybody gone fucking batshit?

Executive Summary: Apparently so.

Really, I was willing to let this story slide after the original notice. But the progressive blowback has been (and continues to be) astonishing, pretty much validating every wingnut caricature of them. I’m left with little choice but to sell them all for medical experiments.

@redmanlaw: He’s saying we’re a steer, not a rancher.

@SanFranLefty: That description made no sense to me at all.

@nojo: I wonder if this is some form of PTSD after last Tuesday’s shellacking.

@RML: Yeah. Guess who I just ran into. Mr. Corps Whore struggling to get through the broken handicap entrance. I wheeled him to his destination. He didn’t recognize me. He probably doesn’t recognize much, but I guess I’ll always be a Corpsman.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: No no soy marinero. Yo no soy marinero. Yo soy capitan, soy capitan.

BREAKING – Wade Phillips out as Cowboys coach.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: I dunno. I first noticed the blowback on Twitter as the story developed Friday afternoon, and then of course I had a few bones to pick with Professional Progressive Bloggers on Saturday.

But this is proving bigger than your standard Keef Shoots Off His Mouth story, or even a standard News Entertainer media story. Something really touched a nerve, and I’m fascinated by it as well as astonished.

Someone on Twitter objected Saturday to my “Cult of Keith” headline, saying folks you disagree with are always smeared as “cultists.” (I don’t think she clicked through to the actual post.) I explained that by “cult” I meant “personality over principle”, and that seemed to satisfy her.

But you know what this suddenly reminds me of? Conan. Conan was a straightforward entertainment story, fun to play with, but ultimately meaningless. Team CoCo! Boo Leno! Boo NBC! The same thing is happening here, even though (to my taste) the context should require different standards.

Fuck. I feel another doorstop coming on…

Not sure what took so long. Watching the game I expected Jerry to fire him at halftime.

@redmanlaw: I think he or she got “riding herd on” and “running with the herd” confused and conflated them. Obviously not a rancher, or even someone who’s seen a western..

@libertarian tool: Right after the challenge he couldn’t make.

@redmanlaw: Exactly. It was a game until that moment.

@nojo: Speaking of Conan, who’s watching his show tonight?

@mellbell: My plan for months has been to watch tonight — first show! — then only watch later when the Daily Show NewsHour is on break.

That probably remains my plan, although tonight’s Daily Show should be real fun. I’ll just have to catch up with it tomorrow.

@Signal to Noise: You’re giving full credit to anonymous statements that prove what you already apparently believe?


@mellbell: I never watched him at NBC, except for his last show, so I’ll probably skip the new one, too.

@nojo: Programming update: No doorstop Tuesday morning. You may safely visit without fear of being smothered in 1,200 words.

@nojo: Akshully, Nojo, that was me. And yes, I did read the post. But my objection to the use of the word “cult” in this instance is that, like “soshalist” and “nazi,” it is used as a weapon, as in “cult of Obama” and “cult of Jon Stewart,” etc etc etc.

And for the record, I still don’t think it appropriate in this instance, because there are many people outraged about the Keef business who were under the impression that he was being singled out for special treatment, which is a principle issue, not a personality issue.

But — gah — can we move on and talk about kittehs and goggehs?

@karen marie wants to know — Fucking integrity, how does it work?: Ah. Fair enough. But I stand by the headline as used.

Civilian response is one thing, but the professional bloggers should know better. They all seemed more interested in cutting Keith slack because he’s our sumbitch, instead of addressing the issue at hand. And since they’re all paid for their work, they should have taken the (compensated) time to look into the (easily discoverable) background.

Instead, they jumped on the bandwagon and misled their readers — especially about Scarborough, about Buchanan, and about CNBC. They deeply disappointed me.

Kos, he just pissed me off.

Yeah, I agree about Kos. I stopped even bothering with his site back in 2005.

I’m going to bury this here, because it’s incomplete. NYT obtains Olbermann “open letter” to Countdown viewers, quotes only this passage:

You should also know that I did not attempt to keep any of these political contributions secret; I knew they would be known to you and the rest of the public. I did not make them through a relative, friend, corporation, PAC, or any other intermediary, and I did not blame them on some kind of convenient ‘mistake’ by their recipients. When a website contacted NBC about one of the donations, I immediately volunteered that there were in fact three of them; and contrary to much of the subsequent reporting, I immediately volunteered to explain all this, on-air and off, in the fashion MSNBC desired.

In unquoted portions, Keef apparently sez the ethics policy was “inconsistently applied” (and that he didn’t know about it), but that there should have been public acknowledgement.

I’m looking for the entire thing, but everyone’s quoting the NYT post.

Keef makes it official:

I also wish to apologize to you viewers for having precipitated such anxiety and unnecessary drama. You should know that I mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule — which I previously knew nothing about — that pertains to the process by which such political contributions are approved by NBC. Certainly this mistake merited a form of public acknowledgment and/or internal warning, and an on-air discussion about the merits of limitations on such campaign contributions by all employees of news organizations. Instead, after my representative was assured that no suspension was contemplated, I was suspended without a hearing, and learned of that suspension through the media.

You can nitpick, but it doesn’t set off any alarms with me.

The full letter is on theNYT link now – as a scribd document. Not much more than the excerpt. Nevermind.

I’d say he successfully threads the needle with this letter. If he leaves it at this level – everyone can read what they want in it.

If gets on his high horse and takes it up a notch, it’s going to unravel. What are the odds of that happening?

@libertarian tool: What are the odds of that happening?

Hey! Stay out of my computer! I’m not done with Tuesday morning’s post yet!

@Fearless Leader: the truly important thing is that you referenced Sam the Sheep Dog and Ralph the Wolf (played by Wile E. Coyote). Well done.

As for Keef — total passing of buck. He didn’t know about the rule? Shoot — how about forking over $2400 to a guy you interview? Doesn’t that ring a bell or two? If somebody at Fox had done such a thing (like, for instance, Hannity in re The Hypnotized One), Olbermann would have blown a gasket — and rightly so.

@nojo: I hear the distinct beginnings of a self-indulgent whine, and I am not happy.

What do they always say about Americans being a forgiving lot? Fall on your sword, Keef, and let the fan adulation heal you. Short of that, you’ll be Stewart material for long while.

@Nabisco: Which is why, after excruciating deliberation and thorough research, I’m watching Jon in an hour, and hoping I can stay awake for the 1 a.m. Conan repeat. I can’t wait until morning to find out the size of the new asshole Keef is bestowed.

@chicago bureau: @Nabisco: My memory may be faulty, but I don’t recall having an agent when I was a reporter.

@nojo: Not even an agent, but a “representative“. Does that mean that Keef lawyered up?

And after re-reading his triple-jointed mea non culpa, I can’t wait to hear how Harry Shearer features this on “Apologies of the Week”.

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