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The only Countdown worth watching at MSNBC is "Days Remaining Until Keith Olbermann's Head Explodes."
No one has ever accused Keith Olbermann of being a journalist even though his current boss, Rick Kaplan, describes KO as a "news anchor." For sure, no one in the NBC News organization is confusing Olbermann with Huntley and Brinkley - or Lauer and Couric for that matter. The notoriously hot-tempered Olbermann is a sports guy who has bounced from network to network alienating supporters and burning bridges as he ravages the cable broadcast countryside. This Attila of the CableNets has grown increasingly erratic as his ratings nosedive has begun to approach terminal velocity. Over the past couple of months Olbermann has descended into a jouralistic netherworld where fringe web sites are news sources and fact-checking is no longer "cool" enough for the ultra-hip word stylist.
A few examples of Keith's free-fall,
On September 7th, Olbermann reported on an Indiana University study that found parents lose 12 to 20 IQ points after having children and quoted a Dr. Hosung Lee saying the report "explains why every parent thinks their child is the smartest kid in the class or the best athlete... even if that child is as dumb as a box of rocks or needs a calendar to time their 40-yard dash." And this was not just any story is was Countdown's "number one story of the day". Olbermann would have done well to trust the instincts of his next guest, Carl Reiner, who, when asked "Do you buy any of this?", replied "Not at all."
Countdown viewers may be forgiven for believing that Olbermann had read or even skimmed the study he was reporting on, or given Dr. Lee a jingle on the telephone, since he did not cite any source for his information. Despite presenting the news as original reporting, Olbermann had, in fact, pilfered the story from a single, unattributed source. For those of you who made it through high school this is sometimes referred to as "plagiarizing." And what was this single, unimpeachable source that formed the bedrock for Keith's MSNBC news report? The New York Times? The Associated Press? The New England Journal of Medicine? How about the online edition of The Hoosier Gazette?
Now every journalist worth their salt knows that it's a big time no-no to lift material from another source and pass it off as your own. People get fired for that in newsrooms all the time (see Blair, Jayson) as do their bosses (see Raines, Howell). In this case, Olbermann not only failed to credit his source but failed to verify that his source was even real.
You see, there is no such thing as The Hoosier Gazette - the online "version" is a satirical web site that features fake news from in and around Indiana. Had Olbermann even looked he might have wondered about articles such as "Indiana UFO sightings up 25% over last year" and "Jacko sells Neverland Valley, returning to Gary." Apparently, Olbermann's reporting was so lazy and sloppy that he didn't even bothered to visit the web site himself. Olbermann later admitted that he never contacted Indiana University or tried to track down Dr. Lee or a copy of the report.
Undeterred, Olbermann was back at it a few weeks later, this time slamming the host of the show which routinely trounces Countdown. On November 8th, Bill O'Reilly was named the number one "newsmaker of the day". In announcing the selection, KO said "Bill O'Reilly...told his audience that, on election night, at this hour, nine times as many Americans were watching Fox News Channel as were watching MSNBC. Actually, they had 7-1/2 million viewers at 8:00 Eastern last Tuesday. We have we had 2.6. That wouldn't be nine time as many. That would be less than three time as many. It's too bad Billy isn't as good with a calculator or a brain as he is with a loofah."
One problem. O'Reilly never said it. On Thursday, November 4th, during an interview with Bernard Goldberg - a little irony here as Goldberg has authored two books which sum up KO nicely - "Bias" and "Arrogance" - O'Reilly said "last night, on the Fox News Channel, at this hour, eight o'clock, the Factor time, nine times as many Americans watched us as MSNBC". In other words, O'Reilly was referring to Wednesday, November 3rd not election night, Tuesday, November 2nd. O'Reilly was right; Olbermann got it wrong. Too paraphrase, too bad Keith isn't as good with a transcript or a brain as he is with making up the news.
So, how did Olbermann get it wrong again? KO thinks of the internet as a sort of a virtual Burger King where, if you look hard enough, you can always "have it your way". This time, Olbermann pulled his "quote" off TVNewser, a blog web site run by a teenager in Maryland. In yet another dash of irony, the young blogger was taking a shot at O'Reilly for calling Olbermann arrogant:
...and because no day is complete without a quote from Bill O'Reilly: On election night, "nine times as many Americans watched us than MSNBC," O'Reilly said late last week. "That plurality has never been seen before in the history in network news...With respect to our colleages at that other place, they're as arrogant as they get.
Again, Olbermann failed to credit his source and, as usual, failed to fact-check a blog source. Even worse, Olbermann was just plain sloppy. The post on the blog site put the words "on election night" outside of the quotes so even TVNewser was not, technically, quoting O'Reilly. In the blogger's case, he merely got the date wrong, and the central point of TVN's jibe had nothing to do with when the comment was made. In Olbermann's case he conflated bogus information with an inaccurate, partial quote, put it in on their air with fact-checking it and compounded his errors by attempting to rip O'Reilly for getting his facts wrong. And yet Olbermann is baffled that his show runs last in the ratings week in and week out.
Earlier this week, Olbermann aired yet another e-canard, this time a supposedly mysterious outcome in five "democratic" counties in Florida which went for Bush by large margins despite a large edge in registered Democrats. KO interviewd Erica Solvig, a reporter for the Cinncinati Enquirer. Viewers were told that in "Baker County, Florida, on the Georgia border for instance. 69 percent of voter registered Democrats. 24 percent Republicans. Yet President Bush got 7,738. And Senator Kerry, just 2,180. In Holmes County, in the panhandle, seven Democrats for every two Republicans in the district. Bush beat Kerry 6,410 to 1,810. In Dixie County, 77.5 percent registered Democrats, Bush 4,433, Kerry 1,959. Lafayette County, 83 percent Democratic, Bush, 2,460. Kerry, 845. In Liberty County, Bristol, Florida, 88 percent of registered voters there are Democrat. 8 percent Republican. Bush, 1,927. Kerry, 1,070."
To appreciate the art in this "Olbermann" you have to note that the story KO is discussing, initially, is a report out of Warren County which is Erica Solvig's beat in Ohio. He introduces her by pointedly describing the Cinncinati Enquirer as a "mainstream newspaper." With KO that's code for "check your wallet" you are about to be had. Solvig talks about a story she broke in Ohio. This makes sense, her paper is from Ohio and Warren County politics is her beat. Out of the blue, Solvig pivots and starts in about Florida as if she were a native. How did Solvig suddenly become an "expert" on voting returns in obscure Florida counties? That's never explained. Nor is Solvig's source. But Keith knows.
Olbermann has once again allowed MSNBC to serve as headquarters for the Cloud Koo-Koo-land brigade. In this case, the unnamed source is a fringe-fringe web site in Utah (fringe-fringe sites are sites so fringe that fringe web sites point them to show why they are "mainstream"). A "numbers expert" from outside Salt Lake City named Kathy Dopp concocted an "analyis" that purported to show inexplicable voting patterns in counties that used electronic voting and "proved" that Bush stole the election. This on site that a week ago was getting less than 50 visitors a day. It should come as no surprise that there are more than a few problems with the analysis not the least of which is that Dopp didn't bother to examine any historical voting data. If either Dopp, Solvig or Olbermann had bothered to check, they would have seen a long history of registered Democrats living in the Florida panhandle who vote Republican in presidential elections. They are often referred to as "Southern Democrats." How is that Olbermann, who actually participated in MSNBC's election night coverage was unaware that Florida's panhandle is dominated Zell Miller voters.
Last night, another blogger, Bob Fertik at Democrats.com, put up a post announcing some "political dynamite" as "the collective efforts of progressive Internet activists reached a critical mass" and sent it over to MSNBC. The news? Two fringe candidates (David Cobb of the Green party and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian party) were trying to raise $110,000 to pay for a recount in Ohio.
Are you detecting a pattern here?
Sure enough, old Keith bit and bit hard, leading his broadcast with a breathless update of the "voter fraud" story that he alone is now "covering" - and featuring the news that Cobb and Badnarik were raising money on their web sites (hint, hint) to pay for a recount.
For quite some time Olbermann has had the luxury of getting away with using his show to monger rumors of the web because no one watches his show (he gets about a .7 rating, or slighly better than the now cancelled McEnroe show on CNBC). But word is starting to get around that Olbermann is embracing the lunatic fringe, apparently determined to take the reputation of NBC News down with him.
Ann Coulter recently ripped Olbermann on the Florida Panhandle mystery - "...I guess we can add "math" to Keith's growing "I Don't Do" file, along with "Reading the Congressional Almanac," "Basic Show Prep," "Getting My Attitude in Line With My IQ"
The New York Times, hardly a bastion of the GOP, traced the origin of Olbermann's panhandle story in an article entitled "Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, Are Quickly Buried"
Dean Esmay of Dean's World notes that John Gibson has come pretty close to accusing Olbermann of fanning terrorism in Iraq.
Kevin Aylward at Wizbang blog points to Johnny Dollar's Place where another blogger traces the origin of another Olbermann reported baked fresh in the blogosphere. JDP even has the video of The Factor - Goldberg debate that Olbermann twisted as a pretext for slamming Bill O'Reilly.
Henry Hanks at Crooow Blog finds nothing new in Olbermann creating a pretext to slam O'Reilly.
Tom Biro at The Media Drop is wondering whether KO-Gate spells a big problem for Olbermann and MSNBC.