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    October 21, 2007
    Open Thread: First in Florida Republican Debate

    Happening now. The infamous, deplorable Keith Olbermann will smear the participants tomorrow with cherry-picked video blipverts, so get your reactions to the proceedings in now.




    Posted by johnny dollar | Permalink | Comments (52) | | View blog reactions

    November 18, 2006
    Judges Rule in OlbyWatch Debate: We Have a Winner!

    Recently, Doug Krile and OlbyWatch Editor Robert Cox debated the burning question Does Olbermann blurring the line between news, comedy and commentary undermine the NBC News Brand?. After a spirited debate going four rounds, we then convened an expert panel of judges to critique the debate and declare a winner:

    Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg Times, The Feed

    Dr. Victoria Zdrok, Penthouse, SexySexpert.com, PlanetVictoria.com

    Aaron Barnhart, Kansas City Star, TV Barn

    Steve Spruiell. NRO's Media Blog

    Now the results are in.

    The envelope please...

    __________________

    Eric Deggans

    Deggans is the television critic at the St. Petersburg Times where he writes a daily column on the TV page. His stories appear frequently in the Floridian and entertainment sections. He blogs at The Feed, a blog on TV, media and modern life. Deggans has served as music, media and TV critic at various times over 10 years. He also writes for the Huffington Post and Newsmax.

    "I don't think either side won, to be honest. First, let's note that, even though Countdown's ratings are rising. Olbermann's audience is infinitesimal compared to the network's ratings. Frankly, Olbermann will not affect NBC's news brand because not enough people see what he's doing, especially compared to the audience watching other NBC News products such as Dateline, the Today show and Nightly News.

    Secondly, I'm not sure I see what the big deal is here. Everybody from Lou Dobbs to Brit Hume to Chris Matthews has walked a fine line between commentator and news anchor. Fox has pioneered the blurring of lines between commentary and news reporting and Dobbs and Matthews will be front and center for their channels' coverage of the midterm elections.

    Is Olbermann sounding lefty these days? Sure, he is. Do viewers make much of a distinction between him, Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough? No, they don't. And in that list I just wrote, you'll find two conservative commentators.

    If real news breaks during Tucker's show or Scarborough's show, you better believe they'll wind up reading it off the teleprompter like any other anchor. And NBC News has already featured Carlson, Matthews and Scarborough delivering political analysis on the Today show right alongside Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, further blurring the lines between commentary and news reporting.

    Hate to be the Debbie Downer here dudes, but the cable news audience has already decided it doesn't care about this kind of role blending -- and if they don't care, cable news executives don't care either. And expecting a guy like Olbermann to stop his shtick when it is sparking ratings is like expecting somebody to stuff toothpaste back in the tube: an impossibility.

    Lastly, I can't believe I've been included with such a cool group of judges. I'm sure they'll have much more compelling thoughts about this whole argument."

    __________________

    Dr. Victoria Zdrok

    Dr. Zdrok is an editor at Penthouse where she writes two columns - "Vices and Vanities" and "Ask Dr.Z". Zdrok, a lawyer and pyschologist, is a leading "sexpert", dating coach and relationship advisor. She can be heard every Wednesday night on "Sex Connection" on Howard Stern's Howard 101 channel on Sirius satellite radio. She maintains a sex advice site at SexySexpert.com and a glamour site at PlanetVictoria.com. Zdrok holds the distinction of being the first Playboy Playmate from the Soviet Union (Miss October 1994) and was the 2004 Penthouse Pet of the Year.

    "Why should Fox News have the only "fair and balanced" newscasts on TV? Every well-read person to the left of Dick Cheney's speechwriter knows that Fox spits out neocon propaganda in the guise of "news;" but the average viewer doesn't have the time or the inclination to figure this out. Worn out by work, screaming kids and a nagging spouse, the average viewer tunes into the news mainly for a little entertainment and some quick headlines; and, in that environment, any strongly stated opinion sounds like the True Gospel. For this reason, the liberal majority in this country needs a comparable voice, and Olbermann fills that bill. He's the only newscaster in this country who could face down Ann Coulter in a mano-a-mano of cliched insults; and so the media desparately needs him! The news networks can't be "fair" or "distinguished" when they are dealing with a pack of lying hyenas armed with a bushel of Rovian sound bites. Olbermann's biting satire and "tell it like it is" opinions on the issues of the day are the only fingers in the dike which are today holding back the deluge of Right Wing hypocritical hyperbole. For that reason, he's a credit to the NBC News brand.

    All that said, I find that Robert Cox wins the debate on style and technique. He's wrong on the issue, but he defends his losing position with more eloquence and seemingly studied argument. Unfortunately, too many liberals these days engage in Cox's style of gentlemanly debate and argue for "balance" in their news, while their Right Wing opponents win all the propaganda wars. We all should remember that the Declaration of Independence was not based on "fact" ("All men are created equal" means slavery is OK? A tax on tea to pay for the French and Indian War was a serious imposition on Colonial liberty?). But as a piece of propaganda, the Declaration was one of the greatest manifestos in human history! If our Founding Fathers could write their "news" in the form of such propaganda, so should we who seek to uphold their values."

    __________________

    Aaron Barnhart

    Barnhart is the television critic at the Kansas City Star where his stories appear frequently on the cover of the Star's FYI and A&E sections and page one. He blogs at TV Barn. You can hear Barnhart on the radio Mondays at 4:15 PM CT with Paul Harris on KMOX-AM (now streaming live at Harris Online), monthly with Walt Bodine, on KCUR-FM and Mondays at 11 AM ET with Chip Franklin on WBAL-AM in Baltimore.

    "Doug Krile never engaged the debate. He didn't even get interested in the debate until Round Four, when he finally started to put some gusto into his arguments. Which were, mostly, that the ends (ratings) justify the means (KO's peculiar brand of journalism) and that TV news-talk is showbiz, so "lighten up, people." This, as Bob Cox noted again and again, is a pitiful justification for KO and "Countdown." As I argued in a recent Sunday piece the very fact that KO is succeeding in making inroads, at least at MSNBC, where he is now their top-rated personality, means that he could have quite far-reaching effects across the organization. This is not Geraldo redux, for those who remember his run of glory at NBC News in the late 1990s. Olbermann is anchoring the closest thing to a nightly newscast of record that MSNBC has, he is espousing what we can safely assume are points of view very popular among his peers, and for those two reasons alone no one should take his growing influence at NBC lightly.

    Cox also gets credit for bringing up KO's failure to attribute many of his sources, though the habit goes beyond left-wing blogs to include several of my colleagues in the MSM, at least one of whom has told me s/he will never write about KO again because "Countdown" lifted a clever piece s/he wrote, sans attribution, and turned it into a clever segment on the show.

    That said ... there are good arguments to be made against Cox, whose energy was wasted in this debate trying to rouse Krile from his slumber. First of all, his ratings analysis is weak, in part because he tries to argue KO's insignificance with it, a fact that is immediately run over by the sheer volume of complaint on this blog. You can't go on and on and on every single day about how KO is ruining MSNBC/NBC/journalism and at the same time insist that his ratings suck and it's the MSM's fault we're all talking about him. Well, you could argue both points at the same time, but everyone this side of Mark Koldys will assume you're at least half full of shit.

    It's not just the October ratings - third quarter 2006 Nielsens show that KO is the number one news personality at MSNBC. Is this in part because HUT levels (households using TV) are higher at 8 than at 7, when Hardball is on, and many more people are available to watch Keith than were available to Chris? Undoubtedly...but Chris didn't want to be in Bill O'Reilly's rear-view, either, so KO took the thankless time slot and reaped the reward. David Letterman's people, who have plenty of experience spinning Nielsens and wouldn't be bamboozled by an NBC ratings memo, recently booked KO on the show, a few days before O'Reilly appeared with Dave. Clearly they think he's a hot commodity. Yes, Dave loves sports and sportscasters, and a lot of the booking of guests these days is about keeping the host engaged, but still, if KO was a ratings loser, no way he gets on CBS.

    But to the larger point. You could argue that by reviving the bracketed commentary segment in a newscast, and giving it teeth (and not the false teeth you see on the "freeSpeech" segment of the CBS Evening Snooze), KO has made journalism matter again by tying facts to ideas. Every story counts on the "Countdown," because instead of exhausting his precious airtime giving you all sides and then more or less saying, "Stay tuned," KO's attitude is: You know what? We're smart people around here. We're soaking in this stuff all day. You viewers are pretty smart, too. You've got access to a lot of news media. What say you we give you the facts, then tell you what they really mean, and dispense with all this on-the-one-hand nonsense, and you check out some sources and don't be too surprised if you find out, hey, we were RIGHT.

    That, in a nutshell, seems to be the KO approach. Temperamentally, he's really not that far from David Brinkley, now is he? Brinkley was a first-class elitist snob, and did a poor job disguising that fact on air. And yet, millions watched. And journalism did not die a horrible death after falling in the shower. And by the way, Paul Harvey's being on ABC News Radio all these years has not been terrible for ABC News Radio, either (what's terrible is that Entercom radio recently decided they just can't find any room for Paul Harvey on any of the EIGHT radio frequencies they own in Kansas City, and so in this top 30 Heartland market you can only listen to him on the Internet ... but I digress).

    Those are arguments that should've been made, but weren't. Had they been made, the keeper of OlbermannWatch might have been forced to dig deeper and offer more than his usual points about how KO is ruining NBC News. As it is, Bob Cox did make strong if superficial arguments, which lacking serious challenge carried the debate."

    __________________


    Steve Spruiell

    Spruiell is a media reporter for National Review and runs NRO's Media Blog. Spruiell has a Journalism degree and a a Masters in Public Affairs from the LBJ School at the University of Texas. Spruiell holds the distinction of being both criticized by liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America and being award a bronze medal by Keith Olbermann as the the Worst Person in the World.

    "Doug staked too much of his argument on the hypothetical that, if the Democrats were in power, Olbermann would be just as tough on them as he is on Republicans. First, Olbermann's an ideological leftist; to the extent that he's hard on Dems, it's for not being tougher on Republicans or more committed to leftist policy goals. Second, we already know how Olbermann treats Dems when they're in power -- in 1998 he resigned rather than continue to cover Bill Clinton's impeachment for MSNBC. I think that to a certain extent, Doug has a point that news shows are going to have to mix more opinion and light fare in with their serious reports if they want to continue to get ratings -- mostly because by the time the evening news comes on, we've already read the day's news online. But there's a difference between hosting an opinionated, whimiscal news broadcast and believing yourself to be the second coming of Edward R. Murrow when you're really just a filthy, loathsome propagandist with an hour of cable news time to burn. Decision: Robert Cox."

    John Amato

    I am sorry to report that Amato backed out of his committment to serve as a judge not "at the last minute" but "after the last minute". Amato waited more than a week - until after I had published the list of debate judges on OlbyWatch - to inform me that he was no longer willing to particpate. I am not terribly happy about this as it will cause some (i.e., OlbyLoons) to question whether he had agreed to participate in the first place. For those doubters, you can email me and I will forward you a copy of my emails and IMs with John so you can judge for yourself.

    Reader Survey

    We also asked you, our readers, to vote as well. We asked "Does Olbermann blurring the line between news, comedy and commentary undermine the NBC News Brand?"

    A. Yes, Cox won the debate 75%
    B. No, Krile won the debate 19%
    C. Not sure 5%

    ===============

    UPDATE:

    Extreme Mortman: Cox Wins A K.O. Over K.O.
    Instapundit: A victory for Robert Cox.
    National Review Media Blog: Olbermann's Latest Smear, Plus I Judge a Debate



    Posted by Robert Cox | Permalink | Comments (76) | | View blog reactions

    November 4, 2006
    An OlbyWatch Debate: Does Olbermann blurring the line between news, comedy and commentary undermine the NBC News Brand?

    The debate between Robert Cox and Doug Krile began by asking whether Keith Olbermann's blurring of the lines between news, comedy and commentary undermine the NBC News Brand or not? The debate is now over and we move to judging stage where our expert panel will critique the debate and choose a winner. The votes will be tallied and announced before Monday night's broadcast of Countdown. And don't forget to case YOUR vote in the survey at the end of the debate (below)

    Olbermann Watch Debate - Panel of Judges

    Eric Deggans

    Deggans is the television critic at the St. Petersburg Times where he writes a daily column on the TV page. His stories appear frequently in the Floridian and entertainment sections. He blogs at The Feed, a blog on TV, media and modern life. Deggans has served as music, media and TV critic at various times over 10 years. He also writes for the Huffington Post and Newsmax.

    John Amato

    Amato is the creator and editor of the Crooks & Liars blog where he pioneered video blogging. C&L is one of the hottest blogs on the internet and consistently ranks among the top ten blogs in the world. C&L has been featured in the NY Times, Forbes, USA Today, Washington Post and the Huffington Post. You can catch Amato on CNN's E-lection Nite Blog Party this coming Tuesday. When he is not blogging, Amato is playing his sax and flute. He has played with or recorded for The Goo Goo Dolls, Ringo Starr, Duran Duran, The Knack, Eddie Money and many others.

    Dr. Victoria Zdrok

    Dr. Zdrok is an editor at Penthouse magazine where she writes two columns - "Vices and Vanities" and "Ask Dr.Z". Zdrok, a lawyer and pyschologist, is a leading "sexpert", dating coach and relationship advisor. She can be heard every Wednesday night on "Sex Connection" on Howard Stern's Howard 101 channel on Sirius satellite radio. She maintains a sex advice site at SexySexpert.com and a glamour site at PlanetVictoria.com. Zdrok holds the distinction of being the first Playboy Playmate from the Soviet Union (Miss October 1994) and was the 2004 Penthouse Pet of the Year.

    Aaron Barnhart

    Barnhart is the television critic at the Kansas City Star where his stories appear frequently on the cover of the Star's FYI and A&E sections and page one. He blogs at TV Barn. You can hear Barnhart on the radio Mondays at 4:15 PM CT with Paul Harris on KMOX-AM (now streaming live at Harris Online), monthly with Walt Bodine, on KCUR-FM and Mondays at 11 AM ET with Chip Franklin on WBAL-AM in Baltimore.

    Steve Spruiell

    Spruiell is a media reporter for National Review and runs NRO's Media Blog. Spruiell has a Journalism degree and a a Masters in Public Affairs from the LBJ School at the University of Texas. Spruiell holds the distinction of being both criticized by liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America and being award a bronze medal by Keith Olbermann as the the Worst Person in the World.

    ==================

    Olbermann Watch Debate Paricipants


    Doug Krile

    Krile is Corporate Director of News and Public Relations for Equity Broadcasting, based in Little Rock, AR. He blogs at "On Topic" with Doug Krile and writes frequently about Keith Olbermann and Countdown. Doug has 30 years of experience in broadcast news, both on camera and in news management.

    Robert Cox

    Cox is the Editor of Olbermann Watch who occassionaly does some serious work in the area of citizen media/journalism ethics. He also runs a legal defense program for bloggers and is widely quoted in the media.. He does not have decades of experience in broadcasting but does have the good fortune of always being right about everything which helps in debates like these.

    ==============================

    ROUND ONE

    ==============================

    DOUG KRILE: Countdown is unique in the manner in which it mixes serious news, commentary and light news features in one hour. It's obviously designed and produced to take advantage of Olbermann's personality, delivery and style. That's why, when he's not there, other anchors struggle to keep up with the format. I'm frequently impressed by Countdown's ability to devote extended periods of time to major issues that deserve debate and discussion. True, that discussion slants decidedly in a liberal direction; but, viewers know that. They watch either because they love it OR because they hate it.

    The recent addition of Keith's "Special Comments" was a great touch. Viewers are smart enough to know when he jumps from reportage to commentary. In the "old days", we [in the news business] wrote editorials that were presented well outside the news timeslots, fearing viewers would confuse them with "news". I would suggest that Countdown's positioning of the "Special Comments" is an attempt to confirm that the viewers are, indeed, smarter than that.

    ROBERT COX: While Keith may allocate some time to debate and discuss important issues, the "debates" are a tad one sided since they are moderated by a liberal host (Keith) and the guests who appear on Countdown are not booked to provide counterpoint. But let's set that aside for now.

    As for the liberal tilt of the show, how about a little "truth in advertising". Keith goes out of his way to claim that he is non-partisan, that he does not have an ideological agenda - that he doesn't even vote because he feels journalists should be as dispassionate about politics as possible. If you and I can agree that Keith is a liberal who hosts a show where the "discussion slants decidedly in a liberal direction" then aren't we also agreeing that when Keith makes these preposterous claims about his "objectivity" that he is stretching the truth a bit?

    That said, I agree with you that "Countdown is unique in the manner in which it mixes serious news, commentary and light news features in one hour". I would go further and say that the extension of the show online has been a brilliant marketing strategy. Promoting the show via Keith's own blog (at least when he was active), airing and crediting information from top blue blogs, pushing video out on YouTube and "Crooks and Liars", and providing special "heads up" notices to top left-wing bloggers have been very effective. And while I appreciate the idea that the audience is smart enough to tell the difference between a news report and a special comment without the words "special comment" flashing on the screen, the way MSNBC has constructed Countdown raises some serious issues of ethics and integrity for NBC News. I'd like to talk more about that and skip the "liberal media" angle.

    Countdown does not air on the Comedy Channel. Keith carries the title of "news anchor", Countdown is still listed as "news programming" and MSNBC is part of NBC News. Countdown is attempting to be the "real news" version of "fake news". And it goes beyond that at MSNBC, to Joe Scarborough becoming a news version of Pat O'Brien on The Insider. Imus just being Imus, mixing foul-mouthed, politically incorrect characters, newsmaker interviews and "stand up" reports from NBC News reporters.

    Isn't their the risk that the cumulative effect of the pushing of the envelope by Olbermann and his pals has a desultory effect on the NBC News "brand". If they are willing to allow MSNBC to become a snarky, tongue-in-check, imitation of a traditional news outlet doesn't that suggest to viewers that NBC News cannot be trusted to provide a straight-up, sober account of REAL news. Why should I trust Brian Williams when his fellow news anchor at NBC Universal is donning raincoats to do bad "Howard Beale" impersonations and hosting something called "puppet theater". Why should I trust Andrea Mitchell when she follows a racist, homophobic character, "Omar Minaya" on Imus as she did today? If they are not going to draw a bright line between "the news" and "the circus" why should they be surprised if viewers dismiss NBC News journalists as clowns.

    ==============================

    ROUND TWO

    ==============================

    DOUG KRILE: First, allow me to address a couple of issues raised in the comments. One commenter questioned whether my opinions reflect those of journalists and media management types. Answer: Heavens no! There are no "smokey, back-room meetings" where the media gets together to plan the approach to the news. Let me give you a bit of insight into my personal politics and my personal approach to my online opinions. I've voted for Republicans. I've voted for Democrats. I've never voted a straight party ticket. I'm an "equal opportunity" blogger. If the Democrats regain control of the House (or the Senate), but fail to live up to their promises, I'll be all over them just as ardently. Want a little "industry" prediction? Olbermann will do the same. If he didn't, the program would lose it's punch. This is not a Liberal vs. Conservative issue. At least it shouldn't be - it's Right vs. Wrong.

    Another comment questioned whether I did a "cut and paste". I did use part of my first post here on my own blog, to generate interest there in what's going on here. Guilty, as charged. Another is a former student of my wife. I hope you paid attention and learned well. However, my beliefs have no influence over hers. As I'm sure you'll remember, she isn't easily pushed around!

    Now, to Robert's comments.

    Let me agree with one of your points, Robert. It does bother me that MSNBC lists Countdown as "News". You are correct that Fox lists most of it's programs as "Newsmagazine" or "Talk". I wish MSNBC would do the same. Obviously, Countdown does not picture itself as a "newscast of record" to report all of the day's major events. The opening that asks "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow" makes it obvious that they're going after "hot topic" stories, the ones that generate discussion. And opinion.

    As for Keith's objectivity, I'll refer you back to my comment in the opening paragraph today - I'm betting Keith goes after the Democrats, if they get control of the House, but fail to clean things up. If he does NOT do that, I'll be surprised and will willingly swallow these words. I can assure that will be MY approach!

    Does Countdown dilute NBC's stature? Nope. And, obviously, NBC doesn't think so, given the plans to move MSNBC to 30 Rock and do MORE cross-over usage of reporters and other talent. If nothing else, the NBC reporters who appear on Countdown lend some legitimacy to the coverage.

    Let me close with something from longtime Washington Post reporter, Walter Pincus. He spoke in Little Rock this past week. From the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story: In contrast to the partisan press of the past, he said, most journalists neither desire nor believe that they can help shape government themselves...On Monday, Pincus' concern was not so much about the sourcing of stories as much as reporters' tendency not to deeply analyze what their sources do and say. Instead, he said they simply print all sides of debate, without ever conveying whether one side has more merit than another. Much of what gets printed or aired today, Pincus described as "public relations." He also noted that "Fox News gains viewers over a presumably neutral CNN partly because people want opinions."

    ROBERT COX: Save your money. I am not going to debate a hypothetical but suffice to say there is no reason to believe that Keith will EVER go after Democrats the way he goes after Republicans - and plenty of reason to believe the opposite. He has cast his lot with the far-left. That is now his sole remaining redoubt of viewer trust. If he turns on the Democrats, WHO would watch his show? Moderates? Conservatives? I don't think so. As for Walter Pincus's view of the world, I can only laugh when I hear these MSM'ers complaining about how journalists are just stenographers for those in power. Funny how we never heard this when Clinton was in power.

    NBC News has always been my favorite news outlet. I grew up watching Jane Pauley and Tom Brokaw and John Chancellor and have always had my TV tuned to NBC when there is a big story breaking. That is why I find Olbermann's degradation of a formerly proud news tradition so disturbing. Keith's anti-news schtick only has resonance in that he is mocking that very tradition. Keith is trading off of something he had no part in creating, the good name of NBC News, debasing it for a few cheap "laughs". The "inside joke" of Countdown, what gives the show its' "edge", is Keith's contempt for serious news reporting. So, his mockery comes not at the expense of his audience or the subject of his reports but people like Huntley and Brinkley, Chancellor, Brokaw and the serious journalists who still work at NBC news today. Ironically, Keith pretends to pay homage to that tradition in the opening credits and his theme song and then spends an hour each night ridiculing that tradition.

    Some day (hopefully soon) Keith will no longer be associated with NBC News. And some day NBC may want the credibility of their news division back. But by then, I fear, it will be too late. And it is a shame that after so many people worked so hard for more than fifty years to build the credibility and gravitas of NBC News, we are now watching people like Jeff Zucker and Dan Abrams and Keith Olbermann squander that tradition.

    You say that NBC's plans to move MSNBC to 30 Rock indicates that NBC is not worried that MSNBC dilutes their news brand? That's one interpretation. Another is that that they are cutting their losses with MSNBC while cutting its knees out from under it. This move would not be necessary at all if MSNBC was thriving. One can only wonder what you will say if/when Keith and Chris Matthews are shuffled off to CNBC as has been long-rumored.

    ==============================

    ROUND THREE

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    DOUG KRILE: I'll stand by my original bet. I believe there are MANY people who don't align strongly with either the Democratic or Republican parties, but simply demand accountability of whichever party is in office.

    I, too, have always turned first to NBC for news. Tom Brokaw hails from my home state and I've appreciated his on-air demeanor and his "believability". I disagree strongly that Keith is debasing NBC news for a "few cheap laughs." If that were the case, wouldn't management have pulled the plug long ago, as they did with Donahue? Obviously, they see merit in what Keith does and see potential for it to grow. True, he doesn't pull the numbers that O'Reilly gets. But he does sometimes come in ahead of CNN in the 25-54 demographic. When the bosses see even flashes of success like that, they tend to stick with a product.

    Now, let's talk about the move to 30 Rock. The television industry is in a bit of turmoil right now. What NBC is doing is not unlike the centralized production of newscasts that several major station owners are doing. It's not ideal. But the options are worse - the loss of entire voices in some markets. NBC took a look at how they often had three reporters from three organizations lined up to interview the same person and asked "Why?" Why not have one person do the interview for all NBC news entities. Honestly, I've never understood why NBC tried to keep NBC, CNBC and MSNBC so "apart" from each other. Marketed correctly, each can continue with its own personality. Successfully, I believe.

    Finally, let me propose a scenario that will have some readers reaching for my figurative throat. NBC has made it very clear that they're moving expensive programming to the 9-11 (eastern) time slot, leaving "reality" and other comparatively-inexpensive programming for the 8-9 slot. There's long been talk of an hour-long early-evening network newscast. What would happen if NBC decided to give Countdown a double-run on both MSNBC and NBC? You couldn't get much more cost-effective than that. Many of you probably don't know that NBC has already offered Hardball with Chris Matthews to the full NBC network on election night. Just think about it.

    ROBERT COX: I am not even going to comment on the absurd notion that Countdown would be broadcast on NBC five nights a week during prime time other than to say that you obviously enjoyed yourself during sixties. The one consistent rumor I have heard with regard to Countdown is that NBC may move Keith to CNBC so he can be part of a lineup with Chris Matthews and Howie Mandell. How does that fit with your fantasy scenario?

    Before responding further, I want to address a few of the comments (yes, Doug and I are reading them but for purposes of this debate are not posting comments ourselves).

    "Anon 10/20 1:46 PM" makes a good point about Countdown's liberal slant manifest itself both in "omission" and "commission" which is why we at OlbyWatch regularly mention the "dogs not barking" (see, Doyle, Arthur Conan).

    Gary Krasner makes a number of excellent points - Keith is "serious/angry/elitist" and "a sometimes grim, sometimes angry, often sanctimoneous politically partisan commentator", He is right that Olbypologist trot out his supposed irreverence as an all-purpose defense of Keith's fact-challenged "journalism". Gary is right that it's not just that Keith is liberal but that he offers as "facts in evidence" things that are in dispute and does not allow anyone on his show who might place those "facts" in a different light or offer a contrary conclusion which makes his show an "electronic pep rally".

    I heartily agree that "cable news shows... all stink as a source of in depth information." The simple fact is that you can get more news skimming the headlines on Google News for two minutes than you can watching ANY television newscast.

    More to the point of this debate, Gary writes "Keith gets multiple billing as journalist, anchor and commentator" and that "news organization can lose credibility when it allows those lines to blur".

    Meanwhile, as James struggles to sort out what it means to be a journalist - to be a check on the executive branch, to serve the people, to unearth corruption, to save the world or whatever - he might want to note that we are talking about Keith Olbermann and Countdown here. This is a show that spent many weeks airing every unsubstantiated cuckoo "black box" theory about the 2004 election it could find, that has a habit of airing dire predictions about Republicans that never quite seem to pan out, that sees corruption only on the right, that has, to the best of my knowledge, never aired a single report that portrayed President Bush in anything other than the most negative possible light, and that routinely pilfers material from left-wing blogs (often without attribution). And while James fumbles around for a definition of what he does for a living, maybe he can address a simple question raised by another commenter - what happened to the notion of journalists REPORTING - telling the reader, listener or viewer WHAT HAPPENED!

    All of which brings us to Lynne who asks why the far right is "threatened" by "programming coming from the left"? You don't have to "far right" to be "threatned" by people like Olbermann hiding behind the supposedly objective journalism of NBC News to advance a personal political agenda. If Keith wants to trot out his Edward R. Murrow Award and claim himself to be a "journalist" or "news anchor" then do that and report the news. But if he is going to wrap himself in a "cloak of integrity" while advancing his own political agenda he OUGHT TO BE shown up for the partisan poltical hack that he has become. I think what most folks on the right believe is not that Keith is an outlier in this regard but the opposite - that the rest of the MSM crowd is just as liberal as Keith just not as willing as Keith to wear their sleeves.

    Back to Doug's reply.

    Clearly Doug, you are "projecting" when you say that "MANY people" demand accountability of whichever party is in office. Whether this is true or not of you or others there is no evidence of this with regards to Keith Olbermann. While the GOP may be in power, it does not mean that there are no Democrats in office or who have "accountability" issues, right? In its three plus years on the air, Countdown has habitually ignored or tamped down coverage of "accountability" stories involving Democrats (Harry Reid, William Jefferson, Sandy Berger, James McGreevey, John Murtha, James Traficant, Alan Hevesi, etc.). At the same time, Countdown runs to report on any angle of any story that might in some way cast a negative light on Republicans (Plamegate, Abramoff, David Kuo, Foley, etc.). There is just no comparison.

    I am glad we agree that the "bosses at NBC" will stick with Keith so long as he shows "flashes" of ratings success (where "success" is conveniently defined as occasionally blipping up from third or fourth place to second in a small subsegment of the cable news viewing audience despite coming in last in total viewers in every quarterly "book" since the show went on the air). You have just proved my point. Knuckle-heads like Zucker and Abrams are not interested in journalistic integrity, the tradition of excellence at NBC or protecting the "NBC News" brand. They care about one thing - ratings - and are willing to sacrifice everything, including the integrity of the news division at NBC, to increase them. Ironically, they now find themselves with neither integrity nor ratings at both MSNBC and NBC.

    And now that I think about it, Zucker's colossal failure at NBC, which has seen the Peacock drop from 1st to 4th on his watch, might explain why Zucker imagines Keith a "success" for coming in 3rd! One man's floor is another man's ceiling!

    Your commenting pal "James", likewise links ratings and journalistic integrity by noting that "NBC Nightly News and Today are the two most watched news programs in their timeslots" which, in his mind, somehow PROVES that "NBC's news credibility is well in tact". What he fails to note is that while NBC Nightly News is the top rated evening news broadcast, its ratings are a fraction of what they were twenty years ago.

    Is it possible that the corporate decision back then to evaluate broadcast news divisions in entertainment terms (i.e. ratings) has something to do with that?

    Keith loves to put on a raincoat and play "Howard Beale" but the "hero" of Paddy Chayefsky's "Network" is not Beale but traditional newsman "Max Schumacher" (William Holden). And as I am sure you will recall, Schumacher is revolted by the idea that network executives, under the urging of the entertainment division, are going to keep Beale on their air despite the fact that he is quite obviously insane. Yet, Schumacher is ultimately seduced by the entertainment division, literally AND figuratively. When he finally comes to his senses, he realizes that his "great winter romance" with "Diana Christensen" (Faye Dunaway), the head of the entertainment division, is nothing but a soulless, one-sided relationship with a narcissist. He leaves Diane. But it is too late. He can't go back. He is alone, his best friend murdered, his wife and children alienated, his personal integrity in tatters and his career in journalism over.

    There is a lesson in there somewhere.

    ==============================

    ROUND FOUR

    ==============================

    DOUG KRILE: Oh, there's just so much to talk about. First, with regards to network news ratings - NBC Nightly news IS number one and, yes, ABC is nipping at its heels. Your point that its ratings are a fraction of what they once were is not a reflection of the product. It's because cable fragments the available audience much more than when all we had were three broadcast networks. You'll see the same in prime time entertainment programming. There are only so many sets of eyeball to be spread over all the channels. I don't believe there was ever a conscious decision made to evaluate news the same as entertainment (using ratings). When the ratings services appeared on the scene, THEY made the decision to analyze ALL programming, not just entertainment. There are stations that try to sell advertising without "buying" the ratings reports, but it makes a very tough task for sales people. Without the ratings, you're trying to twist arms to buy spots just because you're a "good guy" or because "you KNOW people watch us".

    Next, with regard to a possible move to CNBC - I could care less. Sorry, but I don't think it make one bit of difference which cable channel Countdown and/or Hardball are on. Not one bit. However, I don't think that will happen. Variety is reporting that NBC is already remodeling two floors at 30 Rock to accommodate a 24 hour news desk, Countdown and Hardball. Imus in the Morning will move its studio to CNBC's facility in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Speaking of which, let's talk ratings for a moment.

    Imus has been beating CNN’s "American Morning" quite consistently lately. What does that indicate? He's doing more political interviews? Perhaps. Because he's on MSNBC? I doubt that. A viewer revolt against what they consider to be a somewhat boring news product on CNN? That's a distinct possibility. Still, a win is a win.

    Now, we'll move on to Olbermann and the rest of the MSNBC gang. Even I am surprised by the strong performance in October. If the link makes it, read the numbers. If the link disappears, the short story is that Olbermann is up 61% over last October in the 25-54 demo and up 67% in total viewers. O'Reilly is down 9% and 22%, respectively. Hardball and Scarborough are also up, while their Fox News counterparts are down.

    How about "losing credibility" when the lines between journalist, anchor and commentary blur? Did you see Fox News this past weekend? When the supposedly studious "journalists" dressed up in their Halloween costumes? Now, talk to me about credibility.

    Yes, some lines are blurred. Others are crossed. I'm not particularly thrilled with the current state of broadcast journalism. I'm a "channel-changer". I watch a little bit of everything, stopping on what catches my attention. In many ways, I'm probably not much different from your normal viewer. If I find something I like, I'll return and watch again. Such was the case with Countdown. Will I argue that Keith is the epitome of a television "news anchor"? Nope. Do I like every vocal or physical technique he uses to embellish a story? Nope. Do I love everything Brian Williams does? Charlie Gibson? Katie Couric? In my many years in front of the camera, I grew to realize that some people would love something I did, while others would hate it. Do you know what one of the biggest debates in my entire career was about? Whether I should wear glasses or contact lenses. Yup. A news director told me to get rid of the glasses and it became a huge "letters to the editor" issue in the newspaper and with calls to the station. Did they care that their world was changing? Apparently not. By the way, I ended up wearing the glasses, again. Whatever works, works. That's why Olbermann was cranking out another "Special Comment" Wednesday night. And, why he will continue to do so. At least until the viewers no longer respond. Final note - lighten up, people! This ain't brain surgery! Every network tries to find a niche. Fox did it. MSNBC is trying to do the same for folks of another political persuasion. That's all there is to it. No grand conspiracy. No attempt to overtake the world. It's simply television.

    ROBERT COX: When I asked whether is it "possible that the corporate decision back then to evaluate broadcast news divisions in entertainment terms (i.e. ratings) has something to do with that?" you trotted out the same tired "cable/fragmentation" excuse used by those same news organizations, and their apologists in the MSM. While I recognize that "cable/fragementation" is part of the explanation it is clearly not the only cause. By that argument, shows like CSI, American Idol and Survivor could not pull the kind of share numbers they get - let along major events like the Super Bowl.

    That you continue to attempt to link "integrity" to "ratings" only serves to highlight the cost of NBC News tying itself to Keith Olbermann where - that MSNBC now has neither integrity OR ratings.

    Regardless, you have drifted far afield from the issue we set out to debate. This issue is not Keith's ratings or those of NBC Nightly News or the Today Show or Imus. It is not about whether Countdown originates in New Jersey or New York or whether it is carried on MSNBC, CNBC or, in your more delusional state, NBC. You have defended KO's blurring of the lines when he "mixes serious news, commentary and light news features" on the grounds that viewers are smart enough to "get it". Fine. I don't have a problem with satire, irony or mockery (I do, after all, run Olbermann Watch). What I do have a problem with is the way in which Keith Olbermann does all this while sharing the same title as Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, John Chancellor, David Brinkley, et al. This is not to mention the fact that Keith makes obviously false statements, gobbled up by a receptive batch of TV critics, to the effect that he is a non-partisan, disinterested observer in political outcomes when the exact opposite is the case.

    When you add this to what Olbermann Watch documents on a daily basis - the "factual misstatements", the misrepresentations, the obfuscations, and the glaring omissions - you are left with a highly compromised news division which has, as its cable news front man, a partisan political hack posing as a journalist.

    ==============================

    CLOSING COMMENTS

    ==============================

    DOUG KRILE: First of all, Robert, thanks for the opportunity to discuss and debate these issues. I do apologize for dragging things a bit off the original topic. It's difficult to not weigh in on some of the comments from your readers.

    One thought on the "audience fragmentation" issue. You are correct that shows like the Super Bowl and CSI draw big numbers. The Super Bowl is one-of-a-kind. CSI (I'm sure) draws a significantly smaller percentage of the total audience than CBS prime time shows drew 30 years ago. Before cable. And before "fragmentation."

    Integrity and ratings? Obviously, NBC has no concerns that using their "stars" on Countdown will diminish their integrity, nor that of NBC. If they did, Tom Brokaw would not be used on Countdown.

    Let me, once again, address your main issue of Keith combining serious news, light news and commentary. I'll refer you back to his opening line each night - "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?" He's going for the "water cooler" stories, be they serious, light or commentary. Countdown is not a "newscast of record" any more than Bill O'Reilly's program is. Personally, I'd prefer he not dabble in the entertainment stuff. But, obviously, it has an audience.

    Robert, I've read through many of the Olbermann analysis pieces that you and Johnny Dollar have written. You both, obviously, feel deeply about your animosity toward Keith. There are aspects of his presentation that bother me, too. I simply see more valid information during that hour, than you do. Also, please note that the MSNBC website refers to Keith as the "Host" of Countdown, not the "anchorman" of Countdown. I agree with you that MSNBC should refer to it as "news magazine" or "news/talk" - as does Fox.

    Finally, allow me to note the 25-54 ratings just released for Tuesday night, October 31. O'Reilly is #1 with 486,000 viewers. Olbermann was a solid #2 with 343,000 viewers. Zahn was a distant #3 with 209,000. Grace finished 4th with 183,000 viewers. Countdown is doing something that's working to attract viewers; viewers who enjoy the controversy and the attitude. Dan Rather was quoted today as saying "Increasingly, anything that's controversial is deemed bad for business" at the news networks. That's why he went to HDNet. I'm thinking maybe MSNBC has decided it's worth it to be seen in a "different" light from the other cable channels.

    Perhaps we can rejoin this discussion a year down the road and see how it ultimately plays out.

    Thanks again.

    ROBERT COX: Thank you for engaging in this thoughtful and vital debate in a calm, even tone - a tone so often lacking from Olbermann fans. Your analysis and insight only goes to prove that it is possible to be a Keith Olbermann fan without being an OlbyLoon. Unfortunately, that still does not make your analysis any more sound.

    Let me dismiss one point right off the top. I have never argued that Countdown pretends to be a “newscast of record�? or used the word "anchorman" with regard to Keith. What I have said is that NBC Universal lists Countdown as a news broadcast and that Keith's title is "news anchor". I am not sure why you are backtracking on this because you previously admitted that you were uncomfortable with this as well and now say that "MSNBC should refer to it as 'news magazine' or 'news/talk'". Regardless, if you will take the trouble of visiting NBCU's "Media Village" press relations site where KO is routinely referred to as "news anchor" in official NBCU press releases. Likewise, he has been described as such by NBCU executives in the press.

    Also, I don't harbor any "animosity" towards Keith. He has his good points and he has done some smart things both with his show and in promoting his show. I just think it is sad the way he has debased himself - and NBC News - in a desperate bid to get viewers.

    More to the point of this debate, your continued reliance on ratings data to make the case that Olbermann's antics do not reflect negatively on the integrity of NBC News as a trusted source of information only bolsters my case - you have no case so you are left to contend that because Keith has more viewers than he had last year or that he has more viewers than some other left-wing cable news outlet in a very narrow slice of the total cable news audience that this somehow translates into "quality" or "integrity". It does not.

    That NBCU executives are willing to do anything to save their jobs in a desperate attempt to boost ratings across their declining television empire does not speak to whether Countdown is an overt attempt to mislead viewers by presenting a hyper-partisan, fact-challenged, political hack as a journalist doing a news program.

    As you put such stock in the ratings, let's try a reality check, shall we? You note that KO had 343,000 viewers in the 25-54 demo on Tuesday, October 31st and this made him second in "the demo". That sounds impressive until you look at the total cable news audience that night. According to your source, TVNewser, there 4.1 mm people watching cable news at 8 PM ET on that night. Keith's "demo" audience represented a measly 8.4% of that audience.

    Not so impressive.

    As this is the sole remaining leg on which you seek to make your case - that we should judge Keith's "journalistic integrity" by his meaningless "gains" in a tiny fraction of the total viewing audience - I'd say this debate is drawing to close just in time (for you). I rest my case.

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    SOUND OFF - WHO DO YOU THINK WON THE DEBATE?

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