THE BLOG

Olbermann's Non-Denial and His Good Move

09/03/2009 03:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On his show last night, Keith Olbermann essentially issued a non-denial denial about the GE-MSNBC-Fox story, saying that he himself was "party to no deal" - exactly what he said in the original New York Times article. There's no reason to doubt Olbermann - however, as journalism prof Dan Kennedy suggests (h/t Glenn Greenwald & Jay Rosen), Olbermann's own personal lack of involvement in a "deal" is far less important than the simple fact that GE started trying to give blatant news-content orders to MSNBC's newsroom - orders that may have been followed in places well beyond Olbermann's control.

Certainly, the fact that Olbermann resisted those orders is good news - but again, as I said in my original post, this story wasn't an indictment of Olbermann - it was an indictment of the entire corporate-news structure of the networks in question.

Indeed, in Olbermann's non-denial denial last night, he didn't refute the quotes from General Electric management, he didn't refute that MSNBC execs told its producers that they "wanted the channel's other programs [to] restrain from criticizing Fox directly," and he didn't refute this report from TV Newser saying that the parent companies for Fox and MSNBC have been in negotiations for months.

Where Olbermann really shined yesterday is in his DailyKos blog post. After MSNBC management said they'd be happy to still have on corporate PR spokesman Richard Wolffe as a "political analyst" - a blatant insult to journalism ethics - Olbermann put his foot down:

As to Richard Wolffe I can offer far less insight. I honor Mr. Greenwald's insight into the coverage of GE/NewsCorp talks, and his reporting on Richard's other jobs. I must confess I was caught flat-footed. I do not know what the truth is; my executive producer and I have spent the last two months dealing with other things (see above) but what appears to be the truth here is certainly not what Richard told us about his non-news job.

I am confident his commentary to this point has not been compromised - he has been an insightful analyst and a great friend to this show - but until we can clarify what else he is doing, he will not be appearing with us. I apologize for not being able to prevent this unhappy set of circumstances from developing.

As I said originally, beyond the benefit of MSNBC providing a much-needed counterweight to Fox News, it's clear there are definitely individuals at MSNBC like Olbermann and Rachel Maddow who have a healthy respect for journalism ethics. And it's good to see them using the leverage they have to try to make sure those ethics are publicly respected. Though they cannot pretend that the media's corporate parents have no influence in news decisions, they can - as Olbermann has in the Wolffe matter - do their part to root avoid the worst transgressions.

So in sum, on the non-denial denial, I'm not that impressed. But on the journalism ethics score, I'd say good on ya, Keith. Oh, and especially good on ya for your health care Special Comment last night.