06 Nov

MSNBC’s Phil Griffith the Worst Person in the World

As Olbermann Joins Donahue, Banfield

Posted on November 6, 2010 by Juan Cole

 With regard to the ‘indefinite suspension’ of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC for having donated small sums to three Democratic candidates, here is a little piece of irony.

Olbermann began his long-running feature, “Worst Person in the World” (which he recently shelved) in reaction to a critic-consultant that NBC hired to advise on shows that needed to be canceled. He complains that NBC cancels shows at the drop of a hat without giving them a chance to build an audience, almost capriciously: “Our network used to change shows every hour and a half. I don`t mean we have a new show because the old one is over. It was just we would cancel everybody and have another new show.” When the consultant urged that a show be canceled after only two weeks, Olbermann thought, that’s it, he’s the worst person in the world.

So I guess MSNBC’s Phil Griffith, who summarily ‘suspended’ Olbermann is the Worst Person in the World today, in exactly the original sense of the term.


November 10, 2008 Monday


WHOOPI GOLDBERG, “THE VIEW”: The feature, the worst person in the world, how did this come about?

OLBERMANN: It started because, honestly, we had one — it`s an old Bob and Ray sketch, the great comedians. It`s an old — The worst person in the world, there had to be somebody. As George Carlin pointed out, there had to be a worst doctor in the world. Just, there has to be one. And somebody`s got an appointment to see him tomorrow. These two things were rolling around in my head one day. There was a critic came in.

Our network used to change shows every hour and a half. I don`t mean we have a new show because the old one is over. It was just we would cancel everybody and have another new show. We had a critic in the “New York Times” who came on and criticized, of all people, Tucker Carlson for not doing a good enough job, and after two weeks wanted the show canceled. First, they`re criticizing us for canceling shows too soon. Then, I said, I`m reading you want us to cancel a show after two weeks. This is one of the worst persons in the world. OK, we`re going to start it tonight. ‘

That Olbermann is being treated unfairly is obvious. Joe Scarborough has also donated to a political campaign while at MSNBC. And Sean Hannity at Fox has given far more money to candidates than Olbermann ever did. In fact, Hannity donated to Michele Bachmann, which suggests he is better suited to playing a bit part in a remake of the Night of the Living Dead than to anchoring a major ‘news’ show.

Hell, most of the main Republican candidates for president are working for Fox Cable News! So it goes beyond giving some campaign a couple thousand dollars, nowadays!

Fox argues that Hannity is not a news anchor but the equivalent of an op-ed columnist, a purveyor of opinions, and so may also be a political actor.

But MSNBC has already marked Olbermann also as an opinion person, not a hard news anchor, when it took him off election coverage in 2008. So MSNBC has put Olbermann in the same category as Fox has put Hannity. But one is on the air and the other is not.

MSNBC has a long history of throwing liberals under the bus, despite its recent strategy of trying to use them to counter-program against Fox.

In the build-up to the Iraq War, MSNBC had Phil Donahue, whose evening magazine show was the highest-rated thing on the network. As the momentum for war built, the top corporate management became very nervous about having a show starring an anti-war liberal, so they fired Donahue Rick Ellis wrote at the time that General Electric-owned NBC had commissioned a study of its public image, and that the consultants produced a report in which they wrote, that Donahue was a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war……He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” The report worried that the war fever would benefit rival, pro-war, pro-Bush networks and implied that Donahue might succeed in branding NBC in a way that caused viewership and therefore advertising revenues to plummet.

MSNBC replaced Donahue with far right wing shock jock Michael Savage, Dick Armey and Republican Joe Scarborough (who went on to donate to a Republican politician while on the air).

Then there was Ashley Banfield, a television reporter who was almost killed on 9/11.. She went off on this quest to understand Pakistan and Afghanistan, about which she had known nothing, and she risked life and limb to get up to Kabul as soon as the Taliban fell, and when the road from Jalalabad was very bad. She was on a steep learning curve and tried to take her MSNBC television audience along on this quest to understand the forces that had nearly snuffed her out. Then on April 24, after the successful Bush invasion of Iraq, she gave a public speech in which she criticized US television news for its rah-rah cheerleading of the war, which was not exactly in the best tradition of sober reporting. She was marginalized and ultimately fired.

The summary firing of Donahue and the disposal of Banfield may have been in part the situation to which Olbermann was referring when he told Whoopi Goldberg that NBC used to cancel shows frequently and arbitrarily.

And it was precisely that sort of corporate shooting-from-the-hip decision-making on programming that inspired him to start his ‘Worst Person in the World’ segment. But in the end, the Worst Person got him, too.

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