January 23, 2011

SPECIAL COMMENT: KEITH OLBERMANN AND COMCAST, OR: WHEN ANONYMOUS SOURCES ATTACK

And they are at it again. This time not the Guardian, but an "insider" website named "The Wrap". In the aftermath of Keith Olbermann's departure at MSNBC (we should not call it a "firing", because... well, why not?).

And just like before, we will deconstruct this miserable excuse of "inside" reporting, this time conducted by "inside" reporter, CEO of the Wrap.com and in-the-know Sharon Waxman. I have chosen this particular piece once more to show how you assassinate a man's character without ever once having to get out in the open. Why should you, if you have stellar "reporters" like Sharon Waxman, Nikki Finke and Howard Kurtz do the assassination for you?


I will now guide you through the process of character assassination. Similar things have happened before and will happen again, as they did with Bradley Manning, as they did with Julian Assange. The names change, but the rules stay the same.

Note that every "insider" who is reporting, uh, blogging here opens with the same thing. Keith Olberman "quit". Olbermann "resigned", and my personal favorite, Olbermann "bolted".

All you need to be is "an individual close to the situation", right, Ms. Waxman?
But the sudden departure has a history, and the timing does not rule out a preemptive MSNBC move. The gadfly commentator first told the network last April that he wanted to leave and began negotiating his exit then, according to an individual with knowledge of the situation.
Note the very careful way that this is all worded. An individual close to the situation. Not, of course, close to MSNBC or Comcast. No, we leave that to the others, all of whom apparently are quite okay with using an anonymous source, when said source is acting as the unofficial spokesperson for a corporation (or a government), with none of them, not a single fucking one of them even attempting in their articles, uh, hit pieces to pretend that they sought out comment from e.g. Olbermann's lawyers.

Here is how the awesome Nikki Finke is doing it, not only here, Miss Finke is the Queen of Anonymous Sourcing, note how almost all of her articles are nothing more than corporate backstabbing dragged up for our enjoyment? Dressed as "business" news, but never more than gossip? Allowing corporations to hide behind anonymity?
2ND UPDATE, SATURDAY AM: An MSNBC insider told this to Deadline today about Keith Olbermann's departure Friday:

"This was all Keith's choice. He has several times over the years said that he wants out of his contract. He never meant it until this year. He started lawyers negotiating twice this year. He stopped them in the spring. Then, about a month ago with the guidance of his new ICM team and a new LA manager (who were making zero $ on his current deal), he once again said he wanted to leave and this time they negotiated the full package.

"Because of all the false threats in the past, it was impossible for the network to know if he was really going to sign the final document yesterday. That's why promos for his show were still running after he quit on the air. The network couldn't really believe it or act on it until he said it on TV. They couldn't tell the promo people to pull Keith's show out of the cycle until they were sure. His staff learned he was quitting when they heard him say it on TV.

"Comcast has had no impact at all on MSNBC [yet]. Phil Griffin has complete authority. He makes deals without having to consult with anyone. He has made proposals over the years on the fly and in high-speed contexts where he is acting alone and with full authority. MSNBC is Phil Griffin's network and no one at NBC thinks they have a better idea than Phil about what to do next."
Kids, I know a pre-formulated press release when I see one. I also know how a pre-formulated attack piece sounds like. This is what it sounds like. Obviously, Miss Finke doesn't.

Also note how again it was an MSNBC insider. He names ICM and he names Olbermann's new LA manager. Would it have been too much to ask to contact them? You know, that is what reporters do, don't they? I seem to dimly recall such a thing from my own past.

Verify. Verify. Verify.

But then, who needs to verify? Mr. Kurtz doesn't need that, either.
A knowledgeable official said the move had nothing to do with Comcast taking control of NBC next week, although the cable giant was informed when it received final federal approval for the purchase that Olbermann would be leaving the cable channel. This official described the dramatic divorce—Olbermann was about halfway through a four-year, $30 million contract—as mutual.

If said knowledgeable official was an official, why didn't he officially say something?

You know, with his fucking name attached to it?

Said "official" must have been working a lot in the past 24 hours, because the same thing is popping up all over the place, never with a source attached. Always just with "an official", a "person in the know" or an "insider".

Where do you think you work?

What do you think this is?

High school?

Because if you do, answer me this. Does Kristen still go out with Carl?

But that is not what this is all about. This is about getting the mythology out there, this is about spinning it the way you want to, and all of those amazing "reporters" are playing their part.

Because first, you need to have the official cover story, which is this press release.
MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC's success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.
But of course, that allows you to then place your anonymous quotes everywhere without violating whatever agreement to stay silent was there (and we will get to that). You call up those with the big voices in the echo chambers, and you have them call that "news" and "updates".

Here is a hint to all of you shameless excuses for proper journalism. You don't run anonymous quotes that put forward a corporate point of view. If the corporation has something to say, they better put their fucking names to it, and no, this cannot be compared to e.g. what WikiLeaks is doing.

WikiLeaks is exposing things that people inside government, people inside and running corporations don't want the audience to know. What you, Miss Finke, Miss Waxman, Mr. Kurtz (and others) are doing is to allow corporations to misinform the public, to allow them to get an information out that they want the public to know while silencing the other party.

This may come as a surprise to you all, but not all leaks are equal.

Some leaks are more equal than others.

A leak like the ones you are so proudly putting in your blog posts serves one reason, and reason alone. It serves propaganda. No, wait, we aren't allowed to call it propaganda anymore, right? Now we call it Public Relations. No, wait, that's not it, either.

No. Propaganda is the right word.

Because the myth needs to be out there, for they all know that the truth has to play catch-up. And as for Comcast not having a say in this, and this just cracks me up, because that is such a blatant lie, listen to this statement...
"Comcast has not closed the transaction for NBC Universal and has no operational control at any of its properties including MSNBC," Comcast said in a statement late Friday night. "We pledged from the day the deal was announced that we would not interfere with NBC Universal's news operations.  We have not and we will not."
Uh. Yes. Comcast has no say over anything over anything at NBC and its departments until this Friday, January 28. There you have it, kids. In writing. Us? Wha? Never!
In the first executive fallout from the pending post-merger restructuring at NBC, Angela Bromstad, primetime entertainment president for the network and sister studio UMS, will be leaving. She told her staff about her departure this afternoon. There had been rumblings that Bromstad may not be part of the new NBC programming team under new entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt after the Comcast/NBC Universal merger is completed next week.
Then tell me this. If Comcast has absolutely no operational control over NBC yet, what the fuck is Bob Greenblatt doing greenlighting TV pilots, you know, like Wonder Woman?
New NBC entertainment president Bob Greenblatt capped a day of high-profile pilot pickups with a surprise order to David E. Kelley's Wonder Woman reboot. Additionally, he formally greenlighted another hourlong project from an A-list showrunner, Michael Patrick King's Mann's World. Both shows hail from Warner Bros. TV.
Or the latest Steven Spielberg "smash" (oh, my, am I clever with words)?
New NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt is putting his stamp on the network's development with a pilot order for a project he originally developed while at Showtime. NBC just greenlighted Smash, an ambitious one-hour musical about the mounting of a Broadway musical based on an idea by Steven Spielberg. The pilot, which will be produced by DreamWorks TV and Universal Media Studios, follows a cross section of characters who come together to put on a Broadway musical.
After all, shouldn't the dude have to wait until he actually has the operational power? You know, like the week after this one? And not on Friday, the 21st, where - as Comcast has made it so abundantly clear - they have, what was that again? Ah, yes... let us make it bigger this time, it is one of those statements that in other cases can land you in court, you know?
Comcast has not closed the transaction for NBC Universal and has no operational control at any of its properties including MSNBC.
But wait! There is more! And again, it is Miss Waxman who knows what is going to happen next, and this is the final piece in this puzzle. Keith Olbermann, see, is an egomaniac. He wants his own media empire!
[H]e really has his eye on creating his own media empire in the style of Huffington Post, according to the individual. That way, Olbermann would control his own brand and, in his view, potentially earn far more as an owner.
Because the Huffington Post is a media empire. Let us all laugh at that (and I am quite confident that Arianna Huffington would laugh there, too). I can see that the Huffington Post has dozens of cable channels, and a movie studio and a 24-hour cable news channel... and is in immediate danger to be bought up by Comcast for, what was that again? 13.8 billion US Dollars.

Can I get a Dr. Evil pinkie for that?

That, kids, is what a media empire looks like. Not the Hufington Post, which is quite successful on the web, but is still mostly an aggregrate site, with very little actual reporting and mostly resembling a very extensive op-ed page, with linkage.

But by pointing to the Huffington Post you achieve two things (and that was very likely what the "person close to the situation" wants you to think). You equate a mid-level internet start-up (sorry, Arianna, but one has to be rational here) with what Comcast-NBC will be, a monolithic media empire.

Bull. Shit.

And you infer that Keith Olbermann thought he was "too big" for MSNBC, wanting now ownership and control (I would believe the latter)

Why do that? Why let this out in the open?

Because of this here, somewhat hidden in a report by the New York Times.
NBC executives said one term of his settlement would keep him from moving to another network for an extended period of time.
So, Olbermann, like Conan O'Brien is banned from doing television. Oh, he is also banned from commenting, it appears. But he is allowed to go onto radio and... guess what, folks?

Yes, the internet!

And thus, when he does do a column somewhere, when he does appear somewhere, you have your story, you have your myth already in place, and you can track back to Sharon Waxman's anonymously sourced bullshit of a story, making it official, allowing that "journalist" to make the case for you.

See? See? They will say. They were right all along. Olbermann wanted to create his own media empire, just as it was reported a year ago.

Because this is how propaganda works.

This was Thomas R. Hart, filling in for Keith Olbermann.

And you know what? If you are out there, if you have a voice, fill in for him, too.

And know. That you are not alone. In the digital wastelands.

Good night, and good luck.