My Two Cents On Keith Olbermann’s Suspension

I am a believer in taking the high road and standing by your principles. Keith Olbermann walked away from his. Corporate policies aside that’s sad in the abstract.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard by now MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is off-the-air for violating an NBC News policy. He donated to a political campaign without permission. Donating in and of itself is not against the rules. Permission from management is, however, required.

Others like Joe Scarborough have given to campaigns in the past. Scarborough followed the rules. No harm, no foul.

MSNBCs reacted swiftly.

I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay. – Phil Griffin MSNBC president

I’ve read a lot of people supporting Keith. Not me. Not this time. It has nothing to do with the program itself (though Keith became a little over-the-top over time) or its political bent.

Simply put MSNBC did the right thing.

My lack of support has nothing to do with other cable anchor/commentators making donations (as Rachel Maddow argued in her own commentary in support of KO). It has everything to do with Olbermann’s earlier criticism of Fox News for its political contributions and the political fundraising and drumbeating of ts ‘stars.’

I am a believer in taking the high road and standing by your principles. Keith Olbermann walked away from his. Corporate policies aside that’s sad in the abstract.

Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center called Olbermann “the worse hypocrite in the world.” It’s not that the conservative Bozell needed an excuse to rail against anyone on MSNBC, but here he is fully justified. The mere act of Olbermann making a contribution was totally hypocritical!

I hope the suspension is temporary. It was necessary.

All The Dirt That’s Fit To Print Or Broadcast Or Browse

If Obama cured cancer, Drudge would find a downside.

As I write this a Chris Shays for Congress ad is on during the Emmys. Even Republicans are running against the Republican Party. Shays is. Everyone’s a rebel.

I’ve read a lot about this presidential race being the meanest, dirtiest ever–and then I’ve read it’s not. Who knows? There’s no shortage of bullshit available on both sides.

This is probably our most partisan election as far as media goes.

There’s Fox–strongly Republican, though publicly in denial. Rupert Murdoch was on Fox last week saying what awful would happen if Obama is elected.

MSNBC has turned sharply Democratic and otherwise left-of-center with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. It’s a little less comfortable for MSNBC. Unlike Fox, there is an affiliation with a non-partisan news organization (NBC) and no Roger Ailes. They’d do better with a Roger Ailes to run interference.

I am most intrigued with politically slanted coverage on the net. I’ve been a big Drudge reader for years. He is heavily out in support of McCain/Palin. Tonight on Drudge:



If Obama cured cancer, Drudge would find a downside.

Drudge is now balanced by Huffington Post. Wasn’t Arianna Huffington once a conservative? On Huffington McCain can do no right.

Obama: Bailout Plan Must Address “The Crisis On Main Street And Around Kitchen Tables Across America”

Here’s the problem with all this vitriol. Once the election is over there’s going to be a huge segment of our population unhappy and ready to hatchet whomever wins. No matter what the result, this promises to be the most divisive (and derisive) election I can remember.

Interviewed For New Haven Magazine

I don’t belong anywhere near that list. Speaking to me is the journalistic equivalent of slumming!

Last week I was approached by New Haven Magazine. They wanted to interview me for a story.

Was I flattered? Sure.

Of course there are always nagging worries. Why exactly me? I don’t want to be like Dr. Joyce Brothers, emergency guest when all else fails.

I asked who else had been featured.

  • Roya Hakakian, author, Iranian ex pat.
  • C. Megan Urry, chair Yale Physics Dept.
  • Hugh Keefe, leading defense attorney
  • Jonathan Rothberg, scientist entrepreneur
  • Peyton Patterson, CEO

I don’t belong anywhere near that list. Speaking to me is the journalistic equivalent of slumming!

Tonight, New Haven Magazine’s publisher Mitch Young and photographer Steve Blazo, came by.

I always worry how to answer a reporter’s questions? I’m not interested in towing the company line, but I don’t want to tick off my bosses either. Anyway, everyone can tell when you’re bullshitting to stay politically correct. Who needs that?

Years ago, we had an anchor at the station who was often quoted saying outlandish, foolish or even stupid things. I suppose she was sought out once reporters realized she made for good copy&#185.

She’d write it all off to being misquoted, but if you read the words and closed your eyes, you could see her saying them!

One question tonight came out of left field. Mitch asked, in light of Keith Olbermann’s move from sports to news, whether I’d like to make the transition to anchor? Keith Olbermann is not your typical TV anchorman. His career, though on the upswing now, has not been without setbacks and hardship.

I find what Olbermann, Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly and a few others do very interesting. Their job demands a skill set different from those employed by a totally impartial anchor. They also work within a structure different from conventional, and impartial, TV journalism.

I don’t think local news will be moving in that direction anytime soon, so the point is moot. It was still interesting to think about. It’s a choice I won’t have to make in real life.

I’ll let you know when the article is published… unless it’s incredibly embarrassing.

&#185 – Don’t ask. I will never tell. However, your guess is probably correct.


Are you into politics much? We ran a poll on-the-air Tuesday and only 3% of our voting viewers said they were obsessed with politics. If I’m not in the 3%, I’m close.

Maybe it’s not so much I’m into politics as I watch a lot of news, especially the cable news networks. I see them when I get up and again when I come home.

Tonight I turned on MSNBC and came upon a post-Michigan primary roundtable hosted by Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews. They were chatting it up with NBC’s political director and Andrea Mitchell.

At one point they all began to salivate. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but they were excited. Leaving Michigan, no candidate has gotten an insurmountable lead. It’s possible one, or both, of the political conventions will be contested.

I’m not sure that’s happened in my lifetime, a convention convened without a candidate already anointed.

For the last few decades, political conventions have been stage managed and homogenized. In an open convention, political warfare would take place. It might be riveting. Think of it as a reality show.

It also might allow a fatally wounded (in the electable sense) candidate to be chosen.

This coming presidential election promises to be one of the most interesting in a very long time. The current national political tilting away from Republicans could be short lived if Democrats fight too much this summer Denver.

Know Your Source

I feel awful for Mark Dixon and my other meteorologist friends at Channel 3. Here’s a taste of a story about a weather faux pas from today’s Hartford Courant:

False Alarm, Toto

Photograph Of Tornado Was Actually From Kansas, Not Thomaston, WFSB Says


Courant Staff Writers

July 21, 2007

A photo of a Kansas-size twister that accompanied a TV news report Thursday about an outbreak of severe thunderstorms in Connecticut actually was taken in Kansas.

WFSB, Channel 3, received the photo by e-mail Thursday afternoon from a man who said he shot it on his father’s farm in Thomaston, station news director Dana Neves said Friday. The timing of the e-mail corresponded with radar showing severe weather over southern Litchfield County and ground reports of funnel clouds and a tornado in that same area, WFSB meteorologist Mark Dixon said Friday. The totality of the situation, he and Neves said, convinced the station that the photo was legitimate.

The photo was shown on the broadcast and displayed prominently on WFSB’s website,

After verifying through the National Weather Service that the photo was shot in Kansas about two years ago, the station announced the mistake to viewers Thursday evening, Neves said. They also alerted federal officials.

I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened to me – because it could have. I tend to treat any kind of unsolicited video or eyewitness account with a grain of salt, but I’m not perfect.

Just to give you a taste of what goes on, here’s an email I received Thursday:

Hi Geoff–We had a tornado touch down in Thomaston and then again in Terryville–I don’t know about damage because I don’t live there. But local police saw it and reported it. Just thought you would like to know.


I was so busy, I didn’t see this until long after the cell had passed through Thomaston. By that time, based on an NWS report, we had sent a reporter there. He found nothing.

I wrote asking Sharon where she got her info.

Hi Geoff–

I was watching the Weather Channel when I first got home and it came across in the National Weather Service Tornado warning on the bottom of the screen. It said the tornado was spotted by local law enforcement.


Sharon didn’t mean to be bad or misleading. She was doing what she felt was right. But, she originally passed along second hand information as if she had obtained it herself.

I try my best to make personal contact with anyone who sends unsolicited material I use, but I know there are times I haven’t stridently followed my own rule. Speaking to someone usually provides to best clues to their trustworthiness.

This stuff happens all the time. Most of the time it’s a photo that someone claims comes from a friend or relative – but it doesn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the same bogus Katrina pictures!

There’s a larger point to be made here and that gets to the crux of citizen journalism. Are we ready to trust random members of the public to provide our news coverage?

Opinionated reporters (Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Lou Dobbs, Brit Hume) may choose to report only certain aspects of a story, but you know where they’re coming from and can adjust accordingly. With random citizens, who knows what they’re trying to accomplish or maybe they’re too naive, like Sharon, to even know.

A good TV station, like WFSB, steps up to the plate and admits when they are wrong. That’s what good meteorologists and good journalists do.

On the other hand, when caught sending dubious material, I’ve found unsolicited citizen ‘journalists’ often stop responding.

This is the new world. There are aspects I don’t approve of.

Too Much Bluetooth

I wear a Bluetooth earpiece and I love it. There’s really a difference when I’m driving in my car, yapping on the phone, and both hands are on the wheel.

On the other hand, I think there are some places where Bluetooth might not be appropriate. Last night in church, a man walked to the front of the congregation and addressed us all. He was wearing an earpiece and I felt uncomfortable.

Tonight, on TV, another bad Bluetooth moment. Attorney Robert Shapiro was on Countdown with Keith Olbermann wearing a very large Bluetooth earpiece. He has a microphone pinned to his suit, so I haven’t confused a necessary TV accessory with cellphone technology.

Will he ask the TV audience to wait while he takes a call? Maybe there’s a hidden confederate feeding him answers, ala William Hurt and Holly Hunter in Broadcast News?

Am I behind the times? Is this where we’re really headed? Say it isn’t so.

Here’s the fullscreen capture, if you’re so inclined.

Imus – Totally Off Topic

I watched the replay of Keith Olbermann’s show tonight when I got home from work. Not a particularly exciting news day. I had already seen or read nearly everything he reported.

While he was doing the Imus story, Keith made reference to “1,200 Hamburgers To Go,” Imus’ iconic comedy bit/album. And then Olbermann told the fiction normally associated with it – that it was a real call made on-the-air.

When this bit first aired, Imus worked at WGAR in Cleveland. After he left, I also worked there. All we shared in common was program director John Lund, who hired us both.

That McDonalds guy… it’s Lund! That’s what John told me nearly 35 years ago. I was asking about the bit, thinking at the time it had been a real call, when John told me the backstory.

I didn’t think about it until years later when I was watching Woody Allen’s Bananas. Siding with the rebels in a broken down Central American setting, Allen is sent to get lunch for the troops.

Do you have

any grilled cheese sandwiches?

– Yes, sir.

– Well, let me have a thousand.

And… tuna fish… and

bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.

As far as I can tell, Imus’ album came out in 1972, a year after Allen’s movie. The scene’s are virtually the same.

The bit was funny. It just wasn’t original nor legitimate.

Keith Olbermann and I have corresponded in the past via email, but MSNBC has seen fit to ‘obscure’ his address. Since I can’t tell him, I’ll tell you.

Blogger’s adendum:

After I wrote this, John Lund wrote me. He was there, so his timeline is much better than mine. And, if writing now, I would no longer imply the connection between 1200 Hamburgers and Woody Allen’s Bananas.

Regarding 1200 Hamburgers to Go… We did all phony phone calls as setups because it was illegal to put people on the air without getting their permission first…and back then we had that telephone beep every 10 seconds when we recorded. While the LP was released when Don got to NY in 1972, we conceived and recorded it early in his tenure at 1220/WGAR, certainly by spring of 1971 if not the previous fall. As with many of the cuts on the album, I wrote the bits and was the voice on a few. I wrote comedy for Don for several years, including bits for his TV show on a UHF station in Cleveland (sponsored by Ed Stinn Chevy)…and bits like this. Typically he conceived the premise, I wrote the script or outline, we rehearsed, then he would call me in my office from the studio to record the routine. To sound like a McDonald’s employee for that call, I spoke with a pencil in my mouth.

Watch What You Say

The article, which I found published in a TV news oriented newsletter, was originally published in The Independent from Britain.

Asked by the studio anchor during Central TV’s evening bulletin what the weather was like at the outside broadcast location Trentham Gardens, near Stoke-on-Trent, she gave her army of fans her candid appraisal of the situation. “It’s pissing down,” she reported.

That’s never happened to me, but I’ve come awfully close.

Back in my very early days in radio, my station had a fishing report. We’d call the woman who owned the bait and tackle shop (the sponsor of the report) who would report on current conditions.

One time, as she finished, I asked a question and opened her mike. Thinking she was done, she was already midstream in a cursing tirade worthy of Ozzy Osbourne.

My problem is, when I’m presenting the weather, everything is ad libbed. It’s not stream of consciousness. There’s a method to my madness. After all, I’m telling a story with pre-chosen maps.

Still, the individual words and sentences are formed on the spot.

Am I saying things before I ‘think’ about what I’m saying? Yes. And for me, always trying to get out one more (hopefully) clever line, that could be dangerous.

The closest I’ve come was using the word “damn&#185.” It was a very cold night and I somehow said, “damn cold.”

I turned white as a sheet on the air, paused, and briefly apologized. There was not one call of complaint.

My on-air demeanor had changed so quickly, it was obvious to anyone watching that I had made a major faux pas, knew it and regretted it. There was no poker face here.

There have been other times when I’ve caught myself before saying a word. Those I work with, people who know me well, could feel where the sentence was going. I managed to self censor in time.

It’s a difficult path to take, because 21st century interpersonal speech is often open and salty. My conversational speech is full of TV inappropriate words. My TV speech is not. How my mind understands and reacts at a level I’m not consciously controlling is beyond me.

I’m glad it does.

&#185 – I know – we’ve all heard damn on TV a million times. Everyone has their own standard. To me, within the context of a newscast, it’s a totally inappropriate word. For Letterman, Leno, Stewart, maybe even Keith Olbermann – fine. Not for me.

Excelsior You Fathead

I was on the sofa last night, playing poker and watching Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. The show was nearing its nightly end, the time it tends to be a little more off center. Keith turned to the camera and said, “Keep your knees loose.”

Holy s***! He was quoting a catch phrase from Jean Shepard.

Actually, I said the very same thing in public back in 1965. It was at the AT&T pavilion at the ’64-’65 New York World’s Fair. I was a participant in a picturephone demonstration. As a wise ass teen, “keep your knees loose” were my parting words. The AT&T employee running the show had no clue what I was talking about and looked mortified.

But Keith is on national TV.

When I was growing up, in the sixties, I listened to Jean Shepard every night from 10:15 to 11:00 PM on WOR. He was a monologist – he alone spoke for the entire 45 minutes. There is nothing on radio or TV like this today.

Shepard was willing to talk to his engineer or anyone who might be around (though they were never heard). Usually though, he just spoke directly to the audience, as if you were there in the studio with him.

He wasn’t political or particularly interested in most current events. His stories often went back to growing up in Hammond, Indiana and his friends, Flick and Schwartz. Sometimes he’d joke about his military career in a mess kit repair unit.

He was always irreverent. He always bit the hand that fed him. As a kid with a transistor radio under my pillow, he represented the adventure that awaited me. He was the cool part of being an adult.

I met Shep twice. Once was a personal appearance at a big and tall men’s clothing store on Long Island. I think I rode my bike, though it was quite far. I also saw him do his show at the Limelight in Greenwich Village&#185.

Even today, these are unforgettable moments. He meant that much to me.

I sent Keith Olbermann a note, letting him know that there was at least one person who understood what was going on. Though he made this arcane reference, he wrote back claiming radio allegiance to Bob and Ray.

I know lots of people who thought they were funny, but their humor aways evaded me. I am a fan of Bob’s son, Chris Elliot.

The most interesting part of Keith’s reply was his pointing out some of Shepard’s old airchecks are now on the Internet.

Wow, they are. I haven’t listened to much of the collection yet, but they’re on the Podcast site… dozens of airchecks. What I have heard so far holds up, even though it’s nearly 40 years old.

There’s more for real Shepard fans. Keith said might end up being my new favorite site. Maybe that’s overdoing it a little, but it will demand a few hours of perusal.

Before he died, Jean Shepard turned into a mean spirited man who tried desperately to disassociate himself from the radio work I loved so much. That was a real shame, because his effect on me and many of my contemporaries was profound.

&#185 – I was taken to the Limelight by Bob Weiss, my friend from summer camp, and his parents. I have no idea what ever happened to Bob. If you run into him, please tell him Geoff says hi… and tell him to keep his knees loose.