Last week I called the latest feud between Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and NBC’s Keith Olbermann little more than a made-for-summer-doldrums ratings grab. If it truly is a work of arson, though, O’Reilly is going to great lengths to keep it going.
On Tuesday’s “Factor,” O’Reilly said there is a “federal investigation into whether American companies supplied components being used in roadside bombs aimed at American soldiers.” O’Reilly said he had "been told but cannot confirm that the General Electric corporation is under suspicion in the case."
On Wednesday, NBC parent GE issued a statement, calling the claim “maliciously false.”
"We usually do not respond to the misleading and inaccurate claims made on this program because very few people take them seriously," a GE spokesperson told the AP. "But [O’Reilly’s] report took this smear campaign to a new low."
It’s merely latest shot across the bow in the current tete-a-tete between the two cable news rivals. This one flared up after the New York Times ran a story that said executives at News Corp and GE had arranged for a truce after, as the Times put it, “blood started to spray executives in the high-priced seats.”
What’s interesting here is that O’Reilly appears to consider himself a reporter, not merely an outspoken commentator or Glenn Beck-like entertainer. The face of the “We Report, You Decide” network is putting the emphasis on the “report” part.
On “Countdown,” Olbermann – who named O’Reilly his “Worst Person in the World” for the fourth time in the eight shows since the Times report — quipped: "As a reporter, I wouldn’t send Bill O’Reilly to cover a john overflowing.”
Yet, it was during a now-infamous contentious appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman," that O’Reilly highlighted his “hard news” resume: “I was a reporter. I started in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and worked my way up. Worked at Channel 2 in New York. ABC News, CBS News, and I did ‘Inside Edition.’”
But even at the bastion of journalistic integrity that was "Inside Edition," I doubt O’Reilly would’ve been allowed to go on the air with something he had "been told but cannot confirm."
Perhaps he was just "doing it live."
Some more from the Letterman transcript:
Letterman: “Yes, but do you — what percentage of stuff do you make up?
O’Reilly: “None. And if I make anything up, they just rip me up in the New York Times or whatever. I mean, we have a very good research staff, just like your staff. Very good. They find out the facts. We come in, we present them, we give an opinion. We bring on an opposing point of view. That’s why we’re No. 1, Dave.”
Back to Wednesday: O’Reilly had Glenn Beck on the show for a broader, vague criticism of NBC, and to debate if the Peacock Network is, in fact, the "evil empire."
As TVNewser aptly put it, "if there’s actually a cease-fire, it’s the worst one in the history of armistices."
Last night, O’Reilly said: "We’re not making any accusations, but we’re staying on the story."
And staying on a feud that will get him some ratings during the dog days of summer.