Tin-eared at MSNBC

Comparing angry Clinton supporters to women who stay with a "jerk" who's "difficult and brutal" was not the best way to defend Keith Olbermann.

Published June 15, 2008 6:48PM (EDT)

There's a fascinating Peter Boyer profile of Keith Olbermann in this week's New Yorker. It gives Olbermann lovers plenty of what they love; it also gives those who've criticized him, and MSNBC, for unfair coverage of Hillary Clinton plenty to criticize. I noticed a contrast, though, between what MSNBC head Phil Griffin told the New York Times about claims of sexism at his cable network, and what he told the New Yorker.

Here's what the Times reported in its story on complaints about sexist Clinton coverage last week:

"Phil Griffin, senior vice president of NBC News and the executive in charge of MSNBC, a particular target of criticism, said that although a few mistakes had been made, that they had been corrected quickly and that the network’s overall coverage was fair.

"'I get it, that in this 24-hour media world, you’ve got to be on your game and there’s very little room for mistakes,' Mr. Griffin said. 'But the Clinton campaign saw an opportunity to use it for their advantage. They were trying to rally a certain demographic, and women were behind it.'"

But talking to the New Yorker, Griffin seemed to acknowledge a problem, particularly with Olbermann's coverage of Clinton, while denying that it would hurt the network:

"[J]ust as Obama must work to win Clinton supporters for the fall campaign, Phil Griffin has to repair a fractured audience base, a portion of which saw sexism in his network’s Clinton coverage and vowed to boycott MSNBC. Griffin knows that some of that anger is aimed at his star anchor. 'It was, like, you meet a guy and you fall in love with him, and he’s funny and he’s clever and he’s witty, and he’s all these great things,' Griffin said of the relationship between Olbermann and the Clinton supporters among his viewers. 'And then you commit yourself to him, and he turns out to be a jerk and difficult and brutal. And that is how the Hillary viewers see him. It’s true. But I do think they’re going to come back. There’s nowhere else to go.'"

I have some advice for Phil Griffin, not that he asked me. Don't tell your customers they have nowhere else to go. Also: Try to avoid comparing irritated female viewers with wives and girlfriends who have to stay with a "jerk" who is "difficult and brutal." It's insulting to Olbermann and his female critics alike.

I've e-mailed Griffin for comment and I'll report back if and when he replies.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections