Saturday, August 1, 2009

Making Nice

The feud between Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly has been quietly kiboshed by their bosses.

For years Keith Olbermann of MSNBC had savaged his prime-time nemesis Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel and accused Fox of journalistic malpractice almost nightly. Mr. O’Reilly in turn criticized Mr. Olbermann’s bosses and led an exceptional campaign against General Electric, the parent company of MSNBC.

It was perhaps the fiercest media feud of the decade and by this year, their bosses had had enough. But it took a fellow television personality with a neutral perspective to help bring it to at least a temporary end.

At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

In early June, the combat stopped, and MSNBC and Fox, for the most part, found other targets for their verbal missiles (Hello, CNN).

Aside from the fact that the battle had gotten increasingly personal and juvenile, it was beginning to affect the parent companies — both Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Olbermann were attacking each others’ boss; at one point Mr. O’Reilly read the e-mail and mailing address of GE chairman Jeffrey Immelt over the air, and Mr. Olbermann’s attacks on Rupert Murdoch were a nightly feature. So the bottom line became the bottom line; boost the ratings but don’t rattle the stockholders.