Are Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann about to declare a truce?
A flurry of recent reports that began with stories in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times suggest that the companies behind Fox News and MSNBC are putting pressure on their news divisions to ease up on the vitriol.
On its face, the mysterious deal would seem to benefit Fox, which has been a consistent ratings leader for years led by O’Reilly’s show. That gargantuan lead until recently was only mildly built on attacking rival networks.
Fox News keeps leading in the ratings month after month, beating out CNN and MSNBC combined. It also shows the most growth in the younger demographic that advertisers crave. Since July 2008 FNC is up 48 percent in the total day 25-54 age group and 70 percent in prime time.
"The O'Reilly Factor” was up 37 percent over July 2008 and has been the #1 show for 104 consecutive months in the 8 p.m. time slow. FNC ranked third in prime time (after USA Network and TNT). CNN ranked 15th, and MSNBC ranked 26th.
For MSNBC, the future is less certain. Both Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have seen occasional ratings gains for the once-moribund network by staging frequent verbal drive-bys on conservative media leaders like Rush Limbaugh. Even comedian Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” has slammed Olbermann for what amounts to at least several attacks on Limbaugh and O’Reilly every hour.
Neither station has confirmed what the newspapers described as a highly secretive truce.
Only the G.E. spokesperson was quoted in the Times story, according to an article on the Mediaite Web site. The New York Times reported that the peace talks started with conversations between Jeffrey Immelt of G.E. and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp.
“Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs,” the Times reported. “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.” The paper reported that the “combat” ended in June and that both networks turned their fire on CNN.
Mediaite reported that there’s a chance this will all go away, but the more likely result of this deal going public is it will ruffle the feathers of the hardcore fans of both networks, and provoke both O’Reilly and Olbermann.
Mediaite suggests that the Times article now puts Olbermann and O’Reilly in a tough spot. “They’re both going to want to prove to their viewers that they didn’t cave because of some back-room corporate deal. In particular, a deal to stop attacking an entity (MS or FOX) many of their viewers despise,” he reported, quoting an NBC insider.
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