Olbermann, O'Reilly, and the cease-fire that backfired

Don't they teach the law of unintended consequences in CEO school?

News Corp. (NWS) chairman Rupert Murdoch and General Electric Co. (GE) chief Jeffrey Immelt tried to spare themselves some personal discomfort by brokering a truce of sorts between their cable news operations, whose mascots, Bill O'Reilly (left) and Keith Olbermann (right), have been engaged in a long-running feud. But rather than pour oil on the waves, they sprayed gasoline on the fire.
After the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times reported on the gentlemen's agreement to play nice, both O'Reilly and Olbermann felt the need to demonstrate their indepedence. This they did by mounting renewed and reinvigorated assaults on each other -- and on each other's corporate sponsors.

Olbermann, who says he was never party to any agreement -- even though he was uncharacteristically silent on the topic of O'Reilly and Fox News for much of the summer -- struck first, putting O'Reilly and Murdoch on his trademark Worst Person in the World list (admittedly, not an uncommon occurrence). O'Reilly hit back, and harder, claiming that the U.S. government was investigating whether GE had sold components that ended up in roadside bombs used to kill American troops. That drew a response from GE, which accused O'Reilly of mounting a "smear campaign" by airing what even he admitted were unconfirmed allegations.

If Immelt and Murdoch now feel that their good-faith efforts to play peacemaker blew up in their faces -- well, good. The Olbermann-O'Reilly match is, to be sure, one of the most unenlightening things on TV. There's not much to choose from between them; both men seem more interested in pursuing petty grievances than in addressing current events. But at least they're accountable for their own words. I'd still rather have either of them deciding what to say on their shows than some some invisible, risk-averse CEO.

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