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Farewell to a Force of Nature

"60 Minutes" star Mike Wallace, pioneer of the ambush interview, died Saturday. Howard Kurtz reflects on his time with the broadcast legend, and how Wallace changed the face of television.

Mike Wallace was a force of nature, and I’ve been on the receiving end of his gale-force personality.

The iconic CBS newsman, whose death at 93 was reported Sunday, was of course famous for ambush interviews and hidden-camera investigations, but he could take things too far. In 1994 I reported that he had secretly taped a conversation with a reporter, Karon Hall, who thought she was just providing background information to the program and did not want to go on the air. CBS wound up reprimanding Wallace for “a violation of journalistic ethics.”

The next time I spoke to him on the phone, he greeted me with thusly: “Hello, you prick.” But he said it good-naturedly, having realized he was wrong.

The network excoriates its fired anchor by painting him as an arrogant and uncooperative slacker. Howard Kurtz on the latest round in the legal war.

Current TV filed a countersuit against Keith Olbermann on Friday, charging that it had every right to fire the $10 million–a–year host “rather than continuing to pay a princely sum while receiving a pauper’s performance.”

Moving a day after Olbermann sued the network for up to $70 million, the suit says that he “completely shut himself off from the rest of the network”—and backed it up with a series of intemperate-sounding emails from its former star.

For instance, after a problem with an unspecified employee during an appearance by Michael Moore on his show, Olbermann wrote Joel Hyatt, Al Gore’s cofounder at Current: “Give me a name so I know which of them to kill with my bare hands.”


Olbermann’s No-Holds-Barred Lawsuit

The fired host unloads on Current TV, accusing Al Gore of being a dilettante and co-owner Joel Hyatt of blackmail. Howard Kurtz on the war over Keith’s firing.

Keith Olbermann filed suit Thursday against Current TV, charging that owners Al Gore and Joel Hyatt and their deputies “are no more than dilettantes portraying entertainment industry executives.”

Keith Olbermann

Jason Kempin / Getty Images

In the lawsuit, promised as a response to his firing last week, Olbermann calls his dismissal “the latest in a series of increasingly erratic and unprofessional actions undertaken by Current’s senior management.” The former host, who lasted 10 months there after a bitter breakup with MSNBC, is seeking $50 million to $70 million in lost compensation and equity.

The suit is nothing if not personal, and at one point suggests a failed bromance. Hyatt “attempted to isolate Olbermann from his professional representatives in an awkward attempt to form a close personal relationship with his new star,” it says. “When Olbermann did not reciprocate Hyatt’s advances, Hyatt reacted by withholding necessary production resources, disparaging Olbermann in the press, denying him contractually guaranteed editorial control over Current’s election coverage and the program website” and “cutting out Olbermann of internal discussions of other programs on Current, and directing Current’s attorneys to harass Olbermann with vague and spurious claims of breach.”


Olbermann’s Mug-Throwing Moment

The former Current TV host got so mad over a snafu that he shattered a glass mug. Howard Kurtz on the intensifying legal war over Olbermann’s firing.

As the legal battle between Keith Olbermann and Current TV heads toward the courtroom, both sides seem intent on painting an unflattering picture of the other.

Keith Olbermann gives a half-hearted mea culpa on Letterman.

The channel founded by Al Gore fired Olbermann for breach of contract last week, and the $10 million–a–year host has been making the case, most recently as a guest with David Letterman, that Current was a rinky-dink operation with lousy production values.

But the view of Current executives is that Olbermann was a hard-to-control hothead. And that view is reflected in an email obtained by The Daily Beast.


Olbermann’s Angry Email Trail

His bitter divorce from Al Gore’s network followed months of escalating complaints to Current TV executives. Howard Kurtz unearths the acrimonious correspondence.

It was a terrible marriage from the beginning.

Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann poses at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill / AP Photo )

Just weeks after Keith Olbermann launched his nightly program on Current TV last June, his team was complaining that the network founded by Al Gore and attorney Joel Hyatt wasn’t living up to its promises to support a professional cable news show.

The arguments escalated for months, with Olbermann directly appealing to the former vice president on three or four occasions, until relations had become so poisoned that, on Friday, Current fired Olbermann for breach of contract. He has vowed to take the matter to court and questioned the ethics of Gore and Hyatt.

McCain Rips Super PACs

Senator says court ruling will lead to major scandal.

Any notion that John McCain might be abandoning his longtime crusade for campaign-finance reform vanished on Tuesday as he sprayed a variety of targets, from the Supreme Court to super PACs to his fellow Republicans.

John McCain

Tom Williams, CQ Roll Call / Getty Images

He called the new breed of political action committees, sometimes run by a candidate's former campaign manager, "the worst joke in Washington. It's outrageous. It's an insult to anyone's intelligence to say they're not connected, and independent." He also predicted the current system of unlimited spending would lead to a major scandal.

The GOP's 2008 presidential nominee spoke at a forum at Washington's Newseum, sponsored by Reuters. The discussion was moderated by Harold Evans, Reuters's editor at large and the husband of Newsweek/Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown.


Reverend Al’s Conflicting Roles

He leads a Trayvon Martin rally and covers it for MSNBC.

Al Sharpton, who has been crusading in racial cases for three decades, has claimed a starring role in the Trayvon Martin case.

He’s also assumed a starring role in MSNBC’s coverage of the case.


Mario Tama / Getty Images

These are colliding in ways that have nothing to do with journalism.

Blaming the hoodie for Trayvon Martin’s death.

Geraldo, Geraldo, Geraldo. What were you thinking?

A black teenager is dead, through no apparent fault of his own, and you blame his wardrobe choice?

It was all the fault of the hoodie.  

Most pundits say dumb things from time to time. But in weighing in on the killing of Trayvon Martin, Geraldo Rivera conducted a premeditated drive-by.


The Incredibly Shrinking Campaign

Why television is tuning out the 2012 race.

When Mitt Romney was winning the Illinois primary on Tuesday night, Bill O’Reilly moved from a short discussion of the contest to segments on whether Barack Obama is pushing the country toward socialism and whether he’s been tough enough on Iran. Sean Hannity led off his show with another debate on whether Bill Maher is a bad guy.

Rick Santorum

Paul Sancya / AP Photo

It wasn’t just Fox. On MSNBC, Ed Schultz devoted half his program to the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

The next morning, the campaign wasn’t among the top three stories billboarded by the Today show, which included: “What is it about this two-year-old that has more than three million people logging on to YouTube to watch her?”

Spin Cycle

Sketching a Shapeless Romney

Top Aide's 'Etch-a-Sketch' Remark Unleashes a Wave of Mockery

Mitt Romney was riding high after his Illinois victory when a top adviser made the colossal blunder of comparing him to a children’s game.

The Etch-a-Sketch image erases the rave reviews that Romney was starting to garner for winning a big-state primary, and wiped off the screen his carefully timed announcement that Jeb Bush is endorsing him.

In a phrase so potentially damaging it might have been hatched in a laboratory by James Carville, Romney communications director Eric Fehrnstrom bobbled a routine question on CNN about whether Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich “might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election.”

His response: “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-a-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
The unmistakable image: Romney has no fixed principles. Forget about what he’s saying in the primaries, all we have to do is hit the reset button. His positions are no more firmly held than the leaden particles that form those boxy images on the screen and then dissolve with a mere shake.


Can Newt Hang On?

The media drumbeat for Gingrich’s exit is growing louder. Howard Kurtz on whether Tuesday’s voting in Alabama and Mississippi, where he’s neck and neck with Santorum and Romney, could seal his fate.

Is it time for Newt to go?


Rogelio V. Solis / AP Photos (3)

The press sure seems to think so.

Just about everywhere the former House speaker shows up, he is dogged by the same questions: Why are you still in this thing? You can’t win. You know you can’t win, right?

Unfriending Over Politics

Facebook, Twitter Users Flee Contrary Opinions

When you’re living online, politics apparently gets in the way of friendship, just like when you’re hosting a dinner party.

According to a fascinating survey by the Pew Internet Project, 9 percent of those who frequent social networking sites have blocked, unfriended or hidden someone because they posed something about politics or issues that the user disagreed with or found offensive.

Eight percent have blocked, unfriended or hidden someone because they argued about politics with someone the user knows.

Another 10 percent of those on such sites as Twitter and Facebook have blocked, unfriended or hidden someone because they post too frequently on politics.

And 5 percent took such action because they were afraid their friends would be offended by something the other person posted.

Fascinating—the same instinct that might cause someone to gravitate away from others with opposite views also applied to web friends and followers. And being too argumentative can cost you part of your social circle.

At the same time, 16 percent have followed or friended someone because that person shared the user’s political views, Pew says.

While distant acquaintances are often involved, a third of those surveyed say they have cut off online contact with a close friend or family member. (“Was it something I said?” “No, it was something you tweeted!”)

Overall, most people take a live-and-let-live attitude. Two-thirds say they simply ignore posts with which they don’t agree.

But here’s the kicker: some 38 percent say they were surprised to learn that the political leanings of others were different than they imagined.

Can a Facebook pioneer save the venerable magazine?

The good news for The New Republic is that its new owner is a Web wizard.

Chris Hughes, who became publisher and editor-in-chief with an announcement on Friday, is a co-founder of Facebook.

Chris Hughes

SeongJoon Cho, Bloomberg / Getty Images

The not-so-good news is that Hughes worked for the Obama campaign. Does that mean the venerated liberal magazine will turn into a pro-Obama vehicle?

HBO filmmakers relied on McCain campaign sources.

Game Change is many things: a powerful recreation of the craziest vice-presidential campaign in history, a close-up look at nasty political infighting, a portrait of a woman on the verge of a breakdown.

But does it capture what actually happened with Sarah Palin in 2008?

To be sure, the movie is based on the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, and includes a number of well-documented scenes of Palin being uninformed, difficult and petulant. The HBO filmmakers also say they interviewed numerous McCain staffers, notably Steve Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson) and Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson).

But that is part of the problem.

White House steps up assault on ‘slut’ attack as advertisers bail.

If there was any doubt that the Obama campaign is going to seize the moment and run against Rush Limbaugh, it ended on Tuesday.

In a one-two punch that made clear their determination to keep Slutgate alive, David Axelrod and the president went after the radio talk-show host in ways designed to make news.

At a news conference designed to steal some of the GOP’s thunder on Super Tuesday, Obama sidestepped a question about a growing number of advertisers bailing on Limbaugh’s radio show, preferring to keep the focus on Rush assailing Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and “prostitute.”

“All decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don’t have any place in the public discourse. The reason I called Ms. Fluke is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about … and I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens.” He said such engagement should not “involve your being demeaned and insulted, particularly when you’re a private citizen.”

About the Author

Author headshot

Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast and Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, and writes the Spin Cycle blog. He also hosts CNN’s weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.


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