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TCA: MSNBC to stick with 'the team that took us this far'

July 21, 2008 | 12:57 pm

Newseason_tourtalk_2

NBC News President Steve Capus today defended the dual roles that MSNBC hosts Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews play on the cable news network, arguing that the ratings prove viewers are comfortable watching them pivot between commentary and news anchoring.

“The audience gets it, and that’s the single biggest factor that I see,” Capus said.

“This is the team that took us this far, and we’re going to continue to stick with them," he added. "The audience understands what we’re doing and they’re coming to us in record numbers.”

The two hosts have emerged as the leading figures at MSNBC, which has enjoyed a viewership surge during this year’s presidential election. Both have also drawn criticism for their outspoken on-air commentaries –- particularly Olbermann, who has made a practice of lambasting the Bush administration.

The network news president said that both Olbermann and Matthews know how to calibrate their approach when they’re anchoring news coverage.

“I actually happen to watch what they do on the air and how they handle themselves and how they handle the responsibilities, and I think they’ve been spot on,” Capus said. “I think their work speaks for itself.”

Earlier in the week, Fox News’ Chris Wallace took MSNBC to task for putting sharply opinionated hosts in the anchor chair, saying his cable network maintained a “firewall” between its commentators and news anchors.

“Our feeling is the opinion-makers should deliver their opinions, and the journalists should cover the news,” Wallace said during the Fox News panel at the television press tour.

Olbermann today challenged Wallace’s assertion, saying that Fox News commentators such as Sean Hannity, Alan Colmes and Bill O’Reilly “were on for lengths of time” during that network’s primary coverage this year.

“What this statement is based on is something his network was doing, and I think with less of an acknowledgment that those roles need to be separate,” he said.

(A Fox News spokeswoman disputed that, saying none of the network’s political commentators act as anchors. During the primaries, Hannity and Colmes were usually on the air after 11 p.m. ET to offer analysis, she said, while O’Reilly appeared a handful of times as a commentator during the coverage.)

Olbermann said that MSNBC is asking viewers to engage with its coverage by distinguishing between the two roles that he and Matthews play.

“We know there are different rules for us, and the viewers -- I think based on how many of them have turned out -- know there are different rules,” he said.

"If you’re fairly good at what you do in this business, you should be able to do a couple of different things and know which is appropriate for each set of circumstances," he added.

The notoriously provocative cable personality appeared to rein himself in when he was asked if Fox News was missing an opportunity by not having O’Reilly -- its top-rated host and a frequent Olbermann target -- anchor its election coverage.

“How many ways can I get myself into trouble by answer this question?” Olbermann said with a grin.

“It would make it more interesting if Bill was on and did it live,” he said. “Let’s just leave it there.”

-- Matea Gold

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