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Bill O'Reilly And NBC, Shouting to Make Themselves Seen?

In an interview, Olbermann says O'Reilly's latest offensive "reeks a little bit of an attempt to get some attention," though the former sportscaster admits he started the feud as a way of raising his profile.

Olbermann has, for once, limited his on-air comments about O'Reilly. "Something sent him over the edge, I don't know what. Other than the sandbagging and bullying of Andrea Mitchell, it's kind of laughable. . . . There's no point in having a fight with someone who looks like an idiot."

O'Reilly stepped up his criticism of NBC as trying to "woo left-wing viewers" in late November, after the network said it would start describing the Iraq conflict as a civil war.

But O'Reilly's jabs against media coverage are hardly limited to one network. "Bush can't win no matter what he does," O'Reilly said recently. "NBC News, the New York Times, The Washington Post, they're going to say he's an idiot." O'Reilly also chided former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw for his comments about the mishandling of Saddam Hussein's hanging. (Brokaw also called Hussein a "godawful man.")

On Thursday, O'Reilly called MSNBC's coverage of Bush's prime-time address "incredibly negative" and chided "Hardball" host Chris Matthews for saying, during a discussion about Iraq, that Vice President Cheney "always wants to kill."

O'Reilly refuses to mention Olbermann by name, but complained earlier that "an NBC commentator" had said that "President Bush is allowing Americans to be killed in Iraq for money and other insane stuff. Unbelievable."

Olbermann had said that one of the president's accomplishments has been "to take money out of the pockets of every American, even out of the pockets of the dead soldiers on the battlefield and their families, and to have given that money to the war profiteers."

Adding an extra layer of farce, O'Reilly now regularly features a body-language expert, who said that Mitchell displayed "high level of uncomfortability" during her appearance on the show.

All but drowned out in the trash-talking is the serious question of whether the war coverage has been unfair. The media issue surrounding Hussein's hanging was not whether he deserved to die but whether the last-minute taunts and release of cellphone video made the execution look like a revenge killing.

The violence in Iraq may have been overemphasized at times, given the media's preference for dramatic pictures and the difficulties of reporting in a country where journalists are often targeted. But now that even Bush has acknowledged a failure to control the sectarian violence, administration officials have largely dropped their complaints that news organizations are distorting the situation in Iraq. Some conservatives, such as National Review Editor Rich Lowry, say their side must accept that the media turned out to be right about Iraq.

The cable pundits, for their part, thrive on finger-in-the-eye argument, not nuance. Fox analyst Geraldo Rivera defended O'Reilly in a radio interview, calling Olbermann a coward and saying he was ready to fight him. "I would make a pizza out of him," Rivera said.

Maybe they could put it on pay-per-view.

Speaking to America

It's no secret that Larry Sabato is one of the most quoted experts on the planet. Governing magazine's Josh Goodman has discovered that the University of Virginia political scientist was quoted last year in at least 46 states. "Over-stretched journalists tap Sabato as an easy source because they lack the time or wherewithal to cultivate relationship with insiders," the former U-Va. student writes.

Says Sabato, who believes the 46-state figure is inflated by interviews reprinted from wire services: "Why do they have to call people like me to draw obvious conclusions? Sometimes I see what I'm quoted as saying and I cringe -- because anyone off the street could have said it." The problem with reporters: "If they call and you don't return the call, they get mad. If you return the call, they accuse you of cozying up to the press."

Rave Review

"A sweeping chronicle . . . admirable clarity . . . skillful narrative" -- New Republic owner Martin Peretz in the Wall Street Journal, reviewing Michael Oren's "Power, Faith and Fantasy."

"I have been blessed with numerous friends who have backed me throughout this project and offered greatly valued comments on the text. Thanks go to . . . Martin Peretz" and many others -- Michael Oren, "Power, Faith and Fantasy."

Nice to Meet You, Too

"Within the first 45 seconds or so of our first interview, he called me a [bleeping] idiot." -- Ryan Lizza, profiling Rep. Rahm Emanuel in GQ.


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