An earlier version of this article incorrectly described activist Mike Stark, who staged a protest at the home of Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, as a Daily Kos blogger. Stark has posted opinions and video at Daily Kos but is not affiliated with the Web site.
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Feud Fuels Bill O'Reilly's Blasts at GE
Last week, in an unrelated segment with CBS's Kimberly Dozier about being injured in Iraq, O'Reilly used a graphic that combined GE's logo with a photo of Ahmadinejad. The heading: "Business Partners."
GE spokesman Gary Sheffer called O'Reilly's remarks "offensive," saying: "He has a right to his opinion, and we equally have a right to be appalled by it. We felt he crossed the line. . . . Nothing we supply, or any goods and services we have supplied to Iran, is in any way endangering U.S. troops."
Asked about O'Reilly's motivation, Sheffer said that executives at Murdoch's News Corp. "tell us if the attacks on O'Reilly end, the attacks on GE will end. They've had conversations with our news executives saying, 'If you stop, we'll stop.' " An NBC spokeswoman confirmed the calls.
Fox would not comment on the criticism of Immelt, and O'Reilly declined to be interviewed. Some Fox staffers say Olbermann was out of bounds last month when he imagined the fate of "a poor kid" born to a transgendered man who became pregnant, adding: "Kind of like life at home for Bill's kids."
The sniping between O'Reilly and Olbermann initially seemed like good entertainment. But NBC News President Steve Capus grew alarmed when O'Reilly began saying that NBC correspondent Richard Engel was taking an antiwar position in his reporting from Iraq and that the network wasn't recognizing the early success of President Bush's surge.
"It is one thing to have corporate jousting between Keith and O'Reilly," Capus said. "When it becomes an over-the-top, inaccurate distortion and gross misrepresentation of the job being performed by Richard Engel, then I'm going to be concerned and feel the need to act."
Early last year, the sources say, Capus called Ailes to say that O'Reilly had gone over the line with reckless attacks on Engel. But, the sources recounted, Ailes said he agreed that NBC was against the war and had aligned itself with Olbermann's mockery. Capus, he said, had the power to shut down the situation by telling Olbermann to back off.
The conversation grew tense as Capus asked whether Ailes was threatening him with retaliation by O'Reilly and News Corp. if Olbermann kept up his criticism. Ailes kept returning to highly personal comments by Olbermann, whom he referred to with an expletive, and the impasse remained. The sources declined to be identified furnishing details of private conversations.
In last summer's conversation between Ailes and Zucker -- the two men have known each other since Zucker tapped him as a commentator for the "Today" show in the early 1990s -- the onetime Republican consultant asked whether NBC still cared about the truth. Olbermann had inaccurately called Ailes "the lead political consultant for Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign." Ailes worked for Giuliani's New York mayoral campaign in 1989, but no evidence has surfaced that he played a role in the presidential bid.
Zucker did nothing as a result of the call. "I have never asked Keith Olbermann to tone anything down," he said in a brief interview.
Olbermann said in an interview that his sources say Ailes was offering the campaign advice, which he did not explain or detail in his commentary. It would be a major breach of journalistic ethics for the head of a news channel to advise a politician, especially one his reporters are covering.
Fox's Lewis laughed off the charge, saying: "If he was offering Rudy advice, you think Rudy would have done as badly as he did? No way Roger was giving him advice."