Doesn’t it seem like there’s more grappling than talking on the cable talk shows these days?
Welcome to the new world of TV wrestling – cable style. Move over, WWE – the cable news channels have their own cast of colorful characters who don’t hesitate to trash-talk their rivals as they each vie for cable’s championship belt.
One day it’s Keith Olbermann slapping another of his “Worst Person in the World” labels on Bill O’Reilly (as Olbermann just did again earlier this week), and on another day it’s Rachel Maddow condemning the entire Fox News Channel air staff as “slimeballs” (as she did on ‘Letterman’ a week ago).
The question is: Has all the sniping gone too far? Or, is the verbal wrestling just great entertainment – you know, like the WWE, where the wrestlers fake it in the name of showbiz?
As Fox News might say: We’ll report, you decide! Here’s a rundown of cable talk’s current heavyweights:
BILL “THE BIG SHOW” O’REILLY
Arena Of Choice: Fox News Channel, “The O’Reilly Factor” (weeknights at 8/7c)
Perceived Style Of Attack: Grumpy arch-conservative
But He’ll Tell You He’s…: “A traditionalist,” “an independent thinker, an independent voter.”
Memorable Match-Ups: Hammered for years by MSNBC attack dog Keith Olbermann, O’Reilly began a petition on-line to get MSNBC to replace Olbermann with Phil Donahue. He reportedly hates Olbermann so much that he once threatened to send Fox security goons to the home of a caller who dared mention Olbermann’s name on “The O’Reilly Factor.” He rarely, if ever, attacks Olbermann by name, but it’s clear who he’s talking about when he refers to “their guttersnipe at 8 [o'clock weeknights].” O’Reilly has criticized MSNBC and corporate parent MSNBC for permitting Olbermann’s broadsides against him.
KEITH “THE ANIMAL” OLBERMANN
Arena Of Choice: MSNBC, “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” (weeknights at 8/7c)
Perceived Style Of Attack: Raving liberal
But He’ll Tell You He’s…: “Not a liberal, I’m an American.”
Memorable Match-Ups: Without question, Olbermann has no peer among the new practitioners of verbal wrestling on TV. His target, almost exclusively, is Bill O’Reilly (the New York Times called their rivalry “the fiercest media feud of the decade”), but he saves plenty of venom for all other Fox newsies as well – Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, you name them. In fact, Olbermann calls the entire Fox News organization the “network of venality.” Besides frequently labeling O’Reilly as a “Worst Person” for statements and declarations with which Olbermann disagrees (or believes are factually wrong), he once donned an O’Reilly mask at a gathering of TV critics and gave the Nazi “Heil Hitler” salute.
RACHEL “HULK” MADDOW
Arena Of Choice: MSNBC, The Rachel Maddow Show” (weeknights at 9/8c)
Perceived Style Of Attack: Left coast? Left wing.
But She’ll Tell You She’s…: “A national security liberal.”
Memorable Match-Ups: Like her MSNBC colleague, Olbermann, Maddow has made a habit out of attacking right-wing media in general and Fox News in particular. Her attacks reached a peak of sorts recently when she condemned all Fox News personalities on the Letterman show as racist hate-mongers (and slimeballs), accusing them of fomenting fear of African-Americans. It’s a theme she revisits frequently on her MSNBC show.
SEAN “TRIPLE H” HANNITY
Arena Of Choice: Fox News Channel, “Hannity” (weeknights at 9/8c)
Perceived Style Of Attack: Conservative, but a good-looking one
But He’ll Tell You He’s…: See above.
Memorable Match-Ups: Hannity can take a hit, and seems to choose not to respond. The Internet is full of examples of Keith Olbermann hammering Hannity – for example, calling him a “buffoon” and challenging Hannity to make good on a promise Hannity once made on his own show that he would agree to to undergo “waterboarding” in order to determine if the procedure constitutes “torture.” But Hannity attacking Olbermann or MSNBC? We couldn’t seem to find any examples of that – is Hannity a cool customer or what?
GLENN “STONE COLD” BECK
Arena Of Choice: Fox News Channel, “Glenn Beck” (weekdays at 5 p.m./4c)
Perceived Style Of Attack: Kooky conspiracist
But He’ll Tell You He’s…: Conservative libertarian
Memorable Match-Ups: Unlike Hannity and O’Reilly, Beck doesn’t hesitate to go after Olbermann personally and by name, analyzing Olbermann’s statements and labeling him “crazy.” (For his part, Olbermann has labeled Beck “the fear-monger in chief”).
ELIOT “THE UNDERTAKER” SPITZER
Arena Of Choice: CNN, Show not yet titled (weeknights at 8/7c)
Scouting Report: Nicknamed “the love Gov” for his use of high-priced escorts – a habit that forced his resignation as governor of New York.
But He’ll Tell You He’s A…: Crusading prosecutor, old-school Democrat
Memorable Match-Ups: He’s a brash up-and-comer who is largely untested as a TV personality. But his willingness to throw himself back into the public arena after a scandal that might have finished off most people shows he can take a licking and keep on ticking.
Which hard-hitting cable newshead are you a fan of, and why?