MSNBC’s O’Donnell Riles Glenn Beck, Mocks Fox News’ ‘Faux’ Debates

by | September 17, 2010 at 10:45 AM | Cable News, TV News

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell (Getty Images)

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell (Getty Images)

MSNBC’s newest prime-time star, Lawrence O’Donnell, is a self-described socialist who nevertheless finds conservative Fox News Channel firebrand Glenn Beck “fascinating.”

In fact, O’Donnell – whose new weeknight talk show, ‘The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,’ premieres Monday, Sept. 27, at 10/9c – doesn’t mind it at all when Beck attacks him.

“Glenn has much bigger ratings than I do. The more he says my name, the better,” O’Donnell said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.

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O’Donnell, 54, is a political insider (he worked for the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York), author, commentator (most frequently for MSNBC), TV writer (he was a key, Emmy-winning scribe for ‘The West Wing’) and actor (he has a recurring role as an attorney on ‘Big Love’).

He is also an unapologetic liberal. “But you have referred to yourself as a socialist,” the Reporter noted. “Yes,” O’Donnell answered, “a practical European socialist which, as it turns out, we all are, if you know that Social Security…. is a socialist program, and that Medicare is a socialist program, and that all economies of the world are mixed with some capitalism and some socialism…. They just vary in their degrees.”

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And yet, O’Donnell is at open-minded enough to heap praise on Beck’s showmanship. “What [he] does is fascinating from a performance standpoint, and I suspect that’s what a lot of the audience is there for, because it is unpredictable.”

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Earlier this month, Beck targeted O’Donnell when he questioned the attendance estimates for Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally held in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The event’s organizers had said the audience was upwards of 300,000 people, but some news organizations reacted skeptically to that figure. CBS for one sized up a crowd of 87,000.

Subbing for MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann a few days later, O’Donnell agreed with CBS’ estimate and attributed a portion of the audience to what he called normal “flow-through traffic of tourists.” Beck called O’Donnell’s comments “laughable.”

O’Donnell stands by “the smart estimates of about 80,000,” allowing, “It’s all guesswork. What we don’t know is how many were actually supporters of Glenn.”

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Refocusing on his new MSNBC forum, O’Donnell said he doubts he will beat his Fox News competition, ‘On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.’ Instead, he’s taking aim at CNN (where Anderson Cooper’s hard-news show, ‘AC 360,’ airs at 10).

He also said he will try to resist attacking Fox News personalities – at least at the outset. Recurring features akin to Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person In The World” and  Bill O’Reilly’s “Pinheads and Patriots” are “not something I’m setting out to do,” he said.

O’Donnell did poke some fun at the “faux debating” that takes place on Fox News programs, saying, “I get a kick out of it when Bill O’Reilly brings on Laura Ingraham and has her take a position wildly to his right, and then Bill gets to sound like the reasonable man. [He's] got a foil playing the extreme, crazy right-winger.”

O’Donnell even provided insight into the political persuasions of typical Hollywood screenwriters. He noted that he could remember only one Republican writer on ‘The West Wing,’ out of a staff of 50. “Look, the Writers Guild is 95 percent a liberal organization, so on the writing staffs of TV shows you begin with a 95 percent liberal pool.”

“It’s clear that the arts attract liberal participants,” he explained. “This phenomenon has pre-existed our time.”

What do you think of O’Donnell’s comments? Is it illuminating to hear someone in the media – someone with deep roots in both politics and Hollywood – actually come out and admit that the liberal point-of-view prevails in La La Land? What about the way he attacked Bill O’Reilly in the interview, while stating he’ll try and resist mounting such attacks on his talk show? Does his surprising candor pique your interest enough to watch his show?