MSNBC Misses Tim Russert

It’s hard to miss, watching MSNBC and Fox during the Democratic convention, how each network is hopelessly skewed for their candidates.

I thought I was the only one doing this, but last night on Jay Leno, comedian Bill Maher said he liked to toggle between MSNBC and Fox after a speech to compare the commentary.

At MSNBC, host Keith Olbermann was all sports analogies about how Senator Clinton had hit it out of the park. After Michele Obama’s speech, Olbermann said her speech was “pitch perfect.” Over at Fox, Fred Barnes, Bill Kristol and Fortune’s Nina Easton wouldn’t give the Democratic speakers a half a break, focusing almost entirely on Hillary Clinton not talking more personally about Obama, or specifically endorsing him as a commander-in-chief.

As a frequent watcher of MSNBC and Olbermann, I can’t recall the last time Olbermann had a negative riff about Obama or any of his staff. His tirades, often entertaining, have long been entirely directed at President Bush, Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Chris Matthews clearly misses his old friend Tim Russert. Matthews and Olbermann not only have no chemistry, but it is pretty clear they’d both rather be hosting with Russert, or with anyone else.

Check this exchange:

I have e-mails into MSNBC spokespeople to ask a few questions about their policy on running campaign ads within news programming if there are no real ad buys behind them (thus, making them video-press release), as well as a question about whether Olbermann should be made to go public and direct about his candidate preferences this election. No answer on either question yet.

It is odd, since MSNBC guest and new host of her own show Rachel Maddow makes no bones about which candidate she is backing: Obama. Likewise, Fox’s Sean Hannity, as clownish as he is, has made no bones about who he is backing. He, in fact, calls himself a surrogate for John McCain, as he nightly takes one cheap-shot at Obama after another. Bill O’Reilly, on the other hand, bristles at being called anything but an independent. Olbermann possibly feels sheepish about fessing up his politics given that he sees himself as a foil to O’Reilly.

Matthews, who comically refuses to wear hairspray or gel in the windy outdoor locale of the MSNBC studio in Denver, has become lumpishly likable. While he acknowledges the criticism he has received for gushing over Obama speeches, what seems pretty clear is that Matthews is not so much an unabashed fan of Obama as he is an unabashed fan of great political speeches and speakers. If Ronald Reagan was running, and gave an incredibly artful speech, I think Matthews would feel a chill up his leg over the Republican. The Republicans, though, have been devoid of truly great speech-makers since Reagan rode off into the sunset.

Politico reports that there is such unrest in MSNBC ranks that a shake-up is possible. In the end, ratings and ad revenue will prevail. One thing is certain, though, the cable channel misses the steady hand and competent coaching and refereeing of Tim Russert.

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