BROOKE GLADSTONE: We may be fairly accused of beating up on cable news, but it's hard to resist when cable news beats up on itself. Case in point – the O'Reilly/Olbermann smackdown in the spring of 2006. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has a weekly segment called The Worst Person in the World, an honor he awarded day after day to Fox News's Bill O'Reilly.
Last April, O'Reilly finally cracked. He said anyone who spoke Olbermann's name on his program would hear from Fox security, and apparently at least one caller to his radio show actually did.
At the time of the smackdown, we gathered real tape of the feuding hosts, set their voices to music and, yeah, embellished just a little. Think of it as Behind the Music for cable news nerds. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] NARRATOR: Like all emcee rivalries, at the heart of the battle between Olbermann and O'Reilly is money, fame and street cred. Their cable news shows compete for the 8 P.M. slot. Ultimately, the success of one hinges on the destruction of the other. WOMAN: I think the real war began when Keith started calling him Ted Baxter, and then he included O'Reilly in the Worst Person segment 16 times - 16 times! I told him, "Keith, you're declaring war," and he just laughed. I tried to warn him. NARRATOR: O'Reilly banned anyone from mentioning Olbermann's name on his show. Things turned ugly when Mike from Orlando called in to O'Reilly's radio show and tried to mention Olbermann. Mike's line was cut, and a few days later, the O'Reilly crew released the chilling single, He's a Gone Guy. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] MAN: You're in the no-spin zone with Bill O'Reilly. Believe it. BILL O'REILLY: We have your phone numbers, by the way. Believe it— [SOUND OF TURNTABLE SCRATCHING] —because we're not going to play around. You will be held accountable. Believe it. So if you're listening, Mike, we have your phone number, and we're going to turn it over to Fox security and you'll be getting a little visit. Believe it. Now maybe Mike's going to get in big trouble. There you go. Mike is – he's a gone guy. NARRATOR: In the track, O'Reilly and his crew threaten to sic Fox security on anyone who gets in their way. Shepard Smith makes an eerie cameo at the end of the cut. BILL O'REILLY: He's a gone guy. Believe it. [LAUGHTER] SHEPARD SMITH: No! O'Reilly's angry! Where's Olbermann? Let's just throw something at Olbermann, Bill! [LAUGHTER] NARRATOR: The O'Reilly crew performed He's a Gone Guy two weeks later at the Peabodys in front of an amped-up crowd of broadcast executives. MAN: I think we showed Ol' B that we meant business. I mean, come on – they're on MSNBC. Who do they think they are? NARRATOR: But Ol' B as he now goes by, fired back with his own song, Threatenin' Behavior. He openly mocked the O'Reilly crew, further feeding the flames. KEITH OLBERMANN: Oh, here we go. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] Cut him off. Expurgated. Erased. It's a radio show. Even if a caller swears, it's a radio show. What do you mean you'll be getting a little visit? What do you mean we have your phone numbers? Bill thinks he has his own police. Radio show over here, trip to Gitmo over there. Why are you always smearing him, Bill? [SOUND OF TURNTABLE SCRATCHING] WOMAN: That is an abuse of Bill O'Reilly's power, and it's an attempt. He's crossed the line. It's an abuse of the media, it's an abuse of law enforcement, and he's now the one engaging in threatening behavior. NARRATOR: At a Peabody after-party, violence broke out when O'Reilly's Fox security roughed up Ol' B's posse. No one was wounded, but a producer's dress was damaged, and Ol' B's hair was mussed. WOMAN: Keith's hair just didn't have to get mussed like that. Keith's hair is great. I wish it hadn't gone down this way. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BROOKE GLADSTONE: As we said, those were the voices of the actual hosts. We made up the songs – and the part about the Peabodys.