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Olbermann, O’Reilly, Ailes & the Nazis

After getting slammed for throwing a Nazi salute while wearing a Bill O’Reilly mask, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann offered an odd defense: it’s not as bad as O’Reilly’s support of a German SS massacre of U.S. soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge.

Doubtless many readers of Romenesko had the same reaction to Olberman’s note that we did: “Huh?” But we’ve unravelled the confusion.

Some background. Olbermann has discovered his ratings zoom if he taunts and insults Fox News’ O’Reilly the way O’Reilly taunts and insults, oh, most liberals. O’Reilly generally falls into the trap and blasts back on the air, giving Olbermann more attention and viewers than he ever had before.

Olbermann popped up at the Television Critics Association this weekend, wearing the mask and throwing  a Nazi salute, which was at the least pretty odd and at the most pretty offensive. Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes slammed Olbermann, saying that the salute was “over the line”.

Olbermann responeded by sending an email to media blogger Jim Romenesko: “Where was Roger Ailes when Bill O'Reilly defended the Nazi SS stormtroopers from Malmedy in World War II? The SS shot 84 American POW's there in 1944, and three different times in the last year, Bill called has called those dead American heroes war criminals. I guess there is no line at Fox News.”

What the hell is Olbermann talking about? In May, O’Reilly compared the recent massacre at Haditha, Iraq — where American soldiers killed Iraqi civilians — to the events of Malmédy in Belgium during WWII, saying U.S. soldiers slaughtered surrendering German troops.

“In Malmedy, as you know, U.S. forces captured S.S. forces, who had their hands in the air. And they were unarmed. And they shot them down. You know that. That's on the record. Been documented.”

O’Reilly’s point is that in the heat of a brutal firefight, soldiers can’t always trust that their opponents are actually surrendering and sometimes keep shooting.

OK. But that’s not what happened. In Malmédy it was the American troops who were massacred by the S.S. Olbermann siezed on the mistake to slam O’Reilly and Fox News, opening his June 1 newscast: “Why are they defending Nazi war criminals who killed American servicemen? The real story of Malmedy.”

The real story, Olberman said on the show: “113 Americans, nearly all of whom had surrendered outright, were ordered to assemble in an open field next to a restaurant… What happened next has been attributed to many things, a cold-blooded decision by that unit Panzer commander, Colonel Joachim Piper, that he could not handle the prisoners, or an unjustifiable overreaction to some kind of escape attempt or simply horrible mass murder.”

Those hungering for more detail should crack World War II Magazine. We keep a copy in the bathroom next to InStyle and Dwell.

By Mike Singer