Abrams' Colleagues Seek Olbermann Apology Over Collaboration Comment

Some First Amendment attorneys are coming to the defense of one of their own.

The First Amendment Advisory Council of the Washington-based Media Institute, has called on MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann to apologize to their fellow Advisory Council member Floyd Abrams.

While they are not challenging Olbermann's right to criticize Abrams over his stand on the Citizen's United Supreme Court decision, they took strong issue with what they said was Olbermann's likening of Abrams, who is Jewish, to a Nazi collaborator during a Jan. 21 commentary on the decision, which allowed direct corporate and union funding of radio and TV campaign ads. Abrams simply represented "a client whose position you dislike in Citizens United," they said.

Calling it an unwarranted personal attack, the attorneys made their request in an "open letter" circulated by the Media Institute Wednesday.

"Floyd Abrams is the foremost First Amendment advocate of our time. He also is Jewish. For any Jew to be compared to a Nazi collaborator is vile, but in the case of Floyd is simply beyond comprehension," they wrote. "But your offhanded inclusion of this ugly epithet points to a deeper problem that has degraded public discourse - the breakdown of civility....

"Of course, you have the right to say what you did in your ‘special comment.' None of us questions that, and each of us would be willing to defend against any attempt to suppress your speech. We do not doubt your rights - just your judgment. It does not endanger free expression to counsel self-control and civility."

Signing the letter were Robert Corn-Revere; Lucy Dalglish; Adonis Hoffman; Tony Mauro; Robert M. O'Neil; Bruce W. Sanford; Rodney A. Smolla; Laurence H. Winer; and Kurt Wimmer.

The Institute is a media company-backed independent First Amendment think tank whose board of trustees (distinct from the First Amendment advisory council) includes a member from MSNBC-parent NBCU.

Media Institute President Patrick Maines pointed out that the letter and its language was the work of the council members, but said he was proud of them.

The letter was e-mailed Wednesday to Olbermann's address at Countdown, according to a spokesman for the Institute.

MSNBC had not commented at presstime.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.