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TCA: NBC’s Capus Defends Election Coverage by Olbermann, Matthews

Beverly Hills -- NBC News president Steve Capus Monday defended his division’s use of the opinionated Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews to head up election coverage.

Legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow migrated between news and opinionated analysis and the "foundations of the great CBS News division were not shaken," Capus said.

Capus was peppered with questions during a Q&A session at the Television Critics Association press tour here Monday morning about Keith Olbermann's role as opinionated primetime host of Countdown and impartial anchor of MSNBC's 2008 election coverage.

Olbermann was taken to task earlier in the tour by his competitors on Fox News Channel, specifically Chris Wallace, who said MSNBC was clearly "in the tank for [Sen.] Barack Obama [D-Ill.]."

"Mr. Wallace is a little underinformed in all of this," Olbermann said, pointing out that Laura Ingraham and Bill O'Reilly were on Fox News "for lengths of time on primary nights."

A Fox News representative said Ingraham's and O'Reilly's appearances during primary coverage were within their capacity as commentators.

"We know there are different roles for us," Olbermann said. "And the viewers know there are different roles."

Olbermann and Chris Matthews anchored election coverage during the 2006 midterm elections. "And I don’t remember reading anything then suggesting that what we did on election night was inappropriate. The viewers get it," Capus added.

"This is not a new strategy,” he said. “We haven’t suddenly decided this. The audience gets it. I think that’s the single biggest factor. The audience understands the role that these guys have played. I think they play it right down the middle on election nights."

As far as their other critics -- namely the Bush administration -- Olbermann said: "I didn't redefine the American presidency. The president did. I didn't turn it into what it is right now. Pointed criticism of our presidents goes back to [George] Washington."

But the Bush administration -- and, to a lesser extent, Olbermann's ongoing feud with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly -- has helped to make Countdown appointment TV for a segment of viewers.

Wouldn't Countdown undergo a marked change in tone if Obama was elected?

"Fairness demands that whatever administration takes office in January gets, if not the same kind of vitriol, the same kind of vetting," Olbermann said. "I am hopeful that whoever takes office, we will never have to go through anything like this."

Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, was drawn into the discussion about partisan television in general and the Photoshopping antics of his competitors at Fox News.

Scarborough pointed out that Morning Joe delivers "three hours of news and politics every morning."

When the show was being developed, MSNBC president Phil Griffin told Scarborough that his litmus test would be late NBC News political leader Tim Russert.

"He said, 'I want you to do a show that has an audience of one. You're audience is Tim Russert. If Tim is enjoying what you're doing, you're doing well.'" Scarborough said. "We do news straight. My gosh, I don’t know who else in the morning is allowed to do three hours [of] news and politics."

For the latest news and video from the TCA press tour, click here.