MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell: Saint or Satan?

Depending on which account you read of MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, the man is either an angel or the Devil himself.

The Daily Beast‘s Washington Bureau Chief Howard Kurtz paints a picture of O’Donnell as a humble, well-meaning host with passionate views he isn’t afraid to defend.

“Lawrence O’Donnell doesn’t sound like he wants to be talking about himself or his prime-time cable show,” Kurtz writes of the MSNBC host. And later: “You can’t accuse the 59-year-old journeyman of overselling himself.” Kurtz talks about O’Donnell’s even temper as compared to his former colleague, Keith Olbermann, writing that there’s not much “resemblance in their style.” O’Donnell isn’t perfect, but that seems to be what Kurtz finds appealing. Kurtz describes O’Donnell’s tone as “that of a disapproving prep-school headmaster,” but the description seems endearing. O’Donnell is far from “playing the role of infallible host,” having apologized on the show twice in its short time on air, but that only serves to make him greater in Kurtz’s eyes.

Kurtz’s profile makes brief mention of another great O’Donnell trait – “he doesn’t seem overly sensitive to criticism” – with mention of a profile that took a much different look at the TV host: Moe Tkacik’s New York Observer piece from last month.

In Tkacik’s piece, titled “The O’Donnell Factor: A Hill Hack Goes Prime-Time Wacko,” the freelancer and former WCP writer isn’t as enamored with O’Donnell. Tkacik writes O’Donnell has “specialized in the sort of news…preferred by people who can’t be bothered to follow the news” which has “proven such a disaster” that some viewers have decided to watch Parker Spitzer instead. (The horror!) O’Donnell is a “vigorously vacuous character whose insipidity of subject matter is matched only by his sanctimony.” Tkacik questions the murky details of O’Donnell’s life story: When did he graduate from college? How old is he? Did he actually write for the Harvard Lampoon? Why did O’Donnell really resign from his job on Capitol Hill? All questions Kurtz fails to ignore in his short paragraph on O’Donnell’s background. Tkacik closes with a debate O’Donnell had with former Florida Rep. Alan Grayson. A debate in which “Mr. O’Donnell was wrong, on his terms as well as those of any sane debate.”

Both Kurtz and Tkacik discussed O’Donnell’s recent interview with Iowa Rep. Steve King, though with differing tones…

Kurtz: “Last month, O’Donnell ripped into Republican Congressman Steve King for saying he takes Obama’s word that he is a Christian. The host berated the Iowa lawmaker for refusing to acknowledge that he should correct people who mistakenly believe the president is a Muslim.”

Tkacik: “On it went, Mr. O’Donnell repeatedly interrupting the congressman he had invited on his program to discuss the outrage of Mr. O’Reilly’s repeated interruption of the non-Muslim commander in chief.”

On the matter of O’Donnell’s political views:

Kurtz: O’Donnell is a “self-described socialist.”

Tkacik: “Mr. O’Donnell bafflingly insists on using the term ‘socialist’ whenever asked to identify his place on the ideological spectrum.”