MSNBC commentator Lawrence O'Donnell escalated attacks on NBC executives this week. On his MSNBC show "The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell" Wednesday night, he accused NBC (another division of his own company) of allowing "The Celebrity Apprentice" host Donald Trump to spread "racist" lies against President Obama in demanding that Obama produce his long-form birth certificate.
The blast by O'Donnell raises the question of how the network will proceed with Trump, who has said he is considering running for president, as he continues to host one of NBC's highest-rated shows.
Representatives from the network's news and entertainment divisions Thursday declined to address O'Donnell's remarks.
"NBC has created a monster who is using his NBC fame to spew hatred reeking with racist overtones and undertones," O'Donnell said on his show.
Trump has maintained that he cannot say whether he will run for president until after the May 22 finale of "The Celebrity Apprentice." O'Donnell charged that NBC Entertainment officials must already be aware of Trump's plans and ordered executives to reveal them.
"Those NBC executives should not be allowed to survive another day of involuntary entanglement in the Trump hatred campaign," he said. "NBC can no longer stand idly by, not for one more day."
O'Donnell declined to elaborate on his remarks. But one NBC insider who is familiar with the situation but asked not to be identified discussing internal conversations claimed that NBC does not know whether Trump plans to run.
"It's a little bit tricky," the insider said of NBC's predicament, complicated by the popularity this season of Trump's series, which is averaging 8.9 million viewers overall, an increase of 1 million viewers over last season.
In calling out NBC, O'Donnell has established himself as a firebrand, much like Keith Olbermann, his outspoken predecessor who abruptly left MSNBC recently after a rash of controversial remarks.
Marty Kaplan, director of USC Annenberg's Norman Lear Center, said that while NBC definitely has a "Donald Trump problem," they also have a "Lawrence O'Donnell problem."
"He's been excoriating them night after night, saying they are ducking the issue and letting Donald Trump hide behind their skirts," Kaplan said. "The news division has to be completely independent," noted Bob Steele, director of the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at Depauw University. "They must be as rigorous and vigorous about going after the Trump story as they would be going after anyone else who doesn't have a show on NBC."