Olbermann: The Day the Muzak Died
The first days of spring are traditionally a time of new beginnings, and apparently this ancient axiom will hold true for perennial liberal gadfly Keith Olbermann. The news first came to my attention through social media, pointing to a rather stiff and formal letter from his most recent employers at Current TV. In it, they cited a failure on the part of the former MSNBC host to uphold their core values and mission agenda of “respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers.”
Olbermann quickly responded in kind by… threatening to sue them.
Now, if you happen to be like me -- by which I mean a keen, savvy consumer of all things political across the media spectrum -- you might have responded the same way I did on Twitter to my friend Ed Morrissey. “Wait... there really IS a Current TV? I thought that was a Twitter gag.”
But while many of Olbermann’s detractors -- and they are legion, I assure you -- will spend the weekend having more than their fair share of fun at the pundit’s expense, there are more than a few questions going unanswered. First of all, was this sudden divorce in a high profile media marriage truly all that “unexpected” as it’s being portrayed? There were some far less than subtle hints shortly after New Year's Day that trouble was afoot in paradise. Current had tasked Olbermann with being the sole host for their coverage of the official Election 2012 campaign kickoff for the Iowa and New Hampshire primary battles. He declined.
Further, as Politico reported, there had apparently been visible friction between the network’s flagship media star and their new president, David Bohrman, ever since he arrived on the scene. Combine that with Keith’s complaints of technical difficulties, up to and including the lights in the studio cutting out in the middle of his live broadcast, and perhaps Olby had some legitimate cause for acting like there was a burr under his saddle.
Things seemed to deteriorate further as this year’s presidential campaign continued, with Olbermann repeatedly asking for time off during key phases of the primary. Reading all of these reports, I will confess that I could imagine a scenario where he simply felt too put upon to continue.
But we’ve all had problems on the job from time to time. Professionals seem to find a way to work things out. In the case of Keith Olbermann, he may find the most likely suspect staring back at him from the mirror when he goes to shave Monday morning. While I didn’t follow him to Current TV, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to witness his antics in the past. This is a guy who simply didn’t seem to get along with anyone. He had perfected the art of being angry and holding a grudge to the point of being a new field of science.
Yes, we could easily write off his fondness for labeling anyone and everyone he disagreed with as “The Worst Person in the World.” It was a show biz bit, right? And his targets were almost uniformly conservative talkers and politicians. Olbermann was supposed to be the Ann Coulter of the furthest Left. Abrasive, insulting, infuriating… but always loyal to the goals of the home team. In the end, though, that was precisely the problem. Olbermann saw loyalty as a vice rather than a virtue. He could happily spend his nights slinging mud at everyone from Hannity and Rush to Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. But if he perceived even the slightest hint of disrespect from his comrades in the progressive community – including those signing his paychecks – his venom would be immediately unleashed.
Olbermann isn’t just dedicated and passionate about politics or ideology, he’s a very angry man. And this is a trait which comes across most clearly when he’s not shouting, but putting on his calm demeanor of explaining why the rest of us are wrong. He could have his picture pasted in Wikipedia next to the phrase “passive aggressive.” This comes across as clear as day in the “apology” he issued along with his threatened lawsuit.
I'd like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV.
Editorially, Countdown had never been better. But for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I've been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract.
This is simply textbook if you’re looking for the signs. He sets the tone of being the mature adult in a playground scuffle which is far beneath him. He’s going to “apologize.” But the nature of the apology quickly becomes apparent as he jabs his poison pen into the jugular of everyone who sought to work with him on his new endeavor. The only thing he’s truly sorry for, in the end, is his failure to recognize what a bunch of incompetent losers he was jumping into bed with.
So where will the long, strange journey of Keith Olbermann lead him next? There doesn’t seem to be much left in the way of big ticket stardom. He’s burned virtually every bridge that anyone has ever helped him build. I suppose he can go the Glenn Beck route and try to launch some sort of web-only 24/7 internet venture. But doe he really have that much of a following where it could be financially lucrative? The ratings for Current wouldn’t seem to indicate much proof of that.
If nothing else, Olbermann may provide us with one useful lesson. No matter how big you think you’ve gotten, everyone has a boss. And if you want to play in any league you have to put in some effort to make the entire enterprise a success, not treat it like your own personal moment on Dancing with the Stars.