NBC, Olbermann at war?
posted at 8:48 am on November 15, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
Have Keith Olbermann’s colleagues had enough of the circus at MSNBC? Eight insiders have vented to Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast about the anchor’s “totally narcissistic response” to the controversy over his political donations, and claim that Olbermann almost triggered his own termination by threatening to complain about his suspension in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America. According to these sources, NBC News stars including Tom Brokaw have told management that, er, Olbermann makes it hard for them to argue for MSNBC’s independence:
From the moment Olbermann was found to have donated money to three Democratic candidates, there has been a deepening sense of anger and frustration among his colleagues, according to interviews with eight knowledgeable sources. These sources, who declined to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the situation, say that several of NBC’s front-line stars, including Tom Brokaw, have expressed concern to management that Olbermann has badly damaged MSNBC’s reputation for independence. (NBC and MSNBC executives declined to comment, and Olbermann declined to be interviewed.)
Network staffers use phrases like “scorched-earth policy” and “totally narcissistic response” to describe how Olbermann has dealt with criticism of his political donations. A recurring theme is that he has made it impossible for MSNBC to argue that it is journalistically different from Fox News, which has no prohibition against political donations by such commentators and talk-show hosts as Sean Hannity and Karl Rove. The word hypocrisy has frequently been aimed at Olbermann.
This “war,” as Griffin apparently declared to Olbermann’s new management team at ICM, didn’t start with the political donations. In September, NBC brass met with his managers and told them that Olbermann had gotten out of control. The staff complaints about high-handed treatment — according to Kurtz’ sources, they aren’t allowed to talk with Olbermann but have to leave notes outside his office to communicate — had them alarmed. The angry, Peter Finch shtick had grown tired. The donations hit in the middle of this, and it has NBC desperate enough to believe this:
It is entirely possible that the anger will subside and the former sportscaster will reclaim his cleanup spot, as the leader of a liberal lineup. But NBC executives say that the cable channel is far better positioned to withstand an Olbermann departure than it might have been a year ago. Rachel Maddow has emerged as a genuine star, Ed Schultz is gaining momentum, Chris Matthews has been energized by the midterm campaign, and Lawrence O’Donnell has successfully launched a new show in the 10 p.m. hour previously reserved for Countdown reruns.
First, if NBC has had enough of Olbermann’s angry-man routine, they’re not going to like Larry O’Donnell’s red-faced shouting rants any better, and neither will Comcast when it has to take over this mess. Matthews has been around for years, and “energized” is hardly the word for his work; Hardball has become Softball For Democrats. Schultz is a one-note joke with the same Peter Finch Syndrome as O’Donnell and Olbermann. Maddow does have broadcast chops, but she can’t carry four hours of prime time. In fact, as their ratings show, none of them can. They’ve managed to pass CNN only by allowing the first all-news network to stumble behind them.
Be sure to read it all, and have plenty of popcorn handy for passing.