Was Olbermann a “victim of his own success”?

posted at 9:45 am on January 22, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Many years ago, one of my closest friends told me that the small company for which he worked at the time couldn’t afford to fire him for taking a weekend off because he was “indispensable.”  The following Monday he learned a hard lesson when he was told he was fired, although the company itself learned its own hard lesson when they tried to rehire him a few days later (thinking he’d learned his lesson) and discovered he’d found a better-paying job with one of the industry leaders the very next day.  No one is indispensable to any organization unless they own it.  Salon’s Steve Kornacki believes that Keith Olbermann may have made himself a lot less dispensable through his success at MSNBC:

He became an all-purpose critic of the administration and its cheerleaders, and then of the Republican Party and the modern brand of conservatism it has embraced. For years, liberals had watched the growth of Fox News with dismay and alarm. With “Countdown,” they finally had their own prime-time cable news show to flock to. Olbermann embraced the rivalry, skewing Fox and its personalities — particularly Bill O’Reilly — with biting humor and sarcasm, daring them to respond and acknowledge him. His ratings climbed — not to Fox levels, to be sure, but to levels that had been unheard of at MSNBC.

MSNBC, for its part, embraced the identity Olbermann was offering them. By 2008, his frequent guest, Rachel Maddow, was given her own show at 9 p.m. And liberal radio host Ed Schultz was given his own shortly after that. Lawrence O’Donnell, another left-of-center voice, was added just a few months ago. Eventually, the network adopted a new motto — “Lean forward” — that’s about as subtle as Fox’s “fair and balanced” pledge. MSNBC’s prime-time lineup is now awash in progressive politics. The most conservative voice after 5 p.m. belongs to Chris Matthews, a former aide to Tip O’Neill who nearly ran for Senate in Pennsylvania as a Democrat last year. After casting about for years, MSNBC at last knows exactly who it is — and isn’t — trying to reach.

Of course, now that he’s surrounded by similar voices, Olbermann isn’t nearly as essential to MSNBC’s brand, which surely has something to do with his abrupt departure on Friday night. Exactly what led to his exit remains unclear, but it’s hardly a secret that he’s had several intense clashes with his bosses recently, one of which led to a brief suspension in November. Now that they’ve built a loyal prime-time audience of left-leaning viewers, NBC’s executives may simply feel that they can afford to be rid of Olbermann and all of the headaches he brings with him. It used to be that he was the only reason liberals turned on their channel at night. Now he’s one of many reasons — a victim of his own success, in other words.

I’m not so sure that this applies.  Other than Maddow, whom Olbermann most certainly discovered and nurtured into a parallel show, the other people in the lineup had careers in broadcasting before Olbermann.  Larry O’Donnell, who will replace Olby in the 8 pm ET slot, has been around NBC for years as a talking head, having also worked on Capitol Hill and as a writer and producer on NBC’s West Wing, for which he won an Emmy.  Ed Schultz came out of the sparse liberal talk-radio circuit (as was Maddow, who survived the Air America train wreck).

Olbermann may have set the tone for MSNBC’s prime time, but that didn’t come because he took over the hour of programming, commando-style, and refused to leave the set until MSNBC decided to get partisan.  MSNBC made that decision themselves when they hired and then rehired Olbermann.  The actual strategy decision to go full-tilt to the left rather than present some notion of balance was made years ago, which Kornacki again credits to Olbermann without much evidence.  Let’s not forget that MSNBC tried other hosts from the left-of-center for several years before Maddow and Schultz got their niche, like Jesse Ventura in 2003 and Donny Deutsch (who still appears as a talking head and guest host) a couple of years after that.  The decision to go fully leftward was made well before 2008; it’s just that their talent search routinely flopped.

The game-changing moment came last March, when O’Donnell subbed for Olbermann and the ratings went up.  Within three months, O’Donnell had his own prime-time show, and MSNBC had its parachute from Olbermann’s drama.  The writing was on the wall by the time Olbermann got a two-day suspension for political donations to show guests.  Clearly, MSNBC no longer needed its expensive prime-time star, and the outcome only surprises because of the abrupt nature of his public departure.

Does Olbermann still need MSNBC?  Anderson Cooper’s coverage on CNN included former MSNBC host David Shuster, who insisted that a talent like Olbermann’s would draw plenty of interest, to which Cooper politely agreed.  His other guests, including Howard Kurtz, Roland Martin, and Erick Erickson, didn’t offer the same assurance to fans of Olbermann.  It would be difficult to see where Olbermann’s schtick would work on national broadcast or cable television other than MSNBC.  CNN wants to pursue an ostensibly balanced, middle-of-the-road approach to news and opinion, and Fox obviously positions itself to the right of both CNN and MSNBC.  On top of that, no one will be eager to take on the legendary personality conflicts that allegedly took place behind the scenes just to get someone that angry and partisan on their airwaves, at least not in the news business. In the end, Olbermann needed MSNBC a lot more than MSNBC needed Olbermann.

I’d expect Olbermann to return in another medium.  A return to sports might be in the offing, although with bridges burned at both ESPN and NBC and his years-long animus towards Fox, there aren’t many options there either.  He’d make a good fit at Huffington Post if their rumored web channel gets off the ground, although I’m not sure they could afford him.  Olbermann himself might create his own web and/or cable channel and go the Al Gore route; he made enough money at MSNBC to have some capital put aside, and he’d find backers easily enough.  He has plenty of time to decide his next move, and has too much support among the Left to simply fade into oblivion. When he does return, we’ll all have new grist for our mills, and it should be entertaining indeed.

Addendum: I have to admit to being very amused to have been named by Olbermann as the Best Person in the World and then the Worst Person in the World within a period of ten weeks.  Who knew eternity would last 17 months?

Update: A few commenters think that President Obama’s call for civility precipitated Olbermann’s departure, but that’s pretty obviously not the case.  If so, MSNBC would have also ended the shows of O’Donnell and Schultz, who regularly rant on air in pretty uncivil terms.  It looks as though MSNBC and Olbermann got tired enough of each other to end the relationship, and I don’t think that had a lot to do with Comcast either, except that the departure of Jeff Zucker apparently left Olbermann with no allies in MSNBC management.

Be sure to read Noel Sheppard’s take on this at Newsbusters.  Also, read all of Kornacki’s thoughts; I don’t agree with his conclusions, but it’s definitely worth reading.


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Olbermann was a victim of Sarah Palin

/lib

NoFanofLibs on January 22, 2011 at 6:13 PM

I so want this to be the publically stated reason. Imagine Olby eating out his liver knowing that he was fired because of Sarah Palin!
Mallard T. Drake on January 22, 2011 at 11:42 AM

Might be even worse than that!
Not only did he falsely accuse Palin of mass-murder it seems Olbermann “called for violence” against so-called “Blue Dog” Dems! Including Giffords!

Aug 3, 2009

Olbermann said, “We do not need to call the Democrats holding this up Blue Dogs that one word, dogs is perfectly sufficient, but let me speak to them collectively anyway.

I warn you all…….the full wrath of the progressive and the moderate movements in this country will come down on your heads.”

as if you are the prostitutes of our system……Cross us all at your peril.”

After Olbermanns threat in 2009………….


Most disturbingly, at a Giffords town hall meeting in 2009, police were called in after an unidentified attendee dropped a handgun.
Giffords herself was well aware of the threat.

Was the guy in 2009 acting on Olbermann’s threat to bring the “full wrath of the progressive and the moderate movements in this country will come down on your heads.

If you were in charge of MSNBC, what would you do to stifle an investigation into these Olbermann/MSNBC/2009/Giffords threats?

Especially after your network made Blame Palin for the Giffords shooting it’s main mission in life?

DSchoen on January 22, 2011 at 6:34 PM

Was Olbermann is a “victim of his own successTourettes”?!!

cableguy615 on January 22, 2011 at 6:41 PM

MSNBC’s prime-time lineup is now awash in progressive politics.

What’s “progressive” about name-calling, wanting to give away everyone else’s money except your own, hating your own country, lying, re-writing those portions of history that don’t fit your pre-conceived notions, acting like you’re educated beyond what you really are, and generally being over-emotional, obnoxious, hens who froth at the mouth when certain names are merely mentioned?

Dr. ZhivBlago on January 22, 2011 at 7:01 PM

DSchoen on January 22, 2011 at 6:34 PM

That is very very interesting. Some one should dig deeper.

Geochelone on January 22, 2011 at 8:15 PM

This is really juicy:

Glenn Beck correctly predicted Keith Olbermann’s firing two weeks ago, in the video clip above.

Here’s what else he had to say then:

* MSNBC is in incredible trouble, since Comcast does not see it as a loss-leader the way GE did.

* Comcast will run MSNBC as a business (not, as GE did, a tool to curry favor with the Obama administration by supplying the Left with a 24/7 propaganda network in exchange for whatever corporate subsidies, stimulus funds, and other corporate bribes GE wanted in this quid pro quo)

* If Comcast wants MSNBC to stay a Leftist station, it will still feature Leftist content…but it will have to strike a balance where it makes money (which it does not currently)

* Beck said, emphatically, that Comcast would not allow Keith Olbermann to stay on the air (and as of yesterday, 1/21/11, Beck was right)

* Keith Olbermann outlived his usefulness for radical and revolutionaries on the Left

* Beck insists the Left will ultimately come out with the deal of “If we get rid of MSNBC, then you have to get rid of FOX”. Beck scoffed at that, because MSNBC is low rated and clearly not popular with the majority of Americans and is doomed as a station unless Comcast radically alters it to make it more palatable to a wider audience. FOX, on the other hand, is the top rated news network in the country. While it’s not perfect, it really is fair and balanced for the most part.

* Keith Olbermann aired the clip of Beck’s predictions and tried making fun of it…but Beck was right about Olbermann’s firing.

What think you about the rest of Beck’s prognostication?

This really must chafe Olbermann’s Azz. Beck predicted it, KO denied it on his own show, and then gets canned.

Geochelone on January 22, 2011 at 8:29 PM

Obama’s Poem To Keith Olbermann

Nearly Nobody on January 22, 2011 at 8:29 PM

This really must chafe Olbermann’s Azz. Beck predicted it, KO denied it on his own show, and then gets canned.

Geochelone on January 22, 2011 at 8:29 PM

But he wasn’t canned, he has been trying to get out of his contract…

Like my parents had heard here in NY & I posted this last night on the other thread – he had been trying to get out of his contract – it was true

http://www.tmz.com/2011/01/22/keith-olbermann-msnbc-countdown-comcast-cable-news-network-nbc-universal-secret-deal/

Plus –

New rumor from another elite cocktail party here in the Big Apple –

Comcast is in early tslks/negoitiations with Rosie O’Donnell for her own primetime show with a liberal panel ala The View…in talks with Fran Drescher, Janine Garofolo, Janice Dickenson and Sandra Bernhard…

You heard it @ HotAir first guys…don’t forget that…

Comcast is moving the station further left my dear….

AprilOrit on January 22, 2011 at 8:42 PM

Comcast is moving the station further left my dear….

AprilOrit on January 22, 2011 at 8:42 PM

!?! Any further left and they’ll need a crutch to walk!

Dark-Star on January 22, 2011 at 9:59 PM

AprilOrit, What a STELLAR line-up, Rosie O’Donnel, Fran Drescher, Janine Garofalo, Janice Dickerson and Sandra Bernhard! And your source is an Elite cocktail party in New York! What a powerhouse team that would be, by the way , what color is the sky on Your Planet?

bigmike on January 22, 2011 at 11:35 PM

I don’t think any of us can tolerate such behavior long term. I had to back away from reading Ann Coulter for the same reason, and Ann backs up her rage with honest facts.

Keemo on January 22, 2011 at 10:01 AM

Ann Coulter doesn’t have rage. She has sarcasm.

Even so, it probably wouldn’t wear well if you heard it all the time. But since she’s a media figure, you don’t have to read her or watch her when you’re tired of her.

But she is very logical, very well reasoned, and often very funny. So I really can’t see even a halfway decent analogy to KO.

There Goes The Neighborhood on January 23, 2011 at 12:11 AM

But he wasn’t canned, he has been trying to get out of his contract…

AprilOrit on January 22, 2011 at 8:42 PM

He was fired. Oh, I’m sure he was angling for more money, but he got fired instead. Whether he was trying to change his contract or not is irrelevant. The suddenness of the departure establishes they were tired of dealing with him.

There Goes The Neighborhood on January 23, 2011 at 12:25 AM

AprilOrit, What a STELLAR line-up, Rosie O’Donnel, Fran Drescher, Janine Garofalo, Janice Dickerson and Sandra Bernhard! And your source is an Elite cocktail party in New York! What a powerhouse team that would be, by the way , what color is the sky on Your Planet?

bigmike on January 22, 2011 at 11:35 PM

Go ahead, make your fun, I was right about Olbermann.

Just wait and see, time will tell….bottomline, he didn’t leave because he was too Liberal.

Comcast wants to build on the Liberal angle, and make it a staunch heavy hitting opposite of Fox News….just wait, you’ll see.

All in good time, all in good time….

AprilOrit on January 23, 2011 at 1:12 AM

AprilOrit on January 23, 2011 at 1:12 AM

He let his ego run amok and got fired, the same way he let his ego run amok and got fired 14 years ago at ESPN. Olby was simpatico with most of the higher-ups at NBC politically, but just like up in Bristol, he pushed it too far in trying to prove he was the umber-alpha male and got his arse canned at the first obvious opportunity.

It’s not that Keith’s a liberal, it’s because he’s an a-hole. And wherever Keith goes next, he’ll do the exact same thing. And he’ll do it at the place after that, and the place after that, and the place after that…

jon1979 on January 23, 2011 at 1:27 AM

And this makes how many times Olbergoebbels has gotten the pink slip? This guy can’t get a job anywhere anymore. He’s got no credibility outside Kosland and HuffWorld.

O’Reilly wins…..

adamsmith on January 23, 2011 at 10:46 AM

Only on MSNBC could having almost zero ratings be considered “success”.

Cylor on January 23, 2011 at 11:07 AM

Hitler Finds Out That Olbermann Has Been Fired

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjHP2g4N3S8&feature=player_embedded#!

Geochelone on January 23, 2011 at 1:20 PM

K.O. will land on his feet very soon. I understand that his agent is working on a big contract broadcasting sports, his first love. Watch for Keith O. to star as the local NBC affiliate’s Omaha, Nebraska talent reporting on the high school football results . . . .

BigAlSouth on January 23, 2011 at 1:24 PM

No one is indispensable to any organization unless they own it.

Tell that to Apple.

Ortzinator on January 23, 2011 at 2:38 PM

Only the lefts press could turn a minor loudmouth on a network no one watches into a victim of his own ‘success’…FOX is a success, OlberWho is simply loud in a squeaky sort of way.

JIMV on January 23, 2011 at 4:23 PM

“Olbermann embraced the rivalry, skewing Fox and its personalities…”

Those who can, skewer. Those who can’t, skew. So I guess Steve Kornacki got it right after all.

Dave E. on January 23, 2011 at 9:09 PM

Olberman was a failure by every measure. The only place he might be considered a success is in his own mind. We all know what a mess that is.

dogsoldier on January 24, 2011 at 7:32 AM

Was it De Gualle who, when asked after dismissing an important member of his political team, stated “Behind us is a graveyard full of indispensable people, yet we are still a nation”

right2bright on January 24, 2011 at 8:16 AM

DeGaulle didn’t think anybody was indispensable – except himself.

mojo on January 24, 2011 at 12:50 PM

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