The rage of Keith Olbermann

The five-month layoff has Olbermann rubbing his hands in anticipation of a whole new pantheon of “Worst Person[s] in the World.” A stress fracture in his left foot, which he attributes to running in those weird Vibram FiveFingers shoes, left him hobbled, but at least he acquired a cane to go with all that curmudgeonliness, which he gestures with as he speaks. Like when Derek Jeter came up to bat. “Look at that slugging percentage,” he said. “It’s terrible. Awful.” I pointed out to Olbermann that Jeter was just a few feet away, well within earshot.“He knows what I think of him,” he said, giving a whatever wave with the cane without looking up from his scorecard…

But mostly he may have underestimated how fed up MSNBC was with his antics. There were times when he threatened not to come to work because of something someone said at his own station or in the press. It made for some tense moments, with substitute hosts on standby and very senior people spending hours talking him off a ledge and into the Town Car that would take him to the studio. And when he wasn’t threatening not to show up, he was threatening to quit. Olbermann explained to me that both his parents fell ill and died in his later years at MSNBC, and he took time off to care for them. Because he wrote most of the show himself — he was essentially a five-day-a-week op-ed columnist who performed his work live every night — it was only natural he would need a break now and again.

Olbermann said that his previous employer had all sorts of motives for making him seem more difficult than he is, but admits there’s something in it. “I made those situations difficult, so I’m not even at the mea culpa stage on this stuff,” he said. “But I tend to kick up, not down. . . . When I know I’ve done something wrong, I bleed over it, and I try to make it up to the people who are involved.” In the end, though, the rifts became impossible to repair. “Night after night, there would be this huge struggle just to talk him into sitting in the chair,” said one longtime executive at NBC, who asked not to be named because of the nondisclosure agreement. “It was such a grind and so pointless. Once he sat down, everything was fine, great even, because he is so talented. But after eight years, people just decided, ‘Enough.’ ”

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