Olbermann isn’t alone. Conservative crusader Glenn Beck once delivered huge ratings for Fox News, but even with a successful website, his impact is minimized. Former daytime diva Rosie O’Donnell was just dumped by Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel.
Opinionated talent rules in cable land. Many MSNBC hosts—from Joe Scarborough to Rachel Maddow to Al Sharpton—have no journalistic experience.
The star-making machinery has changed. When Today tapped Jane Pauley in 1976, she says, “I was 25 years old, four years out of college. I was extremely unknown.” Today alumnus Bryant Gumbel, who says he was “embarrassed” by the Palin stint, believes hosts “used to be judged not just on their popularity level but the extent to which they were capable of interviewing someone or reporting on a situation, or able to have a degree of gravitas. Now that is secondary to being popular.”