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Keith Obermann, the fire-breathing sit-down comic masquerading as a journalist, arrived at Current TV like a Tasmanian devil, all whirling dervish praising his own self-perceived greatness while demanding perks and special treatment.
From the beginning, the Olbermann-Current relationship was a marriage made in hell, an attention-grabbing ploy doomed to failure. Larger, more-established networks had tried to deal with Olbermann and failed. His resume reads like a scorched-earth battle campaign, littered with corpses of the many he felt were beneath his fantasy of talent. Smoke from the burning bridges he left behind blotted out the sun.
MSNBC tried to cope with Olbermann twice. Both experiments ended in disaster — the last a very public firing. A short-lived stint at Fox Sports ended in another firing with owner Rupert Murdoch calling Olbermann “crazy.” When a loon like Murdoch calls you “crazy,” that must mean you’re lost in the ozone.
Olbermann burst on the scene as the co-host of ESPN’s “Sports Center,” where he and Dan Patrick sometimes got around to reporting sports news between comedy bits and self-absorption. The success of the show quickly went to Obermann’s already outsized heat and when the network refused to go along with his increasingly-onerous demands he left in a huff and denounced the network as “second rate.”
So Olbermann re-invented himself as a news anchor and moved to MSNBC where he hosted “The Big Show with Keith Olbermann,” a nightly rehashing of the Bill Clinton – Monica Lewinsky scandal. The openly-liberal Olbermann quickly chafed at the concept of a show that took a voyeuristic look at Clinton’s sex life, once proclaiming that “there really isn’t a ‘White House in crisis,’ but — hey — we’ve got a graphic that says so.” He left the network and — in true form — trashed his former bosses.
After the disaster at Fox News, MSNBC ignored the past and brought Olbermann back, this time to host the openly liberal “Countdown With Keith Olbermann.” Although his show climbed in the ratings, it never approached those of conservative Bill O’Reilly at Fox News, a frequent target for Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” segment.
Staff members at MSNBC tell many horror stories about Olbermann. He would deride staff members, was clearly chauvinistic around women, demanded staff run personal errands and would storm off in temper tantrums.
“People would keep their heads down around Keith,” one former MSNBC staff member tells Capitol Hill Blue. “When he arrived an email would go around with vital information on his mood. We called it the ‘Countdown Weather Report.’ ‘Stormy’ meant stay away. ‘Cloudy’ mean proceed at your own risk.”
NBC tired of Obermann’s excesses , fired him in January 2011 and a few months later he landed at Current TV amid of lot of hoopla. But the honeymoon was short — if one existed at all.
Olbermann immediately complained about his working conditions. He hated the car services that provided his limo transportation to the studio, complaining that drivers had the gall to try and talk to him. One, he bitched, smiled too much. Another, he claimed, smelled. Current went through several limo companies but none satisfied their finicky diva.
He didn’t like the $350,000 set that he helped design and insisted on a dark, black backdrop instead. Then he complained about that. He publicly derided the network for technical glitches, calling the technicians “amateurs” and “idiots.” He refused to co-host network election coverage because he didn’t like the setups. He suddenly took vacation days during important election coverage periods, including the Super Tuesday primaries.
Sometimes, he just didn’t show up for work, so Current owners Al Gore and Joel Hyatt decided enough was enough and fired him. Now Olbermann says he’s going to sue.
Let’s hope he does. Lawsuits have a nasty habit of dragging dirty laundry into public view and the clothes hamper of Keith Olbermann’s career stinks to high heaven. A lawsuit will expose him to what remains of his rapidly-shrinking base of die-hard fans, those who think opinion should replace facts in news reporting.
The New York Times over the weekend credited Olbermann with creating a place for liberal slant on television.
Now, liberal journalists and pundits who were inspired by Mr. Olbermann’s invectives against the Iraq war and the Bush administration five years ago have multiple channels to appear on and potentially be paid by — a marketplace, in effect, for liberal talent on television.
Stelter contends Olbermann did for the left what Murdoch and Fox News did for the right: Make slanted “news” mainstream.
A sad legacy. When opinion masquerades as fact and comedians become hosts of news show, everyone loses.