The commentator carousel that has been Keith Olbermann's career has taken yet another turn.
The jabbering liberal commentator is gone as host of MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," bringing an end to his longest running gig to date (seven years).
Departures are nothing new for Olbermann, however; he spent five unremarkable years as an ESPN broadcaster, two erratic years as a FOX Sports reporter (before being fired by Rupert Murdoch, who called him "crazy") and two sputtering years as a co-host of NBC's "Football Night in America." Each departure was marred with discord.
Olbermann's long, slow decline with the network began to hasten in February 2010, when a steep ratings dip dropped him to third place in the prime-time news feature slot behind FOX News' Bill O'Reilly and Headline News' Nancy Grace. By December 2010, Olbermann's ratings had dropped 11 percent and in the coveted 24-54 demographic, they fell by 25 percent. Of course, 2010 was a difficult year for every major news network, but MSNBC suffered the worst declines of the top three networks (FOX, CNN and MSNBC).
Olbermann's rhetoric was often vitriolic, but reached worrisome proportions in early 2010 as his father struggled with complications of colon surgery. During this time, Olbermann castigated Massachusetts Senate candidate Scott Brown with a rant that even shocked Jon Stewart, the easy-going host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show. Olbermann apologized for the way in which he delivered his remarks (not, however, for their substance), but after his father died in March, the commentator's hate-filled invective returned with alarming alacrity. The man who once said that the Democrats' solution to Hillary Clinton should be "Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out" continued to introduce his "Worst Person in the World" segment with the intro, "Get out your pitchforks and torches ..."
Despite his show's decline in popularity (which coincided with its movement from straight news to commentary), Olbermann behaved like a prima donna throughout 2010. In November, MSNBC president Phil Griffin suspended the broadcaster for two weeks after the network learned from Politico that Olbermann had been quietly contributing to Democratic candidates running in the 2010 midterm elections. Although Olbermann makes no secret of his liberal politics, campaign contributions from network broadcasters is a no-no at NBC and MSNBC. While on suspension, Olbermann complained bitterly to anyone who'd listen, making his return to the network fraught with tension.
Olbermann's departure from MSNBC comes just three days after the FCC approved a merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. NBC president Jeff Zucker, who vehemently defended Olbermann throughout his many ordeals at MSNBC, was a casualty of the merger. Although some on the Left are saying that Comcast was the impetus behind Olbermann's abrupt departure, network insiders say that with Zucker gone, Olbermann no longer had an ally in the MSNBC hierarchy. The claim that Comcast is moving the news channel to the right is ridiculous, considering other liberal commentators such as Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow have been moved to more favorable time-slots thanks to the shakeup involving Olbermann.
Anybody who reads this blog knows of my personal dislike for Olbermann, but I certainly don't wish him ill. On the other hand, I sincerely hope he stays out of the spotlight for awhile. After all, if the harsh tone of the political discourse in America is truly the problem Olbermann has claimed it to be in recent weeks, then his departure from MSNBC is a giant step toward lifting our political rhetoric out of the gutter.
Photo © Steenwyck