Keith Olbermann seems to be the guy everyone at NBC News loves to hate. Stories about his suspension from MSNBC are beginning to emerge that paint an ugly picture of power plays and alignments in anticipation of the pending Comcast merger.
Howard Kurtz, our resident media rehab guy, has a long piece at the Daily Beast detailing the hand-wringing and power struggle going on behind the scenes. During the negotiations over his reinstatement, Olbermann's manager threatened to take the battle public, beginning with an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America.
“If you go on GMA, I will fire Keith,” Griffin shot back. Such a move was clearly grounds for dismissal.
The manager returned to the restaurant. He and Olbermann, who had been pushing hard to end the suspension the next day, discussed whether they would be burning bridges by carrying out the threat. Minutes later, their phones buzzed with emails from reporters, asking about a statement that NBC had just released. Olbermann, it said, would be allowed to return to his prime-time show on Tuesday—a day later than he had wanted.
Price called Griffin again. “What compelled you to do that in that way?” he asked.
“We are at war,” Griffin responded.
Sides aligned behind one or the other, with Rachel Maddow placed squarely in the middle.
It is entirely possible that the anger will subside and the former sportscaster will reclaim his cleanup spot, as the leader of a liberal lineup. But NBC executives say that the cable channel is far better positioned to withstand an Olbermann departure than it might have been a year ago. Rachel Maddow has emerged as a genuine star, Ed Schultz is gaining momentum, Chris Matthews has been energized by the midterm campaign, and Lawrence O’Donnell has successfully launched a new show in the 10 p.m. hour previously reserved for Countdown reruns.
This is really the heart of things. Rachel Maddow has an extraordinary following and for all of the threats about boycotts of MSNBC, it would be very difficult to imagine her being shuffled to the sidelines or boycotted by fans of both of them.
Anger and unhappiness over Olbermann's behavior escalated when, during negotiations over the apology executives demanded, he released it early. According to the Hollywood Reporter:
Instead of giving the apology to MSNBC, Olbermann released it to media outlets, saying he was sorry for the "unnecessary drama" for "mistakenly violating an inconsistently applied rule" about the political donations. (Indeed, he pointed out that Morning Joe's Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressmen, gave $5,000 to a state candidate the previous spring.)
Executives were also displeased with the apology Olbermann made at the end of his show the first day he returned to air, feeling he was trying to hurt NBC, slighting his staff by not mentioning them and making it all about himself.
I don't really get this, given that the entire controversy was all about Olbermann.
Whatever happens to Keith Olbermann in the future, this one line from Kurtz' article gave me a chill up my spine. MSNBC, while not truly progressive, is the only cable outlet with more than one progressive voice in its lineup, and we may see those voices squelched over time, because of this:
What’s more, the incoming bosses at Comcast, which will soon close a deal to buy NBC from General Electric, are a more buttoned-down crowd, and people at the network expect less tolerance for Olbermann than Zucker has shown over the years.