Saturday, April 21, 2012

Olbermann Versus Gore

Prior to falling off the radar of cultural relevance when he left MSNBC, political commentator Keith Olbermann featured a segment on his nightly Countdown with Keith Olbermann called “The Worst Person in the World.” This was a mean-spirited label he invariably awarded to targets on the right, such as his Fox News ratings nemesis Bill O’Reilly, with whom he had a longstanding feud, or such formidable political threats as Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter Bristol. Now his latest boss, Current TV’s Al Gore, may be considering applying the label to Olbermann himself.

Olbermann was once MSNBC’s point man for the spewing of progressive lies and hate speech. Even among that network’s stable of leftist attack dogs like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell, the silver-haired Olbermann was notable for his angry, hyperbolic partisanship. Journalist and former Nightline host Ted Koppel called him “the most opinionated among MSNBC's left-leaning, Fox-baiting, money-generating hosts,” who “draws more than one million like-minded viewers to his program every night precisely because he is avowedly, unabashedly and monotonously partisan.”

That was then. Olbermann left MSNBC at the end of 2010 for reasons that have never been made clear. Less than 24 hours later, his friend Al Gore reached out to him, and the next February Olbermann brought his – at the time – star power to the Current TV network, run by founders Joel Hyatt and Gore, former U.S. Vice President and tireless promoter of his lucrative An Inconvenient Truth book and documentary. Current envisioned the new Countdown as a valuable primetime “tentpole” program. Olbermann was appointed chief news officer and given an equity stake in the progressive channel that was originally launched in 2005.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodwin deemed this a questionable move, calling Current “Al Gore’s Channel That Nobody Watches”: “Olbermann may be going to a cable channel that is in 60 million homes, but roughly 59,975,00 of those homes don’t know they have Current.”  And indeed, Olbermann went on to attract an average of only 177,000 viewers – a steep decline from his MSNBC reign.

Current and Olbermann, who hosted the show Countdown on the network, have been exchanging legal filings since last week after Current fired him for breach of contract. He sued Current right back for “bad faith termination,” saying the network, which he compared to “an unprofessional cable-access show,” was riddled with problems. He lambasted Hyatt and Gore as “dilettantes portraying entertainment industry executives” who “have no idea what they’re doing” and accused the network's management of “increasingly erratic and unprofessional actions.” He blamed Current's production quality, or lack thereof, for his show’s “precipitous decline in ratings.” He also claimed he is owed up to $70 million in compensation and the equity stake he was promised. Olbermann then went on David Letterman’s Late Show and pronounced himself to be like a $10 million chandelier while Current is like the owner of an empty lot without any building permits.

Current attorneys shot back with open contempt for, and frustration with, Olbermann in their counter-suit, claiming he “willfully” failed to show up for work and did not help create new programming or promote the network as he'd agreed to do when taking the job. They assert that Olbermann deserves nothing:

Current seeks a determination that it is no longer obligated to pay a dime to Mr. Olbermann who, having already been paid handsomely for showing up sporadically and utterly failing to keep his end of the bargain, now seeks to be paid tens of millions more for not working at all.

Apparently Olbermann took unauthorized vacation time – working only 19 of 41 business days in January and February – and refused to work on Current's U.S. presidential caucus and primary election coverage as he was asked to do. A Current spokesman said that the facts are on the channel’s side in this dispute and Olbermann is merely “pounding the table.” He added, bitingly, “We hope Mr. Olbermann understands that when it comes to the legal process, he is actually required to show up.”

The loose cannon Olbermann’s diva behavior hasn’t earned him many, if any, supporters. A former (but anonymous) staffer at MSNBC described him as “the walking definition of a hostile work environment.” A Baltimore Sun critic labeled him “an arrested adolescent.” An article at The Wrap entertainment website entitled “Good Riddance, Keith Olbermann” denounced him for his “self-aggrandizement” and said that, instead of delving into gritty, street-level reporting practiced by PBS' Frontline or even Current's own Vanguard, “he kept doing what he did on MSNBC: delivering petty attacks on people he didn't like, while occasionally feuding with his bosses at yet another network”:

What does it say about Olbermann's devotion to the liberalism he espouses that he can't even get along with Gore, a boss who praised him up and down and promised him the freedom to do whatever he wanted? If you have a string of failed relationships, you have to consider, at some point, that perhaps you are the problem – and not all of your exes.

What else does this say about Olbermann? That, thanks to this latest career self-immolation, the leftist firebrand seems to have been reduced to a smoldering ember, if not actually cold ashes. Perhaps the same can be said of Gore, whose global warming hysteria has been exposed as precisely that, and whose fledgling network initially tried to run on user-generated content from the youth market, until, as THR’s Tim Goodwin puts it, Current “realized that the youth market had better things to do – like illegally download HBO and just released movies.” So these former progressive icons, like lumbering monsters in an old Japanese science fiction film, have little left to do but begin battling each other.
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 4/17/12)