Olbermann’s outspokenness on “Countdown” may make him the darling of some on the left, but his media career has been nothing if not consistent. His exit from Current TV, co-founded by former vice president Al Gore, is no different than his many previous exits, with Olbermann threatening a lawsuit over his dismissal.
Don’t mistake Olbermann for a journalist; he’s an entertainer, a performer. He claimed his fame in the early 1990s as a co-anchor of ESPN’s SportsCenter with Dan Patrick. True confession: I loved SportsCenter hosted by Patrick and Olbermann — their quick-witted, punny delivery was a hoot.
But then Olbermann’s celebrity went to his head and he left ESPN in a huff, later admitting he’d burned his bridges at the popular sports network. He landed at MSNBC, hosting “The Big Show with Keith Olbermann,” a news/talk offering that ended up focusing heavily on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. Disgusted by the focus on that scandal, he left MSNBC for Fox Sports News. Fox fired him in 2001; owner Rupert Murdoch later said, “He’s crazy.” (And we guess Murdoch should know crazy.)
In 2003, Olbermann returned to MSNBC and made "Countdown" a liberal, though less-watched, alternative to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. Murdoch often appeared in Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” list. MSNBC dropped Olbermann as a news anchor for political coverage in 2008, reportedly over concerns that he was too opinionated. In 2010, he was suspended for donating to three congressional candidates — a no-no for journalists, though few would say Olbermann ever was one. Finally, in January 2011, Olbermann and MSNBC split, presumably for good.
Within months, Olbermann and “Countdown” resurfaced at Current TV, with a hefty contract and a goal of bringing the little-known news network some attention. But Olbermann’s brand of attention-getting isn’t always a good thing. Technical issues by the start-up frustrated the anchor, and Olbermann reportedly refused to anchor Iowa caucus coverage in January. He apparently took a vacation day on the day of the Super Tuesday Republican primaries, leading to this week’s firing.
True fans needn’t worry; you can still catch Olbermann spewing on Twitter, and he’ll be on “Late Show With David Letterman” Tuesday in a conversation that could perhaps be dubbed “two cranky old men.”
Meanwhile, former New York governor and short-lived CNN talk host Eliot Spitzer will replace Olbermann.
Again, surprise, surprise.
Forced to resign as governor after a prostitution scandal, Spitzer and Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker co-hosted a short-lived CNN show. Parker occasionally got a word in before she left the show, which was later canceled.
As one attention-hungry male leaves Current TV to be replaced by another, observers should ask: Why put up with these guys? Why not hire a woman to lead the charge?
There are plenty of women who could ably host news and commentary shows without the ego baggage. It would have been nice if Al Gore and Current TV had looked around a bit instead of replacing the same-old with the same-old.
Sandra Fish is a writer and journalism professor in Boulder, Colo. Follow her on Twitter at @Fishnette.