Keith Olbermann

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  • In One Night, Keith Olbermann Obliterates Eric Bolling's Fox Ratings

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    This week, Keith Olbermann debuted his Countdown show on Current TV, having left MSNBC earlier this year. According to Nielsen numbers released by Current, Countdown's Monday night debut attracted 179,000 viewers between the ages of 25-54. It was an impressive showing for Current, a cable channel whose primetime audience in the past has hovered around 30,000 viewers.

    Countdown did well enough to beat out its CNN competition in the 8 p.m. time slot. What's also telling is how, in just one night, Olbermann managed to completely obliterate the ratings of Fox's Eric Bolling, whose nightly Fox Business show continues to be mired in a ratings wasteland.

    We recently detailed Bolling's Nielsen woes and how the rising Fox News star seems to failing upward under Roger Ailes. And we noted that for the all-important 25-54 demo, Bolling's nightly program this spring averaged just 14,000 viewers. (For the record, there are 122 million 25-54 year-olds in America; just 14,000 of them watch Bolling.)

    So, 179,000 demo viewers for Current newcomer Olbermann vs. 14,000 demo viewers for established Fox anchor Bolling.

    What must also be embarrassing for Bolling is that Fox Business and Current TV are available in roughly the same number of cable homes in America; 60 million. It's just that early on at least, a lot more people are watching Olberman than are watching Bolling.

  • The true meaning of Keith Olbermann

    Blog ››› ››› WILL BUNCH

    First of all: A necessary disclosure that most long-time readers of my Philadelphia Daily News blog Attytood already know, which is that more than three decades ago, I went to high school with Keith Olbermann; in fact he was the first editor, on our school newspaper, that I ever worked for (I'm about 10 days older than Olbermann, but he had skipped two grades ahead of me -- even his enemies have never said the guy isn't smart!). So we knew each other somewhat, way back when, and then about seven or eight years ago we became occasional email buddies; I've also been a guest on "Countdown" twice. So when I watched Olbermann on MSNBC, there's always been an element of "I knew him when" pride, and when people talked about his foibles like his mercurial disposition, I was never that outraged as some folks were, because it was pretty much just the same guy I remembered as a teenager...Keith being Keith.

    Today, and at least for the near future, Keith being Keith means being unemployed. I was just as shocked as everyone else when I flicked on CNN Friday night and saw the large breaking news chyron that Olbermann was suddenly "out" after eight years at MSNBC in which he went from moderately known ex-sportscaster to icon of a new liberal media that might not have existed were it not for him. Both the supersized breaking news coverage on rival (and thus not so disinterested) CNN on Friday and the inevitable discussion panel yesterday on that network's "Reliable Sources" with Howard Kurtz occasionally touched on a "talking point" certain to drive progressives crazy -- which is that Olbermann has been the perfect left side of a mirror image with angry conservative Fox hosts like Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck.

    Well, they all can be loud and take strong points of view, but otherwise the comparison is more than a tad ridiculous. Olbermann's list of worst transgressions would be headlined by an over-the-top rant about Sen. Scott Brown -- which he quickly apologized for! -- and violating a policy he said he didn't know existed by giving money to three Democratc candidates. Compare that to the unapologized-for sins of Beck -- explicitly using violent rhetoric like last summer's "shoot them in the head" comments or claiming that President Obama has "a deep-seated hatred of white people" -- or O'Reilly's frequent harangues against "Dr. Tiller the baby killer," who was later murdered by a right-wing zealot.

    Beck's words have not only inspired death threats against an elderly female professor but actual gunmen like Pittsburgh's Richard Poplawski, who bought into the host's conspiracy theories before killing three cops. I challenge anyone to find an act of Olbermann-inspired violence or threats (and while you're searching, check out his record as host of "Countdown" in supporting charitable causes).

    The irony here -- and it's a big one -- is that one of Olbermann's best contributions to our political dialogue was going after the bogus idea of false equivalency, that people on the left and the right are always equally bad in equal proportions while only centrists are the possessors of beauty and light and truth. Ironic because no one has been a bigger victim of false equivalency than Keith Olbermann himself.

    But then, Olbermann's odyssey as a journalist has always been grossly misunderstood, not just by the right-wing haters but even by the media critics who are paid six-figure salaries to know more than they do. The naysayers have tried to portray him as a kind of "Manchurian candidate," a hard-core doctrinaire leftist who must have been some kind of community organizer in a past life if he didn't emerge directly from the Politburo. What balderdash! I can tell you certainly that in high school the only "left" that Olbermann cared about was who was in left field for his beloved Yankees. Which may explain why he so focused on his future SPORTScasting! He was just not a particularly political guy.

    Which also explains the true meaning of Keith Olbermann. He became a hero to so many TV viewers (and saved MSNBC, which was really in its proverbial "last throes") in the mid-2000s because his journey was not that of a liberal ideologue but simply an American citizen who was appalled at the lies coming from the Bush White House and increasingly looked for ways to use his platform as a national journalist to relate something he came to see as not just a news story...but a threat to the Republic.

    Olbermann alluded to this odyssey when he signed off MSNBC on Friday night:

    The show gradually established its position as anti-establishment, from the stage craft of Mission Accomplished, to the exaggerated rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq, to the death of Pat Tillman, to Hurricane Katrina, to the nexus of politics and terror, to the first special comment.

    It was a gradual thing, indeed. My clear sense as a regular viewer of "Countdown" during those mid-2000s years was that Olbermann's initial outrage was not that of a partisan but that of a journalist, that he was incensed that the government was lying over matters like the Lynch and Tillman cases. It was only several years into it that he realized that -- with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney ensconced in a second term and lingering talk that "real men go to Tehran" -- he needed to do more. And so was born 'the special comment" -- his first one coming in August 2006, rebutting a speech that then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had delivered to the American Legion.

    Said Olbermann that night:

    The confusion we -- as its citizens— must now address, is stark and forbidding.

    But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note -- with hope in your heart — that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

    People who try to define Olbermann's significance as "finally a liberal came along as a counterweight to Fox News Channel" totally don't get it. Olbermann started the 2000s not as a liberal but a guy who still wanted to be a sportscaster. Things changed because he registered his disbelief at things that so many other regular Americans also could not believe were happening -- that America has pre-emptively invaded another country on false pretenses, that a country founded on civil liberties was now promoting torture and indefinite detention, that the government was not capable of responding to the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. There was a time when so many citizens who saw these things and were appalled by them did not have any voice in the mainstream media -- until Olbermann spoke up.

    And if you're thinking that Olbermann's move to the left was a shrewd career wasn't. Around the time that MSNBC was hiring Olbermann, it was also firing its top-rated host at the time, Phil Donahue, because at the tme the network thought liberal views like Donahue's were out of step with post-9/11 America. Again, I would ask you to contrast Olbermann with Beck, who went from pony-detailed pro-choice and anti-death-penalty libertarian in the 1990s to political conservatism because he was a failed "Morning Zoo" jock who emulated guys like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity who'd become multi-millionaires through their right-wing blather . Olbermann, in contrast, was not just copying but going well beyond a guy, Donahue, his bosses had just canned.

    But people responded because after several years of Cheney and Bush, Olbermann was telling them they were not crazy, and they were not alone. Olbermann empowered others in the media to be more brash in reporting on the abuses of the Bush years, and eventually the pessimism of that era dissipated for a new emerging American majority that elected a more forward-thinking Congress, for a time anyway, and a more progressive (we can argue how progressive some other time) president in 2008.

    As someone in the media who -- on a much, much smaller scale -- was also radicalized by the war in Iraq, the massive failure of our profession in exposing that war's faulty underpinnings, and other Bush-era outrages, I can also understand why -- leaving aside the role of personality conflicts and the looming arrival of MSNBC's Comcastic new management -- Olbermann might have felt that now was the time to go. What he inspired during Bush's presidency was nothing less than a revolution, and it's often hard to adjust when the romance of revolution fades. I doubt that covering the ups-and-downs and occasional broken promises of the Obama White House had the same thrill as exposing Obama's thoroughly corrupt predecessors.

    Ironically, Olbermann's tenure at MSNBC may have really ended because of something very much like the thing that he rightfully ridiculed Bush for more than anything else, the words that he reminded his viewers about night after night after night.

    Maybe he really left because of a Mission Accomplished.

  • Media Matters CEO David Brock Responds To Keith Olbermann's Departure From MSNBC

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    From an Associated Press article on Olbermann's departure:

    David Brock, founder and CEO of the liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America, said Olbermann "led the charge" against "conservative misinformation in prime time."

    "Keith is an innovator and extremely talented broadcaster who showed there was a market for progressive views on cable news," Brock said. "I'm sure we'll be hearing more of him soon, and I eagerly await hearing of his next move."

  • Newsbusters Reads Twitter, Selectively

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Curious attempt at gotcha from Brent Bozell's team today [emphasis added]:

    Keith Olbermann Praised Fuller Day Before His Death Threat to Tea Party Leader

    The insight of Noel Sheppard:

    On Friday, roughly 24 hours before J. Eric Fuller was going to be arrested for publicly threatening the life of a Tea Party leader at an ABC News town hall meeting, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann praised him via Twitter:

    That's basically Sheppard's entire point, that the day before Fuller did something objectionable by threatening the life of a Tea Party leader, Olbermann said nice things about Fuller. And.....? Was Olbermann supposed to know that Fuller might do something foolish the next day? Does Sheppard know what people are going to do in the future? I suspect Sheppard does not. But apparently Olbermann should. Or something.

    Punch line:

    Fuller was arrested and charged with threats and intimidation as well as disorderly conduct.

    Makes you wonder what Olbermann thinks of him now.

    Ha-ha. Sheppard wonders what Olbermann thinks of his pal Fuller now! Um, well if Sheppard read Twitter he would know what Olbermann thinks of Fuller's arrest because Olbermann tweeted it yesterday:

    Olbermann was quite clear about what he thought of Fuller's arrest. Sheppard pretends he doesn't know that.

  • Why O'Reilly has to remain mum about Olbermann's suspension

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Friday night's O'Reilly Factor was oddly silent about the day's breaking news that MSNBC had suspended Keith Olbermann without pay in light of the revelation that he'd given money to a handful of Democratic candidates during the midterm election cycle; donations that appeared to violate NBC's newsroom guidelines.

    The crickets from Bill O'Reilly's corner were rather stunning, considering he's had a running, nasty feud with Olbermann for years and the Fox News host has never been shy about attacking MSNBC or NBC on the air for its supposedly liberally biased way. Shouldn't the Olbermann story have provided O'Reilly more ammunition for his attacks?

    You'd think. But as I mentioned, O'Reilly didn't say boo about Olbermann Friday night. (And the entire Fox News team has been relatively quiet on the matter.) It's true that news of the MSNBC suspension broke around 5 p.m., which is the same time that O'Reilly reportedly tapes his evening show. But the news that Olbermann had made the Democratic donations was in play all day Friday. Still, silence from O'Reilly.

    Here's my guess as to why O'Reilly had to sit on his hands about Olbermann, and why he'll have to play dumb about the topic on Monday's show: The Fox News host can't rail about Olbermann giving campaign cash to candidates because O'Reilly's colleagues have done the exact same thing.

    Keep in mind, according to Media Matters' research, during the 2009-2010 election cycle, more than 30 Fox News players endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or organizations in more than 600 instances.

    So in arguably the biggest news story involving O'Reilly's MSNBC nemesis, the Fox News host can't even touch the topic because all he'll do is highlight the complete lack of ethics that drive Fox News.

    O'Reilly must be steaming.