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Hard Luck Blues: Keith Olbermann Fired by Current TV

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Tonight, I found out that Keith Olbermann had been fired by turning on what I thought was going to be Keith Olbermann’s news program on Current TV, “Countdown,” and finding former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer in his place.  Spitzer did not explain what he was doing there.

Perturbed, I turned to the Internet and found out that Olbermann had been fired by Current TV because of “unexcused absences,” including the day before the March 6, 2012 primary (which must, by elimination, be March 5, 2012).  Here’s a link to the story on Yahoo News, which explains what Spitzer’s doing there:

And here’s a link from Forbes Magazine, which says that Olbermann is so mad, he’s gone “ballistic” over his ouster:

Here’s Olbermann’s statement, as quoted by the Forbes article:

Editorially, Countdown had never been better.  But for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I’ve been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff.  Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract.It goes almost without saying that the claims against me implied in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently.  To understand Mr. Hyatt’s “values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,” I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee.  That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain.

In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one.  That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it.

Here’s a relevant quote from the article (explaining what Olbermann said in his press release in simpler terms):

To paraphrase: Whatever happened, the fault is every bit Gore’s and Hyatt’s and not one scintilla mine. I merely created my best show ever and selflessly said nothing while my bosses broke promises and ultimately let me go because they’re cheap bastards. The whole world knows (“it almost goes without saying”) that Gore and Hyatt are dishonest and I’m honest, and I’m suing their asses, and here’s some unrelated dirt on them, just for good measure. Poor me. My only mistake was to trust the rats. I humbly apologize.

Forbes follows this up by asking tonight’s burning question: Where will Keith Olbermann work next, considering he’s burned his bridges with Fox TV, MSNBC, Current, and ESPN (among others)?

But I think they’ve missed the point entirely.  I’ve watched Olbermann for years; I didn’t like how he treated Hillary R. Clinton while she was running for President (some of his comments then were inexcusable), but other than that he’s a principled man who obviously takes pride in putting together a great show.  His show, his staff, and even his substitute hosts are first-rate; while I never enjoyed having to watch David Shuster or Bill Press sub for Olbermann, they always did an outstanding job. 

In addition, Olbermann was hired to help put together other shows for Current TV; since he was hired a year ago, Cenk Uygur, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, and former Gov. of New York Spitzer have been brought on board.  Olbermann had to take some time (I’m not sure how much) to get the Uygur show up to speed (Uygur had a show previously on MSNBC for a few months, so that probably wasn’t too taxing), then probably much more time to get former Gov. Granholm ready to host her own show as she’d had very little experience on the air — and most of that as a commentator, not as a host.  (Come to think of it, before her show “War Room with Jennifer Granholm,” I’m not sure Gov. Granholm had any experience as a host at all.)

Then, factor in the health problems that most people who’ve followed Olbermann’s career know he has — these are a bad back, and periodic headaches (they may be migraines, maybe not, but definitely aren’t good — they’re due to an accident using mass transit years ago) — and the fact that Olbermann’s widowed mother is getting up in years and probably has many health issues of her own to deal with.

So do you see what’s really going on here?  Olbermann had a great deal on his plate; he was developing shows and getting them “ramped up and ready to go” while keeping the quality high on his own show at the same time.  This may have been enough additional stress to exacerbate his back problems (and the headaches, which I’m more aware of because of things Olbermann hasn’t said rather than what he has).  And who knows how much Olbermann’s mother has needed him in the past year — if it’s been extensive, how can anyone blame him for that?

And all of that might explain what Current’s now calling his “excessive absenteeism.”  (I’d be willing to bet this is at least part of it.)

This is why I call Olbermann’s latest endgame the “hard luck blues.”  Because this time, unlike the last (which I blogged about here), I truly think Olbermann’s problems were brought on by one thing: stress.  He’d taken on more responsibility than ever before; as he’s known for being meticulous, irascible, and a perfectionist, how could Al Gore (who owns Current TV) have expected Olbermann to behave any differently?  (Especially as their own advertising on-line for “Countdown” says that Olbermann is known for his “provocative” commentary and is “journalism’s . . . most outspoken voice?”)

How can Current TV, or Al Gore in particular, honestly say they didn’t know what they were getting when they hired Olbermann?  Especially using namby-pamby language like this (quoted from the Yahoo article):

Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it.

And from what I recall from when Olbermann was signed by Current TV last year, he had as close to an iron-clad contract as is known to mankind, which might be why his lawyer, Patty Glaser, is saying tonight that:

“Keith Olbermann’s termination is baseless,” she said. “We will sue them for their improper conduct. They made a bad decision; they can expect a bad result.”

Lawyers are never this emphatic unless they’re absolutely certain they’re right.

So here’s the upshot, folks: I’m actually sorry for Keith Olbermann tonight.  Despite his millions of dollars, his high-fashion suits, and his “provocative” commentary, he’s been fired twice in two years.  And that has to hurt, no matter who you are.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 30, 2012 at 11:40 pm