Keith Olbermann ’79 Abruptly Leaves MSNBC

After only about two years into a four-year contract with MSNBC, Olbermann announced completely unexpectedly that he was leaving MSNBC on Friday. It was not clear at first whether he quit or was fired. His show receives the most viewers than any other show on the network (which, is still behind O’Reilly, Hannity, Baier, Shep, Beck, and Greta–all on FOXNews). He was suspended briefly in November for donating money to the campaigns of three Democrats, which is apparently against MSNBC policies. It is also notable that Comcast just received regulatory approval this week for acquiring NBC Universal, though spokesman Jeremy Gaines originally denied that the takeover had anything to do with it.

Who knows what’s next for Olbermann? Perhaps he could go back to Sportscasting where his career started, but that seems unlikely given his relative success in ratings for political banter. As a fellow Cornellian, I wish him luck, though I hope he can find something more useful to do than to continue bashing George Bush and other Republicans.

Update (M. Alan): A few hours ago, Mediaite ended the flurry of speculation that had accompanied Olbermann’s departure, reporting that the deal to end Olbermann’s contract had been in the works since before Comcast’s pending acquisition of NBCU was set into motion. Despite Comcast’s denial of involvement in the Countdown host’s departure, the cable empire’s firing of NBCU head Jeff Zucker, described as Olbermann’s “biggest cheerleader,” undoubtedly factored into the decision.

While Mediaite’s sources attribute the divorce to “mundane office politics,” it has been no secret that the host’s oftentimes incendiary rhetoric on camera and abrasiveness towards many of his colleagues off camera had caused strife behind the scenes at MSNBC. In addition to Olbermann’s suspension by the cable news outlet last year for failing to disclose political donations he made to guests of his show, the CALS alumnus has recently been taking heat from all sides of the political spectrum for his penchant for hyperbole in light of the national debate on tone and civility in politics that has developed out of the media coverage of the tragedy in Arizona. Some of the targeted, er, debated rhetoric included the show’s nightly “Worst Person in the World” segment–an honor I had always dreamed of winning for myself–that usually focused on politicians or pundits who, despite the name of the segment, were guilty of no more than disagreeing with Olbermann.

Finally, a few details from a profile on Olbermann that appeared in New York magazine back in 2007 that are not only telling with regard to Olbermann’s rocky tenure and now second departure from MSNBC, but also indicative of the difficulty he may have finding new work in media:

As an employee, Olbermann was his own kind of Worst Person in the World. His sense of superiority and caustic vibe eventually cost him gigs and friends at three networks. How naughty was he? Olbermann was the only former ESPN star not invited back for the sports network’s 25th anniversary (he’s allowed to participate on Patrick’s radio show only because Patrick promised that Olbermann would never set foot on the network’s Bristol, Connecticut, campus).

. . .He began firing off thousand-word memos to management, lobbying on causes from saner hours for lowly production assistants to profit-sharing for ESPN employees who were helping the network generate billions. Along the way, he won a reputation as a miserable jerk. “Of all the people I’ve known inside and outside of the business, he was the unhappiest,” recalls a SportsCenter staffer. “Sometimes, at the end of the night, I’d leave early just so I wouldn’t have to give him a ride home. And it wasn’t out of my way.”

. . .He was fired from his first stint at MSNBC after he denounced his own show in a commencement address at his alma mater. Fox hired him to host its major-league baseball Game of the Week and then sent him home with a year left on his contract simply for being a malcontent.

. . .It’s a couple of hours before his nightly broadcast, and Olbermann is looking through boxes of mail in his Secaucus office. “Maybe this one contains Chris Matthews’s eyebrows,” he says, referring to his fellow MSNBC host. “You see them last night? Did he borrow them from Joe Pesci?” I’m watching from the wings with Jeremy Gaines, an MSNBC flack. “Did you hear that snort he just did?” asks Gaines. “That’s Keith’s imitation of Matthews.” Gaines then bites his lip as if to say “oops.” He tries to respin. “But they really, really like each other.”

All I can say is, “Have you no job, sir?!?”

1 Comment on Keith Olbermann ’79 Abruptly Leaves MSNBC

  1. Brendan Patrick Devine // January 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm //

    He could put his degree to work and start milking cows…

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