Olbermann and Gore deserve the pain they are inflicting on each other

Current TV: The low end of a debased cable news landscape

March 31, 2012|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

Talk about a Friday afternoon dump: Keith Olbermann and his $50-million, five-year contract dumped by Al Gore's audience-challenged Current TV after less than a year on-air.

There is no shortage of meat for analysts to chew on these bones, and that is going to make for a tasty couple of days of media dish as Olbermann's enemies tear into whatever hide the one-time relatively powerful cable TV anchor has left.

For his part, Olbermann was on Twitter Friday threatening to sue.

"I'd like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV. Editorially, Countdown had never been better," Olbermann tweeted.

"But for more than a year I have been imploring @AlGore and @JoelHyatt to resolve our issues internally," he added, saying that they had instead publicized their disputes."

For the last few years, I was one of the paranoid Olbermann's many enemies, at least, in his mind. You can read about it on your own; I'm not even going to offer you a link to the multiple videos featuring me as one of Olbermann's worst persons. That's  history, and it feels like Olbermann is no longer all that relevant. In fact, he's kind of a dead host walking these days -- marginalized beyond the marginalization that Current defines.

I hailed his departure from MSNBC in January of 2011 because I believed with him leaving that channel, and Glenn Beck leaving Fox News, cable news TV would be a far less polarized and toxic space. The marginalization that I predicted for both, was on the money. But what a silly, silly fool I was to think cable news would get any better just because two of its most vocal and dangerous voices on the right and left were gone from their mainstream podiums.

Cable news is just as bad or worse than it has ever been with MSNBC host Al Sharpton holding rallies that attempt to heat up emotions rather than provide answers or, God help us, clarity on such stories as the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Ditto for Ed Schultz, another MSNBC rabblerousing ideologue, who takes huge payoffs from unions and leads rallies in places like Madison, Wisconsin, when he's sent there to presumably cover a story involving unions.

And let's not forget CNN contributor Roland Martin pre-judging guilt and telling viewers what participants were thinking. That would be the same Roland Martin, by the way, who on Super Bowl night used Twitter to advocate violence against men who didn't measure up to his idea of masculinity.

The cancer in cable TV news runs deeper than reckless, hotdog show hosts like Olbermann or Schultz. They are just the symptom that distracts us from the real disease, which is executives like MSNBC's Phil Griffin who says he's proud of the actions of hosts like Sharpton. Or channel owners like Gore, who is now running a nursing home for diagraced and/or defeated Democratic governors.

So, forgive me if I don't go crazy at the news that Olbermann is out at a national cable channel that draws fewer viewers in prime time than  most local stations draw for their 11 p.m. newscasts in Top 20 markets.

I predicted Gore and Current would rue the day they hired Olbermann, and it came sooner than even I thought it would. Olbermann has been doing his crazy dance for months -- not showing up on election nights, and then tweeting crazy stuff about why he wasn't on-air.

I'll include the very personal, meant-to-trash statement that Current owners Gore and Joel Hyatt issued in kicking Olbermann's butt out the door Friday.

But for all their talk about the audience-based values Olbermann allegedly betrayed, his firing wasn't really about that. It wasn't even about him acting like a crazy person.

He was canned. because Gore and Hyatt found out what some critics like me told them 18 months ago was actually true: Olbermann doesn't have an audience of more than a million viewers who will follow him anywhere on a nightly basis. As it turned out, he didn't have even a fraction of that audience.

And how do you pay someone $10 million a year for 5 years when local weathermen in Chicago are drawing larger audiences on the late news?

But at the moment, most of my contempt is for Gore, and his arrogance in thinking he knows anything about media except how to manipulate writers and critics on the far left into ignoring his failures as they keep insisting what a genius he is.

Gore's channel is every bit as bad or worse than MSNBC and Fox News in terms of its bias, distortion and outright propaganda. And while Fox News is a well-run machine that scores ratings triumph and after ratings triumph, Current TV is a mess. While Fox News is tribal in its shared sense of values and mission (as journalistically debased as those values might be), Current is a gang of used-up politicians and unabashed ideologues.

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