What will MSNBC look like after the departure of its most famous star?
Last Friday night, in his typical drama queen fashion, Keith Olbermann, MSNBC’s top liberal shrieking head, suddenly announced that he was leaving his “Countdown” desk — immediately. This would be his final show. K.O.’s little bombshell came about ten minutes before the show ended.
Mr. wOw was momentarily stunned — but not at all surprised and not terribly sorry to see Olbermann off the MSNBC airwaves. Over the years Keith has morphed into a ranting, ridiculously overwrought Johnny One Note. Was he on the right side? From my point of view, yes, mostly. Did he hurt the cause by leaping before he looked, by never having a dissenting voice on his show, by playing to the balcony (in Tibet!) with his excruciating “Special Comments?” I think so. His one unqualified good deed was to mentor Rachel Maddow and bring her into the MSNBC lineup with her own hour of liberal talk. Though Maddow has her flaws — too cutesy for her own good, sometimes — she at least debated the opposing side (when any of them could man up enough to face the intelligent Dr.Maddow.) And despite a bit too much coverage of gay marriage and DADT (even for the very gay Mr. wOw) hers was the hour I most anticipated.
In all honestly, nobody in the know is surprised by Olbermann’s ouster. He is prickly, emotional diva, much like his arch-enemy, Fox News emperor Bill O’Reilly. But Olbermann seemed to irk his employers more than O’Reilly does — and this was even before the MSNBC was taken over by Phil Griffin and Comcast. The handwriting was on the wall. Even O’Reilly — without mentioning Olbermann’s name, which he was loathe to do — predicted with grim pleasure that “things are gonna change over there.” Bill wasn’t talking about the office decor. (Olbermann was suspended about two months ago, because he violated some arcane NBC policy by contributing to several Democratic campaigns. He was pissed off and didn’t hide it. That was the beginning of the end.) One would not have to stretch one’s imagination to conclude that the past three days have been among the happiest in Bill O’ Reilly’s entire life.
Ratings are a factor, natch. Even though Olbermann’s “Countdown” was the tottering network’s most successful show, it still badly trailed its competition on Fox. One senses also that Mr. Griffin and Comcast, if not conservative, are at least cognizant of where the winds of cash blow in from: a conservative viewership. They want to Fox it up on MSNBC. And if that means stripping the network of its liberal leanings, so be it. (The myth of the vast influence of “liberal media” is exactly that: a myth. Just as people say the Christian religion is always in jeopardy — yeah, while new mega-churches are built and packed to the rafters every year.)
So now Keith is gone, taking quite a few millions with him. We are left with Maddow, the somewhat arch Lawrence O’Donnell, the perpetually red-faced, jabbering Chris Matthews and Ed Shultz, who comes off like a not terribly bright truckdriver. (This is no slur to truckdrivers. Mr. wOw knew a few who were downright erudite!) MSNBC itself continues to freefall, unable to sustain 24-hour information. Are we doomed to those endless crime marathons, even when the rest of the world — and the other cable stations — are focused on news? Well, at least some facsimile of news.
I don’t care much what happens to Keith. He’ll be fine. He’s rich in pocket and ego. He’ll surface someplace else. He’ll never understand he was his own worst enemy.
I worry more about Maddow. I fear she is Comcast’s next victim. And in 2012, by the time we are deep into the election frenzy, what will MSNBC look like, sound like? Will it still be the “liberal” network, the loud counterpoint to the screaming “fair and balanced” Fox News? Or will it be neutered — or even worse, will it also be “fair and balanced?”
I see the darkness on the horizon.