Get a Load of Howard Kurtz on Olbermann

Wild Bill has forwarded me Howard Kurtz’s piece on the firing of Keith Olbermann, something HK attributes to Olbermann’s anger:

” […]But with fame, fortune and better ratings came an emboldened sense of his own power, aided and abetted by his network. During the 2008 campaign, Griffin allowed Olbermann, along with onetime Democratic strategist Chris Matthews, to anchor MSNBC’s news coverage on primary and convention nights, drawing protests from NBC’s old guard.

One night, when GOP strategist Mike Murphy got into an argument with Matthews, Olbermann could be overheard saying, “Let’s wrap him up, all right?” Another time, while conservative morning host Joe Scarborough was arguing that John McCain was becoming more competitive against Obama, Olbermann, sitting in the anchor chair, muttered, “Get a shovel.”

“I mean, ‘Get a shovel’? Keith, my God,” Scarborough complained. Griffin finally junked the plan, installing David Gregory as the anchor for live political events. But that was then: with Obama in the White House for the midterm elections, Olbermann led the team coverage, along with Maddow, Matthews, O’Donnell, Schultz and liberal commentator Gene Robinson.

By the time Griffin suspended Olbermann late last year for violating network rules by contributing to Democratic candidates, there were deep scars on both sides. When Olbermann threatened to air his grievances on other networks, Griffin vowed to fire him.

The relationship with management kept deteriorating to the point that divorce became inevitable. Even those sympathetic to Olbermann came to believe that his deep well of anger, the secret of his box-office success, often got the best of him.

In the interest of disclosure, I should admit that I find Kurtz’s show on CNN–in which he purports to monitor TV “journalism”–unwatchable. What he considers controversial usually bores me, and he never gets below the surface to discuss the structural ills of his medium, those having to do with corporate ownership, political spectacle, the disappearance of a genuine “Left” on TV (whereas the Right flourishes and controls one cable network, having erased the line between a major political party and a network completely), and so on.

Having said that, I feel the same way about his diagnosis of why Olbermann got fired. His examples of “anger” or ludicrous. Apparently he wanted to end one interview, and in another instance he used an apt colloquialism to call “bullshit” on the insipid Scarborough. Sure, maybe “get a shovel” is unprofessional, but given the cable landscape, just what counts as “professional” now? But evidence of “anger”? Huh?

Maybe Olbermann’s a hot-head. I don’t know. If that’s Kurtz’s point, he needs to give us more evidence, and needs to cite more than “even those sympathetic to Olbermann” as reliable sources.

I don’t have any evidence either, just experience and some intuition, both of which suggest to me that there was an old-fashioned power-conflict between labor (Olbermann) and management (his bosses), and management, which has all the power, won. I know also that if you’re a manager with some self-confidence, you learn to manage your best athletes, so to speak. If the “shovel” thing was Olbermann’s worst gaff, then apparently the rest of the “anger” (?) showed up behind the scenes. In which case you let him blow off steam, and/or you tell him to knock it off and cool down. But to fire him just shows where the real rage may lie; it’s that management-rage that’s often covered by a cool veneer and often speaks in grave tones about “civility.”

MSNBC showed Keith Olbermann who was boss.

If middle-of-the road Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz are the bucking broncos of MSNBC, then “anger” isn’t the chief problem.

Howard Kurtz, company man.

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2 Responses to “Get a Load of Howard Kurtz on Olbermann”

  1. wildbillhaltom Says:

    I did not get around to responding to Olbermann’s “Get a shovel” shot at Scarborough, so I am glad to have a chance here.

    I directly and repeatedly emailed Joe Scarborough through his show’s site that Scarborough was making a fool of himself each time he claimed that a race that was widening was narrowing. I am not certain Scarborough was rooting for the GOP. I supposed he was rooting for ratings from a horse race.

    Scarborough was fantasizing. Olbermann called him on his fantasizing. If that is unprofessional, so much the worse for the profession.

  2. O. Says:

    Yes, at most, the word-choice “get a shovel” might be unprofessional, but it’s hardly a transgression, and isn’t a viable example of “anger.”


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