Olbermann Back — With More Leverage Than Ever

Keith Olbermann returned from a two-day suspension that galvanized the host’s fans against his network with something that no doubt makes his bosses at MSNBC shudder a bit — namely, perhaps more leverage than ever.

Like most opinion-based cable shows, Olbermann is no stranger to turning the topic to himself, and he did so immediately Tuesday -– altering the open to his program and coyly asking, “So what’s new?,” then promising to discuss “my little adventure” later in the show. The usual suspects were pilloried — Keith_olbermann_058 especially with George W. Bush back in the news, flogging his autobiography — before Olbermann got back to the topic of himself.

Olbermann was welcomed back by filmmaker Michael Moore, who implored him, “Please don’t leave.” And inasmuch as he mostly made light of his “indefinite” suspension that ultimately lasted just two business days, the well-traveled Olbermann didn’t look like he was going anywhere.

Before his return, Olbermann apologized to viewers, but not his network, prompting Salon to note that the host has a resume “littered with antagonistic statements like this one, directed at current and former bosses.” It also raised speculation that he might quit or be canned.

Near the end of the hour, Olbermann offered a litany of thank-yous — including one to his leadout, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who defended him on-air — and then turned his situation into a referendum on the screwiness of campaign finance law. As an individual, he noted, his donations became public within a matter of days, whereas the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can throw money around without the public knowing exactly who’s trying to purchase their vote.

Olbermann offered a mild mea culpa regarding aspects of his behavior, saying he should not have named a Republican congressman to his “Worst Person” segment when he had donated to his opponent. Basically, though, he used the experience as an excuse to bash Fox News (who else?) while thanking fans — and even a few conservative columnists who supported him — for what “feels like a universal hug.”

The mercurial host does have a history of quitting jobs when he soured on them, including stints at ESPN and an earlier run at MSNBC during the President Clinton-Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. But everything appeared to be all smiles — at least for now — back on MSNBC.

As for the theory that the whole mess was actually a publicity stunt, Olbermann quipped near the outset, “If I had known that all this would happen, I would have done this years ago.”

UPDATE: Olbermann wasn’t the only one at MSNBC to get a few licks in at Fox News on Tuesday. Lawrence O’Donnell, inevitably, had to fire back at Glenn Beck for the FNC host’s latest “the end is coming” rant, in which he went mildly crazy over O’Donnell’s statement that he is a “socialist.” What Beck ignored, of course, was the context of those remarks and O’Donnell’s basic point, which he detailed Tuesday — namely, that programs like Social Security and Medicare are forms of socialism, making everyone in the U.S. who embraces them “socialists” to a degree.

O’Donnell’s nuanced explanation of our mixed economic system probably won’t make it into Beck’s next program, but who knows? These guys have a lot of time to fill each day, and as stated, they love feuding almost as much as they love talking about themselves.

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