Olbermann Takes Blame (Not Really) on Letterman

Years ago, I remember hearing my dad say to my mother that he was wrong “to let her start that fight.” It always struck me as a particularly mealy-mouthed way of assigning blame to someone else while appearing to shoulder some.

That, in a nutshell, is what Keith Olbermann did on “Late Show With David Letterman” on Tuesday, saying of his relatively brief tenure hosting a show at Current, “It’s my fault that it didn’t succeed, in the sense that I didn’t think the whole thing through.”

Olbermann’s fault? Only to the extent that he agreed to the gig in the first place, likening himself to a “$10-million chandelier,” without a house to put it in. Current, in other words, hired a big-time anchor to headline a rinky-dink, empty news operation.

Having watched enough of “Countdown” on Current, that’s accurate, though it still doesn’t necessarily make Olbermann especially sympathetic, mostly because of the whole $10 million part. He was, in essence, getting paid a butt-load of money to put Current on the map. Even with the frustration of the lights going out occasionally and the car service not getting paid, that seems like a reasonably sweet deal. (Olbermann joked that doing a Top 10 list on “Late Show” in September was “the last time I had fun on TV,” but again, boo hoo.)

As it turned out, Olbermann’s best advocate on Tuesday was Letterman. Olbermann, he said, was being “contrite to almost a fault.” Dave then gave the newly unemployed anchor his own endorsement, saying he believed the Current brass “took on some responsibility that they could not live up to and fulfill, and you are suffering for it.”

That sounds about right, except for the suffering part, which is certainly relative. Whatever the outcome of Olbermann’s plans to take legal action against his most recent employer, he’ll be fine, and as the New York Times’ David Carr noted, some brave soul will get back into business with him. Moreover, Olbermann — as a celebrity — has a leg up vis-a-vis the mostly faceless execs against whom he’s railing, while he let Current co-owner Al Gore off the hook by saying he was, in essence, an absentee landlord.

The Olbermann-Current breakup will remain news because it’s been so public, honest and nasty, unlike the usual “spend more time with my family” press releases to which journalists are accustomed.

Besides, the media thrive on conflict. And for my small part in that, I blame myself … come to think of it, not at all.



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