Olbermann v. Current: Why Both Deserve to Lose

Assuming the termination of Keith Olbermann by Current TV does wind up in the courts, I think I can make a pretty strong case why both sides deserve to lose.

For Olbermann:

Ladies and gentleman of the jury:

Whatever Current executives might say now, they knew precisely what they were doing, and what they were getting. They hired Keith Olbermann to put them on the map, and essentially handed him the keys to the kingdom, complete with a lot of promises to build an operation around him.

What has been the result? A network that still looks cheap and cut-rate, and where Olbermann has been surrounded by mostly TV novices — people with the appropriate liberal views for the channel’s profile, but not much chops in the way of television, which is a different animal from radio and politics.

Yes, Cenk Uygur had an extended tryout period on MSNBC, but there’s still a public-access quality to his “Young Turks” show. And former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm is demonstrating the difference between being a cable-news guest and actually fronting a program — not the easiest place to engage in on-the-job training.

In short, the Current hierarchy made clear they were going to defer to Olbermann, and they didn’t keep him happy. And it’s not like his reputation for being a bit of a professional malcontent didn’t proceed him by, oh, three or four jobs.

As they say, let the buyer beware. And in this case, let the buyer pay up for its errors in judgment.

For Current:

Thank you, your honor.

Let’s face it, Keith Olbermann knew he was signing up for a rinky-dink news operation with virtually no profile. He wanted to be a big fish in a small pond. Now he’s complaining because the water was too shallow and not warm enough?

Olbermann might have brought his show over from MSNBC, name and all, but it was frequently clear he was frustrated by the glitches at Current, and it began to show up in the work. It might sound cosmetic, but when he stopped wearing a tie, it felt like a not-so-subtle commentary on the fact the network that was carrying him wasn’t worth knotting one.

As for Olbermann sitting out the channel’s primary-election coverage, based on what Current was paying him, he should have been front and center, whatever his misgivings about the network. The first rule of exercising editorial control as “chief news officer” is showing up, isn’t it? (By the way, even if we take him at his word about throat trouble being responsible for many of his absences, he was still absent an awful lot.)

This might not sound like advancing Current’s cause, but New York Times columnist David Carr was right when he said the network “was not and is not ready for primetime.” But Olbermann signed on with a mandate to help the channel get there. And if he lacked the patience to do it, the responsibility for that falls on him, not on his employers.

I rest my cases.


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