Given where they stand politically, my guess is Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck would both hate being compared to each other, but the parallels are hard to ignore: Guys with big egos and loyal followings who shrunk their platforms — and thus the reach of their voices — by being unable to get along with the cable news network that employed them.
Still, following Olbermann’s present dispute with his new home, Current TV, just from a distance, it’s hard not to see the host — his reputation for being difficult notwithstanding — as being on the right side, as it were, in this instance.
Simply put, Current was nowhere when it hired Olbermann and asked him, in essence, to put the channel on the map. And even if the ratings have lagged well behind what he used to deliver on MSNBC, he’s done that, making the otherwise cut-rate-looking network at least part of the conversation.
The tradeoff, clearly, was giving Olbermann control. After his difficulties at MSNBC, he was giving up the resources of NBC News in exchange for a place where he would be allowed to call the shots. That was pretty obvious from what he said at the time, and given where Current was, not an unreasonable position as long as it was delineated going into the deal.
He’s also right, watching “Countdown With Keith Olbermann,” that the channel hasn’t fulfilled its part of the bargain by building a news operation around him. There are frequently technical glitches and snafus that perhaps ought to have been expected but nevertheless must be frustrating and embarrassing, both to Olbermann and his guests.
Admittedly, Olbermann can be his own worst enemy, and I’d extend that to the way he’s handled this situation, including his Twitter war with the New York Times’ Brian Stelter: To accuse Stelter of “threatening” him to do an interview sounds overblown. If Stelter had information and Olbermann disputed it, he didn’t have the credibility to do that without going on the record. That said, when a source tells a reporter something is inaccurate, you had better have the facts pretty well nailed if you’re going to ignore their denials and proceed with publishing it.
Still, if Olbermann can’t address what’s happening for legal reasons, then he should clam up about it — including Twitter — until he or his representatives can. Since his contract prevents him from talking, there’s little to be gained in tap-dancing around the issue.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t right, from what I’ve seen, in his reported beefs with Current.