Midway into his show on Friday, Keith Olbermann was informed that that edition of Countdown would be his last. The agreement to end the show had been more or less finalized late in the week, but for when his last show would be. Clearly, MSNBC didn't want to give him time to prepare a last show. He even had to carve out Fridays with Thurber in order to say goodbye.
I know not everyone who reads this is a fan, but I'm still smarting a little bit. Keith's been on the air for eight years, which is as long as I've had this blog. I've been watching him for 5, and he helped me cope with some dark times, both in our history and for me personally. He also introduced me to Rachel Maddow, who has been a similar influence to me.
Jonathan Turley, a Georgetown professor of Constitutional Law, and himself a big thinker, had this to say:
I have known and worked with Keith since the 1990s and his first news show, The Big Show with Keith Olbermann. He has held a number of positions on different networks — all with equal success. The public has always connected with Keith’s wit and sometimes wacky style. He is one of the smartest individuals I have ever known. He also genuinely cared about the issues addressed on his show.
Those characteristics that are so central to his success with viewers often led to conflicts with his respective networks. He is the ultimate lone wolf in an industry known for its pack mentality.
There are certain classics in American culture. They include the 67 Mustang, Wrigley Field, and every John Wayne film. For many news junkies, they also include Keith Olbermann. Intense, irreverent and insightful, Keith is unique. For that reason, his fans and friends will not allow him to be gone from the airways for long.
I see Keith as sort of a Bob Dylan of anchormen. Between his reading of Thurber and his opening music is style is firmly rooted in the forties and the golden age of television. It has the familiar feeling of Edward R. Murrow and Peter Jennings, but less dry. What he does with it is unique; the first of its kind.. The Bush era created a need, and he filled it. When he threw off the veneer of objectivity with his first special comment about Rumsfield and the Bush administration's response to critics of the Iraq War it was like Dylan going to Newport with Al Kooper, the Butterfield Blues Band and a Stratocaster. Many thought it was a betrayal, but it was more honest. More appropriate for the time.
Like Dylan, he's brilliant, but occasionally goes off in a direction that doesn't quite make sense. Despite that, he kept a good number of people sane during a dark time.
In this metaphor, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O Donnell, Chris Hayes, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Ezra Klein are sort of like The Band. Each of them was already talented, and in ways that go beyond Keith's strengths, and he gave them all a stage that raised their profile and made them shine.
MSNBC says that his departure has nothing to do with the merger with Comcast, and I think that they're being honest, but they're wrong. The corporate culture that led the people in charge to even think for a moment that it was acceptable to sell a news network to Comcast is the same one that causes friction with Keith.
There has been a lot of wild speculation on Twitter about where he should go next. What follows is an open letter to Keith Olbermann.
Keith, you've got millions, and you likely have been barred from TV for two years. Want to deliver a final Fuck You to the sell-outs at 30 Rock? It's time to break another old rule and put your money in the show.
Get some investors together (maybe team up with Howard Dean) and buy The Nation, and with Chris Hayes still acting as political director, expand it into web video. It would be stupidly inexpensive to put Countdown on the net. Three Cannon 7Ds, some lights, some servers, Cisco Telepresence, and a desk would just about do it.. That shit I described? Under forty grand plus $25 per month per Telepresence unit. In cable, you need the access to infrastructure to support 61.6 million viewers in order to service a million viewers. On the Internet, you only need the servers to be able to support a million (but you'd have enough to support 2 million).
I've been thinking about those logistics for some time and I'm utterly surprised that it hasn't happened yet. With Google TV just around the corner, the time for the Internet to take over the visiual media has come. Now is the time to push your chips to the center.
Offer contracts to Sam Seder, David Shuster, Dave Weigel, Ezra Klein, Chris Cilliza, David Wolffe and Ana Marie Cox (me too plz) and establish a fund for investigative journalism with Seymour Hirsch at the head. Maybe try and poach Rachel and Lawrence, but they'd probably stay where they are (as would, doubtlessly, a number of the people I just mentioned). Be a mogul.
If there's one thing you and Rachel have shown me, it's that it's time to get into the game. Whether or not the Comcast takeover had anything to do with you splitting with MSNBC, it serves as a reminder that the future of journalism is walking on a razor's edge. Many said that you were partly responsible, but they were wrong and it's time for you to prove it. You have the opportunity to make it a tightrope walk.
And just as an added bonus, MSNBC would have to pay your company in order to get your people on its shows. And if you made the move, the cable networks would put your face on the air, embargo or no embargo, end there'd be nothing MSNBC could do about it.
Not for nothing though, if Obama offers you the press secretary job, just forget everything I said and take it.