With the NBC/Comcast merger on the horizon and reports about the infighting at MSNBC surrounding Keith Olbermann becoming more numerous there is real danger lurking for Keith Olbermann at MSNBC. If Olbermann fans thought their job was done after the Countdown host returned from suspension last week, they best get prepared because the battle has just begun.
Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast posted a story today that paints a bleak picture of the problems at MSNBC. Although the information in Kurtz’s piece was confirmed by eight different sources, it’s clear that most, if not all of the sources, are against Olbermann. The big tell here is the claim that management has grown exhausted trying to rein Olbermann in, “Even those who admired Olbermann’s broadcasting skills felt that his behavior, such as making his staff leave notes outside his door rather than speaking to him, had gone too far. He was a royal pain, they said, and management had become exhausted trying to rein him in.”
Kurtz also cited sources at the network that described Olbermann as a man without a country, “Relations are so strained that Olbermann has not spoken directly with Capus or Griffin since the donations controversy erupted. While he is halfway through a four-year, $30 million contract, Olbermann has become, in the words of one staffer, “a man without a country.”
The line that MSNBC is better positioned to handle an Olbermann departure than they were a year ago was repeated again today, and Olbermann was described as having only Rachel Maddow as ally at MSNBC, “On one point, all sides seem to agree: With the notable exception of Maddow, his onetime protégée, Olbermann has no major allies left at 30 Rock. And that, given his history of crusading against authority, may be how he likes it.”
Jon Friedman who writes the Media Web column for the Wall Street Journal speculated on what the NBC/Comcast merger could mean for MSNBC and Olbermann, “f I were a betting man, I’d suspect that Comcast would want to rein in MSNBC — and avoid any future controversies. MSNBC is locked into supporting a left-leaning point of view — just as Fox reflects its right-tilting viewers. Will that change under Comcast? I’d doubt it, but you may well see more flexibility after Comcast takes over.”
Avoiding any future controversies could be interpreted as dumping Olbermann as soon as his contract expires after the 2012 presidential election. I agree with Friedman that Comcast is going to keep MSNBC left leaning, because MSNBC makes money, lots of money, and Comcast like any business, exists to make a profit, but if they think that hosts like Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, or Joe Scarborough are a problem, they won’t hesitate to get rid of them. Olbermann got a nice ratings bump on the night that he returned from suspension but his numbers quickly returned to the million plus range and he was outdrawn by Maddow by Thursday night. If viewers want Keith to remain on the air, they need to support his show.
If anybody thought the battle to keep Keith Olbermann on the air at MSNBC was won after the Countdown host returned from suspension, they were wrong. Phil Griffin has described the situation with Olbermann as war, and wars are not won with one battle, so after everyone took their pro-Olbermann avatars off their Twitter accounts, and claimed victory, the war at 30 Rock rages on. If you enjoy watching Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, you best stay alert, or be prepared to watch Countdown with Ed Schultz starting in 2013.