In an interview with Playboy, Lawrence O’Donnell explains how Keith Olbermann transformed MSNBC from a Fox News clone to Lean Forward.
Playboy asked O’Donnell is MSNBC was in reality the left’s answer to Fox News. He answered, “Not originally. At first MSNBC was trying to be Fox, doing a pathetic imitation of it. In show business you follow the leader, and Fox was the leader. If you have Desperate Housewives, then we’re going to get a housewives show. Fox was this incredible success, just amazing all of us, and MSNBC was trying to imitate it in whatever ways it could, pulling in whatever Republicans it could. The only liberal it hired at that time was named Ron Reagan, and his father used to be president.”
When asked what changed, O’Donnell gave Olbermann the credit for building the modern MSNBC, “It was a wonderful creative accident driven by Keith Olbermann. At a certain point in the progress, or lack of progress, of the Iraq war, Keith, who had his show on MSNBC, took a sharp turn to the left, and the ratings skyrocketed. If those ratings had gone down, that sharp left turn would have been stopped. I’m sure the executive class was afraid of it at first, until it saw the ratings reports. Once it did, there was no turning around. Counterprogramming turned out to be exactly what to do.”
MSNBC went from featuring Glenn Beck on Scarborough Country in 2003:
And giving Michael Savage his own show:
To Keith Olbermann in 2004 talking with Ralph Nader:
It is not an understatement to say that without Keith Olbermann, MSNBC might still be a cheap Fox News clone. It is rare in any form of media that you see the person who replaced the departed host so openly give credit to his predecessor for opening the door for him. Without Olbermann there would be no The Last Word, Rachel Maddow, or Ed Schultz.
MSNBC became a profitable venture because the network followed his lead. As we get ready to welcome Keith back to television on June 20, let’s take a minute to remember what Olbermann did for MSNBC, and what he could do for Current TV.
It will be great to have another network where voices of the left can be heard. Right now, liberal/progressive viewers are force fed whatever MSNBC wants to give them. This audience is also forced to endure MSNBC’s spotty live news coverage and five day work week. Competition is good and whether Olbermann’s style appeals to you or not, everyone should be welcoming him back.
Keith Olbermann successfully reshaped a network once, and I would not bet against him doing it again.