Keith Olbermann, lather up: We watch, because we’re paid to

Ruth Graham Contributor
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He’s back — and for real this time! After disappearing for all but a single day in March, Keith Olbermann triumphantly returned to the anchor chair at “Countdown” this week. And what a week it was.

But let’s dispense with the painful news first: The ratings at “Countdown” were stronger with substitute host Lawrence O’Donnell than they were Keith in the chair in January or February. Even worse: Mediaite — a Web site Olbermann already loathes — reported earlier this week that the difference between last year’s ratings and this year’s were least significant in March. In other words, “Countdown” lost fewer year-to-year viewers with O’Donnell in the chair than it did with Olbermann himself. Ouch all around! Let’s cross our fingers for April’s numbers and take a look at that first week back:

MONDAY, MARCH 29: Olbermann promised us “more over-the-top hyperbolic hypocrisy tonight,” and he delivered, though I’m not sure he meant what I mean.

Like a Pantene girl, Olbermann is paid to work himself into a lather. Tonight he had some excellent fodder: The host spent a whole segment talking about The Daily Caller’s report that the RNC spent almost $2,000 at a bondage-themed nightclub in West Hollywood — and he did it all without mentioning The Daily Caller. Thanks to guest Dave Weigel, who eventually credited “Tucker Carlson’s newspaper.”

Later in the show, Olbermann plugged a new baseball memoir by Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Dirk Hayhurst. The host gushed that “it‘s already been compared, seriously, to J.D. Salinger‘s ‘Catcher in the Rye.’” But the only place I can find that comparison made is in an interview with the author himself, and then by Olbermann on his baseball blog. I guess in a very technical read of that passive construction — “It has been compared …” — he’s not wrong, but it’s a little misleading. Let’s try another version of it:

Keith Olbermann has been compared, seriously, to a Pantene girl. By me, just a few paragraphs ago.

Actually, that rhetorical technique could really come in handy. Anyway, in the middle of that segment, Olbermann also mused wistfully that the memoir is “about what happens when your dreams about your intended profession, whatever it is, run into the reality that at times everything is a job.” Ratings got you down, Keith?

To get his spirits up, Olbermann then bragged about being named “Playgirl’s” sexiest newscaster in 2004, an honor he had campaigned hard for. And he ended the show with some casual misogyny, just for old times’ sake: “If the Republican National Committee spent two grand on a visit to an L.A. ladies bondage club, where else they did spend money?” he asked. “And if they went to that club, they couldn’t find a better Senate candidate than Carly Fiorina?”

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Yes, Monday’s glorious return really had it all. And best of all, the “Worst Person in the World” segment is back, despite his promise on February 23 to rename is “The Countdown Hall of Shame.” RIP Hall of Shame. You didn’t last long, but I have a good candidate for #1 resident.

TUESDAY, MARCH 30: Tuesday was just a photocopied version of Monday.

Olbermann repeated The Daily Caller story, and repeated his omission of credit. Then he bragged about how the book he plugged yesterday had shot up to No. 12 on Amazon’s best-seller list, saying “Who is this Oprah Winfrey book woman again?” Careful, Keith. Oprah will hurt you.

In the retread of the RNC story, he pulled out a photo of “a half-naked bartender” who works at the Voyer West Hollywood, the club at which Republican donor dollars were spent. Very important to show off that photo. But doesn’t it seem like just yesterday he was tut-tutting Bill O’Reilly for “showing several minutes of the women in bikinis or less on TV”? Yes. It was literally yesterday.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31: Tonight was the seventh anniversary of “Countdown”! Also, Olbermann had to apologize for making fun of a woman with multiple sclerosis who fell down at work. The less said about that the better.

THURSDAY, APRIL 1: A remarkable thing happened on tonight’s show, and with it, a remarkable stem-winder of an introduction:

“It is a sad state of affairs for our nation when such a moment as this faces us tonight has been realized. But address this sad truth we must. It is a peril from which we cannot fly. We must face it where we stand,” Olbermann intoned. “Tonight, I have nothing I feel like complaining about.” So he played a viral video of some children singing Beyonce in the back seat of a car.

Then again, it was April Fool’s Day.

To be fair, I think he was kidding with that introduction, mugging a bit and playing up his own self-seriousness. But it’s so hard to tell because he has delivered every line in the history of his show — seven years and one day — with the same smug twinkle in his eye. Even when he’s being serious, he’s so pleased with his own cleverness that the twinkle persists.

Well, twinkle on, you crazy Pantene girl. And, some advice: if you want to get your ratings back up, NOT getting angry is certainly not the solution. You also might want to sic Oprah on Lawrence O’Donnell.

Previous columns:

Keith Olbermann is back. Hallelujah!

We miss you Keith Olbermann, Dylan Ratigan makes no sense

Keith Olbermann, look out! Dylan Ratigan is on your tail

Keith Olbermann is not the worst person in the world

Keith Olbermann dislikes Dick Cheney

Keith Olbermann is a funny, funny man

Keith Olbermann is a serious journalist

Keith Olbermann understands important things

Keith Olbermann is incredibly smart