Keith Olbermann’s summer vacation: We watch, because we’re paid to

Ruth Graham Contributor
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I don’t know about you, but when I take a long vacation, I like to turn off my phone, leave home and see the world. When Keith Olbermann takes a vacation, he holes up in his apartment, Tweets unceasingly and becomes so angry about minor political squabbles that he then has to come back into the office to lecture us about it on air. It’s like the saying goes: A blowhard’s work is never done.

Olbermann abruptly announced a two-week vacation last week. Lawrence O’Donnell, a frequent “Countdown” guest host who is preparing to host his own MSNBC show at 10 p.m. weekdays this fall, stepped in to substitute. It should have been simple, and given us all a break.

Indeed, Olbermann needed one. It hasn’t been an easy week, notwithstanding the ongoing popularity of The Daily Caller revealed that his own supposed allies — left-leaning journalists and academics — consider him tedious, misogynistic and pompous. Two of his senior-level “Countdown” producers, executive producer Izzy Povich and senior producer Greg Kordick, jumped ship for Lawrence O’Donnell’s upcoming show. Olbermann hastily tweeted that Kordick had left “with my blessing.” Ok, then.

That wasn’t his only tweet, of course. The man who has tweeted almost 3,000 times in just a few months didn’t let vacation stir him from releasing a steady stream of wisdom online. Here are just a few excerpts:

I have size 14 feet.”

I would say my average consumption of alcohol is one drink a week. Maybe one-and-a-half.”

Which show got a Murrow and an Emmy nomination for quality of writing? O’Reilly or mine?”

He also kept up what has become a pathetic nightly tradition: responding to the many people who bait and insult him on Twitter. He calls it “batting practice.” Usually this comes in the form of “retweeting,” or reposting, the tweets of his enemies, and then making fun of their typos or calling them stupid. Thursday night he told one woman “Once again, in the battle of wits, I’m opposed by the unarmed,” and about 4 a.m. told another antagonist “Keep puking. I would guess it would be the most intelligent thing ever to come out of your mouth.” I suppose everyone wins, though: Olbermann’s critics get to feel their insults have made contact, and he gets to while away his evenings puffing up his ego. But that doesn’t mean it’s not also sad to witness.

But Olbermann ended up doing more than tweeting this week. You see, the man is nothing if not a workaholic, or at the very least a seeinghimselfonTVaholic. And news broke this week that was so earth-shattering that no responsible journalist could let it lie without explosive, lengthy public comment on Wednesday. Was it the signing of the most sweeping new financial regulations since the Great Depression? The continuing revelations about Journolist? The jailing of Lindsay Lohan?

No, it was the USDA’s hasty firing of Georgia official Shirley Sherrod after the release of a misleadingly incriminating videotape of a recent speech — a sordid story, to be sure, but perhaps not one that most people would rush home from vacation for. But — surprise! — Olbermann is not most people. He’s much angrier than most people, and on Wednesday he was probably the angriest I’ve seen him in the more than six months I’ve been watching this show.


He started his Special Comment with a tedious recounting of the Dreyfus Affair and set off from there. Those who didn’t glaze over instantly were treated to a real shock: As it turns out, the Shirley Sherrod Affair is a story that is primarily about the persecution of Keith Olbermann:

“I have sat behind this desk for seven years and pushed back at these counterfeit journalists as a man might stand at the shore and try to push back the tide,” he intoned indignantly. “I have been branded an ideologue and a profiteer and a mirror image of that I have been assailing. I have said in every way I can think of and been told I have been over the top because I have mocked and shouted and repeated. And today the proof lies in front of you bleeding: the reputation of Shirley Sherrod.”

Olbermann was just getting going. Hilariously, he proclaimed that Sherrod “achieved the kind of true greatness the rest of us can only hope we might express in one moment in the whole of our lives.” He used phrases like “24-hour parade of feces dressed up as news,” “assassins of the right,” and “pornographer of propaganda.” He shouted to President Obama that “It’s a freaking war out here!” Then he apologized to Shirley Sherrod on behalf of the American people and invited her to return to work.

To that I say: GET A GRIP, KEITH. Indeed, the reputation of Shirley Sherrod suffered greatly for a day or so, and she was pushed onto the national stage and forced to resign. Mediaite’s story on the story’s unfolding suggests there’s plenty of blame to go around — CNN mention Sherrod Tuesday 63 times to Fox’s 39 times, for example. But just as quickly, her reputation was restored in pretty much everyone’s eyes, including those who had never heard of her before a few days ago. She was offered a new job, her story was in every newspaper, and President Obama called her on the phone. CNN is going to do a special on her this weekend. Glenn Beck has become one of her many powerful defenders.

So relax, Keith. You’re not the lone man trying to “push back the tide.” The fact that you use that metaphor, however, suggests that you’re at least vaguely aware of the existence of the ocean. I suggest turning off the TV, buying a plane ticket to a beach somewhere, and relaxing. At the very least, go jump in a lake.