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Keith Olbermann — Is it live, or is it Memorex?: We watch, because we’re paid to

Ruth Graham Contributor

The last week of summer tends to present an unusually small number of things to be angry about. All over America, people take time off work and drive to the beach and try not to think about the coming fall. We read fat novels, enjoy our families and soak up the sun. And although it’s hard to say what’s cause and what’s effect, the world itself tends to comply with this sleepy mood, and the news seems to get slower and less consequential before returning full blast after Labor Day. It’s a hot, lazy and happy time for most of us.

Yes, that makes this The Worst Week in the World for our beloved Keith Olbermann, who refuses to drive, fly or enjoy life. But don’t worry, even when the stakes are perilously low, he’s capable of self-righteous anger.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 27: Surprise, Keith Olbermann is mad at Bill O’Reilly! Are we sure this isn’t a rerun? O’Reilly’s crime this time: Mentioning his high ratings in his syndicated column. “You know, he‘s better because more people watch,” Olbermann sneered. “Like the Chicago Cubs are better than the team with the best record in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays, because the Cubs‘ attendance is 61 percent higher than Tampa‘s is.”

This is a very sensitive topic for Keith, who generally has fewer than half the viewers of his time-slot rival on Fox. And it raises an important question: Do ratings matter or do they not, Keith? It’s perfectly fine to say they don’t matter at all, and that you’re just as happy preaching to a choir of 47 fans who live in their moms’ basements. You could claim to be purposefully creating a niche product! Frankly, that might be your best bet.

But the truth is, you do care about ratings. You are constantly “correcting” people on Twitter who bait you by teasing you about your low ratings. “2 million a night,” you bragged on Twitter on Tuesday. (That number includes your 8 p.m. live show and its 10 p.m. rerun, and it still doesn’t match O’Reilly’s numbers for 8 p.m. alone.) You also bragged about making “sooooo much money,” and in the middle of the week became absolutely obsessed with proving Glenn Beck’s rally audience was smaller than widely reported to be, and directly compared it to your own audience. (“Beck drew a smaller crowd than my 1AM replay draws.”)

So, you have a choice to make: A) Your ratings are huge and impressive and bigger than Beck’s rally and you make a ton of money, or B) Your ratings are tiny but who cares about them anyway.

I will tell you this much, though: Any woman who tells you audience size doesn’t matter is lying.

MONDAY, AUGUST 30: Lawrence O’Donnell, whose own show’s debut is fast approaching, substitute-hosted for Keith tonight. Keith, it’s too late now, but please note: Labor Day is NEXT Monday. Better luck next year!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 31: After live coverage of the president’s speech, and an analysis by Larry, Moe and Curly Olbermann, Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, “Countdown” shifted to its usual mixture of impotent anger and News of the Weird.

My favorite moment from tonight’s show actually came from Howard Fineman, during a segment on the Tea Party’s influence in Republican primary elections. Howard Fineman is a Newsweek editor, frequent “Countdown” guest and seven-time World Metaphor Champion. Check out this virtuosic performance:

“They‘re trying somehow to tell the Tea Party candidates, look, we want you to be part of the team; we want to meet you at least halfway; we want to have the funding we can find for you; we love your energy and all that. But you’ve got to be somehow on the page. This is the world they‘re inheriting. It‘s a little bit like the opposite of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. This is a kind of speedboat of Republicans moving ahead. And they‘re all sort of jockeying for who gets to take the con.”

WOW. I count seven metaphors there! Maybe you can find even more!

During the “Tweet of the Day” segment, Olbermann read a tweet from comedian Eddie Izzard, who just “discovered Keith Olbermann exists.” (Go back, Eddie! Pretend it never happened! It’s not too late for you!) He also recommended his Twitter followers watch “Countdown.” Keith bragged, “How about that!” Yes, it’s remarkable, one celebrity sucking up to another on Twitter. What’s really remarkable is for a nationally broadcast “news” host to spend valuable airtime reading mash notes on air.

As Howard Fineman might put it, “Sure, you catch more flies with honey, but in this neck of the woods, it’s beating a dead horse, so why not just let sleeping dogs lie.”

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: In Tuesday’s show, Olbermann named Sarah Palin the runner-up Worst Person in the World for making a minor typo in a Tweet, which is just exactly what Edward R. Murrow would have done.

Well, “Keith Olbermann, Factchecker to the Stars” continued tonight, with Olbermann — still obsessed with Beck’s August 28 rally — accusing Beck of “lying” about going to the National Archives and holding a copy of George Washington’s first inaugural address. Olbermann called up the National Archives and was told that not just anyone can hold these documents. It sounds like pretty small beans, but a starving man won’t turn those down.

Sure enough, the next day, Beck admitted it! Mediaite reported that on his radio show, he dug deep and admitted to claiming he held the address, when in fact he only held it in front of him. Or something. Here’s how he put it: “Yesterday I went to the National Archives, and they opened up the vault, and they put on their gloves and then they put it on a tray. They wheeled it over and it’s all in this hard plastic and you’re sitting down at a table. … They have it in this plastic thing and they hold them right in front of you. You can’t touch them, but then you can say ‘can you turn it over,’ and then they turn it over for you and then you look at it.”

Without Keith Olbermann, crusader for justice, we would never have known this. Keep fighting the good fight, sir.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2: When there’s not enough for Olbermann to get mad about, there’s one foolproof source to count on: President Bush. Tonight brought a rambling (even for Keith) rant about Bush, the press, the war, and some other stuff. Again I suspected a rerun, but a slow motion replay indicated this was in fact a brand-new show. It was 8 minutes long, but it felt like 16. I suppose that’s one way to get yourself some extra air time, although if we start to measure Keith’s ratings by *perceived* hours on the air, I’m not sure he’s going to like the results. But at least it would give him something new to get mad about.