Keith Olbermann is on television! We watch, because we’re paid to

Ruth Graham Contributor
Font Size:

So, did anything happen in the world of Keith Olbermann last week? I’m a little behind, but it seems like a pretty typical, ho-hum week.

JUST KIDDING. Within the last week, of course, Keith Olbermann was suddenly suspended from MSNBC, kept observers guessing about whether he’s be fired or quit, and then returned semi-triumphantly to his still-warm anchor chair on Tuesday.

It all started on Friday morning, when Politico broke the story that Olbermann had made three $2,400 donations to Democratic candidates in the midterm elections, including on to Congressman Raul Grijalva on the very night Grijalva appeared on “Countdown.” Though it’s no secret Olbermann leans left — er, forward — he has previously clung ostentatiously to his journalistic integrity. In 2008, he revealed on “The View” that he doesn’t even vote.

By midday, the gavel fell. MSNBC announced that Olbermann would be suspended immediately. Speculation over his fate ran rampant over the weekend. Would he be fired? Would he quit in a huff as he has so many times before? Alas, he was slapped ever-so-gently on the wrist, and returned to work on Tuesday. What a letdown. Have you ever had a glimpse of sweet, sweet freedom, and then had it taken away in an instant, like a lottery ticket that’s just one number off? Now you know how I feel after allowing myself to believe for a few days that Keith Olbermann would be off the air for good.

On Monday, in advance of his return, Olbermann issued a very solemn document titled “A Statement to the Viewers of Countdown.” To be clear about authorship, it read “By Keith Olbermann” and then was also signed “—K.O.” When it comes to taking credit for your own work, better safe than sorry! (This paragraph was written by Ruth Graham.)

The letter was, er, Olbermann-ian. “Your efforts have been integral to the remedying of these recent events,” he wrote. “I also wish to apologize to you viewers for having precipitated such anxiety and unnecessary drama.” Etc. Just totally normal sentences written by a totally normal guy.

Let’s take a look at the rest of the very short but very momentous Week in Keith:


After the Two-Day Suspension Heard ‘Round the World, Olbermann somehow marshaled the self-control to devote a mere third of the show to himself. And all this just the day after Conan O’Brien returned to television after months of exile. It was a big week for people who used to be on television, then weren’t on television for a while even though everyone still talked about them all the time, and then returned to television.

He delivered his closing statement about the suspension with a twinkle in his eye that he uses to try to convey good humor but is unfailingly smug. This unpleasant rictus did nothing to mitigate the sad bragging he is powerless to resist:

“I‘d like to close tonight by discussing something that I‘m sure has happened to you dozens of times in your own life. You know, when there is a petition supporting you and it winds up being signed by 300,000 people and you get 21,000 tweets in a 72-hour period, and then you are invited to be on television because you aren’t on television, because they want you to be the lead story on ‘Good Morning, America’ and ‘Larry King’ and ‘Letterman,’ and you break the traffic records on the Huffington Post.”

How obnoxious. Yes, Keith, you’re very special, and it’s very unusual to get 21,000 tweets. (What poor intern had to count them?) There is really something pathetic about a man who anchors the No. 1 show on a major cable news network — we mock him for his ratings, but that’s the truth — using his own show to brag about the number of clicks he got on the Huffington Post. It feels like Bill Gates bragging about cashing in his piggy bank, or the president getting all excited about being mentioned in the New York Times. It’s unseemly.

Getting to the meat of the statement, he offered three apologies to his viewers:

  1. For having subjected them to “unnecessary drama.” Don’t worry, Keith, I don’t think even your most fervent fan’s daily life was disturbed by this too much. (Punctuation joke!)
  2. For “not having known by observation” that his donations broke NBC rules, because apparently it wasn’t spelled out in his contract. Is it customary for comprehensive company policies to be spelled out in individual contracts? I am genuinely curious about this. I am less genuinely curious about whether Olbermann, who fancies himself the heir apparent to Edward R. Murrow, really had never heard of the general rule among journalists that it’s unseemly — even unethical — to give money to people you’ve interviewed, and, yes, to make any kind of political donations at all.
  3. For having included the opponent of one of the candidates he donated to in the “Worst Persons” segment the very day after he donated, which, yes, is pretty bad. He still managed to include a swipe at Fox in here, though.

He also played clip after clip after clip of late-night hosts, including Jay Leno and Jon Stewart, making jokes about the debacle. Overall, Olbermann seemed thrilled to be back on air, thrilled to be a topic in the news, and defiant of the MSNBC brass who only had the guts to yank him for two measly days. It’ll be interesting to see if the channel’s executives completely drop the issue, or use it as a chance to reexamine their one-size-fits-all policy for political donations — and whether Olbermann continues to donate.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10: Today, a feud erupted between Olbermann and “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak. Because it just that kind of week.

First, Sajak good-naturedly apologized for introducing Keith Olbermann to America, posting a video of Olbermann appearing as a guest on Sajak’s short-lived talk show back in 1989. That might have been the end of it, and I certainly wouldn’t be writing about it now, but since Olbermann seems compelled to respond to every insult, no matter how small, he blasted back by sending out a statement pointing out that he had, for example, been the subject of a segment on  “The Today Show” back in 1986, so Sajak wasn’t the one to give him his break.

Next week: Olbermann sends out a blistering statement in response to his sister’s suggestion that he bring yams this year to Thanksgiving instead of his special homemade green bean casserole. That green bean casserole has received hundreds of supportive tweets, Madam! How DARE you?

As for the show itself, it included a weird, painfully unfunny puppet show intended to mock Glenn Beck’s weird puppet show, and “to remind him that we brought puppets to cable news.” Oh, Keith.


Time for your Out of Context Keith Olbermann Quote of the Week: “Am I dreaming this? Was it a false memory put in somewhere?”

Tonight, Olbermann promoted Jon Stewart’s upcoming interview with Rachel Maddow by saying, “I am reliably informed that he will say nice things about me.” Good lord, his head really is swelling this week. Though I do wonder why, if Stewart thinks so highly of him, why Olbermann hasn’t been invited on “The Daily Show” since 2003.

Finally, Olbermann announced an online poll to determine the fate of “Worst Persons in the World,” though he decided less than two weeks ago that he was “unilaterally suspending that segment with an eye towards discontinuing it.” We all know that in Keith Olbermann’s charmed world, suspensions are temporary things.

Unlike Keith Olbermann, I make no claims to impartiality when it comes to the topic of Keith Olbermann. I voted on the fate of “Worst Persons in the World.” And you can, too, by clicking here.