Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Ruinous, Fleeting Dalliance Of Keith Olbermann And ESPN, Take 2

If you ever see Keith Olbermann and you want to make a quick buck off me, use an electric pencil sharpener while he’s around.  I dare you.  According to rumor from sources of sources of mine, hearing that wrayrrrrrr-wrayrrrrrr just pisses him off.

So he came back Monday to ESPN2, the place where, it has been said, he didn’t just burn but napalmed the bridges to.  Olbermann responded to that infamous turn of phrase on Late Show with David Letterman in 2011 – just after leaving yet another network, MSNBC.  I can’t cut down this clip, but the relevant part comes 5½ minutes in:

Huh?  “I burned the rivers?”  Oh, uh, you mean like the Erie in Cleveland?  Honestly, I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about there; napalming bridges is the most accurate way to describe how he spent his time at ESPN, while burning a river, although possible, just confuses the people to whom you’re trying to communicate that you weren’t the best person to be around.  But look at that self-satisfied expression Olbermann has on his face when he said.  He’s the smartest guy in the room, just ask him.  If I confessed that I didn’t understand what he meant when he said he burned the rivers, he’d probably insult me like he has every other person he’s worked with, the point where I’d hope I’d be alone with him in an alley with no security cameras.

Starting with television’s version of a jump cut – no opening titles or graphics, just a fade-up to him tipping his cap to former Tonight Show host Jack Parr when he started off his second tenure with The Worldwide Leader with, “As I was saying …” he launched his new show, Olbermann, with a Dan Gable-esque takedown of the media, in particular the ink-stained wretches on the dying newspaper side of journalism, for suggesting that New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan be fired for putting struggling quarterback Mark “Buttfumble” Sanchez in the fourth quarter of last week’s exhibition against the New York Giants, where he promptly got his shoulder injured.  Never mind that he himself recognized that he, a Democrat (at least during his time with MSNBC) sided with Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who called the reporter who started this cock-up, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the classy term “dope.”  Never mind that several media critics writing after the first night of Olbermann that the biggest offender of inflating gossipy non-stories through an echo chamber probably is the network he now works for again.  The first-night reviews were universally flowery, lauding the return of Olbermann’s snappy highlight-reading and savvy commentary.

Of course, the fact that Keith Olbermann is an abusive prick is being set aside for the time being.  But it shouldn’t.  Because if anybody knows who Keith Olbermann is, you can predict that Olbermann won’t be doing Olbermann for long.  That’s his nature.  And somehow ESPN has decided to play with the napalm launcher once again, and once again people are going to get very, very hurt.

Do I have to rehash how personally poisonous this mook is?  Do I have to retell the other employees at ESPN he verbally abused to the point where Suzy Kolber had to run to the bathroom and cry because he bullied her?  Do you know the weird practice Olbermann eventually set up at MSNBC, where he did not allow any of the people who worked on his show, Countdown, to ever speak to him, instead forcing them to drop notes into a plastic wall mount outside his office door?  Oh, and did you know that after he finally decided to leave MSNBC, Al Gore asked him to take Countdown to his then-new network, Current, the news of which he said this to a liberal blogging convention a mere two years ago:

… And then, after less than a year of bitching about production values and calling in sick (although I hear he carried over the practice of communicating to his underlings through notes left in his wall mount), he sued and settled and left Current.  The man Olbermann praised in the above clip he now calls a clod.  And now he’s back with one of those corporations he “passionately” railed against.

It’s how he treats those he works with and above that bothers me the most.  Frankly, the continually-proven fact that he’s a workplace bully with strange habits is the underreported aspect of the bizarre yet charmed career of Keith Olbermann.  I have no doubt that the employees at ESPN who are forced to work with this insufferable cretin are already seething in anger at one of his snide comments or demeaning insults.  And there has to be some people there who were around for KO v.1.0 and wonder why in the hell do they have to put up with his noxious garbage again.

Why do they?  Well, two things.  First of all – my goodness gracious, what prose!  What insight!  What rapier wit!  Olbermann’s a savant – again, just ask him.  I never said he wasn’t brilliant.  Keith Olbermann has an encyclopedic mind for sports (in particular baseball) and politics, and he can open that up and thumb through for an obscure but timely reference for his commentary in no time flat.  Combine that with a patented powerful writing style and a punchy delivery peppered with pop culture mentions of Miley Cyrus twerking, and he’s a guy you can watch ripping new ones into our sacred athletic and political cows for hours on end – provided you don’t find him odious and evil.

John Skipper doesn’t.  He’s the President of ESPN, and by all accounts was the point person in bringing Olbermann into his Disney-made submarine to protect them from the napalmed rivers and back to the WWL.  You see, as much as Olbermann is the main problem – and he is the main problem – he would be doing podcasts from his garage were it not for powerful people in the media dazzled by his genius and his brand.  In that Letterman clip he mentioned that three of the companies he was fired from hired him back (and of course now it’s four), and he thought that meant … something before he shrugged.  Well, Mr. Olbermann, maybe I can actually give you some information that you don’t know: It means that the egos that run those companies are enabling your condescending ass because they know you can bring them ratings, buzz and money.  And they know that the day-to-day obstacle course of walking on eggshells around your capricious soul is nothing they have to worry about from their top-floor offices.

Now, there have been some changes from Keith Olbermann’s first stint with ESPN.  It looks like Skipper has carved out a time slot and full editorial independence for him and his show, which, by the way, originates from Times Square, not Bristol, Conn., ESPN’s world headquarters and a city Olbermann famously called a “Godforsaken place.”  Apparently at the Worldwide Leader, not being able to work well with others gives you your own studio in a world capital and the opportunity to do whatever the hell you want to do.

But do you really think this is going to last?  The most troubling aspect to Keith Olbermann is his entitled glee of punching down towards entry-level workers and across to his peers, but it’ll be his addiction to punch up towards management that’ll be his undoing, again.  So I will offer this prediction: By the end of this year, Deadspin will get a scoop that there’s already tension within the set of Olbermann and that, surprise, surprise, the titular head is at the center of it all.  As has been his pattern, he will conclude that ESPN has supplied him with idiots for employees when in fact those people are incredibly skilled and only make the mistake of being human and not fulfilling the lofty-to-the-point-of-imaginary standard of “professionalism” only Keith Olbermann can even see, let alone attain.  After a meeting with Skipper to calm down, he baits him by making snide remarks about ESPN’s sports partners, such as the NFL, or even goes ahead and insults Skipper.  Mark my words, Olbermann will not last twelve months.

He may even be in a kind of sticky wicket now.  Looking at the Monday show in a meta sense, Olbermann didn’t even talk about the real story.  Who gives a damn about Mark Sanchez when the real story should have been the shady way ESPN pulled out of its collaboration with the PBS investigative journalism program Frontline about the NFL’s efforts to cover up the destructive effects of concussions?  The Olbermann I know and grudgingly tolerate would have been all over that crap.  So why didn’t he comment about it?  Is the guy who shaped an entire cable network with his liberal, anti-corporatist oratory now bowing down to the business interests of his bosses?  Is a bastard who has lived his life thinking it’s nice to be important now acting on the edict that it’s more important to be nice at the worst possible time?  Has he censored himself just so he can prove he can stay at a job?

Those questions of your integrity, of who you are and what you believe, are what you get when you act your whole career like everyone’s beneath you.  That’s what I hate about liberals, even though I lean left on most issues: The most fervent, influential voices are usually the angriest because they cannot stand anything that tries to contradict or impede their viewpoints.  I probably agree with him 100% on, say, Trayvon Martin, but if I ever had to work with him, I would do a 180 and be a complete teabagger.

That’s what abusive workplace bullies who believe they are bullying someone for the sake of something, whether it’s talking about corporate plutocracy or finding the correct historical facts of the World Series played 100 years ago or writing the perfect turn of phrase for a Serena Williams winner at the U.S. Open, do.  And that’s the corner Keith Olbermann has painted himself into.  If he’s worth his salt, he damn well better go after ESPN and the NFL about concussions and pulling out of that Frontline piece, and if the bigwigs get mad about it, he damn well better say something that’ll piss them off, and he’d better get fired.  If he doesn’t, he’ll be exposed as a charlatan who abandoned his unique, fiery opinions (let alone his progressive leanings) because he finally found a skin that he didn’t want to shed the first time a production assistant asked him a question he thought was stupid.

But I’m still betting that he’ll get canned by this time next year.  Like the scorpion stinging the frog as the frog carried it across the (non-napalmed) river, it’s in his nature to be self-destructive.  Only then will Keith Olbermann get what he really needs: psychiatric help.  And hopefully he’ll get that away from a TV show.  Till then, my dare with the electric pencil sharpener stands.

Posted by WilliamSou at 2:45 AM


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