Analysis: Keith Olbermann’s exit helps Current TV continue to build a reputation for deep, intelligent news coverage
Current TV just made itself more credible.
When Keith Olbermann joined Current TV less than a year ago, he brought a high-profile name and little else of value. Sure, he brought his powers of self-promotion. But he didn't seize on the vast potential of the network's already capable news department.
Also read: Keith Olbermann Fired By Current TV
His new position made him the network's head of news, and his performances night after night suggested that he was more interested in being a talking head than in breaking stories. Like a fleeting reality star, looking for a shortcut to the spotlight, he made an impression with feuds and insults rather than through lasting contributions.
Olbermann placed the blame for the failings of his news report on Current's founders, Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, saying on Twitter that they had not made good on their promises to invest "in a quality news program." Rather, he said, they "thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract."
If that's the case, they have an even richer opportunity now to make Current into the news organization it could be.
Olbermann said when he joined Current that he would finally have a forum for truly independent news. The implication seemed to be that the corporate interests that ruled past employers like ESPN, Fox and MSNBC, the network he helped build with "Countdown," had somehow compromised his ability to expose hard truths.
With his newfound freedom, Olbermann didn't delve into the kind of gritty, street-level reporting practiced by PBS' Frontline and Current's own Vanguard. Instead, he kept doing what he did on MSNBC: Delivering petty attacks on people he didn't like, while occasionally feuding with his bosses at yet another network.
His replacement is Eliot Spitzer, who was dull on CNN. It should be former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who brings a reassuring sobriety to her political analysis on "The War Room." She takes a measured, logical approach, avoiding silly attacks — while never hiding her Democratic leanings.
She comes off like someone dedicated to a cause, rather than her own self-aggrandizement.
What does it say about Olbermann's devotion to the liberalism he espouses that he can't even get along with Gore, a boss who praised him up and down and promised him the freedom to do whatever he wanted?
If you have a string of failed relationships, you have to consider, at some point, that perhaps you are the problem — and not all of your your exes.
Olbermann tapped an attorney to "determine his rights" in his five-year contract with Current during a rift over Iowa caucuses coverage, a person close to Olbermann told TheWrap in January.
Current TV president David Bohrman later said Olbermann was offered the chance to lead election coverage months ahead of time, but turned it down. Olbermann later changed his mind, Bohrman said.
Even after that, Gore, Current's co-founder, had a one-word answer when asked in January if he anticipated Olbermann staying with the network. "Yes," he told TheWrap.
Also read: Where Are Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck?
But everyone has their limits. Distancing itself from its high-profile rhetorical bomb-thrower will allow Current to go back to doing what it does best: patient, in-depth explaining that may not win rubberneckers, but does build a reputation over time.
Assuming, of course, they're willing to make the investments Olbermann says they weren't. They would be much better off investing in serious news than they were investing in him.