It’s official. Keith Olbermann is mad.
Mad as in angry, irritated and grumpy.
The New Yorker’s Peter J. Boyer made Olbermann’s state of mind clear in a detailed, fascinating profile that asks whether Olbermann is changing TV news.
Olbermann, 49, the host of Countdown with Keith Olbermann on cable news channel MSNBC, is a departure from the neutral, straight-down-the-middle news broadcaster.
Brian Williams reports on what President Bush said today; Olbermann tells the president to “Shut the Hell Up!”
Olbermann argues that opinion has always had a place in a newscast, just as editorials and columns have a place in a newspaper.
Others argue that he’s eroding the NBC News brand, making it seem more like the voice of the Democratic party.
The debate has special relevance now with the death of Tim Russert, the host of Meet the Press and the network’s most visible political analysis.
It can be argued that Olbermann, who takes part in election coverage in addition to his Countdown duties, is now NBC’s political voice, a mixed blessing for the network.
The liberal Olbermann draws in viewers, but he also drives away viewers. On election night, people may yearn for someone who hasn’t already taken a side.
Countdown with Keith Olbermann began on March 31, 2003. The hour-long show airs five nights a week, broadcasting first at 8 p.m. EST.
The program amounted to yet another rebirth for Olbermann. A veteran sports broadcaster, he had been a ratings king at ESPN, co-hosting Sportscenter with Dan Patrick.
But Olbermann managed to irritate most of his co-workers, creating hard feelings before his departure in 1997.
Five and a half years later, he posted on Salon.com an apology to everyone at ESPN, attributing his bad behavior to insecurity, inflexibility and other neuroses.
Before ESPN, Olbermann, a Cornell University graduate, worked in sports on stations in Boston and Los Angeles and on CNN.
After ESPN, he worked briefly at FOX Sports. “I fired him,” Rupert Murdoch has said. “He’s crazy.”
Olbermann has not surrendered any bad feelings he may have toward Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns Fox News and Fox Sports.
Indeed, Countdown thrives on ridicule of Murdoch, Fox News and Bill O’Reilly, the conservative host of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News.
Olbermann continually names O’Reilly “The Worst Person in the World,” a nightly dubious honor.
O’Reilly has fought back, a move that only seems to have helped Olbermann, who, though gaining, still trails far behind O’Reilly in the ratings.
This last Thursday, O’Reilly had 2,547,000 viewers; Olbermann drew 1,221,00 viewers.
On Thursday, Olbermann named Paula Froelich, a reporter for the Murdoch-owned New York Post, that night’s Worst Person.
He singled out Froelich, for preparing an item for the paper’s gossip section reporting that Olbermann and Chris Matthews, another MSNBC host, have been lobbying to become Russert’s replacement on Meet the Press.
Olbermann denied this and ended by saying, “I don’t even consider myself qualified for (the job).”
Undeterred, Froelich went ahead and published the item. In a subsequent interview, she called Olbermann, “infantile” and “narcissistic.”
Not surprisingly, Olbermann then named her his Worst Person for the second straight night.