NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Current TV fires Keith Olbermann, announces that Eliot Spitzer will join its lineup

Cur­rent TV, the pro­gres­sive cable net­work found­ed by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, announced min­utes ago that it has fired Kei­th Olber­mann, its best-known per­son­al­i­ty and chief news offi­cer. As is often the case when media com­pa­nies decide to part ways with a host, Olber­man­n’s dis­missal is effec­tive imme­di­ate­ly — he won’t be giv­en a chance to sign off or host a farewell show.

Cur­ren­t’s cofounders pub­lished a let­ter to view­ers announc­ing their deci­sion.

To the View­ers of Cur­rent:

We cre­at­ed Cur­rent to give voice to those Amer­i­cans who refuse to rely on cor­po­rate-con­trolled media and are seek­ing an authen­tic pro­gres­sive out­let.  We are more com­mit­ted to those goals today than ever before.

Cur­rent was also found­ed on the val­ues of respect, open­ness, col­le­gial­i­ty, and loy­al­ty to our view­ers. Unfor­tu­nate­ly these val­ues are no longer reflect­ed in our rela­tion­ship with Kei­th Olber­mann and we have end­ed it.

We are mov­ing ahead by hon­or­ing Cur­ren­t’s val­ues. Cur­rent has a fun­da­men­tal oblig­a­tion to deliv­er news pro­gram­ming with a pro­gres­sive per­spec­tive that our view­ers can count on being avail­able dai­ly — espe­cial­ly now, dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign. Cur­rent exists because our audi­ence desires the kind of per­spec­tive, insight and com­men­tary that is not eas­i­ly found else­where in this time of big media con­sol­i­da­tion.

As we move toward this sum­mer’s polit­i­cal con­ven­tions and the gen­er­al elec­tion in the fall, Cur­rent is mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant new addi­tions to our broad­casts. We have just debuted six hours of new pro­gram­ming each week­day with Bill Press (“Full Court Press” at 6 am ET/3 am PT) and Stephanie Miller (“Talk­ing Lib­er­al­ly” at 9 am ET/6 pm PT).

We’re very excit­ed to announce that begin­ning tonight, for­mer New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer will host “View­point with Eliot Spitzer,” at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT. Eliot is a vet­er­an pub­lic ser­vant and an astute observ­er of the issues of the day. He has impor­tant opin­ions and insights and he rel­ish­es the kind of con­struc­tive dis­course that our view­ers will appre­ci­ate this elec­tion year. We are con­fi­dent that our view­ers will be able to count on Gov. Spitzer to deliv­er crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion on a dai­ly basis.

All of these addi­tions to Cur­ren­t’s line­up are aimed at achiev­ing one sim­ple goal — the goal that has always been cen­tral to Cur­ren­t’s mis­sion: To tell sto­ries no one else will tell, to speak truth to pow­er, and to influ­ence the con­ver­sa­tion of democ­ra­cy on behalf of those whose voic­es are too sel­dom heard. We, and every­one at Cur­rent, want to thank our view­ers for their con­tin­ued stead­fast sup­port.

Sin­cere­ly,

Al Gore & Joel Hyatt
Cur­ren­t’s Founders

The New York Times, which broke the news of Olber­man­n’s ouster, reports that Cur­ren­t’s man­agers unan­i­mous­ly agreed that the net­work should fire him, indi­cat­ing that the rela­tion­ship had gone pret­ty far south.

Inci­den­tal­ly, this isn’t the first time that Olber­mann has been fired. His tenure at each of the oth­er major net­works he has worked at (MSNBC, Fox Sports Net, ESPN) end­ed in acri­mo­ny after ten­sion between Olber­mann and his boss­es boiled over. Olber­man­n’s last gig, with MSNBC, last­ed over half a decade, but his part­ner­ship with Cur­rent has now end­ed after less than a year.

Though we don’t know what hap­pened behind the scenes at Cur­rent that led to the falling-out between Olber­mann and Cur­rent TV lead­er­ship, it’s prob­a­bly safe to con­clude that Gore, Hyatt, and their exec­u­tive team found Olber­mann dif­fi­cult to work with, and ulti­mate­ly con­clud­ed the sour­ing rela­tion­ship was irrepara­ble.

With­in an hour of the pub­li­ca­tion of the open let­ter above, Olber­mann had begun lash­ing out at Cur­rent on Twit­ter, and vow­ing a retal­ia­to­ry law­suit.

In a series of tweets, he wrote:

I’d like to apol­o­gize to my view­ers and my staff for the fail­ure of Cur­rent TV.

Edi­to­ri­al­ly, Count­down had nev­er been bet­ter. But for more than a year I have been implor­ing Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues inter­nal­ly, while I’ve been not pub­li­ciz­ing my com­plaints, and keep­ing the show alive for the sake of its loy­al view­ers and even more loy­al staff. Nev­er­the­less, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abid­ing by their promis­es and oblig­a­tions and invest­ing in a qual­i­ty news pro­gram, final­ly thought it was more eco­nom­i­cal to try to get out of my con­tract.

It goes almost with­out say­ing that the claims against me implied in Cur­ren­t’s state­ment are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be fil­ing against them present­ly. To under­stand Mr. Hyatt’s “val­ues of respect, open­ness, col­le­gial­i­ty and loy­al­ty,” I encour­age you to read of a pre­vi­ous occa­sion Mr. Hyatt found him­self in court for hav­ing unjust­ly fired an employ­ee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain.

In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is impor­tant only to again acknowl­edge that join­ing them was a sin­cere and well-inten­tioned ges­ture on my part, but in ret­ro­spect a fool­ish one. That lack of judg­ment is mine and mine alone, and I apol­o­gize again for it.

Sev­er­al asser­tions in this state­ment strike us as odd.

First, Olber­mann claims that “for more than a year I have been implor­ing Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues inter­nal­ly.” But Olber­man­n’s deal with Cur­rent was only final­ized in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary 2011.

If this claim is true, then it means Olber­man­n’s prob­lems with Cur­rent began just about the mil­lisec­ond the ink was dry on their con­tract — or not long after.

Olber­mann is basi­cal­ly say­ing he nev­er had a good rela­tion­ship with Gore or Hyatt. Well, whose fault is that? It takes two to tan­go, but Olber­mann has made a rep­u­ta­tion for him­self as being tough to work with. He’s been described as pas­sion­ate onscreen and ill-tem­pered off­screen. He’s report­ed­ly missed a lot of work late­ly, which pre­cip­i­tat­ed his removal.

Sec­ond, Olber­mann claims that he has “not [been] pub­li­ciz­ing my com­plaints” with Cur­rent TV lead­er­ship. But that’s not true. Olber­mann has talked on the record to enter­tain­ment indus­try reporters about his gripes with the net­work. Has Olber­mann for­got­ten this sto­ry filed by The Hol­ly­wood Reporter?

Third, does Olber­mann real­ly expect us to believe he was oust­ed because Gore and Hyatt thought it would be more “eco­nom­i­cal” to get rid of him? Count­down was pulling in Cur­ren­t’s high­est rat­ings. Ear­li­er this month, Hyatt char­ac­terised Olber­mann as “the big gun in our line­up” to the New York Times, and even described Cur­rent itself as “all on top of his shoul­ders”.

If Cur­rent thought they could depend on Olber­mann, why would they axe him? Cer­tain­ly not to save mon­ey. No com­pe­tent net­work exec­u­tive would sack its most valu­able per­son­al­i­ty just to save a few bucks.

If Olber­mann insist­ed on retain­ing con­trol of the “Count­down” name and brand in the con­tract he signed with Cur­rent last year (MSNBC allowed him to take those marks with him when he left), it’s pos­si­ble that the show will be con­tin­u­ing in some form on anoth­er net­work… though we won­der what tele­vi­sion exec­u­tive would want to take a chance on Olber­mann now.

If Olber­mann wants to con­tin­ue to be a broad­cast­er, per­haps he should relaunch Count­down as an Inter­net tele­vi­sion show. That way, he can be his own boss, and con­tin­ue to dis­cuss news, sports, and pol­i­tics in his trade­mark style on his terms.

We remain excit­ed about the future of Cur­rent TV even with­out Kei­th Olber­mann. A net­work has to be big­ger than one per­son or per­son­al­i­ty. To gar­ner good rat­ings, it needs a com­pelling line­up. And Cur­rent has put togeth­er some good new shows, like The War Room with Jen­nifer Granholm. Time will tell if it can be com­pet­i­tive with more estab­lished news net­works like MSNBC and CNN.

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One Comment

  1. I see a lot of the fic­tion­al char­ac­ter Howard Beel in Kei­th. He release his pas­sion in every broad­cast, usu­al­ly, even­tu­al­ly to his own detri­ment.

    # by Mike Barer :: March 30th, 2012 at 7:59 PM