Parting with Olbermann Not Partisan, Just Stone Stupid

In my professional opinion, letting Keith Olbermann go is arguably the dumbest business decision a media firm has made in the last twelve months. Like NPR’s firing of Juan Williams last year, this decision seems emotionally charged and personal. The only logical explanation I can come up with is that someone at MSNBC or Comcast recently had a frontal lobotomy.

Don’t get me wrong. As a conservative, I find Keith Olbermann’s commentary bitterly partisan, annoying, strident, irritating, and one-sided. He is the ultimate anti-O’Reilly. But that is his job. MSNBC was not paying him to deliver unbiased news.  It was paying him to comment on the news in his own unique way. Anyone with a brain knows that Olbermann’s views exhibited a pointed leftest slant. That’s why they tuned into his program night after night. He was an entertainer and that is what entertainers do. They deliver ratings.

And boy did Olbermann deliver ratings. Starting with a couple hundred thousand viewers in 2003, his show’s viewership grew more than 50% from 2006 to 2007 to 726,000, and ultimately expanded to a steady and loyal base of over one million viewers a night. His efforts single-handedly brought MSNBC to the number two position behind Fox News.

Olbermann is the modern equivalent of the goose that laid MSNBC’s golden eggs.

Although Olbermann is not permitted to speak about his departure as part of the conditions of his severance, management’s rationale is slowing leaking into the press. At no point have I ever seen any legitimate business case for letting the man go.

If his ratings were declining and his show was losing market share, I could understand letting him go. Or if authorities found a kiddie porn dungeon in his basement, then getting rid of him would also obviously be a sound strategy to protect MSNBC’s brand.

So what horrible offense did Olbermann commit to deserve MSNBC’s self-immolating act of parting ways with its single-most productive media asset?

He was not nice.

According to the New York Times, Olbermann had “a distinctive and outspoken voice and a mercurial personality with a track record of attacking his superiors and making early exits.” His boss, Phil Griffin has noted, “It was, like, you meet a guy and fall in love with him…then you commit yourself to him, and he turns out to be a jerk and difficult and brutal.”

News flash, Phil: You are running a network, not a dating service. Get over it. I hope you come to realize that you probably just made the worst business decision in your career, if not in network history. I am really sorry that your feelings were hurt. I cannot wait to see how you feel when your job is eliminated.

This kind of emotional decision-making and politicking happens to varying degrees in every organization. It, unfortunately, is unavoidable. What makes it particularly egregious in this case is that Olbermann’s performance was about as close to black and white as it gets. Keeping Olbermann at the network is not just about keeping MSNBC’s network profitable, it is about MSNBC’s survival.

Yet management chose to kill its golden goose. Good luck with that, MSNBC.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
This entry was posted in Business, Media, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Parting with Olbermann Not Partisan, Just Stone Stupid

  1. ET says:

    while not a follower, I happen to agree with you

  2. I have have trouble abiding by stupid decisions like this in any form. People are simply too emotional these days and don’t make decisions objectively. It drives me crazy.

  3. Hayden says:

    If Olbermann is as mercurial as is stated (the comment from ESPN was that he didn’t burn bridges, he napalmed them), then he’d eventually get in a lot of trouble for saying or doing something really dumb and the divorce which would ensue would be incredibly nasty. Here, he leaves on NBC’s terms.

    • Hayden,

      While it does appear that he left on NBC’s terms, it still seems like an incredibly dumb decision from a corporate perspective. So what if he was a jerk? He was a highly profitable asset that MSNBC just unceremoniously dumped for personal, rather than business reasons. It is simply not rational nor is it smart.

  4. Ryan Lambert says:

    I’m glad his trap is shut for a while, for one.

    Two, I wonder if – total idle speculation – other folks are coming up for renewal and MSNBC wanted to send a shot across the bow about behavior, with challenges with Olbermann putting him at risk of being around for very long anyway and disrupting the cash flow he was generating for em

    Of course, this is MSNBC, so they might have simply done something stupid like you posit

    • Ryan,

      On your first point, I too will be happy that he no longer has a platform to spew his invective.

      That said, politics aside, from a simple revenue minus cost standpoint, this was a really stupid move by MSNBC. Someone else will pick him up and steal market share from MSNBC. All those liberals sure as heck are not going to switch to Fox.

  5. theodore j hazlett says:

    Keith’s firing is a major part of the liberal TV breakdown. But Keith, don’t worry, you should run for the Senate, as did the great intellectual Al Franken. MSNBC and Theodore ( Keith’s middle name, like the famous chipmonk ) were the most corrupt trying to smear and defame aka McCarthy of the left. They are so desperate to get ratings that they are miserable failures.
    Here are the facts. The top 12 shows are all Fox shows. Keith or Theodore is 28th. The man is the tallest midget in the room. Your move, Sean.

    • Ted,

      What is your point?

      It would not matter if Olbermann was ranked 99th so long as he was the top-ranked commentator at his network. He was still the best asset the number two network had. Getting rid of him was a bad business decision. Period. His politics were irrelevant. He was in the entertainment business and he generated ratings. Phil Griffin got rid of him for no discernible reason other than Olbermann did not comply with Griffin’s Vassar-educated, weak-willed sensibilities.

      On the contrary. Olberman’s firing is actually bad for right-wing networks. For the next nine months, every liberal pundit in the country will decry the “vast right wing conspiracy” and claim that the media establishment only favors right-wing views. The case of Olbermann lends them credibility. This allegation is not true, but it won’t matter.

      Checkmate, Ted

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