Saturday, January 22, 2011

Clusterfuck At MSNBC: Keith Is Gone, COMCAST Is In


Keith Olbermann announced last night it would be Countdown's final edition as he signed off at MSNBC. A stunner. Keith was very well compensated for his work. Still, when you work for "The Man," your professional life and perceived independence is always in flux, especially when you're caught up in a mega-corporate merger. Keith pushed the envelope. That's what set him apart from the rest of the crowd. He built his loyal audience on his fierce liberalism and unapologetic independence. He established MSNBC as the anti-Fox and blew CNN away, as if people are going to watch Mr. tight little black T-shirt and his political schizophrenia circus night afer night. I mean, yeah I like Gergen, but what the fuck are all those wingnuts doing in the studio? Coops tweeted breathlessly —

Like sharks circling, smelling blood. In typical li'l black T-shirt fashion, Coops' scoop was less than meets the eye. Next. The Man silenced Keith with a so-called noncompetitive clause through 2013. What happens in 2012, when Keith's voice  is most needed? They're already building Lawrence O'Donnell up as Keith's natural replacement. I don't see it. The fact the suits are comfortable with Lawrence makes him suspect in the eyes of Keith's audience. It's not as if he's endeared himself to us with that broadside against the netroots. Like Chris Matthews, Lawrence O'Donnell is old school. Conventional. Not a natural fit with Keith's audience.

Rachel and Big Eddie are stars. Rachel owes her initial success at least, in part, to Keith's support. Her unique wonkish investigative journalism, unconventional blogging style new to the "TV machine," did not sprout in any corporate suit's head. Big Eddie is an authentic voice. He muscled his way in like a trade union organizer in corporate enemy territory, planted his flag, and built his audience without help, often at cross-purposes with The Man upstairs. And Cenk finally gets his show. He'll do good. He understands and honors what Keith meant to MSNBC. He'll live up to the promise. Memo to Big Eddie: Don't tone it down, man. Now it's up to you to rub the suits the wrong way. And keep fighting the good fight. You've still got your radio show. And your audience.

Rachel and Eddie will continue to hold their audience. But filling Keith's shoes is a tall order. The ratings are not interchangeable. Keith's strong ratings had a spillover effect up and down the lineup. Who knows what COMCAST will bring to MSNBC. Nothing substantive. Nothing good, I don't think. Their "business plan" will likely be entertainment-centered and don't rock the boat. They will try to homogenize the content, dial things back, be more like CNN. The suits always think they know what the audience wants. They know what they want. Big difference. Bastards.

Keith had what the Times described as a "stormy relationship" with the suits in corporate. As if. Could it have been anything else? Howard Kurz was gloating already, trying to take credit for the obvious. Rightwingville is in a celebratory mood. Roger Ailes is probably wondering whether he can hire Keith. Good on him. For all MSNBC employees, the COMCAST takeover beginning Monday ripples up and down the ranks. Suddenly, there's an alien entity calling the shots, there are subtle changes in the familiar company culture, and a sense of uncertainty in the pit of your stomach as your CEO and top talent are replaced. Will COMCAST clean house? Time will tell. Don't Mondays suck for the working stiff? Monday Blues will be bluesier than usual. Welcome to corporate America.

Good luck, Keith. I know you'll be back in some form or fashion. And better than ever. You used your show as a platform to help thousands of people in need of medical care. You shined a harsh light on the injustices and inequities of society. And for this, you will always be remembered with warmth and gratitude by your audience, especially the tens of thousands of people you helped so selflessly. That goes above and beyond. And that's why this sucks so much.

Keith, you made a difference. You have more friends than you can possibly know. That's not a bad way to go. See you soon, friend.

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