Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where Art Thou, Keith Olbermann

Unless his contract specifies a three to four-day work week, absenteeism from his "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" show is of serial proportions.Olbermann was a no-show on his program again Monday night.

In the past year, Olbermann has missed more shows than his hero Edward R. Murrow missed in a lifetime at CBS. I'm guessing, of course.

I'm giving the guy plenty of slack because during the last 13 months his mother died and his father suffered an accident. During the World Series, Olbermann missed every show in which a game was played. That, too, is okay. He's a confessed baseball junkie and seeks refuge in the game. I understand that.

But I wonder how serious he is about his anchor job when he has 100% attendance this past season on Sunday Night Football where he has about four minutes of face time during a 90-minute pre-game show.

It doesn't matter whether Olbermann is one's cup of tea as a news anchorman. He's not doing his job.How can one follow the fellow and grow an audience when he's absent 20% of the time?

His chief competitor, Bill O'Reilly in the 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) slot, is not much better. However, the Fox host has proven ratings, a devout following and a consistent cable news leader over the past decade.

Anchoring a network news show five days a week no doubt is a grueling job. Three of Olbermann's favorite targets -- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck -- at least show up for work consistently. Same goes for Olbermann's MSNBC pals Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews, Rachael Maddow and Ed Schultz.
And, when's the last time Katie Courek and Brian Williams missed a show, not counting vacations and holidays?

Olbermann's ratings generally lag behind his prime time competitors. One reason is his gig caters to the liberal left and the show's format is too often off the wall. But his show also is similar to a fine wine still aging in the cellar. It grows on you if you have a liberal taste.

With the exception of Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," Olbermann's snarky and sometimes vicious jabs at conservatives is a welcome respite to the day's news. His first two segments of the so-called five top stories of the day are usually serious attempts with particular left-leaning slants. His fourth segment, "Worst Persons," usually is an effort at sticking a pin in the side of the pompous politician.

But all this goes to naught if he's not on the air. It tells me he has little regard for what few followers he has. I could care less what Olbermann does off camera or whether he's lazy, a hypochondriac, prima dona or some kind of fruit cake.

It make me wonder if MSNBC is auditioning his designated replacement Lawrence O'Donnell for the job. At first they tried David Shuster to fill in but he was a disaster. The network obviously has decided the time slot will be filled as a voice of the left to counter-program CNN's Campbell Brown and Fox's O'Reilly.

Olbermann started the Countdown show in 2003 after an exemplary career as an innovative sportscaster on ESPN, usually paired with his sidekick Dan Patrick. In spot hard news coverage, he performed brilliantly, earning the Edward R. Murrow Award for his handling of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

His detractors are many. One website tracks his news judgment. It makes a salient point. For the week of
Jan. 4-8, it tallies 69 references to George Bush, 38 to health care, 32 to Brit Hume, 28 to Dick Cheney, 28 to Tiger Woods, 28 to Fox News, 24 to Sarah Palin and 21 to Rush Limbaugh. All this when the rest of the media focused on security breaches by the Christmas Day underwear bomber and al-Qaeda in Yemen.

At the start of Countdown, Olbermann told television columnist Lisa de Moraes that "our charge for the immediate future is to stay out of the way of the news.... News is the news. We will not be screwing around with it.... As times improve and the war ends we will begin to introduce more and more elements familiar to my style." 

That, he did. Using Murrow's parting words ending his shows, Olberman signs off with "Good Night, and Good Luck." I might add:

Wherever you are, Keith.

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