Commentary

Olbermann, 'Worst Persons' and James Thurber Are Back on the (Web) Air

Keith-Olbermann

Months after his unceremonious sacking from MSNBC and prior to his return to cable via Current TV, you sort of knew that Keith Olbermann wouldn't be able to shut up for this long. In mid-March the once-pithy-now-strident Olbermann started posting video clips on his own site Foknewschannel.com. While the site logo clearly alludes to K.O.'s nemesis Fox, we are guessing the name of the site also flips the bird to all cable news outlets.

Olbermann appears to be reviving or continuing the on-air elements that helped make him a central audience draw on MSNBC. K.O. is mixing up prose and video on this blog that is labeled "not for profit." His signature "Worst Persons of the Day" got the video treatment last week.  And, yes, the winner was yet again, Glenn Beck, but only after Olbermann had made his usual deep dive into media history (God bless him) with mention of Jim Bouton's 60's baseball memoir Ball Four and controversial 30's radio news commentator Boake Carter. Carter, by the way, was a journalist whose increasingly heated criticisms of the New Deal got him tossed off CBS radio in 1938, and he quickly devolved into crank obscurity.  You have to wonder why this tidbit of obscure media history came to Olbermann's mind.

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And, of course there is also the inevitable "Special Comment," that increasingly elongated editorial segment of Olbermann's old show that lost its raison d'etre when all of Olbermann's show became commentary. It goes on for seven minutes, but in classic K.O. prose fashion, I think there may actually only be five sentences in there. I am still unraveling a few of these clauses.

It is hard to tell if Olbermann is telegraphing here that his upcoming revival on Current TV is pretty much going to mirror the old show. Apparently he plans to keep reading James Thurber. In a touching tribute to his late father, K.O. started ending some shows with short readings (dim lighting, leather chair and all) of Thurber. He had used Thurber to soothe his ailing Dad, who suggested it might make good TV. As much of a Thurberite as I am, it isn't clear to me that he makes good TV. But it is fine Web viewing for those so inclined. Olbermann's unabridged filtering of "The Luck of Jad Peters" is worth seeing. But never think for a second that Thurber sounds like Olbermann. Keith lays his snide tone on thick to a writer who is a much subtler and sympathetic humorist.

As a former fan of Olbermann's once-acerbic style, I regret his turn to public hostility and partisanship. This is that rare TV talking head who knows his media history, even if he doesn't always learn from it. I wish he took this break to read a bit more Thurber...off camera, to himself. 
5 comments about "Olbermann, 'Worst Persons' and James Thurber Are Back on the (Web) Air".
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  1. Khalil Jetha from MTVNetworks, March 29, 2011 at 1:26 p.m.

    Nice article, Steve. However, I'm told "FOK" in foknewschannel.com stands for "Friends Of Keith."

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 29, 2011 at 1:38 p.m.

    What a classy guy.We should celebrate Keith's tempered approach. Winning.

  3. Steve Smith from Mediapost, March 29, 2011 at 1:40 p.m.

    @Khalil

    Yes i forgot to mention that the FOK acronym also refers to Friends of Keith, although again I am guessing he intended multiple associations by choosing it.

  4. Derek Vogel from Vogel Designs, March 29, 2011 at 1:44 p.m.

    Olberman. The turd that won't flush. Sad that he can't see his own pathetic descent to obscurity and irrelevance. Can't believe I'm wasting perfectly good electrons to comment on this tool.

  5. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, March 29, 2011 at 4:07 p.m.

    I've enjoyed Olbermann's work from the first time I watched his show on ESPN. When he moved to MSNBC, and from sports to politics, I assumed that he wouldn't make a dent in the large existing lineup of political commentators. I could not have been more wrong.

    Olbermann's intelligence, knowledge and courage have brought back the kind of solid political reporting that's been missing for far too long. As a life-long political junkie, I'm always looking for commentators who can bring a fresh, intelligent and truthful viewpoint, and Olbermann has always delivered.

    I can't wait to see him back on the air.

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