Keith Olbermann's suspension foretold ~ Brand Mix

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Keith Olbermann's suspension foretold

When I saw in the news today that Keith Olbermann had been suspended for violating NBC's code of ethics, I remembered a post I wrote a couple of years ago titled: "Why Keith Olbermann should be fired":

For those who don't know, Keith Olbermann hosts "Countdown," MSNBC's most successful show. Olbermann saw and seized the opportunity for a program that provided a forum for liberal provocative commentary to match the model successfully developed on the conservative side by Fox.

In a recent Men's Journal interview, Olbermann described his goals: "I'd like it to be the accurate counterweight to Fox. My attitude is not to counterbalance them because they're conservatives; it's counterbalancing because some of their stuff is outlandishly in violation of every tenet of responsible broadcasting."

With his success, Olbermann has become the voice of MSNBC (if not, like Regis with ABC, its savior). But here's the problem and why he needs to be fired. MSNBC is not an independent company--it's the cable arm of NBC News and it's not distanced far enough away to avoid whatever it's doing leaching back into the mother ship. If MSNBC had a different name and didn't share staff, workspace and content with NBC, things might be different. But, given the connectedness of the two organizations, NBC does not have plausible deniability. Its reputation as a dispassionate, unbiased news organization is threatened.

Tensions between NBC and MSNBC had already been running high but things blew up at the Republican convention where MSNBC chose to use Olbermann as an anchor for the news coverage. This blurred the lines between news and commentary and reinforced the impression of the channel's perceived shift to the left. When Sarah Palin complained about media bias the delegates on the floor of the convention as delegates started chanting "NBC" (Note: Not "MSNBC"). Although MSNBC has since replaced Olbermann as an anchor, the damage has been done.

There is another option to firing Olbermann. That would be for NBC to follow his direction and position itself as the liberal equivalent of Fox. From a brand perspective, this would definitely be a differentiating strategy and position NBC away from ABC and CBS. In these partisan days where fewer people seem to want unbiased coverage, perhaps it would be more relevant as well.

Edward R. Murrow would turn in his grave, a few of NBC's high-paid headcount who fancy themselves as objective, non-political reporters would probably quit, but putting Olbermann in charge of the whole show might be an even better idea than firing him.
In the two years since the original post, NBC hasn't done anything to resolve this issue. So, to me, this week's developments were almost inevitable. If not a political donation, it would eventually have been something else.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

There are certain lefties who are so out there that their presence is helpful to us. The only people who listen to them are the true believers. So I can see the point of not banishing him. His presence is our fuel for energy. Perhaps he should host Janeane Garofalo again and talk about her stint on 24 during its last season.

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