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It's been all of three days since a glowing mainstream media article appeared on Keith Olbermann. To fill the void, Dusty Saunders of the Rocky Mountain News has obligingly prepared a piece filled with the usual ratings half-truths and mushy love-notes to that mainstream media idol (and ratings failure), Keith Olbermann.
Olbermann's star rising
He can be cranky, smart-alecky, mean- spirited and sarcastic. And I imagine Bill O'Reilly fans could add more unflattering terms.
But several other adjectives apply as well: intelligent, well-read, forceful and incisive.
Keith Olbermann's newest career is in full bloom as far as descriptive adjectives are concerned. O'Reilly and Olbermann are, by far, the most polarizing commentators on television, cable or network. O'Reilly the conservative; Olbermann the liberal.
And the fact their weeknight programs (The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News and Countdown on MSNBC) air at 6 p.m. contributes greatly to this polarization.
As viewers of either (or both) know, neither plays the old-fashioned TV game of let's-ignore-the-opposition. O'Reilly, although not specifically naming Olbermann, regularly bashes MSNBC. Olbermann often designates O'Reilly, or "Bill-O," the "worst person in the world" while depressing organ music blares in the background.
Anyone who follows O'Reilly, a Channel 7 anchor-reporter in the late '70s, is aware of his immense popularity as host of the most-watched news-commentary series on cable and a nationally syndicated radio show. And don't forget a career as best-selling author trumpeting what he believes to be American values.
Olbermann, who gained initial national fame as co-host, with Dan Patrick, on ESPN's SportsCenter, had a testy, often controversial run before starting his second tour of duty on MSNBC on Countdown in 2003.
While the show is still a distant second to The O'Reilly Factor in total viewers, the hour continues to gain audience momentum in the younger demographic. And during the first quarter of this year, Olbermann's overall ratings rose 76 percent over the same period a year ago.
I've heard Olbermann's detractors (and O'Reilly fans) claim such a percentage growth is almost meaningless, considering the audience base was near nothing. That might have been true four years ago, but not today. Olbermann's popularity continues to grow, which is one reason he finished sixth in a survey by Television Week of the 10 Most Powerful People in Broadcasting News. Olbermann was cited for giving MSNBC a stronger liberal voice in prime time.
Obviously, this is one media outlet's opinion, but it does weigh well within the industry because it features a concise survey of broadcast news professionals.
Olbermann's profile will continue to rise in the fall, since he's signed on as co-host, with Bob Costas and others, on NBC's NFL Sunday show, Football Night in America.
And then there's Olbermann's career as news anchor. He'd never make it on the early evening, half-hour network shows. Olbermann is anything but the smiling, welcome-me-into-your-home talent the broadcast networks desire.
Anchoring Countdown's Monday night coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy, Olbermann wasn't content with the prepared reports of NBC correspondents, including those from Kevin Corke, former 9News sports anchor. Olbermann kept asking questions that went far beyond the TV headlines about the shooting deaths.