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I launched OlbermannWatch.com in November 2004 as on offshoot of my old The National Debate blog which was the first blog dedicated to covering political programming on the cable news networks. Since then I have moved on to many other projects, the most current being running on the biggest hyper-local blogs in New York, New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound.
Having grown up in a household where when the news was on TV it was always Huntley, Brinkley, and later Chancellor and where mornings always began with Barbara Walters and later Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley on the Today Show, I was alarmed at the sudden lurch to the left on Countdown. OlbermannWatch was launched, then, as a reaction to that and something of a warning to fans of NBC News like me and to the executives at the network that Keith was taking his show hard left and appeared to determined to take the rest of the network with him, down into the rabbit hole of Olbermann conspiracy theories. The result, I predicted long and loud would be the destruction of the reputation of NBC News built up over decades and exemplified by the men that Olbermann professed to honor and respect (Keith never mentioned women in his various paeans to broadcast journalism).
Today, for the first time since 2003, Keith Olbermann no longer has a TV show. He is no longer considered a News Anchor at NBC. For NBC News, however, it is too late. The reputation of the news division is left in tatters. MSNBC is nothing but a far-left outpost for the lunatic fringe. The broadcast news operation a fading shadow on a fourth place network -- fifth if you consider the nights when Fox News beats NBC News coverage of special events like the State of the Union Address or the national political conventions.
And in that sense, Keith won. He wanted to turn NBC News into liberal alternative to Fox News. He succeeded.
Few of Keith's fans who are bemoaning the end of the show last night were watching Countdown with me back in 2004. Even less will recall that when this site was launched, Olbermann was on the way out. Once the coverage of the invasion of Iraq died down, ratings for Countdown with Keith Olbermann began a precipitous decline and by the fall of 2004 Olbermann's closest competition was shows like McEnroe, a ill-fated talk show on CNBC hosted by former tennis great John McEnroe. Countdown with Keith Olbermann lost to every primetime shown on Fox News and CNN and to shows on Headlines News and CNBC and elsewhere on MSNBC. It was truly in the ratings cellar among a group of networks that, as a group, got low ratings.
Olbermann's viewership could be counted in the tens of thousands. His audience share was measured in fractions not whole numbers. As one of the few regular viewers of the show, it became clear to me that Olbermann was staring into the abyss and made a decision to go for broke by giving full-flower to his true personality. Unfortunately for him that personality is that of an angry, paranoid, man-child. Suddenly guests who Art Bell would not book on Coast to Coast AM were being given free reign by Olbermann. "Blackbox" conspiracy theorists alleging nefarious plots and proffering pseudoscientific theories to explain George Bush's victory over John Kerry found a home on MSNBC. Every crackpot with a web site, every loon with a wild allegation, every hack lawyer with a frivolous lawsuit, was cited by an ever more desperate Olbermann that Bush had "stolen" the 2004 election. It was not long before the liberal loons at Democratic Underground, Democrats.com, Daily Kos, and Fire Dog Lake were feeding Keith his talking points and "news" segments were direct rip and reads from far-left outfits like Media Matters and Think Progress.
A review of our first month of operation will confirm that OlbermannWatch.com was the first site to point out that Olbermann was seeking to turn MSNBC into a liberal antidote to a leftist caricature of Fox News.
This Attila of the CableNets has grown increasingly erratic as his ratings nosedive has begun to approach terminal velocity. Over the past couple of months Olbermann has descended into a journalistic netherworld where fringe web sites are news sources and fact-checking is no longer "cool" enough for the ultra-hip word stylist...For quite some time Olbermann has had the luxury of getting away with using his show to monger rumors of the web because no one watches his show (he gets about a .7 rating, or slightly better than the now cancelled McEnroe show on CNBC). But word is starting to get around that Olbermann is embracing the lunatic fringe, apparently determined to take the reputation of NBC News down with him.
Along the way, the far-left rallied to Keith. Members of the largest far-left TV Critics Association joined in the boosterism. Political groups like MoveOn.org held pledge drives. Once Nielsen began including Tivo data in its ratings, blogs encouraged readers to Tivo Keith's show whether they watched it or not just to boost Keith's numbers.
Then came the Special Comments, 10-20 minute sophomoric, self-indulgent rants that were more about Keith closeups than whatever Republican villain he was railing against that night.
By the time of the next Presidential election, the anti-establishment, lefty-schtick was pretty well set with talking points delivered by liberal think-tanks, a line up of guests pre-determined to nod their head in agreement at every "insight" that dropped from Keith's lips, and a preoccupation with Bill O'Reilly, Fox News and anyone to the right of Bill Clinton and Joe Lieberman. Facts were cast aside in favor or emotionalism. In the process Olbermann went from 110,000 viewers a night in 2004 to more than one million viewers a night by the 2008 election cycle at which point Keith became the co-host of MSNBC election coverage including a stint covering the Republican National Convention which ended badly with Keith being pulled off their air at the insistence of old hands at NBC like Tom Brokaw who had had enough. Sadly, by the time people like Brokaw woke up it was too late. Keith was by then the face of MSNBC and branching out with a deal to fill in on NBC Nightly News and a regular spot on NBC Sunday Night Football.
Unfortunately for Olbermann, Barack Obama won election to the Presidency in 2008 and suddenly his far-left heros were the establishment. The schtick got stuck and his ratings dropped.
All the while, Olbermann was working hard to remake the entire news division at NBC News in his image -- hysterical, liberal, and in your face. His protege, Rachel Maddow, has been a hit and is now widely liked within NBC and regularly booked on Meet the Press and the Today Show. Talk radio show host Ed Schultz and, more recently, Lawrence O'Donnell, along with Maddow and Chris Matthews now make up the MSNBC evening line up.
Given Keith's personality it was always only a question of when things would blow up. The final straw appears to have been Olbermann's decision to make campaign contributions to Democratic politicians in the 2010 election cycle. Keith went public prompting his long-time time supporter Phil Griffin to declare a state of war existed between Olbermann and network executives. With the sale of NBC to Comcast looming, less than 90 days after Griffin declared war, Keith signed off for the final time.
For OlbermannWatch it has been six and half years of pure misery having to watch Keith Olbermann night after night -- his making up "facts", lashing out without reason, yukking it up with jokes amusing only to him -- so our readers do not have to. This site served as the bellwether for exposing Keith's lies and hypocrisy, coining new terms that have entered the blogosphere lexicon such as OlbyLoons, Olbypocrisy. Along the way, we had our share of laughs.
According to the stats for the site, I have written 3,392 entries with 49,957 comments. Can that be true? Jeez. That's a lot of Olbermann commentary.
As Olbermann leaves the air at MSNBC, OlberannWatch is left to consider a future sans Keith, I would like to give thanks all around.
First and foremost to Mark K. who readers know as Johnny Dollar or his rap name, J$. He carried on long after I no longer had the stomach for day to day viewings of Countdown. J$ was beyond relentless in documenting the many lies, fraud and hypocrisy that came to define Countdown with Keith Olbermann. I founded this site, did all the technical work and managed the publication but over the years this became a J$ production. God bless your perseverance.
I would like to thank Alex Yuriev of Zubr Communications for hosting this site and dealing with the not-infrequent denial of service attacks and otherwise keeping us online. While Mark and I did our share, the site would not have been online at all without Alex's efforts over the years; he has truly been the silent partner in this endeavor.
To all the contributors and commenters and even your lurking readers. Thanks! What made this site fun was the back and forth in the comment threads.
For our blogfriends Allah Pundit, Michelle Malkin, Brian Malony, Matt Sheffield, the folks at Newsbusters, Matt Drudge, Ace, and the rest. To our radio friends including Mark Levin and Pat Campbell and our TV friends especially those at Fox News who often got a good chuckle from OlbermanWatch. A special note to Mark who at a dinner honoring Tony Snow in DC, once called OlbermannWatch the best blog on the Internet.
Finally, a special thanks to Keith Olbermann.
At its heart, this was site always intended as satire -- at least by me. To understand that you need to understand that when OlbermannWatch launched Countdown was down for the count. No one, and I mean no one, was watching the show. Keith was on the canvas, KO'd, literally. The satire then was to give Keith the sort of paranoid-obsessive coverage that a megalomaniac like Keith would feel he deserved even when he was hosting a show that had less viewers than a Michigan-Notre Dame football game at "The Big House" in Ann Arbor. Along the way a strange thing happened. Keith not only survived but thrived and eventually became a revered icon of the American left. He became a bigger than life figure who, at times, dominated, political discourse in this country and gave the left a rallying point the likes of which they had never had in the media. Although Keith focused much of his venom on Bill O'Reilly, his real media doppelganger, in terms of influence, was always Rush Limbaugh, who has dominated the discussion on the right the way Keith has come to dominate discussion on the left.
While the show is gone, Keith is most certainly not and so this site will likely live on. Keith has an audience that is rabid, loyal and will follow him anyway. Keith has shown, in leaving Fox Sports News, that he is perfectly willing to sit on the beach and collect a fat paycheck for doing nothing. But Keith is not done, far from it. The most obvious next step for Keith would be talk radio; god knows he could easily fill three hours of air-time a day. But if I had to guess, I would expect Keith to sign a deal with a network like Showtime for a weekly series or maybe something in tandem with Bill Maher. Anything is possible. Of course, a book in inevitable but maybe not a simple repackaging of his old scripts but a real story including his recent experience at MSNBC.
Of course, OlbermannWatch readers will gloat and rejoice but the simple fact is that Keith Olbermann took a show that was dead on its feet, breathed life into it and single-handedly remade his show and then an entire cable news network, generating millions upon millions of dollars in profits for a network with little else to brag about. To that extent, we tip out hat to Keith and wish him well.
After all, what would Olbermann Watch be without Olbermann.
This traffic data chart showing the spike after the news or Keith's signing off for the last time ought to give readers some indication of that: