MSNBC announced Friday night that it was dropping Keth Olbermann, the ouspoken host of the network’s top-rated show whose courageous commentaries during the Bush-Cheney years cleared a space for progressive talk on cable TV.
Ten minutes before the close of his show Friday night, the host whose willingness to highlight the high crimes and misdemeanors of George Bush and Dick Cheney electrified liberals during the darkest days of the previous administration, announced: "This will be the last edition of Countdown. I will explain that, next."
After a commercial break, Olbermann seemed to suggest that the decision—announced just four days before President Obama’s State of the Union Address, a major moment for cable commentators—had come as a surprise, at least to the host.
"I think the same fantasy popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what I have been told: this will be the last edition of your show," Olbermann ruminated. "You go to the scene from the movie Network, complete with the pajamas and the raincoat, and go off on a verbal journey of unutterable vision and you insist upon Peter Finch’s gutteral resonance and you will the viewer to go to the window, open it, stick out his head and yell. You know the rest. In the mundane world of television goodbyes, reality is laughably uncooperative."
Quoting his hero, pioneering TV newsman Edward R. Murrow, Olbermann finished with the line: "Good night and good luck."
Olbermann’s Countdown program became a favorite with progressives when the former sports commentator emerged as an ardent critic of the Bush-Cheney administration at a point when few critics of the war in Iraq and assaults on civil liberties at home had national media platforms. He remained popular as Democrats came to power in 2008—so much so that candidate Barack Obama sat down for interview with the host.
After Obama became president, Olbermann’s program evolved; while he sometimes split with the White House on matters of policy, much of his attention was directed at right-wing critics of the administration (from Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh to Sarah Palin and the Tea Partisans) who Olbermann bluntly dismissed as extremists and "worst persons in the world."