What's All This Then?

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Monday, January 24, 2011
But only maybe…..

The Internet is a wonderful tool, but in the last couple of days I may have been personally involved in promulgating one of it’s downsides - the ability of just about anyone with a computer and a network connection to spread false information. The subject matter of this possible error on my part is the sudden departure of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC. From his first line of his closing comments on his last show...
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...
I got the impression that he had been asked to leave - and of course I, probably along with many thousands of others who watched his show - sprang into action - in my case with an e-mail to Brian Roberts, CEO of NBC’s about to be new owner - Comcast.
In five days since the approval of Comacast's acquisition of NBC Universal, you have managed to tear out the heart of MSNBC's evening programming, alienate practically all of the cable network's viewers and become cause for nightly celebrations at Fox "News." According to the book of Genesis - it took God seven days to create earth. You only took five to begin dismantling MSNBC. Congratulations. You're the new champ. What's next? A list of prohibited subjects and/or words for your remaining hosts? We will support Olbermann wherever he goes and it will be your loss.
I’ve sent e-mails to CEO’s in the past to which I don’t always get a response - but when I do, it’s usually an automatic acknowledgment with an answer to my comments or questions - if any - to follow later. Obviously Comcast had anticipated a flood of complaints because in this case there was an immediate response.
Good afternoon Mr. Smith,
On behalf of Brian Roberts:

Thank you for sharing your views with us on this issue. Please understand that Comcast does not currently manage NBC Universal and has no operational control at any of its networks including, MSNBC. Our deal to purchase NBC Universal has not closed and legally we are not able to make any business decisions involving NBC Universal's businesses or programming at this time.

We pledged from the day our agreement for NBC Universal was announced that we would not interfere with NBC Universal's news operations. We have not, and we will not in the future.

Thank you,
Cynthia Asbury
Of course at that moment, I was still reasonably sure that Olbermann had been forced out and that Comcast’s acquisition of NBC had to be behind it somehow and so I penned an "unbelieving" reply to Cynthia Asbury
Well Good Afternoon to you too Ms Asbury. I appreciate hearing from you. If only poor misguided Keith could have heard from you too and seen your pledge to not interfere with MSNBC's news operations. He thought you wanted him gone. Where could he have got that idea from? But seriously Cynthia, after your deal closes, wouldn't Comcast want Keith back at his post, anchoring the evening line up, strictly from a business point of view? I don't think it would violate your non interference pledge to make that view known. Unless of course it's not your view and Keith is right about you not wanting him there. Or maybe it's all just a coincidence. Comcast takes over and Olbermann leaves in the middle of a four year deal. Such a complicated world - this world of communication.
Oh, I was being so smart. No way could Comcast fool me into believing that they wouldn't exercise any control over their newly acquired toy. But then information - not confirmed but having the smell of truth - began to trickle in.

MSNBC may have wanted to dump Olbermann - but the stories trickling out from various sources implied that he has wanted out for some time - but in the middle of a four year contract, couldn’t just walk away. The unconfirmed story so far is that he had been negotiating his exit for an unknown period of time and those negotiations resulted in a mutual agreement just before his January 21, 2011 broadcast. I still think that he was pushed off the air before he was ready to leave. I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t want to warn his audience and to have prepared a series of retrospectives and "special comments" - perhaps at least a week’s worth before saying goodbye. But I can believe that he wanted out. According to reports of his past broadcast career, this was the longest job he’d ever held. And if the story about his agent asking NBC for more than his seven million dollar annual salary is true, it makes him a little less of a sympathetic character. Seven big ones not enough? For a champion of the common man?

For an unknown period of time, Olbermann won’t be able to appear on television. I would assume that for an unknown period of time he won’t be able to talk about the details of his departure. And I get the impression that the remaining MSNBC hosts are restricted from saying anything either other than the kind of bland comment that Rachel Maddow has made about Olbermann being gracious in his departure. So it will be a while before we know for sure why one of the very few liberal voices on the air has been silenced. It may well be that Olbermann and the bosses at MSNBC couldn’t see eye to eye and decided that he would rather quit than stay some place where he was uncomfortable - even if it meant abandoning his loyal audience. After all, liberal broadcasters aren’t any more saintly than their conservative counterparts. They’re all in it for the money. If it were otherwise, Olbermann wouldn’t be asking for more than his seven million a year. He’d be donating half of it to liberal causes.

At some point in the future there may be more statements emanating from Comcast and perhaps from Olbermann about this affair, but whatever either may say, even though I may have jumped the gun in my assumption that Comcast was directly responsible for Olbermann’s departure, I think it is reasonable to assume that the impending NBC takeover was an influencing factor. The acquisition has been pending for some time and among the stories being circulated from seemingly knowledgeable sources is that the Comcast people considered Olbermann a "loose cannon" and wanted him gone and that Olbermann saw the writing on the wall and decided to leave before being fired.

But there’s another issue here that should be of concern whether Comcast influenced an on the air personality’s exit or not - and that’s the issue of the ever narrowing group of corporations that control more and more aspects of our lives. Is it a good idea for Comcast to own NBC -or Disney to own ABC? Or for corporations large and small to be gobbling up each other the way they’ve been doing for years to the point where few of us know who owns who or what? It was a work of fiction by Paddy Chayefsky of course, but I’m reminded of the words spoken by the Arthur Jensen character in the chilling 1976 move Network.
There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Erxxon. Those are the nations of the world today.
We may not quite be living in the world envisioned by Chayefsky 35 years ago - but I think it’s fair to say that the corporate world is doing a pretty good job of life imitating his work of art.