Of all the times he’s been fired from television jobs, Keith Olbermann literally could have not picked a more fortuitous time than this to get the axe from Current TV, the small liberal network co-founded by Vice President Al Gore, where he fled last year after he was let go from MSNBC. It may not seem immediately clear why that’s the case. Current and Olbermann almost immediately proved to be a bad fit, with the relationship deteriorating over everything from the state of Olbermann’s studio infrastructure to Olbermann’s missed work days and fussiness over the car service. His firing is certain to be the start of a nasty battle. Olbermann has vowed to sue Current, an action unlikely to endear him to his dwindling pool of future employers. And Current has retained a crisis PR company to help it manage the fallout of its largest star’s dramatic defenestration from an already vulnerable structure.
But Olbermann has one thing going for him—the weekend after he was fired, HBO rolled out the first trailers for The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s show based on an extremely Olbermann-like commentator (who, in an interesting shift for Sorkin, happens to be a moderate Republican), played by Jeff Daniels:
As crisis PR goes for Olbermann, it’s a dream. He gets painted as a truth teller stifled by the expectations of his network and the people around him, never mind that flinging Blackberries at your camera operators is utterly un-charming behavior. Aaron Sorkin does love him a principled truth-teller, and in an age when the presidency is on tighter verbal lockdown than ever before, it makes a certain amount of sense that he’d give up on the hope of a Commander in Chief telling it like it is in the White House briefing room and downgrade his fantasies to cable television instead.
But there’s something odd about pretending that the prominent cable networks are cracking down on opinionated anchors. MSNBC may not be as aggressive as Fox News, but it’s hardly an opinion-free space, as the elevation of Rachel Maddow (once an Olbermann protege) or Al Sharpton’s passionate coverage of the killing of Trayvon Martin would indicate. And Olbermann’s on-camera personality is the reason he keeps finding work. It’s been the struggle to get him in front of the camera, and to get him to behave collegially off it that’s plagued him. That’s a much less heroic, and much less Sorkin-ite, narrative.