Keith Olbermann Punches Down (And I’m His Target)

Earlier tonight, Keith Olbermann sent out a tweet to his 360,000+ followers in response to something I had written about him.

First, the background. As you may remember, Mr. Olbermann left MSNBC last January after battling the network’s executives for years. He has a decades-long history of leaving networks in a huff, usually leaving a substantial patch of scorched earth behind him.

Mr. Olbermann started anchoring a new program on Current TV six months ago, and is already battling network brass. He refused to anchor the network’s coverage of the Iowa caucus, reportedly because he was upset by the network’s poor technical standards.

The New York Times has been reporting about the latest controversy, and Mr. Olbermann has taken umbrage at their reporting, even calling reporter Brian Stelter a “kid.” But he hasn’t said much on-the-record, apparently due to a non-disparagement clause in his contract.

Here are the tweets:

Me, 6:45pm: “@KeithOlbermann calls NYT’s @brianstelter a “kid” for his reporting on feud w/Current. Problem is that after so many feuds, few believe him.”

Keith Olbermann, 6:54pm: @MrMediaTraining “’Few believe him.’ Must be nice to speak for the World. This title “Mr Media Training” is meant ironically?”

By responding to my tweet, he reinforced the basic point I’ve been making on Twitter about him – that the sheer number of his feuds has greatly diminished his credibility. After all, if someone has as many feuds with as many people as Keith Olbermann – or Sarah Palin or Donald Trump – the public is left to conclude that the problem probably lies with them. 

I can’t quite figure out why he would have given my tweet more air. Whereas I just sent it to my network of 3,050 people, he helped me spread it to his 360,000 fans. He violated a key axiom of crisis communications, that you shouldn’t “punch down” (in other words, first-place Coke shouldn’t attack second-place Pepsi, but Pepsi can gain traction by attacking Coke). That’s not to suggest that I baited him. I sent the tweet for my followers, not in the hopes of triggering a reply.

Mr. Olbermann would be wise to focus on the feuds that matter instead of picking fights with anyone who comes calling. Better yet, he might just learn how to play nicely with others.