The New Yorker‘s Peter J. Boyer asks, “Is Keith Olbermann changing TV news?” The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ But 6,100 words later, what it all means still confounds even those closest to the MSNBC anchor. Boyer’s reporting also reveals some things you may not have known about Olbermann, such as:
• He has been diagnosed with Wittmaack-Ekbom’s syndrome, also known as restless-legs syndrome.
• He once bumped his head while leaping into a subway car; it permanently upset his equilibrium. Driving is a problem as he loses depth perception at speeds greater than 15 miles per hour.
• He dated Laura Ingraham briefly a decade ago. “There were a few things that I could see were going to be impediments. Oddly, they were not political things,” Olbermann tells Boyer.
“I have been accused of having an obsession with him,” Olbermann says of his rival Bill O’Reilly. “I am a minor-leaguer compared to his obsession with me,” he adds. “I really do owe him a percentage of my salary.” O’Reilly might just get it. MSNBC exec-in-charge Phil Griffin says, “Bill O’Reilly made Keith Olbermann.”
Griffin also tells Boyer about a conversation he had with a former colleague at CNN. Soon after Olbermann returned to MSNBC in 2003, Griffin ran into the CNN colleague who told him that the network had considered hiring Olbermann, but focus-group tests showed audiences didn’t like him. “I can honestly tell you it shook me up a little bit,” Griffin recalled to Boyer. “He was made for this. I mean, the guy is crazy, but he is made for this.”
Boyer writes, “The television gossip pages [surely, not these pages] occasionally report grumblings of some NBC News personalities about Olbermann’s dominion at MSNBC, but most, even the traditionalists, seem happy for the airtime, and glad that Olbermann’s success redounds to them. The risk for NBC News is that this commingling has colored the NBC News brand, so carefully burnished over the generations, with the attitudes and predilections of the cable arm.
“Listen, it’s a strain,” says Tom Brokaw, the longtime anchor of ‘Nightly News,’ who remains an active and revered figure at NBC. “And it’s under constant examination. There’s dialogue going on behind the scenes all the time. It’s not perfectly sorted out.”
But this may be the highlight. Olbermann trying to make the point about the evening news broadcasts (one of which he was once considered to helm before CBS hired Katie Couric.)
“There are people who, with absolute conviction, believe that Brian Williams is a Communist,” he said. “There are people who, with absolute conviction, believe that Katie Couric is in the pay of the Pentagon. There are people who are absolutely certain that Charlie Gibson sleeps with Hillary Clinton, based on the last debate. This is an old schoolyard thing I learned from being repeatedly beat up in the fourth grade. It finally dawned on me one dayâ€”they are going to keep beating me up whether I respond to them or not.”