Updated with details: Keith Olbermann spent the first seven minutes of his ESPN2 show today slyly dinging media for its coverage of ESPN’s decision not to renew his contract — by tucking jokes into his defense of his network’s report on New York Giants star Jason Pierre-Paul’s finger amputation.
He also announced he is joining GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump as his campaign manager.
Here’s how that went:
“Let me start by saying in the Jason Pierre-Paul story, if you think ESPN … violated HIPAA laws, you don’t know what HIPAA laws are, or to whom they apply,” Olbermann said of the network’s coverage of that story, including a cell phone shot of the hospital records of the athlete’s amputation following a Fourth of July fireworks incident, according to news reports.
Olbermann noted ESPN’s extremely short response to such comments: “HIPPA does not apply to news organizations.”
“If you think ESPN was wrong to disseminate this cell phone photo of hospital records detailing the amputation of one of Pierre-Paul’s fingers, rather than simply reporting the amputation, you do not understand the level to which reporting has sunk, where the journalistic requirement to supply whatever proof you have that whatever you’re saying happened – happened,” Olbermann said of the finger-amputation/ESPN-Olbermann dumping.
“This is a requirement that has gradually been worn away by the unyielding tidal ebb and flow of gossip, rumor and people pretending that its OK to report something demonstrably not true, simply because somebody told them it was true, and they have mistaken the fact that somebody told it to them for ‘truth’,” he snarked.
“If there is a moment where you should defer to me on the merits of having hard evidence to separate reporting from ‘repeating,’ having something like a hospital document, it’s now,” Olbermann said with a smile. “I speak to you as something of a sports news story myself just at the moment.”
Later in the show, guest Jim Gaffigan told Olbermann he was taking over his ESPN2 show today. “Good luck with that,” Olbermann quipped.
“Next year is an election year. I can’t imagine an election year without Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann. What are you going to do?” Gaffigan wondered.
“I’m going to become Donald Trump’s campaign manager,” replied the host, whose contract expires July 31.
“You’re going to write his speeches?” Gaffigan marveled. Olbermann explained that is not possible because speeches require stream of consciousness. Then he confessed he lives in a Trump building and to “deal with him on a you-owe-me-money basis.”
“He’s a surprisingly realistic and reasonable man,” the host added. “And then you see this stuff and you think, ‘Maybe there are two Donald Trumps.'”
Olbermann discovered yesterday ESPN was dumping him when Jim Miller, co-author of the 2011 book Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN, tweeted news that the second Keith Olbermann era at ESPN had come a close after the network opted not to renew Keith’s contract.
The Disney-owned networks then issued a statement saying it had made a business decision not to renew Olbermann’s contract, which is set to run out the end of this month.
“Keith is a tremendous talent who has consistently done timely, entertaining and thought-provoking work since returning to ESPN,” the network said in its announcement. “While the show’s content was distinctive and extremely high quality, we ultimately made a business decision to move in another direction”
Miller’s tweet went out as Olbermann’s show was wrapping yesterday at 5:30 PM ET.
A network source countered the ESPN2 host and his agent knew weeks ago the company was headed in this direction. Well, duh – it had been reported last week, by some Reporters Who Cover Sports, that the talks were 95% dead. But, of course, “going badly” is different from really most sincerely 100% dead, as any coroner will tell you, like we said yesterday.
Within hours of the news Olbermann was out, a few schools of thought emerged, and gained steam today. One speculated that ESPN’s “business decision” was to jettison Olbermann because the NFL gave ESPN a blah Monday Night Football slate for next season, presumably as a response to Olbermann (and also jettisoned Bill Simmons) having spoken extremely critically of the league and its commissioner, Roger Goodell.
Another school of thought emerged, however, in which ESPN deciding to dump him because it was not happy with his ratings, since the show’s move to 5 PM in September. According to Nielsen, at 5 PM, Olbermann is averaging 167,000 viewers aged 2 and up. In the same period last year, ESPN2 had averaged 220,000 viewers in the timeslot.
Among 18-49 year olds, Olbermann has averaged 84,000 viewers at 5 PM, compared to 97K in the slot same time last year. Among 25-54 year olds, Olbermann has averagef 71K, whiich also is down compared to 91K in slot same time last year.
Some sources noted that ESPN2 said in August it was moving his show to 5 PM ET in order for him to host SportsCenter strategically, which did not happen. Back then, ESPN2 said, via one of its execs:
“We feel that strategically shifting the time of this show will not only provide access to a broader audience, but gives us greater flexibility for Keith to do cross-platform opportunities, including hosting key editions of SportsCenter surrounding major news or events throughout the year, while enabling us to secure a more consistent time slot to showcase his distinctive voice.”
Having made the decision not to do so, coupled with his ratings, ESPN decided to end the relationship, some sources speculated today.