Odds are, if you hate Bill O’Reilly, you love Keith Olbermann. With good reason – Olbermann, in his MSNBC show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” has made more than a habit of discussing and attacking O’Reilly’s comments on “The O’Reilly Factor.” He’s labeled O’Reilly “The Worst Person in the World,” a “disgrace” and often features a segment called “Factor Fiction.” O’Reilly is a logical target – he draws widespread hatred, has a massive ego and is a blowhard.

But the obsessive frequency with which Olbermann dedicates entire “Countdown” segments to analyzing rival O’Reilly’s statements says more about Olbermann than it does about O’Reilly. Olbermann has covered the most irrelevant O’Reilly minutiae, from negative Factor book reviews to O’Reilly’s interaction with the Dixie Chicks. “Countdown” once featured an entire segment discussing O’Reilly’s interviews with Stephen Colbert, adding to the absurdity by bringing in “Family Guy’s” Seth MacFarlane to analyze the interviews. This is on a news network.

Other unnecessary, embarrassing segments include last year when he tried to spin his loss to “The O’Reilly Factor” in the Nielson ratings as a victory. This was painful to watch and came across as Olbermann advertising an inferiority complex.

When he abandons levity, Olbermann feigns indignation, often calling for O’Reilly to be fired and expressing shock and disgust that he has a job. What Olbermann may fail to realize is that at this point, without Bill O’Reilly, “Countdown” would cease to exist, lacking the material to continue and giving O’Reilly-haters no reason to watch.

Still, Olbermann has enjoyed decent success on the Internet as the self-appointed O’Reilly watchdog. And to Olbermann’s credit, he understands this. A New York Times story last year implied his attacks were an act, motivated by popularity. “You don’t punch down?if you’re in my position, you punch upwards,” he told them.

So it’s not personal; it’s business, and the “Family Guy” bits are designed to attract the prototypical O’Reilly hater.

But to an objective viewer, this comes at the cost of his reputation and the credibility of his actual news coverage. How seriously would we take Katie Couric if, instead of doing her job and covering the news, she ripped into Brian Williams on a nightly basis?

Regardless, if Olbermann ever intended to reach a broader audience than those who care enough about O’Reilly to hate him, he has given up, and this has led to “Countdown’s” deterioration into a forum for Olbermann to take pot shots at his professional counterpart. That Olbermann seems content to sacrifice respect for ratings speaks volumes. Maybe his indifference to a legitimate reputation at this point is related to the number of jobs he was unable to hold after leaving ESPN 10 years ago. One thing is certain: if “Countdown” continues on this path, Olbermann will eventually become known as an egotistical blowhard talk show host who can’t keep his unprofessional comments to himself. If it means ratings, maybe that’s his goal, but he was better calling home runs.

Fountaine is a member of the class of 2008.



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