A Former Keith Olbermann Employee Speaks: Rage, Outbursts, and Bad Suits
Pompous thesaurus reader Keith Olbermann is currently embroiled in his latest feud with his latest employer, along with the mandatory feud with the reporters who report on Keith's feuds. Has Keith always been such a touchy, obsessive psycho? Perhaps an ex-employee could shed some light.
After news of Keith's latest uproar broke last week, someone who'd worked for him in his MSNBC days emailed us the following account of what it was like to work for the sensitive, anger-plagued, wearer of bad suits. [Bold highlights are ours.]
Ok...for starters, TheButlerDidIt's comment on this thread [describing Olbermann as "a huge nerd, had lots of emotional issues, low self-esteem, depression, and self-destructive behavior"] sums up his personality, but doesn't include how those traits manifested (and still do, in all likelihood) in abusive behavior toward his staff — not just the executives who make enough f you money to deal with his bull... He doesn't have reasonable reactions to missteps, he gets angry and finds ways to take his anger out on people.
-Keith is the walking definition of a hostile work environment. Countdown had a 75% staff turnover rate in the time I was there — high even for the cable news business. Keith had people he liked, and people he didn't like, and there was no rhyme or reason to it. When he didn't like someone, he'd berate them and belittle their work until they left the show. Then he'd do the same to the next person on his shit list. When someone he liked moved on, he'd take it out on the rest of us. If he got mad at someone for something specific (like not magically knowing he didn't want to be bothered at a certain time), he wouldn't acknowledge them for the rest of the day.
-If someone he didn't like left, he'd tell them how useless/incompetent/stupid he thought they were, instead of handling it like an adult and just being quietly glad they were gone. Then he's put someone new on his s list.
-He has terrible fashion sense and ill-fitting suits. [Ed. note: absolutely true, see the attached pic for but one example of his well-chronicled bad suit fit affliction] And yet, no one was allowed to talk to him about this and remedy the problem because he was "traumatized" (the exact word from our EP) by a shopping incident in his childhood when his mother made him try on wool suits in the summer and he got hot.
-Keith's camera people and the show's director liked his anchor producer. Sometimes they'd do a bump shot that panned off her face (you know, for that newsroom effect) out of or into a commercial break. He made them stop, because the show "is about me, not about her."
-More than a year into her employment, he started getting headaches from the perfume one of his staff members wore. I know scent sensitivity is a real thing, and I'm sympathetic to it, but this also coincided with her moving up on his shit list. Instead of taking the normal HR route of asking her not to wear the perfume, he banished her from coming into his office and (if I remember correctly) had her desk moved farther away. At one point (again, if I remember correctly), she stopped wearing her perfume, but he claimed he could still smell it on her clothes. She was a very sweet, very hard working and professional woman, and he bullied her out of her job.
-This scent sensitivity resulted in literally months of him playing musical offices (between three adjacent offices) to get away from the smell of paint from a construction job he had requested. This continued even after they brought in fans to diffuse the fumes, had other people evaluate the fume situation, etc. The musical offices game was accompanied with his shitty moods.
-Periodically Keith would decide, for no apparent reason (or for a stupid reason that he'd yell at us for as soon as he got in, like the car company sending the wrong car for him. God forbid if they sent an SUV.), that no one was allowed to bother him in his office until the show. Of course, segment producers have to brief him on the pre-interviews they did with the guests that were to appear on his show that night, so they'd have to break this rule and incur his wrath in order to do their jobs, which helped him do his. Sometimes they were forbidden from even doing that; they'd have to leave a post-it on his door instead.
-He gave MSNBC's ad department a photo to use in print ads they were making, but they went with his standard headshot against an NBC-color background instead. This is reasonable; it upholds the brand. This caused him to have a temper tantrum. Part of his reaction was to bang his entire phone against his desk before throwing it against the wall in his office. This kind of outburst, and its lack of proportion to the offense, is par for the course with him.
Finally, this is not about him being nice or not being nice, this is about him creating a toxic,abusive, unsustainable work environment wherever he goes, and taking his issues out on everyone around him, not just the execs. He made several people on our show cry on a fairly consistent basis. These were not soft people, either. These incidents I mentioned above might not seem that bad, but when taken together, along with other stuff I've forgotten, they created an atmosphere where the collective dread of his arrival into the studio at 2:30 would be palpable. The other anchors at MSNBC weren't all nice, but they managed to be professional. He needs to get help and learn to be a functioning adult, seriously.
*Standard "former employees may be 'disgruntled' " disclaimer here.* We've emailed Keith for a response, and we'll post it if we receive one. If you ever worked for Keith and would like to share your stories, email me. Anonymity is fine.
UPDATE: Keith has decided to take to his Twitter to complain about our post, to our infinite shock and surprise. And now (Update 2) he's responded to our email. His response:
As I pointed out on twitter, your "source" is easily proved as a fake. The "anchor producer" never sat inside the studio and would not have been visible by any camera for any bump shot - but of course we also never did any bump shots.
The turnover figure is laughably wrong. Of the top 20 staffers on Countdown when we started in 2003, 17 were still there the day I left. In fact, three of them went with me to Current, and one of them who'd left MSNBC rejoined me over here (his fourth separate stint working with and for me) - all unlikely events if any of the stuff made up by your "source" was true.
As to the overall characterization of my conduct as an employer and employee I would point out again: prior to my Current gig I've had nine full time employers. Three have rehired me later in my career (CNN, MSNBC, ESPN) and three others asked me to come back but we couldn't work it out.
I will admit the traumatic shopping story is very, very funny. But you've been seriously punked here.
Our source responds: "Keith's reaction is par for the course — even given what I experienced and shared with Gawker, I will always remain stunned by the depths of his denial about his behavior and his lack of self-awareness. I stand by what I wrote."
As Keith himself said on Twitter just yesterday, "the # of people who would tell you they do not trust a word their employers say, yet lap up what employers say about others, is amazing."
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