Disney executives may be the only roadblock between ESPN and Keith Olbermann.
According to a report in BigLeadSports, a site that in the past has been very credible with its reporting on the inner workings of the network, ESPN President John Skipper "wants the cantankerous Olbermann back," and the network may likely obtain his services "as early as late-May."
After the New York Times ran a story on Sunday evening in which Skipper seemed to indicate, to casual observers, that ESPN did not want Olbermann back and liberal and shrill anchor was begging them for a job, many dismissed Olbermann's chances of returning to the network he once left to the joy of many at the network Olbermann had berated, demeaned and generally treated badly. Others thought the story could have been planted to gauge the response of employees at the network.
But the Times story, according to BigLeadSports, was "a test balloon with Disney executives" because ultimately, "they will determine whether or not Olbermann goes back to ESPN."
If Disney executives allow Olbermann back at ESPN, it could tarnish not only ESPN but also ABC, a network already reeling from many high-profile stories it has botched due to its liberal biases.
When Olbermann was at MSNBC, he was primarily responsible for turning that network into the shrill and partisan leftist outlet that it is today. Before this shift happened, liberal NBC News reporters--like Chuck Todd, Brian Williams, and Andrea Mitchell--made regular appearances throughout the day--and night--on MSNBC.
But even these biased reporters found MSNBC's new tone to be so hackish and over-the-top that they did not want to be associated with much of MSNBC's daytime and primetime programming for fear that being associated with MSNBC would tarnish what they think is an objective brand of news they put out at NBC.
Olbermann also reportedly berated fellow employees at the network and did not get along with people like Joe Scarborough. The same thing happened at Current TV, which fired him one year into his five-year, $50 million contract. Olbermann has reportedly sued Current TV for nearly $70 million, and the case is set to go to trial later this year.
The past has been prologue for the cantankerous anchor, who often demeaned colleagues and assistants when he was last at Bristol. Should he go back to ESPN, some of the network's high-profile talent may indeed protest and cringe at the thought of his presence.
But, more importantly, Olbermann carries a lot more political and partisan baggage since he covered sports for ESPN and, before that, for news outlets in Los Angeles. Because he is now associated with liberal outlets like MSNBC and Current TV, his presence at ESPN may repel a considerable number of viewers in a center-right country. ESPN has seen its ratings decline for some of its primetime shows. And with Fox Sports 1 set to debut on August 17, Olbermann's presence may further drive viewers to seek out alternative sports programming.
And because Disney owns ESPN and ABC and both networks do a lot of joint programming, Olbermann would also be toxic to ABC's brand that needs cannot use any more tarnishing. If ESPN hired Olbermann and he, for instance, were to make appearances on Good Morning America, which has seen its ratings surge, he may damage that franchise by repelling women who may be disgusted by his past misogynistic comments.
Consider also that Disney/ABC CEO Bob Iger on Wednesday admitted that ABC News had presented news in a "slightly inaccurate way or in ways we weren't necessarily proud of":
When it came time for a general Q&A, the first question, judging from the loud mix of positive and negative reaction, was arguably the most controversial--a man complaining about political bias at ABC and ESPN and citing specific examples: Newsman Brian Ross reporting that Dark Knight Rises mass killer James Holmes might be a member of the Tea Party[.] …
Iger acknowledged mistakes but was not specific. "We have, at times, either presented the news in a slightly inaccurate way or in ways we weren't necessarily proud of," he said, "but I firmly stand behind our news organizations because I believe that overall the job that they do is one that is worthy of respect."
After the tragic "Dark Knight" Aurora shooting at a Colorado movie theatre last year, Brian Ross, with encouragement from George Stephanopoulos, immediately--and falsely--blamed the shooting on the Tea Party because he found a "Jim Holmes" on the webpage of a Colorado Tea Party site.
ABC also slimed Beef Products, Inc. with their so-called expose on "pink slime." The network has been accused of blowing off "the evidence Beef Products presented to the network's producers saying that their first reports were wrong" and not correcting its initial false reports on the air and, instead, stepping up its campaign against "pink slime" even after presented with evidence that their initial reports may been seriously flawed.
Alan Caruba, "a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) for over 30 years and founder of The National Anxiety Center, which serves as a clearinghouse to debunk mainstream media," took ABC to task, saying the network needed to be sent the journalism code of ethics.
ABC News also tried to claim--without any evidence--that Trayvon Martin was shot last year because he was black and attempted to manipulate public perception of the tragedy by initially blurring out George Zimmerman's gash on the back of his head in the video the network initially aired when the nation was riveted by the case. Less than a week after ABC aired the distorted video, the network conceded that the enhanced video showed gashes on the back of Zimmerman's head, debunking ABC's initial claim that "no abrasions or blood" could be "seen in the video."
Disney executives will have to decide if Olbermann is worth the risk, but ABC--and particularly its news brand--is not in a position where it has considerable room for error or can gamble with volatile and unabashedly liberal personalities like Olbermann.