TAUBE: FOXification of Keith Olbermann

Hiring lefty would be a master stroke for cable righties

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With Keith Olbermann a free agent, having parted ways with MSNBC last month, the right place for him to land is at Fox News.

Of course, Olbermann’s views are despicable. His understanding of politics and economics could fit easily into a thimble, with room to spare for his sense of good taste. But from a business perspective, adding this controversial left-wing pundit to Fox would increase the network’s power exponentially.

For one thing, Olbermann would be a lightning rod for controversy. During his seven-year stint at MSNBC, he had the amazing ability to turn off people of all political stripes almost at will. There’s no reason to believe he would perform any differently at a new network.

Olbermann obviously would turn off most regular Fox viewers, and some people would refuse to watch him on principle. Fair enough. Yet at the same time, he would generate enormous media buzz and capture new, irregular Fox viewers in his time slot - including loyal fans of his old program, “Countdown With Keith Olbermann.” This would enable Fox to increase its already significant market share as well as guide its viewer demographic profile into unchartered waters.

In the battle for ratings and influence, controversy is a good thing. Rising ratings lead to more advertising revenue and annual profits. They help enhance exposure, meaning more media coverage and viewership. In the case of Glenn Beck, they helped make him a household name, which means big bucks for everyone involved. Some of those bucks could be used to expand Fox News’ brand of reporting.

Would the pundit’s political ideology prevent Fox from hiring him? It’s highly unlikely, as the right-leaning network already has liberal hosts, political analysts and contributors. The current list includes Alan Colmes, Juan Williams, Greta Van Susteren, Bob Beckel, Kirsten Powers, Pat Caddell and Douglas Schoen.

While Olbermann wouldn’t be the only liberal at Fox, he certainly would be the most forthright in his convictions. There would be no confusing him for a “Fox News Democrat,” and he wouldn’t water down his stubborn, ill-informed philosophy for all the tea in China. When it comes to his politics, what you see is what you get.

For Fox, this actually would be a positive virtue. It would be harder to attack the network for having a particular political slant if Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” segment was blasting every Republican in existence. Meanwhile, there would be no need to waste any more time, energy or money to show Fox is “fair and balanced” if it had an uber-liberal on the payroll. As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.

Hiring Olbermann also could help Fox become a broadcasting giant if it used him not only as a regular host, but also in occasional creative spots.

Imagine a weekly five-minute showdown on Fox between Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. There’s no love lost between those two men. They have pounced on each other on their respective shows for years and surely would be chomping at the bit to have a tete-a-tete debate. The ratings for that type of program would go through the roof. In fact, I would be stunned if that segment didn’t immediately become the highest-rated and most popular spot on Fox, ever. And then it could go nightly.

The chances of this happening obviously are slim. Mr. Olbermann might not even entertain an offer from Fox, but he also might find the challenge - and perhaps the money - far too enticing to pass up.

If Olbermann did the unthinkable and joined his long-time enemy’s camp, cable TV would never be the same again.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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