I don't really know what happened between Keith Olbermann and Current Media. None of us does. We know certain things about the news business, that the Lou Grant-type managing editors of yesteryear are increasingly being replaced by business types hired because they worked magic with the lightbulb division or some other huge, non-journalistic part of some giant conglomerate. We also know what we have read about Keith Olbermann's hard-to-manage reputation and frequent professional ups and downs. Being a fiction writer who majored in journalism, I often use stories to help me understand things that I don't understand. This situation reminded me of many stories in journalism, like the careers of Edward R. Murrow, and, more tragically, Walter Winchell, but the truth is, it was a fictional detective from an all-too-real Baltimore that's been on my mind since I read about my favorite commentator's dismissal. It may seem like a stretch, but follow me below the fold.
Jimmy McNulty is fictional, and from a working-class background, but, like Olbermann, is acknowledged to be at the top of his profession, as well as "natural police", possessed of something indefinable that belongs to only the best detectives. On most television shows, this would make him an unqualified hero and the bosses would be lining up to be his grizzled mentor figure week after week, but The Wire is a lot more real than most television shows. McNulty knows he has this ability and he doesn't care if he makes his bosses look bad, because he figures the thing they care about is his ability to put down murder cases, which he can always do, much like when Keith Olbermann said "As long as they make money," he would never face censorship of his Special Comments.
From the beginning, it was never that either man was bad at his job or indifferent to doing it. It would seem that disregard for the chain of command, and let's be honest, more than a little ego, on both sides caused both men their greatest grief, from Olbermann saying of MSNBC chief Phil Griffin "He thinks he's my boss," which, when I first read it, struck me as a cute quip, but might have reflected realities of their day-to-day relationship. Jimmy is so concerned about the mishandling of a case that he bypasses all his superiors to tell his tale to a friendly judge. It's not really his intent to screw them over, although I don't really think it keeps him up nights, it's just that Jimmy knows better The fact that he does, because his sources are more recent, and closer to the streets, doesn't change the official response, a punishment detail with the Baltimore Harbor Patrol, or as Jimmy calls it, "the fuckin' boat", where, of course, he uses his tremendous brainpower and natural tenacity to make things worse and create more work for others. "He can't help it," his immediate supervisor says "He was born addicted to himself...he is one of a dozen swinging dicks in this city that can do what he can do, and he knows it."