Keith Olbermann may have departed from Current, but the war between the two sides is just getting started.
It was clear from the moment that the fledgling cable news channel announced on Friday that it had "ended" its relationship with Olbermann that this was a particularly nasty breakup. Olbermann is known for acrimonious exits, but even his falling out with MSNBC 14 months ago seemed positively sunny in comparison to the bile being tossed between him and his Current bosses.
Current's statement, signed by co-founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, was unusually personal. Without even a trace of the forced "we wish him well" bits usually found in such things, the two men laid into Olbermann, saying he had violated Current's "values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers."
It is not every day that a Nobel Peace Prize winner makes such angry claims against you in public, but Olbermann has never been one to shy away from a fight. Sure enough, within less than an hour he had released a statement of his own, vowing to sue Current for firing him.
"It goes almost without saying that the claims against me implied in Current's statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently," he wrote.
The outline of the two sides' cases are not hard to predict. Current launched into an anonymous campaign against Olbermann almost immediately, feeding the same lines to multiple media sources. He was "in breach of contract," had "sabotaged" and "attacked" the channel and its leadership, and had taken "unauthorized absences" from work, network sources said over and over again.
A good preview of Olbermann's defense could be found in the Hollywood Reporter. Sources told the magazine that Olbermann's high-powered lawyer, Patricia Glaser, had been looking into whether Current violated the terms of its deal when it put other hosts in his time slot during coverage of the Iowa caucuses.
On Sunday, the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz helped air Olbermann's side by revealing some of the emails his camp had sent to Current management complaining about the show's problems. In one, Olbermann's manager Michael Price called the show “a daily logistical nightmare dating back to the very first rehearsals,” adding that Current was "completely out of touch" with "the realities of producing a first-rate show.”
Olbermann also attacked Hyatt personally.
"To understand Mr. Hyatt's 'values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,' I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee," he wrote. "That employee's name was Clarence B. Cain."
In 1990, Hyatt's legal firm was found to have illegally fired Cain after his bosses discovered he had AIDS.
Current seemed eager to move on quickly, at least publicly. Neither Cenk Uygur, whose show preceded Olbermann's, nor Eliot Spitzer, his sudden replacement, nor Jennifer Granholm, his former lead-out, mentioned him at all during their Friday shows. It was as if the man who was supposed to be the enduring centerpiece of their network had never even existed.