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Keith Olbermann leaves ESPN for YouTube politics show


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Keith Olbermann, the SportsCenter host turned political pundit turned SportsCenter host, is leaving ESPN again, he announced on Twitter on Tuesday, this time to launch a nightly political talk show that will air on YouTube leading up to November’s presidential election.

In an interview Tuesday night, Olbermann told The Washington Post that he had been watching cable news during the Trump era and concluded there was room, even a necessity, for a stronger anti-Trump voice — a claim that might leave viewers of MSNBC and CNN furrowing their brows.

“As good as the hands-on reporting is, as good as they are at ferreting out and describing what’s wrong, I see the cable and broadcast networks still hesitant to say, ‘That’s a lie’ or, ‘This is disloyal to the Constitution’ or, ‘This is an attempt to establish the preface to a dictatorship — or at least authoritarianism,’ ” he said.

He continued: “I think it’s fair to say that conservatives in politics and media know a little bit better what to bring to a knife fight. Liberals — and I’m hearing it from Joe Biden — say, ‘Well, there are Republicans we can work with,’ and I’m like, ‘I can’t hear you; I’m getting the flamethrower ready.’ I’m going to bring the flamethrower.”

Olbermann currently serves as a reporter and “SportsCenter” host and calls some Major League Baseball games, too. He is the second ESPN talking head to leave the network to turn to politics in recent months. Will Cain, a radio host who also appeared on “First Take,” left this summer for Fox News.

The YouTube show, Olbermann said, will be filmed in a studio he rented in New York. “It’s just me. I will talk in a commentary format for 10 minutes,” he said. “Then I will take a breath and do 10 more minutes of the day’s headlines.”

Olbermann first arrived at ESPN in the early 1990s, teaming with Dan Patrick to help make “SportsCenter” a cultural phenomenon. From 2003 to 2011, he hosted a nightly show on MSNBC, “Countdown,” where his jeremiads against President George W. Bush and conservative media figures such as Bill O’Reilly became a calling card. One noteworthy segment of the show was called “Worst Person in the World.” The title of Olbermann’s YouTube show: “Worst Person in the World.”

The new show, he said, will look familiar to anyone who watched him at MSNBC and also to the digital show he hosted for GQ in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Olbermann said ESPN executives supported his decision. In the Trump era, the network has been accused by conservatives of liberal bias. Network executives have responded by stressing the importance of ESPN’s apolitical appeal to sports fans. In the wake of the country’s nationwide reckoning with systemic racism, though, ESPN has offered regular coverage of protests and player activism.

Still, Olbermann said that in today’s polarized political climate, he did not believe he could continue at ESPN and host a show so critical of Trump.

“I do agree that we can’t separate sports and politics,” he said. “They have been intertwined since the first ancient Olympics. But the idea sportscasters should [stay] away from their own political commentary, I believe in that.”

Olbermann said he has not necessarily missed political commentary but that there have been moments he has felt he could add something to the discourse.

In the Twitter announcement, Olbermann, in his fourth stint at ESPN, noted that he has now left the network “in every conceivable way.”

He closed the video with a chuckle.

“You didn’t really think I was going to sit out this election, did you?” he asked.

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