Culture

ESPN suspends Keith Olbermann for tweets

Technically Incorrect: Twitter activity claims another public victim, as ESPN's iconoclast gets into an ill-advised spat with Penn State students.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Saying what you think can occasionally get you into trouble.

If you're Keith Olbermann, saying what you think, which occasionally gets you into trouble, can actually make you a lot of money.

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He is Keith Olbermann. He is suspended. Taylor Hill, FilmMagic

It's been a little while since Olbermann generated a public controversy. It's a small delight, therefore, that he wandered into one yesterday on Twitter, one that has led ESPN to suspend him from his show for the rest of the week.

It all began innocuously enough when Penn State mechanical engineering graduate Lisa Aiello DeLeon tweeted at Olbermann: "We Are!"

This, should you be unaware, is something Penn State people do a lot to remind others that they are Penn State people. It's a touch unimaginative, but very East Coast.

She added a link to a dance marathon fundraiser that the school is involved in every year, one that raises money to fight pediatric cancer.

It may well be that Olbermann didn't open the link. For he simply replied: "...Pitiful." (This tweet has since been removed. Others he made about Penn State remain.)

Olbermann is no great admirer of Penn State. Recently, he named the college and the NCAA as his "World's Worst in Sports," after the NCAA reinstated Penn State's wins, despite the disgraceful taint of the football team's former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky being sent to prison for repeated acts of child molestation.

You can imagine, then, that in completing the sentence "We are" with "pitiful" on Twitter, he received some less than collegial blowback.

Someone called Dave Seidel tweeted: "So @KeithOlbermann says PSU students raising over $13m for pediatric cancer research is 'pitiful.' No sir, u r the definition of the word."

To which Olbermann offered in reply: "No, Son. I said PSU students were pitiful. Had nothing to do with fundraising. He helpfully added the hashtag #AlsoPSUReadingComprehensionAppearsToBeWeak.

And so verbal pushing came to shoving. Which finally came to ESPN suspending one of its more notable presenters for the rest of the week.

ESPN issued a statement Tuesday, in which it said of Olbermann's tweeting: "It was completely inappropriate and does not reflect the views of ESPN."

But since when did Olbermann's words represent the views of ESPN anyway? He's there to speak his mind, not the corporate one. Isn't that what he was doing on Twitter too?

Still, ESPN added: "We have discussed it with Keith, who recognizes he was wrong. ESPN and Keith have agreed that he will not host his show for the remainder of this week and will return on Monday."

Olbermann himself apologized, using the most appropriate medium. No, not ESPN. Twitter.

He declared: "I apologize for the PSU tweets. I was stupid and childish and way less mature than the students there who did such a great fundraising job."

ESPN hasn't always been sternly draconian when it comes to its personalities alleged transgressions on Twitter. It suspended its baseball analyst Keith Law for defending on Twitter that great sporting innovation known as evolution.

However, it decided not to sanction the man with whom Law had a spirited discussion about the spirit of life -- evolution-opponent and fellow ESPN baseball analyst Curt Schilling.

Olbermann isn't quite as high-profile as he was in the days when he had his own show on MSNBC. But he surely knows that getting involved with people on Twitter rarely brings with it excessive joy -- even if he had the momentary pleasure of correcting the grammar of at least one of his interlocutors.

What will he do for the rest of the week, though? The ESPN statement said that he was suspended from his show, but I cannot find word that he is specifically suspended from Twitter.

So perhaps he could do a little fundraiser there for the rest of the week. Perhaps he could film himself doing various dances. The beneficiaries could be charities favored by Ohio State, Michigan, Pitt or Temple.

Or, indeed, any college that has some sort of rivalry with Penn State.

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A sample of one of last night's exchanges with Penn State types. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET