The news that Keith Olbermann is out at MSNBC and the rumor (according to TMZ, an outlet that is sleazy, but often right) that new overlord Comcast wants to take the cable news station "in a new direction," leaves me both queasy and satisfied. Queasy, because liberals need voices in the mainstream media to combat the right's various propaganda machines, as well as the dispiriting trend in journalism of choosing "fairness" (equal coverage of opposing sides) over "fact." Satisfied, because I am convinced that 24-hour cable news, with its incessant drama, snark and faux outrage, is the absolute worst way to keep people informed about our government and the political parties that have charge of it.
When I first discovered Countdown, during the second term of George W. Bush, it was a Godsend. Finally, there was someone in the mainstream who would call the Bush regime on its abuses of executive power, anti-intellectualism, warmongering, cozying up to the corporatocracy and attacks on middle class. Finally, there was someone feeling the same righteous anger that I was. And he was such an eloquent champion of liberal values; Olbermann's rare special comments were can't-miss affairs. I began to watch Countdown religiously. And, in doing so, I was introduced to a host of smart voices, like Rachel Maddow and Eugene Robinson. I appreciated that about the show, too. Unlike the Sunday morning political programs, it offered voices beyond those of the same old, white men. There was Maddow and Robinson. And when Olbermann took a vacation, filling his seat was Alison Stewart, a woman of color. I embraced Olbermann, Countdown and the MSNBC prime time lineup through the 2008 presidential election. And then something changed.
Something, I think, changed in Keith Olbermann. He seemed to become enamored of his image as the White Knight of liberalism. His once "special" comments became a near nightly affair. He seemed more often not righteously angry, but pompous and bombastic. Olbermann morphed into a lefty version of his favorite foil--Bill O'Reilly. And then came the Julian Assange affair and the #mooreandme movement, when Olbermann, in his eagerness to support the Wikileaks founder, insulted the women who accused Assange of sexual assault, and misrepresented the charges on air and via social media. When called out about his sloppy journalism and sexism, Olbermann acted like a man convinced that he is beyond criticism. He blustered and flounced and failed to issue any real apology or to retract his erroneous statements. And so I quit Keith Olbermann before MSNBC did.
I think also that something has changed in me. Over the past year, I have found myself slowly moving away from 24-hour cable news and political talk radio. Their bombast and sarcasm is alluring, but I think I have lost the stomach for it. It feels like too much distraction. Matching the smarm, shouting and talking points of the right with more of the same leads nowhere helpful. And while I will allow that left-leaning TV programs, IMHO, do a better job at diving deep into an issue (Rachel Maddow is amazing at this), I am scared to become a progressive version of this woman:
We don't need more fact-free, angry political posturing. And I fear that this is the sort of political response cable news creates through its reliance of big headlines (rather than details) and spectacle. I know the problem is partly us--the electorate, because big headlines and spectacle are the candy everybody wants. Yes, there are places to get nuanced political coverage, including coverage from a liberal POV, but The Nation and BBC World News and C-SPAN and Democracy Now are not as "sexy" as a show like Countdown.
Maybe I can't afford to think this way. Not when corporate media ownership threatens to silence diverse political voices--most especially liberal ones. If Comcast decides to eliminate MSNBC's progressive prime time lineup, it will be a tremendous loss moving into the 2012 election cycle. I can wish that folks would choose C-SPAN over other 24-hour cable news, but they don't. Hell, I don't. I could wish that Bill Moyers was as popular and well-followed as Keith Olbermann, but he is not. Even an imperfect host on an imperfect platform is better than no platform at all, yes?
What do you think about Keith Olbermann's exit from MSNBC?
What do you think of cable news? Does it help keep people informed or less informed?