Monday, January 24, 2011

Can liberals withstand the loss of Olbermann, MSNBC?

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?


millicentandcarlafran said...

Thanks for the link, Tami, and for the thoughtful piece. I couldn't agree more; the bluster of the 24-hour news cycle is conducive to knee-jerk responses and positions whose strength derives from volume, not substance. As far as KO is concerned, yeah, it's amazingly instructive to see what it's like to be pitted against someone on your own side (as happened with #mooreandme), and to see how resistant people become to anything like a real exchange, resorting instead to preemptive attacks.


Tami on this one ....we are not in total agreement. I saw passion on Keith's part and someone willing to respond to the outlandish and fabricated tales we were hearing from the Fox folks on a daily basis. He and Rachel responded with facts and research and when they mistook or found data later that challenged their conclusions; they said so and apologized.

I think about the free clinics that he pushed and his advocacy for not only the middle class but working and the non-working poor. Civility is wonderful and for the most part I embrace it, however, there are times when anger and indignation with a counteroffensive are necessary. We got that from Keith. The opposition at times can only understand that approach. Taking the high road with some of these pundits and political groups only appear to bring out their worst characteristics. They see it as a weakness and an unsubstantial viewpoint. This wouldn't be a concern if they didn't have the venues and the power to influence "millions of people". It was heartwarming to hear that Rachel will continue her advocacy for the least of these and provide a counterpoint not only to the right wing revisionists in this country but from the very open racist elements that have become more apparent during this Presidency.

There is a blog site that I frequent in which the blogger (enigma4ever) wrote a "Dear Keith" letter and I'd like to share that with you and your readers.

I hope you will approve this comment.

Tami said...


Of COURSE I will approve your comment. Nothing wrong with disagreement. And, it's not that I don't like Keith Olbermann. I like a blot of what he did. I DO think he began to believe his own hype and I was sorely disappointed in his behavior re: the Assange case. I also think that 24-hr cable news is a problem for a lot of reasons, but that's a problem bigger than Olbermann.

Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

I too stopped watching Olbermann awhile ago. Though I agreed with most of his positions, I could not take the shrillness or the smugness.

He became a caricature of himself and I found it tiring to watch, so I stopped.

I read that he had the top rated show on MSNBC so obviously he had lots of fans, so I am sorry for their loss but as liberals and progressives I don't think we have to become that which we hate in order to make our point.


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