Saturday, January 22, 2011

A battle lost: Countdown to Plutocracy

In case you hadn't yet heard, last night's broadcast was Keith Olbermann's last Countdown. It seems, once again, that a strong and passionate liberal voice is muffled (I won't say "silenced", because I have a feeling he'll be back very soon, somewhere, somehow). What's clear, at this point, is that the Comcast takeover has begun in earnest. And that Olbermann won't be the only newly-unemployed MSNBC journalist, although he will be among the wealthier members of that subset. Here's Greg Sargant at the WaPo:

So Keith Olbermann is out. As best as I can tell, none of the news accounts about his departure have gotten to the bottom of what happened here. But Olbermann himself offered enough clues in his final broadcast for us to reasonably speculate that he abruptly got the ax, perhaps even as late as last night.

A "knowledgeable official" at MSNBC told Howard Kurtz that the separation was "mutual." But it's hard to see how that squares with this, from Olbermann's last words on Countdown last night:

"I think the same fantasy has popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what I have been told, that this is going to be the last edition of your show. You go directly to the scene from the movie 'Network,' complete with the pajamas, and the raincoat, and you go off on an existential, otherworldly journey of profundity and vision...

"When I resigned from ESPN 13 and a half years ago, I was literally given 30 seconds to say goodbye at the very end of my last edition of "Sports Center." As God is my witness, in the commercial break just before the emotional moment, the producer got into my earpiece and he said, `uh, can you cut it down to 15 seconds, so we can get in this tennis result from Stuttgart? So I'm grateful that I have a little more time to sign off here."

Between this and the shell-shocked look Olbermann had last night, it seems clear that he may have been abruptly informed that he was history, perhaps even during last night's show. That would also square with the experience of Josh Marshall, who was actually on Olbermann last night and had no sense that anything was amiss.

I am an unabashed Olbermann fan and have been for years. Yes, he's passionate and fiery, but while I'm well aware that plenty of folks prefer a calmer take on politics and current events, I'd argue that Olbermann's tone was exactly what was called for when Countdown hit the air, considering the fresh hell that flowed forth on a seemingly daily basis during those dark Bush II years. Olbermann is an honest man who ran a fact-based operation--albeit one that was sometimes a bit heavy on the hyperbole--but unlike the vast majority of television personalities (and pretty much all conservative public persons), he was not afraid to admit a mistake and sincerely apologize for it. He was fair, and he listened.

I loved his literature-infused take on life in these United States; I loved his wordiness and his long, acrobatic compound sentences; I loved (and related to) his genuine anger; I loved his kind and very soft heart, evident to anyone with a soul.

Keith Olbermann clearly pissed off all the right people.


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