Sunday, January 23, 2011

I'm Going to Miss Keith Olberman

I’m sorry that Keith Olbermann has left MSNBC.

WHAT? The worst newsman on TV?

Yes, I’ll miss him. Oh, I never watched him, except by accident whilst channel surfing looking for Third Reich documentaries, UFO documentaries, coral reef documentaries, and Errol Flynn movies. And we won’t miss him for long. Like Conan, he’s agreed to stay off TV for a few months, but some channel will surely pick him up for something or other.

I think TV news needs Keith Olbermann.

Oh, yeah, he’s awful. And don’t talk to me about Fox News and Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and their colleagues. I don’t much care for them, either. But at least O’Reilly and Hannity (if not Beck ) can be counted on to air the other side of the issue with interviews with people with whom they disagree. Major political figures on both sides of the political spectrum sit down for interviews with O’Reilly. He shows up on programs where he can be expected to be attacked (The View, Letterman). Olbermann was a man of the left, he was always a man of the left, and “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” was relentlessly, unrelievedly leftist.

[So how do I know that Olbermann didn’t interview persons with differing views? I don’t. I was not a viewer, so I did a little research. As nearly as I can tell, when he interviews Republicans, they tend to be pretty weak marks – Alvin Greene, the extremely improbable black Republican Senate candidate in South Carolina, and silly Republican Nevada senate candidate Sharron Angle. He may have interviewed more credible conservatives, but I couldn’t find any reference to one. I can stand to be corrected on this point.]

[One more thing: When left/right content is examined in the cable news channels, Fox News consistently scores as the most balanced.]

So why do I regret his separation from MSNBC? A couple of reasons.

First, the left needs a televised place to gather. MSNBC is a perfectly good place for it, and with Comcast’s acquisition of the network, we might expect to see some moderation of its ideology. Too bad. With Olbermann gone, that leaves the clownish Chris Matthews, reliably liberal but not seriously regarded by much of anyone.

Why do we need a network devoted to advancing wrong thinking? My reason is partly selfish: With MSNBC out there, criticism of Fox News loses a fair amount of its sting. But also, this is, after all, The Cool Hot Center, and there is value to hearing from the loyal opposition. May be corny, but I believe in public debate. It’s too bad that it has to be rancorous, and I wish it weren’t, but better some mudslinging than only having one side represented. It leads to ideological flaccidity and dangerous self-certainty. We need some cross-sniping to keep the focus on the issues sharp. And let’s face it: A lot of Republicans and conservatives need to have their own rhetoric punctured and bad actors exposed. Olbermann and Jon Stewart were good at it.

Second, Olbermann personifies a lot of what is wrong with American liberalism. He’s smug. He’s sarcastic. He knows better than you. I liked having him on TV every night, reminding voters of what they don’t like about the Democrats and contemporary American liberalism generally.

So, I wish him well. I hope he gets a starring role in prime time elsewhere, although I’m not entirely sure where that would be. He is a talented broadcaster, I’ll give him that. He’s smart and quick. He’s still interested in sports – he worked one of the nighttime NFL broadcasts until MSNBC asked him to stop because it was interfering with his “Countdown” duties. And I have a recollection that he was a lot of fun to watch on ESPN with Dan Patrick. Maybe he’ll head back there, but I reckon that having had a taste of the spotlight on national issues, he won’t want to be pegged as just-a-sports-guy again.

How about a radio show, you know, on that liberal Air America network? Oh, wait.

Maybe MSNBC will release his greatest broadcasts on DVD, which the Republican National Committee can buy up and distribute in 2012.

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