May 9, 2011 § 1 Comment
Keith Olbermann doesn’t get the credit he deserves. History will show him to be one of the trailblazers in the establishing of a muscular, genuinely progressive presence in the mainstream media, at least in our time. He reminded us that impartiality is not equivalent to fairness; on the contrary, that deliberate omission of facts and an unwillingness to challenge lies and hypocrisy in order to appear ‘neutral’ usually leads to an ideological and moral vacuum, ready to be filled by a privileged elite who can afford to claim the space.
Mr.Olbermann suffered from no such anxiety over whether or not to be ‘fair and balanced’. He was fair, he did employ facts in building arguments and he was smart enough to understand that sarcasm and humour can be just as devastating as thunderous indictment.
In short, Keith Olbermann was the very kind of progressive that is still in such short supply in our media and, most disappointingly, in the supposedly ‘liberal’ caucus in our Congress: He was an attack dog. All those progressives who end up getting their own shows with access to a large portion of the populace owe Mr.Olbermann a debt.
Well… he’s back, June 20, 8pm, on Current TV, the network partly owned by Al Gore. It will be fascinating to see how the show rates, given the fact that on a given night, around 27 people tune in to Current.
I’m sure the ratings will spike once the show airs, certainly in comparison to where they are now. But if Mr.Olbermann wants to transcend his traditional audience, thereby building an even larger platform from which to influence public opinion, it will take a new kind of Countdown to get there.
One in which Mr.Olbermann actually has people on who disagree with him.
Don’t get me wrong- there was a time when Countdown was the most relevant and important hour on news television for the very reason that there was no disagreement. It was a chance to see one point of view, one perspective, passionately and intelligently shining its light on the issues of the day.
But Rachel Maddow (whose opportunity for success on MSNBC was in large part created by Mr.Olbermann) has shown that occasionally having guests on who have a different perspective, such as David Frum, Michael Steele and other Republicans from around the country, creates a vitality that had started to atrophy in Countdown’s final days. We knew what we were getting, and after a while, at least for this writer, that kind of predictability no longer stimulated.
Now, I’m sure Mr.Olbermann’s staff had long tried to bring on guests that would disagree with him. It also doesn’t serve his show to bring on cretins who can’t meet the minimum standards of intelligence and insight that must be in place. But I sense that Mr.Olbermann, if he wishes to continue to grow his audience, needs to grow again himself, and that means being willing to have a reasonable discussion with people whose opinions may be anathema to him, while maintaining his partiality (as opposed to being partisan, something no one who has actually listened to him could accuse him of, given his scathing criticism of President Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats over the years) and powerful progressive voice at the same time. Ms.Maddow has shown that bringing on these kinds of guests doesn’t weaken her; on the contrary, through her patience and calm challenge, we usually end up watching their specious arguments and hypocrisy envelop them.
Either way, it invigorates the show and keeps us coming back.
I wish Keith Olbermann all the very best- he is a progressive hero and I’ll be watching. But he’s going to have to demolish the walls of the echo chamber to keep me.
Keith Olbermann’s new show, presumably called Countdown,
will air on Current TV, June 20, 8pm.