was more than a little saddened to see that Keith Olbermann
was taken off his 8 PM perch at MSNBC. There was a time when
I watched his show Countdown religiously, every night.
I’d miss him over the weekend when MSNBC turns into just another
stupid, exploitive cable station.
But I haven’t watched Keith in a while. He had gotten shrill,
predictable, and more than a little sanctimonious. His “expert
guests,” inside-the-beltway heavies like Howard Fineman, Richard
Wolffe, Eugene Robinson and Jonathan Alter, were reduced to
sycophantic yes men night after night; Olbermann’s questions
to them would be long, rambling expositions of whatever he
thought about something, ending with something like “isn’t
that right?” and the answer would invariably start with “Yes,
Keith and . . .” It was all so disingenuous and dogmatic and
But even though I stopped watching, I was comforted knowing
he was still on the air, that he was ready to pounce when
we needed him. Because he always did.
Remembering back to the Bush years, Keith was the first, and
for a long time the only, person in mainstream media who stood
up to the post 9/11 mania, to the invasion of Iraq, to the
hideousness that became the executive branch of government,
and he called them out on no uncertain terms. Night after
night. Nobody else had the balls. His early “special comments”
were the impassioned, rational, wake-up-dammit, speak-to-the-power
missives that no one else on television was making, and that
we so desperately needed. And I rarely disagreed with a single
word he said. Whatever else he does, whatever else happens
to him, Keith Olbermann will go down as a giant of editorial
journalism, and of the resistance to the fascist takeover
of our nation by the neocon, corporate, Murdochian and teabag
He’s also responsible for bringing Rachel Maddow to the national
stage. She has proven herself to be one of the most astute
(and fun) political commentators the world has ever seen.
And we have Keith alone to thank for bringing Rachel into
our lives. Name one other person in the mainstream media who
would give a shot to an outspoken, openly gay female news
anchor with an attitude, someone with little on her resume
but some airtime at a failing liberal radio network. And Keith
first put her on mano-a-mano with arch-conservative
former Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan, who may be a lot
of things, but he sure ain’t dumb. And she charmed him and
smoked him at the same time. Keith trusted her and she delivered.
Keith built the MSNBC we know today. The only other person
there who’s close is Chris Matthews—who means well, I suppose.
But Matthews is, if anything, more annoying than Olbermann,
a political rat who’s not really capable of building a thing,
and who surfed Keith’s wake to success.
The scuttlebutt is that it’s the Comcast merger that did Keith
in. To prove this is kind of like trying to prove that Sarah
Palin’s violent rhetoric pulled the trigger on Gabrielle Giffords.
I dunno about that. Look, since its inception, MSNBC has been
owned by General Electric, for crying out loud. Do you really
think a takeover by Comcast would make the atmosphere more
Maybe we’ll never find out, although I’m hearing rumblings
that Keith has been wanting out for at least a year. Maybe
he was getting as bored with the shtick as we were. He always
has been a little on the restless side, famously quitting
ESPN in the ’90s and getting fired from Fox News for insubordination
just before coming to MSNBC. That is to say, just before coming
back to MSNBC, where he’d walked off his news gig in
1998 because he was sick of reporting about Monica Lewinsky.
So where does he go from here? There’s talk of his building
an online “media empire” a la The Huffington Post.
I just don’t see that working. I don’t see people flocking
to a website to get a dose of Keith. There’s also talk of
his joining an HBO project being developed by Aaron Sorkin
(The Social Network, West Wing) about the behind-the-scenes
goings-on at a cable news network. Which sounds interesting,
but not interesting enough to get me to sign up for HBO again.
In either case, he’d be marginalized, a long way from the
middle of the fray, which is where we need him to be. We need
him in the fight in real time, dropping bombs on the hypocrites
and corporate stooges that comprise much of the Republican
Party and the right wing. Because nobody else does that like
Keith Olbermann. Maybe he just needs to cool his jets a little,
and then come back to nightly cable. I hope that’s it.