Before we get into this, let’s set out a few points about me.
I’m a liberal. About as liberal as they come. If they suddenly nationalized health care, the banking system, the auto industry, re-instituted large scale public works and started mandating everyone be equally fluent in English and Spanish, I’d shrug my shoulders and go pick up an Idiot’s Guide to Spanish.
I hated Bush more than I’ve hated just about any other public figure in my life, and I hated his administration more than I’ve hated anything.
I vote and I work for and with causes that I believe in. I don’t think that sitting around and talking or yelling about things will change anything but the timbre of your voice.
Finally, just because I don’t agree with what you’re saying doesn’t mean that I believe you’re wrong.
Keith Olbermann. Keith Fucking Olbermann. The guy who made MSNBC. Well, at least gave MSNBC it’s reason for existing in the free-for-all of 24 hour news stations.
MSNBC had always been the “slow” child of the 24 hour news networks. For years it languished with shitty hosts and no real bite. Headline News and CNN held the sway over the middle ground, with Fox News taking more and more of a right-leaning stance as they realized there was gold in them thar hills. MSNBC decided to take a page from Fox’s playbook, and in 2001 they consciously made the move toward “a brand, with a large dose of opinion and personality.”
(Yes, because that’s exactly what I want in my news. Opinion and personality. Because those two things are exactly what makes good, bias-free reporting.
For a while MSNBC played both sides of the political fence, trying to coax an audience out of the right or the left. They found their biting angle in 2003 when they hired Keith Olbermann to take over a show that was titled Countdown: Iraq. Originally Countdown dealt with Bush’s deadline to for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq. But, in thinking they’d established a brand with a show of that name in a prime time slot, they rolled the name over and gave it to Olbermann as a magazine show.
The show didn’t do a whole lot at first. Olbermann was smart, he knew enough to make the show funny and slip the editorial in with the humor. His only real press in the first few years came from his sparring with Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly shared the same time slot as Olbermann, but on Fox News. He was also an ignorant, opinionated blow-hard, which made him easy pickings for Olbermann. Their feud is still going on to this day.
The real ratings break-through came with his Special Comments. These are directed editorial asides written by Olbermann and they are something to behold. They are eloquent, brilliant pieces of oration, and they are anything but news. His first was in August of 2006, but the break through one was on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, one month later. He railed against Bush for wasting the time since 2001 and not really doing anything with the national good faith he was given.
Exploding online, the 9/11 video was a game changer for Olbermann and Countdown. The Special Comments became the go-to segment when the show wanted to make an impact. Olbermann’s made forty of them in the three years since his first, with at least one a month, and spiking as high as three a month during key political events. Between the Special Comments and the strong showing of liberal candidates in the 2008 primary season, MSNBC’s audience started to grow dramatically. No longer was it the anemic also-ran of the 24 hour news cycle, Olbermann and the Special Comment had given the network an editorial voice, and that voice was as hardline liberal as Fox News was conservative.
And this is about the point where a red flag goes off in my brain and I start watching MSNBC with an uneasy gaze.
As Olbermann’s status as the liberal resurrection of Edward R, Murrow grew, the rest of the network started to pick up his bad habits. Chris Matthews over at Hardball gave up whatever pretensions he had of journalist integrity and started slamming his massive forehead into anyone who disagreed with him. MSNBC effectively extended Olbermann’s show by giving his guest-host, Rachel Maddow, her own hour-long magazine show immediately after his. This was as close as they could come to cloning Olbermann, since he and Maddow share everything from political views to presentation style to love of internal genitals.
(By the way, can I mention how fucked it is that Maddow was the first openly gay person to win a Rhodes Scholarship yet MSNBC goes mum whenever the question of her sexuality comes up? It’s like they only want her sexual orientation to be known if you’ll agree with it, but they don’t want to chase you off if you don’t.
Today, Olbermann has firmly entrenched himself and his network as the ideological counter-point to Fox News. The farther left the network went, the higher their ratings, and thus their ad dollars, went. They’d fallen down the same slippery money slope that took Fox News, and they aren’t about to claw their way out of it. On the whole, MSNBC is no longer news. It is editorial and commentary wrapped under a gossamer thin news disguise. The problem with this is that people gravitate toward things that are they like. People don’t listen to music they don’t like, or watch TV they hate or pay for movies they don’t enjoy. And when you start masking entertainment as news, you polarize people.
“What that person said makes me feel bad, so that can’t be right because what this person said makes me happy” is a terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE way for people to decide what source to get their news from, because it flat out isn’t news. It is polarizing editorial entertainment that strokes the parts of your brain you want stroked without challenging any of your conceptions about the way things are.
To some one who watches only Fox News, liberals must seem like drug-crazed sex fiends who want to take all of your shit and use your children for medical experiments.
To some one who watches only MSNBC, conservatives must seem like uneducated rednecks who want nothing more than to kill brown people and make everyone pray to the same God at a mega-church in Texas.
And if you come close to either one of those opinions, please, for the love of God, hit your head against a brick wall until your already soft brain completely liquifies and is no longer in danger of doing harm to anyone else.
Networks like MSNBC and Fox News do nothing but widen a gulf between the two halves of America, a gulf they imagined, created and widened in their attempts to find an audience and MAKE A FUCKING BUCK. Some of my dearest friends are creationist Christians. They believe that the world is only six thousand years old and evolution is a lie. They also drink really good beer, believe the war in Iraq was morally and legally wrong, and that the financial fallout was the product of a corrupt system. Not all of us are going to agree on everything, but those things that we disagree on are not the be-all, end-all things.
So, I implore you, if you are one of those people out there who parrot the things that Olbermann and Maddow say, or repost their segments to your blogs or Facebook pages, please stop. You are hurting the American discourse. You are no longer making it about facts and debate, but instead turning it into a shouting match between stuffed shirts who are paid very, very well to have a certain opinion.
I do want to point out that there is one key difference between the political windbags on MSNBC and the political windbags on Fox News. The ones on MSNBC aren’t afraid to bite the hand that feeds them Olbermann, Maddow and Matthews have all been openly critical of their side of the aisle. But, really, what else did you expect? The only thing that can stop a Democrat with a mission is another Democrat with a mission. Self destruction is in our nature.
One final note. If you think I’m being too hard on Olbermann and that he’s right about everything he’s saying, keep this in mind – he doesn’t vote. He says he does it to stay “objective”, but I’ve never trusted anyone who doesn’t vote, no matter the reasons. Not voting means he doesn’t have his ass in the flames that he’s stoking, so he doesn’t care when it gets too hot. Nor does it show that he cares enough to hit a few buttons to make our country a better place.
Edward R Murrow voted.
Keith Olbermann doesn’t.
One man was probably the greatest newsman that’s ever lived.