Thursday, April 5, 2012

Keith Still Matters; Not necessarily cohesive thoughts on a treasured voice

Taken from the internets. I hope he doesn't mind.

MSNBC was a struggling news network desperately trying to establish an identity in a world dominated by CNN and this other upstart, FOX News, which had known its right wing, lying agenda from the outset. Struggling with ratings, MSNBC tried all kinds of stuff and even gave the liberal Phil Donahue his own show. Then they fired him. Phil just wasn’t getting the ratings. Too mild, too nice…something or other; he just wasn’t landing. Hell, I was a Donahue fan and I found the show informative yet boring.
An opportunity for a much needed liberal minded news show was shot. Ratings after all, are 95% of what matters in TV. Well, the revenues said ratings bring actually, but...yeah.

Replacing Donahue was Countdown: Iraq, a news show dedicating itself to the hype of the Iraq War. MSNBC brought back Keith Olbermann to replace Lester Holt as host of the show as it covered the war who then evolved the show into something more in step with his own personality.

Keith first came onto my radar years ago when he was a spokesman for the Subway sandwich chain. They had an ad that mocked the Calvin Klein ads of the time. In black and white, rail thin models quietly intone about hunger, deep and abiding…then in color, Keith pops up from behind a rock and says “Here’s a clue…EAT SOMETHING”.
I was an instant fan. I’ve never been a big sports fan, though at one time I had a passion for baseball. (The shenanigans of the MLB have turned me off) so I didn’t know who this guy was. And even though I knew the commercial was scripted, it was clear that this sardonic, sarcastic tone was genuine and I felt like I discovered a brother from another mother. I don’t remember what year that was, or how long before Countdown, but it kept Olbermann on my radar.
Some time later I got wind of Countdown and this guy who had cracked me up every time I saw that ad and decided to watch. It was the middle of the show the first time that I watched it and Keith was discussing the sickening orange shower curtains that had been forced upon New Yorkers and Central Park goers known as The Gates. As someone feeling very much in the minority (at the time only my daughter shared my intense dislike of the “art project”) I had once again felt that I had found a brother from another mother. He was making the same points about those god awful things that I had been. Ugly, obtrusive, inescapable...and did I mention UGLY? Dude was speaking my language.

Then came other bits and pieces. Things that made liberal points that were factual, yet fun. Something that liberals are not often accused of being. Worst Persons, Oddball, etc.

And then came the Special Comment that changed everything. More and more folks took notice and the already growing show really took off. Finally, SOMEone was articulating with passion, knowledge and facts what those of us who knew wtf was really going on had been trying to get out there for what seemed like ages. Finally someone on television wasn’t repeating right wing or “moderate” pabulum.
MSNBC’s ratings began to rise. Little wonder. Olbermann’s talent was more evident than ever to those of us that hadn’t watched him on ESPN and Fox Sports. 

Keith was proving that a voice from the Left could in fact attract income for networks. 

Without Keith, there is no Rachel Maddow on TV, indeed after the demise of Air America, Rachel would be history and there are few voices as well researched as hers.
Without Keith, there is no The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, another great show.
Without Keith, there is no Ed Show (I’m not a fan, but occasionally he contributes something useful. Maybe I’ll elaborate sometime, but at this point the more voices the better).
Without Keith, there is no Up with Chris Hayes, the smartest fucking news show there is. Yes I know this came about after MSNBC fired Keith, but the tone had been set. The ratings had been proven, and none of that happens without Olbermann.
No Melissa Harris Lacewell, no Al Sharpton either. A mere 6 years has brought us actual diversity of thought and coverage in cable news. All of this, as far as I'm concerned, is courtesy of Keith Olbermann's efforts and energy.

I’ve never formally met the man. I once rode the R train sitting opposite him and then on departing at the same stop, nodded a silent “hey, I’m a fan and thank you” to which he nodded back what I think was a thank you back. I tweeted him once that he had been off air a bit too much for a fan's taste and he reacted with a bit of defensiveness. It’s easy to misinterpret tweets. I didn’t mind. I knew that he had lost his father not long after losing his mother and needed some actual vacation time. I was simply pointing out that he was missed. Well, not really simply.

The point is, I don’t care about his personality. I care about his voice. When he was fired from MSNBC and moved to Current I was frustrated, because he was back on TV, but as a Cablevision hostage customer I wasn’t going to get to see it and the iTunes clips were incomplete. Still, it was refreshing to hear him whenever possible.

I’ve had my disagreements and frustrations with him. For instance as someone that had been long unemployed at the time, I didn’t appreciate his take on Obama “caving” on Bush tax cuts and ignoring the dilemma of so many of us who were in fact hostages of the Republicans. He and Maddow and most egregiously, Ed Schultz were wrong to cover it from that standpoint. Though over time Keith and Rachel did acknowledge the issue and moderated their tone and turned their ire on the actual perpetrators of the crime.

Keith himself has even apologized for being over the top at times. Apologies, in general, are no the act of someone who can't stand genuine criticism.

And Keith always covered things that no one else was even mentioning, and most recently he was the first to cover the Occupy movement. The first to actually go down there and talk to people. The first to have Occupiers on his show and admit his own hesitancies about the movement even as they evolved.

From another network you could see that he was still influencing what was getting covered on MSNBC as they followed his lead.

As to Current, well the network itself can’t seem to pull it together. Once they hired Cenk Uyger who is intellectually lazy to put it kindly, I was sensing something not really functioning over there. Keith was it’s consistent (if not present) voice of raging sanity.

Even now, after being fired by Current, the only thing that anyone can try on Olbermann is his alleged difficult personality. They can’t get him on facts, they can’t get him on intellectual integrity. They can only make it personal.

Current’s behavior has been despicable and dishonest. Keith’s been able to refute each of their rather petty points. Especially this limousine nonsense which they still haven't backed up. When you have to leak information to the New York Post, a rag barely capable of telling the remotest of truths and which has lost billions under Rupert Murdoch, you’ve already lost the argument.
No voice is perfect. I myself am a raging asshole. I’m even called a political jackass by someone who lurves me and agrees with me 99% of the time. What matters is are you on the money most of the time. That you take stock and responsibility for what you say.

I have disagreed with his decisions to stop doing "Worst Persons" but I respect and admire his willingness to see what may be his own role in certain unpleasant events. Hannity never does that, Rush certainly never does it. Who has the thin skin?

And if you don’t get that Keith’s chandalier reference on Letterman the other day was characterizing Current’s attitude about Keith when he was hired, you haven’t been paying attention.

Keith still matters. I am not counting him down, or out.

*Thanks to @majorbedhead for pointing out some egregious errors in this post.

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