God Bless You, Keith Olberman
Keith Olberman has got balls.
Consider that in 2003 MSNBC cancelled Phil Donahue's show, it's only liberal show, just prior to the invasion of Iraq. This seemed like an odd move given that Donahue’s show was the network’s highest rated program.
A leaked document would later reveal that the show was cancelled out of fear that the show would offer anti-war views. Norman Solomon Reports:
"MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue’s talkshow after an internal memo (leaked to the All Your TV website, 2/25/03) argued that he would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. ...He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush, and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” The report warned that the Donahue show could be “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”
Such behavior illustrates that subtle (or not-so subtle, in this case) pressure to censor political dissent is indeed alive and well, and not merely the talking points of the “loony left” as many conservative pundits who like you to think.
And you can damn well bet the Keith Olberman, host of Countdown and former ESPN anchor, understood this before he went on the air and took a bold risk with his new “Special Comments.”
I will explain his Special Comment for the uninitiated: Olberman uses the last segment of his show to make pointed, bold and unwavering criticism of the most egregious acts imposed by the radicals controlling the White House and Congress.
His prose is powerful, passionate, sad and inspiring; his logic is solid and devastating.
He offers them only occasionally. He went after Rumsfeld and Bush for questioning the patriotism of anti-war Democrats. He lamented the ABC docudrama, that portrayed a blatantly false portrayal of the events leading up to Sept.11, 2001, and recently he gave an inspiring and sometimes hilarious comment on the Military Commissions Act, and its destruction of our basic rights. Take a few minutes and watch a few on You Tube.
It would be easier and far less risky for Olberman to refrain from this public dissent. For starters, it takes incredible courage to volunteer to speak truth to power in front of millions of people, and not sound saccharine or self-absorbed. But somehow he manages to succeed without seeming like a rip-off of Edward R Murrow. What he does seems more like a tribute to Murrow – and to the open discourse that Murrow believed in engaging in with the American people – and they have become You Tube sensations.
The show has become a hit. His ratings are up 67 percent in the last year according to Hollywood Reporter. Meanwhile Olberman’s arch nemesis Bill O’reilly and his Fox News Brethren are losing their audience (which has a mean age of 64). In the last quarter their ratings have dropped considerably. (I note that despite the losses, Fox News still holds a sizable ratings advantage over CNN and MSNBC.)
And despite the obvious success of Olberman’s feisty declarations, some still fear for his job. Jeff Cohen, founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, (FAIR) a progressive watchdog group, said :
"But MSNBC is still owned by GE's conservative bosses, and managed by NBC's ever-timid executives. Olbermann knows this reality as well as anyone; six months ago on C-SPAN, while expressing confidence that good ratings would keep them at bay, he remarked: ‘There are people I know in the hierarchy of NBC, the company, and GE, the company, who do not like to see the current presidential administration criticized at all.’”
MSNBC: Finding its voice?
MSNBC has improved dramatically over the last few months. On June 12, MSNBC announced that Dan Abrams of The Abrams Report and Phil Griffin Senior Vice President at NBC NEWS would oversee the 24-hour news channel. They immediately revamped the nightly schedule. They dumped the horrendous Live and Direct at 9 p.m.; the moved Tucker Carlson show from 11 pm to 4 and 6 pm, ands Hardball also runs twice at 5 pm and 7 pm.
The victim of these moves seems to be Joe Scarborough, who used to cover beltway politics every night, and has since been placing a much closer focus on celebrity news. Just recently they teased his show with a story on Dustin Diamond (Screech from Saved by the Bell) going into porn)
While Tucker Carlson and Chris Matthews have their flaws, they are both smart guys and tolerable to watch. Matthews’s coverage of the Connectictut. primary was leaps and bounds better than the competition. (not saying much by today's standards) Tucker actually went to Lebanon during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the coverage was decent, and less marred by the obvious pro-Israel spin that dominates most American outlets. He is principled, unafraid to attack Bush for his spending, and unmarried to a political party.
These changes have made MSNBC the best 24-hour news channel in America. (And yes, I know that isn’t saying a whole lot.)