Looking beyond his final “good night, and good luck” send off.
I thought at first he was informing us that his “Countdown” program was going to transition into something new and different when Keith Olbermann announced last Thursday night that this was his last telecast. I grew somewhat shocked when it became clear it was not and that he was indeed leaving MSNBC for good, with no prospects of his progressive views airing again; progressive views that helped many of us make it through the nightmare administration of George W. Bush and his curmudgeon vice-president Dick Cheney. It also served as a counterbalance for the right wing malignancy being aired on Roger Ailes’ FOX news, what Olbermann himself referred to as “FOX noise”.
Not many of us heard of Keith when he first filled in and later remained to air what was then seen as a humorous take on top stories of the day back in 2003. But news of him spread like wildfire when he took a hard turn in our direction on August 30, 2006 as he aired his first of many “special commentaries” that would become a mainstay for him for the next few years. This one was a blistering attack on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his cavalier approach to the invasion and sustained war in Iraq.
Olbermann’s words struck at the heart of a man and an administration that had for too long got a pass from the press for sheer arrogance, thus lifting the spirit of liberals and non-liberals alike everywhere.
Within hours the blogosphere was abuzz about the man that gave new hope for sanity’s resurrection in an era when neoconservatives were pushing the limits of moral responsibility. For me personally I hadn’t been this charged since I heard Howard Dean attack the wrong-headed policies of Bush/Cheney on Meet the Press in 2002 as he also notified listeners about his candidacy for the 2004 Presidential nomination.
Olbermann’s “Countdown” segment quickly became a broadcast staple for liberals and turned out not to be such a bad move for a faltering MSNBC. A recent report by the AP noted that “‘Countdown’ became MSNBC’s most popular show. Instantly, a network that had often floundered in seeking a direction molded itself after Olbermann.”
And as it did more of us from progressive quarters helped boost those ratings and at times challenged the popular segments of the O’Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes and others on FOX during that prime time period.
As his popularity grew and his voice challenged the policies and inherent failures that guided the Bush/Cheney White House, the hope that not only Democrats would regain seats in Congress in 2006 but that some of them would be like-minded liberals became like cool running water to an arid progressive landscape. Olbermann came along and literally pulled many of us out of the doldrums that was so pervasive at the time. Our voices were being shouted down by the more prominent right wing talking heads on FOX and radio broadcasts like Rush Limbaugh and a rising poster child for the lunatic fringe, Glenn Beck.
I don’t feel remiss at all to say that had Olberman not changed his Countdown segment with a “liberal bias” that many who would finally find the courage to challenge the Bush/Cheney White House might never have advanced as quick as they did. Surely his success as a broadcaster would not have reached the level it finally did.
Olberman became part of trio with the other progressives broadcasts of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” and Bill Maher’s “Real Time” that pushed the mainstream media into taking a closer look at the message coming from the White House and moving away from the neoconservative viewpoints of conservative commentaries The support base that evolved from such programs ultimately fired up a grass roots drive that not only garnered wins for Democrats in 2006 but helped pushed their Party in 2008 to some of the biggest majorities in the Senate and House that had not been seen for decades. The coup de gras was the Presidency recaptured as Barack Obama defeated a lack-luster John McCain and a then unknown, Sarah Palin.
I will miss Keith and his Countdown program. I must confess there were a few times when I thought he made some tacky remarks but that hardly served to deflect from what was his greater contribution to the national dialogue. However, when there was a comment that went over the line, as it did when he commented on Louisiana Senator Vitter’s wife’s attire and demeanor in a news clip that had her standing by her unfaithful husband, Olbermann came back the next day saying “there was no justification for such a segment about what a woman, a victim of her husband’s inappropriate behavior was wearing in public… so to Mrs. Vitter and to you, the viewer, I once again apologize.”
I can only count on one hand how many times this occurred with Keith over the years, the apologies that is for faux pas he had made. Has his adversaries over at FOX made similar conciliatory gestures for many of their gaffes, their are not enough fingers to mark their sins by.
It is still not completely clear what the circumstances were that led to Olbermann’s exit from MSNBC. There were clearly some tensions between him and management that became exposed last November when he was suspended for violating an NBC policy on campaign contributions; a policy that didn’t seem to be evenly applied to all at the network. This air of conflict between Keith and his bosses, combined with the weight of losing his mother and father within a short period of time may have influenced his decision to call it quits.
What does appear to be clear to me at least is that his decision to leave was not some temperamental reaction but an honest assessment of who he was, where he was and what he wanted to do. I believe him when he said that his continued presence there was more a response to the public’s “insistence” that he carry on than his desire to stay.
“There were many occasions, particularly in the last 2½ years, where all that surrounded the show – but never the show itself – was just too much for me,” Olbermann said in his exit statement. “But your support and loyalty and, if I may use the word, insistence, ultimately required that I keep going. My gratitude to you is boundless.”
His exit then is more a reflection of a man being true to himself rather than currying favor with a management whose focus always has their eye on profit margins. His absence should not be seen by those who rallied to his side in the dark days back in 2006 as an end to what he helped start. Instead we can thank Mr. Olbermann for being there when we needed him and choose now to sustain that impetus to achieve future progressive gains.
“Good night, and good luck”