Image by Travelin' Librarian via FlickrLet me start here: I don't like Keith Olbermann. Nothing personal against the man; I have never met him. He may be a great guy if you get to know him. But as far as his current role as host of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, I find him to be bombastic, overbearing, self-obsessed and hypocritical.
At the same time, a part of me wants to like Olbermann. In his days across the ESPN desk from Dan Patrick many moons ago, he and Dan were easily the most entertaining, most knowledgeable sports commentators on the air; I never missed their show. He is obviously a bright man, quick-witted and, at times, honestly very funny. He is an outstanding speaker, able to use the language almost as a musical instrument.
Yet his skills are used, sadly, to perpetuate the ongoing partisan divide in this country. He is nothing more than the Left's version of Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, constantly stirring the pot and fomenting anger and disdain among his audience against the Right. I dislike Olbermann for the same reasons that I dislike Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Beck, et al.: they each contribute mightily to the "us against them" mindset that we find ourselves in nowadays - a mindset that does our country far more harm than good.
But, in Olbermann's case, there's something more. It's the fact that he refuses to admit his role, that he does not see himself that way, but rather as some sort of messianic second coming of Edward R. Murrow, that causes me to want to kick my television in any time I watch his program. His pomposity is simply unmatched, and simply unbearable.
Yet I watch, partly because I keep hoping I'll find redeeming quality in his presentation, partly out of the "train wreck" factor ("What kind of idiocy is he going to spew tonight?"). I watch for as long as I can, until I can take no more and must turn the channel.
So it was that I found myself watching last night. I tuned in at about the halfway mark, and so was able to grit it out to the end of the program, and I'm sorry I did. Last night, Olbermann delivered another of his histrionic "Special Comments," extended editorials he prepares when something particularly goads him. You can read the transcript of last night's Special Comment here.
Again, I want to enjoy Olbermann's work. From a strictly linguistic angle, his Special Comments in particular are damn near poetic in their rhythm, structure, and evocative use of his extensive vocabulary. In content, however, their disingenuous, often factually inaccurate assertions and questionable leaps in logic drive me right up the wall!
If Olbermann is able to use his widely viewed soapbox to wax linguistic against those who get his dander up, then I hope he (and you, my readers) don't mind if I step up on my considerably smaller soapbox and, in the style of the self-appointed Master, vent my Olbermann-induced dander.
As promised, my own "Special Comment":
Mr. Olbermann, if this is, as you suggested in the opening lines of your Special Comment Monday evening, a "terrible time in American history," rest assured that you, sir, are culpable as surely as those folks you chose to call on the carpet.
Yes, you, Mr. Olbermann. You wield your Special Comment as though it were King Arthur's sword, a weapon so powerful and mighty as to only be employed in times of dire need, when the skies are bleakest with despair, and you the only one who can remove it from the stone in order to wield it. Armed, obviously, with your intelligence, skill in speaking, and penchant for the overly dramatic; armed, obviously, with your knowledge of cultural and literary touchstones; and armed, obviously, with Roget's Thesaurus, you drive your verbally acrobatic blade through the heart - what you must believe is the very black heart - of those you demonize. Indeed, you are so driven to rid the land of your enemies that you are nearly brought to tears as you speak of their heinous misdeeds, nearly brought to alarm as you consider where the roads they pave may lead, nearly brought to frenzy by your anger so strong that you spit out their names rather than speak them civilly. It is so convincing an act that those who blindly follow you, sir, are pulled into the visceral maelstrom even if they don't quite understand all the big words.
It is an act, isn't it Mr. Olbermann? Your outrage, your fervor, your nearly bursting into stage tears; it must all be done to drive home the seriousness of your message. You know just as well as Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Beck that you can't rally your troops through factual reporting and thoughtful critique alone. You've got to let them hear the sizzle before they'll buy the steak, right Mr. Olbermann? You've got to make them FEEL it, you've got to find their hot buttons, you've got to sell it. And, just like Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the movie Network, you've got to convince them to "go to the window, open it, stick [their heads] out and yell 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'"
You do it in small ways night in and night out, don't you Mr. Olbermann? By demeaning those who represent opposing views; by giving them diminunizing nicknames such as "Comedian" Rush Limbaugh, "Billo the Clown," and "Coultergeist;" by smugly sitting in judgment of those you declare "Best" and "Worst" Persons in the World (and how telling that your Bests are really nothing more than another round of Worsts). In doing so, you imply that you, sir, and by default, your followers, are somehow better, more civilized people. You imply that you, sir, and by default your followers, take the higher, more thoughtful road than these obvious heathens.
But, sadly, the opposite is true. You are no better, sir; no more civilized, no more thoughtful; you do not take a higher road. Instead, you hypocritically wallow in the same muck, employing the same tactics of fear-mongering, alarm-sounding hyperbole to whip your supporters into a frenzy as the tactics you decry the targets of your venom for using. Perhaps you veil it less thinly, but not by much. You shame Limbaugh for comparing President Obama to Adolph Hitler, yet you freely compare Sarah Palin with the participants in a racist lynch mob, somehow making the leap from her unfortunate "Death Panel" Facebook comment to that comparison - a comparison not based in any logical thought progression but based merely in the need to make sure your followers get mad as hell! You mock Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs for not being able to "let go" of their arguments with you on their programs, yet you remind us with excruciating clockwork-like regularity of how many days it has been since President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished." You, sir, are no better than they.
You are correct about one thing, Mr. Olbermann. This is a terrible time in American history. It is a time when I find myself fearing the road we as a nation are traveling. It is a time of some the sharpest, deepest divisions in values, morals, and beliefs that I have ever seen in my 42 years. It is a time when I see the country I love being torn asunder; a time when it seems we can accomplish nothing because the partisan rift has become so deep and wide as to seem incapable of being bridged; a time when the mantra on either side seems to be that of the Hatfields and McCoys: "If'n ye ain't fer us, ye must be agin us!"
And you are also correct, sir, when you call the names of the Palins, the Becks, the Limbaughs, and others as those who should be held accountable, at least in part, for the bile that is ever eroding that partisan rift further. Though it may not seem like it based on what I have said so far, I am no apologist for the Right. I do find their tactics of fear-mongering and panic-inducing hyperbole as distasteful as you claim to.
But, Mr. Olbermann, I suggest that you take a good long look in the mirror, for you too, sir, are partially to blame. You too, sir, use many of those very same tactics while simultaneously decrying them. And, to paraphrase your own words, if someone is hurt at one of these Town Halls, pro-Reform, anti-Reform, or, most likely, as these things tend to play out in real life, sir - if the hurt befalls an innocent bystander - you will have contributed to the harm.
If you truly wish to bring about a change, a healing, in this country, I beseech you, Mr. Olbermann, to reconsider the way in which you are doing it. Sadly, however, I suspect that is not your goal. After all, you have your job to do, and that job is to get ratings. Because, sir, ratings equal dollars for that parent company you work for, don't they? And therein lies another similarity between you and those you demean, another measure of your hypocrisy: at the end of the day you too, sir, are beholden to a corporate boss, just as those you call out for serving their corporate bosses over serving the greater good.