Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

GOP got their wish when Keith Olbermann was demoted, and we are the lesser for it

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Originally published on on Tue, 09/09/2008 – 10:18am

The second definition of incendiary, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a person who excites factions, quarrels, or sedition: agitator” The New York Times defines incendiary as Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann.

Given that the first definition involves arson, the word choice is very powerful. And make no mistake, the word was used in the headline AND the story.

In the land of pundits, ranking them in terms of being incendiary, Matthews would come in 38th and Olbermann 54th. Several in talk radio, virtually everyone at FOX “News” Channel and a significant handful of on-air CNN employees would rank far above these two.

Rebel-rouser might be a way to describe Olbermann and brash and annoying describes Matthews. But incendiary?

Would The New York Times ever describe O’Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh, Savage, and Coulter as incendiary? Not likely.

As far as the infighting within the MSNBC family, the one name missing in the discussion is Tim Russert. MSNBC has a dynamic of different personalities, much more so than CNN or FNC. Some of us like the infighting since it shows the reality of having political arguments in real life. FNC people pretty much agree with each other, and CNN’s people are too blase to have strong opinions. But clearly Russert was a glue for the staff, and that glue hasn’t been replaced.

There is a tradition of TV anchors who step up and add commentary where appropriate. John Chancellor offered commentaries during his reign as NBC’s main anchor. Walter Cronkite’s famous take on the Vietnam War was a commentary while as anchor.

Many have focused on the main crux of what Olbermann said Thursday night that was the “last straw” for the right-wing whiners.

If, at this late date, any television network had, of its own accord, shown that much video tape and that much graphic video tape of 9/11 — it, we, would be rightly eviscerated at all quarters, perhaps by the Republican Party itself, for exploiting the memories of the dead, and perhaps even for trying to evoke that pain again. If you reacted to that video tape the way I did, I apologize. It is a subject of great pain, for many of us still, and it was probably not appropriate to be shown.

But the interesting part is what Olbermann said before this all began.

“I’m sorry. It’s necessary to say this, and I wanted to separate myself from the others on the air about this.”

Think about this. When Chancellor would give his commentaries, the graphics on the screen would make it clear that what he was about to say was a commentary. Olbermann didn’t leap into his statements. He clarified them, knowing there would be no graphics to discern that what was coming was a commentary. Olbermann went out of his way to not be “incendiary” in his comments.

If you watch the video again, notice how Olbermann holds his right hand close to his mouth. Olbermann has done thousands of hours of live television — he knows that holding a hand close to your mouth is not what one should do. Clearly the emotion, the sincerity carried the moment.

I can’t say I lost anyone personally in the World Trade Center, and clearly Olbermann did. What he said was extremely raw, painful for him to say, and likely knew that there would be a negative reaction from the right-wing attack dogs. But he said it because he felt it needed to be said.

What Olbermann did, which ultimately got him kicked off the anchor desk, was deliver a strong commentary that showed courage that Katie Couric, Brian Williams, and Charles Gibson combined couldn’t produce in 10 years of air time. But it wasn’t incendiary: he wasn’t even angry as much at the Republican Party, which produced the video that aired on C-SPAN, probably PBS, and perhaps CNN and FOX News Channel as well, but angry at MSNBC for airing the video. And it wasn’t even angry, and it was delivered in a relatively quiet tone. And that quiet tone is something that Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity couldn’t do if they lived to be 100.

I adamantly confess that I have been a huge Olbermann fan for years, stretching to the days of “SportsCenter” and even back to the CNN Sports days of long, long ago. And one of the reasons why I think Olbermann is great is because he doesn’t hold back what he feels. And Olbermann would absolutely be the first person to tell you that his career has suffered at times because he reacts the way he does.

But it makes him so real in a way that Couric could never understand; it makes him human and worth watching. It would be better if that commitment to truth and courage were sitting at the anchor desk for the debates and on Election Night. MSNBC has decided, thanks to right-wing pressure, that David Gregory would be a better fit. And we are lessened as a result.


Written by democracysoup

September 9, 2008 at 10:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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