Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Keith Olbermann is done at MSNBC; we were better off with his presence

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Late on a Friday is when politicians bury the news they don’t want you to know, or remember. But when you get home late on a Friday, and check the Web, and find out that not only has Keith Olbermann done his last “Countdown” show, but also MSNBC isn’t airing a repeat of it because its sense of news is “Lockup.” Seriously.

MSNBC hasn’t been the strongest, most consistent news channel on the block, but the channel had developed a niche that set a distinctive voice missing from the news channel landscape. And the channel had one person to thank for this: Keith Olbermann.

Without Olbermann, there would be no Rachel Maddow, who keeps her 9 p.m. Eastern time slot, and Lawrence O’Donnell, whose show moves into the 8 p.m. slot. Olbermann created a vision, a voice for a news channel that didn’t get buried in the right-wing babble (Fox) and blindness to anything that wasn’t corporate and/or centrist (CNN).

What we have heard is that MSNBC was trying to write Olbermann’s exit for some time. There were also the reports of Olbermann being suspended for making campaign contributions, something that MSNBC allowed Joe Scarborough to do.

Now, a few notes to make before we go further: I am a fan of Olbermann – huge fan. And for the record, I thought Olbermann should have been suspended for the campaign contributions, and thought MSNBC has a double standard on the issue. In fact, MSNBC shouldn’t allow any of its on-air people to make campaign contributions.

The last few weeks for Olbermann have been a little odd, even for Keith. The World’s Worst Person went from its usual format to Not Really the World’s Worst Person to disappearing completely. When Olbermann talked about suspending the feature, he did so in the wake of the Giffords assassination attempt, but humor – something that liberals have more of than conservatives – was present in the segment, and no one with a sense of humor though the segment was malicious. In fact, Olbermann shined a light on people and stories that the MSM missed by a country mile.

There was an attempt in the CNN-type mentality to directly compare Olbermann with Bill O’Reilly, not just because they were in the same time slot, but because the two were exactly the same, but on different sides of the fence. The word for that would be one we referred to in a recent column, an 8-letter word starting with “b.”

When Olbermann drew attention to the increasing use of free clinics, thanks to donations, there were people who got medical attention who otherwise would not have been able to get help. Olbermann’s stories about his mother and later father passing brought a human face to those who make such health care type decisions across the country, humanity desperately needed as the other channels gave legitimate credence to made-up “death panels.”

Olbermann wasn’t perfect, and by all accounts, he would be the first person to admit so. He took back any sort of violent talk, even if it wasn’t clear what he was apologizing for doing. The irony was that Olbermann was apologizing for how something might be perceived, when sharper rhetoric by others was met with a ho-hum.

The news reports went out of their way to note that the move wasn’t connected to the Comcast takeover. But if this was negotiated for some time, and suddenly happens now, there would seem to be some connection.

Keith Olbermann had the highest ratings of anyone on MSNBC; he was the voice of the network. And MSNBC, not the best run or guided news channel on the market, decides to void the last two years of Olbermann’s contract and send him packing.

If this came down to money, MSNBC made a big mistake. If there is a reason more important than money, no one has shared this so far. In the meantime, Keith Olbermann is off the air and we are less informed and entertained as a result.


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