On Friday January 21, 2010 Keith Olbermann abruptly announced he was quitting his television talk show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”. This day, will go down as one that the liberals lost a voice of reason and moderation in the news media in what has become a unified chorus of conservatism hatred.
Keith Olbermann was born January 27, 1959. Having served 20 years as a sports journalist he had migrated from different networks to include local TV, CNN, MSNBC and even FOX. In 2003, he returned to MSNBC to host the news show that would bear his name “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”, debuting on March 31, 2003.
During his time as host he was placated with doing the top news of the day. Delivering the daily news, Olbermann’s delivery was one marked of consummate professionalism. Using a style similar to that of Walter Cronkite or even the legendary Edward Murrow, Olbermann delivery was pointed, without frivolous material and poignant for the day. His delivery, his eloquence at speaking, and his ability to deliver subject matter was without equal in today’s news market. As Olbermann developed his “news legs” and as he grew comfortable with his position, he expanded into his signature “special commentary” where his natural abilities to communicate would outclass any current news pundits.
These “special commentaries”, would become Olbermann’s signature mark on his newscast. Devoid of humor, sharply worded and eloquently spoken when used, these commentaries were reserved for matters of extreme significance. When Olberman deployed his “special commentary” you knew something was serious. First used in response to the White House’s sharp attacks against its critics of the Iraq war, the “special commentaries” were used in response to many other questionable and often disputed Bush policies.
The George Bush policies following the 9/11 attack focused on securing America against further attack. And, on 9/12, in the shock of the events that had happened 24 hours earlier, we stood lock step with the President and accepted his proposals with dutiful American obedience. He was the President and he was right. To not follow the President and the policies of his advisors was and would be considered un-American. And, in time of war, no one wants to be un-American.
In the coming months, President Bush’s host of advisors to include Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others left over from his father’s one term presidency, demonstrated, why George Bush senior was a one term president. They pushed on the American populace a series of policies that challenged the American principles known as the ‘Bill of Rights” which had taken over 200 years of democracy to develop.
These American principles were from our own internal response to abuses. With the attack of 9/11, all of these internal checks and balances were tossed aside in the interests of American security. We went to war in Iraq, we established a torture camp, we launched assassination squads to seek out those we defined as unacceptable risks, we began the search and seizure of Americans who travel, we spied on Americans, and the White House was openly critical and hostile of any who questioned the policies of the President.
Conservative speak tanks, pundits, politicians, and anyone who wanted to debate in public, found that speaking up for America, and therefore the President, was a noble cause. And attacking those who questioned this noble cause, were by association, un-American. Senator McCarthy would be saluting in his grave. Keith Olbermann could have simply kept on reporting the daily news. Instead, when so many pundits, networks, and others were so busy tacking their newships to the right, Keith Olbermann broke from the pack and tacked to the left.
Firing his first “special commentary” against Donald Rumsfeld, Olbermann found his footing and his strength. Olbermann demonstrated that being a liberal was not wrong, and that in fact, Americans had a responsibility to question government. In the shock of 9/11, we as American citizens had failed in our collective responsibility to question our leaders. This country had been founded on our challenging tyranny, and in the aftermath of 9/11 we had allowed it to resurface. Keith Olbermann was one of the first to shake off this collective hangover, and one of the principals to question where we were going as a nation.
Olbermann, would fire off many more “special commentaries” each attacking a specific Bush Policy; the war in Iraq, the use of the Guantanamo torture camp, the vile attacks on liberals and the many other unique policies and characteristics of the George Bush junior presidency. As Olbermann found his calling, MSNBC ratings began to rise. Those people often referred to as liberals, however, more appropriately described as the average American, awoke from their slumber, and began to question themselves just what was happening in America.
Olbermann was leading a charge to restore sanity and to open political discourse in America. As Olbermann gained ground, other pundits took up the charge and joined the fight to return America to its rightful position as the “city on the hill”. A lone voice turned into a chorus as more American moderates began to question the status quo, and to argue that we could be better than what we were becoming.
However, great battles are not won by single combatants, and as moderate Americans rose up, the far right pundits, those who supported the draconian policies, the torture chambers, the imprisonment of suspected enemies, and the idea that we should invade others on a notion, began their counter attack. American political discourse was dissolving not into debate, but into attack and counter attack. Even Keith Olbermann was allowing himself to descend into this fray, each attack met with an equal and more powerful counter attack. In this writer’s opinion, his attack on Bristol Palin for her public service announcement promoting abstinence was his lowest point and his worst commentary.
Even President Obama, at his worst moment in public speaking, infused threats of violence into the argument with his, “They bring a knife; we bring a gun” comment. Each side would launch its heroes into the political arena, each side would be bloodied and each would return the next day for the next contest. America was lowering itself from the “city on the hill”, to the city of the arena. We were degenerating, not moving forward. Things were spinning out of control.
Warning signs began to emerge. Politicians, our front line political soldiers, were warning of open hostility at town hall meetings. Debates were becoming confrontational, each side liberal and conservative were resorting to name calling, attacks on character and threats of violence were surfacing. Often these threats were from the politicians themselves as they sought to whip up frenzied support. Senator Giffords, D- Ariz, who Keith Olbermann had donated money to, and in doing so, was suspended from his show, warned that she was afraid of being shot if the current political discourse was not toned down.
On January 08, 2011, the threats and warnings of violence materialized, Senator Giffords, D- Ariz, was shot at a community “meet and greet”. Again, Keith Olberman was one of the first to again awaken from the collective confusion that we were exhibiting. Olbermann fired off a “special commentary” calling for civility and dialogue on January 08, 2011, stating “violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our democracy.” For nearly 10 minutes Olbermann quoted politicians who had invoked violence and fear and had called upon their constituents to use force to achieve their political objectives. Such rhetoric was going too far, as each side tried to impale the other for its perceived wrongs and increase its national exposure. America had to step back from the brink of political warfare. Olbermann, who admitted that he too had added to the fury, apologized to Senator Clinton for his past lapse of judgment, and to the viewers for his past transgressions. Olbermann would immediately alter his show in the wake of this tragedy. Things would be different and again he would lead the charge, and he called on all other news pundits to the same.
On January 20, 2011 Olberman decided he had enough. We cannot be sure of what was the final story, event or comment that broke the newsman’s back. However, perhaps like many other great pugilist, he decided it was time to step down while he was still champion. Or, perhaps he felt guilty that in some way, he had helped bring about this attack on his friend Senator Giffords. Only Mr. Olbermann knows the reason for his abrupt departure and perhaps in time he will share this with us. But for now, Mr. Olbermann, the American people owe you a debt of gratitude. You reminded us that Americans have a responsibility to question leadership, and in questioning our appointed leaders, we are in fact, most American. Mr. Olbermann, goodbye, good night and good luck.