Sunday, November 07, 2010

Playing for Keith


By now you're almost certainly aware that on Friday, MSNBC announced that it was suspending Keith Olbermann indefinitely and without pay because he made three donations to Democratic candidates during the lead-up to the mid-terms. The reaction to the move has been swift and, shall we say, pointed; it seems that the only thing both the left and right can agree on right now is that Olbermann should be able to give money to whomever he wants and not have to worry about losing his job over it.

I don't really have much to add to this that hasn't been said far more articulately by just about everyone besides, maybe, Howie Kurtz (who predictably took the bullshit professorial, "well, he violated the first rule of being an objective journalist" route). The fact is that I'm willing to actually consider all kinds of conspiratorial notions on this one because I just can't make heads-or-tails of it as a rational decision. Maybe Bernie Sanders is right and NBC's corporate overlords pressured management to crack down on Olbermann because they don't like his message, as ludicrous as that seems because while Olbermann may be liberal and spend much of his time on-air railing against corporate interests, he ironically makes a shit-ton of money for the ones who run NBC; maybe MSNBC president Phil Griffin just got fed up with his unruly talent megalomanically running roughshod over him and decided to sit on that zoo fraternity of his and show it who's boss. Honestly, who knows?

The bottom line here, though, is that this highlights the disadvantage that MSNBC has always been at when it comes to allowing its hosts to express a political viewpoint, whether on-air or behind the scenes: MS is the only cable entity that has to answer to the traditional -- and laughably antiquated -- standards and practices of a network news mothership. Fox News was created as a right-wing mouthpiece; CNN basically made its own rules; only MSNBC had a set of intractable standards plastered into the walls of the place from the very beginning. NBC's dilemma has always been how to draw the line between the outspoken free-for-all on MS and the supposedly dignified proceedings at NBC News proper. Maybe this will be the event that finally forces the NBC suits to fess up and admit what everybody already knows: MSNBC's prime time isn't a news block; it's opinion. And there's nothing really wrong with that. Olbermann doesn't just wear his political leanings on his sleeve -- he occasionally shouts them in your face. The demands at NBC for notions like objectivity and fairness simply don't apply to Keith Olbermann, and it's ridiculous to pretend that they do.

At some point, these traditional media outlets will finally wise the hell up and realize that we're well past the point where it was unforgivable to express an opinion; where every journalist was supposed to robotically, dispassionately relay information; where it had to be "just the facts, ma'am." Fox News obviously realized this a long time ago; the place is almost literally a 24/7 factory for generating money for the Republican party and its candidates. MSNBC, if it has any brains at all and doesn't simply feel like trying to stare down its main marquee player just to prove that its penis is bigger, will put Olbermann back on the air as soon as it can -- and admit that it made a mistake by taking him off in the first place.

Because if you know anything at all about Keith, his occasionally tyrannical ego and penchant for behaving irrationally could easily lead to MS not having a star to put back on.

By the way, to her credit, Rachel Maddow presents, as usual, a very measured and thoughtful argument for how and why MSNBC's standards separate it from the political machine that is Fox News:

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think it must be the "I'll show you who's boss." I mean, it's crazier than your firing! It would have been great if he had donated to Tea Party candidates!

kanye said...

Phil Donahue, redux.

Here's a link that explains what I mean, for those who may not have been around in 2003.

Dan Coyle said...

It's been rumored for a while Griffin hates his guts.

Charlie said...

Olbermann worked for a company that has clear rules and regulations. He violated them and deserves to be disciplined just the same way a guy in a factory who smokes when there is a no smoking rule would be disciplined. If your employer has rules and you violate the rules, you are subject to discipline, plain and simple. Olbermann figured that he is the star of MSNBC. They won’t touch him. So he could violate any employer’s rules that he feels like. Olbermann’s friends in the media will portray it as a free speech issue. I am sure that we will hear from the boring men of Countdown. Eugene Robinson, Alter, etc. will do their Keith as martyr act. To these clowns, liberal journalists do not have to comply with company rules.
Actually, Chris Matthews is far worse than Olbermann and he showed it when he interviewed Michelle Bachmann the other night. The best part was when she reminded him of his remarks in 2008 about how libidinous he feels when he listens to Barack Obama. Olbermann can join Rick Sanchez on the dung heap of cable television.

Chez said...

Good job missing the point, Charlie -- although your unwavering respect for authority is duly noted. The point is that the rule itself is outdated and that MS could have and should have chosen a less draconian way of "disciplining" Olbermann -- something that didn't involve juvenilely attempting to make an example of him -- anyway.

Anonymous said...

The media is as liberal as the corporations that own them.

Kevin Davis said...

Charlie, you sound like a conservative so pleeeeease tell me you watch and respect Fox News's "rules and regulations".

Withnail said...

Aaaaaaaaaand he's back. And while I'm happy that his brief suspension is over (seriously, I've thrown parties that have lasted longer) - I wonder what this says about how predictable the left's response to an issue is. All it took was for someone to threaten our patron saint of outrage for us to all get our feathers in a kerfluffle.

And Chez, I include you in my generalization of the left, no matter how many times you've enjoyed poking the Huffpo's audience with a sharpened stick.

Busayo said...

He's returning tomorrow evening. To paraphrase from Roger Ebert: that slap on the wrist must have really hurt.

Chez said...

I'm neither poking the left on this one nor siding with it, Withnail. I just think that NBC making a big stink about this, in this day and age, is silly.

Withnail said...

Well, NBC didn't make a big stink about it. I mean, not really. Not when it lasted a total of three days, two of which were a weekend anyway. No, this was more a power play by the powers that be at MSNBC, if only to remind the Olbermann who writes the checks.

And you might be right in saying that NBC's policy is outdated, but in my opinion, "Everybody else is doing it" has never been a good excuse.

It's good to have Olbermann back, though.

Le Penseur said...

Just out of curiosity Chez, where do you think Keith would have gone if he had decided not to come back to MSNBC?

Chez said...

Honestly, he probably could've written his own ticket. But essentially what I was trying to convey is that Olbermann's the kind of guy who'd consider bailing just to make a point.

Le Penseur said...

Actually, I was hoping you would name specific media outlets where a guy with Olbermann's views and personality would have been a good fit.

Chez said...

What I'm saying, Pen, is that Olbermann's crazy enough to not consider that kind of thing. But if he were suddenly available, believe me, at the very least CNN would pick him up.