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: