If you happened to miss Keith Olbermann’s commentary last night, then you lost an opportunity to see what journalism can be, ought to be, but most often, is not. As editors and publishers nationwide continue to wring their hands about circulation losses and news chiefs continue to dumb down their broadcasting, they don’t understand that viewers (and readers) will pay attention to journalists who have something to say, aren’t afraid to take chances (at the risk that they’ll occasionally overreach and fall flat) and work hard at understanding the nuances and variants of a story.
Olbermann’s come a long way from the days when he was a witty, albeit snarky host of ESPN’s Sport Center. I’m sure many predicted his failure when he ended up leaving the world of sports and took his unique skills over to MSNBC. While the transition certainly couldn’t have been easy, it’s obvious to anyone who watches Countdown even occasionally that he’s grown into his role and last night’s commentary on the president’s impending announcement of increased troop levels was Olbermann at the top of his journalistic game.
Drawing on a BBC report that President Bush is planning on unveiling a “new Iraq strategy,” with a speech to the nation, which, according to a quoted senior American official, will be about troop increases and “sacrifice.” This from someone who knows the word “sacrifice” as it is defined in a dictionary, but has little, if any firsthand experience with the realities of that word lived out in real time.
This president, who could have taken the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, a gathering of men, with a combined experience and reputation that would be hard to argue against and by deferring to their recommendations, had an opportunity to not only save face, but change course and begin a gradual phase out in a country and a conflict that can’t be described as anything but a “clusterf#ck” of monumental proportions. Instead, in true Napoleonic fashion, this faux leader, this small-minded megalomaniac, continues to insist on having it his way, like the spoiled brat that he’s never grown up from being.
Speaking to the hubris of the president, Olbermann began last night with, “The president has delayed, dawdled and deferred for the month since the release of the Iraq Study Group. He has seemingly heard out everybody, and listened to none of them.”
Olbermann castigated the president on this idea of sacrifice, which coming from this president seems laughable, if it didn’t portend such dire consequences for the thousands of men and women, as well as their families, who will know the word intimately, in all its reality and heartbreak and misery it will entail for them.
Not content to merely affix his sights on President Bush, Olbermann also trained his laser on John McCain, who amazingly, after what this president did to him in the last presidential race, seems to intent on outflanking Bush on the right—what a man won’t do to attain power, I guess?
Apparently, McCain, at least according to former labor secretary, Robert Reich, told him that the “surge” would help the “morale” of the troops already in Iraq. What the f*ck is McCain smoking?
“If Mr. McCain truly said that, and truly believes it, he has either forgotten completely his own experience in Vietnam ... or he is unaware of the recent Military Times poll indicating only 38 percent of our active military want to see more troops sent ... or Mr. McCain has departed from reality.”
In my opinion, I’d say it’s the latter with McCain.
Olbermann was just warming up at that point. Speaking to both McCain and his craven attempt at scoring points with the folks on the right, as well as those, who like McCain, have taken leave from the real world and joined some apparent parallel fantasyland.
“To those Republicans who have not broken free from the slavery of partisanship — those bonded still, to this president and this administration, and now bonded to this “sacrifice” —proceed at your own peril.
John McCain may still hear the applause of small crowds — he has somehow inured himself to the hypocrisy, and the tragedy, of a man who considers himself the ultimate realist, courting the votes of those who support the government telling visitors to the Grand Canyon that it was caused by the Great Flood.
That Mr. McCain is selling himself off to the irrational right, parcel by parcel, like some great landowner facing bankruptcy, seems to be obvious to everybody but himself.
Or, maybe it is obvious to him and he simply no longer cares.”
Olbermann warned those Republicans of the consequences that await them if they continue to put ideology above the best interests of all Americans. He alluded to November’s election results, saying that this was a referendum on Bush’s Iraq policy, which by-and-large has been supported in lockstep by the party faithful.
Lest he be accused of perpetuating his own brand of partisanship, Olbermann didn’t spare the Democrats the ire, or his warning In a nutshell, he is telling them, be courageous, but don’t be duped.
“And to the Democrats now yoked to the helm of this sinking ship, you proceed at your own peril, as well.
President Bush may not be very good at reality, but he and Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rove are still gifted at letting American troops be killed, and then turning their deaths to their own political advantage.
The equation is simple. This country does not want more troops in Iraq. It wants fewer.
Go and make it happen, or go and look for other work.
Yet you Democrats must assume that even if you take the most obvious of courses, and cut off funding for the war, Mr. Bush will ignore you as long as possible, or will find the money elsewhere, or will spend the money meant to protect the troops, and re-purpose it to keep as many troops there as long as he can keep them there.
Because that’s what this is all about, is it not, Mr. Bush?
That is what this “sacrifice” has been for.
To continue this senseless, endless war.”
An immediate pullout would be welcome by many, including Olbermann. But even if we were to leave Iraq tomorrow, the damage has been done by this president, his administration and by those who’ve enabled them by their support.
You can say what you want about Olbermann, but you can’t fault him for his passion, his willingness to engage his audience by being provocative and his obvious desire to instill some professionalism to a profession that has lacked much of that quotient of late.
While many hail the John Stewarts and Stephen Colberts for supposedly engaging our nation’s younger set, irony and humor won’t get it done. 3,000 dead American soldiers, tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilian deaths and billions and billions of U.S. dollars squandered to destroy a culture and destabilize a region is not the fodder of jokes and witticisms. It’s a pox that will haunt us for decades, if we have any shred of decency and integrity remaining in our national psyche.
The ratings of Olbermann’s program continues to trend upward, as does MSNBC’s overall returns, validating the idea that you can still do hard news, on TV and attract audience share.
All I can say is keep it up Keith—some of us are paying attention and appreciate your courage and journalistic panache.