Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

June 16, 2008

The Disquieting Keith Olbermann

The New Yorker has a piece called “One Angry Man: Is Keith Olbermann changing TV news?” by Peter J. Boyer. In itself, the title tacitly embraces the right-wing caricature of Olbermann: he is angry. The piece never fully examines the reasons why Olbermann is angry, just the fact that he is. With the deliberate removal of context, one is left to conclude that Olbermann is irrationally angry. It focuses on what he said, not the context with which he said it. It only focuses on the most shallow aspects: can you believe that Olbermann told the president of the United States of America to “Shut the hell up?” That is outrageous!

The context of Olbermann is that there is little doubt that George W. Bush and his agents broke the law. Bush already commuted the sentence of Lewis “Scooter” Libby. It was the recommendation of James Madison that any President caught using his power in such a fashion should be impeached. Dennis Kucinich presented 34 other articles which can be read in summary here. So it is worth reflecting on the journalism surrounding another President worthy of impeachment: Richard M. Nixon.

As Hunter S. Thompson put it in “He Was a Crook:”

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

It is that subjective substance that Olbermann puts back into the news. The objective model of journalism works on the heuristic that the truth lies somewhere in between two adversarial actors. This is the same sensibility that is the basis for our justice system. The system is not perfect however. Along with adversarial debaters, there are the independent analysts that the news sources rely upon. News about the Pentagon Military Analysts program received a virtual blackout from the mainstream news media, but shows how journalism can be sock-puppeted.

Another consequence is that when there exists a bipartisan consensus, certain issues never get discussed at all. For example, there is a largely bipartisan project to erode the civil liberties of Americans. Democratic leadership just does not see it in their interest to defend civil liberties or to hold corporations who broke the law at the order of the president accountable for their crimes.

Arianna Huffington also lodges the complaint that it leaves equal time for lies in her book “Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe.”

The baffling inability of the mainstream media to cull consistently bad sources of information is as astounding as their inability to recognize their own fault in being too deferential to their sources.  There are rare exceptions as Glenn Greenwald documents but many remain mystified, including those who appear on MSNBC.

Finally, there is the final fault that is clearly on display in this piece, no linking to more in-depth information about each of the episodes.  Is the Boyer giving a fair summarization of the episodes he describes?  It isn’t easy to find out.  Gore Vidal calls us the United States of Amnesia.  I believe one of the reasons for this is because modern news isn’t directly linked to prior episodes, so people can’t see the larger narrative.   This is despite of the fact that the technology is readily available.

So, as we watched this radical rise of the unitary executive, the proper question is not: why was this one man so angry?  It is: why weren’t there more people like him?

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