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September 13, 2006


For those impressed by Keith Olbermann's recent speeches decrying the Bush administration, this interview with him is really worth a read. It reveals the sort of approach to newscasting that always stood implicit in the words of Murrow, and Cronkite, and the other great anchors of yesteryear. I was particularly struck by this:

I had gathered for a while that [liberals] had felt themselves very underserved in the media, and a reasonable analysis would suggest that's true overall. But you can go out and, I think, find a certain kind of person who wants to sit there and be told what to think by the television. These tend to be authoritarian personalities, as John Dean has suggested in his book. I don't know if it's true for other political people. I don't think you can get a bunch of liberals to watch one television network, because they'd be sitting there arguing the nuance of it. So I'm not courting the liberals.

I also, I don't think in these issues that I'm a liberal; I think that I'm an American. I think I'm acting almost as a historian on these particular things, with the Rumsfeld commentary and now the Bush commentary. I get nauseated when I see someone perpetually wrap themselves in the flag -- which is the logo that appears on Fox, that's what they're doing, and many other people do it.

I fall under the category of folks who find cable news too slow-moving and timid to be worth my time, but whenever I've caught Olbermann, I've never noticed a liberal mission, as opposed to independent spirit, animating his commentary. While I've no doubt the guy's sympathies lie with the left, he's always struck me as more of a gadfly, a natural skeptic with a bit of a superiority complex: All traits that lead to pugilistic and interesting programming.

September 13, 2006 | Permalink


"All traits that lead to pugilistic and interesting programming."

All true. But don't forget the conceptual structure and artistic direction of the show too.

Completely separate of Olbermann's politics, the show has the same snappiness and tabloid creativity that make the Drudge Report and the NY Post fun.

Posted by: Petey | Sep 13, 2006 1:39:45 PM

Thats the difference between conservatives and liberals.

They want partisans, we want independence.

Posted by: mickslam | Sep 13, 2006 1:40:32 PM

ezra, why don't you think that Oberman is a Ronald Reagan Rupublican? OH please. Currently the entire drive-by media is so far left, they're Socialists.

Hey, why aren't we wildly excited about Caleefornia throwing Socialized Medicine on the Terminator's desk?


Why arn't we talking about your beautiful Medicare and the explosion in cost for seniors? Swannblog.com is talking about it:

Radio Free Pennsylvania

News flash: Medicare premiums are exploding. Medicare Part B premiums come out of a senior’s Social Security check before it is mailed. Part B Premiums were $45.50 per person in 2000. In 2007 the cost will be $93.50 per person or $187 per month per couple. As you can see, the Part B Premium has more than doubled in 7 years. By law, seniors pay 25% of the total cost of the Part B Premium and tax payers pay 75%. This means that the total Part B Premium for 2007 is $374 per person and $748 per couple.

The big change is that the Federal Government is scanning 2005 income tax returns and for the first time, starting in 2007; richer seniors will pay more for their Medicare Part B Premium. By 2009 richer seniors will pay 80% of their Part B Premium. A richer couple would owe $598.40 per month in 2007 if the increase was totally phased in. Medicare Part B Premiums have been inflating at 12% per year since 2000. If we extend this 12% Medicare inflation trend, the total Part B Premium in 2009 will be $938.29. Richer seniors will owe 80% of $939.29 or $750 per month to the Government.

How much will a 50 year old couple owe the Government for Medicare in 15 years when they retire?

Medicare Part B Premiums pay for only outpatient services without prescription drugs. By law, if a senior purchases Rx coverage, called Medicare Part D, the maximum a couple could owe on Rx annually is $7,200 plus 5% co-insurance. It is important that all citizens save for retirement health care expenses now because 21st Century Medicare and retirement health care expenses will be excessive.

More Pennsylvania News: I talked with Philly’s health care reporter John Sullivan today. I explained that Lynn Swann would help the citizens in the Commonwealth by encouraging tax free HSAs. I explained that Lynn Swann’s book is an excellent source for where he stands on the issues. I asked John, “Don’t you think you could write one story about Republican Healthcare Reform before the election?” John said, “No, but if Swann becomes Governor I will.” I don’t believe that.

LBJ never said that by 2007 the Federal Government will owe $65 trillion in unfunded Medicare and Social Security liabilities. President Bush has been warning us forever that sooner or later the country is headed for a financial train wreck. I guess it’s happening sooner rather than later. Don’t blame President Bush for LBJ’s entitlement problem.

Vote Swann / Steadfast leadership in a time of change.

The Terminator said, "Socialized Medicine is not the solution for Caleefornia."

Posted by: Ron Greiner | Sep 13, 2006 2:22:03 PM

I think of him as someone who is just okay- he's not great. I think what he does point to is the contrast of how bad infotainment, sorry, I mean, news has become. It's neither liberal or conservative- it's sensational. Sensationalism isn't concerned with truth- its concerned with ratings. What ever is the latest scandal is what it follows. Jon Benet Redux was about this fundamental breakdown in media. He's a better infotainer than most because he does seem to care a little bit more about what he is saying. I would argue, except on the immigration issue,t hat Lou Dobbs as similar qualities. On immigration he is simply demogogic. As for Fox- what do you expect- its from Murdock- the man has built his empire off of tabloid and low rent entertainment that's only one step above girls gone wild. In NY, where he owns the NY Post- they spent three fucking days on Christie Brinkley's husband's infidelities at the height of the crisis int he middle east. What does that tell you?

Posted by: akaison | Sep 13, 2006 3:09:26 PM

Sorry Ron -- I told you no more off-topic comemnts. You're gone.

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 13, 2006 3:23:51 PM

Ezra, the thing about Olbermann that's remarkable is that KO was a sports guy. Three things:

1) His natural skepticism toward power and spin is related to his background in sports. Anyone who, say, followed owners and players' disputes, to say nothing the likes of Steinbrenner and spoiled agents/athletes, is not surprised that many a guy with a sports background is the one most willing to ignore spin and say "the emperor has no clothes" -- as opposed to those trained in "local news", largely a position built around reading script about the latest shooting/hidden danger/press release,

2) I think people -- no offense, younger people -- forget his impact on cable sports landscape. Sportscenter of ESPN today is a huge franchise and it largely was built due to the incredible tandem of KO and Patrick. Sportscenter today is a silly imitation of what it was with Olbermann and Patrick -- the show at the time was not just a good sports show, it was a great *show*, period -- the single best counter to the canard that sports fans were illiterate or ignorant. Now it is just lame shtick without any kind of literacy.

Well written, quick-witted and unpredictable -- it probably had a bigger impact on cable programming and certainly on sports (most sports anchors are lame imitiations of KO/Patrick) than most think.

3) I think Dan Abrams and MSNBC's management are honestly encouraging him to do this. The ratings spike upwards after his buzz -- and he's really, really good at it. But, honestly, I think if someone told him to stop, he'd quit in a public snit (as he has from ESPN, and MSNBC, and Fox Sports, etc...). Bottom line: He may be a tough person to have under your supervision, but he probably is one of the few (the only?) genuine talents left in cable news.

Posted by: Chris R | Sep 13, 2006 4:20:56 PM

Just want to echo what Chris R says about Sportscenter. When they had KO, that program was all you needed to justify the outrageous monthly cable bill. It was clear then that the man was a stand out talent. Countdown isn't the greatest news program ever, but it's good TV, and when one considers what passes for news programming on the rest of the dial, Countdown is friggin amazing.
In the weeks after the 2004 election, Countdown was the only program on television that ever seriously addressed the Ohio voting irregularities.

Posted by: sprocket | Sep 13, 2006 5:07:28 PM

And again, its entirely plausible to trace KO's following the Ohio vote theft to his background in sports broadcasting ... many sports broadcasters are entirely comfortable with proportions, marginal impacts on averages (if he keeps up hitting at this pace, he'll finish the season over .300) ... and all sorts of the higher arithmetic that baffles many a political reporter.

Kind of like:

* political reports: controversial "activist Judge" outpolling up ticket candidate by 30% in 12 rural counties, but 10% below elsewhere in the state ... according to my sources, this is because ...

* sports reporter: controversial down ticket candidate outpolling up ticket candidate by 30% ... something fishy is going on here.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Sep 13, 2006 5:52:01 PM

"...who wants to sit there and be told what to think by the television."

That's me, I want to be told what to think by my television, so I keep it turned off.

Hey, am I the only one who remembers the first time Olbermann quit MSNBC? After a year he started introducing segments with stuff like:"Shock shock! Another Monica Lewinsky story. I am sure you have been waiting all day for this." His disgust and boredom were actively expressed every night. But in that time slot, it was stained dresses or Olbermann, and stained dresses won.

I am sure he came back with with conditions.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 13, 2006 8:13:53 PM

For my book, KO is MSNBC's counterpart to Bill O'Reilly. Both are populist blowhards. From where I sit, though, O'Reilly is more likely to take a "lefty" populist position (such as his incessant bashing of oil companies) than KO is a "righty" populist position. But then, I can't take enough of either of them to be sure.

Also, O'Reilly, blowhard -- or, as he would say, bloviator -- that he is, mocks himself a fair amount. I don't see KO do that.

Posted by: TigerHawk | Sep 13, 2006 9:40:44 PM

I like his point, but it's funny he mentioned the Dean book. I'm reading that now, and while Dean considers himself a conservative, he is intellectually honest and is the first to point out that America's entire conceptual background is liberal. In fact, he basically thinks real conservatives are just very slow-moving liberals. If he's right, there aren't many real conservatives around. Real conservatives, for instance, would oppose adventure wars.

Mildly off-topic, but my point being that the liberal/conservative divide is something of a myth. To be invested in the principles of America makes you a liberal or one stripe or another, if you're an honest person at all.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Sep 13, 2006 9:56:00 PM

I don't have access to Olbermann's show, so I can't comment on that. But the quote from him could only be made by a liberal who isn't fully aware of his own biases. (Rob actually raised a good point in his last post--why do you think Olbermann has liberal sympathies if it doesn't show in his work?)

How is it that liberals are underserved in the media overall? We have a fair amount of programming done by liberals, pitched at moderate liberals, and mainly consumed by liberals in public broadcasting. That's not to say that most of the programming is terribly biased (though some is biased), but views comfortable to liberals are predominant on a more than sufficient number of public broadcasting programs. And I think you can surely get the liberal perspective on other programs, such as the News Hour, even if it isn't dominated by liberal views. On cable I understand there is programming from predominantly liberal points of view, and there are places to hear both (or several) sides as well. Some who have more leftist tastes can also get Pacifica, which I believe is also available online. Newspapers vary in locale, but despite some slips, there really is plenty to serve liberals in the national papers.

What more do liberals want? For the major network news to be more liberal in perspective? Why should it be? There's plenty of liberal perspective there, along with efforts to cover conservative views as well. (I say "efforts" because, last I heard, most of the media is still leaning liberal.)

While I think there's something to the idea that liberals are less cohesive than conservatives, I don't think this can be safely ascribed to liberals wanting less to be told what to believe, or at least I don't see the evidence for that. Of course it seems that way to liberals, who see themselves as open-minded and thinking for themselves. But where is the evidence that this is more than biased self-perception? Most liberals aren't all that skeptical of liberal beliefs. My own experience talking with liberals and conservatives doesn't support such a distinction.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 14, 2006 1:34:04 PM

i live in the santa cruz and am surrounded by liberals, but i am not one of them. i am a moderate trying to diversify the political disscusion where ever i am and rather frequently i find my self defending bush. he is not an idiot; he is not evil; he is a man. not this time. i agree with KO completely. yet of all the things people are mad with bush about, the one i can not let go of is his shameful attacks on mccain and weaponization of the religious right. mccain is a great man and would have made an incredible president.

Posted by: squee147 | Sep 28, 2006 3:37:15 PM

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