Color me unimpressed with the outpouring of outrage and garment-rending from liberal colleagues in the wake of MSNBC's suspension of shouting head Keith Olbermann.
Fine, fine, fine. Fox has no such enforced rules about political contributions from commentators and news presenters. This would never happen to a conservative. NBC's rules are antiquated in a participatory, opinionated age of "news." Stipulated. Noted. Filed.
But Olbermann certainly knew the rules and made no attempt to tell management he had broken them, when he surreptitiously made contributions to three Democratic Congressional candidates. In accepting millions from the corporation paying him to fulminate and snort nightly, he certainly agreed to the points in his contract above the signatures. And whatever the outraged left may claim about his actual status, it's clear that Olbermann considers himself a journalist - and a worthy successor to Edward R. Murrow, to boot. And he's one who regularly castigates right-wing media for abandoning the strictures of real journalism. Keith's stately silence on the matter thus far is, quite frankly, his most eloquent statement in quite some time.*
Would that it extended to the chirping chorus around the rest of MSNBC's soundstage - and quite frankly, in the progressive blogosphere, which seems to be pouring out more energy and gut-level anger into defending Olbermann than it did in defending the unappreciated accomplishments of the current Democratic administration and the now lame-duck Democratic Congress.
There are many liberals who root for MSNBC to grow into a counterweight to the Fox monstrosity, our side's version of fair and balanced and loud.
Count me out. It's bad strategy, it's bad karma - and it's bad television. The MSNBC squad is almost painful to watch these days. On election night, the roiling tension on the desk was a death star of hair-shirted self-flagellation, a black hole of anger and resentment that almost sucked the sunny Rachel Maddow into its vortex. O'Donnell vs. Matthews vs. Olbermann. Feel the love. Jagger and Richards are warmer at this point. As seat-squirmingly painful as any Larry David show, but without the yucks. And the freak show vitriol of the mid-term coverage was in direct opposition to the preening West Wing-style house ads that MSNBC has rolled out to push its "Lean Forward" line-up of lefties. God, is there anything that smacks of the white upper middle class patriarchy more than the ad featuring Lawrence O'Donnell leaving the MSNBC offices late at night, and the moment he touches the shoulder of the black security guy on his way out?
But you know, it's show business - it ain't activism or organizing. When you give up so much of societal structure to massive corporations, how can you be surprised when those corporations act in their perceived best interests and within the rights of a contract you signed? This is simply the playing field of big, well-compensated modern media. Olbermann was paid by the rules, and is now paying for the rules. It's not a civil rights issue - Keith can sign onto Typepad or Wordpress or Twitter at any time, and issue special statements unencumbered by the bad guys at General Electric.
And maybe he should. The irony is that there's a real story in those contributions; Olbermann picked some pretty fertile territory for his Federal max donations. Take Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, who appeared on Countdown. Imagine if Olbermann moved to his district for a week. Or a month. And told the story of the border, of poverty, of the drugs wars and their relation to American prohibition, of selective and sometimes pernicious law enforcement, of hunger and desperation and dreams. Man, that'd be a worth a special comment - and it would be a real contribution to the American conversation, the one MSNBC thinks it's involved in with its rotating lineup of the same special guests making the same points from 30 Rock or Jersey or Washington.
* Keith Olbermann's most eloquent recent moments on MSNBC had little to do with politics and everything to do with the ties of language and family. While many snickered at Olbermann's on-air tribute to his late father last spring - formed in the reading of favorite passages from the canon of James Thurber - I found it personally very moving. And it helped connect me to the right words from childhood when I lost my own father a few months later. There was an authenticity to Keith's special comments then that cut through the artifice of the daily left vs. right screaming matches - dare I say, it was his true reporter's voice and I honor him for it. We forget too often that the people we rail against in politics and media are living flesh and blood, and as much as I disdain the current format of the MSBNC noise factory, I want to make sure this moment doesn't pass without a nod of appreciation for Olbermann's words earlier this year.
UPDATE: And he's back. Wrist slapped.