Keith Olbermann: A Special Comment

OK, I’ll say it right up front:  I adore Keith Olbermann. I have, ever since I watched his first show on MSNBC, and I have been a faithful viewer ever since. So if you don’t like Keith, well, you may as well stop reading right now, because this piece is gonna piss you off.

It’s difficult being a lightning rod.

I’ve been a lightning rod myself for almost 10 years – going all the way back to March, 2003, when I first posted on a public message board that I was dead-set against George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. I believed then – and I still believe now – that that war was planned in advance, and was sold to us with a pack of lies. I have never wavered from my conviction that the Iraq war was a criminal enterprise for the sole purpose of gaining control of Iraq’s oil, but that’s not the subject of this post.

As I said, it is difficult being a lightning rod. When, in March 2003, I posted on a public message board that I was against Dubya’s war of choice, I became the target of intensely concentrated hatred directed at me by a group of conservatives. They harassed me every single day. They posted that they wished that I would die, that I and my family should be murdered by terrorists, that I was a traitor to my country, on and on and on. The harassment didn’t stop there; these people invaded my real life – they did research on me and discovered my full name and where I lived. They called my employer and tried to get me fired and urged their friends to do the same. I received death threats. I was called ugly names. I was told I “should be afraid to open my door” because they were “sending me a surprise.” Someone vandalised my car by scratching the word “TRAITOR” on my trunk lid. On two different occasions, locals in pickup trucks took umbrage at my “Impeach Bush” bumper sticker and literally tried to run me into the retaining wall on the 101 freeway.

Now, keep in mind that I’m small potatoes. I’m just a tiny little fish in a very big pond having my say about what I believe – and the fact that I was the target of so much concentrated hatred, which carried over into my real life, still freaks me out a bit. I bought a new car in September, 2011, a truly gorgeous red 2012 Fiat Pop, a car I absolutely adore — and I admit it:  I’m afraid to put an “Obama 2012” sticker on it for fear someone will vandalize it. And I live in blue Los Angeles.

Think about for a second: if a small target like me was subjected to such a ridiculous amount of harassment, what must it be like to be a national lightning rod like Keith Olbermann? He and I are a lot alike; both intense, passionate, unreservedly outspoken about the truth and the things we believe in, and neither of us is afraid to to use blunt descriptive terms to call out the racists, the homophobes, the bullies, the liars and the thieves who currently infest our national politics.

I know that I fought back, and I fought back hard. I got in some trouble for fighting back; I was banned from the message board any number of times for being too blunt in my responses to the daily harassment from the wingnuts. I fought the management of the message board for over a year; they wanted me to stop posting altogether, on the basis that the site was not for discussion of politics. I pointed out over and over again that there were numerous other subjects being discussed on this same website (including a group posting about conservative politics), and they weren’t being asked to stop posting. I pointed out that I was being singled out because I made the bullies angry, and instead of dealing with the bullies, they wanted me to stop making the bullies angry. Well, I refused. And I won. I’m still posting on the same website, and yes, I know darn good and well that I am still pissing off the bullies, but for the most part, they leave us alone.

Keith Olbermann has been a much, much larger target, and with him, other forces are in play: the network, ad revenue, ratings – big money is involved. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that Countdown had remained on the air for as long as it did, because Keith never did mince words when he called out Billo the Clown, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Louie “Terror Babies” Gohmert, Joe Arpaio, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck — and all the other hundreds of ugly, racist, lying conservatives who have come out of the woodwork and ratcheted up the Hate-O-Meter since Barack Hussein Obama announced his candidacy for the presidency on February 10, 2007.

Someone had to do it. And Keith Olbermann was the first. He had the courage to go on national television and express a point of view at odds with the Bush administration, and had the courage to continue to express that point of view in the face of what must have been a veritable tsunami of hatred directed at him by the right.

I admire that kind of courage, and I always will.

All that said, I know from experience that being subjected to that kind of hatred day in and day out takes a toll. With me, it made me angry and I lashed out at people. I suspect that maybe Keith might have done so as well, because aside from the torrent of raw and vicious hatred directed at him from the wingnuts, he most certainly had pressure put on him by management to tone it down, to back off, to use words that were less blunt, to not offend so many people. I suspect that Keith, like me, refused to do that, and this latest firing is the result.

Keith Olbermann, love him or hate him, is a driven, exacting, passionate, wicked smart, sarcastic and funny man with extremely high standards who calls ’em as he sees ’em, and doesn’t mince words. In the high-stakes game of national television, those wonderful qualities are undoubtedly a double-edged sword. Keith has been forced into a pressure cooker on several occasions, with the inevitable result: an explosion.

I will always be a fan, Keith; I unreservedly admire your courage, your outspokenness – even your anger, because you express what I – and a whole lot of my friends – have been feeling for a very long time. My hope is that you have a sit-down and a heart-to-heart with Al Gore, who is another of my progressive heroes, work out your differences and get Countdown back on the air. Unfortunately, I don’t hold out much hope of that happening; once lawyers are involved, things have pretty much gone past the point of no return.

Keith:  we need your voice. It is my hope that you find a way to come back to us as soon as possible.

Good night – and good luck.


6 responses to this post.

  1. I admire your courage, and I thoroughly believe in all the misery you’ve suffered (unfortunately, this kind of horrendous bullying-without-repercussions is what the Internet has brought us–and not just in politics, either). I also have no doubt that Keith has, and does, suffer the same kind of attacks from the right.

    That said, I really doubt that this firing had anything to do with him being asked to “tone it down” and him refusing to do so. The whole point of being on an independent network financed by liberals was supposed to be that he could say what he wanted. Why turn around and change that on him? Surely advertisers knew that’s what they were buying. Surely Current knew that was what it was selling. Surely, when they “bought” Keith, they also knew what THEY were buying.

    No, if I had to lay down money on why this situation didn’t work out, it would have to do directly with the departure of someone who understood the importance of “letting Keith be Keith” and the arrival of David Bohrman. Since Bohrman appeared, it seems (at least to these outside eyes) that he became the “new sheriff in Dodge” and decided things needed to be done as he saw fit–including the making of decisions one would think the “Chief News Officer” would be the one to make. That’s a recipe for trouble right there.

    It also appears as if the PTB at Current were reluctant to spend the kind of money Keith probably expected them to spend–to NEED to spend–on the production values of the network if it were ever to become a serious contender as a major cable-news force. Perhaps the philosophy was “We’ve already spent a wad on Keith’s contract–now he expects us to spend more?” Well, if you buy a priceless Rembrandt, do you exhibit it in a dingy old warehouse by the docks? if you buy an expensive diamond for an engagement ring, do you mount it in a cheap setting? No, you don’t. If you’re going to buy a diamond that valuable, you’d better also spend the money to have it mounted in a setting that shows it off to maximum advantage. If you mount it in a cheap setting, for all you know, you could have a “falling out” and lose it.

    I don’t think there’s any question that Keith was frustrated with Current’s tightfistedness regarding production. Something tells me that if he had suspected Al Gore and Joel Hyatt would behave like Guy Caballero and Edith Prickley, he never would have tried to make something out of their “SCTV” in the first place. But once he was there, all he could do was try to convince them to spend some money, while outwardly still doing his best to bang the drum for the network. The idea that he didn’t support them is absurd. The worst thing he ever did (at least I suspect this is what he was doing) is joke on air that one of the programs on “DuMont Network” had been preempted that night for Countdown. Otherwise, he did his best to make it work, until he probably arrived at a point where he realized nothing he did was going to help.

    The situation wasn’t what he was promised or, possibly, what he assumed it would be. He was promised control of the news department and free rein to do as he pleased–that seems to have been taken away. He assumed that, having been willing to spend money on him, the network was also willing to spend money on decent production and big-name hosts to surround him. That turned out not to be so true. End result: he was dissatisfied with them, and they were dissatisfied with him, but they were too foolish to see what kicking him to the curb would cost them in the long run (even if it would save them a lot of money in the short run). Now it’s going to cost them money (from a lawsuit–settled or not), lots of goodwill and all the chance they might have had to succeed. Sad.

    None of this is to say Keith doesn’t have his own issues to deal with. But he appears to have worked on some of those issues over his career to the point where he understands what it means to not only stop biting the hand that feeds you (which he admits he did in his early years of employment), but to at least try to be a team player, even when it breaks your heart. (He even tried to do that his last time around at MSNBC. Really–just think what it must have cost him to keep his mouth shut at some of the things Pat Buchanan used to say. The worst he ever said to Joe Scarborough was the “Get a shovel” comment. And he never said a public word about Don Imus during the “nappy-headed hos” mess until Imus was safely gone–only then would he admit that Imus’s staff regularly harassed the women on his staff.)

    Networks can tell themselves until they’re blue in the face that it’s “just too much trouble” to have a Keith Olbermann around. But that’s like an opera company deciding that a great diva isn’t worth having as its star because they’ve heard she’s too picky about hair, makeup, costumes and the outfitting of her dressing room. Hello? If she’s a truly great singer and she sells tickets, let her have what she wants. Bitch about her on the way to the bank. There’s a place in the world for divas and prima donnas–so long as they keep delivering. If Keith wasn’t delivering at Current, it was only because it’s hard to sell out an opera house few people have heard of in a remote section of town many people can’t even get to, even when you put pictures of the diva in all your ads. (And the most recent ads from Current had one person conspicuously absent from the picture. Hmm.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, Keith Olbermann has a horrendous reputation as The World’s Worst Employee–but while part of it is deserved, a big fat chunk of it is not. It’s just past reputation dogging him, enhanced and embellished upon by his many enemies.

    Is the guy easy to work with? No. But the rewards for doing it are tremendous. Ask anyone who’s figured it out. He has legions of loyal fans who appreciate what he does and will follow him anywhere. Whoever can figure out how to create a work environment he can be happy in will win the rights to those fans–and many more viewers. Yes, he’s alienated a few here and there–but not nearly as many as he has left. If he’d finally exhausted their patience, he’d be through. But he’s not. And why? Because they can see the bedrock decency, passion, kindness and humor that exists right there alongside the ego (which I think we know is how an insecure person speaks), the sometimes short temper and the sarcasm.

    So, who wants all those eyeballs and ears belonging to all those people to whom this man is like air and water, the people who count on him for truth? I guess we’ll see. All I know is, two conditions will need to be met: 1, they’ll have to let Keith be who he is; and 2, they can’t expect to buy him at a high price and then display him on the cheap.


  2. Posted by leftsideannie on March 31, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Excellent comment – thank you.


  3. Posted by houseofroberts on March 31, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Greetings Annie! I wholeheartedly concur with your opinion of Olbermann. It’s a shame Current couldn’t give Keith what was contractually promised to him when he was hired. The ratings could never approach what they were at MSNBC, because cable systems had no interest in helping a left leaning channel. I think most viewers were using bootleg websites to watch, so they could save on cable or dish subscriptions, and weren’t counted anyway. I hope he can find an outlet for his opinion, because we need his voice this year.

    I recently returned to the workforce after almost exactly two years unemployed. While I was off, I spent a lot of time listening to Progressive Talk and watching the shows on MSNBC, RT America, and then Current. The only personality I value above Keith is Thom Hartmann.


  4. Posted by Ellie on April 2, 2012 at 5:17 am

    Hello, Annie. I don’t like Olbermann, but your piece certainly didn’t piss me off, because I agreed with so much of what you said. I don’t have any stickers on my car. It’s too scary.


  5. I love The Olbermann, but I really wish he could find a spot that all we bleeding heart libbies could watch his entire show all the time, and he can just be himself and do what he does best.

    A very loud voice on our side has been silenced (for now), and we really can’t afford to lose any voices.


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