Saturday, January 22, 2011

Olbermann Out at MSNBC

In a move that shocked some, but not others, Keith Olbermann announced on his MSNBC show Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Friday that he was leaving the network and his show was ending. He offered no reason, other than to say that he was informed late in the week that Friday was his last night.

The network claimed the move had nothing to do with NBC Universal's recent acquisition by Comcast (a corporation with well-known right wing ties) -- which is suspicious because the denial was issued before anyone officially asked the question.

A side effect of media consolidation is the homogenization of voices. The fewer media entities in existence, the less diverse the viewpoints being expressed.

I stumbled across Countdown one night by accident; I was initially confused when I saw Olbermann talking about the war in Iraq. Growing up, I'd seen Olbermann co-hosting SportsCenter on ESPN with his friend Dan Patrick. I knew Olbermann to be a goofy sort who loved baseball, but I never thought he'd find a career in politics.

But there he was, verbally ripping the Bush administration a new one over its lies and propaganda. I wasn't nearly as liberal back then as I am now, and I had no idea Olbermann was, either. But even then, I saw the visceral anger -- I could feel his disdain for what he thought was the abandonment of American principles.

Even if I didn't agree with him that night, his steadfastness stuck with me.

As I became more engrossed in politics in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, Olbermann -- and MSNBC as a whole -- became my network of choice. Even then, I saw Fox News for what it was and wanted nothing to do with it, and CNN was simply too milquetoast for me (I find it's self-proclaimed centrist nature with relation to the other two networks pathetically laughable).

Olbermann introduced me to several media figures who I trust to this day, including Rachel Maddow, Ezra Klein and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, Chris Hayes of The Nation, Lawrence O'Donnell and Arianna Huffington, among others.

Sadly, he never converted me to Chris Mathews.

Before long, Countdown became nightly viewing, even though it meant missing my share of basketball games and what few hourly dramas I enjoyed (sorry, Bones). Eventually, I watched Countdown and then The Rachel Maddow Show and, for a short time, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. Anyone who follows this blog knows how much I love these shows -- not just because the hosts are liberal, but because they cut through the right wing noise and support their assertions with facts.

And yes, Olbermann can be funny. Not Jon Stewart funny, but he held his own.

Insiders suggest Olbermann's ouster is a result of his defiant attitude following his suspension back in November -- but if that's the case, why wait until now to fire him? Why not just toss him to the curb in November? I think it has more to do with the Comcast merger, and I think none of MSNBC's other liberal hosts should feel too comfortable.

Olbermann was by far the network's ratings winner -- he had the highest-rated cable news show not on Fox News. If he could be unceremoniously tossed, how long do we have to wait before the other liberal voices are shown the door?

For almost eight years, whether he meant to or not, Olbermann was a reliable voice on the left. He was the first to stand up against the war in Iraq and the first to hold the Bush administration accountable for its lies and its alleged war crimes. He was passionate and instrumental in setting up the liberal narrative for health care reform, and even though he was an ardent supporter of President Obama, Olbermann was by no means a cheerleader.

His Special Comments were always must-see programming -- I've posted quite a few of them on this page. Even when he was over-the-top, even when he resorted to the same name-calling that the right wing calls home, Olbermann's heart was always in the right place.

I hope Olbermann finds a new home soon; we need voices like him in the media. The right wing always pointed to him as an example of the so-called liberal media, when in fact his voice from the left was one of few.

We need that voice, and damn MSNBC and Comcast for silencing it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

President Obama's Speech in Tucson

President Barack Obama delivered a 33-minute speech Wednesday night toward the end of the memorial service in Tucson, Ariz. for the victims of Saturday's shooting that left six dead and 14 injured, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

In many ways, President Obama's speech was to strike a tone similar to the one President Ronald Reagan gave after the Challenger disaster, or the speech President Bill Clinton delivered after the Oklahoma City bombing.

The speech was a success, rousing and emotional. The president called for us to be more civil and respectful of one another, and though the cynic in me doubts that will happen (I don't see the right wing media machine -- which I do not believe accurately represents many of this country's Republicans -- allowing it), it's a laudable and emotional message.

It's a message that needs to be repeated often. Video of the speech, in its entirety, is below.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stop. Just ... Stop.

I know it's been a while since I've written on this space -- and that a lot has happened that I could've covered -- but between the holiday and an uptick in activity at work, a lot of things have fallen by the wayside ... this blog included.

But after the horrific events of Saturday, in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others were shot outside a supermarket in Tuscon, Ariz. -- an event that left Rep. Giffords in surgery for hours, a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl killed -- now seemed like as good a time as any to pause and offer insight.

You won't find anything particularly revelatory in this post, nor will you find me calling everyone on the right wing every name in the book -- that's been done by virtually everyone else in the blogosphere and anyone in the mainstream media who tacks the slightest left of center. I do wish more voices on the right would join the chorus calling for the proverbial cease-fire -- to my knowledge, only one GOP Senator has made such a call -- but I'm not surprised that we haven't seen one.

I'm not here to take Sarah Palin to task for her poster during the midterm campaigns where she placed crosshairs over what she thought to be vulnerable districts for Democrats -- including Rep. Giffords -- because frankly, that speaks for itself. I'm not here to rail against Fox News for its rhetoric designed to mislead and frighten its audience with relation to the Obama administration and Democrats as a whole. That point has been made ad nauseum, and will continue to be made as long as there is a Fox News.

There were the "Second Amendment remedies" that Sharron Angle referred to in her Nevada Senate race against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- the idea that if one didn't get their way at the ballot box, it was okay to turn to guns, because that was what the Founding Fathers intended.

Never mind that bugaboo about majority rule.

At this point, all we know about the alleged shooter was that he was anti-government -- the media narrative will automatically try to pigeon-hole him (if it hasn't already) into the Tea Party movement. I've heard media reports theoretically tying the shooter to Jesse Kelly, Rep. Giffords' opponent from the most recent election who held a campaign rally and encouraged supporters to bring their guns.

Tempting as it is for me to do the same -- a side effect of my partisan leanings -- I'm trying not to automatically lump the shooter in with the ultra-conservative, corporate-backed Tea Party movement that fueled Republican gains in last November's elections.

The only thing I know for certain is that words have consequences. Whether we mean for our words to do actual damage is largely irrelevant; though we may have the Constitutional right to say whatever we please, we also have responsibility for how those words are received. Relay an inflammatory and violent message long enough, you become at least partially responsible for it when a less-than-stable individual acts out in a violent manner.

Take Bill O'Reilly. The Fox News host is adamantly pro-life -- which is fine. It's a free country, and he's entitled to that opinion, just as I'm entitled to be pro-choice. But when O'Reilly goes on his highly-rated cable show and proceeds to call Dr. George Tiller "Tiller the Baby Killer" on several occasions and show such obvious personal disgust for a doctor who is providing a women a perfectly legal medical procedure, don't you think he bears some responsibility over the fact that Scott Roeder walked into a church in which Dr. Tiller was attending and killed him?

I'm not saying charge O'Reilly with murder, but last I checked, there was this thing called incitement. I'm not a law expert by any means, but I remember the term incitement being the one instance where the courts did not have to apply First Amendment protections. Basically, if you said something that led a person to commit a violent act, you were held responsible for that.

But the 1969 Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio makes the subject of incitement a little more complex; the Court ruled that inflammatory speech cannot be punished unless the speech in question is intended to incite and will lead to "imminent lawless action."

If that sounds like a ruling that leaves the door open to plausible deniability, you're probably right. If you can't prove a person intended for their words to bring about violent or lawless behavior, then their First Amendment rights are protected.

Short of recordings of Palin discussing the idea for her crosshairs poster or leaked video of a production meeting for The O'Reilly Factor, how do we prove they intended to have their words leads to the lawless actions of the less stable among us?

Not think they wanted that to happen. Prove it.

Fox News is never going to admit publicly that it means to incite violence with its rhetoric; when Glenn Beck hosts a segment on his show in which he poisons former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in effigy, he'll simply explain it away as a light-hearted moment in his circus of a show, that no one should make anything of it.

Unless you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that's not the case, Beck gets away with it.

The long and short of it, the responsibility rests on all of us to make sure our personal and political discourse never deteriorates to the point where we're encouraging violence against others. We are all human beings, and we are all Americans; it's senseless to incite violence and hatred against each other over political debates. Bringing guns to political rallies does not further our democratic process; it damages it.

Democracy may not be a spectator sport, but it shouldn't be a contact sport, either. Everyone -- from our mainstream media to our own selves -- need to do a better job of making sure our language is civil. We can still get our respective points across without calling for each others' heads.

Can't we?