Saturday, November 6, 2010

He's Not Your Boyfriend

Keith Olbermann got an indefinite suspension without pay handed to him yesterday. Nobody died. Nobody declared war. No one detonated a suicide bomb. There was no tsunami, no earthquake, no raging forest fire, no loss of life.
A 51 year-old celebrity talking head, who earned upwards of $8 million dollars per year knowingly breached a clause in his contract and got handed his ass on a plate.
Everyday someplace in this country, various and sundry fiftysomethings get handed their asses on a plate, usually by management in a company/industry where they’ve been working for the past thirty years; but they don’t have an $8 million dollar salary to sustain them, nor will many of them ever hope to work again, unlike Keith, who – if he’s not retained – will probably grace the portals of CNN for an even bigger salary.
But the way people are responding to this in the blogosphere is nothing less than astounding, and I don’t mean that in a good way. There’s been such a cyber renting of raiments and a gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair that all this expounded grief would find a better home in a Cecille B DeMille biblical blockbuster.
All of a sudden, the election is forgotten. The fact that a dangerous Republican party with a virulently reactionary Rightwing has just taken control of the House of Representatives, the fact that these people and their cohorts in the Senate won’t articulate their so-called American promise to remedy our economic woes, the fact that the Senate Minority Leader is dictating events as though he’s won a mandate, himself, to rid the White House of the black man in the Oval Office, the fact that a nationally elected official from the GOP is spreading an obvious lie all over the country about the totally inflated cost of the President’s 10-day trip to Asia, has all gone with the wind in the face of the fact that Keith Olbermann has been put on indefinite suspension without pay.
People are demanding boycotts of MSNBC, Starbucks and ComCast. People are speculating how long it will be before Rachel Maddow is the next head to roll. People are blaming ComCast, especially the CEO they’ve put in charge of MSNBC, pointing to Bushian associations and Republican leanings. There are petitions, there are pleadings.
If the so-called Democratic base had been this galvanised on Tuesday, Nancy Pelosi would be looking forward to another stint as Speaker for the 112th Congress.
What does that say about us that we could get all up in arms about a multi-millionaire talking head, a man whose ego is so ginormous and so thin-skinned that he won’t tolerate divergent points of view on his program every night, but we couldn’t be assed to go and vote in this election?
Oh, sorry … just remembered. Keith doesn’t vote either. He just criticizes politicians and the government. Sorry, Keith, but the way I was raised, if you don’t vote, you don’t have a voice; and without that voice, you’ve no right to criticize the elected government, because your non-vote gave them tacit approval.
And you have even less right to hold a nightly bully pulpit in which to influence the opinions of others.
Many of these lost souls lament the loss of a voice. Pardon me, but I didn’t realise we on the Left suffer from collective laryngitis or that we’d somehow elected Keith Olbermann to speak for us.
I didn’t.
I may agree with a lot of things he says, but sometimes I don’t. Sometimes he gets it wrong, and I have more than a little bit of a hard time with a man who refers to a woman as a mashed up piece of meat with lipstick, I don’t care what her party affiliation is. That man, that person, doesn’t speak for me.
It also bothers me a great deal to hear people from the Left lament the fact that there are no people on “our side” who can compare to the GOP operatives who spew for Fox. We’re supposed to be better than dittoes. Let the Rightwing and their Teabagging counterparts hang on every word of Beck, Hannity and Whoever the rising star of the moment in Murdochland be. Those people are used to being told what to think and how to think from the religious pulpit to the Republican demagogues.
Yet we’re cultivating our own brand who swear by Ed Schultz’s carpet-ridden rants and worship at the altar of St Keith.
Keith Olbermann made three financial contributions to as many Democratic Congressional and Senate candidates this year, one on the day he interviewed one of the three to whom he contributed. He made the maximum disclosable amount possible, which indicates that he knew that his contribution would be published in their individual disclosures … which means he knew MSNBC would find out what he’d done.
NBC and its cable affiliate MSNBC have had, since 2007, contracts which contain a clause forbidding news and opinion journalist personnel from making political donations to candidates or political parties without first obtaining permission from their respective managements.
Keith didn’t, so he is in breach of contract and was punished, accordingly.
This is what firms/companies/industries/businesses do when employees break the rules.
But I will admit that something doesn’t ring true in all of this: Since he was told to leave the premises of MSNBC on Friday, Keith’s been silence itself. Usually, when his ego’s been dented or he feels his pride’s been dealt a blow or someone’s done committed a grievous wrong against him, Keith hits the Twittersphere. This time, there’s been nothing.
And that silence brings a few conspiracy theories of my own to the fore.
First, after listening to Rachel Maddow’s excellent and rational comment on Keith’s suspension Friday evening, I thought that maybe this was a contrived event for a particular purpose. Rachel’s lengthy remarks weighed in heavily with fact-based findings and statements about how Fox (News) not only allows its news and opinion personnel to contribute to various GOP candidates’ campaigns, they also allow themselves and the candidates licence to ask for donations. The also have on their payroll at the moment, no less than five people who, plausibly, could be in contention for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012.
In other words, Fox is acting more like a PAC for the Republican party than the “fair and balanced” news organisation it purports to be.
MSNBC, on the other hand, has standards written into employment contracts to which its employees must adhere, regarding political contributions or endorsements. When the employee breaks that rule, he’s punished.
This is what news organisations do.
So maybe MSNBC contrived this whole occurrance by which they’ve driven home the point to the American public which the President stated over a year ago – Fox News is really the propaganda arm of the Republican Party.
Or, maybe Keith orchestrated this whole brouhaha for a different reason. Keith has form in leaving jobs with panache. He’s usually fired and asked never to return to the premises. CNN approached him in 2006, offering him all sorts, the least of which being MSNBC’s total destruction by Countdown moving to CNN. That manouevre fell through, but maybe someone’s said something at which he’s biting. A bit of suspension time, his dittoes going mad on the blogosphere, a lot of publicity drummed up a la Conan.
Or … maybe he just broke the damned rules and is being punished.
Either way, people are reacting to this as if this were a tragedy of immense proportions. When I pointed out to a self-righteous soul on Facebook that Keith was a millionaire who, if he had to do so, would walk away from MSNBC to another network with no trouble at all, whilst his counterparts in ordinary life are doomed to unemployment insurance which the Republican Party would love to deny them; when I pointed out to this Left Coast soul that Keith would be all right, but his ordinary life counterpart would suffer, she gave me the po-faced reply of a prima donna: “And so will liberty.”
People, this man is a millionaire pundit who lives a lifestyle, even in unemployment, of which you can only dream. He’s employed by a major news corporation for a seven-figure salary, and he’ll probably live to be employed by another news corporation for an even bigger seven-figure salary. He’ll have Cadillac healthcare until the day he dies and the best tickets to Yankees’ games.
He’s a celebrity talking head, he’s not your boyfriend or your husband or your brother or the guy you have a drink with or the fella in your old fraternity. And whilst he loves your tweets and your online petitions and your threats made to MSNBC, he’s just nto that into you.
What he is into is his own brand, his ego, the size and weight of his wallet and the ratings for the corporation which pays him. Lately, his protegee, Rachel Maddow, has been bettering Keith in the ratings stakes … and that might well have something to do with this too.
At the end of the day, Keith is a voice for Keith, and a voice for whatever MSNBC want him to promote. We have our own voices on the Left. We don’t need corporate hacks, however many charitable ventures they front or promote, voicing opinions we’re capable of forming, ourselves. We should channel our critical thinking gene, even if that sometimes means listening to opinions from the other side of the spectrum.
My guess is that Olbermann will be back. There will be a brief, perfunctory apology and then it will be business as usual, with maybe even a return of the Worst Person in the World. Last Saturday at the Rally to Restore Sanity, Keith reckoned Jon Stewart had jumped the shark when Stewart included Keith next to Glen Beck in a montage of blowhards from both political extremes who contribute to the polarisation and ineffectuality at problem-solving in this country.
Friday the shark Stewart jumped took a chunk out of Keith.
Good night and good luck.

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