It’s easy to laugh at MSNBC News Commentator Keith Olbermann. For conservatives, he’s become a cartoon bogeyman– exaggerated, absurd and ultimately lacking any credibility. “I’m not a liberal!” he has publicly stated while promoting one of the most radically leftwing/socialist ideologies on television today. Five nights a week he doles out his half-baked confections of Pelosi talking points, anti-Christian rhetoric, bloggers’ conspiracy theories, special interest group demands and entirely unprofessional personal vendettas. In the final analysis, should we disregard Olbermann as a vanity-whoring buffoon or does he pose a real danger to the tenor and maturity of political discourse in these vital times?
ON THE ORIGINS OF THE SPECIOUS
Mr. Olbermann started his media career as a sports announcer, eventually winning a coveted spot on Fox News as a baseball reporter. For many men, this is a dream come true: getting paid to cover one of the most dramatic of American sports. Olbermann seemed to thrive in the spotlight. He used his fame to wrangle several appearances on the game show Hollywood Squares. His enormous television salary funded a deluxe lifestyle that included private chauffeured limousines, expensive vacation homes, a tawdry affair with conservative star Laura Ingraham and an obsession with his personal appearance. For this new, vainglorious Keith Olbermann, only the most expensive Italian suits would do. He saw no irony that he was modeling himself on the very Wall Street CEOs that he would later attack for their wealth. He also developed an effeminate obsession with skincare, exhibited by his suspiciously line-free face (ahem, Botox?), and an unseemly orange glow from too much self-tanner.
The career of this preening media pretty boy would have been unspectacular if Olbermann was not caught leaking highly sensitive financial insider information about his boss Rupert Murdoch’s personal investments. In an interview, Mr. Murdoch called Olbermann dangerously “crazy” and Keith took great offense at the public airing of his mental health issues. Prior to this, Olbermann had upset his superiors by making unscheduled appearances on rival television shows (including Comedy Central’s liberal lovefest, The Daily Show). He had been fired and permanently banned from the grounds of the ESPN Television Network in Bristol, Connecticut for egregious and self-serving behavior. (No one before or since has been exiled with police enforcement from the genial sports station.) But these were minor potholes on the autobahn of Keith’s career. Getting fired from Fox set him off in a new, fanatical direction.
OBSESSED WITH REVENGE
Immediately after his dismissal from Fox, Keith embarked on his “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” show. He employed one of the oldest tricks in showbiz– gaining fame by piggybacking on someone else’s successful career. He made Fox star/popular news analyst Bill O’Reilly a personal target, disrespecting this highly respected newsman at every opportunity. Lacking any original reporting, he simply replayed segments from the O’Reilly Factor and commented with strange, nonsensical diatribes. For this work, he was feted on YouTube, The Colbert Report and in the New York Times as a fearless demigod who was willing to wholeheartedly embrace the Democrat Party agenda. But his shenanigans also raised eyebrows amongst long-time journalists and his superiors who found his fervent political bias disingenuous and inappropriate. Privately, many associates worried that vanity was getting the better of Keith, that he was exaggerating his liberalism to gain fame in a crowd so desperate for attention.
Egged on by flaccid ratings and radical democrats, Olbermann’s attacks on O’Reilly grew more and more vicious over time. The televised histrionics became so bad that executives from both MSNBC and Fox held a summit to deal with the situation in the summer of 2009. Advised by lawyers and top psychologists, the executives concluded that Olbermann’s antics bordered on the dangerously obsessive and possibly libelous. His corporate superiors decided an intervention was the best solution. With Fox’s blessing, they demanded that Olbermann back down from stalking O’Reilly and Olbermann submitted. (Keith has even admitted this publicly on his show– details here.) For now, an uneasy stalemate exists between the Countdown chatterer and MSNBC executives who are still unsure whether he is a potential liability to the network.
AN INCONVENIENT THUG
Mediocre ratings and predictable tantrums aside, there’s not much to the Keith Olbermann show. His hollow presentation of the day’s top news stories contains very little actual news. Instead, he uses every story as an opportunity to show off his smug, smooth face. His leering arguments are increasingly vapid. He exhibits as poor a grip on American values as he has on baseball (where his devotion to the New York Yankees and his hatred of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox is unprofessionally obvious). Olbermann casts himself as the YouTube generation’s Howard Beale, throwing out random bits of unsourced bigotry with a rehearsed stream of conscious-style faux spontaneity. He appeals perfectly to gullible East and West Coasters. These are people ready to lap up any bowl of “If It Feels Good, Do It” ideology. They have no foundation in ethics, morality, common sense, American traditions or Christian wisdom. Among these liberal arts educated and underemployed urban white twentysomethings, Keith is a hero. He provides them cover for their lives of sexual experimentation and underachievement. When his own weird sexual proclivities were exposed in a recent scandal involving a woman Olbermann lured to a New York City motel room via the internet, his devotees were gratified to see he was truly one of them (see a NSFW description of the debauchery here).
One of the most disturbing aspects of Olbermann’s television charade is that he finds himself so outrageously funny, laughing uncontrollably at his own painfully childish jokes in each and every broadcast. He spits and sputters through his cue cards with narcissistic indulgence, pathetically begging you to find him humorous. He is like that awkward, lonely uncle who tries to impress you with one-liners he picked up in the 1950s– until all the attention he’s paying to little Johnny or cute Debbie makes parents so nervous they have to grab their kids away from strange Uncle Keith’s wandering hands.
Despite all this, I want to shout, “Keep up the good work, Olbermann!” He may have polarized the country with his hate, but he’s also motivated true Americans to protect and celebrate our essential moral values in these perilous times. Thanks to Keith Olbermann, conservatives like O’Reilly and Glenn Beck have thrown off the gloves. No longer are they mired down to the mundane confines of gentlemanly reporting. They have been freed to do what they do best: inspiring and energizing groups around the country. Teabagging groups and Townhall groups and Christian groups and middle class Americans everywhere who are losing God and losing patriotism and losing hope. Conservatives like Beck, Hannity and myself have been freed to push with all our might and insight for the vision tens of millions of Americans tirelessly worked for during the George Bush years– the vision they voted for in November– but which is now in danger of being drowned in the fetid swamps of Manhattan, Washington and Hollywood. So, from this Christian journalist to the outrageous and offensive liberal poster boy, I would just like to say, Thank you Keith!