First, the praise, and it is heartfelt and very high praise. The most impressive contribution Olbermann made during the Countdown years was his body of work as a commentator. Olbermann was magnificent.
A fine op/ed writer, he delivered his Special Commentswith a dignified ferocity that was something wonderful to behold. On many occasions I was transfixed by Olbermann’s commentary; and the commentaries he delivered in 2005 and 2006--the dark nadir of the Bush Administration—will undoubtedly be long talked about by those who study Journalism and the Media.
I enjoyed Olbermann’s sense of humor and evocations of pop culture. He and I are just about the same age, so we share many cultural touchstones; Monty Python, the Simpsons, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, 60s and 70s pop and rock music and movies, on and on. The Thurber on Fridays was charming, how could anyone not like that? Oddball was always good for a grin, and sometimes it was blow-coffee-out-your-nose funny. And his "Time...Marches on!" was almost as good as the original.
Now the praise gets less effusive. Olbermann the interviewer and host was a very mixed bag. He gets high marks for booking some terrific, knowledgeable experts: Jonathon Turley to discuss civil liberties; John Dean on executive branch ethical breaches; and IIRC the indispensable Wendell Potter was given his first national forum by Olbermann on Countdown. There are many more fine examples. Bravo.
But many more of the guests seemed chosen for their sycophantic tone rather than for any genuine expertise on the topic at hand. And many times Olbermann’s actual interviewing was cringe worthy. The fawning and schmoozing, the long leading questions...yeesh! Bad journalism and bad television.
But if all else failed, we could, almost every night, count on at least one segment that was chock full of yummy snarky cracks aimed at those dunderhead right-wingers! Sometimes we would get a dick joke, or a crack about Sarah Palin and "69 dude!" Olbermann was (still is) genuinely clever, and I enjoyed all of the caustic snark immensely. And liberals lapped it up, me included, even though it was often disingenuous and unfair, and at times deeply dishonest bullshit. Don’t believe me? I want to keep this short, so I will simply say look for yourself. Visit www.dailyhowler.comfor sourced and researched examples, one after another, archived by date. Put Olbermann in the search box, and settle in for a long read.
I loved Countdown for years, I really did. DVR’d it and never missed a show. Until about a year and a half ago, when I began to realize that while Countdown occasionally had terrific content, more often Keith Olbermann was treating me like a rube, playing to my preconceptions and inflaming my tribalism. And it pissed me off. And it was tough, kinda like quitting cigarettes, but I quit Olbermann and found it good for me.
I’m not claiming equivalency, not one little bit, so please don’t jump my shit about that. Nothing on Countdown ever came close to the fear and hate drummed by Beck and Limbaugh and others in right-wing media. Countdown was a kinder gentler spin, a nicey-nice liberal tribalism that allowed us to feel smug and superior and enabled us to sneer at those knuckle-draggers, and helped keep America as One Nation, Shouting Right Past Each Other. No it was not even remotely like the hateful smears and lies peddled by Rupert Murdoch and Company. But all too often it was nothing to be proud of either, and in my view, nothing to go out of our way to defend or try to bring back.