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Keith Olbermann’s Courage

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Keith Olbermann’s new Countdown debuted on Current TV Monday at 8 PM.  For sheer courage, few in  American broadcasting come close.  At the moment when the corporate media had mostly circled the wagons to protect the Bush administration’s lies to gain buy-in to the Iraq war, Olbermann bailed on the trumpeters to war and staked out a stance in defiance of the “watch what you say” crowd.  His “Special Comments” were both beautifully written and landmark television. But that is not all.  Mark Binelli of Rolling Stone  has interviewed Olbermann concerning both his departure from MSNBC and his new venture.  Perhaps nothing was quite as striking as his revelation about why he made the donations to three Arizona Democrats.  Here’s the question and Keith’s reply:


Why did you give money to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and two other Democrats when you knew there was a rule against it? People say, “Why did you think you could get away with donating to Democrats?” Nobody ever asks me why I donated to those three Democrats. I discovered from a friend of mine who knows Arizona politics really well that all three had spent a lot of money, and I mean a lot of money, protecting themselves from assassination threats. To me, as a small-d democrat, as a member of a democracy, it pissed me off. I thought, “I’m going to help defray their expenses.” That’s all it was.

By any measure this is an extraordinary statement. You read that correctly, three AZ Congresspersons had received threats to their lives. They therefore had to spend an extraordinary proportion of their fund-raising dollars on security to prevent their own assassination at the hands of madmen or those who would commit political murder. And indeed, these three politicians and Keith Olbermann were prescient. History (unless subject to revisionism) will show just how much so.  Gabbie Gifford, as everyone here knows, one of the recipients of Keith’s maximum allowable contribution, was shot just a couple of months later. It is now doubtful she will ever return to Congress. And yet Keith’s action was portrayed as simply a disallowed political contribution. How different things look when the truth comes out!  And the snarks that he should have known better than to violate the “rules” of the workplace (that only he was held accountable for) were just so much claptrap.

In a democratic republic, threats against candidates and elected officials must be strongly repudiated. Yet in the aftermath of the Giffords tragedy too few Republicans attempted to call back the hate speech by their own.  Nor did they dial back their own extreme statements.  Instead, to divert attention, they claimed a false equivalence between the saber-rattlers and flame-throwers on their side and those like Olbermann. There is none. Even so, Keith dialed it back, though he had never done or said anything wrong.  

Yet we heard all the appeals to “Second Amendment remedies” by several Republican politicians.  Hypocritically, Palin even went on a verbal diatribe about blood libel. Yet the message underlying her own calls to “reload” and other statements were clear in their intent. A growing number of Republicans and Libertarians come to Democratic events and rallies armed. This kind of implicit threat was not deemed either acceptable or “legal” until now. Why now?  

Furthermore, progressives and peace activists who did nothing more  than express opposition to the war in Iraq were spied upon, harassed, and in some cases visited by the FBI or hauled into police headquarters. In one case a group of mostly elderly Quakers was infiltrated, while at the same time the same (previous) administration had called off the search for OBL.  Where are the Secret Service and FBI when they should be paying a visit to those Republican pols promoting thinly disguised violence against our current president and other Democratic politicians now?

There is and was no comparable ramping up of appeals to baser violent instincts by the luminairies of the so-called left.  That is as it should be, of course.  Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann gets that we need to prevent such violence (and threats of it) against our nation’s leaders — and speak out against any ramping up of such incitements to violence. And he did something about it.  In the aftermath of Keith’s dparture, what we heard was the ongoing repetition of little supposed “factoids” about him being difficult to get along with or having a big ego. Not even Rachel Maddow had the spine to stand up for the man who brought her to national TV.

When an outrage occurs, he is not afraid to say so. When the poor and middle class cannot get health care he raises money so they can. When Paul Ryan lies to the American people, he says so. When the Republicans are hypocrites, he says so. Unlike FAUX News, and even other cable celebrities, he doesn’t invent his material out of thin air. If he makes a mistake, he corrects it. He has a better sense of history than any of the other so-called news and political desk anchors.  Though he sometimes takes on progressives and Democrats, besides Thom Hartmann, he is the best at articulating  the progressive frame in television. Even if you aren’t a fan of Keith’s, Al Gore’s effort to provide  a 24-7 network is something we can all applaud.  

  • Mike1987

    Rachel outclasses this guy every time.

    Lawrence O’Donnell has more insight

    Ed has more passion

    Keith is more hot air, ego, and self-promotion that all three combined. No, bombastic, arrogant, intolerant, and abusive is NOT what we need. O’Rielly from the left is NOT an improvement.

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    He knows his stuff better than anyone of the progressive talk anchors.  He respects his audience (unlike Maddow). Her delivery is like Hilary’s at its most halting ponderousness.  Or Al Gore @ reduced speed. Her first year I thought she was better than Keith.  Not anymore. One other thing about this that is really important: Progressive airtime is so valuable, but so limited that wasting it on garbage like her cocktail lessons is as inane as it gets.  Yeh, Keith did stupid stuff too (hasn’t yet on the new show), but he gets in far more content, so he’s still ahead.  It’s all about content!!!!!!!!!

    Ed may be passionate, but he too often he doesn’t know his stuff or fails to use the facts at the right time.

    O’Donnell was horrible at first but is getting much better.  But he wastes too much time on things like “he told us so.” And he can’t do angry like Keith. But why watch Lawrence if you can watch someone better?

    You may not want to admit it but Cenk is as good as it gets for rebuttal effectiveness.  I never thought I would say that.  But he’s got passion, good response time and the facts.

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    is I watch Cenk just about daily.  It doesn’t hurt that he airs while I am fixing dinner.  I will watch Keith sometimes, but especially as his show gets off the ground because I want Al gore’s station to succeed.  I watch Rachel almost never any more (tried Rachel again this week and couldn’t bear it). Ed is too stressed out for 10 PM.  I love the guy, but can’t do angry at 10 PM.  

    My favorite thing –when I have the time or am doing something not requiring concentration (because I suck at multi-tasking), is to listen to Minnesota Talk Radio 950 AM.  There’s (even) an App for that!!!!!!!

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    was to recognize Olbermann’s courage.  I think he as amply exhibited in his Special Comments.  If you have followed them from his first one, as I have, you would find many of them remarkable, especially if taken in context for the precise time they were written.  Something outrageous would happen, such as Dick Cheney trying to ride her on the nation to give up freedom of speech, or watch what we say, and there was Olbermann — the first person in the so-called MSM actually telling truth to power.  It’s a cliche in large part because usually its used in a meaningless context.  But Olbermann did it.

    At the same time, he has spoken out forcefully against the hate speech coming from extremist GOPhers and Tea-Publicans.

    BUT the bottom line is that people like whom they like.  However, It would be nice if those who purport to compare him to O’Reilly actually watched enough episodes to have a representative sampling of his work.  If they did they would find out there is no comparison.  Anyone who says that has just listened to the MSM too long.