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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.