Keith Olbermann signs off on Countdown: Some Thoughts

Tonight Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s ‘Countdown,’ announced it would be his last show. I was watching when it happened, and rumors started spreading like wildfire on the internet as to what had happened. I went to all the blogs I go to for insider info on these sorts of things, and while nothing solid has come out yet, here’s what we do have. He got a nice settlement to end his contract early. And well placed folks have said that he will soon comeback as one of the lead anchors for a new Sports Channel under NBC.

Keith started as a sportscaster. And I don’t want to begrudge him doing what he enjoys. He has certainly given so much to us in the last 8 years on ‘Countdown.’

So, just a note of thanks to Keith.

I remember during the early years of the Bush administration, those dark times when we saw just how democracy could turn into a parody of itself. It was a scary, scary time. The constitution was proven to be just paper, and we knew the US govt was torturing, and flaunting it.

Jon Stewart was the only game in town that continued to criticize the Republicans right after 9/11. Any newscaster who dared utter critique was called unpatriotic and shot down. It was really quite scary.

When Olbermann first came around, everyone was like, the sportscaster? And his show was billed as a humorous take on the news, and this gave him a certain degree of freedom. Soon Olbermann realized what he could do with this freedom, namely, criticize what others wouldn’t.

In a short period of time, Keith became a personal hero to me. He was the ONLY journalist who would say ANYTHING against what was going on, and call it what it was – unconstitutional, undemocratic, and dangerous. And I knew he put his job on the line doing it. He was the only, long voice on television news that was doing this.

Now I realize that to be in such a privileged location in the media is not only your doing. But the fact that he had the courage of his convictions, convictions which he increasingly voiced, I came to appreciate as heroism. To be in the position to do good, and to do it, that is a hero? Not everyone can also make the position in which to be a hero. I think Keith found himself, somewhat by accident, in a spot to ‘speak truth to power.’ The fact that he did, and became the voice of a whole generation who refused to sit quietly during the Bush era crimes, well, speaks to his very real character.

Keith is far from perfect, and supposedly behind the scenes he can sometimes be difficult to deal with, and he’s even had a few episodes that seemed potentially misogynist early in his career, though I’ve been satisfied with his attempts to explain these, make things right, and learn from his mistakes.

Watching Keith has become a nightly ritual for me, as has watching the cast that he brought to MSNBC, including the amazing Rachel Maddow. In fact, as many are now saying, Olbermann built the answer to Fox News, the ‘liberal response’, out of sheer power of will and voice.

Can I begrudge him if he wants to go back to what he loves, being a sportscaster, now that there are others, like Maddow, to carry on the torch? Not at all. I wish him success and all the love.

Over the years of watching Keith, almost every night, I think so many of us, especially on the lefty and progressive blogs, feel like we know him as a person. He often posts at DailyKos, where I also have posted, and I’ve read many of his personal takes on a wide variety of issues.

When Keith lost his parents within about a year of each other, about two years ago, the whole lefty blogosphere was with him through it. He would give nearly nightly updates on the health of his parents. We learned about the things he cherished about them, the difficulties he had with them over the years, and how a very real, vulnerable, imperfect person deals with tragedy, love of others, family, and life with dignity, emotion, gravitas, grace, and passion.

I admire Keith as a person, and though I don’t know him personally, as a friend. Keith’s gift to this country, and this world, as a voice that ‘speaks truth to power’ is a gift that one can never replace. He will always be someone I admire, and his service to country and world are first rate. I admire his passion, his love of the truth, his commitment to say what is right no matter how it may impact him, his sense of justice and righteous anger, and so much more. I admire him as a person, one who realizes some of his own weaknesses, and often very publicly works to become a better person.

What more can be asked?

During the early Bush years, one other person became a ‘personal hero’, and that was Stephen Colbert. When Colbert did the White House correspondents dinner, and gave a speech that eviscerated George Bush while Mr. Bush sat there, he didn’t have to put himself on the line like that. But he did, because he knew he needed to. I admire Mr. Colbert’s very similar passion for what is right, his burning sense of justice.

Jon Stewart was the pathbreaker, and no less essential to our collective sanity, but I guess he didn’t take the personal risk that Colbert did that night, or Olbermann on a regular basis. Which is no fault to Mr. Stewart, someone I admire enormously. Folks like Stewart, Olbermann, and Colbert protect democracy with humor, one of the mightiest defenses we have against tyranny. For good government can always tolerate humor, while evil governments almost never can.

Keith was in the right place at the right time, and knew what he had to do. And he did it, and I have no doubt, would’ve done it again. What a great role model for us all.


~ by chris on January 22, 2011.

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