A hundred years from now (okay, maybe ten) when people sit around open-mouthed and marvel at the Pravda-esque state of early 21st Century American journalism and the outrageous deceptions perpetuated by those who smugly considered themselves to be titans of the craft, they are going to look at the work of Keith Olbermann and say "WTF? Why wasn't everybody listening to that guy?"
Olbermann has made a career out of practicing common sense, of pricking the engorged bubbles of hubris that pass for conventional wisdom these days. Recently his ratings have soared, and he has become a YouTube icon with broadcast segments like this, this and this. His new book The Worst Person in the World: And 202 Strong Contenders is a chronicle of the series he began as a catalog of bemusment more than outrage at the antics of the lunatics among us.
Olbermann obviously has a taste for the bizarre, the obscure and the ironic, as evidenced by his "Oddball" series. His "Worst Person in the World" segment (inspired by works of George Carlin and Bob & Ray), which began in July of 2005, started off as a tribute to boldly irrational episodes like this:
A man named Dave Newman saw a stranger drowning in the swirling Sann Marcos River. Newman went in and saved him. As he got out of the river, Newman was handcuffed by a Texas State University cop, who said Newman had ignored repeated warnings to get out of the river.
Many of us recognized in these moments the same quality of thinking that brought us the Iraq war, and certainly its management thereafter. And as time went on and the segments seemed to get more overtly in-the-face of members of the right wing noise machine, perhaps for no other reason than that they provided so damn much easy fodder. While good soldiers like Matt Lauer , Howard Kurtz and Brian Williams are embarrassing themselves to their eternal shame by their membership in the Kneepads for Limbaugh brigade, Olbermann with dignity can point to moments like this (as he discussess his August 17, 2005 "WPITW" broadcast):
On his daily radio soap opera, on August 15, Limbaugh said, "Cindy Sheehan is just Bull Burkett. Her story is nothing more than forged documents, there's nothing about it that's real…" The complete transcript that surrounds those quotes can be found at the bottom of this entry.
Yet, apparently there was something so unpopular, so subversive and so crazy about those remarks that he has found it necessary to deny he said them — even when there are recordings and transcripts of them — and to brand those who've claimed he said them as crackpots and distorters. More over, that amazing temple to himself, his Web site, has been scrubbed clean of all evidence of these particular remarks, and to "prove" his claim that he never made the remarks in questinon on August 15, he has misdirected visitors to that site to transcripts and recordings of remarks he made on August 12.
As Digby notes, the right wing has made "spin" into a world view and its acolytes have abandoned any belief in objective realilty or facts. We can only hope the wind shifts and Matt Lauer gets clued into the fact that "Pills" Limbaugh is a big, fat, ugly naked pig, but Olbermann seems to have been alone among journalists of national stature who were willing to call attention to this fact.
He's also willing to call out the objectionable beast that is Ann Coulter:
In a recent column, she writes of terrorists, "It is far preferable to fight them in the sreets of Baghdad than in the streets of New York, where the residents would immediately surrender." Ms. Coulter evidently did not know that most of 9/11 occurred in New York, New York, the city in which it's rather obvious that the residents never surrendered. This is from somebody who ran away in terror from a pie. Does this woman even live in this country?
And, of course no discussion of Olbermann's "WPITW" series would be complete without reference to his ongoing battle with Bill O'Reilly, who simply does not have the God given sense to walk away:
The guilty pleasure offered by the existence of Bill O'Reilly is simple but understandable: 99 times out of 100, when we belly up to the Bill-O bar of bluster, we partake of the movable falafel feast — he serves us nothing but comedy, farce, slapstick, unconscious self-mutilation. The Sideshow Bob of commentators forever stepping on the same rake, forever muttering the same grunted, inarticulate surrender, forever resuming the cycle that will take him back to the same rake. The Sisyphus of morons, if you will.
Okay that was a bit cruel of Keith to indulge in a metaphor that Bill will never, ever understand (that is unless George Bush explains it to him) but I digress. The occasion was the "100th time out of 100," when it wasn't funny at all:
"In Malmedy, as you know," Bill O'Reilly said on the air Tuesday night in some indecipherable attempt to defend the events of Haditha, "U.s. forces captured SS forces who had their hands in the air and were unarmed and they shot them dead. You know that. That's on the record. And it's documented." The victims in Malmedy in December 1944 were Americans, Americans with their hands in the air, Americans who were unarmed. That's on the record and documented, and their memory deserves better than Bill O'Reilly.
We all do.
It's comforting to think that since Olbermann called out Donald Rumsfeld for his breathtaking incompetence his ratings jumped 69% in 6 weeks. That this might portend that the era of fashionably mind-numbing stupidity could be coming to an end, and the taste for ignorant, loudmouthed fatheads might be slaking. If so Olbermann has proven himself a worthy antidote, both articulate and entertaining as well as steadfast in his insight even when such honesty did not serve the interests of commerce.
Keith Olbermann is a treasure. And we're really excited that next week he's going to be with us on the book salon to discuss his work, so please join us — as always, same bat time, same bat channel.