At least once a day some reader passes on a link to a Keith Olbermann commentary about George W. Bush.
Olbermann hosts Countdown on MSNBC, a fast-paced hour that is part news, part tabloid, part Entertainment Tonight and a lot of his outsized ego.
This isn’t Oldermann’s first venture into broadcast “news.” A former sportscaster for ESPN and pitchman for Boston Chicken, he tried anchoring a so-called news show (also with MSNBC) during the Clinton years, hosting a nightly talkfest focusing on the Monica Lewinsky debacle, then quit, declared news “out of touch with reality” and returned to sports, joining Fox.
Now he’s back, this time targeting the many failings of the Bush Administration along with almost nightly jabs at ex-employer Fox and ratings rival Bill O’Reilly while delivering nauseating doses of tabloid trash about Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, American Idol, et. al.
However, the most buzz is generated by his commentaries – long rambling tirades against the foibles of the current administration, accentuated with carefully-edited video and enough hyperbole to bring a smile to any carnival barker’s face.
Olbermann is entertaining and his commentaries are sometimes spot on in pointing out Bush’s many shortcomings but he is, for the most part, a caricature of Howard Beale, the “mad prophet of the airwaves” in the move Network and his show proves that movie’s premise that news is more entertainment than substance and more hype than reality.
Countdown features what Olbermann’s producers rank as the top five stories of the day. In reality, only two or on rare occasions three of the stories might qualify as news. The rest are most Entertainment tabloid trash – Britney Spears sightings, Paris Hilton’s latest antics or a nauseating equation of American Idol to substance.
Intertwined is “Oddball,” a collage of humorous video (mostly from foreign countries), top newsmakers (lifted from the wire services) and “Worst Person in the World,” a spot normally reserved for Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News buffoon who, despite sagging ratings, still ranks number one in the cable news time slot that Olbermann hopes, someday, to own.
Liberals flock to Olbermann because he is an unabashed purveyor of propaganda slanted to the left – just as the rabid right wingers follow Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly because they pander to conservative viewpoints.
But Olbermann is no less bombastic or any less slanted than his rivals. He just represents the other side. He is an unabashed liberal who wears his bias on the sleeves of his custom tailored suits and bias – whether right or left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat – is still bias.
Liberals claim the vast wasteland of cable TV news needs Olbermann because he counterbalances the right-wing domination of the market by Fox. When Fox News went on the air, conservatives said the same thing, claiming they needed a right-wing voice to counterbalance what they saw as liberal control of the news.
When bias becomes the central focus of any news organization, truth loses out. Truth cannot co-exist with bias and the public is never served by any operation that delivers news from a singular, pre-determined point of view.
It is not a coincidence that Olbermann came out of the sports broadcasting world. Sports is an ideal breeding ground for the kind of hucksterism that political demagogues like Obermann and Limbaugh practice (Limbaugh was once a baseball announcer). Politics, like sports, is more about hype than substance and putting a sports announcer into the political host chair to call the play-by-play is a natural fit.
Sadly, what the Olbermanns, O’Reillys, Limbaughs and others of their ilk spoon feed a gullible American public is not news or even solid information. It is partisan pap, spiked with hyperbole and laced with entertainment-enhanced glitz.
Olbermann ends each “newscast” with “Good night and good luck,” a salutation “borrowed,” word-for-word, from the late, great newsman Edward R. Murrow.
Murrow, like the news that both cable TV and broadcast networks on both sides of the political spectrum so cheapens with their theatrics, deserves better.