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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Charles D. Ellison: MSNBC Leans Backward on Missed Opportunity


What wasn’t said during the Keith Olbermann debacle the other week had little to do with the fact that Olbermann clowned himself into a corner of ideological hypocrite. Let’s forget for a moment that his show is mad predictable or that you know what he’ll say or what his guests will say every hour he airs. Or, that the people he interviews will almost always agree with him. Or, that he’s a highly successful, well-paid talking point. That his angry tirades and on-air volleys at FOX News’ host Bill O’Reilly’s expense are, actually, a bit tired now, the rant that goes on and on. And, that while he blasted Rupert Murdoch and FOX News Corp. for weeks about their contributions to Republican party coffers … he was doing something similar, spreading cash to Democratic candidates he liked.

Let’s just put aside for a few moments the fact that pundits, talk show hosts and, yes, journalists are all a bit cozy with the people we cover. Which is why you won’t find my name when scrolling through donor rolls on the Federal Election Commission database.

And one untold story is that Olbermann’s suspension could have been a direct result of that ongoing and very sour internal rivalry between the un-suspended former ESPN broadcaster and “Hardball’s” Ill-town chatter-ball Chris Matthews. Both can’t stand the other; Olbermann is more public about it while Matthews is old school class. Still, Matthews was MSNBC at one time; he didn’t care much for Olbermann cutting style on his turf. And instead of saving it for post-production, Keith likes to constantly clown Chris on Election Day panels and State of the Union breakdowns. Money is on Matthews pressing MSNBC to suspend Olbermann. Placing all my bets on Olbermann’s people pulling that old 2005 “Hardball” clip of Matthews gushing over guest Glenn Beck. How obvious was that?

But, more importantly, the other untold story is the uncomfortable racial backdrop this occurred on. MSNBC had an opportunity when, for a few minutes, Olbermann’s suspension seemed indefinite. It was the epiphany of color. Perhaps, in its left-leaning “Lean Forward” advertised wisdom, MSNBC would consider a Black or Latino talk show host.

That didn’t happen, and we’re still faced with the network’s insistence on a nearly all-White male talk line-up. Sure: they threw in Rachel Maddow for good measure, but that doesn’t negate the fact that she blends in. MSNBC, for all its liberal platitudes, still does not have a host of color. Despite the fact that plenty of Black folks, for example, watch MSNBC as a primary source of news and opinion. The problem is that the line-up does not comport with the type of image the network wants to foster.

We pick on MSNBC because it puts itself out there as friend of the underserved. It talks the new democracy game, promotes itself as a bastion of “liberal” dogma and “For the People, By the People.” It says it’s down. But, is it really?

What’s the deal with that? Out of all the highly qualified, sharp and politically savvy political analysts of color with the right look, MSNBC can’t find one. Of course, we could hit FOX for the same thing; but, they consistently compensate by putting forward more than the typical cable networks’ share of different faces on panel. CNN has given it a spin, but always fall flat in terms of who they pick, unable to break away from the boredom of the left-vs.-right model. Note to networks: on real, viewers really don’t want that. They want a challenge.

They want different and they want less predictable. They want keep it real.

Perhaps that will all change at some point, when Comcast moves in upon finalizing its merger with NBC. And, they have to put a person of color on who isn’t all rage and activism – who just knows politics and will ask the right questions. It’s time to let MSNBC and others know that we know just as much about the game as those who traditionally dominate it. Between a Black President, an Republican Party chair, going on 45 Black Members of Congress come January, 630 Black state elected officials and 641 Black Mayors, you’d think we do.


(originally appeared in

From The Huffington Post