Saturday, November 13, 2010


My Interpretation of the Keith Olbermann Affair

On Friday, November 5, three days after the midterm election of 2010, an election that was widely considered to be an indication of an overwhelmingly popular referendum for conservative points of view, Keith Olbermann, a liberal political commentator on a cable broadcast station, MSNBC, was "indefinitely suspended" for making campaign contributions to liberal democratic candidates, one of whom had appeared on his show. One might have assumed that he had impressed Olbermann during his appearance.

Olbermann did not mention the contribution on the air nor did he ask permission of the executives of MSNBC. This was in violation of the policy of the NBC Network so he was ordered to cease broadcasting indefinitely .

By monday some 318,000 signatures were obtained on a petition requesting his return and he was returned to the air as of tuesday, November 9th.

In the context of the evolution of human society from the paleolitic to the present, this was a significant event--not only because it indicates that there is a sizeable, computer active group of people who at least tolerate liberal views immediately after a so-called conservative "landslide" , but because it provides a prototype mechanism for direct democracy working on a global scale.With this kind of mechanism we do not have to depend on honest representation by professional politicians.

Monday, November 08, 2010


The Lesson of Keith

MSNBC ends suspension of host Keith Olbermann

By Paul Farhi Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, November 8

Keith Olbermann's "indefinite" suspension from MSNBC turns out to be definitely short: two days.

The liberal host will be back on the air Tuesday, the cable news network said Sunday night. Which means that Olbermann's punishment for violating NBC's policy against making contributions to political candidates amounted to being taken off the air for only two shows, on Friday and on Monday . Olbermann, the host of the prime-time program "Countdown," was suspended by MSNBC on Friday after news broke that he'd contributed a total of $7,200 to three Democratic candidates in October.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a statement that "after several days of deliberation and discussion, I have determined that suspending Keith through and including Monday night's program is an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy." MSNBC had been deluged with protests over the suspension of Olbermann, who vies with Rachel Maddow as the network's star attraction, with more than 1 million viewers a night. Like many news organizations, including The Washington Post, NBC News prohibits its employees from making political contributions, a ban designed to prevent the appearance of partisanship by a news organization.

Olbermann's "indefinite" suspension without pay touched off a debate about the limits of political involvement by journalists, particularly in an era when many news organizations are erasing the lines between news reporting and advocacy. Partisanship is on particular display each night on the cable news networks, which typically cover the day's political developments from a single point of view (Olbermann's or Bill O'Reilly's programs, for example) or as a debate between talking heads from rival parties.
The issue becomes further blurred when opinionated hosts shuttle back and forth as anchors for major news events. Olbermann and Chris Matthews, who hosts "Hardball" on MSNBC, have both anchored the network's election coverage. Anchors have traditionally tried to stay impartial.
Some -- including Maddow, who follows Olbermann's program each night -- used the episode to attack rival Fox News, which places no restrictions on its commentators' contributions.

"Let this incident lay to rest forever the facile, never-true-anyway, bull-pucky, lazy conflation of Fox News and what the rest of us do for a living," she said on her program Friday. "Hosts on Fox News raise money for Republican candidates. They endorse them explicitly, they use their Fox News profile to headline fundraisers. . . . We are a news operation, and the rules around here are part of how you know that."

The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters found that more than 30 Fox News hosts and contributors had donated to conservative candidates.

But others saw much ado about nothing, in view of the fact that Olbermann is an avowed liberal who is not bound by the same standards of neutrality as traditional news reporters.

"Watch 'Countdown' for five minutes and it's clear that Olbermann is a fierce partisan who uses his program to bolster liberal causes," wrote Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review, in a Web column. "It's an approach that has worked big time, hugely increasing MSNBC's audience during Olbermann's time slot." But he added, "Let's face it: neither Fox nor MSNBC is really a news organization, at least not in the traditional sense. Their primary mission is to espouse political causes. . . . Political activity is what Olbermann and Rachel Maddow and [MSNBC host] Ed Schultz do for a living."


There are two interesting points about this story. First, it shows that corporate bureaucrats like Phil Griffin are right-wing even at MSNBC (as their bosses are) but respond to noisy public protest. Two days is not even a slap on the wrist and the whole even ended as a triumph for Olbermann and an embarrassment for Griffin. If Griffin had simply told Olbermann “gotcha” it would have had more effect. This will simply tell Olbermann that he can safely go farther than he imagined. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Second, it tells the rest of us, “The Great Unwashed”, that things like facebook and twitter and the like have returned to us the power of the old town meeting, but at a scale that Norman Rockwell never imagined. The professional politicians are merely a particular division of the professional management bureaucrats. They have to do a ritual dance so that the Republican Politicians look like they are working for the people who happen to be wealthy (and those who suck up to them), and the Democratic Politicians are working for the rest of us (and the ones like Jim Demint who pretend to be us); but they are all working for themselves and their secret sympathies are with the rich they hope to be. They control and manipulate the electoral system and keep it so expensive that ordinary people can’t afford to get involved except for organizations that are controlled by the Pros.

But a storm of protest on the sites like facebook, twitter and the Blogs blew Keith back on the air in two days. Hardly gave him a long weekend to rest up in.

We could use the same method to move the Democratic Party over to the Left where it used to be when I was a kid. The Democrats used to be a Farmer-Labor Party, and even if the children of the farmers and laborers have turned into Dilberts, we can use the internet to remake the Democrats into a party oriented toward Dilberts, rather than the pointy haired managers.

A “Tea Party of the Left” perhaps.

Pass it on. Get your friends talking about it. We don’t have to depend on professional politicians to express our opinions, we just have to get them pointed in the right direction. We got Keith back on the air in two days, without any support from corporate money. What else can we do? Make Obama into a real Democrat of the FDR or Truman variety? Stranger things have happened.

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