Who is Keith Olbermann? .. getting real at last on MSNBC

Sep 28th, 2006 | By | Category: USA Today

It is impossible to keep track of everything on the media cornucopia that haunts North America these days, perhaps especially when you live in Canada. So some of us may be pardoned if we have only recently ever heard of Keith Olbermann at MSNBC. On September 26, 2006, in any case, Mr. Olbermann told whoever might be paying attention that Bill Clinton, in his recent Fox News interview, “did what almost none of us have done in five years … He has spoken the truth about 9/11, and the current presidential administration.” And if you do happen to hear even someone in the less massive reaches of the US mass media say such things nowadays, from there on in you are going to remember his name.

The prelude on September 18 …

Most of the counterweights editors first bumped into Keith Olbermann on September 18, 2006, via email from younger and more net-savvy advisors.

His text on this occasion was some September 15 remarks by President Bush, who “fairly spat through his teeth, words of unrestrained fury directed at” his former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. (Mr. Powell had earlier “written, simply and candidly and without anger, that the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.'”)

Mr. Olbermann’s essential criticism of President Bush’s remarks here turned around one “particularly chilling phrase” – in the sentence: “It’s unacceptable to think that there’s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.”

Mr. Olbermann’s essential message was that “It is never unacceptable to think” in a free and democratic society. And he urged the president to “Apologize, sir, for even hinting at an America where a few have that privilege to think and the rest of us get yelled at by the President.”

Bill Clinton’s attack on rapacious republicanism …

All this was quite stirring and impressive, but it only hinted at what was to come on September 26. The text on this occasion was former president Bill Clinton’s Fox News TV interview on September 22 – the one where, under rather aggressive attack from the neo-con interviewer Chris Wallace, Clinton at last spoke up boldly about his own struggles with Al-Qaeda terrorism, and critically about those of current president George W. Bush.

(And the one that prompted the always very lovely but also always quite right-wing politically correct Condoleeza Rice to quickly urge that Mr. Clinton did not leave his younger Bush successors a complete plan for fighting Al-Qaeda – an argument equally quickly disposed of in a few light moments on John Stewart’s Daily Show.)

If you do not yourself believe in the aggressive neo-con governing philosophy that George W. Bush has done so much to bring to life almost everywhere since the fateful day of September 11, 2001, the most immediately striking side of Keith Olbermann’s 2006 commentary on the Bill Clinton Fox News interview no doubt was its ringing declaration that the last Democratic president of the USA today “did what almost none of us have done in five years … He has spoken the truth about 9/11, and the current presidential administration.” And who can doubt that many in North America who are not even all that religious can only say Amen to that?

(Though for serious political philosophers “neo-con” may not be quite the right label for the gospel that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et al continue to preach so fervently, despite all the mounting real-world evidence that even the intelligent designer in the sky is not exactly looking on with approval. A term recently coined by some present-day US students of the jungle-ridden political thought of Niccolo Machiavelli [1469-1527] – “rapacious republicanism” – may at least start to define what has been going on for the past five years now a little more exactly.)

Putting George Orwell to work on George W. Bush …

At the same time, what finally most distinguishes Keith Olbermann’s September 26 commentary on the “Clinton ambush,” for the counterweights editors at least, is the way in which Mr. Olbermann finally brings the deep democratic wisdom of Saint George Orwell to bear on a few too many bad habits in the political practice of the George W. Bush administration in Washington today. Too much of Mr. Bush’s latest rapacious Republican rhetoric on the events leading up to 9/11, Olbermann nicely argues, has been a “sleazy and sloppy rewriting of history, designed by somebody who evidently read the Orwell playbook too quickly.”

Mr. Olbermann goes on: “To enforce the lies of the present, it is necessary to erase the truths of the past’ … That was one of the great mechanical realities Eric Blair-writing as George Orwell-gave us in the book 1984 … The great philosophical reality he gave us, Mr. Bush, may sound as familiar to you, as it has lately begun to sound familiar to me …

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power … Power is not a means; it is an end … One does not establish a dictatorship to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship … The object of persecution, is persecution. The object of torture, is torture. The object of power is power.'”

Of course no one would or could say that the USA today is at all altogether or even very much like the kind of totalitarian militarist society that George Orwell tried to warn us against in his book 1984 – and that General Dwight D. Eisenhower also alluded to when he raised the specter of the “military industrial complex” in the American future. But Orwell did try to warn us against the nightmare of 1984 because he believed it remained an all-too-real possibility in our increasingly complex and technological society, as it continues to confront all the vast new challenges in the new age of the global village. And defeating Nazism and Stalinism was not enough to kill the germ – because there really is a perhaps somewhat quieter version of the same danger lurking even in the evolving English-speaking culture of the United Kingdom and the United States and so forth (or China or India or the Middle East or anyplace else).

If the present-day English-speaking conservative imagination in North America is so determined to revive so much of the earlier 20th century (to say nothing of the later 19th century), it ought to start thinking about reviving the legacies of George Orwell (1903-1950) too. Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann has already happily just done that, for the side of the traditional political spectrum on which Orwell finally placed himself.

(And Mr. Olbermann has also himself bravely reminded us that when we really do believe things in our society are starting to head in some very wrong directions, where we really just do not want to go, the essential theory of the free and democratic society assumes we will all finally have the courage to stand up and speak out. Worldly cynics may say let’s see how long Keith Olbermann’s got a job at MSNBC now. But America is still great because there are still so many Americans, and even Canadians, Mexicans, and so forth, for that matter, who somehow manage to evade such cynicism. In the nearest future that lies ahead, we will no doubt see just how many, Americans at least, on November 7, 2006. In Canada it now looks like we’ll be having to wait a little while longer yet.)

So who is Keith Olbermann anyway?

For a start check out: Keith Olbermann Bio; Wikpedia on Keith Olbermann; An Unofficial Keith Olbermann Fan Site; and Crooks and Liars on Olbermann on Rumsfeld


(and guess which one of these we get in Canada?)

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