Hey MSNBC, you’ve made your point — Put Keith Olbermann Back On The Air NOW!

Nov 7th, 2010 | By Counterweights Editors | Category: USA Today

Keith Olbermann (centre) and assorted colleagues at his fifth anniversary as anchor of MSNBC’s “Countdown,” April 2008.

On one view of life in the cooler northern wilderness, we ought not let our minds linger too long in the southern heat of US politics. But of course what happens down there has vast influence on us up here. When we Canadians travel in the wider global village everyone thinks we are Americans anyway. Most of us who blog on this site watch far too much US TV. And especially on the old Frank Underhill theory that “practically all Canadians … vote Democratic in American elections,” sometimes the issue is far too important to ignore.

The issue in this case is summarized by such recent news headlines as: “Keith Olbermann pays price for political donations … Host of MSNBC’s ‘Countdown’ suspended indefinitely without pay” ; “Keith Olbermann Suspended from MSNBC for Political Contributions … Face of Left-Leaning Network Suspended for Donating Money to Democrats” ; “Olbermann Suspension ‘Ridiculous’ …  CNN’s Eliot Spitzer became the latest in a long line of critics to blast MSNBC’s decision to suspend Keith Olbermann indefinitely in the wake of his campaign donations to three Democratic candidates.” ; and “200,000 [now 274,943 as we write — and then 306,685, at the time of the UPDATE below] sign petition for Olbermann … Keith was one of the only people speaking truth to power for years — and we need to speak truth to power now, for him. Sign the petition today — then tell your friends.”

Keith Olbermann at the MSNBC tent, covering the Democratic National Convention in Denver, August 2008.

In the midst of our (well, comparatively) peaceful northern solitudes we first became aware of Keith Olbermann in the fall of 2006 — when he suddenly burst into our consciousness as someone who actually was speaking truth to power in the wilds of the Bush-Cheney USA.

See our “Who is Keith Olbermann? .. getting real at last on MSNBC,” where we urged: “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.”

Over the past four years, we have not only remembered Mr. Olbermann’s name. We have become avid watchers of his week-nightly show on MSNBC TV. We watch many other things as well, of course — including a great deal from and about our own country. But there is no doubt in our minds that Keith Olbermann has added enormously to the balance and realism of political coverage available on the US commercial media.

Baseball nerds Keith Olbermann, his “dear friend” (but apparently now ex-girlfriend) Katy Tur, and actor Jason Bateman (LA Dodgers season ticket holder), Spring 2009. Keith is also a veteran sports journalist, whose mother loved baseball.

He has not done this by pretending to a political neutrality that no one seriously achieves — or ever can hope to. (As the vast enterprise of American political science over the past half century ought to make clear.) But that is one of his strengths. And it is no exaggeration, we think, to say that, whatever your ideological persuasion, keeping people like Keith Olbermann on US TV is very important for the continuing health of what our Canadian Constitution Act 1982 calls the “free and democratic society,” around the world today. (The right side of the political spectrum may not care very much about civil rights and the breadth of democratic debate in this sense: it is one of the continuing glories of the left that it does!)

We would also agree that MSNBC had no choice but to rap Mr. Olbermann’s knuckles, for not following the technically exact letter of the network’s law regarding the transparency of political contributions. And this no doubt has its importance too. But the knuckles have now been rapped. It is time to put Mr. Olbermann back on the air. For one thing, up here in Canada we will be hard pressed to get through the winter months now pressing hard upon us, without his wise counsel on just what is really going on in our friendly giant neighbour of the USA today — to say nothing of his warm James Thurber readings on Friday nights.

Keith Olbermann and another dear friend and MSNBC protege, alleged “lesbian vampire” political pundit Rachel Maddow, May 2009.

(And if you have not yet signed the petition to this effect to the powers that be at MSNBC, you can CHECK IT OUT HERE. A quick word of further advice in this context if you do live in Canada, like quite a few in the regular MSNBC audience we would guess: Don’t bother filling in the part of the form that asks for your zip number. It will just come back saying you have entered the information incorrectly, if you try to use our, in US terms, somewhat eccentric Canadian postal codes! Which, like our supposedly socialist health care system, we of course still have a free and democratic right to keep on using, regardless of what any ill-informed right-wing critics from other countries may say.)

UPDATE 12:30 AM ET, NOVEMBER 8: Well … soon enough MSNBC has announced that Keith Olbermann will be back on the air Tuesday, November 9. And the announcement on the MSNBC website does mention “an online petition calling for his immediate reinstatement.” So … congratulations to all involved. If only all progressive protests could elicit such positive results so quickly! As the reformers of the 19th century used to say, “what a world it would be … but that would be the kingdom of heaven on earth, etc, etc”

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