Waiting for Keith Olbermann’s new Huffington Post style media empire?

Jan 23rd, 2011 | By Randall White | Category: In Brief

I just want to (more or less) quickly  express my deep regret at the disappearance of Keith Olbermann and his path-breaking “Countdown” show on MSNBC — announced quite suddenly and unexpectedly Friday night in the penultimate moments of what will apparently be the last installment of one of the few genuinely interesting political programs on US TV. (In my own humble opinion, of course, which will certainly not be shared by those who passionately admire such strident folklorists as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly, etc, etc.)

The first installment of “Countdown” aired on Monday, March 31, 2003, just a dozen days after the start of George W. Bush’s shock-and-awe invasion of Iraq. Like other Canadians on this site, however, I am ashamed to say that I only discovered the Olbermann magic on Monday, September 18, 2006, via an email from our own John Izquierdo. The email nonetheless came in time for the “September 26 [2006] commentary on the ‘Clinton ambush’ … 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.”

Since then I’ve been as regular a follower of the magic as my schedule allows (which, as it happens nowadays, is often enough). I have no inside or outside information about the still mysterious exact reasons for Mr. Olbermann’s departure. For those who want to pursue this branch of the subject  I can only recommend: “Keith Olbermann suddenly exits MSNBC” ; “Keith Olbermann’s Exit —  Secret Deal” ; “Olbermann’s MSNBC Exit Was Weeks in the Making” ; “Keith Olbermann signs off” ;  “Did Keith Olbermann Bolt MSNBC to Create Media Empire?” ; “Did MSNBC Execs Simply Get Tired of Olbermann?” ; “Keith Olbermann, MSNBC part ways” ; and “Corporate Media Loses a Progressive Voice.”

In some respects the opinions advanced in the last article here — by Joseph A. Palermo,  Associate Professor of American History, California State University at Sacramento — are close to my own. But I also think it is interesting that: “Avoiding ideological self-labelling, Olbermann once told the on-line magazine Salon.com, ‘I’m not a liberal, I’m an American.’” I have similarly come to value him myself as a kind of half-successor to the H.L. Mencken (1880–1956) who (according to the British American observer Alistair Cooke) emerged in an earlier era as “the terror of the lawmakers, the churches, the businessmen, and the respectable citizenry, first of Baltimore and then of the whole Republic … the native American Voltaire, the enemy of all puritans … the one-man demolition crew of the genteel tradition, the unregenerate neighborhood brat who stretches a string in the alley to trip the bourgeoisie on its pious homeward journey.”

I am encouraged as well by the speculation that the plainest truth behind Keith Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC is “he really has his eye on creating his own media empire in the style of Huffington Post … That way, Olbermann would control his own brand and, in his view, potentially earn far more as an owner.” Perhaps here too he will follow the H.L. Mencken who graduated from Baltimore newspapers to editing the Smart Set and the American Mercury in New York, and vastly enriched the American culture of his day. (Allowing that Keith Olbermann actually is a more openly political and certainly liberal American than H.L  Mencken, who did not support Franklin D. Roosevelt and admired Ayn Rand, and that we do indeed live in a much different and more technological universe in the early 21st century.)

My strongest immediate feeling is that MSNBC (and/or its new Comcast ownership) has made a big mistake in either “firing” Keith Olbermann or “letting him go,” whichever comes closest to what has in fact happened. The self-confessed American socialist Lawrence O’Donnell will be replacing him at 8, the handsome lesbian vampire Rachel Maddow will still be holding down her 9 o’clock time slot, and the old left-wing populist Ed Schultz will move to O’Donnell’s old 10 o’clock stomping ground. But to me none of these worthy souls will be the same without Keith Olbermann to introduce the evening, as it were (with apologies to Chris Matthews at 7, of course). And I’m not sure just how much I will continue to watch MSNBC in the weeks and months ahead. (I might save myself for some down-the-road premiere of Keith’s “own media empire in the style of Huffington Post,” in time for the 2012 election.)

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