Like a lot of Americans who have had it up to here with the current administration, I watch Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. Like a lot of people who watch Keith Olbermann, I’m not a 100 percent fan. The Special Comments set my teeth on edge, although that’s because they’re badly written, not for the content, and anyway, they’re rare. There are times when the whole business just grates, too — the Fox-baiting, mainly, which feels a little like junior high school. I tire of the same old Washington Post talking heads; give Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson a night off once in a while. But I give Olbermann, and MSNBC, credit for trying to create an alternative to the rest of cable news, a place where people who’ve had it up to here, etc., can feel a little less alone, if not in the world, then in their living rooms.
Through Olbermann I found the delightful Rachel Maddow, who is such a joy to have a girlcrush on. I love everything about her, but especially her flaws. Her eye makeup looks like it was settled on in a high-level conference between the leadership of the National Organization for Women and a drag queen. Maddow, whose off-the-air aesthetic is crunchy-granola lesbian, with the short hair and the Buddy Holly glasses and the no-fuss wardrobe, wears her required-for-TV blazers as though their linings were actually hairshirts, and who can’t love a girl who’s uncomfortable on TV? I was on TV for a few years, and I was never comfortable there. I feel Rachel’s pain, and love the way she bears her burden with such good humor, destroying Pat Buchanan and the other geezers they put before her. I would love to see her one-on-one with someone like Ann Coulter or Bill Donohue or Sean Hannity, all of whom she would bring down effortlessly with the beams of truth in her mild gaze.
It’s always fun to watch someone on their way up in the world, because you know the next thing is coming. That it would be her own show preceding Olbermann was no surprise, but I was a little taken aback by this memo from the ivory tower, by Rem Reider on the American Journalism Review website. He calls the elevation of Maddow to Dan Abrams’ old seat “a good call,” then harrumphs:
It’s yet another step in the polarization of the American media. Keith Olbermann followed by Rachel Maddow means two back-to-back hours of hard left television.
Whuh? “Hard left?” I must have missed something. Olbermann is a millionaire, and Maddow, if not one already, will certainly be one very soon. To me, millionaires aren’t hard leftists. What both of them are is anti-Bush. To the extent that Rove, et al have succeeded in labeling anyone who opposes the policies of the current president “hard left,” well, I salute them. Good work, comrades!
For years, American newspapers and television news organizations clung to the idea that they were nonpartisan, down the middle. Sure, there was the endless whining from the right about the “liberal” media. (Today, of course, cries of media bias from the left are at least as vociferous as those from the right.) But however imperfectly, most news organizations tried to report the news without an obvious political point of view.
Then along came Fox, a 24-hour news cable channel with a clear right-wing orientation. And it was a major success, outdrawing cable news pioneer CNN. There obviously was an audience eagerly waiting for it.
…Following Olbermann with Maddow …reflects and reinforces the trend toward separate megaphones for separate audiences. As in the blogosphere, with its pugnacious mix of conservative and liberal Web sites, there is political TV for the left and political TV for the right.
Increasingly, we are a nation of partisans talking only to themselves.
I think about this a lot. A friend who went through j-school with me said the other day, “We were taught that if you shone the light of truth on something, it would be enough.” But it wasn’t. Isn’t that the lesson of the Lesley Stahl/Ronald Reagan flag story? The truth isn’t what you say it is; the truth is always malleable. Shine the light of truth on some people, and they’ll make shadow puppets. Or they’ll say, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” “True enough” is plenty good for most.
Jon Stewart is another one of my faves. I love Jon Stewart because, alone among people who sit behind a desk and talk to me, he seems to be telling me the truth. Middle-aged folks are always clutching their chests and bemoaning that young people watch Stewart the way their parents watched Cronkite, and oy what a crime that is. Well, no. Have any of them watched “The Daily Show?” Have you ever seen him do an interview? It’s funny, but it’s also really, really good. He asks questions you wish so-called legitimate journos would, like, “Are you serious?” The point in his interview with Jonah Goldberg where he throws his head back, mouth agape, and stares at the ceiling says more about his subject, and certainly his subject’s preposterous book, than anything written in the serious media.
It’s true that we’re a nation of partisans talking to ourselves, but maybe that’s not such a terrible thing. Fort Wayne, Indiana, once had six daily newspapers, and it survived. There were probably a dozen or more in the larger cities, and they survived. The so-called “objective” press is a fairly recent invention, and came, I’m convinced, from the business side, not the ivory tower — it’s a lot easier to sell newspapers to everyone if you at least pretend to be fair. (There’s a downside to that. Exhibit one: The editorial page of most newspapers, full of on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that chin-stroking, which ends in, “Who is right? Only time will tell.”)
I do worry what will happen when everyone seems to be working from their own set of facts, but I have to have faith that facts are stubborn things and can be sorted out. You don’t hear so much about the Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim thing these days.
Maybe it’ll be easier for Reider, et al, to think of Olbermann, et al, as entertainment, like Jon Stewart, et al. It is for me, certainly. I read 50 news sources a day, at least. Certainly I can indulge myself in a little Olbermann/Maddow one-two once in a while, right?
I’ll visit your armed camp if you’ll visit mine. A little prisoner exchange, say.
Twelve-year-old boy taken to hospital after accidentally igniting a gas can while trying to light a fart. When I discussed this with Alan last night, he confessed he’d never actually seen this done and wondered about the length of the flame. Bic-length, or flamethrower? Poor boy (Alan). How did he reach manhood without witnessing this Boy Scout spectacle?
Also, poor boy with the burns on his ass.
Have a good day.