Now that Keith Olbermann packed up his one man hate show and hit the road again, the far left will be hard-pressed to find someone who can spew out progressive vitriol with anything close to the same consistency. And make no mistake, it was Olbermann’s ability to hate with passion night after night that made him such a darling of the far left. All of the leftist talk about “toning down the rhetoric” is just that: talk, intended to silence the most effective voices on the right. The hypocrisy of their position is evident in the fact that Countdown was the highest rated show on MSNBC and, it can be argued, but for Olbermann the network would have folded. Although KO’s ratings never came close to those of his nemesis Bill O’Reilly over at Fox, he did enough to keep the network limping along. The popularity of a guy who – until very recently – offered viewers a daily “worst person in the world” segment was all the proof one needs to show that hateful, strident rhetoric sells on the far left.
Oddly, it was Olbermann’s success that created the conditions that led to his abrupt dismissal. Both Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell owe their positions at MSNBC to Olbermann and those two, along with Ed Schultz, have built up a sufficient base of viewers they can call their own. This is turn allowed management to get rid of Olbermann without having to worry about suffering too much of a hit in the ratings wars.
Ironically, it wasn’t the continuing stream of venom that Olbermann spewed on a nightly basis that got him canned. Nor was it his blatant partisanship. Rather, it seems that his bosses couldn’t stand dealing with the man any longer. Olbermann has always been described as someone who is difficult to work with and, given the narcissism that he displays to the public on a regular basis, that’s not too difficult a charge to believe.
It’s reasonable to expect that Olbermann will be off the air for a while, for whatever agreement that he and MSNBC came to in order to buy out the last two years of his contract, the deal surely included provisions for Olbermann to refrain from taking another job in the media for some period of time. The far left is already lamenting Olbermann’s departure from the scene and I’ll submit that conservatives and libertarians should lament it as well. There are few better examples of over the top, out of control, hate-filled leftists than Keith Olbermann. KO never tried to sugar coat his radical views or to disguise his contempt for anyone who might dare to disagree with him. He exposed leftist thought for what it truly is in other words, in a far more revealing way than your typical “stealth progressive” working at CNN and the big three networks.
As annoying as Olbermann’s rants were, they also served to disabuse the notion that MSNBC was anything approaching an unbiased media outlet. His attacks against then candidate, now Senator, Scott Brown before the Massachusetts special election in 2009 were classic examples of Olbermann unhinged. Brown was and is – at best – a very middle of the road of the Republican and – at worst – a RINO on a lot of issues. Certainly a guy like Olbermann would be expected to oppose Brown in the special election because at the time it appeared that Brown’s election would effectively kill Obamacare. But, for Olbermann to call Brown racist, sexist, homophobic, an abuser of women and to basically portray him as the craziest far right reactionary the nation has ever seen was patently ludicrous. That episode was another example of Olbermann’s blatant partisanship as much as it was his ideological fervor. More than anything, KO was trying desperately to achieve a partisan end: retaining “Ted Kennedy’s seat” for the political party that Olbermann loves. It was such a ridiculously strident performance that even Jon Stewart called Olbermann out afterwards.
Olbermann’s successor, O’Donnell, along with Maddow and Schultz are as every bit true believers in leftist dogma as KO is, but I doubt that any of MSNBC’s new “big three” will have the same sort of appeal or success that Olbermann enjoyed. O’Donnell usually alternates between seeming sounding befuddled and disinterested and whatever passion he does bring to the table from time to time seems manufactured, as though he’s remembering his producer’s instructions to “up the energy level”. The combination of Maddow’s permanently affixed smirk and her smarmy, condescending style make for a ghastly, almost unwatchable show. I suspect that there’s a significant portion of true believers on the far left who – though they might agree with Maddow’s positions in almost every particular – cannot stomach listening to her explain those positions. As for Ed Schultz, one could reasonably expect to find his picture in the dictionary under the definition of the word “blowhard”. Schultz isn’t going to dazzle anyone with the power of his intellect, even among those with whom he aligns himself politically. Leftists love to believe that they’ve got the super-smart on their side, a characteristic that a slick pseudo-intellectual like Olbermann played up to masterfully. Schultz’s “everyman” persona, on the other hand, isn’t likely to have much staying power on the left. In the long run, Schultz will eventually become another intellectually-challenged novelty act on the left, much like Bill Maher.
Thus, while it’s unlikely that Olbermann’s departure means the end of MSNBC anytime soon, it may very well signal the beginning of the networks slow demise. It’s hard to imagine someone else bringing the same mixture of passion, showmanship and ideological commitment to the table. Ultimately of course, Olbermann was a fool. He wasted his talent in order to prop up an unsustainable political cause and to feed his monumental ego. His run at MSNBC followed the pattern of a classic Greek tragedy and, as is always the case in a Greek tragedy, his ultimate downfall can be expressed in a single word: hubris.