If you were one of the 400 members of the listserv Journolist, perhaps one of the most vicious insults you could hurl at a colleague is: You’re just like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.
If the reader holds neutral — or even positive — views about the Fox News hosts, the insult may not sting. But in the cloistered world of liberal listserv enclaves, Hannityism is a cardinal sin. After all, Fox is a “dangerous,” “deranged” “cesspool” that, possibly, the FCC should be investigating.
The feelings against MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, then, must run deep.
“He’s become O’Reilly on the left– completely predictable, unfunny, and arrogant,” said Georgetown University Professor Michael Kazin in May 2009. “To my mind, what they do is no different form Hannity and O’Reilly,” said the New America Foundation’s Michael Cohen, “At least Hannity and O’Reilly engage with the other side (if mainly just to yell at them). Olbermann is just an echo chamber.”
(Cohen later elaborated he was arguing that both MSNBC and Fox News play to political extremes).
At issue was a segment Olbermann had run about Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California who stirred debate in 2009 when she defended traditional marriage.
Following the segment, the subject on Journolist was “I hate Keith Olbermann again,” and the members of the list let it rip.
The Nation’s Katha Pollitt began the group’s rant. “He and Michael Musto did this whole long riff about beauty contestant Carrie ‘opposite marriage’ Prejean’s breast implants, stupidity, breast implants, tacky clothes, earrings, breast implants. They went on and on about how she was ‘part plastic’ and pathetic. You’d think they were celibate vegans who spent their lives zen meditating. It was just a whole TV humiliation of her, and it made me feel sorry for her, which wasn’t easy,” Pollitt said.
Michael O’Hare, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said the segment was “about as funny as a rubber crutch. Odd when a reasonable person’s internal alarm doesn’t go off in a situation like that …’I’m going to ridicule a girl who’s obviously at her personal limits just trying to look conventionally pretty on national TV? What does that make me’?”
O’Hare even suggested friends stage an intervention for Olbermann. “If anyone on the list is a friend of Olbermann, friendship demands that you give him a head-up about this lapse,” he said.
Julian Zelizer, a Princeton professor and CNN contributor, said Olbermann’s root problem is his misogyny. “I can’t take him anytime. I think to write off his mysogyny (sic) as limited to Musto is just not accurate. That very much defined much of how he talked about Clinton as well as others.”
Zelizer was referring to a series of instances during the primary campaign between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when critics from both sides of the aisle criticized Olbermann for allegedly sexist treatment towards Hillary. Olbermann was forced to apologize.
The Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman said a brutal parody of Olbermann reflected his true nature. “I hate both Ben Affleck and Saturday Night Live, but this should end all debate about the merits of Olbermann,” he said, linking to the parody.