Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment: To Sir with Love

Mary Katharine Ham | Contributor

Last Friday, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC abruptly signed off of his show for the last time, reportedly without even informing his staff that the show was about to end.

The move was theatrical and self-involved— arguably a fitting end for a show whose most notable contribution to the cable news landscape was the “Special Comment.” During the run of the show, Olbermann delivered about 65 “Special Comments,” according to lists maintained by Wikipedia and MSNBC. Announced in advance, and written by Olbermann himself, each consisted of a bellowing, pseudo-intellectual rant peppered with historical references, quotes and dripping with excessive adverbs and moral vanity.

The oft-parodied format (even Olbermann himself parodied it once on “The Soup”) is most recognized for its generous use of the indignant salutation, “You, sir!” which Olbermann used an impressive 173 times, according to transcripts, an average of almost three per essay. Olbermann usually used the words to address President Bush or Dick Cheney, in anger. The number of “sirs” per comment is a pretty good gauge of the rage Olbermann felt toward a particular figure. In one “Special Comment” addressing Bush’s famous comments about how he’d cut down on golf during the war in Iraq, Olbermann used “sir” 15 times. Cheney came in second, inspiring two “Special Comments” with 12 and 13 “sirs,” respectively.

There was a serious “sir” drop-off in 2009 and 2010, as Olbermann used it more deferentially and far less often on President Barack Obama. He referred to Sarah Palin in one comment, as “Madam” and Condoleezza Rice as “Madame Secretary.” The only other woman at whom a “Special Comment” was directed was Hillary Clinton. Olbermann chastised her twice during the 2008 election, but spared her any title or salutation. She remains the only Democrat to receive the “Special Comment” treatment unless you count one directed at the “entire government” shortly after Democrats took control of Congress but failed to stop the war in Iraq.

The comments ranged from just three minutes at their shortest to an hour-long “Special Comment” on health care reform in 2009, entitled, “The Fight Against Death,” but most fell between eight and 16 minutes.

They were almost always preceded by “as promised,” a self-conscious reference to devoted fans waiting anxiously for his pronouncement. He referenced those fans in his final farewell, also, when talking about how he’d almost quit the show in the past: “Your support and loyalty, and if I may used the word insistence, ultimately required that I keep going.”

This video compilation above will likely work for both those loyal supporters and Olbermann haters. If nothing else, the sheer sustained righteous indignation over a four-year period is impressive.

To you, sir, sir, sir, sir, sir, sir, sir, sir, sir ,sir, sir, sir, sir, sir, sir, sir!….we say farewell.

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