Keith Olbermann understands important things: We watch, because we’re paid to

Ruth Graham Contributor
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They’re still paying us, so we’re still watching. Here’s what happened this week on Keith Olbermann.

Friday, January 15: Olbermann was in a philosophical mood on Friday, as he mused about the week’s devastation in Haiti. “Words are of great value; our actions greater still,” he intoned. “The images we have seen, however, may be the most lasting: a catalog of them.” It sounded pretty good, but try not to think too hard about it. The notion that actions are more valuable than words is pretty straightforward, but was he then implying that images are more valuable than either of them? Or merely that they last the longest? If so, why do images necessarily last longer than words? Perhaps he was only referring to spoken words that go unrecorded? And, though it’s natural for a television host to believe it, are images really more valuable than actions?

What were we talking about again?

Never mind. Soon, he was back on terra firma, lambasting some recent remarks by Rush Limbaugh, “a man who took his own spark of humanity and wasted it lighting his own cigar.” (Ok, Keith, I admit it, that is a pretty good line.)

Then it was on to Sean Hannity, who Olbermann lit into for discussing the Massachusetts Senate race instead of Haiti. (I hate to give away the end of this column, but take a guess about whether Olbermann himself will deal with that election’s outcome with a sense of moral balance.) Hannity also drew fire for using the phrase “Hannity’s America.”

As for the series “Keith Olbermann’s America,” that’s totally different.

Monday, January 18: Olbermann came out angry on Monday, like he does on many Mondays, as well as Tuesdays and Wednesdays, most Thursdays and the vast majority of Fridays. This day’s target: Scott Brown, Republican Senate candidate. “You’ve heard Scott Brown respond to the shout from his supporter that they should stick a curling iron into Ms. Coakley‘s rectum with the answer: ‘We can do this,’” he reminded us. (Actually the supporter had used the term “butt,” but, uh, it’s your show, Keith.) Then he called Brown “a supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees.”

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As for the time way back in 2008 when Olbermann happily mused about “somebody who can take [then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton] into a room and only he comes out,” well, that’s totally different.

Tuesday, January 19: A sad night for Olbermann, who glumly watched the Massachusetts results come in and tried, futilely, to make some sense of them. He consoled himself with again calling Scott Brown “an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, sexist, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees,” then making an obscure reference to an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (seriously) and passing the baton to Chris Matthews.

Wednesday, January 20: Is it just me or is Keith’s head looming larger and larger in the screen as the week goes on? Has it always been that large? It’s possible I’m just losing my mind due to prolonged exposure? No matter. Let’s move on, because Olbermann had a big target in his sights tonight: an assistant editorial page editor at the Dallas Morning News.

Calling Michael Landauer out by name for daring to question the host for his name-calling of Scott Brown, Olbermann blasted him for “rabid right-wing howling” and “lies.” Unfortunately for Olbermann, Landauer was not only making a more subtle point than the host realized, he also frequently writes for the paper’s muckraking Texas Death Penalty blog, blasts Republican governor Rick Perry and criticizes “Big Pharma.” Oh, and writes about baseball. Actually, Landauer seems like someone who shares a lot of interests with Keith, and could maybe even be a positive influence on him! Oh, well, perhaps in the next lifetime.

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Thursday, January 21: Near the end of what has been a brutal week for Democrats — the loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, the fading hopes of health-care reform, and the sudden shuttering of Air America — Olbermann hit the ground running.

The money involved in the Watergate scandal was a few million, he pointed out. The corporate money loosed into the system by the Supreme Court decision could be billions. WAKE UP, AMERICA! The amount of money involved in a 1970s presidential burglary scandal rhymes with the amount of money that could be spent on future elections due to fallout from a 2010 Supreme Court ruling. The implications couldn’t be more clear!

After an extended recounting of a scene in “The Producers” — brave regular guest Howard Fineman laughed politely — it was time for a Special Comment. “It may be the last of them,” Olbermann said, teasing us cruelly. He seems to believe an influx of corporate money into the political system could permanently shut down his GE-owned show. But we’d be fools to get our hopes up. Anyway, Olbermann has less to fear immediately from this ruling than he does from his own ratings.

Now, a Special Comment is different than a Quick Comment because it’s more special and not as quick, but the same in that it involves Olbermann setting aside his usual objectivity and telling us what he really thinks. This comment was about “the end of democracy as we know it,” “our Dred Scott,” and “the Supreme Court–sanctioned murder of democracy,” which is the kind of earth-shattering news you might think would lead the show rather than be promoted about 17 times and then given a few blustery minutes starting at ten to the hour. Unless it was maybe just a slight exaggeration? But that doesn’t sound like the Keith Olbermann I know.

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Last week: Keith Olbermann is incredibly smart