Keith Olbermann is a serious journalist: We watch, because we’re paid to

Ruth Graham Contributor

FRIDAY, JANUARY 22: For Keith Olbermann, last week ended like this one began, and lo, how this week ends so next week shall begin: In a state of apoplectic rage.

This time, it was over the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow corporate funding in elections. Just how dangerous was this decision? Introducing Common Cause president Bob Edgar as a guest on Friday, the host made it clear: “Mr. Edgar was involved in getting top officials in the 2008 Obama campaign and 2008 McCain campaign to author an op-ed decrying this pernicious ruling. That‘s how pernicious it really is.” Did you catch that? They wrote an op-ed! That means you know it must be serious, because only a few events in modern American history have warranted the writing of op-eds.

The hour ended, as it often does, with Olbermann patting himself on the back. “You‘ll often hear Rachel Maddow and I lumped in together with Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show’ as the only truth-tellers in mainstream television,” he said casually, as if this was a thing we had actually all often heard and that warranted no further explanation.
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He pressed on to offer an unusually good-natured apology to Mr. Stewart, who had complained that he had “ceded the high ground” and resorted to “baseless name-calling.” Olbermann’s un-Olbermannian response: “I have been a little over the top lately. Point taken. Sorry.”

In the silence that lingered, all 17 of his viewers reached for their remotes to make sure the volume was still working.

MONDAY, JANUARY 25: Monday’s guests had some cold water to throw on Olbermann’s various dystopian visions. First, that Supreme Court ruling again, which he has said will mean that “sooner, rather than later, [corporations] will implant the legislators of their choice in every office from president to head of the Visiting Nurse Service.” Guest Ezra Klein: “My sense is that, actually, it won‘t have a very large material impact on the way elections are conducted.”

Hmm. Ok. Well, there must be something to freak out about. How about the midterm elections?

OLBERMANN: This is 1966, times 1994, plus—I don‘t know, the Chicago fire all mixed into one.
GUEST MARGARET CARLSON: Well, you know, the panic is a little over done.
OLBERMANN, barely masking his disappointment: Yes.

Sigh. What a letdown of a day. Hopefully something horrible will happen tomorrow.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 26: Great news! Something awful happened! And let’s have a little fun with it. Which of these three misogynist comments was made by Bill O’Reilly?

1.“You‘ve got to kidnap Pelosi and Reid. … No waterboarding. Well, maybe with Nancy.”
2. “Michelle Malkin is just a big mashed up bag of meat with lipstick on it.”
3. “Somebody … can take [Hillary Clinton] into a room and only he comes out.

Answer: #1 was spoken recently by Bill O’Reilly. The other two were courtesy of Olbermann himself in 2009 and 2008, respectively. He eventually defended #3 as “a metaphor,” but since Olbermann is the only person who has ever spoken in metaphor, he naturally took O’Reilly’s comment at face value: “[O’Reilly] says it because he wants somebody to do it. When I call him on it, I don‘t care if fewer people watch this show as a result. [Ed. Note: that’s a relief.] This man is dangerous, year in, year out.”

For the record, Olbermann called Nancy Grace “the avenging angel in pancake makeup” during Tuesday’s show, but technically that’s a gender-neutral slur since Olbermann himself is almost certainly slathered in pancake makeup, too.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 27: The story of James O’Keefe’s arrest for tampering with phones in Senator Mary Landrieu’s office has been Olbermann’s bête noir for what seems like approximately a decade now. Let me check my notes. Ok, it has actually only been two days, but keep in mind that one day is equivalent to 33,500 Olbermann hours, which is the measurement unit for the amount of time it feels like you’ve been watching Keith Olbermann. It’s kind of like wind chill.

Anyway, the debacle started as a vast wire-tapping conspiracy that would be the next Watergate — Olbermann loves a good Watergate comparison — but as the week progressed it became clear that this was just another stunt intended to be recorded for Internet glory, and the phones were not being tapped at all. Olbermann, undeterred, declared of the evidence that “The possible absence of more does not mean there is not enough.” Which, if we could figure out what it meant, might actually be true so far as it goes.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 28: Guest Greg Mitchell, former editor of Editor & Publisher, made the case on Thursday against O’Keefe’s apparent investigation by arguing that it was not journalism. Journalism, he said, is “not advocacy. It’s people who go out and bust their butts.”

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Well, that was awkward. From his usual advocacy-driven, sitting-down position, Olbermann spluttered a bit. “Well, even as a journalist you can espouse views and maintain sufficient journalistic integrity.” As evidence for this integrity: “We’ve dropped stories when our own fact-checking determined … they weren’t true, so we did not report them. That’s the distinction.”

I suppose in an environment like this, you take pride in what you can. So let’s end the week with another pat on the back for Keith Olbermann, this time for not knowingly reporting falsehoods. Then again, “the possible absence of more does not mean there is not enough.” (Did I use that right, Keith?)

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