Keith Olbermann — nonpartisan crusader for truth: We watch, because we’re paid to

Ruth Graham Contributor
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After a break for Thanksgiving, Olbermann returned to “Countdown” with new perspective, a thankful spirit and a gentle heart. Just kidding! He’s still the worst.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29: Remember when, in early November, Olbermann decided to end his nightly Worst Persons in the World segment after Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity? “The overall message, that the tone needs to change, was not lost on any of us,” he said at the time. “Satire and whimsy have gradually gotten lost in some anger.” By mid-November, he reinstated the segment. But I think of November 29 as the night that Worst Persons truly returned.

The bronze Worst Person award went to “an unnamed 64-year-old do-it-yourselfer” in Germany. He tried to seal up the entrance to his basement, but accidentally sealed himself inside. This isn’t even the worst German-speaking basement-loving old man in the world, let alone the Worst Person in the world. What a dumb story.

The silver went to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. He received the honor because on the Friday after Thanksgiving, FoxNews.com published a story from the Onion without clearly labeling it satire. (Roger Ailes closely edits every article on Foxnews.com, especially on holiday weekends.) Then, when Fox realized the mistake, they fixed it. Jerks.

But the Worst Person in the World award tonight went to Bristol Palin, for participating in a PSA about safe sex along with a “Dancing With the Stars” and “Jersey Shore” star Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. The PSA, which is admittedly painful to watch, was released to a tremendous amount of publicity and mockery back on November 16, but Keith seems to have only just heard about it. His objection is that Palin, who had a baby as an unmarried teenager, is serving as a spokesperson for abstinence, which she has been doing since last year. Next he will be complaining that that guy with the tracheotomy shouldn’t be telling us not to smoke, since clearly he himself was once a smoker so he has no right to talk. It’s an outrage! I’m sick of people with “experience” trying to tell me how to avoid the mistakes they made. I’d much prefer to get advice from people who have never struggled with a particular issue. For example, Keith Olbermann could warn us about the dangers of low self-esteem.

Tonight’s show ended with a tribute to actor Leslie Nielson, a segment that wouldn’t be complete without mentioning “my friend” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Olbermann elegantly summed up Nielson’s career by saying “If tomorrow Gary Sinise, or an actor like Gary Sinise, suddenly showed up in the most hilarious, most cornball, most cliche-skewering comedy movie of the decade, and was so successful in it that he basically never did a serious role again in his life, and moreover so successful that nobody would even remember all his serious roles for the rest of his life, he would be Leslie Nielsen.”

Classic. All the best eulogies are convoluted, mention how no one will remember the first two-thirds of the deceased’s life, and include references to Gary Sinise.

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 30: I enjoyed tonight’s show mostly because Keith decided to note the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, whenever it occurred, by plunging a novelty detonator perched on his desk. I guess it was supposed to be funny? The segment he chose to lead up to this was about slavery. Perfect choice. So he interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page about Southern celebrations of the opening of the Civil War, diving into the problematic racial implications of the celebrations, but warned Page from the outset he’d have to cut away for the tree lighting, and then abruptly did so. The transition was agonizing. Here’s the transcript: “Come on. What do we have?  Thirty seconds, 45? You know, we have to coordinate this with the network. Fifteen, something like that? All right, how many?  What do you got 10?  Two, one.  Oh, it didn’t take.” Great television!

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1: Keith was away tonight, without much warning. Substitute host Chris Hayes, who more often subs in for Rachel Maddow, tweeted that Keith “just has the night off.” Then Olbermann tweeted the next day that he was out sick. Get your stories straight, fellows! I’m normally not much of a conspiracy theorist, but when it comes to Keith Olbermann’s absences from “Countdown,” it pays to be paranoid.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2: Tonight Olbermann conducted an accidentally delightful interview on the START treaty with former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger. Eagleburger held his hands in front of his face, rubbed his mouth, examined his fingernails, scratched his ear, slouched over, scratched his scalp, propped his elbows on the table and wrung his hands. Maybe he thought it was a radio interview? At the end, he thanked Keith for “being nice to this Republican,” and Olbermann replied that that wasn’t his primary concern; he’s only concerned with “whether you’re right,” which, ha! Keith Olbermann, nonpartisan crusader for truth.

This was a weird show overall, in fact: By my count, the word “unicorn” was uttered 6 times across three interviews. Keith read aloud the full text of a Nigerian scam e-mail. He gave the Vulcan salute. He made fun of Donald Trump’s hair, and played two random video clips of people falling down.

He ended the show with a segment on the new discovery of bacteria that doesn’t need phosphorous to live. I hate it when Keith talks about science. Here is an actual serious question he asked of distinguished astronomer Derek Pitts: “If Gene Roddenberry was writing about this idea in 1966 or ’67, why are we just getting around to proving it could happen in 2010?” Oh, Keith. That’s not how science works. And more problematically for you and your viewers, that’s not how a television interview works either.