JANUARY 22, 2011 8:31PM

End of an Era: The Symbolic Significance of KO's Departure

Rate: 3 Flag

One thing you can rely upon: Keith Olbermann's tenure will end, sooner rather than later, and it will end badly. One can only account for this pattern, as Scanner has, in personal terms. Olbermann is a piece of work whose passion, intellectual, political and otherwise, will not remain forever harnessed to the engines of a corporate agenda. Fair enough. I will miss him, but I knew I would be missing him at some point in the near future.

Having acknowledged as much, it is hard not to read Keith's departure at this particular juncture as emblematic. After the Clinton years, in which the democratic party became a political wing of the financial and venture capital establishment, the excesses of George W. Bush helped to generate a  progressive (none dare call it liberal!) awakening in America, of which Keith Olbermann, with his ferociously eloquent "special comments," was the most prominent media spokesman, and Barak Obama was the main political beneficiary.

Now, with the extension of the Bush tax cuts secured, White House recommendations for greater deregulation in the offing, the war in Afghanistan continuing with widespread Republican support, along with the war on human rights and individual liberties, Obama's poll numbers-- which cratered upon completion of his most (only?) progressivist success, the Health Care bill--are now rising at a dramatic rate, putting him in position to be the "comeback kid" II, in every sense of the term. That is Obama will, as seems only rational at this point, pursue a "centrist" (read center-right agenda) a la Clinton himself, but probably more rightward leaning. In the areas lised above, particularly human rights, this will just be more of the same, but in the economic arena it will mean gestures toward job creation that are little more than sops to the corporate money which, thanks to the Supreme Court, will saturate the political process like never before. Under these circumstances, a voice like Olbermann's was becoming not less relevant, certainly, but less influential, less impactful. In the months leading up to the 2012 election, that voice was bound to become as muted in effect as it is now in fact. While Olbermann maintained as independent perspective as was possible in an era of bipolarized political philosophy, as well as practice, the dynamics of bi-polarity always exerted a certain pressure upon him to identify with the democratic party even in their less (and less) progressive manifestations. That pressure could only have increased going forward and could only have put Olbermann at increasing variance with his own political sensibilities. Perhaps he recognized as much. Perhaps he felt, as I do, that the Comcast takeover at MSNBC was but the institutional correlative of the larger ideological cooptation of the recent progressive energy to an agenda of retrenchment-lite. (His replacment by a political hack like Lawrence O'Donnell is its personification) Perhaps that is why he left, or allowed himself to be excused. Perhaps he knew that he was the voice of a progressive awakening that was now going back to sleep. Perhaps not. but to me anyway his sudden retirement from the televisual field of political debate and controversy is the very symbol of the retirement of left-leaning ideas from the playbook of mainstream political policy and critique. 

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I think the simpler answer is that he was a jerk to his bosses and his ratings weren't good enough that they felt like tolerating it. He's had these spats before and gotten fired/resigned then too.
Well McGarret, you may be right. But his ratings are the best on MSNBC by long chalks. What is more they are better than any show on CNN has. While his ratings pale in comparison to O'Reilly, they are not all that uncompetitive with a Hannity, and for MSNBC that is saying something. In fact, his show put MSNBC prime time on the map and then kept it there. It may be true that the network honchos believe that their enterprise is now self-sustaing and can operate without Olbermann, just as ESPN did years ago. and they may be right. On the other hand, they are not selling a product nearly so popular as the NFL, and the fall off fromOlbermann to Lawrence O'donnell or Ed Schulz is huge.
I really don't know what Olbermann's exit was all about. I only know that in the suffocating and isolating Bush years--(I say that b/c I live and work among staunch conservatives)--he was like a savior to me. His special comments, especially early on when objections to Bush et al were not trendy or cool, were spot-on. I think later he went over-the-top, and I don't so much refer to content as to style and frequency, but I will not ever forget that small and imagined but sanity-saving comraderie I had with him during GWB's reign.