Friday, November 05, 2010

A Hunt Slips Through

My first reaction to the news to-day that MSNBC has suspended Keith Olbermann indefinitely without pay for financially contributing to the campaigns of three Democrats was that The Rally to Restore Sanity was at least indirectly responsible.

Relationships between MSNBC anchors and its brass have long been notoriously fractious, particularly in Olbermann's case, and I've heard the people in charge are hardly the liberals that the network's MO would lead you to think. MSNBC's identity as the Left alternative to Fox News was largely crystallised by Olbermann's spearhead. The people in charge saw the savvy of throwing in their lots with the Left, particularly in light of an increasingly Democratically controlled government.

But now, where CNN took the words of Jon Stewart to fire people and restructure with little effective contemplation as to the reasoning behind Stewart's criticism, MSNBC president Phil Griffin probably felt secure in punishing Olbermann on such an insubstantial pretext because the widely beloved and recently very popular Jon Stewart really doesn't seem to like Keith Olbermann. Although Jon Stewart appears on Bill O'Reilly's show with some frequency and has O'Reilly as a guest on his show, Stewart has not done the same for Olbermann, who's often seen as O'Reilly's direct rival. Like all of MSNBC's programming, Olbermann's ratings are significantly lower than those attracted by Fox News, which also makes Olbermann more vulnerable.

I can sympathise with Stewart's position--Olbermann does often go over the top with his inferences and rhetoric. But for all the wrong things Olbermann does, there are a hundred things he does right.

The speech Jon Stewart gave at his rally was essentially a Special Comment, and not nearly as effective as Olbermann's tend to be, because Stewart's productions are fundamentally about illuminating the really self-evidently ridiculous but sacrosanct--it's funny when Stewart points out the obviously ridiculous lines of reasoning Fox and the Bush administration presented because we could already tell these things were absurd, but we still have enough of an imbedded willingness to believe a government administration or a news organisation to be relatively reluctant to take their duplicity as plain fact.

Stewart fails when he writes from the premise of equivalency. He's always had this problem--I've watched The Daily Show since its first episode, when it was still hosted by Craig Kilborn. I remember during the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, after making fun of Bush's obvious lack of qualification, Stewart felt compelled to show a montage of clips of Al Gore using his "locked box" metaphor. The pattern rears its head even now--as Stewart was mocking the news networks' election coverage a couple days ago, he concluded with clips of Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann grinning a little smugly about the caveats of the Republican victory.

Sometimes I think it's Stewart's friendship with Colin Quinn. One can't listen to The Howard Stern Show for long without becoming aware of the fact that Colin Quinn seems to be really good friends with nearly every prominent New York comedian, and he's also right wing. Perhaps its loyalty to Quinn and other right wing comedians that drive Stewart to the equivalency penance. Mostly it reminds me of priests who speak out against homosexuality violently and turn out to be carrying out secret affairs with members of the same sex--there's a lot of self loathing involved.

Which reminds me of this;

Which, except for the song at the end, I thought was really great. This is what spending five hours a day on The Howard Stern Show does to a guy, I think, and I should point out that's not exactly an environment of cool, considerate men.

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