Unabashedly liberal, Olbermann insisted on reporting facts, modeling his style after legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow, who stood up to Senator Joe McCarthy, the fanatical communist hunter of the 1950's. He even borrowed Murrow’s closing: “Good night and good luck.”
In his nearly eight years on MSNBC, ,the host of “Countdown” was the first in the media who had the temerity after 9/11 to criticize George W. Bush and help charter the course for others in the mainstream media to also challenge Bush. He gave voice to some at his own network, as well as countless viewers, by demonstrating a style that could be simultaneously over-the-top and elegantly intellectual to demonstrate a righteous anger at the constant barrage of lies and propaganda perpetrated by the right wing, particularly on Fox News.
After it became obvious that the WMD tale promulgated by Bush to lead us into war was a complete and total fabrication, he read one of his many stem winding commentaries, which became legendary, and punctuated it by looking at the camera and stating, “You, sir, are a liar!”.
Olbermann hosted the top rated news show at the network so it wasn’t poor ratings or lack of ad revenue that resulted in his expulsion. For eight years his passionate dedication to the profession of broadcast news led to a string of other liberal shows on the network hosted by Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell. Even politically ambidextrous types like Chris Matthews displayed responsiveness to liberal viewers and their concerns. Ratings for the network and the prime time news block were never higher. While it might have been just a simple parting of the ways, Keith Olbermann’s sudden exit from television looked suspiciously like something other than good business and good broadcast journalism.
Although so far unsubstantiated, informed speculation has so far abounded that the ouster was triggered by execs at NBC to assuage the demands of Comcast ownership in advance of their takeover. Merely two days earlier, Comcast’s historic proposed merger with NBC Universal won approval from the FCC and Justice Department, clearing the way for the largest U.S. cable company to combine with a national broadcaster. It is easy to imagine the new right-wing honchos at Comcast as being unwilling to stomach Olbermann’s in-your-face displays of the cold, hard, truth.
It is well understood in the corporate media world that Comcast chief, Brian Roberts, is a political über-conservative who served as co-chairman of the 2000 Republican convention and allegedly achieved Bush Ranger status for having raised at least $200,000 for George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004. It was clear that,t from his new perch as CEO, Mr. Roberts would not easily tolerate an employee who was as brazenly critical of Bush and the Republican Party as Keith Olbermann. So it is no great leap to imagine Roberts considering it his patriotic duty to destroy the only foothold of liberal-oriented broadcast news on television.
Olbermann’s swift departure by NBC/Comcast should serve as a wake-up call, for progressives. They could soon find themselves systematically silenced, just like Olbermann, with no voice for their political interests. While Conservatives have built a vast media infrastructure—from newspapers, publishing houses, and ownership of 90% of AM radio stations to a major TV network serving purely Republican Party purposes- progressives have treated the media as a low priority.
In time, unless liberals work to build media counterparts to the ever increasingly popular personalities on Fox News and to talk radio titans like Rush Limbaugh, their voices will be no more than cries in the corporate right-wing wilderness. The mainstream media in America is now held by six corporate conglomerates—- Westinghouse/CBS, Walt Disney/ABC, News Corp/FOX, Time-Warner TBS, Viacom, and GE/NBC Universal. Not a liberal outfit in the bunch.
This latest purchase of NBC by Comcast and the elimination of Keith Olbermann are prime examples of the inexorable movement of the nation toward a feudal Corporatocracy maintained, in large part, by complete mass media control.
“Good luck” is right. As a free press slowly disappears and dissenters become voiceless, we will need it.