I watch TV news all day long for a living, so it’s unlikely that I would want to watch more of it when I’m finally off work at 7 p.m., and yet that’s what I find myself doing these days. Radio legend Steve Dahl was a very early enthusiast of Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC (locally, that’s cable channel 46). I don’t know whether he still watches it or not. I used to see the show now and then, and although I have always liked Keith Olbermann‘s sharp writing and wry wit, it still made for too much news in one day, especially in our post-9/11 nightmare world. But now I’m finally hooked.
I’ve been tuning in every night at 7:00 Central since watching one of Olbermann’s blistering “special comments.” These are the occasional seven to ten-minute editorial essays in which he takes the Bush administration to task at the end of his broadcast. They are crisp crescendos of frank speech which provide wonderful relief after my daily diet of what passes for TV journalism, whether it’s the jangling jingoes on one channel, the hyperventilating panic on another, or the dumbed-down fluff on a third. How refreshing it is to have an analytical adult facing the facts that have been sidestepped all day by all the other talking heads.
The first “special comment” that grabbed me was the one following Chris Wallace’s interview of President Clinton on the Fox News Channel. After all the simpleminded coverage of Clinton’s anger, it restored my sense of sanity to see that there is someone on TV who still remembers the actual sequence of events of the last eight years or so — including the outrage of Republicans when Clinton had the nerve to bomb Osama bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan and Sudan on August 20, 1998 (see the video and text).
Working backward online, I next watched Olbermann’s special comment on September 11, broadcast from Ground Zero five years after the World Trade Center was destroyed. In it, he passionately articulated the reasons behind the biliousness I felt when I watched the anniversary ceremonies there that day. In Olbermann’s words, “It is beyond shameful” (watch the video, read the text).
On August 29, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld delivered a speech to the American Legion in which he declared that “any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.” Olbermann responded with a special comment recalling that Winston Churchill was once portrayed as morally or intellectually confused by the government of Neville Chamberlain (see the video and text).
Olbermann also quoted Edward R. Murrow on dissent:
We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.
At a time when a lot of fearful Americans have confused blind complaisance with patriotism, Keith Olbermann is the only person I have seen on television who dares to check our bearings against the maps of history and the cardinal points of our democratic principles. As some newspapers have also pointed out, we are in very dangerous waters.
On Tuesday, President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, sanctioning what the New York Times called “ghastly ideas about ant-iterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217-year-old nation of laws.” Among its many chilling provisions, this brand new law quietly deleted habeas corpus, one of the cornerstones of justice going back as far as the 12th century. But Latin is boring and history is boring and John Mark Karr is, like, totally creepy, so you didn’t see any coverage of our legal system being overturned, and it really shouldn’t concern you — unless, of course, the government ever takes an arbitrary dislike to you or someone you care about.
On the October 10th Countdown, Keith Olbermann explored exactly how drastic our new law is. The segment (see the video and text) was later singled out by Sen. Barack Obama for its excellence. This past Wednesday, Olbermann added a special comment on the topic, called “Beginning of the end of America.” In it, he notes that “We have accepted that the only way to stop the terrorists is to let the government become just a little bit like the terrorists.”
In a stark demonstration of exactly how true those words are, on Thursday the Republican National Committee unveiled a campaign ad which uses the words and images of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri set to a heart-pounding, horror movie soundtrack. It is a wild and desperate stab at scaring America into voting Republican on November 7. As Olbermann asked on Friday, isn’t attempting to win power by terrifying people the very definition of terrorism? On Monday night, he’ll present a new special comment about the ad.
The ad’s colors are deathly and its audio pulses with panic. But among the images intended to spook us into more Republican rule is that ridiculous shot of those al-Qaeda trainees on the monkey bars. When Americans first saw it, many laughed in disbelief. Were we supposed to be frightened of guys on monkey bars?
Now, approaching Halloween, the Republicans are using al-Qaeda’s own PR tricks. How scary is that?
Perhaps the Democrats will answer with an ad featuring Count Floyd.