In an interesting blog post today, Harvard Business professor, and Obama voter Bill George argued that MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is hurting America. George said, “Olbermann cheapens discourse. He touts easy solutions. He speaks in truculent soundbites. His invective is hurting America!” This leads to the question are progressives sick of Olbermann?
Here is how Mr. George described Olbermann’s MSNBC program Countdown, “An uncompromising megaphone of partisan rancor, Olbermann perpetuates the single-mindedness and inflexible partisanship that now roil the country, both on and off Capitol Hill. His rants against former President Bush, former Republican politicians, and shock-media rival Rush Limbaugh contribute little to constructive debate about how we can fix today’s true problems. And his soapbox forays in such segments as the “Worst Person in the World” – a daily lambast of often unsavory, but many just politically conservative characters – have made Mr. Olbermann the news day’s political alienator and ire-monger of choice for the partisan left.”
Before anyone gets the idea that his post is a one sided attack on Olbermann, this is what he had to say about Fox News, “Granted, his rivals at FOX News drum up discord just as effectively and dangerously as Mr. Olberman. But the President has called time and time again for our country’s leaders to rise above pettiness and assume the mantle of dispassionate, consensus-centric leadership. I agree wholeheartedly that this culture shift is the only means by which we can hope for a return to prosperity, and must acknowledge that any effort counter to that is harmful to America.”
George’s larger fear is that people like Beck and Olbermann hurt the political discourse in this country, by stressing partisanship over the issues. I think his larger point is right on, but it presents a chicken or egg question. Is cable news driving the partisan divide, or is it only reflecting the current state of American politics?
I believe that the cable news environment is simply a reflection of the hyper partisan state of our national politics. If we could wave a magic wand so that Beck and Olbermann’s programs were more balanced, it wouldn’t change the underlying political climate. Blaming primetime cable news for this is giving them too much credit.
Olbermann’s ratings seem to have peaked out. Olbermann will always draw his 1-1.3 million total viewers a night, but his show has not been growing. In fact, his show has seen slight declines in audience share, while the program that follows it, The Rachel Maddow Show has been growing.
Have progressive viewers gotten tired of Keith Olbermann? At this moment, the answer is no, but his aggressively partisan show has ceiling on its growth. Personally, I have gotten tired of Olbermann’s nightly outrage, and continued griping about the Bush administration. Someone needs to tell Keith that the Democrats won, and it is ok to move past the Bush years.
Olbermann has the kind of show that works best when it is reflecting the opposition voice. It was perfect for the Bush years, but today, his program is very one sided, and I think that it could benefit greatly from having some opposing voices on.
I hear from readers from time to time, who express some Olbermann fatigue. The problem for Keith is that sometimes he begins to sound like a broken record. I think his show could use some reorienting and freshening up, or else Rachel Maddow may pass him as the face of MSNBC.
Mr. Easley is the founder/managing editor and Senior White House and Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association