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Keith Olbermann's biases are well known. His loathing of Fox. His Olbsession with Bill O'Reilly. His contempt for the current administration, and particularly its efforts in Iraq. The latter has sometimes taken him to the edge of respectable discourse. And while he has left indirect implications that disparage US troops, Keith Olbermann has been careful to avoid leaving fingerprints. Until now. Until the two words that end all doubt about his attitude toward our American servicemen and servicewomen.
The date: Friday, February 9, 2007. The segment: Worst Person in the World. In order to analyze the import of what Herr Olbermann said, it is helpful to hear it yourself [mp3 audio]:
Keith's comments about Anderson Cooper are remarkable on several levels. It was less than two weeks earlier that Olby lambasted Fox for running an ad about Cooper that was nowhere near as vitriolic as his own broadside. It is not known whether Cooper's recently signed contract, reported to be quite lucrative, is Olbermann's real impetus for his denunciation. But in any case, this portion of the segment, while it sets the stage, is not our concern here.
More to the point are Olbermann's comments on Bill O'Reilly, Col Ken Allard, and William Arkin. This last is a blogger on washingtonpost.com and a military analyst for NBC and MSNBC. Comments he has made online and in interviews have been highly controversial, to say the least. For that reason, it is important to know precisely what he said.
On washingtonpost.com, Arkin wrote:
I've been mulling over an NBC Nightly News report from Iraq last Friday in which a number of soldiers expressed frustration with opposition to war in the United States....
These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President's handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect. Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform....
We don't see very many "baby killer" epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon. So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?...
The recent NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.
He later added a follow-up:
I was dead wrong in using the word mercenary to describe the American soldier today. These men and women are not fighting for money with little regard for the nation. The situation might be much worse than that: Evidently, far too many in uniform believe that they are the one true nation. They hide behind the constitution and the flag and then spew an anti-Democrat, anti-liberal, anti-journalism, anti-dissent, and anti-citizen message that reflects a certain contempt for the American people.
Arkin next appeared in a live interview, where, among other things, he stated:
I nowhere suggested that the troops shouldn't have the right to speak up. I merely said we shouldn't put them on such a pedestal that they are above criticism if they say stupid things!... The fact that these guys in uniform don't understand that tells me that they are badly schooled...
Then Col William Allard, former NBC military analyst, wrote a column for the San Antonio Express News:
As soon as they read the blog--or at least gauged popular reaction to it--I figured NBC News would lose no time firing Arkin, a colleague during our occasional television stints together as military analysts. There has long been an unwritten but well-understood policy governing outside experts appearing on TV: Hold any opinion you choose, but don't do anything to embarrass the network....
But it is becoming increasingly apparent that Arkin won't be fired despite having gone well beyond those bounds--and not for the first time. In 2003, for example, he tried to blacklist a decorated Green Beret general as a "Christian jihadist." In 2005, he published an astonishing primer on deciphering American military code names and covert operations.
Naturally, controversy helps boost ratings. But NBC executives now appear determined to avoid any appearance that the public is somehow being stampeded into supporting the war--by troop surges, Iranian aggression or anything else.
When the war had broad popular support, the network relied on commentary by distinguished generals such as Barry McCaffrey, Wayne Downing and Bernard Trainor: Now that it is going badly, they simply find Arkin a convenient receptacle.
Bill O'Reilly invited Col Allard to discuss his column on The Factor. The interview (which can be seen here) was informative and respectful. Yet Olby claimed that O'Reilly "dragged" Allard onto the air, and KO asserted Allard was a "personal friend" (never a good sign). Keith accused the "swine" O'Reilly of "forcing words" into Allard's mouth, adding that the latter had a stroke last year. Olbermann's suggestion seems to be that stroke victims are stupid: mere mental midgets who can be manipulated like a ventriloquist speaks for his dummy. (In fact, KO called O'Reilly a "ventriloquist"!) How then does Keith explain Allard's column? Of course, as the interview demonstrates, the stroke did not impair the Colonel's intelligence one iota. It did not make him simpleminded. Allard's insights, as valuable as ever, were imparted with eloquence and dignity.
And yet, it was not enough for Keith Olbermann to imply his "personal friend" was mentally impaired as a pretext to vilify O'Reilly. As fanatics often do, he went too far. Quoting from the WPitW again, here are Keith's words on the writings of William Arkin:
valid criticism by a military analyst
"Valid" criticism. Not "arguable" or "debatable". Not even the weasel-word "controversial". Keith Olbermann's semantic choices are not random. He went out of his way to embrace Arkin's arguments as "valid". Cogent. Correct. True.
With those two words, Olbermann has shown his hand. He believes it: US troops are being given "obscene amenities". They should be "grateful" that they get any respect at all despite "every rape and murder" they commit. Soldiers hold the American people "in contempt" because our troops are "badly schooled". They should count themselves lucky: after all, they are not being spat upon.
We don't know how NBC will resolve its situation with William Arkin. But should not the same standard be applied to those who subscribe to Arkin's "reasoning", embrace it, and proclaim--on Peacock air--that it is "valid"?