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Reverberations from yesterday's New York magazine profile on Olbermann continue to echo through the Olbyloon blogosphere. And suffice it to say, since this wasn't the usual kiss-butt tribute to Olbermann that the loons are accustomed to, they were not pleased.
OK, I will try to say what I have to say in bite-sized chunks that will (I hope) be more easily digestible. First, I wanted to be fair. So I decided to actually count up the things this article said about Keith that could be considered positive, vs. the things that could be considered negative. And the things that maybe weren't negative per se, but just came off as snide or snarky because of the obvious tone the author took toward the subject. Here's my tally, followed by exactly what qualified for each list:
Positive: 12 --Says that "heâ€™s found his sweet spot" --Says that viewers "saw him speaking truth to power" --Calls him "a lefty who isnâ€™t afraid to mix it up" --Describes Countdown as "moments of juvenile absurdity followed by moments of biting, sincere, and genuinely affecting commentary" --Says his "outrage" reads as "real, not focus-group manufactured like much of cable punditry" --Says "Even a Bush acolyte had to admire his eloquence" --Says that when KO worked in LA, "people noticed the quirky guy who once ate prime rib during a broadcast" --Says Dan and Keith "quickly established a winning, irreverent rapport" --Says Dan and Keith "became the model for sports anchors as TV stars" --Says some of Keith's ESPN colleagues "saw a brash breath of fresh air" --Says Keith lobbied at ESPN "on causes from saner hours for lowly production assistants to profit-sharing for employees who were helping the network generate billions" --Describes Keith as having "edgy, quick-witted commentary and polymathic interests"
Negative: 33 --The media reductionist description of him as a "Limbaugh for the Left" --Says the "outsize ego and acid tone ooze from him" --Says "Itâ€™s unclear whether the mannerisms are real or a bit of an ironic put-on that became his default setting after a time" --Calls him "ornery" --Says that while Sean Hannity greeeted him civilly, KO showed "no such penchant for diplomacy" --Accused KO of criticizing people simply because they happen to be "a hapless soul whose lone mistake is trying to make a living in his chosen profession" (i.e., sometimes he vents anger on people solely out of professional envy) --Says KO "has been pissed off since he could lift the toilet seat" --Says KO has "considerable, bred-in-the-bone rage" --Calls KO "a pioneer in the now-stultifying genre of the loudmouthed, blow-dried smart-ass" --Says KO's "bombast seemed out of proportion to the issues at hand" --Says that in the past, KO "was his own kind of Worst Person in the World. His sense of superiority and caustic vibe eventually cost him gigs and friends" --Calls KO "naughty" at ESPN and elaborates by saying he was the "only former star not invited back for the 25th anniversary" and that heâ€™s allowed to participate on Dan's radio show only because Dan promised that KO would never set foot in Bristol --Describes an MSNBC "flack" (that's a loaded word right there) as saying "Did you hear that snort he just did?â€ Thatâ€™s his imitation of Matthews,â€ then biting his lip as if to say â€œoops,â€ then trying to "respin" by saying â€œBut they really, really like each other.â€ Take-away message? KO has nothing but contempt for Tweety, and openly makes fun of him while pretending ostensibly to be a team player. In other words, he's two-faced --Says all Countdown visitors are "affable yes-men providing can-I-get-a-witness nods to the latest gem proffered by their all-knowing host." This is an out-and-out lie, and is worthy of Olbermann Watch --Says "He gives a shudder. I canâ€™t tell whether itâ€™s genuine revulsion or managed humility." Take-away message again? KO is two-faced, only pretends to be humble --Says KO "doesnâ€™t tend to go after Democrats with the same bloodthirsty zeal with which he attacks the Republicans." Provides two examples: one good (the fact that he didn't go for the jugular when interviewing Hillary), one not so good (the fact that he gave Bill a check for his Global Initiative, on camera. In essence, accusing him of being a grandstanding, compromised journalist. Again, worthy of Olbermann Watch.) --Says that KO's L.A. sportscast "sometimes finished seventh behind reruns of Spanish-language soap operas." Again, worthy of Olbermann Watch, which delights in exaggerating the low ratings of anything KO ever did --Says thaat KO once claimed that BOTH characters on Sports Night were based on him. I think this one might also qualify as an outright lie, designed to make KO look more egotistical. Has anyone ever read anywhere that KO ever said both characters were based on him? Or if ever said both characters had elements of him in them, did he simply mean that they also both had elements of Dan--i.e., neither one was directly modeled on JUST him or JUST Dan? --Says that some of his ESPN colleagues "saw a self-righteous gasbag" --Describes KO as "a world-class agitator" --Says KO "won a reputation as a miserable jerk" --Quotes unnamed former ESPN coworker as saying he was "the unhappiest" and that said coworker deliberately tried to avoid giving him rides home --Says ESPN allowed his contract to expire (I believe this is a lie also) --Says KO "escaped" to his other gigs --Says that when KO first went to MSNBC, "In quintessential form, he was ready to quit the show before it started" --Quotes unnamed source as saying that Keith "panicked" at news of Princess Di's death, alternately chanting, â€œWeâ€™ve got blood on our handsâ€ and â€œIâ€™m not going to be able to do the showâ€ and that he "denies this characterization" (I bet he does. This is the guy who handled the deaths of sports figures so well, and later a Pope?) --Tells the story about him buying a house, finding it too noisy and moving out after a week and a half --Tells the story about him moving into "a posh Santa Monica hotel" and fighting the hotel over his phone bills --Says he "spent hours" in the summer of 2001 "tending to his baseball-card collection, feuding with the L.A. hotel, and generally nursing grudges against the world" (obviously attempting to make him sound like a spoiled child) --Says he was guilty of "years of churlish behavior" --Says he "has had his bumps in his current gig" and that "despite having significantly mellowed by most accounts, he has again had run-ins with colleagues" (citing the supposed "negative" thing he said about Dan Abrams--come on!--and trotting out the Rita Cosby story yet again, as if it even matters now that she's gone) --Calls him "Once a recurring 'Page Six' figure for his dating escapades" (another lie--if not for a certain lying liar and the lies she told, Page Six would have said nothing about his so-called "dating escapades" at all) --Describes his comments about Anderson Cooper by saying "it felt off againâ€”too big a gun for too small a target"
Snide and Snarky: 15 --Says KO "may not be as popular or influential" as Rush Limbaugh, but that he "has his own dittoheads. They just happen to drive Honda Elements with a dedicated iPod port." (I sigh. No, that is NOT me. And I definitely think that KO attracts, not dittoheads, but people who THINK FOR THEMSELVES, thank you. They just happen to like a lot of what he says. Do we all parrot him and agree with everything he says? I think not.) --Says KO "doesnâ€™t share the stage with anyone." This is a lie. Monica Novotny? Several of his guests? Need I say more? But the message is sent anyway: KO is a raging egotist who can't share the stage. --Describes KO as he "checks his hair in a Snow Whiteâ€“size mirror." Take-away message: KO is vain, because he CARES HOW HE LOOKS ON TV! --Says of KO's handing the check to Bill on camera, "the gesture didnâ€™t exactly smack of political objectivity" --Says "His parents went to extreme lengths to make his dorm room the only one in Ithaca with cable TV." Take-away message: Keith was a spoiled brat --Says at college, "Between tearful calls home, he sat alone and watched the tube." Take-away message: KO was a loser --Says KO "skipped classes to report for his college radio station." Even KO says this is true, but I bet he never imagined it would be used against him to make him look bad --Describes KO and DP as "the smart-ass New Yorker and the Ohio high-school hoops star." Oh boy, has Dan seen this article yet? He's probably delighted with some of it. I mean, the first paragraph mentions his radio show, and then he gets described as an "Ohio high-school hoops star"? Who did they think they were describing here anyway? LeBron James?? --Describes KO's radio work on 9/11 as "surprisingly moving and heartfelt." Surprisingly? Why should it be surprising? Unless, that is, you think KO is a talentless, pompous hack...*cough *cough* --Describes KO now as "probably about as happy as he can be." Now there's a damn with a faint praise! --Says of Katy: "Yes, sheâ€™s a 23-year-old 2005 graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, but..." Note the "but." In other words, your disapproving raised eyebrow at the age difference is assumed --Says "For the moment, anyway, he seems to have achieved a measure of peace." In other words: a grudging "Well, he LOOKS happy, but...underneath all that apparent happiness is a very, very angry man, and who knows when he'll blow up and ruin his life again?" Again, very Olbermann Watch --Implies KO may have no career left without Bush to be angry at: "Whatâ€™s a W. basher to do?" --Says he "checked his hair in the mirror." Again, take-away message is, he's Ted Baxter --Describes one of his comments as "vintage screed, almost lyrical in its vicious eloquence." Whoa. How charming.
So that's the tally: 12 positive statements, 33 negative, 15 snide and snarky if not outright negative. Fair and balanced? Yes--about as fair and balanced as Fox News. More next post. Because there are more points I want to make
But Kathy, this writer followed Keith around for several days. They observed him up close and personal. Don't you think they are a better judge of his character and personality than a demented fanatical fan who has never met the man? Of course not. Furthermore, many of these facts about Keith which Kathy cited as being negative in tone have been used in other articles about Olbermann and he has never disputed their veracity. But that's not good enough for Kathy. Nope, she wants all positive, all the time, despite her protests to the contrary. But you can't accuse Kathy of not trying to be helpful. She's also prepared a lengthy memo on how the article could have been "better-written".
Now, let's talk about the missed opportunities in this article. First of all, know this. I know that magazine articles are not supposed to be objective, I know they're supposed to express opinions. I also know that no writer is obligated to come away with the same impression of someone after researching and interviewing him for a magazine profile as I do. And I know that the writer's job is to collect all the facts he has collected, develop an overall impression of the person from those facts and from interacting with the person, and then present that impression in words, deliberately-yet-fairly presenting the facts that support that opinion. My problem? Not that this author came away with an opinion of KO that varies from mine. That's his right. But that once he decided that he, personally, did not like KO, he cherry-picked and interpreted the facts in a way so as to cast Keith in SUCH a bad light that I don't even think it qualifies as fair. Facts that didn't fit his impression, or ways of interpreting those facts, were blithely tossed aside, and hints and clues that might have provided greater understanding of the tiny new insights this author DID find along the way were ignored and went unexplored. If I had to sum up this writer's opinion of KO in a nutshell, it would be this: Keith Olbermann is a vain, woefully insecure, immature, only superficially talented, two-faced, living powder keg of anger, who goes through life being angry at just about everyone and everything, and who is not happy unless he has an excuse for blowing a fuse at someone or something with regularity. The fact that he "seems" happy now has mostly to do with the fact that he's found himself such a worthy target of anger in the Bush Administration. Oh, and yeah, he's got a hot young girlfriend. That'll put even a seething cauldron of rage in a good mood...temporarily, anyway. Every tidbit of information in the article is used to support that thesis. Every single one. Facts that don't simply don't get used. You won't read here that Keith has selected himself as WPITW, or how self-critical he is for all his talk about his ego. You won't read here about his interviewing skills. You won't read here about the many friends he HASN'T alienated. You won't learn much about his intelligence. You won't learn about his kindness, or how open-minded or forgiving he can be, or where he got any of that from. You won't read about his tendency in the past to stick stubbornly to principle, even when it meant cutting off his hand to spite his face. You won't read here about his childlike love of baseball, despite his hatred at what the people who run it have done to it. You especially won't read about his therapy here, or what he learned from it that may have changed his approach to life for the better. The author appears to even mistrust Keith when he expresses an idea that makes him sound humble. He implies that he can't tell whether the humility is real or faked. And he interprets things others say in the worst possible way. (The Princess Di story is an excellent example. If Keith is anything like me--and he could be--this story could be true, and yet reflect on his abilities not one whit. I'm one of those people who likes to get in a vocal dither about something unexpected happening at work, and vent about how-can-they-do-this-to-us, how-are-we-going-to-handle-this, etc. And then I suck it up and DO IT. My colleagues recognize the venting as just being something I have to do and get out of the way--not paralyzing "panic." I don't see Keith as being panicked into paralysis either; he's done live TV too long for that. But maybe he, too, just needs to vent and bitch and moan before he knuckles down and gets the job done.) And then there are the missed opportunities. We all know how Keith can sometimes be almost TOO open and trusting with details about his life and his past, and once again, here he opens up wide and tells all...never seeming to realize that it can and will be used against him by this writer. He tells about being skipped two grades, about girls beating him up in school, about being lonely and homesick in college because he went away to school before he was emotionally ready. He shows a bit of the side of himself that isn't as diplomatic and politic as it might be toward others in his business. And how does all this get used? To present him as a loser, who has become a pompous ass in order to cope with his raging insecurities. No better than Rush or Billo. Yet it should have been so easy for this writer to see more deeply into what was going on. In some ways, he does touch on a truth that has never come through in any of the other articles about Keith. He recognizes this: that at times, Keith does seem to aim a lot of anger at somewhat questionable targets, that he does seem disproportionately worked up at times about someone misspelling a word, or at how Anderson Cooper looks, or something else that doesn't seem worth getting all bent out of shape about. And that some of his snark seems to be aimed at rather easy targets--at shooting fish in a barrel, rather than going after the tougher challenges. I think, if he really wanted to make this article something special, he should have asked Keith that question. "Why do you get so worked up about A, B and C?" He did pick up on a small piece of information I'd never before considered: that KO feels obligated to go after Billo because in some perverse way (that perverse sense of overresponsibility he possesses), Keith feels personally responsible for Billo becoming a success in the first place. I.e., he literally tells himself that by blowing his own show in 1998, he left the stage free for the likes of O'Reilly, so somehow Billo's success is ALL HIS FAULT! Lord, what a burden that must be to live with! But other times he seems to chalk up Keith's anger to sheer professional jealousy. For example, the Anderson Cooper comments. Fish in a barrel? Target not worthy of his aim? Maybe a little envious of AC's success (as he seems to be of Katie Couric's)? Maybe a bit hypocritical sometimes? Yes. But it's more complex than that. It's not just "I don't like Anderson or Sean or Katie or Tweety because they are competitors" or "Anderson should shut up about his life if he doesn't want it talked about" when Keith has complained about losing his own privacy. He really does have serious reasons for not liking Anderson or Katie or Sean or whoever that go beyond the envy-jealousy-hypocrisy thing. But these have gone unexamined. Even worse, especially in a writer who has made up his mind that the most overarching impression of his subject is his anger-management issues (and I'm not saying Keith doesn't have any of those), is that he never really digs to find the source of his subject's anger...even when clues are being handed right to him on a silver platter BY his subject. Keith says "I was always trying to match my intellectual maturity with an equal emotional maturity, and it didnâ€™t work." He says he went to college and made tearful calls home, the implication being that he went before he was emotionally ready. He says that he couldn't deal with his first MSNBC show because--and this is the thing he has never said before--"All the yelling on the show reminded me of a part of my childhood that I didnâ€™t want to relive." And what does this writer do? Does he ask Keith "Do you think that all your life, you have struggled with making your emotional maturity match your intellectual maturity?" Does he ask "What 'yelling' in your childhood are you referring to? What did it make you feel?" Oh, if he had! What insight he could have gained into what makes his subject tick! Yes, he asks why, for years, Keith felt like an impostor on the verge of being found out: "My frustration has been over many years of never being able to be an irresponsible kid. Iâ€™ve always felt like I was the designated driver 24 hours a day.â€ (I find it fascinating that he phrases it that way--"designated driver"--even though being a literal "designated driver" is one form of responsibility he was relieved of years ago.) But having been handed this great stuff, the writer just leaves it there. When it could have been used as a clue to, possibly, many things. Such as why Keith feels "responsible" for Billo's success. Or to prompt some really provocative questions, such as: If so much of your adulthood has been about rebelling against the maturity you feel was forced on you prematurely, what's so different about you now? Why should we believe you have changed, and that this is not just another calm before the storm? Why should we believe your problems are all solved, and now you are going to live happily ever after, The End? Those are just a few examples, and by no means exhaustive. I hope it's clear from this that my biggest objection to this article is not that it's badly written (technically, it's not, from a verbal standpoint), or that it fails to present a shiny pretty picture of "Little Keith, Happy At Last," the way so many of the recent articles on him have. (I wouldn't have found that to be entirely fair or truthful either.) My biggest objections are a) that the author seems to have developed an intense visceral dislike of Keith as a person, despite generally liking what his show does and its viewpoints, and written his profile in the least flattering light possible; and b) that he did so without fully exploring all the dimensions of what might make Keith the way he is.
No Kathy, what's clear here is that you really seem to think you know Keith and that you, obessive Olbypologist that you are, think you know him better than people who have actually met him. And it's clear that when your perceptions collide with other people's reality, you aren't pleased. But hey, it makes great comic fodder for me and great material for Olbermannwatch so keep it up--please!
And who is leading the charge at Either Relevant or True? Why it's "Orinenglish" at Either Relevant or True who sounds suspiciously like "Kathy" above because she too has taken time to count the positives vesus negatives in that magazine article. Hmmm. An Olbyloon using multiple user names to defend their man? Say it isn't so!
Count me in as one of the ticks in the "This Article Was a Hatchet Job" category.Its entire theme was this, and this alone: Keith Olbermann is no different from Rush Limbaugh in that he's an untalented, ignorant, vain, media blowhard asshole, a constantly seething kettle of rage, who has attracted a group of mindless idiot followers looking for a Pied Piper to speak for them. Except he exercises his rage against the right, instead of the left. There. Done!I don't say that just because of the title, either. Editors do tend to be the ones who write the titles and decks on magazine articles, but they do so based on what they perceive to be the overriding theme of the article they are titling. That's precisely what this editor did--and very accurately."Balanced"? Come on. It says a couple of complimentary things about him, and then counters them with 20 highly UNcomplimentary things, several of which are sourced anonymously, several of which are irrelevant (Rita Cosby? Who cares what he had to say about her anymore?) and several of which simply aren't factually true, but they serve the purpose of making Keith look bad, and that's all that really matters. And "in-depth"? Not really. Every time the writer picks up a piece of information that is actually new and might serve to better explain the man, he drops it like it's hot.Am I looking for a "rose-colored filter"? No. In all honesty, I think the articles that imply that Keith has all his problems in life solved now, and that there's nothing left for him but to live happily ever after, are far too simplified and simplistic. But this article was written through a deliberately distorting filter, and designed to make Keith look like just another preening, blustering media idiot fueled by a bottomless anger that the author doesn't even try to explore the source of. Even though he's being given hint after hint by the as-usual-overly-self-revelatory Keith, who seems not to realize that by being so honest and self-effacing about his past, he's handing the writer a loaded gun with which to aim directly at his head. (You can almost hear the Rita Skeeter gears grinding in the writer's mind: "So, Keith says his parents made sure he was the only college student in Ithaca with cable TV in the 1970s. Yet he was lonely, because he wasn't emotionally ready for college. Let's see: 'Spoiled-rotten Keith was the only kid at college with cable TV thanks to his overly indulgent parents who paid all his bills, yet he still cried like a big sucky-baby on the phone to home.' There."). . . This is an article by an author who seems to think Keith's not done a single bit of work on his psyche (no mention of his therapy here AT ALL), and is ostensibly "happy" simply because he now has a worthy target for his anger, a big fat contract, and a very young girlfriend. But, that he could lose all three the very next time he blows his stack. So look out, he's gonna blow!!!! Honestly, it's as if Bob Cox were forced to interview Keith and write a profile that said nothing negative about him simply because of the viewpoints he expresses. And faithfully kept to the letter of the law in that regard...while making sure his venom and contempt for the man showed at every turn. I mean, Every. Single. Turn.
You know, after reading these kinds of reactions, maybe it is a good thing that the media usually kisses Olbermann's ample backside. Otherwise, the exploding brains of Olbyloons would present a safety-hazard!