Friday, January 21, 2011

Goodbye to another accidental hero

I heard the news today, oh boy.

I guess there isn't any point in writing about anything else tonight.

From the outside it looks like liberals deify media figures they admire. There may be some of that going on, but what I actually think is going on is that these figures become symbolic of all the aspirations and frustrations that liberals have.

If you are a conservative, you can flip the dial and there's something for everyone. Want a faux-blue collar "independent"? Bill O'Reilly! Want a tearful conspiracy theorist? Glenn Beck! Want a mouth-breathing lunatic? Michael Savage! Want a namecalling pseudo-intellectual? Mark Levin! I'm not sure what Sean Hannity is, but you've got him too. But liberals don't make it into the mainstream through the normal channels. They become milquetoast moderate centrists parroting Village cliches or they become strident, fire-breathing conservatives.

Liberals aren't invited to these parties, so they have to break into the mainstream in other ways. Al Franken was, of course, a comedian. Paul Krugman was hired by the New York Times to write about economic matters and never would have been hired if they'd known he'd be so "shrill". Rachel Maddow was an academic who stumbled into broadcasting by winning a local radio station contest. And Keith Olbermann was a sportscaster who was hired to do one of those lame snarky (and not particularly partisan or strident) pseudo-news shows that were so popular in the early 2000s. Since they don't come up through the normal channels and aren't bred by established interests, these accidental heroes recieve an outsized share of liberal attention and admiration. Even if you don't particularly like one of them (personally, I barely ever watched Olbermann), they were still important, if only because they were so few in number.

Lazy thinkers and partisans claim that MSNBC is the "liberal" alternative to Fox because some of these accidental heroes appear there, another example of the stupid false equivalencies that poison our political discourse. A few prominent media personalities does not make a channel liberal, especially one that promotes a three-hour daily morning show hosted by a former Republican Congressman. A few prominent media personalities are not the equivalent of an entire network of conservatives unified around an agenda issued via a daily memo to its employees by a corporation that donates millions to the GOP. A few prominent media personalities who criticize both left and right are not the equivalent of the coordinated attack on liberals by an entire network.

The evidence that MSNBC is far from liberal is abundant, starting with the firing of Phil Donahue in 2003. He hosted the channel's highest rated show, but he was a liberal and a critic of the war, so he had to go. This isn't a conspiracy theory, there's a memo that proves it, stating that they worried that Donahue would provide "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity".

Then there's Ashleigh Banfield, groomed by MSNBC as some kind of glasses-wearing Action Barbie and hurried into every picturesque sand dune in the war zone they could find. That is, until she made a speech criticizing Fox News and she was taken to the woodshed. She disappeared from the air and even took away her desk in the office.

And now Keith Olbermann, who suddenly disappears from MSNBC right after the FCC approves the NBC/Comcast merger.

I'm baffled by those people who assert, in the face of all evidence, that the media in general and MSNBC is liberal. It's a great talking point and will continue to be repeated by those who parrot talking points and believed by those who believe talking points. And if you aren't exposed to a wide range of media, perhaps you actually believe that Alan Colmes is truly representative of the far left. But if you are a progressive, then it's a sad day. Not because of Keith Olbermann in particular, but because there's one less strident voice in the mainstream media representing something left of Alan Colmes.

Things are getting better in some respects. There's the internet and the blogosphere, more access to information so we can more easily get the real facts and debunk right-wing lies. But in other respects it's just as hard as it's ever been. You have to seek out those sources, and if you are one of those people who don't or can't, you're left in the clutches of Fox News, under-informed and victim to the agenda of Fox and corporate America. The fewer accidental heroes like Keith Olbermanns we have in the media, the more likely this is to happen.

I don't really have any great conclusion I've reached here. As the Clash would say, it's just another story. The same old story it's always been.

1 comment:

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