Swans Commentary » swans.com February 28, 2011  



The Vanished Mr. Olbermann


by Charles Marowitz





(Swans - February 28, 2011)   It's been some weeks now since we learned that Keith Olbermann had resigned from MSNBC. The rumor was that there had been disputes with the producers of the show while other pundits claim that he resigned of his own volition.

Of all the night-time anchors, Olbermann was the most astute. Unlike Chris Matthews, who always steps on his guest's replies, Keith's questions were clear-cut and straightforward and once they had been posed Olbermann listened to the responses, never interceding. He made no bones about being left of center. He openly displayed his prejudices as he did his passions. He was literate, lucid, polite, and, in his interviews, truly probing. When he was expressing his personal opinions, he made it crystal clear that they were of his own making and pertained to Olbermann the citizen rather than Olbermann the newscaster thereby illuminating whatever stories he was dispensing.

Apparently there was friction with the higher-ups who objected to his style and his content. That he was banished at the same time Comcast bought out NBC, it was bruited that Keith's left-of-center stance was the reason for being dumped. There has been no personal word from Olbermann so we may never know the real reasons for opting out.

In his last few broadcasts, in addition to personal editorials, he read excerpts from James Thurber. It was a tribute to his father and his way of sharing with his public some samples of sophisticated comedy and reminding them that once upon a time there was a comedic writer and cartoonist named James Thurber. Mixing bursts of literature along with the dissemination of "breaking news"; not a bad idea to break the formality of others in his profession.

Olbermann was responsible for bringing Rachel Maddow into MSNBC, who has proved to be a great draw. Ironic that he should leave the scene so abruptly. Finding an anchor who is not simply a dispenser of current events is a rarity in America. Finding one who openly and regularly attacks Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and the cruel circus that Murdoch's Fox Network has become is the rarest of all.

But it wasn't simply his deft handling of insights into current events that was the draw, it was his whimsical attitude to people and circumstances that proclaimed him a common man -- albeit uncommonly well-educated and sharp as a scythe.

A newscaster is somewhat like Scheherazade constantly capturing attention with an endless number of tales from foreign lands, disasters, and salvations. Often they maintain our attention with tales of strife and carnage. None of this pertains to me, they say, I'm just the messenger. But a messenger who cannot help but impress himself on all that he sees. Keith was often just the "messenger" but his astute commentary always enlivened the stories he was covering.

How he will fare at current tv remains to be seen. The danger there is he may be preaching to the converted.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published February 28, 2011