Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Olbermann -- one of them after all?

I was very disappointed in Keith last night. He gave a little more coverage to Colbert's smackdown than the rest of his cohort did, but then he asked Dana Milbank if he thought Colbert "crossed the line." Milbank was happy to agree.

In the past I have defended Olbermann as more blogger than journalist. But if he reacted that way -- if he took Colbert's attack personally -- then perhaps I was wrong. Maybe he doesn't get it.

But lots of bloggers do. Everybody is buzzing about what Colbert did.
Bilmon may have captured the essence better than anyone else, especially as counterweight to Olbermann's "crossed the line" complaint:
Colbert's routine was designed to draw blood -- as good political satire should. It seemed obvious, at least to me, that he didn't just despise his audience, he hated it. While that hardly merits comment here in Left Blogostan, White House elites clearly aren't used to having such contempt thrown in their faces at one of their most cherished self-congratulatory events. So it's no surprise the scribes have tried hard to expunge it from the semi-official record -- as Peter Daou notes over at the Huffington Post.

Colbert used satire the way it's used in more openly authoritarian societies: as a political weapon, a device for raising issues that can't be addressed directly. He dragged out all the unmentionables -- the Iraq lies, the secret prisons, the illegal spying, the neutered stupidity of the lapdog press -- and made it pretty clear that he wasn't really laughing at them, much less with them. It may have been comedy, but it also sounded like a bill of indictment, and everybody understood the charges.

If things were going well, if Bush's approval ratings were north of 60%, gas was 80 cents a gallon and the war was being won, I suspect Colbert would have gotten a different reception. His audience could have pretended to be amused -- in that smug, patronizing way we all remember from the neocon glory days. But we're long past the point where the Cheneyites and their journalistic flunkies are willing to suffer such barbs with good humor. The regime's legal and political troubles are too serious, the wounds too open and too deep for the gang to smile while somebody like Colbert gleefully jabs a finger into them.

Colbert's real sin wasn't lese majesty, it was inserting a brief moment of honesty into an event based upon a lie -- one considered socially necessary by the political powers that be, but still, a lie.

Like its upscale sibling, the annual Gridiron Club dinner, the White House Correspondents dinner is a ritual designed, at least implicitly, to showcase the underlying unity of our Beltway elites. It's supposed to demonstrate that no matter how ferocious their battles may appear on the surface, political opponents can still gather in the same room and break bread, with the corporate media acting as the properly neutral host. It's a relic of the good old days of centrism and bipartisan log rolling ("the end of ideology"), visible proof that in the American system, there may be enemies, but there are no mortal enemies. And so last night we had Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame sitting at one table, Karl Rove at another, and no knives were drawn.

The light entertainment at these events is also supposed to reflect the same spirit of forced good cheer, to the point where even matters of deadly seriousness -- things that in other countries might cause governments to fall -- are treated like inside jokes, as with Shrub's looking-for-the-missing-WMDs-under-the-couch routine. Ha ha ha. We're all friends here!

Did Colbert "Cross the line?"

Hell yes. That was the point. The line Colbert crossed needed to be crossed. Hell, it needs to be erased, ignored and obliterated.

When journalists stop telling truth to power -- indeed, when they no longer even recognize truth -- it falls to the jester to say the hard things, the dangerous things. The line Colbert crossed separated power from reality. Reality is cheering his transgression. Only the courtiers -- the remoras who have attached themselves to the sharks that feed on us ceaselessly -- are offended.

Wake up, Keith. Reality needs you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The instinct for social conformity during periods of fear and turmoil are almost overwhelming. If Olbermann felt a need to conform, well, he is only human. The bravado of Colbert is, on the other hand, truely extraordinary.

If on the other hand, you are not denigrating Olbermann for his cowardice, but for his identification with journalists, that's something else (which I don't quite understand).

9:11 PM  
Blogger bluememe said...


There are exceptions, of course, but these days cowardice and journalism seem to be two sides of the same coin. Read the Raw Story piece I linked to above, (which I titled "Miasma of Putrefaction" before my editor truncated it) for a longer indictment.

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it possible that Olberman may also be feeiling somewhat jealous?

The levels of sensitivity revealed in the reactions to Colbert's routine strike me as fundamentally phony. I don't like roast humor. I would never attend a roast, and I am insignificant enough (anonymous, actually) to be sure that I'll never be the guest of honor. The humor is always dubious and often cruel. Maybe the difference between Colbert and your average roast comedian is that he was a little more real, but nastiness is what it's all about.

Steve Gilliard seems to understand the nuances and mechanics better than I do.

6:08 AM  
Blogger vermontraccoon said...

Joke 'em if they can't take a f*%k. He would have gone over great if he did stupid Clinton jokes, or referenced some of the Bushies' own lame attempts at humor ("milking a male horse"). Humor only hurts you if you are a joke yourself; we're in a sorry state when only a fake journalist comedian has the balls to point out the obvious. The MSM is populated by regurgitating monkeys who can't see past the buttered side of their own bread. Colbert pointed out that the Chimperor has no clothes, nothing more.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the world to have boiled down to a state where journalism=cowardice is remarkable. I personally believe that there are reasons relating to economic survival that most journalists and media in general don't cross swords with the likes of GWB. His team plays really really mean. They don't care if they hurt people. They work by intimidation.

I felt that Knight-Ridder and Reuters were the most objective news available, but look what happened to them KR was sold and US forces starting killing Reuters people. Reuters sure started conforming to the party line after that. Fear is a powerful tool, and it can work without conscious awareness.

Would you post your opinion if there was a chance it would mean you couldn't pay the rent next month? If there was a chance it meant your hotel would be "accidentally" bombed? What if they didn't actually threaten you, but you knew they might do that kind of stuff because they are very wicked and very rich?

I think it would be more helpful to reward good journalism when it happens than it is to kick a normally good journalist having a bad moment. That's what blogging does, in my opinion, it provides really strong reinforcement for good journalism. Clicking into a site is a level of reinforcement for the authors. Vote with your clicks and don't give them to the enemy; its a good policy. I watch www.memeorandum.com and click into progressive sites just as a way to vote.

You know how reinforcing you find your own site stats.

Point us to good links and we will all be helping you, voting with you in a sense. I read all of your stuff and was fully aware of how negative you are about "journalism", but I am not so quick to write off the whole profession and would rather deal with them one by one.

Think more positively, Mr. Meme. All is not lost.

Yr faithful reader

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have watched Colbert's performance several times now and I can understand that he made some people feel a bit uncomfortable. The Generals, for example, who only like Rumsfeld because they're not retired yet comes to mind. Or this bit about reporters-

...Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!

These are uncomfortable truths that maybe need to be brought up... and they all know it now. Colbert was chosen for a reason and by a particular group of people - the White House Correspondents Group. Members include the guy from AP who introduced Colbert, Steve Scully of C-Span, Helen Thomas and a few others. Maybe this is exactly what they wanted - a piece of much needed humble pie for the administration and the stenographers that pretend to be doing objective journalism for their corporate masters.

I did not see Olbermann's report on it, but he may just be reflecting some of the prevailing thoughts at MSNBC as well as other corporate news shops right now. They feel hurt . They'll get over it though.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Eric Soderstrom said...

Maybe he just has a lower Colbert threshold than I do.

8:47 PM  

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