Keith Olbermann's Countdown returns with tough words for President Obama, MSNBC and Rush Limbaugh
If there was ever any doubt that his time away from television had softened his tongue, former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann blasted that notion to bits within seconds during the first broadcast Monday of his new weeknight show for Current TV, once again called Countdown.
After airing a clip of GOP Sen. John McCain asking what GOP icon Ronald Reagan might have thought of Republican infighting over hostilities in Libya, Olbermann thundered, “ Nothing. He’s dead. He was a lousy president and he helped keep (embattled dictator) Gaddhafi in power.”
On recent news that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was accused of improperly accepting gifts from a conservative donor for his wife’s pet causes, the host noted “A district judge would be out of job for that; why isn’t he?”
And in previewing later discussion of a POLITICO story on conservative radio hosts selling their opinions, he cracked that viewers shouldn’t be surprised these pundits were selling their souls but “that they have them.”
Indeed, the program he brought to Current Monday night may have been more acerbically liberal than its MSNBC precursor, as the host took time during a quick – at least for the loquacious Olbermann – special comment that provided something of a mission statement.
“The weakest citizen of this country is more important than the strongest corporation,” Olbermann said, setting down the values underpinning his new enterprise. “The nation is losing its independence from the malfeasance of one political party and the timidity of another. Even though you and I should not be the last line of defense, apparently we are – and we damn well better start being it.”
Then, he quoted a profile of Abraham Lincoln, comparing the civil war then to a "silent civil war now," noting the story's reference to a “war for the rights of the working classes of mankind” -- minutes before cutting away for a commercial break sponsored by luxury car maker Lexus.
Which highlights one sliver of the odd contrasts Olbermann has continued and amplified in his new show, recreated in the shadow of a stormy divorce from MSNBC earlier this year.
Many things on Countdown are the same, right down to the percolating theme song and his Worst Persons in the World segment – a bit he has often agonized about enjoying so much, promising at various time to retitle or reimagine for the way it seems to echo hyperbolic partisanship.
But such themes have increasingly become Olbermann’s stock in trade, as Countdown slowly morphed over its MSNBC years from a cheeky news update show focused on the absurdities of the news cycle into an ever more shrill condemnation of conservative excess.
My own personal politics echo those Olbermann champions; this should be a show I love a lot more than I do.
Because as much as Olbermann criticizes Fox News bullies like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck (who he has nicknamed Lonesome Rhoads, after the insincere huckster in the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd), I fear he often mirrors their tactics in proving his own partisan political points.
Monday’s show welcomed a round robin of “contributors” who mostly served as Olbermann’s agreeable Greek chorus, echoing and amplifying his opinions with few dissenting words.
Filmmaker Michael Moore appeared to challenge President Obama’s actions in bombing Libya without Congressional approval, taking time to gently adjust Olbermann’s assertion that Obama was cherry-picking legal opinions to serve his purpose just as George W. Bush did to authorize torture (Moore contended Bush tried to authorize lies)
Former Richard Nixon aide John Dean criticized the Supreme Court for disallowing a class-action sex discrimination suit by female Wal Mart employees. As Olbermann tartly cracked “The more employees you screw, the more likely you are to get away with it,” Dean countered with an approving “nicely put.”
Most oddly, Olbermann allowed Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas to criticize MSNBC and Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough for banning the pundit from the cable channel in 2010 after a Twitter feud.
While Olbermann beamed a wide smile, his guest launched all the insults and criticisms of MSNBC the host himself may still be contractually prohibited from indulging, as Moulitsas called Scarborough a “loser host” who was “dictating the guest list on the only show on cable to crack Fox News’ stranglehold.”
Revenge, it seems, is a dish best served on camera.
Some questions remain: Can an anchor with a multi-million-dollar salary and blue chip sponsors consistently attack corporate power?
Will enough fans of the old show migrate to a new channel, located on the digital cable tier for Bright House customers in the Tampa Bay area? Will Current management really do as Olbermann said during a conference call and wait until 2013 to judge ratings success? (don’t bet on it)
And can Olbermann overcome his worst instincts – his love for the sound of his own voice, fine appreciation for his own considerable wit and intolerance for dissenting opinions – to craft a more informative, wide-ranging and unpredictable showcase?
Perhaps not. But that, judging by Monday’s show, is exactly what Olbermann needs most to become more than a liberal reflection of the O’Reillys, Beck and Limbaughs he so steadfastly opposes.