[Keith] Olbermann’s critics think he is mentally ill and should be doing his show from a padded cell. His fans – devotees would be a better word – think he’s the sanest guy in television news, maybe the only one with the guts to speak truth to power. They see him as the reincarnation of the great, courageous journalist Edward R. Murrow. Olbermann apparently sees himself the same way. He ends his nightly broadcast bidding his viewers, “Good night and good luck” – a rip-off of Murrow’s signature signoff.
While this alone would be considered proof in any court of law that Olbermann is, at the very least, a legend in his own mind, Olbermann himself has an entirely different perspective on the matter. Murrow did news and commentary, both in the same broadcast. So do I, Olbermann reasons. Murrow took on the powers of the day, like Joe McCarthy. Me too, says Olbermann.
Edward R. Murrow never told a president to “shut the hell up’ in any of his commentaries. Olbermann gave that “advice” to President Bush in one of his.
Murrow never posed a loaded question like the one Olbermann posed about W.: “Pathological presidential liar,” Keith wondered, “or an idiot in chief.?”
I didn’t know Ed Murrow. He stopped reporting for CBS News long before I got there. But we all knew we were working “in the house that Murrow built.” And even though I didn’t know him personally, I knew from colleagues who did work with him, journalists like Dan Rather, that Murrow was not only a first-rate reporter, but was also one very classy guy.
Olbermann is something else.
Olbermann reminds me of another angry character who used to work in television – the fictional one from the movie Network, who was “made as hell” and wasn’t “going to take this anymore.” Keith Olbermann is Howard Beale – without the charm. (For what it’s worth, this is the Wikipedia reference to Beale: “During the movie, Howard struggles with depression and insanity, but his producers, rather than give him the medical help he needs, use him as a tool for getting higher ratings.” Why does the phrase “life imitating art” keep popping into my head?)
I suspect that sometime down the road Keith Olbermann is going to go too far and blow up his lucrative MSNBC career in an outburst of righteous indignation that even the money boys on executive row won’t be able to tolerate. But I could be wrong. When it comes to show business, after all, nobody knows anything, as William Goldman, who wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, once said. He makes money for the network, and that’s all that counts.
So here’s a piece of advice for Olbermann, who goes on the air each night channeling (in his mind anyway) the sainted Edward R. Murrow. Murrow once said, “just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.” Think about that, Keith, the next time you go on one of your wild and crazy harangues against conservatives. And whatever you do, get the anger under control before you sign off. You wouldn’t want to still be in a rage-induced fog when you lean into the camera the way Murrow used to an inadvertently tell your faithful fans, “Good night and go F yourselves.”