Who says The New York Times has lost touch with reality? A recent puff piece by TV reporter Bill Carter on MSNBC's "Countdown" host Keith Olbermann honors him as the "centerpiece" and a "great growth story" of MSNBC. He's up 30 percent in the 25-to-54 demographic. How significant is this? Since Olbermann came to TV as a sportscaster, let's just say this is like celebrating a .200 hitter for having the best batting average on a last-place baseball team.
The Times shoe-shine carried the headline "MSNBC's Star Carves Anti-Fox Niche," yet in his report, Carter had no choice but to place that grandiose statement in its proper perspective: "Olbermann's show remains little more than a dot in the rearview mirror of Fox News" -- followed by this spin -- "Even from that far back, he seems to have been able to honk his horn loud enough to raise hackles at Fox." What followed was a supportive recycling of Olbermann's trash talking about Fox headliner Bill O'Reilly, and Olbermann's constant naming of O'Reilly as the "Worst Person in the World."
Let's establish one thing about this trash-talk enabling. Olbermann's constant, stalker-like obsession with O'Reilly, who normally has about eight times his ratings, lacks all sense of proportion. How do you explain that Olbermann named O'Reilly his "Worst Person in the World" 42 times in the last year? (Saddam drew the brickbat only twice, and Osama bin Laden? Not once.) He named O'Reilly the world's worst human seven times just in the month of April.
If this obsession is drawing ratings, who then is being attracted to "Countdown"? Olbermann isn't just cultivating some vague "anti-Fox niche." Nightly, he bays at the moon in search of the hard-core left, the devotees of MoveOn and Michael Moore and Daily Kos. In 2004, he was just about the last person inside a TV studio (or outside a mental facility) to claim that John Kerry actually won Ohio, notwithstanding that nagging 120,000-vote discrepancy.
But in spite of Olbermann's best efforts at unveiling the fraud, Bush was still re-elected, so now the MSNBC host is painting him as a dangerous proto-fascist.
Olbermann recently invited on an old Watergate figure, John Dean, to promote his new book, "Conservatives Without Conscience," which argues that the conservative movement is deeply authoritarian. Since when did Dean become an authority on the conservative movement? Come to think of it, what has this man done with his life since leaving the White House in disgrace more than 30 years ago? His last authoritative book was "Worse Than Watergate" in 2004, which argued that Bush should be impeached over Iraq, not re-elected. Dean's an Air America and Pacifica Radio dream guest now. He's easily confused with Howard Dean, another authority on civil discourse.
Olbermann bowed like a servant to the deep gravitas of his guest: "You've been an historian, you've been a part of history. (This is a nice way not to say 'you've been convicted of obstruction of justice.') You've been at one of the central moments of history in the 20th century. What kind of danger, are we facing a legitimate threat to the concept of democracy in this country?" Dean put on his serious face. "I don't think we're in a fascist road right now. We are so close to it though, Keith."
Olbermann called this book an "extraordinary document," and focused on its more kooky Nazi/fascist analogies as evidence. The book "deals with psychological principles that are frightening and that may have faced other nations at other times in Germany and Italy in the '30s coming to mind in particular. How does it apply now? And to what degree should it scare us? And to what degree is it something that might still be forestalled?"
For Olbermann, it's slam-dunk axiomatic that conservatives are all secretly dictator-worshippers. But perhaps the funniest moment came when Olbermann, ignoring his own recent history, lamented: "do we rely on the hope that these are fanatics, and fanatics always screw up because they would rather believe in their own cause than double-check their own math?" Those are rich words from the Kerry-Won-Ohio corner.
Fox News boss Roger Ailes no doubt prays that the new bosses at MSNBC build their channel around Olbermann, as if he were the sun of their solar system. If the network weren't so abysmally low-rated, he would be Exhibit A in the argument that sometimes the media elite aren't all liberal. There are some elements that have summarily leaped off the edge.