Monday, November 01, 2010

Olbermann v. Stewart

Co-blogger R.K. Barry will have a post up later today on the Stewart-Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, but I wanted to say that as much as I like Stewart -- and I'm a huge fan -- I think Keith Olbermann was right in his (fairly gentle) criticism of Stewart's unfortunate tendency to view both the left and the right as equal parts of the problem. As Olbermann tweeted on Saturday, via Mediaite:

It wasn't a big shark but Jon Stewart jumped one just now with the "everybody on Thr cable is the same" naiveté

There's obviously a lot not to like about the news media, including cable news (and, yes, MSNBC, the more liberal network, if hardly as liberal or as partisan as Fox News is conservative and a mouthpiece for the GOP and conservatism generally), but it is ridiculous to assert that Olbermann is akin to, say, O'Reilly or Hannity -- or that, again, the left is equally to blame. What is this "left," after all? Olbermann, Maddow, and Schultz? Oh, please. What are they compared to the entirety of Fox News? Or even to CNN, which, while claiming to be a neutral news organization, thinks that fair and balanced means centrist Democrats and a pile of conservative propagandists? As Olbermann also tweeted:

The America before today's cable wasn't reasonable discussion.It was the 1-sided lockstep of Fox and people afraid of Fox.That got us Iraq.


I wish it were otherwise. But you can tone down all you want and the result will be: the Right will only get LOUDER. Sorry. 


Last comment then I'll drop this:Whatever the losses are Tuesday,will they be because Liberals were too LOUD or because they were too timid?

Too timid. I think that's obvious, despite the Republican propaganda about how Obama is a radical fascist-socialist totalitarian and the media's regurgitating of right-wing talking points to the effect that Obama and the Democrats overreached with their aggressively left-wing agenda -- a claim that is simply insane.

And, unfortunately, Jon Stewart is too timid as well. While he, along with Colbert, is an extremely important liberal-progressive voice, it isn't enough just to blame the media and to seek some "sane" middle ground, just as it's not enough to expose Republicans as a bunch of hypocrites. Yes, the media are to blame for a lot, but the blame needs to be handed out with a sense of proper perspective, not by appealing to a utopian center -- and, yes, it's fine to expose Republicans for what they are, but it's not enough just to laugh at them. They are far too dangerous for that, and, ultimately, in politics, you need to fight -- with rhetoric, sure, as well as with comedy, but also with the other (non-violent) tools at your disposal in a liberal democracy, including GOTV campaigns. And, as R.K. Barry will argue, passion matters.

Yes, passion, passion for the fight, passion for the truth. That seems to be what Stewart is lacking. He might admit as much -- he is, after all, full of self-deprecation -- and perhaps we shouldn't expect much more from him than he gives us night after night, as valuable as that is. But I think it fair to criticize him for succumbing to the myth of the silent majority, the myth of the center that is rational and sane and that, if only allowed to rule, would make America a better place. To me, that "center" of independents is full of apathy and ignorance, and it's what allows the powers-that-be to remain in power, the system to remain dysfunctional, and Republicans to fuck over the American people time and time again.

I suspect that Stewart is a man of genuinely progressive views and values. His interview with President Obama last week, while also somewhat timid, showed him once again to be a thoughtful proponent of progressive politics. But it is rather irresponsible of him to suggest that the left is just as bad as the right -- whether he actually believes this or not is another matter -- and to encourage progressives to tone it down.

America, and the world beyond, certainly does not lack for insanity, and, yes, American politics could do with a healthy dose of sanity, but, with the right descending ever further in madness, with so much of the electorate drugged into submission by endless consumerism and a hopelessly impoverished popular culture (and in many cases by real drugs, both legal and otherwise), and with the left often unable to muster the unity and conviction to fight back, what is really needed is an invigorated liberal-progressive movement for change.

I would hope that Stewart would be part of that. At the very least, he should stop lumping all of us together, left and right alike. Ultimately, after all, you have to fight for what you believe in. And that includes on cable television, where the likes of Olbermann and Maddow, night after night, stand up firmly to the right's lies and deceptions and assaults on all that is good and decent and give voice -- just as Stewart himself does, in a different way -- to our aspirations for a better America and a better world.

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  • Gently, I disagree with your assessment re: Olbermann. He hacked Hillary to bits during the primaries. That is at least very much akin to what Hannity or O'Reilly would have done to a conservative candidate, if not worse.

    That's right: it's possible KO is worse than Hannity or O'Reilly. KO does have a vicious streak. He doesn't let loose as often os BO or SH or the Fox crew does, because frankly, we don't get his back often enough.

    By Blogger Carl, at 10:58 AM  

  • Just because I tend to agree with Olbermann or Maddow and I don't with Fox's talking heads, doesn't mean that Stewart isn't correct. What he is calling for is civility and people actually spelling out problems and trying to solve them instead of just going off on each other all the time in a polarizing manner. The worst MSNBC offender is really Ed Schulz who at times is unwatchable in his screeds. All the media does, outside the opinion shows, is promote the horse races and the fighting and the nonsense like balloon boys. There is very little if any in depth reporting of the real problems or possible solutions because they know that perpetuating conflict pays the bills. Cable news is a misnomer. There is very little resembling news on it.

    By Blogger Edward Copeland, at 12:22 PM  

  • I certainly agree -- with both of you -- that Olbermann has a bit of a mean streak and that Schultz is at times unwatchable. And, again, it's not that I fundamentally disagree with Stewart. It's just that I don't think the left is nearly as bad as the right (on this, I agree with KO). And, ultimately, the reality being what it is (domineering right, cowering left, pandering media), we need to stand up and fight, not just to demand civility. I mean, it's fine trying to solve our problems instead of just screaming at each other, but one side has made it clear that it wants nothing to do with civility, nor with facts and science. How are we supposed to deal with that?

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 2:22 PM  

  • Here's a point to consider: who watches Olbermann? And who watches Stewart? It's been determined that The audience for the Daily Show is made ip of a differing demographic, including conservatives. You think any conservatives are in Keith's regular viewing audience? I think it's safe to say that when Olbermann loses his shizz on Countdown, he's not changing anyone's mind, nor is he necessarily succeeding in firing up those who aren't fired up already. Whereas, Stewart has viewers who are actually on the other side, and are (shudder!) at least tuning in to hear what he has to say. This is because, comedian or not, he is considered credible by many, and two of the factors that contribute to his credibility are his willingness to point out problems among progressives, and his humorous way of making serious points about real news. Of the conservatives tuned in to Daily Show and saw Stewart spouting out his blowhole about something the GOP had dome, in the manner of Olbermann, they'd never watch him again. But as long as they keep tuning in, they will be hearing something much closer to real news than anything they might find if they turned to Fox, and there is hope that something might click one day. If the point is to inform, persuade or inspire to action, Olbermann actually stands less of a chance of doing that with his audience than Stewart has of doing it with his. Preaching loudly at the choir, however passionate and on target one may be, won't change things as much as getting and keeping the ear of an opponent through more gentle means of communication.

    By Anonymous Chrissie in Fl, at 3:06 PM  

  • I watched the Sanity rally with the same kind of skepticism and doubt that Olbermann seems to be expressing. The trouble with the Left isn't that they are too much like the Tea Partiers. The Left isn't enough like them, at least not in terms of organizing ralllies and holding their candidates accountable. Nader tried this with The Greens and the Democrats crushed him (and them). At least the GOP understands that they have a base and they work with them. The Stewart wing of the Democratic Party is doomed because all they really want out of politics is to be able to get through that traffic 5 seconds faster.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:00 PM  

  • Without getting into who's worse, or the false equivalence of Jon's video which I haven't seen, I think Stewart is basically right that what's wrong with our political discourse is rooted in the media, on both sides. They largely don't inform, they mock and they foment polarization because it's good for ratings.

    And for the record, I've never been a KO fan. Even when he was at his best during the Bush years, I found his delivery grating and preferred to read his special comments rather than watch them.

    By Blogger Libby Spencer, at 9:12 AM  

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