February 11, 2011

CROSSFIRE HAS A LOT TO ANSWER FOR:

Groupthink Sells (Lee Siegel, January 25, 2011, NY Observer)

I could never understand why intelligent, cultivated people raved about Mr. Olbermann's "honesty" and "courage." Clearly they had not been reading Paul Krugman, or Bob Herbert, or any print journalists or newspaper articles at all. Mr. Olbermann merely repeated what everyone else on the liberal side had been saying ad nauseam. The only difference was that he did it louder and ruder. He turned rational opinion into emotional, vicarious entertainment, thereby uncourageously freeing his like-minded audience from the obligation, not to "think for themselves," as the boilerplate saying goes, but to try to figure out how the other guy, the hated opposition, thinks. After a hard day at work, the last thing you wanted was to try to put yourself in someone else's shoes, so you watched Mr. Olbermann to have your thoughts drowned out and your lack of empathy-what a day, fuck everyone, I'm exhausted-not only justified, but endorsed.

It's conventional to attribute Mr. Olbermann's success to the decline of news authority. The media are such cowards, such passive, spineless instruments of the status quo, and here comes Keith Olbermann speaking truth to power! But Mr. Olbermann wasn't the alternative to the contemptuous pundits and talking heads. He was their caricature. He was himself the very spirit of contempt for the media. His winking, transparent allusions to Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite were parodies, not homages. These guys were also histrionic phonies, he histrionically implied. Murrow and Cronkite, lifelong newsmen both, were sincere. Olbermann invented a new style of seeming to scream sincerely in tones of cynical irony.

Just as much as his supposed arch-rivals at Fox, Mr. Olbermann made feeling the touchstone of political reality. He didn't just strike below the belt; he lived there. I say "supposed arch-rivals" because without O'Reilly, Beck & Co., Mr. Olbermann would never have become so popular, and without Mr. Olbermann, his adversaries at Fox would never have grown so virulent. For people who live inside their televisions, Olbermann vs. Fox was the great political conflict of our day. For the rest of us, it was American business as usual. They needed each other the way Goldman needs Sachs. These two monolithic corporations needed each other the way Laurel needed Hardy.


At least when political professionals repeat talking points they know it's just a job. Amateurs seem to convince themselves that the agitprop is true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 11, 2011 6:45 AM
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