Olberphobia Grips Gray Lady

I’m going to take one last riff at the old media — why, perhaps they are so suplinely [sic] compliant.

The Snarkosphere loved targeting Keith Olbermann

It would be easy to lay the blame at the New York Times’ magazine writer, who begins this snarky “personality piece” with the narrative he’s bound and determined to push, the PeeCee narrative of spineless “liberalism” — at least as defined by the Reicht Ving*. [* Not to be confused with Ving Rhames, with whom they love to metaphorically conflate themselves, a la “Pulp Fiction.”] Emphasis added.


America’s Favorite Talking Hothead
By DAVID CARR Published: June 15, 2011

Keith Olbermann likes looking into a camera. The return of its gaze animates him and reminds him that he has a million friends on the other side of it. But he doesn’t picture those people. He talks directly to the camera. “I’ve never been convinced the cameras are plugged into anything,” he said.

Just how much does Olbermann like being on camera?

In late May, we went to the Saturday night game of the Mets-Yankees subway series. A former ESPN anchor and a lifelong Yankees fan, Olbermann is a deeply knowledgeable baseball wonk. We emerged from the dining club in the new stadium, stepped out into the section right behind home plate, walked down to the very front row and took a seat next to one of his longtime producers, Katy Ramirez Karp. Alex Rodriguez was just a few feet away, taking lazy warm-up swings and nodding at some pals who were sitting behind us. Olbermann looked beyond him, peering into center field.

Now pay attention to the “writer’s trick.” Since it’s this Sunday’s “magazine” piece, it’s going to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and tie it up at the end. Let’s skip to there, shall we?

“Mechanically, if you look very carefully in a camera, it has a series of reflections and dimensions to it, you can look past that,” he said. He holds up his hands in the shape of a box. “Here’s the camera, here’s the front of the camera, here’s the lens of the camera, but if you look deeply enough, you can see the inner rings at the far end of the lens and maybe a glimmer of light very deep in the distance. You can always see something that might be an inch or two below the surface. Whenever I can, I try to focus there, not on the prompter or the front of the lens.”

Sensing that I didn’t completely follow him, he began a demonstration, his gaze going from slack to acute. “I am now looking as deeply in your eye, and I don’t mean I’m looking deeply into your eyes, I mean, I’m trying to find the back of your eyeball right now.”

Weirdly, he had. He looked like that guy on television. The one who likes the camera.

— ——————

A version of this article appeared in print on June 19, 2011, on page MM40 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: AMERICA’S FAVORITE TALKING HOT HEAD.

There are 2,608 words between these carefully, if tediously crafted bookends.

No response from the “Gray Lady” when this snark was going down.

The story’s URL suggests another title, perhaps discarded, perhaps the writer’s original suggestion: “Olbermann’s Rage is all the Rage

Really? Characterizing Keith Olbermann as a “hothead” and an angry man, a fulminator, a man filled with “rage” is naught but a narrative ad hominem. And, worse, an intentional minimization of anything journalistic or editorial that Olbermann has ever accomplished.

But let’s start with the “thesis” statement and a word definition:

Bombast is Olbermann’s métier …

Of métierDictionary dot com tells us (based on the Random House Dictionary © 2011):

speech too pompous for an occasion; pretentious words.

A sentence too oxymoronic to do justice to, coming from a pretentious and pompous writer. Ah, projection.

But the writer’s trick gives the ‘narrative’ away — if the title hadn’t already.* [* Title for which the writer can’t be blamed for, necessarily, ANYWAY; see “Mysteries of the Universe Revealed #412: Headlines” 9 December 2009.]

NARRATIVE: Keith Olberman is just a ranting hothead, a troubled soul, someone who deserved to be exiled from the airwaves, DIFFICULT TO WORK WITH, and other stolid snorts of the self-appointed elite of the mannered left.*

[* I know, we’re all sick of hearing about “elites,” but, as with all stereotypes, there is a kernel of truth underneath all the snark and dismissiveness.]

The narrative proceeds, irrespective of persons — in this case the fellow who took the writer to a New York Yankees game — with the standard Right Wing and False Equivalence of the Spineless Middle that Olberman is “difficult to work with,” dredging up all the gossip from 30 Rock that has had months to solidify without particularly allowing Mr. Olbermann a rebuttal of any sort.

Narrative: he’s ANGRY and PEOPLE DON’T LIKE HIM!

(And he probably doesn’t have any friends. What a looser! [sic])

I’m just going to go down the article, and pull sentences, and you tell me that this isn’t all but straight-up character assassination. THESE are the same jokers who glad-handed and effloresced gushy mash notes for David Koch just a couple months back? (See “The Predictability of Robotic Behavior” 6 March 2011, which begins: “The New York Times planted a wet, slurpy kiss on the posterior of David Koch yesterday …”]

David Koch from the New York Times article in March

But, again, there is that robotic predictability at work. Listen:

[Note, quotes are individually linked to paragraphs in the story, so you can view them in context.]

After a stormy exit from MSNBC — he left with no fanfare and no notice to his staff — he spent months nursing grudges on Twitter and plotting his return.


[at the baseball game, approached by a fan] “Mr. Olbermann, I have somehow managed to form opinions without your assistance, but I really miss your show,” said Arnold Karr, who works in publishing in Manhattan.

“Don’t get too used to it,” Olbermann said. “We start broadcasting on June 20.”


If history is a guide, there will be plenty of drama on and off screen. Bombast is Olbermann’s métier, and his checkered employment history is of a piece with his reflexive on-air aggression. That he seems perpetually angry both limits and enables his success.

No snarky, acid-tongue there. You can almost hear the milk of human kindness dripping, can’t you?

Somebody with lots of friends, liked by co-workers

His knack for forming toxic workplace relationships has followed him wherever he goes …

Olbermann is perpetually aggrieved….

He also built his own gallows, cultivating and encouraging both Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell …

And when he wasn’t threatening not to show up, he was threatening to quit….

Olbermann does have his defenders….

“He has all the stuff, the good breaking ball, the change-up, but he might rely on the heater a little too often,” Costas said, laughing as he described Olbermann’s high-velocity rants.

And when the 2012 elections begin in earnest, Olbermann will be broadcasting on a channel that has significant carriage — Current is in 60 million homes — but that most consumers couldn’t find on a bet.

Perhaps the first order of business for Olbermann in his new home will be to find a suitable enemy, something he is good at.

Olbermann is himself an ideologue, a man who never met a shade of gray he liked and who believes his opponents are evil.

While Olbermann is clearly a handful to sit next to at work, he’s a fine companion at a baseball game….

The one who likes the camera.

I get it: Keith Olbermann is an out-of-control hater who kicks small  children, powerless co-workers and drowns puppies as a way of relieving stress. It’s grudgingly admitted that he has “talent.”

Keith Olbermann from today’s and Wednesday’s NYT piece

But the notion that his talent, his analysis and his delivery all spring one from another, or that he was ever CORRECT in his “bombastic” assessments and commentary seems entirely outside the purview of Mr. Carr’s auto-gratifying “journalism.”

Because issues don’t matter. Only “personalities” do. Thus, the gossip and snark.

After the glad-handing given David Koch ( to “prove” to an unconvinced and unconvincable Right Wing that they’re “balanced”) the “hit” is put on Olbermann by a pretentious little* assassin who uses the opportunity for front row seats at a Yankees game to stick in the knife and twist. The “narrative” is all, and, after reading the hit piece, one is left with the impression that Keith Olbermann is worse than Rush Limbaugh, worse than Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, or a thousand other professional haters in the Rightiesphere.

The meter of Carr’s métier would seem apparent to your average deaf and blind fruitbat.

[* ‘little’ as regards the soul and not mere physical or auctorial presence.]

Which, of course, is the New York Times‘ way of pushing that same meta-narrative as with Koch: We’re fair and balanced. We’re reliable and dependable, and, of course, the capper: We’re not liberal.

No arguments on that last one, here.

The Gray Lady’s reputation for “liberalism” only exists within the Rightiesphere. Anyone who actually reads their stuff would have to conclude otherwise, of late.

But you will note that as the toothed right and the toothless left yowl in the night sky, the Gray Lady (and so many others) keep shifting the “moderate middle” further and further in the toothed direction. This has been going on for quite a while for reasons that I won’t go into … for the present. Instead, let me talk about craft:

I’ve done a lot of interviews and “profile” pieces over the years for any number of magazines, and I can only offer the professional assessment that the writer himself is that sort of back-stabbing weasel I saw all too often in journalism: more than happy to provide back-office gossip as “balance” in setting out a pre-judged narrative that was in place before the research was ever undertaken. We pass if off as “journalism” and pretend that it’s not simply gossip fit perhaps for a break room, but not for any sort of legitimate publication.

I have always wondered at the fundamental moral bankruptcy of the skeezix writer who uses an agreed intimacy with an interview subject to verbally assassinate the interviewee in a particularly gruesome and ugly manner.

Mr. Carr decided to use his admittedly enjoyable Yankee game experience to bookend the article, carefully making the point that “Keith Olbermann likes the camera,” as though this were a rarity in our celebrity exhibitionist culture, and that, by implication, this says awful things about Olbermann — i.e. that he is an un-credible and incredible exhibitionist and attention whore. If he had been to Olbermann’s home, one wonders whether Carr would’ve stolen drugs from the medicine cabinet AND used the presence of pain-killers (for the stress fracture barely mentioned in the article, that has Olbermann using a cane to remain peripatetic.

That Mr. Carr’s editors would not only approve this character assassination, but run the article TWICE (once on June 15 and again today in the June 19 “magazine” section) suggests that there’s plenty of questionable “journalistic” <a title=”meriting condemnation or blame especially as wrong or harmful ” href=”http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culpability” target=”_blank”>culpability to go around.

That the same editors allowed the puff piece on David Koch a mere four months ago only reinforces that assessment.

As far as Keith Olbermann is concerned, I will only say that I never found his moral courage to be “bombast.”

When every press outlet in the Universe (including MSNBC, whose Joe Scarborough was Head Cheerleader of the “let’s invade Iraq!” contingent) was puffing the crimes of the Bush Administration, and blithely swallowing every absurdist proposition that came from the fax machine in the West Wing, Keith Olberman ALONE spoke truth to power, gave voice to the reasonable and reasoned notion that something VERY BAD was going on, and that gave rise the whole “hothead” narrative among both angry Rightists and spineless Lefties.

Joe Scarborough

Compare with the manner in which the Democratic power structure turned on Representative Anthony Weiner, justifying his political assassination as a “distraction,” which, alas, can only be translated as “he is making waves; we don’ LIKE waves, therefore, as a way of not being uncomfortable, “distractions” have to go.”

Keith Olbermann was a distraction. No one can argue that, as regards the War in Iraq, he was right and the rest were wrong.

No one can argue that Keith Olbermann DIDN’T speak truth to power.

And no one ought to doubt that the same fundamental spinelessness that has for so long characterized Democratic NON-response to any provocation, calumny or sophistry is still at work here. Olbermann was a ‘distraction’ — regardless of whether he was correct — and, therefore, must be distanced, painted with the same black brush that an O’Reilly would wield, and marginalized and minimized as a “hothead.”

Really? David Koch isn’t an angry crank with a stealth political machine, but Keith Olbermann is a hothead, a prima donna, a man who has no friends because he’s so awful a person?

And literate commentary is merely “bombast”?

Not bombast, evidently

THAT’s not pretentious. That’s being a weasel.

Olbermann’s snarky, out-of-control “bombast” begins on Current TV tomorrow.

I plan to watch it, just as I look forward to the comments in which ad hominem supplants thoughtful argument or thought, entirely, a la:

Olbermann is a hack; he is nothing more than an extreme leftwing,liberal,socialist,Democratic Party blowhard; he is ,incapable of rational thought, and so must resort to rants of rage,and personal attacks against anyone that does not agree with his myopic worldview. Smug and condescending, full of himself to the N’th degree,infinity and beyond. Makes me want to puke just seeing his face on Tv. Oh faithful Obama lapdog, who wishes his name was Bo. [all sic]

It’s all the rage these days.

Even at the New York Times.



This is cross-posted from Hart’s blog.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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4 Responses to Olberphobia Grips Gray Lady

  1. Gail says:

    I bet this was a really good article but I couldn’t stay awake past the first paragraph. Get over yourself, quickly.

  2. I’m rubber, you’re glue. It bounces off me and sticks to you.

    At least now we’re BOTH arguing on a kindergarten level, Gail.

  3. Andy says:

    Pardon me, but doesn’t the snarkosphere exist on both the right and the left. What do you call this rag?

  4. Hart Williams says:

    I call it 0% rag content, 100% pixel content by weight.