Monday, January 24, 2011

A Voice in the Wilderness

A friend of mine (on Facebook) recently suggested that I should write about the current goings-on regarding Keith Olbermann and MSNBC.

Now, long time readers here will know that freedom of speech is one of those topics I return to at times: here, or here, or even here. So, why does my mind turn immediately to freedom of speech as one of the sub-texts in relation to Keith Olbermann. Partly, because I don’t know exactly what’s going on here. And also, because I found Olbermann’s voice to be one of those critical voices that we need during a time when far too few people on the airwaves look at issues deeply. Without his voice, our vaunted freedom speech loses some of its luster for me.

Keith Olbermann, who has been the host of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” announced suddenly on Friday night that this would be his last broadcast. Some of his phrasing could lead a viewer to think he was departing on his own timing, while other phrasing made it sounds as though he had been pushed out.

Whatever the reason, it also makes me ruminate on the nature of being a prophetic voice. While too many people tend to think of future telling as what it means to be a prophet—you know, predicting who will win the Super Bowl, or whether the stock market will go up or down (yes, it will), or when the world will end—being a prophet really means speaking the uncomfortable truth to those who do not want to hear it. It is this speaking truth to power niche that Olbermann occupies. Not alone, mind you, but there are not many such brave voices.

Mostly, being a prophet is a lonely occupation. You don’t get invited to dinner parties, and if you do, the guests tend to scoot away from you, not wanting to sit too close, lest the doom rub off on them. There are many examples through time—of course, the term prophet is most associated with Biblical times. The Old Testament fairly drips with these guys. The one prime example in the New Testament—John the Baptist—fits the eccentric description to the hilt.

There are other examples through history and in literature. The Greek Cassandra appears multiple times—in Homer’s writings, in drama. She has insight into the future, but her utterings are at best ignored, at worst scorned—and she seems mad, insane to mere mortals.

Maybe it is too much to identify Olbermann’s voice as prophetic. After all, he commented with deep intelligence on current affairs. He didn’t really try to warn about what might come. At times, he was strident—perhaps even too strident. But his gaze never faltered. His incisive analysis of current events was not an empty egotistical effort. He put his politics into action. Deeply critical of the on-going absurdity in this country of the lack of universal health coverage, Keith committed his own funds to help underwrite several free clinics around the country. He raised money for these efforts, and helped sign up health providers to provide care.

As you can tell, I am still processing. Trying to figure out what really happened? Was he fired or did he quit? What comes next? Who will raise the liberal banner and bluntly address the issues from “the other side”? We seem to have our surfeit of voice on the so-called right. I will miss this voice on the left.


Anvilcloud said...

I don't know him well, but he seems to bat for the wrong side in this political climate. If he was pushed, he'll probably resurface elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Saw article in NYTimes about him today. See if this link will get you there:

I always thought he did exactly what they hired him to do. Yes, he could be bombastic, but look at his competition. The things MSNBC accused him of being--thin-skinned and explosive--seem like requirements for the FOX folks. Not sure MSNBC has decided what they want to be.

Jayne said...

We watched Countdown almost every single night leading up to the 2008 election and always enjoyed his humor and insight. Yes, he was passionate and sometimes took things a bit over the top, but as you said, he was a voice to hear and one that made people think. I'm guessing that MSNBC decided he was becoming "too" political and were maybe starting to try and reign him in a bit, to which he said, "Adios!"

Ginnie said...

I had not heard that he just had his last broadcast. I am really sorry because he was one man who wasn't afraid to be a liberal.
I would guess that MSNBC is leery of leaning too far left ... Chris Matthews seems to be more to their format.
Since when did being a LIBERAL become a bad thing? I've been one all my life and proud of it.