An Open Letter to Keith Olbermann

Dear Keith,

I hope you don’t mind that I address you by your first name. I’ve been a fan for years, so long that I almost feel I know you…or at least as much as you can know someone you’ve seen only on a television screen.

From your time at ESPN forward, I’ve watched your career unfold. I’ve found myself eagerly looking forward to seeing you on my TV. Your intellect, your sardonic wit, your “no sacred cows” philosophy, and your surpassing skill and talent have never been in doubt. Your ability to entertain and inform have always been top-notch and well worth whatever time I’ve invested in watching you.

Having said that, though, I must confess to being greatly disturbed and concerned. I’ve watched you evolve from an erudite sportscaster into a strong and forceful Liberal voice. I’ve been a devotee of “Countdown”, first on MSNBC and now on Current TV, for years…and I’m beginning to fear that you’re becoming a willing victim of your own success.

I get that you’re opinionated, always have been, and don’t suffer fools lightly. I admire that about you, because we share those qualities. Somewhere along the line, though, you’ve lost the ability to step back from the stories you report on. The stories, and the silliness and hypocrisy too often behind them, have become personal. You’ve traveled from the realm of trenchant, insightful analysis to the domain of name-calling, personal insults, and screaming. You’ve become a Liberal version of the clowns on Fox News Channel you so frequently excoriate. You’ve become a thinking man’s Ed Schultz…and that’s NOT a compliment.

It seems that everywhere you’ve gone conflict has followed. For whatever reason, you find yourself at loggerheads with your employer early on. Perhaps the reasons for the conflicts are legitimate, but given that this has been the story wherever you’ve plied your trade, it seems clear that the problem isn’t with those who sign your checks. The problem is YOU. Whether it’s rampant ego, a sense of entitlement, an over-cooked sense of your own value and worth, or combinations of the former, you’ve demonstrated yourself incapable of playing well with others. How much longer do you think media outlets will tolerate your immaturity and inability to play by the rules? How many bridges will you burn before there are no bridges left and, even worse, no one left willing to build bridges for you?

I understand that objective journalism died with the advent of Fox News Channel. Ideologues and moral midgets like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Megyn Kelly may have carved out their niche among those who like their news wrapped with outrage and Right-wing propaganda. That truth doesn’t convey upon you license to engage in the same sort of incivility on the other end of ideological spectrum. Shouldn’t you be able to rise above such narrow pettiness?

I’ve enjoyed “Countdown” for its insightful analysis, its reliance on facts, and it devotion to divining the truth. The “Countdown” I occasionally watch now is but a shell of the principled work of journalistic excellence that used to be offered up every night at 8pm ET. What I see now is you shouting, exercising your considerable anger, and engaging in personal insults directed at those with whom you clearly disagree. I admire your commitment, and I generally find myself in agreement with your point of view. What I can’t stomach is the anger, the vitriol, and the insults directed at those with whom you differ. Must you so willingly descend to the realm of those you excoriate??

Your on-air conduct reveals an angry, intolerant personality who differs from Fox News’ talking heads only on ideological terms. Your off-air conflicts with your employers leaves me wondering if you’re incapable of playing well with others. Your screaming, your profanity, and your childish conduct are unworthy of someone who fancies himself a journalist who admires Edward R. Murrow. It’s time to grow up and show that you’re the better person…but your behavior leaves me fearing that you’re not.

I recognize that you long ago abandoned any pretense of objectivity. In today’s hyper-partisan media environment, that’s understandable. There’s nothing wrong with pushing a Liberal agenda, especially given that there’s an entire network devoted to openly pushing Right-wing propaganda. That said, I cannot continue to give you a free pass for your immaturity, incivility, and screaming. It solves nothing, and it serves only to widen the gaping ideological chasm that exists in this country. Somewhere, somehow, Americans need to stand up to the hyper-partisan incivility and voluble intolerance that characterizes the state of our public discourse.

You may think someone an ass…but that doesn’t convey license to be an ass yourself…and yes, I recognize that I haven’t always done a stellar job of living up to that admonition myself.

As much as it pains me to say this, I can no longer condone your behavior. I can’t in good conscience continue watching “Countdown”, knowing what it could be, and recognizing what’s it’s devolved into. Some time ago, I resolved to boycott Ed Schultz for the same reasons. Scream loud and long enough, and eventually your audience will begin to tune you out. Congratulations, Keith; you’ve succeeded in alienating one of your biggest fans.

I’ll return when and if you can conduct yourself like a journalist…but I suspect that you’re too busy burning bridges to notice or care. Good luck to you.


Jack Cluth

(More at What Would Jack Do?)