Whoa. There goes that Presidential Medal of Freedom for Keith Olbermann. Take a look at this two-hander from last night’s show on MSNBC:
Olbermann has been pointing out that George W. Bush is a dummy for years, but even for him, this was turning up the heat. Sure, it is open season on Bush, especially now that he is a lame duck leader sidelined by one of the most stirring presidential elections in memory. But you can’t accuse Olbermann of simply piling on with the pack. He, along with PBS veteran commentator Bill Moyers, have consistently been outspoken critics of the Bush administration.
Still, I can’t recall anyone else on a U.S.-based all news channel ripping into Bush with phrases like “bone-headedly wrong,” or basically telling the president of the United States to “shut the hell up.”
What set Olbermann off if you haven’t screened the clip (and you’ll need to set aside 12 minutes, but it’s worth it) is a recent interview where Bush told a reporter he gave up golf out of respect for the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. It’s a statement Olbermann calls “ludicrous, infuriating, holier-than-thou.”
The one time ESPN sportscaster was at the last TCA tour in July of 2007, where he took questions from critics. When I caught up with him at the NBC after party I suggested he seemed out on a limb over some of the anti-Bush rants he had done up to that point. Olbermann said the real guy with guts was that commentator up in Canada at the CBC–meaning Rex Murphy! Olbermann said Murphy was saying things about the war in Iraq and the Bush administration that no U.S. commentator would dare express.
Olbermann may be a fan of Murphy but he is a disciple of Edward R. Murrow. It goes way beyond the shared “good night, and good luck” sign off, Olbermann’s obvious homage to the master CBS newsman. In an era when Dan Rather is history and Walter Cronkite ancient history, it is good to see somebody like Olbermann give props to the past.
For my money, however, the devotion goes a little too far. Look at how Olbermann mimics Murrow’s mannerisms, right down to the head down pauses between reads to the camera. All that is missing is the cigarette haze.
More admirable is Olbermann’s careful use of language, another Murrow hallmark. Olbermann’s rants are precise and well crafted, smart and fun at the same time. This one is punctuated with genuine anger and fearless rhetoric. It is good to see, especially coming from a network owned by a conglomerate which profits from Bush’s ramp up of the industrial military complex. Olbermann may be borrowing stature from Murrow, but he is clearly also earning it on his own.