It wasn’t merely that Olbermann had rashly put a political narrative ahead of the uncooperative facts. It was that his Special Comment was especially guilty of the sins he ascribed to others.
Through Special Comment, the GOP became “treacherous and ultimately traitorous Republicans”; George W. Bush, an “unhinged, irrational Chicken Little of a president,” “a bald-faced liar,” and either a “pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief”; and the Tea Party, “a group of unqualified, unstable individuals who will do what they are told, in exchange for money and power, and march this nation as far backward as they can get, backward to Jim Crow, or backward to the breadlines of the ’30s, or backward to hanging union organizers, or backward to the Trusts and the Robber Barons.”
If it weren’t for incendiary, over-the-top rhetoric, there would be no Keith Olbermann—at least not the post-Sports Center version of Keith Olbermann. So inveighing against overheated discourse said less about those on the broadcaster’s enemies list than it said about how oblivious he was to how others perceived him. The man had no sense of irony.
As was the case with the Tucson Special Comment, Olbermann used the forum to air his fantasies as if they were reality, adding to the segment’s surreal quality. Upon George W. Bush signing the Military Commissions Act, Special Comment, borrowing the president’s words, pronounced it “the beginning of the end of America.” In February 2009, Special Comment declared that Dick Cheney had “terrified more Americas than did any terrorist in the last seven years.” Six months before the Republican Party’s greatest mid-term election victory since the 1930s, the bespectacled host pondered the GOP’s imminent extinction: “You are rapidly moving from ‘The Party of No,’ past ‘The Party of No Conscience,’ towards ‘The Party of No Relevancy.’ You are behind the wheel of a political Toyota. And before the mid-terms, you will have been reduced to only being this generation’s home for the nuts.”
The Special Comment was bad television, but unlike the bad television that surrounded on MSNBC. Whereas, say, The Ed Show is as mediocre as its name implies, Special Comment imagined itself as grandiose only to come off as embarrassingly amateurish. It failed memorably because it failed with pretensions. This car-wreck quality that prompted so many to hastily turn the station paralyzed a dumbstruck me, mouth agape, to slowly sit down and absorb the spectacle.
For a parody of Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, one must change the channel from Fox News to Comedy Central for The Colbert Report. For a caricature of Keith Olbermann, one needed only to have left it on MSNBC and wait for the Special Comment.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.
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