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Friday, January 06, 2012

Dear Keith,
Posted by Jill | 5:59 AM
I hope you don't take this the wrong way. No, maybe I do. Or maybe I don't care. Because that Howard Beale thing that used to make you a lone voice in the wilderness is spiraling completely out of control, and we don't want to lose you to your own lack of perspective.

I'm not sure you realize how important you were at one time to those of us out here who knew that there were no WMD in Iraq but had no voice other than yours in the media affirming what we already knew. At a time when outrage at what the Bush Administration was doing. You hit the air on MSNBC on March 31, 2003 -- just a year before The O'Franken Factor had its first broadcast on the now-defunct Air America Radio, thus giving us more hope for progressive media. And for nearly eight years, you were the voice of sanity, the person we could rely on to get the experts, to get the facts. Yes, you were bombastic, and that bombast had a style so idiosyncratic that Ben Affleck of all people was able to do a spot-on parody of you on SNL. But at a time when there was so little passion in the media about what the Bush Administration was doing, YOU were out there, almost literally reaching out of the TV set to grab the lapels of America and shouting, "Open your eyes! See what they are doing to you? What they are doing in YOUR NAME!"

Those young adults out in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere may not even remember what it was like then, back when only you were out in the mainstream media making the case for truth. Yes, a year later, Air America went on the air, but that company's continuous financial problems, lack of airwaves, and mismanagement hardly made it an alternative to cable news for most people.

Today, progressive cable news is not only alive, but thriving -- largely thanks to you. It was YOU who pushed for Rachel Maddow to have her own show, making her the first out lesbian and truly outspoken and unabashed progressive to sit on front of a camera on a cable news channel. Today it is Rachel, not you, who anchors the weeknight political coverage. It is Rachel who has displaced the hacktacular Chris Matthews as the center of MSNBC's primary coverage. And in true Biblical fashion, The Rachel Maddow Show begat Up With Chris Hayes, which has become the smartest Sunday morning panel show on TV. And now Chris Hayes has begat not only his own actual daughter (about whom he waxed adorably rhapsodic after her birth), but also a new show for Melissa Harris-Perry to follow his own, starting next month. Devotés of Lockdown may moan, but fans of smart, progressive news and commentary that tells the TRUTH rejoice.

And where are you?

You couldn't get along with the suits at MSNBC. OK, MSNBC is owned by two odious companies, GE and Comcast. So maybe you didn't want to work for those guys. But when you can no longer say you're selling out to The Man, when you become the public face of an emergent news organization, when you're given practically the whole enchilada to build as you see fit, and you STILL can't get along, well, you have two variables and a constant, and the constant is YOU.

You've been difficult to watch lately. What used to be justifiable outrage at the injustices being perpetrated by the corporate/Republican Axis of Evil is turning into the strange rantings we usually associate with crazy people on street corners. Every night, you seem determined to do whatever you can to piss off the people you now work for. You aren't even entertaining anymore. Now what I see when I watch Countdown is a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Your audience isn't the frothing masses of Network. We're smart, we're aware, and what we see is someone falling apart before our very eyes.

I know you had a bad year. I know you were close to both your parents (and let us get close to them too), and you lost them both in fairly rapid succession. I know the debacle at MSNBC couldn't have been easy. I even know that watching Rachel eclipse you must have hurt. But you had a chance to really build something at Current -- and you're blowing that too. What do you think happens next? Do you think CBS dumps Bob Schieffer and gives you Face the Nation? Maybe ABC jettisons Stephanopoulos after he can't revive the ghastly This Week? On the contrary. Your next step is webcasting from your garage. Now, if you're a stand-up comic like Marc Maron, for whom a podcast becomes a means of apologizing to everyone to whom you've been an asshole over the years, it can be a great career move, as it's been for him. But where you're headed is as if Marlon Brando in his fat, declining years had re-enacted that scene from The Wild One, answering the question "What are you rebelling against, Johnny?" with "Whaddya got?" -- while glimpses of belly emerged from under the now-far-too-tight leather jacket.

A 50+-year-old man's trajectory from anchoring prime-time at MSNBC, to acting out at Current the minute you yourself bring in the younger Cenk Uygur, to podcasting from your garage, is not going to be seen as fighting the power and it's not going to be a springboard for a revived career and peace with oneself, as it's done for Maron. On the contrary, it's going to be seen as the pathetic end of a once-great career.

I'm sure you're hurting. But there's help out there. For God's sake, GET SOME.

Best regards,



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Anonymous Richard Blair said...
He's gone through a lot of personal stress over the past year or two, and it shows in many small ways. Keith has always been an "over the top" kind of guy, but failed to realize that the restrictions of working in a corporate-owned media environment such as MS-NBC actually served as a a positive governor to the accelerator of his personal passions.

Olbermann's ego and run-ins with management are a thing of legend, regardless of who he was employed by in the past. I also think it's no small matter that Current is the equivalent of a broadcasting startup, and that he was expecting more "polish" when he walked in the door. He didn't find that, and now he's in the middle of a public flame war again with network management. Where have we heard this before?

I hope, for the sake of his own sanity and continued relevance, that he listens to those who have been his biggest fans and supporters over the years before he really does end up webcasting out of his garage.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Excellent take. I hate to see him self-destruct and he's becoming an embarrassment for progressives. I too hope some close friend of his bitch slaps some reality into his noggin.

Blogger Mauigirl said...
Agree - it's very sad that he can't seem to get along no matter where he goes. Sometime he just has to look in the mirror and say, "Maybe it IS me."

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Very nicely said, Jill.
I loved Keith and the first few "special comments." I couldn't believe that Howard Beale was actually on my teevee.
Unfortunately, Keith continued the Howard Beale model into madness.
At least he didn't get murdered on air for a boost in the ratings.

Blogger D. said...
I'm slow on the uptake, as usual; I just saw this article.

It's regrettable.

D... I guess I'm even more slow on the uptake.. I have been checking from time to time for Keith and saw others in his chair.. thot he must be out sick or on assignment... (had a short in hosp and my dad died.. so I have missed alot... playing catch up...)
Truly did I not know there was another 'fire under his seat' and he was gone.... what a waste... such talent... A great loss of a phenomenal progressive voice.