Olbermann Still Playing the Race Card


by Roger Aronoff – [producer, media analyst]

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann has offered another of his mindless rants that he calls “Special Commentaries.” This time, he tried to rile up his audience by throwing around vague charges of racism against white people, including himself!

People-especially anti-Obama Tea Partiers-are surrounded and motivated by racism, Olbermann said, huffing and puffing in righteous indignation. This helps explain why Obama is losing popularity and his policies are failing, he implied.

Olbermann’s diagnosis is correct, at least in part. Taking him at his word, he is a racist, and so is his network. Is this why there are no black faces hosting MSNBC political talk shows? Perhaps Olbermann will continue this series of commentaries by naming the CEO of NBC Universal (parent company of MSNBC), Jeff Zucker, as the worst person in the world!

“I think,” the MSNBC host said, “having now been one [a white person] for 51 years, I am permitted to say I believe prejudice and discrimination still sit, defeated, dormant, or virulent, somewhere in the soul of each white man in this country.”

Does it sit that way in Olbermann’s mind? What exactly is he talking about anyway?

He continued, “But facts don’t matter when you’re looking for an excuse to say you hate this president (but not because he’s black).”

The tired race card approach to politics and current events would not normally require any response or comment. It could be dismissed for what it is, coming from a questionable source who deals in vile rhetoric and regularly denounces people as “the worst” in the world.

But it is fascinating and worthy of comment because of what it says not only about Olbermann but the network which pays him so much to generate the high ratings that he wants but cannot get. According to Bill Carter of the New York Times, in January CNN surpassed MSNBC for the first time in six months in the ratings, and Fox has approximately triple the ratings of either CNN or MSNBC. So maybe the latest “Special Commentary” is an attempt to see who is paying attention and actually watching the show. We at AIM plead “guilty as charged,” at least in this special case. Please forgive us.

Playing into Olbermann’s hands, one is tempted to tune in to the next program, if only to see whether Olbermann will take the dramatic next step of setting himself on fire in protest of something or other, real or imagined. What will happen next? Will he show up drunk? Will he turn up missing? Does anyone care?

Olbermann seems determined to make himself into a martyr for some cause which only he seems to understand. It is not pretty but it is somewhat entertaining. Perhaps he will next allege that he is receiving special instructions from the ghost of Edward R. Murrow, the broadcasting legend that Olbermann shamelessly tries to imitate.

A pasty white man who tried to act like he is blacker than Al Sharpton, Olbermann deployed the race card in this commentary and suggested that white people are racists if they oppose the agenda of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama, only one of whom is black. He acknowledged his use of terms like “Tea Klux Klan” might be “incendiary,” but it’s only because he’s so “angry that at so late a date we still have to bat back that racial uneasiness which envelops us all.”

He didn’t rationally explain why resistance to an agenda pushed by white liberals in Congress should be considered racist. But nothing about Olbermann’s show at this point makes any rational sense. He is lashing out, apparently angry that liberal policies are crashing and burning, just like his ratings.

If he indeed wants to be taken seriously, and that is a big “if,” we should point out for the benefit of those precious few who turned in to his “Special Commentary” on the racist plague that the big September 12 Tea Party event in Washington, D.C. last year did in fact include black people.

Not only were they there, but they spoke to the crowd. One of them, Lloyd Marcus, spoke and sang to the audience, and wrote an article shortly after the event talking about the movement and the event, and the people like Olbermann who peddle hate and bigotry against blacks who don’t toe the Democrat Party line. Marcus wrote, “As to the claim that the Tea Party protesters are racist, they are not. Quite the opposite. At every rally with thousands in attendance, I was overwhelmingly showered with affection and thanks for standing up for America. At one rally, a sign read, ‘Lloyd Marcus for President.’ These protesters are not racist. They are decent, hard working, ordinary Americans who love their country and disapprove of the racial changes planned by the Obama administration. Race is not an issue with them. They have deep concerns for their country.”
Marcus added that “Disgustingly, Obama-ites use race to silence the protesters. They know it is an effective weapon to use against decent people. Ironically, the people the Obama-ites call racist are the same people who hate hyphenating. They want to be united as Americans.”

In a recent profile of Marcus by Paul Harris in the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian, he described Lloyd Marcus’s politics as having been “forged in a childhood in the black ghettos of Baltimore.” He wrote that “Marcus believes liberalism is at fault. He says that black America’s problems-high incarceration rates, low life ­expectancy, poor health and drug problems-can be laid at the door of a dependency culture created by big government. He sees no point in dwelling on America’s long history of slavery and segregation. Instead his answer is simple: ‘Tell people the truth: that America is the land of greatest opportunity for all those willing to go for it.'”

Another participant at the September Tea Party rally was Mason Weaver, who spoke mostly about politics, and little about race.

Shortly after the event, Robert Tracinski wrote an excellent column carried on RealClearPolitics examining this issue. He noted that commentators and columnists such as Maureen Dowd, Joe Klein and Paul Krugman were all claiming that racism was the energy behind the anti-Obama grass-roots movement.

Olbermann, on a more infantile level, continues these reprehensible accusations against a movement that has a higher approval rating than the Democrat-controlled Congress. Tracinski says, “Racism is one of the worst insults you can throw at someone today, only a few steps up from accusing him of being a child molester.”

But coming from a mad hatter like Olbermann, it only has the effect of turning attention back on the accuser. Is he serious? Is he kidding?

Did facts matter to Olbermann when expressing hatred for President Bush or Vice President Cheney, calling them war criminals and comparing them to Nazis?  Olbermann must think that such charges appeal to his “base” of viewers in the Daily Kos and MoveOn communities.

Nevertheless, he has the highest rated show on the network and draws a large salary, despite the fact that his parent company, General Electric, took $126 billion in federal loan guarantees. Daniel Glover documented this bit of Olbermann hypocrisy last May for AIM’s blog site.

Hypocrisy aside, Olbermann must be laughing at Zucker and the other suits all the way to the bank. The last laugh is on them.

Olbermann tried showing, on this President’s Day rant, that he has a sensitive side, to let white people know that it is not their fault. It is fear: “I know, if I could listen only to Lincoln on this of all days about the better angels of our nature, I’d know that what we’re seeing at the Tea Parties is, at its base people who are afraid. Terribly, painfully, cripplingly, blindingly, afraid.”

Olbermann asks how many black, Asian and Hispanic faces we see at these events. For Olbermann and his ilk it always about the color of the skin. But skin color alone doesn’t account for the 20 or so points Obama has dropped in his approval rating in his first year in office. It is about disillusionment in a man they no longer trust, a President who has engendered opposition because it is clear that he is determined to transform this country economically and culturally.

Olbermann concluded his rant with this bit of vitriol:

“If you believe there is merit to your political argument, fine. But ask yourself when you next go to a Tea Party rally, or watch one on television, or listen to a politician or a commentator praise these things or merely treat them as if it was just a coincidence that they are virtually segregated.
“Ask yourself: Where are the black faces? Who am I marching with? What are we afraid of? And if it really is only a president’s policy and not his skin. Ask yourself one final question: Why are you surrounded by the largest crowd you’ll ever again see in your life that consists of nothing but people who look exactly like you?”

Ironically, however, as you look at the home page of MSNBC’s TV shows, you see a sea of white faces. Ten to be exact. If you are black, Hispanic or Asian, you are not on that home page. You need not apply. They do have Tamron Hall, a black reporter and anchor who often works alongside David Shuster, during MSNBC’s daily news block that doesn’t bear the name of a news commentator or personality. But Hall apparently isn’t viewed as important enough to be featured on the MSNBC-TV website.

When Olbermann looks across those faces, he needs to ask himself: Where are the black faces? Who am I reporting with? Can we expect a rant on this? Not likely.

His verbal napalm is, ironically, somewhat refreshing, compared to his giggling and snorting sessions with people he brings on to validate his own political points. MSNBC hosts Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews at least have the courage on various occasions to bring on people with different views. Is Olbermann afraid that without his teleprompter or a friendly face across the desk, that his tendentious arguments will collapse like his outrageous charges of racism?

Why is Olbermann surrounded by fellow MSNBC hosts with faces as white as his? Why are there no blacks qualified to have their own show on MSNBC? Are these whites the 10 best available people? Can’t MSNBC find a black person to put in there at least as a token to prove that MSNBC isn’t a racist network?

Wouldn’t you like to watch a “Special Commentary” on that?

It has become increasingly clear that Olbermann is not as a general rule supposed to be taken seriously. That is why NBC’s own “Saturday Night Live” ran this piece with Ben Affleck as a clownish Olbermann. Or consider this more recent one from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” where Jon Stewart lampoons a buffoonish Olbermann.

But when MSNBC’s pet commentator Olbermann makes charges of racism, some degree of serious attention is required to set the record straight. Someone has to be held accountable for using a television network in such an abusive fashion.


Roger Aronoff is a media analyst with Accuracy in Media, and is the writer/director of ”Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.” He can be contacted at roger.aronoff@aim.org

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