Saturday, December 02, 2006

Keith Olbermann Proves That Dissent Has An Audience

If you picked up the New York Times on October 18, you'd have had little reason to think it was a particularly significant day in American history. While the front page featured a photo of George W. Bush signing a new law at the White House the previous day, the story about the Military Commissions Act -- which the Times never named -- was buried in a 750-word piece on page A20. "It is a rare occasion when a President can sign a bill he knows will save American lives" was the first of several quotes of praise from the President that were high up in the article. Further down, a few Democrats objected to the bill, but from the article's limited explanation of the law it was hard to understand why.

But if you happened to catch MSNBC the evening before, you'd have heard a different story. It, too, began with a laudatory statement from the President: "These military commissions are lawful. They are fair. And they are necessary." Cut to MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann: "And they also permit the detention of any American in jail without trial if the president does not like him."

What? Did the Times, and most other outlets, just miss that?

Indeed, they did. Olbermann, who decried the new law as a shameful moment in American history, went on to proclaim that the Military Commissions Act -- which he did name -- will be the American embarrassment of our time, akin to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 or the 1942 executive order interning Japanese-Americans.

It was a perfect story for the bold and eccentric host of Countdown With Keith Olbermann, which airs weeknights on MSNBC. A former anchor for ESPN's SportsCenter, Olbermann likes to call the news as he sees it -- especially when almost everyone else in the media seems to be ignoring a critical play. As it turns out, that tack on the news is increasingly popular these days, upending the conventional wisdom that incisive analysis and intelligent critiques don't win viewers on mainstream television.

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