Last night Keith Olbermann announced that his show was coming to an end, after eight years of airing on MSNBC. Olbermann said thank you and goodbye to his viewers at the end of last night’s show, and NBC Universal sent out a statement, announcing they were ending their contract with Olbermann. While everyone searches to find out whether or not Olbermann was fired, the larger question for the liberal world is, “What happens now that Olbermann is officially gone?”
According to The New York Times, the terms of Olbermann’s settlement will not allow him to sign with another cable news network, so CNN cannot pick up Olbermann. Fox News likely has very little interest in Olbermann and the feeling is probably mutual. It is unclear if Olbermann could sign on with a non-cable news network like HBO.
Even if Olbermann does sign on with someone like HBO or a broadcast through some other means, he will certainly not reach the same audience he did at 8:00 pm EST every day on MSNBC. Olbermann was unquestionably the most prominent liberal commentator on television. While his ratings never reached that of O’Reilly or Glenn Beck, he reached around one million Americans every day. Olbermann’s message was also spread via Twitter, Facebook, and other internet platforms. With Olbermann gone a huge void has been created, and it is not entirely clear that anyone will be able to fill it.
Of course, remaining are Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and Lawrence O’Donnell. Each have their own talents, but none have demonstrated the same kind of ability to communicate the liberal message as Olbermann. O’Donnell and Maddow lack Olbermann’s passion. Schultz is not lacking in passion, but at times fails to provide the same kind of intellectual rigor Olbermann brought to his program. None of the remaining commentators have demonstrated the same prowess for taking on the various Fox News personalities, along with Rush Limbaugh.
That is not to say Olbermann was perfect. He often went too far with his comments, as he admitted after going on a long, over-the-top tirade against Scott Brown before the special election in Massachusetts. Olbermann often demanded more of Democratic politicians than could reasonably be expected. For instance, he urged Democrats to throw away the health care reform bill after the loss of the public option, when, in fact, the bill still accomplished many positive things. Now Olbermann is a prominent defender of the health care reform package.
Having said that, for all his faults, Olbermann was an unbelievably gifted writer, and even more capable in delivering those words through speech. Even many of those who disliked Olbermann’s politics liked him when he was covering sports for ESPN. His charisma and wit connected with many. There were the Olbermann haters, just as there are the Beck and O’Reilly haters, but anyone honestly assessing Olbermann would have to concede he was made for the job he was doing. Furthermore, Olbermann pushed Democrats to stick to their progressive ideals, and had a large enough audience to have some success in holding them accountable.
For all these reasons, last night was a sad day for progressives. Liberals just lost the one voice that could realistically contend with the Becks and Limbaughs of the world. Liberals love to see conservative arguments dismantled with reasoning and facts, and no one did that quite as well as Olbermann.