Last night a CNN commentator referred to Keith Olbermann as “mercurial” and “volatile”. This was minutes after Keith announced his abrupt departure from MSNBC. I’m not sure why the negativity was necessary, why Keith’s critic felt that he had to repeatedly tell viewers what a difficult person he thought Keith was, especially after Keith was so gracious in his brief closing comments.
Perhaps it was that particular punditiot’s way of informing us of how “in the know” he was, or maybe he thought some catty insights would draw more viewers to CNN. Whatever his reasons, David Shuster countered them by being reasonable, measured, and factual. And Keith countered them nightly with his on air professionalism. What happened behind the scenes shouldn’t matter when the quality of a show’s content is consistently high. If programs and personalities were judged by back stage drama, then half of the series I worked on would have been canceled.
That said, I’m hearing all kinds of speculation about why Keith Olbermann was let go, and until he speaks for himself, I’m not going to assume any of them are correct. However, I do want to share why his departure is going to leave a very painful, gaping hole in my life, and many of yours.
Keith affected me personally, as well as professionally.
Professionally, he would tweet breaking news that I could then share with our readers before most other outlets could. He would do the same on his show: break news, analyze, and educate us. Read that part again: Educate us. Very few on air personalities do that, and Keith did it regularly, whether it was during an enlightening interview, a Worst Persons segment, or a Special Comment. I always found a nugget, something I hadn’t heard before. Now I worry that we’ll all be less informed due to his absence. I didn’t always agree with him, but that has little to do with feeling less informed.
This is no small thing. TV news has been increasingly and woefully inadequate for years, but Keith examined topics others ignored. He was the one who opened our eyes to Janet Brewer’s personal “death panels” as she allowed the heart wrenching, jaw-dropping elimination of funding for transplant patients. He was the one that helped raise millions of dollars for public health clinics. He regularly directed our attention to stories that might not otherwise be covered. Now his voice is temporarily silenced at a time when we need more pertinent information, not less.
Personally, he would gently correct me if I made an error in a post, or would share what I wrote by retweeting me when he felt it was worthy. I hope he continues to monitor what we do here at TPC, because his sharp eye and high standards are valued.
Finally, he made me aware of something so important, so crucial to my family that I will never be able to thank him enough. It started with his heartfelt series of reports about his father’s declining health, which led him to plead with us to attend to our own families’ end of life paper work and decisions. I listened attentively to that, and I acted on it. Because of his public appeals to all of us, and a few private messages he sent me, I am now secure in knowing that my own family, and my 91-year-old dad, will have been well taken care of.
I am eternally grateful for Keith’s private words of comfort and reassurance, and for his thoughtfulness in asking us to heed his words, to plan carefully and stop procrastinating, no matter how difficult a task it is to make end of life decisions.
No other political show host has done that that I can recall, none has taken the time to nudge us into a painful reality that affects us all, and then beg us to take action on a purely personal level, and finally, to share his own excruciating, bittersweet story to make the point.
Thank you for that, Keith. Now hurry back.
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