I love words.
I was notorious as a child for needing something to read at any idle moment. Eating breakfast? Better hope that cereal box has lots of copy on it. Long car ride? Multiple paperbacks required, just to be safe.
The internet has taken the edge of my constant need to consume the written word, but I sometimes get intellectual heartburn from all the junk food of message boards and user comments I devour to keep my gears spinning. Even worse than the junk are insubstantial articles – 500 and 1,000 word affairs that get me all spun up and then just stop.
I vastly prefer, and eternally adore, longform journalistic writing, especially in the form of media critique. It’s a style of writing I love to consume, and the style I enjoy writing the most. You can trace my appreciation back to being hooked on the reviews at Furia.com in the nineties, and more recently in Jacob Clifton’s poetic, academic, polemic recaps of Battlestar Galactica.
Last weekend the piece that caught my extended attention was from the New Yorker – a complete recounting of the personal history and personal psyche of Keith Oblermann.
Based on the sheer word count that has been devoted to Oblermann recently, I’m assuming you know who he is. You have to remember, I don’t consume these people on television – just through their print coverage and occasional video clips – so I commensurately don’t understand how famous they are to actual teevee viewers. However, even from my detached vantage point Keith Oblermann’s name and face seem to have reached zeitgeist levels of recognition.
I used to enjoy Keith’s critical essays on MSNBC dot com long before I knew he was an on-air personality because he didn’t do the typical journalistic dance of balance when someone was clearly in the moral right or wrong. He just spoke the truth, which sometimes meant speaking out against his topic of discussion. Yet, he wasn’t an op-ed writer – he was just a reporter. He just reported the truth.
Given the recent backlash against him, it seems that Keith (or, at least, his public persona) has undergone a translation from truth-speaking broadcaster to liberal figure(talking)head, held in apposition to make-pretend journalists like Bill O’Reilly.
The difference, I think, is that Keith has aggressively shifted the focus of his considerably audible and influential voice away from the morally black and white and into the politically gray. He’s still engaged in a mainly journalistic pursuit, rather than an opinionated one.
As discussed in the feature-article, Keith recently punctuated a special commentary by commanding our commander-in-chief to “Shut the hell up!” Of course, most of Bush’s words and actions seem more morally black than politically gray to any rational human being, but it is a bit beyond the pale to viciously criticize a sitting president from your anchor chair.
However, Keith has also turned his focus into the Democratic fray to slam Hillary Clinton for invoking the assassination of RFK when discussing why the nominating process might (and, per her, should) continue through the summer. Unlike Bush, this is clearly a gray area, or at least gray enough that a nine-minute retort seems a little overboard … possibly the vented hot air of a gasbag.
As the hot air continues to vent, and as the dissenters continue to get in line, the picture of the New Oblermann becomes increasingly crisp. He is not just liberal Bill O’Reilly, or liberal anyone else, because he’s not simply espousing liberalism. He’s espousing truth and logic, much in the same way Jon Stewart does, except he does not have the shield of “Fake News” to hide behind. And, sometimes to highlight the illogical he needs to rachet up his own rhetoric to full blast to make sure there is no mistaking his commentary for equivocation.
Sometimes Keith Oblermann needs to be illogical to attach the illogic.
A commitment to truth and logic in real news is a scary thing – something many Americans haven’t experienced in their lifetime, and certainly not anything they’ll catch on their local six o’clock news. Keith is treading into untested waters with his brand of journalistic critique. And, even if it’s all just hot air, right now you can hear the bones of the rest of the mainstream media establishment creaking in the wind.
Or at least that’s what it seems like from my teevee-abstaining, mainstream-media-eschewing vantage point.
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