Imagine there's no pundits. It's easy if you try.
With a tremendous and well-deserved upswing in his ratings, Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" has surpassed CNN and is inching closer and closer to defeating the self-satirical Bill O'Reilly. Clearly, this is a significant milestone towards television news making a comeback.
But it's egregiously inaccurate to portray Olbermann as a liberal pundit or biased reporter who counters the lobotomized bobbleheads elsewhere on MSNBC, Fox News, and parts of CNN. Instead of trying to out-pundit his competition and collegues, Olbermann counters by holding accountible the ruling party via reporting on what the government is up to. And he manages to do this without ranting, raving, or spitting.
We shouldn't be looking for flagrantly "liberal" or "conservative" pundits or any sort of balance between the two sides. As media watchdogs, we should be pushing for more shows like Countdown because it does what no other show in prime time manages to do: it holds the government to account without bloviating and without kneejerk commentary.
It just happens that the government is controlled entirely by Republicans and by most standards, their reign has been a mangled litany of scandal and abuse of power. If a reporter covers this arena, is that reporter necessarily liberal or a Democrat? Absolutely not. They're simply doing their job and, in the case of Keith Olbermann, doing it really damn well.
Simply put, cable news is doing its viewers a disservice by endorsing the party in power. To quote Jon Stewart, "You're hurting us." We need cable news to hold to account the party in power by reporting exactly what government officials are doing and how they're doing it. Thoroughly, accurately, and without hesitation.
I imagine that if the Democrats take control of the government one of these years, Olbermann will be equally as skeptical of their actions -- especially if they're as incompetent as the Republicans. That's the way it ought to be. Conversely, I seriously doubt that O'Reilly, Matthews, or Scarborough will support a Democrat in the White House whether we're still at war or not. This distinction is only one of many factors that makes Countdown unique in all of cable news.
Though he might be personally be more liberal than, say, Sean Hannity, I've always seen Olbermann as an old school news anchor with one foot in the realm of Edward R. Murrow, and the other in modern New Media; an anchor who can at once be funny, insightful, and deadly serious. And if Olbermann is the professional I think he is, he keeps his personal politics on the sidelines as much as possible and simply reports on the news that we truly need to know.
And again -- I can't stress this enough -- if the Republican-controlled government continues to implode, taking the Constitution with it, then that's the news. And reporting this kind of news should in no way be construed as liberal bias.
But no matter how you slice Countdown, it's not a pundit show. And it shouldn't be regarded as a "liberal" counterpart to O'Reilly because they're two very, very different types of shows. Countdown is the closest thing we have to a real news show. O'Reilly is almost 100 percent semi-fictional demagoguery.
The Countdown approach is what we ought to be demanding more of. Not more punditry which only serves to perpetuate endless debates about bias. The problem of bias in cable news and, subsequently, the Cuckoo's Nest psych ward that's passed off as our national discourse will only worsen if cable news programming continues to skew into some kind of Spy vs. Spy quid pro quo.
There's always going to be a bias leaking into news coverage as long as flawed human beings are controlling it. The question is, do we want to up the ante or push it back? Today's ratings news hopefully portends a movement towards the latter.
Congratulations, Keith. And we thank you.