A war of words has broken out between two of the progressive blogosphere's most beloved figures: MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and blogger/author Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com.
In a post yesterday, Greenwald charged that Olbermann's "blind devotion to Barack Obama" had let him to excuse and defend Obama's support of the FISA 'compromise' legislation. Greenwald noted that Olbermann has previously condemned the idea of giving immunity to telecom companies that spied on Americans, calling it a "shameless, breathless, literally textbook example of Fascism" and comparing it to the actions of the Third Reich.
"But," Greenwald wrote, "[n]ow that Barack Obama supports a law that does the same thing -- and now that Obama justifies that support by claiming that this bill is necessary to keep us Safe from the Terrorists -- everything has changed."
Last night, Olbermann invited Newsweek's Jonathan Alter onto his show to discuss Obama's support for the FISA and telecom amnesty bill (video of the segment is here). There wasn't a syllable uttered about "immunizing corporate criminals" or "textbook examples of Fascism" or the Third Reich. There wasn't a word of rational criticism of the bill either. Instead, the two media stars jointly hailed Obama's bravery and strength -- as evidenced by his "standing up to the left" in order to support this important centrist FISA compromise. [...]
Grave warning on Olbermann's show that telecom amnesty and FISA revisions were hallmarks of Bush Fascism instantaneously transformed into a celebration that Obama, by supporting the same things, was leading a courageous, centrist crusade in defense of our Constitution.
He explained his segment by citing former Nixon aide (and frequent Countdown guest) John Dean's argument that the FISA compromise "clearly did not preclude future criminal prosecution of the telecoms - it only stopped civil suits." (He added, "I think John Dean is worth 25 Glenn Greenwalds (maybe 26 Keith Olbermanns)."
Thus, as I phrased it on the air tonight, obviously Obama kicked the left in the teeth by supporting the bill. But anybody who got as hot about this as I did would prefer to see a President Obama prosecuting the telecoms criminally, instead of seeing a Senator Obama engender more "soft on terror" crap by casting a token vote in favor of civil litigation that isn't going to pass since so many other Democrats caved anyway.
When Markos was on (Monday? Again, blurs) he made the simple but essential point that if this is Obama's rationale for this, maybe he should explain it. I think it can be argued that if he's caught the same hole in the bill that Dean has, his best course is actually to shut up and take the criticism and hope the Republicans don't see the loophole.
I don't know much about Mr. Greenwald and I didn't read his full piece, but I do know that the snippet he's taken out of the transcript of my conversation with Jon Alter last night makes it sound like I was saying defying the left was a good thing. I was actually contrasting it to not cowering to the Republicans, simply as a different thing.
I do think Mr. Greenwald's suggestion of some kind of betrayal on my part is simplistic and childish. I'll take the Dean interpretation of this. If it isn't the Senator's game plan, he'll catch hell from me about it later.