Righteous Indignation Is A Tough Sell

Keith Olbermann is a good writer and he has good writers around him. I’m a fan of his show Countdown and I agree with most of the things he says, even now in his hyperbole-filled rant phase. Yet, as a media professional I bristle at his delivery, of late.
For instance, I agree with the following sentiment, but I question the “You, sir” delivery:

We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus, that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow.
You, sir, have now befouled that spring.
You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order.
You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom.
For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.
And — again, Mr. Bush — all of them, wrong.

Tone is so important and sadly Olbermann’s tone is off. I find the didactic nature of it unbecoming in a man of his position. He sometimes acts like he’s operating a vlog nobody watches, not a prime time news show. An anchor can educate and persuade. I’m for that. My criticsm is about how he’s choosing to do it.
I sell ideas for a living. Maybe Olbermann sees his job differently, but I see him working hard to convince people of his POV, which means he’s selling. So I say to him and others like him (of all political bents), “Don’t berate. Sell!”

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Notice he says, “Mr. Bush” not “President Bush.”

  2. Yeah – Keith is going off these days. It’s like he sees himself as the final foothold of the Fourth Estate, expecting to get shipped off to Gitmo soon for his revolutionary stand against the Fascist Bush. While I understand his alarm, he’s playing up the alarm more than anyone – because he thinks he’s the only one who sees it.
    Although I wouldn’t even call him an anchor or reporter anymore. His show is leaning toward the Daily Show … without the comedy.

  3. Jetpacks,
    Thanks for commenting. No question the Countdown team is taking notes on John Stewart and company. Who in broadcast news isn’t?
    I also think you nailed it when you said Keith thinks he’s the only one who sees the trouble we’re in. That’s what I’m railing against–the arrogance and elitism.
    We need a vibrant populist movement in this country and such things don’t start in Manhattan studios.

  4. Am I the only one who sees a man standing up against a President who sold the Iraq war with 9/11 even though they have nothing to do with eachother?
    I mean HELLO OUT THERE. That’s not a talking point. That’s an impeachable offense.
    The facts are now known, and he’s the only primetime anchor talking about the logical end to those facts.
    Massaging facts by “media professionals” keep the stupid people stupid and Fox News in business.
    We don’t need more hand wringing over “tone.”

  5. To paraphrase John Stewart…
    That’s your critique? Keith Olberman’s delivery style?
    Gotta agree with Dean on this one.
    Tone, shmone. With so few mainstream/network TV types speaking up on the air about all of this, I’m happy to see anyone doing so. Sure, maybe he gets a little drmatic, but thank God someone on national TV is saying something, anything, in a serious way to address it, or at least disagree with it.
    Not sure why you see it as arrogant. It’s schmaltzy, maybe, but not really arrogant. And I’d bet that Mr. Olberman would be the first to support you should you decide to make the case against Bush and Co. less “arrogantly” than he is.
    In the meantime, though, let’s be glad he’s at least trying to do it at all. I would argue that there is more pro-Bush/Fascist rhetoric in the mainstream media world of which Olberman is a part than less, so again, let’s take what we can get.
    And while we’re on the subject of tone, you might want to at least change the post title to something that sounds less critical of anti-Bush sentiments in general. (One less pro-Bush-sounding headline for the Google robots to catch and all.)
    Lastly, a “vibrant populist movement” that doesn’t start in a Manhattan studio would be great. Please let the rest of us know when you’ve put that together.
    This is exactly the kind of namby-pamby hairsplitting that draws people to the neo-Con side in the first place. The fucking building is on fire and your contribution to the rescue effort is to critique the way the fireman is holding the hose.

  6. Wow, turn into a political blog for one post and things get interesting…
    Substance is style in American today. I don’t like it, but I recognize that it’s most often the case. Therefore, how Olbermann delivers his message is all important. My hope is he can persuade people. That’s what I’d like him to be concerned with. His rants won’t do that. The only thing they’re good for is making the anti-Bush base feel good, and frankly that’s not good enough when “the fucking buidling is on fire.”

  7. skyview satellite says:

    I am entirely sympathetic to the content of Olberman’s essays, but I swear some of his “For shame, sir! For shame!” will start me laughing and I can’t stop. In fact, I’ve taken to scolding friends and family in a similarly exaggerated way, all to hilarious results. In that sense, I’ve really picked up something from these pieces that I may not have otherwise if they were delivered in a softer, more sober manner. And now you would like to take that away from me? That should alarm us all! How dare you! For shame!

  8. Agreed, Skyview. If he’d tone it down and maybe smoke a cigarette, and this guy could be the next Edward R. Morrow.
    Like it or not, Irish, Dean – it’s not what he’s saying – it’s HOW he’s saying it. And his words would gain quite a few more ears if he’d just adjust the delivery. We all here agree that Olbermann is right, but my Mom (a Bushie) won’t hear him with that “for shame” tone in his voice.

  9. Seems these comments sum up the Dems problems in a nutshell. Namely, arguing amongst themselves as to the finer points of the best messaging or approach while the Bush boys just repeat the same (some would say dumbed-down) talking points over and over again. And win. Maybe you all should learn from them and stop attacking each other long enough to build some momentum. By the way, I think you’re overestimating the value of a lone newscaster’s opinion in today’s media landscape, thinking that if this lone voice in the wilderness would just adjust his tone your Bushie mom would see the world differently. One guy’s style didn’t elect our President. One guy’s style won’t defeat him.

  10. The RNC operative is right. All of us “wish things were different” people are as naiive as Rodney King.
    “Can’t we all just get along?”
    No way in hell.
    Time for action.

  11. Keith’s work sticks out because no one has seen anything like it in quite a while.
    No one blinks when Limbaugh or O’reilly goes off.
    Keith’s only getting attention because he’s the only one on his side speaking out.
    And please let’s not forget that Jon Stewart beat on Clinton hard and often. Stewart (and Colbert) would be hassling whoever was in power. That’s what’s funny.

  12. What, you’re trolling for work?
    And here I thought you simply enjoyed our company.