Tuned In

Keith Olbermann Blows Last Remaining Gasket

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So while we were away, Sen. Hillary Clinton apparently made an ill-advised reference to the RFK assassination (and the June timing thereof) by way of explaining her continuing run in the Democratic primary. And apparently Keith Olbermann had a thing or two to say about it:

The substance (or lack thereof) of the controversy notwithstanding—big sister blog Swampland weighs in here and here and here and here and here—Olbermann is edging ever-closer to self-parody, or, worse, predictability. (As soon as the Clinton gaffe broke, blog commenters were wondering how ballistic he would go, and he obliged, and how.) Even if we concede his argument—that Clinton was at best callously and at worst intentionally suggesting she should stay in the race because Obama might be killed—every time he turns up the volume to 11 like this lately, he sounds like just another of the cable gasbags he used to be a corrective to.

But mostly his outburst reminds me of how the long Democratic primary has divided the left-of-center media (or at least, the media outlets with a left-of-center audience) into camps, like a bad divorce. Personalities and institutions that were once universally beloved by people who were sick of the Bush administration have either taken sides, or have been perceived to, splintering what used to be a unified and largely uncritical amen chorus.

Most of the perceived side-takers have been on the Obama side, as we’ve seen—it’s not just Olbermann, Daily Kos and the Huffington Post, but even some viewers of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (as sanctified as any center of anti-Bush comedy can be) have gotten alienated by the shows’ attacks on Hillary Clinton. (I haven’t sat down with a stopwatch to see if they mock her more than Obama, but they certainly mock her better.) There are fewer pro-Clinton equivalents, but Saturday Night Live, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and my old employer Salon.com have all taken criticism for carrying water for Hillary, from the same sorts of people who loved them when they were knocking Bush and Cheney.

As much hand-wringing as there’s been over the strife in the Democratic primary, however, I have to wonder if these particular schisms aren’t a good thing. It has to be healthy in some way to see that someone you used to cheer automatically is actually capable of believing something you disagree with. Shocking, I know! (For this reason, I only wish there were more anti-Obama outlets to balance the anti-Clinton ones, because the other half of the Democratic Party—not to mention the entire Republican party—could use this experience too.)

It’s probably asking too much, but maybe the experience of being annoyed by someone you used to constantly agree with could teach political audiences something about how they have appeared all along to their adversaries. Think about it: if you’ve found yourself suddenly irritated by any of the people or outlets I mentioned above this election, is it really they who’ve changed? Or are they simply less charming when they’re not confirming your comfortable beliefs?

Sometimes, maybe, the only way to really understand how your idols sound from the other side is to actually find yourself on the other side of them.

[Update: By the way, I left this out of my original post because I figured that regular readers of my blog were sick by now of my constantly disclosing it—but for the benefit of those of you directed here from HuffPo or elsewhere, I voted for Obama.]