26 May 2009

Limbaugh vs. Olbermann: Battle of the Bloviators

Rush Limbaugh believes that the liberal talkers on the MSNBC channel are exploiting him to boost their ratings. He is correct. Keith Olbermann's Countdown show in particular is aimed at the audience that buys books with titles like Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot or I Hate (Republican talker of choice). Liberals, I suspect, watch the Olbermann show for the same reason that many of them listen to Limbaugh: to experience a thrill of hatred and a vicarious right to respond. Countdown is essentially a reactionary program, as are all commentary shows. If anything, liberals get more personal about this than reactionaries and Republicans. I can't quantify it myself, but I bet that Limbaugh and his peers are mentioned more often on MSNBC than Olbermann and his colleagues are on the right-wing shows. Limbaugh is well within his rights to point this out.

Limbaugh is way out of bounds, however, when he challenges Olbermann and the rest of MSNBC, however frivolously, not to talk about him for thirty days. I get his supposed point, which is that Countdown can't succeed by preaching the positive message of liberalism and therefore must stoke hatred of the Right. But Limbaugh can't get around the fact that he is a public figure and a newsmaker, and thus an appropriate subject for commentary at any time. Olbermann, in turn, is well within his rights to interpret the challenge as Limbaugh's "surrender," an admission that he can't take what Olbermann claims to be accurate and damning criticism. That said, my own opinion is that Countdown has grown just as tiresome as I imagine the Limbaugh, Hannity and O'Reilly programs to be. It seems to have no purpose other than to lambaste a coterie of "conservative" talkers and politicians. Yet it seems to me that on any given day no mere radio or TV talker can be the "worst person in the world," and that, no matter how influential Limbaugh is within the Republican party, true progressives should have bigger fish to fry. But liberals and Democrats have made the talkers the scapegoats for all their troubles since the days of Clinton, as if they think the Republican party might truly collapse if the talkers' hot air didn't keep it afloat.

People like Olbermann may not think that their side has won until the talkers are silenced. I don't mean that they'd like to see the talkers banned from the airwaves, but I do think they have an unrealistic goal of shaming their enemies into submission. At the same time, I wonder whether Olbermann hasn't been driven by some desire to have his antagonists acknowledge his existence or recognize him as an equal foe. My impression had been that they had scrupulously ignored him or avoided uttering his name for the most part until recently. Limbaugh's challenge may indeed be proof of a crucial weakening of the reactionary talkers' position. If so, it would be high time for Olbermann's side to adopt the practices of the position of strength. After all, there's probably no more foolproof way of silencing one's enemies than not listening to them. You'll know the tide has turned when people decide that Limbaugh's opinions are not worth responding to, but Olbermann will probably be behind the curve when that time comes.

1 comment:

hobbyfan said...

Rush tried to do TV once upon a blue moon, and what happened? He lasted maybe one season before he was cancelled. He's best when he's heard, not seen. Olbermann, on the other hand, is the national answer to your own "Mr. Right", in that he still goes back to his first vocation---sports---during football season while still doing "Countdown". There's a reason people like me prefer to watch sports instead of these long-of-tongue gasbags. If we want garbage, we'll collect it, pack it, and send it where it belongs.