I got hooked on Keith Olbermann after coming upon a clip of his in October 2005. He was using Michael Chertoff's slip of the tongue—Chertoff had called Louisiana a city—as a jumping-off point for a magnificently righteous tirade about the Bush administration's mishandling of Katrina. "...The current administration," he said, "did not merely damage itself—it damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House." By the end of it, my respect for this man was cemented.
Well, no longer. Regardless of how astute his political criticism is, I am no longer willing to tolerate Keith Olbermann's misogyny. Olbermann has a nasty habit of making sexist, derogatory statements about female celebrities. The things he’s said are shameful and should never have been uttered, let alone on television. While he is certainly not alone in his reprehensible treatment of women, Olbermann is widely admired by progressives; unlike other trashy gossip commentators, he must be held to progressive standards.
In case you missed it, Olbermann took some heat back in October of 2006 for some choice remarks about Paris Hilton. Now, I'm lost as to what would motivate anyone to pay any attention to Hilton or her affairs, but then I've always been alienated by "celeb" culture. What I do know is that there is no sliding scale of how sexist you can be based on your feelings about a particular woman, celebrity or not. Quoth Olbermann, of Hilton, " ... she's had worse things happen to her face" than being punched in it. If that's not enough for you, note the caption Olbermann devised to go with his report: "A Slut and Battery."
Bloggers pointed out that he kept this on the screen for 20 seconds of a 32-second clip, but I don't see the relevance. Even if he'd only thrown it up long enough to read, this caption (coupled with the vitriol he spewed) tells us everything we need to know about Olbermann's attitude toward women:
He thinks it is acceptable to judge women for their sexual choices.
He thinks women who make particular sexual choices are to be taken less seriously when they claim to have been assaulted.
He thinks it's amusing to, um, "cleverly" invert a phrase often associated with domestic violence and use it to belittle women.
My former admiration notwithstanding, I dismissed Olbermann then and there, but it seems many others have been willing to give him a second chance. It is my unfortunate duty to note that Olbermann persists in his misogyny.
On Monday , Olbermann devoted some airtime to that most important of world events: Britney Spears' hairstyle choice. (Story number two, for anyone keeping track, was a similarly distasteful, if slightly more reserved, bashing of the late Anna Nicole Smith.) He began his coverage by calling Spears a "pop tart " and went on to opine that "... the question now turns to what was she thinking, if not what was she on ..."
In the eyes of Olbermann and his sexist ilk, Spears made two mistakes: She dared to be overtly sexual and she dared to shed one of the defining markers of her femininity. I neither know nor care how much sex Spears has and with whom, or why she shaved her head, but I have this radical proposition: In spite of the fact that she's made sexy music videos, Spears' body is her own and should not be subjected to Olbermann's disgusting views.
Olbermann went further. He invited some smarmy hack—Michael Musto, a columnist for The Village Voice —for, I suppose, expert testimony. (Pause for a moment to consider this scenario: The man who has been called the Edward R. Murrow of our time has a gossip columnist on his show to discuss a pop singer's hairstyle.) Among many other hateful comments that Musto and Olbermann smugly batted back and forth was this gem:
OLBERMANN: The hair dresser, Miss Tognozzi, also asked if Britney Spears appeared to be under the influence. She said no, but she did use the word trance to describe her. A trance.
MUSTO: No, she actually said the tramp dropped her pants, and it got reported as trance, but it works anyway.
Olbermann elected not to take issue with the crude commentary of his guest. I'm not shocked.
Finally, we turn to TheNewsHole, the official blog of Olbermann's show, Countdown. The blog is said to be authored by "the cast and crew" of Countdown, but this doesn't mean Olbermann isn't responsible for its content. The blog, of course, has an entry about Spears' shaved head, because how could it not? An excerpt:
A bystander says Britney told reporters she did it because "she didn't want people touching her anymore."
You're getting there, sweetheart.
Twisting a woman's stated desire to exert agency over her own body into an implicit swipe at her appearance is an old and common patriarchal trope, never so disgusting as when it is garnished with the ubiquitous, belittling "sweetheart."
So, to Keith Olbermann, who will be sternly moralizing into the camera for at least another four years, I have this to say: There is no excuse for how irresponsibly you are using your position of influence. The fact that you are a petty, disrespectful misogynist discredits you. You are not a progressive and you never will be, unless you drastically alter your attitude toward women. All of the brutally honest political criticism in the world does not make up for the shallow, sexist tripe you use to boost ratings. You, sir, are no Edward R. Murrow.
| Friday, February 23, 2007 11:27 AM