Monday, March 27, 2006

Neither moon nor partridge

A commenter by appointment to this blog asks: "Countdown with Keith Olbermann, isn't that a sports show, or something?" Let this humble blog be the place where readers may doff their Clueless Hats and become enlightened...

If you think for a moment I'd watch a sports show, you doesn't know me very well. Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC isn't a sports show. Admittedly there are sports-related stories on the show from time to time, because Olbermann isn't merely a former sportscaster by profession: he loves sports the way I love comics. But this show is almost entirely about national politics and major issues of the day. As I said in the previous post, Countdown is funnier and more pointed in its political commentary than The Daily Show, and well worth watching whatever one's political and/or philosophical bent.

Even when Olbermann covers sports-related stories on Countdown, the stories aren't about games or scores or trades...but rather about the political and social issues that underlie controversies in the sports world. He's had a few too many stories about Barry Bonds and steroid abuse lately for my personal taste...but those stories haven't been about Bonds' career as a left fielder. They've been examinations of how a bureaucracy responds slowly to a scandal, how economic pressure to compete might lead someone to break the rules, how a rulebreaker might misuse the legal system to silence his critics through lawsuits...universal issues that are fascinating even if Bonds himself is of less than no interest to me. But don't be misled by my digression here; I'd guess all sports coverage makes up only 10% of Countdown, which is otherwise oriented towards world news and politics, plus mockery of the tabloid celebrity stories that have all the other cable news shows fascinated.

A further digression about the value of sports reporters, if I may? Sports reporters are often better than any other kind of reporter. This is because entering that field requires some basic qualifications. The sports reporter needs to have a thorough knowledge of sports facts and figures to get in the door -- their stock in trade is verifiable factual information, not just ill-considered opinion or speculation or recycling of White House press releases, and they're held accountable for geting their facts wrong. These skills are what all reporters should have but very few are obliged to learn. These skills serve sports reporters especially well if they move on to other fields besides sports coverage; Bob Costas is another fine example. My interest in professional sports can only be measured in negative numbers, but my respect for former professional sports reporters is very high indeed.

Yes, yes, this is all very well and good, you say, but we're still waiting for you to make the case for Olbermann. Why should we trust you when you won't even tell us what RAB means?

You make an excellent point, imaginary voice. I personally find Keith Olbermann witty, insightful, and erudite...but today's discriminating bloggers demand proof. Whether or not you enjoy a particular television talking head is mostly a question of personal taste. I know people who enjoy watching Jon Stewart but don't care for his politics -- and by the same token, others who agree with the politics but find his style and delivery annoying. The best way to decide if you might like Olbermann is to see him for yourself.

Here are some clips of Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, and here's Keith as a guest on The Colbert Report. This selection of clips is a bit heavy on the Bill O'Reilly content, because the fans love the celebrity feuds and O'Reilly has made Olbermann his personal nemesis. However, a particular favorite clip of mine is Keith Olbermann putting Laura Ingraham in her place for her odious comments about the supposed cowardice of reporters in Iraq. And here are links to some of his essays on various topics including the war on terror, Scooter Libby, and the untrustworthiness of Lance Armstrong.

Oh yeah, because that's another thing sports reporters have to do that other television reporters don't -- they have to be able to write their own words. And if an anti-sports guy like me can enjoy someone writing about sports, you'd best believe that's some good writing.

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