Keith Olbermann should be used to this by now. Two-bit, Class B second tier provocateurs can’t be terribly surprised when they’re disciplined for the umpteenth time. They thrive on reaction, court controversy and have a masterful way of turning justified castigation into unjustified persecution. Among this motley crew of the mediocre, Olbermann used to be king.
For a while, though, he’d been relatively silent. Or, rather, he’d been unnoticed. Deposed from his high profile perch by the much more talented Rachel Maddow, his former protege (ouch), the ex-ESPN turned ex-MSNBC turned likely ex-ESPN nonentity was yapping his inanities to a significantly reduced audience.
But even nonentities can sporadically rear up and roar. And that’s what happened this week when Olbermann got into a Twitter battle over Penn State’s magnificent kids, the ones who stage the annual “THON” fundraiser which has raised millions of dollars for cancer research over the past four decades.
A young PSU coed, Lisa Aiella DeLeon, tweeted “We Are!” and provided a link to a campus newspaper article describing THON. Olbermann, who somehow has time in his busy schedule to harass young women, responded “Pitiful.” When the astounded coed tried to school Olbermann in the noble history of the fundraiser, he responded “PSU students are pitiful because they’re PSU students. Period.
“No one has ever accused Keith Olbermann of nuance. His jeremiads against George W. Bush were almost Elmer Gantry-ish in their equal measures of passion and hyperbole. But it’s one thing to attack a president who thrust himself into the public eye and who conducts foreign policy with which you disagree, and another to ridicule a young woman who is proud of a charitable endeavor just because you don’t like her alma mater.
The fact that you’ve made no secret of your abject hatred for PSU (because, you know, it recruits and employs pedophiles and pedophile enablers whose names end in “o”) gives some indication as to why an innocuous tweet praising the school would get your Depends in a twist.
But in a world where even someone as institutional as Dan Rather can be banished for shoddy work and someone as photogenic as Brian Williams can be furloughed for stealing someone else’s valor, Olbermann had to know that his little temper tantrum would elicit a reaction from the corporate bosses.
Frankly, the reaction was mild. A week long suspension from the airwaves and an apology that was as sincere as the confessions from those blindfolded hostages on YouTube videos is not enough to expiate this arrogant blowhard’s sins.
Normally, I think we should all get a thicker skin and stop being so easily offended by caustic comments. It’s gotten to the point that you need have a contract drawn up with contingency clauses before you voice an opinion on anything more controversial than whether Betty or Veronica is Archie’s true soul mate.
But Olbermann is just the most recent in a long line of pundits and public figures who need to have their mouths licensed as lethal weapons and who should bear the consequences of their verbal assaults.
There’s Rudy Giuliani, who rather arrogantly pronounced that President Obama doesn’t “love” this country the way he, apparently, does. I adore Rudy The Mayor and Rudy the U.S. Attorney, but for a man who had his first marriage annulled because the bride was his “first cousin” and then cheated on his second wife with the woman who (pay attention...) became his third wife, he’s not exactly in a position to judge someone else’s version of “love.”
Then we have some clueless Cleveland anchor using the term “jigaboo” to describe Lady Gaga’s performance at the Oscars, causing some to wonder if you can be both racist and an idiot at the same time. I haven’t heard that term in a long while, and I think the airhead who used the term didn’t understand its cultural significance, but if your vocabulary is that limited you really need to join the Carmelites.
And here in Pennsylvania we have a Supreme Court nominee who forwards an email that depicts an imprisoned black man talking to his wife through a glass partition with the caption “Touching and heartwarming, Merry Christmas to All!” The judge first stated that he didn’t remember sending the email, and then, with a straight face, indicated that he didn’t think it was racist. He did, it was and he’s out.
Which brings me back to Olbermann. While I normally think we need to have a greater deal of tolerance for idiots, I think it’s important for society to demand certain standards of decency from those who are given the gift of being heard, whether by sports fans, Ohioans or criminal defendants. This has nothing to do with the First Amendment. This has to do with good taste and better judgment.
So ESPN should just take a page from those wonderful kids at Penn State and do a charitable work: fire Olbermann.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at email@example.com