Olbermann's Defense of Obama Flip-flop Draws Netroots Ire

Just two weeks after getting into a brouhaha with Huffington Post editor Rachel Sklar, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has found himself in a tussle with one of the chairmen of the Netroots, Salon's Glenn Greenwald.

At the heart of this dogfight between two shameless liberal pols was Barack Obama's recent flip-flop on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and how Olbermann altered his own views on this subject in order to shelter the Democrat presidential nominee from criticism.

Grab some popcorn, folks, and let's get ready to rumble (h/t TVNewser):

On January 31 of this year, Keith Olbermann donned his most serious face and most indignant voice tone to rail against George Bush for supporting telecom immunity and revisions to FISA. In a 10-minute "Special Comment," the MSNBC star condemned Bush for wanting to "retroactively immunize corporate criminals," and said that telecom immnity [sic] is "an ex post facto law, which would clear the phone giants from responsibility for their systematic, aggressive and blatant collaboration with [Bush's] illegal and unjustified spying on Americans under this flimsy guise of looking for any terrorists who are stupid enough to make a collect call or send a mass email."

Olbermann added that telecom amnesty was a "shameless, breathless, literally textbook example of Fascism -- the merged efforts of government and corporations that answer to no government." [...]

But that was five whole months ago, when George Bush was urging enactment of a law with retroactive immunity and a lessening of FISA protections. Now that Barack Obama supports a law that does the same thing -- and now that Obama justifies that support by claiming that this bill is necessary to keep us Safe from the Terrorists -- everything has changed.

Last night, Olbermann invited Newsweek's Jonathan Alter onto his show to discuss Obama's support for the FISA and telecom amnesty bill (video of the segment is here). There wasn't a syllable uttered about "immunizing corporate criminals" or "textbook examples of Fascism" or the Third Reich. There wasn't a word of rational criticism of the bill either. Instead, the two media stars jointly hailed Obama's bravery and strength -- as evidenced by his "standing up to the left" in order to support this important centrist FISA compromise.

How delicious. But it got better as Greenwald spoke about Newsweek's editor and MSNBC's journalistic disgrace in a fashion few on the left dare to in mixed company:

Leave aside the fact that Jonathan Alter, desperate to defend Obama, doesn't have the slightest idea of what he's talking about. [...]

Obviously, Jonathan Alter has no idea what he's saying, but nonetheless decrees that this bill -- now that Obama supports it -- restores the Fourth Amendment. Those are the Orwellian lengths to which people like Olbermann and Alter are apparently willing to go in order to offer their blind devotion to Barack Obama. [...]

All of the decades-old, conventional Beltway mythologies are trotted out here to praise Obama. [...]

What's much more notable is Olbermann's full-scale reversal on how he talks about these measures now that Obama -- rather than George Bush -- supports them. On an almost nightly basis, Olbermann mocks Congressional Democrats as being weak and complicit for failing to stand up to Bush lawbreaking; now that Obama does it, it's proof that Obama won't "cower." Grave warning on Olbermann's show that telecom amnesty and FISA revisions were hallmarks of Bush Fascism instantaneously transformed into a celebration that Obama, by supporting the same things, was leading a courageous, centrist crusade in defense of our Constitution.

What's really amazing about Greenwald's piece is how, despite my not agreeing with virtually anything this man writes, he actually hit the nail on the head with his conclusion:

Those who spent the last five years mauling Bush for "shredding the Constitution" and approving of lawbreaking -- only to then praise Obama for supporting a bill that endorses and protects all of that -- are displaying exactly the type of blind reverence that is more dangerous than any one political leader could ever be.

Exactly, Glenn. And that's why folks on the right feel people like Olbermann are so dangerous, for what they say on a nightly basis is absolute nonsense devoid of principle or intellectual honestly. It's all propaganda designed to further their agenda and the politicians they support.

Sadly, you folks in the Netroots -- who spend most of your time fawning over this man, and even give him a coveted seat at the table by letting him post at Daily Kos! -- only seem to understand how divorced from integrity this man is when his rants go counter to your views.

Regardless of the inherent hypocrisy, the story got better Thursday evening when Olbermann posted a response at Daily Kos:

I think John Dean is worth 25 Glenn Greenwalds (maybe 26 Keith Olbermanns).

Thus, as I phrased it on the air tonight, obviously Obama kicked the left in the teeth by supporting the bill. But anybody who got as hot about this as I did would prefer to see a President Obama prosecuting the telecoms criminally, instead of seeing a Senator Obama engender more "soft on terror" crap by casting a token vote in favor of civil litigation that isn't going to pass since so many other Democrats caved anyway. [...]

I don't know much about Mr. Greenwald and I didn't read his full piece, but I do know that the snippet he's taken out of the transcript of my conversation with Jon Alter last night makes it sound like I was saying defying the left was a good thing. I was actually contrasting it to not cowering to the Republicans, simply as a different thing. Same point, in essence, tonight with John Harwood. It certainly does underscore the degree to which the presumptive nominee trusts his own mind. Did Mr. Greenwald note that I asked if we shouldn't worry that this Obamaian certainty could turn into something like President "My Way Or The Highway" Bush, or did he leave that out?

I do think Mr. Greenwald's suggestion of some kind of betrayal on my part is simplistic and childish. I'll take the Dean interpretation of this. If it isn't the Senator's game plan, he'll catch hell from me about it later.

This didn't sit well with Greenwald who fired back Friday:

Despite his having packed his response with substance-free invective, I'm going to keep the reply as dispassionate as possible because I'm not interested in engaging in some personality-driven spat of the type that he seems to enjoy.

Hmmm, I thought you folks in the Netroots loved Olbermann for that, especially his "personality-driven spat" with Bill O'Reilly. Maybe I'm wrong:

Olbermman then denies that he was justifying Obama's support for the FISA bill but then goes on to do exactly that:

Seriously, there is little in the polls to suggest McCain has anything to run with other than terror . . . . So why hand them a brick to hit him with -- Obama Voted Against FISA -- if voting Aye enhances his chances of getting himself his own Attorney General to prosecute FISA.
How can Olbermann accuse me of distorting his commentary and deny that he's rationalizing Obama's support for the bill and then write the above -- which does nothing but justify Obama's support for the bill? That's exactly the mentality I was criticizing yesterday -- that Obama should be excused for supporting this assault on core Constitutional liberties and the rule of law because doing so is necessary to avoid appearing Weak on Terrorism. That's the behavior which Obama has repeatedly vowed to reject, and it's that precise mentality that has to be extinguished, not perpetuated. [...]
What is most disturbing here is that people (including Olbermann) who for so long have vehemently criticized Democratic leaders for capitulating to Bush and trampling on the Constitution out of fear of looking "Weak" are now invoking that very excuse to justify what Obama is doing here (that's what Olbermann explicitly did in his Kos reply). To excuse Obama's conduct on that basis is to perpetuate Democratic complicity. Obama had -- and will continue to have -- a critical opportunity to reject and debunk that rancid framework, and it is his embrace of that framework here ("I'm going to give Bush what he wants and trample on the Constitution in order to avoid being 'weak'") that makes what Obama has done here so harmful and worthy of criticism.

Yes, Glenn, it is worthy of criticism, and I applaud you for doing so. However, you are showing an extraordinary naiveté in expecting Olbermann to do this in an election year.

Olbermann is a shill, plain and simple. He was put on MSNBC to beat up on Bush and all political officials with an "R" next to their names. And, he's been in the tank for Obama for more than a year. As such, expecting him to actually be honest about a key Obama flip-flop months before Election Day is absurd on your part.

Though I congratulate you for calling this charlatan out for his own on air flip-flop, it rings rather hollow when you and your ilk will be gushing all over this disgrace to journalism the next time he misrepresents facts in order to skewer the White House.

Maybe someday you folks will hold the journalists you revere to the same level of consistency and integrity you do the political candidates you support.

Then again, maybe not.

Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential War on Terrorism Surveillance Online Media Salon MSNBC Countdown Newsweek Glenn Greenwald Keith Olbermann John Dean
Noel Sheppard's picture

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