Exit Keith Olbermann

The road to serfdom in our democracy runs straight through control of the talk show branch of the television industry. I explained this in my essay, “So you want to be a dictator?” which is here on this website. Here is the essence of the argument:

“…consider how far we have come from the information environment in which our republic was born and nurtured. Before television, politicians who wanted to broadcast their messages to a wide audience relied mainly on written or verbal messages (press or radio). But these media leave out important non-verbal cues that we all learn as children to use when we assess the reliability and importance of a message between individuals. As Marshall McLuhan noted, television restored these elements. Now, if you can select extraordinarily talented individuals as communicators and position them as anchors in leading news and entertainment programs, you can eventually persuade a very large number of people that down is up and up is down, just by telling them so over and over again, with all the gestures and intonations that we associate with reliability in the messenger… money is quite evidently the key factor in determining who controls television, and to what purposes…there were a host of small and independent players, but the most rapacious of them have eaten the smaller fry, so now the competition looks more like a battle between a few titans than a free-for-all between different-sized entities… it should be possible… to bring enough of those titans under your wing to control the opinions of a majority of the voters…”

I’m afraid I have no inside information to offer you about Mr. Olbermann’s sudden departure. But it is too neat, the way it fits into the pattern I just described, to be a coincidence. He was clearly the most effective communicator for the liberal side in the industry, and as such, the logical number one target. His removal adds strong circumstantial evidence to the idea that there is indeed a movement or loose conspiracy afoot, inspired by the half-baked notions of people like Ayn Rand, funded by some right-wing billionaires, and articulated to the public by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, that has been trying to establish a kind of hegemony over our national government, and is winning some major battles.

If this movement were trying to accomplish its aims by negotiation and persuasion it would be playing within the rules of America’s political culture. But it looks like it is not. If so, pro-democratic elements in our country face some hard choices.

CSC 1/23/11

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1 Response to Exit Keith Olbermann

  1. Tauth says:

    Your introduction asked, “[Is this…] a sign that the radical right is aiming for a monopoly in TV’s talk show industry? And if so, what does that signify?” Then you point out how the radical right is using primitive communications tricks to con human belief systems, and how they seem to be gaining ground. What if the problem is twofold.

    1) The radical right has the money, power, and psychological tools to con belief systems; and furthermore,

    2) Because of the increasingly overwhelming complexity of our problems, people feeling overwhelmed and are therefor retreating from the pursuit of difficult to attain facts and substituting beliefs for facts to fill the void.

    If that is so, could this be a sign we are headed toward societal collapse? Rebecca Costa writes the following on p.25 of the Watchman’s Rattle:

    Complexity and Collapse

    “No matter which advanced civilization we examine–Mayan, Roman, or Khmer–we find a similar pattern of collapse. In the beginning, each society overcomes insurmountable obstacles and environmental challenges. They appear to gain control over their surroundings, stabilize food and water, and build systems to assure the safety of their citizenry. Against incredible odds, innovation, diversity, and creativity all thrive. In these societies, both beliefs and the pursuit of knowledge can be shown to peacefully coexist side by side.
    “Then, over time, complexity accelerates and facts become difficult and, eventually, impossible to acquire. The society becomes unable to solve its problems, particularly those that impose no immediate threat. Then the society begins passing looming dangers from one generation to the next, as conditions worsen and survival grows more tenuous. Eventually, the society becomes dependent on short-term mitigations and unproven beliefs for remedy.”

    Is this media homogenization in the direction of dumbing down and ideologically hardening into simplistic psuedo-religious belief systems as the answer to our problems a sign that are intellectual immune system is down, we are getting taken over by viral memes, and our society is at risk of collapse? Is there a way to get our intellectual immune system up higher so the radical belief salesmen have less of a willing audience to generate advertising dollars off of? Or is it better just to head for the hills and duck for cover in a private cave of sorts if we know what’s good for us?

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