Days after "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart described cable teevee news as a "24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator" that exacerbates the problems of ordinary people and distorts the face of America as if in a "funhouse mirror," a tiny part of that apparatus looks to be on its way to being dismantled.
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann made a surprise announcement on his show tonight, saying that he was suspending his popular "Wost Persons in the World" segment in response to the message from Saturday's Rally to Restore Sanity:
First, the overall message that the tone needs to change, that the volume needs to change, was not lost on any of us. The anger in this news hour was not an original part of it, nor was it an artifice that we added to it. It was a response to a threat to this democracy posed by Mr. Bush, and now by his lineal descendants. The anger happened, it will still happen. It is not for ratings and it is not "get angry first and find a reason later."
But there is an institutionalization of it that may no longer be valid. That is "The Worst Persons in the World" segment, which started as a way -- of all things -- of defending Tucker Carlson. It's satire and whimsy have gradually gotten lost in some anger, so in the spirit of the thing, as of right now, I am unilaterally suspending that segment with an eye towards discontinuing it. We don't know how that works long-term. We might bring it back. We might bring back something similar to it. We might kill it outright. And next week, we'll solicit your input.
It's just that today, given the serious stuff we have to start covering tomorrow, we think it's the right time to do it short-term and then we'll see what happens. And we'll also see if anybody else on TV or radio will do something similar.
Olbermann did, however, take issue with what he viewed as "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart's comparison of MSNBC to Fox News, saying, "Sticking up for the powerless is not the moral equivalent of sticking up for the powerful."
The "Worst Persons In The World" segment has been a "Countdown" mainstay, but while it's been a facile way for Olbermann to bring in original reporting from a wide range of sources that wouldn't necessarily see daylight otherwise, at times I've felt it's edged pretty close to platform abuse, a cheap way of settling personal grudges. The fact that Olbermann deployed a rather cartoonish aspect in presenting the feature never really helped matters out very much.
As long as MSNBC personnel are considering making some Rally To Restore Sanity changes to their evening line-up, I recommend that Ed Schultz dispense with his recurring feature, "Psycho Talk." The feature isn't terribly interesting -- each day Ed Schultz finds someone he doesn't like saying something he doesn't like that's typically been already reported to death on the websites that specialize in chronicling such things. It's cheap and similarly cartoonish and could easily be replaced by a recurring feature in which some politician or pundit says something sensible ... you know, on the off chance that maybe that happens one day.
WATCH Olbermann's explanation for his suspension of the segment:
Amanda Terkel contributed reporting.