I begin with this: except for CNN, which makes an honest effort to report real news, cable news in America has let the nation down. If Joe McCarthy had a reality television show on NBC, I wonder if NBC would have promoted McCarthy then the same way it promotes Donald Trump and his campaign for birthers and bigots now?
Cable news in general has turned American democracy into a freak show, where bigots and nuts receive a free megaphone, where shills and hacks parade to the cameras to treat the audience like idiots, dishing out spin that many of them don't even believe, where serious issues are not treated in serious ways while celebrity fluff is force-fed to small audiences who often turn elsewhere for news and information.
Now, here come Al Gore, one of the preeminent statesmen of our times, recipient of both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Academy Award, among many other well deserved honors.
And, here comes Keith Olbermann, the highly rated former host of MSNBC, who unveils his new show on Current TV in June, a moment I for one eagerly await.
Olbermann at his best carries the standard of Edward R. Murrow, speaking truth to power with a fearless integrity. Olbermann not at his best is just another cable leftie endlessly reminding viewers which righties he despises.
Here is what is interesting and important about the new Gore-Olbermann venture in cable news:
Olbermann has expressed concern, as I and many others have, about the influence of corporate ownership of news media. Until Gore entered the picture it was impossible to fully quantify the impact of corporate ownership of news.
Now, Olbermann's corporate owner will effectively be Al Gore and Gore's company. This is the first time in the history of news when corporate ownership of news will reside in the hands of a statesmen and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and Academy Award.
For Keith Olbermann, this is beyond the opportunity of a lifetime. Keith will be unchained from even the slightest hint of corporate interference in news. As the U.S. Army says, Keith will have the opportunity to be all that he can be, and news will have the opportunity to be all that it can be, at a moment when more than 70% of the nation does not trust television news, according to Gallup.
If Keith raises the standards of cable news, the sky is the limit in terms of quality, and ratings, and credibility, and influence.
If Keith essentially repeats his MSNBC show on Current TV, with minor changes, it will simply mean that Current TV and MSNBC will divide MSNBC's current ratings in half, and suggest that the problem never was corporate interference, but is rooted in the culture of what is called cable news today.
For Al Gore, the moment will also have lasting meaning because it will visibly define the "Gore brand". I am not sure whether Gore thinks about this, or cares about this, but we will soon learn what happens to cable news when the ownership is not interested in promoting the reality show of a bigot, or becoming an appendage of the Republican party, but rests in the hands of a Nobel Laureate and Academy Award recipient.
The possibilities are endless if the Current TV mission succeeds at a time when cable news is either distrusted or ignored by a most of the nation, when there is a global yearning for serious news and information about the United States and the world, when the new technologies of social networking and interactive media create enormous opportunity to expand and bring together the universe of news consumers who are not the idiots that many in cable television believe they are.
Will Keith Olbermann unchained from corporate influence lift the standards of cable news and bring new viewers to the table? Will ownership by a Nobel Laureate raise both the quality and commercial clout of cable news? Or will the cable news freak show just continue with one new entrant into a playing field that most Americans do not trust, or watch?