09/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Say It Ain't So, Keith O

I read with great sadness about NBC's decision to have Keith Olbermann back off of his criticism of Bill O'Reilly. I'm trying to convince myself the New York Times' piece was satire but I did that with Judy Miller's Iraq reporting and that taught me I don't understand satire. Who is there left to keep FOX and O'Reilly accountable? Like a gifted musician pulling melodies out of the air for new songs, O'Reilly has long had a brilliant and unmatched facility for making up the nonsense he wants to be true. He assigns evil motives and anti-American sentiments to people with whom he disagrees and then he waits for the tally light to illuminate on his camera and steps boldly into his pathological world of political incongruity.

The problem is that the people who watch Bill O generally aren't smart enough to know that he confabulates and those who can tell the difference are loathe to listen to the boy. Into this breach have stepped Mr. Olbermann and MSNBC. They watch, they record, and Olbermann reports so that the rest of us don't have to factor the Factor into our lives. If it were just Olbermann doing a straight-forward nightly rundown of erroneous information from O'Reilly, few of us would watch the Countdown cut downs of O'Reilly . However, Olbermann and his producers and writers have a healthy amount of wit and wield sarcasm like a mighty swift sword and there is little more enjoyable of an evening than to watch as they eviscerate the great bloviator on FOX.

The NYT indicates that management of NBC and FOX decided there was a need for some civility between the two networks. I'm compelled to ask: why now? O'Reilly has treated Olbermann as "he who's name must not be spoken" while Olbermann has used "Bill O the Clown" to leaven the grimness of the day's news. If O'Reilly can't serve a purpose of informing people with accurate information then at least his broadcast ought to entertain, if even only as a subject of ridicule on another network. It is also entertaining that the network brass are calling for a higher standard of behavior while they both seek to produce more and more titillating reality shows to suck in viewers and ignore any cultural standards of decorum. How can Battle of the Bods be acceptable programming and Olbermann kicking around O'Reilly is somehow offensive and harmful?

I'm slightly reassured that Olbermann has said he is not "party to any deal" but there has been a noticeable slippage in the O'Reilly bashing on Countdown. This can't be good for America, MSNBC, Olbermann, or the future of our national political discourse. If people are allowed to listen to O'Reilly and think he knows what he's talking about then the terrorists have won. Or something like that. Who calls this guy out if it's not Olbermann? Hell, I think there is an entire show MSNBC can do every night that is about nothing more than offering corrections and clarifications on O'Reilly's sputum. Come on, Keith, get back to your guns. Just as in war, the first casualty on FOX is the truth and the first line of defense against damage caused by distortion and lying has to be someone who knows the difference between reality and the pathological fantasy that is mustering Bill O's army. That's you, Olbermann. It's your job. You are imminently qualified to fire at will.

And don't be afraid to make Glenn Beck collateral damage.

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