When Keith Olbermann signed off his show on Friday, he made reference to Network, the powerful 1976 network news film written by Paddy Chayefsky, who won an Oscar for his screen play. Even if you haven't seen the film, you know the classic line, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," shouted out of windows all over America.
Watching the film again I was struck not so much by Peter Finch's stirring performance or the sad decline of William Holden as the faded news chief, but rather by the two crazed executives played by Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway. These are the characters of importance here. Their ratings-hungry amorality culminated in the on air assassination of the Finch character, Howard Beale. It was a "necessary" corporate decision.
Did Keith Olbermann reference Network to make a point? Was he trying to say that corporate suits had decided that he was a loose cannon, too far left for the good of profits and the bottom line of the new Comcast ownership? Perhaps, but we will learn more as the story gradually unfolds, which it will inevitably do.
But the point of this post is not to speculate about the reasons for cancelling Countdown, but to suggest that what Network showed us in 1976, thirty-five years ago, was a prophetic take on what we are seeing now on cable television and in particular, the programming of the Fox News Network, whose dedicated followers are mad as hell and whose television carnival barkers whip them up into a frenzy of hatred and fear on a daily basis.
Watch Network again and get a feel of what takes place on the upper floors of the corporate offices, where careers are made and broken. It's not a pretty picture. Keith Olbermann said he was exhausted by the process, and he will no doubt enjoy his release from it, at least for a time. The anchors at Fox will of course gloat and snipe, and talk radio will celebrate because they will no longer be candidates for the Worst Person in the World.
A critically important, articulate voice has been silenced, at least for a time, a victim of the overall tone and vapid content of cable news. We should be mad as hell, but given the present atmosphere in this country, the way Keith signed off on Friday, by reading a story by Thurber, was the better part of valor. Thanks Keith.