This is getting ridiculous. On Wednesday night’s Countdown, Keith Olbermann and Howard Fineman, discussing Hillary Clinton’s continued presence in the Democratic nominating contest, conducted the following exchange:
Fineman: What this is going to require…is some adults somewhere in the Democratic party to step in and stop this thing, like a referee in a fight that could go on for thirty rounds. That’s what’s going on. Those are the super, super, super delegates who are going to have to really decide this.
Olbermann: Right. Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.
You can watch the exchange here:
There’s been an outcry (though not, tellingly, in the mainstream press) against Olbermann’s comments, most of it crying sexism. Which could be right, to be sure—but I’m not completely convinced. (You could certainly build a case for sexism based on the many other inappropriate things Keith Olbermann has said about Hillary Clinton; in this instance, however, the Olbermannian impropriety seems rooted in its wink-wink suggestion of violence, rather than the fact that that suggestion was directed at a woman.)
Regardless. There’s really no getting around the core problem here: that a prominent newsman suggested, on national television, that a candidate for the presidency of the United States should be beaten up (or worse). Even being generous and leaving aside the sexism/violence stuff…it was a stupid thing for Olbermann to say. Not “stupid” as in “inappropriate”—although it’s that, too—but “stupid” as in “intellectually vapid” and “insipid” and “a waste of everyone’s time.” There’s so much that the press, reporters and commentators alike, could be talking about right now when it comes to the campaign—and when it comes to everything else that’s going on in the world. Instead, here’s one of the most powerful men in the media, a man who can boast an audience of nearly a million viewers each night, vocally amusing himself at the image of the Democratic superdelegates “deciding” the nomination by beating up the second-place candidate. It’s frustrating. It’s insulting. It’s baffling.
Olbermann uses Edward R. Murrow’s famous words—“Good night, and good luck”—as a sign-off in his own Countdown broadcast. That never made sense to me; why call attention to greatness when you yourself are so far from it? But today, the day that would have been Murrow’s 100th birthday, the comparison seems especially ironic. And especially sad.
Update: Per a wonderfully thoughtful piece from Salon’s Joan Walsh: looks like Olbermann has apologized—sort of—for the remark.
“It is a metaphor. I apologize: the generic ‘he’ gender could imply something untoward,” Olbermann said, in a statement MSNBC spokesperson Alana Russo forwarded me a few minutes ago. “It should’ve been ‘only the other comes out — from a political point of view.’”Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.