Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mr. Olbermann, the war isn't about you

Keith Olbermann's shtick amounts to this: Use a lot of overblown adjectives and hyperbole to make simplistic statements sound "smart." The Olbermann viewer comes to the broadcast with pre-conceived hatreds, to which Olbermann gives voice in a way that makes the viewer feel their hatreds are sophisticated, intelligent and mature.

Witness Wednesday's rant. The first sentence is barely coherent:
President Bush has resorted anew to the sleaziest fear-mongering and mass manipulation of an administration and public life dedicated to realizing the lowest of our expectations.
Why "anew"? Why not "again"? The word "anew" is poetic, the sort of thing you'd hear in a valedictory address. What's the point of sticking it into this rant?

Look at how Olberman phrases the central accusation here: "the sleaziest fear-mongering and mass manipulation." Is it only the fear-mongering that is sleazy, or is the mass manipulation also sleazy? But if this is truly the "sleaziest" episode of the Bush years, how can Bush be said to have "resorted" to it "anew"? In other words, "anew" suggests that Bush has merely equaled some previous nadir of sleaze, a nadir that Olbemann doesn't specify.

The structure of this sentence is needlessly complex. Bush is the subject, and "resorted" is the predicate.

"Bush resorted to ..." what? "[T]he sleaziest fear-mongering and mass manipulation." In other words, the object of the verb "resorted" is compound. Bush hasn't resorted to one thing, but two, thereby requiring the conjunction "and."

The sentence might have held up if Olberman had been content to accuse Bush of resorting to "sleazy fear-mongering and mass manipulation." But no, he felt the need for the superlative "sleaziest," thus requiring a frame of reference. "Sleaziest" in what context? Compared to what?

The sleaziest, Olbermann tells us, "of an administration and public life dedicated to realizing the lowest of our expectations." Great. Now he's modifying the compound object of the sentence with a compound prepositional phrase.

What we see here is a piling-on of accusations, an impatience, a sense that Olbermann can't wait another sentence, that everything he wants to say must be said now. It's a furious sputter that conveys only one idea: Olbermann hates Bush. But you knew that before you tuned into MSNBC.

After quoting Bush's recent response to a reporter's question about what might happen if the U.S. were to precipitously withdraw from Iraq, Olberman says:
Through your haze of self-congratulation and self-pity, do you still have no earthly clue that this nation has laid waste to Iraq to achieve your political objectives?
This is a question? Would Bush accept the accusation that the Allied invasion "has laid waste to Iraq"? Or would Bush talk about the toppling of Saddam and the "nation-building" aspect of the mission?

You don't have to endorse Bush's "political objectives" to balk at this flat assertion that the U.S. has "laid waste to Iraq." And the characterization of Bush as operating inside a "haze of self-congratulation and self-pity" is another of those flat assertions for which Olbermann doesn't even bother to offer evidence.

Then Olberman quotes Bush saying he was "disappointed to see how flawed our intelligence was" in reference to Iraq's weapons programs, even though "intelligence communities all across the world shared the same assessment."

Right. As of late 2002, no one doubted that Saddam had extensive stockpiles of chemical weapons and that Iraq had bioweapons capacity. The extent of Saddam's nuclear program was more speculative. With his SCUD missiles, however, Saddam certainly had the means of delivering a warhead if he ever obtained or manufactured one. SCUDs aren't highly accurate, and their range is limited, but they were still a regional threat.

But look how Olbermann reacts:
You, Mr. Bush, are responsible for how "intelligence communities all across the world shared the same assessment."
You and the sycophants you dredged up and put behind the most important steering wheel in the world propagated palpable nonsense and shoved it down the throat of every intelligence community across the world and punished anybody who didn't agree it was really chicken salad.
And you, Mr. Bush, threw under the bus, all of the subsequent critics who bravely stepped forward later to point out just how much of a self-fulfilling prophecy you had embraced, and adopted as this country's policy in lieu of, say, common sense.
The fiasco of pre-war intelligence, sir, is your fiasco.
Certainly, the president is responsible for his decisions, and if the invasion of Iraq was undertaken in the absence of accurate information, then Bush is responsible. Yet Bush didn't become president until January 2001, and necessarily relied on intelligence about Saddam's weapons that had been accumulated during eight years of the Clinton administration.

Perhaps Bush and his "sycophants" failed to properly evaluate the Clinton-era intelligence they were working with, but I fail to see how they could be held responsible for estimates independently generated by British or other foreign intelligence agencies. Olbermann offers no evidence at all for his assertion that Bush "propagated palpable nonsense and shoved it down the throat" of foreign agencies.

There is no argument in Olbermann's rant. Argument requires evidence and logic. All Olbermann offers is assertion and venomous language. Ranting incoherently like a cokehead on a three-day binge isn't going to persuade anyone of anything, but Olbermann's audience doesn't need to be persuaded to hate Bush, so he doesn't even bother to argue.

Olberman expends 2,034 words on this rant, a stem-winding lecture in the world of television news, where the story that gets more than one minute in the evening news is a rarity. Two thousand words is nearly three times as long as the typical op-ed column, and yet Olbermann's rant lacks the informative quality of such a column. Instead, it's a Dagwood sandwich of piled-up assertions:
The war in Iraq, your war, Mr. Bush, is about how you accomplished the derangement of two nations, and how you helped funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to lascivious and perennially thirsty corporations like Halliburton and Blackwater, and how you sent 4,000 Americans to their deaths for nothing.
As emotionally satisfying as it may be for Olbermann to deploy SAT words like "derangement" and "lascivious" against the objects of his hatred, this is neither news nor argument. And the fact that he's allowed to rant on for 2,034 words in this self-indulgent fashion might help explain why MSNBC has such a tiny audience.

1 comment:

  1. Holy crap-what a sad misinformed rant...
    No... Olbermann doesn't offer evidence to back up his "assertions". That evidence is part of the public record...
    There is no question that the Bush administration at best ignored, and at worst suppressed any evidence against their thesis that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
    Rather than pick apart Keith Olbermann's editorials, perhaps your time would be better spent familiarizing yourself with the facts.
    Open your mind- We can all see that you're intelligent enough to parse Olbermann's grammatical idiosyncrasies; Instead of such mental masturbation, why don't you educate yourself about what has really been happening and do so in a historical context. None of this is new- history has proven the folly of this kind of borderline fascist leadership.
    May I suggest you utilize a website like before you blather on about things you clearly know little about.