Like a lot of lefties, I was a regular viewer of Countdown with Keith Olbermann and I was disappointed, though not really very surprised, at the rather sudden announcement of his departure from MSNBC. I enjoyed watching Keith, and I agreed with the vast majority of his positions even if I did have occasion to question his guest and content choices from time to time. For better or worse, Keith's gone now, and MSNBC will continue on without him.
That the network will change in some ways is a certainty. Without Countdown anchoring MSNBC's primetime lineup, the network is betting on Lawrence O'Donnell to fill Olbermann's shoes at 8pm while leaving Rachel Maddow in her 9pm slot and moving Ed Schultz to 10pm. While Maddow and O'Donnell are probably pretty safe bets in those time slots, I do wonder about Ed Schultz. He's on radio midday and he's been on MSNBC until now at 6pm, putting him in direct competition with network news hours. While Schultz certainly meshes well with O'Donnell and Maddow in terms of tone and content, there's no guarantee that his audience will make the trek with him to 10pm, four hours later than the latest he's been on the network until now, just as there's no assurance that O'Donnell and Maddow viewers will stay tuned in for another hour. Schultz may well find a significant portion of his television audience now tuning in by DVR or online stream and podcast.
Probably the biggest favor MSNBC could do right now for both Ed Schultz and Lawrence O'Donnell to promote their shows in their new time slots would to create online show video pages on msnbc.com such as The Rachel Maddow Show has and Countdown used to have and fill them with plenty of choice clips.
As an LGBT mediamaker and sometime critic, one thing I'm hoping to see with the end of Countdown and Olbermann's tenure at MSNBC is an end to using persecuted minorities (that would be us) as objects of humor and derision on the network. For me, and I expect for many of us, this kind of content on Countdown undercut Olbermann's progressive credibility significantly. It's just really hard to see someone as a credible progressive opinion leader when he's laughing along as Michael Musto is making jokes about a homophobic beauty queen having her penis cut off.
Despite such failings, there was and still is much to appreciate about Keith Olbermann and his time at MSNBC. He pretty much singlehandedly set a direction and tone for the network that has served it well and continues to do so. Indeed, as Steve Kornacki suggested in Salon Friday, it's entirely likely that Olbermann has been so successful in setting the course for MSNBC that the network now feels that Olbermann himself is no longer needed to keep it going. Given all the headaches he'd been giving NBC/Universal executives recently, including a brief suspension for donating to political candidates without the network's permission (including Tucson shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords), it seemed only a matter of time before Olbermann and MSNBC would eventually part ways, but how it was done, apparently by notifying Olbermann just hours before airtime that he was about to do his final show for the network, seemed rather abrupt, at least from this viewer's perspective.
Since MSNBC is now reconfiguring not only for the post-Olbermann but also the post-DADT era, it's my hope that MSNBC will finally become as progressive in fact as they're now trying to be in image with their "Lean Forward" campaign and begin presenting transgender people and the issues that impact our lives as valid and viable news and an integral part of the diversity that is America as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act ascends in the Democratic Party agenda as the next long-promised key goal for LGBT American working families.
Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, and Ed Schultz. Three pretty progressive voices. While I've never heard an unkind or ill-considered word about transgender people on any of their shows, I've also heard precious little about us and the issues that impact our lives at all. It's time that changed, that when there's a story that concerns transgender people, that information is included in the story. No one's expecting miracles here, just that we shouldn't have to ask for transgender inclusion on MSNBC or complain that we didn't get it when we should have.
Inclusion and respect for diversity should be the expected standard, just as it is for stories and features relevant to any other minority group in this country. Just as Keith Olbermann should have known from the start not only that letting Michael Musto make transphobic jokes on his show probably wasn't a good idea to begin with but also that his own laughing along with Musto made the offense ten times worse for many in his audience, so too should Rachel Maddow not have to be reminded on-air by her guests to include transgender people in a relevant story.
And hey, it would be nice if Lawrence, Rachel, and Ed ran a feature now and then when important transgender-relevant stories, developments, and progress surface in the news cycle, and they could really break down some barriers by having their very first (as far as I know) transgender guest to talk real issues on one of their shows, instead of transgender Americans being consistently presented to cable news viewers as merely human interest curiosities as other networks have done. For truly progressive hosts and content creators, the possibilities are endless, and given where the bulk of the modern progressive movement is on transgender civil rights and inclusion today, the inclusion of transgender people and viewpoints in MSNBC's coverage of relevant topics and issues should be a no-brainer.
Keith Olbermann's voice guided MSNBC to this point in large part, but now this network needs to find a new identity that will continue to lead them forward without him. Here's hoping that MSNBC and their hosts use this as an opportunity to widen their focus on the progressive movement and the communities that comprise it, particularly those hardest-hit in this economy by the lack of basic civil rights protections and who could use the attention their coverage would generate the most.
Considering how superb a job they did covering Don't Ask, Don't Tell, it's the very least they could do for the other 99.999% of the LGBT American workforce. The very least, indeed.