TKO: Lessons from the Trial of Keith Olbermann

As controversial commentator Keith Olbermann returns to his desk tonight, his suspension provides us with a few object lessons in the value of impassioned cable news commentary.

by Scott Daniel // November 9, 2010

I began watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC in the fall of 2006 to evoke nostalgia. Back in 1993, before his rise as a progressive pundit, Keith was my best friend every morning as he and Dan Patrick tag team hosted SportsCenter. Never mind that he once sported a vicious white-collar mullet; Olbermann was a familiar voice and face. I had undergone a recent and drawn-out political metamorphosis from right to (center) left, and I needed a rallying point in my new camp.  A friend turned me on to Olbermann’s borderline incendiary attacks on the wrongs effectuated by the Bush Administration, and I was hooked. Snarky and condescending as he was, he provided something that I believed America desperately needed: a voice of reason infused with passion to counter the neo-conservative spin emanating from the microphones of Limbaugh and Hannity.

While not infrequently irksome and hyperbolic, Keith has been a worthy companion on weeknights at 8 p.m. That companionship was temporarily suspended when NBC executive Phil Griffin pulled the plug on Keith indefinitely last week for donating a sum total of $7,200 to three Democratic Congressional candidates without prior network approval. The suspension didn’t last long. Keith will host Countdown once again tonight.

Though the suspension lasted less than a week, Keith’s “trial” of sorts should serve as a cross-cutting object lesson, an extempore opportunity for information junkies to engage in some meaningful reflection on the role of an advocacy journalist like Keith in American media.

What, exactly, did Keith Olbermann do wrong?


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The opportunity to make a difference in the life of a stranger is rare. Here is the story of the humbling experience when my partner and I somehow won the asylum case of a desperate woman in need.

by Scott Daniel / / October 29, 2010

One year ago today, my former law school clinic partner Priscilla and I argued an asylum case on behalf of a young woman whose previous life was scarred by brutal acts of genocide. We won. So today is that young woman’s 1st birthday. I found it fitting to re-publish my account of this emotionally draining experience from my last blog, the d.c. diaries. The events described herein concern a real life legal and personal drama. Therefore, out of respect for my former client’s privacy, I opted to give her a pseudonym and re-cast some of the details of her life. To my knowledge, many of her friends and family still live under the threat of ethnic and political violence in her home country today. I assure you, however, that the essential facts of what transpired last fall are preserved.

This was and will always be the greatest triumph of my life…

Read the rest of this entry »

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No Such Thing as a Right Angle

Sharron Angle was my State Assemblywoman. God help us all if my home state makes her a U.S. Senator.

by Scott Daniel // October 26, 2010

Here’s something I’ll bet you’ve never heard about. In 1999, a group of anti-federal activists staged a protest in the Jarbidge Wilderness of Northeastern Nevada. Literally armed with pick-axes and shovels, participants in the so-called “Jarbidge Rebellion” defied the will of the U.S. Forest Service. The Service had closed a single dirt road that allegedly threatened the natural habitat of the bull trout in the nearby river. Modeling their efforts after the Boston Tea Party, the rebels occupied the road and declared their frustration with what they perceived to be the menacing overreach of the federal government.

387 miles away in Reno, my high school government class followed this minor mutiny in bemused fascination. Even then, as a young conservative, I was uncomfortable with the idea of resorting to revolutionary tactics for what were clearly light and transient reasons. Most dismissed this group as extremist, with little hope of ever seriously competing for attention in the political mainstream.

This was 1999. We should have been paying more attention. This was the year that Sharron Angle first began her service in the Nevada State Assembly, echoing the voices rising from the Jarbidge Wilderness.

Who is Sharron Angle?

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Saying No to Pot and Coke

I didn’t want to be a junkie when I grew up.  Still I reached for the Diet Coke and pot of coffee.

by Scott Daniel // October 20, 2010

Diet Coke WithdrawalThat was no headache. A headache is a bearable nuisance, triggered by something stressful or irritating, like an SEC football fan or screaming children at your neighborhood Friendly’s. No, it was not like that at all. It was more an amalgamation of nausea, drowsiness and what I imagine surface zero of a fireworks explosion must feel like. It occurred in, around and throughout every lobe of my brain, pulsing rhythmically, ebbing and flowing like the tides, minus the peace and serenity. I could have ended it all right there. Just one pull of the stay-tab. Just one click and release. Just one shot of that sweet, aspartame-laden, carcinogenic fizz, and I could have returned momentarily to stasis. But I am not tempted so easily. Not this time. The withdrawal symptoms may occasionally border on the unbearable, but I will re-claim my Diet Coke-addled brain. It has been 96 hours since my last hit of caffeine.

I think you’re exaggerating. It’s just caffeine.

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There’s a Tyrant On Your T-Shirt

Your Che t-shirt is really cute.  Did you know he killed at least 159 people?

by Scott Daniel // October 14, 2010

The recent campaign against Columbus Day re-ignited a smoldering source of frustration for me.  Not with the renunciation of Columbus Day, mind you, but with the veneration of another man of lesser academic credentials but perhaps more cultural traction.  Take a long hard look at the man in the picture on the left.  He’s familiar to you, especially if you’re a male college freshman or you ride your single-speed bicycle to the local Fair Trade coffee shop.  You might even own a dime store novelty T-shirt with his mug on it.  I need you to listen very carefully, because your credibility depends on it.  If you oppose the honoring of Christopher Columbus every October 12 while this man’s gaze falls ominously upon visitors to your dorm room, you have fallen victim to the Cult of Che.

Wait, that guy’s name is Che? I thought it was Cuervo Jones from Escape from L.A.

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It Came Out Vanilla


by Scott Daniel // October 11, 2010

The Rolling Stones absolutely had it right.  You can’t always get what you want.  Example: in 1993, I wrote a personal 80-year timeline for a school project, then sealed the timeline in a shoe-box time capsule.  If I recall correctly, in this alternate timeline, I am an all-star third baseman for the three-time World Champion California Angels and live in a sprawling Laguna Beach mansion with my wife, Kelly Kapowski.  In the universe we know, I am writing this post in the closet of my best friend’s New York apartment while he and his girlfriend watch downloaded episodes of The A Team.  I’m also technically bald and live with my mother.  But I do have a bobble-head doll of Troy Percival holding a 2002 World Series trophy.  So, mission accomplished.

And it’s not merely in the big things that we fail to get what we truly want.  You may wander in a residual drunken stupor into a New York McDonald’s in the hopes of acquiring a strawberry milkshake.  Deal with it.  You’re getting vanilla.

Vanilla’s not that bad. What’s wrong with vanilla?

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The Social Not Work

Your ex-friends grow weary of incessant links to your blog.

by Scott Daniel // October 8, 2010

It turns out that your fears are justified.  You’re not paranoid.  Your Facebook friend count is decreasing, and not through the random fluctuations allegedly driven by “algorithms” or some other made-up mathematical mythical jargon.  People don’t like you anymore.  Consequently, they have unfriended you.  This is not house cleaning or a seasonal friend purge.  This is personal.

But why would anyone unfriend me?

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