Thursday, June 26, 2008

Olbermann on FISA and telecom immunity

He was against it before he was for it. Glenn Greenwald explains how Olbermann eloquently opposed the Cheney-Bush FISA bill which was essentially the same as the one the House recently passed and is now pending in the Senate, in Keith Olbermann: Then and now Salon 06/26/08.

Since Olbermann was an Obama partisan during the primaries, it's plausible as Greenwald argues, that he's now praising Obama's support of the same bill is a continuation of that partisanship. But that's no reason to pretend the bill is something that it isn't, or to avoid discussing the dangerous provisions of the bill, which he previously attacked. Just this past January, Olbermann was saying that telecom immunity was a "shameless, breathless, literally textbook example of Fascism". Telecom immunity is still in the bill. And though Obama says he'll seek to have it removed in the Senate, he also said ahead of time that he would support the bill with the telecom immunity provisions included.

Greenwald also writes that Olbermann's guest Jonathan Alter of Newsweek was "desperate to defend Obama", though he presumably meant defending him on the FISA capitulation to Cheney and Bush. But it's important to remember that praising Obama's support of the Cheney-Bush FISA bill is entirely consistent with the Establishment press' GOP-friendly scripts. They praise Democrats for being good boys and girls when they show "bipartisanship" by capitulating to the authoritarian Republicans on important issues of the Constitution and the rule of law.

And Greenwald poses an important question, after discussing Alter's goofy description of the FISA capitulation on Olbermann's show:

What's much more notable is Olbermann's full-scale reversal on how he talks about these measures now that Obama - rather than George Bush - supports them. On an almost nightly basis, Olbermann mocks Congressional Democrats as being weak and complicit for failing to stand up to Bush lawbreaking; now that Obama does it, it's proof that Obama won't "cower." Grave warning on Olbermann's show that telecom amnesty and FISA revisions were hallmarks of Bush Fascism instantaneously transformed into a celebration that Obama, by supporting the same things, was leading a courageous, centrist crusade in defense of our Constitution.

Is that really what anyone wants - transferring blind devotion from George Bush to Barack Obama? Are we hoping for a Fox News for Obama, that glorifies everything he says and whitewashes everything he does? (my emphasis)
That depends on who "we" are. But the main liberal criticism of the Establishment press the last few years has demanded that the press do their jobs, including reporting the news accurately, exercising some decent judgment about news priorities and providing some meaningful professionals news analysis instead of relying on ditzy guild scripts.

I don't see any real possibility of the mainstream press becoming a "FOX for Obama" operation, or any major part of it. The real problem is one that we see in Olbermann's flip over telecom amnesty and the FISA changes. The Republicans praise the Democrats for capitulating on an important issue, and pundits perceived as "liberal" like Olbermann or Mark Shields praise the Democrats for capitulating. When the Democrats don't do what the Republicans want, the Republicans attack them for that and the press corps far more often than not adopts a GOP-friendly script on the topic, while the TV "liberals" like Olbermann, Shields or Chris Matthews may or may not defend the Dems refusing to capitulate. Shields and his PBS Newshour counterpart David Brooks were in perfect solidarity last week in approving the Republican attacks on Obama for declining public funding for his general election campaign.

Plenty of liberal Democrats voted for the October 2002 Iraq War resolution, one of the most consequentially bad votes in the history of Congress. If "liberal" pundits want to cheer the Dems for such capitulations, that's one thing. (And bad enough!) But if they use the sloppy methods that have become characteristic of their trade in doing so, i.e., distorting or ignoring problems or just making stuff up, the public will not be well served.

And for the Democratic base generally, it would be hard for me to argue with Greenwald's observation, "The real danger is that those who defend Obama the Candidate no matter what he does are likely to defend Obama the President no matter what he does, too." To end the Iraq War and get a decent health-insurance plan passed, a President Obama will need a Democratic base that's ready to make him do it. Otherwise both efforts will be steamrolled by the Republicans and industry lobbies. If the base just salutes and cheers every time he caves to Republican pressure, he'll be doing a lot of caving.

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