Lean Times

I’m simultaneously delighted and disgusted over reports of dramatic changes in the near future at MSNBC:

According to multiple sources within the network, the biggest rumor to emerge is that MSNBC has engaged in talks with soon-to-be-departed ESPN2 host Keith Olbermann about returning to the cable network’s primetime lineup. Olbermann previously hosted Countdown from 2003 until 2011, and was an immensely controversial figure for the network, both internally and externally (2003 was a return to the network for Olbermann after a previously contentious run in the ’90s as well). For myriad reasons, it would be a stunning turn of events if Olbermann came back, but one could certainly argue that right now they need each other more than ever.

But even a theoretical Olbermann return could suggest MSNBC’s desire to get back into the fiery primetime wars, and also highlights the reality that several other shows are likely on the chopping block.

Multiple sources within the network tell us that several shows are at risk: All In with Chris Hayes, which currently runs at 8 p.m., opposite Fox’s ratings titan in The O’Reilly Factor; PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton, which features the controversial host’s commentary in the 6 p.m. hour; and The Ed Show, which was cancelled once before, moved to the weekend, and then revived at 5 p.m. on weekdays.

It would be a blessing for the country generally and the progressive movement specifically to have Olbermann back where he belongs. Things just haven’t been the same since his January 2011 departure from MSNBC: he left us right when we needed his voice to highlight the malevolence of a Tea Party Congress.

Keith was a vital voice for this country between 2003 and 2011; his diligent documentation of Dubya’s deceptions and his fervent focus on Fox’s falsehoods was nothing short of heroic. He never played it safe, never backed down, never retreated in the name of faux-civility and faux-bipartisanship. He was a warrior for justice and change, and his departure from the battlefield of ideas was depressing for progressives.

It will be a bright day if and when he comes back to MSNBC; we could once again have a chance to bear witness to an icon doing what he does best, so I’m looking forward to it. However, I am not looking forward to Hayes and Schultz being removed from their current positions. (I can’t speak to the Sharpton matter because, as I’ve noted previously, I don’t watch his program.) Hayes and Schultz have been exemplary in their coverage of the climate crisis, giving this intensely important issue the necessary attention it deserves. By removing Hayes and Schultz from their positions, MSNBC would send a profoundly negative message to the rest of the press: it’s OK to ignore the biggest crisis facing our country and our world.

I’d love to have Olbermann, Hayes and Schultz all in prominent positions on MSNBC, but it looks like that dream probably won’t become reality. If MSNBC brings back Olbermann while shoving aside Hayes and Schultz, the network would effectively lean forward and backward at the same time.

UPDATE: A rather tepid denial of the Olbermann rumor. Plus, more from Salon.

SECOND UPDATE: Speaking of climate coverage on cable television (and the need for much more), CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed Dr. James Hansen earlier today on the risks of rising sea levels and the need for federal carbon-pricing legislation.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.