President Barack Obama is delivering the State of the Union address tonight. In the past, I enjoyed watching MSNBC coverage of events like these -- not so much for the slant -- but for the hope that Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough would be forced into a small room again to talk to each other, then try to eat each other's heads while Rachel Maddow pleads for peace. Because, that's just more fun. The chin-checking and unchecked ego is simply better TV, than watching Katie Couric be clip and dry when she really wants to be chipper and funny as everyone sits around a table at CBS and tries to divine meaning out of whatever the First Lady is wearing. I'm just not feeling that. I want my quasi-lefty blowhards. I want my bloviating Keithy.
Olbermann just quit/was fired/burst into flames on Friday and missing Keith shouting at things is more about me (and if you enjoyed watching him, you) than it is about Keith Olbermann, because Keith Olbermann, the human being, is pretty much fine. He's a millionaire with millions of fans and the world is pretty much his on a commemorative JFK plate. Some say he might create his OWN media empire. Like a white male Oprah. Or, like the many white males before him who weren't Oprah, just rich and influential, like your Ted Turners and Rupert Murdochs.
So, you know? Don't sob too hard.
If you listen to CNN's Howard Kurtz, you'd get the impression Olbermann was this angry, bellowing man, who wrecked shop wherever he went. Hurting feelings and swinging a Liberal protruding member bigger than the member of your favorite monotheistic deity. And, heck, that may or may not be true. If the guy had an ego, it was a well-earned one. He was MSNBC's top draw and helped frame the network's primetime line-up as a Lefty alternative to FOX News. And other than, ugh, Ed Schultz, for the most part all the hosts brought a little something special to the team. I didn't like them all of the time, but most of the time? We were pretty much good.
Which, again, got me thinking of MSNBC's glaring lack of diversity in it's primetime block where Rachel Maddow, who I do adore, is basically supposed to hold it down for everyone who is not male or straight. Because everyone else screaming in primetime is a white male of a certain stature. (Ivy, a lot of Irish, middle aged, shouting, etc.)
Not that MSNBC has never had a black person headline a show (we never did find out if Alan Keyes was making sense. It was like the "Lost" of political talk shows). But, unlike CNN which has given the likes of Roland Martin, (see correction) Jesse Jackson and comic D.L. Hughley the right to crash and burn, MSNBC is long on equality rhetoric and short on letting black folks fail at a show as often as Tucker Carlson.
I was chatting on-line with my friend, author Amy Alexander, about MSNBC's diversity issues and we discussed how unlikely it would be to have a black host (or any minority host) get their own primetime slot, BUT also get to be as openly partisan and champion a favorite left-wing cause. Like Maddow was in the bullpen, swinging away against Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But could a black pontificator get a show, grab the microphone and rant for hours about fighting racist elements in both our political parties? Or grab the mantle for police brutality or racial profiling or Affirmative Action or job discrimination? Could a black host rail against the prison industrial complex and the inconsistent drug sentencing like Olbermann went nuts on violent anti-abortionists or Bill O'Reilly? Could a black host do a humorous "That's Racist!" segment akin to Olbermann's "Worst Person?"
As I said to Amy, what different political consequences would a black host have to deal with if he or she were overly partisan and a lefty? If you're a black conservative, that can potentially be kind of fun (for FOX News), because black conservatives are often treated like unicorns by TV news networks (but even they don't get shows very often.) But there are so many black left-leaning partisans and none are like Keith, or get the chance to do what he did. Why is that? Are people afraid of the show turning into some "Al Sharpton Tells White People Why They're Wrong" for an hour? Sure, my mother would watch the HELL out of that show, but will MSNBC chief Phil Griffin ever allow THAT on the air? Could you have someone who has Tim Wise on once a week to complain about racism and civil rights issues? And if so, would "Black Panther Growl Time with Rev. Jeremiah Wright" be the only show you'd ever watch?
I suppose this is the part where I can insert my complaint about BET dismantling it news division for so long, never properly developing something like this, a place where a talented black news hack could get his or her single issue grind on and fight for justice with his or her mouth. They didn't do that. They gave me Hell Date. But you know? They're trying. I heard they actually forked over $10 to do some scripted TV shows. SCRIPTED! You have to like, hire writers and actors and key grips and stuff for that! And you know BET hates to spend that cash since Viacom only gives them, like, $25 and a bucket of quarters to put on Mo'Nique's show.
We can dream.