I agree that MSNBC’s suspension of Keith Olbermann was akin to a kindergarten teacher telling a five-year-old to go stand in the corner for putting gum underneath his seat. I happen to believe there’s no such thing as a person or a company–journalist, or media company, or anything or anyone else–who comes without an opinion. For a few days, Progressive bloggers across the country have been making hay of Olbermann’s wrist-slap, and not a few have complained that the whole silly affair has taken the news spotlight off the needs of un- and underemployed Americans.
So, nu? Doesn’t anyone else see the irony there?
I found perspective on that unfortunate potential to make things worse while trying to make things better in this blog post from White Courtesy Telephone on a similar tendency in the foundation world. The post sets out a list of 25 theses that seek to explain why, try as they might to work towards good, sometimes foundations leave their preferred causes in the same (or worse) shape as they found them. Change the word foundation to Progressive bloggers (as I have taken the liberty to do, with all emphases mine), and a few of these theses make the online bandwagoning around the Olbermann affair make unfortunate sense:
1. The progressive blogging world is filled with many people of good will who desire through their work to advance the common good. Many have in fact succeeded.
2. Taken together, however, the collective actions of progressive bloggers have failed to address, in any significant way, some of the most basic injustices in our society. After years of work, progressive bloggers have failed to alter the basic condition of the poor in the United States.
5. Progressive bloggers often lack a sense of urgency about the challenges facing marginalized communities.
12. Progressive bloggers generally do not know how to relate to the people and communities they aim to serve. This relationship tends to range from command and control to benign neglect.
20. Progressive bloggers will forever knock our heads against some of our society’s most intractable problems and make little progress addressing them as long as we ignore their social justice dimensions. [I would add here, “on the ground.”]
23. Progressive blogging is and should be primarily a moral rather than a technocratic tradition.
Progressive blogging isn’t (well, isn’t just) about writing snarky, data-laden blog posts about non-social-justice-supportive politicians. Why do so many of use blog as if high-level snark was the point? Progressivism is and has always been a moral stance, one based around the premise that common, everyday people deserve respect, a voice, uplift, inclusion. And most of all, to be heard and valued as the primary stakeholders in public discourse. Why do we so often forget that the point is about community at its most basic level? It is most certainly not about whether one of us gets shouted out on Politico.
There are a lot of important grassroots stories that got lost in the Olbermann whirlwind. Labor losses, healthcare battles, educational funding shortfalls all across America whose outcomes have the potential to improve or utterly destroy the lives of real people. Progressive bloggers who are really miffed about Olbermann’s unending media attention should make their next post about them.
Here’s one idea: cover the plight of the thousand workers in Bensalem, PA, who are getting laid off by the phenomenally profitable Express Scripts pharmacy benefit management company in the middle of a recession potentially so that (as is my opinion, anyway) Express Scripts can make their creditors happy enough to fund another big acquisition. The price of which, of course, will be destroying a fragile local economy and causing great pain to innocent families whose livelihoods are standing in the way of corporate greed.
That plug make be self-serving, but like I said, no one comes without an opinion. That’s mine. Feel free to elevate a grassroots cause in your personal backyard next time, or at least once in a while. It mind not be as sexy as slinging mud at major media. But if it helps, think how proud Keith would be?
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.