Olbermann’s departure strikes a blow against political hysteria

Whatever the particulars of Keith Olbermann’s abrupt departure from MSNBC, the fact is he had come to define the network. By separating with Olbermann at this moment, MSNBC is speaking volumes about the debate that has consumed the country for the past two weeks.

Olbermann’s broadcasts in the immediate aftermath of the murders and mayhem in Tucson, Ariz., were astonishingly dyspeptic. Led by Olbermann, Paul Krugman and a few others, many on the left attempted to link the violent actions of an insane killer to conservative political rhetoric and goals. 

George Will rightly pegged this reaction as the latest instance of “McCarthyism of the left.” The backlash against the McCarthyism formed instantly.

Some on the left, like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, doubled down, but conservatives, fair-minded independents and even some liberals refused to countenance the McCarthy-style premise.

People were forced to choose: Either this outbreak of evil in Arizona was connected to the political right, or the argument was as evil as any false accusation of complicity in murder.

MSNBC appears to have chosen to cabin the fever and signal that no matter how much it believes in the agenda of President Barack Obama, it will not advance that agenda through hysteria.

Whether the network simply ordered Olbermann to turn in his keys and leave the building, or Olbermann would not accept internal controls on his vitriol, either way he is gone. MSNBC execs chose. The network that made the terrible decision to air the tapes of the Virginia Tech killer finally got one right.

Had decent people from across the political spectrum not pushed back against the many slanders,  especially those against Sarah Palin, the left would never have relented in its charge.

The argument had to be confronted and defeated, and its proponents not indulged. Which brings me to my conversation with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., from my Thursday radio program, the full transcript of which is available at HughHewitt.com.

When Coburn went on “Meet the Press” on Jan. 16 and blasted all media, many were surprised.

“I am disgusted with both right and left media,” he told David Gregory, who had demanded Coburn answer the charge that “apocalyptic” rhetoric and overheated discourse had somehow derailed the country.

Coburn went on to explain to Gregory, as he did to me on Thursday, that far too much time was spent on the false debate even as important issues were left unexamined.

The point I tried to make to Coburn in reply was that conservatives did not choose this battle, but neither could it be avoided once begun.

“If Tom Coburn doesn’t defend conservative media,” I argued, “conservative media isn’t around to make the arguments about the debt limit” or any other issue for that matter.

Coburn made some good arguments in response and you should read the whole exchange. Take note: It was held on talk radio and posted on a blog, not in the mainstream media.

Examiner columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at www.hughhewitt.com.

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