On March 17, 1944, writer/dramatist/essayist/critic John O'Hara [1905-1970] published a movie review in Newsweek magazine, the likes of which had never before -- or likely since -- been seen. It began, in part:
"With no less regret, he reports that he has just seen the best actor in the history of acting."
"Name of picture: Citizen Kane."
"Name of actor: Orson Welles."
"Reason for regret: you, my dear, may never see the picture . . ."
O'Hara's rather bold and refreshingly honest introductory comments came to mind the other night as I was watching MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann deliver an equally bold and refreshingly honest commentary on the September 22nd Bill Clinton/Chris Wallace interview imbroglio. For those who have been living in the proverbial cave, on the Friday, September 22 edition of "FOX News," interviewer Chris Wallace had former President Bill Clinton on as his guest. Although Clinton was led to believe that their conversation would deal primarily with the "Clinton Forum" [the international group to which Richard Branson just pledged an incredible $3 billion for Clinton's Global Warming initiative], Wallace essentially sandbagged Mr. Clinton:
Wallace: "When we announced that you were going to be on FOX News Sunday, I got a lot of e-mail from viewers, and I've got to say I was surprised most of them wanted me to ask you this question: Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President?
With eyes widening in disbelief, Clinton proceeded -- angrily, emotionally and forcefully -- to answer Wallace's [or, if Wallace is to be believed, his "viewers"] question. As befits a world-class policy wonk, Clinton laid on fact after fact of what his administration did and did not do in the hunt for Osama. As befits a superior [and highly partisan] politician, Clinton exposed Wallace as nothing more than a lackey for the hostile conservative interests that own and operate the FOX network:
Wallace: "Do you think you did enough [in hunting down and assassinating bin Laden]?"
Clinton: "No, because I didn't get him. But at least I tried. That's the difference between me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months [between George W. Bush's inauguration and 9/11] to try and didn't. I tried. So I tried. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country: Dick Clarke.
Having delivered himself of this factual onslaught, policy-wonk Clinton became partisan-warrior Clinton:
Clinton: "So you [Chris Wallace] did FOX's bidding on this show. You did a nice little conservative hit-job on me. . . I want to know how many people in the Bush Administration you've asked this question of?"
Predictably, most members of the print and electronic media honed in on not what the former President had to say in response to Wallace's question, but rather the manner in which he said it.
Enter Keith Olbermann.
In Olbermann's aforementioned scathing commentary, he used the Wallace/Clinton interview as a jumping-off point for putting not only Wallace, but President Bush, his administration, it's so-called "War on Terrorism" and their "All's Fair in Conservative-Republican Political Ambition" philosophy on trial. And, like John O'Hara, he did not mince words. Referring to Wallace as "a monkey posing as a newscaster," Olbermann mused that " . . . had I in one moment surrendered all my credibility as a journalist, and been irremediably humiliated, as he was, I would have gone home and started a new career selling seeds by mail." Olbermann also lashed out at the media for covering only the tone of Mr. Clinton's response, and not his words:
"It is not important that that the current President's portable public chorus has described his predecessor's tone as 'crazed.' Our tone should be crazed. The nation's freedoms are under assault by an administration whose policies can do as much damage as al Qaeda; the nation's marketplace of ideas is being poisoned by a propaganda company so blatant that Tokyo Rose would have quit."
"Nonetheless, the headline is this: Bill Clinton has done what almost none of us have done in [the past] five years. He has spoken the truth about 9/11, and the current presidential administration."
Included in Olbermann's nearly-11 minute commentary were the following observations:
- "For the past five years, one month and two weeks, the current administration, and in particular the President, has been given the greatest 'pass' for incompetence and malfeasance in American history."
- "Mr. Bush, if you are now trying by proxy [Chris Wallace] to convince us that it's all about the distractions of 1998 and 1999 [Monica Lewinsky and the Clinton impeachment trial], then you will have to face a startling fact that your minions may have hidden from you. The distractions of 1998 and 1999, Mr. Bush, were carefully manufactured, and lovingly executed, not by Bill Clinton, but by the same people who got you elected President."
- "The free pass has been withdrawn Mr. Bush. You did not act to prevent 9/11. We do not know what you have done to prevent another 9/11. You have failed us -- then leveraged that failure, to justify a purposeless war in Iraq . . . You have failed us in Afghanistan. And you have now tried to hide your failures by blaming your predecessor."
Keith Olbermann's commentary [which can be seen in it's entirety at http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/42155/] hearkens back to the power and forcefulness of a John O'Hara review. The courage he displays in "telling it like it is" hearkens back to the greatest of all electronic journalists, the late, great Edward R. Murrow. In his prime, Murrow [1908-1965], like many correspondents, served as the eyes and the ears of a nation at war. But more importantly -- and here is the tie-in to Keith Olbermann -- Morrow was the voice of conscience, a man who understood that there are times when the journalist's most crucial task is broadcasting the hard truths that many wish left unuttered. [Indeed, following a graphic account of what the Nazis had wrought at the notorious Buchenwald Death Camp, Murrow proclaimed: "I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words. If I've offended you for this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least bit sorry.
Perhaps . . . just perhaps, between Bill Clinton's powerful presence and Keith Olbermann's fearless commentary, the American public will begin to wake up to the horrors of this administration, its Congress and the corporate lapdogs who so blithely applaud its every pronouncement.
Keith Olbermann should, as we say, "be well and live to 120," and remain employed by MSNBC. May he continue to write and speak without fear or compromise. And when in the distant future, he shakes off this mortal coil, may his epitaph been the same that adorns the final resting place of John O'Hara in Princeton: "Better than anyone else, he told the truth about his time. He was a professional. He wrote honestly and well."