October 13, 2006

Cornellian Evolves Past Sportscasting

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“Good night, and good luck.”

For Joseph McCarthy, the words led to political destitution. For George Clooney, they meant an Oscar acceptance speech. For most, the vaguely apocalyptical send-off of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow is synonymous with broadcast journalism.

More than 10 years after Murrow’s See It Now program exposed Senator McCarthy’s corruption, Keith Olbermann ’79 graduated from our beloved Cornell. 1979 was also the year ESPN debuted.

Today, Olbermann is one of the most respected journalists in the country. His Countdown with Keith Olbermann routinely trumps industry vets like Paula Zahn at CNN for the cable news ratings crown. He channels the late Murrow in more ways than one — from his incisive political reporting to his use of Murrow’s storied phrase.

Olbermann chose a bizarre path to hardball political commentary — he started in sports. After talking sports for Cornell’s own WVBR radio, he wallowed in the California sports broadcasting scene before finally joining SportsCenter in 1992. Later, he was an anchor with Fox Sports.

Olbermann was a star at ESPN. He and co-anchor Dan Patrick pioneered the image of the celebrity sports journalist. The iconic banter, witty catch phrases and often sardonic reporting paved the way for a new generation of personality-driven sportscasters.

A few years ago, I ran into Olbermann while taking a tour of the Fox Sports studio in Los Angeles. Kevin Frazier, another former SportsCenter anchor and also with Fox at the time, hosted the tour.

The studio was a fan’s dream. Autographed memorabilia lined the walls like masterpieces in a museum. Tech guys played Madden on 60-inch screens and bet Lakers tickets on touchdowns. A room with hundreds of TVs displayed every sporting event imaginable occurring that day — from the San Jose Sharks’ locker room to the riding of the bulls.

Olbermann was near the anchor’s desk, cracking jokes and trying to explain why he could not answer some basic baseball trivia. In the over-hyped playland of sports broadcasting, Olbermann was a child with the biggest names and most expensive toys in sports at his disposal.

And he looked miserably out of place.

As St. Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.”

Olbermann has now become a man.

He has put away the highlights, boo-yas and T.O. charades in favor of compelling political commentary. As ESPN and its ilk continue to degenerate past mediocrity and into a cultural abyss, Olbermann has emerged as a heavy-hitting news reporter.

Olbermann was there on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York for 40 days of continuous reporting. He was in Iraq in 2003 when the United States launched its invasion. He has weathered intimidation and threats from the likes of Bill O’Reilly and the New York Post. He has indicted the current administration on all manner of hypocrisy.

The void left by Olbermann in sports was especially conspicuous this week when a plane piloted by Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle smashed into a Manhattan apartment building, killing Lidle and his flight instructor. As ESPN wheezed through the reactions of Larry Bowa and Derek Jeter, Olbermann was speaking to Lidle’s brother and witnesses to the crash.

Olbermann gave up every kid’s fantasy in order to truly serve his country. He traded the Little League World Series for Mark Foley, the Final Four for evangelical voters and the Oakland Raiders for the White House. On the five-year anniversary of Sept. 11 last month, Olbermann stood among the ruins of the World Trade Center and delivered a damning condemnation of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest.

Daniel Webster said a free press “instructs the public mind and animates the spirit of patriotism.” Olbermann has put away the New England Patriots to become a real American patriot.

Good night, and good luck.

Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Editor. The Ultimate Trip will appear every other Friday this semester.

  • Rob

    Wow. Welcome to the blogosphere. Writers from a webpage with the explicit purpose of attacking Keith Olbermann flock to the comments section of a (fairly bad) article praising Olbermann? How very unremarkable. And in a college newspaper, no less. Despite the percieved power of being able to say a thing to all of cyberspace, saying a thing repeatedly does not make it true. The sooner the bloggers on the Left and the Right realize this and go places other than the internet for their “facts,” the sooner journalism and the media in general will start to pull itself out of the ratings race and back into the shadow of the likes of Murrow. Until then, blog away.

    • How is it possible that there is a student so dumb and such an elite University; how is that the school paper would have editors so careless as to publish this fact-challenged tripe.

      This is by far and away the single stupidest thing I have ever read.

      That said, I want to thank you for giving hope to the intellectually-challenged everywhere. Reading this, you have given hope to millions of idiots that they too can receive an Ivy League education, do lots of drugs and get their incoherent thoughts published under the guise of an Op-Ed. Good work!

      More here…

      Most Bizarre Olbermann Article Ever

  • James

    Keith has never once issued a correction or retraction for any of his frequent documented errors in his reporting. This fact alone removes him from the status of respectability.

  • Erika

    This is a fine article, although a little breathless, perhaps. I’m sorry you are getting such instruction in how readers can be, for lack of a more erudite term, assholes.
    Needless to say, don’t take an asshole’s career advice.
    Keep your knees loose.

  • nicksmith

    This is nothing less then a propaganda piece.
    Don’t lie about ratings when they can easily be found on the internet. Mister Olbermann has a small audience with much cajoling and petitioning of the far left websites who apparently don’t consider facts an important part of journalism rather live for the next personal attack on those they disagree with.
    There is no debate on KO’s show just slanted news and personal attacks.

  • JustJoe

    You must be kidding!

  • Johnny

    Countdown with Keith Olbermann has never, ever finished first place in ratings for even one night. So to say he’s captured the “ratings crown” is simply a lie by the author of this article. Isn’t Cornell supposed to be a good school? And this is the type of student who becomes a “senior editor” at its newspaper?

  • Victor

    If there ever was a literary equivalent of a rimjob, this would be it. This article is nothing more than an homage to Keith Olbermann, at the cost of fact and reason….

  • oswald

    Why are people labeled “assholes” simply for pointing out the errors in this author’s love letter to Olbermann?

    It’s funny because it reminds me of a particularly breathy(and outrageously uninformed) quote by Olbermann himself:

    “No one has the right to say that about any free-speaking American in this country.”

    It’s hard to read without laughing. The hypocrisy is astonishing. Apparently, Keith has appointed himself arbiter of who is, and who is not, protected by the first amendment.

  • Brandon Wolner

    Thank God that this guy Kyle is a plant from rove, otherwise this would be very embarrassing!

  • Michelle,

    Actually, USA TODAY claimed that KO was up 33% when, in fact, he was up 9%. The 33% claim originated from the MSNBC PR department which cherry-picked numbers and, to continue the fruit metaphors, compared apples to oranges by comparing a full week in August where Keith was not even hosting 2 of the 5 days to a partial week in September (2 out of 5 days) where one of the two days used to calculate the “average” for the week was more than 100,000 viewers higher than the three days they “forgot” to include – overstating Keith’s ratings gain by close to 400%.

    In the AP story last week, they picked a single day the week before Labor Day which is traditionally the lowest viewer week of the entire year and compared that to the highest single night Keith ever had (boosted by the Foley scandal where overall viewership was up across the board) to come up with their 69% figure.

    This is all part of a long history of TV critics going through mathematical contortions to portray what has always been a third place show as a “success”.


    I suggest you read my post on this article at Olbermann Watch. It is replete with factual errors – Keith never went to Iraq EVER, Keith does not “trump” Paula Zahn in the ratings, Keith has never won any “ratings crown” because he has never been remotely close to the top show overall or in his time slot – not once, not ever, Keith did stand “among the ruins” at the WTC site (he sat, on a rooftop, overlooking the site which was cleared of all debris as of June 2002).

    You are providing an example of the kind of thinking that leads grammar school teachers to give all of their gold stars so no one feels left out. If you really want to help Kyle you ought to tell him to try and do some research next time – and this time, you ought to encourage him to correct the record either here in the comments or in some sort of editor’s note.

  • Brandon

    if you overlook the many errors and flat-out lies contained within it. It’s okay to write an opinion piece, I have no issues with that, what I do have a problem with are the errors contained within this piece which sorely need to be corrected, re ratings, etc.

  • Dave A.

    Olbermann has never won the “cable news ratings crown”. Not once, not ever. His show usually gets between 400,00 to 700,000 viewers. Bill O’Reilly averages 2,000,000 viewers in the same timeslot. I know this article is just a gushing fan-piece. But you should still check your facts.

  • Bob

    You have every right to agree with Olbermann and his point of view. But please use those critical thinking skills they profess to implant there. You do not have a right to your own fact set. Some of the statements you make as facts, are just flat out wrong. As I told my Daughter, a Cornell education is very expensive and a terrible thing to waste. Bob

  • I am deeply, deeply disturbed that an article of such bold inanity would be published in such a respected institution’s paper. If I were a benefactor to the University, I would be outraged. The number of factual errors in this article is truly depressing. Please, to the writer, and the editors, please, take your jobs a bit more seriously.

  • Bob

    This article is supposed to be a joke right!?

  • Scott

    I can’t decide what is the most irritating aspect of Keith Olbermann’s joke of a program – his ever-growing list of mis-statements, his absolute refusal to interview anybody who disagrees with his assertions, or his unshakable belief that airing Example #5,217 of why he hates Bill O’Reilly’s guts is somehow news. Actually, the lowest point was reached when he called Fox News’ Chris Wallace “a monkey”. These kissy-face articles about Olby can sometimes be really entertaining. Sometimes.

  • Jafar

    A number of rightwing nutjobs have written to condemn Keith Olbermann. Regrettably for the right, the election returns are in. It is time to say, “Scoreboard, Jerks.”