Keith Olbermann announced on Tuesday that he will host a one-hour, nightly primetime show on Current TV starting in late spring. He will also become the “chief news officer” for Current.
In a conference call with reporters, Olbermann said that “nothing is more vital to a free America than a free media, “and nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news that is produced independently of corporate interference.” He called Current “the model truth seeking entity” in television, and said that his new show was “the most exciting event in my career.”
While some were hoping that Olbermann would join CNN because it would have given him access to far more homes than what MSNBC currently has access to, the news that he will be joining CurrentTV is certainly an interesting twist. According to The New York Times:
One of the people with knowledge of the plans said Mr. Olbermann would have an equity stake in Current TV. The people insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized by their employers to comment in advance of the official announcement.
On Monday a public relations agency hired by Mr. Olbermann scheduled a Tuesday morning conference call for an announcement about his next job. “He and his new partners will make an exciting announcement regarding the next chapter in his remarkable career,” the agency wrote in an e-mail.
Current TV has set up a presentation with advertisers for Wednesday afternoon in Manhattan to announce its future plans. The channel may be betting on Mr. Olbermann to put it on the cable map. The low-rated five-year-old channel needs the help. Targeting young people, it originally subsisted on YouTube-style submissions and video journalists. More recently it started producing and acquiring traditional television series, like repeats of “This American Life.”
The reason why this is a particularly interesting twist is because CurrentTV was co-founded by Al Gore as a scaled down version of what the former Vice President originally wanted: a liberal cable news channel that could challenge the dominance of conservatives on TV. For those that are not familiar with CurrentTV’s history, it is said that Al Gore settled for CurrentTV instead of creating an actual progressive cable news channel because the ‘common wisdom’ by industry hacks back then was that progressive media would simply not be lucrative and would represent too much of a threat to corporate advertisers’ interests. Keith Olbermann, as we all know, shattered this myth into pieces, singlehandedly bringing MSNBC out of obscurity, with his Countdown show beating CNN in the ratings and even Fox News on some nights, while at the same time opening the doors wide open for other lucrative media personalities like Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Ed Schultz to carry on his legacy on that network.
Since CurrentTV ended up being a version of MTV’s mid-1990’s UNfiltered show (as Ari Berman of The Nation described back in 2005) instead of the grander progressive version that Al Gore and his partner Joel Hyatt originally envisioned, might the alliance with Keith Olbermann be an opportunity to return to that original vision? As much as the rest of the corporate media wants to paint MSNBC as a bastion of liberalism, we all know that that network showcases progressive points of view only during evening and nighttime; during the day time (not to mention how it’s basically jail test patterns on the weekends), it showcases relative neutral or downright conservative viewpoints (Joe Scarborough being the perfect example) the rest of the time.
So what does all have to do with immigration reform and other issues that impact the Latino community? I’ll repeat here what I said when Keith Olbermann was suspended back in November:
In order for comprehensive immigration reform to have a good chance of passing, activists will need a strong progressive network of communications to match the certain onslaught of negative messaging that conservatives will launch to derail reform.
Let’s not kid ourselves: the reach and therefore effectiveness of current and future campaigns in support of issues like immigration reform will continue to depend on the strenght of those progressive communicators that have a megaphone in our national media because in its current form, you can guarantee that Fox News will never be our ally in that regard.