OLBERMANN SIGNS OFF: Corporations usually save announcements of really bad news for Friday night. So it is notable that MSNBC’s announcement that its most popular host had been let go came only after Keith Olbermann finished his final Friday night show with a final echo of Edward R. Murrow: “Good night and good luck.” Losing Olbermann’s voice at this point is a big deal for MSNBC—and for progressives.
The former sportscaster’s bold commentaries during the darkest days of the Bush/Cheney regime provided a rare counterpoint to the cheerleading not just of Fox News but of most networks. So stark was the contrast that MSNBC attracted a mass audience and was branded as an alternative to brain-dead media.
MSNBC will go on without Olbermann; veteran hosts such as Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz (now in prime time) will keep speaking truth to power, and new voices—such as “Young Turk” Cenk Uygur—will be heard. But Olbermann’s exit serves as a reminder of the dangers of getting too wrapped up with any one host or network. Progressive media has always operated— and must continue to operate—on multiple and diverse platforms.
That will require more attention to policy fights—in defense of net neutrality and against mergers like the Comcast/NBC Universal deal. President Obama’s signing of the Local Community Radio Act, which clears the way for an expansion of low-power FM radio stations, is an example of how changing laws can open media space. Who knows, perhaps Olbermann will show up on one of these new platforms. Until then, good night and good luck, Keith. JOHN NICHOLS
THE WORKING-CLASS EYE: Two days after Milton Rogovin died at his home in Buffalo on January 18, the Gage Gallery in Chicago opened an exhibition of his photographs called “The Working-Class Eye of Milton Rogovin.” Class was not merely Milton’s subject; it was the optic through which he saw the world, something that distinguished his work from what the culture had expected of social documentary photography since the 1930s.
His steelworkers and miners, prostitutes and hustlers, the retired and the unemployed, do not want our pity. They look into his camera from among the tools of their trade, on the streets where they work, at home among their treasures or alone against a bare wall. “Who built the Seven Gates of Thebes?” Milton used to quote Brecht. Who made the world we know? Where did they live? What did they love? Milton read history and saw some of the people who made it in perspective. Like aristocrats, they posed for their portraits, without, as he said, any “monkey business” from him.
He made beautiful photographs, printed with great skill, but he was in his own little rivulet off the cultural stream. If he did not make people victims, neither did he make them heroes; nor were his shots grotesque, ironic, vulgar, stolen on the sly. Not quite a modernist, too aesthetically formal for the ’60s, too direct for postmodernism, too gritty for the Salgado school of gorgeous misery, Milton was a man out of time.
He was 101 when he died: a ’30s man who had worked as an optometrist; a rank-and-file Communist whose importance was inflated by the ’50s witch hunt; an everyday man whose world of work collapsed when the government branded him a danger, and who started over by picking up a camera. Eventually he became important in the world of art writers, museum acquisitions and the Library of Congress, which holds all his papers, negatives and thousands of prints. Today the public can find a large selection of his photographs and other resources at miltonrogovin.com.
Love and the luck of many an old Red to maintain vim into the platinum years allowed him to taste success. Milton Rogovin had hoped to be a social reformer with his pictures, but he was really more an accompanist with the people who posed for him, a fellow traveler in the hustle and flow of life, and for that reason, one of the great documentary photographers of the twentieth century. JoANN WYPIJEWSKI
SEX, LIES AND AUDIOTAPE: Ordinarily the chance to see former Prime Minister Tony Blair grilled over his decision to go to war in Iraq would have kept the British press corps busy until lunchtime. But January 21 began with the announcement that Alan Johnson, the Labour Party’s economic spokesman, had just resigned after learning his wife was having an affair with his police “close protection” officer. And then midway through Blair’s evasions came the news that Andy Coulson, the Conservative Party’s head of communications, had stepped down in the wake of an investigation into mobile phone hacking by reporters at the News of the World, where Coulson had once been editor in chief.
Unlike the Iraq Inquiry, which had no sex, or the Johnson drama, which had no politics, Coulson’s departure had everything: celebrity shenanigans (it was a lawsuit by actress Sienna Miller claiming damages for having her phone hacked during her relation- ship with Jude Law that drew attention to the disclosure), political fallout (former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott may also have had his phone hacked)—even Palace connec- tions (Coulson left the News of the World in 2007 after the paper’s royal correspondent admitted hiring a detective to intercept messages on Prince William’s cell phone. At the time the paper’s owner, News Corporation, claimed the incident was a rogue operation).
Which, for American readers, is where this starts to get interesting. When News Corporation paid more than $1 million to settle a single hacking victim’s lawsuit, chair James Murdoch signed off on the settlement. Coulson’s resignation brought James’s dad, Rupert, to London—probably because he’s worried about the scandal’s effect on his plans to buy the 61 percent of British satellite broadcaster BSkyB he doesn’t already own, giving him total control of the country’s largest private broadcaster as well as three of its largest-circulation newspapers. Business secretary Vince Cable was widely expected to oppose the deal—until he was taped declaring “war” on Rupert Murdoch by two undercover reporters, and had his powers curtailed by current Prime Minister David Cameron. Who, it turns out, enjoyed a cozy dinner a few days later with James Murdoch and another Murdoch executive.
With hundreds of potential victims lining up for damages, James Murdoch’s this-close relationship with David Cameron may come to seem like a Road to Perdition. D.D. GUTTENPLAN