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.