Olbermann and Liberal Bloggers Criticize Obama Secrecy Arguments

MSNBC has come under justified criticism for often appearing like a mirror image of Fox during their prime time political coverage. During the campaign they ultimately removed Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as anchors for political events due to their obvious support for Obama. As Obama comes under increased criticism for the policies of his administration regarding state secrets, Keith  Olbermann’s criticism of Obama is receiving considerable attention. While many conservatives were willing to defend Bush regardless of his actions (with other more principled conservatives abandoning the Republican Party) it is clear that even those who supported Obama are concerned with principle as opposed to the type of blind support for leaders seen among Republicans.

Glenn Greenwald has summarized the criticism from Olbermann (including video) as well as liberal bloggers. In a long post with, at present, three updates Greenwald writes:

The fact that Keith Olbermann, an intense Obama supporter, spent the first ten minutes of his show attacking Obama for replicating (and, in this instance, actually surpassing) some of the worst Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and secrecy claims reflects just how extreme is the conduct of the Obama DOJ here.  Just as revealingly, the top recommended Kos diary today (voted by the compulsively pro-Obama Kos readership) is one devoted to attacking Obama for his embrace of Bush/Cheney secrecy and immunity doctrines.  Also, a front page Daily Kos post yesterday by McJoan vehemently criticizing Obama (and quoting my criticisms at length) sparked near universal condemnation of Obama in the hundreds of comments that followed.  Additionally, my post on Monday spawned vehement objections to what Obama is doing in this area from the largest tech/privacy sites, such as Boing Boing and Slashdot.

This is quite encouraging but should not be surprising.  As much as anything else, what fueled the extreme hostility towards the Bush/Cheney administration were their imperious and radical efforts to place themselves behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy and above and beyond the rule of law.  It would require a virtually pathological level of tribal loyalty and monumental intellectual dishonesty not to object just as vehemently as we watch the Obama DOJ repeatedly invoke these very same theories and, in this instance, actually invent a new one that not even the Bush administration espoused.

To be clear:  there are important areas in which Obama has been quite commendable, and I’ve personally praised him fairly lavishly for those actions (see, for instance, here, here and here), but it is simply unacceptable — no matter what else is true about him — for Obama to claim for himself the very legal immunity and secrecy powers which characterized and enabled the worst excesses of Bush lawlessness.  Yet in a short period of time, he has taken one step after the next to do exactly that.

Update: Some linking here are trying to use this to claim that Obama is as bad as Bush or that Hillary Clinton would have been preferable. Criticism of Obama does not mean either. I never expected to agree with everything Obama would do. This does not change the fact that Obama is by far preferable to both George Bush and Hillary Clinton on these issues.

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  1. 1
    david freeman says:

    Excellent post. Yes, we can’t let this slip by. I still expect Obama to be the best president in my lifetime but that’s not a high enough standard. If we all stand up and speak out, I believe he’ll hear.

    I do disagree with with a small point. Olbermann is open and honest about his positions and is usually both reasonable and rational – try to find a Fox commentator (or news host for that matter) that can honestly say the same. MSNBC cannot be justifiably criticized “for often appearing like a mirror image of Fox during their prime time political coverage” unless you stretch the meaning of “appearing” beyond recognition. 

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    I certainly don’t mean to say Olbermann is as bad as Fox. His show is intentionally somewhere between objective news and a full fledged opinion show, while Fox tries to pass off their biased shows as being fair and balanced. Olbermann’s opinions/biases are far more reasonable and rational than what is on Fox.

  3. 3
    Fritz says:

    Here’s another front in which the Obama administration is using secrecy.


    The White House is refusing to release documents about the secretive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a super-maximal copyright treaty that a bunch of rich countries are negotiating behind closed doors to escape the activists who’ve started to report on their shenanigans at the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organisation.
    Incredibly, the Obama administration claims that disclosing the details of this secret copyright law would endanger “national security.”

  4. 4
    Eclectic Radical says:

    It’s also worth noting that Olbermann’s show is a full-fledged opinion show with no pretense of being straight news coverage. Several Fox hosts (Britt Hume, Neil Cavuto, and Greta van Susteren) anchor or have anchored shows that profess to be news shows while actually being full-blown opinion shows. This implies a certain level of dishonesty implicit in Fox’s system.

    I would actually agree that giving Olbermann a position as a political anchor was a mistake, but it is hardly the only one… CNN puts Lou Dobbs on its election coverage team every year and he is far from a journalist.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Does MSNBC really bill it as a full-fledged opinion show? I’ve always thought they did blur the line with the way they bill it as a countdown of the top news stories.  Of course this is nowhere as bad as the shows at Fox which are presented as news and are biased.

  6. 6
    DrToketee says:

    I am waiting for Nancy Pelosi – who firmly opposes Obama’s unbelieveable executive power and secrecy policy to simply get on the phone and say to him: “Stop the Presidential power grab or kiss your universal health care good-bye.”

  7. 7
    GB says:

    I haven’t  watched Olberman on tv for over a year (I do watch vid clips on the computer.), but as I recall. MSNBC used to advertise Countdown as “A Different Kind of Newscast”. It is much closer to a “real” newscast than anything on Fox, but I’d have to say it’s a newscast with a slant. For what it’s worth, I like the show.

  8. 8
    bb says:

    Fox news is obviously conservative.  MSNBC is obviously liberal.  I don’t get how people who are obviously liberal perceive Fox news as slanted, but don’t perceive MSNBC as being slanted because it tells them what they want to hear.  Not only do I not understand that “logic” but the lack of honesty is appalling.  Liberals cluster together with whom they associate, as reflected in what they watch and read, as do conservatives, and both groups don’t even try to see truth and value in the others views.  Liberals sniff that Fox news is disingenuous because of the self-declaration of being “Fair and balanced” while refusing to see their own disingenuousness by saying stupid things like that Olberman is fair minded and open! How can anyone say that who watches him?  Face it- both have agenda’s and both have loyal viewers for a reason, to feed their audience what they want to hear.  Liberals need to stop calling the kettle black.

    btw- why are liberals hung up on teenager’s affairs (i.e. Pallin saga)?  I teach high school science and can not believe the irrational, immature, and irresponsible interest of self-proclaimed “enlightened” individuals in a couple of teenagers!  I’m not interested in my students social life- just that they learn physics and chemistry!

  9. 9
    Investigation Agency says:

    Well MSNBC has always been in the line of showing the truth behind the scenes

  10. 10
    scythe says:

    Keith Olbermann is the most hilarious individual to occupy any seat of political commentary/news reporting.  When I first saw him I wondered who had the brilliance to put him there.  He has taken the SNL schtick to such an elevated comedic paradigm that only the most perspicacious of his viewers can "get it".  Thus your collective analysis of his "skills and motives".  LOL – what an incredible joke.  Do you really think he is serious??? His is the contemporary rendition of the "War of the Worlds".  His corruscating showmanship, timing, and feigned sincerity should be the subject of someone’s thesis – has there ever been such a succesful fraud?  The man is monstrously good!

  11. 11
    eph says:

    Sorry to see all the liberals so disappointed at their man, but it was inevitable.  The guy is a pathological narcissist and he couldn’t care less about what anyone has to say about him as long as he can get his way.  He’s already convinced that he can do no wrong.  He’s one scary dude, which everyone will more clearly see as time goes on.   Both parties have to begin standing up to him or he’ll destroy this country. 

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:


    You miss the point that the “people who are obviously liberal” are agreeing that MSNBC is slanted. The question with regards to MSNBC is not whether they are slanted but to what degree they are billing their shows as opinion versus news. Fox bills extremely slanted shows as fair and balanced news. MSNBC is in more of a gray area in the manner in whether they fudge as to whether their shows are news or opinion.

    What makes you think that liberals are any more “hung up on teenager’s affairs” than anyone else? Such scandals are of national interest–not of interest specifically to liberals. This does have significance as it influences views of Palin.

    There is interest in affairs throughout society and popular culture. This includes both the soaps and higher quality material. For example, Friday Night Lights, widely considered one of the best written shows on network television, doesn’t limit itself to the football team. The teenager’s affairs make up a tremendous amount of the show.

  13. 13
    Ron Chusid says:


    It was inevitable only in the sense that liberals are much more likely to support Obama when we agree and criticize when we disagree. (Plus there is not a uniform set of liberal views–some of us will agree and disagree with him over different things.) Scary? Hardly compared to Bush and Cheney. Being convinced that he can do no wrong is a far better description of Bush than Obama, who does show far more consideration of a wide variety of views. He is a tremendous improvement even if I don’t agree with him on everything.

  14. 14
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I suppose one could make an argument that MSNBC bills ‘Countdown’ as a ‘news analysis’ show… but ‘news analysis’ has been code for ‘opinion show’ from the very first, so I don’t really count that as calling it ‘news.’

    As for MSNBC being slanted… they run die-hard liberals like Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan. Yes, their bias is so very horrible.

    Fox news has a day long slate of conservative opinion shows (some, as I mentioned, in the guise of legitimate news broadcasts), broken by relatively brief newscasts until Shepard Smith comes on with a legitimate news show in the evening.

    MSNBC starts the day off with a conservative opinion show, runs news most of the day, and then has a couple of liberal opinion shows in the evening. Sounds a lot more ‘fair and balanced’ to me.

  15. 15
    Ron Chusid says:

    That’s why I referred to their prime time coverage in the post. They do have both liberal and conservative voices, but liberals are increasingly dominating.

    In the case of Fox, their bias is the purpose of the network. In the case of MSNBC it is more a case of where they see the best chance to improve ratings. For a long time they tried to be more conservative. When they had Phil Donahue on they even had rules to balance liberal voices with a larger number of conservative voices. When they found that they couldn’t compete with Fox for conservative viewers, and that there is now more interest in liberal views, they have tilted in the opposite direction.

    MSNBC is far more “fair and balanced” than Fox, but it still is not a great example of objective news.  If they really do bill shows like Countdown as news analysis that would be a different thing, but I think they do blur the line as to whether it is a news or analysis show.

  16. 16
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I can’t recall ever hearing Olbermann billed as ‘objective news’, this is what I am saying.  He gives his opinion on the news, and that is how his show is presented. I haven’t seen a line blurred. He isn’t making up his own facts, he’s giving his opinions and analysis on the real facts. I don’t see any misrepresentation anywhere. Certainly, no one is advertising ‘Countdown’ as ‘Nightline.’

    I will certainly concede there is a large gray area in journalism at large between op/ed writing, feature writing, and news reporting. Yesterday’s pundits were the serious journalists of the day before yesterday, and it used to be traditional to graduate from news reporting to opinion writing when one reached a certain eminence, a la Bob Woodward, Richard Reeves, Bob Novak, David Broder and other journalists-turned-pundits. This certainly creates a blurring of the line. Today’s pundits are frequently career pundits with no previous experience as serious journalists, but are presented with as part of the business of ‘journalism.’ So the rules as they stand are awfully gray.

  17. 17
    Ron Chusid says:

    Again, I’m not sure that MSNBC is billing this as opinion as opposed to presenting this as sort of a news show. The show is described as presenting a countdown of the top stories of the day. MSNBC often talks about their shows as having “attitude.” They could be clearer in billing the show as opinion rather than news.

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