Is Keith Olbermann just a modern-day reincarnation of the crazed anchorman depicted in the 1976 Academy Award-winning film “Network?” In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article published Tuesday, KO said no (emphasis mine throughout): “‘I am not Peter Finch walking around the streets of New York in my pajamas as Howard Beale muttering to myself and saying, 'I must bear my witness.' It's not like that.’"
One NewsBusters’ contributing editor didn’t agree with Olby’s position:
“My concern is that people are mistaking his show for real news," said Noel Sheppard, a blogger with NewsBusters.Org, a Web site founded by conservative media watchdog Brent Bozell. "But there's no question he is indeed Howard Beale. The whole Paddy Chayevsky [sic] concept in 'Network' was that news had to be entertaining. You had the anchorman flip out one day, and the ratings exploded. The same is going on with Keith Olbermann, who really does get into a snit like Beale did."
As a little background, the film “Network” was based on a fictitious media outlet whose ratings were doing very poorly, in particular, its news division. One day, the lead anchorman had a nervous breakdown on the air, screaming all kinds of things in front of the camera, including the now famous line, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Sound familiar?
Well, the ratings skyrocketed, and the heads of this network came up with the idea of letting Beale do such rants every night. They even redesigned an entire show around him wherein he was the principle character raving about something in the news, only to faint at the end in front of a wildly cheering crowd.
Certainly, Olbermann hasn’t gone that far…yet. However, in a clear life impersonating fiction moment, the seminal event for “Countdown” and KO’s character was on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 when, while sitting in front of the site of the former World Trade Center twin towers, Olby went into a nine minute accusatory tirade about President Bush, terrorism, and the Iraq War. His ratings immediately skyrocketed, as did the attention a now adoring press gave him.
Does that make him Beale reincarnate? Well, though he doth protest too much, this is clearly on his mind, for according to the Post’s Mackenzie Carpenter, Olbermann brought this issue up to her before she even asked him about Peter Finch, Howard Beale, or “Network”. I would suggest this means Olby has a guilty conscience, except I have seen no evidence that he possesses one, guilty or otherwise.
In the end, for those that have forgotten, “Network” concluded with Beale being assassinated on the air because his ratings plummeted once the public tired of his act. Is such inevitable for Olbermann? Well, as he is neither original nor compelling as Chayefsky’s character – which has now become part of American folklore – was, his eventual demise, as John McLaughlin would say, appears to be a metaphysical certitude.