Whatever the particulars of Keith Olbermann's abrupt departure from NBC, the fact is that Olbermann had come to define the network. By separating with Olbermann at this moment, NBC is speaking volumes about the debate that has consumed the country for the past two weeks. Olbermann's broadcasts in the immediate aftermath of the murders and mayhem in Tucson, Ariz., were astonishingly dyspeptic. Led by Olbermann, Paul Krugman and a few others, many on the Left attempted to link the violent actions of an insane killer to conservative political rhetoric and goals.
George Will rightly pegged this reaction as the latest instance of "McCarthyism of the left." The backlash against the McCarthyism formed instantly.
Some on the Left, like NBC's Chris Matthews, doubled down, but conservatives, fair-minded independents and even some liberals refused to countenance the premise, and the revulsion with the McCarthyites grew.
People were forced to chose: Either this outbreak of evil in Arizona was connected to the political Right, or the argument that it was itself as evil as any false accusation of complicity in murder.
NBC appears to have chosen to cabin the fever and signal that no matter how much it believes in the agenda of President Obama it will not advance that agenda through hysteria.
Whether the network simply ordered Olbermann to turn in his keys and leave the building or Olbermann would not accept internal controls on his vitriol, either way he is gone. NBC execs chose. The network that made the terrible decision to air the tapes of the Virginia Tech killer finally got one right.
Had decent people from across the political spectrum not pushed back against the many slanders and especially those against Sarah Palin, the Left would never have relented in its charge, and a new edition of the "Bush lied, people died" tactic would have taken root.
The argument had to be confronted and defeated, and its proponents embarrassed, not indulged. Which brings me to my conversation with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., from my Thursday radio program, the full transcript of which is available at HughHewitt.com.
Coburn is widely and correctly admired on the Right for his character and principled positions. Thus when Coburn went on "Meet the Press" on Jan. 16 and blasted all media, many were surprised.
"I am disgusted with both right and left media," he told David Gregory, who had demanded Coburn answer the charge that "apocalyptic" rhetoric and overheated discourse had somehow derailed the country. Coburn went on to explain to Gregory as he did to me on Thursday that far too much time was spent on the false debate even as important issues were left unexamined.
The point I tried to make to Coburn in reply was that conservatives did not choose this battle, but neither could it be avoided once begun. The assault on conservative spokesmen and conservative media was an assault on every issue they stand for, every argument they engage in, and every position and politician they defend.
"[I]f Tom Coburn doesn't defend conservative media," I argued, "conservative media isn't around to make the arguments about the debt limit" or any other issue for that matter.
"If we're not careful with the Left's narrative," I continued, "we will be back to the days when the Wall Street Journal had a nice op-ed that's read in boardrooms and in country clubs ... and all of media is controlled by the Left and the way Left, and we'll never hear Tom Coburn's arguments."
Coburn made some good arguments in response and you should read the whole exchange. It was held on talk radio and posted on a blog, not in the mainstream media.
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.