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Net Neutrality, Keith Olbermann, and the Limits of Schadenfreude

On Friday, Keith Olbermann signed off of his show Countdown with Keith Olbermann for the last time. He told a story about hearing he had lost his job at ESPN through his ear piece while on camera, referenced the 1976 film Network, and then thanked his audience. Fairly classy. Certainly not a simple Ben Affleck impersonation.

And of course people want to know if I’m happy, that Olbermann’s time at MSNBC is over. Because they assume that when you protest a man’s actions and you call yourself a feminist, you want the remainder of that man’s life to play out like the Book of Job, with the boils and the weeping and the losing of high-profile jobs at left-leaning networks. They assume that I cannot separate him from his actions, that I hate him personally and wish him ill. I’m only speaking for myself, but I don’t hate Olbermann. Before #MooreandMe I sort of liked Olbermann. His condemnation of Bill O’Reilly following the assassination of Dr. Tiller really articulated my frustration with the way the fringe right is baited into committing violence to do the wet work for ideologically toxic Distraction Pundits, people whose job is to draw attention away from the looting of America by the corporations and the obnoxiously rich. I preferred Rachel Maddow to him, because I found her analysis to be more incisive and more intellectually rigorous than his, but he was occasionally entertaining.

In the wake of his departure from MSNBC, has my soul become bilious with schadenfreude? No, not any more than usual. One of the numerous theories floated during over the weekend was that he had been fired because of tensions with Comcast over net neutrality. If Comcast can destroy Net Neutrality, it can offer “tiered service” and make decisions about your access to the Internet, decisions that are completely separate from infrastructure limitations or bandwidth shaping. They want to do this because poor people simply aren’t paying enough money for the Internet. By any standard, the Internet has been made indispensable to poor people. They don’t always have the money for expensive desktops and LCD screens, but they do need the Internet to look for a job, address legal and financial problems, and to communicate with their families and communities in meaningful ways. But they simply are’t paying enough for the service. Comcast knows poor people have money for other things, Comcast can see poor people giving money to companies and entities that aren’t Comcast, and that enrages Comcast.

In a recession corporations wage war on the poor. Police presence is ubiquitous, companies begin raising prices to offset their own losses without eating into the sweet ambrosia trough of profits, and the poor are bombarded with advertisements and hit with “hidden fees” and squeezed as tight as possible. The corporations know that soon the poor will be completely, totally broke. They know this. And they want to drink that milkshake, now more than ever, because the share is getting smaller. Everywhere they turn, people are being shaken down by their municipalities, their communities  – my sister-in-law was pretty aggressively cajoled to give someone money for homeless veterans yesterday. I’m sorry, but isn’t that the Military’s responsibility? To care for people they sent into battle?

We are all, from the top to the bottom, leaning on each other. I’m living with my parents and looking for a job, living with 5 other people in a 3 bedroom house, sharing 4 working computers. Things have gotten very tight and tense, meals are being stretched as far as possible – my mother has started canning things. But we still have a little money. We can still do fun things occasionally. And we are paying a flat rate for Internet access. Comcast would like to be able to charge much more, to reach into our pockets where the soda money and the gas money and the extra diaper money is, and just gorge. Because now that they have sprung this Cheap! Affordable! service on us, spent the money on the infrastructure and used the government to make it impossible to live without it, they want to tell us about hidden fees and extra charges and tiered service. The same shit a man in a suit always wants to talk to you about.

So, if Olbermann was fired for supporting Net Neutrality, that doesn’t make me happy. He didn’t get fired for his behavior during #MooreandMe, we know that for goddamn sure. He may have quit to paint himself as the underdog, he may have gotten the oust because he didn’t kiss enough corporate ass, he might not have been making the numbers. More than likely he just quit to start his own publication. I have a different reaction to each of these scenarios, because they are different realities to contend with. There are many things I wish he had been reprimanded for, things I wish he had apologized for, including that crack he made on Twitter about Sady’s smoking. Infantilizing a woman who came to him with legitimate concerns and going out of his way to let us know he didn’t take any of us seriously? That was an eye openers for me, as far as how seriously Olbermann took all of that Edward R. Murrow, fourth estate, testicular journalism that is supposed to protect us from our government and ourselves.

Do you see how I can make a distinction between supporting a cause Olbermann supported and my full unrepentant condemnation of what Olbermann did while reporting on Assange? Do you see how I am actually able to despise and work against the creeping fascism of the corporate state and not forget that when society breaks down, women will be among the more vulnerable members of society, and thus must fight against rape culture and class warfare and the kudzu that is the surveillance arm of the United States Government in order to protect themselves? Do you know what it is like to mentally plan for the Apocalypse and know that your body will be turned into a commodity if you are captured by men looting the countryside? If you still think any of this was about a vendetta, or grandstanding, or the rage of marginalized groups who aren’t sophisticated enough to be sensitive to the political climate? If you honestly think we don’t know the ways in which the state is closing in order to effect an ersatz order where the least among us are required to be profitable in order to live? I mean Jesus, corporations have started taking out life insurance policies on their employees to make money off their deaths and offset the cost of replacing them. If you think that doesn’t make alarm bells go off in our heads, we who have read the dystopias and the post-apocalyptic fiction and know that all of the advances we’ve made could evaporate in a moment? You need to phase yourself out of the conversation.

Seriously just shut the fuck up. You aren’t worth listening to.


  1. patrick wrote:

    preach brother.

    sady linked to some piece about how we should side w/ moore over #mooreandme because ‘his fiction is closer to what we want than doyle’s lies.’ (or something to that effect, not bothering to look it up now). the penultimate paragraph here expresses a lot of my reaction to that piece: the struggle against state power and the struggle against rape culture are (or should be) part of the same movement. The surveillance state, rape culture, corporate power, net neutrality, racism, war, and all the endless litany of oppressive systems, are connected.

    Monday, January 24, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  2. aravind wrote:

    ” If you think that doesn’t make alarm bells go off in our heads, we who have read the dystopias and the post-apocalyptic fiction and know that all of the advances we’ve made could evaporate in a moment? You need to phase yourself out of the conversation.”

    No, like you clarify later, they need to stop yelling over everyone else. They shouldn’t leave the conversation, they should let others into it.

    Monday, January 24, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink
  3. 300baud wrote:

    This is an excellent piece, but I think you are wrong in one small way. You give Comcast’s execs too much credit when you say, “The corporations know that soon the poor will be completely, totally broke. They know this.”

    I honestly don’t think they’re nearly that thoughtful. They have a goal, which is to maximize short-term profits. Anything beyond the next few quarters is uninteresting to them. They give no more thought to your well-being than an ignorant farmer does to the long-term health of the soil. The furthest they can see is the next harvest, and if something bad happens, then it must have been an act of God.

    Monday, January 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  4. Jenny North wrote:

    @300BAUD: I don’t know. Taking out life insurance policies on employees sounds like long-term thinking to me. The thing is, they don’t care about the health of their employees or the long-term health of humans generally, if it means that they can keep making money. If something bad happens, it just becomes another opportunity to make more money.

    Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink
  5. Geek wrote:

    I like Net Neutrality, but I’m not sure it’s going to get us the best/fastest internet in the long run.
    It would be interesting to see a breakdown of how expensive infrastructure improvements are going to be over the next 20 years. If Netflix gets charged a bit more for using up huge amounts of bandwidth from 6-9pm, and infrastructure is improved because of it, that wouldn’t be so bad.
    However, I doubt comcast and their ilk would do much to improve bandwidth. More likely, as you say, they’d just deny services to people who didn’t pay.

    Monday, January 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink
  6. shallowwater wrote:


    and that’s just the problem, right? if anyone thinks that comcast/ATT/Verizon/et al are going to plow the extra money into infrastructure instead of taking the opportunity to pillage both consumers and content providers to line their executives pockets, then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

    Monday, January 24, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink
  7. Samantha B. wrote:

    Geek, it’s not specifically about infrastructure per se, but I do think recent complaints against Comcast point to the unlikeliness of your scenario,
    “Voxel, which also provides data hosting services, says Comcast purposely has kept some lines to customers congested so companies have to pay more for access to users.”

    They’re greedy as hell, and they don’t have any problem fucking consumers over and offering crap service.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    Sady –

    I found your blog on accident, and have been glued to my computer for the last 48 hours or so getting caught up on what’s going on with KO/MM (something I was not aware of because I, go figure, DON’T TRUST AMERICAN NEWS…). I prefer to post anonymously because the internet is the closest thing we have to functioning anarchy and as a female I don’t always feel safe here, but I just wanted you to know that your work in the face of everything you’ve faced is awe-inspiring, and I will continue to read. Thanks for being awesome, and saying things out loud when I don’t feel brave enough to. You rock.


    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  9. Hot Tramp wrote:

    Tangentially, Tiger Beatdown doesn’t seem to use tags. Is there a reason for that? I want to link a friend to the whole #Mooreandme story, but I’m CLEARLY far too lazy to go through and find all the posts myself.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  10. Garland wrote:

    @9 Click on “Older posts” at the bottom of the front page and you should see all of them. Our posting schedule doesn’t tend to bury posts that quickly.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink