Do you watch Current TV? If an informal poll of my coworkers is any indication, you do not, but that’s a shame, because it’s definitely one of my favorites from among the 400-odd channels I get from Time Warner Cable. There’s so much great stuff, from Vanguard to This American Life to the still-vital Infomania – which soldiers on despite the devastating loss of Conor Knighton and Sarah Haskins, who probably feel like they’ve outgrown the fledgling network. But soft! Is a white knight on the way to expand Current’s viewership beyond, well, me? Today’s news that Keith Olbermann is joining Current as chief news officer is huge, but as a longtime (four years-ish) fan of the network, I’ve got a message for Brett, Sergio, Adam, Mariana, and the rest of the current Current crew: don’t let him change you too much.
I like Olbermann and think Current is fortunate to have him, but the last thing “Al Gore’s network” needs is another straw man for the right to latch on to and give them the old NPR/NEA/PBS treatment. Sure, Current skews progressive in their coverage of social issues (see That’s Gay), but until now they have sagely avoided overt political commentary, preferring instead to point their cameras on the effects of whatever policies are in place. And as a smaller network with limited corporate ownership and low-rent advertisers (closet organizers, etc.), they serve no monolithic masters. Do you think CNN, FOX News, or any of the Big Three networks would have aired a story like the devastatingly frank OxyContin Express? Not a chance, they’d be too scared to lose their Big Pharma advertisers, and if circumstances forced them to cover the topic of “Pain Management Centers,” the resulting story would be lawyered and caveated into milquetoast. No thanks, I’ll take my news straight up.
So this presents a risk to Current as it welcomes a major left-wing superstar to its ranks. Will Olbermann continue to do what he does best – exposing right-wing hypocrisy and polarizing opinions along the way – or will he find a way to use his talent and influence to boost Current’s profile without transforming it into MSNBC Junior? It would be great to see Current compete with major news networks, especially since I think its coverage is often superior. But Current, at its heart, is about good times (detained journalists in North Korea notwithstanding), and I’d hate to see it have to constantly beat back accusations of liberal bias simply for the sake of a larger audience.
Still, they had to do something to boost their numbers, and hiring Olbermann is certainly a bold move. I just hope the channel remains fun to watch. If you haven’t been paying attention, now might be a good time to start.