Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Projectile Vomit

These days, social media can seem a lot like that iconic scene from the original first Star Wars movie where our heroes are caught in the trash compacting room. In essence, we are all swimming in garbage, desperately trying to keep ourselves from being crushed by garbage, or perhaps we have just enough time to escape...

I am referring specifically to X, the site formerly known as Twitter, and what it has become of it since the Muskrat took over nearly a year ago. Like many people, I have remained out of a morbid sense of curiosity to see just how bad things could get. Well, if you recognize my Star Wars analogy, then we might be at the point in the scene where the walls are closing in but C-3PO wants Luke to listen to his misadventures with R2-D2 evading storm troopers. In other words, democracy has only a slim chance of survival while we are fretting over foolishness. 

Every now and then, since I won't pay for a blue check, I say something on that platform that gets noticed and I have to admit, it gives me a thrill to think that for a brief, shining moment, I'm not just some random person shouting into the cyberverse. That was, until last Sunday when I spoke out against the tirade posted by Keith Olbermann prior to the debut of Kristen Welker as the new moderator of Meet the Press. From that one tweet came a variety of responses, the kind where people unwittingly tell on themselves, particularly those who claim to be allies.

To recap, I was scrolling Twitter early Sunday morning on the 17th. I saw a series of tweets posted by the aforementioned Olbermann, whom I follow because I used to be a fan of his now-defunct show, Countdown, when it aired nightly on MSNBC in the early aughts. Back then I looked forward to his bombastic and hyperbolic rants against the Bush Administration, especially his nightly Worst Person in the World segment (framed by Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor). His most recent incarnation in media is as host of a podcast of the same name, which I assume follows the same format of ranting and raving about whatever annoys him on any given day.

Now, it is significant to highlight how this is Olbermann's latest incarnation having had a long broadcast career that has involved stints at ESPN, FOX Sports, MSNBC, Current TV, and TBS. At the conclusion of these high-profile media gigs, Olbermann has often left in a blaze of inglorious self-immolating and obnoxious defiance (and I'm using all of these SAT words in homage to this brilliant SNL skit). In simpler terms, he's a blowhard who gleefully juggles lit matches that burn everything and everyone in his wake. We all know people like him, brilliant yet dangerously toxic, so while I found his schtick entertaining 20 years ago, hubris isn't what one would call an endearing personal quality.

Yet, I still follow him, and even after last week, I haven't gone so far as to mute or block him because as long as we're all still using Musky's platform, we're all just wading in a galactic trash heap on a doomed Death Star. I know that KO's rhetoric is over the top, and there are instances when he can be: (a) hypocritical; (b) sexist; and (c) wrong. He's now leaning into stereotypical podcast bro territory, while I'm another long-winded mommy blogger (so make of those caricatures whatever you want). Once upon a time, people like us were on the same side, shouting into the void.

To be clear, my issue with Olbermann's tirade was that of all people who have been extended grace throughout their career (and he's been at this for 30+ years), he ought to be willing to do the same. He could have let the interview air before denouncing Welker as a failure on her first day on the job. If you read any of his tweets from last Sunday (and the week prior), he had a LOT to say. FWIW, I have an opinion on that interview which I most certainly plan to express without conducting a Salem witch-level trial and execution. Read on.

I hit send on my tweet and gathered my things. You see, those of us who live in the real world have more important isht to do than scroll Twitter all day. I headed over to my parents' house, so that meant that I wouldn't be at church that morning. Thus, I had time to actually watch the interview in real time to judge for myself whether it was as bad as it appeared from the pre-released clips circulating on social media. In the meantime, my tweet stirred up a little dust, beginning with some lady demanding to know who I was.

Now here's where this all got interesting because I could have ignored her and kept living my best life, but I was feeling froggy and decided that her snarky so-who-do-you-think-you-are deserved a clapback. Because I think that it is rather ironic to be confronted by a fellow unverified "nobody" on Twitter as if that question is supposed to make me feel ashamed for daring to call out someone's bullshit. I am who I am, I replied, to which this KO groupie responded that I was probably just some desperate clout-chaser. At that point, I got curious, checked her profile, and saw that we were ideologically aligned. In the real world, one might even say that we would be protest allies, so I decided to end the exchange with a go forth and #BeBest. 

I went about the rest of my day and came back to Twitter several hours later. There were a few more responses to my tweet, some aghast that I had deigned to challenge the wisdom that had erupted from Mt. Olbermann. One twit hit back at me three times with commentary about Welker's inadequacies for the role that went from 0 to sexist/racist in 60 characters. I stretched my Twitter fingers, took a deep sigh, and calmly replied that I had never mentioned Welker's race or gender in my original tweet. Because the point of my tweet to Olbermann had been to point out the hypocrisy that he who had been given numerous chances to screw up and piss folks off throughout his career would come down so hard against someone barely into her first day on the job. 

Nevertheless, they persisted in suggesting that I was making excuses for Welker because she was a Black woman, so again, I reiterated that I had not mentioned race or gender, nor had I defended Welker. I went to bed and woke up to more of their nonsense, so as I had done with the first KO groupie, I peeped this person's profile and determined that they were probably another so-called ally. Yeah, go feed your cats and #BeBest.

All week, what nagged at me about these petty skirmishes was how these attacks were coming from the same pink pussy hat, safety pin, middle management, pumpkin spice coffee club folks who walk their dogs past my house but don't speak. We're allegedly on the same side, until I dare to express an opinion that goes against their community standards. Suddenly, they can see my nearly 6-foot-tall frame to clearly glean enough of what I said to tell me what they thought I meant to say.

No bish, you said that. 

However, since you raised the topic of Welker's race and gender and her ability to perform the job, let's discuss. Because y'all are good for propping women of color up for failure by setting impossible expectations and then demeaning their achievements as unearned. Kristen Welker is only the most recent example in a long line of Black women who find themselves targeted and undermined by so-called allies. For when else is it acceptable to denounce someone's job performance before they even show up for work?

Before I bring out any CVS receipts, I need to emphasize that these attacks don't just come from our suburban athleisure clad fellow keyboard warriors. Sometimes the loudest haters are the men who fight alongside us while secretly listening to and agreeing with Charlamagne tha God.

Days before the interview aired, I expressed skepticism whether this was the right move for Welker's maiden show. I was concerned that her bosses at NBC were using this interview to ensure high ratings for her debut, but also setting her up for the predictable fallout that followed. I believe that platforming Donald Trump is always irresponsible and dangerous, regardless of the newsworthiness of his position in the polls. I imagine that back in 1939 when TIME Magazine designated Adolph Hitler as its Man of the Year, they thought they were doing the world a service by publicizing his views because he too was a compelling public figure. The difference as I see it is multifaceted--not only did we learn our lesson by legitimizing Hitler, but we should have known better than to underestimate Trump's appeal after 2016. We now know what manner of destruction he can instigate after January 6. He could have held a rally to broadcast his lies and spew the same poison, so why put a Black woman in the position of facilitating our demise?

I watched the interview (twice) and was dismayed that the edit we saw did not put Trump on the defense; instead, it allowed him to prate on unchallenged and unrestrained. He has posted many of the same fabulist boasts and dubious claims on his Truth Social without the imprimatur of NBC News. That Welker showed deference to the office he previously held didn't bother me (because every former President is addressed as 'Mr. President') as much as there appeared to be some manner of deference to him personally as well. The fact that I had to go look for the full fact-checked edit and potentially sit through that booshay a third time annoys me. It is unlikely that any of that previously unaired footage will get replayed or reposted as a rebuttal to his mendacity. Furthermore, it shouldn't be our responsibility to discern whether he was lying when the entire point of interviewing him should have been for us to see in real time how much of a prevaricating huckster he is. 

Yet, I'm clear that the network's goal was achieved--Welker's debut drew more viewers than her competitors. Whether that will continue is yet to be determined, but the gamble paid off and folks watched either to affirm their pre-emptive biases or like me out of curiosity. That doesn't mean she deserves any high fives, and I'm not dapping her up because that first Sunday was a stunt. The real work of retaining viewers and proving her chops starts this week.

Notice how I did not argue that she deserves a pass because she happens to be the first woman of color in the Sunday morning news anchor chair. Nope, I'm saying that she deserves the opportunity to prove that she can do this job the same as the others who preceded her. David Gregory served as the moderator for six miserable years before the job went to Chuck Todd who dragged us through nine more. To suggest that Welker is a failure as compared to her predecessors after one show is...I need to think of a more appropriate word than ridiculous. Furthermore, to argue that she deserves the same chance to sink or swim isn't making an excuse for her race or gender; it is consistent with what has been the pattern and practice prior to her assuming the job.

And because it was discussed on Twitter, Welker is qualified for the job. So are any number of other journalists who may have been considered. To assume that she only got the job because of her race and gender, but not on the merit of the work she had done to get to this point is an affront to EVERY woman of color in journalism. To say that she is qualified is not the same as saying she is the right fit to host this show, but she deserves the chance to convince us. Or not.

Which brings me back to Olbermann and his groupies who seem to think that his past role as a voice for our left-leaning frustrations against the system were supposed to buy him perpetual loyalty. Umm, no he can catch these Twitter fingers just like anybody else. He's hardly on the level of elder news-statesmen Dan Rather or Ted Koppel--he's a former sports anchor with strongly held political opinions and a perpetual axe to grind. If he's baying at the moon in the wee hours of a Sunday morning about someone else's job performance at the network where he used to work (and to which he was willing to return as recently as a year ago)...trust I'm not the one who is desperate for attention.

Finally, off the top of my head, I said I could produce receipts on the biases shown against Black women in visible positions, so let's start off with none other than Vice President Kamala Harris and the calls to replace her as Biden's running mate. I took note of how my Spelman sister Roz Brewer, the only Black woman serving as a CEO in the Fortune 500 until last month, was ousted from that position after less than two years. If we thought they had run out of tiki torches for the mob that organized to keep Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones from receiving honorary tenure at her alma mater, they had sufficiently re-stocked to prevent the appointment of journalist Kathleen McElroy at Texas A&M University. In Georgia, the legislature passed a law intended to reign in prosecutors who pursue criminal justice reform with designs to test it out against DA Fani Willis just as she is about to try her biggest case. 

But those are just coincidences, right? According to that second twitter heckler, this is just another day of playing BINGO for me, because I can't imagine a world wherein a Black woman might be judged fairly on her job performance and come up short. Okay, cat lady, I can produce more than a paragraph of receipts: I wrote this and this, and this when y'all were traumatized by a Black actress being cast as the heroine in a children's movie. You're probably still bitter about your pancake mix. So yeah, it is exhausting because sexism with a chaser of racism feels like a relentless deluge when allyship is so transactional and performative.

I said what I said, and so did Maya Angelou. I didn't accuse Olbermann of bias; I called him a hypocrite. If you insist on reading more into what I twote, comprehension is just one of your problems.

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