Editor’s Note: This is an opinion column written by Ithaca Voice Editor Jeff Stein, Cornell class of 2013.
As always, we’re happy to reprint alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To do so, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dear Mr. Olbermann,
Please stop it. Yes, that thing you’re doing with your mouth. Yes, the talking thing. Please knock it off.
Look, you seem like a decent guy. We love the recent donation to WVBR (three cheers for the voice of the Big Red!). We love that you are a proud graduate of the Cornell class of 1979; we love that you return to campus to speak to and mentor undergraduates; we love that you have been an outspoken advocate for gay rights and are passionate about other political causes.
It’s just that you’ve made a career out of talking, but you can’t appear to do much of it for very long without saying something highly offensive or inflammatory. Worse still, you inexplicably insist on pulling your alma matter into your inane public feuds — thereby tarnishing not just your own reputation but those of your fellow alumni.
The most recent occasion is your insulting of Penn State students. This has earned you a suspension from your perch at ESPN, and rightfully so.
CBS News relays the details in a story published on Tuesday:
Olbermann responded to a tweet about THON — a 46-hour philanthropic event that raised more than $13 million for pediatric cancer. The tweet sent to Olbermann included the link to an article about the fundraising efforts and the start of a popular Penn State chant: “We are.”
“Pitiful,” Olbermann answered in his tweet.
On Tuesday, Olbermann apologized for his actions after a swell of backlash on Twitter that went beyond just one tweet.
In usual bombastic fashion, Olbermann engaged several users who displayed anger at his original comment. The sports anchor even went as far as to poke fun at Penn State students for “proving my point about the mediocrity of their education and ethics.”
Fighting on Twitter with undergraduates raising money for cancer research was bad enough. But what really annoyed us in Ithaca was that last part — that you, a Cornell graduate, felt the need to deride the “mediocrity” of the Penn State education.
Inevitably, this led to questions about your own degree. Rather than ignore those complaints or address them with humility, you doubled down on the explosive rhetoric:
“The morons always blow themselves up. Read aloud: RT @jamescags coming from the guy that went Cornell agriculture school”
You may have heard, Keith, that some people already think Cornell has an inferiority complex. Reacting to questions about your education with reflexive, self-righteous defensiveness only affirms this pre-existing belief.
The problem is that those who seek to hide the weakness of their ideas behind the strength of their degree discredit the power of both. Luckily, 99 percent of Cornell graduates understand this.
There are some who don’t. The most embarrassing example of this was your spat with fellow Cornell graduate Ann Coulter. Coulter was dead wrong, unequivocally wrong, to suggest that Cornell’s agriculture school is in some way inferior to Cornell’s private colleges.
You could have just said that and moved on. Instead, you went Full Andy Bernard, as reported by Gawker at the time:
On American TV’s The Office, the writers all decided Ed Helm’s fratty douchebag character Andy is a Cornell grad, making it officially The Funniest Ivy League School to Brag About Having Graduated From (sorry, Brown—you had your moment). And so here is Keith in a goofy, shrill argument with a goofy, shrill comedienne about how she went to the real Cornell and he went to the Cornell with, uh, farmers or something?
See, here he is pointing to his Cornell Diploma in order to settle some ridiculous argument … Meanwhile, Rhodes Scholar Rachel Maddow did an hour of news and analysis and opinion and interviews on current events, politics, and foreign affairs.
It was all perfectly in character. As GQ reported in 2013 when you got your gig at ESPN:
“Olbermann’s stormed off or been kicked off pretty much every channel on the air, enraged whole voting blocs, insulted Al Gore, and become his own Worst Person in the World. But now, to the surprise of every detractor, every former employer, and, hell, Olbermann himself, he’s back on ESPN, the channel he made and that made him.
The least angry (really), most contented (seriously), most committed team player (c’mon) in broadcasting tells Michael Hainey why this time—this time—it’s all going to work out great.”
We understand that the outrage machine is going to keep turning. But we hope it’s not too much to ask that the next time you go to war with students at another school who are doing charity work, you leave the Big Red out of it.
Because otherwise, it’ll be that much harder to prove that all Cornell alumni do not, in fact, think like this guy: