The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

In Awe of Keith Olbermann

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 27, 2009 @ 07:50

The man in action; it's all about the Special Comment...

The man in action; it's all about the Special Comment...

In case it wasn’t already obvious, one of the things I’m interested in is the power of oratory. As everyone knows, it’s not just about what you say, but how you say it. Indeed, many of Obama’s speeches are not filled with anything particularly revolutionary, but his style of delivery, the timbre of his voice, the song-like qualities he brings to the delivery, make him all the more pleasing on the ear.

But there is one man whose speaking-style is more akin to an Alan Partridge sports journalist type. And yet, when he’s on fire, I could listen to him all day…

His name is Keith Olbermann. British politicos may not have heard of him, but Americans will know exactly who I’m talking about. He is the presenter of Countdown on MSNBC. His politics are distinctively liberal: but with plenty of fire in his belly. It’s often been commented that the only good shock-jocks are on the right, but in recent years pundits like Olbermann, Franken (before he became a Senator!) and Rachel Maddow have turned that preconception on its head.

And they owe it all to the trail-blazer, and very funny, Jon Stewart.

These people are razor sharp, quick witted and coherent. Their powers of reasoning are often brilliant…

But there’s just something about Olbermann that puts him ahead of the pile. About a week or so, he demonstrated his brilliance in a 20 minute “Special Comment” on the topic of US healthcare reform. If you have time to spare, watch this from start to finish – but even a couple of minutes will show you what I mean…

What is it that makes him so good? Like I said, his speaking voice and style is nothing particularly new. Indeed, he might even be compared to Gordon Brown in the speed and knockout nature of the delivery. Brown’s speeches tend to consist of pummelling you with wave after wave of statistics and soundbites – a style which makes him come over as appearing bold, confident and self-assured.  Olbermann is the same.

But the true shining quality of Olbermann is in the force of his argument. While Brown argues in prose, Olbermann argues in poetry.

Olbermann is the master of all those techniques that we once all listened to in GCSE English and got bored stiff of… and then quickly forgot once the exam was over.

Well, I was supposed to forget them but I didn’t.

Olbermann uses imagery, metaphors, hyperbole, alliteration, rhyming, rhetorical devices, rhythm and perfectly placed pauses for effect, He tears into his opponents by going for the most emotional response possible, and brings in concepts from other arguments and philosophers by referencing them to build up his case.

But the greatest asset is his ability to bring it all together to make it feel more like a poem or a song than a thesis. It feels like the paragraphs are short and direct, each one building towards a conclusion that you actually enjoy heading towards. The sentences are easy to digest and break down. There are no Charles Kennedy-esque 100 word sentences using colons, semi-colons, ellipses, commas, hyphens… filled with digressions and asides.

And the final thing that I like so much about him, the thing that makes him such a joy to listen to is the quality of his diction. Every single consonant, every single vowel, every speech-like noise is perfectly enunciated. At no point is there ever any doubt about what he has said. His voice has depth, richness and clarity. No annoying quirks of accent or anything else to catch the ear. Just unambiguous confidence and erudition.

Do we have anyone comparable over here? Am I wrong in thinking that we have a real paucity of public speakers in this country


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