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The Liberated Keith Olbermann Is Making Powerful TV

Notice anything different about one of America's favorite progressive anchors lately? It's not just the station...

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Historically, Olbermann has created a safe space for people of his (and our) ilk to voice their concerns with the most pressing issues facing progressives today. But again, it’s being done with such a new openness, such enthusiasm, that while some of the segments are the same—Special Comment and Worst Persons live on—it feels like an entirely new program. The quote from Olbermann about not having to “executive-ize”? You can feel it in the fabric of the show; the pressure, it seems, is off.

In his July 11 Special Comment on GOP pressure to cut Medicare and Social Security he held court with the gravity we’ve come to expect—but the vehemence was unleashed a bit. Detailing the ways in which the GOP is holding the debt ceiling deal hostage, he became particularly resolute when referring to the most basic concept of humanity:

“The movement in this country for more than 100 years has always been forward,” he said. “Has always been just slightly better and bigger than it was yesterday. Toward the simple idea that those other people you see every day, the background characters, the extras in the movie that is your life: They. Count. Too. And that the only obligation you truly have in life is to try to do something, something for them. Even if you will never meet them, even if you will never know them. Something. Not everything. Something.”

Part of the joy of watching Olbermann is his expression of what we are feeling—as ever, his dismay makes him relatable, and there is forever a heartening feeling knowing a progressive ally has such a widespread platform. And, of course, the proof is in the ratings. While last week there was a slight dip (which Current CEO Mark Rosenthal is not sweating), the show debuted very strongly, beating out CNN despite the fact that Current’s distribution is much smaller. So while his Twitter still rages with @ fights between himself and his conservative baiters, it’s clear his future, slightly more laid back, is bright. How to gauge it? Keep an eye on the hairdo.

Watch Olbermann’s July 12 segment in which he discusses being blackmailed by Rupert Murdoch during his time at Fox Sports:

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.