Open Letter to Keith Olbermann: Cover the Creative Economy


Interestingly, today the Huffington Post has informed me that they want to pass on Olbermann coverage.

Fair enough, it’s their site.

Story continues below.

But it’s curious, given that Arianna just appeared with Olbermann at the PaidContent event last week.

And this is most definitely not an angry letter.

It’s a letter beseeching Olbermann to do the right thing for millions of American workers. Will he listen?

You tell me. Here’s the letter.

Dear Mr. Olbermann:

While media attention is being focused on your website, your upcoming Current TV news broadcast and management role, and Rachel Maddow missing you at MSNBC, less attention (and speculation) is being focused on the news you’ll be delivering. This is the subject of my open letter. You must cover the U.S. creative economy.

Few broadcast journalists of your stature are currently in a position to think about what “news” really means in 2011 America. The preceding sentence, I know, seems absurd: of course we know what “news” means. Or do we? The mammoth social and economic significance of the U.S. creative economy — a sector supporting millions of jobs and generating hundreds of billions in fiscal activity annually — feels as prioritized in broadcast news as little green men from Mars.

Fact: According to Americans for the Arts, the U.S. nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in annual economic activity and supports 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs.

I point this out because my goal isn’t to soft-sell you on your love of art but rather your nose for news. Those 5.7 million jobs translate into real lives — real stories — for hundreds of thousands of people. Those 5.7 million jobs — not just artists, but administrators, fundraisers, accountants, investment professionals, support staff — translate into real mortgages, cars, children and classrooms. Those jobs spur real American innovation. Those jobs give real shape and soul to American life.

Woe to an America kept ignorant of how the creative economy impacts our lives.

No state or county can afford to ignore the creative economy as an engine of fiscal growth — and no one does, not even in the reddest states and counties. From film-tax incentives to tourism; from product design to brand marketing; from neighborhood growth to volunteerism and literacy — without the creative economy, our nation is neither healthy nor hopeful, neither sophisticated nor safe, neither powerful nor poised for achievement.

Look to Wisconsin if you wonder how the creative economy compellingly relates to American politics. We know what it means for Gov. Walker to annihilate collective bargaining; we know less about what it means to annihilate state arts appropriations. (Hint: hundreds of jobs lost.)

Public arts funding sits vulnerable, though valiantly defended, in South Carolina, Arizona and Kansas, where Gov. Brownback demolished the Kansas Arts Commission by executive order, from moderate GOP legislators. And public funding makes up a tiny, tiny percentage of this sector.

Look at the right-wing’s ongoing politicization of the National Endowment for the Arts if you’re wanting a second place to look for story ideas.

For a third, look how the recession — and the radical-right’s reaction to Obama’s presidency — has created an ineluctable need for the U.S. creative economy to reassess basic assumptions, such as whether we, with our trillion-dollar deficits, can continue to afford deductions for charitable giving and what their potential elimination could mean for the American people.

No one asks “What is the role of culture in society?” But you can.

In fact, Mr. Olbermann, I challenge you to include at least one segment each week on your upcoming broadcast that relates in a substantive, provocative, innovative way to the immense and indispensable U.S. creative economy.

If you want ideas, sources or shoe leather, give me a call.

Leonard Jacobs