Lawrence O’Donnell returned to the air last night after 75 days and he brought with him the harrowing and emotional impact of the car crash that nearly killed him. In the final monologue of his show, O’Donnell let down his guard and spoke poignantly about the night the van he and his brother were riding in was hit head-on by another vehicle, and the ways in which the accident and his long and grueling recovery have changed him. It’s in many ways a beautiful piece of honest and revelatory first-person journalism and O’Donnell makes it clear from the very beginning that about this particular subject he’s anything but detached. Despite his reputation for smug certitude and partisan pit-bullishness, it’s his fragility here that’s most affecting.
What’s interesting is his comment in both the monologue and during a recent interview with The Daily Beast regarding how little news he watched during his recovery. O’Donnell claims he watched none at all, because he says he felt like the toxicity of the news and our public discourse would be damaging to him psychologically and stunt his rehabilitation. The cynical might see this as a lot of ham-fisted crap, but is it really all that outlandish? Bob Cesca and I have had the conversation many times about the ways in which completely submerging yourself in the 24/7 chaos of the modern political and cultural conversation can make you feel like you’re drowning. I’ve written more than once how personally damaging it can be to have to care about and respond publicly to the most despicable, ignorant, and generally offensive acts humankind can come up with. If you’re someone who already struggles with depression — or is in any other way emotionally compromised, even temporarily — having to live and breathe the lunacy of the modern news cycle is enough to make you want to crawl into a bathtub and drag in your hairdryer.
To give you an idea just how ridiculous things are in the media world so many of us exist in and contribute to these days, today the headlines for Lawrence O’Donnell’s return at Mediaite,Politico, and The Wrap concentrate not on the emotion he displayed or the doctors and nurses he expressed gratitude for — but on the fact that he thanked one of the Koch brothers. Because that’s the big story here. Jesus, we suck.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.