Guests: Hillary Clinton, Howard Kurtz, Edward Meyer
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Bush administration eavesdropping scandal. The Democrats might yet capitulate on retroactive community for the telecom giant if the White House gives us eavesdropping documents. Another Congressional fold before the latest presidential edition of “Fear Factor”?
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SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We‘re going to really focus on what we have to do to get this right.
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OLBERMANN: From New Hampshire, Senator Hillary Clinton joins us on that, on the crisis in the middle class, on the hunting of 12-year-old SCHIP advocate Graham Frost.
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CLINTON: I never seem to be amazed of the mean spiritedness that you can find on the right.
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OLBERMANN: And the eve of the Nobel Peace Prize announcement, on the swell of media attention, to the theoretical, suppositional candidacy of Al Gore.
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CLINTON: I‘m so hoping that he...
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OLBERMANN: Sorry about this tease. This is a TV show.
Is this still a coordinated war effort? The Marines want to pull out of Iraq and go to Afghanistan. Can they do that? If they can, can the other branches do it too? Why is the Secretary of Defense so surprised?
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ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I see no plan. No one‘s come to me with any proposals about it. I don‘t think at this point it has any stature.
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OLBERMANN: Were the stature of the newscast damaged when so few questioned so little about the start of war in Iraq. Howard Kurtz on his new book on the big three, “Reality Show,” and on Billo‘s charges against the great liberal devils here at NBC, the same day he appears on the great liberal devil NBC “Tonight Show.”
And friends, Romans, countrymen, lend us your ears. There performance artist who has finally seen his dream come true—a third ear implanted on his forearm. And he already bought it at Bluetooth.
All that and more, now on “Countdown.”
(on camera): Good evening from New York. Democrats on Capitol Hill showing signs of caving in to the president‘s demand that telecom companies be given an ex-post facto community for eavesdropping done on his behalf.
The Republicans showing no signs of remorse of a smear campaign against a young boy who dared criticized the president‘s opinion to take away his health insurance.
Our Fifth story in the “Countdown,” apparently the only person not being offered some immunity deal in Washington today was the only person who shouldn‘t have to defend himself, a 12-year-old kid.
Senator Hillary Clinton presently to discuss these day‘s headlines.
First, the details. Having vetoed one piece of legislation that would provide ten million people with health care, now threatening to veto another because it does not allow him to spy upon Americans at will. President Bush addressing neither topic, except bragging that the federal deficit is only $160 trillion. What passes for good news in this White House?
Bad news for the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. The folks at thinkprogress.org uncovering evidence that leaves no doubt that the minority leader staff was involved in the swift voting of 12-year-old health care critic Graham Frost.
Senator Mitch McConnell‘s communications director, Don Stewart, having sent an e-mail to reporters on Monday alerting them to reported dirt on Frost and his family dug up by right wing bloggers, dirt that has since been proven to be utterly false.
On Tuesday, an unnamed aide to Senator McConnell, quote, “expressed relief,” unquote, to the “New York Times,” that, quote, “His office had not released a press conference criticizing the Frosts.” Yes, because an e-mail is so much more effective.
Democrats in the House, meanwhile, less effective in presenting a united front in the legislative fight over domestic surveillance. Congressman Jerry Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, the one that marked up the legislation, concluding it‘s up to the courts to decide whether telecom companies have been breaking the law in the eavesdropping.
Instead, the Democratic leadership, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, planning to offer perspective immunity in the bill they bring to the floor. The prospective part being the White House would have to hand over documents related to the wiretapping program.
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REP. NANCY PELOSI, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think you have to proceed very cautiously with retroactive immunity. Mr. Hoyer‘s statement was very careful, I think. It did not say give us these papers and they will get immunity. A lot depends on what the papers say.
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OLBERMANN: Earlier, I had the chance to talk about the FISA fight, the swift voting of Graham Frost, and the Gory details with Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner of the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
OLBERMANN: Senator Clinton, how are you today?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am terrific.
And I hear you‘re doing well too. I‘m glad to be having the chance to talk to you.
OLBERMANN: As am I. Thank you for mentioning that.
Let‘s start off with some of the news of this week. The president‘s push on the FISA courts and what he calls the Protect America Act, and this demand that the House and the Senate immunize the telecommunications companies for, oddly enough, eavesdropping—help that he says is perfectly legal. Congressman Conyers‘ committee last night reported the amended version of that bill last night. Doesn‘t provide the immunity, but does insist on very limited judicial oversight for FISA warrants.
Can you and the Democrats stand up to the president on this one, or will there be another capitulation at some point?
CLINTON: Well, I sure hope so. You know, the Senate is out on recess this week. And when we get back, I‘m sure that we‘re going to regroup and focus on what we need to do. It‘s one of the reasons why we insisted there would be a sunsetting of the bill that was passed under a lot of pressure, as you recall, toward the end of the session before recess last summer, and that we‘re going to really focus on what we need to do to try to get this right.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s talk about what you are doing in New Hampshire. You‘ve called this swing there the Middle Class Express. The Graham Frost SCHIP story suggests that the middle class and things relating to them are huge issues right at this moment. We‘ll get to his story in a moment, but I‘m wondering, which proposal of yours for the middle class, do you think, has the most bang for the buck in it?
CLINTON: Keith, what I‘ve done is put together a package of proposals, all of which I pay for. You can go to my website, HillaryClinton.com, and see that I don‘t propose anything unless I show you where the money will come from.
And I think we‘ve got to do several things simultaneously. We have got to get back to fiscal responsibility, which we threw out the window when George Bush became president. We have to have a job creation strategy. And I think clean energy and dealing with global warming could create millions of new jobs, just like the space program did in an earlier age, and telecom did during the ‘90s.
I think we‘ve got to help people save for retirement. That‘s why I proposed these American retirement accounts, and I put forth a plan to make college more affordable.
If we go at that, plus reforming health care, I think we can make it clear that the American dream will be alive and well for hard-working Americans.
But right now, that‘s not how people feel. A lot of Americans feel
like they‘re standing on a trap door. You know, their income is not rising
the average American family lost $1,000 in income in the last six years
but everything else is going up from health care to energy to education.
So if we‘re going to be serious about sustaining a strong and prosperous middle class, we are going to have to really address it. And I think my proposals would help us really do that.
OLBERMANN: When the Democrats went to someone of that group, the 12-year-old car accident victim, Graham Frost, to answer the president on the SCHIP health care program and the radio speeches, this poor kid was eviscerated by the far right. His family‘s address home was posted online. He‘s gotten death threats for merely having become involved in the political process.
Is there some sense here that maybe the greatest threat right now to the middle class is not economics or health-related issues, but getting too involved in politics when politics are as toxic as they seem to be at the moment?
CLINTON: Well, Keith, think about why these people on the right and the Republicans whom they support are doing this? It‘s because they don‘t want the changes that middle-class Americans need and deserve.
I was appalled at the way this young man and his family were treated. And I said last night in Boston, you know, as someone who has been pretty used to taking the incoming fire from the right, I‘m—I‘m willing to take it. I‘m big enough. I can keep going and not worry too much about it, as I‘ve proven over the years.
But to turn on this young man and to impugn him and his family for telling their true story—that there are millions of hard-working families in America—we‘re not talking about poor families who are eligible for Medicaid, we‘re talking about families who work, whose employers don‘t help them buy insurance. We‘re talking about families who can‘t go into the so-called individual market and afford the average $12,000 a year family policy. And they‘re left without help unless we have a program like the children‘s insurance program, which I helped to start 10 years ago.
And what we did, on a bipartisan basis, was to extend that coverage to more middle-class families, and to get them the relief they need to take care of their children when illness or injury strikes.
And I just—you know, I never cease to be amazed at the mean spiritedness that you can find on the right. But think carefully about this, because what‘s happening here is that there are commercial, partisan, political and ideal logical points that are being scored at the expense of this young man.
Why don‘t we work together and solve the health care problem, and, you know, get beyond all of this mean-spirited, partisan bickering. That‘s what I‘m trying to do. But when it happens, I‘m going to call them out on it, just as I have for 15 years.
OLBERMANN: Both houses felt the need to call out MoveOn.org about the General Petraeus ad. Do you think something similar is needed to call out those who have threatened or jeopardized Graham Frost and others like him?
CLINTON: Well, as I said at the time, I voted for a resolution that condemned any of these mean-spirited, patriotism-impugning attacks on Americans. I‘m sick of it. And I‘m sick of people trying to intimidate and chill the exercise of political and really First Amendment rights, by coming down on them and making all sorts of accusations against them.
I‘m really, really disappointed that this would happen, especially given the fact that this was a bipartisan piece of legislation. I was very proud of the Republicans in the Senate who helped to craft it, who stood up and voted for it. And I‘ve been even prouder that they have stood up and said that President Bush is wrong in what he‘s saying about it.
OLBERMANN: The Republican debate the other night—you certainly did seem to come up fairly frequently. Do you think they are doing you a favor, a campaign favor, an advertising favor, by mentioning you so often?
CLINTON: Well, I guess if you don‘t have anything positive to say about yourself or your record or your vision for America, that might be an alternative. But, you know, I‘m running my campaign. I can‘t worry about what they‘re doing.
It is something, though, that a lot of my friends have noticed. And one of them, I thought rather funnily, said to me, “When you get to be our age, it‘s kind of nice to have all these men obsessed with you.” So I guess I could put that, you know, spin on it.
OLBERMANN: One thing that came up a couple of weeks ago that I meant to ask you about—and here‘s my chance to do so. This book, “The Evangelical President”—Bill Sammon‘s book about President Bush—he said that the White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, said the president has been giving back-door advice to Democratic candidates, including yourself, in an effort to persuade a potential successor from whatever party to stay his course in Iraq. Is any of what Mr. Bolten is supposed to have said, according to Mr. Sammon, true to your knowledge?
CLINTON: I don‘t know where the back door is. I heard the same thing. And you know, I‘ve been in meetings with other members of Congress and heard the president make his case. But, you know, he and I have a very fundamental and profound disagreement about his policies, not only in Iraq, but around the world. And I‘ve said that I‘m not going to wait until I‘m inaugurated. As soon as I‘m elected, I‘m going to be asking distinguished Americans of both parties to travel around the world on my behalf with a very simple message—the era of cowboy diplomacy is over. We‘re going to get back to working with the rest of the world to solve the global threats we face, like terrorism and global warming, and to try to get some, you know, prosperity, stability, security, and peace going again.
OLBERMANN: From Iraq to Iran, Senator. A lot of people were mystified or couldn‘t fathom your vote on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment that urged naming the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, since it‘s part of their governmental military structure, no matter what we might think of that government. There was one constitutional scholar on our program who wondered if the vote by itself might not constitute a kind of declaration or even act of war. Do you think it is one of those?
CLINTON: Absolutely not. And I think people have either misunderstood or decided to misrepresent the meaning of that vote. I believe in using pressure and sanctions as a tool of diplomacy, and that includes against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. There is no doubt that they are a chief sponsor of terrorism and that they have been providing weapons and advice to the people who are attacking and killing and maiming Americans in Iraq.
But I‘ve also been, I think, among the first when I went to the floor in February, to say the president had absolutely no authority to take any action against Iran. And I have joined up with Senator Jim Webb to put that into law.
But it‘s interesting to me, because a lot of the people who are saying that have seemed to focus all of their attention on me. We have a number of Democrats who did not vote to authorize the ‘02 resolution, who have voted with me, including Senator Durbin and Senator Jack Reed and Senator Levin and others. Because we want diplomacy used. In fact, in the resolution that actually was passed, the nonbinding resolution, it clearly said that diplomacy should be pursued.
I want the United States to begin diplomatic negotiations with Iran, but I want us to go with some leverage. And I think the possibility of either threatening to or naming the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and many of their leaders as terrorists, and, thereby, going after bank accounts and investments around the world, is important leverage. So, in fact, I saw that vote as moving us toward the kind of diplomatic negotiations that I have long advocated, which the Bush administration has refused to pursue.
OLBERMANN: Let me close, Senator, with one speculative campaign question. With the Nobel Prize announcements this week, there‘s been a lot of coverage about former Vice President Gore. There‘s an online betting site where gamblers have placed him second ahead of Senator Obama and only behind you for the Democratic nomination. What do you think of the draft Gore stories? And do you think that even after all this time, you will wind up facing him in the primaries still?
CLINTON: Well, Keith, I am so hoping that he wins the Nobel Prize. There isn‘t anybody who deserves it more for the work he‘s done for the last, my goodness, 20 years and more, on behalf of sounding the alarm in the world concerning global warming. So I‘m waiting to hear the announcement from the Nobel Committee, and I hope that we give that well-deserved honor to Vice President Gore.
You know, I think we have got great candidates running. We have a wonderful field. You don‘t have to be against anybody. All you have to do is decide who you‘re for. And I‘m just going to keep doing the best job I can to earn the support of as many voters as I can reach.
OLBERMANN: A Nobel Prize winning answer, no doubt, there.
Senator Clinton, great thanks for your time tonight.
CLINTON: It‘s good to talk to you, Keith. Thanks a lot.
OLBERMANN: Be well.
OLBERMANN: So what about Al Gore? On the eve of the Nobel announcement, are the presidential tea leaves being read differently, are there, in fact, any tea leaves to read?
And Howard Kurtz‘s new book on the relationship between war and television news. It asks: Where were the cynical tea leaf readers of the network news divisions when we really needed them? Howard joins us.
You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: He has an Oscar. He‘s in the running for a Nobel Prize. He‘ll know by 5:00 a.m. eastern tomorrow. Our fourth story on the “Countdown,” as Senator Clinton discussed just before the break, might Al Gore make it a trifecta, might he still run for the Democratic nomination. That‘s the hope of the draft-Gore movement. It is trying to pull him into the race by running radio commercials and a full-page ad in the “New York Times” insisting Mr. Gore has a duty to run for the White House. And stating, quote, “America and the earth need a hero, someone who will transcend politics as usual and bring real hope to our country and to the world.”
Other smaller groups across the country trying to get our name on primary ballots.
Vice President Gore, right here on “Countdown” and to numerous other media outlets, saying he wants to concentrate on raising awareness of global warming, that he has no intention of becoming a candidate again, that the very use of the political term as “intention” leaves open the possibility of changing his mind. It even made NBC “Nightly News” tonight.
I‘m joined by our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.
Richard Wolffe, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK”: Good to
be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Anything new on Gore? They‘re now, on Internet, parsing every word said by every spokesperson, everybody who had anything to do with Al Gore. Is there any thing here or is there Gore fever surrounding the Nobel announcement.
WOLFFE: Gore fever may be treatable with a couple of Tylenol. Or talk to people around Al Gore and hear what they had to say, as I‘ve been talking to then. The folks in the Gore orbit say he‘s busy with the business activities, environmental activism there and he‘s been very active there. But it would be a huge honor. That doesn‘t mean to say that he has a political agenda. There‘s no winking or nodding going on to, say, to encourage these draft-Gore folks to get on with it. So, no game plan here. Even if there is a game plan, folks around Gore don‘t know about it.
OLBERMANN: Why has he always left that 2 percent window? In every interview he‘s done in the last two years he left some impression that the possibility, however remote, could exist if, perhaps, everybody in the country signed the petition?
WOLFFE: He‘s a politician, first and foremost. Is there a scenario where Al Gore could in to this? There is. It‘s just not right now. There‘s a long window after Super Tuesday between the end of the nomination process and the conventions. We‘re not used to seeing this sort of six months for a nominee to get out there. Anything could happen. Is there a circumstance where a nominee could fizzle out, where circumstances could change, and the draft movement becomes different, where people reach for someone who can come in with national recognition and build something quickly? Yes, that could happen. I suspect there‘s nothing more than that vague possibility rather than the actual plan Al Gore has in mind.
OLBERMANN: Assuming things do not change in that way—I mentioned that on-line gambling site, Gore has jumped to being a 13 percent chance of getting the nomination by the gamblers there. Obama is at 11.5 percent. Hillary is at better than 76 percent. This assumption among his supporters that Al Gore could, at this point, under these circumstances, could wrest the nomination from Senator Clinton, to say nothing of Obama and Edwards and anybody else, is that even remotely true anymore?
WOLFFE: Yes. That‘s why medication may be necessary here. Look at the—look at the polls. No matter what the gamblers are saying. If he could breathe into his this race and come to a tied first position, then maybe a sane politician would consider it. But when he‘s around 12 points in the polls, somewhere around where John Edwards is, you have to be insane to want to jump in.
OLBERMANN: If he does not run, does he endorse somebody at some point? Or is that now becoming irrelevant as well?
WOLFFE: I don‘t think endorsements are irrelevant. Hillary Clinton has been working hard to get endorsements. There‘s a bit of revisionism here. People say Dean peaked when he got Al Gore‘s endorsement. Endorsement and money were not Howard Dean‘s problem. Losing in Iowa was. It does look like Al Gore is going to endorse. And given the support he has among some of the net root folks, the anti-war folks, that would be valuable for any candidate.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll see about the Nobel presumably early tomorrow. Our own Richard Wolffe, also of “Newsweek” magazine, of course.
As always, great thanks for your time tonight, Richard.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: On the number one topic facing anyone deciding to run for president, how bad is it in Iraq? It is so bad, the U.S. Marine Corps is volunteering to take on the Taliban in Afghanistan instead, that the latest proposal from the Marine Corps commandant himself.
There are 25,000 Marines in Iraq, but no major Marine presence in the 26,000 troops in Afghanistan. So Commandant James T. Conway is reportedly suggesting to his bosses at the Joint Chiefs, at the Pentagon, that the Army units in Afghanistan switch places with the Marines in Iraq, a move that supporters say help the Army and the Marine Corps relieve the strain on their own forces and help sustain troop levels.
But both the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, and Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, remaining unconvinced. Roberts Gates telling reporters the plan is in its infancy.
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ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I‘ve seen no plan. No one has come up any with proposals. My understanding is that it is, at this point, extremely preliminary thinking on perhaps the part of the staff people in the Marine Corps. But I don‘t think, at this point, it has any stature.
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OLBERMANN: Speaking of infancy, is Britney Spears seeking custody of her kids or are they seeking custody of her? She‘s late to the custody hearing for which she pleaded.
And up, in the sky, it‘s a bird, it‘s a plane, it‘s a bearded British billionaire and he appears to have ripped his pants. That‘s next. This is “Countdown.”
OLBERMANN: 111 years ago today, George Preston Marshall was born. He certainly would be one of the finalists for worst sports franchise owner ever. Not only did he help establish segregation in the NFL for about a decade, beginning in 1934, but he managed to keep his Washington Redskins segregated until the year 1962. In 1936, he had not only moved the team from its original home in Boston, but he did it after the Redskins won the NFL‘s eastern division title and were to host the league‘s championship game.
Get this again, he moved the championship game out of the team‘s own city. Let‘s play Oddball.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): We begin in Las Vegas, where it‘s raining billionaires. That‘s dare-devil and Virgin Airline CEO Sir Richard Branson rappelling down the 407 foot Palms Hotel and Casino. Branson is promoting the airline‘s new route from San Francisco to Las Vegas with this stunt. If you look closely, you can see he knocked his bum-bum into the building. Sir Richard was gimped up, ripping his trousers, cutting his hand. Upon his landing, he was forced to limp away for medical treatment. Don‘t look much like James Bond right now. Let‘s hope the San Francisco-to-Vegas flights are a little smoother than this.
To a field in Aurora, Oregon, where we find a bus in a field. That‘s boring. Oh boy, much better. What, you‘re expecting Sir Richard Branson to drop in? It is an Aurora tradition, a 1,000-pound pumpkin hoisted 100 feet into the air, dropped onto a mass transit vehicle, blowing itself and the van to smithereens. Certainly now the local seniors will have to walk to the mall for a while, but just look at how happy these kids are picking up smashed pumpkin debris.
Finally, to Dhaka, Bangladesh, with the Oddball ugly ass robot of the week. This here is I-Robo, the world‘s first cockeyed robot, kind of a mix between Sloth from “Goonies” and Johnny Five. Built mainly from abandoned car parts, I-Robo recognizes voice commands and does house hold chores. Its inventor hopes I-Rob will be a mass produced item, cheaper, less handsome, and an alternative to fancy Japanese robots. If you clean the pumpkin slop off that van in Aurora, I think you have a career, buddy.
OLBERMANN: Where was the respectful doubt of the network newscasts when we needed it? Why did TV news help spread the gospel of George W. Bush before the war? Howard Kurtz has a new book on the broadcasts of record. He will join us.
And please quiet down. You‘re yelling into my forearm. Ever wished you had a third ear? He just talked a doctor into giving him one.
These stories ahead, but first time for our Goof balls and good guys. Here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. Number three, best dumb criminal; Robinson Rivera of New Castle, Delaware falling victim to the latest epidemic afflicting robbers everywhere. He hands a note to the convenience store clerk down at the Exxon. The note reads, give me your money. I‘ll shoot you. The back of the note reads, Serpies and Sons Bakery, Elsemeare (ph), Delaware, paid to employee Robinson Rivera.
He wrote the hold up note of the back of his pay stub.
Number two, best effort on behalf of his species; Thumper, the black Labrador retriever, family dog of the Cotays (ph) of Greenville, Maine. Roland Cotay says Thumper grabbed him and woke him when the house caught fire. Compare this to the Cotay‘s cat, Princess, who apparently tipped over the kerosene lantern, starting the fire. The cat had no comment.
Number one, best use of your tax dollars. Three aldermen in Dover, New Jersey who conducted their own personal counter-terrorism undercover investigation finding that 100 out of 103 possible sources of delivering terror to their town are unlicensed and unregulated and could be exploited by the terrorists at any moment. Gum ball machines, 100 unlicensed gum ball machines in Dover, New Jersey, which Aldermen Jack Delaney, Michael Piciyalo (ph) and Frank Poulis (ph) say could be used by terrorists to poison Dover‘s unsuspecting children.
Uh-huh, al Qaeda candy. Honestly, we‘re going to have to take “24” off of your cable system, boys.
OLBERMANN: To hear, say, Bill O‘Reilly tell it and tell it and tell it and tell it, all three network newscasts, which he should be anchoring, and all three news divisions, which he should be running, are staffed by, overseen by and actively pursuing the political agenda of the mighty liberal wing of the all-powerful Democratic party. This despite the fact that all three news divisions are controlled by TV networks which are owned in turn by corporations that are run by largely rich people who are answerable to other rich people known as shareholders. This one just gave him, O‘Reilly, a seat on Jay Leno‘s couch to hoc his latest book.
Anyway, in our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, a new book looking at the news industry and not surprisingly discovers that virtually the entire medium pretty much laid down for President Bush after 9/11 and well into the Iraq war. The book is called “Reality Show, Inside the Last Great Television News Race” by veteran “Washington Post” media notes columnist Howard Kurtz, who spoke to the anchors, the producers, and the relevant presidents of all of the networks.
In addition to several previously reported insider tidbits, Kurtz also reveals that after 9/11, the White House press corps treated President Bush as virtually sacrosanct and not until years into the Iraq war did the mainstream network TV media start regularly questioning the wisdom, progress and eventual outcome of that war. Neither observation, of course, entirely new. But Howard Kurtz has had routine access to the decision makers responsible, and got some insights into why this was, other than liberal bias, of course.
Let‘s bring him in now, Howard Kurtz, author of “Reality Show, Inside the Last Great Television News War.” Howard, thanks for your time tonight.
HOWARD KURTZ, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s hit the first two points to start. First, after 9/11, we‘re talking about seasoned journalists—you know my theory on this that certainly there was a fear of looking to be on the wrong side of things. There was political pressure to be sure. But maybe the personal reasons individuals in this business collaborated, if you will, was out of a very pure, if very inopportune kind of patriotism. We suspended our disbelief on behalf of what we thought was best for the country. Did you find any evidence that that might be true?
KURTZ: There is no question that the network newscasts, along with the rest of the established media, I might add, did not do a good job of aggressively challenging the administration, of standing up to the drum beat for war, even putting anti-war guests on the air. Now, part of that was also that Democrats, most of them, were not standing up to the president. We love to go to the other side and get the other side.
Now there were exceptions. ABC‘s Charlie Gibson, when he was at “Good Morning America,” repeatedly pressed Donald Rumsfeld about where‘s your proof of weapons of mass destruction and how can you ask American families to sacrifice without such proof. But not an impressive period for American journalism. I believe that the network newscast, because they have the biggest megaphone, partially redeemed themselves in 2005 and 2006 by helping to turn public opinion against this war, simply by reporting what was happening on the ground.
OLBERMANN: Why did it take until then though? Because I know from personal experience that I got grief for questioning just the necessity of the full fledged rescue, not questioning anything else about it, of Jessica Lynch in the summer of 2003. Why did we have to wait until the war‘s problems were pretty much apparent in ‘05 and last year, when we depend on high-powered journalism to be the official question raiser and the red flag throwers often in front of public opinion, not behind it.
KURTZ: Well, there was, of course, pressure from the administration, and perhaps pressure from the public, especially in the after glow of 9/11, when the idea was that the country should be united behind the president because of those awful attacks. But what I also found in doing my reporting for “Reality Show” is that some media companies internalized that pressure. For example, Katie Couric, when she was still at NBC‘s “Today Show,” felt that Bob Wright, the head of the network, was pressuring her, sending a signal by sending along a reader‘s complaint after she had conducted a pretty aggressive interview with Condoleezza Rice about whether John Kerry represented a threat to America‘s safety or not during the 2004 campaign.
She felt that if you somehow got out of line and challenged the administration a little too sharply that you were then somehow painted as unpatriotic. Here‘s another quick example for you; CBS‘s Lara Logan, who just won an Emmy, in fact, for her tough coverage in Iraq; she was asked by her CBS boss ifs she could find some lighter stories or some more positive stories from Iraq. She was actually asked to do a piece on whether female soldiers were keeping cyber-pets online. She emailed back saying, I would rather stick needles in my eyes than spend one second of my time on that story.
OLBERMANN: Remember, of course, in the 1930s, CBS sent Edward R. Murrow to be head of Talks in Europe, with the idea that he could arrange for a symphonic concert broadcasts. They weren‘t interested in news on that. But one thing, regarding NBC and that experience that Katie Couric had, what happened? Why is it that almost all of those people who were involved in that subtle kind of pressure, the same people, the executives, the same corporate executives were the same ones who then turned around and were involved in the process of approving the use of this term civil war in Iraq, referring to the war there, and are the same people who said to me, go ahead, do what you think is right?
KURTZ: Right, it was Robert Wright who started the process that led NBC to say we‘re going to use the term civil war, which nobody really disputes, to describe the Iraq conflict. This was last November. What happens is, like the Supreme Court, media executives read the public opinion polls. It became safer after the war was clearly not going well, as demonstrated in part by the broadcast led by Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams and Katie Couric at CBS—and it became safer when there was more organized opposition in the Democratic party. It became safer then to be a critic of the war than it was clearly during the run-up in 2002 and early 2003.
OLBERMANN: Let me ask you this last point about my old friend O‘Reilly, who declared more recently that every single media outlet in the world is suspect and we shouldn‘t believe anybody apparently but him. He had singled out NBC as pursuing a liberal agenda. Do you have anything particularly on that allegation?
KURTZ: I was on the “O‘Reilly Factor” last night and he made the argument that you‘re all a bunch of left wing lunatics. To which I responded—he says, look, Brian Williams ratings are down a little bit. People think he‘s liberal. First of all, he‘s a fair guy, who happens to be the president‘s favorite anchor according to White House officials. But look, the ratings are down a little bit because Charlie Gibson is a tough competitor at ABC, because Tom Brokaw was on top for ten years and all of the network news divisions are down because we have more choices now. People can watch you, or O‘Reilly, or Wolf Blitzer.
OLBERMANN: Yes, if political slant is having that little impact on the ratings of the network newscast, then it‘s not a factor whatsoever. Howard Kurtz, the book is “Reality Show, Inside the Last Great Television News War.” It‘s a great read, even for an insider. Thank you, Howard.
OLBERMANN: Today‘s television news war, the epic journalistic struggle for pictures of Britney Spears showing up late for a custody hearing she requested. And you weren‘t hearing things—Coulter-Geist actually explained that Christianity is about perfecting the Jews. And she still is in a fight for worst person honors tonight, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Something interesting happened today at a Britney Spears‘ custody hearing, totally accidental, nothing to do with Spears, nor her kids, nor the fact that she showed up late for a hearing which she had requested. It begins our nightly roundup of celebrity news, Keeping Tabs. The Spears details first; she lost custody of her two sons just last week.
Today, she requested an urgent court appeal to argue for more visitation. Failing to show up at the early session, she arrived hours later at the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. TMZ.com reporting the media scrum had kept her away. Others said she went shopping.
Spears wore dark glasses that her attorney said were necessary because of a medical condition. After the hearing, she seemed upset, but had won a partial victory from the court. Attorneys from Kevin Federline agreeing to allow Spears one additional overnight visit per week with the kids, so long as a monitor is present. The tumultuous Federline versus Spears case then producing this actual interesting thing.
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ALLAN PARACHINI, PUBLIC INFORMATION DIRECTOR: There was a great deal of emphasis by Commissioner Gordon on the primary objective being the best interest of these two children—children—like George Bush.
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OLBERMANN: Thank you. It was an Eric Idol spoof of the Beatles that one of the Lennon/McCartney anthems of the ‘60s was turned into “All You Need is Cash,” satire turning back into reality for Sir Paul McCartney today. The British tabloid speculating that he may have finally settled the most expensive divorce in British history. McCartney arriving at court today for one last bargaining session with Heather Mills. Lady McCartney, his wife of fife years, could receive a divorce settlement worth as much as 140 million dollars. Nine hours of negotiations today, no formal word whether or not there will be peace in our time. But on the town tonight, McCartney asked photographers to let him pass by declaring himself, free citizen of the world.
Then finally, Jude Law no longer in trouble with the law for being anything more than a rude Law. “People Magazine” reporting the Oscar winning actor off the hook after his arrest last month for allegedly assaulting a paparazzo outside his London home. After his arrests, Law made his own allegations against the photographer. The entire matter has now been dropped. Scotland Yard had investigated the incident. Fitting, since Law‘s latest movie is “Sleuth.”
And he‘s a performance artist and philosopher and ew, he‘s got an ear on his arm. That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world.
The bronze to Coulter-Geist. She would have scored higher if her hatred was not truly omni-directional. Interviewed by Donnie Deutsch on CNBC, she explained that Christianity means, quote, “we just want Jews to be perfected. That‘s what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like the Federal Express; you have to obey laws.” OK, so if there were any doubts, Ann Coulter, anti-Semite.
Moving on to silver winner, John Gibson of Fixed News, explaining the Cleveland high school shootings - “He killed himself. Hip-hoppers do not kill themselves. They walk away. Now, I didn‘t need to hear the kid was white with blond hair. Once he had shot himself in the head, no hip-hopper. And I could tell right away because he killed himself. Black shooters don‘t do that. They shoot and move on. OK, I thought the kid was a black kid, I‘ll admit it, until I heard he shot himself. Does that make me a racist?”
Yes. OK, so, if there were any doubts, John Gibson, racist?
Who could possibly top those two? CNN‘s Glenn Beck; quoting, “even I said that Scooter Libby should go to jail and he should pay the price for lying to prosecutors. But it was over a CIA name thing, which was nothing. Nobody was held responsible. He did nothing wrong on that. He lied to prosecutors. The guy went to jail.”
No, see, you might have missed it because, well, it actually happened, as opposed to just occurring in one of those hallucinations you have upon which your shows are based. But Scooter Libby didn‘t go to jail because his sentence was commuted by his own ex-boss. OK, so if there are any doubts, Glenn Beck, uninformed or bold-faced liar. You decide. And also today‘s Worst Person in the World!
OLBERMANN: The present was the future to the artists, philosophers and scientists of the preceding millennium, most of which you saw. They foresaw that by now mankind would have hover-crafts and space colonies and computers indistinguishable from humans and robots and plenty of clones. In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, if progress does not march quite that fast, we have now managed this as a civilization; an arm that has its own ear.
That man, Stelios Archadio (ph), an Australian philosopher and performance artist, who calls himself Stelark (ph). It took him ten years to find a surgeon willing to graft that ear to his arm, since there was obviously no clinical need for a third ear. It required more than one operation, the last one in September of last year. The new appendage was grown in a laboratory from cells. One practical problem, obviously, you would have to be wearing short sleeves for the thing to work very well.
Hello? Actually, the ear is not functional, yet. Stelark apparently did this for the sake of art and provocation. But he does plan on having the ear implanted with a microphone and blue tooth transmitter. Quoting Stelark, that way you can listen to what my ear is hearing.
Stelark presented his work in New Castle, England. Joining me now, Edward Meyer, for 30 years an archivist for “Ripley‘s Believe It or Not.” Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
EDWARD MEYER, “RIPLEY‘S BELIEVE IT OR NOT”: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: OK, we think we know why this guy did this. But we still want to know, why do something like this?
MEYER: I wish I knew. It‘s got to be the strangest thing I‘ve come across in a long time.
OLBERMANN: Have you ever seen anybody do something with ears before this? Besides Barney Gumbel in the “Simpsons” when he had medical experiments and had like six of them on his chest?
MEYER: No, not with ears. We‘ve seen some pretty strange transplants, but no ears.
OLBERMANN: What qualifies as a strange transplant, if we‘re going to go into that topic?
MEYER: Well, we‘ve got people that are born without fingers, transplant their toes to replace their fingers; people that transplant different things onto their own hands. The strangest I‘ve ever heard is a gentleman in Russia who had penile cancer, and he had his parts removed and then ended up having his middle left finger implanted as a penis. And, believe it or not, it works both sexually and to urinate.
OLBERMANN: Not just symbolic, but a practical solution. And we can‘t tell Stelark about this, because you don‘t know what he‘s going to do next.
MEYER: I don‘t know if he could hear it?
OLBERMANN: Exactly. He‘s going to put a mike in this thing with blue tooth—blue tooth technology. It‘s very hip, but would you want to sit next to this guy at a dinner table with that thing on his arm?
MEYER: Well, he‘s the kind of guy that makes the world of Ripley‘s work. I would love to talk to him and find out just why he did it, because that‘s the great “Believe It or Not” question—but why? But ultimately, he‘s probably not the best dinner companion.
OLBERMANN: It may not be politically correct now, but there was a time when our culture paid intense attention to what were ungenerously called freaks, giants, tiny generals, people with extra body parts. Were most of those old school freaks actually fakes or physiological anomalies?
MEYER: Oh no, they‘re definitely not fakes. There was an illusionists that created things like disappearing a lady with no head or a lady that appears to be part reptile. But the typical circus side show human oddity is the words I prefer, rather than freak. But, you know, somebody like Francisco Lantini (ph) really did have three legs. And somebody like Robert Wudlow (ph) really was eight foot 11 tall. People have a general curiosity to human oddities.
OLBERMANN: When we see something like this though, do we find often that science fiction and science fancy actually precedes practical, useful science?
MEYER: I think so. The trouble with this is he wasn‘t born this way. This is somebody playing god, playing genetics. I don‘t personally understand why.
OLBERMANN: We certainly can ask him, because he‘s certainly going to be able to hear us. As the—as the—
MEYER: Or at least he hopes to.
OLBERMANN: As the commercial goes—I‘ve been waiting for this all day—as the commercial goes for the cell phone provider, can you hear me now. Edward Meyer, an archivist with “Ripley‘s Believe It or Not,” great thanks for your time, sir.
MEYER: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,625th day since the declaration of mission accomplish in Iraq. From New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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