January 18, 2005 | 5:19 p.m. ET

Not going gently into that good night (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS —  After the Thornburgh-Boccardi report on CBS News came out a week ago yesterday, it was the big question:
Why did four mid-level executives lose their jobs, when nobody above them and nobody on the air, did?
       
Never assume, as Felix Ungar warned. It turns out three of those four executives are still working for CBS News. Thus did CBS President/Chairman Leslie Moonves confirm to writers covering the television publicity tour in Los Angeles today.
       
Mary Mapes, the producer behind the so-called "Killian Memos" story, was fired outright. But Senior Vice President Betsy West, "60 Minutes 2" Executive Producer Josh Howard, and his deputy Mary Murphy, were asked to resign in the aftermath of the independent investigation.

Mr. Moonves says they have not. "They are in discussions now," he noted, and added that there were lawyers now involved, so he couldn't say much more.

But he did go into detail about the continuation of Andrew Heyward as President of CBS News. Moonves said he made the decision to retain him, adding that Heyward's subordinates were responsible for the quote "screw-up."
       
As to what's next, Moonves says that when Dan Rather leaves the CBS Evening News in seven weeks, he wants a quote "revolution and not an evolution," possibly including an anchor team — the members of which might even be in different cities. He refused to comment on any of the names mentioned as Rather's successor:  Katie Couric, John Roberts, John Stewart, Stuart Little, Little Richard, Richard Lewis, or Lewis Black.
       
But Moonves did talk about what he saw as a "reinventing" of the news format to discontinue what he called the "voice of God" style of single host. "We are looking at all sorts of options, ensembles... big names, little names. One of the ways we're looking at is making it younger and more relevant, something that younger people can relate to, as opposed to that guy preaching from the mountaintop about what we should and should not watch."
               
Hey, pal — I'm workin' this side of the street.

E-mail me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com.

January 11, 2005 | 7:36 p.m. ET

Armstrong, O'Reilly weak (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — The head of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy said it best. Alex Jones, on Countdown Monday night, insisted that the worst part about the CBS "Killian Memos" disaster was that it had overshadowed the Armstrong Williams "Pay For Praise" disaster.

Oh, no, it hasn't.

Mr. Williams has been fired — again — and he’s been quoted as saying there are others on the official Government Information Dole, and he is — in spirit at least — being copy-catted as far away as the nascent democracy trying to emerge in Iraq.

There, the political party of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi held a news conference in Baghdad to announce some of its candidates for the elections. It had a little surprise for the reporters who attended: One hundred dollars. The newspaper The Financial Timesreporting that after their statements, Allawi's colleagues invited each journalist to an upstairs room, and handed them each a hundred-dollar bill. American. A Ben Franklin for everybody in the house.

The newspaper reported that giving gifts to journalists was common in many authoritarian states of the Middle East, but the reporters at the news conference in question said it was not common practice in the post-Saddam Iraq. On the other hand, most of them also said they kept the cash.

Which is what Armstrong Williams continues to insist he's going to do — keep the $241,000 paid him by the Education Department to hype its "No Child Left Behind" program. It turns out he may need it.

"America's Black Forum," the long-running public affairs telecast co-anchored by NPR’s Juan Williams and the Fox sportscaster James Brown, says today it has terminated its relationship with Armstrong Williams. He had appeared as a commentator on the program, but its executive producer says that Williams’ "failure to disclose the potential conflict of interest" has led to his dismissal.
      
Then there is Sinclair Broadcast Group. The 39-station conglomerate — still infamous over its transformation of some Swift Boat Veterans’ malarkey into “news” — is now investigating Williams. Its counsel telling the industry newspaper The Hollywood Reporter that it too had a contract with Williams — as a consultant, and contributor to a Sinclair produced news broadcast called "News Central."

The lawyer says it is believed Williams interviewed Secretary of Education Rod Paige — from whose department Williams received the contract — on the Sinclair broadcast. Since its deal with Williams has already expired, Sinclair doesn’t expect to be able to do much even if the wool was pulled over its eyes. But what does it say when you’re being investigated for insufficient ethics by Sinclair?

Since USA Today broke the Williams story last Friday, one of the many questions asked has been: was that contract the only one? White House spokesman Scott McClellan says he doesn't know of any others, but a Fox News Channel commentator says he does — because Armstrong Williams told him about them.
      
Writing on the website of the magazine The Nation, David Corn says he encountered Williams in a Fox Green Room after the story broke and Williams told him, "This happens all the time. There are others."
      
Corn says he then asked Williams for the names of other conservative commentators who had accepted money from the Bush Administration... to which Williams replied, "I'm not going to defend myself that way."
 
Corn writes that even he could not tell if Williams was just covering his own butt, or if he really knew of other cases like his own. But apparently there's going to be a Congressional investigation. A spokesman for Ohio Congressman John Boehner, who chairs the House Education and The Work-force Committee, says on the Republican's behalf, "if what has been reported is accurate it is certainly indefensible — it is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money."

Until the Armstrong Williams story broke, I’d never even considered this possibility — paying pundits or journalists to policy-shill — under any American government at any time other than during global war. But the Williams revelations do remind me that I’ve always wondered how some of the monolithic, elaborate websites, especially conservative ones with a million links, have managed to stay afloat financially, and if somebody in government wasn’t supplying them with more than just hot news flashes.

Speaking of hot flashes, we have another round of what continues to look like the self-destruction of Bill O'Reilly. The man who moved from falafels, loofahs, and $60,000,000 dollar lawsuits over sexual harassment charges, to becoming the self-appointed holy protector of Christmas, has now taken off on another flight of delusion of grandeur. He's attacked Saturday's tsunami relief telethon on NBC and its owned cable networks (like MSNBC).

The other night, O’Reilly told his semi-comatose viewers: "A national TV telethon will raise millions and 'The Factor' will be watching to see if the money gets to the tsunami victims. If it does not, there will be trouble.”
      
I’m guessing he'll try to cause lightning. Maybe locusts.
       
The rant continued, "If George Clooney and other stars go on tv and ask you to give, then they had better be involved all the way down the line."

Clooney, whom O’Reilly had also attacked after a similar celebrity telethon for 9/11 victims, released a letter he wrote to the bizarre Fox host. "So all right, Mr. Journalist... come on in. I'm booking the talent for the Tsunami event... and you, Mr. O'Reilly, are now officially invited to be a presenter... either you ante up and help out AND be that watch dog that you feel we clearly need... or you simply stand on the sidelines and cast stones... This is your chance to put your considerable money where your considerable mouth is."
        
O'Reilly says in reply, "I have to see what the format is. I would like to go over there and check things out. Whether I make a pitch or not depends on how organized things are."
         
In other words, Bill’s thinking about it.
         
Don't hurt yourself, Buddy.

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com

January 5, 2005 | 6:56 p.m. ET

Challengers are go (Keith Olbermann)

Sick Bed, New York— Nothing is in writing and daybreak is a long way away, but it appeared all but certain in early evening Wednesday that House Democrats had secured the support of up to half a dozen Senators to formally challenge the Electoral College slate from Ohio, when the votes are opened before a joint session of Congress tomorrow.

Congressional sources tell this reporter that the house half of the written objection — which has the declared support of more than a dozen Representatives — is expected to be signed by Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio. Republican leadership expects the Senate signatory to be Barbara Boxer of California, but this has not yet been formalized. The Majority is also worried about the possible absence of many of its members in both houses, and the prospect that a quorum might not be achieved, leading the process into uncharted, albeit not very threatening, constitutional grounds. There is a mathematical, if not practical, chance that the ratification of the Electoral College vote could be delayed past tomorrow.

As it is, a written challenge would require the joint session to suspend for several hours, during which the Senate and the House would meet separately and debate the merits of the objection.

The ad hoc group formed by Representative John Conyers of Michigan has also today published its staff report, concluding that before, during, and after the election in Ohio, many state laws may have been broken, in every area ranging from the allocation of voting machines, election day "anomalies," and the recount. It recommended a formal Congressional inquiry, and additional legislation to reform voting laws.

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com

December 30, 2004 | 5:29 a.m. ET

Death toll still wildly low; Conyers to challenge Ohio electors (Keith Olbermann)

Secaucus—  It is now impossible to believe this was just three nights ago, the official death toll from the Christmas Tsunami in the Indian Ocean stood at only 24,000.

Now, the latest Reuters count, is 125,282. But according to Indonesia's ambassador to Malaysia, three days from now, we may find it equally impossible to believe that this number was so low.

The State News Agency in Malaysia, Bernama, quotes Indonesia's ambassador to Malaysia as saying today that three large communities in the Acheh province appear to have been totally destroyed— but are, as yet, inaccessible. "Aerial surveillance found the town of Meulaboh completely destroyed with only one building standing," said Ambassador Drs H. Rusdihardjo.

Until Sunday morning, Meulaboh had 150,000 residents.

The Ambassador also says there were "no signs of life" in Pulau Simeuleu. It had a population of 76,000. Access to these areas— if only to see if anybody is still alive there— has been cut off due to the destruction of roads, and rapidly depleting fuel supplies. Aerial views of the area show not just devastation, but obliteration. Some communities are recognizable only because a few building foundations remain intact, like the chalk lines around a dead body. Others look like images from the 1889 flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, or the 1900 hurricane that destroyed much of Galveston, Texas.

Ambassador Rusdihardjo concluding that the death toll in Acheh Province, could exceed 400,000.

At the same  as the exponential growth in the mortality data produces such disbelief, other images from the region may be equally astounding. Not because they depict devastation, but because they do not.

Western tourists, mostly Australian and British, are back on the beaches around Phuket, Thailand. The Australian newspaper, the Adelaide Advertiser, reports that vacationers were seen on Patong Beach— where at least 120 people died Sunday morning, and at Surin Beach, where at least 10 people perished.
       
At least some of them were new arrivals. "Our friends think we're mad," the newspaper quotes Paul Cunliffe, of Manchester, England. "The only risk we face I think is if there's another quake. We love the place that much and we thought we would take the risk."
       
Thousands of tourists— including at least 2,000 Americans— are still missing in the region.

But the sun is shining, isn’t it?

***

Back here, the office of Representative John Conyers of Michigan confirmed late this afternoon that he and several other Congressmen are planning to object— to formally challenge— the vote of the Ohio electors when the Electoral College ballots are opened before the joint session of Congress next Thursday.

Conyers says he is still seeking a Senator to join the House members— whom he does not name— and has written to each member of the Senate asking them to join him.

Conyers' letter today was addressed to Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. It follows in its entirety:

"Dear Senator Boxer,
             "As you know, on January 6, 2005, at 1:00 P.M, the electoral votes for the election of the president are to be opened and counted in a joint session of Congress, commencing at 1:00 P.M.  I and a number of House Members are planning to object to the counting of the Ohio votes, due to numerous unexplained irregularities in the Ohio presidential vote, many of which appear to violate both federal and state law.  I am hoping that you will consider joining us in this important effort to debate and highlight the problems in Ohio which disenfranchised innumerable voters.  I will shortly forward you a draft report itemizing and analyzing the many irregularities we have come across as part of our hearings and investigation into the Ohio presidential election.
             "3 U.S.C. §15 provides when the results from each of the states are announced, that "the President of the Senate shall call for objections, if any." Any objection must be presented in writing and "signed by at least one Senator and one Member of the House of Representatives before the same shall be received.The objection must "state clearly and concisely, and without argument, the ground thereof. When an objection has been properly made in writing and endorsed by a member of each body the Senate withdraws from the House chamber, and each body meets separately to consider the objection.  "No votes . . . from any other State shall be acted upon until the [pending] objection . . . [is] finally disposed of." 3 U.S.C. §17 limits debate on the objections in each body to two hours, during which time no member may speak more than once and not for more than five minutes.  Both the Senate and the House must separately agree to the objection; otherwise, the challenged vote or votes are counted.
             "Historically, there appears to be three general grounds for objecting to the counting of electoral votes.  The language of  3 U.S.C. §15 suggests that objection may be made on the grounds that (1) a vote was not "regularly given" by the challenged elector(s); and/or (2) the elector(s) was not "lawfully certified" under state law; or (3) two slates of electors have been presented to Congress from the same State.
             "Since the Electoral Count Act of 1887, no objection meeting the requirements of the Act have been made against an entire slate of state electors. In the 2000 election several Members of the House of Representatives attempted to challenge the electoral votes from the State of Florida.  However, no Senator joined in the objection, and therefore, the objection was not "received."  In addition, there was no determination whether the objection constituted an appropriate basis under the 1887 Act.  However, if a State - in this case Ohio - has not followed its own procedures and met its obligation to conduct a free and fair election, a valid objection -if endorsed by at least one Senator and a Member of the House of Representatives- should be debated by each body separately until "disposed of". 
             "Sincerely, John Conyers, Jr."

December 29, 2004 | 10:35 a.m. ET

I am involved in mankind  (Keith Olbermann)

New York —

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.”

John Donne's 17th Century work, "Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions" is, again, all too pertinent, and doubly meaningful. The Christmas Tsunami death toll figures appear this morning like some wild, unimaginable inflation.

The Associated Press counts 67,000 dead in the eleven nations of the Indian Ocean. Reuters News Services calculates 69,900. A United Nations spokesman believes the toll just in Aceh Province, Indonesia, will be between 50,000 and 80,000. The International Red Cross currently confirms 68,000 deaths, and predicts the number will cross 100,000.

More terrifying still is the growing realization— reported sporadically in South Asia and Europe but almost unmentioned here— that some percentage of these deaths could have been prevented by timely warnings, but were not, out of fear of damaging tourism.

Bangkok's newspaper The Nation reported that Thailand's Meteorological Department, which supervises the country’s Seismological Department, was conducting a seminar at the hour the earthquake struck, Sunday morning, prevailing local time. Told the initial Richter Scale measurement was 8.2, a leading member of that department reportedly concluded there would be no tsunami, because another 2002 earthquake in the same Sumatra region that had measured 7.6 had produced no tsunami. The meeting devolved into the pros and cons of hurting the nation’s huge tourist economy in the event a warning proved unnecessary.

Thailand had faced the identical dilemma in the recent past. The United Kingdom newspaper The Scotsman quoted Thailand's Seismological Bureau Director Sulamee Prachuab as saying, "Five years ago, the Meteorological Department issued a warning of a possible tidal wave after an earthquake occurred in Papua, New Guinea. But the tourism authority complained that such a warning would hurt tourism,” especially when no tsunami materialized.

None had hit the Indonesian coast since 1883, after the eruption of the volcano at Krakatoa Island.

According to today’s The Asian Wall Street Journal, a seismologist in Canberra, Australia, recognized the tsunami threat, but says he was warned against sending out an alert as to the likely impact to the Indian Ocean nations, because an Australian official reminded him of ‘international diplomatic protocol.’

In West Sumatra, Indonesia, a local seismologist’s equipment went off so loudly Sunday morning that he thought workmen had begun repairs in an adjoining garage. He spent an hour trying to contact local authorities - and found no one in their offices.

While Thai officials continued to insist the impact on tourism was never a factor in whether or not to issue a tsunami warning, one of the unnamed sources of the Bangkok paper disagreed. The individual, whom The Nation reported attended Sunday’s conference, was quoted as saying, "The very important factor in making the decision was that it's high (tourist) season and hotel rooms were nearly 100 percent full. If we issued a warning, which would have led to evacuation, (and if nothing happened), what would happen then?… We could go under, if (the tsunami) didn't come."

Thailand's Information and Technology Minister says an investigation of the Meteorological Conference will be conducted.

By the latest Reuters account this morning, 1,657 are confirmed dead in Thailand, and another 8,954 injured.

More than 1,500 Swedish tourists are still reported missing.

At the time the Thai experts reportedly concluded they would threaten the nation’s economic health by alerting the public, the tsunami was still more than an hour away from hitting Thailand’s coast. It appears that most of the fatalities there could have been averted had the victims merely been told to walk about a mile inland, which they could have done, leisurely, in 45 minutes or less.

Your thoughts? E-mail me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com

December 27, 2004 | 7:45 p.m. ET

Conspiracies theorized, or conspiracies invoked? (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS, N.J. — A theory advanced by John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal goes, more or less, that certain politicians are endeavoring to take advantage of the 20 percent of the population that the last Gallup Poll says is not fully convinced of the legitimacy of the last presidential election.

It seems fair to suggest that Sen. John Kerry just might be one of the politicians Harwood means.

Last Thursday night, his lead attorney on the ground in Ohio, Daniel J. Hoffheimer, issued a statement that constituted the third or fourth eyebrow-raiser from the Kerry camp in the post-election period.

In announcing that the Kerry-Edwards group would join the bid in Federal District Court in Ohio to preserve all "evidence" from the election and recount there, Mr. Hoffheimer said, on behalf of the senators, that such preservation was necessary because, "Only then can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust."

This evening, after several Web columnists and bloggers joined me in questioning the bluntness of the phrase (one even wildly claiming this was a precursor to a Kerry "un-concession"), Hoffheimer changed his tone.

"I would caution the media not to read more into what the Kerry-Edwards campaign has said," Mr. Hoffheimer advised us by e-mail, "than what you hear in the plain meaning of our comments. There are many conspiracy theorists opining these days. There are many allegations of fraud. But this presidential election is over. The Bush-Cheney ticket has won. The Kerry-Edwards campaign has found no conspiracy and no fraud in Ohio, though there have been many irregularities that cry out to be fixed for future elections. Senator Kerry and we in Ohio intend to fix them. When all of the problems in Ohio are added together, however bad they are, they do not add up to a victory for Kerry-Edwards. Senator Kerry's fully-informed and extremely careful assessment the day after the election and before he conceded remains accurate today, notwithstanding all the details we have since learned."

The problem is, of course, that it was not some great, conspiracy-based, tin-foil-hat, piece of linguistic gymnastics, to infer from the conclusion to Mr. Hoffheimer's Thursday statement, that the Kerry-Edwards campaign did not believe that "the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney" warranted the public trust. It is, in fact, to use Mr. Hoffheimer's phrase, "the plain meaning" of the first statement.

How do I know that? To borrow Chairman Sam Ervin's answer to that same question, as posed by John Ehrlichmann at the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973: "Because I can understand the English language. It's my mother's tongue."

The Kerry campaign spent much of 2004 being accused by its critics of trying to be all things to all people. It seems poised to continue to wear the bull's eye well into the New Year.

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com

December 27, 2004 | 12:11 p.m. ET

Kerry lawyer: does the re-election warrant the public trust? (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK— I spent the weekend holding the latest statement from John Kerry’s Ohio attorney up to the light, to see if I could read the secret treasure map written in invisible ink on the other side.

In signing on to the Glibs’ court bid to preserve all the evidence of what has been a severely compromised recount, Daniel Hoffheimer told us at Countdown: “Only then can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust.”

Surely, I’m not going out on a limb here to infer that at the moment, Mr. Hoffheimer and the Kerry-Edwards campaign don’t think the entire electoral process and the election of President Bush warrant the public trust.

I mean, the infamous “regardless of the outcome of the election,” phrase in Kerry’s only post-concession comment on the mangled vote was so subtle in both temporality and meaning that it could have been inserted in a statement dealing with any eventuality ranging from a clearly determined vote that was in the past, to a still undecided result.

But not Hoffheimer’s. Them’s (to borrow the language of the noted political pundit Yosemite Sam) fightin’ words. Fightin’ words issued last Thursday evening, as America got out of town for a holiday weekend. Fightin’ words that came just eight working days before the Electoral College votes are opened before Congress, and Maxine Waters or John Conyers or anybody else in the House can crawl all the way out on the limb of formal challenge, and it won’t matter a jot if there isn’t one Senator to crawl out there with them.

It’s unfathomable that Kerry would sign the requisite written challenge. Given his incredibly nuanced response to the entire voting irregularities story, and his evident aspiration to become the Adlai Stevenson or even William Jennings Bryan of the 21st Century, becoming the Senate sponsor of the challenge would seem about as likely and about as consistent as a motorist doing 20 in the right hand lane, suddenly accelerating to 110 and doing the full Bill Murray Groundhog Day bit into the quarry.

Kerry’s signature might not even be sought. There has been “very serious” contact among the staffs of leading Democrats in both houses about the implications of the challenge, according to a congressional figure privy to that contact. He estimates for us that the chance of a Senator actually signing on has — in the last week — risen from almost nothing, to upwards of one third.

And there is still that coda from Hoffheimer’s statement. By itself, it is the thrown gauntlet, and yet it is produced at a time when gauntlets are pretty much symbolic protests. Unless, perhaps, that is the strategy here. The Ohio election was undeniably full of holes, but barring developments unforeseen, the collective verified hole is not likely to be big enough to drive a truck carrying 10,000 uncounted votes through it.

However, the recount has been butchered, badly enough that even an editorial in Sunday’s Toledo Blade noted “the miserable performance of much of the American electoral system.” The Green Party says that 86 of the 88 counties violated Ohio voting law and pre-selected what were to be randomly chosen precincts for hand recounts. It claims that only one county (Coshocton) ran a full hand recount of all of its votes, and, oopsie, its certified total number of votes rose from 16,000 on election night, to 17,000 after the recount (evenly split, we might add, between Bush and Kerry, but indicating 6% of all votes disappeared). The official recount in Fairfield County found added 1,130 votes to the first count of 66,378. Representative Conyers last week wrote again to Triad Systems asking them to refute charges that they had “remote access” to their voting equipment in Fulton and Henry Counties (read as: they could change computer stuff over the internet). In the kindest of all possible lights, a Triad employee tried to save the elections officials of Hocking County the ‘trouble’ of a full hand recount at Christmas time by helping them find a precinct whose second tally would match the first one.

Is the political premise here to redirect attention from the hazy confusion of election day voter suppression or unexplained lockdowns or troubled equipment, to the simpler-to-digest black-and-white issues of the recount? “Law says A. You did Z.” The full Hoffheimer statement includes this: “Senators Kerry and Edwards… want to be sure that all circumstances involved in the Ohio election, including the recount, should be put before the Court and disclosed to the American people.” For the record, Hoffheimer’s full statement to Countdown is included at the bottom of this entry.

Excepting the possibility that the Greens/Libertarians/Kerry-Edwards suit will be immediately dismissed, this court action in Ohio is not going to be processed quickly enough to affect the inauguration. It could, instead, become a kind of institutionalized protest, the exact kind of lingering, evolving post-post game show that Al Gore swore the Democrats off of in 2000. It could become, in effect, the slow-moving symbol of the final line Hoffheimer’s statement, questioning public trust in “the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney…”

Voters and politicians will have to determine if that is an appropriate playing field for political discourse for the next two or four years.

Speaking of discourse, I’ve received a handful of e-mails since I mentioned in passing in last Tuesday’s post, the claims of a Florida computer software worker that he was asked to write a ‘vote-switching program’ in 2000. There have been several points raised that can, I think, be pretty easily cleared up here:

  • Several e-mails noted that the programmer, Clint Curtis, testified before the Conyers Voting Forum in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this month. Well, yes and no. He did tell his story there, but it’s instructive to note that he was not asked to do so until after Representative Conyers left the forum, and had turned the chairing of the meeting over to a local politician. This wasn’t a case of Conyers rushing to catch a bus, nor a problem with too many witnesses, nor a coincidence.
  • For weeks, say sources at various levels of the formal investigations into the voting irregularities, Mr. Curtis has promised them corroboration of his accusations — even if it was just the statement of someone to whom he said, in 2000, ‘hey, this guy just asked me to write a vote-switching program.’ These sources say they’ve received no such corroboration, and certainly none has been presented publicly.
  • One e-mailer complained that the denial by the politician accused by Mr. Curtis of soliciting the program seemed pretty tepid, and confined itself largely to his comment “I don’t remember meeting Mr. Curtis.” Well, the ambiguity of the denial is partially my fault. Much of the remarks were boilerplate and repetitive, but I did leave out a fairly salient one, in which he said these were: “some of the most ridiculous, fictional charges you could ever imagine.” I wouldn’t classify that as a ‘non-denial denial.’
  • Two readers asked why we didn’t simply put Mr. Curtis on 'Countdown' or otherwise interview him. Unfortunately, there is a question of the size of the platform here. If the details of his charges can be found on an innocuous website with limited readership, it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things if the possibility that they are partially or totally untrue, turns out to be the correct one. But if that’s the case — if this is actually the story of a guy out to hurt a politician — and we put him on national television, I will have effectively recreated the Swift Boat Veterans fiasco. Under those circumstances, especially in the absence of corroboration, the truth becomes secondary, and the damage is the only verifiable thing.
  • Lastly (and, for my money, most entertainingly): I noted that an attorney for Curtis’s former employers, for whom he was working when he claims to have been asked to develop the nefarious program, described him to MSNBC as a ‘disgruntled former employee.’ However, an e-mailer writes, at the time of his departure from the firm, the company gave him a going-away card. I had to smile at this evidence. When I left ESPN in 1997, the company gave me a tape of my oddest moments on the air, a huge farewell banner, and a going-away party that lasted until sunrise and was so joyous that the authorities were summoned. Still, I have to be the first one to say it: if anybody has the right to call me a ‘disgruntled former employee,’ it’s ESPN.

As promised, the full text of the statement to Countdown from the evening of December 23 of Daniel J. Hoffheimer, State Legal Counsel, Ohio, Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc., (and, yes, he’s referring to himself in the third person here):

“Daniel Hoffheimer, State Legal Counsel for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, told MSNBC today that Kerry-Edwards will support the third-party candidates in asking the Federal Court in the Ohio recount lawsuit to order the preservation of the evidence obtained during the recount and to expedite discovery of the facts. Hoffheimer said that various problems and errors have occurred in a number of Ohio's 88 county boards of elections during the recount, which will conclude next week. Hoffheimer acknowledged that the most publicized of these problems was the machine manipulation in Hocking County but said that the developing evidence will reveal other problems as well. He said that Senators Kerry and Edwards are very concerned that the law for conducting the recount should be uniformly followed. They want to be sure that all circumstances involved in the Ohio election, including the recount, should be put before the Court and disclosed to the American people. Only then, Hoffheimer said, can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust."

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com

December 23, 2004 | 11:26 p.m. ET

Of Coffins, comp days, conspiracies and Christmas (Greg Kordick, Countdown Senior Producer)

“You angel of death, you’re going to kill Clinton.  We need to lock you up.  Enjoy your vacation.”   It was with seemingly stunned disbelief Mr. Olbermann left that message on my cell phone.  It was with equal disbelief I listened, standing on the streets of Montreal’s Old Town.  I laughed, but in that same instant, the realization hit: no vacation will ever be the same as long as the Big Bloggermann was following the news and following my movements away from work.  You see, when I take a break from the Countdown, news breaks, and it’s often of the variety that can never be fixed (unless you pull a Ted Williams and get cryogenically frozen).

Allow me to introduce myself since the boss man saw fit to publicly out me.  To my adoring public I’m Greg Kordick, to my cohorts on the Countdown staff, the angel of death.

Keith mentioned this in a recent blog several days ago to deflect from Internet conspiracy theories that HIS week-long hiatus from MSNBC was more of a management-imposed permanent vacation, rather than a much deserved week off.  Readers of the Internets, I can vouch for the fact that this is indeed a week respite of Keith’s choosing and there is nothing more sinister at play.  I however feel the need to dispel the Countdown conspiracy theory that when I cash in a comp day… celebrities cash it in for good… it is the Holidays after all… and I don’t want Hollywood publicists now worrying about my comings and goings and the health of their clients.

On December 21st Keith wrote :  “If you really want to worry about vacations, keep track of the days taken off by our crack line producer Greg Kordick… this year, on his days off, the following people have died:  Ray Charles, Rick James, President Reagan, Rodney Dangerfield, Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, and Faye Wray. The jury in the Scott Peterson case came back on one of his days off, and returned its sentence on another one.”

This whole conspiracy began in June.  I was on vacation on Cape Cod.  While I was off several stories broke during our normal newscast time which is generally unusual for 8pm at night.  This week of breaking news culminated in the big one, the death of Ronald Reagan.   When I returned to work, I walked in the door and was jokingly told you killed Reagan.  Several days later I left work early.  Five minutes out the door, the news broke that Capitol Hill was being evacuated hours before the president’s body was to lie in state.  Where was Greg?  Then I take my birthday off, Ray Charles dies.  The conspiracy takes hold but Keith is not a believer yet.        

Fast forward. I take July 1st off because I’m stuck working on the company holiday for Independence Day.  Marlon Brando dies.  Everyone takes notice, Keith and I included.  Fast forward to August.  I return home to the Midwest.  Look out, we’re on death watch.  I’m off for a 4-day weekend.  Rick James and Fay Wray die.  Fast Forward to September.  I’m in Montreal.  The news breaks that President Clinton needs emergency heart bypass surgery.  Keith calls me in Montreal to express disbelief in the coincidence and the staff feels things aren’t looking good for Mr. Clinton.  Forget what the doctors say… the grim reaper of news is up north.  His surgery is scheduled for a Tuesday and I’ll be back at work.  The staff breathes a sigh of relief.  Clinton’s surgery is a day early and pulls through fine.  Maybe the death spell is gone, but there is definitely a firm belief that bad news breaks.  While in Canada, the Russian school tragedy and Hurricane Frances dominate the headlines.

The conspiracy now hits my family and friends.  I go home for a quick three day weekend in October and convey the story, laughingly, that my friends back at Countdown are just waiting to see who will die, or what will happen next.  Monday morning comes. I wake up, say hello to my mother and there’s no greeting back.  “Christopher Reeve is dead.”  My mother couldn’t bring herself to say it but her look said it all.  What was her son’s twisted connection to all of this?  That same day it’s announced Ken Caminiti dies.  

At this point, it’s obvious; I will never have another peaceful vacation again.  I will always be looking over my shoulder at the nearest TV or hitting cyber cafés everywhere to catch the latest headline on msnbc.com.  Case in point, mid December, I take a 4-day weekend to Key West.  Friday night I log on quickly.  I didn’t kill Bernard Kerik but I sure as heck killed his dreams of making Homeland Security director. (Perhaps I killed his nanny… has she turned up anywhere yet… anyone… anyone… Bueller?)  I’m flying home the following Monday.  The plane touches down… I get to my car and turn on the radio… penalty phase over in the Scott Peterson trial.  The decision was reached while I was still in the air.  I didn’t need to really see the live coverage, but I watched anyway.  Death. 

Since Keith outed me as the cable producer Angel of Death, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the conspiracy theory… and it is just that, a conspiracy.  A quick check of the overall picture will bear that all out.  People die every day.  I was at work for the deaths of Yasser Arafat, Janet Leigh, Geoffrey Beene, Johnny Ramone, Julia Child, Isabel Sanford, Tony Randall, Alan King, Estee Lauder, Alistair Cooke, Peter Ustinov, Robert Pastorelli, Paul Winfield, Marge Schott, Jack Paar, Bob Keeshan, John Ritter, Johnny Cash and Dick the Goldfish to name a few.   Unscientifically speaking, 86 percent of all celebrity deaths of 2004 happened while I was on the clock or within pagers distance of being called in to work to cover the story if need be.  The exit polls are wrong.  Finally tally is in.  No Recount necessary. Case Closed.

For those that choose to STILL believe in the conspiracy, I want you to relax over the holidays.  I’m not going anywhere… I will be very near MSNBC World Headquarters so all should be well. (But for those who want to play the home game of the Countdown Conspiracy, I am taking Thursday December 30th off… watch msnbc and msnbc.com for breaking developments).

I demand no apology from Mr. Olbermann for the inference that my days off lead to less than pleasant events in the world, in fact, I thank him for allowing me to use his space to get my version of reality out there.  All I want for Christmas is for you guys to stop construction on the Gitmo style holding cell out back in Secaucus so I’m forced to never leave MSNBC.  It’s not funny.  And please… please let 2005 be the year I can R.I.P.  (Relax In Peace.)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

On a separate programming note, we put the finishing touches to our Countdown Holiday show Tuesday night.  Countdown’s Favorite Things 2004 airs Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve… and a few times over the weekend.  It’s the highlights from the show over the last year… and it had us laughing in the control room not once but twice as we had to go back and fix a few hiccups here and there.  If you can’t make the usual show times during the holidays, this show is definitely a must TiVo so you can watch it and rewatch it at your leisure.  You’ll regret it if you miss it.

Thoughts? E-mail us at KOlbermann@msnbc.com

December 22, 2004 | 6:48 p.m. ET

Challenges and the challenged (Keith Olbermann)

SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION — So much for my vow of not posting again during my vacation.

However, a lot of facts from the previous post have been clarified — or muddied — and the news, to paraphrase one of my snarkiest friends in the business, “doesn’t stop when you’re off; it goes on another three to four hours a day.”

Representative John Conyers of Michigan is awaiting a staff report before deciding whether or not to formally challenge Ohio’s electoral votes a week from tomorrow. Ted Kalo, the Minority General Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee, advises us by email that Conyers “is waiting until all the facts are in,” but notes that Representative Maxine Walters of Los Angeles has already spoken publicly about her willingness to be the house signatory on the challenge. Whether or not there’s a senator willing to do the same is still an open question.

Mr. Kalo also points out details that make the recount situation in Hocking County, Ohio, seem far less closed than the County’s Assistant Prosecutor led me to believe. I guess I’m still a little naïve on such things, but it would seem to me that in telling his story of a “comedy of errors” involving the inspection of the main vote tabulator there by a representative of the voting machine manufacturer, Triad Systems, David Sams might have been mentioned that in addition to being Assistant Prosecutor, he is also (per Mr. Kalo) the legal representative of the Hocking County Board of Elections during the recount.

I thought we had a bad jobs situation in Ohio. How come so many civil servants there have to double up?

Kalo, and the Green Party’s recount coordinator for Southeastern Ohio, Orren Whiddon, both point out that the issue in Hocking is not so much what was or wasn’t done to the machine, but the efforts of the Triad man to find out which of Hocking’s precincts was to be subjected to the mandatory 3% hand recount.

One of our producers had asked Deputy Prosecutor Sams about how the subject of the unusual inquiries was dealt with at the informal “board meeting” Sams conducted Monday. Asked why the Triad employee would’ve asked about precincts at all, Mr. Sams replied, “I don’t remember, to be honest, what he answered to that. But it was really just a comedy of errors. There was no impropriety.”

Both Mr. Kalo and Mr. Whidden spoke highly of Sams, but suggest he missed the point. The Green Party rep notes that Ohio law is specific about the 3% sample that must be hand recounted in each county: it’s supposed to be selected randomly. If the effort is made — either by an election official, or somebody else (like a manufacturer’s rep) — to decide in advance which 3% of the vote is to be recounted, the concept of random selection is thoroughly contaminated and once again, a puff of smoke rises from the entire recount process.

Mr. Whidden told me by phone this afternoon that there are a lot of puffs of smoke. “86 of Ohio’s 88 counties have pre-selected their random precincts,” he claims. Their motivations — and even Triad’s — may not be as nefarious as would appear. Ohio law states that if the 3% hand recount doesn’t match the original vote, the entire County’s vote must be recounted by hand. These County Board of Elections, especially in the smaller jurisdictions, are comprised largely of volunteers, and a full, hand recount means an incredible amount of work, which as human nature would suggest, they’d prefer to avoid.

Unfortunately, it also means that if you were trying to fix a vote in Ohio, or cover it up in a recount, you had merely to identify which precincts were least likely to be chosen (rather than randomly selected), and do your dirty work in them.

Which brings us back to Triad and what its rep was doing, trying to find out which precincts in Hocking would be recounted by hand, and offering tips to help make sure the recount matched the original vote. “Highly respected company,” Whidden notes. “Triad has a rule against corporate donations to political parties; their employees may, but they don't. Not a Diebold situation. They answer questions openly. They believe in customer service.” The problem arises when the customer service, even innocently, dovetails with the same mechanism that guarantees that the precinct selection isn’t random, and full hand recounts don’t occur.

Whidden points out how it’s supposed to be done. In one county for which he acted as a supervisor, Athens, “the board of elections took the names of each of its precincts, put them on slips of paper, put the pieces in a coffee can, and kept pulling the slips out until they had precincts that totaled to 3% of the county vote. Great, great job.”

So there’s the early picture from Ohio: the best-respected of the computer companies, Triad, tries to help one of its customers out. The customer wants to go home without doing the heavy lifting that the law requires, but which to them seems utterly academic. The process is repeated across the state. Benign intentions; potentially pernicious outcomes.

Which brings us back again Washington. There, Mr. Conyers wrote yesterday to the various chairmen, network presidents, and news division leaders at ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and the Associated Press, requesting that they release to the House Judiciary Committee “the raw exit poll data from the 2004 November presidential election you purchased from Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research.” I suppose I should have some inside information on NBC’s response, but I don’t. Responses from the other networks have thus far spoken of the need to wait for final reports to be compiled from the data — which would seem to be exactly the opposite of the point Conyers is making.

MORALLY CHALLENGED:
On the lighter side, there is this from The New York Daily News, which reports that the wonderful website thesmokinggun.com sent around 250 Christmas gifts to media outlets around New York: “O’Reilly Approved Loofahs.”

Bill Bastone, who runs the site that got more than 3.5 million hits for its posting of Andrea Mackris’s lawsuit against Bill O’Reilly, told the paper’s Lloyd Grove: “We think we’re probably the single largest client of the Massage Warehouse in Norcross, Georgia.”

You sure about that, Mr. Bastone? What about Mr. O’Reilly himself?

HISTORICALLY CHALLENGED:
Lastly, I mentioned here Tuesday that I’d been advised by one of my extremist readers that Adolf Hitler was a Left-winger; that, in fact, all fascists were.

Little did I know that this revisionist history has been a popular subtext on talk radio for several years (I stopped listening to anything Rush Limbaugh said after he came to my desk in Bristol, Connecticut about a decade ago and told me his dream was to work for ESPN — how’d that work out for him, by the way?)

I got a flood of emails pointing out that on the basis of economic policy — the original means by which “right” and “left” came into use in Europe and here — the Fascists of Italy and Germany were a little to the right of Atilla the Hun. There were also useful reminders that the Germans and Italians backed Franco in the Spanish Civil War (with American leftists coming in against them as “The Lincoln Brigade”), along with a lot of simple guffaws.

One of the loudest was provided — unintentionally — by somebody who had drunk this particular kool-aid. “You do realize the Nazis were the ‘National-Socialist German Workers’ Party,’ don’t you? How many socialists in your experience have been what you would call ‘right-wingers?’”

As I noted to my correspondent, the answer is probably contained in the following set of facts:

  • The Communist state in what was, until 1990, East Germany was officially called “The German Democratic Republic,” and it was never mistaken by anybody for a democracy.
  • The Communist behemoth in China is officially “The People’s Republic,” and it’s never been mistaken by anybody for a Republic (although if it were, its leaders would be called, by dint of pure linguistic logic, Republicans).
  • The football championship is officially called “The Super Bowl,” and when the game isn’t particularly super, they don’t go offering everybody refunds.

Comments on voting, loofahs or European history circa WWII?  Email: KOlbermann@msnbc.com.

December 21, 2004 | 9:43 a.m. ET

Time to separate the wheat from the chaff (Keith Olbermann)

SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION — I’m on vacation again.

It is at once touching and scary that I should have to explain why I’m not posting or on television on a given week. Scary, of course, because the latest Gallup Poll which closed Sunday reports that 19% of Americans believe “incidents of fraud” decided, or helped to decide, last month’s election. The most intriguing part of that number is that more than a month ago, 18% of Americans believed there was something illegitimate about the vote.

What was and wasn’t legitimate is now difficult to sort. The most, and least, credible stories of voting irregularities continue to flourish side by side on the 'Net— the natural by-product of its unedited, but unproven, nature. Time to review the various running stories to try to separate the wheat from the chaff.

1. Mr. Triad Goes to Hocking:
There doesn’t appear to have been anything illegitimate about the actions of a “manufacturer’s rep” at the Board of Elections of Hocking County, Ohio, about two weeks ago. You will recall that his unlikely appearance, comments, and ‘maintenance work’ prompted first the Green Party and then Congressman John Conyers to seek a local investigation, and a second from the FBI.

The locals moved quickly. David Sams, the Assistant Prosecutor in Hocking, happens conveniently enough to be a Countdown viewer. He met with the Board of Elections, and the Triad representative, yesterday. “There were some things that seemed ‘irregular,’ which raises the possibility of impropriety,” he told our office. “It bore looking into.” Sams said he had Triad’s man recreate what he did to the computer tabulator that so disturbed the County’s Deputy Elections Director, Sherole Eaton. “The gentleman in question took apart the computer in front of us, and our patrolman, who has worked many computer-related crimes, assessed what he did.

“He was fixing the system,” Sams continued. “Whatever happened that day, happened today. It’s a fourteen-year old computer. We had another gentleman, a local systems analyst, who verified this information for us… We were prepared to disassemble the machine and have it dissected. But we didn’t think this was necessary. The election in our county was completely proper.”

Sams is writing the whole thing off as a “comedy of errors,” saying the Triad rep’s comments had led to appropriate suspicions. Hocking County’s investigation combines with two other facts to suggest that nobody went in to “tamper” with the tabulator there before the recount. The other evidence is that: a) the woman who filed the affidavit complaining about Triad’s visit, the Democrat Sherole Eaton, has since complained that her remarks were blown up out of context, and, b) if there was wrong-doing in Hocking, the County Prosecutor’s office just made itself a very open target for conspiracy theorists, and for whatever the FBI does or doesn’t do.

But the real impact in Hocking is the simple fact that a computer technician had access to the voting equipment in violation of the Ohio Secretary of State’s controversial extension of the “canvassing period.” Simply put, according to Kenneth Blackwell, nobody should’ve been allowed to dust the machine, let alone replace a battery or parts, except under extremely controlled circumstances.

Thus the evidence of a “fix” in Hocking is almost nil. The evidence of holes in the security of the voting system big enough to drive a full-sized scandal through, is conclusive.

2. The House Judiciary Committee is investigating:

No, it isn’t.

I can’t estimate how many emails I’ve gotten insisting that what Representative Conyers is doing is a “congressional investigation.”

Mr. Conyers has thus far held two “voting forums,” one in Washington D.C., and the other in Columbus, Ohio, and may hold another after the holidays. They may be of great importance, and could serve as the basis for all manner of later investigations.

But Conyers and the other Congressmen - all Democrats - taking testimony, are meeting ad hoc. Being members of the minority, they can’t act, they can’t get legislation passed, they can’t get anything done, without the cooperation of some Republicans. And they aren’t going to get that cooperation.
Officially, the most Mr. Conyers and his colleagues can do now is to formally challenge Ohio’s slate of voters when the Electoral College balloting is opened before the joint session of Congress on January 6th. Last week, on Countdown, Conyers said he was fully prepared to do that (the Constitution requires one willing congressman and one willing Senator to put such a challenge in writing), but he would not commit to doing it himself, and has not referred to it since.

Barring the biggest of possible evidentiary surprises - something so overwhelming and conclusive that it would convince police, FBI, and the Republican Party that Ohio’s vote was fatally flawed - even a formal challenge would be, at best, a token protest.

3. The American media has a liberal bias:

I think we can pretty much put this one to bed.

The mainstream media has so tiptoed around the voting irregularities stories that it’s deflated any reasonable belief that there are swarms of reporters bypassing facts to substitute their own agendas. Instead of a circus, the Conyers “voting forums” have received tepid coverage.

Had there been a reversal of the poles in this political equation, of course, the impenetrable Sean Hannity would be in his 49th consecutive day of broadcasting without sleep, and by now would’ve already announced that Democrats from Outer Space had stolen the election.

4. Affidavits are smoking guns:

As we may have seen in the Sherole Eaton case in Ohio, a sworn deposition can be less than it seems.

I have been sent countless links and updates - including one to a Florida weekly newspaper called The Seminole Chronicle— noting the affidavit of a former computer programmer named Clint Curtis. He insists that in September, 2000, a then state representative (now Congressman) named Tom Feeney asked him to write software that would enable the altering of vote totals on touch-screen machines.

I’ve refrained from reporting any of this here because there are a lot of questions about the nature of the interactions between Mr. Curtis and Congressman Feeney. But at my request, a very reliable member of the NBC News Investigative Unit tracked down some of the headlines, and we also spoke to Congressman Feeney. Given that the story has hit the newspapers, even in a small way, it’s now appropriate to report what we’ve learned.

Firstly, the attorney for the firm for whom Mr. Curtis worked at the time of the purported skullduggery request, Yang Enterprises of Oviedo, Florida, insists that the company has never sold any voting software. Its lawyer claims Curtis has previously threatened the firm and its top officers, in writing, and that they were sufficiently concerned to file a police report as a result. Though the term “disgruntled employee” is too easily thrown around (I can attest to that), if somebody has put it in writing, it’s a tough climb back to full credibility.

There are also a couple of logical disconnects contained in Curtis’s story. As our investigator notes, if Curtis is correct, Feeney made an illegal request to a group of employees who might have tacitly committed a felony just by listening to it and not reporting it to authorities. Additionally, Curtis made no reference to any of this until he had left Yang’s employ, and by the time he did tell anybody, it was four years after the fact.

For his part, Congressman Feeney answered seven questions from one of our producers and in six of them made gentle hints about reporters getting legal counsel before they ran with the story (this was before the Florida paper ran what it did— one wonders what things are like in their office this week). In short, Feeney says he doesn’t remember meeting Mr. Curtis; that his only connection to Yang Enterprises was as an attorney prior to 2002; that because Mr. Curtis had “slandered and defamed a lot of people” he would not reply to specific questions, only general ones; and that as to the story on the whole, “I’m very amused by it. I wish I had some of the power that he suggests.”

5. Republicans are invulnerable:

Even before the President’s second term has begun, this too has been disproved. He and his administration are already under attack— by their own party.

The Senate backlash against Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was so rapid, and the Congressional balk at the Intelligence Reform Act so intransigent, that it seems as if enough Republicans to make a difference saw Mr. Bush as not much more than a coat-tail to ride. From listening to their complaints, it’s hard to know if more Republican legislators think him too conservative, or too liberal. Regardless, it appears that they feel that the only Republican mandate in Washington belongs to them, not him. The assumption is that they want Mr. Rumsfeld out and will get their way— if not immediately, then within, as Trent Lott suggested, the year.

Poor Rumsfeld isn’t helping his case much. While the Pentagon was happy to seize upon the Chattanooga reporter’s confession that he spoon-fed a soldier the question about the lack of vehicle armor in Kuwait and Iraq, the soldier himself is contradicting that account. Time magazine quotes Specialist Thomas Wilson as saying that Lee Pitts of the Chattanooga Times Free Press not only didn’t give him the question, he tried to talk Wilson into finding “a less brash way of asking the question.” Wilson even said “I hope I didn’t do any damage to Secretary Rumsfeld.”

No need to worry there— he’s doing it to himself. The issue of vehicle armor may resonate with the average American; the subject of form letters to grieving service families will probably make him see red. The revelation that the Secretary’s condolence letters to the families of fallen U.S. service personnel were signed by an auto-pen device (and the lame excuse that the method was used in consideration of Rumsfeld’s heavy travel schedule - as if the letters could not be sent with him and signed in transit) will probably prove the end of his career.

Then, of course, there are the Bernard Kerik follies. Either the White House vetted him with all the thoroughness with which a hot dog consumer vets the meat, or it thought it could slip him past public scrutiny. Thus its failure on Kerik simplifies into a fielder’s choice: either the extraordinary contortions our society has been asked to perform since 9/11 can’t catch the most obvious of transgressors, or the Administration isn’t spending enough time in the good-old Reality-Based World.

6. Fascists are Leftists:

I have to throw this in somewhere. As noted previously, I am periodically harangued by a handful of official right-wing nuts.

They are remarkably entertaining - like listening to Ann Coulter, only without the audio accompaniment of her shrill whistle of hate - but one of them got me genuinely angry the other day, and made me doubt the value of our educational system.

This one fellow’s email contained a reference to Fascism being a leftist doctrine. I actually had to write him back to make sure he was serious. “Hitler was a left-winger. Case closed, dumbass.”

For anybody else just joining us here in the real world, here’s the story so far: the Fascists started in Italy, with Benito Mussolini. They— and the Germans that followed them - were an ultra-conservative political party that opposed (and later jailed and killed) leftists. The German ones even went to war against a Communist state, suggesting that the use of the term “Socialism” in their official party name was almost ironic in intention. American Fascists have sought to outlaw Jews, Catholics, minorities, and Republicans. Also, the sun rises in the east, and two and two still makes - even if somebody from a Blue State tells you this— four.

7. There is a media lockdown on voting irregularities:

If you’ve waded through all of this, you might be wishing that there was one - or even just a maximum word limit.

But since, as I was writing this, I got that Peter Coyote “Olbermann Was Fired” email again, I thought I’d better emphasize anew: I’m on vacation. We’ll be back with the Countdown year-in-review show Friday night, and regular newscasts on the 27th. I probably won’t be blogging again before next week.

If you really want to worry about vacations, keep track of the days taken off by our crack line producer Greg Kordick. As diligent a fellow as there is, Greg tends to take off long weekends rather than full weeks.

And this year, on his days off, the following people have died: Ray Charles, Rick James, President Reagan, Rodney Dangerfield, Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, and Faye Wray. The jury in the Scott Peterson case came back on one of his days off, and returned its sentence on another one.

The rest of the staff tends to huddle in the corner whenever Greg’s on vacation.

Happy Holidays…

E-mail us KOlbermann@MSNBC.com.

Tune in to a special 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann,' as K.O. counts down his favorite things of 2004. The show airs Friday, 8 p.m. ET

Click here to check out a special video gallery of our favorite videos of the year.

December 15, 2004 | 11:07 p.m. ET

Conyers "prepared" to contest Ohio Electoral Vote (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK - The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee told us tonight on Countdown that he and others in Congress are considering formally challenging the slate of electors who cast Ohio’s votes, when those votes are opened and counted before a joint session of Congress on January 6th.

“We’re prepared to do that,” Conyers said. “And we understand the law as well as you.” After the on-air interview ended, the Michigan representative added that he and his colleagues had not yet decided whether or not to take the extraordinary constitutional step, and he had not sought the support of a Senator who would have to co-sign the challenge.

The constitution provides the challenge process for the eventuality that a given state’s popular vote is determined to have been compromised after that state has certified the vote, and its members of the Electoral College have cast their ballots for a presidential candidate. Such a challenge needs to be in written form, signed by one member of the Senate, and one member of the House. Upon its presentation, the joint vote-counting session would be adjourned, and the Senate and House separately vote, by simple majority, whether to accept the challenge, or let that state’s electoral votes stand as cast.

Conyers also rebuffed criticism that his “voting forums” in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio, had included formal participation only by Democratic congressmen and politicians. “The fact that Republicans didn’t join us isn’t our problem, it’s their fault.” Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio last week announced plans to conduct an investigation into the 2004 vote under his auspices as Chairman of the House Administration Committee.

Conyers said he had not yet received a reply to his request to the Cincinnati field office of the FBI and the office of the Hocking County, Ohio, Prosecutor, to begin an investigation into the allegations that a vote-tabulating machine there was manipulated there last Friday, contrary to the statewide instructions of Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell that no ballots or vote-counting equipment be inspected except in the presence of bi-partisan observers of that state’s recount.

He said he “didn’t know” if the explanation offered by the president of Triad, the manufacturer of the tabulator, that his employee merely conducted maintenance on the machine, was valid. But he did note that the source of the allegations, Hocking County Deputy Director of Elections Sherole Eaton, has “given a sworn affidavit. The president of the company hasn’t.”

E-mail me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com

December 15, 2004 | 4:06 p.m. ET

Conyers: "Maintenance" violates state and federal laws (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS— Congressman John Conyers' request that the FBI investigates the actions of a voting equipment manufacturer in Hocking County, Ohio last week, includes the assertion that those actions may have violated two federal laws, and as many as four state statutes.

Conyers, who will appear live on tonight's edition of "Countdown," notes in his letter to the FBI (and the Hocking County Prosecutor), that "for a period of 22 months from the date of a federal election... it (is) a felony for any person to 'willfully steal, destroy, conceal, mutilate, or alter' any such record."

The Michigan representative also wrote that under Ohio law, "during a period of official canvassing, all interaction with ballots must be 'in the presence of all of the members of the board and any other persons who are entitled to witness the official canvass'." Conyers notes that just last week, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell had declared that the so-called "canvassing period," which usually expires ten days after an election, had been extended to cover the period of the Ohio recount.

Conyers' office indicated there had not yet been a response from the FBI field office in Cincinnati, nor from the Hocking County Prosecutor's Office.

December 15, 2004 | 10:29 a.m. ET

Conyers and cautions (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK— At least this should put a spike through the still-rampant rumor that the mainstream media is “locked down” and not reporting anything of the investigation into the apparent Ohio voting irregularities.

It is not a banner headline; in fact, it is but nine paragraphs. But those nine paragraphs are in this morning’s editions of The New York Times.

Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, the newspaper reports, will today ask the FBI and a county prosecutor in Ohio to investigate what he has termed “inappropriate and likely illegal election tampering” in one or more counties in that state.

And beginning on the front page of this morning’s Washington Post , there cascades down upon the reader no less than 41 paragraphs, told soberly and without much evident partisanship, reciting the litany of Ohio screw-ups that led that newspaper to invoke the headline “Several Factors Contributed to ‘Lost’ Voters in Ohio.”

Conyers’ invoking of the FBI doesn’t even make it into The Post’s pages, probably because The Times makes it clear that Conyers shared his letter of request to the Bureau and Ohio prosecutors with them. Ironically, that letter apparently focuses on a reported irregularity not in the November 2 vote per se, but in the days preceding the recount. As The Times notes, Conyers’ inquiry rests primarily on a sworn affidavit by the deputy director of elections of Hocking County, Ohio, the Democrat Sherole Eaton.

Ms. Eaton’s story has been circulating around the Internet for days, and was presented to Conyers at the first stop of his “Voting Forum” road tour in Columbus on Monday, to his apparent shock and awe. Her affidavit contends that last Friday, in advance of the recount, a representative of the manufacturer of the vote-counting software used in her county’s vote November 2, made several adjustments to the Hocking County tabulator.

The employee of Triad Governmental Systems then asked, according to Ms. Eaton’s statement, which of Hocking’s voting precincts would be selected as the “sample” for the small hand-count required in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. She claims that when informed, the Triad man, as the Times’ Tom Zeller put it, “made further adjustments to the machine.”

The Times quotes Conyers as saying “This is pretty outrageous. We want to pursue it as vigorously as we can.” But the reporter also reached the president of the Triad company, Brett Rapp, who calmly welcomed any investigation, and added that, in correspondent Zeller’s words, “preparing the machines for a recount was standard procedure and was done in all 41 counties where Triad handles votes,” insomuch as the company not only supplies the tabulating software, but is also contractually obligated to maintain it. Mr. Rapp did acknowledge to the newspaper that it would be atypical for an employee to have asked about a specific voting precinct.

As it proved, Hocking County election officials chose a precinct different than the one purportedly mentioned to the Triad representative, from which to gather the three percent of a county’s ballots that must be counted by hand under Ohio’s recount laws. They also found nothing amiss that would trigger a full hand recount for the entire county.

John Conyers is clearly not a tin-foil-hatter. His description of the response to the request he and a small number of other Democratic congressmen made of the Government Accountability Office for an Ohio investigation was, however, a little fulsome. At the time of the GAO’s answer, Conyers presented it as a full-blown victory for transparent government. The actual letter from the GAO read much more like tepid boilerplate language.

There is also the matter of the inviolability of the affidavit as a truth-telling mechanism. Without characterizing that to which Hocking County’s Ms. Eaton swore, while all states equate filing a false affidavit with perjury, prosecutions are spotty, and thus the risk of straying from the truth probably carries less weight than it would at first blush appear to the layman. One need only remember the flurry of paperwork that accompanied last summer’s Swift Boat advertisements and book— and in particular the one Vietnam vet who changed his story faster than a sportswriter providing a running round-by-round description of a championship boxing match— to recall that today’s absolute truth can be followed by a statement like “I probably shouldn’t have signed that.”

Nevertheless, if the FBI, or Ohio prosecutors, actually do accede to Conyers’ request, the Eaton affidavit will loom very large, and she will presumably be asked to repeat her statements to the Bureau, or to the local investigators, with the threat of stronger penalties attached.

It is the appropriate place here to clarify something about the Conyers forums, both in Washington last week, and in Columbus two days ago. They have been characterized by many on the web as “Congress Investigates Ohio,” but this exaggerates both the scope and the formality. One reader even asserted to me that a “majority of the House Judiciary Committee” was “conducting hearings.” In fact, Conyers and several of his House colleagues, some on Judiciary, some not, are meeting ad hoc without nearly all of the powers a true congressional or senatorial committee could muster. There are no subpoenas to be issued, very little budget, and not even the hint of the statutory bipartisanship that a bona fide committee or subcommittee would bring with it. In short, Congress isn’t investigating the Ohio vote or even these latest allegations about the recount— Congressman Conyers and several of his Democratic cohorts are taking testimony in informal hearings.

Nonetheless, Mr. Conyers has succeeded in dragging parts of the voting story into the mainstream: the GAO, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and possibly the FBI. This underscores a point I made here some time ago: that what was understandably misinterpreted as a "media lockdown" is much more likely to have been media passivity. Senator Kerry conceded, therefore Ohio couldn’t change the election, therefore reporters go elsewhere. Many political reporters respond to accusations by one party against the other— the ‘Theysaidthat’ factor— and tend not to awaken unless they see both dogs growling.

Throw the Senior Democrat on Judiciary, and Jesse Jackson, and the letters “FBI” into the mix— and presto, you get mainstream media attention.

Incidentally, Conyers has also again exchanged letters with Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and would appear to have once more gotten the public relations edge on him. After Conyers’ “36 Questions” letter of December 2, he said yesterday that he had received a reply from Blackwell in which the Secretary refused to answer any of the questions, and (according to Conyers), made the rather baroque claim that he couldn’t be cooperative with the GAO and members of Congress at the same time.

As Newsweek’s Howard Fineman noted on Countdown Monday night, Secretary Blackwell sure isn’t doing a good job of convincing people that the puffs of smoke rising from the election he supervised came only from overheating voting machines.

Thoughts? E-mail KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

December 13, 2004 | 7:37 p.m. ET

Xenia-phobia (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS - If the subject weren’t so serious, the clunky maneuverings of John Kerry and Kenneth Blackwell would make for a nice modernized version of the Keystone Kops, or maybe Gilbert & Sullivan.

It’s hard to tell which of them is doing the worse job convincing anybody that there’s nothing to see here — keep moving — pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Here is Kerry, insisting he is not invested in the outcome of an Ohio recount, asking through his lawyers to inspect the 92,000 ballots that contain no vote for president. And, through his interactions with Jesse Jackson and John Conyers, connecting into the Alliance for Democracy lawsuit to overturn or freeze the Ohio Electoral count, and into the assessment that Blackwell’s behavior “appears to violate Ohio law.”

And here is Blackwell, having insisted on 'Countdown' that there would be a re-count and his office would take no steps to prevent it, stepping on his own feet in Xenia, Ohio. Last Friday, Greene County election officials there tossed out two Green Party observers who had been given access to the examine the voting records there, attributing their actions to Blackwell’s directives that the so-called ‘canvassing period’ which follows every election be extended from ten days to more than a month because of the fact of the recount. Those county records, Blackwell’s people reasoned, needed to be sealed and handled with the “utmost care” until the recount was completed.

Just to round out the absurdity, those same two Greens returned to the Election Board building in Greene County (and what script editor would’ve permitted that coincidence?) on Saturday morning to find, they say, the facility unlocked, and all those ‘sealed’ voting machines and records out in the open where any passing vandal or political memorabilia junkie could’ve walked off with them (heck, I own two Broward County 2000 Voting Machines, if anybody would like to do a private recount). Greene County responded by insisting that while it was true that someone appears to have left the building unlocked, overnight, on Friday, and that nobody locked it up until Saturday afternoon, the other stuff — about the machines and records being unprotected — wasn’t true; they were inside locked rooms.

Well, that’s all right, then.

My MSNBC colleague and Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman shares my amazement at the Inspector Clouseaus of the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. If there’s nothing wrong in Ohio, it sure won’t be because Secretary Blackwell didn’t try to make it look like there was.

“I think that Ken Blackwell and his people have behaved in a duck-and-cover mode a la Florida, even before Election Day,” Howard said in a conversation before his appearance on tonight’s edition of 'Countdown'. “By extending the ‘canvassing period’ until now, they make it look as though they have something to hide. They’re supposedly doing it in the name of security, but you can’t do that if you’re leaving the doors unlocked.”

Fineman suggests Blackwell’s personal pique at having had his reputation sullied in the last month — and the month before it — is also a factor. “The Secretary of State’s office hasn’t been doing such a great job because he’s been testy and impatient about the whole affair.”

It took us several phone calls today to get any explanation out of Secretary Blackwell’s office as to the events in Xenia. Carlo LoParo, the Secretary’s Press Secretary, finally came through just before dinner time. “When a county board of elections receives a formal request for a recount,” he said on Blackwell’s behalf, “all ballots, poll books and lists must be sealed to protect the record. Those documents can only be accessed in the presence of all parties involved in the recount through bi-partisan election officials — at least one Democrat and one Republican.”

In other words, the Greens’ observers were kicked out because they were neither Democrat nor Republican, even though the recount is being sponsored by, and funded by, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans.

The answer was a far cry from the seemingly genial exchange I had with Secretary Blackwell on November 29th’s Countdown:

KO: “As it plays into the recount, though, sir, are you saying that your office does not anticipate taking any steps to try to prevent a recount in Ohio?”

KB:  “No, we haven‘t.  We‘ve told the two officials candidates that have-the candidates that have asked for a recount that, once we certify on December 6, they have five days to certify, I mean, to ask for a recount.  Once they ask for a recount, we will provide them with a recount.  And that‘s what I‘ve said from the very first indication that they were interested in a recount.  Once it was established that they were statewide candidates withstanding, our law says that they can ask for a recount.  We will regard this as yet another audit of the voting process.”

Smoke — plenty of it. And little obvious means of telling whether it’s the smoke of a flawed election, or the stuff set ablaze by Ohio officials falling into the fireplace during their desperate, petulant, failing struggle to make themselves look good.

The problem, of course, is that those positing an Electoral College freeze, or a formal Congressional Challenge to Ohio’s Electors on January 6, are generating nearly as much smoke. Kerry’s attorney’s letter to the 88 County boards not only asks to see the 92,000 “undervotes,” but also, to permit independent examination of “the programming and calibration of the tabulating system, scanners, and electronic voting machines verified by independent experts.”

The problem — as Howard Fineman puts it — is that even acknowledging the delicate position Kerry finds himself in, and the easy target he would make himself by openly investing in an Ohio recount/investigation/protest, this all still smacks of “I didn’t care about the recount before I started caring about it.” Howard continues: “If Kerry and his lawyer really thought there was real mischief going on, they should have had all their guns out there investigating what happened in Ohio and they should have been strong and vocal.”

Fineman also reminds us that it is noteworthy that, with the voting machine disparities and the potential disenfranchisement in urban communities so superbly documented over the weekend by The Columbus Dispatch, this is a minority voting rights issue, and Kerry needs to play it perfectly. “It’s not insignificant,” Howard said, “that the Ohio Secretary of State, Representative Conyers, and Jesse Jackson are all black politicians who are caught in this power struggle.”

The irony of all this smoke is that the day’s only practical election news came not from Columbus, but from St. Paul. There, one of Minnesota’s ten electors presumably messed up big time and voted not for John Kerry, but for John Edwards. So — the Electoral College vote will change — now it’ll be Bush 286, Kerry 251, Edwards 1.

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com

December 9, 2004 | 12:54 p.m. ET

Reporter behind Rumsfeld grilling (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK - An embedded reporter from the Chattanooga Times Free Press is claiming credit for the blunt questioning yesterday of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by American soldiers in Kuwait.

In an e-mail to an unidentified colleague at the newspaper, Edward Lee Pitts — traveling with a Tennessee National Guard Unit — said that when a scheduling delay permitted him to attend Rumsfeld’s visit with 2,300 troops, he learned that only soldiers could quiz the Secretary. “So,” Pitts writes, “I brought two of them along with me as my escorts. Before hand we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.”

A copy of Pitts’ e-mail to his Chattanooga colleague is posted on Jim Romenesko’s media blog at the Poynter Institute website.  Pitts has a copyrighted piece on the Rumsfeld grilling, headlined “Dispatch Kuwait: ‘Hillbilly armor’ for 278th,” in today’s edition of the Times Free Press.

His e-mail goes on to claim that he even helped ensure that two of the members of the 278th Regimental Combat team got to ask what can only be described as their and his questions. “While waiting for the VIP (Rumsfeld),” Pitts writes, “I went and found the Sgt. In charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.

“One of my guys,” Pitts writes, “was the second person called on.” That would’ve been Army Specialist Thomas Wilson, whose question provoked first several seconds of silence, and then thunderous applause and cheering from the troops. Wilson asked: “We've had troops in Iraq for coming up on for three years and we've all been staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local land fills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles, and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?"

Wilson appeared to be reading his question from a small piece of paper in his hand.

Pitts did not identify the second questioner he claims to have prompted, although additional pointed queries of Rumsfeld focused on the military’s controversial “Stop-Loss” policy, and the purported disparity between the quality of equipment assigned to active-duty units, and guard and reserve units. It is noteworthy that Pitts claimed only two of the three most searing questions were, in essence, his plants — the third presumably arose organically.

In the e-mail Pitts insisted this wasn’t merely a clever journalistic strategy. “I have been trying to get this story out for weeks — as soon as I found out I would be on an unarmored truck — and my paper published two stories on it. But it felt good to hand it off to the national press. I believe lives are at stake with so many soldiers going across the border (to Iraq) riding with scrap metal as protection. It may be to (sic) late for the unit I am with, but hopefully not for those who come after.”

If Pitts’ account is correct, he certainly got the attention for the story that he sought. Yesterday, the Pentagon had to applaud the soldiers who questioned Rumsfeld. This morning, the President echoed that endorsement. And the Defense Department had scheduled an early afternoon briefing on the subject of armoring U.S. troop vehicles in Iraq.

Pitts had opened his e-mail to his colleague with a cogent observation: “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today.”

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com

December 8, 2004 | 11:05 p.m. ET

Town halls in Washington and Kuwait (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK - For all the testimony, for all the verification provided that the names on the internet(s) belong to real people with real hairstyles, the key moment in Wednesday’s voting irregularities forum on Capitol Hill probably came during a colloquy between two of the Congressmen.

Jesse Jackson, Jr., of Illinois, turned to the chair of the ad hoc committee, John Conyers, of Michigan, and said “if the votes are not tallied in the state of Ohio by the appropriate time, is there any thought being given that the committee might consider an objection to the proceeding of the Ohio Electors until such time (as they are tallied)?”

Conyers replied, extending each word to about eleven syllables: “We are now.”

These were deep waters, and in an interview with Countdown’s Monica Novotny right after the forum closed, Conyers backed quite a bit away from the river’s edge. He said “We will wait for someone else,” in preference to drawing congress into a legal battle.

And a battle it would be, because the congressionalese Jackson and Conyers were using, translates roughly as this:

Jackson (translated): The Constitution says the states have to tally the votes of their citizens before they can send their electors to the Electoral College. If Ohio doesn’t finish its recount before the College votes, or before the vote is unsealed before Congress on January 6th, shouldn’t one of us raise a formal objection to those Ohio electors’ votes?

Conyers (translated): After what I heard today, we ought to talk about it.

You may recall that on the November 9th Countdown, law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, a constitutional expert, told us that though the Electoral College votes next Monday, there is a subsequent window, and a process, for challenging whether voters from a state, pledged to one candidate and not the other, should be allowed to vote.

“If there are controversies,” Professor Turley reminded me, “such as some disclosure that a state actually went for Kerry (instead of Bush), there is the ability of members of Congress to challenge. It requires a written objection from one House member and one senator.”

Once that objection is raised, the joint meeting of the two houses, convened to formally count the Electoral College votes and certify the winner of the presidential election, would be immediately discontinued. “Then both Houses separate again and they vote by majority vote as to whether to accept the slate of electoral votes from that state.”

What Jackson was asking Conyers was whether or not the Congressmen who were at the voting forum should consider invoking that challenge. The threat was raised in 2000, but Al Gore insisted no Democratic representative or senator should wield the cudgel. It last came up in the 1876 mess and it is not a pleasant thing - the wackier of the politically active of the day started to wonder aloud about rebellion.

But despite Conyers’ back-pedaling in the subsequent interview, Congressman Jackson’s question raises an essential point. If the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who convened the forum seriously believe something went astray in Ohio - even something entirely attributable to static cling in the computers - they should put some of their political capital where their mouths are.

These minority members, who now say they are headed to Ohio to conduct field hearings to listen directly to the grievances of voters there, have provided an invaluable service in forcing at least part of the mainstream to provide a platform for the 20% or more of the citizenry who suspect error or subterfuge.

But to stop there is to subject themselves to accusations of political cowardice and grandstanding. If, in Ohio, or in the calculations of the academics, or in subsequent developments, they conclude there is reasonable evidence that the vote there was rotten - merely accidentally so - one of them in the House and one of them in the Senate should stand up and produce that written challenge to the Ohio electors’ credibility.

As Jonathan Turley suggested - and logic confirms - for the formal challenge to get anything but token support in the Senate and the House, there would have to be overpowering, dramatic, conclusive, evidence to suggest not merely a sour vote but one so screwed up that it could produce a different outcome. And the likelihood of such evidence turning up in the next month is infinitesimally small.

But the challenge itself, even if it garnered exactly one vote each from the Senate and House, would be a powerful protest, and an earnest signal that a full investigation of what happened in Ohio should take place, even after the inauguration. It could even be relevant, legally, in terms of the impounding of voting machines and records, to serve as the basis for some later examination to determine what, if anything, failed - and how it could be prevented from failing again.

There is no question it would be a short-term political liability - even a fatality - to the Representative and Senator who signed it. But, especially with that realization, it would not be an act of partisanship, but of patriotism.

You know - like those soldiers in Kuwait Wednesday morning who gave Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld the shock of his life by asking him searing questions about how the troops in, and on their way to, Iraq, are supplied - or not supplied.

Whether you support the war in Iraq or have protested against it, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you are a Veteran, or a Conscientious Objector, it was an appalling image presented by Army Specialist Thomas Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team: “We've had troops in Iraq coming up on three years and we've all been staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local land fills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles, and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?"

For the record, the media got a hold of Specialist Wilson's former wife. She says that she and her ex-husband both voted for President Bush and that they support him "100 percent." She also said Wilson would’ve asked the same question if the president had been standing there instead of Mr. Rumsfeld.

And she didn't like the reply he got. Quoting her: "Rumsfeld's answer seemed like he was sidestepping around the question. If there is something lacking, perhaps that is why our death toll is climbing."

U.S. service men and women are constantly in harm’s way - 1,000 of them now dead in action in Iraq, and another 10,000 injured as of Tuesday night - and they have to scrounge through the garbage to find materials with which to try to keep themselves in one piece. I don’t know whether to weep, or punch somebody.

The same story about insufficient armor, has previously been a campaign issue, a subject that brought up charges of inadequate patriotism in both political directions, and an urban legend. But to hear the men and women at the front hit the Secretary of Defense over the head with it, was an extraordinary moment.

Too extraordinary for one viewer, a veteran, who suggested that the “Town Hall” format in which superior officers or non-military figures open the floor to questions from the grunts, invariably comes with exhaustive preparation, even rehearsal. The viewer wondered if it was possible that the commanders on the ground at that camp in Kuwait could not have known those were the types of questions that were coming - and might’ve thought that was a particularly useful thing for the Secretary, the media, and the public, to hear.

A little too neatly planned of a theory for my tastes. But regardless, retired General Barry McCaffrey was on the show tonight and he agreed with me: The soldiers who broached those questions weren’t complainers or politically motivated. They were Patriots.

It was an eloquent and conclusive argument that dissent is not dangerous to democracy - it is its lifeblood.

What do you think?  Email me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com

December 6, 2004 | 7:25 p.m. ET

Certified and/or certifiable (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS - Exactly one month to the day before Congress will open the votes of the Electoral College, the Secretary of State of Ohio certified the state’s vote this afternoon, that moment in time which separates the Re-Count Exhibition Season from the Re-Count Regular Season.

Exactly per his legally-supported schedule, Kenneth Blackwell this afternoon made the November 2 vote official. With provisionals, absentees, and corrections, it turned out to be not a 136,000 vote margin for President Bush, but rather one of 119,000.  The certification was almost immediately greeted by two protests, the prospect of a third, and the details of a fourth.

Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb today scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon in Columbus at which the re-count request from he and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik will be formalized.

Still delayed, a long, long, long-shot bid - spearheaded by attorney Cliff Arnebeck - to have an Ohio Supreme Court Justice contest the actual election — holding off making the first count official until voting irregularities are reviewed. Mr. Arnebeck told us this afternoon that it now may be Wednesday before his suit is filed.

But the protests are not just from the fringes any more. Citing the long lines, shortages of ballots, voting machine meltdowns, and spoiled ballots, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe announced his party would spend "whatever it takes" to conduct what it calls "a comprehensive investigative study" of the vote in Ohio, one to be completed some time next year.

But just as McAuliffe insisted that the study was not intended "to contest the results of the 2004 election,” a slightly different message was coming from what remains of the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Ohio. Kerry's lead electoral attorney there, Daniel Hoffheimer, echoed the McAuliffe tone, noting "neither the pending Ohio recount nor this investigation is designed to challenge the popular vote in Ohio.”

But in another moment of perplexing tantalization from the Kerry camp, Hoffheimer also said, “while the election of the Bush-Cheney ticket by the Electoral College is all but certain..."

Well that’s enough to drive the remaining Kerry faithful right out of their capsules. File it next to “regardless of the outcome of this election,” and the debate over whether the campaign in Ohio should “join” or “participate in” the Glibs’ recount.

Meantime, what happens when the losing party in the election wants to investigate the election, but has no standing nor political capital to conduct actual hearings in, say, the House of Representatives? It hosts a "forum" — a  friendly little informal gathering of members of the House Judiciary Committee in the Rayburn Office Building, Wednesday morning.

John Conyers and as many as dozen of the other 15 Democrats on Judiciary, who say they want to "discuss any issues and concerns regarding the numerous voting irregularities that have been reported in Ohio during the 2004 election."

Conyers has invited a special guest — none other than Warren Mitofsky , the head of Mitofsky International, one of the two companies that conducted exit polling for the television networks. Conyers has written to Mitofsky, asking him to release any of the so-called "raw data" from November 2, the materials constituting the exit polls that fired such controversy, particularly on the internet, and show up to Wednesday's little gathering.

Conyers' office told us Mr. Mitofsky has yet to R.S.V.P.

Interestingly, in the letter to Mitofsky, Conyers is not at all informal. He says Mitofsky can best serve truth right now “by testifying at a hearing we will be holding…”

If you’d like somebody to testify on behalf of the proposition that you’re not nuts for reading about, nor asking, questions, try the Public Editor’s column in Sunday’s edition of the Portland paper, The Oregonian. There, Mike Arrietta-Walden says the foremost complaint received from readers, is about his newspaper’s spotty coverage of voting irregularities. It’s very possible that a lot of the reader feedback was encouraged by websites, but that’s par for the course, as Mediaweek’s piece on the number of Brent Bozell-generated form letters received by the Federal Communications Commission.

What matters most, perhaps, is that while Arrietta-Walden notes the geographical distance between Portland and most of the election hot spots dictated the paper would have to rely on wire services, he still sees his newspaper (and others) as asleep at the switch: “That coverage, especially from national newspapers, has not been extensive and deep, but The Oregonian hasn't taken full advantage of what coverage there was. The lukewarm interest shown by many newspapers partly stems from the fact that leaders of the Kerry campaign and experts with several nonpartisan election watchdogs have repeatedly said that the errors detected would not amount to a reversal of the election. Journalists have moved on to other, pressing stories of the day.”

Arrietta-Walden is also cautionary about the wisdom of letting the blogs drive the net. He didn’t mention Wayne Madsen by name, but he might well have.

When Mr. Madsen’s internet piece positing a $29,000,000 payoff to “fix” the election made the rounds, I wrote here that the journalism didn’t live up to many minimum standards, and the logic, even fewer (somebody promised to pay off people to rig the election computers, gave at least some of them the full history of how the money was to be laundered — and then didn’t ante up?).

Mr. Madsen followed up with another piece in which he claimed to have an actual copy of the check. A single election-fixing check for $29.6 million. One-stop shopping for the political scandal of the millennium.

Now, he is back with an even longer, more intricate story that drags in NASA, Lockheed Martin, Brazilian computer maintenance technicians, Nigerian scammers, and a reputed affidavit that fingers a Florida congressman.

The problem is that the amazing check for $29.6 million, whose authenticity was the cornerstone of Madsen’s first two stories, not only turns out to be a fraud, but now, its fraudulence becomes one of the cornerstone’s of Madsen’s newest story. As he told the Pacifica radio station (KPFT) in Houston Sunday, “Yeah, it turns out that the $29 million check, although a valuable clue, was a fake. But it looks like the people who released the check did so as a way to say ‘hey, look here, don’t look at the check, look who’s behind it, look around it, follow the money that these people have been involved with…’”

Once again, if any part of Mr. Madsen’s writing on the election is proved and valid, I’ll not only repeat my offer to pay his way for him to pick up his Pulitzer Prize — I’ll physically carry him there myself. There could very well be facts — even important facts — hiding in there somewhere.

But to turn on a dime and write that a document is real, and hard evidence of a crime, and then come back and admit that it’s fake, but still hard evidence of a crime, is an intellectual leap of faith worthy of Evel Knievel. It violates every precept of good journalism, to say nothing of good investigation. I won’t even ask about logic.

Shoot e-mail to KOlbermann@msnbc.com


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