February 20, 2005 | 7:52 p.m. ET

Separating the Gannons from the Guckerts (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK—So, the artist formerly known as Jeff Gannon is considering suing everybody.

Well, this will separate the Gannons from the Guckerts.

Gannon told Newsweekthat he is contemplating “suing liberal interest groups, bloggers, and others,” for what he termed “political assassination.” Don’t see that in the statutes anywhere.

He is presumably pondering some sort of libel action, or perhaps he harbors some vague hope of proving invasion of privacy. This would, of course, require that what’s been said about him isn’t true (though he hasn’t denied it), and was maliciously published or broadcast by people who knew it wasn’t true or made no effort to confirm or refute it. Of course, he had told Editor & Publisher last week that he would no longer talk to the media, then followed that up five days later by a complaint to the same magazine that nobody was trying to contact him (and in the same interview denied he was giving an interview with CNN, an interview which he taped about an hour later).

There certainly do seem to be enough personality elements floating around in there to constitute two separate fellows. Neither of them seems to know a lot about the media, or about communications law.

Guckert/Gannon’s interview with CNN Friday reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of both - to say nothing of time. Asked if he was using a pseudonym because he was hiding his past, he again insisted that it was simply an issue of having a last name that was difficult for others to pronounce or remember.

Ahem. I have a slight speech impediment— something of that Brokavian “L” problem. I have trouble pronouncing my own name. I started in broadcasting when disc jockeys often changed their names because the station they were working at happened to have an old jingle that mentioned somebody else’s name (“Dan! Taylor!”), so they simply started using that name. I began when ethnic or regional qualities of any sort were discouraged on the air - when accents were trained away and consonant-laden last names simplified. I never once seriously considered changing my own name. I don’t think I’ve suffered professionally (and neither has Christiane Amanpour, Greta Van Susteren, Wolf Blitzer, or Rush Limbaugh).

But back to the point. “I have made mistakes in my past. And these are all of a very personal and private nature,” he told CNN. “Why should my past prevent me from having a future?”

Past.

The website AmericaBlog reported that one of Mr. Guckert/Gannon’s profiles on an escort-themed website was still “active” earlier this month. Exactly when does the past become the future? When you get caught having one? Presumably the rule of thumb for all of us is this: one needs to at least take the naked pictures of one’s self off a Website before complaining about an invasion of one’s “past.”  We’re not talking mistakes made during the Vietnam War here. Some of these mistakes are more recent than Eason Jordan’s remarks in Switzerland.

“The effect of this,” Guckert/Gannon opined to CNN, “has been that we seem to have established a new standard for journalists in this country, where if someone disagrees with you, then your personal life, your private life, and anything you have ever done in the past is going to be brought up for public inspection.” How about asking Mr. Jordan that question? When he left his marriage to take up with Daniel Pearl’s widow, it was in The Washington Post. His ex-wife was called at home for quotes, for God’s sake. Just last week, The New York Daily News reported Jordan was dating Sharon Stone (whose marriage to, divorce of, and attendance at the Kimodo Dragon attack against, Phil Bronstein of The San Francisco Chronicle, were all widely covered). Several local and national female television news figures have gotten extensive attention - little of it positive - for posing provocatively for magazines or even at obscure wet t-shirt contests. I’ve had details of dates published as long ago as 1996, and three years ago The New York Post breathlessly reported that I’d gone to a New York Mets game and worn short pants in the press box - a summertime event slightly less frequent than the sun rising. “My life,” Guckert/Gannon concluded, “has been turned inside out and upside down.”

Take a number, Scooter.

Then there’s this business of not being given a chance to respond to news stories. Guckert/Gannon complained specifically to Editor & Publisher of how Chris Matthews had Pat Buchanan on Hardball to comment. I can’t testify to what efforts Chris’s people made to get Guckert/Gannon on the air. I do know that since this whole thing started, my tiny staff at Countdown has made half a dozen efforts to get him on the program, or at least get his comments. I’ve seen at least two of his e-mailed refusals, and even quoted one on the air.

It seems what he’s looking for— and maybe what he’s considering suing over— is that nobody will just let him get up on a soapbox without being asked any questions. I guess he got kind of used to that in the White House press briefing room.

But perhaps at its base, Guckert/Gannon’s litigious threat is most important because it again underscores how we have become— as I’ve mentioned here before—the nation of the persecuted. The only group of people I haven’t seen whining non-stop about how the deck is stacked against them is the media. We get whacked from both sides, hourly (look: whatever the truth is, it just cannot be that we are all Liberal Bastards hunting Conservatives and subservient toadies suppressing the ‘real news’ on behalf of the White House and the Elite). But the odd thing about all those supposed victims of the Internet— Jordan, Dan Rather, even John Fund— is that I can’t recall hearing any of them insisting their conduct wasn’t fair game.

“I can’t speak to the White House vetting process,” Guckert/Gannon told CNN in the only answer he gave that even bordered on being substantive. “I suppose that they don’t - they aren’t interested in reporters’ sexual history either.” This would come as a surprise to the ABC producer/reporter in Iraq who was outed by the infamous Matt Drudge (because, as Drudge told The Washington Post, “Someone in the White House communications shop tipped me to it”) as being not only gay, but Canadian.

E-mail at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

February 17, 2005 | 7:26 p.m. ET

Press pass bypass (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS— There is a guy who sits, during every game, in the press box of a major league baseball stadium. And he is issued a credential each season because it turns out the owner of the team likes the canolis that the guy makes at his bakery.

The first time he appeared, with a seat in the back row with a nameplate affixed to it, we knew he wasn’t exactly the new man from Sports Illustrated. He had a certain problem with, well, language (he said a player with a strained muscle near where his legs meet was out with a “groan injury”), and with forgetting that the proper response to an error on the field by the home team was not to stand up and start screaming at the player — nor weeping.

As soon as this gentleman arrived, the real baseball reporters questioned the team’s press representative as to who this guy was and what was he doing there. And they got some concessions out of the team— like, this man couldn't go into the clubhouses or on the field and ask questions of the players while the reporters were trying to get answers to include in their reports.

In short, ‘Groan Injury Man’ was better vetted by that ballclub than James Guckert alias Jeff Gannon was vetted by the White House press office.

Today, the key, slim, rationale for his admittance to the briefing room - that  the ‘vanity website’ for which he ‘reported,’ Talon News, was created four days before “Jeff Gannon” got his first White House pass— collapsed. It was revealed that Guckert attended his first White House press briefing no later than February 2003. "Talon News" would not be launched until the late the following month.

It was a bad enough that somebody let in a guy with no media experience, an alias, and a background as an on-line escort — but why did they let him in if he wasn't even pretending to represent a news organization of any kind? We saw videotape tape of Guckert/Gannon, peeking out from behind reporters, at the White House briefing on February 28th, 2003 — so long ago, that Ari Fleischer was still President Bush's press secretary.  It was so unlikely that — as first reported today on the Website Salon— Guckert, under his pseudonym Gannon, "boasted on-line" at a chat room called “Winds Of Change” about asking Fleischer a question at that briefing (the return address that pops up when you scroll over his comment is www.gopusa.com).
      
In the context of the time— remember, Gannon’s status as shill began three weeks before the bombing commenced in Iraq— his question bordered on the unbelievable. The news conference was all about Resolution 1441, and votes at the U.N., and destruction of al-Samoud missiles in Iraq. But Guckert asked: “There have been reports out of Maine that the children of deployed service personnel are being harassed as a result of their elementary school teacher's expression of anti-war views in the classroom. Could you comment on that?”
      
Mr. Fleischer’s reply: “I'm not familiar with any specific report, but I can assure you that the President, in all instances, believes that it's important for all to honor and respect the First Amendment.”

The ‘reports’ to which Guckert referred were largely from Rush Limbaugh's radio program, and The Washington Times. And questions like the one he asked, and Guckert's affiliations, so concerned Mr. Fleischer that he stopped calling on Guckert during press briefings for about a week. So Fleischer told the news industry magazine "Editor & Publisher" late this afternoon:"I found out that he worked for a GOPUSA site and I didn't think it was my place to call on him because he worked for something that was related to the party.
      
"I don't think that party organizations should have people in that room acting as reporters,” Fleischer continued. “They are advocates, not reporters and a line should be drawn." Fleischer nonetheless resumed taking Guckert's questions, he says, after the GOPUSA site owner, Bobby Eberle, phoned him and convinced him that it was not an 'official' Republican website.
      
Fleischer also said that as Press Secretary, he did not know "Jeff Gannon" was an alias— that he'd found out with the rest of us.

There are the two most alarming truths contained in the E&P interviewed with Fleischer. He "found out" that Guckert was from this GOP-USA website, and just recently he "found out" that Guckert was his real name, not Jeff Gannon. That means somebody other than the Press Secretary to the President got Guckert in there, vetted him, and cleared him through the Secret Service.

Guckert's presence in the White House briefing room before the creation of his pseudo-news organization changes the entire dynamic of the controversy. It fully expands it from mere concern over the nature of his questions and the legitimacy of his credentials, to the process by which he got there in the first place. Somebody admitted him, to the White House, as a reporter named Jeff Gannon— even though he wasn’t Jeff Gannon, he wasn’t a reporter, and he wasn't representing any media outlet.
      
Current White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has insisted that Guckert was entitled to a so-called "day pass" just as any other 'regularly published' reporter was, and that he did not decide who merited passes and who didn't. But today, a New York Times columnist said that her press credentials were revoked in 2001 after 15 years. Maureen Dowd writes: "I was rejected for a White House press pass at the start of the Bush administration, but someone with an alias, a tax evasion problem and Internet pictures where he posed like the 'Barberini Faun' is credentialed... At first when I tried to complain about not getting my pass renewed... no one called me back. Finally, when Mr. McClellan replaced Ari Fleischer, he said he'd renew the pass— after a new Secret Service background check that would last several months."

Perhaps next time Ms. Dowd should use an alias. Or get her questions from a former delegate to a political convention.

Or bring some canoli.

E-mail: KOlbermann@MSNBC.com (alias Keith Olbermann)

February 15, 2005 | 9:09 p.m. ET

No way, Jose (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS— Based on the nature of the attention paid Jose Canseco’s new tell-all, blow-by-blow, syringe-by-syringe, book about baseball and steroids — not a lot of the people paying attention read the whole book.

I did — for which I expect at least one comp day. " Juiced" is not only not the 21st Century equivalent of Jim Bouton's immortal Ball Four— it’s barely bearable.

But most interestingly, it’s about far more than Canseco’s now-familiar accusations of steroid use by five prominent ex-teammates (Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro). Deep in the book, Canseco added some interesting names:

(Page 218) "The simple fact is that Barry Bonds was definitely using steroids."

(Page 201) "I don't know Sammy Sosa personally, so I can't say for a fact that he ever took steroids. But I remember thinking that his transformation looked even more dramatic than (Mark McGwire's)…"

(Page 211) "I've never seen Roger Clemens do steroids, and he never told me that he did. But we've talked about what steroids could do for you, in which combinations… a lot of pitchers did steroids to keep up with the hitters…"

Canseco also directly accuses four lesser known players as steroid users (on pages 263 through 266): Wilson Alvarez, Bret Boone, Dave Martinez, and Tony Saunders. The latter was a promising lefthanded pitcher who started a game for Florida during the 1997 World Series, but whose pitching arm shattered during a game with Tampa Bay.

While Canseco also manages to cast doubts on 2002 Most Valuable Player Miguel Tejada and one-time 50-home run hitter Brady Anderson, there are exactly two players Canseco mentions by name as not using steroids. They’re underachieving outfielder Ben Grieve (page 183) and Yankee superstar shortstop Derek Jeter (page 185). Canseco can’t resist on Jeter, adding “if he had used steroids he’d be even better.”

Of course, our author has not merely obsessed about steroid users of today. He’s also worried about the steroid users of tomorrow -- and thinks they'll be fully authorized and medically monitored. (page 2): "All those people crying about steroids in baseball now will look as foolish in a few years as the people who said John F. Kennedy was crazy to say the United States would put a man on the moon."

And believe it or not, Juiced is about a lot more than just steroids. It's also about players bribing umpires (page 162): "Fans would be amazed just how far some players - especially pitchers, even the best of them - will go to try to stay on the good side of umpires. Roger Clemens… was always very conscientious about taking care of umpiring crews. One thing he would do was use his pull to get them on the best golf courses… Some players are constantly signing bats and balls for them, taking pictures with their kids - even sending them Christmas gifts, like sporting equipment ordered directly from whichever company they have an endorsement deal with."

Jose also is good enough to take us off the field, and show us the business of baseball - like during the 1994 player strike, which Canseco would've been happy to break (page 150): "That strike never should have happened, and it never would have happened if the owners had approached things intelligently. All they needed to do was find half a dozen influential players without guaranteed contracts who were willing to distance themselves from the stance of the Players Association. Those players could have brought other players along to their way of thinking… until the union was really in trouble. If the owners had approached me in the right way, I could have done it for them myself."

Solving all of baseball’s business and chemical problems is a lot for one man. But it’s hardly all work and no play for our author. We learn about visiting friends (page 102): "Madonna gave me a tour of her house. We walked around for a few minutes and wound up in her bedroom… 'Sit down,' she told me. So I sat down. Who wouldn't? She hit the remote control on her VCR and started showing me parts of " Truth or Dare," her documentary, which hadn't yet hit the theaters. I think you can guess which scene she showed me. It was the famous masturbation scene on that big bed… 'So what do you think?' she asked after the scene ended. I looked back at her for a minute. 'It's very interesting,' I told her."

And Jose closes with good news for you youngsters just starting out on steroids (page 98): “One definite side effect of steroid use is the atrophying of your testicles. I can confirm that. Whatever size they start out, they will definitely shrink if you are taking steroids over a period of time. But here's the point I want to emphasize: what happens to your testes has nothing to do with any shrinking of the penis. That's a misconception. As a matter of fact, the reverse can be true. Using growth hormone can make your penis bigger, and make you more easily aroused. So to the guys out there who are worried about their manhood, all I can say is: Growth hormone worked for me.”

Jose’s supposed to join us on Countdown Wednesday night but there appears to be some problem with his schedule— either a medical issue, or he got a pungent phone call from Roger Clemens (see ‘steroids’ and ‘gifts to umpires,’ above).

Thoughts? E-mail me at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

February 14, 2005 | 7:14 p.m. ET

Rationing free speech (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS— I never knew that freedom of speech came with an on/off switch.

Ward Churchill says some detestable things about 9/11 victims , so the Governor of Colorado wants to squeeze him out of the University there. Marine Corps Lieutenant General James Mattis tells an audience in San Diego “it’s fun to shoot some people,” particularly in Afghanistan, and his superior officers ask him to please not say stuff like that again. Eason Jordan makes a remarkable gaffe, implying that the U.S. military is hunting journalists. He backs off within moments of the remark, apologizes, and still gets forced to resign from CNN. Brit Hume and other political commentators twist Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words to make it look like he would’ve supported President Bush’s partial privatization of Social Security, and nobody corrects their journalistic blunders, let alone resigns.

Remarkable, all of it — perhaps the Jordan story most of all. While some bloggers are parading his head around on a pike as another example of victory over the MSM, they — and the MSM — seem to have entirely forgotten, and excluded from their coverage, the fact that Eason Jordan had sealed his own doom as long ago as April, 2003. It is one thing to acknowledge that your news organization may have buried stories that would’ve illuminated the atrocities of Saddam Hussein, in order to preserve your access (and perhaps the lives of your staff) in Baghdad — it is another to have voluntarily written those facts up as an Op-Ed for The New York Times.

That was about the time Jordan stopped actually running CNN’s international coverage, and began being basically a spokesman for it. Between the misguided idea to boast in The Times about what he called “The News We Kept To Ourselves,” and the stomach-churning, much-publicized news that he’d left his wife and family to take up with Daniel Pearl’s widow, Jordan had become a resignation waiting to happen. The irony of the right-wing bloggers’ delight over Jordan’s resignation from what they perceive as the left-wing CNN, is that by publicizing his faux pas in Davos, they did CNN executives’ dirty work for them. They enabled CNN to squeeze him out.

The Fox News folks, of course, specifically Brit Hume, squeezed the whole FDR thing. ‘Media Matters For America’ has done much of the legwork on breaking this down, and both on his radio show and at his website, Al Franken has done much of the publicizing. Hume, and others like those bastions of public conduct John Fund and Bill Bennett, have taken a bunch of 70-year old quotes out of context to make it look like Franklin Delano Roosevelt is endorsing President Bush’s plan to partially privatize Social Security.

Here’s the full relevant segment from Roosevelt’s message to Congress on Social Security and other similar programs from 1935: “In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps thirty years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.”

The syntax is a little ancient but the message is pretty straightforward. For 1935, people who would only take money out of Social Security and not put any in, should have their contributions covered half by the federal government and half by the states. Later on, those contributions should be replaced by the “self-supporting annuity plans” — which Roosevelt has already defined (“Second…”) as the actual Social Security system. Buried in the formality of his third point, FDR is talking about things we would later know as IRA’s and Keoghs and 401k’s.

But look at how Hume mixed and matched the original Roosevelt quotes on February 4th (and we’re quoting this verbatim from Fox’s website) “…it turns out that FDR himself planned to include private investment accounts in the Social Security program when he proposed it. In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, ‘Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age,’ adding that government funding, ‘ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.’”

Roosevelt said no such thing. The “voluntary contributory annuities” are the IRA’s and Keoghs and 401k’s. What “ought to ultimately be supplanted” was the special government contributions to Social Security on behalf of people born in the 1870’s and earlier, and the “self-supporting annuity plans” constitute Social Security itself.

It’s premeditated, historical fraud, but you will not see Hume nor Fox News backpedal from it (as Jordan did for his misdemeanor), nor apologize for it (as Jordan did), nor save their masters from its shame (as Jordan did — of course there is no shame at Fox).

The Ward Churchill case, of course, is the most complex of them all (until the saga of “Jeff Gannon” resurfaces some time this week, when it could turn into the political scandal of the year — more in a subsequent blog).

Free speech in this country seems to have been created almost specifically to protect people like Churchill. He’s a tenured professor at a public university. He made outrageous statements about what is the symbolically still-burning pyre of The World Trade Center. When a baseball general manager (Jim Bowden, of the Cincinnati Reds), made two tasteless jokes about 9/11 in 2002, I wrote and broadcast repeatedly that he should be fired.

But universities and colleges — particularly public ones — are designed to collide popular, mainstream ideas, with contentious, contrarian ones (and unlike ballclubs, they are not private institutions, from which anybody can be fired for just about anything that embarrasses or harms said institution — also known as the ‘boomerang’ caveat to free speech). Hell, I had a professor at Cornell whose version of American history started with his explanation that the constitution was the elite’s successful attempt to co-opt the rights of the citizens. Students stood up in the lecture hall and swore at him. Now that was a marketplace of ideas.

It’s galling to know that Churchill’s oversimplified, insensitive vision of the horrors of September 11th are being underwritten by tax dollars. But it would be more galling to know that there is a line somewhere past which a professor at a public university can’t go. Where would that line be drawn? Our hypothetical professor could say that people at the Pentagon had always thought of themselves as a military target, even if the “military” consisted of a bunch of terrorists, but he couldn’t say that in the minds of the terrorists, the U.S. might have provoked them by its actions in the Middle East? The first wouldn’t get you fired, but the second would?

Nope.

You gotta live with this guy (just as you gotta live with Lieutenant General Mattis, also known as “The Way Too Happy Warrior”) and hope that students stand up and scream at him in class, or boycott him, or respond in the way you’re supposed to respond to free speech - with more free speech, not less.

E-mail: KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

February 12, 2005 | 10:35 p.m. ET

I'm not wild about Saffron (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK—They’re uglier than I thought.

“The Gates” - the artist Christo’s long-planned installation of 7500 orange portals in Central Park here - are now complete. They, as The New York Times put it, “blossomed today,” as rectangles of similarly-hued fabric were draped from each of the gates that sit astride all of the park’s 23 miles of pedestrian walkways.

They look like crap.

The great thing about being an artist, of course, is that you can call anything you make - from $21,000,000 worth of ‘gates’ to a 25-cent phone call - “art.” And if anybody disagrees with you, you can call them a philistine.

Christo previously filled a California valley with yellow umbrellas, and once dressed up the Reichstag in aluminum fabric (fortunately for all of us, he did this in 1995, not earlier). He claims to have been planning this newest version of “public art” since 1979.

Evidently he rushed it.

Even before the fabric was installed this morning, the gates looked like over-sized track and field hurdles that the artists optimistically identified as "saffron" in color. They are, in fact, screaming psychedelic paint orange: the same awful color they make road cones, and those stupid barrel things that block off traffic lanes.

As I said on Countdown Thursday, they look like a terrible mistake of some sort -- like somebody was trying to build something and ran out of money. I expected then that the vast billowing orange bed-sheets still to be hung, would make Central Park look like it was filled with the rotting shells of giant lobsters.

Turned out I was being kind.

When the wind is calm, the fabric hangs there looking like nothing less than highway maintenance or detour signs with their messages covered over. When the breeze flutters, they resemble ugly, cheap, plastic shower curtains, stolen from some $29-a-night motel, drying on somebody’s backyard clothesline.

It’ll be getting better soon. As I write this, nightfall approaches. Once it gets dark I won’t be able to see them as well.

I might note here that I am as aesthetic as the next guy. My father is an architect and I inherited some of his skills and most of his perception of design and form. I have original art on my walls and a nice kitschy 10-foot tall Mona Lisa in my dining room. I don’t know much about art, but I know what I hate.

There are three non-artistic problems here, too.

I live across the street from Central Park. I don't have to -- it's my choice and I don't seek your sympathy. But I do it because Central Park is inherently beautiful: winter, summer, spring and fall. If you live in this city, and you can afford to have a window that shows you just a swatch of the park, you must. It reconnects you to the Earth. It reminds you of every green place you’ve ever been. And it's almost non-commercialized. I can't see a billboard or an advertisement from my window -- and not a lot of people in a city anywhere in this country can say that. I don't need a bunch of giant, glowing orange croquet wickets fouling that up.

Problem number two: despite the anticipated revenues from tourism, despite the private funding by Christo and friends -- the city says it's going to have put hundreds of cops in Central Park, to protect "The Gates." There have already been attempts to vandalize and graffiti-ize them.      

My alibi is airtight - and I will not testify against my neighbors. 

The city will spend thousands of dollars of my taxpayer money to pull the cops from things like, ohhh, counter-terrorism and crime prevention, to make sure nobody spray-paints any of the 7,500 "Gates" with the message "You Left Your Laundry Out, Lady."

Lastly, there is that awful, awful, color - and its inspiration. They can call it “saffron” from now until doomsday. What it is, it turns out, is the exact color of the hair of Mrs. Christo, his fellow artist Jeanne-Claude. So now, every time I see one of these nightmare, cheesy, poorly-spaced, garish, ugly glow-in-the-dark orange things despoiling the view of the simple natural beauty of Central Park, I gotta think of this dame, too.

New York City believes that between 90-thousand and 200-thousand tourists will come to town to see them between now and when they are mercifully removed (hopefully by volunteers with axes) on February 27th. I interacted with some of the tourista this afternoon, watched as they reached up to touch them just the way the antenna touches those rubber mats as your vehicle enters the carwash. And I thought of the old story of the Emporer’s New Clothes. Only the really hip, the really artistic, can tell just how beautiful The Gates are. Everybody else is a Philistine.

But I noticed something else: New Yorkers walking their dogs through the park, as they do, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And as they passed these strange glowing trellises, the dogs were invariably marking them.

The dogs know what they’re doing.

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com

February 9, 2005 | 7:01 p.m. ET

Time to punt, Bill (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — For those of you familiar with the kids’ football challenge, “Punt, Pass, and Kick,” we long ago saw Bill O’Reilly’s passing (ask Andrea Mackris). Sunday we learned about his punting (in a rather exaggerated essay in the official Super Bowl program). And now we’re seeing him kick.

Typical to the commemorative programs for the big sporting events, O’Reilly was asked to write the ‘end piece’ to the Super Bowl 39 edition. Dan Rather penned one for Super Bowl 38, and even I’ve done them for Baseball’s All-Star Game Program and annual official “yearbooks.” But only O’Reilly could turn one of these brief “Why I Love This Sport” venues into a means of shameless self-promotion.

He waxed poetic about the inspiration provided by his own football career at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, observing that he learned much from having one of his punts land behind his own line of scrimmage (one could argue that what he learned was to see everything backwards). He added, “I won the national punting title for my division as a senior,” and concluded, “I guess you could say the end zone was the beginning of the no-spin zone.”

Ah, but in recounting his collegiate football experience, Mr. O’Reilly has done a little spinning of his own.

The phrase in question is “I won the national punting title for my division as a senior.” For the unfamiliar, college football is and has been divided not merely into regional conferences (Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac Ten, etc.) and leagues (Ivy, Patriot, etc.), but also national divisions, based on the size of a school’s student body and the relative strength of its commitment to a particular sport. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has Division 1 (the big schools, and actually known as Division 1-A), Division 1-AA, Division 2, and Division 3. Another collegiate group, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, currently has all its football teams in one Division, but maintains Division 1 and Division 2 for basketball.

The key word here is “division.” In college sports, it implies organization, national recognition, big athletic budgets, careful scheduling and record-keeping — and scholarships and varying degrees of those charming professional touches that all too often turn college sports into mere way stations for future NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL players.

In short, “division” means big time.

And herein lies the problem with Mr. O’Reilly’s boast. A very nice man named Juwan Jackson, an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator for the Marist football program, told me the other day that the school didn’t start playing varsity football until 1978. That year, it launched its “program” with an inauspicious record of one win and eight losses, in the NCAA Division 3 Metropolitan Conference. In 1993, Marist made the big jump to Division 1-AA, the second highest division, and the next year won its conference championship.

But Bill O’Reilly graduated from Marist in 1971. Certainly he played football there — there’s a New York Times clipping in front of me showing him kicking the points-after for two of Marist’s final-game loss to St. John’s on November 27, 1970 (he missed the third point-after). But if Marist dates the start of its divisional football history to 1978, exactly what kind of “division” did O’Reilly play in?

It turns out when O’Reilly was at Marist, football was a so-called “club sport.” The school lent its name to the team — and nothing else. Players paid all their own expenses, were led not by a coach but a president (usually a student, even an active player, sometimes an ex-player), and organization was, at best, loose. “Club sports” were still widespread in my time at Cornell — rugby was the big one in the late ‘70s — but even their own members would grudgingly acknowledge that they were barely a notch above intramural teams which simply competed with rivals on their own campuses.

Some time in the ‘60s, the football “club teams” at some of the bigger non-division schools organized the National Club Football Association. The “national” part was not to be taken too literally. In O’Reilly’s senior year, 1970, a disproportionate number of the schools were in the New York metropolitan area. Marist’s football media guide notes that the 1970 squad for which O’Reilly kicked “advanced to the national championship game.” But that Times account of the game — versus St. John’s University of Queens, New York — calls it “the third annual Metropolitan Club Football Bowl,” and it was played in a ramshackle stadium in Mount Vernon, New York (a park I well remember from my childhood as the site of some lackluster kid baseball clinics usually attended by the least popular members of the then-equally lackluster New York Yankees).

I pointed this out — in considerably less detail — on Monday’s edition of Countdown. The point was not that O’Reilly wasn’t a punter/placekicker for a college football team (he was), nor that he wasn’t a good one (he was; he averaged 41.4 yards per punt in 1970) — just that he’d once again conveyed an illusion of grandeur about his accomplishments. There was no “division” for him to win “the national punting title” in while with Marist’s club team in 1970.

His claim was a little less egregious than the assertion that he won a Peabody Award while on the show “Inside Edition” (it was a Polk Award, and the show got it after he left). But the venue — the back page of the Super Bowl program — elevated to a similar level of ridiculousness.

Apparently I struck one of Mr. O’Reilly’s many nerves.

Tuesday, I got one of the damnedest e-mails I’ve ever received, anonymous other than for its return address and the signature “J., Chicago, IL.” Whoever wrote it seems to have been the club football equivalent of Deep Throat: “A long time friend of mine (and long time NFL scout) once told me that Bill O’Reilly could have dominated in the NFL as a punter if he had chosen that career path,” he began. “And a cousin of mine…” — maybe the best comparison to this guy isn’t Deep Throat but Forrest Gump — “a cousin of mine, who was the official statistician during that time period said that O’Reilly in fact did lead in punting net average…”

My anonymous correspondent then turned television critic. “So after using your O’Reilly ‘story’ as a tease for your entire hour, knowing that would be the only way to keep anyone watching your worthless show, you flat out got the facts WRONG, as you usually do.”

But wait. How could this viewer have known about our ‘teases’ and story if he hadn’t watched it? Ah, he had his answer prepared: “And before you get your snide remark ready, I only glanced over your show thanks to TiVo, since there’s no way I would be watching your show live instead of the Factor, you chump.”

My reply was brief — that an anonymous e-mailer quoting two anonymous sources had a lot of nerve calling anybody else a chump, and that as O’Reilly’s theoretical dominance of the annals of National Football League punting, perhaps we should leave him to trying to dominate the likes of Andrea Mackris and other employees, past and present.

Remarkably, this storm in a teacup got bigger still. The anonymous e-mailer’s subject line read simply “punting stats.” Lo and behold, on the same day, what shows up on Bill O’Reilly’s own website, but what appears to be an ancient, typed, either photocopied or mimeographed, list of the top ten performers in various statistical categories for the National Club Football Association for the 1970 season - including O’Reilly’s punting stats.

There’s an interesting coincidence.

I haven’t studied the typefaces carefully enough, nor called in any of the bloggers who got so much joy out of CBS’s dubious “Killian Memos,” but the thing looks legitimate. And there he is, at the top of the punting list at an average of 41.4 yards per kick: “O’Reilly, Marist.”

Now, of course there are a few facts about these statistics that would make the sports-savvy cringe. The runner-up, a punter from New Haven named Potter, averaged only 40.7 yards per kick. But he punted 36 times to O’Reilly’s 23 — thus exposing his average to the vagaries of sport more than 50% more often than O’Reilly did. In fact, of the other nine punters on the list, only two had fewer punts than did O’Reilly, and their average number of punts was 32 (some poor fellow named Ruth from Niagara had to make 48 punts that season).

From the dawn of sports figure filberts, leaders in all statistical average categories have had to exceed a minimum basis of attempts. Bob Hazle of the Milwaukee Braves hit an astonishing .403 in 1957, but he wasn’t considered the National League’s batting champion — he only came to bat 134 times (to blur the mind of the sports-hating reader still further, Stan Musial won the batting championship that year; he hit .351 - coming to bat 502 times).

The “National Club Football Association” stat sheet offers no minimum number of punts required to be eligible for the championship average for O’Reilly’s senior year. There may have been such an established standard and O’Reilly may have legitimately cleared it. But a sports statistician looking at these numbers would say that Mr. Potter of New Haven (36 punts, 40.7 average) and Mr. Primerano of St. John’s (40 punts, 38.1 average), got jobbed.

The point of all this is, like much of Mr. O’Reilly’s assertions about himself (and others), there’s a lot less than meets the eye in the statement “I won the national punting title for my division as a senior.” There was no division, the outfit was semi-national at best, and the title might have been statistically dubious.

So, writing in the official Super Bowl Program that you won the “punting title” in your “division” would be like me writing in one of those baseball program articles that I led the nation’s high school baseball players in on-base percentage in 1973 (I did, too — in a manner of speaking — my on-base percentage was a perfect one thousand: I came to bat once, and got hit in the ass with a pitch).

I guess we’re just lucky Bill didn’t claim he’d won a Peabody Award for his punting at Marist.

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com

February 8, 2005 | 7:14 p.m. ET

Dean sticks to report of 'Throat's' illness (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS - Key Watergate witness turned Deep Throat sleuth John Dean is standing by his report in The Los Angeles Times that Bob Woodward has notified his masters at The Washington Post that “Throat” is ill.

Video: Who is 'Deep Throat'? Len Downie, the newspaper’s executive editor, denied Woodward had given him such a message. But, joining me on 'Countdown', Dean said of Downie, “it's either he has a very bad memory, because my source when he told me this, had no reason to volunteer this other than the fact that he learned it directly from Downie.” Dean also noted that Ben Bradlee, the then-Post editor who shepherded the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein, has confirmed he’s written the obituary of “Throat” for the paper. “You don't generally have a former executive editor writing obits, to put those in the can to be ready for the day they might be needed.”

But what does the story of illness do for the identification process? Dean refused to “clear” any of the four finalists ( Pat Buchanan , Dwight Chapin, Ray Price, and Jerry Warren) he named in a 2002 electronic book for Salon. “I can't eliminate any of them. As I say, everybody who's ever been tagged has denied it, so you know, everyone still is denying it.”

On the other hand, two simultaneous illnesses among people in Dean’s life — one being Throat’s, one being one of his friends’ — may turn out to be one-in-the-same. And that presumed fact would put Dean, and others seeking to mask history’s most famous unnamed source, in an ethical dilemma.

“When I first learned this,” Dean told me, “I went around and checked to see who of my friends might be in bad health. And it was only because of a very unusual circumstance that I learned that a couple of people are ill that have not told me.  In fact one of them happens to know that I believe this happened to be a clue to the identity of Throat and another friend of his, a mutual friend of ours, told me that he was ill.

“And this is very troubling to me because you know, I obviously want to honor this man's shuffling off with his denial and don't want to be the person to blow this up. So it's been a very difficult situation.” But Dean did clear up just how sick Throat is said to be. In his piece, Dean wrote only that Throat “is ill,” but by the time it got reported in other venues, it got exaggerated as far as ‘is facing death.’  “This was an undisclosed source that gave me the information that Woodward had reported to Downie that indeed this man was ill,” Dean said. “Now I don't know exactly the words that Bob used. Whether it was that he was ill, that he was in bad condition, or what…. but it was clear that he was sometimes, he wasn't in the best of health.” And, as Dean agreed, the idea that there’s an obituary of the man waiting in a newspaper archive ordinarily wouldn’t mean a single thing about the relative likelihood of his death (the major papers and news organizations all have obits of Britney Spears ready to go on a moment’s notice), the idea that there is an article sitting around somewhere that says “Such-and-such — who was the Watergate source of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein known as “Deep Throat” — died today,” is a different kettle of fish.

Lastly, I asked John Dean in jest if the movie version of Watergate — “ All The President’s Men” — might have been closer to the truth than we could have ever believed: “Is there any chance at all that Deep Throat was actually Hal Holbrook?”

He answered with a laugh. “Well, let me tell you this on that score — when he was cast, I'm told that Woodward said, 'Not bad.’”

If you’re making a guess, that should give you something to work with.

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com

February 7, 2005 | 11:03 a.m. ET

Deep Throat revealed? (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — The greatest mystery of 20th Century American politics may soon be solved.

We might shortly find out who "Deep Throat" was.

John Dean, the former White House Counsel to Richard Nixon, whose testimony unlocked the enigma and the insidiousness of Watergate, wrote in The Los Angeles Times that an impeccable source has informed him that “Throat” is in ill health, that Bob Woodward has notified his colleagues at The Washington Post of this fact, and that an obituary has been prepared — almost certainly identifying the man behind the pseudonym.

John Dean will join me exclusively on Countdown tonight (Monday the 7th) to discuss what he’s learned — and how the roster of candidates may have been re-shaped by simple dint of the illness of one of the names on it.

For the record, Mr. Woodward is not commenting — and the Post’s executive editor says that Woodward hasn’t told him to make any special preparations. But an obit appears to be “in the can” — not by itself a necessarily revealing fact, because the likelihood is that the passing of the man himself would’ve merited such a notice with or without his status of journalistic legend.

If somehow you don't know who I'm talking about, “Deep Throat” was the pivotal source — still anonymous nearly 33 years later — in the coverage of the Watergate scandal by Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Woodward and Bernstein, and their former editor Ben Bradlee, have vowed never to reveal his identity so long as he lived.

Contained in that edifice of anonymity is perhaps the most intricate of the many “Throat” conundrums. The man doesn’t want to be identified, and by implication, is not proud of his role in stabilizing the democracy — even though so many others are proud of him.

There seems to be something approaching a “Throat” Harmonic Convergence, just at the moment. Dean’s health scoop is unfolding, by extraordinary coincidence, just as the reportorial records of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are being formally unveiled in the permanent home, at the University of Texas — dedication ceremonies were Friday.

Make sure to bring the kids (“Ooooh, look, Timmy — Bernstein’s lunch voucher for August 22, 1972! Take a picture!”)

Dozens of individuals have been previously "outed" as "Deep Throat.” In an entertaining if not particularly scholarly book, former Nixon lawyer Leonard Garment pointed the finger at Nixon attorney John Sears. Several others fingered Garment. Carl Bernstein's ex-wife said it was former FBI bigwig Mark Felt (it occurred to me in conversation the other night that there’s a whole clothing theme going on here: Felt, Garment, Sears…)

A computer-aided study by a journalism class at the University of Illinois concluded it was still another Nixon attorney, Fred Fielding. And John Dean himself, in a methodical, grid-by-grid, fact-by-fact electronic book for Salon three years ago, narrowed it down to appointment secretary Dwight Chapin, deputy press secretary Jerry Warren, and speechwriters Ray Price and Pat Buchanan.

Our colleague Mr. Buchanan has denied that. Regardless, Pat’s candidacy made for interesting television the other night. Carl Bernstein also wrote a great biography of the Pope, and when John Paul took ill, we interviewed Carl on Countdown. He was also interviewed on an MSNBC special hosted by—Pat Buchanan. It wasn’t necessarily Deep Throat interviewing one of “his” reporters, but it made a fascinating picture nonetheless.

Even at what may be the last hour of “Throat” speculation, new candidates are emerging. In a letter to Jim Romenesko's Media News blog on the Poynter organization's website, one of the hundreds of authors who dream of unmasking history's greatest anonymous source, wrote that "Deep Throat" was in fact President Nixon's Ambassador to the United Nations — a man named George Herbert Walker Bush.

Yeah, that George Herbert Walker Bush.
       
The purported motive, according to author Adrian Havill, was that the future 41st President was ticked off that Nixon had induced him to resign from Congress on a hint that he might make him his Vice-Presidential candidate in 1972 — and then didn't.

This is not being taken particularly seriously by the many Throat-obsessives, and the former President's office told us Friday it would not even comment on the posting.

But it underscores how this one figure in the history of American politics — and journalism— continues to enthrall us.

And how much I have to ask John Dean about tonight.

January 29, 2005 | 5:26 p.m. ET

Delusions of grandeur at "Focus on the Family"

NEW YORK - Mother used to insist that there were two things you should never talk about in public: politics and religion.

Now, of course, that’s all we talk about. But the moral guidance still rings loudly all these years later, and it always makes me a reluctant conversant, even if I apologize to Mom in advance.

However, the Three-Card Monte Players at Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus On The Family” have reopened the can of worms that is SpongeBobGate, and have focused not on the family but on me, and in so doing embarrassed themselves and undermined the validity of their own concerns.

Dobson, you will recall, joined the singularly inoffensive animated character  “SpongeBob SquarePants” to his conspiracy theories of a “pro-homosexual” agenda, in order to get headlines. When he got those headlines, he promptly complained about getting them. Dobson, like many other exploiters of Amoral Values, ran immediately to the easiest way out of a stupid fix of his own creation: he blamed the big old ugly media.

His website asked readers to send emails of protest to me and four other reporters who had covered this foofery - it even provided them with an email-generator with which to do so. But because I responded to nearly all of those missives with something other than “I’m sorry, please don’t send me to hell,” Dobson has determined I need more exposure.

This time it is in the form of a delightful piece of fiction crafted by somebody called “Gary Schneeberger, editor,” of “Family News In Focus.” It is charmingly titled “Influencing Olbermann” and I’m vastly tickled by the compliment, and more over, by the cascade of factual errors that follows.

Schneeberger observes that I’ve “devoted six pages on (my) Web site — over two days — to savaging the men and women who sent more than 30,000 e-mails through our CitizenLink Action Center.” We’ll skip the incongruity of pages in a blog and focus on that 30,000 number. Schneeberger does not state this (it would be inconvenient) but that number is clearly a total of emails generated to me and the four other reporters targeted. That would be an average of about 6,000 apiece, and now I feel left out, because the actual number received here is less than 2,000, and that includes 10%-20% blanks and 5-10% letters supporting our coverage and denouncing “Focus On The Family” as, in the words of one correspondent, “the American Taliban.”

Still, let’s give ‘em that 6,000 figure they claim. That’s embarrassingly small for an email generating device, especially over the course of five days. Most of my blog entries induce about 1,000 hand-crafted emails, and during the post-election period the responses ran closer to 5,000 per day. If you’re setting up a spam campaign and providing people with everything up to and including cut-and-pastes to stick inside the message generator, and you can’t do better than 1,200 a day, you should give up and open a 7-11 somewhere.

I might add before I’m accused of trying to answer philosophy with addition, that Mr. Schneeberger’s piece claims the spam campaign was a success because of the “1,674 words he’s spent addressing the subject on his Web site this week.” If we’re going to calculate and reward who’s bigger, sir, you’re going to lose.

Having failed math, Mr. Schneeberger now tries extra-sensory perception.

“…When it comes to lobbying liberal journalists like Olbermann, the sad reality is that getting them to acknowledge - let alone to respond respectfully — to our point of view is the longest of long shots. Theirs is a 24/7 secular world — in most newsrooms, especially those in big cities, about the only time you hear the word ‘God’ is as the first part of somebody’s second-favorite swearword.”

Wow. Talk about creating your own reality.

My newsroom is in Secaucus, New Jersey — population 15,931.

“Focus On Family” headquarters is in Colorado Springs, Colorado — population 360,890.

And not to let the facts get in the way of FOF’s prejudice, but I happen to be a religious man. I believe in God, I pray daily, and if I’ve ever gotten any direct instructions from my maker, they were that I’ll be judged by whether I tried to help other people, or hurt them. Also, that true belief should not be worn like a policeman’s club, nor used like one. And, finally, that I’m in big trouble for helping to introduce funny catchphrases into sportscasting.

The producer of 'Countdown' — Mr. Kordick, you’ve met him here, the guy who goes on vacation and celebrities die — is not only a religious man of the finest kind, but actually sings at Church-related events out in the community. And there are many others on the staff who are similarly spiritual, although, admittedly, none of us is pushy nor self-congratulatory about it.

I might also say that I feel a little disappointed in my workplace. Mr. Schneeberger, who claims to have spent a dozen years in “secular newsrooms,” writes of all of these “God Damns” flying around the ones he knows so well. I honestly think I’ve heard that phrase used at MSNBC once or twice in the last year. I feel short-changed. Where did Schneeberger work, The Sodom and Gomorroh Picayne?

Ultimately, Schneeberger’s piece claims that I have not presented a “cogent defense” of our coverage of Dobson’s faux pas. Well, I have mentioned that we played the entire video at the center of the controversy, and read the three references in the accompanying teacher’s materials to what to do if a child asked about same-sex families (the only references to any of that in, or with the tape), in an effort to let the viewer decide if Dobson’s complaint was legitimate or laughable.

And, before we went on the air that night, we contacted Dobson’s office for a statement that might disconnect SpongeBob from the contretemps, and outlined how we intended to cover the story. We got no “that’s not right,” no “you’re demeaning Dr. Dobson,” and especially no “you’re taking Dr. Dobson’s words out of context.”

All that came after Dr. Dobson realized how much damage he’d done to his cause.

I suspect, long-term, that this is how Dr. Dobson’s followers are going to react in the next few months and years as the world around them gets increasingly tolerant and less reactionary. Several of his spammers warned of the coming Constitutional Amendment to ban same-sex marriages (which the President many of them also claimed they personally elected used so efficiently in the campaign, but has already dropped with that “whaddya gonna do” shoulder shrug of his).

More importantly, at some point, some of these people are going to wake up to find that the great secular assault they see on their children was, in fact, a bogeyman created to hide their own bad parenting. If they can’t convince their own kids of the appropriateness of their religion and values, then the religion, the values, or the convincing, must not have been very good. Ask my folks if I was an easy sell — yet most of my tenets turn out to have been their tenets — not my teachers’, not television’s, not the secular world’s.

It goes back to the core of the Dobsonian point of view here: the fear of the “pro-Homosexual” agenda. That may be the way he delicately phrases it, but it is not shared by most of his followers who emailed me. They were clearly angry that there was no anti-homosexual agenda. And one of the most fascinating things about the studies of homosexuality in this country is that while there is still debate between the creationists and the environmentalists, I’ve never heard anything suggesting that a child is more or less likely to be gay, depending on whether he’s taught not to hate nor be intolerant, of gays.

Schneeberger finishes his piece with the hope that I’ll experience the same kind of epiphany he claims to have in 1997. “Let’s pray, if he ever does, that he comes up with the right answer — and not because it may lead to fairer reporting. But because it may lead to a redeemed life.”

Hey, guys, worry about yourselves. You’re spewing hate, while assuming that for some reason, God has chosen you and you alone in all of history to understand the mysteries of existence, when mankind’s existence is filled with ample evidence that nobody yet has been smart enough to discern an answer.

You might try keeping it simpler: did you help others, or hurt them?

I’ll be happy to be judged on the answer to that question, and if it’s a group session, I don’t expect I’ll find many members of “Focus On Family” in the “done ok” line.

E-mail KOlbermann@msnbc.com

January 27, 2005 | 11:51 p.m. ET

More fun with Dobson's spammers

PINEAPPLE UNDER THE SEA — H.L. Mencken’s biographers always note that the great cynic used to enjoy jousting with the religious extremists of his day. But he usually had to type up a letter and waste a stamp on them.

While making no undue comparisons, I should note the ease with which I can do the same: a quick hit of the reply button, and they seem largely confounded that anybody has disagreed with them, or that their leader, Dr. James Dobson, might have made a fool of himself.

This, if you haven’t read previous entries, is about the SpongeBob video controversy. Dobson, of a group called “Focus On The Family,” told a largely congressional audience of his complaint about a video and accompanying teaching materials sent to 6,000 elementary schools, by referring to its distributors as a “pro-homosexual” group. Dobson invoked SpongeBob SquarePants as the centerpiece of the video, raising the specter of the laughably infamous “Tinky-Winky” controversy of the ‘90s.

Before we first did the story on "Countdown," we contacted his group, asked for a comment and a clarification of the implication that SpongeBob was being used as part of a “pro-homosexual” effort. Dobson’s spokesperson made no effort to alter the impression, and made no complaint about our story as we outlined it to him.

Then, of course, the Krabby Patties hit the fan.

Dobson came across as a nut job, the story was picked up around the world (often with the admittedly oversimplified headline “SpongeBob is Gay?”), and Dobson immediately blamed the messengers. Suddenly it was the media that had interconnected the cartoon character with the “pro-homosexual” effort, and, of course, the media needed to be feel The Wrath. As part of his weekly newsletter, he conveniently included an e-mail generating device so that people who never saw our broadcast nor knew who I was, could spam my mailbox full of what I must say is some of the most unintentionally entertaining e-mail I’ve ever gotten.

Firstly, you wouldn’t think a member of this group could misspell “Christian,” but sure enough, one of the missives had the word as “Christain” three times. I think just about every word you could imagine was butchered at some point (and we’re not talking typos here - we’re talking about repeated identical misspellings):

Spong, Spounge, Spnge — presumably meaning “Sponge.”

Dobsin, Dobsen, Debsin, Dubsen, Dobbins — presumably Dr. Dobson.

Sevility — I’m not sure about this one. This might be “civility,” or it might refer to the city in Spain.

The best of them was not a misspelling but a Freudian slip of biblical proportions. A correspondent, unhappy that I did not simply agree with her fire-and-brimstone forecast for me, wrote “I showed respect even though I disagreed with you and yet you have the audacity to call me intelligent.”

Well, you have me there, Ma’am. My mistake.

The real problem with Dobson’s campaign, which produced an e-mail volume far less than the average post-election blog, was that he publicly posted my internal e-mail address (the one used for interaction with my office co-workers), not the high-volume ones we established for viewer and reader reaction. This served merely to wear out a bunch of IT folks (and me) and had the cumulative effect of a group of clowns toilet-papering my office and then saying “You agree with us now, don’t you, that you are a heathen?” The volume served only to overshadow any validity that might have been included in their complaints.

To the credit of many of them, when I informed them of this, they were mortified. I got a lot of very heartfelt apologies, as I also did when I pointed out that Dr. Dobson had taken a lot of my comments out of context, or when I suggested the writer hadn’t seen the show, nor the video in question (which is as inoffensive as a sunset).

Still, if there was one disturbing element, it was the number of emails — maybe 20 percent —which invoked Dan Rather and “what we did to him.” There is evidently a mass misunderstanding of the history of Rather’s retirement from the CBS Evening News. He was not hit by vengeful lightning, although don’t go telling that to the religious right. That his retirement was being planned last summer is an irrelevancy to them.

Even in this, though, one emailer provided mirth. “We got Tom Brokaw at ABC,” he warned, “and we can get you.”

I’ll have to drop Tom a note.

Something approaching 10 percent of the e-mailers used Dobson’s generator to send notes of thanks for exposing “Focus On The Family” for the knee-jerk reactionaries they are. One wrote in genuine fear that these people were wielding influence in the country. I wrote back, thinking of the mangled language, that a much more immediate concern was that these people are out there, driving on our highways.

Address to e-mail would be KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

January 25, 2005 | 8:00 a.m. ET

Some vacation this is (Keith Olbermann)

PINEAPPLE UNDER THE SEA — There are going to be a lot of mixed cultural references in here. Sue me, I’m on vacation.

SpongeBob SquarePants has made me think of Mickey Mantle, and Godfather III (I still want my eight bucks back, Mr. Coppola). Like Al Pacino’s character in the latter, I keep getting pulled back in.

Last week we reported on that enormously silly speech of a Dr. James Dobson of a group called Focus On The Family, in which he warned a largely congressional audience that a new video featuring the SpongeBob was being used by a “pro-homosexual” group. This 21st Century of the infamous Tinky-Winky controversy emerged from a simple set of facts.

A DVD featuring a video created by another group, "We Are Family Foundation," used dozens of top kids' characters, and was being sent to thousands of elementary schools to promote tolerance on all levels. But the teachers' booklet included with the video included three passing mentions of what to do if kids asked about atypical families, ranging from one-parent homes, to children living with their grandparents, to families with same-sex parents or couples. The answer in the booklet was, simply, to remind kids that all families are different, but all are based on love.

The video itself — which we showed on Countdown— contains not a single reference to sexuality (and only about four clips of SpongeBob— heck, the Count from Sesame Street stole the damn picture). And the advice to the teachers seemed pretty logical (as opposed to telling a seven-year old that his best friend and his two Mommies were all going to Hell).

That didn’t stop Dr. Dobson from approaching the video, and its producers, and SpongeBob, as if they were the warm-up act for the Apocalypse. Before airing the video (which should have been criticized for being a little long— where are the protest groups for that issue?), I jokingly warned that if Dr. Dobson’s group was right, the video could turn you or your kids or your furniture gay. Or tolerant.

The spam e-mails began coming in Tuesday night. They were pretty routine, damning me to eternal fires and reminding me what they “did” to Dan Rather and how I’d be next. But they were generated from Dobson’s own website, which of course negates their impact, and as a result a lot of them were downright hilarious.

Something approaching 20 percent of them were simply blank. Others began with, or consisted entirely of, the preamble “(Please delete these words and type your own message here.)” Others referred to Dr. Dobson as Dr. Dobsin, Dr. Dobsen, or Mr. Dobbins. Many were cut-and-paste repetitions of one another, and about 20 percent were from false e-mail addresses.

One particularly useful one included the actual instructions on the Website as to how to conduct the campaign, which I reproduce here in full:

"Action Alert

Set the Media Straight on SpongeBob
Urge them to stop distorting Dr. Dobson's words

Hundreds of media outlets in recent days have vastly distorted comments made by Dr. James Dobson designed to warn parents of efforts to promote homosexuality to their children through the schools. Dr. Dobson has been mocked for saying that a group calling itself the We Are Family Foundation is using a video on "tolerance" -- one which features popular cartoon characters like SpongeBob SquarePants -- to potentially teach children that homosexuality is the moral and biological equivalent to heterosexuality. Instead of reporting those concerns accurately, though, reporters have twisted the story to say Dr. Dobson has suggested SpongeBob is gay.

Among the greatest offenders in the media:

—New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who sarcastically wrote Dr. Dobson had done "the country a service be reminding us to watch out for the dark side of lovable but malleable sponges."
—Today show anchor Matt Lauer, who suggested that "Focus has made a mistake and really doesn't want to apologize for it."
MSNBC.com columnist Michael Ventre , who called Christians "creepy, rigid, arrogant, cruel, know-it-all, pompous, obnoxious and treacherous -- better know by the acronym CRACKPOT." He added: "They are giving Jesus Christ a bad name."
—Crossfire host James Carville, who said: "How stupid am I? I thought these (tolerance and diversity) were actual virtues."
—MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann, who said: "If the folks at Focus on the Family are right, it could make you, your children or maybe your furniture gay. Or tolerant."

Still, that wasn’t the best of them. One harangue went on at length and then concluded thusly: “In addition, do you miss doing sports for Sports Center? I am a huge Oklahoma State Cowboys fan and love to catch up on the world of Sports with their show.”

Mickey Mantle used to joke that when he died, he’d go to Heaven to meet his maker and his sins would be read out at great length, after which he’d hear, “Sorry, Mick, you can’t stay here. You’ll have to go to the other place. But, before you go, could you sign a dozen baseballs for me?”

Now I know how he felt.

Nice e-mails go to KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

January 19, 2005 | 3:10 p.m. ET

The greatest f'ing country in the world

SECAUCUS— Gee, I guess they could’ve invited Kid Rock to Inaugural Week after all.

The second investment of President Bush got off to a FCC-shaking start when singer Brett Scallions of the band “Fuel” came on stage at last night’s Youth Concert, and before the shock of his low-riding American flag jeans could register, he blurted “Welcome to the greatest ****ing country in the world.”

Exit, Mr. Scallions.

We have all grown up thinking the inauguration, outdoors and amid "the people," preceded by galas and balls and parades and events called “America’s Future Rocks Today,” is a timeless component of American history— a  continuum of history and democracy, both.
      
Actually it all started because the members of Congress and Senate argued over who got to sit where, in the hall, for the inauguration of James Monroe. And Monroe's first doctrine became "let's do it outside— there's room for everybody out there."
      
Thus expedience became tradition.
      
There have been a lot of other bumps along the swearing-in ride, beginning with the crowd control issues of 1829, when Andrew Jackson had to flee.

His, the first Inaugural Parade, turned into the first mass decision to “let’s go congratulate the president.” When 20,000 people descended on the White House, Jackson removed himself to a hotel, and aides placed washtubs filled with orange juice and whiskey on the lawn, to stop the hordes from muddying up the White House carpets and threatening the bric-a-brac.

Video: Bizarre Inaugurals Rutherford B. Hayes not only cancelled the 1877 inaugural ceremony, but also the formal ball, and actually took the oath, in private, in the White House, two days before he repeated it in public. This may have had something to do with the fact that until a few weeks earlier, he’d not only received fewer popular votes than Samuel Tilden, but also fewer electoral college votes— and the whole thing was only decided by the proverbial smoke-filled-room deal, dressed up as a  “special electoral commission.”

Ulysses S. Grant had no luck at all. His first inaugural ball, in 1869, was held in the Treasury Building. There wasn’t enough room for dancing. Four years later, Grant thought he had it beat. For his second inaugural, a huge room was reserved, and a gluttonous menu laid out: roast boar’s head, lobster, turkey, capons filled with truffles, mutton, roast beef, ham, and salmon— with canaries in cages to sing the President’s praises. But that night, it was 4 degrees. The celebrants wound up dancing in their coats, and everything else froze— the food, and the canaries.

There’s an old Monty Python gag about people not wearing enough hats. But at inaugural events, it turns out they’ve worn too many.  The most enduring phrase echoing through inauguration history isn’t “Ask not what your country can do for you,” but “where the hell’s my hat?”

At Grant’s first inaugural ball, guests checked their chapeaus and their coats, only to discover later that most of them had disappeared. Four years later, celebrants kept their coats and hats on— they said it was because of those frigid temperatures. Sure it was.

120 years later, checking service for George H. W. Bush’s inaugural ball was so slow that guests eventually stormed the cloakroom in what came to be known as “The Bastille Day Coat Check Affair.” Proving the bipartisanship of disaster, Bill Clinton’s second inaugural ball was similarly afflicted. Irate partygoers began chanting “We want our coats now - we want our coats now”— Police had to be called to save the imperiled cloakroom staff— to say nothing of saving the coats.

Generally, pomp and circumstance have waxed and waned over the decades. Tickets to James Madison’s ball in 1809 were four dollars each. But by 1857, they had to spend $15,000 to construct a special building at Judiciary Square to accommodate the 6000 guests who wanted to welcome President James Buchanan.

Woodrow Wilson cancelled the 1913 celebration, calling it too expensive and unnecessary. After the partying crept back in as “charity events” in the '20s, FDR refused to sanction them during the depression and World War Two.

By 1961, though John F. Kennedy would flit among five different galas. The pendulum again swung the opposite way in 1977, when Jimmy Carter would decry the decadence, rename the balls “parties,” and cut ticket prices to 25 bucks. That was long forgotten 20 years later, when there were fourteen inaugural balls for Bill Clinton.

The celebrations now come complete with memorabilia. And if that seem unseemly, remember this: Inaugural Stuff dates back to Day One. Though the 1789 George Washington celebration in New York was unofficial, and took place a week after he took the oath, mementoes were already on sale, at souvenir stands, and the capital lobby: a lady’s fan, imprinted with a profile of the first President.  Which was actually kind of useful, since Washington wasn’t even THERE.

In 1909, the weather should have told new President William Howard Taft what was ahead. A blizzard forced his inauguration indoors, into the Senate chamber, as temperatures of seven degrees would later force Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration into the Capitol Rotunda.

Of all inaugurations, Abraham Lincoln’s first, was probably the most controversial. With the Southern states already seceding, he’d had to sneak into Washington, overnight, in a disguise. Then some rocket scientist decided his inaugural parade should feature a float carrying a girl representing each of the 34 states— each of whom Lincoln felt obliged to kiss.

But hands down, the worst inauguration experience belonged to William Henry Harrison. Already 68 years old and a little under the weather in 1841, he not only rode a horse through a snowstorm to the ceremony, but he then proceeded to give the longest inaugural address before or since— 8,445 words which it took him two hours and five minutes to deliver. And he wasn’t wearing a hat. That night, he trooped through no less than four separate parties.

Shortly after, Harrison was diagnosed with pneumonia, and he died exactly one month later.

E-mail at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com


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