Some truths in the Schiavo case (Keith Olbermann)
SECAUCUS— The e-mail arrived over a week ago. It asked me to stop telling the “lie” that Terry Schiavo was brain-damaged. When I replied politely that independent physicians had concluded otherwise, the e-mailer wrote back.
She called me a “Nazi.”
Hysteria is a strong term to use, but it may be the correct one in the Schiavo case. A poll released Wednesday night by CBS News poll showing that an amazing 82 percent of all respondents believe the Congress and the president should not have gotten involved in the Schiavo case— and the interior numbers were even more startling. 76 percent of all Conservatives thought what the government did over the weekend was inappropriate. 72 percent of all Republicans. And even 68 percent— of all white, evangelical Christians.
The story is missing only two things: an explanation of how just one of the estimated 30,000 cases of individuals in a persistent vegetative state was elevated— and funded— into international prominence (we’ll address that below), and an obvious and respected, neutral observer, a fact-finder— someone acting not for Terry Schiavo’s husband, or her parents, or her congressman, or the politicians— but acting for her.
Actually, it once had such an individual, aman who, in October 2003, was appointed by a Florida court to spend 30 days reviewing every aspect of the Schaivo case— legal and medical (two areas in which he is fully accredited)— and then recommend to Governor Jeb Bush, how to proceed. He is Jay Wolfson, professor at the University of South Florida, a PhD in public health, with a law degree and I spoke with him on the Wednesday Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Let me start with this news of the day, the governor's announcement that there is a neurologist who thinks that perhaps Mrs. Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state but might have been misdiagnosed and could be minimally conscious. Is that plausible to you, or is it a red herring?
WOLFSON: There are several physicians across the country who have expressed that very opinion. I'm not familiar with what he did nor when he did it, nor how he did it. I understand from what you just said that he did not actually evaluate nor examine Terri. People are going to have different opinions.
And honest people are going to differ about their opinions. The fact is we're dealing with 15 years worth of medical evidence and legal evidence that were admitted through the Florida judicial system, based on laws that were created by the legislature, rules of evidence in the Florida courts, rules of civil procedure and the guardianship law in particular, which over 15 years evolved with very carefully designed bipartisan political and religious cooperation.
And you're either going to believe the facts that have been accepted by the courts, using the standards of competent evidence and clear and convincing evidence, or you're not.
And there's a reason why you won't. The reason why you won't is because it's hard. For those of us who are parents, I've got three sons. It's incomprehensible for to us imagine what it's like for these really good— the Schiavos are really good, decent people. I've got to tell you. They're the people I grew up with in Chicago. Their kids are the kids I played with. These are fine, decent people. But I cannot imagine one of my sons or anybody's son in a position where they're no longer capable of interacting and the idea of them dying by pulling a tube. It's extraordinary.
But the evidence that was submitted and the process that was used throughout the Florida judicial system and the federal judicial system substantiated that information about her state and about the evidence that was used to establish her intentions.
OLBERMANN: In your term as guardian at law, as the person asked by the court to represent Terri Schiavo and not her husband and not her parents, as good people as they might be, just her, what was the core issue about her health that you thought you needed to understand and what did you find out about it?
WOLFSON: Well, I sat with Terri for— I had only a month to do this, and I had to review 30,000 pages of document: medical records, legal records, extraordinary amounts of information. I spent time with her family. I tried to get to know Terri indirectly, and I spent about 20 days when I was in town by her bedside, as many as four hours at a time.
I spent time with her parents, with her husband. And I held her hand, and I held her head and I looked in her eyes and I stroked her. And I played music for her, and I asked her to help me.
I was looking for some consistent pattern of responsiveness, some consistent evidence that she was responding, as opposed to reflexing. And the clinical data, the clinical information about persistent vegetative states is that it consists of waking periods and sleeping periods.
And during the waking periods, the eyes move, the eyes are open. People make noises. And some of those noises sound like cries and some of them sound like laughter and some of them are groans, which some of your listeners may have heard. But there was, as hard as I tried, I couldn't get a consistent responses. I couldn't solicit any evidence.
And again, going back to the data in the files, the medical evidence and the legal evidence, there was nothing to indicate that she was not in a persistent vegetative state, given the standards of evidence and the medical knowledge that we have. The best we can do.
Justice Rehnquist said in the Cruzan case that we've got good law. We've got to apply the good law as well as we can. And I extrapolate that and say we've got to take best science and the best medicine we have.
I've got tremendous respect for Governor Bush. He's a wise and conscientious man. In his heart, I know what he feels. I really do.
And the Schindlers are wonderful people. It's not about Governor Bush, and it's not about the Schindlers, and it's not about the decent people outside of the hospice, and it's not about the Florida legislature. It's not about the Florida courts. It's not about the United States Congress. It's not about the U.S. courts. This is about Terri. It's about what her intentions might have been.
And if you don't believe what Michael and others have said about what she expressed after two funerals of her family members, which would have been in context, who were on respirators and who died. And she said, "I don't want to be like that." If you don't believe that, then nothing is going to change your mind.
But if the evidence is credible, and it was deemed so through the legal process, as much as any of us would say, God -- I'm not saying -- people say, do you want Terri to die? Goodness, no. Any more than I want my mother to die or my children to die. You and I don't know each other. I don't want to you die.
But this is a family private matter. How do we resolve these terrible things? I just pray that in the end, Terri's interests will be served best through this process.
OLBERMANN: You investigated, as part of this, not just the medical but the legal and the husband. How much insurance money this was worth to the husband? The children outside the marriage, his relationship that ensued outside the marriage. The conflict with the in-laws. What were your conclusions about the bona fides and the goodness of Michael Schiavo?
WOLFSON: I found nothing in the evidence, nothing— and some of the people who have been presenting evidence recently saying that there's been abuse. They shared that evidence with me a year and a half ago, as well. And I've seen it rather recently again.
There's no evidence to support that she was abused. For 15 years, she hasn't had a bed sore. Ken Connors, who was the governor's attorney was a plaintiff's attorney who made a lot of success in nursing home -- nursing home injuries. She's never had a bed sore in 15 years.
For many years, Michael kept such good care of her that the nursing home staff tried to get a restraining order against him at one point, because he was demanding so much. I think she's been cared for very much by Michael.
And you know, the issue of his other relationship, I'm not going to pass judgment on anybody, Keith. That's not why I'm here. But, you know, just because I love my mother doesn't mean I can't love my wife. Nor does it mean that relationships I had with people that were very intimate years ago, make it impossible for me to continue to care for those people.
Michael is not a warm and fuzzy man. His parents, the Schindlers are, but that doesn't make him a bad guy.
OLBERMANN: Ultimately, when you were involved in this case, what were your recommendations to Governor Bush and would you give the same recommendations under these circumstances today?
WOLFSON: My recommendations were that additional swallowing tests and neurological tests should be performed for the purpose of resolving the dispute between the parties. Because the legal process and the medical process, I felt, had been competent and had met the standards of proof. But only if the parties agreed in advance as to how the results of those tests could be used.
If you'll look at my final report, we had a draft agreement. And we almost got there. At 11:50 p.m. on the 30th of November, Sunday night, before my report was due on the first, all of us were pretty much agreeing to walk into that room and talk about how we would do that.
Mr. Felos called me at 11:50, Michael's attorney. And he said, "Jay, I can't do it. I can't do it, because I'm challenging the law that appointed you, the constitutionality of it. And if I accept anything that you're proposing, then I am diluting my legal and constitutional challenge. I can't."
He was right in doing that legally. And as you know, the law was deemed unconstitutional and then everything I did was technically moot.
OLBERMANN: What about now? What would happen if someone said to you, we need your opinion on this and we need it in a hurry, what would it be?
WOLFSON: My opinion doesn't count. I'm just a guy. You know, I just attempted to use the modest legal skills and clinical and technical skills and scientific skills I have. And I brought to the table the issue of using good medicine, good science and good law.
This is not about me. It's not about anybody else. It's really about Terri.
OLBERMANN: And that, sir, is perhaps the best answer to the question, "what is your opinion" that I have heard yet in this case and the coverage of it.
Besides Mr. Wolfson, I was joined by an individual who gave us a glimmer into how Terry Schiavo’s parents have been able to survive literally millions of dollars’ worth of legal bills over the years they have fought their son-in-law.
Glenn McGee is the director of the New York Institute For Bioethics, and editor-in-chief of The American Journal Of Bioethics.
OLBERMANN: Do you know where this money is coming from? The Schindlers can't possibly have afforded this on their own, can they?
MCGEE: Well, Keith, my research group at Albany Medical College has been looking for the past couple of days into the question you just raised. Namely, if there were 30,000 persistent vegetative state patients around the country, how is it that this one case attracted so much attention and so much litigation?
And what we found is that on both sides of the aisle on this set of legal actions, there's been an enormous amount of money. Some of it's actually been money to support lawyers but most of it has been gifts from large law firms and lobbyists to enable multitasking firms, the kind of
thing we saw in the O.J. trial, on behalf, mostly, of the Schindlers.
OLBERMANN: Do you know where that money came from? Do you know how much it amounted to?
MCGEE: Well, we don't know exactly how much it amounted to. Because as I said most of is it what you would call in kind contribution by lawyers who, in essence, agree with the cause.
So for example, among the representatives of Michael Schiavo's side, the American Civil Liberties Union most recently, and a number of different lawyers who work for firms that specialize in this sort of thing.
But more interesting, the Schindlers have enlisted legal assistance that's amounted to millions of dollars at this point, mostly from national right to life associated groups.
OLBERMANN: Millions of dollars.
MCGEE: At least $20,000 for each filing. And on top of that, there's procedural funding and funding for each and every action that moves up through the system.
You have to remember, Keith, when a case gets to the 11th District Court, it's moved through at least 25 different judges. And appellate lawyers have examined constitutionality questions in teams of 20 and 30. Many of these lawyers billing as much as $500 or $600 an hour.
OLBERMANN: You said 30,000 persistent vegetative cases in the country. Do you have any idea how often two parts of a family in a case like this disagreeing about whether or not to continue care? And are those cases resolved simply in the courts? Simply by arbitration? Or are all the other cases going to wind up in the public eye like this one
MCGEE: Well, in all my years in bioethics, I've never, of course, seen a case that's as much of a train wreck or has involved so much national grief as this one.
But it is regularly the case that when a patient ends up in a persistent vegetative state, the family is aghast. I mean, they don't know what to do. And even relationships that are good can fall apart, because people want the best for that family member, and they can't quite recall what someone said.
And particularly, in my own state of New York, where there's no real law about who's in control, those fights can be exacerbated.
OLBERMANN: What do the very carefully crafted tenets of bioethics say?
MCGEE: Well, these days, we're not feeling like we've done such a great job. But I can tell you that bioethics does agree on one thing. And that is that this kind of decision needs to be made early. It shouldn't be made in this kind of last-minute fashion.
And you know, it sounds like Monday morning quarterbacking, to not be glib about this horrible situation, but frankly, a lot of this really could have been avoided. And around the country, people are asking themselves, do they have it written down? Have they really express what had they want?
In this case, Michael Schiavo may very well be relaying what he believes that his wife said. But the very possibility of those doubts is what's created this problem.
See Countdown with Keith Olbermann weeknights 8 p.m. ET/12 p.m. ET. If you can't watch the show don't miss our nightly live blog "Countdown" on Countdown . We'll countdown Keith's top picks of today's big stories — live!
Bonds retiring? Told ya so (Keith Olbermann)
SECAUCUS — The man who is just twelve home runs away from being able to say "I hit more home runs than Babe Ruth did,” and just 53 away from being able to say "I hit more home runs than anybody else did,” is now threatening to never hit another one.
Barry Bonds this morning doing a Michael Jackson — showing up to the San Francisco Giants' training camp on crutches — and saying he may quit baseball amid the cloud of steroid allegations that have almost choked the sport.
This came a week after his third knee operation of the off-season. The team had suggested he could be back by Opening Day. But Bonds told reporters in Scottsdale, Arizona, that it could be months, not weeks, before he plays again. Maybe not till next season — maybe not ever, all because of the continuing accusations that he used illegal, performance-enhancing steroids.
"I might not be back at all," he told the website MLB.com. "I'm just going to go home and try to enjoy my family. I'm sick and tired of seeing them so upset. I'm done. Finished with it. Certainly I'll be gone after 2006."
If this sounds familiar to you, congratulations — you have a great memory.
In this cyberspace, last Thursday, I noted that Bonds’s operation and the House steroid hearings had taken place on the same day. “What would happen,” I asked rhetorically, “if Bonds never returned?”
This was the second time the thought had flashed across my mind.
Exactly six weeks ago — on the February 8th edition of Countdown — I was talking about the steroid scandal with the noted baseball correspondent Jack Curry of the New York Times. Jack mentioned wanting to be in attendance when Bonds passed Babe Ruth on the home run list. I retorted: “That‘s if he ever comes back for that operation that he just had. What happens if that‘s a career ending surgery and they ‘butcher’ something? That would be quite a story, too.”
There are two facts to consider here. If Barry Bonds really has been juiced all this time — what are his options? To keep doing it until he gets caught? To suddenly stop and turn back into your average 40-year old ballplayer and never get to pass Hank Aaron’s record?
Or is a third one more appealing? To ‘have’ to retire due to the bad knee, or the ‘malicious’ media coverage. To pass up the chance at Aaron’s record (and, oh by the way, to pass up ever having to be tested for steroids again) and go out in a blaze of martyrdom?
Some of Bonds’ other remarks in Scottsdale suggested as much. “You wanted me to jump off the bridge,” he said to no one in particular, “and I finally jumped. You wanted to bring me down and you have brought me and my family down. You have finally done it, all of you. So now, go pick on a different person. I am done.”
There is one other option here, a little less melodramatic, but even more conspiratorial. It should be noted that under the new steroid-testing program, a player on baseball’s disabled list — say, a guy rehabilitating a knee injury — is not required to be tested for the drug use. If, say, a particular player had been using steroids all these years and needed to let the steroids clear out of his system, the absolute best place for him to be right now — would be on a pair of crutches.
None of this has been an idle guess — nor great insight or prescience — on my part. In 1988, the late Florence Griffith-Joyner won three Gold Medals in track and field at the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. But it was widely believed by other athletes that she was using steroids. Carl Lewis even mentioned it, in a public speech at the University of Pennsylvania that was videotaped without his knowledge.
Griffith-Joyner came back from Seoul, and she, her husband, and her trainer all threatened to sue anybody who mentioned the word "steroids" and her name in the same sentence (myself and Carl Lewis included). She then talked about how she wanted to defend her medals in the 1992 Olympics, and even the 1996 games because they’d be here in this country, in Atlanta.
And a few weeks later, without a hint of warning, she abruptly retired from sports. Never raced again. Never took another drug test.
She died, tragically young, ten years later, when she suffocated during an epileptic seizure.
This is not to forecast Griffith-Joyner’s horrible fate for Bonds. But nobody believed her, either, when she said she was quitting. And nobody could ever say, or will ever be able to say, that she ever cheated.
See Countdown with Keith Olbermann weeknights 8 p.m. ET/12 p.m. ET. If you can't watch the show don't miss our nightly live blog "Countdown" on Countdown . We'll countdown Keith's top picks of today's big stories — live!
More Sponge Bob from Jim Dob (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - Week before last, the tempest-in-the-teapot that was the “We Are Family” video premiered in tens of thousands of elementary schools around the country, and the worst fears of Dr. James Dobson and “Focus On The Family” were realized.
Many of those kids were turned instantly into… disco dancers.
Oh, the humanity.
It was, famously, H.L. Mencken who defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” The Puritans still exist, of course, but as Dobson showed in January, they’ve broadened their sights to include that someone, somewhere, who might disagree with them.
It is two months now since Dobson got up before a largely congressional audience and slammed the “We Are Family Foundation” as a “pro-homosexual” group that was using popular cartoon characters to sell its subversive message to America’s pre-teens. Dobson needed to grab some headlines, so he invoked the name of “SpongeBob SquarePants” as part of his conspiracy theory.
Then a funny thing happened. The headlines were all bad. Many of them made the same implicit leap Dobson wanted his listeners to make -- between SpongeBob and homosexuality. And that’s when Dobson started complaining.
And he hasn’t stopped.
Immediately after our coverage on Countdown (which consisted of a few snarky observations, and the playing of the entire video, so viewers themselves could actually make up their own minds), Dobson’s website added an e-mail generator via which his faithful could annoy me (and Maureen Dowd, and Matt Lauer, and a few others) with their complaints. Initially there were a couple of thousand of them. Then they stopped. Then around March 1st, there was another brief surge of a few hundred. And now after another respite, they’ve resumed again - 20 or so a day.
And the arguments of the latecomers divide almost entirely into two fundamental and hilarious assertions.
The first is that just because you dropped out in the 7th Grade and you’re complaining about something that didn’t happen the way you describe it, and which you didn’t see when it aired two months ago, your complaint should immediately force some sort of self-immolation of atonement on the part of the reader.
More on that in a moment - including another priceless selection of quotations from actual e-mailers.
But, first, the second assertion: that stories like mine are why “liberal network television news is dead and people only watch Fox News now.” I cannot count how many times something like this has been the cornerstone of the writer’s complaint - or the consequence predicted in their explicit threat. MSNBC itself is listed as one of the “liberal” transgressors, along with CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC.
Now it is amazing how pervasive this assumption has gotten. Print journalists analyzing tv or politics or both invariably write of the dying days of the networks, and the ascent of FNC - even though the statistics just don’t bear it out.
Three quarters of the country has cable, and another much smaller figure has satellite television, so any cable network necessarily has something of a ratings disadvantage compared to stations carried over-the-air - but nothing like that which is imagined, and nothing which could explain the viewer totals for Monday, March 11th, 2005, between 6:30 PM and 7:00 PM EST:
ABC World News Tonight: 9,630,000
CBS Evening News: 8,110,000
NBC Nightly News: 9,810,000
Fox News (Brit Hume): 1,013,000
Now, remember, despite the many nuances among them, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC are all seen, from the far-right perspective, as left-wing hogwash, or worse. So let’s look at the ratings once again, and throw in the 394,000 who were watching CNN, the 169,000 watching MSNBC, and the 121,000 who were watching CNN Headline News.
Dying Network Newscasts: 28,234,000
Fox News (Brit Hume): 1,013,000
Looks like a 28:1 victory for the dying liberals over the ascendant conservatives.
But there are a couple of caveats here. The network newscast ratings were based on the average for the entire week of March 7th. That was Dan Rather’s final week, so the CBS number may be a little high, perhaps by as much as a million viewers. And, the comparison to Hume’s yawnathon on FNC isn’t entirely fair. The Jennings/Williams/Schieffer match-up versus Hume occurs only in the Eastern and Central Time Zones. In the Mountain zone, the network newscasts compete with the Fox Report, which usually does better than Hume’s newscast, and, on the West Coast, it’s Peter, Brian, and Bob, versus the second half of The Big Giant Head, Bill O’Reilly, who usually does twice as well as Hume, or better. Then again, the CNN, CNNHN, and MSNBC national audiences also grow the later it gets in the east. It would take more sophisticated data than they let somebody like me see to get the precise mix (I was told by my old masters at Fox that the East Coast alone constituted 50% of their audience), but the gist of it is, the 28:1 ratio is probably not precise.
It might be as low as 20:1.
Still, these folks emailing me - and smarter ones, too - manage to adhere to both their simplistic notions of “liberal television news” and their conviction that it’s losing.
Stupidity would explain this. And that brings me back to the first point - and the reason I make sure to read every Dobsonian-generated e-mail that comes in. You couldn’t make this stuff up. As usual, the last names have been removed to protect the under-schooled:
-- Barbara in Tellico Plains, Tennessee:
“There needs to be a stop on people who distortes Christians who speaks out on the truth of God’s word. Christians have the right to say what ever. Put a stop on this, or first thing you know they will be doing you the same way.”
Hey, Barbara? What ever!
-- Lindsey at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado asks:
“What did Dr. Dobson actually say? Not what was reported. What were his words? His words were about a tv affiliate that is funded by gay/lesbian groups?”
I knew this day would come. The Queer Eye guys have bought their own station.
-- Cathy writes from Norco, California:
“We have watched sponge Bob for some time on occasions. Not all its subject matter is as kosher as we’d like it to be.”
Don’t let Dr. Dobson know about your kosher concerns.
-- With similar obliviousness, Frank from Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been good enough to reproach my “inappropriate toleration of pro-gay groups” by quoting one of America’s great writers:
“The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges, or churches, or parlors, nor even in its newspapers (media) or inventors, but always most in the common people. Walt Whitman 1819-1892, American Poet.”
Um, Frank - I have a historical tidbit about Walt Whitman’s dating habits I think might interest you.
-- Kirtie from Oxford, Pennsylvania, apparently wrote after a struggle with the cat:
“Please try a litter harder to get your facts straight.”
-- Evelyn from Tigard, Oregon, had her whopper contained in her subject line:
“Subject: Misaccurate Reporting.”
-- And Belinda from Bossier City, Louisiana, sums it up neatly:
“I find it quite a show of hypochondria on your part that you absolutely refuse to find out the truth about Dr. Dobson’s comments…”
Sometimes they flat out stump you.
Lastly, a new feature here, saluting fictional, apocryphal, or otherwise unbelievable new jobs in the news:
-- Roland Hedley, Jr., named replacement for Jeff Gannon in Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury.”
-- Mark McGwire, new spokesman for the remaining, always forward-looking, Enron defendants.
-- Paul Wolfowitz, nominated to head the World Bank (which will change policy and now begin foreclosures).
Say it ain't so, Big Mac (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - The story is not just apocryphal — it contains enough syrup to cover all of tomorrow morning’s pancakes east of the Rockies.
Shoeless Joe Jackson is coming down the courthouse steps during the investigation into the crooked 1919 World Series. And in a fictional moment straight from the pages of a morality play, a boy of about ten rushes up to the toppled Chicago White Sox slugger and pleads: “Say it ain’t so, Joe! Say it ain’t so!.”
Jackson, eyes cast to the ground, his future oblivion stretching out before him like the gates of hell, mutters: “I’m afraid it is, son.”
In the new updated Mark McGwire version, it’s the steps of Capitol Hill which the mighty slugger descends. The little kid asks the same plaintive, glimmer-of-hope question. And McGwire puts on his half-moon glasses and reads a prepared statement: “On the advice of counsel, son: No Comment.”
Most of those covering the steroids hearings before the House Government Reform Committee appear to have missed the obvious headline. The stories you’ll read will either focus on denunciations of Jose Canseco, or McGwire’s unwillingness to ‘name names.’ A few will mention the holes beginning to show up in baseball’s new so-called ‘get tough’ steroid testing program. Far fewer will note that Mark McGwire just attached an indelible question mark to himself, as surely as if he’d had it tattooed on his forehead.
Rafael Palmeiro? He vigorously denied ever using steroids.
Sammy Sosa? He denied ever using steroids — in two languages.
Mark McGwire? He took a called third strike over the outside corner, and walked back silently to history’s dugout, never to return.
If it hadn’t been so tragic, so much like watching as cops fail to talk the guy out of jumping, McGwire’s testimony would’ve been reminiscent of the old “Saturday Night Live” sketch about the Three Mile Island Nuclear accident. After President Jimmy Carter is exposed to a massive radiation dose, plant ‘spokesman’ Richard Benjamin is asked “is it true that the president is 100 feet tall?” and replies with a mixture of mirth and disdain: “No! Absolutely not!” A second reporter then asks: “Is the president 90 feet tall?” and Benjamin replies “No comment.”
It’s not just that six-and-a-half years after a steroid precursor was spotted, unhidden, in his locker, McGwire tearfully told the committee, the public, and the ear of baseball history, that he would neither confirm nor deny that he ever abused steroids. More importantly, he not only insisted his lawyers wouldn’t let him answer, but he also went on to insult anybody who did — even though three of them were sitting at the same table he was, and a fourth was being piped in over a big-screen television.
“If a player answers, ‘No,’ he simply will not be believed,” McGwire said, doubtless to the surprise of Sosa and Palmeiro, who had just said no, and Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas, who immediately thereafter would. “If he answers, ‘Yes,’ he risks public scorn and endless government investigations,” which must’ve made the absent Jason Giambi feel like pretty much of a sap, and, oddly, which must also have made Jose Canseco feel surprisingly validated.
Tears or no tears, McGwire is a pretty weak excuse for a martyr. When even the Committee changed its mind and agreed Giambi shouldn’t testify because of his previous testimony in an actual government investigation — the Balco case — telling us that you can’t tell the truth because of some hypothetical inquiry about steroid use pre-2001, rings pretty hollow.
And when Canseco came as close to being a sympathetic figure as he possibly could by explaining how prosecutors in Florida might literally and immediately use whatever he now said, against him in court, fantasizing that you’re going to find yourself at risk of losing your liberty, defies plausibility.
While to some degree every player who testified used the platform to advance his own ends, underscore his own virtues, or pitch his own worthy causes (or book), only McGwire also chose to portray himself as a victim of the committee’s — and the public’s — pursuit of the truth.
In his opening statement, he was the one who ratcheted it up to the level of the Communist Witch-hunts of the ’40s and ’50s by insisting he would not “participate in naming names and implicating my friends and teammates,” at least in part because “My lawyers advise me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, or myself.” At the same time McGwire was acknowledging “There has been a problem of steroid use in baseball.”
In other words, Mark McGwire testified steroids had been abused in the game. But he wouldn’t say by who. And apparently it’s far too dangerous to say “I didn’t.” And though he was clearly emotionally distraught over the testimony that preceded his — about the deaths of two high school steroid users — even his long-standing and sincerely charitable commitment to helping abused kids, was not compelling enough to get him to say something personal, anything, that might help other kids abused by a need to emulate what their heroes did, or have been perceived to have done.
As to what McGwire described as the “public scorn” part of saying “Yes”?
Indeed, that would pose a problem, especially if you broke the then 37-year-old record for most homers in a season with andro in your system. Especially if your health began to deteriorate in seemingly direct proportion to the rate at which your muscle mass grew. Especially if you went from 70 homers at age 34, to retired just after your 37th birthday. Especially if you were saying all this the very same day that the man who in turn broke your record, Barry Bonds, underwent a second operation on a knee, with his club saying it had no “timetable” for his return (by the way — what would happen if Bonds never returned?).
There would be a lot of public scorn if you confessed. And the sea of history would close up over you and the year you had, and they might not vote you into the Hall of Fame, and your name would become synonymous with deception.
So, of the two remaining options, obviously the preferred one would be to refuse to say anything. That way, the sea of doubt would close up over you and the year you had, and they might not vote you into the Hall of Fame, and your name would become synonymous with evasion.
Apparently that stonewall choice was much better than saying “hell no, I didn’t use them.” Obviously, that’s because…
Well, you know what? Sorry, I thought I had something to write here to explain why McGwire denying steroid use was somehow different and more dangerous than Sosa or Palmeiro or Thomas or Schilling doing so.
But that something seems suddenly to have escaped me.
Baseball's Watergate (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK— One of the nation's most astute politicians once warned that it wasn't the crime that did you in, it was the cover-up. It was Richard Nixon, and he said it before Watergate, and unfortunately for him, he forgot it during Watergate.
Somebody should listen to his words now— and that somebody is the Commissioner of Baseball, Allan H. “Bud” Selig.
In its 125 years as a professional sport, his industry's leaders have made a lot of amazing mistakes. Three owners in New York mutually banned radio broadcasts of their teams' games in the '30s because they had concluded— in a precise inversion of reality— that those broadcasts would drain attendance. In the quarter century before Jackie Robinson, the leagues actively fought integration. And, warned in 1975 by an arbitrator to make a compromise with the players' union, because he was about to strike down the contract language that enabled them to keep their players as perpetually indentured servants, the owners told him to take a flying leap, that they'd challenge him in court and win and there'd never be free agency.
But, judged even against this backdrop of a century and a quarter of almost non-stop alternating near-sightedness and absolute blindness, baseball is making its worst mistake yet— it is threatening to challenge in court a Congressional Committee’s right to subpoena seven players, three executives, and the union chief, to testify about steroid use.
You do not have to be a lawyer or an ethicist to realize that the arguments against the subpoenas are ludicrous. They're based on the premise that to possibly reveal the names of players who have used steroids or human growth hormone, illegally, without doctors' prescriptions, would violate a confidentiality agreement between the owners and the players' union. This premise is akin to organized crime leaders seeking to stop congressional testimony because it promised that it would keep the names of its hit men secret.
But even if baseball had a legitimate argument, it shouldn't use it. All it will accomplish by this defiance is to take what is still a relatively back-burner issue among its customers, and give it the appearance of a total stonewall, a complete cover-up, a four-alarm fire of guilty conscience that could not be more damaging than if it proved all the players of the last 20 years had been injected with steroids personally by Bud Selig himself.
Baseball is launching its own version of Watergate. Not the break-in, but the cover-up.
In 1920, the industry faced its greatest crisis. Evidence burst out of courtrooms and confessions that eight members of the Chicago White Sox had received bribes, or had guilty knowledge of those bribes, to deliberately lose the previous season's World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. With the thousand murmured rumors of game-fixing that dated back to the 1890's suddenly shouted aloud, the end of the sport in this country was foretold. The eight players were acquitted in court— under circumstances that were dubious at best. Yet the man appointed by the owners to the then-newly created office of Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, expelled all eight players from the game— including at least three prospective Hall of Fame stars. And though the twin controversies— the game-fixing and especially the expulsions— linger to this day, the game not only survived, it grew exponentially.
Just fifteen years ago, another brave Commissioner, Bart Giamatti, permanently suspended the man who was probably the sport's most recognizable name, Pete Rose, after he confessed to gambling, and was accused of wagering on baseball, and even on the outcomes of his own team's games. Not a month has passed since, that Rose's status hasn't been loudly debated. And the game not only survived, but it again grew exponentially.
Yet steroids— which now cloud every towering home run, and thus the result of every game in every season since the late '80s— are not to be talked about under oath. What kind of message does this send to the fans? There can be only one: that steroid use, and management's knowledge of it, must be so pervasive that it is absolutely imperative to the survival of the sport, to keep any kind of confirmation that any player ever used any steroid, an absolute secret. Worse still, the secret must be more of an imperative than was the crookedness of the 1919 World Series, or the wagering habits of Pete Rose, or any of the other crises that the industry has faced since 1871.
Baseball could sooner survive the revelation that Jose Canseco's accusations in his book "Juiced" were the mere tip of the iceberg, than it could the perception that it has something so big to hide. And if, as Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox fears, the Congressional inquiry turns into a “witch-hunt”? Baseball has not only survived witch-hunts— it has frequently conducted its own, and found witches of every stripe and kind imaginable. And it's always been stronger after the violators were revealed, and either rehabilitated or removed.
To prevent the testimony— to insist that not only should the chips not fall as they may, but that there never have been any chips— is to take the amorphous lingering doubt that irritates, but hardly disillusions the paying customer, and transform it into an overwhelming, assumed fact: because of steroid use, every baseball game can no longer be assumed to be on the level.
I spent more than 20 years as a sports reporter, most of them on the national level. I heard my first accusation of steroid use (ironically enough, against Jose Canseco), from another active player, in the winter of 1987. I had an eminent sports orthopedic surgeon tell me in 1991 that the sudden demise of the career of a seemingly invincible ballplayer due to a rare blood vessel problem could only have been caused by a long-standing hereditary issue that should have affected every male in his family for generations, or by the repeated injections of performance-enhancing drugs into a specific part of the body.
After that, a year didn't go by without similar tips and leads. None could be proved; each brought with it the threat of libel action. The sports media did its best, but without the most unshakable and unattainable of verifications— actual medical tests confirming steroid use— nothing could be reported.
And the baseball establishment heard all the same stories and did nothing, even as prominent figures went on-the-record with their own estimates and conclusions about the prevalence of the drugs in the sport. Yesterday, the House Government Reform Committee responded to baseball's threat to quash the subpoenas in court, in a detailed and damning letter. It noted that in 1995, Randy Smith, then the General Manager of the San Diego Padres, told The Los Angeles Times that “We all know there's steroid use,” and estimated its prevalence at 10 percent to 20 percent of all players. Five years later, the strength coach of the Colorado Rockies told The New York Times that he believed 30 percent of all players had used steroids at some point in their careers. Later estimates, by such players as the late Ken Caminiti and Chad Curtis, approached or exceeded 50 percent.
The best baseball could (or would) do— with its players' union playing the role of the friend in the cliché to whom the guy desperately seeking to avoid the fistfight says “Hold me back, hold me back”— was institute a random testing policy designed merely to determine if there might be steroid use in the sport, without penalties to those who tested positive. Only this winter, after the leaked Grand Jury testimony from the so-called “Balco” case indicated Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees had, in exchange for immunity, admitted to using steroids and human growth hormone, did the industry even cobble together the gentlest of penalty schedules. An individual player would have to test positive four times before receiving a suspension of even one season's length.
Anybody who tested positive four times for a non-addictive drug should be banned for life, for sheer stupidity.
There are tremendous issues in play, of ethics, morality, and health— especially the health of children who use the drugs. But the one facing baseball between now and next Thursday's hearing is a lot baser than that. It is the same one it faced in the wake of the 1919 World Series scandal— decades of rumors of player corruption and management indifference. Then, the owners, after years of neglect, and without a players' union to hold them back, finally acted. Now, a pesky congressional committee has afforded the industry the rare opportunity to lance the boil created by the management-union symbiosis.
And the truth— whatever it is, and whoever it claims— cannot possibly be worse than the specter of baseball's owners and players, arch enemies since the first contract was drawn up, finally colluding to insure that the truth must be suppressed at all cost.
See Countdown with Keith Olbermann weeknights 8 p.m. ET/12 p.m. ET. If you can't watch the show don't miss our nightly live blog "Countdown" on Countdown . We countdown Keith's top picks of today's big stories — live!
Baseball and steroids: Kilroy wasn't here (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK— Who holds the record for the most strikeouts by a baseball pitcher in a single season, Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan?
This is more than just a baseball trivia question, raised to deflect attention as two separate congressional hearings into steroid use — likely to feature subpoenas and a lot of nervous men invoking of the 5th Amendment — loom. They illustrate a point that is evidently unclear to a lot of today's baseball players, to all those anticipating Barry Bonds' chase of the all-time record for home runs, and to the Commissioner of Baseball himself.
Bud Selig has now decreed that no matter what the results of the investigations into steroids, they will not affect baseball's priceless record book. No matter what is or isn't proven about Bonds or Mark McGwire or anybody else, their records will not be altered, Selig says. “That would be unfair to do that… We can't turn history back… Each era, each decade has had situations where people said there were unfair advantages.”
As often happens with Mr. Selig, his assumption of omnipotence will be disproved. History will be the final judge, and history — as vital to baseball's continuity as today's boxscores — will probably dismiss 1984-2004, and every record set during it, as being as artificial as the drugs with which Jose Canseco said he injected himself and some of his teammates.
Technically, Selig is correct. There will not be an asterisk next to Barry Bonds' name reading “* May Have Used Steroids.” But there will be other solutions that future historians — and probably even future Commissioners — will employ to get the point across.
Take that trivia questions as a perfect template.
Who holds the strikeout record, Koufax or Ryan? The answer is neither. Koufax whiffed 382 batters in 1965, and Ryan 383 eight years later. And each has a line in the record book. But they're listed below the statistical record — 505, by Matt Kilroy of the 1886 Baltimore Orioles.
Who the heck was Matt Kilroy?
You won't find him in baseball's Hall of Fame. And you won't find his name on the lips of any baseball fans, nor even many of its historians. He and his 505 strikeouts have simply been dismissed as anachronisms. Once, this was accomplished by noting the mark was set “pre-1900” and thus irrelevant to the game we know now. Koufax, as an example, is only credited with the National League record since 1900 (Charlie Radbourn of the Providence Grays has the N.L.'s All-time mark with 411 in 1884).
If that were not enough, the validity of the league in which Kilroy pitched has been denigrated. It was the American Association, and it was merged into the National League in 1892. It wasn't, say the historians, quite “Major League” enough for its records to “really” count.
But there are still more weapons available to erase a statistic. Kilroy, like Radbourn, set his record in a time when one or two pitchers were all a team had for a full season, so his opportunities to strike batters out were historically aberrational. And, to top it all off, in his day, the pitcher still stood 50 feet from the pitcher — not the 60 feet, 6 inch standard adopted in 1893. That pitchers were also under distinct, possibly neutralizing disadvantages, seems to have been forgotten. Until that 1884 season, pitchers were essentially limited to underhand deliveries, and even the modification of the rule that year prevented them from throwing fully overhand, to say nothing of the fact that batters were permitted to tell the pitcher how they wanted the ball pitched — high or low.
In sum, baseball has decided it was too easy for Kilroy to strike batters out. So, it has struck him out.
And it can do it to any player — for example, Bonds — in a dozen similar ways, without the word “steroid” ever being used. The home runs he hit before 2000 could be ignored because 20th Century baseball “wasn't like” the 21st Century game. Hank Aaron's 755 homers could always be listed as the most hit before the advent of inter-league play. Some future rules change could create separate categories for the time “before the ten-man batting order.”
There are lots of ways to turn Barry Bonds into Matt Kilroy. And history — as it has done to Kilroy and dozens of other record-setters — will use them ruthlessly. So, when those hearings convene and Bonds, or anybody else, speaks, they'll not just be testifying to a bunch of politicians. They'll be testifying to the future, and giving it all the excuses it needs to bury them.
[A little something for you baseball fans: Spring Preview '05 ]
Thoughts? E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com.
See Countdown with Keith Olbermann weeknights 8 p.m. ET/12 p.m. ET. If you can't watch the show don't miss our nightly live blog "Countdown" on Countdown . We'll countdown Keith's top picks of today's big stories — live!
Why I stopped blogging about politics (Keith Olbermann)
SECAUCUS - So much. The title should really read “Why I stopped blogging about politics so much.”
Something happened in December from which I'm just cooling down. It represents all the worst byproducts of this useful new form of media, and it underscores that we're all going to have to figure out how to address them or the blogosphere will succumb to Global Warming long before the planet will.
On December 27th, we got an email from the lead lawyer for John Kerry in Ohio, Daniel J. Hoffheimer (remember him? It seems like only yesterday…) cautioning reporters “not to read more into” what the Kerry-Edwards campaign had just said about the authenticity of the election. “There are many allegations of fraud. But this presidential election is over. The Bush-Cheney ticket has won.” We ran several quotes from the email on Countdown that night, and more here on the blog .
Now, we can debate the merits of the email, and whether or not Senator Kerry's people tantalized some of their supporters in the weeks after the election by first saying what seemed to be election-challenging things, and then saying “no, we didn't mean thaaat.” But we can't debate who Daniel Hoffheimer was, nor his standing in the Kerry camp, nor the fact that I wouldn't get very far if I just made the news up every day, including quotations and even entire people.
Stop it. Stop that Fox joke you were thinking of.
Nonetheless, I got an email that night from a woman who identified herself only as Alexandra, who insisted “something clearly has happened to your coverage. Looks like ‘bait and switch' to me… your quote (was that really true???) from the Kerry attorney saying they believed Bush really won (no fraud???) is so far fetched, I may as well have been listening to Karl Rove or Scott McClellan…”
Remembering the countless nerves frayed in the preceding two months, I replied gently to Ms. Alexandra, forwarding her Hoffheimer's email.
The next afternoon she was back. “Can someone get a statement DIRECTLY from Kerry's office that ‘Hoffmeier' (sic) is INDEED his attorney? No one's heard his name before (though maybe Bush/Cheney lawyers, or Karl Rove might have a clue)…”
As Charlie Brown used to say, arrrgh!
I sent Alexandra the name of Hoffheimer's firm and suggested she check him out herself, and noted again that I wouldn't get very far just making this stuff up out of whole cloth. Even the nutbags at both far ends of the political spectrum get called on that.
What wore me out, of course, was the idea that because I was presenting news that a viewer didn't like, I had to have sold out to one party or another, and/or fabricated it. The woman presumed that I had created a fictional character, was stupid enough to quote him on national television, and was guilty of both these crimes and had to get a note from John Kerry that I wasn't making it up.
If this is the ultimate impact of the blog on the MSM, we're only going to have a newscast once every few months. We'll be spending the intervening time preparing the footnotes and the affidavits.
This wasn't the first complaint email I'd ever gotten, but it was the first out of hundreds of similar tone that actually reminded me of the late Senator Moynihan's observation that we can all have our own opinions, but we can't all have our own facts.
I'll get over it. I hope Alexandra found Mr. Hoffheimer and that they're very happy together.
And I should tell you that I'm still getting an e-mail or two a day from those individuals over at James Dobson's Focus On The Family who are apparently just getting the memo. This is the “SpongeBob SquarePants” controversy from a month ago (you know, the one Bill O'Reilly said last week that he stopped, and “saved” SpongeBob). The writers continue to miss the point, and more importantly, to underscore how Dr. Dobson missed the boat on which area has long truly needed his tub-thumping and fervor. He should've founded something called Focus On The School System.
Nobody's a perfect speller. I'm descended from a long line of bad spellers myself and none of these were stupid or uneducated men. But none of them mangled the language like any of these examples:
— Chris, Denver, North Carolina:
“P.S. I think Jesus said it best when he said, ‘Get behind the (sic) Satan.'” Right, kids! Come on and show your support!
— Dee, Hixson, Tennessee:
“Your prejudism is definately showing.” I can't even contemplate what people who oppose prejudism would be called.
— Lewis, Walla Walla, Washington:
“I am writing to express my opposition to the ‘SPONGE BOB' TYPE VALUES THAT ARE TRYING TO BE TAUGHT in education today.” Just because you put it in them big letters, Lewis, still doesn't mean it's English.
— S. Stephanie, Shady Valley, Tennessee:
“I won't respond to any of this about Dr. Dobson, you people aren't worth the time of day!!!” Umm, Ma'am, I hate to break it to you, but you just did respond.
— Tami & Eric, Dieterich, Illinois:
“It came up a long time ago that Spongebob was gay. It is a theory not a fact. It is a general belief among society that Spongebob is gay.” It's good that even at this late date we can learn where America's “general beliefs” are kept: Dieterich, Illinois.
— Pam, Estes Park, Colorado:
“Our family is deeply concerned by your callous remarks about Dr. Dobson. I believe him to be correct in his assumption of homosexual references in the show. We have watched this cartoon for years and recently, it has appeared to us to be more homosexual in nature. There's several episodes where I just sat there and thought, this is really, really weird. I couldn't get over the gay undertones.” Hang on - Dr. Dobson insists he never said anything about the character or the show or the videotape being “gay” - he claims he was only questioning the motives of the foundation that distributed the video. Gee whiz, if some of his supporters read what he wrote and inferred Dobson was criticizing the show for having “gay undertones,” then, golly gosh, didn't Dr. Dobson infer that there was something untoward about the show and the character? At least he did to Pam.
— Loretta, Vancouver, British Columbia:
“I knew when I herd your reports about Spong Bob… I needed to ivestigate further… and sure enough you not only left out the most important part of the story, but that misrepresented Dr. J. Dobson. I feel that we need to protect the inocence of children. And I feel that right as a parent is being taken away by Homosexuals who slip there docterin in on the sly…” I wish some homosexuals would have slipped in some grammar docterin' during your inocence.
— Todd, Middletown, Ohio:
Todd's ‘subject' line said it all: “Stupid Intellegenece.”
E-mail at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
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?”
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
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