May 12, 2005 | 9:20 a.m. ET

Rebuild them! (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS - They were just a few feet tall and not even as solidly constructed as the old architectural models my father would sometimes bring home from the office for me when I was a kid - but they affected me in a way I never would have imagined.

The towers of The World Trade Center.

They were in our studios yesterday, plastic recreations of the originals, dragged in by groups who are taking advantage of the security concerns about the planned “Freedom Tower” to push the simple idea that the best way to memorialize the victims and restore the community is to re-build the towers exactly as they stood until three and a half years ago.

They’re absolutely right - with one minor caveat. One of the towers should be exactly 229 feet, four inches shorter than the other. I’ll explain why in a bit.

Before that, I have a confession to make. My first job in television was in the lobby of WTC #1 (as they used to call it; I never heard “North Tower” or “South Tower” until the day of the attacks). That’s where CNN’s New York bureau was located until 1984 - behind a two-story thick glass wall that, when we put the studio lights on, made us look like a very cheap high school science experiment.

I hated the place. I mean, if you work in the city’s tallest building and you’re stuck in the lobby, you develop a mean streak about it. The place was comically understaffed (the first two years, we didn’t have a receptionist - whoever was closest to the front door opened it, for staffers, visitors, and bag ladies alike). The commute - from almost anywhere else in the city - was wearying. The mall beneath the towers was a desert, and the neighborhood a wasteland (the dilapidated old West Side Highway still stood - kinda - out the doors to West Street, and the only amusements were those days when big hunks of it would crash to the roadway below). Worst of all, the air conditioning used to go out on an almost regular basis. You’ve never known heat until you’ve worked in a television studio without ventilation. Suits pressed while you wear them.

As I hinted above, my father’s an architect, so I had inherited the typical aesthetic condescension of his profession. What the heck was this Trade Center design supposed to be? The world’s largest salute to Oblong, perhaps - with the faux-gothic grillwork on the outside tacked on in a fruitless attempt to class up the joint.

I went in there to clean out my desk on the afternoon of Saturday, March 31, 1984. I would not return until September 11, 2001.

Suddenly, of course, the sense of drudgery that only a disliked workplace can represent had been transformed into the terrible meaning we all now intuit. And that gaudy grillwork - the only remains standing - stuck out against the smoking pyre of the place with the starkness, and the sudden antiquity, of the Roman Colloseum. The feelings, I needn’t tell you. 40 days as a street reporter in and around the scene of the catastrophe managed to reshape even my memories of the buildings I once dismissed as merely a great deal of weight sitting on top of the place I did my sportscasts.

And as the searing pain of those first few weeks gradually gave way to sadness and thoughts of what, if anything, should be placed on this most hallowed ground, the only thing, the only thing that seemed to make sense, was the towers recreated, as originally designed, oblong boxiness and all - with that one minor caveat about the 229 feet and four inches. I wasn’t among the voices insisting that only rebuilding it as it was would show we hadn’t been “beaten” - merely that all other forms of construction there would offend the sensibility, and diminish, not enhance, the remembrance.

I hadn’t thought much of it lately. The process of healing is a regretful one in a way. We’re designed to forget - not forget the whole, but merely the sharp edges. I hadn’t forgotten the Trade Center, nor my three years in it. Nor had I forgotten the fact that some creatures had managed to use two planes that each contained a friend of mine (Ace Bailey, the former hockey player and executive, was on one, and Tom Pecorelli, who had been one of the studio cameramen for my shows at Fox Sports, was on the other), to kill so many innocents in the buildings, including two college classmates of mine (Mike Tanner and Eamon McEneaney, who happened also to have been the quarterback and the receiver for Cornell University in the first sporting event I ever actually got paid to cover).

Those things hadn’t passed, and they won’t. Nor will the simple reality that it all happened - a reality that will still of a morning unexpectedly punch me in the stomach, or make me wonder for a moment if something so horrible could’ve actually occurred, or if I must have imagined it in a consummate moment in a dream from an endless night.

But I’d forgotten about the rightness of putting the Trade Center back where it stood. Forgotten it, until I saw that model yesterday, and it all came back to me.

The “Freedom Tower” design wasn’t somebody trying to be disrespectful; it was just the unavoidable project of an architectural trend in which everything must look like somebody just built it with a kid’s erector set. The Hearst/Conde Nast building is just getting finished not far from my home, and it’s that same style: Attach Beam A to Side Support B, Tap Support B with a pen to make sure it sounds as tinny as it looks.

But it was wrong.

The best way - the only way - to further soothe the pain is, as the proponents including Donald Trump are suggesting, to rebuild it as it was. Which brings me to my caveat.

I’d use the original blueprints and design the “new” Trade Center exactly as it had been. But I’d insist that one of the towers be exactly 229 feet, four inches shorter than the other. It’s an uncomplicated gimmick to guarantee remembrance. Because, as long as these new towers would stand, someone unaware would ask, “why is one of them shorter than the other?” Whereupon an old-timer could explain, solemnly, that the difference between the heights of the towers is intentional - it’s exactly 2,752 inches.

One inch for each of the victims.

It’s all the memorial we really need.


Watch Keith each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET as he Counts down the best, the worst, and the oddest news stories of the day.

May 2, 2005 | 6:11 p.m. ET

Desperate to not become housewives, part two (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — The epidemic of crimes against journalism in America is apparently a lot more serious than we thought.

Saturday, I quoted from memory Bill O'Reilly's typically overwrought introduction to the tabloid story-du-jour. I came pretty close, I must say, but even I missed some of his later "thoughts."

"The epidemic of crimes against women and children in America continues with the disappearance of 32-year old Jennifer Wilbanks from an Atlanta suburb," intoned the Big Giant Head. Moments later, still omniscient, he added "It's got to be a crime. A woman like that with a long history of responsibility. She had a steady job...She just wouldn't bolt and not tell anybody."

Fortunately, Mr. O'Reilly wasn't the only one stepping neck deep in it.

Over to CNN Headline News, where Nancy "None Of You Are Innocent" Grace was nearly as Video: Cold feet case convinced: "I just don't believe it's a case of cold feet."

For the record, at the same hour, on MSNBC, my Cynicist's exact statement, in the form of a question to a retired profiler, was: "Those photos of this woman — I don`t know how recent they are.  There`s just a feeling about those shots, with her eyes sort of bugging out, that you look at that and say: 'is she going to run or do something?'"

Well, we may even have an explanation for that pop-eyed expression (we're presuming this isn't a thyroid issue).

Prosecution (or at least getting a bill for the $100,000 the police say they incurred searching for her) only covers part of Jennifer Wilbanks' possible debt to society. Perhaps equally as important: her etiquette defecit. What about the fiancee? What about the 600 guests?
What about the gifts?

$10,000 worth of them had already been purchased by relatives and friends of Ms. Wilbanks and her intended, John Mason.  Through the miracle of the on-line registry, you and I can get a Peeping-Tom-like look at somebody's taste in wedding gifts.

Ms. Wilbanks' seems to have been pretty routine, except for one thing: a kind of cheese fixation.

Among the items purchased at her registry: a cheese wire slicer ($9.99), a two-piece cheese server set (that's one knife and one slicer for $29), a cheese server (that's a tray, not a person — $35), a full cheese set (marble serving board, cheese knife, cracker tray — $49), a set of four cheese spreaders ($29), and, best of all, the mighty and essential "Cheese Dome" ($19).

That's what made her run right there — the Power of Cheese!


April 30, 2005 | 5:30 p.m. ET

Judging books by their covers (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK — Of all of the clichéd maxims of life, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” seems to carry the most moral authority. To violate it implies unfairness to others, and the prospect of denying one’s self a great experience or interaction.

And it may be time to scratch it from our language.

Two weekend news stories suggest you can too judge books by their covers, with at least intermittent success.

Jennifer Wilbanks was supposed to get married today in Duluth, Georgia. 600 people were invited. The couple - which lived together - seemed devoted, tested, and ready. And Tuesday night, she went out for a run, presumably carrying nothing more than her walkman. There could be only one explanation: she must’ve been abducted, or worse.

Tears flowed incessantly from those directly involved, and, on cue, from most in the media. All the networks were guilty of it to some degree, but, as usual, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly plunged his foot most deeply into his mouth. ‘The epidemic of violence against America’s women and children continues…’ he began, Friday night (it’s not a direct quote - the transcripts aren’t out yet).


In our office, the sentiment, if not the impervious certainty, was similar. What else could’ve happened to this woman? I try never to disagree with my producers - there are more of them than me, and they can cause unfortunate things to happen to me both in the office and on the air. So despite a hunch, I kept an open mind.

Then I saw the pictures of Ms. Wilbanks, and heard the first report that some hair, discovered along her paths, might’ve been hers - and seemed to have been cut, rather than pulled.

Occasionally, a particular photograph a family releases of a missing relative will not be especially flattering. But all the images of this woman were identical: her eyes were so impossibly wide open that in each, it looked like she was either headed to, or just back from, extreme electrolysis. I said it to my staffers. I said it on the air: This woman looks like she’s about to flee, run, book, or start screaming hysterically. This is somebody on the verge of something in which she exits, stage left.

The family, of course, is delighted that this happened to be the case. Ms. Wilbanks, of course, had cold feet, secreted some money on herself, cut her hair, hopped a bus for Vegas, and wound up in Albuquerque. And for all I know, that look in her eyes is the result of a medical condition, or a bad photographer, and, if so, I apologize.

But I saw this one coming. Or going, as the case may be.

Which brings us to the second such story. Late this afternoon, in the foggy murk of Yankee Stadium, the New York Yankees sent in a pinch-hitter for batter Jason Giambi. He, of course, is one of the poster boys for the game’s recent steroid scandal. He reportedly told a grand jury 16 months ago - in exchange for immunity - that he’d used them, and apologized repeatedly to New York’s fans, although he wouldn’t say why. Of course he couldn’t say why - whereas his grand jury testimony was leaked and thus doesn’t exist, legally, if he came out and said “I used steroids,” he’d be finished. The Yankees would probably be able to void his contract and save themselves about $80,000,000 they still owe him. The same would be true if he were actually to testify in open court and say it. The belief around the ballparks is that the Yankees will not drop Giambi and "eat" his contract because they are waiting for that testimony. Drop him now, and apparently you can't void the contract later. They'd have to suffer the deterioration of his performance and hope the case in which he testified goes to trial, and he gets called -- early.

Giambi is not likely to be caught in baseball’s new steroid testing program. If he’s still injecting steroids, he is using bad ones. He struck out weakly in each of his first two at bats today, lowering his average to .224, with just three home runs and six runs batted in, in the season’s first 23 games.

When the Yankees sent in a rookie named Andy Phillips to pinch-hit for Giambi in the sixth inning, I thought “uh-oh, that doesn’t look right.” The team’s explanation was that Giambi had suffered a minor injury.

Moments later, the Associated Press reported that Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had asked the players’ union to consent to a radically strengthened punishment policy for those testing positive for steroids. Instead of a 10-day suspension for a first-time offender, Selig asked for 50 games. Instead of 30 days for a second positive test, Selig asked for 100 games. Instead of 60 days for a third and a year for a fourth, Selig asked for a lifetime ban for a third positive test.

Even the current threats have drastically changed the game on the field. A year ago, an average of 1.123 homers were hit in each big league game. As of Friday night, that average had dropped to 0.949.

The only way the Commissioner could ask for harsher steroid penalties would be to propose re-analyzing the tests given to all players last season. All players -- like Giambi.

A slight injury took him out of today's game, moments before Selig's proposals were revealed? If I'm Jason Giambi, I'm thinking about doing a Jennifer Wilbanks.

There are a lot of “books” out there. Apparently you can judge at least the occasional one by its cover.


Watch Keith each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET as he Counts down the best, the worst, and the oddest news stories of the day.

April 20, 2005 | 1:39 p.m. ET

Why "Benedict"?  (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — Karol Wojtyla’s predecessor originally created the name "Pope John Paul" to honor — and underscore his continuity with — his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI.
His successor has chosen — as you well know by now — the name Benedict XVI , raising it into a tie for the second most frequently selected Papal title with “Gregory,” behind the 23 Johns. But it’s an ancient name, now having been chosen by incoming Pontiffs just twice since 1740.
This is not mere statistical trivia.
As the unfortunate Cardinal Luciani in 1978 was so careful to recognize those who went before him, the former Cardinal Ratzinger is now invoking the memories of the other fifteen Benedicts.
The first, chosen in 579, is so obscure that the only trace of his pontificate is a document showing he granted one an Italian estate to a local Abbot. The second Benedict, we are told, was a great singer — an unusual resume for a Pope. The third had to fight off an invasion by the Saracens.
Numbers four to nine are generally conceded to mark the darkest period in Papal history — one was deposed, one was killed, one was bribed into resigning. The tenth was literally the "anti-Pope" during the pontificate of Nicholas the second in the 11th Century, but Benedict the 11th made peace with the French.

The 12th we'll get to presently; the 13th was pretty much nondescript; the 14th was feisty (during an argument with the French ambassador, he once seized the man, shoved him into the Papal chair and said "Be Pope yourself!"). And the 15th, who ascended in 1914, tried to keep the Vatican neutral during the first World War and publicly pleaded with world leaders not to fight — becoming in the process the first Pope to correspond with an American president. There is little doubt the new Pope is trying to evoke that Benedict, and the Saint of the same name, and even the word itself (benedictum) meaning, simply, “blessing.”

But then there was Benedict the 12th and one almost wishes there was still a place for his earthy self-deprecation at the Vatican. Elected in 1342 — on the first ballot, and when the Popes still ruled more or less in hiding at Avignon, France — he was Cardinal Jacques Fournier, and he evidently wasn't too happy about his new job.
To his fellow cardinals he said, quote, "you have elected a jackass."
Certainly that is not the Benedict which the former Cardinal Ratzinger hopes to emulate. But the selection does raise the question: What does the name mean in the end? Does the name shape the Pope or does the Pope shape the name?

If we could ask one past Pope for an answer, it would be the Cardinal who advanced to the title in 468. He became Pope Hilarius. At the time, the word — in Latin and Greek alike — still principally meant gracious or cheerful, and had not yet assumed its current sense of stand-up comedy.

They made him a Saint — possibly because he’d have to carry that name throughout history. But it’s instructive to note that there has yet to be a Pope Hilarius II.


April 18, 2005 | 8:01 p.m. ET

All access, mostly cash (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — The reporter showed his identification to the people in charge of credentials for the event he was covering, and reached to sign the document indicating he'd received them.
But instead of being handed the same kind of media pass he’d been given almost everywhere, season after season, he was arrested.
An unusual story under any circumstances. But that it was just the tip of the iceberg of what law enforcement believes is an incredibly, ingenious, long-running, money-making scam raises it almost to a form of art.
He appeared to be a very unsuccessful free-lance television sportscaster. In fact, it is alleged, he was an entrepreneur.  
Jeff Gannon, move over — meet Mark Sabia.

A week ago, at Shea Stadium in New York, when Sabia attempted to pick up the credentials that would admit him and colleagues at his tiny media outlet to New York Mets' baseball games this season, he was arrested by Queens County officers and charged with five felony counts of falsifying business records and sixteen misdemeanor counts running the gamut from petty larceny to criminal impersonation.

Sabia and his custom-made yellow mike flag, for "Mark Sabia's Sports Zone", were regulars at Shea, at Yankee Stadium, at Madison Square Garden, at Giants Football Stadium, for years. He was admitted — free of charge — to hundreds of regular season baseball, basketball, football, and hockey games, and five World Series.

He was fully accredited, season after season, by as many as half a dozen teams, who believed he worked for "Westchester Cable Services," supplying interviews for small television outlets in the suburbs and upstate New York. Only, it appears that when Westchester Cable Services reportedly went out of business years ago, Sabia didn't.

Like the Energizer Bunny, he kept going, and going, and going. But he outdid the Bunny — he reportedly made a profit on the deal.

Sabia’s own dubious status is not what got him arrested — if you started arresting everybody who didn't really belong in a sports press box, how would you know when to stop? I mean, there are hangers-on, and what might be described as ‘vanity credentials’ for dozens of individuals around the various sports leagues and cities.

No, this wasn’t some kind of warning to the scribes, radio men, and tv types — let’s see your clippings or your airchecks, or you’re out of here. There was more to Sabia’s case, and it’s just becoming apparent how much more. Mr. Sabia was usually accompanied on his freedom-from-the-press visits to New York’s sports palaces by a cameraman, sometimes also by a producer, and even an intern. They would sit in a little cluster, and to the regulars at Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, in retrospect, it’s pretty clear that Sabia’s associates never seemed to consist of the same people twice.
Last year he complained to another reporter that the Yankees had "taken away" two of his credentials. The second reporter asked him how many he had. He reportedly replied, "Five."
The members of his camera crew — as the New York newspaper "Newsday" put it, his quote "alleged employees" — were evidently civilians. And sources close to the investigation tell us that authorities believe Sabia was selling those extra credentials.
For a fee — supposed to be a hundred dollars a pop — he was allegedly bringing non-reporters on to the fields, into the press boxes, into the locker rooms, to see the players up close! Even at the biggest events, when the crowd of top-tier reporters was so great that it pushed the secondary guys into small subterranean rooms where they could only watch the game on television, there was still the promise of access — of being where the action was.

Sabia denies all this. To the Westchester, New York paper “The Journal News,” he said, last week, "I'm just a little guy trying to make a living, and I would never intentionally or unintentionally hurt or defraud anyone. I will tell you this — I have worked very hard since I was 17-years-old to earn a living in this business, and I've never lied or misrepresented myself to anyone."

If the allegations of this virtual ‘Sportscaster fantasy camp’ are true, he could’ve been earning $400 a game, courtesy New York’s sports franchises. The five major ones alone play just about 200 home games last year. Sabia certainly didn’t attend every one of them — but do the math, and you realize that to make $20,000 a year, you’d only need to run this scam 50 times. If you actually pulled it off all 200 — that’s $80,000.

A “little guy trying to make a living” indeed.

Later this week — another dubious journalist. Sean Hannity, heard coaching guests how to avoid questions about whether or not they were telling the truth about Terri Schiavo, as reported by “investigative comedian” Harry Shearer — Thursday on Countdown.


April 5, 2005 | 10:05 p.m. ET

The perseverance of Peter Jennings (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK— It is unbelievable.

And unimaginable, and staggering, and heart-breaking.

Peter Jennings revealed on this evening’s edition of ABC’s “World News Tonight” that he has been diagnosed with lung cancer. It was self-evident in the television news industry that something had to have been seriously wrong for him to have not gone to the Indian Ocean to cover the tsunami, nor to Rome to cover the pope’s illness. This is, after all, America’s international news anchor, the one who could’ve — but in this remarkably competitive environment, didn’t — flaunt the fact that he put in about fifteen years as a full-time foreign correspondent.

We all knew there was something amiss. We all hoped it wasn’t anything like this.

He announced it himself — first to his colleagues and then on his own newscast (ever the reporter), in a taped note that back-ended the work of fill-in Elizabeth Vargas. It was simply overwhelming to hear him insist that he will continue to anchor his newscast “on good nights; my voice will not always be like this,” yet to watch him not only labor with what sounded like a heavily constricted respiratory system, but worse still, to see him physically strain and contort himself just to force the words out.

I will not pretend to be even a professional friend of his — we met once, unexpectedly, while we were each waiting to make on-stage presentations at an ESPN event. He was, as those who know him better will insist he always is, gracious and generous and encouraging, and true to at least one cliché of the Canadian— an ardent hockey fan who feels beholden and brotherly to any American who supports the sport.

But for me, Jennings has been much more than just a mandarin of the industry. He is the personification of perseverance. It is amazing to remember that ABC first appointed him to anchor its news in 1965 — sixteen years before Dan Rather got the job at CBS and eighteen before Tom Brokaw at NBC. Jennings was horribly overwhelmed, subjected to vicious criticism, and removed from the chair at the end of 1967. In those days, even at the then turnover-happy ABC, that should’ve been the end of his career. But instead of letting that happen, or blaming somebody else, he took some of what was being said against him— too green, too inexperienced, not worldly enough — and decided to do something about it. He dived in at the deep end, and for the next fifteen years, covered the world for ABC, and had become an expert in America’s place in it, long before the wheel turned again in 1978 and Roone Arledge asked him to anchor from London while Frank Reynolds hosted from Washington and Max Robinson from Chicago. It wasn’t exactly 40 years in the desert, but it was a dedication to self-improvement, to self-expansion, that is almost unimaginable in television today, as unlikely as the lightest weight local anchor you can think of, setting off for the Middle East to become an investigative reporter focusing on terrorism.

And I recall that during my panicky, mind-numbed channel surfing on 9/11, it was at ABC that I finally stopped. Peter Jennings’ calm demeanor and international perspective were reassuring and helpful in a practical way — as respectful and stricken as anyone else on the air that fateful day, but also offering a context some others could not.

If calmness and perspective and perseverance are qualities of the lung cancer patients who survive the disease, Jennings has already gotten it beaten. But this is a terrible foe, and even the breathiest of us who announce the news every night can be left as physically drained afterwards as a singer or actor. As he noted tonight, he’s only shooting for the “good nights.”

And even if he gets those, the landscape of the network television news industry (which, as noted here before, still dwarfs cable so greatly that even the bullies on our side of the schoolyard can’t even see the tops of the heads of the big kids on theirs) will have changed utterly in less than half a year. It was only four months ago last Saturday that Tom Brokaw retired in favor of Brian Williams; next Saturday it will only have been a month that Dan Rather stepped aside to be replaced, temporarily at least, by Bob Schieffer. In that most optimistic of scenarios Jennings will — as ABC has already noted — require a variety a substitutes. The active seniority of network nightly newscasters will have been completely upended. It is neither unkind nor unhopeful to Peter, to recognize that Brian will, on a regular basis, be the longest-serving, with CBS in a planned interregnum, and ABC in the most unwanted, most heart-rending flux.

It is also discouraging to take a quick trip to the right wing blogs and see — amid hundreds of supportive, humane responses from people who perceive bias in Jennings’ work— a handful of odious observations like “the Lord does his work in truly mysterious ways,” or jokes about the Canadian national health service, or comments like “have they started starving him yet?”

When you start reading stuff like that, or when you hear bad news about a rock-solid, hard-working person in your own field diagnosed with a dreadful disease, you need someone with the reassurance and perspective of a Peter Jennings.

When you realize that all of this destabilization is about Peter Jennings, the walls close in for a moment, and it becomes difficult to swallow.


April 2, 2005 | 8:14 p.m. ET

Pope John Paul II: 1920-2005 (Keith Olbermann)

As Sunday begins in the Eternal City, the Last day of Easter Week, preparations for his passing have long since been solemnly and mournfully enacted.   Transportation increased, and secular activities decreased.  Cardinals are heading to Rome.

But he who lived through the Nazi work-camps...
And recovered when run down by a truck 62 years ago...
Who outlasted the Communists...
Who survived an assassin's bullets...
Shrugged off a tumor...
A man who did not succumb to Parkinson's disease...
And who, when he could no longer get himself down to kiss the ground, simply had them bring the ground up...
A survivor of all — still survived, even at the end.

We were told he had but hours left.  That was one whole day, and one brilliant St. Peter's sunrise ago.

Serene and ready he may have been. But he did not — in the words of the poet — go gentle into that good night.  The fight is at an end, but its story will be told for centuries.

And there will be another brilliant St. Peter's sunrise.  Pope John Paul II: 1920-2005.


April 1, 2005 | 2:17 p.m. ET

A forgotten detail (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — One more thing about words.  The early reporting about the death of Terri Schiavo said that she expired at 9:05 ET yesterday morning.  Later, other news organizations reported it was 9:02.  Finally, Michael Schiavo's attorney announced, it was "around nine o'clock." 

This seems trivial, beyond having any meaning.  That is its meaning.  The time someone died — by routine and tradition that can barely be explained — the center-piece of any news story, the thing the reporter tries to include first and that the reader or viewer assumes they will get, to the second — meant nothing to Terry Schiavo, or Michael Schiavo, or the Schindlers... or to anybody else who called this woman "wife," "daughter," "sister," "friend." 

The time of death is a detail of the story.  To the Schiavos and the Schindlers it is extraneous — just like all the other parts of the "story" you and I... tell and hear.  To them, the story is very simple.  Terri Schiavo died.


March 29, 2005 | 12:29 a.m. ET

Schiavo: case closed (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK— It is possible that Michael Schiavo is a battering spouse or a murderer, just as it is possible that you are a battering spouse or a murderer.

But the odds against him (or you) being a battering spouse or murderer, and a complete idiot, are very, very high.

And that is exactly what the husband of the unfortunate, and unfortunately publicized, Terri Schiavo, would have to be, to have done what he did yesterday, unless his innocence was all but certain and the mainstream medical evidence on his wife’s condition all but incontrovertibly verified.

Through his attorney, Mr. Schiavo announced that after his wife’s life ends, he will delay the planned cremation of her body, and ask the Chief Medical Examiner of Pinellas County, Florida, to conduct a full autopsy on the cause of her now impending death.

If he, as some blood relatives of his wife now suggest after a decade of suggesting otherwise, somehow abused her, or he led to the heart stoppage that put her in her present state, it is not likely to be missed by the autopsy.

If he, as his in-laws and all of his critics now suggest after nearly a decade of suggesting otherwise, had an ulterior motive in seeking to end her treatment, it is not likely to be missed by the autopsy.

And if the part of her brain that makes her her was not irreparably damaged (in fact, turned to liquid)— as examination after examination and court after court has found— it is certain not to be missed by the autopsy.

In short, Mr. Schiavo has just given his critics three opportunities to prosecute him by authorizing, in fact requesting, the autopsy. If he’s been lying, or the doctors have been wrong, or any of the hysteria stirred up by those operating both in good faith and bad in this case, is true— then he is a complete idiot.

This case should now be considered closed. Obviously it will not be. It will be perpetuated by a few good, sad people who do not want the woman they know as daughter, sister, or friend, to die. It will be perpetuated by others who cannot come to grips with the incongruity of part of her brain still acting automatically, like a stoplight in the middle of a desert. But mostly it will be perpetuated by people who do not and have not given a damn about Terri Schiavo, or her parents, or anyone but themselves and the opportunities to exploit this situation for their own personal or political beliefs.

Michael Schiavo’s insistence on an autopsy will resolve more than just how hopeless his wife’s situation really has been. It will also be an autopsy on the credibility of those who have tried to manipulate her insentient condition. For, unless Michael Schiavo is a battering spouse or murderer, and a complete idiot, his public critics will be revealed as snake-oil salesmen who have not only exploited his wife, but also thousands of Americans who— just like me, and no doubt just like you— would love nothing more than to see Terri Schiavo rise from her bed and go home, happy, healthy, and fully restored.

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!

March 24, 2005 | 8:00 a.m. ET

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. 


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