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The evacuation of New Orleans


The evacuation of New Orleans (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — The remarkable news is almost buried as the Gulf Coast continues to reel from a disaster so pervasive that we not only don’t yet have an official death count, we don’t even have a reliable estimate.

Yet after the news conference of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco this afternoon, it seems inevitable that this country will — for the first time in living memory — try to complete a mandatory evacuation of one of its major cities.

New Orleans proper is usually listed as the 35th biggest city — the 30th or 31st largest Metropolitan area. If a million people left before or during Hurricane Katrina’s arrival, that still means getting 300,000 out of the area — with the causeways that lead to the northeast, knocked down like pieces of a child’s toy car racing track.

How are we going to do this?

Eight years ago, flooding and fires led to the evacuation of Grand Forks, North Dakota. That was just 50,000 people, and it was a logistical tour de force (here’s a first person account).

But we probably haven’t seen something like this — a forced depopulation of a major American residential center — since the Civil War. And even those examples are up for semantical debate: did the Confederacy evacuate Atlanta and Richmond, or did the residents just flee?

As we watch this story unfold, it is imperative to consider the history being made. Even when San Francisco was flattened and burned in 1906, large sections of the city were untouched. There were relocations across the bay to Oakland. Nobody said “everybody’s leaving San Francisco.”

What happens when that message is delivered in a New Orleans, devoid of power, food, passable roads — and personal vehicles?

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Why I don’t believe Lance Armstrong (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK — Did cycling hero Lance Armstrong use the performance-enhancing drug “EPO” in 1999? As he’s rewritten the record book at the Tour de France, has he been doping? Is he a friend to doctors of dubious repute, and a patient of one? We’ll never officially know.

There were no medically reliable tests for EPO in 1999, and there can be no official results of any retroactive testing. Legally, those results reported in the French sports paper L’Equipe last week exist in the same kind of twilight zone as the leaked grand jury testimony of baseball’s Jason Giambi about his own steroid use: they’re probably true, but they’re legally invisible.

And finding guilt within the current climate of uncleanliness in sports — Rafael Palmeiro’s test, Barry Bonds’ absence, Mark McGwire’s deafening silence, even the positive test of Ben Johnson in 1988 — is not enough. You can’t say: this guy cheated, this other guy won’t deny he cheated, these other guys look like they’ve cheated, therefore Armstrong should be presumed to have cheated.

No — you have to call this one on personal integrity. And if you asked a million people about Lance Armstrong’s personal integrity prior to the French report, all but about five of them would’ve said it was his strongest asset, well ahead of his cycling skill.

But I’m afraid they were mistaking a combination of extremely good publicity and the panacea for public reputations — cancer survivorship — for genuinely good character.

Five years ago, the people who make television commercials — much of the membership of the SAG and AFTRA unions — went out on strike. What Lance Armstrong did then has always made me doubt him.

The whys and wherefores are probably irrelevant to you. Suffice to say that about 40,000 people appear in television commercials every year, and The Los Angeles Times concluded that barely 5,000 of them get enough work to call it their “living.” The strike was to protect the guy who stands behind the counter in the fast-food ad and doesn’t say anything and you see him for three seconds and he wanted $429 for his trouble instead of $419 (the average income of a member of SAG is less than $7,000 a year. You read that right).

Anyway, before the strike started, the leaders at SAG and AFTRA sat down and looked at the very realistic problem of celebrities in commercials. They were very realistic about it: Michael Jordan was not taking away very many opportunities from rank-and-file members. And very few ads for Staples would suddenly go from 23 striking actors to Michael Jordan pitching post-it notes. They weren’t happy about it, but they realized that to try to enforce the strike on the Michael Jordans of this world was self-defeating. So, they said, to the sports stars and the other non-actor celebrities, if you want to honor our strike — thanks. We appreciate it. If you don’t — well, we’re not pleased, but what can we do? Please just don’t make a stink about it.

Immediately, three prominent athletes said they would honor the commercial actors’ strike. They would not make commercials. They knew they didn’t have to go out with the rest of the crowd making $4,768 a year, but they felt honor-bound.

They were Andre Agassi, Lance Armstrong, and Tiger Woods.

Guess which one actually didn’t make a commercial?


Woods explained that he’d made his commercial out of the country, so he didn’t think he was crossing the picket line. This suggested that Mr. Woods didn’t spend a great deal of time in class while majoring in business at Stanford (or maybe he’d spent too much time).

Armstrong’s explanation was more direct, but no less shabby. He was a cancer survivor, after all, and had a family to feed. That he had been diagnosed in 1996 and had recovered sufficiently to win his first Tour de France in 1999, and lock in his first multi-million dollar ad campaign earlier than that, and that those striking commercial actors making $7,000 a year probably included a few cancer survivors and a lot of families to feed, didn’t seem a factor to him.

Ever since then, I have had my doubts about Lance Armstrong.

This is not a piece of pro-union dogma here. This is not a question of a guy crossing a picket line. This is a millionaire, being given a pass to work by a union full of guys making $7,000 a year, saying no, he wouldn’t do it — and then going and doing it anyway. Even greed and self-interest here was acceptable — but a pretense of self-sacrifice followed by greed, was not.

And that’s what Lance Armstrong did.

In point of fact, had he and Rafael Palmeiro wagged their fingers simultaneously before Congress last St. Patrick’s Day, and I had had to choose one and only one of them to believe, I would have taken Palmeiro.

I hope I’m damned wrong about Armstrong. I hope he’s just a louse, not a juiced louse. But since I already know he’s tested positive for lousehood, I’m afraid I have to prepare for the probability that he’s also tested positive for juicedhood.



Limbaugh runs away from Limbaugh (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK - There is nothing wrong with an unpopular opinion.

Nor is there anything wrong with a subversive one, nor a crazy one. This country was founded on opinions that were deemed by the powers-that-were to be unpopular, subversive, and crazy. Dissent - even when that dissent strays from logic or humanity - is our life’s blood. But if you have one of those opinions, and you express it in public, honesty and self-respect require you to own up to it.

Unless you’re Rush Limbaugh.

On his daily radio soap opera, on August 15, Limbaugh said “Cindy Sheehan is just Bill Burkett. Her story is nothing more than forged documents, there's nothing about it that's real…” The complete transcript of the 860 words that surround those quotes can be found at the bottom of this entry.

Yet, apparently there was something so unpopular, so subversive, and so crazy about those remarks that he has found it necessary to deny he said them - even when there are recordings and transcripts of them - and to brand those who’ve claimed he said them as crackpots and distorters. More over, that amazing temple to himself, his website, has been scrubbed clean of all evidence of these particular remarks, and to ‘prove’ his claim that he never made the remarks in question on August 15, he has misdirected visitors to that site to transcripts and recordings of remarks he made on August 12.

Limbaugh is terrified. And he has reason to be.

Understand this about Limbaugh. He doesn’t believe half the junk he spouts. I’ve met him, and had pleasant enough conversations with him, twice - at the 1980 World Series when he was still a mid-level baseball flunky with a funny name, and once in the mid ‘90s at ESPN when he was just beginning his campaign to get a toehold there. He is a quiet, almost colorless man who, if he could be guaranteed similar success in sportscasting, would sell out the sheep who follow his every word - and would do it before close of business today.

But with that ESPN bid having gone up in flames just under two years ago, and sports forever closed off to him, he’s gotten into what the novelist Robert Graves called a “Golden Predicament” - overwhelming success in a field he really had no intention of pursuing - and he has to keep churning this stuff out every day. And when you’re just free associating to kill time and keep the ditto-heads happy, you sometimes drive right off the end of the pier.

Like on August 15th.

Since we declared Limbaugh “The Worst Person In The World” two nights later for the remarks about Sheehan, he has had the transcript of his pier-drive expunged (even though he initially thought so much of it, that it was posted as a “featured quote” for paying subscribers to his website). Simultaneously, the hapless Brent Bozell, who runs that scam called The Media Research Center, declared that I was guilty of “distortion” in quoting the Sheehan remarks.

Well, as you’ll see below, the only distortion here, is that which lingers in Limbaugh’s ears. His remarks about Sheehan were so embraced by at least one of his fans that they were preserved on another website, and we can present them in full here. You will notice that nothing has been taken out of context, nothing in the minutes before nor the minutes afterwards mitigates against the utter callousness and infamy of his comments about Sheehan.

A reminder that that’s Cindy Sheehan, Gold Star Mother, who when I asked her bluntly if President Bush wasn’t serving her purposes more by not seeing her, was honest enough to answer “yes” without hesitation. And it’s Rush Limbaugh, who so believes in his case against her that he’s too afraid to admit he said this (and who, by the way, has since said of her that, "I'm weary of even having to express sympathy... we all lose things” - as if her son had been a misplaced, er, prescription).

The long preface concluded, here is what Rush Limbaugh said, crazily weaving in and out of the topic of Cindy Sheehan, in his broadcast of August 15. He even wanders back into football, and the very topic that proved his end at ESPN, Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles (honestly, if he ever wanted to be analyzed, he would be such a juicy case that psychiatrists would bid for Limbaugh’s rights). So, as you get deeper into the thicket, you can find the relevant portions about Sheehan, I’ve italicized them. Limbaugh had wandered into this via the news of the withdrawal of the anti-John Roberts advertisement from NARAL:

“They pulled this ad because it wasn't working. They didn't pull this ad because of a bite of conscience or, ooh, this is wrong. And their mistake was they're telling themselves they came out of the barn too soon with it. If they'd have come out of this say a week before September 6th. Well, stop and think about it. If they would have run this ad, if this would have started a week before September 6th, CNN carrying it, and none of the Democrats denouncing it, and without a whole lot of time to gin up, it would have probably had more effect. So I think they're going to learn from this that they didn't keep their powder dry, they just were too eager.

“But the fact that they are too eager -- I mean, Cindy Sheehan is just Bill Burkett. Her story is nothing more than forged documents, there's nothing about it that's real, including the mainstream media's glomming onto it, it's not real. It's nothing more than an attempt, it's the latest effort made by the coordinated left. And all of these efforts are bombing; they're all failing miserably, in and of themselves.

“Now, this is not to say that all is rosy. I don't want you to misunderstand. But I don't get that worked up about it. I have an attitude about it. I've been sharing this with you for the longest time. So I think we're in a new era. The left doesn't get away with this stuff anymore. They're not getting away with it now. I know it's irritating, I know it's frustrating, I know it makes you mad, does me, too, but it's not helpful to the people who are doing this, it is not assisting them.

“They are going to try to claim that Cindy Sheehan is responsible for the Bush poll numbers on Iraq being down, but those numbers were falling before Cindy Sheehan did this. I'm not saying the mainstream press isn't effective in certain areas anymore, I'm not saying the mainstream press doesn't have the ability to shape opinion. Just saying on this, this is not the thing everybody should be worried about. I don't have one in my mind that is, something everybody ought to be worried about, but if you're going to be angry at this, and I understand the anger, and I share some of it, too, the anger here, to me, is how the left and the media are trying to make this bigger than it is.

“But that still takes me back to the fact that they know they're losing, they know they're losing big time. These people are throwing it up against the wall. It's the fourth quarter and all they're doing is throwing long bombs and their quarterback's gotten too tired to finish the game and their wide receiver is out there making all kinds of disparaging comments about the quarterback and getting kicked out of camp.

“The situation with the Philadelphia Eagles pretty much dovetails what's going on with the Democratic Party right now if you ask me. It does. I don't think that we're looking at people who have a posture of confidence. This is not the kind of thing that winners do. It's all done in total desperation, as is the mainstream press's ability to prop it up.

“What's she got? A hundred stragglers have showed up down there, a hundred peaceniks, a hundred long-haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking FM types, essentially, are down there joining her. And if this were genuine, if this were like it was back in Vietnam -- remember, that's what they're trying to turn this into. They're just reliving the old halcyon days of the anti-war movement in the sixties. They would have had hundreds of thousands of people down there. They would have had mass marches. There would have been the need for riot cops outside Bush's ranch down there. This is so obviously a desperation move.

“Now, I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for the woman. I think she's taken the grieving process here to lengths that most people don't, and she's being fueled by all of this attention. But this is just a long way of saying I'm not -- you can call about it and you can talk about it but I just am not that worked up about it because, to me, it's sort of like -- I got an e-mail today from a guy said, "Rush, why aren't you talking about that radio scandal going on?" Why should I talk about it? Why should I talk about that, folks? There's a cardinal rule, when your enemy is destroying themselves, you shut up and you get out of the way and let them do it. And it's happening in countless areas and times on the left. Certain things you do need to give a little nudge, other things you just get out of the way.

“But the longer the Sheehan thing goes on and the longer she's treated as some sort of super-celebrity by the press and the more outrageous things she says, trust me on this, the more people are going to get fed up with it. She's going to become the next Natalee Holloway before it's all said and done.”



Flush the butts (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — I wrote here yesterday of Peter Jennings’ death from lung cancer. The entry yesterday — as nearly all the talk - was, suitably and appropriately, about the man.

Now, about the disease — and you.

The statistics are staggering. By the time this day is over, just in this country, 447 people will have died of lung cancer — 1,562 from all forms of cancer. Nobody did a better job of remembering the part of this sadness that we are trying to forget than Tom Brokaw, yesterday morning, on the Today show: "To go through this difficult time seemed particularly cruel to me. But I know Peter would want us to say, this happens to families every day, and we can't forget about them either."

To that point, the story now of somebody who quite probably should've been in Peter Jennings' shoes, except for dumb, undeserved luck.


‘So,’ I thought, as I was hunched over, spitting blood into the garbage can in my office, half an hour before the newscast, ‘this is it — this is cancer.’ It gets uglier, I understood that — so ugly that those who've survived can't even describe how much uglier it gets.

Still, that imagery that I want to have stick in your mind, is pretty good: They've just had to cut something out, from inside your body because they think it's cancer. And because it doesn't heal up right away, every couple of hours the coagulation breaks and your mouth fills up with blood — and all of a sudden, hunching over a garbage can, spitting it out, is the best available option.

I'm not doing some sort of bad taste ‘what-if’ on the passing of Peter Jennings — I have had a tumor removed from the roof of my mouth.

It was benign — that makes all the difference in the world, of course.

Except for the part — where it doesn't make any difference. Because, I was in that position — spitting globs of myself into a garbage can in Secaucus, New Jersey, entirely through my own doing, my own fault.

And maybe there's the chance that if the loss of Peter Jennings hasn't impacted you, that maybe if you listen to my story you might get smart enough in a hurry — or scared enough in a hurry — so that you don't wind up spitting blood into the garbage can, and spending five days like me, thinking you had cancer — or actually having it.

There are some things in life you don't have much control over — terrorism, lightning, and even cancer when it runs in your family or when you just get it.

But that's not what this tumor was — the one that for five very long days had me convinced I had cancer. This is from me smoking pipes and cigars for 27 years. And if you work for a company that produces or sells pipes and cigars and you are recoiling defensively and saying ‘you don't know that’... well, let me quote Robert Novak — "bull" — I do too know that.

Courtesy Of Dr. Andrei Mark

The place where this thing grew on the roof of my mouth, is precisely above the spot where the end of the cigar, or the tip of the pipe, would sit, nearly every time I've smoked. I've been smoking — with the first place the smoke connects with my tissue, right in this one spot in my mouth — since Jimmy Carter was President.

So, yes, biologically speaking, smoking caused that tumor. Behaviorally speaking, I caused that tumor — period.

It's not like this thing that they cut out of me a week ago last Friday just appeared overnight, either. It was there no later than 1991, and a dentist told me then: either quit smoking or keep an eye on this — or both — because that could be pre-cancerous.

But no — until my current dentist Bob Schwartz said "this has changed, go see an oral surgeon" — I knew better. Both my grandfathers, I liked to say, lived into their 80s and in the last weeks of their lives, both of them walked into town to get a haircut and some cigars — and that would be good enough for me.

Well, maybe that would have been good for me. Except, the point is this: they cut something out of your mouth; it's a benign fibrous tumor; they have to cauterize it with a laser; you wind up spitting blood like Rocky Balboa in front of Burgess Meredith; you spend five days thinking about the radiation and the chemo to come; and — by the way — ten days later, your mouth still hurts and it'll probably be all healed in six weeks.

And that's if you're lucky — so lucky that you start jumping up and down and singing "Happy Days Are Here Again."

Imagine… if it were bad news.

My oral surgeon, Andrei Mark, admits now he feared the worst. And worse still, the last guy in to see him, before me, the last smoker with a tumor in his mouth — his was Lymphoma "B" — Cancer. No unexpected good luck for him.

Maybe, if you're sitting there smoking right now, it'll make you think.

And even if you sense there's already something wrong, don't wait. Oral cancers are survivable at a rate of 80 to 90 percent — get your dentist to give you a simple screening. Even lung cancer, you can do something about — if you do something about it.

Since that lovely evening I spent hunched over my garbage can, I have changed in a couple of ways, but most notably this way: when I see somebody smoking, I want to smack the cigarette or the cigar or the pipe out of their mouth. And then I want to smack them. I understand about the addiction and how they hook you and all of that. I'm a smoker — remember?

But consider something - I had to consider this, last week. It would be terrible enough to have cancer. But on top of it, you'd have cancer and you'd have to stop smoking. Guess what? It's easier to stop smoking while you don't have cancer. Ever thought of that before?

Anyway. We're all sad about Peter Jennings. Me, I feel sad and guilty. But if his death has saddened you, and you smoke, and you want to do something about it, something for him — stop smoking. Or get somebody else to stop.

Break the pipe or throw away the chaw, or flush the butts, or leave the cigar in the cigar store. Buy the gum, buy the patch, get them to tie your arms behind your back until you stop smoking. Do whatever you have to do to stop smoking — now. While it's easier.

So you don't have to stop smoking while you have cancer. Or while you're sitting there, spitting into a garbage can, praying that you don't.



Peter Jennings, 1938 - 2005 (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK — The calm, seasoned, assuring voice has been stilled.

We may remember him for his work on 9/11, or for any of a dozen other crises, from Vietnam to the Munich Olympics to the Challenger disaster. But the real story of Peter Jennings is not to be found in a kaleidoscope of unconnected moments of history.

It is, instead, contained in literally a half century of perseverance, growth; even redemption: He was the only enduring anchorman to return to the desk from which he had been fired. He was the only of America’s great newscasters, to have come from another nation. He was the anchorman who, having concurred with his early critics that he was “simply unqualified,” went out and did something about it. He was a man of whom a colleague would say in the early 1980s — with pride and affection — “He is now as good as he used to think he was.”

But for much of his life, the question for Peter Jennings seemed to be: would he ever think himself as good as the man with whom he was seemingly forever in competition — his own father. Charles Jennings was already Canada’s first famous radionewscaster (and would later become a symbol of the public service orientation of its national broadcasting service), when Peter Charles Archibald Ewart Jennings was born in 1938.

Son followed father — but haltingly. He’d had his own radio show at age 10, but dropped out of high school, and drifted into working as a bank teller. Biographers disagree if the family was trying to give him a dose of reality, or if he was truly adrift in the mid-1950s. Regardless, how ever it came to pass, when he returned to broadcasting as a disc jockey — “P.J. the D.J.” — it was, in essence, starting at or near the bottom, the advantage of the Jennings “name” having been dissipated.

It would not be the last time he would overcome such an inauspicious career move.

Jennings’ music show happened to include reading the news. And he was so good at it, and so inspired by it, that by the mid-'60s, he was the CBC’s Parliamentary correspondent, and frequent anchor of its national newscasts, and of some of the first commercial network newscasts in Canada.

At the same time in America, meanwhile, ABC barely had a national newscast.

While Walter Cronkite at CBS and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley at NBC set standards which the industry still strains to match, ABC was a revolving door of anchormen — 11 in the preceding five years alone. Its latest news president, Elmer Lower, desperately needed something, and thought that something would be found in the host of ABC’s latest new newscast — “Peter Jennings and the News.”

Even the confident Jennings could see the trap. He was 26 years old; he was Canadian; he was taking over a ship that wasn’t sinking - it had never left port. But, he deferred to the advice of a new colleague, the venerable Howard K. Smith. “It’s like being nominated for President,” Smith told him. “You can’t turn it down.”

To borrow the famous 19th Century phrase of General Sherman, Jennings was not elected and he did not serve. He would not change his Canadian inflections and pronunciations. Schedule became “shedule” and Lieutenant, “lieftenant.” Having not grown up versed in American history, when time came to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of the Civil War, he butchered the word “Appomattox.”

And if he would not change the way he talked, he could not change the way he looked.  Critics - and, behind his back, colleagues — called him “Anchorboy” and “Peter Pretty.” “We could never improve his image,” said his boss, Lower. “Not as long as he looked that young.”

At the end of 1967, from the top of his profession - perhaps the most-publicized, most-scrutinized anchor appointment in American television before or since, he was out — out in an industry that rarely offers second chances. He was not yet 30 years old. Once again, as he had as a teenager, he would have to try to climb the hill again, from nearly all the way at its bottom.

But to Jennings, his reporting experience in Canada, and of the American Civil Rights movement, had not been a mere stepping stone. There was a dimension to actually reporting the news that even his famous father had not tasted. He enthusiastically accepted ABC’s offer to become an international correspondent, thriving in Vietnam, in Rome, in the Middle East.

It was as ABC’s Beirut correspondent that he was offered what was to be a break from the chaos of the Middle East — a chance to do feature news reporting at the Olympic games. These were the 1972 Olympic games, in Munich — the ones which introduced terrorism to the world stage. Crouched in hiding outside the infamous Building 31, Jennings was the world’s eyes and ears as the Black September terrorists took hostage, and ultimately murdered, 11 members of the Israeli team.

There he cemented his reputation. No “Peter Pretty” now, but a familiar, analytical, calm but not dispassionate translator of world events to an American audience.

It earned him, another chance at the anchor desk — on ABC’s embryonic challenge to the “Today” show -- a program called “A.M. America” — five minutes of news, from Washington. But if he had aspirations of returning to the evening news, they were soon dashed. He was quickly back in Europe, and a new man was in charge of ABC News — a man who would proclaim: “I think the old concept of the anchor position is outdated and outmoded.”

The man was named Roone Arledge.

With mercurial speed, Arledge pronounced the anchorman dead, then tried to hire Robert MacNeil away from PBS, then whipped up a gaudy, crowded newscast with no less than three anchormen. Jennings was a part — but with Frank Reynolds based in Washington and Max Robinson based in Chicago, his London perch seemed merely a place from which to introduce the reports of other foreign correspondents. Meantime, Arledge, the man who had called the anchorman outdated, tried to hire away first Dan Rather from CBS, then Tom Brokaw from NBC.

Even when World News Tonight morphed back into a one-anchorman program, that one anchorman was not to be Peter Jennings — it would be Frank Reynolds. Jennings, now not quite an anchor and no longer fully a correspondent, seemed a quaint appendage.

And then Frank Reynolds got sick. In a shock that in retrospect seemed to foretell Jennings’ own demise, Reynolds, thought to be recovering from persistent hepatitis, suddenly died in July, 1983. He had had multiple myeloma — a rare cancer — for four years. He had told almost no one.

Even then, Roone Arledge, who had bypassed Jennings for Reynolds, and who would have bypassed Jennings for Robert MacNeil, and who would have bypassed Jennings for Dan Rather, and who would have bypassed Jennings for Tom Brokaw, sought to bypass Jennings yet again. Ted Koppel, who had almost single-handedly established ABC’s news credentials with the still-novel “Nightline,” was offered the anchor job first.

But Koppel turned it down. And then, so too did a wary Peter Jennings. The scars of the 1965-67 experiment were deep. The satisfactions of reporting ran, perhaps, deeper. But now ABC had no other options — and neither did Jennings. At best, he was ABC’s sixth choice. He acquiesced.

And unexpectedly, the years abroad had not merely rid him of the “anchorboy” patina — they had given him a unique perspective, and an intense work ethic. American history still did not flow naturally from him  but world history did.

And so, when the Challenger shuttle exploded on January 28th, 1986, he could ad lib for five hours of special coverage. “The picture is now etched in our minds, but still horrifying,” he concluded, “The disastrous end of the 25th shuttle mission, the sudden death of seven astronauts, America once again reaching for the stars and this time — for the first time, not making it.”

When the opportunity came to join the panel for the first presidential debate in 1988, he could compose hundreds of questions, domestic and international, and cull from them the dozen best.

When war broke out in Iraq in 1991, he could anchor most of ABC’s first special report — 42 hours in length.

In 1993, his experiences at Munich and in the Middle East, could provide a sad, but compelling, context, for his coverage of the first attack on the World Trade Center.

Four years earlier, Peter Jennings had achieved a seemingly impossible milestone. He was the “newer rival” to Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather. Yet he had occupied his anchor desk 16 years before either one of them. And he had been fired 14 years before either one of them had been hired. But somehow, in a career — a life — of perseverance, he had, in 1989, vaulted over them both, into first place in the audience ratings — the first time ABC had ever beaten CBS and NBC for a full year.

By the start of this year, the world that surrounded Peter Jennings was barely recognizable as the same world he had tried to cover from the ABC anchor chair in 1965. And so too was his craft. News had become intensely politicized. Even his Canadian birth became reason for criticism - no longer because he said “shedule” — but just because he wasn’t a native.

Cable abounded, and forecasts of the end of nightly network newscasts seemed as frequent as the newscasts themselves. And Peter Jennings was suddenly the last remaining mandarin. Perseverance had suddenly become survival — Tom Brokaw retired in November, 2004. Dan Rather, in March, 2005. Unexpectedly, Jennings was the senior network news anchor — by a margin of 21 years.

But something was wrong. When the tsunami hit the nations of the Indian Ocean last December, this most international of national newscasters wasn’t there. When Pope John Paul II began his final journey, the only network anchorman who had once been a correspondent in Rome stayed in New York. It was severe bronchitis, he told ABC, and ABC told the country.

Then on April 5th — four months ago last Friday — he told the country something else. Something terrible. He had lung cancer. It was his intent, he said, forcing the words out with a physical strain that any broadcaster or singer recognized as a complete loss of breath, to return to the anchor chair “on the good days.” At ABC, there could be only optimism — no talk of a successor, not even a solo replacement, but rather a rotation, and, constantly, a reminder, right through to last Friday, that the newscast was “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings.”

It was, in the end, the kind of blow that the calm, seasoned, assuring voice had always softened for us, always relieved of its sharp edges and its tragedy — the kind of mitigation with which the years abroad had gifted him. But the perseverance of 57 years in front of a microphone could not restore the calm, seasoned, assuring voice. There was now, it seemed, no one to soften and relieve this shock.

“He is now as good,” that ‘80s colleague had said, “as he used to think he was.” Those who sit in the chairs of his rival networks, or other chairs like them, know that all too well at this hour.

The calm, seasoned, assuring voice has been stilled.

And for now, at least, there are no others.



Congress needs to control its 'roid rage (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK - When it comes to sporting competitions, politicians do not know when to leave well enough alone.     

This was true in 1804 - consider the famous Aaron Burr/Alexander Hamilton clash, the first major game of skill to be held in New Jersey (and the possible origin of the cliché “He won the whole shooting match”).     

So it is true in 2005 - Congress is not going to be able to prosecute baseball’s Rafael Palmeiro on perjury charges. And simply because he wagged his finger at them just like Bill Clinton, they’re not going to impeach him, either - let’s get that straight right off the bat.     

It’s a truly simple proposition, one that should have been simple enough even for the otherwise unemployable people who we keep solvent in Washington thanks to the generosity of taxpayers like you and me.     

Palmeiro testified before Congress on March 17th that he never used steroids.     

Palmeiro tested positive for steroids some time after March 17th.     

Grotesque and self-destructive as Palmeiro’s testimony appears in retrospect, unless there is a stack of paperwork somewhere proving that he tested positive in 2003 or 2004, he’s in the clear. In March, he only told them “I have never used steroids. Period.” He did not add, ‘And I never ever will. Exclamation point!’     

If Congress really wants to further investigate steroids, it can do so, productively, in three other areas.      

Firstly, there is the very real prospect that Palmeiro is one of those athletes who has let himself be conned into using the drug, while convincing (or pretending to convince) himself that he’s really been ingesting Malted Milk Balls. They are probably very rare. Not more than 97 out of 100 pro athletes could talk themselves into drinking Drano and calling it Orange Juice.     

You may think this is foolish, but rationalization about health and what one puts in one’s body is commonplace not just among athletes, but among civilians, too. One need only read the leaked version of Barry Bonds’ Grand Jury testimony in the BALCO case (‘Gee whiz, I thought that stuff was Flaxseed Oil’) to understand the former, and to seriously analyze the eating, drinking, medicating and smoking habits of one’s friends (or one’s self), to understand the latter.

Without rationalizations, we’d all be living on distilled water, food we grew personally, and, for pain - relying exclusively on deep tissue massage.      

The House Government Reform Committee might more productively waste our tax money pursuing this line of inquiry (“What did Mr. Palmeiro not know he was taking, and when did he not know it?”).      

Or it can broaden its net and establish just how much baseball manipulated the entire Palmeiro testing process to cover its own corporate butt, as it planned to celebrate Palmeiro’s milestone 3000th career base hit, and its annual Hall of Fame inductions last weekend.      

This past Sunday morning at Yankee Stadium in New York, one of my oldest baseball friends took me aside in the press box and asked me a question. “You’ve heard the rumor? That a high-profile player failed his steroid test? But that they’re holding it back so as not to ruin Hall of Fame weekend?”

Pretty good rumor, huh?      

Just to show you we media types sometimes get it just as wrong as Congress, my baseball friend and I immediately nominated two “high-profile” players, neither of whom was Rafael Palmeiro. We figured that if it was one of our guesses, he’d gone on the stuff after a terrible start to his 2005 season, and had rallied to near a milestone of his own, after which, on the verge of being caught, he might very well stride proudly to the center of his team’s clubhouse and light himself ablaze in a kind of Viking Suicide.

But the point here is that baseball as a whole might be more productively mined. When did Palmeiro fail his test? Was his appeal of the verdict as slow and drawn-out as it seemed? Was it longer than the appeals of less prominent players? Was the information deliberately withheld from the public (well, really, how long was it withheld? Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, now a New York Mets’ announcer, said on-the-air the other night that he and many of his fellow ‘immortals’ were told last Sunday by Commissioner Bud Selig of a very serious event that had occurred and would be revealed the next day - but that Selig gave them no other details).     

The third area the Subcommittee might find more productive than sweeping up the remains of Rafael Palmeiro and grilling them (don’t kid yourself - he’s finished), is to examine the curious case of the health of Steroidal Suspect #1, Barry Bonds. As the steroid story broke back in March, I suggested on "Countdown" that it would be an amazing coincidence if Bonds just never happened to play again, either this season or permanently, either because of - or on the pretext of - the after-effects of off-season knee surgery.     

After repeated and contradictory announcements reminiscent of Johnny Carson’s old gag about the frequent absences of bandleader Doc Severinsen (“Barry is here? Barry isn’t here? Barry is here. Barry isn’t here”), the latest of Bonds’ 144 different public comments on the health of his knees indicates he won’t play until next year - if then. Of course, as I write this, it’s still early in the morning on the Pacific Coast so Bonds may have revised this forecast two or three times today.     

The entire Bonds saga - the injury, and the tabling (or eliminating) of his pursuit of the career home run plateaus of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron - has amounted to a de facto suspension, and Congress might productively look into that.

If you’re looking into why I’m spending so much time on this, I have to advertise for myself, as Mr. Mailer once wrote. Tomorrow (Friday the 5th), I am sticking my steroid-free toe back into the sports waters. My old ESPN SportsCenter partner Dan Patrick and I are resuming our collaboration for one hour a week, co-hosting his ESPN Radio Show (Fridays, 2-3 PM ET, 11 AM-Noon PT, etc).      

Dan is coming all the way down from World Headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, to do the show with me here in New York. The least you could do is listen.

Finally, as mentioned above, Palmeiro’s done. Whether he self-medicated or self-deluded or both, his credibility was destroyed beyond repair. It’s sad, too, because a statement this week along the lines of ‘I honestly didn’t believe I was taking steroids, I must have been wrong, I ask the fans’ forgiveness, I am willing to testify against my personal trainer’ probably would have preserved much of his reputation.

And it’s interesting to note that very little attention has been paid this week to the fact that Palmeiro was traded away by the Chicago Cubs in 1988 because they were convinced he would never develop any significant power - at age 24, he’d hit a career total of only 25 home runs (in the ensuing sixteen seasons, he’s hit a further 544 of them). And of course - ironic because of the grief President Bush has gotten over the years for trading away Sammy “Well My Translator Is Steroid-Free” Sosa - the Cubs traded Palmeiro to Bush’s then-team, the Texas Rangers ().     

Maybe there’s a fourth line of inquiry Congress could investigate instead of wasting time on Palmeiro’s purported perjury. It’s one based on the theorem supported by Sosa, Palmeiro, and the personnel history of the Rangers’ team: that the individual players may come and go, but the performance-enhancing drugs last forever.