Guests: Jonathan Alter, Michael Musto
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Obama speech:
“Outstanding. Very powerful. I have a real affinity for a man who will stand by a friend in trouble.” - Pat Buchanan.
“A good one that will get super-delegates.” - The conservative “National Review.”
“Should have left Geraldine Ferraro out of it otherwise, great speech.” - The head of the Clinton-supporting Web site: MyDD.com.
“A huge positive. A successful turning point for the future of his campaign.” - The senior national correspondent of CBN, Pat Robertson‘s Christian Broadcasting Network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a choice in this country. We can accept the politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism or at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, not this time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The speech analyzed by Eugene Robinson and Rachel Maddow. The politics analyzed by Howard Fineman. And the personal of Barack Obama and his white grandmother.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: A woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street. And who, on more than one occasion, has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The note that may have struck home in the most homes.
Governors gone wild: Day two for New York‘s new governor and new first lady.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. DAVID PATERSON, (D) NEW YORK: Both of us committed acts of infidelity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Oh, here we go.
And: New Jersey‘s ex-governor and his ex-wife, Dina, and his ex-chauffeur, Teddy. Puppet Theater presents “Driving Miss Dina” or “Friday nights with all three of them”?
And: From Amman, Jordan: It‘s Senator John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it‘s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That‘s well known.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Not exactly. Then, Senator Lieberman whispers something to him. Then, McCain says:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I‘m sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: This man is running for president? Seriously?
All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.
(on camera): Good evening. This is Tuesday, March 18th, 231 days until the 2008 presidential election.
What began as the most important day of the Barack Obama‘s candidacy for president might end up being remembered as the beginning of the most important week of his campaign.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Having today broach the sensitive topic of race, in a speech that even many of his critics saw as sweeping and moving, the Obama campaign announcing that tomorrow, he will move on to address Iraq and national security, and then on Thursday, Iraq and the economy.
In Philadelphia this morning, standing before a row of eight American flags, not far from a building in which the Declaration of Independence was adopted, Senator Obama making his own case for a more perfect union by addressing his own experiences as an American of biracial birth as well as his own union, his own 20-year relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the now former pastor of Senator Obama‘s church.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthens my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect.
He contains within him the contradictions, the good and bad of the community that he has served diligently for so many years. I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.
I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who helped raise me and a woman who sacrificed again and again for me. A woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street. And who, on more than one occasion, has uttered racial stereo types that made me cringe.
These people are part of me and they are part of America, this country that I love.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: To help me analyze this speech: Rachel Maddow, MSNBC political analyst and of course, host of her own on Air America Radio; and Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist of the “Washington Post.”
Rachel, Gene, good evening to both of you.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll get the “did it work” big picture stuff in a minute
but let me ask you first both, you start with this, Gene. The evoking of his grandmother there, might this be the key to this speech? Does everybody in this country, black or white or whatever, have somebody like that in their lives? Did Obama transcend this controversy by finding something nearly universal for Americans?
ROBINSON: I thought that was striking moment for two reasons. One, what you just said is true. Everybody has, in their family, you know, a grandmother or an aunt or an uncle or somebody who, you know, comes out with inappropriate things occasionally and, you know, who‘s not quite with the prevailing sentiment about the race or gender or something that‘s politically incorrect.
So, I think it might have struck a cord in that respect. The other thing that‘s kind of interesting is that it‘s a reminder that Barack Obama has a white heritage as well. And it kind of reaches out to perhaps other voters, to perhaps white voters who, you know, I mean, they know it but thought oh, yes, that‘s right. You know, he is biracial and he does know things kind of, from our point of view as well.
OLBERMANN: Yes, Rachel, to that point, my father, a firefighter put himself in danger to save people, didn‘t care who they were. His parents were immigrants to this country, and they came to New York, you know, in the late 1800s. They‘re still na‹ve, they told him, don‘t touch a black person, the color will come off on your hands.
And one night, I was nine years old, my parents were out to dinner, he was baby sitting me, television‘s on, and, you know, the middle of Hawaii Five-O or (INAUDIBLE) et cetera, whatever the show was, on comes the news bulletin from Memphis, Martin Luther King assassinated. And my grandfather who was a good man says, why did they interrupt my show to tell me about some “N” word getting shot?
And it went right through me because I know who Martin Luther King was, you know, I was like nine, and now, I knew about my grandfather. I can‘t talk to him about race relations and if we start talking who is the ball player, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle? I can‘t trust his answer. But I didn‘t love him any less and I couldn‘t throw him under a bus somewhere.
I‘m just wondering, as complicated as this whole story is, did Obama bringing his own grandmothers prejudices into this thing suddenly make the whole issue amazingly simple?
MADDOW: Yes, Keith, it‘s probably exactly what it is. I think what he did was say, you know, there‘s 1 million different or 300 million different stories to tell about race in America but really, there‘s one American story about this. And that is that when we become a more perfect union part of that is that we (inaudible) racist.
I mean, it was non-patronizing speech. It was not a pondering speech. He did not oversimplify. He actually brought down his rhetorical tone a notch so that this would be something that brought light and not heat to a subject on which there is so much heat, in order to say, you know, listen, we‘ve got a political task at hand, we‘ve had a leadership task at hand and that is to lead America toward becoming less divided by race.
And we are all part of that. Whether you are black, white, or both or neither, we are all part of that. We are all part of America‘s struggle to become a better place.
And that means getting past what we‘ve been through in race, with racism, and that means not lying to each other about what we‘ve experiences. Not lying about our grievance, not lying about what we‘ve been through and what we‘ve feared and what we‘ve worried about. If we can be honest about it, we can transcend this and actually move forward and not get stuck in the same racial stalemate we‘ve been in for generations now.
OLBERMANN: OK, standby. Let‘s look at another part of this speech and I‘ll get your reactions to it. Beyond his personal relationship with Reverend Wright, the senator also addressed the anger and the bitterness within the black community from which Reverend Wright incendiary comments took root.
And before we continue the conversation with Rachel and Gene, let‘s make sure we‘ve heard that part of the appeal that Senator Obama made today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: For the men and women of Reverend Wright‘s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away, nor the anger and bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public in front of white co-workers or white friends, but it does find voice in the barbershop or the beauty shop around the kitchen table.
At times, that anger is exploited by politicians to gain enough votes along racial lines or to make up for a politicians own failings. And occasionally, it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning. The anger is real. It is powerful. And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
This is where we are right now. It‘s a racial stalemate we‘ve been stuck in for years. And contrary to claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we could get beyond racial divisions in a single election or with a single candidate, particularly .
OBAMA: . a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Gene Robinson, Senator Obama tackling extraordinary, large, elephant in this race, race itself, doing so head on, it carries obvious risk. The rewards presumably would be huge, if you pull it off right.
Is it too soon to say whether he will reap rewards? You spoke to him after this speech. What does he think?
ROBINSON: Well, he thinks this is something he had to do and wanted to do. You know, he‘d said, obviously, his campaign had been put in a challenged position by all the controversy over Reverend Wright and his comments. Senator Obama said he saw this as also an opportunity to say some things that may be blacks say in private about race, that whites say in private about race, that they don‘t say to each other, that they never say to each other.
And he said that‘s what he tried to do today, just kind of bring that stuff up and put it on the table and talk about it. Now, yes, it is too early to say whether this, you know, I mean, it doesn‘t put it to rest. In fact, race is also an interesting question and interesting threads to pursue. It‘s too early to say whether this did what he needed it to do, which is to kind of stop, get him off the defensive and get his campaign moving forward again.
But I think that the consensus is that it was really a remarkable speech, not least for the way that it addressed the fears and concerns and apprehensions of white Americans, white working class and middle class Americans who have concerns about bussing and who have concerns about crime, who have concerns about affirmative action.
And he hit this hot button issues directly and it was really quite interesting.
OLBERMANN: And, Rachel, to the subject of response, as I mentioned at the top of the hour, a large number of largely positive reviews for this speech from people you might not expect to be receptive: The online version of the “National Review,” the lead news guy at the Christian Broadcasting Network, and our mutual friend, Pat Buchanan.
What does that say about it? Was it that good a speech? Are they damning with faint praise? What does that reaction indicate to you?
MADDOW: As soon as this speech, the text of the speech was released, which was as you remember, was right about the time that he started speaking as I was scanning through it, I immediately came up with what the predictable cynical right wing mean would be on this which is Barack Obama gives lofty speech on race in which he does not call for his pastor to be immediately arrested and therefore, we must continue to demonize Jeremiah Wright and demonize Barack Obama for having an association with him.
That‘s what I predicted today when I saw what the text of the speech was going to be. We‘ve seen a little bit of that, but I actually think that the speech did call out to Americans better angels. And it didn‘t call out on a partisan ground. It didn‘t even call out on racial grounds.
As Gene was saying, this was a speech that was as much directed to white Americans as it was to black Americans as it was to anybody who‘s both or neither. And this is something that I feel like, you know what, Barack Obama is speaking to Americans without patronizing, without oversimplifying because he thinks we can take it.
And I think, even the right wing response today shows that maybe he had a right to be hopeful.
OLBERMANN: And Rachel, there‘s a segment of the population clearly for whom Senator Obama could continue to denounce, to reject, to condemn, to distance himself from Reverend Wright, could throw him under the bus, could do anything, could ask for his arrest as you‘d just raised it, every day between now and the 4th of November and it would never be enough.
Was this speech really intended for them in the first place and if not, for whom?
MADDOW: I don‘t think it was intended for those folks. I mean, those are the same folks who will continue to insist that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim, right? There are people who will implacably try to portray him the way they think he needs to be portrayed to beat him electorally and try to end his career. That‘s going to happen.
What I think he was trying to do was, take the race issue, acknowledge that as long as he‘s in the race, race itself will be a topic of discussion and he was trying to own it a little bit. And say, you know what, let‘s talk about it in hopeful terms that are talking about America‘s advantages, our history and our inheritance from the founding fathers in terms of what it offers us for getting past this as a nation and moving forward. Let‘s be hopeful, let‘s talk about what‘s right with America.
In that sense, I think he‘s trying to kind of own the issue and put it behind them. I think that it‘s interesting that, you know, tomorrow and the next day, he‘s going to pivot away from race as much as he can.
OLBERMANN: Gene Robinson, last word, can you talk nuance to 21st century American voters?
ROBINSON: You can try. It‘s interesting. Everyone has an experience of race. I don‘t think this was over Americans‘ heads. And I think it might connect. People might get it.
It will be a great experiment to see if you can actually, you know, form a sentence of more than 15 words and people can follow you.
OLBERMANN: Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and the “Washington Post”; Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Air America, your insights are invaluable to us as you know. Thank you both for being with us tonight.
MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.
ROBINSON: Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman was at the speech in Philadelphia today. The pure politics of the thing: Did it work in that respect and what it‘s biggest impact, actually, less about the words than about that setting?
And if you‘re in the Obama campaign, did you hurt your candidate today by putting out quotes about how Hillary Clinton would do anything to win?
Plus: Late news of a huge endorsement for Senator Clinton.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: If something about Barack Obama seemed different to you after the race speech this morning, maybe that was the whole point, make no claims that this was not politics and was political stage craft of the highest order and Howard Fineman will join me to discuss it next.
And then: John McCain with the gaffes so great, so astounding that on any other day, it would have been the political headline. What did he say about al Qaeda and Iran?
All ahead: Here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: The dirty little secret of politics is that those who cover it dream one day of hearing a speech so significant and so material that it and they transcend politics.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Put your metamorphosis away. Since Abraham Lincoln sat down at Gettysburg in 1864, there had been precious few of these speeches and Barack Obama‘s today was almost certainly not one of them. But as a political speech and as to its political impact, this was a whopper. And look carefully, if it had not occurred to you already, this may have also been an audition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: For we have a choice in this country. We can accept the politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism. We can tackle race, only a spectacle as we did in the O.J. trial or in the wake of tragedy as we did in the aftermath of Katrina or a spotter for the nightly news.
We can play Reverend Wright‘s sermons on every channel every day and talk about them from now until the election and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words.
We can pounce on some gaffe via Hillary supporter whose evidence that she‘s playing the race card or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that, but if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we‘ll be talking about some other distraction, and then another one, and then another one. And nothing will change.
OBAMA: Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, not this time. This time, we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children, white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children.
This time, we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can‘t learn, that those kids who don‘t look like us are somebody else‘s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids and we will not let them fall behind in the 21st century economy.
Not this time. I would not be running for president, if I didn‘t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn now to our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine, in Philadelphia today for Senator Obama‘s speech.
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The politics of the thing. Only the polling in the next few days, few weeks will give us a hint, maybe only the primary which is now a month from Saturday, gives us a tangible measure. But for now, is there any indication as to whether or not he put the toothpaste back in the tube?
FINEMAN: You mean the Youtube?
I think, that‘s what this is about. This is a video age and those videos Jeremiah Wright, Reverend Wright that Obama referred to today are his political problem. So, the question is, did he put those videos in a kind of political context that will allow him, Obama to move forward and not have to deal with this everyday?
He try to do it by going big, if you will, by being presidential as you point out, those eight flags, the blue background. He was trying to contrast the fire of Jeremiah Wright with the coolness of himself, of Obama in a presidential setting.
It was masterfully put together. This is what they intended. These people in the Obama campaign have a good eye for this kind of thing. It was amusing to watch before the speech. I was in the hall, them experimenting with exactly how many flags to put behind him.
But the argument he was making was a very profound one. And the question that a lot of people I talked to afterwards outside the hall and around Philadelphia as I made my way around the city was, was this somehow too high minded for the average voter who‘s still is undecided in Pennsylvania and around the country?
Obama is making the bet that it‘s not too high minded, that it is exactly right minded. And if he wins that gamble, he will have turn the speech he had to give, and really didn‘t want to give into one that will make history.
OLBERMANN: The reference you made, this speech, there‘s another one tomorrow about Iraq and national security; Thursday, Iraq and the economy. It‘s been suggested that the specific of the speech today were critical but perhaps secondary that that real impact might have been, it looked as you pointed out was carefully arranged.
It looked like he was delivering a state of the union address. Right down to the flags, everything except the presidential seal, the colors matched to some degree. Three big speeches in three big days, is this the idea you have him just drawn out this strength of his having audition as the president as speaker right now blow everybody else out of the (inaudible) if he can do it?
FINEMAN: Well, what he‘s really saying implicitly, Keith, is, I‘m standing before you as a leader with a lot of talent and ability, do you really want to scotch my chances here by having an endless fight over what was said in my African-American church on particular Sundays.
It‘s a risky maneuver because he embraced in the end Reverend Wright. He said, I cannot reject him or I cannot renounce him any more than I can renounce the black community or my own family. That in a way, he had no choice to do, but it was gutsy nevertheless.
The question is whether voters that he doesn‘t have, you‘ve talked about the pure politics of this, here‘s the pure politics: Did this speech win over any of the voters that he did not already have? Either African-Americans who he‘d save himself with or liberal whites in the suburbs who I think he impressed?
What about white, working class voters? What about Hispanic voters?
Did he reach their conscience?
Did he reach some deeper level with them and had said, put aside your concerns about the angry rhetoric of Jeremiah Wright. That‘s not who I, Barack Obama am. I am this president in waiting. Look at me, don‘t look at Jeremiah Wright.
That‘s what he was saying. That‘s what he was trying to do. That‘s the gamble.
The people I talk to around town, black and white, just aren‘t sure. I talked to one African-American journalist here, long-time friend of mine, had said I don‘t know if Barack was speaking too high a tone for the knuckle heads in this town.
You know, we‘ll see what the knuckle heads votes going to do. And that‘s all of us. We‘re all knuckle heads.
OLBERMANN: Yes. And we‘ll see what the responses are because the key issue to this speech may be converting it tomorrow and then again on Thursday. If you pull off three speeches in a row that have this sort of impact, then, you‘ve done what you needed to do.
FINEMAN: Maybe so.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC. Thank you, Howard.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And: The latest from the economy. You like that? That‘s called sarcasm here. No, it‘s not the Treasury Department in action, it‘s Oddball.
And: In Worst Persons, yes, me. Me versus Rupert Murdoch. Again.
Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1865, a move for adjournment was made with the intent to resume in the immediate future. The president gaveled the session to a close. The law makers got up and left and never sat down again. This is the anniversary of the last session of the Congress of Confederate States of America at Richmond, Virginia. So if you are waiting them to reimburse your expenses or something, forget it. Let‘s play Oddball.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): We begin in the bathroom, a bathroom in Henrietta, Oklahoma, where we get a look at the Bobcat on the toilet. Would you knock first?
This is Ginger, potty trained Bobcat, a partly domesticated pet of the Gooden family, who one day followed her owner‘s lead and began using the facilities.
Naturally, the family taped the event and put the footage up online. Now, Ginger has no privacy whatsoever privacy whatsoever and has become a web sensation for all sickos who type the words kitty and toilet into a search engine.
Over to England, where principle production has began on yet another Rocky film. Actually, this is 101 year old Buster Martin, training for the London Marathon. How does a man running the last leg of life‘s long journey prepare for a 26 mile run? First, Buster says, he wakes up every day, kind of a prerequisite for all of us. Second, Martin uses the following controversial electrolyte replacement technique explained in English jargon much more common in the 1930s than it is today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I do in my training, if I stop and I want a pint, I have a --
OLBERMANN: John Belushi ate donuts. This guy pounds beer and smokes cigarettes. Mr. Martin says the technique has worked since his first marathon, during which he placed third behind Julius Caesar and John McCain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Obama campaign says the Clintons would do anything to win. Not exactly breaking news, but why would they say it now, and break attention away from their own candidate‘s big speech.
And before he succeeded a governor ousted after a sex scandal, they asked him if he had every patronized prostitutes, and he laughingly joked, only lobbyists. They did not ask him about extramarital affairs, which came out today on his first full day of the job.
But first, the headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 scandals, Bushed. Number three, Heck of a Job Paulson-gate. He did it again. Just as he praised infamous FEMA head Michael Brown while New Orleans drowned, you heard Mr. Bush praising Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson yesterday for, quote, working over the weekend while the American economy drowned. Enraged economists from such diverse places as the majority on the House Financial Services Committee to the conservative Cato Institute slammed the president today, suggesting he and his people should have been working on the financial crisis weekends, night and day, even on holidays.
Even on St. Patrick‘s day? Even on St. Patrick‘s day, sir.
Number two, Gonzo-gate. You never know just how far a scandal may ripple. It was the Public Integrity Unit in the New York U.S. Attorneys Office that uncovered the Eliot Spitzer scandal. Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney‘s Office, Thomas O‘Brien has just disbanded his public integrity unit and reassigned its 70 lawyers.
The New York U.S. Attorney Public Integrity Unit brought down a Democratic governor and got rewarded. The L.A. U.S. Attorney Public Integrity Unit was investigating Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis and it got discontinued.
Number one, no Fly-gate. All the David Nelsons and the Peter William‘s and everybody else who have missed flights or been interrogated at the airport because their names were on some sort of terrorist no-fly list, only the government wouldn‘t admit it. And if the FAA issued them a special letter indicating they were clean, some airport still wouldn‘t let them board.
They‘ve suspected this for six and a half years and now, it‘s been confirmed; the Justice Department‘s inspector general reveals in audit that the government wide terrorism watch list is filled with incomplete, inaccurate, and outdated information about totally innocent people, some of that bad info as much as three years old.
Worse still, the list is now estimated at 900,000 names long. Worst of all, when there are suspected terrorists who probably should be kept off flights, the FBI is supposed to begin the process of putting them on this watch lists within 10 days. The inspector general finds the Bureau often waits as long as four months.
So real terrorists don‘t get put on the list in time. Ordinary benign Americans, they can stay on there forever. Idiots.
OLBERMANN: Barack Obama was reportedly up until 2:00 this morning working on his speech to address the most crisis of his astonishing run. What was his campaign doing? In our third story tonight, some of Obama‘s top staffers were talking to Politico.com, not to augment his message of healing or unity, but to push a message of their own, that Hillary Clinton will sacrifice anything, including the Democratic party itself, to win the nomination.
An unnamed senior aide to Obama saying he believes Clinton is willing to, quote, destroy the party to get the nomination. Top Obama strategist David Axelrod going on the record with similar remarks, saying, quote, “they would do anything to win, and that means anything. She‘s always asking, how do we wire the vote? How do we wire the system to get the results we want.”
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson, with a careful reply, “I think these apocalyptic quotes are unhelpful. I don‘t envision that either side would destroy the party.”
This on the same day the Texas Democratic party rejected a Clinton request to push back its state conventions from March 29th, saying Clinton‘s request would, quote, circumvent party rules and could effectively disqualify delegates.
Senator Clinton declining to take the Obama camps bait today, briefly acknowledging, instead, the dominance Obama‘s speech had attained on the political landscape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to start off by saying that I did not have a chance to see or to read yet Senator Obama‘s speech. I‘m very glad that he gave it. It‘s an important topic. Issues of race and gender in America have been complicated throughout our history. They are complicated in this primary campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining me now, MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, also senior editor at “Newsweek Magazine.” John, good evening.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right, the Obama camp interviews with Politico were yesterday. It was posted at 8:30 last night. You‘d have to be a first day politician to not know it would slide into the same news cycle as the last previews of the Obama speech, the Obama speech itself, and the analysis of the Obama speech. Why would you say anything? What the hell happened here?
ALTER: I think they have been saying this for many, many weeks, and they had the misfortune of having it slightly interrupt this otherwise historic speech. It‘s kind of a gnat on the back of a donkey. It‘s not exactly pushing the race speech out of the news. I think if they had to do it again, they probably would have cooled their jets a little bit last night.
OLBERMANN: The message, they would do anything to win, and that means anything with quotes around it and David Axelrod‘s name attached to those quotes. Wasn‘t that part two of Samantha Power‘s exit stage left from this campaign? Why speak that at all again in this week in which your campaign is trying to answer a potentially mortal or at least significant blow in the whole Wright controversy.
ALTER: I don‘t think it‘s the same. One is a personal shot that Samantha Power took. The other is about their tactics. What will they do? They will do what it takes. I think we‘ve all known this about the Clinton‘s. It‘s not all that our of the ordinary in politics. You leave no stone unturned.
The Clinton‘s are doing everything they can to challenge the process in Texas, many minor things that you barely even notice in the news, they are doing to try to find any possible advantage, because the odds are really stacked against them. They can only win with super delegates and convince the super delegate, as they are trying to do, that Barack Obama will take them to defeat.
Now, it seemed like they might be getting a little of bit of a break on that front with the Jeremiah Wright story. The question is whether Obama‘s speech today, which is getting superb reviews, may have cauterized that politically, and made it much harder for the Clinton‘s to go to the super delegates and say, you‘ll go off a cliff with Obama if you nominate them.
OLBERMANN: Again, a question of timing and of importance. Obviously, they convinced somebody, because the news came in late this afternoon that Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania has endorsed Senator Clinton.
Obviously, it is huge in western Pennsylvania. Is it the wrong day to
announce that? How did Jack Murtha, the sort visionary about the war in
Iraq, the guy who went to the edge of the platform first and said, enough -
why would he side with somebody who‘s, of the two candidates, more identified as—at least in the past more in favor of this conflict than the other one?
ALTER: I think it‘s a very good endorsement for Hillary Clinton because he is so associated with early opposition to the war, also with pork barrel politics, but more so with opposition to the war. It was a good endorsement. It helps in his district. I don‘t know if I would describe it as huge, because the problem that the Clinton‘s have is that winning Pennsylvania doesn‘t take them very far. That‘s not what they need to get the nomination.
I think a lot of people are still unclear about this. They could have a very, very big win in Pennsylvania, and it doesn‘t take them closer to winning this nomination. At this point, huge would have to be on a different order of magnitude. In that sense, it was a bad day for the Clinton campaign, because they kind of needed Obama to blow this opportunity, blow this speech today for them to have more of a shot of getting back into this thing.
OLBERMANN: Of all things we can say about that speech, I think it‘s pretty clear he didn‘t blow it.
ALTER: That is true.
OLBERMANN: It gets a consensus on that, even from those who are not supporting him. Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, thank you.
ALTER: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Why does a state governor need a driver? For three ways with the first lady. Why else? The claim that makes saga of New Jersey‘s ex-governor just a little bit stranger still.
Then, as strange as it gets; Senator McCain claiming it‘s common knowledge that Iran is training al Qaeda operatives and sending them into Iraq. He says it three times. He‘s so outrageously wrong about it that even Joe Lieberman noticed and corrected him. Worst persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Eliot Spitzer lasted 46 months. Now his replacement has his first one on his first full day on the job. Affairs of state, plus if the saga of the self-outing ex-governor of New Jersey could get any grosser, it just did. That‘s ahead with puppet theater, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story tonight, our Worst Persons in the World.
The bronze, me. When “New York Times” columnist William Kristol wrote a made up story about Barack Obama being untruthful when he said he was not at Jeremiah Wright‘s sermon in Chicago last July 22nd, I named Time‘s managing editor Bill Keller as last night‘s worst person in the world for not firing Kristol, who is disintegrating before our eyes and taking part of the newspaper with him.
Well, I owe Mr. Keller an apology. He had nothing to do with Kristol‘s hiring. He cannot fire him. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal hired Kristol. They should fire him. Again, my apologies to Bill Keller.
Our runner up tonight, Rupert Murdoch. This from the Australian newspaper the “Sydney Morning Herald,” Rupert Murdoch short changed his now 99-year-old mother Elizabeth to the tune of 273 million dollars Australian, and in his attempts to make it up to her left her with a tax bill that has grown to as much as 70 million.
This is about him getting his mother to keep her money in Murdoch‘s Newscorp, rather than invest in higher yielding stocks, then screwing up her taxes by paying her some of the difference. Oddly, Rupert Murdoch‘s defense did not consist of him simply saying, you have nobody to blame but yourself; you gave birth to me.
Our winner, Senator John McCain. The Republican presidential candidate—I can‘t emphasize this enough, he‘s running for president. He‘s running for president, even though three times in the last 24 he has said Iran is training al Qaeda terrorists and sending them to Iraq. As this rare video Worsts from Amman, Jordan shows, even Senator Joe Lieberman realized McCain was making a fool of himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it‘s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That‘s well known. It‘s unfortunate.
I‘m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: No wonder McCain‘s talking about 100 years in Iraq. It will take him that long just to figure out what the hell‘s going on there. John McCain, actually running for president, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Three present or former governors, a singing prostitute and a menage a trois that was nicknamed the Friday Night Special. My producers say, number one story. I say, stories my producers are forcing me to cover. Also, trysts at a Days Inn. Could have been worse, could have been Motel 6. We‘ll leave the light on for you.
First, to the brand new New York governor saying, by the way—David Patterson in his first news conference today as governor of New York confirming that both he and his wife had, as rumored in the tabloids, extramarital affairs during a tough time in their marriage.
One of his affairs started in 1999, ended sometime in 2001. It involved stays at the Days Inn on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, this according to a series of interviews with the “New York Daily News,” concluding just hours after he was sworn in. Governor Patterson wanted to dispense with the past private mistakes after the very public fall of Former Governor Eliot Spitzer, whose involvement with a prostitution ring brought out all manner of experts, including Dina McGreevey, the estranged wife of the former New Jersey governor who admitted to a gay affair before he resigned in 2004.
Miss McGreevey‘s recent TV appearances, in turn, prompting a former driver of Mr. McGreevey, Ted Peterson (ph), to claim threesomes with the couple prior to McGreevey becoming governor. The episodes would allegedly start with dinner at TGI Fridays, according to the “Newark Star Ledger,” and move on from there. The participants had a name for it, Friday Night Specials.
Dina McGreevey vehemently denies it, but the former governor admitted to Friday‘s with Dina and Teddy in a statement from his lawyer. He has not pre-screened McGreevey public theater.
OLBERMANN: Another wonderful Friday night at TGI Fridays. You know, the Dragon Fire Chicken, it‘s so hot and spicy. Now that you mention hot and spicy, dear. I was thinking maybe tonight you could try on a Teddy.
Oh, Jim, sure thing.
Hi, I‘m Teddy.
OLBERMANN: OK, that part was my fault. Let‘s bring in “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto. Good evening, Michael.
MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”: Hello, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I suppose we can begin there. Mrs.—the ex-Mrs. McGreevey, Dina, says it never happened. Ted Petersen said he had been brought in as kind of a warm up act. I don‘t want to get into too much detail here, but he says that he didn‘t engage in any way with James McGreevey during these events and didn‘t even know McGreevey was gay at the time. Are we getting a few tortured versions of the truth here.
MUSTO: Yes, we basically have two queens of denial here, especially Dina. This woman still doesn‘t know about Liberaci. She thinks the Earth is flat and so is Tori Spelling. Her husband came home with the “Dream Girls” box set and some lube and she still didn‘t know. He dated Debby Roe (ph) and she still dint‘ know. What‘s it going to take, Dina?
OLBERMANN: Are we so tantalized by the sex here that we are missing the real headline here? A prominent politician in New Jersey, this man and his wife, used to have big nights out at TGI Fridays?
MUSTO: Yes, this is pretty cheesy. That place makes Wendy‘s look like (INAUDIBLE). This is going to prevent this menage from being the most soigne threesome since Jake Gyllenhaal, Matthew McConaughey and Lance Armstrong. I mean, these three are sitting there with the sawdust and the waitresses with the flair and that cheesy food. Basically, Petersen was the appetizer. McGreevey was the entree. Dina was dessert. I‘m sure Gull and Sipple (ph) was in there somewhere as a fudge sunday or something.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Dina McGreevey says Jim McGreevey and his cronies are just jealous because she‘s getting so much media attention lately, because she‘s been repeatedly interviewed about the Eliot Spitzer story. I‘m—the other part of that that falls down, the logical connection, is this really the kind of media attention that would make James McGreevey jealous. If you could get the governor to talk about what happened to Governor Spitzer, wouldn‘t you go talk to him first?
MUSTO: Nobody is jealous of Dina McGreevey. It‘s like being jealous of a pebble or something. I must say, for McGreevey, after writing a book about having sex at truck stops, this is a step up, this scandal. At least it was in a bed. The only bad side from McGreevey is that it implies he actually had sex with his wife, and not just to have kids. This is sick. What kind of twisted gay man is this? It‘s a disgrace.
OLBERMANN: There was a door. As for Governor Patterson now, you can see why he would want to get this out of the way, so it doesn‘t creep up. It was in the tabloids. Do we really need the specifics? He used the Days Inn because it was only four subway stops from his office in Harlem. Later when they reconciled, he took his wife to the Days Inn as well, because their marriage counselor had suggested, quote, new and exciting things.
Again, burying the lead, I don‘t care about the infidelity. I don‘t care about the reconciliation. I think he looks like a great governor. But the future governor of New York goes to a Days Inn by subway? Not even a Holiday Inn Express?
MUSTO: Not even a TGIF. I‘m not going for the cheap blind jokes here, like blind man‘s muff, or he couldn‘t cheat on a test so let him cheat on his wife. I disagree with you, he should have taken a cab and gone to a better hotel, like the Mayflower, where he would found Eliot Spitzer doing it with Ashley and paving the way for his own governorship.
OLBERMANN: Perhaps, he could have run into David Vitter. Again, we‘re mesmerized, misdirected by the sex. The senator from Louisiana chimed in on the Spitzer thin. His phone number was connected to D.C. Madame. He admitted to mistakes, and now he‘s saying, quote, anybody who looks at these two cases will see there is enormous difference between the two of them. The people that are trying to draw comparisons are people who have never agreed with me on important issues like immigration and other things.”
Now, this isn‘t about prostitution, it‘s about immigration? These girls didn‘t have green cards?
MUSTO: Same difference, because Vitter‘s view of immigration is that the only people that should be allowed to transport over straight lines are prostitutes. He‘s totally aligned with Spitzer. These people are all the same. They all try to distance themselves, like Charlie Sheen is like, I tip more, I tip more. Look, I have all of their numbers. It‘s 550. I disagree with all of them on immigration.
OLBERMANN: I heard you, you Freudian slip you. You said it them over straight lines, tremendous. The one and only Michael Musto, straight lines and jokes. Great thanks, Michael. That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,784th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Again, a reminder, day two of our new prime time schedule. COUNTDOWN now at 8:00 Eastern every night, 10:00 Eastern and 2:00 am Eastern.
So based on whatever time it is now, we will see you later.
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