Guest: Heather LaMarre, Paul F. Tompkins, Ryan Lizza, Arianna Huffington, Jonathan Alter, Rachel Maddow
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Bench for one: Justice Souter to retire from the Supreme Court. The president says he‘ll consult all sides before replacing him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: The process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Will we soon be saying Justice Sonya Sotomayor?
The primary source for the rumor that waterboarding worked recants. Ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou, who said Abu Zubaydah broke after just one session, 30 to 35 seconds, now says he is stunned to find out Zubaydah was tortured not just once but 83 times.
The banks beat the people: The bill that would have let some homeowners have a chance not go belly up is defeated by a dozen Democrats:
Baucus, Bennett, Byrd, Carper, Dorgan, Johnson, Landrieu, Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Pryor, Tester and Specter. Arianna Huffington joins us.
The “Colbert Report” rapport (ph): Conservatives convinced themselves he‘s only pretending to mock them, that he‘s really a conservative just spreading the word creatively.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, TV HOST: It‘s Obama‘s first day and the economy‘s still in the toilet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: If he is the conservative‘s blessing in disguise, he‘s certainly very effectively disguised.
A congressional hearing about college football rankings and playoffs. Wow. And you sure drew a big crowd for it, too. But at least a wacko congressman got to yell at the clouds and complain about the current system.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOE BARTON, ® TEXAS: It‘s like communism. You can‘t fix it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And still trying to make the swine flu about illegal immigration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL BROUN, ® GEORGIA: I tried to find out this morning specifics about this child that has died—whether it was someone who is from Mexico, possibly an illegal alien who has been brought into this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Proud of yourself, Congressman? Proud, are you, of exploiting a dead 23-month-old boy as an excuse for racism? Proud that you didn‘t even get the facts right?
All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
The man who once said every year when the Supreme Court resumed its sessions he got an intellectual lobotomy is now safe at last, and the president gets to start picking a new justice just 102 days into his term. Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Supreme Court Justice David Souter announces his retirement, this, as there is a significant public correcting of the record by a salesman for an issue upon which the new justice might someday have to vote—governmental torture.
Justice Souter‘s decision to retire at the end of the current term in June. First, it broke 24 hours ago. It finally became official when the president himself made a surprise visit to the daily briefing of his press secretary at the White House. Mr. Obama having just spoken with Justice Souter about his decision, praising his service, noting that the justice held no particular ideology, nor had he sought to promote a political agenda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now, the process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as president. So I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. I will seek someone who understands that justice isn‘t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book, it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people‘s lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nations.
I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people‘s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Justice Souter had sent a brief letter to the president announcing his intent to retire, quote, “when the court rises for its summer recess.” Souter is still a comparatively young justice, one of the youngest now at 69, was nominated by the first President Bush in 1990. He became one of the more consistently liberal judges, at least by the standards of the court. So, his replacement may not alter the basic composition of that court at all.
And the president promised to consult with members of both parties in his search. But that has not stopped immediate reactions from interest groups, including those for and against a woman‘s right to choose and those already accusing the president of referring to nominate an activist judge. The president and close aides have reportedly been preparing for months to fill a vacancy on the court, there‘s been plenty of speculation about the short list.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the sole woman on the bench, has pointedly said that one is not enough, that if President Obama agrees, he has multiple appeals court justices from which to choose. Some of whom are also Hispanic, like Judge Sonya Sotomayor from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, or Kim McLain Wardlaw, who is a judge on the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the president has also indicated, particularly during the campaign, that what he called “life experience” is a plus, so he might look outside appellate courts, which is the providence of all nine current Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice. The president wants the new justice seated when the court‘s new term begins next October.
For more on this, let‘s call in the Washington correspondent of “The New Yorker” magazine, Ryan Lizza.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER: Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Is it possible we won‘t see the Republicans pick as big a fight here as might be first expected, that they‘re anticipating they‘d lose it anyway and whatever political capital they would have might better be spent elsewhere? Or to serve to their base, do they have to have at least the appearance of a brawl?
LIZZA: Well, I think it‘s your latter point. They have to have a brawl. It‘s very important to the conservative base. There‘s almost no issue that‘s more important than the Supreme Court. And so, there‘ll—you know, there‘ll be a battle no matter what, even though the math looks very grim right now in the Senate for them.
And, you know, they can—they can achieve a couple of goals with a big Supreme Court battle. One, they can use whoever Obama picks to try and define Obama, you know, ideologically, in a negative way, define more liberal than the American people believe he is right now. And they can also use it to tie him up politically for a little bit. You know, Obama‘s got a big, ambitious agenda this year, and every day spent on a Supreme Court nominee that, look—you know, because of the math in the Senate is likely to be voted in, is one day not spent on passing a complicated health care plan or a controversial cap-and-trade plan.
So, you know, I don‘t know if they‘re necessarily, you know, all that excited about this in the White House. You know, it adds one other big issue to the agenda for them.
OLBERMANN: Who is in charge of this inside the White House? Is the president assembling the short list himself? Or who‘d be the point man on this?
LIZZA: Well, you know, it‘s funny. There was—the White House has pointed out today and told me just this evening that this process started during the transition, and even before that. Remember, the Obama team had a transition team set up even during the general election. And they had sort of the best legal minds in the Democratic Party coming up with names, vetting candidates.
Now, it was reported this week—excuse me, it was reported today that Joe Biden has given a list to the president. A White House official tonight told me that‘s not the case. And it was very pointedly noted that this is not, you know, a Biden process, that this is a process that will be run basically outside of—out of the White House Counsel‘s office, in other words, which is run by Greg Craig.
OLBERMANN: And if the vice president had a list, it also might already include five people who are already on the court, but I‘m sorry. I couldn‘t resist.
OLBERMANN: Were there—were there hints in the president‘s remarks tonight? Did we get any indicator? Did he give any—was there a tell in there anyway—anywhere about what he‘s looking for?
LIZZA: I don‘t think too much. You know, you could point to most of the names out there and then they sort of are in line with what he said. I think the issue the Democratic president has is that many—your normal place to go for a Supreme Court nominee would be the appellate court and you‘d look for a jurist that was appointed by the last Democratic president. Now, if you actually look at who‘s on the appellate court, Democratically—Clinton appointees, they tend to be a little bit older on average, and this pick is really is a chance to put someone young in there.
We all agree that whoever it‘s going to be is ideologically not going to be that different than Souter, but they‘re going to be younger. So, you don‘t get an extra vote on the court but you get a lot of years. And—so, because it‘s been eight years since we‘ve had a Democratic president and because a lot of Clinton appointees are sort of up there in age, it‘s a sort of slim bench that Obama has to choose from.
OLBERMANN: And Justice Ginsburg‘s point, one out of nine is not exactly close, two out of nine is not exactly close, but it‘d be a little bit better. Is it likely to be a woman?
LIZZA: I mean—look, just judging by everything that‘s been said today, it seems—you know, it seems very clear that they would want to go in that direction. We should be cautious about how certain we are about these things. Often, the early conventional wisdom is wrong about these things. But I think it‘s more than likely that it will be a woman.
OLBERMANN: Ryan Lizza of “The New Yorker,” helping us to try to figure this out as it breaks around us—great thanks for your time tonight, sir. Have a good weekend.
LIZZA: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Torture, of course, an issue that may land on the docket of the new Supreme Court, a prospect as evidenced by not one but two new cases of potential CYA-ing to report, after former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, told ABC News and others that Abu Zubaydah cooperated with U.S. interrogators after just 30 or 35 seconds of waterboarding.
The utility and life-saving value of waterboarding, torture became gospel, at least on the right. Last night, ABC News reported that Kiriakou was stunned to find out recently, as we all did, that Zubaydah was, in fact, waterboarded 83 different times, on top of the rest of his torture.
And now, someone is blaming the CIA‘s waterboarding on two men from outside the CIA. This is from ABC‘s online report. To quote it, “According to current and former government officials—unnamed—the CIA secret waterboarding program was designed and assured to be safe by two well-paid psychologists, Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell.”
Jessen and Mitchell are both veterans of the same program that Rumsfeld‘s Pentagon turned to the SERE training for Americans who might be captured. And as for whether Jessen and Mitchell are to blame for the CIA‘s waterboarding, the question remains who at CIA would have hired these two well-paid psychologists from outside CIA to design CIA interrogations?
Journalist Jane Meyer, who joins us Monday, previously had reported the CIA decided to break detainees before hiring Jessen and Mitchell, but the agency‘s own scientist refused saying, quote, “Don‘t even think about this.” As Meyer could not determine who at CIA went ahead anyway, hiring SERE veterans to do what CIA scientists would not.
But what about investigators for the Levin report on detainees? Did they learn who made the call at CIA? Today, a Senate source told COUNTDOWN, quote, “The CIA refused to permit investigators to talk to agency personnel about activities they conducted for the agency.”
With us tonight, MSNBC political analyst, Jonathan Alter, also, of course, senior editor at “Newsweek.”
Good evening, Jon.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Abu Ghraib was bad apples as we knew from Mr. Rumsfeld at that time. It turned out to be totally false. But now, the Pentagon used these SERE techniques, so did the CIA, and wouldn‘t you know, there are more apples—more bad apples and they‘re outside apples. They‘re freelance apples. It seems like it‘s an awfully convenient and repetitive excuse.
ALTER: Yes. Jane Meyer wrote about these two characters in her book, “The Dark Side,” which (INAUDIBLE) interested in this. I‘d really recommend.
And Jessen and Mitchell were really bad actors. I mean, they knew nothing about Islam, spoke no Arabic, totally unqualified to do these interrogations, said that the prisoners should be treated as, quote, “a dog in a cage.” But, should the whole thing be laid on them? Of course not. They were hired by somebody, and then the person who hired them was indeed assigned to hire them by somebody.
So this, by definition, goes up the chain of command, and that‘s what an investigation should be for—to determine exactly how this came down.
OLBERMANN: Is there anything else we should know about this that we have no clue on besides where that chain of command goes up?
ALTER: Oh, there are many, many things that we don‘t know about this. And you know, you could argue in a democratic society, there‘s maybe nothing more important than trying to get to the truth of how we betrayed some of our values.
Look. There were a lot of people right after 9/11, I was one of them, who felt like we are going to have to maybe do some things that we hadn‘t done before. And some people lost their heads on this. But the extent to what this—to which this went, is almost mind blowing when you start to read the details. And we just have to have an airing of this.
It‘s uncomfortable for any society. It was uncomfortable for South Africa, when they did it with apartheid; for East Germany when they did it for the Stasi, the secret police, and they aired all of this, and these were their countrymen and women who were implicated. But it helps to cleanse your system. Even if as in those two case it doesn‘t result in prosecutions.
The prosecution question is a different question from the truth question. We‘re probably not going to get to prosecutions. But we can get to truth.
OLBERMANN: What happens if the same Bush officials who chose the SERE techniques for the military also pushed the CIA to use those techniques?
ALTER: Well, you know, I mean, that is something that we need to have fully aired. I mean, it‘s—this is what congressional hearings are supposed to be for. You know, this is a function of Congress.
If they don‘t want to have a commission, then use the regular process on Capitol Hill to issue subpoenas and have people come in and testify. And there will be very dramatic hearings, and, yes, the Obama administration will be upset that it‘s distracting attention from their agenda. But journalism can only go so far in getting at the truth of what happens, and this is—this is just really needs to take place soon.
OLBERMANN: Spanish judges can only go so far, too. The reaction of the right to these international investigations has been “Don‘t tread on me,” and flag-waving, and “let‘s go invade them.” Could it be ironic—could it work out in some sort of ironic fashion that the Obama administration is, in fact, the part of this entire political complex in our nation, that winds up feeling the most pressured by an external source and says, “We‘ve got to do this before the Spanish do”?
ALTER: I don‘t think that‘s going to happen as it relates to prosecutions. There are all sorts of problems that liberal lawyers have raised with the prosecutions, that you need—you would need John Yoo and some of these others to have shown intentionality and, you know, actually, they sincerely believed as a legal theory that they could do some of this kind of thing, and would you end up trying to prosecute Dick Cheney. It‘s a can of works they simply are not going to open.
But truth commission, truth hearings, we need them badly.
OLBERMANN: Well, we know from the right how we can get that information. I mean, we know we .
ALTER: That‘s right.
OLBERMANN: We just—first, we just hire Mr. Jessen and Mr.
Mitchell and then we let it go from there.
OLBERMANN: Jonathan .
ALTER: Chief counsel of the committee.
OLBERMANN: Yes, right. That‘s right, wearing big masks and those medieval executioners.
Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—have a great weekend.
ALTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As we know from the incomparably accurate world of right-wing radio, the country is drifting towards a one-party system because Senator Specter switched to the Democrats.
Good news and bad news for those who actually think that‘s a possibility. The good news is, Specter voted against the Democrats today. The bad news is: He voted as did 11 Democratic senators, who were Democratic senators before Tuesday, to kill a bill that would have given a second chance for some people with mortgages who are under water to keep their homes—even people who think we might be drifting towards a one-party system.
OLBERMANN: Eleven veteran Democratic senators plus Arlen Specter vote for the banking industry against the people. As Senator Durbin put it, “The bankers own this place.” Arianna Huffington joins.
Also, the academic study that suggests conservatives think Stephen Colbert is actually a conservative—one so smart that he is only pretending to beat up conservatives through satire.
And, an unquestioned conservative exploits a dead infant to contend
that swine flu might have been brought into this country by illegal aliens
in this case, a dead 23-month-old illegal alien.
The shame of the nation in Worst Persons—ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Here is what happened in the new Democratic-controlled steamroller Senate yesterday. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois had an amendment on the floor to save 1,700,000 homeowners from foreclosure. The amendment would have rolled back the law of 30 years, once again letting bankruptcy judges “cram-down” mortgages, rewriting them, so homeowner‘s could keep their homes, neighbors could keep the values of their homes, and banks would get their loan money back.
For the amendment: unions, civil rights and consumer protection groups, the American Association of Retired Persons. Against the amendment: The American Bankers Association and the Mortgage Bankers Association and a dozen Democratic senators.
In our fourth story tonight: Guess who won?
Illinois Senator Durbin said on Monday, ahead of the showdown, quote, “The banks—hard to believe in a time when we‘re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created—are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill and they, frankly, own the place.” This is the place. And yesterday on the floor, Senator Durbin explained the choice before the Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: This is our chance to stand up for the folks across America who send us here to be their voice. They‘re not lucky enough to have the American Bankers Association as their lobby. They‘re not lucky enough to have the community bankers as their lobby.
They‘re not lucky enough to have the credit union as their lobby.
But we‘re talking about here of people who don‘t have any paid lobbyists. What they‘re counting on is people, senators in this chamber who will stand up for them.
The bankers don‘t want this. They hate the Durbin amendment like the devil hates holy water.
I hope that the homeowners have more friends here than the American Bankers Association and we‘re going to get a test vote in a few minutes to find out. I need 60 votes to win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: He got 45 and lost.
Winners included: Democrat Ben Nelson, who‘s gotten $1.4 million from banks and real estate, and whose state of Nebraska will lose an estimated 3,700 homes now. Congratulations, Senator. Democrat Mary Landrieu, who has gotten almost $2 million and whose state of Louisiana will now see an estimated 12,000 homes foreclosed on. Congratulations, Senator.
And, of course, this man, Edward Yingling, president of the American Bankers Association, who told “The Washington Post” in February, quote, “We will lobby very, very strongly.” Mission accomplished, buddy.
Let‘s turn now to Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of HuffingtonPost.com.
Good evening, Arianna. Thanks for your time tonight.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Congresswoman Maxine Waters said in January that the banks, and this was her quote, “have owned this Congress way too long.” Now, Dick Durbin has said essentially the same thing. I thought the Democrats won last year.
HUFFINGTON: Well, unfortunately, Keith, this is a fallacy—the idea that the bankers only have Republican friends. Ever since the Clinton years, Democrats decided to make nice with Wall Street. And remember it was under Bill Clinton that the major FDR-passed reforms to try and prevent another financial collapse after the Great Depression, the Glass-Steagall Act, was basically the “Moby Dick” of the financial industry, and they have abolished (ph) it during the Clinton years.
And here we have, as you said, 12 Democratic senators voting against the public interest.
OLBERMANN: If Senator Durbin and Congresswoman Waters think that the banks have bought Congress, should they not start naming names? I mean, Dick Durbin‘s plea on the floor of the Senate was impassioned, but shouldn‘t he come back out there and just read the riot act to those other 11 veteran senators and Senator Specter?
HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. Well, we have the 12 names. I have them right here. I can read them to you very quickly. Max Baucus, Michael Bennett, Robert Byrd, Tom Carper, Byron Dorgan, Tim Johnson, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor, Arlen Specter and Jon Tester.
But beyond that, beyond what Dick Durbin can do, he really tried his best. We need Harry Reid to put the pressure on the caucus. We need President Obama, who came out in favor of this reform but in a very ambivalent way, as Dick Durbin himself said. We need him to actually say enough.
There isn‘t going to be one more penny for the bankers. Remember, Keith, on Thursday, the stress tests are coming out, and we know perfectly well that the stress tests are going to lead us to more money going to the bankers—unless the American public says enough. We are not going to keep bailing out the same bankers who are blocking major, important legislation, and also, who keep jacking up the credit card rates at the expense of the taxpayer.
OLBERMANN: If we give that list, as you did, as I did earlier in the show, we should also mention on the other side of it, Evan Bayh, who was flirting with voting no and voted yes. Apparently, vote with his conscience. So, let‘s give him credit for that.
But back to this point about the banks buying Congress. They now have bought it. The most recent round of investment in Congress has been with our money. What do we do about that realistic aspect that we‘re, in fact, paying for the very money that is being used against the ordinary citizens?
HUFFINGTON: Well, that is really the outrage. That‘s why (ph) when the president said during his last press conference that he doesn‘t have a button he can push to make the bankers do what he wants, actually, he does. He absolutely does. Were it not for the president‘s decision to bailout the bankers to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, Citi and the Bank of America, for sure would not be around today to be paying lobbyists to block this legislative reform. That‘s the reality, Keith.
So the president, his economic team, which—let‘s not forget was instrumental in a lot of what went wrong on Wall Street—need to basically wake up and realize that the American public is going to be outraged if this continues. And the president‘s political capital which right now seems absolutely enormous and unassailable will not continue to be so forever.
OLBERMANN: Arianna Huffington of “The Huffington Post”—as always, great thanks. Have a great weekend.
HUFFINGTON: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Now, this is timing. Your charity event—this week your charity event is a “kiss the pig” contest. Oops.
Speaking of which, the Georgia conservative congressman who has exploited a dead toddler to claim illegal aliens might have brought the H1N1 virus into this country. Shame on you.
Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment.
First, this is May 1st—thus nine days since Sean Hannity volunteered to be waterboarded for a military families charity; thus eight days since I offered to donate $1,000 per second that he lasted; thus six days during which Sean Hannity has reneged on his promise. There‘s new development, after they were approached by the “Associated Press,” quote, “FOX News Channel representatives did not immediately return requests for comment.”
Let‘s play “Oddball.” We begin in Decatur, Illinois, where maybe Sean can handle this. The recent swine flu outbreak left Mr. John‘s (ph) School of Cosmetology wondering if their “Kiss a Pig” charity event should consider a rain date. Not sure if swine smooching causes infection, so we asked Dr. Vencot Minigante (ph) of the Decatur Memorial Hospital Infectious Disease Unit. Dr. Minigante?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That‘s a good question. I would not worry about that because just kissing a pig would not really make you contract this infection.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: You heard the man, pucker up. Oh, a nice long sloppy one.
Thanks, Dr. Minigante.
To a warehouse in Thousand Oaks, California, where gently used celebrity wax figures will be auctioned off tonight. The Hollywood Wax Museum is getting rid of its stock. Most of the statues of celebrities that don‘t really look like the celebrities like Tiger Woods with a shrunken head there. And here‘s Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd with bad toupees. Jerry Lewis, the one even the French couldn‘t love. The bidding for each statue begins at $1,000 or you can just pay him $1,000 and the real Julio Iglesias will come to your house.
Telling yourself what you want to hear. A research study that suggests conservatives believe Stephen Colbert is actually a conservative pulling the wool over the eyes of the liberals.
And Congress wastes your money again. A hearing on college football bowl games so a Texas Republican can compare them to communism.
These stories ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons in the World.” Number three, bestest proving of the song title, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” unnamed 24-year-old resident in Northport, Alabama, who is in good condition after a shoulder wound, self-inflicted, when in his sleep he discharged the .40 caliber pistol he keeps in his bed.
Number two, best indication their might yet be a conscience in talk radio. WTKK in Boston suspending host Jay Severin indefinitely after he revealed the depth of his racism. “So now in addition to venereal disease and the other leading exports of Mexico, women with mustaches and V.D., now we have swine flu. We should be, if anything, surprised that Mexico has not visited upon us poxes of more various and serious types considering the number of ‘criminaliens‘ already here. It‘s millions of leeches from a primitive country. Now they are exporting a rather more active form of disease, which is the swine flu.”
Yes, it was brought here by Catholic school kids from Queens. It was in all the papers, slimebag.
And number one, best unheralded criminal mastermind. Teresa Tambunting Queens here in New York City, she worked at Jacmel Jewelry where they make gold rings and such, and as you know, a little gold always walks out the door, a slipper or a shaving at a time.
Ms. Tambunting is charged with taking some of it home with her, more than 500 pounds. They claim this woman walked out with over 500 pounds, $12 million worth of gold bullion and jewelry and all in the lining of her pocketbook, all, piece by piece over the course of six years.
OLBERMANN: Not long after Stephen Colbert spun himself off “The Daily Show,” I had the privilege to be among the early guests on his new program. He asked me what I thought, and I answered, you know, you might be too subtle, some Republicans don‘t realize you‘re savaging them. He laughed and said he doubted that.
Our third story, doubt it no more. Stephen greets his guests backstage by saying, you know how this works, right, I play an idiot? Three-and-a-half years later, it turns out that still not everybody knows how it works.
The study is called “The Irony of Satire: Political Ideology and the Motivation to See What You Want to See in ‘The Colbert Report.‘” Three hundred and thirty-two conservative, liberal, and independent students at the Ohio State University were shown a clip from “The Colbert Report” in which Colbert was doing his usually shtick.
The students were then asked, do you think he‘s funny? Do think he‘s conservative? Do you think he‘s Republican? Do you think he dislikes liberalism? It turns out all of the students were laughing but for different reasons.
The conservatives did not understand that Colbert is not actually one of them. The lead author of the story joins us shortly. First, “Colbert Reports, you de-cede.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”: But guys like us, we don‘t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in reality. And reality has a well-known liberal bias.
Tonight, it‘s Obama‘s first day and the economy is still in the toilet. Some change.
Now, folks, we all know textbooks have a liberal bias. Why else would they insist we read from left to right?
That‘s right, folks, there is a new threat to marriage, and it won‘t be solved by clearing out your Web browser.
Needless to say, the president caught a lot of heat for this incident
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shaking hands, can you believe it?
WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: One incident, OK. What‘s the other hand doing?
COLBERT: Probing question, Bill.
Nation, I cannot overstate what a fantastic show Glenn Beck is doing over at FOX News. And if I may speak to Glenn directly for a moment, dude, you are rocking it.
So Dick Cheney had a roving band of executioners who traveled the world taking orders from their dark overlord. That‘s like finding out that Liberace was gay.
I‘m not paying my taxes this year, folks. It is taxation without representation. I mean, technically I‘m represented. But not by the guy I voted for. That violates my constitutional right to always win.
This is fantastic book, it‘s called “Culture Warrior” by Bill O‘Reilly. And by the way, you can get great—you can get great deals at Barnes & Noble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Heather LaMarre is the lead author of “The Colbert Report” study. She is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, and a political entertainment scholar at the Ohio State University. And she joins us tonight from Columbus.
Ms. LaMarre, welcome.
HEATHER LAMARRE, AUTHOR OF COLBERT STUDY: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: What clip did you show these students and what did you find?
LAMARRE: We actually showed them the clip of Amy Goodman from “Democracy Now.” She came on and when it was her and Stephen Colbert and they were debating the issue of embedding journalists for the Iraq War.
And what we found generally was what you already mentioned. And that was, the more conservative someone was, the more likely they were to say that Stephen Colbert was using satire and clearly they thought he was funny. But they thought maybe he had some sort of hidden, underlying tone there that was really genuine and sincere.
On the other end of the spectrum, the more liberal someone was, the more they said, oh, this is just satire, he doesn‘t mean what he is saying, if anything, he might mean the exact opposite.
OLBERMANN: How—did you get any indication of what was going on in the heads of the people who would misread what is obviously Colbert‘s intention, that he‘s never made a secret of this, he certainly didn‘t make a secret of it when he was on “The Daily Show,” and he doesn‘t make it a secret to the guests or the audience what his perspective is and what he is trying to do.
How do people convince themselves that the whole explanation, the whole structure is some sort of big gag on the left?
LAMARRE: Well, actually, there‘s this phenomenon called biased message processing where people from all backgrounds are able to take ambiguous information, and satire is just by definition ambiguous information. And they‘re able to take that information and bias it into a way that most supports or best benefits them personally.
When you think about that politically, it makes someone able to say, OK, yes, obviously he‘s making a joke, he‘s parroting a conservative pundit. However, he is still forwarding the conservative agenda, and he is able to use humor to get discussions out there that maybe are difficult to talk about in more serious terms.
And that‘s how people are able to do that. They just basically self-reinforce that their belief system is the correct one.
OLBERMANN: Yes. I don‘t know, if you see a 30 percent off sticker over Bill O‘Reilly‘s face on Bill O‘Reilly‘s book, I don‘t know if people are convincing themselves, and doing a very good job of it.
But to what degree was this—did you get a sample of people who‘d never seen Colbert before and did it match up with the people who knew him?
LAMARRE: Yes. Actually what we did is we took a general sample and this ranged from people who had never seen Colbert before or maybe had heard of him but didn‘t watch the show, all the way up to regular viewers and regular fans.
And then we controlled for that statistically in our analysis, actually. So our findings are, regardless of whether they were a fan or had never heard from him before, the more conservative one was, the more they were likely to say that they felt that he was probably personally conservative and really meant what he was saying underneath it all.
OLBERMANN: In your study you have a link to the findings of similar results in a survey done on the Norman Lear sitcom of the ‘70s, “All in the Family.” What‘s the connection between the two research studies?
LAMARRE: Well, when Norman Lear put “All in the Family” on the air, he thought it was going to be a great way to expose bigotry and prejudice. And he assumed and expected, as did many people, that if he created this sort of curmudgeon character, Archie Bunker, people would see how ridiculous that line of thinking was.
And a couple of media scholars, Vidmar and Rokeach, tested that assumption. What they found was very similar to our findings, and that was simply that people who had a worldview similar to Archie Bunker, who maybe themselves were slightly prejudiced in certain ways, they didn‘t find it to be a ridiculous way of thinking.
Instead they thought Archie Bunker was charming and old-fashioned. And much in the same way, we found that people who are very conservative really like Stephen Colbert and they find him to be a credible source for political information.
And in an upcoming study, we will even be looking at if it affects their political attitudes.
OLBERMANN: Wow. Well, there it is, one of the ancient truths, most people see what they want to see, underscored again by Heather LaMarre, political entertainment scholar at Ohio State University, and lead author of this “Colbert Report” study. It‘s fascinating. Great thanks for your time, have a good weekend.
LAMARRE: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: A Texas congressman with the ultimate grandstand play today, tells a near-empty hearing room that the college football bowl system is like communism, communism!
And a Georgia congressman, long after the truth of the victim‘s identity was revealed, goes on C-SPAN and speculates that the Mexican infant who died in Texas from swine flu might have been an illegal alien. “Worst Persons” ahead.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, one of our soldiers dead in Iraq due to faulty KBR electrical wiring. KBR, the Halliburton spin-off wants the case thrown out, claiming a court has no jurisdiction to cover military matters.
OLBERMANN: A “Fixed News” reporter actually warns other networks about becoming just a megaphone for a president. A TV figure who stalks private people to put them on his TV show complains that an actress who reveals her sexual orientation shouldn‘t do so because it‘s private life. And a conservative congressman and doctor suggests the h1n1 virus might have been brought 23-month-old illegal alien, a dead 23-month-old illegal alien. “Worst Persons” next. This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Your tax dollars in action, a congressional hearing about college football playoffs, which almost nobody attends, except for one Republican who compared the current system to communism.
That‘s next. But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story,
tonight‘s “Worst Persons in the World.” The Bronze to Bill-O., reacting
with astonishing and criticism to the actress Kelly McGillis revealing “I‘m
done with the man thing,” or as Bill-O. so delicately phrased it: “She‘s
looking for a few good women, she‘s a lesbian. As they say, different
strokes, but I still believe that people who put their private lives out
there for consumptions are pinheads. There‘s a reason why it‘s called
A, this is a man who has written six books about himself, calling people who put their private lives out there for consumption pinheads. Bill, you‘re self-pinheading. B, what this really about is simple. Ms. McGillis just ruined the movies “Top Gun” and the “The Monkey‘s Mask” for Bill, if you know what I mean.
Our runner-up, Major Garrett of “Fixed News,” insisting he was not called upon for a question at Obama‘s news conference Wednesday because the FOX broadcast network refused to carry that news conference and that soon other outlet‘s will also refuse to carry them.
“The other networks,” he said, “are going to look at the declined public interest, the decline of news value of these events and say, wait a minute, are we becoming a news organization or are we just becoming a megaphone for the White House?”
Yes, gee whiz, you wouldn‘t want to find yourself working at a network that was just a megaphone for the White House like say FOX News from 2001 until 102 days ago.
But our winner, Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia, no doubt distraught at the amount of attention Michelle Bachmann and Joe Barton and Virginia Foxx have gotten lately, how far they‘ve pulled ahead of him in the, no, I‘m the craziest member of Congress competition.
He went on C-SPAN yesterday and turned swine flu into a platform for more of his racism and bigotry on the back of the only fatality from h1n1 in this country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL BROUN ®, GEORGIA: Of course, it‘s sad to see a 23-month-old child die from this disease. We don‘t have any specifics, I tried to find out this morning, specifics about this child that has died, whether it was one who is from Mexico, possibly an illegal alien who has been brought into this country.
One big problem we have in this country is an open border. The border is like a sieve. And so these illegal aliens are coming across.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Firstly, Congressman, it was announced Tuesday that the child was from Mexico, his family was legally visiting relatives in south Texas. The infant became seriously ill and was taken to Houston for advanced care after an underlying condition was determined and the child died there. And you just exploited a dead baby to make your sick, xenophobic and utterly irrelevant case about immigration.
Before you open your mouth, sir, you political hack, make some effort to get the basic facts before you slander a dead child. Because before you said that, we already knew more about this poor victim of this disease than we do about you, because hearing you talk that way, Congressman Broun, nobody in this country with a brain could be confident in arguing that you are an actual human being, let alone that you are a medical doctor.
Congressman Dr. Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”
OLBERMANN: Whatever it is, if there‘s anything to be done about it, best keep it out of the hands of politicians. But don‘t tell that to the congressman representing the sixth district of Texas. In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, there‘s the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, and then is communism!
As far as the good congressman is concerned, there is not much daylight among them. A congressional hearing today on the Bowl Championship Series, BCS, the general idea, explore—what, explore the possibility of adopting a playoff system for college football. And the issue was taken up by the Consumer, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, barely audible over the din of activity. Well, maybe not. The Congressman having ample opportunity to espouse his well-honed views before the few in attendance.
First, Congressman Barton had fun with letters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOE BARTON ®, TEXAS: You should either change your name to BES for “Bowl Exhibition System,” or just drop the C and call it the “BS System.” Because it‘s not about determining the championship on the field.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Oh, see, the congressman made a funny. Then it was time for the new red scare, we‘re not talking about Nebraska or even Cornell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARTON: It‘s interesting that people of goodwill, and I think everybody on whatever side of the issue you are on this one is a person of goodwill, keep trying to tinker with the current system, and it‘s—it‘s, to my mind, a little bit like—and I don‘t mean this directly, but you—it‘s like communism. You can‘t fix it. It will not be fixable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn now to comedian Paul F. Tompkins, the host of VH1‘s “Best Week Ever,” who is doing the laughing there that the witness was trying to avoid doing.
Good evening, Paul.
PAUL F. TOMPKINS: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So did Congressman Barton just blow the lid off the communist takeover of the college football championship system?
TOMPKINS: Yes. In the sense that he was pointing at the absence of a lid and then saying to people, look, there‘s no lid here, right? So it stands to reason if I‘m the one telling you that there‘s no lid here, I must be the one that has blown the lid off.
It‘s like one of those logic puzzles where it turns out the doctor was a woman.
OLBERMANN: Yes. You know, the lord knows here that there has been a lot said and a lot criticized and a lot to criticize about the college football rankings and the system. But communism? I mean, did the congressman take one look at that hearing room and decided, you know, I can see a bombshell here, but, what, socialism, no, no, no, fascism, no, no, no, communism, yes, that‘s it, communism.
TOMPKINS: Yes, it‘s the old “Manchurian quarterback.” I think that this is really—this almost makes me feel sorry for the Republican Party, because this is what they‘re reduced to. This is such grasping at straws to be doing something. It‘s like between Bush and Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal and Michael Steele, they‘re like a rainbow coalition of incompetence. They have really wrecked this party.
OLBERMANN: But, now, if they win the 2010 midterms on a “let‘s revamp the college football playoff system or postseason”...
TOMPKINS: I will eat my hat.
OLBERMANN: Yes, really, you‘ll have to leave the country.
TOMPKINS: Of course. I‘ll go right to France.
OLBERMANN: The problem is there‘s a little bipartisan corner to this because the president expressed an interest, was actually on the record. He wouldn‘t say anything about whether or not he would ever entertain Barry Bonds at the White House, but he did say that, you know, he thought a college football playoff system might be a good idea.
I mean, do you think he‘s having second thoughts here that he may have indirectly encouraged this poorly-attended spectacle?
TOMPKINS: Well, I mean, you know, baby steps, I guess you could say. You know, take what you can get. I‘m sure he is disappointed this didn‘t make the first 100 days coverage. You know, if only you guys hadn‘t focused so much on the dog, we could have seen some real progress.
OLBERMANN: Yes, maybe the commissioner and the head of the BCS could make that Supreme Court short list.
OLBERMANN: Are we accustomed to certain politicians by now caring passionately about issues that are of a political interest in any event to almost nobody else?
TOMPKINS: Yes. Without a doubt. And I think this is actually almost an awkward attempt to go the other way, where it‘s sort of like, oh, OK. People don‘t like torture. Fine. What do they like? Football. Let‘s try to get associated with that and maybe it will just kind of rub off on us. Fellows, let‘s all start carrying footballs on C-SPAN.
OLBERMANN: Now, when they went after the baseball steroid users and human growth hormone users, there was a certain—at least a breaking of the law, perhaps, in there, or fraud going in on that. This is just somebody who does not like the admittedly flawed system of the postseason in college football.
If a congressional subcommittee can spend time on this without its members voluntarily handing back their salaries for the hours this took, what‘s next?
TOMPKINS: Oh, Keith. I hold here in my hand a list of 200 cashiers who put coins on top of the bills when they give you change. The coins slide all over the place and have you to pick them up off the floor.
OLBERMANN: Well, you have and you have your finger on the pulse of what‘s bothering America right now.
TOMPKINS: I like to think that I do.
OLBERMANN: well, or you—it‘s somewhere else. I‘m not going to say where that other possibility might be. Paul F. Tompkins, the host of VH1‘s “Best Week Ever,” as always, great, thanks. Have a good weekend, Paul.
TOMPKINS: You too, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, exactly six years since the previous president declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. It is fair to say tonight, history has already judged him for all of that time, and what he did six years ago. He was a G.I. Joe doll.
I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
And now, on the Halliburton spin-off KBR claiming its actions are above the law, when even those actions led to the death by electrocution of American service personnel in Iraq, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”: Good evening, Keith.
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