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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, October 19, 2009

Read the transcript to the Monday show


October 19, 2009



Guests: Sen. Ron Wyden, Chris Kofinis, Richard Wolffe


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will we be talking about tomorrow?

Health care reform clarifies: The president wants the public option, but more clearly than ever, will not kill reform if he doesn't get it.


VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: He has said very clearly he thinks it's the best option, and we'll see what happens.

DAVID GREGORY, "MEET THE PRESS" HOST: So, he's not demanding that it's in there.

JARRETT: He's not demanding that it's in there. He thinks it's the best possible choice.


OLBERMANN: Where we stand tonight. Lawrence O'Donnell with the big picture, and joining me here in Washington, Senator Ron Wyden on his preparations for an exchange or co-op to maximize the number of people who could quit ineffective health care plans at work and opt for a co-op.

Here now the news: Somebody thinks FOX isn't a news organization?


RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's not a news organization so much as it has a perspective.

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: They're not really a news station.


OLBERMANN: I'm not alone? I'm not alone! All this time I thought I was alone. I'm so relieved. I have never been happier!


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: Keith Olbermann man and Rachel Maddow, I mean, here are a couple of sick puppies.


OLBERMANN: In the middle of a plea for less name-calling in politics, President George H.W. Bush calls us names, including horrible and obscene. Rachel is obscene? Rachel isn't obscene to inanimate objects.

And told you so. It was a stinking, fraud, publicity stunt to get a lousy reality show.


FALCON HEENE, BALLOON BOY: You said that we did this for the show.


OLBERMANN: The family comes into an agent's office. The father says, "I got an act for you. We use balloons. We pretend the 6-year-old is in mortal peril, we chase storms, we lie to the cops, and the kid can throw up on cue."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you call the act?



OLBERMANN: All that and more-now on COUNTDOWN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They might have to clean this up for TV!




OLBERMANN: Good evening from Washington.

The Democratic leadership of the U.S. Senate faces a dilemma tonight. The majority of America wants a public option, government-run health insurance to compete with for-profit insurance. The majority of the House of Representatives wants a public option; four out of five health care bills include a public option; most of the Senate wants a public option; the president of the United States wants a public option.

So, in our fifth story tonight: A real stumper for Senate Democrats-should their health care bill include a public option?

Negotiations continue today on what form the Senate bill merging bills from two different committees will look like. The public option: the big sticking point. The negotiators: Chris Dodd, who supports a public option;

Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, who says he supports a public option;

Max Baucus, who says he supports a public option but did not include it in his bill.

And the White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel-where does he stand?


EMANUEL: As you saw, the president said in the joint session to Congress, he believes a public plan-a public option is important to competition.


OLBERMANN: Every single participant in crafting the Senate health care bill supports a public option.

So, what's to negotiate? Majority Leader Reid has not said whether he will put the public option in the bill because he wants to know that 60 senators will support, subjecting the public option to a test of virtually no face of health care could hurdle, but freeing him from the bother of insuring some half dozen conservative Democrats vote to allow an up or down vote.

Reid's reluctance to use legislative leverage, let alone political pressure an up or down/majority wins vote for the public option now drawing fire in the form of this political ad airing in his home state where he has weakened the polls for next year's reelection campaign. Perhaps because most of his constituents, 80 percent of the Democrats there, and even 21 percent of the Republicans in Nevada support the public option.

Is Mr. Obama pushing Mr. Reid or anyone to back said public option? Obama's senior advisor Valerie Jarrett yesterday explained where he stands on the public option.


JARRETT: He thinks it will reduce cost and it will give people choices. And he said that throughout the process. So, he's a big believer in the public plan.

GREGORY: So, the question I'm asking is, will he push for it and demand it here in the final version of the form?

JARRETT: He's pushed for it, certainly, but he's also realistic to say we have to look at all options. He has said very clearly, he thinks it's the best option, and we'll see what happens.

GREGORY: So, he is not demanding that it's in there.


OLBERMANN: But the White House has long maintained it'd use any reform as a triumph, and only perhaps the first step in an evolution of process, that the first goal is more insurance for more people.

This as the newest Democrat in the Senate said his old party, as in former, as in antiquated, is bent on blocking everything.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: On the Republican side, it is no, no, no-a party of obstructionism. You have a responsible Republicans who had been in the Senate like Howard Baker and Bob Dole and Bill Frist who say Republicans ought to cooperate. Well, they're not cooperating.


OLBERMANN: Just 24 hours later, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell quoted in "Roll Call," said he would insist on several weeks of debate, like seven or eight. "Role Call" reporting, during this time, the GOP will deliver, quote, "a narrowly focused message in speeches, press conferences, and media appearances." Sharing their own proposals? Sure, but, quote, "criticism of the Democratic bill will be the priority."

We're joined by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who sits on the finance committee which passed its health care reform bill last week.

Great thanks for your time and great to be here with you.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The math of this at this point. Do those what's called less liberal Democratic senators-are they poised to guarantee no public option in your opinion?

WYDEN: I don't think so. And I think clearly, Keith, there are 60 votes in the United States Senate for a bill that finally holds insurance companies accountable. We will never have a better opportunity. We ought to have public options. We have private options, and we ought to make sure it's available to everybody.

For example, last week, we were told by the head of the budget office that the way the finance bill is written, more than 90 percent of the American people wouldn't even be able to go to the exchanges. Let's make sure those choices-public and private-are available to everybody.

OLBERMANN: So, is that what you are working on right now, to try to lower or raise-depending on your point of view-that bar for getting out of, say, somebody's ineffective work employer-based insurance and get them into, if we wind up with an exchange, or a co-op of some sort of hybrid operation-is that your goal to maximize how many people to get into it?

WYDEN: If somebody has coverage today and their insurance company is abusing them, they ought to be able to go to the marketplace and get something better. The president is absolutely right when he says you ought to be able to keep the plan you have.

But what I'm saying is: if you hate the plan you have, if your insurance company isn't paying claims, if they're mousing you around, slow-walking you, you ought to be able to get something else. I want it to be coverage like the member of Congress has.

OLBERMANN: Read for me what you're seeing in the Senate and what you're hearing from the president. Is it-there still a chance for public option but everybody ought to prepare to make the best case scenario out of the world in which there isn't one? Is that a fair assessment?

WYDEN: It is very much alive. And also, the majority leader is upping the ante in terms of putting the heat on the insurers. We made it clear, for example, last week that McCarran-Ferguson, the law that also gives a boost to the insurance lobby, that's going to be on the table in terms of revisions.

I think the Democrats are recognizing there will never be an opportunity like this in our lifetime. It seems to me that the status quo caucus, which is led by the insurance lobby that wants to deny choices-public and private-we have a chance to take them on and finally get a win for the consumer.

OLBERMANN: Evolution of process from the White House point of view. Is that realistic? Do you get more than one bite at something as huge? Is it like getting more than one bite at rolling back tobacco? I mean, do you get more than one bite at health care reform, or is this-whatever is obtained here in the rest of this year, is this it?

WYDEN: This is laying the foundation. If you don't get it right-if, for example, you don't change the role of the insurance companies, it is hard to alter that in the future. Too many of these insurance companies are in the driver's seat.

I want to make sure if they're offering lousy coverage, ripping off their consumers, I want to put them in the rumble seat. I want to make it clear that insurers are going to have to compete on the basis of price, benefits, and quality, not cherry-picking and just sending sick people over to government programs more fragile than they are.

OLBERMANN: Something else I'd heard very little about before today, but I heard about it with some enthusiasm. Medical loss ratios-in short, what the insurance companies actually pay for health care out of every dollar they take in. One of the House bills-the Senate bill would publicize that, make it mandatory to say how much.

WYDEN: I go further than that.

OLBERMANN: But the House says, regulate that. Would that be a good break against the insurance companies running wild with all these new customers?

WYDEN: No question about it. And the fact is, it's just not right to force the American people to buy unaffordable coverage from monopolies. So, let's set in place these loss ratios. I think they ought to say, if you are taking in a dollar in terms of premiums, you ought to pay out around 85 cents in actual services.

OLBERMANN: Since we've regulated the numbers that way at the Las Vegas casino.

WYDEN: Don't get logical here, Keith. This is Washington.


OLBERMANN: I know. I am leaving right after the show.

The senator from Oregon, Mr. Wyden-great pleasure to see. Thank you for your time.

WYDEN: Thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN: My pleasure.

Also with us tonight, MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell, contributor at, former chief of staff to the Senate Finance Committee.

Welcome back, sir.


OLBERMANNN: All right. Rahm Emanuel, Chris Dodd, Max Baucus and Harry Reid walking to a bar and Dodd says to the bartender, "Give me a public option."

What's the rest of the joke?

O'DONNELL: Keith, it sounds like a whole new opening for "The Aristocrats."


O'DONNELL: But we don't have time to do "The Aristocrats" on this show. Listen, it's a situation where they're trying to figure out whether a public option bill can get 60 votes on the floor. It's pretty certain that a public option bill would be-it'd be pretty easy to hold it in there, meaning, it would take 51 votes to strip it out of the bill. That means the Republicans would have to pick up 11 Democrats to strip it out once it's in there.

But the only reason they're pausing is they don't believe at this stage or they're not convinced that they have 60 votes to pass it if the public option is in it.

OLBERMANN: What I just asked the senator-are there subsequent bites on health care reform, or is 2009 it for the foreseeable future?

O'DONNELL: Well, you know, you saw what happened last time. It took 15 years for this subject to come up again. The Clinton presidency had six more years in it after the wipe-out on health care reform in 1994, and they didn't do a thing on this. Then we have eight years of Republican presidencies.

So, you know, you get these things every 15 years or so. Now, if we pass this bill, if we pass one of these bills, we'll be coming back to it constantly, because every version of this bill that's in the Congress is hugely defective in various ways, and then there will also be tremendous budget cutting pressure on these bills after they're passed. When the Congress is come back to do deficit reduction, they won't just have Medicare to cut anymore. They'll be able to cut subsidies to poor people to buy health insurance.

OLBERMANN: What about pressure in the other way, Lawrence? What about the prospect that something actually is going to work and will be felt, and there might be momentum built in the public in a greater understanding of it if there's actually something-some model that is up and running?

O'DONNELL: Well, you'd need two things there, Keith. You need a huge soaring economy to make the Congress comfortable in increasing benefits. And so, what we have for the foreseeable future after passing one of these bills is 10 million, 20 million, 15 million people without health insurance, with exactly the same tragic stories that we've been hearing for all the years leading up to this.

OLBERMANN: What do you know about them-and apparently, they're calling your bus there at the depot. What do you-what do you know about MLR? What do you know about this medical loss ratio? If there's no public option, are there enough other tools to use against insurance costs, and is this one of the better ones?

O'DONNELL: Well, this would be a very difficult tool to use, because we don't really have a regulatory mechanism in place that could control it to get inside the health insurance company's books to really figure out what the truth is on that number. I mean, we have enough trouble trying to police them on taxation. We don't do a very good job of that.

So, this is one of those fall-back attempts. The cleanest thing you could do is premium caps-is price controls on premiums. That would be enforceable. That would be understandable and clear, and consumers could enforce it if they saw their premiums going up too high.

OLBERMANN: So, if you don't get the public option, is the best alternative 16 little darts to pin the insurance industry against the wall like butterflies in a collection-and is that being discussed right now?

O'DONNELL: Well, that-that's what they would be working on. But those things are all abatable, I think. I always look at these things from the standpoint of enforcement, because I used to be-to have a hand in writing the tax code. And you think about enforcement a lot when you are doing that.

And so, I just don't see where the enforcement mechanisms are. That's why the public option is so useful. It's that you don't worry so much about enforcing the unenforceable against insurance companies. You just allow there to be a public option that they have to compete against.

I mean, I don't have to make this case to this audience. Everyone knows it. That's what the fight is about. That's what the public option fight is all about.

OLBERMANN: Something we're going to have to talk about at length.

You had a hand in writing tax code?

O'DONNELL: Well, the Senate Finance Committee does that, and I'm afraid I wrote the biggest tax increase in history, Keith. If you're going to write a tax increase, it might as well be the biggest in history.


OLBERMANN: Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC and "The Huffington Post," and one of the guys you didn't know you were swearing at when you filled out your taxes-as always, great thanks.

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Ever heard the old chemistry joke, research chemist runs into the room and tells his colleagues, "I just invented the universal solvent. This jug will dissolve anything." One of other guys looks up and says, "If it will dissolve anything, what can you keep it in?" And the first guy goes, "Oh, you can't. It's already eaten through the earth's crust and it's headed for the core. We're all going to die now."

Ultraconservatism, the universal solvent. The conservatives are fighting, literally shoves and threats, amongst themselves over which ones of them loves Sarah Palin the mostest.


OLBERMANN: Conservatives at war. The blogger who thinks Sarah Palin dreamy, nearly comes to blows with the political action committee figure who he claims does not think her dreamy enough.

And good news, since the White House now says FOX News isn't news, that means, in the ratings we're number one. Yes, we can.

Ahead as COUNTDOWN continues from Washington.


OLBERMANN: It's only a matter of time before it happened, and it was only a matter of time before it happened on camera.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Wingnut civil war as the conservative right begins to eat its own.

Over the weekend, at the Western CPAC Convention in California, ThinkProgress reporting a showdown between Palin apologist John Ziegler and the chairman of the American Conservative Union, David Keene. Mr. Keene agreed to a sit-down interview with Mr. Ziegler. After obligatory pleasantries were exchanged, Ziegler got confrontational, questioning Keene's less than complimentary remarks about the ex-governor of Alaska.

When Keene refused to back down, Ziegler pressed further, and when that didn't work, Mr. Ziegler asked Mr. Keene about the ACU's role in a pay-to-play scandal.

Over the summer, Keene's group tried to pry money from FedEx in exchange for their support in a legislative battle with UPS over unionization. In a letter later obtained by "Politico," the ACU offered FedEx support if it paid ACU a few million dollars. When FedEx said it would not pay, the ACU flipped and said it would back UPS.

The ACU denied the whole incident and said that, quote, "important policy issues have never been for sale." That's odd because David Keene still seems a little touchy about the whole thing.

Nevertheless, Mr. Keene refused to give into Mr. Ziegler's questions, so Ziegler asked Keene about his past support for Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter. That's when Mr. Keene had enough, ending the interview, but Mr. Ziegler did not. He decided to follow him around the halls of the Newport Beach Radisson. And that's when things got really good.




KEENE: I'm not talking to you anymore. Why don't you take your microphone and him and leave?

ZIEGLER: So, the letter from your guy, Dennis Whitfield.

KEENE: I said this is over, you got it? Over.

ZIEGLER: Wait a minute. You are not explaining the letter.

KEENE: It's over. The letter has all been explained. I don't.

ZIEGLER: It's all been explained.

KEENE: Yes, it has.

ZIEGLER: How was it-how was it explained?

KEENE: Get out of my face. Turn the microphone off, and get out of here.

ZIEGLER: Why? Why? You're not going to explain a letter.

KEENE: I'm not going to hit you but I'd like to because you deserve it.

ZIEGLER: You want to hit me? You want to hit me?


OLBERMANN: Time now to call in Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, who we will catch between laughs. Good evening, Chris.


OLBERMANN: So, Arlen Specter is the Achilles heel of the American Conservative Union, not some sort of embarrassing pay-to-play scandal involving FedEx and UPS?

KOFINIS: It seems so-excuse me. I think what we're watching is a good, old-fashioned conservative rat fight. And instead of the rats jumping ship, they're starting to tear each other apart. It is pretty amazing sight to see to see these accusations flying, but I think it kind of gives you a window as to where the conservatives are right now in the Republican Party. It kind of makes me gleeful a little bit. But it also, I think, gives you an indication of how bad things have gotten in the Republican Party.

I think one word that you would use to describe the current state, at least given this little episode, is bizarre.

OLBERMANN: Well, I try to describe it earlier as this theoretical universal solvent that's really great for dissolving things, but you could never hold it, you can never contain it. Is that what this is, or is it post-power, post-glory years having effects on people? Or is it just somebody defending his own crush?

KOFINIS: You know, I think this is actually a microcosm of what is plaguing the Republican Party. You know, the Republican Party has spent the last nine, 10 months attacking President Obama, attacking the Democratic Party. You know, these faux grassroots movements, these tea party protests. And they thought there would be in this groundswell against the president and the Democrats. And it-you know, to their, I think, consternation and frustration, it hasn't materialized.

And if you want-I think a really strong example of that, look at the new "Washington Post poll" that came out later today. It gives you a really stunning indication of the depths of the Republican Party. Twenty percent of the American people I.D. themselves as Republicans. It's the lowest number in 26 years.

And what has happening is this extremism that you are seeing in this episode is fueling the alienation amongst voters. Instead of voters coming to them, they're running away from them.

OLBERMANN: So, what looks like disaffection against the Democrats is, in fact, being sort of front-and-centered by people who are trying to keep attention away from a much more significant problem of the same kind in their own party?

KOFINIS: I think what is happening in the Republican Party is actually really telling. I mean, every party goes through this after a big loss, but this is at another level. And I think, if it speaks to this real ideological fight in the Republican Party between the right and the far-right, and they're actually arguing about how conservative the Republican Party should be.

And, you know, I don't say this flippantly. I really think what you're going to see in this party as the months go by, they don't make these inroads with voters. It's a civil war ideologically within the Republican Party. And as they go down that road, all they end up doing-and this is the amazing thing-is basically alienating voters even more. And actually, they're sowing the seeds of their own demise.

And I would not be surprised-I know they're never going to believe this-I would not be surprised if you start seeing this Republican Party potentially splinter into two.

OLBERMANN: But is that-again, to sort of make a serious version of the universal solvent, is that the problem with becoming a party that is essentially obstructionist, that is there to say no as we heard relevant to health care reform, that their principle thing is not to present something new, but to attack the Democrat plan in their own terms. I mean, after this thing that we saw, Mr. Ziegler said, I'm going to read the quote, "If David Keene is a guy who is a leader in the conservative movement, that's a movement I don't want to be a part of."

Conservatives have just been attacking the commissioner of the National Football League about Rush Limbaugh. The commissioner of the National Football League is not a liberal and he's not a moderate. Are we seeing sort of people not be able to stop when it gets to the point where they're just-they're in politics for beating up the other guy?

KOFINIS: I think that this-this is kind of, you know, where the Republican Party is right now. They are lost. Their soul of the Republican Party is completely gone, and I think what's happening right now on the fringes is they're fighting over the direction of where the Republican Party should go.

Look at, for example, health care-going to your point about the party of no. On one of the most significant issues, they've yet to offer a single idea of value. And in the past, I think what they believe is this is how it worked, where there was one party in power and the other party was obstructionist.

I think what's happened over the last eight years of the Bush administration, voters I think changed. They said we're tired of the game played as usual. We want actually real ideas, and that's why I think you've seen people move towards the public option, move in terms of wanting serious answers in dealing with health care and any of these issues.

And when they look at the Republican Party when they're not even necessarily convinced by the Democrats, but when they look to the Republican Party, what they hear is crazy attacks that have no effect on their every day lives. And they just say, "What are they? They're not reflecting what I believe." And it moves them either to the independent or more so to the Democratic Party.

OLBERMANN: Chris Kofinis, the Democratic strategist-as always, Chris, great thanks.

KOFINIS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of when conservatives attack, George H.W. Bush rips into me and Rachel. Or at least he shot outwards. But what does it say that he did so while complaining about the loss of civility towards presidents and in our political dialogue, and given that he was the one who sent that snowball rolling down the hill?

And with this White House declaring "FOX noise" is not news, stay tuned for our new MSNBC ratings promo. We're number one.


OLBERMANN: "Bests" in a moment. And Glenn Beck's all-time hero, Thomas Paine, turned out to be in favor of the redistribution of wealth. That's next.

First, let's play "Oddball."

We begin in Beijing where Chang Jiang King (ph) is a professional animal impersonator. Listen now to an artist at work.


OLBERMANN: Those animals don't sound at all Chinese. Mr. Chang credits his success to his teeth and his tongue, and he comes from a long line of animal impersonators with over 100 barnyard sounds in his repertoire. Personally, I thought he was excellent in police academy.

Grimsby, England, hello! Here now the news. In a surefire way to increase church attendants, Father Edward Martin, the vicar of St. Giles Church, turns out he's s a real fire and brim stone kind of guy. In order to breathe new life-into his parish, Father Martin has learned how to swallow fire.

Apparently, baptism by fire is the father's specialty. Since the fire-breathing act is reserved only for christenings. That will teach you to play hooky from Sunday School, id. Father Martin says he acquired his new skill at a circus workshop. Not to be outdone, a neighboring church has hired fogel (ph) hunters to pass around the collection baskets. Pick pockets. Fogel hunters are pick pockets. Never mind.

Lastly, to Arnowoon (ph), Lebanon. Here comes the bride. Here comes the veil, all two miles, 453 feet of it. This newlywed claims she is wearing the world's long bridal veil. She and the groom actually got married a month ago, but it took this long for the veil to catch up. No, they held another ceremony over the weekend to show off the wedding accessory. The folks at Guinness were unable to actually attend the ceremony to verify the length of the veil. However, one detail everyone can verify, the ceremony also contained the world's most annoyed bridesmaids.

Good news and bad news. Bad news, one president declares I'm a sick puppy. The good news? The current presidential administration declares that Fox is not a news organization. So the sick puppies, we're number one. Next-that is coming up. But first, time for COUNTDOWN's top three best persons in world.

Dateline the web, best false equivalency, number three, blogger Diana West, ranting still against the NFL's hints that Rush Limbaugh should have been dropped from the group bidding to buy the St. Louis Rams by noting the existence of me. "Olbermann is a co-host of NBC's "Football Night in America," the pregame show that leads into Sunday Night Football. This job, now in its third season, makes Olbermann not a team owner, of course, but certainly a public face of the NFL."

So? Though I continue to disagree with the league's position against Limbaugh, it does control who owns and who doesn't own its franchises. It vets them assiduously. It votes them in or out per its own bylaws. And if for some reason I had the means or desire to buy into an NFL team, I would expect my public positions about the NFL to be vetted in the same way. Conservatives need to drop this idea that this is a vendetta. The commissioner's wife is a Fox News anchor. The commissioner is hardly a liberal. Limbaugh was not excluded because of conservatism. He was excluded because of racist things he said about pro football and pro football players. Unless you conservatives think conservatism and racism are the same thing.

Dateline New York, number two, best surprise, Lonesome Roads Beck, the man who constantly quotes revolutionary era philosopher Thomas Payne, thinks he is a modern day version of Thomas Payne, now claims that various administration-officials in that administration join his bogeyman Acorn and SEIU in supporting, in capital letters, "Redistribution of Wealth." Think Progress has dug up a quote Mr. Beck probably has not read before from Thomas Payne advocating "redistribution of wealth." He says "the Earth is the common property of the human race. And to make that practical, wealthy landowners should be taxed, made to pay rent on land, in order to create a national fund out of which there shall be paid to every person who arrives at the age of 21 years the sum of 15 Pounds Sterling, as a compensation in part for the loss of his or her inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And, also, the sum of Ten Pounds per annum during life to every person now living of the age of 50 years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age."

Redistribution of wealth.

Dateline Washington, number one, best admission, Dana Perino, the last Bush White House press secretary. Brian Kilmeade was trying to bash this administration for reclassifying Fox Noise as not a news organization by pointing out well the Bushies treated NBC and MSNBC. Except for when they were writing letters of complaint, or when the GOP and John McCain threatened to boycott the debate Tom Brokaw was moderating, unless there were personnel changes.

Kilmeade said, "not only did you not go after them. You gave them interviews. As did the president. Gave them all interviews. We've read Ronald Reagan's diaries."

To which Ms. Perino said, "towards the end, we didn't do a lot with MSNBC. That is the case."

Wow. She admitted it. Thanks.


OLBERMANN: It's a kind of political version of the famous cynical observation from Morty the Mortician in the movie "Chinatown," middle of the drought and the water commissioner drowns. It's normally not effective to complain about coarsened, below the belt dialogue, when the person voicing that complaint either abetted or launched that very kind of discourse. Nor is it particularly effective to assail name calling by calling somebody names.

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, that is what former President George H.W. Bush did when he chose to describe me and my colleague Rachel Maddow as "Sick Puppies." And it's even more unfortunate given the context. The former president making the marks on the eve of hosting President Barack Obama, who went to Texas A&M to laud Mr. Bush for his support of volunteerism and public service.

President Bush had said that President Obama, quote, "is entitled to civil treatment and intellectual honesty when it comes to critics." But in interview with CBS Radio News, he had more to say about the tone of national discourse. Here it comes.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't like it. I think the cables have a lot to do with it. I am thinking back to when I was president, we got tons of criticism, but it didn't seem, day in and day out, quite as personal as some of these talk show people.

And it's not just the right. There are plenty of people on the left.

If you want me to name a couple of names, I'll be glad to do that for you.


BUSH: Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. Here are a couple of sick puppies. And the way they treat my son and treat anybody that's opposed to their point of view is just horrible.


OLBERMANN: The former president also said his son had been treated obscenely. It's hard to imagine anybody more civil, less obscene that my colleague and friend Ms. Maddow. As I said when I called into her show on Friday night, it's easy to understand how the father of any president might have a blind spot when it comes to how his son was doing.

Consider the pre-W days. In 1988, the first President Bush employed Roger Ailes as a political consultant, basically in charge of the media message. In so doing, Mr. Bush became the father of the process that took us to the place we are now. They were the men who ran the notoriously offensive, race-baiting Willie Horton ad, when Bush was running for president in 1988 against the Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis.

And there was the scam on Dan Rather, when then candidate Bush pretended to be ambushed by then anchor Rather in an interview for the "CBS Evening News." It was all pre-arranged by Mr. Bush and Mr. Ailes.

So the narrative arc goes, right on through the actual egregious non-news from Roger Ailes' Fox News. Aides of President Obama this weekend expanding on comments by White House Communications Director Anita Dunn that Fox News basically acts as a wing of the Republican party.


RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's not so much a conflict with Fox News. But unlike, I suppose, the way to look at it-the way the president looks at it and we look at it, is it's not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And that's a different take.

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: The only argument Anita was making is that they're not really a news station. If you watch even-it's not just the commentators, but a lot of their news programming. It's really not news. It's pushing a point of view. And the bigger thing is that other news organizations, like yourself, ought not to treat them that way.

We're not going to treat them that way. We're going to appear on their shows. We're going to participate, but understanding that they represent a point of view.


OLBERMANN: Let's bring in MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, also senior strategist at Public Strategies and author of "Renegade, The Making of A President." Richard, good to see you.

RICHARD WOLFFE, AUTHOR, "RENEGADE": Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Sick puppies. I'm glad-since Rachel and I have been both battling these respiratory things, I'm glad he is concerned for our health. Do you decry name calling by name calling?

WOLFFE: Yes. Well, of course, we have all been called something worse than sick puppies in the last hour or two. But beyond the irony, let's just take a step back here. Because, yes, it's understandable. He is defensive about his son. But it's neither sick nor puppy-like to point out that invading the wrong country, leading to unnecessary thousands of deaths isn't actually just name calling.

I mean, there is something substantive there about what his son did as president. And in his more reflective moments-and I think we can all agree that the 41st president of the United States is generally a reflective person-he should look at his own record in the Gulf War, the first Gulf War, and wonder why, not just because there were no cables in the same way-I guess he is not meaning underwater cables. But it wasn't just the public discourse that led him not face the same kind of criticism. It's that he operated differently as president. His son took a wholly different path and created a whole ocean full of sick puppies.

OLBERMANN: Would you agree that there's no overstatement in this, that it was-when he ran for president the first time to succeed Mr. Reagan, he was the one who turned-he with Mr. Ailes, he with the ad for Willie Horton-these are the men who turned the corner on to the street about which the potholes therein he is complaining about.

WOLFFE: Well, Karl Rove didn't come out of nothing. Roger Ailes begat Lee Atwater, who beget Karl Rove. So on. We end up with Tea Parties. Yes. The discourse in politics changed. It coincided with all sorts of changes in the media. But the ads that they cut, the kind of campaigns that they established led directly to 2002 and 2004.

And has it become meaner and tougher? You bet. But the politics of national security, as it was played out, was established by this group of characters. And they came out, sadly, of his own administration.

OLBERMANN: And you can hit those low points. I mean, the next one that significant, I suppose, was the campaign against Max Cleland. And these are the stars that shine in this dark night that President Bush is complaining about, and calling us this weird term.

Explain the White House-this White House versus Fox News, the rebound effect here. A lot of them seem unhappy about that. They were very unhappy. The quote-buried in that Rahm Emanuel quote was the way the president sees it. He is not just saying that they sit around and Rahm Emanuel is throwing things at the screen. It's not just him?

WOLFFE: No, it's not just him. It hasn't been just him for some time. Look, this isn't-they have come to the understanding that this isn't just about commercialism. There is something deeply twisted about what's going on over there. And, yes, the people can dismiss this conversation as some kind of commercial rivalry.

But let's look at how this video has just popped up about Anita Dunn and her graduation ceremony of her own son. You know, this video, which was not available for public record, happened to pop up on "The Glenn Beck Show." And it's the same school where Chris Wallace spoke the year before because his kids also went there. Was that just a coincidence, or is Fox determined to take this to another level?

That's not about news. It's about personal attacks. Look, they may enjoy it for all sorts of commercial reasons. But it goes way beyond the commercial aspect here. There is an unholy jihad going on.

OLBERMANN: Is it politically smart to invest that much in this-out

of the administration and the people who work in that building there and

the other one over here? Or is it-did they just feel like they had

enough? I'm not making any undo comparisons, but when I started down this

path six years ago, it was because I had enough. I didn't know if anybody

I might be laughed at for pointing these things out, or there would be financial gain in it or not. As it turned out, there was. It was there say, hey, this is crap. Is that where they have come to?

WOLFFE: I think there are two things. First of all, yes, they've had enough. But they also realize that they cannot reason with Fox anymore. If you cannot make the argument, if you think the argument is not getting through because of some other ulterior motive, or because there's just not rational thinking going on, then you don't have many choices. And that's where they're at.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe, MSNBC political analyst, and of Public Strategies as well, good to see you again.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: By the way, for six years, I have suggested to my bosses that what Fox did was not news and we should say so, that a 24 hour a day political infomercial was not news, that there were three national cable news networks, and only three: us, CNN, and Headline News. The White House has now done the heavy lifting. And, guess what, we're number one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the race for cable news supremacy, there is a new undisputed leader. It used to be Fox News until-

AXELROD: They're not really a news station.

EMANUEL: It's not a news organization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That left one network standing alone atop the remaining heap. MSNBC beats CNN in prime time. MSNBC, the undisputed leader in cable news.

MSNBC's leadership in cable news is widely disputed.

OLBERMANN: Case closed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MSNBC, the place for politics.


OLBERMANN: Our announcer Vick Star, in a promo you will not be seeing on most of these MSNBC programs. We're not really sure why not. Another one, stay tuned for my beautiful balloon. The reality series starring the Heene family. Or stand by for the Congressman Jack Kingston truth hour. Worst persona ahead.

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida joins her to talk about the Republican party's struggle to find a candidate to run against him, despite the so-called common wisdom inside the Beltway that he would easily lose his seat after his outburst of truth.


OLBERMANN: I told you that balloon kid thing was a scam, but you didn't believe me. Why didn't you believe me? We'll present it as an updated and clean version of the dirtiest joke of all time next.

First, time for COUNTDOWN's number two story, tonight's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Bill-O, claiming that he has the best research staff in the business, and they declared Rush Limbaugh racism free. "Playing the race card is easy and hateful. The only thing we can find about Rush Limbaugh is that he thinks quarterback Donovan McNabb is overrated by some people who want black quarterbacks to succeed."

Yes, well, of course, that is the fatal quote for which the NFL considers Mr. Limbaugh inappropriate for ownership, since it was expressed far more strongly than that, and it's racism, and it's racism pertaining to football.

But that was the only racist quote? The Media Matters website found 28; from the we have to hope Obama succeeds or we have to bend over, grab the ankles because his father was black quote, or calling the president and other people Half-rican-Americans quote, or saying the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips.

Bill, your research staff couldn't find the relative whereabouts of the ass and the elbow.

The silver to Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia. One of the most vociferous opponents of the stimulus plan, he issued a news release boasting about 245,187 dollars in federal funding for new officers in the cities of Alma and Jessup, Georgia. Congressman Kingston said in the press release, "we've seen from experience that local initiatives go a lot further towards solving problems than policies set in Washington. This funding will provide tax relief by saving local tax dollars."

So local, local-the money was raised locally? It was from the stimulus.

But our winner, Tom J. Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Despite the implication of its name, it's not a part of government, just a group of businesses archly opposed to, well, everything. It has for years claimed that its membership, which largely opposes things like health care reform, is quote, "three million businesses of all sizes, sectors and regions." It has included that figure in testimony to Congress, implying that, well, with three million businesses and businessmen, that's pretty much all the businesses and businessmen in the country, and represents had everybody.

No. After a series of investigation by various media outlets, specifically "Mother Jones," using the Chambers' own data and history, the Chamber has had to admit that membership is not quite three million:

300,000. Nice.

Tom J. "give or take 2.7 million" Donahue, president of the U.S.

Chamber of Commerce, today's worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN: Not even the other part of the damn story was true. In the tale of the boy and the balloon who was not, we were later told he had been hiding and/or sleeping in the attic. But it turns out he wasn't even in the frigging attic. Where he was, as his family perpetuated what now turns out to be a hoax-at least police say that-is unknown. But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, progress is being made, and rapidly, on all the charges that the fabulous flying Heenes may face as they put the hot air back into hot air ballooning, all the way to the big house.

The weekend's post-balloon developments leaving no doubt that the Larimer County Sheriff, Jim Alderden, sees the event as a publicity stunt. Not only was it a hoax, but, according to authorities, one possibly planned months in advance, as emails reportedly disclose a similar stunt being discussed between Richard Heene and an associate whom authorities now wait to interview.

Mr. Heene, meanwhile, and his wife, Mayumi, claim, through their lawyer claim, that they're willing to voluntarily turn themselves in for arrest in order to spare the kids.

Yes, that balloon has sailed, too. Sheriff Alderden having announced that he's seeking charges, including felony counts against the Heenes, including conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, making a false report to authorities, and attempting to influence a public servant.

The most serious charge carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison. But federal charges are also possible under FAA regulations. At issue, whether the Heenes gave proper notification to the agency for the balloon launch. The size of the balloon and the proximity to an airport are also factors in that. You will recall that Denver International Airport had been briefly shut down because of this.

Sheriff Alderden says that all three children knew of the hoax, but will likely not face charges because of their ages. Mr. Heene's media stunt was reportedly meant to promote a reality show that would have featured Mr. Heene as a mad scientist. But when it comes to making such a pitch, the farce and excess of the Heenes brings another family act to mind.


GEORGE CARLIN, COMEDIAN: Guy was in the agent's office and he says I have an act for you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There you see that beautiful family.

CARLIN: It's a family act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a family act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a family.

ROBERT HEENE, FATHER OF BALLOON BOY: We go to the desert, chase dust devils together as a family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very different act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got a box.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a bit of a novelty, myself, my wife and kids.

HEENE: We have an old flying saucer in the backyard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The talent agency says what's the act?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's how I handle this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The part that killed us the most was this little cute kid, about six or so.

FALCON HEENE, "BALLOON BOY": We did this for a show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six year-old Falcon Heene, believed to be inside an experimental balloon-

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Large Macy's Day parade balloon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a hoax, publicity stunt.

LEWIS BLACK, COMEDIAN: That's actually a really great idea to pitch to a network.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about using your kid.

HEENE: This is what we do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then they all put their fingers down their throat and they vomit.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of them vomited.

HEENE: That's what he was referring to.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Projectile vomiting, it's all over the front row.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a hell of an act. What do you call it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you call the act?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you call yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you call the act?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The aristocrats.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The aristocrats.



OLBERMANN: Tip your waitress. That's COUNTDOWN for the 2,363rd day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, from Washington, good night and good luck.

Now, to discuss the GOP's spin about it's an easy target and Congressman Grayson, compared to the reality of its difficulty of finding anybody to run against Congressman Alan Grayson, with her special guest, Congressman Alan Grayson, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow. You're in Washington, too. If I had only known. What are you doing here?



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