KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
New tax cut compromise. If the president OKs multi-year extension of all Bush tax cuts, the Republicans will agree.
Wait a minute, what the hell kind of compromise is that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: If the president wants to compromise on a two or three-year extension, what‘s important here, Chris, is that businesses know what their tax rates are going to be over the next few years so they can plan growth and plan to add people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Because the Bush tax cuts got those businesses to add so many jobs in the last 10 years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: What if we moved it up to $1 million? Every one below $1 million will get a tax cut, but the millionaires and billionaires won‘t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Why the Democrats keep negotiating against themselves with Howard Fineman; how do we pay for any cuts anyway with Ezra Klein.
The revitalists versus the survivalists, the two factions that have kept this White House stuck for nearly 22 months. Richard Wolffe inside the split.
The Martian chronicles. The solution on how to get there: don‘t try to get back?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You might be going to Mars, you know?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Fixing the filibuster, ending the earmark. McConnell caves to the Tea Party.
And the real death of news: Ted Koppel, false equivalence, and the failure of television news, 2001, 2005. My “Special Comment.”
All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. This is Monday, November 15th, 722 days until the 2012 presidential elections.
With the lame duck session of Congress now underway, there is one word that has and will be tossed around repeatedly—a word that must be probed, scoured for authenticity, particularly of the White House and congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans all coalesce around an understanding of it that may very well represent a collective deception. The word is “compromise.” The collective deception: that a temporary extension of all the Bush tax cuts, maybe for a couple of years constitutes compromise.
President Obama has once again objected to extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, quoting, “What I‘ve said is that I believe it is a mistake for us to borrow $700 billion to make tax cuts permanent for millionaires and billionaires. It won‘t significantly boost the economy and it‘s hugely expensive, so we can‘t afford it.”
And when the president‘s senior advisor, David Axelrod, was asked yesterday if the White House would support a temporary extension of all the Bush tax cuts, he avoided the direct answer. Again, pay close attention to the word “permanent.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”: Are you open to compromise?
DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: There‘s no—there‘s no bend on the permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And, once again—
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AXELROD: We cannot afford to go the additional step and permanently
raise - and permanently cut taxes, primarily for millionaires and
billionaires at a cost of $700 billion for the next 10 years alone
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Meantime, you may have seen the words “Republican” and “compromise” in this formulation: a two- or three-year extension of all the Bush tax cuts as if that actually represents compromise. Republicans are apparently successful so far in advancing such a fallacy.
Senator Jim DeMint:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEMINT: I hope we can get a permanent extension. But if the president wants to compromise on a two or three-year extension, what‘s important here, Chris, is that businesses know what their tax rates are going to be over the next few years so they can plan growth and plan to add people. If we keep things in a state of flux, I‘m afraid we‘re going to continue to have a jobs problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Right. The certainty that businesses got from 10 years of those Bush tax cuts worked out brilliantly.
Back to the tax cut compromise, Tea Party favorite, Senator-elect Rand Paul, also signing on to the temporary extension of all the Bush tax cuts with caveats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR-ELECT RAND PAUL ®, KENTUCKY: If that‘s all we can get, that‘s better than nothing. But I think the more permanent, the better. And then what we needed to do as Republicans, if we‘re serious about the debt, is keep the tax cuts permanent, but then come in and say, here‘s several hundred billion dollars we‘ll save by having spending reduction bills immediately introduced in Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And just in case there is any remaining doubt that a grand charade is underway, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is also willing, according to Minnesota Public Radio, to support such a compromise—an extension of all the Bush tax cuts for a few years.
Meantime, one Democratic leader is suggesting that a proposal that might be legitimately called a compromise, Senator Chuck Schumer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHUMER: I think there is a compromise in the making. Democrats had originally called for tax cuts for people below $250,000, Republicans for everybody. What if we moved it up to $1 million. Everybody below $1 million will get a tax cut, but the millionaires and billionaires won‘t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn first to “Washington Post” staff writer, “Newsweek” columnist, MSNBC contributor, Ezra Klein.
Ezra, good evening.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I think we have to start here with the obvious. If the Bush tax cuts are extended for two or three years, nothing has changed. It is—
OLBERMANN: It is mere procrastination with deficit-producing, underperforming tax cuts staying exactly as it is, isn‘t it? Or is there some magic elixir in the middle of this we‘re not seeing?
KLEIN: You had a nice segment here of folks saying, no, don‘t throw me back into the Briar Patch. The thing about extending tax cuts every two or three years is those tax cuts become permanent. People become used to them and they become harder and harder to undo.
And the justifications get stranger and stranger. We passed them originally, remember, to get rid of a surplus. Then it went to recession, so we have them for a recession. Now, they‘re here because we need them for stimulus. And as Jim DeMint says certainty—even though we would—
Obama would create 10 years of certainty by just doing the middle class ones.
So, things have gotten a little wild here in the justifications for them. But the basic idea is if you keep them all together, if you don‘t de-couple, the tax cuts for the rich, for the middle tax cuts, they‘ll be easier to keep extending into the future.
OLBERMANN: When you move the goal posts like this, the field tends to move with it to some degree. Assume for argument‘s sake that a proposal like the one we heard from Senator Schumer gained traction. No extension for tax cuts for above $1 million in income. That might have some appeal and would be better than what the current compromise, which is a cave-in looks like. But is even that good policy?
KLEIN: I don‘t understand why they‘re doing this. I really don‘t.
It is bad policy.
We know we have a massive deficit problem. We have the deficit commission talking right now about how to fix it. We know that tax cuts for folks over $250,000 in income are not particularly popular. We know they‘re not stimulative. So, why move back to $1 million?
These tax cuts don‘t get extended if a president doesn‘t sign them, if the Senate doesn‘t vote for them. And right now, when we‘re going to do them, the House, Senate, and White House are all controlled by Democrats.
So, what exactly leverage are Democrats getting knocked back on their heels by? I can‘t figure out where the Republican power over this issue is coming from.
OLBERMANN: Well, and that leads to an even broader conclusion here which is the Democrats have screwed this up strategically and from a policy standpoint. Is there chance, you know, as the line from Dr. Johnson, that when a man knows he‘s going to be hanged in the morning, it concentrates his mind wonderfully? When the Democrats realize they lose the House in terms of formal control in this lame duck session, is it possible for them to concentrate long enough to correct course?
KLEIN: There are three things they need out of this. Number one is unemployment insurance. In the next month, we need to an unemployment insurance extension or 2 million people lose benefits. They need to yoke that to the tax cuts.
Number two: we‘re going to need to raise the debt ceiling in the next couple of months. Republicans are loving this. Jim DeMint has said he wants to use it to repeal the health care bill, to cut spending massively. If Republicans want to blow up the deficit by extending these tax cuts, they need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Democrats on the debt ceiling. If I were the Democrats, I would not do the tax cuts without doing the debt ceiling at the exact same time.
Number three: Senator Conrad has said it should only be possible in the context of tax reform. We can extend these for a couple of years, but if you don‘t do full tax reform, it‘s an automatic snap back to Clinton 1999 rates.
There are a lot of things you can yoke this to because Republicans want it and nobody wants a big tax increase. But the big fear I‘m hearing from people on the Hill is the Democrats are just going to give this away for nothing. And again, it‘s just—it‘s not clear why they‘re doing it that way.
OLBERMANN: Is there any lawmaker to your knowledge, even one of the lame ducks, who is willing to suggest, hey, you know what? It isn‘t a good idea to extend any of these tax cuts?
KLEIN: Actually, it‘s George Voinovich is the one who has said that.
OLBERMANN: Of course, he is.
KLEIN: He‘s a Republican from Ohio. But besides from him, there‘s been very, very little on it.
And, look, to be fair in the next couple of years for folks not making much money, you know, we need any type of stimulus you can get and cutting taxes or keeping taxes low for people making less than $250,000 is an ineffective but still somewhat present type of stimulus. But going forward and for folks above that, it just doesn‘t make sense right now.
OLBERMANN: And it comes at the price of bribing the rich.
Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post”—great thanks, Ezra.
KLEIN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn to the senior political editor from “The Huffington Post,” MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman.
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right. Temporarily extending all the Bush tax cuts is not a real compromise. It is, as I suggested before, a cave on the part of the Democrats—just accepting a position that the Republicans had advanced for a long time, just for a shorter period of time. And they get nothing back.
So, why does it sound like the White House is very carefully giving itself room to arrive at this point in which it gives away the store for nothing?
FINEMAN: Well, Keith, I‘ve been listening to you and Ezra talk, and I‘ve been trying to figure out based on my reporting today what reasonable answer I can give to the question of why the Democrats are doing this. And based on the people I talked to today, it‘s a couple of things.
First of all, they have lost faith if they ever had any in the idea that they could control the narrative and control the debate. And they‘re afraid that if they get into some kind of real confrontation with the Republicans over taxes—in other words, the president maybe even vetoing some kind of bill or standing in the way of what the Republicans want to do, that either the veto will be overridden or it won‘t be and all the tax cuts will go away.
And the White House and the Democrats—some of them—are afraid to try to deal with the consequences of that. They don‘t really think they can convince the American people that the reason why all the tax cuts have gone away is not President Obama, but Republican intransigence. In other words, they lost their nerve in feeling the inability to control the debate. That‘s the best answer I can give to you and Ezra on that point.
OLBERMANN: Don‘t they take any heart from the fact that Democrats have successfully negotiated against Democrats? That they beat the Democrats into a pulp already? Shouldn‘t they see the ability—if you can hit yourself hard enough in the head to knock yourself out cold, certainly you can direct the punch in a different direction, can‘t you?
FINEMAN: One would think so. But, you know, one of the interesting things to watch here and talking to Democrats is this: the caucuses are meeting tomorrow, both the House and Senate side. And it‘s not clear what the defeated Democrats are going to do.
One might think that a lot of defeated Democrats in House seats and even Senate seats would say, the heck with it. I tried to replay the game of mollifying the Republicans. Now, I‘m out of there. I‘m going to vote against tax—you know, tax breaks for the rich and screw it.
But that—we don‘t know whether that‘s going to happen. And the people I talked to think it‘s doubtful because a lot of those same Democrats either have to go back to those districts or they might want to go into business or they might want to be lobbyists or this and that, you never know. And they were impressed if not intimidated by the fact that the Democrats won, you know, plus 60 -- the Republicans won plus 60 in the House and seem to have the political momentum.
So, this would seem to be an opportunity in the lame duck for defeated Democrats to be brave. But it‘s not even clear that that‘s going to happen. We‘ll wait and see what happens in the caucuses tomorrow. But the betting that I hear is they‘re not going to be that way.
OLBERMANN: What about this notion that Ezra raised, of linking Democratic concessions on tax cuts, the Bush tax cuts, to Republican concessions on extending the 99ers, the unemployment insurance for the 2 million Americans who get sucked into that black hole in the middle of the month?
FINEMAN: Well, that‘s a great idea, in theory. But the Democrats, especially in the Senate, aren‘t convinced that they have the votes to defeat attempts to remove such things from being attached to the bill. Basically, Harry Reid and his leadership aren‘t convinced that they can get anything out of the Senate—which is one reason why the House members, including those defeated Democrats who might want to vote to not allow the tax cuts to continue for the rich, don‘t want to take the first vote. They want to make the Senate vote first.
OLBERMANN: This again.
FINEMAN: This again—to see if the Senate has the cojones to do anything. And if the Senate doesn‘t, then even the House Democrats aren‘t going to do it either.
OLBERMANN: A reverse Alphonse and Gaston from those who do know, old enough to know that analogy.
FINEMAN: Yes, exactly.
OLBERMANN: “Huffington Post” senior political editor, Howard Fineman
as always, big thanks, Howard.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Tonight, we might have a better understanding of those times when the White House is seen unintelligible. Richard Wolffe‘s new book, “Revival,” describing competing groups inside the Obama administration, idealists revivalists versus Clinton leftover survivalists.
Some Sondheim (ph) lyrics and a couple of Jerome Robbins numbers and you‘ve got “West Side Story.” Richard Wolffe—next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: If you got the sense that the White House was driven into two camps with her among the brave crowd and him among the tepid politicians, Richard Wolffe‘s new book indicates you were right.
A new cheap way to explore Mars. Go there and stay over at his house.
As some senators discuss neutering the filibuster, he gets neutered by the Tea Party on earmarks.
And nothing like being told you‘ve helped to destroy TV news by one of the men who at the time his nation needed him to be a real journalist utterly failed at it. “Special Comment” ahead.
OLBERMANN: Speaking with reporters, following his trip to Asia, President Obama reflecting on the first half of his presidency while offering a preview of what he thinks comes next.
And in our fourth story: while the president hints at Obama 2.0, we gain new insight into the struggles and victories of the original flavor. A result of a White House divided revivalists versus survivalists in a team of rivals without very much team. The man reporting from the front lines, Richard Wolffe joins me in a moment.
Mr. Obama, once again shouldering the blame for his administration‘s perceived failures—this time pointing to his, quote, “obsessive focus” on policy, for neglecting things that matter a lot to people, hinting that in the next two years, when he will not be legislatively focused, instead compromise of more outreach to the public—and yes, more calls for bipartisanship. Quote, “My expectation when I sit down with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner this week, along with the Democratic leaders, is that there are a set of things that need to get done during the lame duck and they are not just going to want to obstruct, that they‘re going to want to engage constructively.” Good times, great oldies.
Joining me, as promised, MSNBC political analyst, author of the new book, “Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House,” Richard Wolffe.
Good evening, Richard.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The reason that you did this was to discover what if anything had changed, the entire Obama team inside the West Wing during this first 20-plus months. What was the answer? And was it a surprise to you?
WOLFFE: Well, it was a surprise. It surprised me that such a relatively simple question would be out there unresolved for so long, and in the fact, that it‘d begun before the campaign was even over.
I told the story about how John Podesta, former Clinton chief of staff, who is running the transition, gets into in a heated exchange with the campaign people, before election day, saying, you know, this promise you made about not having lobbyists in the administration—well, we‘ve got to get around that. Now the campaign people said this wasn‘t a minor thing. You know, this is what the candidate, the president-elect, really believes in. And, of course, they watered it down one way or the other. Podesta says, well, he was really just hedging where the president wanted to hedge.
But that debate about whether you should stick to the revivalist spirit of the campaign or govern and mold yourself to Washington, that has been the fault line running through this White House for the last three years.
OLBERMANN: All right. If it‘s Obama loyalists, revivalists, Valerie Jarrett, that crowd, the veterans with him from the beginning, versus the old-hand Clintonists (ph), the survivalists—if the president had repeatedly rejected this Clinton model for his presidency, why were there any survivalists? And, in fact, why were they seemingly in charge?
WOLFFE: Right. Well, that‘s a great question. And, in fact—by the way, there were some Obama loyalists who are on the survivalist side as well.
WOLFFE: So, it‘s not just a pure Obama/Clinton divide here. But that framework from the primaries really does set up what happens after. Remember, in the final stretch in Iowa, he goes up and gives a speech crystallizing the debate between the two, where he says you cannot at once say you‘re the master of the broken system in Washington and offer yourself out as the person to change it.
My argument is, based on my research, my sources, he‘s got a foot in both camps. He wanted to try to do both. And it was just as untenable for him in year one and year two as it was for Clinton in the primaries.
OLBERMANN: Is this why we‘ve gotten this bipartisan needle stuck in the same record, at the end of the record, for the last two years? Even now, the president talking about the next two years, he‘s going to try to be more bipartisan? Is there some connection between this overarching view he has of himself as the president of everybody who didn‘t vote for me, that it sometimes seems to eclipse the idea that he‘s also the president of people who voted for him?
WOLFFE: Well, there is that self-image there, you‘re right. This is the guy who said he would unite red and blue America. So, he‘s going to try and do that.
There was also a late dawning belief, a realization among these people, that, in fact, there were no reasonable Republicans out there.
WOLFFE: That this Republican Party no longer had a Bob Dole figure. And that the other side, while they were trying to govern, had carried on campaigning. And that was a—a really simple mistake that many of the campaign people said, hey, guys, the other side hasn‘t stopped the election. It took them a long time to realize that.
OLBERMANN: And you‘re right that the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts in January was the real wake-up call that knocked the president out of his complacency. But what changed? And if something did change, why 10 months later is there still this attitude that we saw during the run-up to the midterms? And even now, this kind of, well, que sera sera?
WOLFFE: Well, a couple of things. Scott Brown happened, everyone said this president is dead, he‘s finished, health care is dead. Two months later, he gets health care.
So, there‘s a repeated pattern here of people writing this guy off saying he‘s finished. There was New Hampshire, there was Texas and Ohio, there was Pennsylvania, this guy was supposed to be done a long time ago and he bounces back.
So, that‘s number one to keep in mind. Of course, you don‘t know, he‘s always going to bounce back. But there‘s a repeated pattern there.
Secondly, they have come to understand that you‘ve got to reach out to independents. They‘re the people who have lost. But, in fact, can you get Republicans? They‘re under no illusions now.
So, they come into this a little more realistic and they also come into it knowing that how much damage they have suffered by going into this governing, Washington mode, when really, the country, left and right, still wants reform.
OLBERMANN: The lead survivalist announced for mayor of Chicago on Saturday—formally out of the picture. Does that change the picture for the next two years? Or does the change in control of the House neuter any effect that that might have towards what a lot of people thought this White House was going to look like?
WOLFFE: Well, it does change in the sense that there are people close to the president who realize that instead of Emanuel sort of adapting to the ways of the campaign, he, in their own words, sort of undermined it. Now, there‘s an argument to be made that actually, this is exactly the time you want a Rahm Emanuel, you want someone who can lock horns and be the party‘s figure and maybe early on was not the time you wanted him. But hindsight is a not a perfect thing, of course.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe, the new book is called “Revival,” and we‘re grateful that you came here to talk about it first and now that we introduce you each time in the show, it would be Richard Wolffe, the author of “Revival.”
WOLFFE: And I‘m going to try and trip you up (ph) with that, but thank you.
OLBERMANN: That‘s all right. It‘s “Revival.” It‘s a good word.
Great thanks. Good to see you.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The good news: you‘re going to mars. The bad news: you‘re not coming back. Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: How do you explore other planets at half the price? It‘s simple, go there and don‘t come back. That modest proposal ahead.
First, the sanity break and the tweet of the day and it‘s from May B in Rio de Janeiro. “I‘d like to remind you all that Beck is slang for pot in Portuguese.” 0Actually the online Brazilian slang to English translating dictionary says “Beck” means marijuana cigarette. More importantly, my God, there is an online Brazilian slang to English translating dictionary.
Let‘s play “Oddball.”
OLBERMANN: We begin in Basildon in the United Kingdom. Maria Holland has just broken the record for the longest radio broadcast from under water. Ms. Holland is the presenter for Basildon Hospital Radio, a radio station that caters to a key demographic: people staying at Basildon Hospital. She was on the air under water for four hours and 4 ½ minutes, breaking the previous record by nearly one hour.
Besides playing music, Maria also had a bowling competition and a spirited game of darts. But many people think it was all a ploy to salvage her sinking ratings, which have clearly gone into the tank.
Internet, where we find the eternal struggle of the wild, a group of alligators versus a cat. Here kitty, kitty, kitty. First, the cat scares a single gator away. And the gator returns with re-enforcements. Kitty more than holds its ground, though, taking several swipes at the mouths of the gators. That apparently is the trick.
So upset about the drubbing they received at the hands of a game cock on yesterday, the gators decided to walk away. This time there won‘t be any tears. Time marches on.
Filibuster reform, one-way space exploration, and a “Special Comment” on the real death of news—ahead.
OLBERMANN: Two scientists think they‘ve solved the twin problems of getting a man on Mars, cost and time. In our third story, it‘s very simple, really: don‘t bother bringing him back. You heard me, a ticket to Mars, a one-way ticket to Mars. This is the rather stark proposal offered by two scientists writing in the Mars special edition of the “Journal of Cosmology.” Paul Davis and Dirk Schultz Mackatch (ph) suggest it really isn‘t that much more cold hearted than that which was proposed to the first settlers who left Europe for America.
Except for the fact that they knew there was air here. The main point is to get exploration moving, they suggest. So don‘t bother exploring. Go right to colonizing, two men at a time, each new ship bringing more supplies. They think older astronauts would make sense, 60 and up. See, radiation would damage the reproductive system, which is why you shouldn‘t send up any young adults or women. It‘s going to be a hell of a colony, isn‘t it?
The scientists even suggest if this is too one-way for NASA, the private sector could step in. “What we need is an eccentric billionaire,” they write. Don‘t tell Republicans. This could be their solution to long-term unemployment.
Our friend Derrick Pitts of the Franklin Institute will joins us to discuss this cockamamie idea tomorrow. Chris Hayes next on reforming earmarks and the filibuster, and then the special comment.
OLBERMANN: You wouldn‘t know it by the way he‘s down played the earmark issue, but Senator Mitch McConnell is responsible for more pork than a Jimmy Dean sausage factory. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, in the past three years, the Kentucky senator has requested nearly one billion dollars worth of earmarks. In our number two story, turn out the lights, Mitch McConnell, the pork is over, and Democrats are hoping the filibuster might be next.
In the first real battle between the establishment GOP and the Tea Party, the establishment has blinked. The minority leader, Mr. McConnell, last week was defending the earmark process, calling Tea Party Republican Jim DeMint‘s proposed moratorium, quote, symbolic.
But with the Republican conference scheduled to vote on the measure tomorrow, this afternoon McConnell caved in to his new Tea Party overlords.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER: I know the good that has come from the projects that I‘ve helped support throughout my state. I don‘t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as symbol of the waste and out of control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, Democrats are leading a movement to reform the filibuster process. According to “The Hill,” Senator Tom Udall said he will force a motion on the first day of the next Congress to have Vice President Joe Biden adopt new rules for the two year session. Then Udall said he will seek consensus among senators from both parties to lower the 60-vote threshold for procedural motions.
The goal to end the ability of the party in the minority to obstruct the majority party‘s agenda from even reaching the Senate floor for votes. Cloture motions filed in the past several Congresses have skyrocketed. You can see the trend; it is gridlock in graphic form.
Udall admits that he currently does not have the votes to change the Senate rules. But across the aisle, last week, Republican retread Indiana Senator Elect Dan Coats admitted, quote, we need to remove the 60 vote rule for bringing a bill.
Let‘s turn to Chris Hayes, the Washington editor of “The Nation,” also, of course, an MSNBC contributor. Good evening, Chris.
CHRIS HAYES, “THE NATION”: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Start with filibuster. One would think that if the Democrats don‘t do it in the upcoming Senate, it will be done to them should the Republicans take over in two years. Is there going to be a larger Democratic ground swell to try to reform the filibuster process?
HAYES: Well, a ground swell I haven‘t seen yet. You have seen some movement. You definitely saw it during health care. One of the things I think that‘s problematic is that there was a real ground swell around health care, because people got a very colorful illustration of the problems of the filibuster and sort of everybody dealing for the 60th vote. And that created a real mass consensus around the fact that this had to be changed.
I think as we‘ve gotten further away from that, there‘s been an ebbing in the amount of pressure there is on the issue. And I think that‘s problematic.
But I do think you see Senator Udall. You see Senator Harkin. There are other people who—if you go through the record, there‘s probably about 15, 20, 25 senators who have said something on the record about their openness to filibuster reform. So I really hope that Senator Udall does push the issue, because it‘s important even if it doesn‘t work at the opening of this new Congress to get everybody on the record.
OLBERMANN: Is this one of those political party offense/defense questions? If the Democrats want to play defense, they‘ll let reform on this die, so the Republicans have no chance of being free from the filibuster if they gain the majority in 2012. But if the Democrats want to play offense, they should push this on the presumption that what they could then get done in the next two years would make holding the Senate easier in 2012, right?
HAYES: I think that‘s right. I think there‘s two things. I think there‘s a cultural distinction between the Democratic and Republican caucus and their ethos. I mean, Republicans tend to be maximalists. Democrats tend to be incrementalists. We‘ve seen this manifest itself in all sorts of way, particularly since 1994 and going through and the way that the different senators conduct themselves, particularly on the Senate side.
So I think that‘s one issue. I think the point you made on the first question is really important to hammer home. For all the Democrats that are uneasy about filibuster reform, that are thinking to themselves, well, we don‘t want to be in the situation where we can‘t block things where we‘re in the minority, you should think long and hard about whether you think the Republicans are going to preserve the filibuster if they‘re in the majority.
Because remember, they thought it was such a threat to the republic that judges were getting filibustered, they were ready to blow the thing up a few years ago. And now judges are getting filibuster routinely and everybody sort of shrugs and it‘s business as usual.
OLBERMANN: Senator Harkin on filibuster reform: “it is about the Senate as an institution operating more fairly, effectively, and democratically.” And yet all the talk of doing this is from incumbent Democrats. Where are some of those Tea Party, “don‘t tread on me,” fair is fair, voice of the people guys?
HAYES: Well, I think it‘s important to—to remember, the filibuster is—even though it‘s sort of viewpoint neutral, right? I mean it can be invoked by minorities of either party. It fundamentally has played a reactionary role in American politics. If you look at the history of it in the 20th century, it‘s been invoked primarily against labor law reform and against civil rights. And now it‘s become so casually sort of invoked by the sort of Republican obstructionists.
There is a nature to the filibuster which is fundamentally, I think, small C conservative. So I‘m not surprised that you‘re not seeing Tea Party candidates clamor to get a change.
OLBERMANN: And back to earmarks. McConnell changing, flipping here. Is that the Tea Party eating the establishment? Or is it some sort of shrewd move from McConnell to co opt the Tea Party platform?
HAYES: Well, I think it‘s shred. Here‘s what I would say: this is the very beginning of what‘s going to be a long relationship. There‘s a lot of things that the Newt Gingrich Congress did in ‘95 when they came into power, and they quickly petered out. Right? So let‘s check back in in a few years and see if Rand Paul isn‘t sneaking some earmarks into appropriations bills.
But I actually will say, in a somewhat contrarian sense, to the degree that you think the current economy of influence in Congress and the status quo is fundamentally corrupt, which I do think—and I don‘t think earmarkers are at all the center of that corruption, but you could make an argument that they‘re sort of a symptom of it. I do think it‘s encouraging to see that status quo disrupted, even if it‘s for a distraction, even if earmarks really aren‘t the problem.
I‘m ultimately heartened by the fact that McConnell buckled in this instance. It‘s very hard to be on the side of Mitch McConnell in anything, I have to say. And to the extent that things actually changed because of an election, I guess I‘m so desperate to see the political—this political system react to voter input that I‘m actually encouraged by it.
OLBERMANN: Chris Hayes of “The Nation” And MSNBC, marking no ears and busting no filis (ph). Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: Putting it on my business card. Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.
Pardon me, Mr. Koppel, but who killed TV news? Special comment next.
OLBERMANN: Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment about Ted Koppel‘s op-ed piece in the “Washington Post” yesterday entitled “Olbermann, O‘Reilly, and the Death of Real News.” And I apologize up front for the heavy self- reference, but I hope you will agree that this is important.
When Walter Cronkite died 16 months ago, he was rightly lionized for the quality of his work and the impact he effected on television news. He was praised for his utter objectivity and impartiality and, implicitly and in some cases explicitly, there was wailing that this objectivity had died with him.
And invariably the same few clips were shown with each obituary. It was the night Cronkite dedicated 14 minutes of the 30 minute long “CBS Evening News” to a remarkable report on Watergate which devastated the Nixon administration, one so strong that the administration pressured CBS merely to shorten the next night‘s follow-up to just eight minutes.
It was the extraordinary broadcast from Vietnam from four and a half years earlier, in which he insisted that nothing better than stalemate was possible and that America should negotiate its way out, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could. All that newscast did was convince the 36th president of the United States to not seek reelection.
The deserved and heart-felt sadness at the loss of a great journalist and a great man had been turned into a metaphor for the loss of a style of utterly uninvolved, neutral, quote, “objective” reporting. Yet most of the highlights of the man‘s career had been those moments when he correctly and fearlessly threw off those shackles and said what was true and not merely what was factual.
It has been the same with every invocation of Edward R. Murrow. Murrow would never have stood for the editorializing of today in his newscasts. The Murrow radio reports from London rooftops during the Blitz of 1940 are replayed and forever should be. And their creator is offered as a paragon of straight reporting.
Yet it is never mentioned that, as they happened, CBS was pressured to stop those searing explosions of truth from London. Because our political leaders at the time believed they would unfairly influence Americans to side with the British, when the nation was still officially neutral and the Republican party was still completely convinced that there was a deal to be made with the Nazis.
President Roosevelt did not invite Murrow to the White House to congratulate him on his London reports because they were fair and balanced. Similarly, the journalism students of now seven different decades have studied the Murrow broadcast about Senator Joseph McCarthy from 1954. These properly lauded as some of the greatest moments not merely in the history of American journalism; they are considered such in the history of America.
The story is told that a cowering, profit-hungry press stood idly by or even rode McCarthy‘s paranoia for circulation and for ratings, while the blacklist and the fear grew. And then Murrow slayed the dragon.
Always left out, sadly, is the truth that within hours of speaking truth based on facts, Murrow was attacked as a partisan. The Republicans and the conservative newspapers and the conservative broadcasters described, in what they would have insisted was neutral, objective, unbiased, factual reporting, that in smearing the patriotic Senator McCarthy, Murrow was a Democrat, a liberal, a socialist, a Marxist, a communist, a traitor.
Always left out, sadly, is the fact that these attacks worked. Within 12 months, Murrow‘s “See It Now” program had lost its sponsor, and been reduced from once a week to once a month. Within 18 months, it had been shifted from every Tuesday night at 10:30 to once in a while on Sunday afternoons at 5:00, becoming, as one CBS producer put it, “See It Now and Then.”
Mr. Koppel does not mention—nobody ever does—that the year in which Edward R. Murrow helped save this democracy by including his own editorial judgment in the news was the last year of his life throughout which Murrow appeared on a regular, prime-time news broadcast. He would be eased out of CBS entirely in seven years and dead in 11.
The great change about which Mr. Koppel wrings his hands is not partisanship nor tone nor analysis. The great change was the creation of the sanitized image of what men like Cronkite and Murrow, and Coltenborn (ph) Davis and Daly and Bachadge (ph) and Smith and Sevareid and Rather and Jennings and Polk and Koppel did. These were not glorified stenographers. These were not neutral men. These were men who did, in their day, what the best of journalists still try to do in this one, evaluate, analyze, unscramble, assess, put together a coherent picture or a challenging question, using only the facts as they can be best discerned, plus their own honesty and conscience.
And if the result is that this story over here is the presidential chief of staff taking some pretty low-octane bribes and the scandal starts and ends there, you judge all the facts and you say so. And if the result is that that other story over there is not just a third-rate burglary at a political office, but the tip of an iceberg meant to sink the two-party system in this country, you judge all the facts and scream so.
Insist long enough that the driving principle behind the great journalism of the television era was neutrality and objectivity, and not subjective choices and often dangerous evaluations and even commentary, and you will eventually leave the door open to pointless worship at the temple of a false God. And once you‘ve got a false God, you‘re going to get false priests. And sooner rather than later, in a world where subjective analysis is labeled evil and dangerous, some political mountebank is going to see his opening, and cease the very catechism of that false God.
Words like objective and neutral and two-sided, and fair and balanced. And he will pervert them into a catch phrase, a brand name. And he can create something that is no more journalism than two men screaming at each other is a musical duet.
But as long as there are two men, as long as they are fair and balanced, is not the news consumer entranced by the screaming and the fact that his man eventually and always out-screams the other? Is not he convinced that he has seen true journalism, true balance, true objectivity?
I have read and heard much of late, including from Mr. Koppel in the “Washington Post” yesterday, about how those who succeeded his grand era of false objectivity are only in it for the money or the fame or the chance to push a political party. Mr. Koppel also implied, as others have, that the men behind this network saw in the success of Fox News a business opportunity to duplicate that style but change the content. Mr. Koppel implied that yesterday.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. And the very kind of fact-driven journalism Mr. Koppel seems to be claiming he represents and I fail would not stand for his sloppy assumptions and his false equivalence of both sides do it.
We do not make up facts here. And when we make mistakes, we correct them. Friday night, I found, as we rehearsed its presentation, that a segment implying that former President Bush had lifted parts of his autobiography from other works of recent history was largely based on excerpts that mostly required heavy editing and still produced only weak evidence. We killed the segment.
Would Fox have? Would CNN have?
Ten days ago, “Anderson Cooper 360” presented a political story in the most cataclysmic of tones. There were three guests, an online magazine editor, a staunch liberal and a staunch conservative. And they were in agreement. The story just wasn‘t that big of a deal. The segment ran anyway.
Moreover, while Fox may be such, we are not doctrinaire. I cannot prove it, so I will have to estimate it here. If I‘m proved wrong, I‘ll happily correct. But my intuition tells me I criticize President Obama more in the last week than Fox‘s prime time hosts criticized President Bush in eight years.
To equate this network with Fox, as Mr. Koppel did, to accuse us of having our own facts is another manifestation of a dangerously simplified understanding of modern news. This guy says the moon is a planetary fragment orbiting the Earth; this other guy says it‘s actually the body of the late Vince Foster. Have them both on and let them debate. It‘s fair and balanced.
And to the charge that a bunch of bean counters ceased upon a business opportunity, I have been here for every moment of this network‘s evolution. It began in 2003 when slowly, one fact at a time, we began to challenge the government‘s rationalization for the war in Iraq. A year later, I was told by the former president of this network that he did not want me or us to be a liberal answer to Fox News.
The man whose hour followed mine then was a conservative ex-congressman. The year after that, I offered evidence that there seemed to be a disturbing juxtaposition of government terrorism warnings, or counterterrorism detentions with political bumps in the road for the Republican party. The woman whose hour followed mine then had been hired by us away from Fox.
The year after that, I did the first of these Special Comments and I fully expected that I might be fired after it. The year after that, I had to spend urging my employers to give my guest host her own show.
Now there are three shows in prime time in which the content usually lines up with the small L liberal point of view, even as it needles and prods and sometimes pole axes the Democrats. And that conservative ex-congressman is still on the air here, every day. And he has as much time as the three of us at night do put together.
If this was a business plan, it was not as good as the one at the nearest kid‘s lemonade stand. This network came to this place organically.
And therein lies the final irony to what Mr. Koppel wrote yesterday. We got here organically, in large part because of Mr. Koppel. His prominence, you will recall, came on ABC News and Sports President Roone Arledge, who never permitted business or show business to interfere in his judgements and his journalistic pledge of allegiance.
When Mr. Arledge made the subjective and eminently correct decision that the hostile crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran merited half an hour or more each night of the network‘s time in 1979, this was not the no-brainer that retrospect may suggest. CBS and NBC and PBS certainly did not do it. Even when CNN signed on in the middle of the next year, it did not do it. Arledge made his decision just four days after the hostages were seized and stuck with the story until it ended, defying the conventional wisdom of television and constantly pressing the government, and questioning the official line.
Even after those hostages were freed more than a year later, the half an hour of news, now renamed “Nightline,” continued. And each night for 26 years, Mr. Koppel and his producers and his employers selectively suggested which out of a million stories would get the attention of his slice of American television for as much as half an hour at a time. Which story would be elevated and amplified? And which piles upon piles of stories would be postponed or tabled or discarded or ignored?
Just as the story of Mr. Murrow‘s career emphasizes McCarthy but not the fact that the aftermath of the McCarthy broadcast buried Murrow‘s career, the stories of Mr. Koppel‘s career will emphasize the light he so admirably shown on the Iran hostages. Those stories, though, will probably not emphasize that in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005, Mr. Koppel did not shine that same light on the decreasingly coherent excuses presented by the government of this nation for the war in Iraq.
Fourteen consecutive months of nightly half hours on the travesty and tragedy of 52 hostages in Iran, but the utter falsehood and dishonesty of the process by which this country was committed to the wrong war, by which this country was committed to dishonesty, by which this country was country was committed to torture, about that Mr. Koppel and everybody else in the dead, objective television news business he so laments, about that Mr. Koppel could not be bothered to speak out.
Where were they? Worshipping before the false God of utter objectivity. The bitter irony that must someday occur to Mr. Koppel and the others of his time was that their choice not to look too deeply into Iraq before or after the war began was itself just as evaluative, just as analytically based, just as subjective as anything I say or do here each night.
I may ultimately be judged to have been wrong in what I‘m doing. Mr. Koppel does not have to wait. The kind of television journalism he eulogizes failed this country, because when truth was needed, all we got were facts, most of which were lies anyway. The journalism failed and those who practiced it failed. And Mr. Koppel failed.
I don‘t know that I‘m doing it exactly right here. I‘m trying. I have to. Because whatever that television news was before, we now have to fix it.
Good night and good luck.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, here is my very dear friend Rachel Maddow.
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