Keith Olbermann: What I Do ‘Is Really Journalism'

It certainly won't come as a surprise to NewsBusters readers that MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is more separated from reality than virtually any member of the media.

Still, the idea this former sportscaster and current liberal commentator actually considers what he does as "really journalism" should shock and disgust any member of said profession, even Bill Moyers who had Olbermann as a guest on Friday's "Journal."

Wonderfully, referring to himself as a journalist wasn't the only hysterical utterance from Olbermann during this interview, as he also had the unmitigated audacity to criticize conservative radio host Michael Savage for "basically just spattering invective on people he didn't like."

Hey, Keith, have you ever actually watched your program or read a transcript?

As the answer to this question appears to definitely be "No," here are some of the lowlights from this interview (video available here, full transcript here):

  • [W]hat I've done on the air in the last 4 1/2 years, and particularly in the last year and a half since the special comments began, is really journalism. It's saying here's what you're being told. Here's the identifiable objective fact to the situation. This statement from the government may be a lie. And what we all did in this country, those who had voted for this president and those who did not, was to say we're in dire trouble. We've been attacked. Let's rally around him, give him all the support we can, and we will suspend our disbelief. The moment that it began to be obvious that we were being manipulated, used-- that was when my suspicions began to take voice.
  • MSNBC hired a guy named Michael Savage. And he came on and did-- not only did he do a show once a week that was basically just spattering invective on people he didn't like and these people change from week to week, but it was terribly produced. I mean, it was an awful show. And he was-- he looked like he was standing in front of a chalkboard somewhere in somebody's basement with a camera.
  • [After being asked how he differentiates his ad hominem attacks from those on the other side] Well, they're better written. The first-- no, I hate to-- I-- it's the most vulnerable point because it bothers me, too. It do-- it's the one criticism that I think is absolutely fair. We're doing the same thing. It is-- it becomes a nation of screechers. It's never a good thing. But emergency rules do apply. I would like nothing better than to go back and do maybe a sportscast every night. But I think the stuff that I'm talking about is so obvious and will be viewed in such terms of certainty by history that this era will be looked at the way we look now at the-- at the presidents and the-- the leaders of this country who rolled back reconstruction // I think it's that obvious. And I think only under those circumstances would I go this far out on a limb and be this vociferous about it.
  • [After being asked if he sees hypocrisy in bashing the defense department when one of his sponsors is Boeing] If we're going to try to go corporation-free in any regard, I'm afraid everybody watching would just be prepared for that, you know that old test pattern with the Native American head appearing in the middle of it. 'Cause we're all, to some degree, involved in it. It's a nation of corporations, whether we like it or not. As I said earlier, the fortunate part about broadcasting is if I'm making them money, it doesn't make a difference to them and I'm on the air, how I'm doing it. And to be fair, many of these people on an individual basis have consciences that cannot be expressed in a corporate sense. Many of the people for whom I work-- say, "You are saying things that I cannot say." So I get support in a different way entirely from my bosses.
  • I'm not an anarchist. I believe in government. But there is-- there's no-- no possible interpretation other than to say that this administration and the Republican Party, to some degree the Democratic Party, have taken advantage of fear, of the unprecedented, nearly unprecedented attack that we saw in 2001, to expand their powers on the premise always of security, which is, you know, the famous Franklin, Jefferson warning about that is it's never been more applicable. So it is, yeah, it is emergency circumstances as Walter Cronkite saw it. I mean, here-- objective Uncle Walter, most trusted man in America. When I have an opinion on the most important political issue of the day, I'm gonna sink a president and maybe throw the election to the other guy right now. And he said, well, you know, the chips have to fall in this direction because people are dying and our country is, to some degree, wounded and bleeding. And our country is wounded and bleeding now if we don't know whether or not habeas corpus exists.

And this is what he thinks is "really journalism." Of course, it shouldn't be all that surprising given his belief that Walter Cronkite is the "most trusted man in America."

Yet, maybe most telling was when he spoke of President Bush's now famous "Mission Accomplished" moment aboard an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003, and Olbermann lied about what he said to Chris Matthews:

I'm on the air with Chris Matthews on that day with miss-- mission accomplished on May 1st in 2003. And I-- and he's talking about this as George Bush's moment in history and this. And I said, "Don't you think that him wearing a flight suit's going to be a little bit of a problem during the election cam-- "No.

Earlier, I asked if Keith ever watches his program or reads the transcript. Obviously, he didn't read this one.

See if you can find when he says to Matthews, "Don't you think that him wearing a flight suit's going to be a little bit of a problem during the election cam[paign]?"

OLBERMANN: But to flesh out both the speech and today's president at sea episode, I'm joined by Chris Matthews, of course, the host of "HARDBALL" here on MSNBC. Chris, we've never been on the air together before.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": I know. This is kind of intimate.

OLBERMANN: Quasi historic.

MATTHEWS: Hah!

OLBERMANN: Listen, I get the symbolism of the speech from the Lincoln, but I don't get the timing of this speech. Why tonight?

MATTHEWS: That's a good question. I think probably because they saw the opportunity to do it while it was still a hot issue. As you know, working on cable television, you can almost measure the level of public intensity of interest, and it's fading now on the war. People feel like we've won this war, so he might as well make it official.

OLBERMANN: What about the parsing of the language here, in not declaring victory, not saying hostilities have ceased, saying that major combat operations are over? What's that about?

MATTHEWS: Apparently, there's some legal questions about the handling of the POW issue and perhaps the question of what we do with Saddam Hussein when we catch him. But apart from the international law, I think, is the question of occupation. Nobody wants to be an occupying power, certainly not since the '60s, when we began to see all the third-world countries be liberated. Nobody wants to be a colonial power. And so I guess in this period now, once the war is over and before we get an interim government, we don't want to have longer a period than we have to as the occupying or the colonial power of Iraq. Who wants to be a colonial power?

OLBERMANN: This was victory lap day. I mean, we're seeing the sign aboard the Lincoln right now that reads "Mission Accomplished." And we...

MATTHEWS: More than that, Keith, it's a statement. It's saying to the Democratic Party or anyone else who wants to challenge this man for a full eight-year presidency, Try to do this. Look at me. Do you really think you've got a guy in your casting studio, your casting director can come up with, who can match what I did today?

Imagine Joe Lieberman in this costume, or even John Kerry. Nobody looks right in the role Bush has set for the presidency -- commander-in-chief, medium height, medium build, looks good in a jet pilot's costume -- or uniform, rather -- has a certain swagger, not too literary, certainly not too verbal, but a guy who speaks plainly and wins wars. I think that job definition is hard to match for the Dems.

OLBERMANN: Who dreamt this up? I mean, we were speculating before that it must have been Karl Rove, for the simple reason that Andy Card was the guy who actually had to fly under those circumstances, and the man who dreamt it up was probably the guy who stayed at home. Do you know who orchestrated all this?

MATTHEWS: Well, probably -- like, I worked in politics for years. I know it's always a collaboration. It's always key on the principal. Nobody made Ronald Reagan Ronald Reagan. People helped him become a better Ronald Reagan. I worked for Tip O'Neill for years. I think I helped him become a better one. But I got to tell you, they always are who they are. This guy joined the Air Guard back when he was out of college. This guy flew these kinds of planes. This guy is used to wearing this uniform because he did it for a living for a while.

And the fact is, he is who he is. He didn't make himself. He didn't design himself as a softspoken, simple-vocabulary kind of guy. That's who he is. George W. Bush doesn't speak in a complicated fashion. He's a very basic, clear-thinking guy who goes to bed at 9:30 with his wife. He's not complicated. He's not a problem. He is George W. Bush. And I think the beauty of the guy's presidency is it's so custom-made for him. He's designed a presidency to be him, and I think that's clear.

A friend of mine who works with people in management says every time you get a new job -- Keith, you're like this -- you design the job around you. So if you're good at getting publicity, you turn every job into a PR job. If you're good at personal management, personnel, you focus on who's working with you. People -- if you're an engineer, it's always about systems and process. This guy has designed the presidency as the commander-in-chief's job. And I think, obviously, September 11 has made that possible.

OLBERMANN: Now, back aboard the Lincoln here -- and the one thing that you mentioned about his experience in the Air National Guard. It did, in some quarters at least today, bring back that "Boston Globe" report from 2000 that Mr. Bush did not exactly finish that tour with the Texas Air National Guard. Was there something of a defeating that -- you know, sort of nailing that vampire story?

MATTHEWS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Keith, there's any chance that "The Boston Globe" city room will ever endorse George Bush for president?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, there's a hopeless case! Give me a break! Those guys love to begrudge. You know, they're good reporters. They dig -- I think Robbie Robinson dug that story up. And in fact, he's the guy who dug up the whole story about the Catholic church in Boston, just won the Pulitzer for that. They know what they're doing, and they have a lot of fun going after this Republican from Texas. There's still a lot of regional competition there. Great reporting, but is it going to cost him a single state? They're not going to get Massachusetts, to start with. The fight now is over Pennsylvania, Michigan. Those are the two states the Republicans are trying to build up as pickups. If he wins them, he's got a comfortable victory. He doesn't have to worry about Florida.

OLBERMANN: Chris, the staging of all this...

MATTHEWS: And he'll get Florida anyway, by the way, unless Bob Graham wins the nomination.

OLBERMANN: As we suggested at the top, this looked like a scene out of "Independence Day," the movie, or "Air Force One." Obviously...

MATTHEWS: Was that your idea, that conceit, that notion of this being like a movie?

OLBERMANN: Well...

MATTHEWS: Your personal idea, Keith.

OLBERMANN: I approved the idea.

MATTHEWS: You mean these aren't your own sort of basic human impulses to think of these brilliant movie, cinematic references?

OLBERMANN: Well, nine out of ten, and this was the tenth. Obviously, anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Obviously, this war -- but was it cotton candy? I mean, will it mean anything in the morning?

MATTHEWS: We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits. We don't want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.

OLBERMANN: Could it have...

MATTHEWS: And by the way, Democrats for years have made fun of Republicans, like Ike, who defeated the Nazis and received the Nazi surrender, and Ronald Reagan, who was probably the most evocative person for the World War II generation, and this guy. They always make fun of them for being simple. And guess what? They always win two terms, and they're always right.

OLBERMANN: And this one won something today.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

OLBERMANN: We're not sure what.

MATTHEWS: Looks like a winner to me.

OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews...

MATTHEWS: I just can't see Joe Lieberman or even John Kerry in that uniform today. Can't see it.

OLBERMANN: It would evoke memories of Mike Dukakis, would it not, in the helmet.

MATTHEWS: Unfortunately for the D's.

OLBERMANN: Unfortunately, indeed. Chris Matthews, thank you. It was good...

MATTHEWS: It's great meeting you in person. Keith, this is a moment.

OLBERMANN: Yes, thanks for the...

MATTHEWS: Let's treasure it!

OLBERMANN: Thanks for the promos.

MATTHEWS: Oh, they're right.

OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews.

Didn't ask Matthews, "Don't you think that him wearing a flight suit's going to be a little bit of a problem during the election cam[paign]," did he? In fact, he and Matthews seemed rather complimentary of the President and this event, didn't they?

And so did the rest of the country, something that liberal commentators like Olbermann conveniently forgot years later.

Honestly, is there anyone else in the media today less deserving of the title "journalist?"

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.