More Olbermann: How He "Goes After Power" Regardless of Party, & His Tape Museum

Here's a little more from Brian Lamb's interview with Keith Olbermann on C-SPAN, in particular, more of his denying a liberal bias, lamely vowing he "goes after power," Republican or Democrat, and his explanations for why he has a regular "museum" of VHS tapes of his shows to preserve himself for posterity.

About halfway through the C-SPAN hour, Lamb played a typical "Countdown" clip, with Olbermann mocking Harry Whittington for suggesting the Cheney shooting accident happened on a "Friday" instead of a "Saturday." Lamb was a little blunt:

Lamb: "As you know, anybody watching this will see bias right there."

Olbermann: "Of course."

Lamb: "Should they?"

Olbermann: "All I can say is, I would think that were that Vice President Lieberman, having shot somebody here in the year 2006 and the victim said, the accident was a terrible one last friday and it actually happened last Saturday, my reaction would have been, you mean Saturday, right? You mean last Saturday? Read from the line, read from the script. As I said seven, eight years ago, I spent 228 consecutive hours of television right to the last day, even though I wanted to get out of it, right to the last day, the last show, ten minutes to air I'm rewriting the copy to make it a little bit more punchy because you know, we went out after -- you go after power. You don't go after a Republican or a Democrat."

(A likely story. In MRC's CyberAlert, Brent Baker recorded the impeachment-hating sentiments from the last days, and this shot from Olbermann's last show: "....he didn’t leave without taking one last opportunity to show his disgust with the Lewinsky scandal. His last words on MSNBC: "I will say only this: If you need me I’ll be hiding in sports. Wake me when it’s over, if it’s over.")

Olbermann also insisted on his fairness and balance in minute 49 of the program, when Lamb asked what he would tell a new viewer about his show:

"My advice actually to a viewer is to listen because what we're about, ultimately, is the content. I'm asking questions, as you do, i think, to get information. I don't -- I'm not trying to elicit a political opinion or stance. I want to know what's going on. I want to know what I don't understand about this story, what this person can explain to me."

Per C-SPAN tradition, Lamb did not inquire about whether his choice of guests doesn't suggest trying to elicit a political stance, since his regular guests are quite liberal, such as Washington Post reporter/columnist Dana Milbank in his joke Cheney hunting gear. While Olbermann suggested during the show that many people at NBC hated his Bush-bashing instincts, he did not include in that number MSNBC boss Rick Kaplan, Bill Clinton's golfing buddy. Thirty-nine minutes into the show, he described how Kaplan freaked out yelling on one occasion about Olbermann talking about his mouth biopsy on the air after Peter Jennings had died of lung cancer.

Olbermann: "We were premiering a new 9:00 show that night and Rick, as the president of MSNBC – very emotional, very high-strung, gigantic man, um, also a very squeamish man – was very surprised to hear, even though it had been discussed before, I was talking about spitting blood into a garbage can and all the rest of this stuff, and he was, he was -- he was mortified. He just assumed everybody would be terrified by what I was saying, change the channel and here we have the premiere of this new 9:00 show that I would have just ruined. And he was yelling, and he was yelling uncontrollably. And a couple of days later, after he calmed down, he was apologizing to the same degree of uh, uh [pause] giant-sized gestures and such. He was just, he was squeamish about blood. That was all it was.

Lamb: "So it wasn't an attack about you..."

Olbermann: "No, not at all."

Lamb: "...or on you?"

Olbermann: "No. Rick, he's -- if he's not the biggest fan of the show within NBC, he's doing a very good impression. He's been completely supportive of the show, all the way through."

Finally, there's the matter of Olbermann's tape archive of himself. Lamb popped the question after Olbermann discussed how he recentely watched a 1987 newscast of himself with a friend:

Lamb: "Is it true that you have recorded 50 percent of the programs you've done in your life on tape?"

Olbermann: "Not including the ‘SportsCenters.’ the ESPN shows, it's probably over 50%. The ESPN ones were difficult to time, because we were always, almost always on after ballgames, so I wouldn’t tape them."

Lamb: "Why do you do it?"

Olbermann: "I do it because we’re an ephemeral business. It goes away. No one else, to my knowledge, is doing it. It's an old habit of mine dating to childhood and really recording for posterity, just to have a record, the works of the great comedians Bob and Ray, who I listened to as a kid, they were on in New York. And one day I said, ‘This is just too good not – somebody should be taping it, I don't know if they're taping it. I should do it.’ As for me, it started in college as a learning tool. If I didn't know how good I was, I'm just going to judge it by the five minutes you are on the air? I mean, five minutes on the air, you're nervous. For the first couple of days I was having out-of-body experiences. I needed some reference point. So I taped it, and I didn't really have the uh [pause], modesty to erase the tapes and go back and record over them so I kept them. Everybody made fun of me. And they made fun of me while I taped the broadcasts when I worked at CNN, and anytime there was a reunion, with anybody from any point of my many jobs, the first thing is, ‘can you bring some of those tapes because we’d all like to see what they look like.’"

Lamb: "Where do you keep them all?"

Olbermann: "I have a storage locker. [Laughs] True, I have a storage facility that must have two or three hundred VHS tapes in it. At about 120th Street in Manhattan. They’ve gotten too large. They used to fill my basement in my home in Connecticut. Literally, you’d walk down into this subterranean cool basement in Connecticut, go into a room and, all the tapes of every broadcast. We’re like the Museum of Television and Radio. It’s that bad."

Lamb: "We’re a little early, but if you were going to write something on a tombstone? Would it be– let me just name – he was a -- I'll just assume that you consider yourself to be great."

Olbermann: "Well --"

Lamb, suggesting alternate epitaphs: "He was a great newscaster, he was a great sportscaster, he was a great comedian."

Olbermann: "I would put on probably, um, ‘finished on time again.’ But I -- that’d probably be the best one. I don't know. Goodness. I'm hoping not to -- anybody has to deal with this in the immediate future. [Pause] Not comedian. I've never been a professional comedian. I've used comedy as means of making news or sports more palatable and more entertaining. So I've never been a comedian. I don't know."

Olbermann should be made aware that the MRC has an extensive night-by-night collection of his appearances on cable-news networks, although we might differ on the reason for recording. We wouldn't necessarily declare "this is just too good" not to record. We're not attempting to preserve the great newscasters as they demonstrate their uninterrupted professionalism.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis