Olbermann Defends Applying Nazi Salute to O'Reilly and Ties in Brian Williams

Defending his recent mockery of FNC's Bill O'Reilly that included a Nazi salute, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann used his appearance on Tuesday's Tonight Show with Jay Leno to defend his actions, implying that he was inspired to do so at the suggestion of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams to "do something creative," and also by viciously smearing O'Reilly as a defender of Nazis: "On the air in the last year, Bill O'Reilly has defended the Nazis from World War II on three separate occasions. ... Yes, I wish I were making this up." An ironic statement coming from Olbermann, who last year scolded public figures who use Nazi references, saying, "There's no place for the reference in this culture," and that the analogies are "wrong, offensive and deeply hurtful." (Transcript follows)

Video clip #1 (1:00) NBC runs Countdown promo of Olbermann slamming Ann Coulter, then he quips about Al Gore: Real (1.6 MB) or Windows Media (1.9 MB), plus MP3 audio (280 KB)

Video clip #2 (1:52) Olbermann explains why he did a Nazi salute while holding up a Bill O'Reilly mask: Real (3.1 MB) or Windows Media (3.6 MB), plus MP3 audio (550 KB)

The segment with Olbermann began just after a promo of Olbermann's Countdown show was shown, which featured a clip of Olbermann attacking conservative commentator Ann Coulter, a frequent target of Olbermann: "Honestly, if you were Ann Coulter's attorney at a sanity hearing, where could you possibly start?"

After Olbermann took his seat next Leno, the MSNBC host started off by voicing support for Al Gore's beliefs about global warming as he sarcastically commented on the current heat wave: "Now we know Al Gore was a liar about global warming. He said 10 years. We had about 10 minutes."

Leno soon asked about Olbermann's recent appearance at a Television Critics Association meeting, during which he had appeared holding a Bill O'Reilly mask in front of his face and mocking the FNC host by giving the Nazi salute. Olbermann started off by referring to the inspiration he received from Brian Williams: "And I was told, in fact, by Brian Williams, do something creative, wake them up, they're tired, they're sweaty, they're wearing the same suit for the third day in a row, dress, do something."

After recounting what happened and after a photograph of Olbermann impersonating O'Reilly was shown, the MSNBC host went on to further explain his rationale behind the move, smearing O'Reilly as having defended Nazis:

Olbermann: "The second part is that on the air in the last year, Bill O'Reilly has defended the Nazis from World War II on three separate occasions."

Leno: "Oh, really?"

Olbermann: "Yes, I wish I were making this up."

Leno: "Have you met him in person? Have you two come face to face on any occasion?"

Olbermann: "Well, he can't go out during daylight hours."

Regarding Olbermann's claim that O'Reilly had "defended the Nazis," the MSNBC host was referring to comments made by O'Reilly during The O'Reilly Factor in October 2005 and in May 2006 while he was discussing war crimes allegedly committed by American troops during World War II. O'Reilly had mis-stated the events of the infamous Malmedy massacre as having been perpetrated by American troops against Nazi troops, when in reality Nazi troops had massacred American troops. O'Reilly later corrected his mis-statement, contending that he should have said some American troops committed war crimes later in retaliation for the Malmedy massacre, a claim which is also referenced by Wikipedia. O'Reilly had even made this case before in a column in June 2005, correctly describing the Malmedy massacre, so it would be reasonable to assume O'Reilly had no motive to intentionally fabricate a claim specifically about Malmedy since he could have simply cited war crimes that American troops allegedly committed later. But O'Reilly's correction was not enough for Olbermann, who chose to attribute the worst possible motives to the FNC host's statement as he sought to portray O'Reilly as a defender of Nazis, pursuing the controversy on two separate nights on his Countdown show. [Added March 22, 2009: A more thorough explanation and transcripts can be found  here.]

Returning to the July 25 Tonight Show, Leno soon turned the subject to politics, asking Olbermann what he expected from this year's elections. A frequent critic of the Iraq War, Olbermann took the opportunity to mock President Bush's Iraq policy:

Olbermann: "Well, we have a new policy in Iraq. They just announced that today."

Leno: "What's that?"

Olbermann: "I'm not sure what it is. We have a new one. That's the good news. There's a new one: Put all the troops in Baghdad. Last one was take all the troops away from Baghdad. Now, it's put them all back in Baghdad."

Leno: "Well, we keep, we've turned the corner so many times, we're back in again."

Olbermann: "Exactly. We've done a nice little pirouette like an ice skater."

Olbermann then turned his attention to embryonic stem cell research, which he saw as a public opinion advantage for Democrats, as he cited an unidentified poll claiming that 70 percent of Americans support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Forgetting that embryos by definition are created by fertilizing egg cells, Olbermann erroneously stated that the human embryos in question were "never going to be fertilized," and argued that the research is "what humanity dictates," as he contended that President Bush's opposition to federal funding indicates "he may have a narrow kind of presidency."

Olbermann: "But the President may have handed them something with stem cell. Stem cell research is where the Democrats may have, on a moral issue and a, you know, and a societal issue, they seem to have the upper hand by, like, seven out of ten people think, all right, you're going to throw these stem cells, these embryos away, they're never going to be fertilized, these are not the ones that are going to be adopted, these are not the ones that are going to become people. These are the ones that are going out in the trash unless we do something with them, or we could, you know, maybe cure Alzheimer's with it. Seven out of ten people say go for it. That's what humanity dictates, and the President vetoed that, so he sort of is, he may have a narrow kind of presidency. We call it a cable presidency if you work in my, ... If you're going for 28 percent of that audience out there, wow!"

Below is a transcript of relevant portions from the July 25 Tonight Show with Jay Leno:

Keith Olbermann, during a promo for Countdown aired during commercial break: "Honestly, if you were Ann Coulter's attorney at a sanity hearing, where could you possibly start?"
...

Jay Leno: "Enjoying our wonderful weather?"

Keith Olbermann: "Got out of here before the freeways melted. I feel very comfortable. Now we know Al Gore was a liar about global warming."

Leno: "Really?"

Olbermann: "He said 10 years. We had about 10 minutes."

Leno: "Right, 10 minutes, wow!"
...

Leno: "Now, I mention this because I saw something in the paper where you had a Bill O'Reilly mask."

Olbermann: "Yes, I did."

Leno: "Where's that picture? Put that picture up."

Olbermann: "I'll explain what, you want me to explain that?"

Leno: "Explain what that was all about."

Olbermann: "Again, I had the 9 AM Saturday thing with these press TV guys."

Leno: "Right."

Olbermann: "And I was told, in fact, by Brian Williams, do something creative, wake them up, they're tired, they're sweaty, they're wearing the same suit for the third day in a row."

Leno: "Right."

Olbermann: "-dress, do something. I said I've got it. With the whole thing with me and Bill O'Reilly over the years, AP, the Associated Press, had a problem with Fox. They were taking pictures of the Fox talent without Fox's permission, so Fox said no pictures of our guys at the press tour."

Leno: "Right."

Olbermann: "So I thought, well, I'll give them a picture of the Fox guys. I'll just wear a Bill O'Reilly mask, and then they can use that picture."

Leno: "Right."

Olbermann: "And everybody sat down, we all had a big meeting about it beforehand, and everything went great -- until the next picture was taken."

Leno: "Well, let's see, let's see the next one. Where's the next one? Now, there you're doing a-"

[laughter from audience]

Leno: "You seem to enjoy tweaking Bill."

Olbermann: "Well, this is not just about Bill, Jay. There's a two-part explanation."

Leno: "All right. Go ahead."

Olbermann: "Would you like to hear it?"

Leno: "Go ahead."

Olbermann: "The first half is, I saw a guy in the back who I recognized, and I was giving him a yoo-hoo, you know, yoo-hoo!"

Leno: "Right."

Olbermann: "And they got me in between the yoo and the hoo. So that's that one."

Leno: "Right."

Olbermann: "The second part is that on the air in the last year, Bill O'Reilly has defended the Nazis from World War II on three separate occasions."

Leno: "Oh, really?"

Olbermann: "Yes, I wish I were making this up."

Leno: "Have you met him in person? Have you two come face to face on any occasion?"

Olbermann: "Well, he can't go out during daylight hours."
...

Leno: "Now, what do you think's going to happen in the November elections here? Is thing going to, Bush mandate out, boom, goodbye, what's going to happen?"

Olbermann: "Well, we have a new policy in Iraq. They just announced that today."

Leno: "What's that."

Olbermann: "I'm not sure what it is. We have a new one. That's the good news. There's a new one: Put all the troops in Baghdad. Last one was take all the troops away from Baghdad. Now, it's put them all back in Baghdad."

Leno: "Well, we keep, we've turned the corner so many times, we're back in again."

Olbermann: "Exactly. We've done a nice little pirouette like an ice skater. The Democrats have a couple of things to run on, but, as usual, their major opponent is the Democrats."

Leno: "Right, it seems that way. It seems like they would have, here you go, it's yours for the taking. Yet, there doesn't seem to be anybody emerging."

Olbermann: "But the President may have handed them something with stem cell. Stem cell research is where the Democrats may have, on a moral issue and a, you know, and a societal issue, they seem to have the upper hand by, like, seven out of ten people think, all right, you're going to throw these stem cells, these embryos away, they're never going to be fertilized, these are not the ones that are going to be adopted, these are not the ones that are going to become people. These are the ones that are going out in the trash unless we do something with them, or we could, you know, maybe cure Alzheimer's with it. Seven out of ten people say go for it. That's what humanity dictates, and the President vetoed that, so he sort of is, he may have a narrow kind of presidency. We call it a cable presidency if you work in my-"

Leno: "Really?"

Olbermann: "If you're going for 28 percent of that audience out there."

Leno: "Yeah?"

Olbermann: "Wow!"