Olbermann Plugs "Bush Worst President" Rolling Stone Article

On Friday's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann plugged the Rolling Stone cover story by historian Sean Wilentz which argued that George W. Bush may be the worst President ever, citing the opinions of over 400 historians. As he introduced his interview with Wilentz, Olbermann sympathetically referred to the recently fired CIA employee who leaked classified information on the agency's use of secret prisons in Europe in the War on Terrorism, calling her a "whistleblower," and asked the question: "President Bush, whose administration is now firing, perhaps prosecuting whistleblowers, is he simply the worst?"

While introducing the segment, Olbermann listed several of Wilentz's attacks against Bush without challenging their validity, including accusations of "fabricated evidence" of WMD, a "retro fiscal policy" of "massive tax cuts" for the wealthy that "racked up monstrous deficits," and a criticism citing an unnamed Republican strategist who claimed that the Republican Party is "the first religious party in U.S. history." Olbermann, who perennially makes comparisons between George Orwell's novel 1984 and the Bush administration, managed to work in yet another reference to Orwell as he ended the interview mocking the administration's use of the term "pre-9/11 thinking," charging that Bush would accuse Wilentz and the other historians of being "guilty of pre-9/11 thinking, as George Orwell might have said." (Transcript follows)

Olbermann previewed the segment in the show's teaser: "Worst President ever: As Mr. Bush contemplates his page in history, a covey of historians predict that could easily be the chapter title."

After interviewing former Nixon White House counsel John Dean about the recent firing of the CIA agent who leaked classified information about secret prisons in Europe, during which Olbermann drew comparisons between leaks in the Nixon and Bush administrations, he could not resist making further comparisons between Nixon and Bush. Olbermann read a brief item about student protesters at Stanford University who blocked President Bush's helicopter from landing, which he compared to Nixon's problems with student protesters, and then gave a plug for the Wilentz interview by relaying that some historians say Bush "might have passed the James Buchanans and the Richard Nixons to become the worst President ever."

As Olbermann introduced the segment, in light of the recent Fox News Opinion Dynamics poll that showed Bush with a 33 percent approval rating, the Countdown host took a shot at FNC's Brit Hume by recounting that a few months ago the FNC host declared that a CBS poll showing a low approval rating for Bush "wildly oversampled Democrats."

Olbermann continued his introduction by sympathetically calling the recently fired CIA employee a "whistleblower," as if she had exposed some great wrong: "Our fourth story in the Countdown, President Bush, whose administration is now firing, perhaps prosecuting whistleblowers, is he simply the worst?"

Olbermann then read a list of Wilentz's criticisms of the Bush administration, all from a left-wing point-of-view, without any analysis of their validity: "This is some of what he considers: That the 43rd President of the United States and his administration strained or even fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction not only to justify the war in Iraq, but to promote a Bush Doctrine of preemptive warfare; claimed an unprecedented expansion of presidential power under the guise of war, many of the administration's scandals having flowed from that; rammed retro fiscal policies through Congress, massive tax cuts that may have benefitted only the wealthy, racked up monstrous deficits borrowing more money between 2001 and 2005 than all of the previous 42 presidents combined; and other domestic policies so strident and so dismissive of scientific knowledge that one former Republican strategist calls today's Republicans, quote, 'the first religious party in U.S. history.'"

During the interview, Olbermann only made a couple of gentle challenges to Wilentz's overall thesis, suggesting that a number of one-term Presidents deserve a lower ranking than Bush, and also pointing out the overwhelming dominance of academia by liberals: "Answer the obvious criticism of this survey of 415 or so historians who had already in 2004 pretty much said this is a losing proposition by a vote of 8-2, that, well, historians, academics tend to be liberal, there was a political motivation relative to the reelection campaign of 2004. Where does that, where does that fit in into this equation?"

Olbermann concluded the interview by working in his latest reference to George Orwell to mock President Bush: "Of course, [Bush] would turn around and say that you're guilty and the other historians are guilty of pre-9/11 thinking, as George Orwell might have said."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the April 21 Countdown show, including the entire interview with Wilentz:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "Worst President ever: As Mr. Bush contemplates his page in history, a covey of historians predict that could easily be the chapter title."

After an interview with former Nixon counsel John Dean in which he compared the recent firing of a CIA agent for exposing classified information on secret prisons in Europe, and comparing this with Nixon's attempt to find out who linked the Pentagon Papers, Olbermann continued with another comparison to Nixon:

Olbermann: "Another page from President Nixon's administration coming to life tonight for President Bush in California, protesters at a college campus. After visiting with Governor Schwarzenegger, he was meant to go to a meeting at the Hoover Institution in Stanford before going to dinner at former Secretary of State George Shultz's house. But when Marine One arrived at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, protesters blocked the route. The helicopter circled while the President figured out what to do. He ended up giving up and moving the meeting to Mr. Shultz's house."

Olbermann, before commercial break: "And just when you think it couldn't get worse than a 33 percent approval rating for the President, historians are suggesting that history may decide that number is a little high."

Olbermann, during commercial break: "He has always countered criticism with the belief that history will prove him right, Yet, some presidential historians are already saying that President Bush might have passed the James Buchanans and the Richard Nixons to become the worst President ever. That's next. This is Countdown."

Olbermann, introducing the segment: "Less than two months ago, in the face of a CBS poll putting the President's approval rating at just 34 percent, Brit Hume of Fox News said, quote, 'There's good reason to be skeptical of this CBS poll. It's wildly oversampled Democrats.' Then came yesterday's poll from Fox News, which marks the President's approval at 33 percent. There is a different kind of survey as well from way back in early 2004. Of 415 historians, 81 percent of them deemed the Bush administration to be a failure -- at that point. Our fourth story in the Countdown, President Bush, whose administration is now firing, perhaps prosecuting whistleblowers, is he simply the worst? That poll of historians just part of the evidence considered by fellow historian Sean Wilentz in Rolling Stone magazine. He will join us presently. This is some of what he considers: That the 43rd President of the United States and his administration strained or even fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction not only to justify the war in Iraq, but to promote a Bush Doctrine of preemptive warfare; claimed an unprecedented expansion of presidential power under the guise of war, many of the administration's scandals having flowed from that; rammed retro fiscal policies through Congress, massive tax cuts that may have benefitted only the wealthy, racked up monstrous deficits borrowing more money between 2001 and 2005 than all of the previous 42 presidents combined, and other domestic policies so strident and so dismissive of scientific knowledge that one former Republican strategist calls today's Republicans, quote, 'the first religious party in U.S. history.' Also, since reliable polling began in the 1940's, the only other two-term President to drop to Mr. Bush's level was Richard Nixon in the throes of the Watergate disgrace. As promised, I'm joined now by the director of the American studies program at Princeton University, also author of The Rise of American Democracy, Sean Wilentz. Thanks for your time tonight, sir."

Sean Wilentz: "Keith, great to be here."

Olbermann: "That Rolling Stone cover, which I realize was somebody else's editorial choice, showing Mr. Bush as a dunce, but your estimation of him is far more nuanced. You talk about his simplistic ideology and unswerving adherence to that?"

Wilentz: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think the cover actually is a bit over the top. My point was that Bush has very strong ideas, and that, in fact, has come back to haunt him. It's not that he's a bad student. It's that he has very strong ideas, that he had an opportunity to lead the country, and, in fact, blew that opportunity."

Olbermann: "I'm a student of presidential history, not the way you are. I'm literally the student in the equation, but it seems to me that missing in the historical equation of who might be the worst is the idea that a lot of the one-termers were so bad that they either never sought reelection or were easily defeated. Does this President stand up or down to comparisons to the one-termers like James Buchanan, who slept through the build-up to the Civil War, or Andrew Johnson who basically undid the few positives of the Civil War, or Herbert Hoover?"

Wilentz: "Right, well, I mean, unsuccessful presidents come in all shapes and sizes. It's true that some are so unsuccessful in their first term that they don't get reelected. But, you know, the case of Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon crushed his opponent in the 1972 election, and yet within two years he had the polling numbers that you talked about and was forced to resign. U.S. Grant was a two-term President who came a cropper in many ways. So that's not necessarily the measurement."

Olbermann: "It's clear, is it not, though, that no matter what else happens, he's had the greatest collapse of any President in history. He had virtually unanimous support from the nation after 9/11. That might have been fueled by post-traumatic stress disorder, but he still had it. And he still had most of it the month we invaded Iraq. And for years, he had successfully translated any opposition to him and his policies into unpatriotic behaviors. That's almost all gone now. Has he, in fact, fallen even further than Richard Nixon did, without the resignation?"

Wilentz: "Well, I mean, no one has ever been as high in the polls as he has and fallen as low as he did. I mean, Nixon never had a 90 percent approval rating as President Bush has had. So in just statistical terms, that's true. But there's more to it than that, Keith. I mean, the question is: Did the President end up governing the way that he said he would when he ran for President in 2000, when he said he'd be a uniter and not a divider, when he said he'd be a compassionate conservative. I think that there was a great deal of hope well before the attacks, the atrocities of September 11th that the President would govern the way that he said he would. I think that what has happened, and you see a fairly steady decline, there were a few upticks here and there, but what has happened is that the country has come to realize, despite the trauma, that they didn't really get what they thought they were going to be getting. They got a man who, a President who has ended up dividing the country more than he has united it, who has left leaving the country more acrimonious than when he began."

Olbermann: "Answer the obvious criticism of this survey of 415 or so historians who had already in 2004 pretty much said this is a losing proposition by a vote of 8-2, that, well, historians, academics tend to be liberal, there was a political motivation relative to the reelection campaign of 2004. Where does that, where does that fit in into this equation?"

Wilentz: "Yes, I say in the piece, historians generally, and academics generally tend to be more liberal than the rest of the population, far more liberal. But what struck me, and that's really what inspired me to write this piece, was the lopsided character of this poll. I mean, it wasn't just, you know, liberal historians not liking Bush. When you get 81 percent saying that the administration is a failure, when you get historians going back not to Ronald Reagan or even Richard Nixon, but well before Nixon, to find a President, previous President who ranked in their estimation as low as Bush did, that, that was striking to me. I mean, I wasn't prepared for that. I didn't imagine that would be the case. So I don't think it's simply about politics here. In fact, when you do these, when you see these presidential polls, or historians' polls, rather, about presidents, what's remarkable is how liberal organizations do them, conservative organizations do them. There's striking unanimity among historians about who are the successful presidents in our past and who are the unsuccessful presidents in our past. And what struck me about the poll two years ago was how lopsided it was. And given the fact that, you know, that poll was conducted before the Katrina debacle, before the Valerie Plame debacle, before the revelations about spying, domestic surveillance, I mean, I can't imagine those figures would be any better."

Olbermann: "Of course, he would turn around and say that you're guilty and the other historians are guilty of pre-9/11 thinking, as George Orwell might have said. Sean Wilentz, I'm sorry, I'm out of time. The director of the American studies program at Princeton, University. Great thanks for your time. Sorry to have cut you off."

Wilentz: "Really a pleasure."