During an appearance on Friday's Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann acknowledged accusations of liberal bias, but denied they were true, preferring to describe himself politically as "correct" and "neutral," without a "rooting interest" in who wins elections. Ignoring criticism from the MRC that, among other instances of bias during the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal, he once compared former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to Nazi war criminal Heinrich Himmler, Olbermann claimed that he was never accused of liberal bias while covering the scandal. Olbermann: "I've been accused of being a liberal, which is interesting because the last time I was on doing the news in the late 90s, I did 218 consecutive shows about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. And no one accused me of being a liberal then. It's very interesting the way you can be sort of pigeonholed. I like to think of myself politically as 'correct.'" (Transcript follows)
Ignoring the power that those who report the news can have to affect an election by slanting stories in favor of or against candidates, which would be much more valuable to a candidate than any news anchor's individual vote, Olbermann went on to declare that he doesn't vote, claiming a link between a refusal to vote and being unbiased in covering politics: "I don't vote because I don't think I should have a rooting interest in the outcome of an election."
Regarding Olbermann's denial that he was ever accused of "being a liberal" during the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal, while he was hosting MSNBC's Big Show, the MRC at that time documented several instances of hostility to Kenneth Starr, impeachment, Newt Gingrich and Republicans in general. On August 18, 1998, in the aftermath of President Clinton's speech admitting to his affair with Lewinsky, Olbermann thought it insightful to remark that Starr reminded him facially of Heinrich Himmler, and suggested some might compare Starr to a "persecutor opposed to a prosecutor."
Olbermann, from August 18, 1998: "Can Ken Starr ignore the apparent breadth of the sympathetic response to the President’s speech? Facially, it finally dawned on me that the person Ken Starr has reminded me of facially all this time was Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses. If he now pursues the President of the United States, who, however flawed his apology was, came out and invoked God, family, his daughter, a political conspiracy and everything but the kitchen sink, would not there be some sort of comparison to a persecutor as opposed to a prosecutor for Mr. Starr?"
On November 12, 1998, after House Republicans forced Newt Gingrich out of the speakership, Olbermann was reminded of Stalin's takeover of Russia as Leon Trotsky was deposed: "It was on this date in 1927 that Joseph Stalin completed his consolidation of the leadership in Russia by engineering the expulsion from the Communist Party of Leon Trotsky. Darn. With Newt, the Republicans missed that anniversary by just six days."
Below are transcripts of additional quotes from the Clinton-Lewinsky era, followed by a transcript of relevant portions of the July 28 Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:
"It worked in Stalingrad. To some degree, it worked in the foreign compound during the Boxer Rebellion in Peking in 1900. It certainly seems to have worked for Bill Clinton. When there’s no capability of offense, no escape, and especially if you’re lucky enough to have an overconfident opponent -- just batten down the hatches and wait for the idiots to defeat themselves. Impeachment, once spoken gravely by presidential defenders and opponents alike, now engenders giggles and arguments about it carry all the weight of arguments about who is the rightful Czar of all the Russias."
-- MSNBC Big Show host Keith Olbermann, November 23, 1998.
"Does E.J. [Dionne] have this pretty much nailed in terms of the more rabid ends of the Republican Party, I mean in the sense that, if you’re gonna lose, as I said earlier, make it like the Civil War where you can turn it into the ‘we stood until the very last man’ kind of loss?"
-- Keith Olbermann to Tony Blankley, same night.
Keith Olbermann: "I was watching, just the other night, the highlights of the Army-McCarthy hearings, and I was reminded of this today. Joe McCarthy, not even paying attention as with each reference he made to one of Joseph Welch’s second chair attorneys, he dug himself deeper and deeper into a hole that he thought he was making this point that was for his case, and he was just burying himself. Is there not some perception, Mr. Starr’s point that Web Hubbell and prosecuting him now is almost walking into a radioactive dump?"
Former Washington Post and New York Times reporter E.J. Dionne: "Well, I think the fact that you just said it suggests it’s going to be thought of by a lot of people, sure. It’s the Hubbell trifecta...He faces potentially over 100 years of jail time which means he’ll get out just in time to watch the end of this investigation."
-- November 13, 1998 Big Show on MSNBC.
Below is a transcript of relevant portions from the Friday July 28 Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:
Craig Ferguson: "Let's talk about politics. That's a safe area. Why not?"
Keith Olbermann: "Absolutely."
Olbermann: "There's no division in the country on that."
Ferguson: "Do you have a, do you have a particular, which side do you dress on politically?"
Olbermann: "I've been accused of being a liberal."
Olbermann: "Which is interesting because the last time I was on doing the news in the late 90s, I did 218 consecutive shows about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky."
Olbermann: "And no one accused me of being a liberal then. It's very interesting the way you can be sort of pigeonholed. I like to think of myself politically as 'correct.'"
Olbermann: "I don't-"
[laughter and applause from audience]
Olbermann: "All those Al Gore bumper stickers, they weren't a good investment, but I tried."
Olbermann: "But seriously, I tried to not be, to the degree you can be neutral nowadays, I don't, for instance, I don't vote."
Ferguson: "You don't vote at all."
Olbermann: "I don't vote because I don't think I should have a rooting interest in the outcome of an election."
Ferguson: "Isn't it your duty as a citizen to vote?"
Olbermann: "If everybody who's in the news stayed away from the ballot box, I don't think we'd have a significant decline."
Ferguson: "You know, it would be great, wouldn't it? Actually then everybody who was actually on the media would not be allowed to talk about politics in any way other than, 'Oh, this is what seems to be happening.'"
Olbermann: "Yeah, again, people would still have that kind of bias that's perceived one way or the other, but at least you could say, well, you know, I didn't vote, I don't contribute. I'm trying to stay out of it to the degree that I can. I don't have a rooting interest other than in what happens to the country."