Olbermann Inserts 'Red Meat' Anti-Bush Conspiracy Theory Into Terror Plot Story

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has a history of pushing conspiracy theories questioning whether the Bush administration has politically timed terror alerts or the release of terrorism-related stories for political advantage. Since the timeline of the current terror plot story was controlled by the British, one might expect Olbermann to take a break from his fascination with such ideas. But, true to form, the Countdown host still found a way to insert an anti-Bush conspiracy theory into the story, as he questioned whether some of the Bush administration's recent criticism of Democrats for ousting pro-Iraq War Senator Joe Lieberman had been timed to exploit the terror story that would soon break. (Transcript follows)

Olbermann referred to "unbridled rhetoric" against Democrats and the "specter of an administration that has seemingly played politics with past terror alerts." Olbermann plugged his segment on the topic with Newsweek's Jonathan Alter: "And could it just be coincidence that the President finds out about this plot, then his Vice President and the Republican chairman start slamming Democrats for being soft on terror, then the public is informed about the plot? Could it really be just coincidence?"

Alter contended that the administration was using the terror news as "Hamburger Helper for the red meat that they want to throw out politically" as they were "exploiting it politically." He also lamented sometimes thinking "the motto these folks have is 'The only thing we have to use is fear itself.'"

After Olbermann summarized the day's terror plot news during the show's teaser, he conveyed skepticism as he mentioned past mistakes by British authorities: "But intelligence sources say the supposed plotters only began looking at flight schedules last week. The source is the British, the same people who missed both subway bombings in London last year, then shot a purported terrorist wearing a suicide bomb vest and running from police, only it turned out he was a 27-year-old electrician wearing an ordinary shirt and walking."

Ignoring the administration's history of attacking Democrats over the war on terror at critical election times, which is consistent with doing so right after a primary dominated by anti-war Democrats, Olbermann wondered if the "unbridled rhetoric about the Democrats" was inspired by the administration's inside knowledge that a terror plot story was about to break, and claimed the administration had a history of "playing politics" with terror alerts: "His press secretary said Mr. Bush knew of the British investigation as early as Sunday. Did his Vice President know? His party national committee chair? Does that explain the unbridled rhetoric about the Democrats in the Connecticut Senate primary vote? ... And Jonathan Alter on the specter of an administration that has seemingly played politics with past terror alerts, and how much of this we can all believe."

Olbermann later plugged the segment: "And could it just be coincidence that the President finds out about this plot, then his Vice President and the Republican chairman start slamming Democrats for being soft on terror, then the public is informed about the plot. Could it really be just coincidence? That ahead on Countdown."

The Countdown host introduced the segment by trying to invent a contradiction in President Bush's public statements regarding the danger of terrorism at home as the MSNBC host ridiculously claimed that Bush had last year "made it very clear that we are safe here at home thanks to his war in Iraq." The statement in question made no such claim:

Olbermann opened the segment: "If you have any trouble following your government's position on terror and your safety, let's clear it all up right now in our third story on the Countdown. A year ago on July 4th, the President made it very clear that we are safe here at home thanks to his war in Iraq."

George W. Bush, dated July 4, 2005: "We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home."

Olbermann: "However, if you think that means that we don't have to face them here at home, well, as the President said today:"

Bush: "It is a mistake to believe that there is no threat to the United States of America."

Olbermann mockingly reacted: "Now, where would anyone have gotten such an idea?"

During the interview with Alter, Olbermann referred to his past conspiracy theories questioning whether the Bush administration has politically timed terror alerts or the release of terrorism-related stories for political advantage: "There have been a lot of terror threats, warnings, events that have come in the wake of bad political news for the administration. We chronicled them here. They might be coincidences, they might not. There is such a thing as the logical fallacy. But this is the first time I've ever heard of an anti-conspiracy conspiracy theory, that the revelation of this purported plot could not be politically timed because the administration would have really benefitted had this plot been revealed Monday or Tuesday before the voters went to the polls in the primary in Connecticut. I gather you don't buy the anti-conspiracy conspiracy theory."

During his response, Alter accused the administration of "exploiting" the terror story they knew was about to break, calling the news a "sort of Hamburger Helper for the red meat that they want to throw out politically." After arguing that the anti-war result of the Democratic primary may benefit Republicans, Alter continued: "I think the British were controlling the timing of these arrests, and it's really important not to get into this sort of crouch where you say everything that involves terrorism is political. You can hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in your head at once, Keith. One is that, you know, they use this kind of news as sort of a Hamburger Helper for the red meat that they want to throw out politically. In that sense, they're exploiting it politically, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're timing this politically."

Olbermann then brought up the possibility that the Bush administration has exaggerated past terror threats to "scare its own people unnecessarily," prompting Alter to coin the phrase "The only thing we have to use is fear itself." After listing out other terror plot stories from the past, Olbermann continued: "Is there a point at which most people start doubting the idea that no government would ever dream of scaring its own people unnecessarily?"

Alter responded: "Well, you know, you mentioned by FDR book. I mean, I sometimes think the motto these folks have is 'The only thing we have to use is fear itself.'"

Olbermann: "Mmmm."

Alter: "It works well for them. And yes, they do exploit it."

Olbermann ended the show wondering how much the media should scrutinize the government during such events: "What about the role of the media in authenticating that for which we have only the word of two governments and no other evidence of our own?"

Alter praised Olbermann's scrutiny, but warned against being "cynical": "I think at a certain level the media always has to give the government in this kind of case the benefit of the doubt at first, then go back and ask a lot of hard questions, which you've started quite appropriately to do here tonight. But to assume from the get go that the government is lying about security matters, I think, would be an excessively cynical posture so that the key thing for the media is to perform that accountability function. ..."

Olbermann concluded the interview: "Skeptical, not cynical. We'll try."

Below is a complete transcript of relevant portions of the August 10 Countdown show:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? The hysteria stops here. The British send international air travel into disarray as they arrest two dozen suspects in a purported plot to blow up as many as 10 U.S.-bound international flights, allegedly using liquid explosives smuggled on board in containers."

British police officer: "This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale."

Olbermann: "But intelligence sources say the supposed plotters only began looking at flight schedules last week. The source is the British, the same people who missed both subway bombings in London last year, then shot a purported terrorist wearing a suicide bomb vest and running from police, only it turned out he was a 27-year-old electrician wearing an ordinary shirt and walking."
...

Olbermann: "What about the delay in American politics?"

George W. Bush: "This nation is at war with Islamic fascists."

Olbermann: "The President interrupting his vacation not to reassure the nation, nor go back to the capital, but merely to hit a fund-raiser in Wisconsin. His press secretary said Mr. Bush knew of the British investigation as early as Sunday. Did his Vice President know? His party national committee chair? Does that explain the unbridled rhetoric about the Democrats in the Connecticut Senate primary vote?"
...

Olbermann: "And Jonathan Alter on the specter of an administration that has seemingly played politics with past terror alerts, and how much of this we can all believe."
...

Olbermann: "Good evening from New York. At first glance, it appears that British intelligence has thwarted the biggest terror attack since 9/11, discovering a plan, arresting its plotters, aimed at simultaneously blowing up nine different planes headed to the United States from Britain by using the components of liquid explosives smuggled in carry-on luggage by suicide bombers. But in our fifth story in the Countdown, how much of the plot was actually operational? How much of it feasible? How much of the reaction political? Tonight, a rational but not cynical look at an extraordinary day."
...

Olbermann, before commercial break at 8:16 PM: "And for four years and eleven months, national security has been the favorite political club of the current administration. So would it be a surprise that even before this latest news broke, we were getting the spin on it from Washington?"
...

Olbermann, before commercial break at 8:25 PM: "And could it just be coincidence that the President finds out about this plot, then his Vice President and the Republican chairman start slamming Democrats for being soft on terror, then the public is informed about the plot. Could it really be just coincidence? That ahead on Countdown."
...

Olbermann, before commercial break at 8:33 PM: "That was in March on this broadcast. No outcry from the administration then, heavy politicizing now, now that there is an apparently obvious threat from liquid explosives. We'll truth squad the politics of the terror threat."
...

Olbermann, at 8:36 PM: "If you have any trouble following your government's position on terror and your safety, let's clear it all up right now in our third story on the Countdown. A year ago on July 4th, the President made it very clear that we are safe here at home thanks to his war in Iraq."

George W. Bush, dated July 4 2005: "We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home."

Olbermann: "However, if you think that means that we don't have to face them here at home, well, as the President said today-"

Bush: "It is a mistake to believe that there is no threat to the United States of America."

Olbermann: "Now, where would anyone have gotten such an idea? And as the timeline of the revelation of the purported liquid explosives airline plot becomes clearer, the political facts are underscored. You can say without fear of contradiction that there is a political component to all this. The President had the details from London no later than Sunday, so when Republican Committee chair Ken Mehlman and Vice President Dick Cheney eviscerated Connecticut Democrats for choosing Ned Lamont over Senator Joe Lieberman, and they brought al-Qaeda into the equation, they at minimum knew a terror story would be breaking shortly. Did the press secretary know it when he threw the President's own father under the wheels of the bus of history last night?"

Tony Snow: "The real question for the American people to ask themselves is: Do you take the war on terror seriously with all the developments going on around the world? And if so, how do you fight it to win? There seem to be two approaches, and in the Connecticut race, one of the approaches is ignore the difficulties and walk away. Now, when the United States walked away, in the opinion of Osama bin Laden in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that Americans were weak and wouldn't stay the course, and that led to September 11th."
...

Olbermann: "Joining us now to help us measure the political element here that we mentioned, Jonathan Alter, the NBC political analyst, also of Newsweek ... Let me start with that strange statement from the President about making the mistake of thinking there's no threat against us. Who is he saying made that mistake, and at what point did they make it?"

Jonathan Alter: "Well, it's innuendo, you know, he's trying to imply that people who disagree with his policy in Iraq are somehow soft on terrorism. That's their game. That's the only card politically that they have to play. They play it extremely well. It did extremely well for them in both the 2002 and 2004 elections, and they're going to play it again hard this year."

Olbermann: "There have been a lot of terror threats, warnings, events that have come in the wake of bad political news for the administration. We chronicled them here. They might be coincidences, they might not. There is such a thing as the logical fallacy. But this is the first time I've ever heard of an anti-conspiracy conspiracy theory, the revelation of this purported plot could not be politically timed because the administration would have really benefitted had this plot been revealed Monday or Tuesday before voters went to the polls in the primary in Connecticut. I gather you don't buy the anti-conspiracy conspiracy theory."

Alter: "Not quite, for a couple of reasons. First of all, if you're thinking conspiratorially, which I'm not in this case, it actually makes more sense for them to have Lieberman lose the primary because now they can use, you know, Ned Lamont as their poster boy of a McGovern liberal, and already in the last 24 hours, they've been out saying that any other Democrat in a close race who endorses Ned Lamont as the Democratic nominee for the Senate is thereby, you know, soft on terrorism and some kind of extremist liberal. So it made more sense for them to have Lieberman lose. That was in their interests. However, having said that, I don't believe that that was at play here. I think the British were controlling the timing of these arrests, and it's really important not to get into this sort of crouch where you say everything that involves terrorism is political. You can hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in your head at once, Keith. One is that, you know, they use this kind of news as a sort of Hamburger Helper for the red meat they want to throw out politically. In that sense, they're exploiting it politically, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they're timing this politically."

Olbermann: "But Roger Cressey put this neatly earlier, and he's far less prone to calling a foul on this stuff than am I. This administration has set the bar so low when it comes to trumpeting its terror arrests, he said, so we have a bit of a credibility gap here -- this is the greatest threat since 9/11; the discovery of the recon photos of the financial buildings in New York and D.C., that was the greatest threat since 9/11; the rock hard evidence of flights from Europe that were to be crashed into Vegas at Christmas time in 2003, that was the greatest threat since 9/11. Is there a point at which most people start doubting the idea that no government would ever dream of scaring its own people unnecessarily?"

Alter: "Well, you know, you mentioned by FDR book. I sometimes think the motto these folks have is 'The only thing we have to use if fear itself.'"

Olbermann: "Mmmm."

Alter: "It works well for them. And yes, they do exploit it. You didn't even mention all the cases, you had John Ashcroft in Moscow at one point I believe in 2002, you know, trumping something up from thousands of miles away."

Olbermann: "The arrest of Padilla, yes."

Alter: "You know, you've got a whole series of events, but, you know, in the same way that even paranoids have real enemies, even people who are exploiting things politically are still confronting a serious terrorism threat. And if Democrats don't want to be thrown into the briar patch on this issue again, they will be very careful to make sure that they don't, in the interest of scoring political points, forget that there are people out there who want to kill us, and we've got to keep that in mind."

Olbermann: "So let's also point one last finger here towards the media, ourselves. Flying into the whole thing, whole hog, 'terror in the skies' on the graphics on TV. But the newspapers have not been far behind. What about the role of the media in authenticating that for which we have only the word of two governments and no evidence of our own?"

Alter: "I think at a certain level the media always has to give the government in this kind of case the benefit of the doubt at first, then go back and ask a lot of hard questions, which you've started to do quite appropriately here tonight. But to assume from the get go that the government is lying about security matters I think would be an excessively cynical posture so that the key thing for the media is to perform that accountability function. So, for instance, and I don't know how many people know this, but air cargo, in other words, the cargo that's beneath everybody when they're on a plane, is not checked. Less than 10 percent of it is checked. So we have this other huge security gap, and it's the media's job to ask all the tough questions on all these issues."

Olbermann: "Skeptical, not cynical. We'll try."

Alter: "Exactly."

Olbermann: "Jonathan Alter of Newsweek and NBC News. Great thanks for your time, sir."