Olbermann Blasts 'Orwellian' Bush for 'Telling Us What to Think'

On Friday night's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann renewed his "Special Comment" attack on President Bush, replaying the original comments from Monday's show, and adding a condemnation of Bush for an awkwardly worded, off-the-cuff remark made by the President during Friday's news conference that it is "unacceptable to think" the actions of America can be compared to those of terrorists. Not catching on to the President's likely meaning that it is "ridiculous to claim" the actions of America are similar to those terrorists, Olbermann referred to a favorite topic of his, George Orwell's 1984, as he attacked Bush's "chilling" words. Olbermann: "'It's unacceptable to think.' Sounds like something straight out of George Orwell's 1984. Instead, it was something straight out of George Bush's mouth. ... And not only issuing those chilling words, 'It's unacceptable to think,' but doing so in answer to the call to conscience from his own former Secretary of State, Colin Powell." (Transcript follows)

During the show's teaser, after mentioning the friction between Bush and some Senate Republicans over the interrogation of detainees, Olbermann showed his alarm over Bush "telling us what we may and may not think."

Olbermann: "After the rebuke from his former Secretary of State about how we're beginning to lose the moral basis in the fight against terror. The President tells him and us what we may and may not think."

Bush: "It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective."

Olbermann: "An America in which a President says it is unacceptable to think something. We will again invoke everyone from Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg to Rod Serling on Maple Street, and ask why, five years later, 9/11 is still just a photo-op. Why it's not the centerpiece of national unity, but rather a political football, why there is no memorial, just a hole in the ground and in our hearts. My 'Special Comment' ahead."

Olbermann opened the show with his latest reference to George Orwell's 1984. Olbermann: "'It's unacceptable to think.' Sounds like something straight out of George Orwell's 1984. Instead, it was something straight out of George Bush's mouth." Referring to former Secretary of State Colin Powell's letter of concern about America "losing the moral high ground" in the eyes of the world, Olbermann soon continued: "And not only issuing those chilling words, 'It's unacceptable to think,' but doing so in answer to the call to conscience from his own former Secretary of State, Colin Powell."

The Countdown host soon showed clips from the President's news conference, including the one that so outraged Olbermann.

Terence Hunt, Associated Press: "Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. If a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Secretary of State feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy?"

Bush: "If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, that's flawed logic. It's just, I simply can't accept that. It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective."

At the end of the show, Olbermann took the opportunity to replay his controversial "Special Comment" attack on Bush which first aired last Monday September 11th. The Countdown host introduced the segment proclaiming his gratitude to those who emailed and downloaded the video of his comments, though he did not provide any details on what percentage were supporters versus critics. Olbermann: "To merely say I'm grateful to all those who have written and emailed and called and downloaded the video, we count at least 800,000 in the last group, that does not do the feeling justice. Our number one story on the Countdown, we're going to bring you again Monday night's 'Special Comment' from Ground Zero, on all that that site and that date has and has not become."

After complaining that New York Governor George Pataki vetoed a bill that would have made any memorial at Ground Zero free to the public, Olbermann repeated the entire "Special Comment" attacking Bush from Monday's show (available with video here), during which he had accused the President of committing a "crime against" 9/11 victims and of the "impeachable offense" of "lying by implication" regarding the Iraq War. Olbermann concluded the show by again referring to Bush saying it is "unacceptable to think," followed by a recounting of the number of U.S. troops killed "since the declaration of ‘Mission Accomplished' in Iraq," a regular part of Olbermann's nightly signoff intended to embarrass the President.

Olbermann: "My 'Special Comment' from Ground Zero, originally broadcast on this program this past Monday September 11th. And since then, remember, we have now been told by this President it is unacceptable to think, even if you are the former Secretary of State in that President's first term. That is Countdown for this, the 1,231st day since the declaration of 'Mission Accomplished' in Iraq. This reminder, please join us again at Midnight Eastern time tonight, 11 p.m. Central, 9 Pacific, for the late edition of Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the September 15 Countdown show with critical portions in bold:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? After the rebuke on rewriting the Geneva Conventions from three heavyweight Republican Senators, the President scrambles."

George W. Bush: "Congress has got a decision to make. You want the program to go forward or not?"

Olbermann: "After the rebuke from his former Secretary of State about how we're beginning to lose the moral basis in the fight against terror. The President tells him and us what we may and may not think."

Bush: "It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective."

Olbermann: "An America in which a President says it is unacceptable to think something. We will again invoke everyone from Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg to Rod Serling on Maple Street, and ask why, five years later, 9/11 is still just a photo-op. Why it's not the centerpiece of national unity, but rather a political football, why there is no memorial, just a hole in the ground and in our hearts. My 'Special Comment' ahead."...

Olbermann, introducing the show: "Good evening. This is Friday September 15th, 53 days until the 2006 midterm elections. 'It's unacceptable to think.' Sounds like something straight out of George Orwell's 1984. Instead, it was something straight out of George Bush's mouth. Our fifth story on the Countdown, that massive pre-election struggle Mr. Bush had engineered over national security having gone horribly wrong, not the Democrats defending now themselves against Republicans, but rather the President having to do so. And not only issuing those chilling words, 'It's unacceptable to think,' but doing so in answer to the call to conscience from his own former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Having lost round one over his proposal for the interrogation of terror suspects with the Senate Armed Services just yesterday. Mr. Bush subjecting himself to an interrogation today at the White House Rose Garden. In the course of the news conference, the President pretty much playing chicken with Congress, threatening to abandon all U.S. efforts to question terror suspects unless the Senate sees fit to rewrite Article III of the Geneva Conventions. You know, the part that prohibits the cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees. Mr. Bush also rebuking his former Secretary of State for not believing exactly what he wants him to believe."

Terence Hunt, Associated Press: "Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. If a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Secretary of State feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy?"

Bush: "If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, that's flawed logic. It's just, I simply can't accept that. It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective."

At the end of the show, Olbermann resumed his attack on Bush:

Olbermann: "To merely say I'm grateful to all those who have written and emailed and called and downloaded the video, we count at least 800,000 in the last group, that does not do the feeling justice. Our number one story on the Countdown, we're going to bring you again Monday night's 'Special Comment' from Ground Zero, on all that that site and that date has and has not become. First, though, if the physical part of the story could get worse, it has gotten worse. Governor George Pataki, who was there on Monday and felt the same enduring pain the rest of us did, yesterday vetoed a bill passed by the New York state assembly and the New York state legislature, which would have guaranteed that admission to the World Trade Center memorial and museum would be free. The governor said he understood the sentiment, but that a 'world class memorial comes at a significant expense estimated at $50 million a year.' It is a point-of-view that might have some merit if we were even close to actually building that memorial. We are not. Not physically, not emotionally, and certainly not, to our great national grief, politically."

The show then cut to a replaly of the the "Special Comment" from Monday's show:

Olbermann: "And lastly tonight, a special comment on why we are here. Half a lifetime ago, I worked in that now-empty space behind me. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter. And all of the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my own friends, two in the planes and, as I discovered from those missing posters seared still into my soul, two more in the Towers. And I knew as well that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more as our ancestors.

"I belabor this to emphasize that for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal. And anyone who claims that I and others like me are soft or have forgotten the lessons of what happened here, is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante; and, at worst, an idiot, whether he is a commentator or a Vice President or a President.

"However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast, of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds, none of us could have predicted this: Five years later, this space is still empty. Five years later, there is no memorial to the dead. Five years later, there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us by cowards and criminals. Five years later, this country's wound is still open. Five years later, this country's mass grave is still unmarked. Five years later, this is still just a background for a photo-op. It is beyond shameful.

"At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial, barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field, Mr. Lincoln said, 'We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.'

"Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice. Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their own reprehensible inaction. 'We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.' So we won't. Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.

"Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir. On these 16 empty acres, the terrorists are clearly still winning. And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

"And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city and in the fabric of our nation. There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath reduced to lazy execution.

"The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here and throughout the country. The government – the President, in particular – was given every possible measure of support. Those who did not belong to his party tabled that. Those who doubted the mechanics of his election ignored that. Those who wondered of his qualifications forgot that.

"History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage. Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people. The President and those around him did that.

"They promised bipartisanship, and then showed that, to them, 'bipartisanship' meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, 'validate the strategy of the terrorists.' They promised protection, and then showed that to them 'protection' meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaeda as much as we did. The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war on the false premise that it had something to do with 9/11 is lying by implication. The impolite phrase is 'impeachable offense.'

"Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current and curdled version of our beloved country. Still, there is a snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: Even his most virulent critics have never suggested that he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11. Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.

"Yet what is happening this very night? A miniseries, created, influenced, possibly financed by the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes. The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred by spin to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office seem like the only option.

"How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting both into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you, or those around you, ever spin 9/11? Just as the terrorists have succeeded, are still succeeding, as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero, so too have they succeeded, and are still succeeding, as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

"This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth, and of this country, suggests, even television programs can be powerful things. And long ago, a series called The Twilight Zone broadcast a riveting episode entitled 'The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.' [over black and white video of the TV episode] In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extraterrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car, and only his car, starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An 'alien' is shot, but then he turns out to be just another neighbor returning from having gone for help. The camera pulls back to a nearby hill, where two extraterrestrials are seen, finally, manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there is no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines, and then 'they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it is themselves.'

"And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight. 'The tools of conquest,' he said, 'do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record,' he said, 'prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own for the children and the children yet unborn.'

"When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of that freedom, we are somehow un-American; when we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have 'forgotten the lessons of 9/11'; look into this empty space behind me and the bipartisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me this: Who has left this hole in the ground? We have not forgotten, Mr. President. You have. May this country forgive you.

Olbermann, on screen live again: "My 'Special Comment' from Ground Zero, originally broadcast on this program this past Monday September 11th. And since then, remember, we have now been told by this President it is unacceptable to think, even if you are the former Secretary of State in that President's first term. That is Countdown for this, the 1,231st day since the declaration of 'Mission Accomplished' in Iraq. This reminder, please join us again at Midnight Eastern time tonight, 11 p.m. Central, 9 Pacific, for the late edition of Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck."