Olbermann Invites Clinton to Attack Bush, Hits FNC for Trying to 'Sandbag' Clinton

On Friday's Countdown, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann featured an interview with former President Clinton, during which he invited Clinton to attack President Bush, while not challenging the former President. Olbermann again brought up Bush's awkwardly worded statement that it was "unacceptable to think" that the actions of America are similar to those of terrorists, a statement which Olbermann had previously made the subject of two "Special Comment" anti-Bush attacks on his show. Clinton came to Olbermann's defense admitting "I'm more close to where you are," contending that "it's wrong for you to be portrayed as not patriotic." Olbermann also wondered if the "demonizing" of dissent was causing America to "get closer to what the terrorists want for us to change anyway." Olbermann ended on an anti-Fox News note attacking the network for trying to "reprehensively sandbag" Clinton in his interview with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace: "And our compliments to President Clinton for having today staved off a reprehensible sandbagging by Chris Wallace of what is jokingly referred to as Fox News." (Transcript follows)

After Olbermann brought up the question about Bush saying it was "unacceptable to think" certain thoughts, as the Countdown host wondered if he and other administration critics were "overreacting" or if they were "nuts," Clinton agreed with Olbermann:

Keith Olbermann: "Here in this country, at the moment, there seem to be a lot of us who think that there are, we are having trouble getting people involved in defending essential ingredients of our country and our heritage. We've heard a lot about anyone who disagrees with the current administration's policy in Iraq or on the war on terror or even disputes their facts or questions them would be suffering from moral or intellectual confusion. We heard the President talk about how in the world you could disagree with him, it's 'unacceptable to think' that we could be ever doing anything in any interrogation process that might be similar to what the terrorists do. When those of us worry about the future of the country and the past of the country, worry about our heritage, what we stand for, are we overreacting? Are we nuts? Are we exaggerating? Or do you feel the same threat?"

Clinton began: "No, no, let me say, first of all, is, you know, on a lot of these issues, I'm more close to where you are."

Clinton later continued: "I think it's wrong for you to be portrayed as not patriotic."

Olbermann's next question accused the Bush administration of taking America "closer to what the terrorists want."

Olbermann: "The Voltaire quote about, essentially translated as 'I will disagree with your writing, your politics, your thought, but I will defend to the death your right to say them.' ... I mean, is this not what we're supposed to be about? And when we talk about rewriting the Geneva Conventions or when we talk about demonizing dissent or even putting just a bad face on dissent in this country, are we not getting closer to what the terrorists want us to change anyway?"

After asking Clinton what advice he would give Bush if asked, Olbermann ended the show attacking Fox News for trying to "reprehensively sandbag" Clinton, referring to an interview which was briefly excerpted on Friday's Special Report with Brit Hume, which showed a clip of Clinton replying to Chris Wallace's question about critics accusing the former President of not having done enough to get Osama bin Laden as President.

Jim Angle: "Meantime, Osama bin Laden, enemy number one in the war on terror, is on the mind of former President Bill Clinton, who is speaking out angrily about criticism that his administration did not catch or kill the al-Qaeda leader. He said the same people who accuse him now of doing too little once accused him of focusing too much on bin Laden. He spoke with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace, who asked Mr. Clinton if he'd done enough to get bin Laden."

Bill Clinton, with anger: "At least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying, they had eight months to try, they did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed."

The MSNBC host also took a cheap shot at FNC as he introduced the upcoming episode of MSNBC Investigates titled The Ultimate Betrayal, which Olbermann lamely clarified "it's not about Fox News."

Olbermann: "And our compliments to President Clinton for having today staved off a reprehensible sandbagging by Chris Wallace of what is jokingly referred to as Fox [pause] News. That's Countdown for this the 1,238th day since the declaration of 'Mission Accomplished' in Iraq. Also, this reminder to join us again at Midnight Eastern tonight, 11 p.m. Central, 9 Pacific for the late edition of Countdown. Until then, a special presentation of MSNBC Investigates, The Ultimate Betrayal is up next. And it's not about Fox News. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of Olbermann's interview with Clinton from the September 22 Countdown show, with critical portions in bold:

Keith Olbermann: "Here in this country, at the moment, there seem to be a lot of us who think that there are, we are having trouble getting people involved in defending essential ingredients of our country and our heritage. We've heard a lot about anyone who disagrees with the current administration's policy in Iraq or on the war on terror or even disputes their facts or questions them would be suffering from moral or intellectual confusion. We heard the President talk about how in the world you could disagree with him, it's 'unacceptable to think' that we could be ever doing anything in any interrogation process that might be similar to what the terrorists do. When those of us worry about the future of the country and the past of the country, worry about our heritage, what we stand for, are we overreacting? Are we nuts? Are we exaggerating? Or do you feel the same threat?"

Bill Clinton: "No, no, let me say, first of all, is, you know, on a lot of these issues, I'm more close to where you are. I think what's, the great disservice, though, that's been done here in the last few years is not that, let's say, the administration disagrees with you or me on whether there should be an Abu Ghraib or a Guantanamo or whether, or what the economic or social policies of America should be. The great disservice is the creation of the idea that if you disagree with the people that are in, you're somehow, you don't love your country and you can't be trusted to defend it. What we have to do is to get back to a point to thinking in America and in promoting honest debate and honest differences so that, like if you asked, and I would urge you to do this, if you interviewed somebody in the administration no matter how much you disagree with them, don't be snide, give them a straight up chance to see how they disagree with you. I think that, one of the things I've tried to do with this global initiative is not only define common ground for desperate people, but also to have people calm down enough to actually air their differences of opinion, like you take this, this interrogation deal. We might all say the same thing if, let's say Osama bin Laden's number three guy were captured and we knew a big bomb was going off in America in three days, turns out right now there's an exception for those kind of circumstances in an immediate emergency that's proven in the military recs. But that's not the same thing as saying we want to abolish the Geneva Convention and practice torture as a matter of course. All it does is make our soldiers vulnerable to torture, make us more likely to get bad, not good information-"

Olbermann: "Right."

Clinton: "-and every time we get some minor victory out of it, we'll make a hundred more enemies. So I think these things, I really think we need to think through all this and debate more, so, no, I think it's wrong for you to be portrayed as not patriotic. I think that's wrong. But I think that those of us who are on account of the progressive side of the ledger, we ought to try to find a way to say what our differences are in a way that even our adversaries can hear. I've gotten a lot of big crowds this year of people who are unusually quiet because they just want to think. They're tired of this labeling and name-calling and we're not patriotic and all that thing, that's all a bunch of bull, and they just want to think it through. That's why I think the CGI was so phenomenally successful this year. People say, 'Okay, here's something I can do that is profoundly good and positive. No one's going to question my motives, and I'll either succeed or fail based on the results.'"
...

Olbermann: "The Voltaire quote about, essentially translated as 'I will disagree with your writing, your politics, your thought, but I will defend to the death your right to say them.'"

Clinton: "Yes."

Olbermann: "An essence of education in this country. True?"

Clinton: "Absolutely."

Olbermann: "I mean, is this not what we're supposed to be about? And when we talk about rewriting the Geneva Conventions or when we talk about demonizing dissent or even putting just a bad face on dissent in this country, are we not getting closer to what the terrorists want us to change anyway?"

Clinton: "Well, I think, let me at least fit it in positive terms."

Olbermann: "Please."

Clinton: "I think that the terrorists have an ideology, right? With an ideology, you know the answer anyway, all right? You have a dictated result. Therefore, evidence, argument, old fashioned standards of fact all available. You know where you want to go. And if somebody disagrees with you, they're less human than you are, and they deserve to be a terrorist target. Now, the way we play the game, at our best moments, is that we don't have an ideology with a predetermined outcome. We have philosophers, dominant, we have a conservative philosophy and a progressive philosophy and it sort of tells where we're kind of likely to be, but we're all interested in evidence and argument and learning. And the great test of America has always been, 'Does it work? Are people better off if we do it or not?' And we just keep growing and learning in that climate, always with one dominated by the conservative extreme, one dominated by progressive, and the debate and the tension and the learning's been great for us. So what we don't want to do is no matter how scared we get, and it's okay to be frightened by the prospect of horrible things happening, we don't want to respond to this terror threat in a way that fundamentally alters the character of our country or compromises the future of our children because that's what makes it great being an American. And the evidence is that a democratic society that is constantly relentlessly learning and searching is the best antidote to the terrorist model. These guys are real good at tearing down. They're not particularly good at building up. And there's no reason we should help them by making the case for them by something we do."
...

Olbermann: "Presidents often offer their successors advice, usually indirectly. Successors, especially successors of different political parties, usually ignore it. 'Beware the military industrial complex,' said President Eisenhower in his farewell address before the Kennedy inaugural. 'America cannot and must not disentangle itself from the world,' Bill Clinton argued in the week George W. Bush prepared to move into the White House. 'If we want the world to embody our shared values, then we must assume a shared responsibility.' Our number two story in the Countdown, more from Mr. Clinton for Mr. Bush to ponder, or not."

Olbermann: "Let me throw the craziest, unrealistic political hypothetical to you, in our current environment. The phone rings tomorrow, and it's the current President, and he says, 'Things aren't going as well as they might, either for me or the country. I need a piece of advice, and I'm asking you sincerely for it, for one thing that I can do tomorrow that will improve things. You're the genie now in the political realm again, as you were in this building these last three days. What would you say to him if that request came through?"
...

Olbermann, delivered with a pause between the words "Fox" and "News" and emphasizing the word "News": "And our compliments to President Clinton for having today staved off a reprehensible sandbagging by Chris Wallace of what is jokingly referred to as Fox [pause] News. That's Countdown for this the 1,238th day since the declaration of 'Mission Accomplished' in Iraq. Also, this reminder to join us again at Midnight Eastern tonight, 11 p.m. Central, 9 Pacific for the late edition of Countdown. Until then, a special presentation of MSNBC Investigates, The Ultimate Betrayal is up next. And it's not about Fox News. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck."