Olbermann on Better Behavior in Big 'Today' Appearance

Like a baseball player rescued from the nether reaches of the minor leagues and brought up to the Yankees who cuts his hair, shaves the shaggy mustache and minds his grammar in his first TV interview, Keith Olbermann was on his better behavior in a 'Today' appearance this morning.

In a temporary reprieve from the ratings purgatory that is his own Countdown on MSNBC, Olbermann was awarded an interview on Today for purposes of plumping his new book, 'The Worst Person in the World.' Lauer gave Olbermann respectful treatment, inviting him to comment on the issues of the day as if he were actually something more than a drive-by bomb-thrower.

In response, Olbermann managed to restrain most of his inflammatory instincts, perhaps realizing he was playing to a more mainstream audience and not the relative handful of netroots - and the occasional NewsBusters critic - who make up the bulk of his own show's audience.

For example, Lauer hypothesized a man-in-the-street who, when it comes to the more muscular interrogation techniques for terrorists advocated by the president, would say "maybe they're crossing the line with some terror suspects. But maybe that will save us from another 9-11 or worse."

Matt asked Olbermann: "Do you think that man-in-the-street is going to say "err on the side of saving us, not them?"

Olbermann acknowledged that the hypoethetical man "probably" would adopt that view. He then, not unreasonably you'd have to say, pointed out that the matter is more complex because it's not just "a bunch of Democrats or members of the media" criticizing the White House. It's a number of Republican senators who have split with the president, and above all Colin Powell who yesterday criticized the Bush administration's plans, claiming "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

Later, Lauer alluded to the overheated indictment of the Bush administration that Olbermann levelled on the September 11th fifth anniversary, while sitting at Ground Zero. Olbermann claimed to have been surprised by the extent of the positive response to his comments, his modesty perhaps explained by the modest size of his audience. Said Olbermann: "there was a part of the persona of the nation not really being articulated in the mainstream media which we did kind of hit." An obscure way of saying: "yeah, we shamelessly played to the Daily Kos crowd, and it worked!"

Continued Olbermann: "I noticed that the major criticism was not the content of what I was saying, but the date and the location. Also, I might add, I was on the air two minutes before the president was, politicizing 9-11 in his own way. I don't see there is much difference."

Interjected a 'helpful' Lauer: "Maybe he took your lead."

That was too much even for Olbermann: "Probably not."

No doubt it will be back to his firebrand-of-the-far-left routine when Keith returns to Countdown this evening. But Olbermann did manage to get through five minutes this morning without accusing the President of the United States of fascism.

Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY. View webcasts of Mark's award-winning TV show 'Right Angle' here. Contact Mark at mark@gunhill.net

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.