Olbermann: Why I keep 'poking Bill O'Reilly in the eye'
According to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, it's not about obsession. He isn't Captain Ahab and Fox's Bill O'Reilly isn't his great white whale, and, in a conversation with CNN's Howard Kurtz, he reveals that he's even getting a little bored of the constant feuding.
Except, just like Michael Corleone, every time Olbermann thinks he can move on, O'Reilly "does something so outrageous," that it pulls him back in.
"A couple years ago you started poking Bill O'Reilly in the eye, and i thought that was --," Kurtz said.
Olbermann insisted, "That wasn't the point of that."
Yet, Kurtz noted, "hardly a night doesn't go by without an O'Reilly segment. Are you obsessed with the guy?"
"No, I promised every week I'm going to sort of back off and then he does something so outrageous, so offensive, I feel obligated to do something about it," Olbermann answered.
Kurtz asks, "Do you feel you should reduce the frequency? It's become so personal."
"But i feel that way about everything everything in my show," Olbermann said. "People ask me advice on how to write. Never use the same word twice. Obviously you can't, but I would like to extend that to broadcasting. I would love not to do the same segment twice, so everything that is repeated in the show, I want to be creative and original at all times."
However, Olbermann added, "the viewers really not only enjoy this segment, but expect it, because there is a sense that if you do not answer in any way, shape or form or put on the record somewhere that he's just denied there are 200,000 homeless vets. If you don't do it somehow, the lie will go into the record books."
"You could ignore him," Kurtz points out. "He's on another network."
Olbermann responds, "Indeed, but the reason he had such sway and cut such a wide swath in this business, and why so many tried to emulate him and why he believed that if someone called up and said something 'unnice' to him on his show he could call the police on them, was because nobody did say anything. Nobody came out and said this guy's making it up as he goes along."
Kurtz retorted that O'Reilly would almost "certainly dispute that," and left the continuation to "another time."
According to Think Progress, "Kurtz tried to press Olbermann into conceding that he is thankful for Bush’s unpopularity because his show’s success is due to his criticisms of the Bush administration. Olbermann responded that if given the choice between his current success and a new President, he would choose the latter."
Olbermann said, "...if I were given the choice of this or some responsible presidency in the last four years or eight years? I would have taken a responsible presidency."
This video is from CNN's Reliable Sources, broadcast January 27, 2008.
Transcript via closed captions
:: olbermann is a many of many pins. the the host of nbc's "countdown" has been drawing raise with his thundering editorial, almost all of which advice rate president bush and the republicans.
:: you can fool some of the people all the time, can't you, mr. bush? you playing us. as for the most immediate victims and shameless manipulation, those troops yesterday sweating, tonight again sweating figurative in the valley of the shadow of death. this country cannot run the risk of what you still can do to this country in the next 500 days, not while you, sir, are playing.
:: i spoke to him earlier in northern. welcome.
:: a pleasure to be here, sir.
:: i've been coanchoring on monday night. is there a collision of rolls?
:: i don't think there's that much of a collision. if you're smart enough to know when to do one and do the other, there shouldn't be a problem. in areas that i thought might be particularly sensitive, for instance if for some reason the president of the united states wanted to come on and make a statement during or coverage of the republican primary, i would step aside. i would not take advantage of that situation and shout nasty things about him.
:: good ratings if you did that.
:: fine, but to me that's the secondary point. more practically, we've had rudy giuliani on twice, and he was the subject of one of my comments, and i didn't think it was probably for me to be part of that interview, so i literally recused myself. i don't think that hurts anybody. i think it gives you a wiggle room in those scenarios. the question of whether or not somebody likes me is supposed hajjly by people who don't notice there are guys at fox who are fully invest indeed one candidate. i saw shawn hanity the other night doing the primary. no appreciation, no warning, no statement of the irony, no possible suggest there might be a conflict. if you recognize some people may -- you've probably done enough.
:: you write in your book i'm frequently accused of being a liberal, and it's true the vast majority of my commentary has targeted republicans. does that create a problem for you?
:: a perception problem, yeah, it must. i don't think anybody who has watched those broadcasts would say, well, this is what we expect from a guy that said this about the republicans. we didn't -- democracy did not column to anno end, for instance, when we hosted -- i don't know what two terms to use to describe it, but it was fair and balanced, i think. chris matthews, olbermann, and then they think nbc is consciously turning to the left to contractbalance fox news.
:: if you look to the left, particularly mr. matthews, i don't think anyone will argue that point. i like to point out when it's suggested that i'm a flaming liberal, in 1998, i was never confused of that when we did 288 consecutive shows about bill clinton and monica lewinsky.
:: you weren't pro-impeachment.
:: i was neither. that was the problem with the show. here's where absolute neutrality and journalistic balance works against fairness here's a story that certainly if there's no news of a story, how is it that you keep put ago show on just about that one topic every nice and call it news. i don't think we deliberately went in this way, as late as 2005 i was told as the then president, i don't need you to be the left-wing response to fox news. anything that happened, anything that happens i think is organic. i think is sprung up from the fact if you're going to serve one of the journalisms principal tenets, if you're going to be contraryian, questioning everybody in charge, it tends to be politically to the opposite le of whoever in charge.
:: but you almost never have conservatives on your show, why not people on who disagree with you?
:: i don't like those sort of fistfight things. early on in the show, particularly true in 1998, every time you had a liberal or neutral person, you had to have a conservative. and it devolved into the thing that made me personally want to leave the news business. in fact, i did in 1998. we had the chairman of the dnc and rnc on. i talked to them personally by phone before the interview and said, i don't want you answering each other. if we do a five-minute interview, each will have had 2 1/2 minutes, i swear. you will each start one set of responses, i'm going to play this down the middle. just don't jump in and scream down each other. i asked one question, they went five minutes, and i never got a word in. i said, they're finished, wand i pretty much felt like i was, too. there's almost nothing that ever comes out of those arguments, but argument, heat and ratings, and i suggest that "countdown" suggests that the audience doesn't want it again.
:: do you think your denouncement has contributed to the popularity of the show and to some extent preaching to the converted?
:: i can only judge that based on the reactions i get, which you see sometimes show up in the ratings. the first one i did was the end of august 2006. the reaccess i started to get in the first six or eight special comments through the end of 2006, were people coming up saying i didn't know there was anybody on television allowed to say that. this is exactly how i felt. in fact, let me tell you something else and they would go on to another point that had been particularly bugging them for a period of years. there was a sense, i think, and a palpable one, and this is where structurally you can almost look at the experience of fox news and where they came from, how these things develop. particularly the conservative talk radio that preceded the fox news succeeded because there was a huge amount of people in this country who believed their voices were never being heard, that they had no saying in the media that there was no echo there. whether or not that was true, whether or not their positions were correct, that's one thing.
:: and that's how you feel about your willingness to take on the president in stark and passionate terms.
:: a couple years ago you started poking bill o'reilly in the eye, and i thought that was --
:: that wasn't the point of that.
:: hardly a night doesn't go by without an o'reilly segment. are you obsessed with the guy?
:: no, i promised every week i'm going to sort of back off and then he does something so outrageous, so offensive, i feel obligated to do something about it.
:: do you feel you should reduce the frequency? it's become so personal.
:: but i feel that way about everything everything in my show. people ask me advice on how to write. never use the same word twice. obviously you can't, but i would like to extend that to broadcasting. i would love not to do the same segment twice, so everything that is repeated in the show, i want to be creative and original at all times. the viewers really not only enjoy this segment, but expect it, because there is a sense that if you do not answer in any way, shape or form or put on the record somewhere that he's just denied there are 200,000 homeless vets, you don't do it somehow, the lie will go into the record books.
:: you could ignore him. he's on another network.
:: indeed, but the reason he had sway and cut such a wide swath, and why so many tried to emulate him and why people believed he could call the police on must be who said something about him that wasn't nice, nobody said anything.
:: he would certainly dispute that. if hillary clinton or barack obama is elected the next president of the united states, would your role change? would the role of "countdown" change? other than a presidential seal of approval? i don't think so. seriously, the show would necessarily change, i think, but may not as much as people expect. several of the special comments have taken the democrats, especially the ones in congress, to task for caving in for not ending the war, for in other ways collaborating with that agenda. that could easily continue. again, no one in 1998 accused me of being liberal. i'm out every night for 218 shows and talked about bill clinton negative.
:: but in a sense the bush administration has been very, very good for keith olbermann? honestly.
:: no, i'm an american citizen. i think this has been disastrous presidential administration, i would have given what i have in terms of broadcasting success, i would have easily said -- if i was given a choice of this or some responsible presidency in the last four or eight years, i would have sustain the responsible presidency.
:: thank you for sitting down with us.
:: a pleasure.