Olbermann's 'Federal Budget Debt a Good Thing' Staggeringly Stupid

On a nightly basis, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann pompously presents himself as being the smartest guy in the room as he belittles every leading Republican in the nation.

But on Tuesday, the "Countdown" host exhibited a staggering level of ignorance as he claimed "federal budget debt" -- whatever that is! -- as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product is "about the same as it was in 1970," and "far less than it was throughout the Reagan administration."

To begin with, there is no "federal budget debt." There's a federal budget DEFICIT and federal DEBT. 

That this self-proclaimed genius doesn't know these are different things is by itself proof of his almost unimaginable incompetence on this subject. 

Yet, whether he meant debt or deficit, what he told viewers during his "Worst Person in the World" segment Tuesday was 100 percent wrong (video embedded below the fold with transcript, h/t Right Scoop, file photo):

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: That`s next, but first tonight`s worst persons in the world. The bronze to Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. You`ll remember, the record setter for longest monotone question to the president at their meeting. Her new debt solution? Allowing younger Americans to privatize their Social Security accounts, where they can get wiped out the next time the mortgage industry or some other form of legalized gambling wipes out another chunk of the economy. By the way, federal budget debt is a good thing in a recession. It`s not a bad thing. As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, it`s about the same as it was in 1970, as it is right now, far less than it was throughout the Reagan administration.

Really? Well, let's look at the numbers, shall we?

According to the Office of Management and Budget, which happens to be under the oversight of the White House, these are the federal deficit numbers for the years in question as a percentage of GDP (last number on the right):

As you can see, in 1970, the deficit as a percentage of GDP was 0.3. Under Reagan, it never got over 6.0 percent.

Let's look at today's numbers, shall we?

Aha. 2009 was 9.9 percent, and 2010 is estimated to be 10.6 percent. 

As such, Olbermann wasn't even close.

Now, let's look at the gross federal debt numbers (last number on the right):

As you can see, the total gross federal debt as a percentage of GDP in 1970 was 37.6. The highest it got during the Reagan administration was 53.1 percent (fiscal 1989 budget).

Now, let's look at today's numbers:

As you can see, 2009's total was 83.4 percent of GDP. As we don't know what the final numbers will be for 2010, we can only go by the estimate of 94.3 percent.

Regardless of where 2010 ends up, it will certainly be FAR greater that 1970's 37.6 percent AND 1989's 53.1 percent.

As such, Olbermann wasn't only wrong -- he was staggeringly wrong.

But this shouldn't shock anyone who's been reading NewsBusters since we began covering this pompous buffoon in 2005, and certainly won't surprise conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt who told Howard Kurtz on Sunday's "Reliable Sources":

He's a joke. He's recognized as a joke. His ratings have gone through the floor because he's a sportscaster who doesn't know anything.


The fact of the matter is that Olbermann's popularity was based in his unprovoked attacks on the Bush administration. That's what his small number of viewers wanted from him, and that's what they got.

But now that Bush is out of office, and the Democrats control the White House and Congress, the "Countdown" host has to find other topics besides conservative bashing to fill his program every evening.

As a result, with each passing day it's becoming apparent how little he really knows, and his declining ratings show that his audience is beginning to realize it.

The only question is when the folks at General Electric and NBC will recognize that this one-trick pony has become the laughing stock of cable news.

Stay tuned. 

*****Update: See Ed Morrissey's take.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.