On Thursday’s Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann demonstrated his latest double standard in his treatment of conservatives and liberals. After attacking Sarah Palin several times during the presidential campaign with a misleading accusation that Palin had "gutted her own state's Special Olympics" – calling her "sick" and an "out of control liar" – even though she increased spending on the program by 10 percent over previous years, on Thursday’s show Olbermann came to the aid of President Obama after FNC’s Bret Baier made a charge that Obama planned to "cut" the defense budget by 10 percent, which could similarly lead viewers to believe an actual cut in spending was planned.
But between September 16 and October 3, the MSNBC host on four occasions misled his viewers by repeating accusations that originated with the far-left Think Progress that Palin had cut the Special Olympics budget, without informing viewers that Palin had not only increased spending on special education, but had even approved a 10 percent spending increase for the Alaska Special Olympics, as Olbermann used the story as a gimmick and repeatedly claimed that he would donate $100 to the Alaska Special Olympics for every lie Palin told on the campaign trail. Even though NewsBusters reported early on that Palin had increased state spending on the program, Olbermann was still repeating his version of the story on October 3 after the vice presidential debate.
It has been argued by some that, since the word "budget" refers to a plan for future spending and is not synonymous with current spending, it can still be technically accurate to describe a budget as having been cut at the same time overall spending levels increase. But such wording is often misleading for anyone not familiar with the legislative process, so it would be good practice for journalists to report on such budget issues with greater clarity.
When Olbermann originally reported on the Palin case on September 16, he strongly implied that she had actually cut spending on the Special Olympics:
Yesterday, she said, "Ever since I took the chief executive’s job up north, I’ve pushed for more funding for students with special needs." Today the quote was, "I sought more funds for students with special needs." Problem: As the chief executive up north, she vetoed $275,000, crossed it out, of the state funding of the Special Olympics. She cut the Special Olympics budget in half and is campaigning as an advocate for special needs kids. That’s pretty sick. Well, at least we do know which charity I should donate that hundred bucks to every time she lies about her record: the Alaska Special Olympics.
Olbermann notably did not seem to notice that in each quote he read from Palin, she was talking about increasing spending on education for special needs kids, as she used the word "students." But she did increase state spending on the Special Olympics as well.
On the September 17 show, Olbermann repeated his gimmick that he would donate money to the Alaska Special Olympics, as he challenged Palin’s truthfulness in saying she did not hesitate to accept John McCain’s offer to make her his running mate: "For God`s sake, Governor, you`re coming across as an out of control liar. That`s another 100 bucks I get to donate to the Alaska Special Olympics."
On September 19, Olbermann teased the show: "And it`s time for me to pay the Palin piper, $100 donation to the Alaska Special Olympics, on which budget she cut in half, each time the governor lies." Later he claimed Palin "slashed" the Special Olympics budget: "Once she started to position herself as the advocate for special needs kids, even though she had slashed the budget for the Alaska Special Olympics in half, I knew we had the right charity. So since my staff is equally interested in keeping track of the governor`s lies and in separating me from my money, let the tally begin."
On October 3, while discussing Palin’s performance in the vice presidential debate, Olbermann brought up the issue again: "I`m counting 12 lies in that debate, so I owe the Alaska Special Olympics another $1,200 in donations."
But when FNC host Baier recently charged on a Fox News Special – Trillion with a T: How to Spend $1,000,000,000,000 – that Obama was planning to "cut" the defense budget by 10 percent, Olbermann suggested the FNC host was dishonest because Baier did not distinguish between a budget cut and an actual spending cut, and Olbermann clarified that even after such a budget cut, spending would still be increased. On Thursday’s Countdown, during the show’s "Still Bushed!" segment, after repeating accusations that FNC anchors Bill O’Reilly and Jon Scott had read "talking points" from Republicans on the air, Olbermann seemed to pick up on an article by the left-wing Media Matters for America, as he continued:
Now it’s the channel’s newest water carrier, Bret Baier, reading whatever is put in front of him by the remnants of the Bush media machine. In a special on the stimulus package, Baier said, quote, "In fact, as the U.S. fights two major wars, the administration is asking the Pentagon to cut its budget by 10 percent." In fact, the Obama administration’s 2010 budget for the Pentagon is up by $14 billion over this year. What’s cut by 10 percent was the 2010 budget figure submitted last fall by Bush’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Media Matters article Olbermann seemed to be reading from can be found here.
Below are transcripts of relevant portions of MSNBC’s Countdown show from September 16, 17, and 19, 2008; October 3, 2008; and February 19, 2009; with critical portions in bold:
#From the September 16, 2008, Countdown:
KEITH OLBERMANN, IN OPENING TEASER: And as the Republican campaign descends into what one former McCain supporter today describes as "farce," Governor Palin again invokes special needs children while vetoing more than a quarter of a million dollars for the Special Olympics.
OLBERMANN, PLUGGING THE SEGMENT AT 8:31 P.M: -"McCain in the Membrane" and the would-be Vice President who gutted her own state’s Special Olympics.
OLBERMANN, AT 8:42 P.M.: But first, our newest feature, the most outrageous or untrue things said by or on behalf of Republican presidential nominee John McCain: "McCain in the Membrane." Twice now in two days – in Colorado, then today at Vienna, Ohio – Governor Palin has again invoked – that is the polite term – her status as the mother of a special needs child and the role of advocate she wants to play for special needs kids. Yesterday, she said, "Ever since I took the chief executive’s job up north, I’ve pushed for more funding for students with special needs." Today the quote was, "I sought more funds for students with special needs."
Problem: As the chief executive up north, she vetoed $275,000, crossed it out, of the state funding of the Special Olympics. She cut the Special Olympics budget in half and is campaigning as an advocate for special needs kids. That’s pretty sick. Well, at least we do know which charity I should donate that hundred bucks to every time she lies about her record: the Alaska Special Olympics.
#From the September 17, 2008, Countdown:
KEITH OLBERMANN: Number three, culture of lying-gate. We have gotten so used to this that even candidates for national office can utterly contradict themselves in their first two national interviews and nobody is saying boo. Remember Governor last week when Charlie Gibson asked her if she hesitated at all in accepting the VP nomination? She said I didn`t hesitate, no. He pressed her. That`s when she said her spiel about the mission and you can`t blink. So I didn`t blink, and even when he was asked to run as his running mate. Tonight, in a kind of conversation, a critic of a fawning local sports caster, once perfectly described as a flatulent lap sitting interview, Governor Palin insisted to Sean Hannity that she did not immediately accept the spot on the ticket, that she hesitated and put it to a family vote. the quote, "it was time of asking the girls to vote on it, anyway, and they voted unanimously yes. Didn`t bother asking my son, because, you know, he`s going off to be doing his thing anyway, so he wouldn`t be so impacted by at least the campaign period here. So asked the girls what they thought and they were like absolutely, let`s do this, mom." For God`s sake, Governor, you`re coming across as an out of control liar. That`s another 100 bucks I get to donate to the Alaska Special Olympics.
#From the September 19, 2008, Countdown:
KEITH OLBERMANN, IN OPENING TEASER: And it`s time for me to pay the Palin piper, $100 donation to the Alaska Special Olympics, on which budget she cut in half, each time the governor lies.
SARAH PALIN CLIP #1: I did tell Congress, "Thanks, but no thanks."
PALIN CLIP #2: I told Congress, "Thanks, but no thanks."
PALIN CLIP #3: And I said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
OLBERMANN: If she won`t cut the crap, I`ll have to cut the check.
OLBERMANN: And it`s time to pay up. The count and the amount for my pledge to donate 100 bucks to the Alaska Special Olympics each time that governor tells a falsehood. These stories ahead, but first time for Countdown`s top three best persons in the world.
OLBERMANN: She has told them about everything from the Bridge to Nowhere to supporting special needs kids when she actually slashed the Special Olympics budget, to whether or not she immediately accepted a spot on the McCain ticket. Since Sarah Palin is not paying for her lies, I guess I have to; 100 bucks per to charity and we`ll tally what I owe so far next.
OLBERMANN: The downside here, ordinarily, would be the sinking feeling that I`m encouraging the Republican vice presidential nominee to to lie. But then again, I don`t think the governor needs any encouragement from me. Our the number one story, ask not for whom the bill tolls. It tolls for thee. I`m making my first payment on my promise. Let`s go back to the beginning. Yes, I know, I mistakenly called the Governor "Senator."
OLBERMANN: By the way, as of tomorrow, every time Senator Palin repeats one of her standard lies about the Bridge to Nowhere or the plane she sold on eBay that she didn`t sell on eBay or the fired chef she didn`t fire, I`ll donate 100 dollars to charity. It will be 300 dollars if she somehow says she sold a chef on eBay. I will also donate 25 fictional cans of Aunt Sara`s canned moose chunk stew to a lucky viewer.
OLBERMANN: We have widened that out to any Palin lie in public. Once she started to position herself as the advocate for special needs kids, even though she had slashed the budget for the Alaska Special Olympics in half, I knew we had the right charity. So since my staff is equally interested in keeping track of the governor`s lies and in separating me from my money, let the tally begin.
OLBERMANN: The bridge line stayed in Palin`s speeches.
PALIN: I did tell Congress thanks, but no thanks. I told Congress thanks, but no thanks. And I said, thanks, but no thanks.
OLBERMANN: And the same lie was peddled as late as last night with Sean Hannity.
PALIN: I killed the Bridge to Nowhere.
OLBERMANN: There`s 400 bucks right there. Then there was the private jet canard.
PALIN: I put it on eBay. I put it on eBay.
OLBERMANN: Of course, she didn`t sell it on eBay. That`s 600.
PALIN: As mayor, I took a voluntary pay cut, which didn`t thrill my husband.
OLBERMANN: But he must have been jazzed when he found out it was one of those pay cuts where your salary actually increases.
PALIN: I`m not going to judge someone on whether they believe homosexuality is a choice or genetic.
OLBERMANN: Tell that to the director of your church`s pray the gay away program.
PALIN: As governor of this state that produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy-
OLBERMANN: That`s a fibity doo-dah.
PALIN: My job has been to oversee nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of oil and gas.
OLBERMANN: Fib. Try again.
PALIN: My job has been to oversee such a great portion of the oil development and production levels-
OLBERMANN: That`s better. It`s not 20, more like 13 percent.
PALIN: Ever since I took the chief executive`s job up north, I sought more funding for students with special needs.
OLBERMANN: And a lovely sentiment, except it does not jibe with your Special Olympics budget cuts. You said that three times.
PALIN: As governor, I`ve championed earmark reform to stop Congress from wasting public money on things that don`t necessarily serve the public interest.
OLBERMANN: Now, I`m sure we`re all interested in how Alaskan crabs get it on. We didn`t ask for two million dollars to study it. What about that ex-brother-in-law state trooper you say you never tried to get fired?
PALIN: Mr. Monegan has said the governor never asked me to fire him. The governor`s husband never asked me to fire him and we never did.
OLBERMANN: That`s not what Commissioner Monegan told Rachel Maddow.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Is that the truth?
WALTER MONEGAN, FMR. ALASKAN TROOPER: No, not entirely.
OLBERMANN: When Charlie Gibson-
PALIN: Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie.
OLBERMANN: Correct, his name is Charlie. When Charlie Gibson asked you if you hesitated when Senator McCain offered you the veep position.
PALIN: I didn`t blink then even.
OLBERMANN: Fortunately, this seems to conflict with what you told Hannity.
PALIN: So I asked the girls what they thought and they said absolutely, let`s do this, mom.
OLBERMANN: That`s 16 lies, 100 bucks each, 1,600 fish. But if we start adding lies told by her campaign on her behalf, like when they said she went to Iraq and she hadn`t, and when she said the teleprompter broke at the Republican convention, when neutral witnesses saw that it didn`t. That`s 18 just since the 10th of the month. I`m going to toss in the other 19 lies that she spewed before the 10th. So the check to the Alaskan Special Olympics is in the amount of 3,700 bucks. That`s 3,700. You notice these post-its on here to protect the protection of this actual Olbermann Broadcasting Empire check. There`s the signature. Let me remove the post-its just a second here. okay. I`ll put it in the envelope. Notice, please, put proper postage or it can`t get all the way to Alaska. There it goes. Now, don`t forget about the stew. A lucky viewer gets a fictional can of Aunt Sarah`s moose stew. You can enter our random drawing to receive this thing at Countdown.MSNBC.com. Remember, you do the watching. Let the governor do the lying. Join us again next week when I will no doubt have to write another check and give out another can of moose stew to some lucky viewer, because, as they say both of moose stew and of Sarah Palin`s lies, buy all you want, she`ll make more. That`s Countdown for this 1,969th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I`m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
#From the October 3, 2008. Countdown:
OLBERMANN: In the meantime, Governor Palin`s relationship with the facts during the debate, getting the full day after treatment, the governor was prolific in misstatements, repeating a McCain claim that Obama voted to raise taxes on Americans earning more than $42,000 a year. Except, it was a non-binding budget resolution and it was actually about middle class tax cuts, while allowing a tax hike for the wealthiest Americans.
Particularly noteworthy, that moment when Senator Biden said that McCain did not support new bankruptcy laws to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, Governor Palin said, that is not so, then she abruptly changed the subject to energy. Now, we know why. She was lying.
Even McCain`s spokesman, Brian Rogers today corrected her, the campaign would not give judges the ability to keep homeowners from defaulting on their mortgages. On the surge in Iraq, Governor Palin was wrong, left, right, and center, saying U.S. troop levels in Iraq are at pre-surge levels, false. That Senator Obama had never admitted that the surge worked -- false.
Strenuously asserting that the commander in Afghanistan said that Iraq-style surge would work in Afghanistan. That commander said basically the opposite, that surge wasn`t a word he would fit in Afghanistan. General Petraeus concurring.
And Palin got that Afghanistan commander`s name wrong. It`s General David McKiernan, not General McClellan, in which from the civil war. Governor Palin repeated the lie that Senator Obama voted against funding for the troops, added that Senator Biden had supported McCain`s Iraq policies until this presidential campaign. Two falses there. Indeed, almost every fact that Governor Palin deemed to touch, she got wrong. A virtual encyclopedia of error including these subjects, Darfur, divesting Alaskan funds from Sudan, she tried to stop that; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general; global warming, man-made or not, she once said it was not; McCain`s healthcare plan; a still nonexistent natural gas pipeline in Alaska she said is under construction; even the powers of the vice presidency, the governor saying, quote, "I`m thankful the Constitution a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it." Well, that`s not a lie. That`s a threat. We`re assuming McClellan for McKiernan was a mishearing or a Freudian slip about Scott. So, I`m counting 12 lies in that debate. So, I owe the Alaska Special Olympics another $1,200 in donations. Let`s call in the Washington editor of The Nation magazine, Chris Hayes.
#From the February 19, 2009, Countdown:
KEITH OLBERMANN: But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration’s 50 running scandals, "Still Bushed!"
Number three, "Talking Points-Gate." As has been established by several former Fox News employees, the channel regularly relied on memos sent from the Bush White House as guidelines to shape its, quote, "news," unquote, coverage. Bill O’Reilly and others often read those talking points, sometimes nearly verbatim. Now, more evidence that the details may have changed, but the propaganda structure is still in place. First, it was Fox’s Jon Scott reading a Republican Congressional Committee press release, word for word, including a typo. Now it’s the channel’s newest water carrier, Bret Baier, reading whatever is put in front of him by the remnants of the Bush media machine. In a special on the stimulus package, Baier said, quote, "In fact, as the U.S. fights two major wars, the administration is asking the Pentagon to cut its budget by 10 percent." In fact, the Obama administration’s 2010 budget for the Pentagon is up by $14 billion over this year. What’s cut by 10 percent was the 2010 budget figure submitted last fall by Bush’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.