The Olbermann Window

Liberal reality reflected in Lincoln blunder and lesser network's defense of bad history.

By 7.13.10

Silly, at first glance.

The proverbial tempest in a tea pot.

Yet as small and silly things can sometimes do, the scuffle between MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Abraham Lincoln ( of all people) has wound up opening a window onto an infinitely larger issue of the day.

If Glenn Beck's new novel The Overton Window is based on the real-life political theory that a range of public policies can be acceptable at a given moment in time, what the Lincoln incident has uncovered is what might be called, with apologies to both the late political scientist Joseph Overton and Mr. Beck…The Olbermann Window.

And what exactly does one gaze upon if one looks through The Olbermann Window?

The American left's gushing loss of credibility, now spewing out into the waters of American politics from once presumed sturdy platforms in the media, the Congress and most notably the Obama administration itself.

In case you missed it, the Olbermann-Lincoln kerfuffle began late last week with a recent and innocent venture through the MSNBC looking glass by, as they say, your humble correspondent. First discussed here in a simple blog posting, my trip to the world of Mr. Olbermann's Countdown revealed him to be…how shall I say…less than accurate in telling of Abraham Lincoln's electoral history. His objective was to ridicule Nevada GOP Senate candidate and Harry Reid opponent Sharron Angle. Instead, he wound up looking…ahhhh…grossly misinformed. Ridiculous, actually. Simple facts wrong, basic history wrong, attitude deliciously and smugly right because the first two were so glaringly wrong. My blog post speaks for itself, and includes the Countdown segment that caught my attention.

The item was seen and picked up by Daniel Foster over at The Corner on National Review Online, who cited it in a piece titled "Olbermann Don't Know Much About History," found here.

As I was busy settling into a social evening here in the wilds of Pennsylvania -- ironically with a group that included an Olbermann fan -- Mr. Olbermann was busy naming Daniel Foster his "Worst Person in the News" for citing my piece and taking Olbermann's understanding of Abraham Lincoln's electoral record to task. The fact that Foster beat out Olbermann's favorite targets Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly for top "Worst Person" honors may speak to the…ahhhhh…. sensitivity of the Keithster when it comes to being caught out on a factual error of some note. In the course of taking Foster and National Review to task, Olbermann referred to my original posting as that appearing on a "lesser blog."

The irony of being the Person of a Lesser Blog addressed by a Person of a Lesser Network amuses. But I digress.

My colleague Phil Klein caught up with this moving circus, and, a serious Lincoln fan himself, was kind enough to post over the weekend, as seen here. He also included a link to Olbermann's Foster fury, which you can see here.

Now let's be candid. There's no point baiting poor Keith on this. He tried to squirm off the political hook on which he impaled himself quite voluntarily and with great fanfare by saying he meant popular elections, implying that candidate Angle had said the same. She didn't, of course. She simply observed in passing that Lincoln had lost "a few" -- clearly meaning elections. This was and is true. The fact that his lost elections for U.S. Senator (two, in 1854 and 1858) were in legislative balloting as then required by the Constitution doesn't make them any less elections. And yes, per Lincoln biographers he actively campaigned for and sought votes for Congress in 1842. And lost. As was true of that 1856 vice-presidential nomination.

But Mr. Olbermann has bravely cited his membership in an organization that celebrates Mr. Lincoln, America's greatest president behind Lincoln's fellow conservative president Ronald Reagan (according to Gallup last year, that was 24% Reagan, 22% Lincoln.) So God bless Keith Olbermann's curmudgeonly soul for admitting he admires a conservative president right out there on MSNBC's air time. Not to mention admitting he belongs to a group honoring that conservative president. Decidedly a Bold and Fresh thing of him to do.

The organization, by the way, is the Abraham Lincoln Association. That would be the same Abraham Lincoln Association that honored Lincoln biographer and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin as a guest speaker in 2006. No right-winger she, Ms. Kearns wrote a fabulous Lincoln book Team of Rivals. A book in which, alas for Keith, this Lincoln Association favorite author cites Lincoln seeking to "win the endorsement" of his home county convention for Congress in 1842 -- with Lincoln remarking after losing that another candidate had "beat me." How one can be beaten for anything -- hence losing -- yet never run is a mystery that Olbermann can perhaps explain to historian and Lincoln Association favorite Goodwin. Who also cites Lincoln as receiving "47 votes" in "ballots" cast for Senator by the Illinois legislature for Senator in 1854 and…..

Enough. You get the picture.

BUT FOR ALL ITS SILLINESS, this harmless episode illustrates in its own distinctive fashion precisely why, as mentioned, a look through The Olbermann Window shows the credibility of the American left in its various guises gushing away faster than you can say "BP."

Just as Lincoln's election losses are factually recorded by historians as respected as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Harvard's late David Herbert Donald (a two-time Pulitzer winner) and the long-passed Carl Sandburg (whose Lincoln biography won a Pulitzer), even a glance through The Olbermann Window shows the American Left's stunning losses across the board are being factually recorded in everything from the unemployment numbers to the deficit numbers to the health care write-off numbers to President Obama's poll numbers to, well, the numbers that are the ratings for MSNBC and Keith Olbermann himself.

These numbers are not just not pretty. They're downright ugly. And they tell a considerable tale of what happens when a failed political philosophy is hauled out of the historical dustbin, given a shiny new paint job and sold to the American people as something called "Hope and Change." If they'll just climb through The Olbermann Window they will find the land of milk and honey.


Surprise, surprise. Climbing through The Olbermann Window, one finds that, as with the Lincoln episode, the facts are, well, not really the facts as first presented.

As our friends at the Wall Street Journal have pointed out, wealth redistribution was never listed by Democrats as the reason to pass health care -- until it was passed. "Only days after the bill passed," says the paper, "Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus exulted that it would result in 'a leveling' of the 'maldistribution of income in America,' adding that 'The wealthy are getting way, way too wealthy, and the middle-income class is left behind.'" Olbermann Window translation? The famous Obama promise of no tax increases for those making $250,000 or less are, well, toast. But that will, à la the Lincoln story, just not be admitted to.

Now comes the abrupt recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to run Medicare and Medicaid, the same Dr. Berwick who said while in the obscurity of no federal appointment "any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must -- must -- redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and less fortunate." Understanding such views would be, well, troublesome in a Senate confirmation hearing, the nominee just slips through The Olbermann Window and comes out a government appointee by presidential fiat. No fuss, no muss, no apology needed.

Looking through The Olbermann Window I heard a denunciation of Rush Limbaugh because he was said to have declaimed that the President was only president because he's black. The Olbermann Window charge: Rush Limbaugh is a racist.

As it happened, I had heard every word of the original Rush broadcast that day, and sure enough, Mr. Olbermann had deliberately -- say again, deliberately -- left off the first part of what Rush had said. Reacting to the assertion by liberal columnist Cynthia Tucker that GOP Chairman Michael Steele was only chairman because he was black, Rush took her up on her dotty, not to mention racist, thought and promptly applied it to Obama. Nary a word of this when looking through The Olbermann Window. Just a simple, cherry-picked flat-out untruth with no reference -- none -- to original context.

One could go on endlessly here, because in fact this isn't simply about Olbermann on Lincoln or Limbaugh. This is about liberals, honesty, and telling the facts. They are, as the saying goes, entitled to their own opinions -- but not their own facts.

WHAT IS STRIKING about watching Olbermann's show is the degree to which it depends not on facts -- but, to be accurate - the deliberate misrepresentation of facts. Whether it's Lincoln or Limbaugh. In this sense, Olbermann is not unlike the newest liberal media episode with CBS's Bob Schieffer. The host of Face the Nation had Attorney General Eric Holder for a half hour -- and never managed a single question on the Black Panthers case that resulted in the resignation of DOJ lawyer Christian Adams. This story doesn't exist in the world of the liberal media. Imagine that.

What really amazes with Olbermann is the brazenly false presentations upon which the discussion of issues proceeds. A favorite tactic here is simple name calling of The Other Guy. Racist for Limbaugh. Idiot for Palin. In essence, he will say with a grin that the mother of Conservative X swims out to meet troop ships. Which in turn demands Olbermann run his show something like this: "Now, Guest Z is joining us: Guest Z, let's talk about Conservatives and Venereal Disease."

One wonders whether what would seem a rather obvious thought ever crosses Olbermann's mind and that of his MSNBC bosses: that for Olbermann to go on as he does about a Beck or Sharron Angle or a Sarah Palin actually helps these people. Does anyone in charge think for a moment that Dan Foster's "Worst Person" award -- or even my unnamed dismissal as being of a "lesser blog" hurts either of us in the writerly precincts in which we dwell at National Review and The American Spectator. Ohhhhhh pleeeeeeze Mr. Keith…don't throw us into the Liberal Briar Patch! Oh nooooooooooooo!

One can only imagine the fundraising opportunities for the Angle campaign. Nevadans gathering together -- and paying money! -- to watch some bozo New York TV guy insult Their Sharron!

Indeed, the nuttiness of all this was picked up by Noel Sheppard over at Brent Bozell's NewsBusters. Sheppard spotted the Lincoln and Limbaugh stories in a blink, as seen here. 

In particular, after noting the Lincoln blunder, Sheppard noted the disingenuous game Olbermann played with Rush. I confess to something that apparently just is a dead letter at MSNBC. That would be astonishment at the idea that presumably smart and educated people who run MSNBC do not understand after over two decades that 20-plus million Americans listen to Rush Limbaugh -- and genuinely like the guy. Dare I say it? Respect him. Love listening to him. Do these Suits really think that all these millions and millions of people -- the size of audience for which Keith Olbermann and his MSNBC colleagues would sell their souls and are trying daily -- are really Mel Gibson clones? Do they understand that Rush, who is after all these years viewed by millions as a treasured part of the American radio family, who was just married by the Reverend Kenneth Hutcherson, aka "The Hutch" -- a black man -- and celebrated that marriage with all manner of friends of all colors -- is really, truly some secret foaming racist like the obviously troubled actor Gibson? Quite aside from the sheer delusion here, not to mention the intellectual dishonesty that is seen by potential MSNBC viewers as just laughably mendacious, this could easily be seen as little short of some form of liberal media seppuku. More familiarly for an American audience, hara-kiri.

Liberal media suicide.

Rush Limbaugh is a racist? How about Lincoln only lost a single election? The stimulus created millions of jobs? Health care will lower costs? How about Elvis lives! 

Oh right. This is a look through The Olbermann Window. Never mind.

AT THIS POINT in their careers, surely Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly could care less about Olbermann's antics. Why should they? As a humble writer for a lesser blog, my bet is they could care less what is said about them by… ahhhh…a lesser host from a lesser network whose motivation sometimes seems to be nothing deeper than sheer professional jealousy. When he isn't busy offering a staunch defense of a political philosophy that has a charming track record of inducing poverty for millions when it isn't busy supporting the racism behind slavery, segregation, lynching and…dare we say it… illegal immigration.

But even if they did care, does the reality of assailing the vast audience of these media stars as idiots and worse invite potential Olbermann and MSNBC viewers to pull up a chair every night and engage in some brisk, enlightened discussion through The Olbermann Window -- if the facts from which that brisk, enlightened discussion must flow are off the table? Replaced by stories like Lincoln's one election defeat or Rush is a racist?

Um. Doubtful.

Unless, of course, you really believe what you see through The Olbermann Window.

Abraham Lincoln lost an actual election to Stephen A. Douglas? To Lyman Trumbull? To William Dayton? To John Hardin?

Nah. Never happened.

And oh, by the by, Rush Limbaugh is a racist. And the earth is flat.

How do I know? Trust me.

Keith Olbermann told me so.

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About the Author

 Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan. An author and CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com and @JeffJlpa1. His new book, What America Needs: The Case for Trump, is now out from Regnery Publishing.