The Spectacle Blog

MSNBC: Red-Faced Over Olbermann Lincoln Gaffe?

By on 7.9.10 | 12:26PM

Obeying President Obama's dictum that it's always educational to check in with what the other side is saying, I checked in with MSNBC's Countdown the other night.

Sure enough, there was Keith Olbermann himself barking up I will admit, interesting leftist views on issues A, B, or C. But what got my attention was, well, a bit of outright, easily verifiable factual untruth. If we were talking Joe Biden, the word would be gaffe.

It seems Keith, who has never had an easy time with women or blacks in authority if they have decided to take a stroll off the liberal plantation, has taken his usual disdain for conservative women and zeroed in on Nevada's GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle.

Fair enough. Angle is a Senate candidate and criticism from people like Olbermann comes with the turf.

But what came next was what amazed. If you will follow this link, nicely provided by our friends at Real Clear Politics, you will see the Big Guy launch into a side comment Angle made in response to a questioner on a local radio show. The questioner, clearly an Angle admirer, had believed her not capable of winning the Senate nomination and was now confessing his sin. To which Angle replies: "Well, you know, it's just like Abraham Lincoln. He lost quite a few but he won the big one…."

Olbermann, who delights in calling her Sharron "Obtuse" Angle " -- pounced. 

And promptly shot himself in the foot. Both feet, actually.

Instantly picking up on the Lincoln reference, Olbermann could barely contain his glee at the notion of Angle as Lincoln.

"Just for the record do you how many elections Abraham Lincoln lost in his lifetime?" he asked, leering into the camera. With drama benefitting Gloria Swanson as the fading star in Sunset Boulevard, Olbermann holds up a solitary finger. Then goes on to say: "The Illinois state assembly in 1832. He prevailed in four elections for state assembly, one for Congress, two for president…. seven of eight he won."

Ouch. As if this wasn't embarrassing enough -- the blithely unknowing host ends by saying this, an allusion to the famous Lloyd Bentsen "I-knew-Jack-Kennedy and Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" line to Dan Quayle.

Said Keith:

"Sharron Angle, I knew Abraham Lincoln's won-loss record and you're no Abraham Lincoln."

Ouch. Ouch. And ouch again. You have to wonder -- was there a single MSNBC suit sliding under their desk at this point? Did they even know enough basic American history to know they might wish to consider the option? Was there anybody who had the guts to say to this barking fountain of factual error:

"No, Keith, you don't know Abraham Lincoln's won-loss record. Not even close."

For the record -- drum roll please -- Sharron Angle was 100% correct in saying Lincoln lost a "few" elections.

Here's Abraham Lincoln's actual score with elections.

He did indeed win four state assembly elections, and lose in 1832, just as Olbermann says. In fact, Abe ran 8th in a field of 13 candidates back there in 1832.

Alas for Keith, who apparently relies on some crackpot if unmentioned website as opposed to checking with, say, the works of Pulitzer Prize winning Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, Ms. Angle has the goods:

Here's Lincoln's record with voters, per Sandburg:

1832 -- Lost his first race for the state assembly

1834 -- Won a seat in the state assembly

1836 -- Won re-election

1838 -- Won re-election

1840 -- Won re-election

1842 -- Lost a race for Congress to John Hardin (per biographer Sandburg. Lincoln actually came in behind a friend, Edward D. Baker -- losing his own Sangamon County delegates to Baker. Later, he would name one of his sons for Baker). Lincoln structures deal that Hardin, Baker and finally himself would each serve back-to-back single terms in Congress.

1846 -- Wins congressional seat, succeeding his friend Baker, who had succeeded Hardin. As per the Lincoln deal.

1854 -- Elected again to the Illinois legislature, but loses a race for the United States Senate to Lyman Trumbull. Writes to a friend: "I regret my defeat moderately, but I am not nervous about it." Mary Lincoln was so enraged at this loss that she never again spoke to Trumbull's wife Julia -- who had been a bridesmaid at Mary and Abe's wedding.

1856 -- Loses the vice-presidential nomination of the new Republican Party to William L. Dayton, a former U.S. Senator from New Jersey. Dayton received 259 votes to Lincoln's 115, becoming the running mate of John Charles Fremont. Hearing of his defeat, Lincoln laughs and says, "It must be some other Lincoln."

1858 -- Lincoln loses a race for the United States Senate to legendary rival Senator Stephen A. Douglas. In the course of the campaign, the two travel Illinois in what are known to history as the "Lincoln-Douglas" debates. The debates help make Lincoln -- and his pro-union, anti-slavery argument -- famous.

1860 and 1864 -- Elected and re-elected president.

In other words, Keith Olbermann was not only wrong but so wide of the truth and the facts as to give Bill Clinton on Monica a good reputation. Sharron Angle, on the other hand, was right. Making her remark 100 percent factually correct.

Lincoln ran 13 times, according to biographer Sandburg, not eight as Olbermann said with such assured smugness. Lincoln lost not once, as Mr. Drama Queen asserted, but, again according to the Pulitzer winning biographer, five times. Once for the state assembly, once for Congress, once for vice-president and twice for U.S. Senator. The latter Senate race famous to this day.

None of this would matter a hill of beans for the red-faces at MSNBC if they weren't pinning so much of their stuff to, say, mocking Glenn Beck for not knowing what he, Beck, is talking about. One understands network rivalries. Fox is beating the pants off MSNBC. Which is why Olbermann goes after Fox or Beck or O'Reilly or, on radio, Rush. If you can't get the ratings yourself tag on to those who can is the apparent strategy. Be that as it may -- or maybe especially be this as it may -- one would think the suits at MSNBC would be smart enough to know that such a flamboyantly obvious mistake about a basic fact of American history adds to the network's reputation for not simply being biased but just shamelessly not telling the truth and caring less about it.

Question: Is Keith Olbermann secretly on Sharron Angle and Glenn Beck's payroll? Come on. Really. How much does Roger Ailes pay him to do this stuff?

Ya just can't make it up. 

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