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Truthdigger of the Week: Keith Olbermann

Posted on Sep 15, 2006
Keith Olbermann

A screenshot from MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann’s instantly-iconic speech against President Bush’s prosecution of the war against Iraq, delivered against the backdrop of Ground Zero on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Truthdig salutes the MSNBC anchor, whose strident monologue at Ground Zero last week ripped to rhetorical shreds the assertion of Vice President Cheney that critics of the government “validate the strategy of the terrorists.”

  • Watch it

  • Highlighting this speech and last week’s “Have you no sense of decency?” monologue, The Nation called Olbermann “the best news anchor on television today.”
  • Below, we have included the full-text version of Olbermann’s Ground Zero speech (transcript provided by the crack team at Crooks and Liars, which never seems to sleep).

    But first, check out our previous Olbermann video posts:


  • Taking on Donald Rumsfeld with the help of CIA veteran Ray McGovern

  • Interviewing the New School University senior who stood up to John McCain

  • Smacking down conservative radio host Laura Ingraham

  • Saying to Bush: “Who does he think he’s F’n kidding?” after the president claimed he never made a direct connection between Saddam and 9/11

  • Full transcript of Olbermann’s Sept. 11 Ground Zero speech:
  •     And lastly tonight a Special Comment on why we are here. Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space.
        And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.
    And all the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and—as I discovered from those “missing posters” seared still into my soul—two more in the Towers.
        And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.
        I belabor this to emphasize that, for me… this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.
        And anyone who claims that I and others like me are “soft”, or have “forgotten” the lessons of what happened here—is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante—and at worst, an idiot—whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.
        However. Of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast—of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds… none of us could have predicted… this.
        Five years later this space… is still empty.
        Five years later there is no Memorial to the dead.
        Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.
        Five years later this country’s wound is still open.
        Five years… later this country’s mass grave is still unmarked.
        Five years later… this is still… just a background for a photo-op.
        It is beyond shameful.

        At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial—barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field, Mr. Lincoln said “we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”
        Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.
        Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. “We cannot dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground.” So we won’t.
        Instead they bicker and buck-pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they’re doing—instead of doing any job at all.
        Five years later, Mr. Bush… we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir—on these 16 empty acres, the terrorists… are clearly, still winning.
        And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

        And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation.
        There is, its symbolism—of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.
        The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it… was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.
        Those who did not belong to his party—tabled that.
        Those who doubted the mechanics of his election—ignored that.
        Those who wondered of his qualifications—forgot that.
        History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government, by its critics.
        It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation’s wounds, but to take political advantage.
        Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.
        The President—and those around him—did that.
        They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, “bi-partisanship” meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused; as appeasers; as those who, in the Vice President’s words yesterday, “validate the strategy of the terrorists.”
        They promised protection, and then showed that to them “protection” meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken… a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated Al-Qaeda as much as we did.
        The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had ‘something to do’ with 9/11, is “lying by implication.”
          The impolite phrase, is “impeachable offense.”
          Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space… and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.
          Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.
          Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible—for anything—in his own administration.
          Yet what is happening this very night?
          A mini-series, created, influenced—possibly financed by—the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.
          The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.
        How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death… after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections… how dare you or those around you… ever “spin” 9/11.

        Just as the terrorists have succeeded—are still succeeding—as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero…
        So too have they succeeded, and are still succeeding—as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.
        This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney’s continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.
        And long ago, a series called “The Twilight Zone” broadcast a riveting episode entitled “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.”
        In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm.
        Suddenly his car—and only his car—starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man’s lights go on.
        As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced.
        An “alien” is shot—but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help.
        The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen, manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there’s no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, “they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it’s themselves.”
        And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight.
        “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices - to be found only in the minds of men.
        “For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own—for the children, and the children yet unborn.”

        When those who dissent are told time and time again—as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus—that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American…
        When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have “forgotten the lessons of 9/11”... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:
        Who has left this hole in the ground?
        We have not forgotten, Mr. President.
        You have.
        May this country forgive you.


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    By AnnaLauridsen, December 11, 2007 at 1:11 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Wow…. just WOW.  I was writing a speech for my English class when I stumbled upon this.  It astounds me how powerful these words are, even when I have only read them, and not heard them spoken aloud by Olbermann.  I am so glad that someone has taken a very visible stand in the media.  Perhaps this will be the start of much more.

    Report this

    By Anita Stern, October 8, 2006 at 5:37 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    On October 5, I heard your remarkable commentary
    that gave me hope there are people who are not in fear of the administration and speak out the truth.
    Most people here seem to believe if they don’t pay attention it will all go away!
    You are right, we no longer have a Costitution, nor a rational government.
    I and others are so frustrated with the whole insane mess - please keep talking LOUD AND CLEAR!
        Anita Stern R.N. emeritus

    Report this

    By R U Awake, September 23, 2006 at 6:30 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    From the day the towers fell, it struck this heart with a certain clarity, those who brought down the towers and Pentagon in cold blood murder, are the ones who stand to most profit.

    You have sacrifice your freedom, in the name of fighting terrorism.  Your Constitution has been repealed, standing troops, and marshal law in it’s place, a federal police state, bold as brass and skin headed.

    You have sacrificed your health and life to pharma giants who routinely use the police powers of the FDA, and own and operate
    Congress, and manipulate media, to prevent acutal cancer and other disease cures from being used,

    No less so your war machinery and your freedom taken from you by those who manufacture military hardware and coldly pay black operatives to create the terror, required for you to support their sales of weaponry to both sides, and the destruction of the Freedom you claim to stand for, without regard for chauvinism.

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    By kevin apland, September 20, 2006 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Olbermann for President. He’s got my vote.

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    By George Viste, September 20, 2006 at 4:06 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Wow - About time someone on T.V. news told it like it is - too bad there are still fools that are buying the Bush Crime Families Fascist propaganda. THANK YOU K.O.

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    By Diana, September 20, 2006 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Olbermann says ‘Who has left this hole in the ground?
    We have not forgotten, Mr. President. You have.’  Is he speaking metaphorically?  If so, those are wise and truthful words.  However, if he is speaking literally, it is a false argument as I believe the Bush Administration is not a player in the local and state politics that have obstructed rather than facilitated the progress (or lack thereof) of reconstruction at ground zero.

    Report this

    By Josephine, September 20, 2006 at 9:56 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Keith is a beacon of light in dark times.  Others should follow his example.  I am disgusted by “news” people who deliver daily pablum instead of dealing with issues of importance head on.  Keith is an antidote to my serious depression over the state of our nation.

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    By Martin Clancy, September 20, 2006 at 9:30 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Wow!  I was only dimly aware of Keith Olberman from channel-surfing during commercials or when the other news broadcasts were boring.  I will now be a faithful audience member.  His words are strong but so appropriate to the situation we are in.  God bless him.

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    By cadavra, September 20, 2006 at 8:42 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Keith won’t be fired. He’ll simply be dragged out of his bed in the middle of the night and hauled off to Gitmo.

    Report this

    By Kwagmyre, September 19, 2006 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The final moments of Keith’s Countdown for last night(9/18, holding Bush accountable for ominous trepidations against our democratic heritage)were every bit as stirring and provocative as the 9/11 one.  There’s probably no other broadcaster/commentator who really has that kind of “chutzpah” to call things as the sees them.

    Of course Bush obviously won’t have the “benefit” of seeing these broadcasts.  And that’s rather unfortunate; he needs an education to learn what genuine democracy’s all about!

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    By major heard, September 19, 2006 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    What a brilliant speech to pay respect to 9/11.

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    By Sharon Zablocki, September 19, 2006 at 11:41 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Keith Olbermann is the only person in broadcast journalism with the COURAGE to report the truth.  If it weren’t for him and his show the people of the U.S. would have no hope of being informed.  To the corporate “suits” of ABC, CBS, and NBC…you are not only an embarrassment but a threat to our democracy. We don’t want the evening news to report about Suri Cruise.  We want the hard news told the way it is.  We once could count on newsmen like Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley to name a few.  Now we are down to one.  Thank you for your courage Mr. Olbermann.

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    By Linda Price, September 19, 2006 at 9:56 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Keith, at LAST !!

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    By Henry, September 18, 2006 at 7:00 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Keith is the man!!!  Now it is time for all of us to be courageous and let our voices be heard.  There are more of us than the lunatics who have run our country in the ground and all on FEAR.  They have nothing to show except for distrust, lies, and partisanship.  Fascism has arrived and it IS wrapped in our flag and with cross in hand.

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    By Ms Kenny Goering, September 18, 2006 at 12:05 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    We try to watch and listen to Keith Olbermann every night as it seems to be the only program that tells the truth and investigates the “stories”. I consider him next to Tim Russet to be telling us what is going on. Thanks, Keith

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    By MARIAM RUSSELL, September 18, 2006 at 11:47 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)


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    By David Pabian, September 18, 2006 at 1:16 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    At last!  Thank you, Keith!!  What has happened to us that we’ll impeach a president for lying about a blow job, but not one for killing thousands of Americans in a falsly constructed war!?

    Report this

    By Aimee Romero, September 17, 2006 at 8:03 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Kudos to TruthDig for recognizing Keith’s excellence in broadcasting.  I’ve been a loyal Olbermann fan for more than a year, and he just keeps getting better and ballsier. If Sam Harris ever appears as a guest on Countdown, we’ll have achieved television perfection.

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    By TCNexus, September 17, 2006 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    This is perhaps the bravest piece of broadcast journalism since Edward R. Murrow took down Senator Joesph McCarthy. I applaud his courage to demonstrate what the right and power of free speech means at a time when we see very little of the same in the corporate journalistic culture of our country. I grew up believing journalists were heroes, or at least could be on a good day. Mr. Olberman has renewed my faith. I hope his comments can serve as a faint signal from a future where the American people will stand up and say, “Enough.”

    I think every teacher teaching civics, history, politcal science, English, or values in our country should stop and insert Olbermann’s editorial into their curriculum. I am not suggesting that the act of teaching to this material should or would be political. On the contrary, I would hope that our talented teachers could present this material apolitcally, as a true lesson in the balance of power in a democracy and the crucial role of free speech; and a lesson in the implications/consequences of the media culture and political culture in shaping the identity of our country. This is also an opportunity to explore the concept of history as myth and truth—and what a robust and healthy dialogue can mean to the health of our democracy. Thank you Keith. Tell you bosses you have gained one more MSNBC viewer.

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    By Ron Thomey, September 17, 2006 at 11:47 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Keith, What an “out of the stadium” power blast you provided to your listeners, and dislisteners (sic)!! Where were you from 1961-1975, when OUR generation was battling the TRUTH MONGERS about Southeast Asia, and the Military-Industrial Complex? We sure could have used you. Thanks for being here, NOW!! Army Vet, 1967-1970

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    By Linda Karosic, September 17, 2006 at 11:25 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I am so glad Keith Olberman has a daily hour of air time. He is doing a fine job with his responsibility to hold public servants accountable—

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    By dede wilkinson, September 17, 2006 at 11:01 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    please keep speaking the truth Mr. Olbermann. we need to know that we are not alone, not in our small communities, or in our large cities. what is being done in this country is making so many of us heartsick. I don’t know what else to do. voting has failed us miserably. all I can do is laugh at Jon or Stephen, and I know their popularity means that there is more people who think like me than I can know of. I hope your voice will continue to be heard. You are my new hero.

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    By Shepx05, September 16, 2006 at 2:15 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Thank you Keith Olberman. Of all the cowards who share this nations spotlight only you have had the balls to stand up and give us something that gives us hope. Thanks you. As much as I believe this whole thing runs much deeper I don’t give a fuck about it right now. This is something to rally around

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    By TruthPlease, September 16, 2006 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    If it’s true, as stated previously, that Kieth Olbermann does get fired from MSNBC - does that mean he’ll start up a really fine e-magazine like TruthDig?  That would be a win for us!!
    We’ll see if the honchos at MSNBC have any balls and really care about truth, or are they corporate/right wing neo-con shills.  What an interesting show we have to look forward to in this runup to the next presidential election.

    Report this

    By paul kibble, September 16, 2006 at 9:11 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Thanks to Crooks and Liars for doing what I suggested they do all along: post Olbermann’s terrific editorial in its entirety. The excerpt from this speech that you recently published generated a large number of comments, many of which, I inferred,  were based solely on that excerpt rather than on the full text (access to which you of course provided). Hint for future reference: point and click on that highlighted word “Link” before gracing us with your deep insights on whst Commentator X really means.

    How could anyone fail to read Olbermann’s piece in all its resplendent glory? Of course this is famously a postliterate culture, but even given that, some of your right-leaning readers apparently have the energy of a three-toed sloth, not to mention the attention span of a gnat. They’re like those ball-scratching yahoos in Mike Judge’s recent satire “Idiocracy,” except that Judge extrapolated his dystopian satire into the 26th century, rather than setting it where, intellectually and spiritually if not materially,  it clearly belongs: now.(Predictably, Fox dumped the picture when irony-challenged test audiences like, you know, kinda didn’t get the joke.) 

    As for Olbermann’s ultimate fate, the corporate bottom-liners at MSNBC are no doubt preparing for a major purge of those pesky anti-Bush dissenters (all one of them) among the news division’s rank and file. (Noble Bob Scheer suffered a similar fate at the hands of L.A. Times publisher Jeff Johnson.) After all, so many government perks are at stake. The network recently fired Eric Alterman, an unrepetantly liberal columnist whose post, “Altercation,” ran for years on their website. (Alterman will resurface on the Media Matters website this month.)

    That will leave us with pro-Bush trogs like Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough. Jesus, how many stakes do you have to drive through the First Amendment’s heart before the poor bastard’s safely dead?

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    By Linda Fehr, September 16, 2006 at 9:00 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Keith Olbermann is the only shining light amongst the plethoria of slimy, lying, just plain evil talking heads .... I pray he never be fired.

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    By John and Emily Pateros, September 16, 2006 at 8:38 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Thank you, thank you, thankyou for giving us Keith Olbermanns’ courageous monologue.It was food for the soul for all of us who wait for the truth.

    John and Emily Pateros
    Naples, Florida

    Report this

    By SamSnedegar, September 16, 2006 at 6:01 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    What can one say? Olbermann will be fired, like Scheer.

    On the other hand, I’ve not heard Olbermann mention oil, and he keeps on pretending that Bush has cogent thoughts, so maybe he won’t end up in the Adam Clymer trash can.

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