The Ten Worst Media Distortions of Campaign 2004

Equating New Terrorism Warning to LBJ's "Gulf of Tonkin"

olbermann081004On his August 2 MSNBC program Countdown, Keith Olbermann devoted an entire segment to speculation that Bush re-election politics lay behind a terror threat warning that the Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge issued the day before. Apparently angry that the warning was publicized in the days following the Democratic National Convention, Olbermann revealed his paranoid mindset: “History tells us Presidents have exaggerated threats to the public safety to gain political advantage or simplify complex needs of strategy. Ask Lyndon Johnson. Ask William McKinley. Do we need to ask George W. Bush?”

Olbermann soon added Joe McCarthy to the pantheon President Bush is supposedly following, “from Joe McCarthy to Lyndon Johnson’s manipulation of the Gulf of Tonkin, our politics have been filled with politicians who have created a kind of evil twin to FDR’s famous phrase, ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ All of that seems particularly relevant when the Secretary of Homeland Security changes the threat level three days after his boss’s challenger accepts the nomination of the rival party.”

Two days later, Olbermann lashed out at an editorial “in a thing called the Investor’s Business Daily,” to denounce it for supposedly doubting his patriotism when he questioned if politics were behind Sunday’s terror warning: “I got ripped. Anybody who said anything other than, ‘Yes, sir, Homeland Security, thank you for the information, we’ll do what you say,’ was viewed as unpatriotic and inspiring lack of confidence and aiding the terrorists, good Lord, there’s everything but accused us of keeping, you know, a phone line open to bin Laden.”

Investor’s Business Daily, which had picked up on the MRC’s quotation of Olbermann’s earlier rant, did not call Olbermann “unpatriotic” in its editorial, although Olbermann had done a bit more than just raise the possibility of political influence; he had brought up the name Joe McCarthy. The editorial correctly noted: “In the current, highly charged political atmosphere, if the White House didn’t warn us of an impending attack and one happened, there would be political hell to pay.”

That would surely include a condemnatory lecture from the cocksure Keith Olbermann.