'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
#ShowPlug 1: Only in politics could you tie at home + claim you won. Romney's hollow boast, Santorum claim his politics got him low grades
#ShowPlug 2: @Craig_Crawford on Michigan Tie; @Will_Bunch on Santorum's Grade Envy; @DaveCatanese on No GOP End In Sight
#ShowPlug 3: Occupy returns amid news Homeland Security has been investigating - including here on Twitter. W/ @MTaibbi
#ShowPlug 4: James Murdoch out at News Int'l. His choice, they claim. Which makes the timing terrible. @MichaelWolffNYC explains
#ShowPlug Last: Billo sets himself up for responsibility for Tiller Assassination; + RW'er plan: To get food stamps, you must give up voting
#5 'Split Decision', Craig Crawford
#5 'Split Decision', Will Bunch
#4 'Keeps Going And Going', David Catanese
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Occu-Spy', Matt Taibbi
#2 Worst Persons: Brion McClanahan, Rep. John Mathis, Bill O'Reilly
#1 'James Unworthy', Michael Wolff
printable PDF transcript
On the show: Matt Taibbi, Will Bunch, Michael Wolff, Craig Crawford, David Catanese
KEITH OLBERMANN: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that's all that counts.
OLBERMANN: Only in politics could you win 15 delegates and the other guy win 15 delegates on your home field and you get to try to call it a win.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: We have a lot of wind at our back heading here to Tennessee, and we're going to be taking it all across the Super Tuesday states.
OLBERMANN: Michigan may be over, but the gaffes continue uninterrupted.
Santorum explains his claim that wanting everybody to go to college makes you a snob - it's about the lousy grades he got at Penn State because he was a conservative.
(Excerpt from audio clip) SANTORUM: I can tell you professor after professor who docked my grades because of my - of the viewpoints I expressed and the papers that I wrote.
OLBERMANN: Because there's no possible other explanation for getting bad grades in college.
Craig Crawford on the Michigan tie.
Will Bunch on how Penn State screwed Santorum out of an A-minus.
David Catanese on where the GOP race goes from here.
Occupy is back and - going kind of blue.
(Excerpt from video clip) PROTESTERS: We want progress! F--- you, Congress!
OLBERMANN: And the careful process by which the NYPD chooses which protesters to arrest.
(Excerpt from video clip) COP: Take him.
OLBERMANN: Matt Taibbi on the Occupy Spring.
And Murdoch-gate touches very near the throne. James Murdoch, out. Michael Wolff analyzes.
And the right-winger who has solved the crisis of food stamps. All who receive them, he says, should lose their right to vote.
All that and more, now on "Countdown."
OLBERMANN: Good evening, this is Wednesday, February 29th, 252 days until the 2012 presidential election.
Romney beats Santorum in last night's Arizona primary, while Santorum loses the vote count but apparently ties Romney in delegates in his home state of Michigan.
The fifth story on the "Countdown" - at the bank, at the ballgame, in the classroom - if you get 15, and the other guy gets 15, you're even. In politics, if you can smile unctuously enough, you can claim 15-15 is a clear victory.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: Well, it was a big night last night for me. I was very pleased. Very good news, Arizona and Michigan, right next door.
OLBERMANN: Right next door in Super Tuesday state Ohio, that is, where he was this morning, where he is also crushingly behind and where he repeated the mantra that he really, really won last night.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: We didn't win by a lot but we won by enough, and that's all that counts.
OLBERMANN: Romney polling 41 percent of the vote in Michigan, Santorum trailing him by three points, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich bringing up the cabooses. Romney dominating in Arizona, beating Santorum, as expected, by 20 points.
Santorum thanking his Michigan supporters last night:
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: The people of Michigan looked into the hearts of the candidates, and all I have to say is, I love you back. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Santorum then claiming the split today:
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: We actually won half the congressional districts, and so we're going to walk out of Michigan with 15 delegates, and he's going to walk out of Michigan with 15 delegates. Good tie.
OLBERMANN: CNN and NBC News both now projecting that when the last votes are tallied, Santorum will be right. The GOP primary leaders splitting Michigan's 14 congressional districts, and thus their 28 delegates, along with the two delegates won through the statewide vote.
Romney adding the 29 delegates from Arizona's winner-take-all primary, now leading Santorum going into Super Tuesday by 80 delegates, with 1,144 needed to win the GOP nomination.
Breaking the Michigan numbers down, the exit polls showing Romney won the male vote from Santorum by one point. Women favored Romney by five points. Santorum winning the plurality of voters earning $99,000 a year or less, and Romney with a plurality of the earning $100,000 or more.
Santorum won half of the voters who styled themselves as "very conservative." Romney with half of those who called themselves "somewhat conservative" and a plurality of voters calling themselves "moderate to liberal."
Romney also winning a plurality of voters with college degrees and Santorum a plurality of those without them. Thereby hangs another tale. Santorum's recent comments about college now stitching themselves together with his own collegiate experience, in very unfortunate terms, that sounded a little self-delusive and very bitter. They were mean to him at Penn State because he was a conservative.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: I can tell you professor after professor who docked my grades because of my - of the viewpoints I expressed and the papers that I wrote.
(Excerpt from video clip) INTERVIEWER: Really? Your grades -
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: There's no question that happened. I used to go to war with some of my professors, you know, who just thought I was just out of the pale and, you know, these ideas are just not proper ideas and got docked in communicating them.
OLBERMANN: But was he even a conservative in college?
Political science professor Robert O'Connor, who taught four classes to Santorum, told The New Republic, "He really has a rich fantasy life. I resent this sort of accusation that I and my colleagues graded students on the basis of their political attitudes. Ridiculous."
Former Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Phil English, a Santorum classmate saying, "He was outspoken and aggressive, but had a populist approach, less about issues and more about getting people involved."
And former Florida Republican Congressmen Tom Feeney, another Santorum classmate, adding, "He had Republican values, but it's not like he was running around leading conservative jihads or anything."
Santorum seeming, also, to have undercut his own claim when he told National Public Radio this last May:
(Excerpt from audio clip) SANTORUM: I was generally conservative. I was generally Republican, but I was more of a political operative than I was someone who had strong convictions about issues.
OLBERMANN: And, of course, Philadelphia Magazine quoting Santorum saying in an article published in December 1995, "I was basically pro-choice all my life, until I ran for Congress."
Meanwhile, if Romney is thinking of shouting, "Save me, Chris Christie," Quinnipiac polls asking New Jersey voters how Mitt Romney's making the New Jersey governor his vice presidential choice would affect their choice in the general election - Obama wins the state 49-39 over Romney and anybody as VP. And he still wins it 49-43 over Romney and Christie.
Back to school with Rick Santorum in a moment.
First - for more on last night's primaries, per se - I'm joining by Craig Crawford, politics blogger at craigcrawford.com and author of "The Politics of Life." Good evening, Craig.
CRAIG CRAWFORD: Let's just call Michigan "sudden death" for Republicans. It was a tie.
OLBERMANN: It was a tie! Why can't anybody say it was a tie? I mean, I know why Romney can't say it was a tie, but I mean in the newscasts and the political punditry, and everything in print and everything online and everything analyzed, it was a tie. Wasn't it?
CRAWFORD: I mean, Romney went further than some of the commentators on discounting his own victory, saying he didn't win by a lot but he won by enough.
The problem is, Keith, this always happens in every presidential campaign - the media has such a difficult time when the race shifts from playing checkers to playing chess. We're not covering checkers any more. It's not about media momentum and popular-vote victory. It's about counting delegates, and that's where we are now, and it's always tough for the media to make that transition.
OLBERMANN: This is why, when people ask me about covering sports as opposed to politics, this is the one thing I always point out. This is literally the example I give - that, in sports, you have a number and another number, and that means one guy won and another guy didn't win, and if they're the same number that means it's a tie. But you cannot convey this to political quote/unquote "experts." All right, I'll stop.
CRAWFORD: But at least you have overtime in sports. We don't get that in politics. Let's go back to Michigan and try again.
OLBERMANN: Oh, we have overtime in the Republican primary process. We know that. We have lots of overtime to play.
And about again - last night, the consensus was if Romney did not win the popular vote by four or five that it augured poorly for him. Not just because it would mean a split delegate count, which it did, but in other ways. He didn't win by four or five. We know that much. How poorly does this augur for him going forward?
CRAWFORD: Well, I never bought the argument that if he lost Michigan he's out of race, or if he wins Michigan he clenches the nomination. It's just not that simple.
But it is true, when you look at these numbers - this was an embarrassing victory, if it was a victory, for him because this was his native state. He won it by a third of what he won it in the 2008 campaign against McCain, and - and look at all the money and effort and organization and everything else - they put all their marbles in this state, and this is all they could come up with.
A margin, by the way, statewide - you look at the county that he came from in Michigan, that's where he got that margin, the county that he was born in. So this is not a big momentum victory for him.
OLBERMANN: In looking at the exit polls - the Santorum victory with the plurality - can never say the word - plurality of voters who make - he had more than the other guy, who made less than $100,000 a year and Romney got the same with those making more than $100,000 a year. Does that change the campaign narratives going forward, and does that necessarily stick to either one of them if they get the nomination?
CRAWFORD: Well, now we know what Romney's base is - the managerial class of Republicans who can lay off people. Voters who can lay off people, that's who identify with Mitt Romney. The argument that Santorum keeps making, that he - you know, pitching the middle class - he is winning that among those - that income group, at least.
OLBERMANN: There was some expectation that - perhaps, at some point in the near future - people would start to shake out, that this would be a two-man race or a three-man race in the very near future. Did you see anything last night that suggests that's imminent?
CRAWFORD: You know, I think that's one impact of the super PACs, is that candidates can stay in the race as long as they've got rich guys - sugar daddies - to keep them going beyond when they would normally have to drop out. They can just keep on going.
And we're heading into these proportional delegation - allocation-of-delegates states. There are only four states left that are winner-take-all, with a little over 100 delegates to offer, combined. So, we are entering a period where all these candidates, if they keep getting the money flow, can keep getting delegates - not enough to win the nomination, but enough to stay in the game.
And if they win enough states - I believe it's five in the Republican Party, which Santorum is right on that - they can have their names put up for nomination on the ballot at the convention. So, I think they have every incentive to keep doing that.
Plus, they just hate Romney. That's become very obvious.
OLBERMANN: That's because he can't tell the difference between a win and a tie.
OLBERMANN: Enough of that.
Craig Crawford, politics blogger at craigcrawford.com, author of "The Politics of Life, many thanks as always.
CRAWFORD: Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: Now to Rick Santorum, Penn State class of 1980, complaining about his grades. I'm joined now by Will Bunch, the author of "The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama," and a new Kindle single, on a different topic, "Give it to Steve." That's the story of the Philadelphia Eagles, I think. Santorum, Mr. Bunch, it's good to talk to you, as always -
WILL BUNCH: Yes, same, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Santorum attended Penn State between '76 and '80, and we heard Professor O'Connor saying it was not exactly Berkeley around that time. What - how much of a liberal-left hotbed was College Park and, you know, did Rick Santorum stick out like a sore thumb?
BUNCH: Well, I mean, we're laughing hysterically about this here in Pennsylvania. I mean, to call Penn State a liberal icon - I mean, you know, Berkeley - where they rioted over free speech and Vietnam - I mean, that's a liberal icon. Penn State's the place where they rioted when they lost the basketball game to Temple.
So, you know, Penn State's never - never been an ultra-liberal school. I mean, it's a good football school. It's a good academic school. It's not a bastion of liberalism, and Rick Santorum was no flaming conservative when he was at Penn State.
OLBERMANN: The term - and I have to do this as an aside, it's an etymological question - the term, "They docked my grades." Maybe I'm just not hip to the way the word is used in some places. I like to think I know regional dialects and phrases. In Pennsylvania, do you dock grades? I thought you docked salaries, and you docked pay, but I never heard "dock grades" before.
BUNCH: No, unfortunately, they dock pay a lot here, but docking grades? "Docking grades," I've never heard before. You know, this is one of those phrases, it's kind of like - you know, remember when Romney said he was severely conservative? I mean, this is a phrase that should set off your baloney detector, because nobody uses this phrase. And so, you have to wonder, what is he really talking about here? You know, I think this whole story is kind of invented, frankly.
OLBERMANN: Well, he does seem to come up with these bizarre - I mean, man-on-dog sex, first of all. Which is - who else in the history of the world has said that?
OLBERMANN: These comments from the classmates who went on to serve in Congress, they imply that there is something in there exaggerative about Senator Santorum and non-Senator Santorum. Does he have a local reputation of sort of exaggerating the mighty woes that have befallen him in his trudge through life?
BUNCH: Absolutely. I think - you know, it's funny, these quotes about him being a political operative. I mean, first and foremost, Rick Santorum is a politician, and I think he's playing smart politics here, because he understands that - you know, the politics of resentment has been a winning formula in the Republican party ever since the days of Richard Nixon and Nixonland, as Rick Perlstein calls it, and, you know, he's appealing to that. To do that, I mean, he's come up with this kind of a myth of creation in which - you know, that he - you know, he was originally born a conservative, when clearly that's not true.
You know, one thing else about his career at Penn State is that he was the campus campaign manager for John Heinz, who was one of the last - the late John Heinz - who was one of the last liberal Republicans that we had in the Senate, very pro-choice, and this was Rick Santorum's kind of politician back in the 1970s. He was very moderate. He was a pragmatist.
OLBERMANN: What about even the '80s and the '90s, and the early 2000s? Was he that conservative, ultimately, as a congressman and as a senator?
BUNCH: He went back and forth. He was able to zigzag. When he ran for a second term in Pennsylvania in 2000 he ran ads about, you know, all the money he brought home for the state and his, you know, commitment to Medicare and senior citizens and he ran a very - he ran a very centrist campaign to get re-elected.
What happened is - by 2006, he could not play that act any more, because he had just been so out there on social issues, and the result was he lost by 18 points in Pennsylvania, as we all know, so -
OLBERMANN: And the revelations here about his past, that he has not been as conservative as he is now, obviously they will continue by people who don't just believe it and think it's - he's getting away with something. Is it going to have any impact on true believers, or are they just so happy to hear a guy say, "I'm the true conservative, now," that they'll believe it?
BUNCH: Yeah, well, you know - I think he's going to try - you can always do the Reagan thing like on abortion, where, "I converted and - you know, what - this is who I am now," and the reality is, you know, obviously, Rick Santorum has obviously gotten more and more conservative, and he is something of a true believer now. So, I don't think it's going to hurt him. You know, Romney may use this against him, but I think he is the conservative that you see now, definitely.
OLBERMANN: Ah, the joy of the born-again virgin.
Will Bunch, the author of "Backlash" and now "Give it to Steve." Hackley Dial, 1974-1977. Thank you, and Mr. Budlong wants to see you in the office now, son.
BUNCH: Well, thanks for teaching me journalism, Keith. I still appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: I hope you learned something else besides that. All right, take care, Will.
BUNCH: All right, see ya.
OLBERMANN: So, a man who can't tell a tie from a win against the man carrying a 32-year-old chip on his shoulder because his grades weren't what he wanted in Penn State. Where do the Republicans go from here? Next.
OLBERMANN: Associated Press now confirming - 15 Michigan delegates Santorum, 15 Michigan delegates Romney. It was tie! With exit polling there showing barely half of the voters strongly liked the guy they voted for yesterday. With neither Gingrich nor Paul giving a hint of dropping out, where on earth do the Republicans go from here?
Many shoes have fallen, this was the first big one - James Murdoch out at News International. Michael Wolff on whether Rupert might be next.
As it was an Arab Spring in 2011, maybe it will be an Occupy Spring in 2012. If so, today was Opening Day. Mike Taibbi joins us.
And he actually poses an interesting question about Occupy - if you encourage a group, and a member of that group kills somebody, can you be held legally liable? You mean, like whoever encouraged the man who assassinated Dr. George Tiller?
OLBERMANN: "This," says an observer of the Republican primary process, "is like watching a Greek tragedy. It's the negative campaigning and the increasing personal attacks. It should have stopped long ago. Any utility from the debates has been exhausted, and now it's just exchanging cheap shots and personal shots followed by super PAC attacks."
The outside observer is 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain. And when John McCain is calling another Republican nomination of another year "a Greek tragedy," that's a problem.
In our fourth story - the conventional wisdom suggests Super Tuesday will be decisive, except Mitt Romney is facing double-digit deficits in next Tuesday's two biggest contests.
After his second-place finish in Arizona and his tie in Michigan, Rick Santorum continued his campaign in Tennessee, where he used last night's results as an indication of success he thinks will come next week.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: We have a lot of wind in our back heading here to Tennessee, and we're going to be taking it all across the Super Tuesday states.
OLBERMANN: On Tuesday, March 6th, 437 delegates will be doled out - through caucuses in Alaska and North Dakota and Idaho, and through primaries in Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Ohio, Georgia and Virginia.
But due to Santorum and Gingrich's inability to get on the ballot, Virginia will be between Romney and Ron Paul only. The two largest states up for grabs next Tuesday are Georgia and Ohio, with 76 and 66 delegates respectively. In both states, Romney faces serious hurdles.
The former governor began his Super Tuesday push today, in Rick Santorum's backyard of Ohio. But recent polls suggest this may be futile. The poll, conducted by the University of Cincinnati, shows Santorum with an 11-point lead among Ohio voters who intend to vote in the primary, a seven-point lead, according to Quinnipiac's poll of likely voters.
After skipping Arizona and Michigan, Gingrich resumed campaigning in his home state of Georgia, hoping that a home-state victory could reinvigorate his sagging campaign, though $10 million from Sheldon Adelson will help. With polling showing a comfortable 15-point lead among likely voters, indeed, Virginia - Georgia, rather - seems to be Gingrich's to lose.
At this point, let's bring in national political reporter for Politico David Catanese. David, thanks for your time tonight.
DAVID CATANESE: Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Playing the devil's advocate about McCain's Greek tragedy quote - isn't this exactly what all of us were saying about the Obama/Clinton race four years ago to this second?
CATANESE: Yes, absolutely. I do think there is a bit of a distinction from the '08 race to this race. The '08 race between Clinton and Obama - mainly about experience versus judgment.
This race is getting a little personal. I mean, Rick Santorum's out there - basically, his main case is that Mitt Romney is a fraud. I don't think you heard that strong of language between Clinton and Obama, but - that being said - it is only February. We tend, in the media, to live in the moment, and we'll be completely talking about a different narrative in July if this thing is wrapped up, and I think that's the, you know, chance for the Republicans to come together. And I think there is still an opportunity for them to do that, despite everything that is going on in the primary right now.
OLBERMANN: Well, how does that happen, particularly in the context that usually Super Tuesday - if not decides everything - at least leads towards a decision or it gets us closer to a decision, which would seem to be - from this perspective, anyway - demonstrably false relative to this Super Tuesday for the Republicans.
CATANESE: Right, but there are 400 delegates at stake on Super Tuesday. It is the biggest day on the calendar to date. But, correct - I mean, Mitt Romney's not going to be able to clinch the 1,144 delegates by then that he needs to get the nomination. So, there will be a fight that is continued.
But I think this is all about Ohio. There's ten states. I mean - put aside Georgia, because it's Newt Gingrich's home turf. Put aside Massachusetts, that's Romney's home turf. Rick Santorum has basically said in his campaign that, "Hey, I can win the Midwest. Mitt Romney can't. I can win states like Ohio, that's why I'm the better general election candidate." So, if he can't win in Ohio and Mitt Romney is successful there, I think that is a pretty emphatic statement, especially coming after his wins in Michigan and Arizona, two other potential battleground states.
OLBERMANN: Well, if particularly in Ohio - and to a lesser degree in Georgia - is there an indication that what has worked for Romney, and it certainty worked to - people forget Romney did pull himself back up into this tie, even though he's calling it a win, he was significantly behind 10, 12 days ago - can he do what he did in Ohio and Georgia - can he do in Ohio and Georgia what did he in Michigan and, essentially, buy those states with another negative-ad flood?
CATANESE: Yes, I think he can in Ohio. I think it is less likely in Georgia, because he's got two hurdles to overcome. Santorum and Gingrich are ahead of him, according to polls there, and I think Romney will sort of write that off and say that - you know, that's Gingrich's home turf.
Ohio, I think he can. Watch the polls over the weekend. Watch the media campaign that is about to hit that state over the next few days. Remember, we saw him do it in Florida, where he was down, came back with a huge ad campaign. We saw him do it in Michigan, where originally he was down, you know, 10, 15 points. He closed it, day by day, just because of the preponderance of ads that were on the air and his super PAC.
Question is, can Santorum really compete over all these ten states or is he going to put all his eggs in one basket in Ohio? I think that's what he needs to do because that, to me, is his - is the firewall on Super Tuesday.
OLBERMANN: At what point do we see the end games beginning for Paul or Gingrich or both?
CATANESE: You know, that's fascinating for Gingrich. I think Paul probably stays in this for the long run. He's not winning many states. He is picking up delegates, and it's more about the movement for him, I think. He wants a role at the convention. He wants to be on that stage. That's why he's sort of playing nice with Mitt Romney.
Gingrich is a more interesting question mark. I mean, as stubborn as he might be, he is a smart political operative, and he can do the math. Does he ever get out? If he doesn't win his home state, if he somehow, you know - if Santorum is able to pick off Georgia - it's tough for Newt Gingrich to wake up next Wednesday and make a case, a forceful case - as he has - that he can go on, but I'm not going to predict what's in Newt's head.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, especially when Sheldon Adelson will call you up and say, "Here's another $10 million."
David Catanese, of Politico. As always, great thanks for your time tonight, Dave.
CATANESE: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Occupy returns to the streets of New York, and Matt Taibbi rejoins us to assess its next moves.
OLBERMANN: The return of Occupy and the exit of James Murdoch. Coming up.
First, the "Sanity Break." Not really tonight.
On this date in 1692, the second set of arrests was carried out for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. By June, they were hanging people or - in one case - pressing a man to death, with 19 executions and five more dead in prison.
Later evidence suggests that the testimony about how Salem residents went into convulsions and shouted Tourette's-like blasphemies - that was not false. The town's grain supply may have been poisoned by a fungus called ergot, from which LSD can be derived.
And that, Rick Santorum, is why you have to keep an absolute separation of church and state.
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: Former Cal football star breaks paper airplane record.
We begin, as we always do, with some record breaking. It's a bird. It's a plane. Well, it's sort of a plane.
Joe Ayoob here trying to break the record for furthest distance traveled by a paper airplane.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Coming in for a hard landing, and - oh, he's stuck it! 226 feet, 10 inches! Breaking the old record by nearly 20 feet.
And for those paper airplane enthusiasts watching at home - scoring at home, or even if you're alone - yes, that is a John Collins-designed plane. As if you couldn't tell.
VIDEO: Tiny Liverpool fan takes on for the team - literally - during winning celebration.
We cross the pond to England, where Liverpool has just won its eighth Carling Cup title, and as the fans celebrate, one of them, five-year-old Shea, gets a bit too excited.
And - oh, right in the eye. Ow!
But like a true fan, he goes on cheering. Yay! Ow. Yay! Ow. Yay! Ow.
VIDEO: Russian bear shows off kung fu skills.
Finally, Jack Black knew it would eventually happen. The bears have learned kung fu.
Pamir, a rare, white-clawed bear living in a zoo in Russia, is pretty handy with the martial arts Bo staff. Experts believe the reason for the white claws is to add to his awesome kung fu mystique.
Zoo officials say Pamir also likes to play with cans, boards, baseball bats and a jet of cold water from a hose. But really, who doesn't?
"Time Marches On!"
Occupy and Homeland Security and Matt Taibbi. Next.
OLBERMANN: No matter what time you're watching this, "Countdown" is live each night at 8:00 Eastern, with the primary replay at 8:00 Pacific, the longest continuously-running 8:00 p.m. news hour on cable, unless you consider Fox - "news."
A mild winter did not chase Occupy Wall Street from Wall Street. Thus, it was perhaps fitting that it returned today, on one of the sloppiest days of that winter.
In our third story on the "Countdown" - fitting, also, that it happens on the heels of new revelations that the Department of Homeland Security has been closely monitoring the protests and has been investigating since Occupy spread across the country last fall. A five-page report analyzing Occupy's disruptive influence also examined Occupy's social media and IT usage. DHS appears to have closely monitored Occupy's Twitter feeds.
On the ground, today, 200 activists focusing on the American Legislative Council, ALEC. They marched from the Pfizer Pharmaceutical headquarters in midtown Manhattan to the offices of Bank of America. Occupy links Pfizer to the funding of ALEC and legislation giving big corporations big tax breaks. Four arrested for disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration.
Overnight, the police had arrested nine people for attempting to exercise their First Amendment rights in Zuccotti Park, a small group met by what journalists on the scene say was an arbitrary and unnecessarily strong show of force.
(Excerpt from video clip) COP #2: I grabbed you, and I felt something, and I asked you what it was. Stop the wise-ass, especially if you're the press. Stop being wise.
(Excerpt from video clip) REPORTER: Well, you're - I'm trying to report on what's going on here.
(Excerpt from video clip) COP #2: Stop being wise. Stop being wise.
OLBERMANN: Ah, generations of New York cops have sounded exactly like that, right down to the "I 'axed' you what it was."
We'll turn to Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributing editor and "Countdown" contributor. It's good to see you, Matt.
MATT TAIBBI: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: So this was Opening Day?
TAIBBI: Yeah. No, I mean, Occupy has been going on all throughout the winter, but - you know, the weather has kept it mostly off the streets, and this is, I think, the beginning of a series of actions that are going to go on throughout the spring, and today was a good day, although the weather was a little bit harsh. We had some things going on last night, too, as well.
So, I think you're going to start to see more and more Occupy activity starting about now and especially next month.
OLBERMANN: What would an Occupy Spring - everybody's used that phrase all ready a thousand times to the point of annoying people with it - what would an Occupy Spring look like, do you think?
TAIBBI: Well, I know the campaign that I'm involved with has a lot of things going on next month. You know, we're involved with this campaign against Bank of America. We've got something teamed up with International Women's Day on March 8th, there's going to be a series of actions around the country. On March 15th, there's going to be a series of actions teaming up with Occupy Homes, demonstrating at foreclosed homes and at branches of Bank of America. We've got things going on April 15th, May 15th, so - and there's a series of things going on all over the country, and there's so many different groups now that are involved. It's just so much bigger than it was back in the fall.
OLBERMANN: And I gather, also, just from listening to you sort of give the schedule for the months ahead, that if you were to look for something that was significantly different between Occupy 2011 and Occupy 2012, this is much more mobile and much less about standing one place and hoping people come and listen to your message.
TAIBBI: Oh, it's so much bigger, so much more organized and so much more targeted than it was in the fall. In the fall, really, it was - it was an impromptu thing, originally, just a whole bunch of people showing up and congregating.
Now, we have things like Occupy the FCC, which submitted a 325-page comment letter to the FCC. That's something that's never been done before by like people like us, you know, in getting involved in the regulatory process. So, there are all these different groups now. There's all these different kinds of people - lawyers, journalists, activists - involved that weren't involved in the fall, and that's why it's going to be bigger.
OLBERMANN: Is this a change in strategy or is this evolutionary?
TAIBBI: It's just evolutionary. There's just more people, physically, involved now. And I think the movement also did a smart thing - they reached out to people who were involved in a lot of these different, you know, realms of the economy, and they said, "We need more expertise. We need to figure out what we could do that will bring more pressure to bear and be more effective," and so they're targeting their resources more effectively, and so, I think you're going to see them have more of an effect in the upcoming year.
OLBERMANN: Is that why you're using the term "we" to describe Occupy?
TAIBBI: I guess, yeah, unconsciously - I guess I'm doing that. I mean, I'm sort of peripheral to all of this. But there are a lot of people -
OLBERMANN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There - there - we are. (Shows video clip of TAIBBI at an Occupy demonstration.) So, is that a royal we, an unofficial we?
TAIBBI: This was - this was my Trotsky moment, here.
OLBERMANN: Oh, how very nice. Oh, good. You remember - yeah, we all know what happened to Trotsky, not wishing you bad luck -
TAIBBI: Pick axe in the neck.
OLBERMANN: - in Mexico City. So, don't go to Mexico City. But, almost to that point - this story that Homeland has been following Occupy, I guess that wouldn't be a surprise if you don't know what an organization is to begin with - but following the Twitter feeds? What now? I'm in Homeland Security's files for #Occupy?
TAIBBI: Yeah, probably.
OLBERMANN: I mean, for other things too, but particularly for that?
TAIBBI: Yeah - no, I mean, it's crazy. This is from Michael Hastings, my colleague at Rolling Stone. You know, the criticism of this story is going to be, "Oh, so what? They're just looking at publicly-available sources."
Of course they're monitoring this, but the question is - are they doing this with the tea party? Are they doing this with other organizations?
The fact that they're monitoring, specifically, Occupy Wall Street is really, really interesting and important - and kind of scary, actually. You know, to date, we haven't seen that there's been more involved surveillance. They haven't caught them with agents provocateurs involved in the movement, but I think we can expect that there probably is that kind of surveillance out there, and everybody - well, I know - who is involved with Occupy expects that has happened.
OLBERMANN: Just because that's happened to every left-of-center protest group in the history of this country?
TAIBBI: Right, yeah. This goes back to the red squads, you know, decades ago.
OLBERMANN: The red squads? It goes back to the Haymarket in 1886.
TAIBBI: Right, right, right. Exactly.
OLBERMANN: It probably goes back to British infiltrators in the Revolutionary War.
OLBERMANN: It probably had something to do with the Salem witchcraft trials which I just brought up. Of course it does.
TAIBBI: Right, Keith, ergot poisoning.
OLBERMANN: Or the ergot poisoning. There's ergot poisoning on Occupy. We have to get Homeland Security down there. Boy, I hope not.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and a "Countdown" contributor, of course. Great thanks for coming in and nice Trotsky. You could shoot me. You didn't want to go with Lenin, 'cause - Trotsky was more -
TAIBBI: I forgot to grow the beard.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, Kerensky maybe? George Kerensky. I mean, he was pretty - he lived in Brooklyn for 40 years, so why not?
TAIBBI: Did he really?
OLBERMANN: Yes. Go look that up. It's fascinating. Only the first free president of Russia, lived most of his life in Brooklyn. It's lovely. Matt Taibbi, thank you kindly.
TAIBBI: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: News International, under the capable leadership of Rupert and James Murdoch. Oh, just Rupert. Michael Wolffe on the big news, ahead.
OLBERMANN: The spin is he wanted out from responsibility for newspapers because he's a TV guy. Michael Wolff de-spins the departure of James Murdoch.
First, the "Worsts," and the proposal to relieve the food stamp crisis, the crisis that exists only in the minds of the far right. That solution? Anybody who gets food stamps loses the right to vote. Next.
OLBERMANN: James Murdoch, out of here. That's next.
First, because these people are not yet out of here, here are "Countdown's" top three nominees for today's "Worst Persons in the World."
The bronze? To a Brion McClanahan - that's Brion with an "O."
Writing on the right-wing agitprop site The Daily Caller - financed by Foster Friess, the guy who recommended aspirin as birth control - McClanahan has suggested denying the vote to anybody who receives food stamps or government aid.
He also wants them shamed every time they buy food at special government food stores carrying only generic brands whose labels merely state "beans" or whatever, like in "Repo Man."
"All food stamp recipients would be required to spend their government dollars at these stores. Because competition is not an issue, taste and quality - with the exception of the baby formula and baby food - would not be a top priority. Anyone who accepts government aid would have to submit to a monthly tobacco and drug test. Food stamp recipients are, after all, wards of the state. They are slaves to the government and should be reminded of that fact. Tax producers would no longer have to knowingly be face-to-face with people at the checkout who are on government assistance but have nicer cell phones and accessories than they do." Envious of somebody else's cell phone. "There should be humiliation and pain in government assistance. Every time someone accepts food stamps, they are spitting on the principles of independence, and they, not the taxpayers who fund the program, should be reminded of that fact."
No, there is no evidence McClanahan is being satirical in a Jonathan Swift kind of way. Swift. Jonathan Swift. "A Modest Proposal." Look it up, Brion with an "O."
Runner-up? John Mathis, Republican state representative in Utah. He's finally doing something about those nightmarish hidden-camera videos that reveal the terrible and unnecessary abuse of animals, and the unsanitary conditions in factory farming.
Eliminate the abuse? Improve the conditions? No, no, no, no, no. He's offered legislation making it illegal to secretly record such violations. It'd be a misdemeanor, escalating to a felony on the second offense.
But our winner? Billo the Clown, who has stepped in it, big time. This starts as an attack on Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, for starting a non-profit that will give up to a million aid-in-grants to Occupy protesters.
But listen as Bill wanders back into a very, very dark place in his soul, where the guilt actually rules:
(Excerpt from video clip) BILL O'REILLY: So, what exactly is a grant? Well, it's a salary. They're going to pay people to agitate all across the U.S.A. That's dangerous, because - as we've seen in cities like Oakland and New York - people get hurt. But apparently, Ben & Jerry don't care.
If Ben & Jerry are paying agitators and those people kill someone, or destroy property, or hurt a police officer or commit violent crimes in their tent cities, can Ben & Jerry be held legally responsible? It's an interesting question.
OLBERMANN: Yes, it is. Leaving aside O'Reilly's exaggerated statement about violence at Occupy - ask who funded the police in Oakland and New York, sir - he raises a fascinating point. If you publicly encourage somebody - indirectly - to agitate, destroy property, hurt people, commit violent crimes or actually kill somebody can you be held legally responsible? I wonder why Bill wonders why?
O'REILLY: None of that seemed to matter to Tiller, nicknamed "The Baby Killer" ... She supported Tiller the Baby Killer out there ... Tiller the Baby Killer case, where Dr. George Tiller destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birthday ... They're not acquitted in Kansas, Tiller the Baby Killer ... We have bad news to report that Tiller the Baby Killer, out in Kansas, acquitted... can you give me one example of those -
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: Tiller the Killer?
(Excerpt from video clip) O'REILLY: No.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: Tiller the Killer is -
(Excerpt from video clip) O'REILLY: It's Tiller the Baby Killer, which is what is known by.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: Oh, Tiller the Baby Killer. Oh, absolutely. He's know by that for certain groups.
(Excerpt from video clip) O'REILLY: Am I not supposed to report that?
OLBERMANN: So if you keep calling Dr. George Tiller, Tiller the Killer - Sorry, Tiller the Baby Killer, in front of what you boast is the largest audience in cable news, and you boast of your own remarkable influence over your viewers, can you be held legally responsible when Dr. Tiller is then assassinated by domestic terrorists?
If not legally, I think Bill O'Reilly just agreed you can be held morally responsible. Bill O'Reilly, today's "Worst Person in the World."
OLBERMANN: As new revelations in the Murdoch scandal continue to surface each day, one question has remained - how and when would the Murdoch family be directly affected? Today, an answer.
In our number-one story - James Murdoch announced today he would be stepping down as executive chairman of News International, the British newspaper division of his father Rupert's News Corporation. He will, however, be staying on as News Corp's deputy COO.
The junior Mr. Murdoch saying in a statement today, "I deeply appreciate the dedication of my many talented colleagues at News International. As deputy chief operating officer, I look forward to expanding my commitment to News Corporation's international television businesses and other key initiatives across the company."
James Murdoch's former duties will be assumed by Tom Mockridge, chief executive of News International, leaving the News International mastheads without a Murdoch name for the first time in many years.
The official reason News Corp. is providing for James' departure is his recent relocation from London to New York, but a more-realistic explanation is his increasingly-evident involvement in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
The move is not exactly unexpected, particularly after Rupert Murdoch returned to London earlier in the month, and was joined - not by James - but by his older brother Lachlan, once thought to be his father's successor until Lachlan's own falling out with News Corp in 2005.
Rupert Murdoch, however, still publicly supporting his younger son, saying in a statement, "We are all grateful for James' leadership at News International and across Europe and Asia, where he has made lasting contributions." Et cetera.
Joining me now, columnist for The Guardian, author of "The Man Who Owns the News" - the man who owns this story, Michael Wolff. It's good to see you, Michael.
MICHAEL WOLFF: Great to be back.
OLBERMANN: The "he wanted out" answer seems to have gotten a lot of traction. Is it truth or is it just really good spin?
WOLFF: Let me just step back a second. Essentially, since last summer - since the closing of The World, I mean - things have constricted around James. He's - his loss of credibility, his increasing toxicity - so I think that, at some point, you can say he lost his job. He lost his role, his standing, his power, even his presence within the company. Nobody had spoken to James. He's the shadow man.
WOLFF: And I think, because of the structure of this company - his father is the chairman and CEO, he himself, with his siblings, controls the voting shares of this company - nobody can say, "Go."
It was, I think, everyone waiting for him to say, "Okay, I understand, you know, and I should go and not be a distraction," or whatever they say. And still - so that's partly what he said today - but still he didn't say it entirely, because they can't give this up, and so the fig leaf that he's coming to America and he's going to be in television and blah, blah, blah. Nothing. He is - he has, in practice, departed this company.
OLBERMANN: So if this is, indeed - to some degree - his choice, if not his intent, why the timing of it now, when this newest of scandals involving his son and bribing military and government officials has just crested over Britain. Coincidental?
WOLFF: I think it's -
OLBERMANN: It's bad timing, then. Isn't it?
WOLFF: I mean, I think it is, partly. But I think it is just - everything now is beginning to converge. You know, I think a lot of people ask, "Why is this taking so long?" We're now longer than Watergate here.
And I think that the reason has to do partly with the way British law works. One of the things is that there's no plea bargaining in Britain after you're charged. There is plea bargaining, however, before you're charged. So I think everybody - Rebekah, Andy Coulson, everybody involved in this - is now having their discussions. So it just moves more and more - and I think it was the moment, the propitious moment, for James to step out of the U.K.
OLBERMANN: Where did Lachlan come back from? I thought he was out of the picture entirely, the other son.
WOLFF: Well, remember, they can't be out of the picture entirely. Each of the four adult children controls 25 percent of the voting shares. All of their wealth is tied up in this company, and they remain a very close family, albeit with enormous tensions that have built up.
I think Lachlan came back because his father wanted him. His father needed someone - someone there, I think. I think Lachlan - remember, this is a - this is a close family. But does Lachlan want back in? Absolutely not.
You know, Lachlan is - is - has made his decision. He is in Australia. I think he would like a piece of this company. I think he would like to run Australia or own Australia but he certainly does not want to come back to New York and - or to London or to anywhere in the frying pan.
OLBERMANN: All right, did James' departure impact, at all, Rupert Murdoch's intermediate future with this company? Is it any kind of symbolization of what might happen, in terms of this scandal?
WOLFF: Well, I think it is. I mean, I think it is just part of - you know the Murdochs are problematic in terms of this company.
WOLFF: And I think - I mean, essentially, the Murdochs, now, have been congregated around the part of the company that is - is a downside. There's no upside here.
I mean, the bulk of this company - the entertainment and sports company, which comprises, by far, the vast part of its revenues and virtually all of its profits - is now run by Chase Carey, with Murdoch almost entirely uninvolved. So here, the Murdoch family is just in this - in terrible legacy imbroglio.
OLBERMANN: But, Rupert's - the biggest smile on Rupert's face in a year was when The Sun on Sunday opened its newspapers. He gets to play with the newspaper while more responsible people run the company.
WOLFF: And those people say, "Oh, my God. How wonderful it is that Rupert is running a newspaper some 3,000 miles away?"
OLBERMANN: He can - he can continue - he can sell it door to door if he wants to, and so he can have that little portion of the company indefinitely?
WOLFF: Well no, I don't think so because I think the - the legal jeopardy is coming down on this - on this part of the company. I mean, this is - you have this other part of the company - enormously healthy, enormously profitable - and it is going to, it has been, and will continue to be, infected by this other part. So they have to do something. They're going to have to cut off, and they're already beginning to talk openly about this.
OLBERMANN: All right. Michael Wolff, great thanks for coming in. "The Man Who Owns the News." And thank you, once again, for explaining James Murdoch's departure for us.
That's "Countdown" for this, the 420th day since John Boehner and the Republicans took the House. Thus, 420 days in which Republicans have failed to pass a jobs bill of any kind.
Congratulations on getting through another day of this crap. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.