Countdown with Keith Olbermann: Wikis


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Countdown with Keith Olbermann
Countdown with Keith Olbermann logo.jpg

The current title shot
Format Political Commentary
Presented by Keith Olbermann
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes 1,200+ as of April 2008[1]
Location(s) Secaucus, New Jersey
(April 3, 2003—October 19, 2007)
New York City
(October 22, 2007—present)
Running time 60 minutes
Original channel MSNBC
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
1080i (HDTV)
Original run March 31, 2003 (2003-03-31) – present
External links
Official website

Countdown with Keith Olbermann is an hour-long weeknight news and political commentary program[2] on MSNBC which airs live at 8 p.m. Eastern Time and reruns at 10 p.m., 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. on weekdays, other than Fridays, when there are typically no subsequent re-runs. The show, hosted by Keith Olbermann, debuted on March 31, 2003, and counts down five selected news stories of the day with news reports and interviews with guests, along with commentary by Olbermann. On February 15, 2007 Olbermann received a four-year contract extension, which includes two Countdown primetime specials on NBC.[citation needed]

At the start of Countdown, Olbermann told television columnist Lisa de Moraes that "our charge for the immediate future is to stay out of the way of the news.... News is the news. We will not be screwing around with it.... As times improve and the war ends we will begin to introduce more and more elements familiar to my style." On rival commentator Bill O'Reilly, with whom Olbermann would later cultivate a feud, he stated, "I'm not looking to take down Bill. It will be a totally different program. It will not be a show in which opinion and facts are juxtaposed so as to appear to be the same thing."[3] The show is known for Olbermann's fast-paced rhetorical style, historical and pop culture references, and liberal commentary. Olbermann melds news stories, both serious and light, with commentary, much of it critical of Republicans and conservative politics. The show has been the source of some controversy due to these criticisms, as well as its host's ongoing criticism of Fox News Channel, to which he refers using a variety of satirical names ("Fox Noise" and "Fixed News"), and his feud with Bill O'Reilly of Fox's The O'Reilly Factor, whose show runs directly opposite.[citation needed]

Since October 22, 2007, the show airs live from NBC Studios 1A's Second Floor at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City, and is currently published shortly thereafter each weeknight in its commercial-free entirety as a free podcast available via the iTunes Store, Zune Marketplace, and other RSS readers- as well as in segment form, with shorter interstitial ads, on the show's web site.[citation needed]


About the show


Substitute hosts

Former The Most host Alison Stewart was the primary guest host for Countdown until the end of 2007. During that period guest hosts included Alex Witt, David Shuster (a regular contributor to the show), Amy Robach, and Brian Unger. From April 2008 until September 2008 Rachel Maddow hosted Countdown in Olbermann's absence. This ended when she was given her own show The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.[4] Since then, guest hosts have included Tamron Hall, Richard Wolffe, and former Vermont governor and DNC chairman Howard Dean. During the second half of 2009 and beginning of 2010; Lawrence O'Donnell has become the regular guest host, filling in frequently as Olbermann has cited the need to spend more time with his ailing father.[5][6]

Special comments

In late August 2006, Olbermann started delivering occasional "Special Comments" in which he has expressed sharp criticisms of members of the Bush administration, including then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. As of November 10, 2008, Olbermann has delivered forty of these commentaries, as well as a series of about ten "Campaign Comments" during the final weeks of the 2008 presidential election. While the majority of these comments have been directed at members of the Republican Party, Olbermann also directed two Special Comments in the first half of 2008 at Senator Hillary Clinton, criticizing aspects of her campaign for the Democratic nomination. One of Olbermann's Special Comments also spoke out against the passage of Proposition 8 in California on November 4, 2008,[7][8] for which he was awarded the 2009 GLAAD Media Award for "Outstanding TV Journalism Segment".[9]

Olbermann's "Special Comments" have been both compared to and contrasted with Edward R. Murrow's signature essays.[10][11][12]

At the end of the years 2006 and 2007, four of Olbermann's comments from the year were gathered as a special program during the Christmas and New Years holidays.

'Hall of Shame' segment

The "Hall of Shame" segment is a nightly feature (typically the "Second Story in the Countdown") in which Olbermann recounts a recent news story involving people saying or doing something that Olbermann finds objectionable. "Nominees" for the "Hall of Shame" are ranked at the bronze medal level, silver and gold. While many of his targets are not political, the overwhelming majority that are political are conservatives or former members of the Bush administration.[13]

The segment used to be referred to as "Worst Person in the World." Olbermann changed the name to Countdown's "Hall of Shame", starting on the February 24, 2010 program.

The most frequent recipient of this award is Fox News Channel commentator Bill O'Reilly. Olbermann repeatedly named O'Reilly his "Worst Person in the World" winner (gold medalist), and awarded him a clean sweep of all three positions ("Worse", "Worser", and "Worst") twice, the first time on November 30, 2005[14] and the second on November 10, 2008. Other frequent recipients include Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Fox News founder and chairman Rupert Murdoch, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and columnist Ann Coulter.

Based on this segment of the show, a book titled The Worst Person in the World was published in September 2006. It included transcripts of segments that aired from this feature's inception on July 1, 2005, through May 31, 2006, as well as some original material.[15]

The "Keith number"

During the 2008 U.S. Presidential Primary season, Olbermann began using the term "Keith number" in reference to the sum of a pre-election opinion poll's margin of error and the percentage of respondents who are undecided. Olbermann believes this value tends to be predictive of the extent to which a poll may vary from actual election results, and also of the volatility of the electorate's leanings.[16]

To summarize:

  • The greater the poll's margin of error, the farther the results may be from the current views of the voters.
  • The more undecided voters, the more likely voters are to change their views in the future.

On the January 11, 2008 episode of Countdown, Olbermann described the number as follows:

What, you ask, is the ‘Keith number‘? This is the margin of error plus the percentage of undecided — in this case, four-and-a-half margin of error plus five percent undecided. I thought of it, so I named it after myself. You think of a better caveat for polls from now on and we‘ll name it after you.[17]

Olbermann's "Keith number" is unrelated (mathematically or otherwise) to the more traditional use of the term.


Guests regularly featured on the show as of March 2010 include:[18]

Regular contributors in the show's broadcast history have included:

Interviews with comedians are featured regularly during the final segment of the show; notable appearances have included George Carlin, Lewis Black, Richard Lewis, Mo Rocca, and John Cleese.

Olbermann vs. O'Reilly

Countdown has been a vehicle for Olbermann's criticism of and rivalry with Fox News Channel commentator Bill O'Reilly, whose show The O'Reilly Factor occupies the same time slot as Countdown. In addition to often naming O'Reilly "Worst Person in the World", Olbermann frequently lampoons him in other ways, including referring to him by several nicknames, including Ted Baxter, and when quoting O'Reilly will often do so by impersonating Ted Knight's Ted Baxter voice.

O'Reilly has never directly addressed Olbermann's criticisms and has rarely mentioned Olbermann by name; instead, O'Reilly has critiqued NBC and MSNBC, accusing them of smearing him and of displaying a left-wing bias. Early in 2006 O'Reilly petitioned MSNBC for the cancellation of Olbermann's show and for the return of Phil Donahue to Olbermann's slot, stating that Donahue's ratings far exceeded those of Countdown. During the January 30, 2006 edition of the O'Reilly Factor's "Talking Points Memo" segment, O'Reilly criticized NBC Universal, the parent company of MSNBC for "taking cheap shots at Fox News on a regular basis...for some time."[19]

Save the tapes

When O'Reilly was sued for sexual harassment in October 2004 by his former producer, Andrea Mackris, Olbermann urged Mackris to take a payout of $99,000 (US) in exchange for, allegedly, a tape of a phone call that O'Reilly made to Mackris, in which he incorrectly referred to a loofah as a falafel.[20] The lawsuit settled out of court and no tapes were ever made public. Subsequently, Olbermann used the word "falafel" often when referring to O'Reilly, [21][22]

"Fire Olbermann" petition

On February 22, 2006, O'Reilly initiated an online petition, that did not mention Olbermann by name, to have MSNBC remove Olbermann from the 8pm EST timeslot, purportedly to have former slot host Phil Donahue's show reinstated. The petition was in the form of a letter addressed to Wright saying: "We, the undersigned, are becoming increasingly concerned about the well-being of MSNBC and, in particular, note the continuing ratings failure of the program currently airing weeknights on that network at 8:00 p.m. EST".[23] Olbermann responded two days later on Countdown by playing a selection of disparaging television clips featuring O'Reilly [24] and mocked the whole affair by joining several MSNBC staffers, including Tucker Carlson and Dan Abrams, in signing the petition to have himself fired.

"Fox News Security" incident

Two weeks later, on March 3, 2006, Olbermann reported on an incident in which O'Reilly dropped a caller, identified as "Mike" from Orlando, Florida (ultimately identified as liberal blogger Mike Stark) from his live radio show, seemingly for mentioning Olbermann's name. O'Reilly accused the caller of being part of a larger group of individuals that had been calling O'Reilly with the sole purpose of mentioning Olbermann. The caller said, “I like to listen to you during the day. I think Keith Olbermann's show…” when O'Reilly cut in, responding to “Mike” as follows:

Mike is — he's a gone guy. You know, we have his — we have your phone numbers, by the way. So, if you're listening, Mike, we have your phone number, and we're going to turn it over to Fox security, and you'll be getting a little visit. […] When you call us, ladies and gentlemen, just so you know, we do have your phone number, and if you say anything untoward, obscene or anything like that, Fox security then will contact your local authorities, and you will be held accountable. Fair?[25]

Criticism and response

The Media Research Center (MRC), a conservative media content analysis organization, has been very critical of Keith Olbermann since he became the Countdown host. The organization has asserted that he has a liberal bias in the form of being overly critical of President George W. Bush, attacking Fox and O'Reilly, starting off his newscast with what it claims to be unimportant stories with a left wing motive, and ignoring the Bush administration's side of the story. MRC has also accused Olbermann of allegedly supporting Bush's impeachment, among other practices.[26] Bloggers from, a conservative blogsite owned by the Media Research Center, have also asserted that Olbermann exclusively chooses guests who reinforce his point of view.[27] MRC issued a press release describing Olbermann's November 1, 2006 Special Comment as "preaching hate speech", and describing Olbermann as "a brown-shirted left-winger spew[ing] hate from an NBC-owned podium."[28] ("Brown-shirt" is a term that was used to describe the Sturmabteilung paramilitary organization of the German Nazi party).

In response, Olbermann has on a number of occasions named MRC founder Brent Bozell, whom he has described variously as "Redbeard the pirate",[29] and "humorist",[30] the "worst person in the world" for various comments he has made about Countdown and other topics, such as Bozell's criticism of the New York Times for sponsoring the 2006 Gay Games.[31] The anchor has also said that the MRC desires "an institutionalized, pro-Republican slant" in the media.[32]

Olbermann has addressed the assertions of liberal bias by stating that he would be equally critical of a Democratic president who had invited criticism by his actions: "I mean, no one in 1998, no one accused me of being a liberal in 1998 because I was covering the Lewinsky scandal. And whatever I had to do about it, I tried to be fair and honest and as accurate and as informed as possible, and allow my viewer to be the same way. And nowadays it's the same thing. And now all of a sudden I’m a screaming liberal."[33] However, Howard Kurtz has written that Olbermann departed MSNBC the first time as a result of the Clinton-Lewinsky coverage, which he did not personally agree with.[34] The MRC responded by noting that they criticized him in 1998 for comparing Ken Starr to Heinrich Himmler.[35]

On November 25, 2006, Fox News Watch's panelist Cal Thomas named Olbermann as his choice for 2006's "Media Turkey Award" for what Thomas alleged were Olbermann's "inaccuracies" and "hot air".[36] Olbermann in turn gave the show the Bronze for "Worst Person in the World", not for naming him "Turkey of the Year", but for spelling his name "Olberman" on the onscreen graphic.[37]

Conservative radio talk show host Michael Medved has criticized Keith Olbermann's picks for Worst Person In The World, saying that it's "no terrorists, all conservatives". He went on to say, "If you have a segment called 'The Worst Person In The World', isn't it striking when you've chosen Ann Coulter twenty times, and never chosen an Islamic terrorist?"[citation needed] Olbermann gave Medved "Worst Persons" honors on October 1, 2007 in response to his column titled "Six inconvenient truths about the U.S. and slavery,"[38] and chided him to "go back to reviewing movies."

After first depicting the host's style as "the leer, the smug histrionics, the relentless needling, the shameless self-puffery, the accusatory rants..."; the show's absence of guests who challenge Olbermann's views was noted by Howard Rosenberg in a commentary published in the Los Angeles Times. "At least O'Reilly invites dissenters to his lair (if only to disembowel them)," wrote Rosenberg, "Whereas "Countdown" is more or less an echo chamber in which Olbermann and like-minded bobbleheads nod at each other."[39]


  1. ^ "Transcript for April 3". Countdown with Keith Olbermann. MSNBC. April 3, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-05. 
  2. ^ Barnhart, Aaron (2008-01-06). "Keith Olbermann enjoys big success and very little wisdom". Kansas City Star. "“Is this a straight newscast at this point?” Olbermann said. “Probably not. It is, however, entirely news-driven. If there is no daily controversy about the Iraq war, we’re not going to start the show with one.”" 
  3. ^ Shafer, Jack (2003-04-29). "SportsCenter for news junkies.". Slate Magazine. 
  4. ^ Barnhart, Aaron (2008-06-14). "MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow are young, geeky and hot". Kansas City Star. 
  5. ^ "Countdown for Monday, 1 March 2010". Countdown with Keith Olbermann. MSNBC. 2010-03-01.
  6. ^ "Keith Olbermann's Emotional Special Comment: 'My Father Asked Me To Kill Him'". Huffington Post. 2001-02-24. Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  7. ^ Landau, Erica (November 11, 2008). "Olbermann on Prop 8: 'It's About the Human Heart'". The Nation. 
  8. ^ Bryant, Adam (November 11, 2008). "Keith Olbermann Inks New Deal, Lets Loose on California Gay Marriage Ban". TV Guide. 
  9. ^ "Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation - Media Award recipients". Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  10. ^ Kitman, Marvin. "Olbermann Rules!". The Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  11. ^ Nevius, C.W.. "Olbermann taps a well of discontent as the anti-O'Reilly". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  12. ^ Boyer, Peter J., One Angry Man: Is Keith Olbermann changing TV news? In the New Yorker, June 23, 2008.
  13. ^ "The "Worst" of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann". Media Research Center. 2006-06-26. Retrieved 2006-09-02. 
  14. ^ "Media Matters - O'Reilly sweep: Olbermann gives O'Reilly bronze, silver, and gold medals for "Worst Person in the World&quot". Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  15. ^ Olbermann, Keith (September 15, 2006). "The Worst Person in the World". MSNBC. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  16. ^ Blumenthal, Mark (February 14, 2008). "The Keith number". Mystery Pollster. National Journal. Retrieved 2008-04-05. 
  17. ^ 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 11 - Countdown with Keith Olbermann -
  18. ^ " An Unofficial Keith Olbermann Archive and Fan Site". Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  19. ^ "Network Rivalry". The O'Reilly Factor. Fox News. 2006-01-30.,2933,183292,00.html. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  20. ^ Daniel Kurtzman's Political Humor Blog at "10 Mind-Numbingly Stupid Quotes by Bill O'Reilly" (see #4).
  21. ^ Daniel Kurtzman's Political Humor Blog at "O'Reilly vs. Olbermann: The Falafel-Guy Fatwa."
  22. ^ The New Yorker: "[ The Wayward Press -- Fear Factor]."
  23. ^ Petition, February 22, 2006
  24. ^ "Late Night: Olbermann signs O'Reilly's Petition" Crooks and Liars. February 24, 2006
  25. ^ "Audio Clip of Mike Stark's Call to O'Reilly". 2006-03-02. 
  26. ^ "Keith Itching for Impeachment". February 13, 2006 and " - Keith Olbermann"
  27. ^ "'Brad Wilmouth's blog' on". NewsBusters.\. Retrieved 2007-12-08. 
  28. ^ Media Research Center (November 2, 2006). "MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann Preaches Hate Speech And Liberal Media Are Silent". Press release. Retrieved 2008-09-11. 
  29. ^ "'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for October 25th, 2005". Transcript. MSNBC. October 25, 2005. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  30. ^ "'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 13, 2006". Transcript. MSNBC. July 13, 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  31. ^ "Olbermann crowned Bozell "Worst Person" runner-up for claiming NY Times is "rooting for the homosexual revolution"". Media Matters for America. July 14, 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  32. ^ Olbermann: MRC Wants "Institutionalized, Pro-Republican Slant". March 16, 2005
  33. ^ "Q & A." March 12, 2006. C-SPAN. Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners. Retrieved on January 24, 2009.
  34. ^ "Howard Kurtz - The Anti-Bush Anchor -". Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  35. ^ Tim Graham (2006-03-13). "Waxing Hypothetical, Olbermann Hails Demise of Fox News as 'Best Hope of Mankind'". Retrieved 2006-09-17. 
  36. ^ Brad Wilmouth (2006-11-27). "FNC's Cal Thomas Names Keith Olbermann Turkey of the Year". Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  37. ^ "'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for November 28 (transcript)". November 28, 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-05. 
  38. ^ Medved, Michael (September 26, 2007). "Six inconvenient truths about the U.S. and slavery". Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  39. ^ "Is Olbermann's snide act on MSNBC the future of TV news? - Los Angeles Times".,0,834902.story. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 

External links

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MSNBC Weekday Lineup
8:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m. (ET)
Succeeded by
The Rachel Maddow Show
Preceded by
The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC Weekday Lineup
10:00 p.m.–11:00 p.m. (ET)
Succeeded by
Hardball (replay)
Preceded by
The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC Weekday Lineup
4:00 a.m.–5:00 a.m. (ET)
Succeeded by
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