It was nearly midnight before Keith Olbermann left the NBC News election studio on May 13th, having spent five hours on the air, co-anchoring coverage of the West Virginia Democratic primary.
Olbermann had a short ride home from Rockefeller Plaza to his condominium on the Upper East Side, and he was in bed by 2 .
Reclining exacerbates the condition, so Olbermann got out of bed, took a pill for the ailment, and, while waiting for the drug to kick in, scrolled through his Black Berry, scanning recent messages. It was a link to the Web site Politico, which featured an interview conducted that day with President Bush.
Olbermann was struck by two questions from the interview, and by Bush’s answers to them: Q: Mr. I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf. He e-mailed copies to his producers, and then he went to bed.
Growing up in suburban Hastings-on-Hudson, in Westchester County, he was the sort of kid who, when his parents thought psychological testing was in order, responded to the Rorschach test by saying, “It looks like an inkblot.” Advised that Keith might be better served by a private education, his parents—Theodore, a commercial architect, and Marie, a preschool teacher—enrolled him at the Hackley School, in Tarrytown.
It wasn’t an easy adjustment; Keith had skipped a grade and was younger than anyone else in his class, and he wasn’t a jock.
If we were to pull out of Iraq next year, what’s the worst that could happen, what’s the doomsday scenario? Olbermann suddenly had another sensation, unrelated to neurology—a feeling, he later recalled, that was “like being hit by lightning.” He sat down at his computer and began to write. Olbermann’s original script identified the “cold-blooded killers” as everyone at the Pentagon and in the Bush Cabinet; when a colleague noted that that would include such relative moderates as Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Olbermann modified the line.
: Doomsday scenario of course is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States. After an hour, he had the first draft of a lacerating indictment of Bush, a twelve-minute-long (eighteen pages in teleprompter script) , addressed personally to the President.“Mr. D.s were imagined, Iraq was laid waste, and American freedoms were trashed. Phil Griffin, the senior vice-president in charge of MSNBC (“Phil thinks he’s my boss,” Olbermann says), raised the matter of tone.
Griffin was Olbermann’s first television producer, nearly thirty years ago, when both of them were at the start of their careers, Griffin as a CNN producer, Olbermann as an innovative, eccentric radio sportscaster making his first foray into television.
It was Griffin’s job to handle Olbermann, to teach him about the frenetic, video-hungry new world of cable news.