When witty bastard Keith Olbermann returned to TV at the very end of March with a new MSNBC news show, Countdown With Keith Olbermann, he promised Washington Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes that he wouldn't horse around with the format. With Dan Patrick, Olbermann revolutionized the sports highlight show, SportsCenter (ESPN) in the early '90s by supplementing the clips with their cleverly scripted copy. Olbermann brought similar cheekiness to the news with his first MSNBC show, The Big Show, in 1997.
But with Countdown, he insisted, he would tamp his sense of humor down and play it straight and earnest. "Our charge for the immediate future is to stay out of the way of the news," he told de Moraes. "News is the news. We will not be screwing around with it."
Fortunately, the "immediate future" lasted about one week. As coalition troops began their rout of Baghdad in early April, Olbermann returned to form, blending his shtick into the mix as he's always done.
On April 7, as he rolled tape of an Army Humvee battering down a mahogany door at a Saddam palace, Olbermann gave Countdown his SportsCenter best: "And, ding-dong! Avon calling!" Following Iraqi Minister of Information Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahhaf's denials that U.S. troops were in Baghdad, Olbermann deadpanned a shot at his former employers at Fox: "Mr. al-Sahhaf added that he thought his assessment of the military situation was 'fair and balanced.' "
The next day, Olbermann trashed Fox News Channel megalomaniac Geraldo Rivera with this vignette, courtesy of St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Dean Staley, who was embedded with the 101st Airborne. [Correction, April 30, 2003: Staley reports for KSTP-TV.] Rivera had just disgraced himself and Fox News by violating the embed pact when he revealed the position and direction of the forward unit he was traveling with. Let's go to the tape:
Last week [the 101st Airborne was] kind of surprised to see a Humvee drive up to their camp in Iraq, and who should pop out—like the guys in the clown car at the circus—but Geraldo Rivera and his crew. Reporter Staley said a handful of the men of the 101st wanted pictures with Rivera or autographs, but most just wanted to shake his hand. Apparently, that was not exactly what it appeared to be. We later found out, Staley says, a few who shook his hand had put those hands in unmentionable places prior.
And then comes the SportsCenter-esque punch line:
Little did those soldiers know they still got the worse end of that handshake.
Other great bits of collected Olbermann Countdown shtick:
Good evening. Well, they wanted Saddam Hussein dead or alive, and now they have gotten him exactly that way—dead or alive. …
When they won't fight, the war tends to be over. …
Tough time … to be French and German—as I am.
We are sorry Saddam Hussein can't come to the war right now; please leave a message after the beep. …
The old Europe meets the "axis of evil"; making matters more intriguing, they're talking Shiite.