I've always been a big fan of Keith Olbermann, though I became a follower back in his KTLA and KCBS days doing sports in L.A. The best pre-game and post-game shows I ever saw were those he did during the Lakers’ championship runs of the late 80s.
Flash forward 20 years later and Olbermann has truly become our Edward R. Murrow, putting into prose courageous words that nevertheless speak the truth.
With that, here are his extraordinary words on the fifth anniversary of 9/11… Video is here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=6LylYbeLyMI
OLBERMANN: And lastly tonight, a special comment on why we are here. Half a lifetime ago I worked in the now empty space behind me. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what had happened and was yet to happen, as a reporter. And all the time I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my own friends, two in the planes and as I discovered from the missing posters, seared still into my soul, two more in the towers. And I knew as well that this is the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more as our ancestors.
I belabor this to emphasize for me this was and is and always shall be personal, and anyone who claims that I and others like me are soft or have forgotten the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic dilettante and at worst an idiot, whether he is a commentator or a vice president or a president.
However, of all the things of those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast, of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds, none of us could have predicted this. Five years later this space is still empty. Five years later there is no memorial to the dead. Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us by cowards and criminals. Five years later this country‘s wound is still open. Five years later this country‘s mass grave is still unmarked. Five years later this is still just a background for a photo op. It is beyond shameful.
At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial, barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field, Mr. Lincoln said, “We cannot dedicate. We cannot consecrate. We cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated far above our poor power to add or detract.”
Lincoln used those words to immortal words to their sacrifice. Today they could use those words to rationalize their own reprehensible inaction. We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground, so they won‘t.
Instead they bicker and buck-pass. They thwart private efforts and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars and elaborate self-congratulations and buying off columnists to write you on good a job they‘re doing, instead of doing any job at all.
Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets and look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres the terrorists are clearly still winning. And in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed, but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.
And there is something worse still than this vast-gaping hole in this city and in the fabric of our nation, there is its symbolism, of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath reduced to lazy execution. The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity here and throughout the country. The government, the president in particular, was given every possible measure of support. Those who did not belong to his party, tabled that. Those who doubted the mechanics of his election, ignored that. Those who wondered of his qualifications, forgot that.
History teaches you that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation‘s wounds, but to take political advantage.
Terrorists did not steal our newly regained sense of being American first and political 50th, nor did the democrats, nor did the media, nor did the people. The president and those around him did that.
They promised bipartisanship and then showed that to them bipartisanship meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow or be branded with ever escalating hysteria as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers. As those who, in the vice president‘s words, yesterday, “validate the strategy of the terrorists.”
They promised protection and then showed that to them protection meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al Qaeda as much as we did.
The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped in to supporting a war on the false premise it had something to do with 9/11, is “lying by implication.” The impolite phrase is “impeachable offense.”
Not once, in now five years, has this president ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space and to this the current and curdled version of our beloved country.
Still, there is a snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness. Even his most virulent critics have never suggested that he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.
Half the time, in fact, this present has been so gently treated that he is seen not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.
Yet, what is happening this very night, the miniseries, created, influenced, possibly financed by the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavelli continues to be televised into our homes. The documented truths of the last 15 years are replaced by bold-faced lies, the talking points of the current regime parroted the whole sorry story blurred by spin to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent and the party in office seem like the only option.
How dare you, Mr. President? After taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love and transmuting both into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear in to the campaign slogan of three elections. How dare you or those around you ever spin 9/11?
Just as the terrorists have succeeded, are still succeeding, as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero, so too have they succeeded and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.
This is an odd point to site a television program, especially one from March of 1960, but as Disney‘s continuing sell-out of the truth and of this country suggests, even television program can be powerful things.
And long ago, a series called the “Twilight Zone” broadcast a riveting episode entitled “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” In brief, a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extraterrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out, a neighbor pleads for calm, suddenly his car and only his car starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man‘s lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An alien is shot, but then he turns out to be just another neighbor returning from having gone from help.
The camera pulls back to a nearby hill where two extraterrestrial are seen, finally, manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there is no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it is themselves.
And then in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves, tonight. “The tools of conquest,” he said, “do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record,” he said, “prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own for the children and the children yet unborn.”
When those who dissent are told time and time again, as we will be if not tonight by the president, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus, that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use that any of that freedom we are somehow un-American. When we are scolded if we merely question, we have “forgotten the lessons of 9/11,” look in to this empty space behind me and the bipartisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me this—who has left this hole in the ground?
We have not forgotten, Mr. President. You have.
May this country forgive you.