Media conservatives have labeled MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann a "voice of paranoia" and accused him of perpetuating "idiotic conspiracy theories" for his sustained spotlight on the numerous local news reports of voting irregularities during the November 2 presidential election. Olbermann's emphasis during Countdown with Keith Olbermann on voting irregularities has been part of a critique of what he has called the "Rube Goldberg voting process of ours" -- as well as a criticism of the major media outlets' failure to report on the irregularities.
In her November 11 nationally syndicated column, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter falsely asserted that Olbermann has been "peddling the theory that Bush stole the election" and referred to "Olbermann's idiotic conspiracy theory." A November 14 column by associate editor Bill Steigerwald in the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (owned by right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife) claimed Olbermann "really made a Dan Rather of himself" by focusing a segment of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann on allegations of voter fraud. And in his November 10 "Inside Politics" column, Washington Times columnist Greg Pierce quoted the conservative Media Research Center's analysis of Olbermann's coverage:
"With 'Did Your Vote Count? The Plot Thickens' as his on-screen header, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Monday night led his 'Countdown' program with more than 15 straight minutes of paranoid and meaningless claims about voting irregularities in states won by President Bush," the Media Research Center reports at www.mediaresearch.org.
But Olbermann has not suggested that the election was stolen. Discussing the possible causes of the bevy of reported voting irregularities from around the country, Olbermann offered this analysis on the November 10 edition of Countdown:
There are really only three possible explanations for all of this. The first is hoped for virtually unanimously by supporters of every candidate and every party -- namely, that all those elected last Tuesday got in because that's the way the people voted. The second is that some of them got in through manipulation of a series of insufficiently sophisticated, insufficiently secure computer voting machines that might be hacked into by the nearest 9-year-old. But the third possibility is actually more heart-stopping still, one that threatens the democracy in the way 100 terrorist rings could not -- that the president or the District 90 dog catcher or other Republicans or other Democrats were elected because a series of insufficiently sophisticated, insufficiently secure computer voting machines was affected by bad design, bad use, damp ballots, power surges, and/or static cling.
Olbermann's commitment to addressing voting irregularities has been coupled with commentary on the lack of media coverage they have received, which Media Matters for America has also noted. "Even assuming there's nothing nefarious about the national election," Olbermann asked Newsweek senior editor and columnist Jonathan Alter, "why has the cascade of irregularities around this country occurred virtually in a news blackout?" Alter responded by saying that "I'm not justifying this, but by way of explanation, I think it is that there's no sense that, with a three-and-a-half-million vote difference [between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry], that this would affect the outcome, even if there were widespread irregularities found." On the November 11 edition of Countdown, Congressional Quarterly columnist and MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford offered another perspective: "The glib answer, which is part of the truth, is I think everybody was tired after that election. ... [W]e're often wimps in the media. And we wait for other people to make charges, one political party or another, and then we investigate it."
In a November 14 entry on his MSNBC.com weblog, Olbermann responded to the attacks on him by citing the gradual increase in attention the voting irregularities issue is receiving among the mainstream press:
On Friday, [NBC News correspondent] David Shuster, who has already done some excellent research at Hardblogger [the MSNBC.com weblog associated with MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews], did a piece on the mess for Hardball, and Chris followed up with a discussion with Joe Trippi and Susan Molinari. There was a cogent, reasoned, unexcited piece about the mechanics of possible tampering and/or machine failure on CNN's "Next" yesterday, and Saturday alone there were serious news pieces in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Los Angeles Times, Salt Lake Tribune, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. NPR did a segment of its "On The Media" on the topic (with said blogger as the guest).
And today the New York Times continues its series of "Making Vote Counts" editorials with a pretty solid stance on the necessity of journalistic and governmental proof that the elections weren't tampered with. ... I suspect the coverage is going to go through the roof as the news spreads that [presidential candidate Ralph] Nader has gotten his recount in New Hampshire, and that the Greens and Libertarians are actually going to get their Ohio recount. When reporters discover what Jonathan Turley pointed out to us on Tuesday's show, namely that 70% of Ohio's votes were done with punch cards and as Florida proved in 2000, in court, a lot of those punch cards -- as Jon put it -- "turn over," I suspect there will be long-form television on the process.