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Elvis Is Back (And Now Reissued)

Elvis Presley is constantly being discovered by new generations, and by older fans in new stages of life. Critic Milo Miles talks about the surprise rewards he found while listening to the new reissue Elvis Is Back! — and during his first visit to Graceland in Memphis.


Other segments from the episode on February 7, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 7, 2011: Interview with Keith Olbermann; Review of an old Elvis Presley album "Elvis is back!"


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Keith Olbermann: The 'Countdown' To His New Show


This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of, in for Terry
Gross. Terry's still a little under the weather, but yesterday, she recorded an
interview with Keith Olbermann, which we're about to hear.

(Soundbite of television program, "Countdown")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KEITH OLBERMANN (Political Commentator): I think the same fantasy has
popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what
I've been told, that this is going to be the last edition of your show. You go
directly to the scene from the movie "Network," complete with the pajamas and
the raincoat...

BIANCULLI: When Olbermann made that announcement on his show in January, that
after eight years, this would be his final edition of "Countdown," it came as a
shock to viewers. Olbermann's mix of political commentary, humor, satire and
heavy doses of sarcasm translated to good ratings for MSNBC.

The network's liberal evening lineup was built around his success. He pushed
for Rachel Maddow to get her own show. But Olbermann also is famous for
clashing with network executives, and his new boss is Al Gore.

Shortly after leaving MSNBC, he made a deal with Current TV, the cable network
co-founded by Gore, to start a new version of "Countdown." It premieres June

Olbermann first became known for his sports commentary. He co-anchored ESPN's
"SportsCenter" from 1992 to 1997. Before we hear Terry talk with Olbermann
about the old and new countdown, here's more of his final exit from MSNBC.

(Soundbite of television program, "Countdown")

Mr. OLBERMANN: Regardless, this is the last edition of "Countdown." It is just
under eight years since I returned to MSNBC. I was supposed to fill in for the
late Jerry Nachman for exactly three days. Forty-nine days later, there was a
four-year contract for me to return to this nightly 8 PM time slot, which I had
fled four years earlier.

The show gradually established its position as antiestablishment. From the
stagecraft of "Mission Accomplished" to the exaggerated rescue of Jessica Lynch
in Iraq, to the death of Pat Tillman, to Hurricane Katrina, to the nexus of
politics and terror to the first "Special Comment," the program grew and grew,
thanks entirely to your support with great rewards for me and, I hope, for you,

There were many occasions, particularly in the last two-and-a-half years, where
all that surrounded the show but never the show itself was just too much for
me. But your support and loyalty, and if I may use the word, insistence,
ultimately required that I keep going.

GROSS: Keith Olbermann, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your new
show that's about to start on Current TV. Now, your new show on Current TV will
be called "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," kind of like the old show. How is
it going to compare with the MSNBC "Countdown"?

Mr. OLBERMANN: It may strike viewers of both as fairly similar, if we're
successful at it. The one advantage in doing what I've attempted to do in the
last couple of months is that I know what the thing should look like, and the
people who I have hired to help me put the thing together and put it on the air
know what it should look like at the end, because some of us did that show for
about eight years at MSNBC.

And we will be trying to, in many senses, re-create it with some additional
bells and whistles, and probably a little bit more commentary. But the premise
is, the audience liked that show, so we're going to give them as much of that
show as we can.

GROSS: Will you be able to do or say anything on Current TV that you couldn't
do or say on MSNBC?

Mr. OLBERMANN: That's an interesting and philosophical question, and as you
know from your experience on this program, it's almost impossible to answer it
until you get an exact set of circumstances. You can try to say, in the
abstract: All right, well, I'll be free to say this now, and then you can't
really theorize of an exact set of circumstances that will apply while you try
to explain it.

So the broad answer is yes. The specific answer is I'll know it when I see it.
But the premise of the change was that what I saw coming for many years in the
entirety of television news - this is not specific to NBC or MSNBC - but I just
saw an environment growing, in which there were more and more conflicts of
interest within these large national corporations or even multinational
corporations. Where no matter what you said, you had the potential to affect
some other part of the big company's business.

And the more that that's true, the less they want you to say. And even if there
is no explicit attempt to censor or to proscribe or otherwise to interfere,
there becomes - the larger the corporation - the more fear in the part of the
people involved in its production.

So my hope was, you know, to go and get in an environment where there wouldn't
be any of that, and I think I've found it.

GROSS: Is there a specific story or interview you could cite where you felt
that executives at NBC were uncomfortable because it put one of the subsidiary
corporations, owned by the parent company, in a bad light?

Mr. OLBERMANN: No, I can't. I can't point to a specific example. But I think it
is well-documented that two summers ago - and I'm relying mostly on reporting
that I read in the New York Times to relate this to you, as opposed to anything
I knew firsthand - there were negotiations between GE and News Corp about what
should and should not be in each of their companies' news networks' content,
relative to each other's corporations.

And if you stop and think about that for a second, one of the cardinal tenets
of news is that you can't sign any kind of deal that tells people that you
might be covering that you're not going to cover them.

I mean, obviously there are restrictions like HFRs - hold for release - and
there are certain guidelines that might be given in terms of doing an
interview, as you well know. But on the other hand, in a general sense, you
can't just sit down and say: OK, we're not going to cover you guys at all, and
then in exchange for that, you're not going to cover us at all. It sort of
defeats the purpose.

If you know in advance what the news is not going to be, then the next step is
you're going to know in advance what the news is going to be, and then it's not
news anymore.

GROSS: OK, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think what you're describing here is
the fact that on your regular segment on "Countdown" called "Worst Persons in
the World," Bill O'Reilly, who was on opposite you on Fox News, he was usually
- he was very often the "Worst Person."

Mr. OLBERMANN: It was a strong candidate on all occasions, yeah.

GROSS: Right, and often the winner.


GROSS: In fact, let me play an example in which your parents companies actually
figured in to your commentary surrounding Bill O'Reilly's winning of "Worst

So the premise is that you're going to quote things that Bill O'Reilly said,
but you're going to quote in a kind of Ted Baxterish voice. And then you're
going to say what you think he really meant. So this is Keith Olbermann on one
of his "Worst Persons," where the winner was Bill O'Reilly.

(Soundbite of television program, "Countdown"

Mr. OLBERMANN: Fox News has good relationships with ABC News, CBS News and,
generally, CNN. That's probably why Fox bought those billboards across the
street from CNN headquarters, taunting them about ratings, or issued that
anonymous statement comparing CNN to the Titanic or the one about Ted Turner
losing his mind.

But "Talking Points" is troubled by the behavior of NBC, which cheap-shots Fox
News on a regular basis and has been doing so for some time. You know, I've got
to confess, it never occurred to me before, but when we quote your own words
back to you about the Catholic Church was out to get Christmas or how we should
let al-Qaeda attack San Francisco, they must seem like cheap shots.

GROSS: So Keith Olbermann, are you saying that executives at Fox News and NBC
didn't want you and O'Reilly going after each other?

Mr. OLBERMANN: You can appreciate the delicacy of my position, in terms of
stating things about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yes, I can.

Mr. OLBERMANN: What I can tell you is that it was widely reported at the time,
and to some things that I certainly did not know about, that Mr. Immelt of GE,
and Mr. Ailes, on behalf of Fox and News Corps., got together at Mr. Immelt's
office and just sort of batted back and forth what they could do to stop that.

And, you know, it's one thing if you say we need to tone things down, or it
just doesn't make a lot of sense for you to be devoting this much time to
covering this story or this enterprise or this political operation, which I
always viewed Fox News as a political operation and not a journalistic
operation. Those things are negotiable, and that's part of the give and take, I
think, of commercial broadcasting and commercial journalism.

When it gets larger than that, it becomes a question of, you know, where does
this proceed? I don't mean to be particularly critical of GE, which no longer
controls NBC, nor of NBC nor of Comcast, which now controls NBC, but there is a
- as a sort of statement relative to the entirety of this process, with ABC and
Disney and theme parks and CBS and outdoor advertising and a thousand other
things and other networks here and there - I just said: Look, this is the way
you want to run things? That's fine by me.

And in the back of my mind, I thought: At some point, I need to go to a place
where our business - and there would still be business considerations,
obviously in it - but our business would be one television network that covers
the news. And that's why I went to Current.

GROSS: Did you temporarily stop "Worst Persons" after you read about those

Mr. OLBERMANN: I - no, the timing on that is not correct. We stopped "Worst
Persons" more after - almost a year later. Jon Stewart's rally, where he talked
about some sort of improved tone on both parts of the political spectrum.

And I thought it was a bit overblown, but it wasn't an invalid point, and I
wanted to try to offer some sort of start to this backing-down process, and we
eliminated "Worst Persons" for a time, and nobody else did anything just to
improve the tone whatsoever.

So I brought it back, and then when Gabby Giffords got shot, I began to think:
What would the effect of a phrase like worst persons in the world have on
someone who might be a viewer of mine or read what I have written or anything
like that and not be fully in control of their own mind?

And I wanted to get away from it, and we did in fact stop it at that point, and
my hope is to refashion it on the Web and plan to bring it back on Current in a
form that's just a little milder, at least in terms of the name, so people
don't get the idea that, in any stretch of the imagination, I mean that those
people are the worst persons in the world.

Any three child molesters are far ahead on that list, any three terrorists, any
three murderers. So we're going to call it something like "Worst Persons of the
Day" or something milder like that, probably.

GROSS: If you're just joining, my guest is Keith Olbermann. He hosted
"Countdown" on MSNBC for eight years. He left MSNBC in January. He begins a new
version of "Countdown" June 20 on Current TV. That's the network that was co-
founded by Al Gore. Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Keith Olbermann, and for eight years, he hosted "Countdown"
on MSNBC, and now he's about to start a new version of "Countdown" on Current
TV, and that begins June 20 at 8 o'clock, his old MSNBC time.

So in terms of talking about charged language, this is a "Special Comment" that
you did that I found incredibly moving. Your father was dying, and he was dying
during the whole controversy about President Obama's health care plan, and
people were talking - the opposition to the plan were talking about, quote,
death panels.


GROSS: And so you talked about the need to confer with your doctors about what
the plan should be for your father, who seemed to, perhaps, not really want to
live any longer. And I want to play just a brief excerpt of that "Special
Commentary" that you did last year while your father was sick.

(Soundbite of television program, "Countdown")

Mr. OLBERMANN: And as I left the hospital that night, the full impact of these
last six months washed over me: what I had done; conferring with the resident
in ICU; the conversation about my father's panicky, not-in-complete-control-of-
his-faculties demand that all treatment now stop; about the options and the
consequences and the compromise; the sedation; the help for a brave man who
just needed a break. That conversation, that one, was what these ghouls who are
walking into Blair House tomorrow morning decided to call death panels.

Your right to have that conversation with a doctor, not the government, but a
doctor; and your right to have insurance pay for his expertise on what your
options are when Dad says kill me; or what your options are when Dad is in a
coma and can't tell you a damn thing; or what your options are when everybody
is healthy and happy and coherent, and you're just planning ahead; your right
to have the guidance and the reassurance of a professional who can lay that all
out for you, that's a, quote, "death panel," unquote.

That, right now, is the legacy of the protests of these subhumans who get paid
by the insurance companies, who say these things for their own political gain.
Or like that one fiend - for money. For money, Betsy McCaughey told people that
this conversation about life and death and relief and release, and also about
no, keep treating him no matter what happens, until the nation runs out of
medicine, she told people that's a death panel, and she did that for money.

It's a life panel, a life panel. It can save the pain of the patient and the
family. It is the difference between you guessing what happens next and you
being informed about what probably will. And that's the difference between you
sleeping at night or second-guessing and third-guessing and thirtieth-guessing

And it can also be the place where the family says: We want you to keep him
alive no matter what; we believe in miracles. And the doctor says yes. Nobody
gets to say no except the patient and the family. It's a life panel, and damn
those who call it otherwise to hell.

GROSS: OK, that's Keith Olbermann, doing a "Special Commentary" about a year
ago, when his father was in the hospital dying.

So, you know, I found your comments about your father very moving. At the same
time, I was wondering, like, did you really want to use words like ghouls and
subhumans to describe the people who were talking about death panels? And did
you really want to damn them to hell? Those are all really strong words.

Will you just - I'd be interested in how you decided to go with those words and
whether you'd continue using those words on Current TV, words as dehumanizing
as that, to describe people opposed to you.

Mr. OLBERMANN: Yes, and even stepping away a year and two months after my
father's death, nearly three, yes. My situation with my dad was the most
traumatic thing I ever went through in my life, and yet on the scale of things
that were going on just in the hospital in which he died, in which he was in a
surgical ICU for seven months, always on the verge of getting out and never
getting out.

We had the easiest time of it, because he and I had this perpetual dialogue
about what was going to happen and what I should do and what he wanted to do.
And yet we had it easiest, because money was not an issue; and because of my
name, doctors volunteered information and came in and talked to us very frankly
about what this would do and what that would do and what we would do if that
failed and what we do if that succeeded.

We had a dialogue about this every day, and it's still the most traumatic thing
I ever went through and I imagine is the most traumatic thing almost anybody
could go through under those circumstances - the decision I had to make without
him to discontinue his treatment.

And as we sat there - I mean, the first half of the whole thing was obviously
the subject of health care reform and the incredible burden the current system
has put on people who are suffering and trying to get well and worry more about
their money than their cancer. Separating it, even from that, this last issue,
this end-of-life issue, is I think, where people separate themselves from

And if you are Betsy McCaughey, or if you are Sarah Palin, and you actually
take this greatest possible comfort, the opportunity to get a little insurance
money back when you consult the doctor, and he spends 45 minutes just talking
to the two of you or whoever is involved in the process - you turn that on its
head and somehow make that into something to terrorize people - and I use that
word decidedly, as well - to terrorize people into believing that some doctor
is going to decide that they can't live anymore, when in fact, you are
liberating everybody involved in the process. In retrospect, because of the
consultation of those doctors and the fact that my father and I started talking
about what would happen to him in those circumstances, the day my mother died
the year before, we never stopped talking about it.

And we never stopped talking about it with the doctors, and my - in those
depths-of-soul issues, when you have those regrets about did I do this, was it
wrong, could he have gotten better, is it what he wanted - my margin of error
is a question of about plus or minus six hours as opposed to infinity.

I saw people in that hospital and talked to people in that hospital who had no
idea what to do, and who'd never had that conversation with their loved ones.

GROSS: So you're still OK with using the word subhuman?

Mr. OLBERMANN: I think that is subhuman. I think to turn that around not only
to - I can understand if you don't get it, if you're too foolish to understand
what this part of health care reform was intended to be. I can understand that
and forgive that, and those are not the subhumans, those are just people who
have not informed themselves or who are scared or just listened to political

But the people pushing this, who receive money from insurance companies to try
to terrify people into opposing something that will benefit them particularly
in this area, I cannot say: All right, we need to tone down politics in this
country and our language. I'm happy to do it in all circumstances except when
it's really true. And in my mind, this is really true.

GROSS: OK, so an answer to the question not toning down your political

Mr. OLBERMANN: That's right. All except in that case because obviously that's
very personal, and I went through it twice in two years or in a span of
actually less than one calendar year with my mom and my dad. And to have that
play out while this debate was going on and realize that my consuming issue
with this and how much it took over my life was the easy form was the eye-

And my father used to talk to about this all - we have it easy. What about
those other people out there? Why are they not being served? Is there nothing
that you can take out of political point-making? And the answer is: No, there
isn't. And if it's going to be - if that battle is going to be fought, if the
up or down on health care reform is going to be fought in this region, I think
anything is within bounds. Anything that's nonviolent is within bonds to
respond to people who would make that process more difficult for the dying and
for the people around the dying.

GROSS: Let me just be blunt and ask you a question here: How do you feel about
moving to Current TV, a network, which, according to the New York Times, as of
February had 23,000 viewers in primetime each night? You had about a million a
night on MSNBC.

Mr. OLBERMANN: Yes, those numbers I - I don't know about the current numbers. I
know the MSNBC numbers are correct. The issue in terms of ratings is how many
people have access to the program. And so the numbers that apply are MSNBC was,
and I suppose still is, in about 93 million American homes, and Current is in
60 million American homes.

So we're at a disadvantage. On the other hand, the network is five years old
and is the fastest to 60 million, I believe, in cable history in this country.
So the idea that I'm moving from a giant chateau to some sort of matchbox is a
bit of an exaggeration.

I am confident that since the major two issues for my viewers to follow me in
this task are whether or not they have access to the network. That's the big
leap. And for about a third of them, they will not.

The other two-thirds I'm asking them simply to learn a new sequence of three
digits and find that on their TVs and their cable. So I'm not too worried about

And in addition, to be blunt about the history of MSNBC, when I started
"Countdown" there in the end of March of 2003, we were in circumstances not
unlike what Current is in now. And I think at its beginning, we had perhaps
200,000 viewers. So I have been through this before, and like anything else, it
will grow based on how good it is and how well people can find it.

BIANCULLI: Keith Olbermann, speaking to Terry Gross in an interview recorded
yesterday. We'll have more of their conversation in the second half of the
show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

Let's get back to Terry's interview recorded yesterday with Keith Olbermann,
former host of "Countdown" on MSNBC. Beginning June 20th, Olbermann and his
"Countdown" show will return to television but on a new network, Current TV,
the network co-founded by Al Gore.

GROSS: Now I'm assuming you consider yourself a journalist but an opinion
journalist, as opposed to a reporter. Yes?

Mr. OLBERMANN: I think that's a – I think, I can be a reporter. I haven't done
it in the field for a long time, but yes. I think it's a good description.

GROSS: So do you think the ethics for an opinion journalist should be different
than for other journalists? And I guess one of the things I'm thinking of is...

Mr. OLBERMANN: I think I know where you're going with this.

GROSS: Yes. The whole controversy of you giving money, like donations, to three
Democratic candidates.

Mr. OLBERMANN: Yes. If you were purporting to do a straight news broadcast, if
you did the hourly radio newscast on CBS News and you donated money to a
campaign, that I can see a sincere conflict of interest. If you're doing a
political opinion show and your opinions are nearly universally liberal, and
you have been caught donating to Democratic candidates in three instances, I
don't think there's a conflict of interest. If the candidates had been donating
to you, I could see that as a problem. Or if you were, say, had made a donation
while interviewing them or in some period of time other than when you were not
covering them, it begins to get a little cloudy. But none of those things
applied to the instance last year when I donated to Jack Conway in Kentucky and
Gabby Giffords and Raul Grijalva in Arizona.

We had - I had done my last interview with Grijalva, and later that night I
made my donations. And my - nobody ever asked me why I made those donations to

GROSS: I'm going to ask you. Why did you make those donations?

Mr. OLBERMANN: Yeah. To those particular candidates, I knew people who knew
those campaigns very well and it really angered me that so much money had had
to have been spent in each of those cases for protection, for security against
death threats and threats of violence against staffers, against people just
showing up at events, and against the candidates themselves. And I thought that
in this case I needed to put my money where my mouth was. And I had no problem
with it coming out. There is, to me, a defeat of democracy if the threat of the
gun is always there. And as I think we saw, certainly in terms of the symbolism
is not the actual, as I said before, kind of straight line from A to B here. I
think what we saw with Gabby Giffords is the kind of chilling thing that has
happened in this political dialogue in the last few years, and I literally felt
angry enough to want to donate to campaigns for the first time in my life.

GROSS: So you felt a foreshadowing of that.

Mr. OLBERMANN: Yeah. Well, I mean if you hear that, you know, there in addition
to all the publicly reported things, they were dozens of other incidences that
- incidents that were not made public, I - yeah. It just seemed to me to be a
very dangerous time in American politics, and I think Gabby Giffords could tell
you that right now.

GROSS: So I was reading a feature story about you in New York magazine from a
while back, and it said that you don't vote. Is that true?

Mr. OLBERMANN: That's true.

GROSS: Now Jim Lehrer told me that he doesn't vote but he doesn't vote - I mean
he doesn't want to even think about taking a, having an opinion or taking
sides. He wants to be like do neutral, so like...


GROSS: ...immaculately neutral. No one can accuse you of being immaculately


GROSS: Why in the world wouldn't you vote if you have such strong points of

Mr. OLBERMANN: I honor his position and I'd like to say that my position is
kind of a distant cousin of his, which he might recognize. Because I am so
intensely identified with opinion and analysis and, as I said,
contextualization and all these other, if you want, pleasant euphemisms for
opinion. I think I just need for my own psychological benefit a small island in
which I can stand and say I'm going to sit this one out. And there's a specific
reason for it that came to pass. It's a sports thing. It's the idea of not
betting on a game when you're covering it. Not that you're going to somehow
influence the outcome, but you can influence the coverage.

In 2006, after the "Special Comments" started, one of the first people to rise
to my defense and to my support was Bill Clinton, and I got very involved in
the Clinton group. I'm not saying I was advocating for them or anything like
that, but I got to go to their events and meet their staff and meet the senator
and all the rest of this. And as she ran for president in 2007, I felt two
things tugging on me at the same time: One was a kind of obligation to
criticize her for what I saw were transgressions in terms of her campaign
against Barack Obama and the other would-be nominees.

At the same time, I knew her, and I knew her husband, and I knew their staff
and they had been great to me, and they had been so wonderfully supportive of
me, and I had gotten too close. And to me, I can't necessarily control every
time I get too close, personally, to any politician or political figure. But
this one little psychological island where I can say I don't, I will not vote
in a primary. I will not vote in a general election. I have to have that for my
own, sort of, sense of reassessing, every day, whether or not I am being fair
if not neutral.

GROSS: I can completely understand that. Yet, it seems, frankly, to me to be
inconsistent with the idea of giving money to candidates for their campaigns.

Mr. OLBERMANN: Well, but I had never done that again. Now again, I can foresee
a set of circumstances in which I feel so pushed that I might actually pull a
lever somewhere. I could see it happening, conceivably. I don't know what the
circumstances might be. The old joke about well, if you're going to leave it up
to me, then I will vote. But the, getting back to the idea of making those
campaigns donations, those were specific circumstances in which I thought
somebody needs to put a little, a drop back in the bucket to balance out the
premise of democracy rather than banana republic's holding elections based on
who can shoot a machine gun the loudest.

GROSS: So it was only because it was safety, that you...



Mr. OLBERMANN: Yeah. I, you know, I listened to the stories about what had
happened in the campaigns of Raul Grijalva, who I had never met, and Gabby
Giffords who I never met...

GROSS: Wait. Hasn't he been on your show several times, Raul Grijalva?

Mr. OLBERMANN: Well, if you count that as meeting, yes. But I never met him in
person. And he had had no idea that that was coming. And we had done the last
interview on Thursday with Raul about, I think about the border fence that he
opposed or something else about immigration or the Arizona "Papers, Please"
law, and then on Tuesday would be the election. And I knew that on Tuesday
night we were not covering the congressional elections on MSNBC. So
essentially, my coverage of Raul Grijalva and my coverage of - certainly of
Gabby Giffords - was to end on that day. And therefore, I thought ethically
there was nothing wrong with it and the slightest. And I, you know, even if it
weren't I could make a case for it being legitimate to do that under those
circumstances, because it was violence.

GROSS: Well, if you're just joining us, my guest is Keith Olbermann, and he is
starting a new version of "Countdown" on Current TV, and that begins on June
20th. And this is after leaving MSNBC early this year. So that new show will be
on at 8 o'clock like the old show.

Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Keith Olbermann. He left MSNBC
about well, a few months ago in January. And now he's starting a new version of
his show "Countdown," on Current TV. It premiers June 20th.

So I think most people got to know you first as like a sports person and then
more as a news person.


GROSS: Had you always been interested in politics?

Mr. OLBERMANN: Yeah, certainly. I started in news in college and covered
elections and election nights and such in addition to doing sports. And the
first time I was offered the prospect of going into news professionally rather
than sports, I was 20 years old in 1979, I was getting out of college. And
three or four times after that I had been offered jobs and just didn't have the
courage to leave sports, either on a full-time or a part-time basis. And
finally circumstances sort of slid me into it.

GROSS: Were you an athlete as a kid?

Mr. OLBERMANN: I was not an athlete as a kid. I was a very bad athlete, perhaps
you could describe me in those terms. And more importantly, I was a far
thinking athlete who knew that he would never get over his pronounced fear of
getting hit in the head with the ball. So I thought at age eight it would be
much safer and productive for to go and pursue talking about it rather than
getting hit by it.

GROSS: That's funny because you hit your head...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...eventually on the subway. Yeah.

Mr. OLBERMANN: Leaving a sporting event. Yes. Yes. Yes, it was - trust me, the
first thing, just after I came to, the first thing I thought of was I got hit
in the head anyway.

GROSS: Right. And it affected your equilibrium when you're in motion so you
can't drive.

Mr. OLBERMANN: Correct. So this is a good city, New York, for me to be in...

GROSS: Great city.

Mr. OLBERMANN: ...because you don't have to drive. Yes.

GROSS: Yeah. It's a great city if you don't drive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLBERMANN: And I got to meet Dr. Renee Richards, who was my ophthalmologist
who discovered all this. So I've known her for 30 years. So it had some
positive benefits.

GROSS: So during your "Countdown" programs on MSNBC, you really went after the
Bush administration: for starting the war in Iraq, for the way they continued
the war, and for many other things to fiscal and otherwise. Did the Bush
administration ever send you emails, letters, phone calls - phone calls through
the network and not directly to you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Like were...

Mr. OLBERMANN: Oh, yes. There's one wonderful story about this, actually
preceded things like the "Special Comments." But it was a wonderful example of
- I've always been convinced that our freedom in this country is largely
protected by the stupidity of the people who would take it away from us. I was
one of the first people to put Joe Wilson on TV - not the you lie Joe Wilson,
but the Joe Wilson, Ambassador Joe Wilson. And, of course, exposing that entire
attempt to smear him by exposing his wife. I was one of the first people to put
him on, and we sat down to do a long interview by satellite and we publicized
it for several days. And apparently, the people in the Bush administration who
wanted to confront me on this could not spell my name correctly. And they
wanted to send a series of emails, thinking that perhaps MSNBC was still
somehow favorable to the Bush administration.

They thought that they could send me a series of questions, of talking points
to get Joe Wilson with, to disprove Joe Wilson's claims. But, as I said, they
couldn't spell my name so they couldn't - they apparently sent it to me several
days in a row and it all bounced back because they left off the second and N or
they forgot the L, for they spelled it with an A, or goodness knows what. And
finally, they sent these talking points to all the people who they considered
friendly at NBC News, and said, would you pass this on to Keith Olbermann?

So I got this same email with talking points for Joe Wilson forwarded to me by
seven or eight people at NBC News. And literally, I then had a list of all the
people at NBC News that the Bush Administration thought were theirs. And, I had
a list of all these talking points that were easily - holes were easily put
through them. But in addition to that, I now had a piece of paper that I could
hold up and show to Joe Wilson and say, did you know that the White House is
circulating this list of talking points? That was the first time that there was
any kind of reaction from the Bush administration. The only other one I ever
recall was Mr. Cheney made a joke about me at some point, late in the
administration. But they, Mr. Bush never said anything that indicated he was
aware of my existence.

GROSS: Did you tell the people who sent - who forwarded the emails, this makes
me think that you are a reporter, or an executive, that the Bush administration
considers to be friendly to them?

Mr. OLBERMANN: You know, matter of fact, I didn't, Terry.


Mr. OLBERMANN: I just kept that information to myself...

GROSS: All right.

Mr. OLBERMANN: ...and use it accordingly over the years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: OK. Now, would you mind if I played Ben Affleck's impression of you that
he did on "Saturday Night Live" of one of your "Special Comments"?

Mr. OLBERMANN: Provided you're not going to play the whole eight and a half
minutes of it.

GROSS: No. No.

Mr. OLBERMANN: Go right ahead.

GROSS: OK. In that case, let me play a short clip of Ben Affleck doing his
impression of you doing a "Special Comment." This was on "Saturday Night Live."
And the premise of this "Special Comment" was that you had asked the board of
your co-op if they would make an exception to their no-pets policy to
accommodate your cat, Miss Precious Perfect. So this is the "Special Comments"
to the co-op president, Richard Lieberstein(ph). And here's Ben Affleck.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Saturday Night Live")

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BEN AFFLECK (Actor): (as Keith Olbermann) And there it was. All perfectly
legal. Like the 1942 internment of more than 100,000 Japanese American

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) Or the forced relocation of the Cherokee on
the Trail of Tears. Or the monstrous injustice of our nation's Jim Crow laws.
It was all perfectly legal and every bit as wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) If not, indeed, more so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of banging)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) Mr. Lieberstein. You speak of consideration
of the rights of others.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) How dare you, sir? How dare you?

(Soundbite of laughter) (Soundbite of applause)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) Where, sir, in any of this, were the rights
of Miss Precious Perfect considered?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) Damn you, Mr. Lieberstein. Damn you to hell.

(Soundbite of laughter) (Soundbite of applause)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) No, Mr. Lieberstein - your decision was
based, not on consideration, but on fear. Fear of carpets stained. Of
deliverymen clawed. Of kitty litter boxes tipped over. Of hairballs coughed up.

(Soundbite of a bang)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) We have seen this fear before: in Cambodia,
under Pol Pot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) In Russia, under Stalin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) In Massachusetts, under Mitt Romney.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) It is the fear, sir, and the tyranny up with
which we dare no longer put.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Keith Olbermann) I pray thee, sir, let us have done with it.

GROSS: That's Ben Affleck's impression of my guest, Keith Olbermann doing one
of his "Special Comments."

So did "Saturday Night Live" or Ben Affleck give you a heads up that this was
going to happen?

Mr. OLBERMANN: Once again, things that you don't realize, and I think they
didn't realize, so that the executives of "Saturday Night Live" can watch the
show without coming into the studio, the rehearsals are put on an interior
television channel within NBC. So I saw the rehearsals on the Friday afternoon,
and I'd heard something about it. They'd asked for our graphics, they wanted to
use our graphic look, so I saw some of the rehearsals and, in fact, went up to
the studio to offer Ben, who I know for quite a while, some advantage, you
know, if he needed any help in mannerisms, I would try to help him with the
thing. So I saw it. I knew that it was coming.

I did not know it would be eight and a half minutes long, only about three
minutes of which was funny. As with many of the sketches on "Saturday Night
Live," if it were just a little bit shorter it would have been much more
hilarious than it was. But I found it particularly entertaining in ways that
viewers would not have understood. Namely, I am deathly allergic to cats.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLBERMANN: So the premise, and the number of people who think that I
actually have a cat with that name or that I lived with my mother or the rest
of this, because they saw it on "Saturday Night Live," made me really fear for
the future of the democracy. And the...

GROSS: Now did his formal language like, I pray thee, sir...

Mr. OLBERMANN: Yeah. That...

GROSS: ...let us have done with it resonate with you and remind you of things
like, have you no sense of decency, sir, to President Bush? Or you, sir, have
no business being president?

Mr. OLBERMANN: Well, you, sir, have no business being president was just a
statement of fact. I don't think that was particularly oratorical. The first
one I believe you're - you're quoting me quoting Joseph Welch from the Army-
McCarthy hearings. So most of the time when these quotations - I quoted
Chamberlain. I quoted Churchill. I quoted Cromwell. I quoted a lot of - I
quoted Shakespeare on occasion, but mostly, I quoted Murrow. I quoted a lot of
people in these things. The commentaries averaged about 10 minutes long. And
there were a lot of quotations in it and they were done for expository benefit.

That was over-the-top and Ben knew it was over-the-top, and Ben apologized to
me and took a cue card from the sketch and wrote, you know, Keith, I'm sorry
and slipped it under my door. And he did - he did what – yeah, I thought it was
as a performance, it was staggeringly magnificent. He did that without a
teleprompter. He did that and he made 75 camera changes, which I would never
try to do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You counted?

Mr. OLBERMANN: Oh, I think – perhaps I'm exaggerating.


Mr. OLBERMANN: But it was marvelously, it was marvelously done. And I, you
know, bottom line was my show got eight and a half minutes of free publicity
right before the election on NBC. And, they had to get an actor in there to do
an impression of me who usually makes about $10 million a picture. So I was
extremely flattered on all fronts. But, as I said, it should have been a little

GROSS: So I want to get back to what you said in your final program on MSNBC.
You said that there were times when all that surrounded the show but not the
show itself were just too much for you.

Mr. OLBERMANN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What were the things that surrounded the show that were too much for you
that may...

Mr. OLBERMANN: I think...

GROSS: part of why you left?

Mr. OLBERMANN: We came to the place that "Countdown" came to entirely by dint
of judging each day what needed to be said in my opinion and the opinion of the
producers. And that was fine as long as it wasn't successful. And once it
started to make a great deal of money for NBC, they began to worry as much
about the backlash as they did about the money. And that wear and tear sort of
surrounded the entire enterprise, and I just thought I need to free myself from
that and I did.

GROSS: Well, good luck with your show. Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. OLBERMANN: A pleasure, Terry. Thank you for having me.

BIANCULLI: Keith Olbermann speaking to Terry Gross yesterday. The new
incarnation of "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" will begin June 20th on the
Current TV network.

Coming up, music critic Milo Miles reviews a new reissue of an old Elvis
Presley album. And, after visiting for the first time, also reviews Graceland.

This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Elvis Is Back (And Now Reissued)

(Soundbite of music)


There's a new expanded reissue of an old 1960 Elvis Presley album called "Elvis
Is Back!" But, of course, Elvis hasn't really gone anywhere. His music and
memorabilia continue to sell, and even Graceland has maintained its status as a
pop culture shrine and tourist destination.

Our music critic Milo Miles reviews the new CD reissue and also describes his
recent inaugural trip to Graceland.

(Soundbite of song, "Stuck on You")

Mr. ELVIS PRESLEY (Musician): (Singing) You can shake an apple off an apple
tree. Shake-a, shake sugar, but you'll never shake me. Uh-uh-uh. No-sir-ee, uh,
uh. I'm going to stick like glue, stick because I'm stuck on you. I'm going to
run my fingers thru your long black hair. Squeeze you tighter than a grizzly
bear. Uh-uh-uh. Yes-sir-ee, uh, uh. I'm going to stick like glue. Stick,
because I'm stuck on you.

MILO MILES: Since Sony took control of what had been RCA several years ago, the
back catalog of Elvis Presley has been served well. His discography had long
been lost in a thicket of quickie best-ofs and repackaging that all but made
original LPs irrelevant. The conventional wisdom was that after Elvis went into
the Army something vital leaked out of him and he was never as kingly again.

But I am here to tell you that, especially with some singles from the same 1960
period added on, "Elvis Is Back!" is as fine an album as Presley ever made -
and maybe the most representative of his range of styles. And some modes are
his alone. His treatment of "Such a Night" is unique: Is he sending up the
song? Sending up himself? Both? Neither? It's mysterious and amusing at once.

(Soundbite of song, "Such a Night")

Mr. PRESLEY: (Singing) It was a night, oo-oo what a night. It was it really was
such a night. The moon was bright oh how so bright. It was it really was such a
night, The night was alight with stars above. Oo-oo, when she kissed me I had
to fall in love.

Oh, it was a kiss, oo-oo what a kiss. It was it really was such a kiss. Oh how
she could kiss oh what a kiss. It was it really was such a kiss. Just the
thought of her lips sets me afire. I reminisce and I'm filled with desire.

But I gave my heart to her in sweet surrender. How well I remember, I'll always
remember. Oh, what a night, oo-oo what a night.

MILES: "Elvis Is Back!" was reportedly a favorite of the artist himself, and he
served as much as his own producer as he would on any session. But the record
fell short in sales when initially released, and Elvis did seem to second-guess
himself forever after.

Following a movie soundtrack and a gospel side-trip, Elvis recorded "Something
for Everyone" in 1961, and it's included in this Sony Legacy reissue package. A
more cautious and ingratiating set of tunes like "Sentimental Me" and "Gently"
are redeemed by a trio of add-on singles that stomp harder than anything on
"Elvis Is Back!", topped off by the celebrated number "Little Sister."

(Soundbite of song, "Little Sister")

Mr. PRESLEY: (Singing) Little sister, don't you. Little sister, don't you.
Little sister, don't you kiss me once or twice then say it's very nice and then
you run. Little sister, don't you do what your big sister done.

Well, I dated your big sister and I took her to a show. I went for some candy.
Along came Jim Dandy and they snuck right out of the door. Little sister, don't

MILES: On a recent trip to Memphis, I sipped a bit more of the Elvis elixir by
visits to Sun Studio and Graceland, both as advertised, mandatory for serious
rock fans. Sun Studio impresses probably because it seems as humble as Elvis's
origins: stuck in the middle of nowhere, no more glorious than any neighborhood
store. But, also like any place subject to so many waves of human fascination
and adoration, it's a place full of spiritual energy. As is Graceland, though
in its way, it remains enigmatic.

Graceland began as an Elvis theme park, but as time goes on, it seems more of a
peculiar but precious museum. No one will ever be the first rock 'n' roll
superstar again, and no one will ever create such a combination of fortress of
solitude and clubhouse for his gang. The TV room is the most fun-filled fantasy
zone of yellow and cream furnishing and triple screens. It's apt that fuel
efficiency plays no part in the concept and presentation of the Elvis
automobile collection. It seems sad to me his customized private jet, the Lisa
Marie, was used so little because he got it only two years before his death.
Some special exhibits at Graceland were inspired, like Elvis and the Media;
some less so, like Elvis the King of Fashion.

But the gravestones in the Meditation Garden will grab everybody for all time.
The tributes tossed at the foot of Elvis's slab included flowers and teddy
bears, but also a giant-sized Butterfingers bar, getting all bent and wrinkled
in the Southern rainstorm that day. At first, I thought somebody should take it
away. Then I decided it was perfect. He's a big hunk of timeless candy made
from sex, schmaltz, and sass; indeed, Elvis has something for everyone.

BIANCULLI: Milo Miles reviewed the new Elvis Presley reissue "Elvis Is Back!"

(Soundbite of song, "Girl Next Door Went A'walking")

Mr. PRESLEY: (Singing) The girl next door went a'walking. She found the boy she
likes. She wanted to get married. Settle down for life.

The girl next door went a'walking. She knew it wasn't right. She came home at
half past 10, late every night.

The girl next door went a'walking. She found the boy she likes...

BIANCULLI: You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.
And you can download podcasts of our show at,

For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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