With apologies to Cenk Uyger and Jesse Ventura (and to the band "America"), all of whom I like and respect, but lemme see if I've got this straight:
When I returned to MSNBC in 2003 I was a "conservative," and Jesse was taken off the air because - after handing him a lot of guaranteed money - they suddenly dropped him because they suddenly discovered he didn't support the Iraq war, even though the Governor contends Phil Donahue had just been fired by MSNBC for not supporting the Iraq War.
I'm writing from my father's bedside so this diary will be a little choppy and have a few typos - but, in brief - what a crock!
First and foremost, Dad keeps fighting bravely onwards. It is startling to contemplate that the same man can be the same kind of hero to his 51-year old son as he was to the same son at age 5. Thank you all for your wonderful and sustaining good wishes.
Back to the piffle. I've addressed Donahue before. I don't doubt that Phil's stance was the final straw in his cancellation. I also don't doubt that if he had supported it, there would have been another final straw - maybe a few months later. But I was already back in MSNBC - in theory as a temp, intended to be on as a fill-in literally three times - and I watched the end game. The show was indeed the highest-rated on the network. Its numbers were about the equivalent now of where my 10 PM rerun is, or maybe Rachel's 11 PM rerun, and the ratings were maintained only by means of an advertising budget larger than we have for the whole network now. His staff was nearly as large as mine and Rachel's combined. And he had a studio audience, which inflates costs phenomonally. And to him, all requests for changes were inappropriate interference. I watched this play out in real time, when I had no expectation of working there again full time.
Also there is the little flaw in the theory, namely, who got Phil's time slot. Me.
Admittedly the first few weeks of my new show were not only not liberal, they were almost apolitical. They in fact consisted almost entirely of me throwing to live shots from Iraq or asking ex-Generals "now where are those chemical weapons going to be fired from?" Thus my startled reaction - which I have often told here - of being at a ballgame the day David Bloom died and being approached by two young drunks. One started to ask for an autograph but the other interceded. "Eff him, he's a liberal." I'd been back on the air about three weeks. No commentaries. No non-war stories. I guess my ties gave it away.
Or my exit from MSNBC in 1998. I forced my way out because of the inanity of the Clinton/Lewinsky story (it wasn't important, it wasn't impeachable, it rarely actually changed as a story, and the idea that we were somehow broadcasting, unedited, supposedly secret Grand Jury testimony really cheesed me off). I was public about these things and my reputation was sufficiently indelible to be remembered more than four years later by two drunks at Shea Stadium. I should also mention that I did daily news commentaries for ABC Radio from late '01 to early '03. I still have the scripts: I went on the air nearly daily demanding more information before we went to war, and insisting the public and our representatives withhold support until we got it.
But back to what Jesse calls my "180." In May or June I walked in to find a taped commentary from Michael Savage inserted into the rundown for Countdown. I was very polite about it, and I knew it might mean the end of what was probably my last chance in television, but I told my bosses very simply that if they were going to run it, they were going to have to run it about 15 times because I wouldn't be there to fill out the rest of the hour.
As God is my witness, on the tape, Savage was wearing a brown shirt.
Anyway, not long after, a Canadian paper reported that the "rescue" of Jessica Lynch was not all that it had seemed. I ran the story - I think I was the first American tv guy to do it. I got called in and ordered to apologize - to the troops. I remember thinking "but I didn't insult the troops." I guess the Bushies had missed the salient point and were demanding recognition of the bravery of the kids who ran the raid. Since I had no problem honoring the bravery of the kids who ran the raid, I wrote a carefully worded "apology" which allowed me to repeat the headline - that the brave soldiers' bosses had had no reason to stage a raid and had hyped it up.
I considered that a victory.
The other landmarks of shaking the fog of propaganda followed as they did for most of us. But by early summer 2003 there was no mistaking Countdown as an Iraq-skeptical show. Hell, the day Georgie dressed up in Daddy's flightsuit I was on live with Chris Matthews and asked him why anybody with a sketchy record in the Air National Guard was reminding everybody about said record - and declaring anything accomplished when we still had thousands of troops on harm's way.
My point in this long preface is that it was at about this time we won what Jesse correctly remembers as a bidding war for his tv services. Why not? He was popular, recognizable, intelligent, a television veteran, and a recent ex-Governor. And so he was signed, met the advertisers with us (I recall his displeasure that Chris, Scarborough, Lester Holt and I were all a little taller than he was), and they set about developing the show.
I'm sorry, Jesse, may be they didn't tell you. Maybe they put out a story about you wanting to do a prohibitively expensive show from Mexico - I remember it as Minneapolis (nearly just as expensive; they did it anyway, recorded the demo shows there). But the shows were dreadful. Jesse is a fantastic guest, an original and lively thinker. But he couldn't host. It didn't work. I remember suggesting getting another guy to start each show, each segment even, and start him off by saying "Governor, whaddya think?" But in the same way that Limbaugh could not translate to tv - just the medium, mind you, not the politics - Jesse couldn't convert from guest to host. I'm hoping they didn't tell him, I'm sorry to have to break it to him and Cenk here, but if they both go demanding investigations of how he was cancelled because he didn't support Iraq, the investigations are going to produce tapes of me from months earlier already not supporting Iraq, and tapes of him not really being able to host television.
Ultimately they shifted Jesse to a weekend slot and prayed he would somehow get past the greivously unfair situation into which Jesse was thrust. He didn't. And they paid off the rest of the contract, because while there clearly was a failure to properly vet him it had nothing to do with Iraq or politics. It had to do with the superficial, bit unavoidable requirements of television. Any other conspiracy theory about what happened to his show is just silly.
UPDATE, 12:37 AM EST: Fixed a couple of missing commas and added two words, noted in bold. And this site provided tangible help to my Dad tonight. I was going to head home when I saw the original diary and decided to write a quick one. The next thing I knew it was nearly midnight here, and my Dad, who underwent what was supposed to be a painful procedure today, finally got hit by the pain. Fortunately I was still there (you know how long it takes to write a "quick" diary on an iPhone?), and was thus able to get the nurse who gave him stuff that knocked him out right quick.