During the 2008 election, Tom Brokaw publicly criticized you for "going too far" in injecting commentary into your campaign coverage. Do you think there's something to the idea of keeping a division between opinion and news? Or is the notion of the impartial journalist essentially bullshit?
[Taking a piece of paper from his wallet] You saw I reached before you said the name. Let me read this to you. You can see how old it is—it already came apart. March 5th, 2008, Wednesday morning, 9:45 a.m. "Keith, game ball goes to you for last night. I've been at this for 40 years and have a full appreciation for how tricky it is to go from commentator to anchor, get the news out, manage the many egos, make sure lots of different points of view are represented, maintain your own place in the proceedings, you did it all splendidly." You can see the name of who sent that [Tom Brokaw].
So there you have it. I've never shared that with anybody before. Now you have a private comment that he didn't seem to remember when he made his public comment five months later.
Why do you carry that around?
Originally I carried it around because it was confirmation from somebody I had great respect for. What he said there was that you can be a commentator and an anchor, you can get your points across and yet be neutral when you're supposed to be neutral. From one of the best in the business, it meant a great deal to me. Then what it meant to me is, "Wow, things change fast after people like Russert die."
Why did you give money to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and two other Democrats when you knew there was a rule against it? People say, "Why did you think you could get away with donating to Democrats?" Nobody ever asks me why I donated to those three Democrats. I discovered from a friend of mine who knows Arizona politics really well that all three had spent a lot of money, and I mean a lot of money, protecting themselves from assassination threats. To me, as a small-d democrat, as a member of a democracy, it pissed me off. I thought, "I'm going to help defray their expenses." That's all it was.
Does it bother you that your departure from MSNBC came the same month as the shooting in Tucson? It seemed like the network felt they needed to tone things down.
Number one, I was the first guy to go on the air and say we should all tone things down. If the network felt that pressure, they were feeling it from me. Number two, I had begun to remove things from my office, the valuable stuff, and take them home in October.
Really? Were you worried they were going to lock you out?
No. There are just some things you don't want to have misplaced. They throw out a box by mistake, and suddenly a photo of Shoeless Joe Jackson at the 1919 World Series taken by a fan is gone forever. So I'd pick it up and put it in my bag and take it home. Members of my staff would go, "What happened to Shoeless Joe?" I'd say, "I'm just using him at home now."
So that far back...
Right, 2008 was the first time I thought, "Maybe I should take some of this stuff home."
Were you out looking for another gig?
No. As late as December, I could still see a path by which if we re-established certain boundaries, that I could stay longer. So when I took those things home, I didn't nail them to the wall—they were ready to go back into the office if need be.
It came across like an abrupt firing—there was no announcement ahead of time.
You can imagine the atmosphere between me and NBC in the months of November into December. The last hope that we could work something out vanished just before New Year's. I called them the day Gaby was shot and said, "Do you want me to come in?" and they said, "Yes." They were kind of surprised. I said, "I want to comment on this—I think we need to tone down the dialogue."
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