It seems you were doing your own soul-searching about that sort of tonal stuff for months. Did the Jon Stewart critique about the noise from both sides bother you, coming from someone I presume you respect?
I really don't know. I always analyze that sort of stuff internally. I always say, "Is this too much, is this too little, am I wrong about this?" All the things that people like me supposedly don't do, I do. I come from a world where there's a final score; if it's 6-3, it means the guys who scored six won the game. In politics, you can have an opinion as to who won and who's really in charge. So for me, that environment requires constant re-examination. I sweat every time I've ever done a "Special Comment." Trust me, there are comments I've started to write and said, "Nope, you're wrong."
Any moments you regret?
Scott Brown. I did two commentaries right around the election in which I described him as a homophobe, a racist. I was a little distracted—it was at the worst point of my father's decline, and I thought I was doing everybody a favor to continue to work through that. When I got criticized for the first comment, I did it again out of defiance—"I'll show you." It wasn't until Stewart took off on me that I said, "You're right, I've been over-the-top."
Did you ever intentionally make a defiant gesture toward the network, just because you knew it would bother them?
No, no, not at all. My conduct on the air, never. You don't screw with the product. I can't think of an instance at MSNBC where anything I said on the air was influenced by what was going on behind the scenes. Maybe a couple of times, where they didn't want to put Rachel on, and I was saying to them, "This is the next great host, I recognize her as one circus freak could recognize another."
Are you still close with her?
[Pause] Yes and no. We had a very brotherly/sisterly relationship. I was normally in her office or she in mine, four out of five days, just to throw the crap around. Several times I talked her out of storming out of the place, and several times she talked me out of storming out. But since I left, I've kept my distance from all my friends I couldn't bring with me. I hope I'm employing all of them someday, but at the moment there is a somewhat chilled view of me at NBC. I don't think they expected this would be the outcome. They expected "OK, he's going to go away now, probably for so long that nobody will be interested in bringing him back."
You think they thought that?
They definitely had no idea that I'd be back on the air June 20th, I promise you that—and against my replacement.
Did you ever worry you wouldn't find another outlet for what you want to do?
No. My manager and I had long discussed the prospects of going somewhere else. We thought there's got to be another network that is looking for a new identity and sees the same opportunity we do. We figured it might take some time—but then, "Ring ring. Keith, this is Al Gore."
How soon was it that he contacted you?
Saturday, the day after my last show.
You broke the news of your departure on the show that Friday. At what point did you know that would be your last day?
I'm trying to think what I can tell you about this legally. I was pretty sure that was the last day at the start of that day. I had hoped everything would be finalized and we'd have a meeting in the afternoon with the staff so that I could brace them for it. My primary regret, the one that will not change in dimension or sting, is the fact that most of the people involved in the show found out when I said, "This will be the last edition of Countdown. I'll explain after this break." The reason it happened that way was because it was only finalized during the preceding commercial break.
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