Lawrence O'Donnell

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This article is about the political analyst. For other uses, see Lawrence O'Donnell (disambiguation).
Lawrence O'Donnell
Lawrence O'Donnell.jpg
O'Donnell at the 2009 premiere of Polliwood
Born Lawrence Francis O'Donnell, Jr.
(1951-11-07) November 7, 1951 (age 64)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Education Economics
Alma mater

Harvard University

Saint Sebastian's School
Occupation Political analyst
Notable credit(s) Political commentary:
The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell
The McLaughlin Group
Morning Joe

Television fictional series:
The West Wing (producer, writer)
Big Love, Homeland (actor)
Spouse(s) Kathryn Harrold (m. 1994; divorced)

Lawrence Francis O'Donnell, Jr. (born November 7,[1] 1951) is an American political analyst, journalist, actor, producer, writer, and host of The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, a Monday through Thursday evening MSNBC opinion and news program. O'Donnell called himself a "practical European socialist" in a Newsmaker Interview dated November 11, 2005.[2] He frequently filled in as host of Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC before getting his own show on the cable network. Beginning 24 October 2011, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell switched time slots with The Ed Show, with Ed Schultz taking over the 8 p.m. Eastern slot, and O'Donnell returning to the 10 p.m. Eastern slot.[3]

O'Donnell has also appeared as a political analyst on The McLaughlin Group, The Al Franken Show, and Countdown with Keith Olbermann. He was an Emmy Award-winning producer and writer for the NBC series The West Wing (and played the role of the President's father in flashbacks) and creator and executive producer of the NBC series Mister Sterling. He is also an occasional actor, appearing as a recurring supporting character on the HBO series Big Love, portraying an attorney. He began his career as an aide to U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and was Staff Director for the Senate Finance Committee.

Personal life[edit]

O'Donnell was born in Boston, on November 7, 1951, the son of Frances Marie (née Buckley), an office manager, and Lawrence Francis O'Donnell, Sr., an attorney.[1] He is of Irish descent. He attended St. Sebastian's School (class of 1970), where he was captain of his baseball team, and graduated from Harvard College (class of 1974) with a major in economics in 1976.[4] While at Harvard, he wrote for the Harvard Lampoon and was popular among its members due to his wit and sarcasm.[5] In 1994, O'Donnell married television and movie actress Kathryn Harrold; they later divorced. O'Donnell and Harrold have a daughter, Elizabeth Buckley Harrold O'Donnell.[6]

On April 12, 2014, he and his brother Michael were injured in a traffic accident while vacationing in the British Virgin Islands.[7][8] O'Donnell returned to his MSNBC show The Last Word on June 23, 2014 following recuperation.[7]


From 1977 to 1988, O’Donnell was a writer.[4] In 1983, he published the book Deadly Force, about a case of wrongful death and police brutality in which O'Donnell’s father was the plaintiff’s lawyer.[9] In 1986, the book was made into the film A Case of Deadly Force, in which Richard Crenna played O'Donnell’s father and Tate Donovan played O'Donnell, and for which O’Donnell was associate producer.[10]

U.S. Congress[edit]

From 1989 to 1995, he was a key legislative aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.[4] From 1989 to 1991, he served as senior advisor to Moynihan. From 1992 to 1993, he was staff director of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, then chaired by Senator Moynihan. And then from 1993 to 1995, he was staff director of the United States Senate Committee on Finance, once again under Senator Moynihan’s chairmanship. He thus led the staff of the Senate's tax-writing committee during the consideration of President Bill Clinton's first budget, which Congress enacted in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993.[citation needed]


From 1999 to 2006, O’Donnell was associated with the television drama The West Wing. Over that time, he wrote 16 episodes. From 1999 to 2000 he was executive story editor for 12 episodes, in 2000 he was co-producer of 5 episodes, from 2000 to 2001 he was producer of 17 episodes, from 2003 to 2005 he was consulting producer for 44 episodes, and from 2005 to 2006 he was executive producer for 22 episodes.[11] O’Donnell won the 2001 Emmy award for Outstanding Drama Series for The West Wing, and was nominated for the 2006 Emmy for the same category.[12]

In 2002, O’Donnell was supervising producer and writer for the television drama First Monday, and in 2003, he was creator, executive producer, and writer for the television drama Mister Sterling.[11]


O'Donnell played Lee Hatcher, the Henrickson family attorney, in the HBO series Big Love about a polygamous family in Utah. In addition to being a producer on The West Wing, O'Donnell also played President Josiah Bartlet's father in a flashback sequence of the episode "Two Cathedrals".

He also portrayed Judge Lawrence Barr in two episodes of Monk. He played himself on an episode of Showtime's Homeland.


In 2009, O'Donnell became a regular contributor on Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough. His aggressive debate style on that program and others has led to several notable on-air confrontations, one of the most notable being an interview with conservative Marc Thiessen on Morning Joe that became so heated that the conservative Scarborough took O'Donnell off the air.[13][14][15]

Also in 2009 and 2010, O'Donnell began appearing frequently as a substitute host of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, particularly when Olbermann's father was ill in the hospital.

On September 27, 2010, O'Donnell began hosting a 10 p.m. show on MSNBC, called The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.[16][17]

On January 21, 2011, it was announced that O'Donnell would take over the 8 p.m. slot from Keith Olbermann after Olbermann announced the abrupt termination of his show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann;[18] it later returned to the 10 p.m. hour.


In October 2004, O'Donnell got into a heated debate on Scarborough Country with John O'Neill, spokesman for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, over the allegations O'Neill made against John Kerry in his book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out against John Kerry.[19] In the debate, O'Donnell repeatedly accused O'Neill of lying. Guest host Pat Buchanan tried to constrain O'Donnell with little success, and O'Neill at one point responded, "I will [provide evidence] if you'll shut up, Larry."[20]

Before showing a taped interview with RNC Chairman Michael Steele, O'Donnell caused controversy over his intro to the interview which was considered racially insensitive. He said, "Michael Steele is dancing as fast as he can, trying to charm independent voters and Tea Partiers while never losing sight of his real master and paycheck provider, the Republican National Committee." After drawing criticism from Steele and talk-radio host Larry Elder, O'Donnell apologized for his remarks.[21][22][23]

O'Donnell also drew criticism during an interview with Congressman Ron Paul, when Paul accused him of breaking an agreement not to ask him about other political candidates.[24] O'Donnell said he was not part of any agreement, but an MSNBC spokeswoman stated, "We told Rep. Paul’s office that the focus would be on the tea party movement, not on specific candidates".[25]

During an October 2011 interview, O'Donnell accused Republican primary candidate Herman Cain of sitting on the sidelines during the civil rights protests of the 1960s and also charged him with avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War. Conor Friedersdorf said the questions posed by O'Donnell were "offensive" and declared, "In this interview, O'Donnell goes to absurd lengths to use patriotism and jingoism as cudgels to attack his conservative guest, almost as if he is doing a Stephen Colbert style parody of the tactics he imagines a right-wing blowhard might employ. Does he realize he's becoming what he claims to abhor?"[26] O'Donnell's interview with Cain was later defended by Reverend Al Sharpton.[27]

In 2007 O'Donnell criticized Mitt Romney's speech on religion stating that "Romney comes from a religion that was founded by a criminal who was anti-American, pro-slavery, and a rapist."[28][29] In the April 3, 2012 broadcast of The Last Word, O'Donnell made comments regarding the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), saying it was an "invented religion," which was "created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it."[30] During the April 11, 2012 broadcast of The Last Word, O'Donnell apologized for the April 3, 2012 comments, stating that his comments offended many, including some of the show's most supportive fans.[31]

Political views[edit]

O'Donnell called himself a "practical European socialist" in a 2005 interview.[2] O'Donnell again declared himself a "socialist" on the November 6, 2010 Morning Joe show, stating: "I am not a progressive. I am not a liberal who is so afraid of the word that I had to change my name to 'progressive'. Liberals amuse me. I am a socialist. I lie to the extreme left, the extreme left of you mere liberals."[32] On the August 1, 2011 episode of The Last Word, O'Donnell further explained, "I have been calling myself a socialist ever since I first read the definition of socialism in the first economics class I took in college." O'Donnell went on to state that what he means by calling himself a socialist is:

Not that we choose the socialist option every time but we do consider socialism a reasonable option under certain circumstances; in fact, under many circumstances. As any introductory economics course can tell you, there is no capitalist economy anywhere in the world, and there is no socialist economy anywhere in the world, not even Cuba. We are all mixed economies; that is, mixes of capitalism and socialism, and we all vary that mix in different ways. China has more capitalism, and a lot more capitalism, than has Cuba, but it also has a lot more socialism than we [the United States] do. Our socialist programs include the biggest government spending programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, as well as welfare, and the socialist program I hate the most, agriculture subsidies. Yes, I'm a socialist, but I hate bad socialism, and there is plenty of bad socialism out there, just like there is plenty of bad capitalism out there, like the capitalism that pollutes our rivers or makes health care too expensive for so many people. I can argue this because every side of this is true: capitalism is good, capitalism is bad; socialism is good, socialism is bad; all of those things are true at the same time. That's why we have a mixed economy, an economy in which we are trying to use the best, most efficient forms of capitalism, and the best, most efficient forms of socialism, where necessary. So my full truth is I am as much a capitalist as I am a socialist; but since we live in the only mature country in the world where "socialist" is considered such a dirty word that no one would dare admit to being one, I feel more compelled to stand up for the socialist side of me than the capitalist side of me.[33]


In late 2010 O'Donnell made a trip to Malawi with the intent of providing school-room desks for students who had never seen desks. MSNBC and UNICEF partnered to create the K.I.N.D. fund - Kids in Need of Desks - with the mission to deliver desks to African schools. Since its inception, the program has raised over $6.5 million,[34] paying for approximately 100,000 desks to be delivered to classrooms. In addition, the K.I.N.D. fund also provides scholarships to help young girls in Malawi attend school.


  1. ^ a b Lawrence O'Donnell Biography (1951?-)
  2. ^ a b Steigerwald, Bill (2005-11-11). "A liberal who loves markets: 'The West Wing's' Lawrence O'Donnell". Newsmaker Interviews. Retrieved 2006-09-20. 
  3. ^ Gaines, Jeremy (19 October 2011). "MSNBC Primetime Schedule Change". NBC Universal. 
  4. ^ a b c The Almanac of the Unelected: Staff of the U.S. Congress: 1994. Edited by Jeffrey B. Trammell and Steve Piacente, 695. Washington, D.C.: Almanac Publishing, 1994. ISBN 0-9626134-5-2.
  5. ^ Wright, Jeanne. "The Sharp Shooter" (12 Aug 1994). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 14, 2010.
  6. ^ The Mclaughlin Group : Library
  7. ^ a b Catherine Taibi (2014-04-14). "Lawrence O'Donnell Injured In Car Accident". Retrieved 2014-06-20. 
  8. ^ Fung, Katherine (2014-06-20). "Lawrence O'Donnell Says He's 'Lucky To Be Alive' After Horrifying Car Crash". Retrieved 2014-06-20. 
  9. ^ Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. Deadly Force: The Wrongful Death of James Bouden Jr.: A True Story of How a Badge Can Become a License To Kill. William Morrow & Co, 1983. ISBN 0-688-01914-5.
  10. ^ "A Case of Deadly Force". Retrieved 2010-07-16. 
  11. ^ a b "Lawrence O'Donnell". Retrieved 2010-07-16. 
  12. ^ "Awards for Lawrence O'Donnell". Retrieved 2010-07-16. 
  13. ^ The Wall Street Journal Online - Best of the Web Today
  14. ^ Huffington Post, Lawrence O'Donnell Exposes GOP Congressman's Hypocrisy on Government Health Care
  15. ^ Mormons and Idiosyncracy
  16. ^ Gellman, Lindsay (2010-07-31). "'Last Word': Lawrence O'Donnell MSNBC Show Gets Name". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  17. ^ Lawrence O’Donnell Gets His Own MSNBC Show New York Times June 15, 2010.
  18. ^ Carter, Bill. "Olbermann leaves 'Countdown' on MSNBC", The New York Times, January 21, 2010. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
  19. ^ Mark Hemingway (October 4, 2010). "Flashback: Lawrence O'Donnell has total meltdown on MSNBC over Swift Boat Vets". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved February 6, 2011. 
  20. ^ O'Donnell-O'Neill confrontation on YouTube
  21. ^ Bond, Paul (2010-10-08). "MSNBC host sorry for slavery gaffe". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  22. ^ Stelter, Brian (2010-10-07). "Night Watch: Talk of Witches and an Apology". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  23. ^ Hagey, Keach (2010-10-07). "Lawrence O'Donnell apologizes to Michael Steele". Politico. Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  24. ^ Hayden, Eric (2010-10-12). "Morning Vid: Ron Paul Scolds 'Discourteous' MSNBC Host". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  25. ^ Hagey, Keach (2010-10-12). "Ron Paul accuses Lawrence O'Donnell of breaking "agreement"". Politico. Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  26. ^ Lawrence O'Donnell's offensive interview with Herman Cain, The Atlantic, October 2011.
  27. ^ Mirkinson, Jack (2011-10-08). "Lawrence O'Donnell Defends Herman Cain Interview (VIDEO)". Huffington Post. 
  28. ^ "Lawrence O'Donnell Attacks Mormonism in 2007". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-06-20. 
  29. ^ Linkins, Jason (2007-12-09). "Lawrence O'Donnell Loses His Ever-Loving Mind on McLaughlin". Huffington Post. 
  30. ^ "Lawrence O'Donnell: Mormonism Is An "Invented Religion"". RealClearPolitics. 2012-04-04. Retrieved 2014-06-20. 
  31. ^ "Rewrite on the politics of religion - Video on". 2012-04-11. Retrieved 2014-06-20. 
  32. ^ Jack Mirkinson (2010-11-06). "Lawrence O'Donnell Calls Himself A Socialist, Slams Glenn Greenwald On Morning Joe". Huffington Post. Huffington Post Technology. Retrieved November 8, 2010. 
  33. ^ O'Donnell, Lawrence, "Rewrite," The Last Word, MSNBC, 1 Aug 2011. Video available at
  34. ^ The Last Word Staff (23 December 2013). "K.I.N.D. Fund Breaks $6.5 million". Retrieved 4 January 2014. 

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