Lawrence Francis O'Donnell, Jr. (born November 7, 1951) is an American television journalist 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. 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.
O'Donnell has also appeared as a political analyst on The McLaughlin Group, The Al Franken Show, and Countdown with Keith Olbermann. He was a 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.
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. 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. While at Harvard, he wrote for the Harvard Lampoon and was popular among its members due to his wit and sarcasm. In 1994, O'Donnell married television and movie actress Kathryn Harrold; they then divorced 2013. O'Donnell and Harrold have a daughter, Elizabeth Buckley Harrold O'Donnell.
On April 12, 2014, he and his brother Michael were injured in a traffic accident while vacationing in the British Virgin Islands. O'Donnell returned to his MSNBC show The Last Word on June 23, 2014 following recuperation.
From 1977 to 1988, O’Donnell was a writer. 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. 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.
From 1989 to 1995, he was a legislative aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. 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 from 1993 to 1995 he was staff director of the United States Senate Committee on Finance, again under Senator Moynihan’s chairmanship.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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; it later returned to the 10 p.m. hour.
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.
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. 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".
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?" O'Donnell's interview with Cain was later defended by Reverend Al Sharpton.
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." 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." 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.
O'Donnell called himself a "practical European socialist" in a 2005 interview. 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." 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."
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, 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.