Friday, December 31, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 31

OLBERMANN: So explosive, so revealing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently, it was made up of Michael Jackson's old noses.

OLBERMANN: A year not for the faint of heart. Not for the faint of voice.


OLBERMANN: A year of political dignity, of questions vital to our democracy.


OLBERMANN: A year when animals reclaimed much that was theirs. When man interacted with beasts in ways before unseen.


OLBERMANN: A year when sex became news, and news became sex.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, FOX NEW CHANNEL'S "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": And I will never speak of it again.

OLBERMANN: A year of dignity, a year of triumph.


OLBERMANN: A year we will never forget, no matter how hard we try.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know when the countdown started, but I've been watching.

BUSH: Now will you join me in the countdown?

OLBERMANN: Countdown's favorites of 2004.


OLBERMANN: Good evening, Countdown's favorite things of 2004. Well, that sure gives us a lot of latitude. We take it anyway, of course. That's the point of the news cast.

We neither necessarily begin nor end each night's program with the, quote unquote, most important story. But when we do, we seldom do it reverently.

Thus we begin our recap of the year that was with the campaign that was, yes, pretty important. Most important election of our lifetimes, both sides said, and certainly the most mean-spirited and definitely the goofiest.


SHARPTON: I know the symbol of this party is the donkey.

DEAN: Thank you so much.


SHARPTON: Donkeys are stubborn.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks to the people of New Hampshire we are in a three way split decision for third place.

SHARPTON: If you want to move a donkey, you have to slap the donkey.

DEAN: I do not recommend drinking urine.

SHARPTON: I intend to slap this donkey till this donkey kicks George Bush right out of the White House.

PENNY MARSHALL & CINDY WILLIAMS, ACTORS: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated!

CINDY GRECCO, SINGER (singing): Give us any chance we'll take it.

Read us any rule we'll break it.

OLBERMANN: Is the fact that these guys and lady are on TV more often than is Lester Holt a god thing or a bad thing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wish it was over with, ha, ha.

DEAN: You know something? You know something? We're going to South Carolina, California, Texas, New York, South Dakota, Oregon, Washington, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Arizona, North Dakota, New Mexico, Connecticut, Arkansas.

OLBERMANN: Anaheim, Asuza (ph) and Cucamonga.

DEAN: Yes.

SHARPTON: Don't be hard on yourself about hooting and hollering.

DEAN: Thanks, Reverend.


1 way how Howard Dean can turn things around.

DEAN: Oh, I don't know, maybe fewer crazy red-faced rants.

LIEBERMAN: I have decided tonight to end my quest for the presidency of the United States of America.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've decided to suspend my campaign for the president...

GEPHARDT: Today my pursuit of the presidency has reached its end.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have decided we're going to end this phase.


SHARPTON: I intend to slap this donkey.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next critical step we must take is to help elect John Kerry as the next president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): The winner takes it all. The loser's standing small.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why the hell. There's nothing falling. What the (expletive deleted) are you guys doing up there?

GRAPHIC: Yo no soy marinero Soy Capitan.

KERRY: Reporting for duty.

BUSH: I've got a hopeful vision for this country.

KERRY: This will have to be the very last question. I apologize. But it's got to be. And in deference to Lambert Field and Vince, whom I've quoted a few times, I've got to go to this Packer fan.

BUSH: If someone offers you a cheesehead don't say you want some wine. Just put it on your head and take a seat at Lambeau Field.


KERRY: There were three countries, Great Britain, Australia and the United States. We can do better.

BUSH: Well, actually, you forgot Poland.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: And you show the world exactly what women can achieve with faith, with hard work, and a whole lot of chutzpah.

TERESA HEINZ KERRY, JOHN KERRY'S WIFE: You said something I didn't say, now shove it.

BUSH: Today we've got a hall of famer with us. Mr. Robin Roberts. Thank you for coming, Robin. I'm honored you're here. Where are you? Oh, yes.

We're having a discussion with our key members of the defense team about a variety of subjects. We talked about Iraq. We're making progress on the ground.

KERRY: Last time I was here you had a great big giant cow made of butter.

BUSH: Nice to be here at the Boone County fairgrounds. I was hoping to get a corny dog.

KERRY: Now, what I'd really like is the Harley-Davidson made of butter.

BUSH: Lemonade.

KERRY: I had chili and a Frostie.

BUSH: Anybody need a rib?

KERRY: Chocolate Frostie.

BUSH: Do you want some ribs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now behind us, a future president (ph) enjoying a cold drink from Wendy's.

BUSH: Do you want some ribs?

KERRY: Some chili.

BUSH: I'm ordering ribs.

KERRY: First of all, No. 1.

No. 2.

No. 1.

No. 2.

No. 3, we need a president who understands.

No. 4 - guess what, Tim?

Eight million.

Ten million.

Guess what, Tim, $11 million.

That said, No. 1.

No. 2.

No. 3.

No. 4.

But here's the bottom line. No. 1.

DR. PHIL, TALK SHOW HOST: Were y'all spankers? Did you spank them?

BUSH: Not really.

L. BUSH: Not very often.

BUSH: Not really.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you want to be vice president?

EDWARDS: To build a better country and a better world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to interview somebody else.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And if you don't mind my saying so, the vice president is no slouch either.

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll never forget the paper he wrote in the fourth grade, where he explained that in 1519 Ferdinand Magellan set out to circumcise the world.

GRAPHIC: George W. Bush Invigorating America's Youth.

BUSH: We need to maintain spending discipline in our nation's capital. I plan to protect small business owners and employees.

House members, all the local officials, the sheriff is with us today.

If you're worried about the quality of the education. We stand for the fair treatment of faith-based groups.

Travel sovereignty means that. It's sovereignty. You're a - you're a - you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity.

And, therefore, the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.

KERRY: I know that my plan has a better chance of working.

BUSH: We've got an issue in America. Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many ob gyn's aren't able to practice their - their love with women all across this country.

KERRY: Well, I want to make certain that our troops are protected.

BUSH: You're doing good, Sam.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I told you you'd have to cut me off.

BUSH: I haven't cut you off yet. You and my mother go to the same hair dye person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, President Bush...

BUSH: The superintendent of schools, Big Bob Watson is here. Did they ever call you Big Bob?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, and governor - excuse me, president.

BUSH: Yes. How quickly they forget.

One of the most meaningful things that's happened to me since I've been the governor - president - governor - president oops.


OLBERMANN: President Bush's re-election was followed by a flurry of departures by members of his cabinet, none more significant than that of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In a life rich with accomplishment, it was one moment in July that captured our fancy. In his official capacity as secretary of state, Mr. Powell traveled to Jakarta for the 2004 ASEAN regional forum, Asia's largest security meeting.

Apparently, they like to end this important and sober annual summit with a big song and dance number.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE (singing): It's got to be RBNC. The RBNC. You can go there. They're waiting for you. Don't hold your breath for the E.U. RBNC. It's got everything for all of us to enjoy. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) never alone.


OLBERMANN: Wow. Karaoke at the Powell goodbye party, anybody?

Singing and dancing by one Miss Janet Jackson captured the attention in '04. All right. It was really the nipple shield.

The breast that launched a yearlong values debate and launched a Countdown mainstay, the apology hall of fame. The infraction gets the headlines, but it's the mea culpa that makes the story.

Our 2004 favorite things will be right back.


OLBERMANN: Whether or not moral values really decided the 2004 election is up for debate. The exit polls that night showed it ranked first among the issues upon which voters made up their mind.

Of course, those were the same exit polls that were otherwise supposed to be completely wrong.

Later, another set of polls that were not multiple choice found that values was only the third most important issue behind No. 2, Iraq, and No. 1, other.

But don't tell anybody that in cable news. Moral values constituted 22.6 percent of our programming this year. And when I say 22.6 percent, of course, I'm just making up a number out of thin air.

Still, gay marriage, the basket brawl, the "Monday Night Football" towel drop and especially Martha behind bars, the Lotto winner who wasn't and the wardrobe malfunction.

They may not have decided anything, but they sure let us show a lot of titillating videotape.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): Janet Jackson turned Super Bowl XXXVIII into Super Bowl 38D.

The awful night had begun with the omen the whole world missed, the ceremonial coin toss conducted by football legend Y.A. Tittle, soon to be the question on everyone's list. Why a tittle?

Unaware of the cataclysm that awaited him, Timberlake was initially proud.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, SINGER: I love giving you all something to talk about.

OLBERMANN: And then the others got loud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jerry, hello! Jerry, hello! (ph). It's not like this was a real one. I mean, apparently it was made up of Michael Jackson's old noses.

ROB SCHNEIDER, COMEDIAN: Well, I guarantee you, that's the oldest booby that Justin Timberlake has ever seen.

OLBERMANN: And soon the breast seemed to have taken on a life and a publicity agent of its own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey, hey, that halftime show was OK.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey, hey, my areola was on full display.


OLBERMANN: And then the good times ended, from halftime-half open to 100 percent backlash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Offensive, embarrassing, and inappropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We received thousands of complaints.

CARSON DALY, TALK SHOW HOST: I don't think it was an accident what happened at the Super Bowl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was very calculated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody had knowledge.

OLBERMANN: Think of the children. Will somebody think of the children?

Though the universe seemed aligned against her very being, Janet would ultimately realize that when you are a Jackson, you are not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): You are not alone. I am here with you.

JERMAINE JACKSON, JANET JACKSON'S BROTHER: That's Janet. That's my little baby sister.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Thanks for the memories

OLBERMANN: Martha Stewart is going to the big house, and they probably will not let her redecorate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Martha Stewart's courtroom decorum do's and don'ts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do always look your best. Consider a trip to the hair salon. Choose a proper hairstyle and stick with it. One never knows when the authorities may want to take your picture. Remember, a photograph lasts forever.

And always dress appropriately. But whatever you do, keep your clothes on at all times. This is a court of law, not a Super Bowl halftime show.

Do leave every day without a fuss. Remember, the court of public opinion never takes a recess.

Don't make a spectacle of yourself outside. Leave the dancing and singing to those unconcerned with projecting a proper image.

ROBERT BLAKE, ACTOR (singing): Somewhere...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do always be gracious. Thank the judge when the trial is over.

Try to help find the real killers, if appropriate.

And remember, revenge is a dish best served cold, much like a plate of tasty cyanide-laced smoked salmon canape. Delish!


OLBERMANN: The winning ticket in the $162 million dollar lottery in Ohio. There was only one of them, but the number of women who claim they own it is one too many.

Exhibit A, the store, the epicenter. This is where she bought the ticket. This is where she lost the ticket.

Exhibit b, the winning numbers, 12, 18, 21, 32, 46 and Megaball 49. Miss Battle explains that all of those numbers are significant to her. For instance, her husband's age, 48.

But wait a minute, after careful investigation, we determined that none of those numbers are 48. Forty-six is close. Forty-nine is closer. But neither is 48. We asked math guys.

Exhibit C, Miss Battle on Countdown. She took her fight nationwide, authoritatively announcing to the world exactly what had happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After I purchased the ticket, I guess I lost it.

OLBERMANN: Exhibit D, the revelation. We asked Miss Battle about her suspicious past.

Your client has previously been convicted on credit fraud - credit card fraud charges, and also, for assault.

Watch the eyes, back and to the left. Again, back and to the left.

And finally, exhibit Z, the photograph. A photograph of Elecia Battle, a photograph that shows a complete absence of winning ticket tude.


OLBERMANN: Nothing goes better with manufactured outrage than a good old fashion insincere apology. Two thousand and four gave us our fair share of those wonderfully awkward moments.

No media driven conniption fit can be complete without the public act of contrition from the offender, who, seeking closure, must step before the camera and at least try to look like he or she is really, really sorry.

Some, merely believable. Most, not so much. But only a select few are worthy of a place in the Countdown Apology Hall of Fame.


ASHLEE SIMPSON, SINGER: On a Monday I am waiting. On a Tuesday...

I feel so song. My band started playing the wrong song. And I didn't know what to do, so I thought I'd do a hoedown. I'm sorry.

TERRELL OWENS, NFL PLAYER: Personally, I didn't think it would have offended anyone.

Oh, hell.

You know, if it did, you know, we'll apologize.

JAMES MCGREEVEY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: I am sorry. So, so sorry that mistakes...

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: For the Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: I feel sorry to anybody that's been brought into this unnecessarily.

DAN RATHER, ANCHOR, CBS NEWS: It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it. Also, I want to say personally and regretfully, I'm sorry.

JANET JACKSON, ENTERTAINER: Unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end. I am really sorry.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife.

KOBE BRYANT, NBA PLAYER: I'm so sorry. I love my wife so much.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: In order to be a racist, you have to feel superior. I don't feel superior to you at all. I don't think any man or any woman is superior to any other.

ED GORDON, BET ANCHOR: Did you always hold that view?

LOTT: I think I did.

TONYA HARDING, OLYMPIC SKATER: I feel really bad for Nancy. And I feel really lucky that it wasn't me.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": What the hell were you thinking?

HUGH GRANT, ACTOR: I just never realized pretty much what's a good thing to do and what's a bad thing. And I did a bad thing. There you have it.

STEVE IRWIN, "THE CROCODILE HUNTER": Sweetie, who do you want to be when you grow up?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve - Steve, let me jump in here.

S. IRWIN: Poor little thing. I am sorry, mate.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, CALIFORNIA: Yes, I have behaved badly sometimes. I'm sorry for those people that I've offended. I want to say to them I'm deeply sorry about that, and I apologize.

RICHARD M. NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And if some of my judgments were wrong, and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interests of the nation.

ELTON JOHN, SINGER (singing): What will I do to make you want me?

JIMMY SWAGGART, TELEVANGELIST: Please forgive me. I have sinned against you, my Lord. And I would ask that you forgive me.


OLBERMANN: It's anybody's guess who the next class of inductees will be come the new year: Bill O'Reilly? Probably not. We're still waiting for the apology for all those Americans who will now remember '04 as the year of the falafel.

And the daily dance between the guys who run and the cops who chase them. If the bad guys would only watch Countdown, they would understand how their brush with the law is destined to end.


OLBERMANN: Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes? Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes? I don't think so. These are Countdown's favorite things, not that Julie Andrews picture.

Coming up, our battle to save the O'Reilly tapes. We didn't even know if there were O'Reilly tapes with his whispering sweet falafel nothings to his producer, but we were not going to risk their destruction.

You and I both putting our money where his mouth was on that one.

And you, the viewer, giving me quite the unexpected honor this year:

sexiest news anchor alive. I only wanted to beat Andy Rooney, I swear.

And from chasing votes to just plain old chases, whether they be behind the wheel or just steps in front of some really nasty bullhorns. Countdown's 2004 favorite things continues after this message.


OLBERMANN: People of the right age can remember exactly where they were the day they heard World War II had ended or how long their hair was the day the man landed on the moon.

Or, in our own era, that glorious afternoon when they announced that Bill O'Reilly was being sued by a former producer named Andrea Mackris for sexual harassment on the phone. Mr. I'm looking out for you, accused of looking out not just for himself, but looking out on himself.

As we continue to recall Countdown's favorite things of 2004, we take you back to the time when transcripts of those naughty phone calls and the likelihood that those calls were on tape became public knowledge.

And it appeared we might get to hear O'Reilly talking endlessly about using a loofah sponge on a guest in the shower, only to suddenly start hearing him call it not only a loofah, but a falafel.

We called our campaign "Save the Tapes."


OLBERMANN (voice-over): When the first court orders began to arrive indicating he'd have to surrender the secret tapes that would ultimately doom his presidency, Richard Nixon got conflicting advice.

Attorneys like Leonard Garnet told him turn those tapes over. His former treasury secretary, John Connelly, told him invite the press to the Rose Garden, put all the tapes in one stack, douse them with gasoline and light them on fire. The tapes, not the press.

Now Andrea Mackris faces the same dilemma that. Preserve her tapes, the pop culture equivalent of the Nixon collection, or succumb to the proviso in O'Reilly's reported settlement offer of up to $4 million. The tapes must be destroyed, and if copies turn up at any point in the future, O'Reilly gets his hush money back.

The TIME Life record company has a similar money-back guarantee.

But destroy the tapes? I've testified in many sexual harassment cases in my days at ESPN, and the process is still inevitably stacked against the accuser. So I understand that she has to do what she has to do.

And when FOX took me off the air in 2001, its executive paid me the rest of my salary, $800,000, on the undertaking that I would not say anything about what idiots they were until after the contract expired eight months later.

Now, I think I've done another $800,000 worth of damage to them since, because nowhere did it say when the contract expired, I couldn't start saying what idiots they were, and that proves that they are idiots, by the way. Hey, they're another $17 in damage right there.

So truly, I empathize with Ms. Mackris' position. But I am speaking now on behalf of history. I am pleading for the C.D. listeners as yet unborn. I am thinking of the boxed DVD sets and the orders from Amazon and the dance mix versions of O'Reilly talking about loofahs and falafels, counterpointed with his radio statement from last week.

O'REILLY: And I just made a decision that I'm just going to ride it out. Ride it out.

Shut up.

Ride it out. And I'm going to fight them.

Shut up.

Going to fight them.

OLBERMANN: Fight them. For four days. Yes, like the Yankees fought the Red Sox.

But as I said, I am not asking Andrea Mackris to do this alone. The news corp's own "New York Post" reports she is exactly $99,000 in debt due to credit card bills and student loans, and the claim is she's selling the tapes and her case to Bill O'Reilly to avoid financial calamity.

Well, if she's going to get $4 million out of this, I can't match that. But if she really wants to fight this case and only needs seed money to keep the legal challenge going, I am willing to stand up and help her. And to help history, I'll pay off her $99,000 in debt.

All I ask is a copy of the tapes and her agreement not to make any deal that requires their destruction. She can settle with O'Reilly. She can sue him with the tapes remaining in the public domain from now until the year 2027. She can date the guy. Just save the tapes. That's all I ask.

There are other options, too. EBay. Take the top O'Reilly offer, $4 million whatever, make it the minimum bid. Literally. Let the market determine the price of the falafel factor.

There's the stock market, too. Mackris could create an IPO for a private company and go public when the offering exceeds $4 million. Then she takes the company public, lets the stock holders decide what to do with the tapes.

It's that entrepreneurial spirit Bill O'Reilly is always applauding.

There's also always K-Tel Records. Certainly, K-Tel Records could sell 400,000 copies of this at $19.95 apiece.

And there's still me. I got a check for $99,000 here and a plea from the future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Save the tapes. Save the tapes. Save the tapes.

Save the tapes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Save the tapes. Save the tapes. Save the tapes.

Save the tapes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Save the tapes. Save the tapes. Save the tapes.

Save the tapes.


OLBERMANN: People have asked me, "Are you serious? Why would you spend this money?"

And I say you're damned right I'm serious. Would I have gotten this giant prop check made if I was not serious?


O'REILLY: This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again.

OLBERMANN: Don't you tell me it's over. I'll tell you if it's over.

Peace over war. A sad, sad moment for our nation. It's your entertainment dollars in action. Day 16 of the Bill O'Reilly investigations.


OLBERMANN: Still get misty when I think about that story. Hey, I said misty.

An odd year for those of us on cable every night at 8 p.m. Eastern time. There was Paula Zahn and people demanding CNN fire her just because she happened to be married to the guy who destroyed that New York high rise nest of the couple of rare giant red hawk birds.

Then there was me, "Playgirl" magazine's sexiest news anchor. And I won that online beauty pageant fair and square. I had a little help from my staff of Karl Rove wannabes, that's true.


OLBERMANN: Hello, I'm Keith Olbermann, and I sure as hell didn't approve this message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This year America finds itself at a cross roads.

A decision must be made, and every vote could mean the difference.

We're not talking about some meaningless presidential election. It's "Playgirl" magazine's hunkiest anchor contest and Keith Olbermann need your help.

Without you votes, "Playgirl" magazine may, by default, name this guy or even this guy the sexiest anchorman. But you know who is sexy and counts down from five every night? This guy.

"Keith Olbermann is the thinking person's thinking person."

"A Clark Kent with attitude."

"Sean Hannity has a face only Ed Gillespie could love."

"Anderson who?"

America has a choice. Choose sexy, choose Olbermann. Keith Olbermann, his middle name is sexy. Won't you please vote now? Go to

Keith's middle name is not really sexy. Hannity's middle name is Francis, and that's not sexy, either.

Paid for by the Committee to Beat Andy Rooney.

OLBERMANN: So guess what happened? I won. Woo-who. I am "Playgirl's" sexiest news caster. It's true; it's true. It's in their October issue. The staff is having a great deal of fun about this.

Somebody had said something about sexiest and intelligent. I don't know where the intelligent part was.

MICHELE ZIPP, "PLAYGIRL" MAGAZINE: First of all, I say congratulations.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, thank you.

ZIPP: Your voters were incredible. And it not only comes with not only having the prestigious title of hottest anchorman. We're also giving you a check to the charity of your choice.

OLBERMANN: How nice.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, CNN's "ANDERSON COOPER 360": All right. So "Playgirl" magazine conducted a poll to determine who readers think is TV's sexiest newscaster. I came in third, and I can live with that, especially considering the fact that I didn't do any electioneering at all. None whatsoever, whereas the guy who came in first campaigned like crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this the face of America's sexiest news man? Of course not. But if those fat cats at FOX have their way, he might usurp the title of "Playgirl" magazine's hunkiest anchorman.

And what about this Anderson Cooper? Who says he's sexy? Just look at that face, that hair, those cool, steely eyes. You know, he really is dreamy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, stick to the script.


Sean Hannity, not sexy. Anderson Cooper, not sexy. Keith Olbermann, now, that's sexy. Vote for Keith Olbermann at

COOPER: I was away at the time. See, I was working, going on patrol with soldiers and facing danger in Baghdad instead of groveling day and night for sexiest news guy votes. Nonetheless, as I say, I placed third without any campaigning at all.

OLBERMANN: Hoop, hoop, hoop. If it means that much to you, take it, baby, it's yours.


OLBERMANN: From newsroom stud to the studs of Pamplona. Sometimes you catch the bull, sometimes the bull, he catches you. I think Hemingway said that. Do you suppose the bulls will ever catch on as to how this all ends?

And chases of the four wheel variety, from crashes to spinouts to knockouts. Countdown takes the art of car chase coverage to new journalistic heights.


OLBERMANN: One of our most favorite, favorite things of the year, up next. The chase. Cops speeding after thieves or bulls chasing after humans. Didn't matter which. If there was a camera, we, too, were there.


OLBERMANN: Regular viewers of Countdown are no doubt aware that one of our favorite things is the car chase. To be more precise, it is that bizarre spectacle that the televised car chase has become on local TV stations around the country.

This June we passed a milestone in car chase history, the 10-year anniversary of the granddaddy of them all, the O.J. Simpson chase. It is the one by which all the others are judged and the moment that inspired a decade of over the top, gratuitous, sensationalized coverage, especially by us.


OLBERMANN: When O.J. Simpson was just another ex-jock athlete with an undeservedly good reputation, it was already a staple of everyday life in L.A.

A driver tries to elude the police and choppers two, four, five, seven, nine, 11, 13 and Univiion swarm overhead to carry it live, live, live.

By March of 1994, three months before Simpson, it was already such a cliche that it had inspired a Charlie Sheen movie called "The Chase."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, terror on the freeway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you've just joined us, tonight there's terror on the freeway.

OLBERMANN: But that was car chasing when car-chasing wasn't cool.

Ten years ago came the moon landing of the genre.

TOM BROKAW, FORMER ANCHOR, NBC NEWS: The white Bronco that you see on the freeway going right on your screen contains O.J. Simpson, a fugitive at large.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is A.C. I have O.J. in the car.

OLBERMANN: O.J. and A.C., the white Ford Bronco and the black and whites behind it. And America watching it instead of the basketball playoff games, the beginning of the decline of the NBA, the beginning of the decade of the car chase.

Soon you needed not the accusation that you had beheaded your wife. A broken taillight and a left foot on the gas pedal was enough for us to interrupt this program; let's go up to the chopper.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's going up on the sidewalk. There he goes.

OLBERMANN: Local stations anywhere broke in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's just not giving up.

OLBERMANN: Cable networks everywhere broke in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take this shot up on satellite right now. A car chase in Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw the driver of the black car put on his blinker.

OLBERMANN: It didn't matter what else was on. We once cut away from Clinton-Lewinsky to show car chase-inski.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man had a total disregard for the safety of anybody else on the road.

OLBERMANN: America just loved to watch them run. They ran in cars. They ran in trucks. They ran in buses. They ran on motorcycles, or on that most jaw-dropping of days, in a 50-ton Army tank on the streets of San Diego.

Real-life action movies, playing out nearly every day not just live, but so incredibly inexpensive for television stations and networks to produce.

The coverage reached a saturation point. The FOX network dedicated a weekly prime time show to nothing but car chases.

Others treated it all more like a goofy sporting event.

Checking the "Oddball Scoreboard" for the year, we see cops 44, guys who think they can escape the cops, goose egg.

Never mind that scoreboard, because this guy's in a hurry.

Charlotte, North Carolina, the man fleeing a domestic disturbance, crashes into the intersection. He just walks away from his still-rolling vehicle. Just park that anywhere, pal. The other driver was injured, but not seriously.

Then the foot chase starts and our suspect turns on the sped. But there will be no blue ribbon for this fleet-footed fellow. Maybe he can join the track and field team in the big house.

As novelty waned, variety waxed. If it moved, if it was on the ground, if we had a camera, we were looking live.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "Hardball": Well, it sure beats the O.J. Bronco ride, I'll tell you that.

OLBERMANN: So after 10 years, the car chase may be running on fumes. We've seen so many that even the cable networks rarely break format just for a chase.

Local stations facing, pressure from police officials, have chosen to scale back coverage, notably after some stations ended violently on live TV.

But you can't blame the decline in coverage on the lack of contestants. They're still out there. Every day somewhere a guy decides to run.

Maybe it's drunken recklessness. Maybe it's desperation. Maybe it's that naive dream that I can be the one, the one who ran from the law and got away.

Doesn't work for them, just as 10 years ago this summer it didn't work for him. Hell, he's still running.


OLBERMANN: We should note that other than that man driving that tank, no one was killed in any of those chases.

And no one was killed in any of these chases coming up at the running of the bulls in Pamplona, unless of course, you count the bulls, the unwilling participants of this spectacle in eight days in July.

And of they knew they'd be slaughtered in the bull ring at the end of that run each day, they might play this game a little differently.

It is for that reason that we cover this event the way we do, with our fingers crossed, rooting for the bulls, not the bipeds.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): In England, it's the cheese chase. In Finland, you carry your wife on your head. Here in the U.S., we shove tube steaks into our pie holes. Broken bones, chapped necks and gastrointestinal meltdowns ensue. But only those who choose to participate get hurt. There are no victims, just volunteers.

In Pamplona, it is otherwise. Each year for 400 years or more, fireworks go off, gates spring open, and the bovine assault on the biped wearing the neckerchief begins.

Hunting runners with the singular imperative of making them ride the high horn highway, these bulls will not be denied. Right here.

Turn No. 3 saw more pileups than Lower Wacker Drive (ph) in Chicago.

After four centuries, you'd think somebody would have done something about those plastic cobblestones.

You can understand why they pile it on the bipeds in a manner that might even be frowned upon in the National Hockey League.

And there they go.

The odd are stacked, yet the bull fights on, taking his fleeing vengeance where he can. At the bottle neck at the very entrance of the Plaza del Toro, for instance.

At end of the line, all bulls go to heaven and all runners party their tiny little heads off. But for eight days in July, these bulls have at least a shot at skewering the citizens of Pamplona.

For some it doesn't quite work out. For others, they glory in their one moment in time.

Just cue the song.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Just give us one moment of time. I will be, I will be, I will be free, I will be - I will be free.


OLBERMANN: Countdown gives thanks to our favorite entities, the news gods. They bring us the inexplicably loveable, like William Hung.


OLBERMANN: And daredevils always finding new ways to dazzle us. The wackiest moments of 2004 straight ahead.


OLBERMANN: Finally tonight, all of the rest of the stuff we couldn't jam into this show elsewhere.

Where would Countdown be without the nightly parade of weird news, dumb criminals, strange animals and all order of bizarre video? I shudder to even contemplate it.

So tonight in this holiday season we give thanks to the wonderful bounty of odd news of 2004, and I'll do it in rhyme just this once, then, nevermore.


KERRY: I don't know when the countdown started, but I've been watching.

OLBERMANN: (clears throat)

WILL FERRELL, COMEDIAN: (clears throat)

OLBERMANN: (clears throat)

FERRELL: (clears throat)

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: Hurricane Ivan, you're fired. Is that OK?

BUSH: The death tax will eventually come back to life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harry, can you tell us how old you are today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm 82 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighty-two years young might be a better way to put it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up your (expletive deleted).

OLBERMANN (voice-over): Particularly were we blessed in this election year. The well never ran dry as the big day grew near.

On the one side the senator, flip-floppy, aloof, on the other the president, the cowboy, maybe goof.

DR. PHIL: Were you all spankers? Did you spank them?

L. BUSH: Not really.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, Mr. Kerry. You took dorkitude to new heights.

Thank you, Mr. President, for those first-rate sound bites.

BUSH: Need some wood?

OLBERMANN: And let us give thanks for the primary circus and the 10 little Democrats and each of their quirkus. Yes, I said quirkus.

Thanks, John-John. Thanks, Dennis. Thanks Joe, Bob and Carol, Mr. Gephardt, the good Reverend and the Democrat general. You all gave so much to the political machine but one man gave more still.

DEAN: All right. Which has more bacteria in it? Dog pee or water from the river?

OLBERMANN: Ladies and gentlemen, Howard Dean!DEAN: Yes!

OLBERMANN: We give thanks for our lifeblood. A steady diet of absurd. The strange news, celebrities, a Barbie leg on a bird, the oddballs, the goofballs, the weirdoes, the strange, the guy with a stomach full up with loose change.


OLBERMANN: Break dancing with the pope, a horse drinking beer and oh, yes, Ralph Nader. Is he in it this year?

RALPH NADER, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry has an exit strategy.

OLBERMANN: To the masters of science and brand new technologies, strange animals of all kinds and freaks of biology. The toilet of the future.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It provides gentle, aerated warm-water cleansing.

OLBERMANN: A machine that kicks butts, monks in the state capitol kicking heaven knows what, pinkie the cat and the poor shmoe in flannel and the guy who sells swords on the Home Shopping Channel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the nice thing about these practice kitanas -

Oh, oh, that hurt.

OLBERMANN: Thanks, Michael and Courtney and Britney and Martha and all our dumb criminals just who ain't that smartha.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm a drug dealer not a bank robber. I'm the one with the drugs. I'm the (expletive deleted) drug dealer.

OLBERMANN: Thanks for that wonderful song that Robert Blake sung and the man, the myth, the legend that is William Hung.

HUNG: Good evening.

OLBERMANN: Thanks to our good friends at Fark and the folks at Smoking Gun, without whom there'd be no photos when Macaulay Culkin got bobbed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Save the tapes! Save the tapes!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Save the tapes! Save the tapes!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Save the tapes! Save the tapes!

OLBERMANN: Worse yet, we might have missed this year's creepiest story, of that guy over on FOX in all of his glory.

O'REILLY: Obviously, they have major problems over there.

OLBERMANN: One day, we may lose the awful image and subsequent waffles of Bill O'Reilly in the shower holding his falafel.

And to my wonderful staff who share in the successes and the blames...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just love him.

OLBERMANN:... I'd thank you each personally if I could only remember your names.

But in this holiday season, in this time of plenty we are thankful most for you, our viewers, all 20.


OLBERMANN: And that's Countdown's favorite things of 2004. Thank you for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, good luck and happy holidays.


Thursday, December 30, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 30

Guest: Barry Neild, Eric Bellman, Peter Goodman, Michael Neuman, David Mackett, Maria Milito


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Now it is more than 125,000 dead. And that number may still underestimate the mortality of the Christmas tsunami. And Indonesian ambassador, saying parts of Aceh province show no signs of life. There may be 400,000 more dead there. And the captured images of horror continue. Those children survived. As did the man seen in this videotape from Thailand. Now we'll hear his story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was stretching out my arm to get a hold of him but the railing and the concrete just broke down so I didn't have a chance.

OLBERMANN: The day's other news. Lasers aim at pilot to blind them? It is supposed to be on the al Qaeda wish list. It has now happened. At least once. Maybe twice this week.

And a formal challenge to the Ohio votes in the Electoral College. Congressman Conyers of Michigan announces he will file the first challenge since the process was established in 1887. Now he's looking for a senator to join him. All that and more now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. It now impossible to believe that this was true. Three days ago at this hour, the official death toll from the Christmas tsunami in the Indian Ocean stood at 24,000. Tonight, that count is at 125,282. And according to Indonesia's ambassador to Malaysia, three days from now, we may find an equally impossible to believe this number was so low. He estimates the dead just in the Aceh province of his homeland, at 400,000. Our fifth story on the Countdown, as if the exponential growth of the number of fatalities were not mind numbering enough, there are images from Thailand that beggar description. Not because they show horrific destruction, but because they show this. Western tourists, mostly Australian and British, back on the beaches around Phuket, Thailand.

The Australian newspaper, "The Adelaide Advertisers" reports that vacationers were seen on Patang (ph) Beach where at least 120 people died on Sunday morning. And at Surin (ph) Beach where at least 10 other people perished. At least some were new arrivals. "Our friends think we're mad," the newspaper quotes Paul Cunliff (ph) Manchester, England. "The only risk we face, I think, is if there's another quake. We love the place that much and we thought we would take the risk." Thousands of tourists, including at least 2,000 Americans, are still missing in the region.

It will prove that those beach areas in Thailand were virtually spared the enormity of the nightmare. There are 4,500 dead in the entire country and its islands. But not so Indonesia. Even the current initial figure, just under 80,000, may be phenomenally low. The Malaysian state news agency Bernama, quotes Indonesia's ambassador to Malaysia as saying today, that three large communities in the province appear to have been totally destroyed. But are as yet inaccessible. Aerial surveillance found the town of Malabo (ph) completely destroyed with only one building standing, said ambassador Drs H. Rusdihardjo. Malabo had 150,000 residents. The ambassador also says there are no signs of life in Pulau Sileuelue. It had a population of 76,000.

Access to these areas if only to see if anybody is still alive there, has been cut off due to the destruction of roads and rapidly depleting fuel supplies. Ambassador Rusdihardjo concluding that the death toll in Aceh province in Indonesia could exceed 400,000. As more and more contemporaneous videotape becomes available from the region, it becomes increasingly unbelievable that anyone near any coastline survived. We warn you, these next images are deeply disturbing but amazingly all the children that you see in them survived. This is from Penang Island, in Malaysia.

Those children, apparently able to flee to safety from this. Only one of the initial smaller waves of the tsunami. The much stronger subsequent wave literally wiped out everything in its path, surprising the vacationers at this resort in Phuket in Thailand. Thai officials confirmed more than 2,000 foreigners dead. There may be as many as 6,000 of them still missing. That is essentially all we can report from here. Tonight, we want to take to you Thailand, to Sri Lanka, and first to Indonesia, for first person accounts. We're joined now by Barry Neild, the deputy bureau chief for the Agence France Press in Jakarta, Indonesia. Great thanks for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: You're at the receiving end of reports from your staff around that country. Simply put, summarize for me. Tell me what it is like there now.

NEILD: As you mentioned, I'm in contact every day with our staff in Aceh, the most badly affected area by this. They're sending in horrific accounts of what it is like there. Just terrible descriptions of bodies lying in the streets. Decaying corpses floating down rivers. There just seems to be death and destruction all around. Grotesque images we're seeing on the screens. And from what they're telling me, it is appalling to be there on the ground.

OLBERMANN: The Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia who we just quoted, talking about Aceh, that there are the three large towns or cities essentially cut off from even the recovery efforts. Foremost of them Malabo. Showing no signs of life. And his estimate being there could be 400,000 dead there. Could that be true? The figure seems beyond comprehension. Is it reasonable?

NEILD: It's a staggering figure. But given that the level of description that we've seen, it is entirely possible. The government estimates so far have been very conservative. Of course, if you track the figure from yesterday, we saw the death toll rise almost double in the space of a few hours. It went from 45,000 to almost 80,000. And that was just as reports come in from these cut off areas. As we get contact with these places, which have been completely obliterated from the extent of the destruction, it's going to become more apparent and the extent of the death toll is going to have to rise. I can see it possibly going as high as he suggests.

OLBERMANN: Five days in. In Indonesia. Five days in anywhere after a calamity of this kind of scale. That seems to be the point where epidemic disease becomes a tangible threat. Is that the major crisis right now? Or are we still keeling fundamentally with food and water?

NEILD: I think the most pressing concern is getting food to the people who are trapped in isolated sections of the coastline. That's running out. People are starving. There are reports of people scrambling through mud just to get anything to eat. There are survivors on stretchers, of course, that have absolutely nothing. And to make matters worse, there's no way of getting to them, other than dropping things out of the sky. Disease obviously is a threat. It's not just from the decaying bodies, but from contaminated water supplies, which have been completely obliterated by these tsunamis. With that, you obviously get the risk of diarrhea, cholera, typhoid and dengue fever which is also a killer in the area. It is a tropical area. So these are all going to be made worse by that. And there's lots of help on the way but it is tricky to get it there. It is just going to go on and on. And it doesn't look like there is ever be a happy ending in sight to it.

OLBERMANN: Barry Neild of Agence France Presse in Jakarta. Great thanks. And now to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Eric Bellman has been covering for the "Wall Street Journal" since Tuesday. He joins us now. Mr. Bellman, good evening to you. Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Give us the word picture of the state of things as you see them see in Sri Lanka.

BELLMAN: I'm in Colombo right now, which is relatively unaffected but not too long ago, a couple days ago I was down south, in an area, a tourist area where a lot of European backpackers mostly like to go and relax this time of year. And it was just incredible devastation. Again, bodies in the streets. Bodies stuck in trees. All these resorts, not all but a good percentage. More than half just wiped off the beach. Tourists walking around, trying to figure out how to get to Colombo so they can get to flights home or get to a phone so they can tell their parents they're still alive. I think the situation is improving now. The roads are getting cleared. Aid is starting to arrive from the Red Cross, from the U.S., from India. And being distributed. But still, again, it just hard to imagine the devastation.

OLBERMANN: I just asked Barry Neild of Agence France Presse in Indonesia about this five day mark. And the fear that medical professionals have that about that point is when, if there are to be epidemics, especially water-borne diseases like cholera, they would start seeing signs. Are there signs of that now in Sri Lanka?

BELLMAN: I was just there looking around for signs of that yesterday. And talked to some people in sort of the makeshift clinic on the water and I think what we used to be a fishing village outside Colombo, again, it was totally wiped away. And the doctors there were saying in the beginning, they were just sort of taking care of fractures and the survivors. Fractures and scratches and stitches. Helping people replace their heart medicine or their diabetes medicine that had been washed away.

But as of yesterday, they were starting to get reports of these stomach problems and that was a real bad sign. Two days ago, there was nothing. Yesterday it was between 10 and 15 percent. And they expect to get a lot worse. Colombo and Sri Lanka in general actually, this area, the area I said that was affected, has better access to clean water than a lot of places that have been hit in Asia but there are already problem here.

OLBERMANN: So much of this is so international in scope. Tell the story, if you would, but the young man in the city of Galle who you met, who had to find the bodies of his mother and father and his siblings and what he had to do with those bodies.

BELLMAN: Galle in the south of the area that is very popular with tourists, very hard hit, there is a young man there about 23 that I met, he had a big bandage over his face. And I asked him about what had happened. And he told the authorities about how he had lost his whole family. And he sort of very calmly explained, now because everybody has been affected, he couldn't ask for any help. The government isn't there, the police weren't doing anything, and even your neighbors are busy with the same sort of tragedies. So he had to walk around town and find the bodies of his mother embracing his sister and father, his brother in a tree and his father at the edge of a field, carried them himself, dig a five foot grave and put them all in there and bury them. Even say prayers. He can't wait for a Buddhist monk to do the proper rituals. At least his family had him to look after them. There was a group of 20 local picnickers that were also in his town that they had found. They don't know who they are. Nobody knows who they are. They just know they were there to picnic on Sunday. But the bodies were starting to smell. And they had to dig a hole and put them in it. And they don't know who they were.

OLBERMANN: Goodness! Eric Bellman South Asian correspondent with the "wall street journal" at Colombo, Sri Lanka. Many thanks for your time, sir. Last night Peter Goodman from the "Washington Post" from Phuket, Thailand, was good enough to give us a few minutes of his time. And he's doing so again tonight. Peter, good evening.


OLBERMANN: In the last 24 hours there, has the situation in Thailand gotten better, gotten worse? Has it stayed the same? How would you characterize it?

GOODMAN: I would say it stayed about the same. The one thing that is striking as you drive around is that the bodies keep coming. You go back to the same morgues. These are makeshift morgues. Usually in hospitals or in many cases, Buddhist temples. Where bodies are lying. Some wrapped in sheeting. Some just out in the open for lack of enough sheeting. And day after day, you go back and see the area where the bodies are lying has expanded. There are that many more people coming. Some people, tourists, Thais alike, photos of people missing, passports, identity cards, driver's licenses, just pleading with anyone they can find to help them locate loved ones who are gone.

OLBERMANN: On the other extreme of this, the scenes we've shown earlier in the newscasts of tourists, either freshly arrived or just returning to the beaches to sun themselves, even the new western tourists, arriving in Phuket are these isolated cases or is tourism, which is obviously so vital to the Thai economy, is it for better or worse back up on its feet?

GOODMAN: Well, I think the more isolated cases than not, tourism is not back on it's feet. There are some hotels that have been wiped off the map that tourism, in the aggregate, tourism is definitely down. The airport is crowded on the way out and not all that crowded on the way in. That said, there is this kind of surreal divide between the dominant thing that's happening here in Phuket, where I'm sitting, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia, and the reality of still tens of thousand of people going about their lives, playing rounds of golf and sitting on beaches, and sitting in open air restaurants, doing what people usual people usually on beach resorts . There are whole areas unaffected. Hear in the Patong Beach, which is the most developed beach in Phuket, if you walk along this road that fronts the beach, the devastation is just incredible. There are still rescue crews pulling bodies out of underground garages and collapsed buildings.

You walk three blocks away from the beach and it is as if nothing happened and there are the same people sitting in their batik shirts and drinking beer and I'm sure discussing what's going on around them. Not oblivious, by any stretch, but yes. On vacation.

OLBERMANN: Let me ask you. Lastly, we spoke briefly at night, at the unconfirmed report that the Thai government had made a decision not to issue a tsunami warning on Sunday morning to protect the tourism industry to some degree, or possibly for other reasons. Has anything further developed on that story?

GOODMAN: Well, nobody has really had a chance to check out that report outside of people in Bangkok. People out in the field are mostly looking at what remains of a rescue effort, which is really an effort to look for bodies. One thing that has happened, though, is there are all these reports. Sometimes government warnings, statements just panic on beaches where people will all of a sudden say there's been a tsunami warning and you don't really have time to get to the bottom of it. And yesterday there was a small earthquake centered somewhere off of Aceh province in Indonesia and there was actually what turned out to be a false report of a tsunami headed for India. But the Indian government called the warning.

The next thing I knew, I was getting a text message from a colleague, "Get high. There's a tsunami warning for the next 10 minutes." And pulled over and waited to try to figure out what was going on. The day before, I had been in a village where 2,000 families lost their homes and about 600 people, maybe more, died. And I was standing at a reconstruction site where there was a report that there was a live woman at the bottom of the rubble of her house. And 100 or so people were looking on. And all of a sudden, there was is this eerie squealing and it turned out there was a pig alive down there. An actually, people started giggling down there and it was a giggling that said, we're alive. This is bizarre but we're alive.

And then the next minute, somebody called out there was a wave coming in. And 200 people went charging at full speed of this narrow road. This village was pinned in by hills on both sides. And the only route of escape was this narrow road. And there were emergency vehicles still coming down the road. In the opposite direction. And there was a very panicked traffic jam. And that was a false report. But the looks of terror on the faces of the people around me said, well, we survived this once and we know that people hesitated didn't. We're not sticking around to find out what's real and what's not.

OLBERMANN: And there is the psychological advantage and impact that we almost never talk about. Peter Goodman reporting from Thailand for the "Washington Post" and the last few nights, good enough to join us. Thank you for doing so again, sir.

GOODMAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, a series of bureaucratic bungles meant there was no warning at all last Sunday. Then as Peter Goodman just mentioned, a false tsunami alert today based on information that one official ended up calling hogwash that sent survivors panicking in at least two nations. And five million of the survivors still desperately needing help. Donations pouring in but getting the supplies to the people on the ground has been a logistical nightmare. We'll ask a veteran aid worker if there is some solution. You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Four days after the tsunami and aid is still three days away from reaching some of the five million survivors afflicted. What's being done and what still needs to be done? And the man in the Thailand hotel video tells us his own story. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Before relief workers can physically reach them, survivors of the Christmas tsunami could endure another two or three days of what can only be described as living hell. Our fourth story tonight, the logistical nightmare aid workers in reaching the most isolated and therefore the most desperate of the victims with roads flooded, bridges out and ports that are no longer in existence. The Sumatra region is one of those. Pilots getting their first glimpse of the area with the complete destruction they are seeing and the signs of life they are not. Even some of the near relief say they've seen no sign of that relief. At the airport in Indonesia, a planes loaded with supplies have arrived. But there is no fuel for the trucks that would move that fuel or those supplies, rather, and no relief workers to distribute them.

They, the workers, are still busy recovering bodies. Or if they were on the Indian coast, they're busy panicking, along with the populace. That happened when a computer consultant from Oregon issued a warning of an impending second major earthquake today and possible tsunami. A warning publicly relayed to India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. It caused major panic in each country. This video is from Thailand.

Larry Park of Terra Research and Consulting Services in Manning, Oregon, who is not a certified seismologist, sent the warning to the Indian Ministry of Science claiming his sensors which turn out to be electronic equipment in a truck, depicted energy bursts in his terms, which he said came from the area of the Indian ocean. Thailand set off the warning sirens that are part of its membership in the Pacific tsunami system with the resulting chaos. There has been no second earthquake.

Meantime, in the Andaman Islands off the Indian coast, people who until this week were in essence separate for most of civilization, heard the same report of a second destructive wave, panic ensued in the local marketplace and streets, as you see. No reports or further injuries in the Andamans. The jitters only adding to the problems of getting aid to survivors. A false alarm caused police in India's Tamil-Nadu state to order hundred of vehicles, bringing relief supplies and rescue workers, to not enter one of the hardest hit town there. After a slow start, the elements vital to recovery are getting to the affected nations. But are they getting to the affected people? Michael Neuman has considerable experience facing that question. He is a program director of Doctors Without Borders and he join us now. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. You've been in touch with a lot of these relief groups on the ground. Are the victims getting what they need?

NEUMAN: Well, it will take time before the population is covered. We are talking about a huge area. About eight countries. We have managed to send teams actually to different places to Sri Lanka, to Aceh, Indonesia, to India. And they are now trying to assess the needs of those people to make sure that the aid is being delivered. It will definitely take a couple days before the relief efforts reach the people. We should not make believe to the donors, the people that help us providing relief, that it will happen overnight. We need to bring the team in. We need to bring the supplies in. We need to assess the needs and that will, that takes definitely a day to three days.

OLBERMANN: How much worse is this situation because of the breakdown of the infrastructure, there's so many pieces of videotape showing destroyed roads, destroyed access. Is that the complicating factor, the thing that is putting such a time drag on all of these supplies getting to where they need to go?

NEUMAN: I think it plays a major role. You mentioned the logistical nightmare. I think that is very right. The roads and bridges are down. Areas are flooded. So to get to the people, to get to these areas, we need to use helicopters, planes, you mentioned also that there are fuel shortages. And that is very difficult for us. There are not too many airports in the area that we can use. So we need find other help. Logistics is definitely going to be the big piece of the operation.

OLBERMANN: Sri Lanka, the report we had earlier. They're beginning to see stomach problems in the makeshift hospitals. At five days, is it in fact make or break now about stopping epidemics of waterborne disease? Is this the critical time for those things?

NEUMAN: Well, I think water is the priority. Water sources were contaminated by the salty water coming from the sea. So this is something that we have to be very careful about. At the same time, we have to remember that during the Mitch hurricane, for instance, most of the patients that we had seen then suffered from respiratory infections because it is cold at night. And priorities should be also covering primary health care, injured people, etc.

OLBERMANN: Michael Neuman, program director of Doctors Without Borders. Great thanks for your insight tonight, sir.

NEUMAN: You are welcome.

OLBERMANN: You cannot always get doctors or materiel to such locations, but no matter century or the country, it seems like we can always airlift politicians. The president this afternoon announcing that Secretary of State Colin Powell and Governor Jeb Bush of Florida will travel to the Indian ocean region on Florida to assess the need for further U.S. assistance which is currently peg at $15 million in emergency aid. $20 million in the line of credit. And an unspecified amount in transportation provided by the Pentagon. The World Bank has pledged of $250 million. The European Union, $53 million.

Nor are private donations counted. A reminder about such personal contributions. The number at the American Red Cross the 1-800 HELP-NOW. Or you can go to Countdown.MSNBC.COM for a complete list of the aid agencies and their phone numbers. This remains perhaps the most harrowing videotape yet seen of the tsunami. An elderly couple desperately hanging on as the wall of water hits Phuket Beach in Thailand. We will hear from the man who tried to save them both next.


OLBERMANN: Ordinarily, we pause the Countdown at this point to bring you the day's most extraordinary or amusing videotape.

But, tonight, we instead reprise the most extraordinary images of the week, perhaps of the year. And we hear from the man depicted in it. On Tuesday night, we became the first North American news outlet to bring you what remains the single most overwhelming video of the Christmas tsunami, shot by an undercover Swedish policeman on vacation in Phuket, Thailand.

Today, we spoke with his friend, Frederic Bornesand, who you will see in the tape trying to rescue a British couple, inundated as the tsunami swamped the second floor of their hotel.


FREDERIC BORNESAND, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Me and my girlfriend Sarah (ph) was swimming in the pool at the hotel, when suddenly a man, a Thai man came, running from the beach screaming. Get up. Get up from the pool. Get up. rMDNM_ And me and my girlfriend and lots of other people started to fetch things together and went into the hotel, without knowing what was happening.

I thought maybe it was a terrorist attack or something. And then, when we came up into the hotel and went up hone floor and saw lots of water coming in from the beach, and covered the pool and covered the garden and the first floor. Then, after a few minutes, the water went away. And I took my shoes on and went down to the garden and to the pool area to see if there were any people who was in need of help.

And down in the garden, I met an older couple who I just told to just get up from the bottom. It was one level, one floor below the pool area, under sea level. But when I was two meters from them, they started screaming again, get up, get up. Another wave is coming.

And they just, the older couple was handing on to the railings. And the water pressure was so very strong. Stretching out my arm to get ahold of them, but the railing of the concrete just broke down, so I didn't have a chance.

And then I just had to struggle to get away from there, because all the furniture and everything, it was coming towards me with all the waves and pushing me to the wall and to the windows, and the windows were just crashing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the lobby was filled with water. It was like 30 centimeters left to the roof. And I swam through the lobby and I got taken by the waves again and they took me like 100 meters. And then I grabbed on to a tree, a treetop. And I climbed it up. And I was waiting there for the water level to sink down again.


OLBERMANN: Frederic Bornesand later found that man he had been trying to save. The man was badly injured. His wife is still missing. Mr. Bornesand and his girlfriend both survived. They are back home now in their native Sweden.

Back here, disturbing news from the pilots of three aircraft, at least three, maybe as many as five. Someone pointed powerful lasers into their cockpits while they were in flight. Was it terrorism?

And John Conyers has made up his mind. He will formally challenge the Electoral College vote from Ohio and has asked a senator or more than one to join him.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Our third story on the Countdown tonight, Congressman John Conyers late this afternoon officially declared he would sign a formal challenge to the Electoral College vote from Ohio. And he wrote to all 100 members of the Senate asking each of them to join him.

In the letter, Conyers decried - quote - "numerous unexplained irregularities in the Ohio presidential vote, many of which appear to violate both federal and state law." He added he and a number of House members are planning to object to the counting of the Ohio votes.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles is the only other member to

have publicly indicated willingness to challenge. The Conyers letter to

the senators was addressed to California Democrat Barbara Boxer. If a

senator agrees to join Conyers in the challenge, the counting of the

Electoral College votes would be suspended and, according to law, debated

by each body separately until - quote - "disposed of."

Politics merging into counterterrorism tonight, the politics of fingerprinting foreigners. Shades of Big Brother aside, it seems like a good idea, if only federal officials would stop bickering over how many fingers they should actually fingerprint.

A new internal report at the Justice Department makes it clear no statute has yet been arrived at because the FBI does it one way, a full-court press of all 10 digits on both hands. But Homeland Security and State favor just the two index fingers, and they use a different technique to do it. That means 99 percent of foreign visitors to this country cannot and do not have their fingerprints checked against the FBI criminal database.

"As a result," according to the Justice Department official who wrote the report, "critical aliens, including many who committed violent crimes that threaten public safety, are not identified and prevented from entering the United States."

So, while we're trying to guess how many fingers our counterterrorist experts are holding up, they're also dealing with what might be the realization of their fear that terrorists could try to down aircraft by blinding their pilots with laser beams. Among them, a commercial jetliner was 8,500 feet above and some 15 miles from Cleveland's Hopkins Airport on Monday when a laser beam was directed into its cockpit, appearing to track the plane for several seconds.

In Colorado Springs also Monday, two pilots reported that laser lights of the green pulsating variety were shining into their cockpits. Other incidents this week, in Houston; Teterboro, New Jersey; Medford, Oregon. All plane in all incidents landing safely. At least some investigators believe it is no coincidence that these things have occurred around Christmas, when many gizmos from laser pointers to lasers used in construction would have been given as gifts.

As for more powerful military-grade lasers, federal officials said earlier this month there's no evidence terrorist groups have managed to obtain them.

Joining me now on this topic, Captain David Mackett, who, when he not serving as president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, can be found in the cockpit of a Boeing 737.

Captain Mackett, good evening. Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Do you buy this argument that this is some sort of malicious mischief around the holidays?

MACKETT: Well, there are several factors that distinguish these incidents from others that we've encountered.

We know about the threat of lasers to an airline pilot's eyes as inadvertently flash across the cockpit. But what distinguishes these instances is, first, there's been a dramatic uptake in the number of them. Second, they come on the heels of a bulletin issued by the Department of Homeland Security towards air crews suggesting that terrorists have an interest of some type in this technology.

But, most importantly, the level of sophistication required of a laser that can successfully target and then track an aircraft at 8,500 feet is far beyond anything you could find in a Christmas gift laser pointer that I've heard suggested, that little kids are doing this. The ability to track an airplane with such a laser would require tracking software, possibly a computer, possibly a mount.

So, we're not talking about a laser pointer. We're talking about something very sophisticated. And the concern is that these do seem to be deliberate.

OLBERMANN: What's the size of the equipment that you would need to actually damage a pilot's vision? How big would this be? Could you keep it in a car? Would it not be detectable to other people on the ground?

MACKETT: If - in the right hands with the right level of preparation, it would be something that could be mounted on the back of a cargo van. And the danger there is that it presents no evidence.

If it were flashed at the pilot during a critical phase of flight, it would leave virtually no evidence of what caused the catastrophe. The beam could be expanded to the size of the cockpit, so it can lase both pilots simultaneously. And, at that point, the pilots are blind. And, so, yes, that is a very great concern.

Now, we have no evidence to suggest that that is what is happening here. But I think it is very dismissive to call this a prank. I think -

I would be very surprised if the FBI wasn't taking this one very, very seriously.

This airplane was traveling at 300 miles an hour. And it was 15 miles from the airport, 8,500 feet high. So a laser that can track it and target it is something much more than you're talking about as a prank.

OLBERMANN: Captain David Mackett, the president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, great thanks for joining us.

MACKETT: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And for your insight, sir.

Moving from homeland security to homeland gentility, a new manner movement looking to turn 2005 into the year of pleasant social intercourse.

And looking for a new look in the new year? How about hair products that would give you that bright orange comb-over effect? Coming up soon, Trump in a can.


OLBERMANN: A Herculean task for one New Yorker, singlehandedly trying to bring courtesy back to this country. And another Herculean task for me, the news quiz approaches, the year-in-review news quiz.


OLBERMANN: If somehow you lost your calendar, Saturday marks the start of 2005. Everybody either makes New Year's resolutions or is encouraged to do so, but seldom do they have any practical effect on society.

However, in our No. 2 on the Countdown, next year might change all that, simply because of one little remark by one rock 'n' roll host on a New York City radio station. Especially at the holiday season, but in fact, throughout the year, courtesy in public has been decreasing steadily, not just recently, probably since about the year 1660.

But, as the country gets ever more crowded, it seems it has also gotten ever more snotty. You know, like when you hold the door open for somebody in the mall or somewhere and they just walk right past you like they were the queen of England? But, tonight as part of our conspiracy to improve America, perhaps a solution.

I'm joined now by Maria Milito, the gifted midday music professional at WAXQ Radio in New York, or Q104.3, if you prefer, who dreamed this up as her New Year's resolution.


MARIA MILITO, WAXQ: Hi, Keith. How are you?

OLBERMANN: I'm not bad. How are you?

MILITO: Oh, just darling and ducky.

OLBERMANN: All right, explain this. You hold the door open for a stranger.

MILITO: Right.

OLBERMANN: They say nothing. And you do what as your New Year's resolution?

MILITO: For my New Year's resolution, I say, you're welcome and call them on it.


MILITO: I've been doing it.


MILITO: Well, actually, I've been doing it for a few months. But I noticed, with the holiday season, people should be more tolerant and they should be nicer, but it seemed like it would increase to be worse over the past couple of weeks.

So, I decided that's my New Year's resolution, to call people on it from now on. And I told all my listeners to do the exact same thing.

OLBERMANN: Now, having done this yourself, has it worked? Have any of the listeners found that it works or...

MILITO: Oh, no, because most people and the reaction I've gotten - and the listeners have gotten the same reaction - most people either ignore it or they kind of just look at you a little sheepishly and walk away. So, it hasn't worked yet. But I'm going to keep doing it.

OLBERMANN: Well, but you have no tests now. You don't know what happens the next time. They may say thank you.

MILITO: They might, right.

OLBERMANN: You may have the impact the next time around.

MILITO: Maybe the next time.

OLBERMANN: So you're schooling people.

But, now, can anybody just start doing this? Would you advise people just walking up to somebody in the street and going, thank you, or should you mutter it first, you're welcome, or do you stare daggers at them first? What?

MILITO: Well, no.

I think - because some people me they have a problem being that indignant and be like, you're welcome. I said, well, do it slow, like low to yourself at first. And then, as you get more empowered, then just say you're welcome with attitude.


MILITO: And at least you'll feel satisfied, because people have a sense of entitlement that, if I'm holding the door open for you, say thank you. That's all. Nod at me. Wave, anything. Just acknowledge it. So maybe you're welcome, maybe it will help. I don't know.

OLBERMANN: But you should start doing this, you're welcome, like that. That's the...



OLBERMANN: Now, the other way around, the corollary to this, if you do hold the door open and somebody does say thank you, you should say...

MILITO: You're welcome.

OLBERMANN:... as distinctly to them, you're welcome?

MILITO: Absolutely.

OLBERMANN: And as pleasantly you're welcome?

MILITO: Oh, absolutely, very pleasant. You're welcome. Well, yes, acknowledge it, you're welcome, or nod or smile. It's just, you know, common courtesy.

OLBERMANN: Well, yes. But...

MILITO: Yes, I know.

OLBERMANN: Is this, do you suppose - I'm just going to guess here - we're both native New Yorkers.


OLBERMANN: Do you think this is a New York thing or are people just as lunkheaded and impolite in Wichita Falls, Texas?

MILITO: Well, I hate to dis my city, but I think, Keith, it is a New York City thing, I think. But I haven't been out of the city in the past few months that I've noticed it. So maybe it is wrong of me to say that. But I think it is a New York City thing. It is definitely a New York City thing. I hate to say it. I'm sorry.

OLBERMANN: I can testify for Los Angeles after 10 years of living there that it was done there quite frequently.


OLBERMANN: That people just blow past you like you were the doorman.

MILITO: So maybe it is a coastal thing.

And that's another thing you can say.


MILITO: I'm not your doorman. But I like you're welcome better.

OLBERMANN: Yes, I'm not your doorman requires too much practicing...


MILITO: Too many words.

OLBERMANN: You have to stand in front of the mirror and say that, right?


MILITO: Exactly.

OLBERMANN: You have got to really practice that. You really have to be sure the other person is not armed before you say...

MILITO: Well, that's true. That's true. I know.

OLBERMANN: You don't want to start bloodshed on the streets of Manhattan. We don't need more of that.

MILITO: No. We have enough.


MILITO: Right. We have enough.

OLBERMANN: My friend Maria Milito, who does such a nice job on Q104.3 in New York from 9:00 to 2:00 every day.

Happy new year, Maria.

MILITO: Thank you. Happy new year.

OLBERMANN: And thank you.

MILITO: Thank you. You're welcome.


OLBERMANN: From the new catchphrase you're welcome to the author of an all-too-familiar one. You're fired. Thus, we start our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news.

Donald Trump, having Already launched a line of fragrances, is now reportedly moving into hair care products. "In Touch Weekly" said he is ready to lend his name to shampoos, conditioners and hair-styling equipment for men over the age of 40. No idea of pricing, though, presumably, if a man with hair that looks like that wants you to use what he uses, he will have to pay you plenty.

And this news did not even make the front pages of the sports sections, but one of the most important personalities in baseball history has died, Rod Kanehl, an obscure utility player from the original 1962 New York Mets. In the team's first month of existence, it reeled off nine wins in 12 games. Kanehl, then a 28-year-old rookie, scored the tying or winning run in seven of Those victories, six times as a pinch-runner. He was immediately christened Hot Rod by Mets fans. And he became the first hero of the fans of the brand new "Amazin' Mets," beloved ever since by those fans, even though, after his streak, they won only 31 more games all that season.

Rod Kanehl had suffered a heart attack earlier this month. He was 70 years old.

The weekly news quiz, the year-end edition. What have we learned over the last 365 days? Oh, I hope there aren't any sports questions in it.

Stand by. Countdown continues on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Ordinarily, we save you and me the ordeal of our weekly news quiz until Friday nights. But tomorrow night is New Year's Eve and we will be bringing you our year-end special "Countdown's Favorite Things of 2004," so tonight becomes our year-end quiz.

Thus, the test to see if I've paying attention can be drawn from the events of the first 365 days of the year. Oh, perfect.

Preamble complete. Time for another edition of:

_ANNOUNCER: "What Have We Learned?" _

OLBERMANN: And now over to our wit mistress of ceremonies for "What Have We Learned?" this year, Monica Novotny.

Madam Novotini, good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. Time to retire that one to 2004.

OLBERMANN: OK. Start with the slap to the jaw.


NOVOTNY: We'll start by reminding viewers, if you'd like to take a official year-end MSNBC news quiz, go to our Web site at Now, if you want the watch the boss attempt this one, we'll put two minutes on the clock. Mr. anchorman must answer at least half correctly to win the prize. If he fails, a series of unfortunate events will be unleashed upon him.

Sir, are you ready?

OLBERMANN: Has it ever mattered?



OLBERMANN: Wait. Let me just remove the - yes, OK.

NOVOTNY: Oh, quit stalling.


NOVOTNY: Two minutes on the clock and here we go.

_No. 1, from Richard, what is the meaning of life? _

OLBERMANN: The meaning of life is 42, except it is - all right, 42, that is enough.

NOVOTNY: All right. And from Marie (ph). No. 2, what was the name of the song William Hung performed on "American Idol" and subsequently here on Countdown?

OLBERMANN: "She Bangs."

NOVOTNY: That's the one.

No. 3, you offered to buy tapes, assuming there were tapes, of conversations between Bill O'Reilly and Andrea Mackris.

_OLBERMANN: I did? _

NOVOTNY: Who accused him of sexual harassment. Then our viewers chimed in, started their own fund-raiser to contribute to the save the tapes fund.


NOVOTNY: Approximately how much was pledged by Countdown viewers, plus-or-minus $10,000?


OLBERMANN: It came in at about 100, about 100.

NOVOTNY: One hundred seventy-three thousand. You were wrong, sir.

OLBERMANN: No, that was with the 95. That was with the 95. OK, whatever.


_OLBERMANN: Why would I know that? _

NOVOTNY: From Annette (ph), name the four hurricanes that made landfall in Florida this hurricane season.

OLBERMANN: Say that again.

_NOVOTNY: The four hurricanes? _

OLBERMANN: The four hurricanes. Yes, see, this is where I would get trapped, by being just another hurricane, like they felt, just another hurricane.

NOVOTNY: I'll give you a hint. They go in alphabetical order.

OLBERMANN: That's true. Izzy, Denis, Rich and Gray (ph).

NOVOTNY: All staffers, not hurricanes.

OLBERMANN: Oh, no. Those are the senior producers of Countdown.

NOVOTNY: No, no.


NOVOTNY: Name the only team in Major League Baseball history to lose a best-of-seven playoff series after winning the first three games, just because we want to hear you say it.

OLBERMANN: The New York Yankees lost that, I believe.

NOVOTNY: That's the one. Give or take 10 games, the total number...

OLBERMANN: But it wasn't my fault.

NOVOTNY: Well, so you say.

OLBERMANN: I wasn't here.

NOVOTNY: Give or take 10 games, the total number of suspensions handed down by the NBA after the Ron Artest incident.

OLBERMANN: Total number of games with all the players involved.

NOVOTNY: Yes. Yes, nine players.

OLBERMANN: One hundred and sixty.

NOVOTNY: One hundred thirty-three.

OLBERMANN: All right. No more math.

NOVOTNY: Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards held one debate during the campaign. Where was it, sir?

OLBERMANN: That, oh, the debate was in Saint Louis, Missouri.

NOVOTNY: Oh, no. Cleveland.

OLBERMANN: That's not the same place?

NOVOTNY: Elecia Battle, who earlier this year claimed she lost the winning $162 lottery ticket, ultimately pleading guilty of filing a false police report, in exchange, what was her punishment?

OLBERMANN: Yes. She had to come on Countdown. It was community service and a $1,000 fine.

NOVOTNY: No, $6,700 in fines, plus 50 hours of community service.

And I think you lost, sir.


NOVOTNY: Three correct out of eight, not quite half.

OLBERMANN: Well, you asked those tough ones about the hurricanes.

NOVOTNY: And so, because you lost, from our friends at The Smoking Gun, the Bill O'Reilly-approved loofah.

OLBERMANN: Yes. You have it upside down, by the way.

_NOVOTNY: Or is it a falafel? _

OLBERMANN: I mean, I don't know. I'm showing no expertise on this whatsoever. I hope it brings me as much...

NOVOTNY: I don't know. The poster of him on your wall looks like that, upside down.

OLBERMANN: There is no poster of him on my wall. You saw that at the post office, where you saw the poster of him. But that's another story altogether.



OLBERMANN: I'm just hoping it will bring me as much pleasure as it brought him.


OLBERMANN: OK. Thank you, Monica.

Thank you, viewers who sent in questions. It will take me a while, but I will get every last one of you.

Tune in next time when we add an exciting new element in the new year.

I'll be fined for every question I miss. All that when next we play:

_ANNOUNCER: "What Have We Learned?" _

OLBERMANN: Before we sign off, a quick reminder, our year-end special, "Countdown's Favorite Things of 2004," tomorrow night at 8:00, 11:00 and midnight Eastern, 5:00, 8:00 and 9:00 Pacific. Be there. Aloha.

That's Countdown. Thank you for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good - good luck.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 29

Guest: Peter Goodman, John Rundle, David Phillips, Juliette Kayyem, Jeff Caldwell

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

And now the number nears 100,000 dead. Lives, families, cities, hearts of nations destroyed. No end in sight to the pain, no end in sight to new visions of horror.

What price relief? How much should a nation spending $8 million an hour on a war in Iraq spend to stave off starvation, epidemic and yes, even terrorism around the Indian Ocean?

Terrorism continues elsewhere. Two attacks in Riyadh. The Saudis say they killed seven suspects there and an awful new terrorist weapon in Iraq. Police called to a booby-trapped house.

And a sad law obeyed, a little less order in the television world.

The actor Jerry Orbach is dead. All that and more now on Countdown.

Good evening. The misery encompasses all as the seas themselves did four days ago. In some places around the Indian Ocean, nearly all of the living have to choose whether to bring their handkerchiefs to their eyes to take away the tears or to their nose and mouth to block the stench.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the confirmed fatality toll in the Christmas tsunami has reached 76,697. It will be 80,000 by morning. The International Red Cross believes it could easily surpass 100,000. And the World Health Organization now says the number of survivors affected by the disaster without water, without food, without sanitation, without all three, is five million. Tonight as well, there are more questions being raised about why so few were warned and why American financial aid is still officially totaling at less than will be spend on the presidential inauguration.

First tonight, the unceasingly grim round-up of the fourth day of the recovery. In Indonesia alone, officials put the death total at 45,268. Near the quake epicenter, entire villages have been wiped out. In India, bodies are being hastily buried in mass graves to ward off disease, although that may not be clinically necessary. And rescuers are trying to reach some of the more remote areas around the Indian Ocean. Throughout the 11 country region, tens of thousands of people still missing and depicted on posters, including between 2,000 and 3,000 Americans. And tonight, more images of the devastating moments of impact have surfaced from some of the 11 blighted countries. Amateur video shot when the tsunami hit Banda Aceh in Indonesia, showing the sheer force of the flooding. There may be 50,000 dead in that province alone. The videotape speaking for itself.


OLBERMANN: The sea water swept into houses. In this home, literally inundating the entirety of the first floor. In Thailand, a Dutch tourist caught some of the first waves to hit the beach with his camera. The force strong enough to knock other bystanders off their feet. Sri Lanka, most of the island nation is just 10 to 70 feet above sea level anyway. This is the town of Galle.

Survivors there were left stranded atop buses waiting for rescue. More than 22,000 have died in Sri Lanka alone. And satellite photos are now giving the first overview of the nightmare. This was the Kalutara Beach in Sri Lanka. The same last Sunday. The waters receding from the beach as the tsunami collected energy like a boxer, pulling back his fists. The force of the wave, creating extraordinary huge swirling current. And then flooded homes and fields. Yards inland.

The more you see, the less the question becomes how were so many killed and the more it seems to be, how did anyone survive? To Phuket, Thailand, where "Washington Post" reporter Peter Goodman joins us by phone. Mr. Goodman, thank you for your time.

PETER GOODMAN, "WASHINGTON POST" (via telephone): Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Do you have a sense yet of why survivors survived and the others didn't? Is there any pattern evident?

GOODMAN: Well, yeah. I mean, we're talking about obviously coastal communities that got hit. And who lives on the coast. There's been a lot of attention paid to tourists. There have been a lot of tourists killed, especially here in Thailand where it was the busiest week of the year. But let's face it. Most of the people who live by the coast around the world are people who can't find any other places to live. These are people who can't find land to grow their rice, to grow their vegetables. And they put their houses sometimes on stilts using whatever materials they can find. These are often people who don't have the money to use bricks or concrete block or anything strong. And they use what they can find. Bamboo, thatch. These are vulnerable communities. So that's the first thing you can say about the people who were largely hit.

But then there's also a sense of random twists of fate. Split second decisions that really determined whether people lived or died. I was yesterday in a village of about 2,000 families where something like 600 people had been killed. And I talked to a woman sitting in a market, an open air market. She survived because she got out immediately as soon as she heard people shouting. There were three people around her who didn't survive. There were two people right behind her. They just happened to be in the row behind her. There was a guy in front of her who decided that he was concerned about what would happen to his vegetables. He hesitated for a second. And he didn't make it. These are the sorts of decisions that determined whether he ended up lying in the sun wrapped in plastic sheeting or whether you ended up being one of the people who were looking at those people.

OLBERMANN: There's another element of the life or death situation that seems inexplicable at a distance and perhaps you have it now from being there. The extraordinary percentage of children estimated to be among the dead. A third, perhaps. In one Indian town on the coast, half. Is there evidence yet as to why so many children perished?

GOODMAN: Well, this thing hit on a Sunday morning. So around the world, most kids were not at school. Had where do kids go when they're not at school? And they're playing? When they live in coastal communities? They go to the beach. They go close to the water. And so there were a lot of kids running around in these places. Also - and we've heard the story again and again, at least here in Thailand and I've heard anecdotally elsewhere. In the moment before the first wave hit, there was enormous undertow. I talked to a guy told me that something like 2,000 yards of water just got sucked right out in the span of 15 seconds. The sort of tidal change that usually takes hours. It just happened instantaneously. And that left a scene where you had fish flopping there out on an empty seabed. And this was fascinating. So a lot of kids went out to have a look. And in the next instant, a lot of those kids were swept away when the water came in.

OLBERMANN: The satellite photos that we just showed showed that exactly. To the response, even at this distance of 9,000 miles, there seems to be a sense here that the immediate rescue efforts were not what they could have been. Were the people who could have been the rescuers also fatalities? Or were they just late getting there? What happened in the immediate aftermath of all this?

GOODMAN: A little of both. In the most developed areas, particularly touristed areas here in Thailand, the response was a lot better than in places further out. I'm sitting in Phuket, which is one of the busiest, most developed resorts in Southeast Asia, getting a lot of expats from all over the world. Here it took - Most people say two to three hours before you had military rescue craft, helicopters overhead, looking for survivors. Now, a lot of people complained that was just much too slow.

I've also talked to people who came back from outlying islands. I went up to a Punga province, which was the hardest hit area of Thailand, about an hour and a half, two hour drive from here. There were a lot of people who spent long nights overnight sitting up on high areas out in jungle without shelter, without food, who had no help at all. And what happened there, remains a mystery. The Thai government said they were to go all they could with limited resources. There are reports that this was just not recognized as the magnitude of the disaster that it has proven to be.

OLBERMANN: Peter Goodman, one last question and then I'll let you go with our thanks. We mentioned here last night, we will be going into it in further detail about this reported decision by scientists in Thailand not to issue any kind of tsunami warning. Is this a topic among the survivors there yet? Or is it still mostly about the grief and the shock?

GOODMAN: That's a subject that mostly people like me are talking about. The journalists who were here are kicking that one around. That's something people are discussing up in Bangkok. Most of the people who have been affected by this are just so busy sifting through wreckage of their lives, in some cases, still looking for their relatives and friends, trying to figure out what they're going to do now in terms of rebuilding or simply where they're going to spend the night tonight or going to get the next drink of water.

But that is certainly something that will be discussed in the days and weeks to come. There was a report in a Bangkok newspaper, "The Nation," that the government did have a warning, at least an hour before the wave hit, but decided not to issue an evacuation order because they worried about the impact on tourism. Now that report has not been confirmed. High level government officials quoted in that report and that's certainly something worth digging into.

OLBERMANN: Peter Goodman from the "Washington Post." extraordinary reporting in the paper and with us here tonight. Our great thanks for joining us from Thailand.

GOODMAN: Thanks very much for having me.

OLBERMANN: And now the question of warning, prefaced by what seems to have been an old wives' tale. Wildlife officials say there that though the human death toll is approaching 25,000 and bodies are literally still washing up on shore, they're not finding dead animals. Maybe what we think is true, says the head of a hotel based inside the Sri Lanka National Wildlife Park, that animals had have a sixth sense about earthquakes and other seismic activities.

Californians have long reported their pets moving wildly before temblors there. But could animals really have sensed the tsunami and made for higher ground? An Associated Press photographer made a visual pass over the wildlife park in a helicopter today and he reported no evidence of large scale animal deaths. Even though at least 200 people drowned in the community that contains that park.

They may have that intuitively sensed a warning, the animals. Few of the millions of people affected got any warning at all. And whether or not that was truly unavoidable is being questioned ever more loudly in the wake of a disaster. Firstly in the barn door department. India, which lost as many as 7,000 in the crisis, perhaps as many as 15,000 when the outlying islands are surveyed. India announced today it will install a warning system on the Indian Ocean complete with all the all important wave sense oz which case the direction the tsunami will take, cost, about $27 million. Construction time about, 2 ½ years.

A United Nations official, meanwhile, says a basic system can be built for the region by this time next year. The head of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction cited what he called "a strong basis of knowledge, technology and collaboration and a real readiness to act."

But around the Indian Ocean, where no tsunami had hit since the Krakatoa exploded in 1883, that real readiness to act was not evident last week. There is in fact more evidence that at least two attempts at issuing tsunami warnings were quashed, one for diplomatic reasons, another, as Peter Goodman mentioned for the sake of tourism.

The "Wall Street Journal" reporting today that Australian seismologists who registered earthquake that set the tsunami off, notified their own foreign ministry within half an hour. The foreign ministry, in turn, notified Australian embassies around the world and instructed the embassies not to notify other governments for fear of overstepping diplomatic protocol. In Sumatra, Indonesia, the city closest to the epicenter, the equipment of one geo physicist went off so loudly, he thought it was mechanics working at a garage next door. He spent the next hour trying to reach Indonesian governmental officials but it was Sunday morning. Nobody was in their offices.

Even when they were, it did not matter. Worst was the warning that wasn't in Thailand. That country is already part of an international tsunami warning system, the one serving parts of the Pacific Rim. Thailand's Ministry of Meteorology runs the seismological department, was holding a conference when news came in what was supposed to be an 8.6 earthquake near Sumatra. The conference decided not to issue a warning. The Bangkok newspaper, "The Nation: quoting unnamed sources at that conference who say the scientists were afraid to predict a tsunami because the last time they did in 1999, no wave came and tourism was affected.

But the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, to which Thailand belongs, has since 1965, promulgated a standard procedure which says that a tsunami warning must be issued in the event of any underwater earthquake measuring more than 6.5 on the Richter scale and this quake turned out to be a 9.0. Were the Australian embassy is guilty of prioritizing diplomacy ahead of lives? Were the Thai scientists guilty of putting tourism ahead of everything? If you were told you had an hour or two to get to higher ground and did you and no disaster had occurred in the interim, how would you feel? To try to balance what we know now with what we could have or should have known then, I'm joined by a Dr. John Rundle, a seismologist and physics professor at the University of California Davis. Dr. Rundle, good evening.

JOHN RUNDLE, SEISMOLOGIST: Good evening to you.

OLBERMANN: Let me put you in that room with those Thai scientists Sunday morning, their time. They think there's been an 8.6 earthquake about a thousand miles away. They remember in 1999, they had issued what turned out to be a false alarm for a tsunami. But is there anyway you can rationalize they're not putting out a warning under the circumstances? Especially such a high measure on the Richter scale?

RUNDLE: Well, I can't speak to the public policy aspects or the political aspects, but if I had been in the room, I think I would have said they should do something, because an 8.6 earthquake is a very significant earthquake.

OLBERMANN: Is there a comparison to anything in term of prediction between tsunamis and anything we might have a better association with in this country?

RUNDLE: Well, tsunamis have the interesting property, of course, that it takes some time to get from the earthquake source, where they're generated, to the coastlines. And in this case, it took multiple hours to get across the Indian Ocean. So there's plenty of time if you have the right warning equipment in place to get a warning out for that sort of thing. I think perhaps a good analogy might be hurricanes, for example, that are approaching the Florida coast where you have several hours to assess the possibilities of landing in one area or another using computer models.

OLBERMANN: What happens if you predict a tsunami and then none occurs? What does that do to the public?

RUNDLE: Everyone's life is saved, right? Whether you - you probably should predict it anyway. The worst you can do, I suppose, is generate some false alarms. And I think if I were on the beach in Thailand, I know that I would rather hear about the false alarm and have the option to leave rather than to not hear about it.

OLBERMANN: Dr. John Rundle, seismologist and professor of physics at Cal Davis. Great thanks for your insight tonight.

RUNDLE: Thanks very much.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the rush to provide relief to the millions of victims reeling from the tsunami is on. So how come this station has committed to spend less than we do for five hours of war in Iraq? And terror tactics seen in Iraq now hit Saudi Arabia. Terrorists there attack a troop recruitment center. You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The president says leaders of countries devastated by the tsunami appreciate our efforts but some say the actions by the U.S. in the early stages of the disaster only managed to alienate Muslims. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Supporters the detractors alike had wondered where President Bush had been as the story of the Asia tsunami continued to unfold like a recurring and worsening nightmare. Even after a UN relief official apologized for having called the u.s. And the west stingy, they wondered if $15 million in immediate aid and a line of credit of $20 more was even close to being enough, which will spend $40 million private dollars on the presidential inauguration next month.

Our fourth story, both questions addressed this morning in Crawford, Texas. The president appeared and said the $35 million figure was just an initial one. That the U.S. would be considering debt relief to the afflicted nations. The country would investigate a worldwide tsunami system and whether or not we needed one here. He also took offense at the remark about stinginess.


GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed. The - Take - For example, in the year 2004, our government provided a $2.4 billion in food and cash and humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year. That's $2.4 billion. That's 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year was provided by the United States government. We're a very generous, kind-hearted nation.


OLBERMANN: One of the complications about setting a figure for emergency U.S. relief now is that the $35 million figure is all that was appropriated to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Asked about his agency's budget, the director said, quote "We have just spent it." Americans have always stepped up but what about America? To help us assess whether we as a nation are indeed doing enough, I'm joined by David Phillips on the Council on Foreign Relations. Until last year a State Department advisor on the Near East and the past senior advisor to UN on the coordination of humanitarian affairs. Mr. Phillips, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Is it a yes or no question? Can we say whether or not we're doing enough?

PHILLIPS: It's pretty clear that $15 million on day one was a pathetic display by the United States. We needed to set the bar high so that other countries could also be generous. By being dragged to the relief table, we sent the wrong signal. People are dying in these affected populations. And many of those populations are Muslim. If we want to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, we're just going to have to do better.

OLBERMANN: And doing better, if tomorrow we came out and said we'll take the daily cost of the war in Iraq, $193 million a day, according to the pentagon, we'll send that as direct aid or a week's worth of that or whatever, would it make a difference in terms of the perception? Did we already damaged ourselves to say nothing of damaging the recovery efforts by coming out with those initial figures? Or is there still time to be kind of crass about it, still come out and buy goodwill throughout the region?

PHILLIPS: In material terms, those donations will make a significant difference. But we lost the mantle of moral leadership. What the president should have done, is he should have stepped in front of the TV cameras as the first world leader to organize a coalition. He should have laid out a three-point plan, the first phase dealing with the immediate emergency. The second phase dealing with the health implications. The third phase focusing on reconstruction. Because he was the last world leader to address the crisis, it looks as though the United States had little interest in addressing what happened with the tsunami. And particularly, it looks as though we had little interest because of the affected populations were in the third world and were mostly Muslim.

OLBERMANN: About what the UN official, Mr. Egeland said about stinginess yesterday, do you really think there was cause and effect in terms of the additional $20 million coming out? Would this country really have given just $15 or $35 million if he had not made those remarks?

PHILLIPS: This was going to be a rolling start. So I am sure the United States would have stepped up and given more. But I know Mr. Egeland well. Instead of criticizing his remarks, he should be commended. If the Bush administration hadn't been shamed by its actions as a result of the UN statement, it's not clear when the president would have stepped in front of the TV cameras, made a statement and offered more resources. It's important that the international community come together right now. The president talked about prevailing in this moment of need. If that is going to happen, the U.S. has to provide leadership. We didn't do that during the critical first couple days.

OLBERMANN: David Phillips with the Council on Foreign Relations, formerly an advisor on the Near East to the current State Department and on humanitarian affairs to the UN, thanks greatly for your time tonight, sir.

PHILLIPS: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And an appropriate reminder here about relief efforts if you are moved to make a personal donation. The number at the American Red Cross is 1-800-HELP-NOW. Or you can log on to for a complete list of aid agencies and phone numbers. All of them saying food and clothing, thoughtful ideas, but not practical ones. Money is what is needed. Also tonight insurgents in Iraq turning to a new tactic. They lured the authorities into the middle of a death trap. The latest from the ground in Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: We're back, and tonight, more even than usual, we need to take a break from the fully serious news. Let's play "Oddball."

We begin in Times Square for the one day a year when it legal to litter in New York City. Like that has been he said enforced since, say, the day they introduced color television. Today, testing day for the big New Years Eve confetti drop as organizers threw barrels of the little paper bits out of the seventh story window to make sure it all fell to the ground to make sure it didn't fall up or displace any red tail hawks or anything. They are testing gravity. The aerodynamics of confetti is a very complicated business. Improvements to the process have been made every year since they began using paper, instead of the original hunks of broken glass.

Boston. Mayor Tom Menino has apparently dealt with every major issue facing that city, so he has turned instead to the scourge that is citizens saving their parking spots. After spending hours digging their cars out of the snow - The practice is a tradition in Beantown - after every winter storm, residents complete their own little Big Dig, then reserve the space using chairs or cones or household garbage cans.

But that apparently can lead to fights. The mayor says the city trucks have now been ordered to clear the streets, so, with the parking fight issue finally resolved, the mayor can now attend to more trifling stuff like the big sinkholes in the Ted Williams Tunnel.

And to Missouri, where noodling will soon be legal again. I'm not talking about that string of adult clubs down by the airport. Noodling, also known as hogging, is a type of fishing in which the fishermen use neither rod, nor reel, nor boat. They just waltz into the water and try to grab a catfish with their bare hands. Come here, you.

For years, the practice has been banned, considered too dangerous, because fishermen often would reach into the muddy water and come back instead with a big handful of snapping turtle. But the noodler lobby is a powerful one. And the Missouri Conservation Commission finally bent and approved the sport beginning this spring. So be sure to tune in for the special edition of Countdown to air sometime April, May, "Oddball"'s funniest noodling accidents.

Insurgents in Iraq perpetrating an elaborate hoax intended to draw attention to themselves before they attack. And terrorists and nuclear weapons, an eye-opening report on how likely they are really to meet. Those stories ahead.

Now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day. No. 3, Louise Outing of Massachusetts. She won $5.6 million in the state lottery there. Ordinarily, they give it out $200,000 a year over 20 years. But she's suing. Louise wants it now. Louise is 94.

No. 2, unidentified armed intruders in Swinton in Yorkshire in England. They broke into a house, confronted the woman and two children who lived there and suddenly said, we're very sorry. We broke into the wrong house. They left. They went next door. And they beat up the guy who lives there, although he was not seriously hurt either.

And, No. 1, Arian and Linda Kaufman of Newton, Kansas. I'm going to just read this bulletin from the Associated Press about them: "A federal grand jury has indicted a Newton couple accused of forcing mentally ill adults to work in the nude on a farm." That is all we know about this story and, frankly, all we want to know.


OLBERMANN: It was observed that the terrorists of Indonesia have not literally or unilaterally stood down because of the tsunami, but they, like much of the rest of their nation, have almost been frozen in time. Most of the Indonesia's terrorists are separatists in Aceh Province, which may by itself have had 50,000 deaths.

But, in our third story on the Countdown, far away from the crisis that is consuming the world's attention, terrorism continues, old tricks in new places and new tricks in old places, militants detonating a bomb-laden car at the gate of the Saudi Arabia Interior Ministry in Riyadh when their attempt to storm that compound failed. Another blast half-an-hour later and five miles away came after a second rigged car was stopped. This is the premise borrowed from Iraq.

The second vehicle was destined for a recruitment center for emergency troops. Some police were injured by the first blast. No word yet on any casualties from the second. The Saudi government claims tonight to have killed six or seven people tied to those car bombings.

In Iraq, meantime, it looks like a ploy new to the area; 29 are dead much, seven of them Iraqi policemen.

Our correspondent Richard Engel reports from Baghdad on what appears to have been a trap, based on the idea that those policemen wanted and needed to do their jobs.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The plot began three days ago when several men rented a house in western Baghdad, now just scattered bricks and concrete. Neighbors today curious to see the wreckage had also been curious about the new arrivals and, yesterday, went knocking on their door, only to be shot at.

Stunned, the neighbors called the police, who last night stormed the house. But it was all a trap. Whoever had fired the shots had cleared out. "The police burst through the door," says this neighbor. "Then, a bit later, I heard the explosion," 1,800 pounds of explosives, three times the size of most car bombs in Iraq. At least 29 people were killed, twice as many injured.

"People are still buried under the rubble," says this man. It's part of a pre-election offensive that clearly began this week with at least 93 Iraqis killed since Monday. And now insurgents are appealing directly to Iraqis. Last week, NBC News reported on new video that radicals had posted on the Internet showing how to make and use a suicide bomb vest. Today, militants were handing out hundreds of copies of the video burned on to C.D.s, giving them out after sermons at several mosques here in Baghdad.

(on camera): U.S. officials say elections will go ahead on schedule. But NBC News has learned the Iraqi government plans to declare a three-day national holiday leading up to Election Day, a euphemism for a general curfew.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: Here, that terrorists would detonate a nuclear explosive if they could is not in doubt, though an analysis today casts some doubt on their ability to do so, counterterrorism and nuclear experts telling "The Washington Post" that the nuclear capabilities of terrorists, at least for the immediate future, are relatively small, a host of technical and logistical obstacles confronting al Qaeda and other groups, starting with procurement.

Stealing or buying a nuclear device or even the most rudimentary ingredients to build one, like bomb-grade uranium, is probably tougher even than it sounds. Then, there's transporting the thing, whether a bomb or parts of one, having to potentially get it through several borders or ports. And, if a ready-made completed bomb could be obtained, there's the capability of detonating it despite its built-in safeguards.

On the other hand, the experts tell "The Post" a crude bomb could, at least hypothetically, be built in a space no larger than a garage and concealed in nothing bigger than a lead-plated delivery van. The net effect there might provide some reassurance.

The net number of FBI counterterrorism directors since 9/11 may do exactly the opposite, six - count them, six. Willie T. Hulon will take over the reins of the Bureau's counterterrorism division after a 21-year career with the FBI, most recently heading up the Detroit office.

All of the FBI's senior positions have now changed hands at least once since the attacks of September 11.

Much to analyze on the terror front. Here to help, Juliette Kayyem, the executive director of the national security program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and a MSNBC national security analyst.

Juliette, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Let's just run some of these headlines, that big one first.

KAYYEM: Right.

OLBERMANN: The report on terrorist nukes. What is the bottom line here? Is this some revisionist assessment about how serious a domestic nuclear threat would be? Had the administration overestimated it? Or what is the real headline on that story?

KAYYEM: It's an odd story, but I think one that most terrorism analysts have come to believe, which is, right now, al Qaeda's capability to detonate a nuclear bomb in America - so, let's focus on in America - has been hurt, mostly because of the war in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is dispersed.

And, secondly - I mean, I hate to say it, but they're doing a pretty good job elsewhere in the world with sort of car bombs or what we saw in Saudi Arabia, what we're seeing in Iraq. In other words, their focus now is in the sort of high-profile, easy terrorist incidents that cause disruption in either our ally, Saudi Arabia, or, right now, if you look at the most recent tape, in Iraq.

He has embraced the Iraq resistance against us and he I think has sort of gains a lot of favor for that amongst Iraqis. So he's going to definitely be focusing on that. What the "Washington Post" story also noted which is worth noting is that of course we have things, not terrorists. We have nation states like Iran, like North Korea, which still pose a problem.

Whether they pose a problem to us here in the continental United States, I think, it's less than if they pose a problem to either the Middle East in the case of Iran or South Korea in the case of North Korea.

OLBERMANN: Second headline, Willie T. Hulon.


OLBERMANN: How could the FBI possibly run through six directors of counterterrorism in three years and three months?


OLBERMANN: If it was a sports team or a cable news network, they would say it was in freefall.

KAYYEM: Right. I think that's exactly right.

The FBI has done a lot to try to sort of reenergize itself after a lot of the mistakes both leading up to September 11 and then after. I think what you're starting to hear from the counterterrorism community, both within the FBI and the intelligence agencies, is that there is an incredible amounts of frustration about how the war in Iraq has distracted from the sort of terrorism or counterterrorism efforts in the rest of the world.

And so what you're seeing is a lot of personnel changes based on frustration or, in the case of the CIA, based on firings. And we're just going to be seeing that in the next two or three years. The problem is, of course, these people leave with a lot of historical experience and we don't actually know who is replacing them in terms of their experience, sort of the big picture.

OLBERMANN: Great, the institutional memory walking out the door.

KAYYEM: Right.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC's terrorism expert Juliette Kayyem, we appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

KAYYEM: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, ever asked yourself this question? How loud would Howard Dean have to scream before the noise he made would make your hair catch fire? Believe it or not, tonight, there's a statistical answer.

And we will remember the life and the career of "Law & Order" star Jerry Orbach. Those stories ahead.

Now here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The bad gift boycott is starting now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had heard about it on the radio, to trade their losers for gift cards. Some people bought in unusual stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That gorilla that sang was pretty weird. But, no kidding. The toilet seat, somebody dropped that off.

LEROY CHIAO, NASA ASTRONAUT: The only failing was that the last crew had gotten into our food and had failed to actually report to the ground what they had taken out of our allotment. Basically, what we did was, we cut in half the what I'll call real food intake. That is, the normal meats and potatoes, vegetables, that kind of thing.


QUESTION: New Year's resolutions?

BUSH: I'll let you know. Already gave you a hint on one, which is my waistline. I'm trying to set an example.



WILLIAM HUNG, SINGER: Hey, this is William Hung. Be sure to watch Keith Olbermann's Countdown on New Year's Eve.


OLBERMANN: The Census Bureau is out with, what else, new numbers. The old phrase, there's a sucker born every minute, actually, it could be as many as eight of them. There's a new American born every eight seconds, to say nothing of the immigrants arriving at a rate of one every 26 seconds.

Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, numbers. We were fascinated enough by numbers to frame a newscast with them.

And, as Countdown's Monica Novotny tells us now, there are always more new and more ridiculous numbers and more books being written about them.

Monica, good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: We never run out, Keith. Good evening.

The authors of a book about nothing but numbers call them magical, saying trivial statistics can give meaning to mundane items. For example, ever wonder how many people say they would clone themselves if they were allowed? Fourteen percent. Apparently, we like ourselves as much as we like our numbers. So, we gathered a group of children, young girls, in fact, to give us the right answers to this new math.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Do you know how much the square root of 2,130 is?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN, ACTOR: Forty-six-point-one-five-one-nine-two-three-zero-four.


NOVOTNY (voice-over): "Rain Man" knew, the only thing you can only down on, numbers. We count them down.

OLBERMANN: Our fifth story tonight.

Our four story on the Countdown.

NOVOTNY: And add them up.

Numbers are everywhere. Now some of the wackiest in this book by David Boyle and Anita Roddick filled with figures that compute the unusual, begging the question, how many numbers can you count?

If you stacked all the "Monopoly" money ever printed, how many miles would the pile stretch?




NOVOTNY: If you wanted to light someone's hair on fire, how loud would you have to shout in decibels?


NOVOTNY: Almost. How many facial muscles does it take to frown?


NOVOTNY: To smile?


NOVOTNY: Stuff that smile with a cheese burger and you'll be a part of what percentage of American eating at fast-food restaurants every day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's probably pretty high; 70 percent?


NOVOTNY: And what is the average weight of food consumed in one's average lifetime?



NOVOTNY: The equivalent of six elephants, that is. And since elephants never forget, here's one you won't. The average number of U.S. banks robbed every day is:


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a drug dealer, not a bank robber.

NOVOTNY: No matter who you are, there's one number everyone knows.

(on camera): Do you have a lucky number?


NOVOTNY: What is it?


NOVOTNY: How come?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it is Blackjack.


NOVOTNY: How come?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is the meaning of life.


NOVOTNY: If that's not enough, here are three more; 25 percent of Americans have appeared on television. Five Americans are injured by shopping carts every hour. Be careful. And the longest recorded flight of a chicken clocked in at 13 seconds.

OLBERMANN: Do you know what that 42 is about the meaning of life?

NOVOTNY: I wasn't quite sure.

OLBERMANN: Well, I do. But I can't tell you, because we don't have enough time. We'll save it - ask me as a question in the news quiz, next news quiz.

NOVOTNY: We'll throw it in tomorrow.

OLBERMANN: Countdown's Monica Novotny on number patrol, many thanks.

We always go from our No. 2 story to the entertainment news in "Keeping Tabs." And tonight, we start with a sad shock. The actor Jerry Orbach is dead. He made the NBC show "Law & Order" what it was for 12 seasons, as the world-weary, but always wise gumshoe Lenny Briscoe.

Just weeks ago, his publicist revealed that, last spring, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but that treatment had been effective and he would begin shooting his new role on one of the "Law & Order" offshoots shortly. It was not to be. He died of the disease last night in New York. Jerry Orbach was not just an actor in TV or in films like "Crimes and Misdemeanors." He was also probably Broadway's foremost song and dance man from such musicals as "Chicago" and "42nd Street."

Tonight, in fact, the lights on Broadway marquees dark for a minute in tribute. And, by the way, when I was a kid, he showed up at a baseball card collector's convention and was very nice to everybody. Jerry Orbach was 69 years old.

Entertainment rolls on. And this seemingly was just a matter of time. The folks at "Jeopardy" have managed to find a way to bring Ken Jennings back to the show. He was defeated after 74 consecutive victories, $2.5 in winnings. But today, producers announced a super tournament to air in February or March, with the finals in May. It will pit Jennings against two of the show's top winners from the old days, when contestants were only permitted to play five times.

That was before the states ratified the 47th Amendment to the Constitution, better known as the Game Show Contestant Protection Act.

Who is going to protect U.S. Airways' employees from their bosses?

How does this sound? The bad news is, we need to you work New Year's Eve.

The worst news is, we need you to work for free. Oh, boy.


OLBERMANN: By now, you know all about baggage gate.

Unhappy employees of U.S. Airways going against their bosses and their union and stage massive sick-outs over the holiday weekend; 10,000 bags go undelivered; 400 flights go unflown. And the general feeling is, the airline is not long for the sky.

But, in our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, U.S. Airways, not going gently into that good night, has a foolproof solution to prevent a repetition this holiday weekend and maybe even restore the carrier's good name, get employees to work for free in Philadelphia over New Year's.

U.S. Airways issuing a memo yesterday asking those employees in the area with this coming holiday weekend off to come in gratis - quote - "It promises to be a rewarding opportunity to learn more about the operation of our airline and come face to face with our customers," to say nothing of the opportunity to learn new swear words from those customers.

On the surface, anyway, this appears to be part of the company's attempt to cut more cuts, perhaps bring the airline out of bankruptcy, perhaps even, conflict of interests warning, secure financing from its largest creditor, General Electric, which is the parent company of NBC.

To see if this request passes the ineffectual middle management request, we turn to frequent flier and stand-up comedian Jeff Caldwell.

Jeff, good evening.

JEFF CALDWELL, COMEDIAN: Good to see you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Obviously, you travel quite a bit in what you do. Would you want to be greeted by employees who have given up their holiday weekend and working for free for an employer they don't really care for?

CALDWELL: You know, I'm usually a pretty courteous traveler anyway. But I'm guessing, on that flight, I would be pretty choosy about when I hit that call button, maybe not push for the second Diet Coke. Ice, no ice, whatever, whatever is good for you.

OLBERMANN: Just put it down slowly. We're happy with that.


OLBERMANN: Reverse the equation. We'll make you not the passenger in the equation, but the employee from Camden, New Jersey, and they want you in Philly on New Year's Eve for free. What do you do when they ask you?

CALDWELL: Based my record as an employee, I was generally out sick whether there was a labor situation or not. And so that would be - my replacement would be getting that memo. And that would be an issue for his conscience to wrestle with.

OLBERMANN: One thing I'm wondering about in this is if we might be missing something between the lines here, because the airline, in asking the employees to come in free, also said that it would be conducting what it called an enhanced review of each worker's attendance record from December 3 to January 3 to see who should be disciplined or fined or whatever.

Are they saying to the guys who did the sick-out, you owe us a freebie this weekend and this is your chance?

CALDWELL: Has anyone considered that maybe these guys were actually sick? All I heard this past summer was, maybe there's a problem with E coli in the airline's water supply. Maybe they couldn't dodge the bacteria bullet anymore, you know?

OLBERMANN: And let's not forget we're still short of flu vaccine, even though there has not really been a real flu epidemic yet.

CALDWELL: Good point.

OLBERMANN: Now, is it insanity or is it chutzpah or what is it to ask employees who've already in some cases taken 40 percent pay cuts to work a free holiday weekend? Is that what has made American business great?

CALDWELL: Keith, I see it as a beautiful example of belief in the generosity of the human spirit, really, especially at the holidays.

Hey, these are the managers who have driven U.S. Airways into bankruptcy for the second time. I mean, I'm thinking maybe they should just reclassify themselves as a nonprofit organization at this point. It might be simpler.

OLBERMANN: No frills, no profits, no paychecks.


OLBERMANN: I think we have just created a slogan for them.

CALDWELL: Absolutely. No peanuts either.

OLBERMANN: That's right. Thank God that's what you said.


OLBERMANN: Comedian Jeff Caldwell, thanks for helping us take a break from the very grim news of the day. We appreciate it, sir.

CALDWELL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: A programing reminder here.

The tsunami, you know about that. The relief effort worldwide, how and what is being done and how can you help - an MSNBC special report is next, hosted by Alex Witt.

That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann.

Good night. Good luck.