Tuesday, February 24, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 24

Guests: Steve Emerson, Ken Wooden, Dick Polman


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

9/11: The CIA had the first name and the telephone number of one of the hijackers in 1999 and did not use it, nothing came of it.

And the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, because of money, will nothing come of it?

Much will come of this: A constitutional amendment against gay marriage endorsed today by the president. But, will it be opposed not just by gay activists, but also, by ultra conservatives?

Another nightmare on tape: A learning challenged 10-year-old, a predator, a surveillance camera.

On a Mission from God: Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas gets a call on his cell.


GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), ARKANSAS: I'm sorry - I'm right in the middle of an event.


OLBERMANN: And tells his audience that it's the almighty with instructions for the Republicans. Inspirational? Entertainment? Blaspheme?

And her latest message is from Lena Horn, another Super Bowl Half Time related career tragedy, now she has lost a role in a movie.

All that and more now, on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. Four years ago next month German intelligence officers had a hot tip. They were tracking the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg and somebody let something slip. It was a first name, Marwan, and a phone number in the United Arab Emirates. "Could," they ask the CIA, "you do something about it?" The next time the Germans heard from the CIA, Marwan - Marwan Al-Shehhi, had just guided United fight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight: Of the many mile stones and warning signs missed by this country on the deadly road to 9/11, it was not the most significant, but, as Steve Handelsman reports from Capitol Hill, it was the earliest.


STEVE HANDELSMAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He flew the second jet into the trade center. Marwan Al-Shehhi was a pilot and the 9/11 planner, the roommate of leader Mohammed Atta in Hamburg, where German police intercepted one of his calls in March, 1999. They got his first name, Marwan, and a phone number in the mid-East linked to al-Qaeda, and the Germans gave their information in the CIA.

On Capitol Hill today, George Tenet, who ran the CIA then, and runs it now, denied that his agency blew this never-before known opportunity to disrupt the 9/11 plot.

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR:... and you've got a name, named Joe, and here's a phone number - Joe's phone number, no last name, and when we did some things to go find out some things, OK, you'll - we can give this all to you, OK? We never conclusively got where, because we didn't have enough - we didn't sit around...

HANDELSMAN: How about Saddam? Tenet told Colin Powell that Iraq had banned weapons and Powell told the U.N.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: We all see concede Saddam Hussein is a bad man, and I'm glad he's out of power. But, many more arguments were made to the American people to justify this invasion and it turns out that the bulk of them were just plain wrong.

TENET: We're not perfect, but we're pretty damned good at what we do and we care as much as you do...

HANDELSMAN: Arab TV today, is airing fresh al-Qaeda threats against America. FBI Director Mueller told lawmakers the danger is high, this summer at the Athens Olympics and at the political convention, more of a risk, he says, than in 2000, when Marwan Al-Shehhi was planning his attack.

Steve Handelsman, NBC News, Capitol Hill.


OLBERMANN: Whatever is or is not left of al-Qaeda, it can still talk a good game. Two Arabic television networks, today, broadcasting audiotapes believed to have been recorded by Osama bin Laden's No. 2 thug.

"Bush, fortify your target," one begins, "tighten your defense, intensify your security measures because the fighting Islamic community has decided to send you one battalion after the other carrying death."

Yeah, yeah, it's as familiar to us as "you have reached the ends of side one, turn the tape over."

Analysts do fear, though, that these tapes may have included go signals to al-Qaeda operatives, particularly the second tape which specifically mentions a French ruling preventing Muslim girls from wearing head scarves to school in France.

Steve Emerson has been tracking Islamic terrorists inside the - outside and inside the U.S. for years and joins us here again on COUNTDOWN.

Steve, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Well, first about that report from several different news organizations today, about Marwan Al-Shehhi and the lead on him from Germany in 1999. Obviously, emotionally, it cuts to the bone that we had a hit on another one of these villains that long ago, but apart from the idea that the CIA did nothing or could do nothing about it - what's the news here?

EMERSON: There isn't that much news here, frankly, it must have been a slow news day at the "Times," because they give it large placement. The reality is that the disclosure about Marwan's identity and the fact that the German government released it to the United States back in 1999 came out in the Senate and House intelligence 9/11 commission report, last year. No. 2, remember that this was pre-9/11, this is 1999 - just getting a name and a phone number - this is one case where, I think, the CIA really doesn't deserve to have its knuckles rapped, there are other cases where it does, where it messed up and screwed up before 9/11, missing key signals like the Kuala Lumpur meeting. But here, I'll tell you, Keith, that this is not something that you really can hold the CIA culpable. They definitely went to the Germans and asked them for participation and the Germans said "we can't help you any longer." Then the United Arab Emirates and the United Arab Emirates, where Shehhi was residing, said, "we can't help you either." So, the U.S. was really stymied at that point.

OLBERMANN: So, let's evaluate it, then. If there's no blame to be had, I guess in my mind and perhaps the viewer's too, would immediately go to our perpetual, it seems, search for an alternate timeline. I know this is not the way the counter-terrorism community thinks or works, here, and understandably so, but perhaps the rest of us still do, looking for some other result on 9/11. Say they had acted - been able to act on this intelligence and detained this man in 1999 - would the dominoes even possibly have toppled any way differently on 9/11?

EMERSON: Well, let's assume that - because we know they had the phone number, now let's assume they were listening on the wiretaps or on the surveillance, they heard them plotting 9/11. If they did that, maybe they could have stopped something. The odds against that are pretty high. The fact of the matter is that there were probably other opportunities that the failure to interdict the two hijackers who came to San Diego, in January of 2000, was much more of a likely domino effect, which could have interrupted the plans or perhaps even the wiretap that was unsuccessfully sought on the guy in Minnesota in terms of his ability to shield from the FBI in the summer of 2001, what he was planning. So, there are other areas and other incidents, I don't think this was one of them. Of course, we all want to know what the government knew, when it knew it. There's always an effort to sort of reconstruct and determine what the whole timeline was, we'll be doing this for years to come, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Finally, Steve, about the audiotapes - the al-Zawahiri tapes. Much of the analysis seems to have been centered on the supposed "go signals," Is that the significance of the tape?

EMERSON: Look, I think, the significance is probably much more in the fact that al-Zawahiri is very able to make these tapes, get them distributed on two Arabic networks, he's done it with total impunity. You'd figure - you'd think after 9/11 the U.S. would be able to follow the trail by which he gets these tapes into al-Jazeera, we haven't been able to do it. I think that's more of a telling scandal than the fact he's making these threats, which really, are largely empty. He uses the rhetoric that he knows we'll get scare tactics employed, but bottom line here is, he's still free, loose, and able to get this stuff on the air, and that's really the story.

OLBERMANN: The terrorism analyst, Steve Emerson, helping us sort out the two big al-Qaeda stories, today.

Many thanks, Steve.

EMERSON: You're welcome.

OLBERMANN: No. 5 on the COUNTDOWN, the CIA tip that might have led to a key 9/11 plotter, but did not.

Now, five other things you should know about this fifth story:

The five other key 9/11 tips that might have helped unravel the plot:

No. 5: The government knew that by 1994 terrorists might use

airplanes as weapons,

No. 4: In, 1998 U.S. intelligence agencies learned that al-Qaeda was planning attacks inside the U.S.

No. 3: The CIA learning top plotter, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, had been in the U.S., but it kept that to itself.

No. 2: The CIA learning that two future 9/11 hijackers had met with al-Qaeda in Malaysia, it did nothing with that information.

Than, No. 1: The CIA also failing to warn the Immigration Service to be on the lookout for those suspects who then enter the the U.S. without any problem.

Terror - terror against Americans did not start in New York or Washington or Shanksville, and it did not start on 9/11. Unsettling headlines, today, from one of the first attacks writ large in our society's memory, and they tell of what amounts to a retraction of closure, namely, Libya's admission that it was responsible for the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 that killed 270 people in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland. Colonel Gadhafi's prime minister told the BBC, Libya admitted guilt only because, quote: "We thought it was easier for us to buy peace and this is why we agreed on compensation."

$2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the Pan-Am victims. The State Department is demanding of Libya a retraction of that retraction and will keep banning travel to that country until it is received.

Back here, what could be startling news about the efforts to rebuild the World Trade Center. Nobody may build anything there for a long time. "The process, says veteran legal journalist Steven Brill, "hinges on a lawsuit against his insurers filed by the center's leaseholders, Larry Silverstein. Silverstein contends each attack on each tower constituted a separate occurrence and thus, entitles him to more than $8 billion in insurance money." After covering the suit Brill, appearing on the Charlie Rose show on PBS, said that insurance form clearly defines an occurrence as anything that happens over a period of 72 hours. Brill says, Silverstein has no case, which he says also means Silverstone - Silverstein will have no money, not enough, anyway, to rebuild at ground zero.


STEVE BRILL, LEGAL JOURNALIST: He's only going to have three-and-a-half billion, instead of seven billion to rebuild the Trade Center. He's already spent upwards of two billion of that money.


OLBERMANN: And, says Brill, if Silverstein does not have enough to rebuild, he gets to walk away with as much as a billion from the insurance company, because, quote: "He's not obligated to do anything if he can't rebuild."

Still ahead here on COUNTDOWN: The president on gay marriage. Four years ago it was a state's rights issue to him. Today he has endorsed a national constitutional amendment.

On video, again, now a 10-year-old child lured out of a supermarket by a sex offender.

And, Janet Jackson's breast: It's back, yet again, but the Super Bowl nonsense has cost her this time.

Those stories ahead, first are COUNTDOWN "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day:

No. 3: Unnamed thieves in the Ukraine: Scrap metal fetches a huge price there, so they saw the bridge of the river Svalyavka and they swiped it. I've heard a take the next bridge, but this is ridiculous.

No. 2: Somebody swipes a 123-year-old $95,000 violin from the Canadian National Art Center in Ottawa. The man immediately tries to sell the violin at a record store. I traded for some CDs, man.

And, No. 1: Whoever it was at the ad agency trying to sell Mitsubishi cars in Germany, they decided to use the English language catch phrase "Drive Alive" in their ads. They meant lively driving or driving that makes you feel alive. Eighty-two percent of Germans surveyed thought that meant survive the drive in our car. Talk about lost in translation.


OLBERMANN: Coming up, the president speaks out about same-sex marriage; and later, the Almighty phones in about the GOP; and police asking for your help to find a child predator. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: It's happened again, another child lured away, and it was all recorded by surveillance cameras. This is slightly better news, Carlie Brucia was killed, this child got away.

Our No. 4 story, another hunt for another child molester caught on another tape. His target, a 10-year-old developmentally disabled child in a supermarket in Tacoma, Washington, on Valentine's Day. According to local police the man offered the girl money to help him look for his girlfriend. She followed him outside the store, there he sexually assaulted her. The victim's father called the police when he could not find his daughter, but she returned home just as the police arrived. Now, detectives have released the store's surveillance pictures, including this enhanced version of one of them in hopes of identifying the molester.

Ken Wooden the creator of the Child Lures School Program use to educate - used to educate kids how to recognize these situations immediately. He joined us after the abduction of Carlie Brucia, and he joins us again, tonight.

Mr. Wooden, good evening.


OLBERMANN: How much more dangerous is this whole equation when the victim is developmentally disabled?

WOODEN: Well, it's obvious. It's really greater, I mean, these poor kids need greater vigilance on the part of their parents and guardians. In my research, I came upon kids that were molested that were blind, hard of hearing, in institutions for the mentally retarded, some pedophiles used to go and check them out like a library book on the weekend and assault these children. I mean, it is so horrendous, but it keeps going on generation after generation. I hope elected officials will finally get it and realize that the sex abuse of children is an act of terrorism, it is out of control, and we ought to finally address it and not be afraid of the issue of sex.

OLBERMANN: This victim clearly was not in a home, she was functional to some great degree. Are there specific self-protection measures that you would teach or design for kids with learning disabilities?

Apparently you will not be able to answer that. Mr. Wooden, I guess you couldn't hear that, we had a technical problem. Let me ask the question again.


OLBERMANN: With a case of functionally developmentally disabled kids, are there specific self-protection measures that you can team teach them, designed for them particularly?

WOODEN: You can teach these children, I have done it in schools across this country. They are sharp children, they can learn so much, you have to reinforce it. If that little child knew that a money lure by an unknown person out of the blue was a lure, that child would have been better, she would have been safer. People just don't go around offering money to look for a puppy or a girlfriend out of the blue, it's an obvious lure. But if the child, be it that child or a college student doesn't know the lure, guess what, Keith? They're going to be out of camera range and in dangerville in no time.

OLBERMANN: We'll talk about the lures in a moment, but my last question, you've talked often - you talked here about the first thing parents of all kinds of kids can do is ask the kids to draw me with a stranger looks like and then explain, no, that's not what a stranger automatically looks like. Give another simple, ready to go piece of advice about their kids, or for their kids, to the parents.

WOODEN: Sure. When you're in a car with your child and you hear a police siren or an ambulance or a fire truck, you point to their belly and say, "look, you have a siren in your belly, and if somebody makes you feel uncomfortable: church, community, the family, you report it to me, because you have a siren. It's called your gut instinct, and listen to it. Listen to it now and listen to it when you're an adult."

OLBERMANN: Wise words again from child protection expert Ken Wooden.

Thank you again for your insight, tonight, sir.

WOODEN: My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN: No. 4 on the COUNTDOWN: Children in danger and now four things you need to know about tonight's No. 4 story:

Just how abductors and child molesters lure, as Ken said, their victims, as ranked by Ken Wooden:

No. 4: They offer a job. They'll lure teenagers to isolated location, promising a job interview.

Three: Offering glamour or fame, like a movie role, beauty contest.

Two: Playing games, wrestling, even tickling the child, or even dressing up as clowns or magicians to attract kids.

And No. 1: Molesters and abductors can offer or give the victim love and friendship to gain their trust.

Continuing the broad topic of abductions and disappearances: The Hargon family of Mississippi, missing now for 11 days, and investigators tonight, with a new clue. They're looking for a white Ford Econoline van seen speeding away from the home on the day the family of three disappeared.

Officials say they're now treating the disappearance of Michael, Rebecca, and 4-year-old James Patrick Hargon, as a criminal matter. The FBI and local authorities still searching the area around the family home in Yazoo County, Mississippi, and the reward offered in the case, tonight, raised to $100,000.

One more headline from the criminal blotter tonight, the trial of the high doyen of household hints. Her defense saying it is only calling one witness, and that will not be Martha Stewart. The sole witness, former lawyer, Steven Pearl will take the stands tomorrow, Stewart's lawyer says he will only spend a quarter of an hour with the man and that Pearl's purpose on the stand is to introduce some documents.

Documents? A cookbook is a document. How to prepare the perfect 15-month defense, by Martha Stewart. Keep away from the hotplate, firmly beat the prosecution before introducing your one good egg, grill for 15 minutes, and then rest.

Ahead of us here on COUNTDOWN: The president reverses himself, banning gay marriage is not just the job for the states anymore.

An alleged cell phone call from God to a GOP governor. What do you mean collect call?

And a half time call to the alter that somehow became a personal foul.


OLBERMANN: We rejoin you now and we pause the COUNTDOWN to bring you those stories with little to no news value, but we just like watching them - they make us happy. We thought we'd share. Let's play "Oddball."

What's so odd about a televised car chase? Well, not much except that these guys keep thinking they're going to get away with it. Today's edition of America's most deluded criminals comes to us from Houston! Hello!

An armed robbery suspect has refused to pull over for police and there off. A quick chase to the COUNTDOWN car chase scoreboard tells us, the police are undefeated in these competitions, but this guy's trying to break the streak. Unfortunately for him, that telephone pole worked for the cops. And, it's just a matter of time from here, of the brief foot chase ensues, as the running suspect actually hit not once, but twice by police cruisers, and we have a takedown - here's the takedown, a couple of punches thrown and turn your sets off, there.

From resistant criminals to repentant thieves. In Kent, England, last month, 200 British pounds, in a bag, stolen by some tipsy passengers in a cab, but morning after guilt can be overwhelming. Later, a man walked into the taxi company headquarters and dropped off an envelope, in it, 250 pounds with this note: "Whatever came over us was very out of character. However in a drunken idiotic moment of stupidity, we decided to take the bag. Reflecting on it now, we can't get over the guilt of taking hard-earned money. We cannot apologize enough and deeply regret the upset we must have caused to your driver and yourselves. Although only an apology is nowhere near enough, the driver deserves for his act, we can only hope a full refund, plus 50 pounds will cover the inconvenience." Page 36, "Sorry, yours regretfully, the Drunken Prats."

"Prat" is defined in the English to English dictionary as, "complete idiot."

And you'd have to wonder just what six TSA airport security persons were drinking when they decided they'd like to what their brains looked like in the airport machines. The transport security administration has not identified the six employees, but our Denver affiliate, KUSA, reports that the screeners rolled down the conveyor belt like pieces of luggage, putting their bodies through the two-and-a-half by one-and-a-half foot x-ray machine. The manufacturer says exposure from these machines would not be enough to hurt anybody. It's about 50 times less powerful than the hospital x-ray. The key question, though, no word if, with the screening pictures in front of them, any of the screeners were then able to locate the relative whereabouts of their backsides and their elbows.

And Polar Bears are fun enough as it is, unless one of them has you in its grasp, imagine how much fun they would be with the addition of pastel coloring. Two Polar Bears at the zoo in Singapore have turned green. With envy? No, the only envy they seem to have is of other Polar Bears who do not have algae growing inside their hair. The hair of the polar bear is hollow. These guys, Sheba and Inuka, are encountering one of the downsides of living in the tropical Singapore climate, green algae growing inside their hollow hair. Mr. Science says it's not dangerous, it doesn't even itch.

Clawing our way forward to our No. 3 story: Nearly 12 years since the last Constitutional amendment, and President Bush is looking ahead to the dry spell.

Global terrorists meeting pay-per-view television: Sparks are sure to fly, here.

And the baby dangler's ex wants her babies back.

All of it ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: On the campaign trail four years ago, President Bush insisted that he believed state issues should not be resolved by the federal government. Last night, he told Republican state governors that he did not believe in national administrations that - quote - "make your choices." Today, he endorsed a national constitutional amendment to resolve the burning issue of the moment in a dozen different states, same-sex marriage.

Our third story of the COUNTDOWN, as White House correspondent David Gregory reports, this may not be as much about making new language for the Constitution, as it is about making hay out of the political controversy of the moment - David.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Keith, this is a rare step, but the president's political team does see it as a winning issue, a way to fire up the president's conservative base, while taking a strong stand against gay marriage that is widely supported around the country.


GREGORY (voice-over): From San Francisco...

CROWD: No discrimination. No discrimination.

GREGORY: To Massachusetts, where the state's high court has ruled that same-sex marriage licenses will be issued by May, the president complained today that the rush is on to redefine marriage and only a constitutional amendment, he argued, can protect what he called the most fundamental institution of civilization.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and national roots without weakening the good influence of society.

GREGORY: The constitutional amendment Mr. Bush proposes would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. But the president says it would not close the door on other legal arrangements between same-sex partners, like civil unions.

Today's stance marks a change for Mr. Bush, who said as a candidate in 2000 that gay marriage was not the federal government's business.


BUSH: This state can do what they want to do. Don't try to trap me into the states issue, like you're trying to get me into.


GREGORY: Today, John Kerry said he opposed gay marriage, but also opposes a constitutional amendment, accusing the president of trying to divide the country.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm for civil unions, and I think that that is permissible within the state law.

GREGORY: Other critics, including gay rights activists, said the president was risking support among moderate voters.


This amendment is anti-marriage, it's anti-family, and it is neither compassionate, nor conservative.

GREGORY: Still, a recent poll shows that 60 percent of the American public opposes gay marriage, and officials are hopping the president's stand will have particular appeal to key voting blocks, like Hispanics, Catholics in swing states like Michigan, even seniors.

GARY BAUER, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN VALUES: There's no other issue on the president's agenda where he's got 65 percent approval. So I would argue this is the easiest issue for the White House to deal with and certainly not one that they have to fear.

GREGORY (on camera): For now, however, this proposed constitutional amendment is a lot more political issue than reality. One senior adviser at the White House says tonight it will be a tall order to get this through the Congress this year - Keith.


OLBERMANN: David Gregory at the White House, many thanks.

While the president sets the stage for a standoff on gay marriage, opponents of the proposed amendment are trying to enlist a little inside help. Gay rights activists now appealing directly to the director of the vice president's reelection campaign for assistance, an unlikely choice, until you remember that the director of Cheney 2004 also happens to be his daughter, and his daughter also happens to be openly gay.

Gay marriage proponents now urging people to write letters to Mary Cheney, asking that she confront her father about his stance on the issue. The "Dear Mary" campaign also trying some more creative, critics would say cruel, methods, creating this ads, depicting the V.P.'s daughter as a missing child on the back of a milk carton.

But the people the president may really be worried becoming missing come November are his most conservative voters. Joining me now to talk about the political implications of this announcement, Dick Polman, who covers national politics for "The Philadelphia Inquirer."

Mr. Polman, good evening.

DICK POLMAN, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": Yes, thanks for having me, Keith. Appreciate it.

OLBERMANN: Let's leave the cultural and the moral stances aside for the purposes of this discussion.

Gauge the politics of this for me. Is this Mr. Bush, as is being said again and again, getting to preach to the choir or is this more complicated or more risky for him?

POLMAN: Well, I think it's political insurance policy in a way. I mean, he needs the conservative base to be there for him this November.

His father learned a lesson when the conservative base and a lot of the religious conservatives stayed home in great numbers in 1992. And Karl Rove, his strategist, said repeatedly in the last few years that four million voters, religious right voters, that they were expecting to come out in 2000 did not come out. They want to make sure that they come out this time.

So that's that part. But the risky part is that there are moderates, suburban residents who are sort of - you know, they're fiscally conservative people, but they're also socially tolerant people. And they may think that a constitutional amendment goes too far.

OLBERMANN: The last place this played out in a constitutional way was in Massachusetts, where the most strident gay activists and the most strident conservatives, so to speak, wound up in bed together, because the politicians tried to finesse this.

This they embraced civil unions, which as you saw in David Gregory's report, this proposed amendment would probably include, and so the gay groups and the conservative groups both despise civil unions as a compromise. Could that same scenario play out nationally? Could Mr. Bush and because of the civil unions element have just stuck his head into a hornet's nest, whereby he angers the gay groups and the tolerant and still does not go far enough for the far right?

POLMAN: Yes, I think that's the risk.

I think there's many risks for him here, and I think that's one of them. You mentioned Massachusetts. I think one of the ironic things about the Massachusetts court ruling, if I can just point this out, was that President Bush talks about activist judges that we have to stop. Three of the four judges in Massachusetts deciding that that state Supreme Court case were Republican appointees, including the state chief justice.

So this thing cuts any number of ways, and I'm not so sure - you know, most of the polls show that moderate voters, the majority of them, or at least a strong plurality of them, are against a constitutional amendment, thinking that perhaps it just goes too far.

I think one of the ironies here actually is that the Republicans, who are sort of considered the conservative party, are talking about federalizing this issue, and the Democrats, Kerry and Edwards, the candidates, are talking about, well, this is a states' rights issue, which is sort of a flip of the traditional - of the traditional ideologies. And I think it shows how volatile this issue really is.

OLBERMANN: And especially considering this is exactly that - what is now the Democratic position was Mr. Bush's position in 2000.

Lastly, let me underscore what I hope is some universal surprise about the timing of this. Somebody asked me about Mr. Bush and an amendment yesterday, yesterday, and I said, maybe, but not for a while, and it happens the next day. Does the timing tell us how his people are viewing the campaign, that they would stake out any controversial territory in any subject this early?

POLMAN: Well, I think part - I could be wrong on this. This is perhaps - call this informed speculation. But I think part of the timing of this also is that, yes, they've been getting a lot of heat from the conservative - the social conservatives to take a stand on this.

But I think there's something else going on here, and that is that the president is having problems on issues of credibility on any number of other fact - like the war and the weapons of mass destruction debate. And I think what we have here is a situation where they say, look, you see, he does stand for something. You can actually - you can go to the bank on where he stands. He's firm on this. It's a moral issue to him. And it's - it shows that he is solid, in some respects, whereas maybe a lot of people have doubts on a number of other issues right now, ranging from the war to job creation.

OLBERMANN: Dick Polman of "The Philadelphia Inquirer," great thanks for your time and your insight, sir.

POLMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: So the No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN, the coming constitutional standoff over gay marriage.

And the three things you need to know about the No. 3 story, the three goofiest, weirdest or most angering things said recently by politicians. No. 3, Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday called the largest teachers union a - quote - "terrorist organization." He apologized. No. 2, a classic Mr. Bushism with a policy twist: "My pro-life position is, I believe there's life." And, No. 1, courtesy of Governor Schwarzenegger, gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.

Maybe he meant happy.

Of course, politics is more than questions about bedfellows, strange or otherwise. It's also about television. It proves that governments can be fired on television, that the electorate can stay home because of television, and that, rather than see politicians debate on television, they'd rather watch live telecasts of executions, maybe even on pay-per-view.

First, the firings. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has offed his entire Cabinet. He fired them during a live telecast on Russia's state-run network, a broadcast that had been billed merely as a statement. The primary victim of the mass dismissal, the prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov. Putin said he had the right to demand the forced resignations under the Russian Constitution and was doing it now so that voters in the elections two weeks from Sunday would know where he stood.

And then he added the decision did not reflect on the government's performance - quote - "on the whole," which is where he lost me.

And then there's the television that keeps people from doing anything but watching television. Officials in Hawaii were worried about the Democratic caucuses there tonight because of the TV show "American Idol." Jonah Moananu is on. He is a 21-year-old singer form Hawaii. And he was expected to draw far better numbers than the presidential confabs in the Aloha State. That's right. If democracy is derailed, you can blame it on a guy who says Christina Aguilera is his favorite singer.

Or you could blame it on this, a new survey of television viewers finding that two-thirds of Americans support the idea of televising executions, even pay-per-view. When asked who they would most likely to be to pay to watch die on television, Osama bin Laden proved to be the unsurprising top choice. One in five said they'd put money down to see the al Qaeda leader put down. And Saddam Hussein also seemed to have some audience appeal, one in 10 saying they would pay to watch him executed.

The survey was conducted on behalf of the Trio Network, which, for the sake of full disclosure, will be one of our cousins in the NBC family after a current business deal closes. Oh, good, those results are sitting around the office somewhere.

Still ahead of us here on COUNTDOWN, all ears were on President Bush's speech last night, so we missed an important message during another political speech, a message from God. The fallout from the fallout continues. It bounces back to hit Janet Jackson yet again, and another halftime happening raising eyebrows at a contest with an unexpected twist and an unexpected outcome - in fact, two of them.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Coming up, a message from God, a message to Michael from Debbie Rowe, and a message behind an odd halftime event at a Washington basketball game.

Stand by, please.


OLBERMANN: It is often that warring parties have invoked the name of God in their battles, the Crusades, for example, or, for that matter, the entire principle of jihad, just about every political speech, except those made by candidates from the atheist parties.

But in our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, can you take that too far? What is the line behind invoking the almighty, making fun of him and claiming he has endorsed your policies and candidates? Last evening, at the Republican Governors Association meeting, the Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, took to the podium as a prelude to the president's address. It was during his remarks that he did a variation of Bob Newhart's greatest hit by getting the call.


GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), ARKANSAS: We are so very glad that all of you could join us here tonight as we get under way to hear the president...


HUCKABEE: Oh, my gosh. Excuse me.


HUCKABEE: Hello? I'm sorry. I'm right in the middle of an event.

It's who? It's God?


HUCKABEE: On the phone for me? How did he get my number? Oh, God has everybody's number. OK? Yes, I'll hold.


HUCKABEE: Yes, God? Yes, sir, I'm right in the middle of - the president's coming. Yes, sir, he sure is. Oh, yes, sir, he's here, too. He is.


HUCKABEE: You see, you say you want - you need an autograph. Oh, for Sampson. I understand, yes, lord.


HUCKABEE: And, you know, God, this is a pretty big event. We've got a lot of people and I've only got a very short time here. Oh, you've got all the time in the world. I understand. Yes, lord. And you want me to deliver a message. And that would be?

Yes, sir. Well, we want - yes, sir. We want to do what's right. And our president does. And we're behind him, yes, sir, we sure are. Yes, sir, we know you don't take sides in the election.


HUCKABEE: But, if you did, we kind of think you'd hang in there with us, lord, we really do. So...


HUCKABEE: Yes, sir. We'll pass those good words on. I see. You talked to the president and he talks to you anyway. And we know that. And we know that - yes, sir. Take care of the family and marriage and the people of America and all the people and the children.

And, yes, sir, I can tell you, every one of us are committed to doing that and a whole army of people out here, and we pledge we'll do our very best to do that, sir. Yes, sir. Well, thank you for blessing me, and we'll bless you, too. Thank you. And thank you.



OLBERMANN: Evidently, the lord does not like conference calls, nor speaker phones.

A line from the British sitcom "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin," comes to mind here. The title character is on the phone in one scene. You cannot hear who he's talking to. He says, yes, I know I'm repeating everything you're saying. Yes, I know it's very irritating. Yes, I know I'm still doing it.

God's got your number, our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.

And two things you need to know about No. 2, the top two skeletons we uncovered in Governor Huckabee's closet, No. 2, perhaps why his, of all numbers, is on the lord's speed dial, his third book was entitled "Living Beyond Your Lifetime." And No. 1, Governor Mike just wants to rock. He plays bass in his band Capitol Offense - Capitol Offense.

We again pause the COUNTDOWN to put on our sequin rubber gloves to handle those stories of the rich and famous which we call "Keeping Tabs."

And Janet Jackson's infamous right breast has spiked yet another television program. She was set to play the role in an ABC biopic about the life of singer Lena Horne, but this week, has abruptly withdrawn. A spokesman for Jackson tells "Variety" magazine that Ms. Horne was so upset by the world's most famous wardrobe malfunction that she refused to sign her contract unless they ABC bagged Ms. Jackson.

The project is now said to be up in the air as producers look for a new Lena. What is your major malfunction?

And then there's Janet's brother, what's his name, day 99 of your tax dollars and entertainment dollars in action, the Michael Jackson investigations. Two snippets of semi-news, the syndicated TV show "Celebrity Justice" reporting that the mother of two of Jackson's children has filed formal requests for full custody of the kids.

Then another lingering Jacksonian tale, "The New York Daily News" reporting that, to cover loans and other expenses, Jackson may have to sell his own catalog of music or offer shares in future royalties. Yes, I'm investing in them, all that dough I made off Enron.

Finally, fans of the Osbournes know that young Jack Osbourne may need a lot of things, maybe rehab, maybe a stair-stepper. What he certainly does not need are breast implants. He's doing just fine on his own. Yet, that reportedly is the gift given to Jack by girlfriend Kimberly Stewart, the daughter of Rod Stewart, implants, her implants, her used implants.

"The Sun" of London says Stewart had them removed in favor of a larger pair and quotes Osbourne as saying he had them framed and keeps them in a glass case in his bedroom. In case of emergency break glass, or in case of extreme loneliness.

And a "Tabs" reminder. Don't forget, live, local and late-breaking coverage of the so-called Bartman ball baseball destruction Thursday night here on COUNTDOWN, approximately 8:31 EST, 7:31 Central, on MSNBC, your network of meaningless ritualized destruction.

Back to this show, the COUNTDOWN almost to the top. Your preview of No. 1, an amazing scene that seemed too good to the true.

First, here are COUNTDOWN's three sound bites of this day.


CHANTEL COBB, HAD HER COOKIES STOLEN: Fifteen, 16, 17. All the darn cookies are gone.


JAY LENO, HOST: Now, over the weekend, the Bush family dog, Spot, had to be put to sleep. Yes. Well, he was 15 years old and the president said they had to put him down due to a series of heart problems over the years. That's got to make Dick Cheney kind of jumpy, huh? Hey, wait a minute, what are you talking about? What do you mean?



ALEX RODRIGUEZ, NEW YORK YANKEES: It's going to be fun. I'm selfishly speaking. It's going to be fun having him next to me to help him lead me and help him make me laugh most of the time. He always has something funny to say, so it's going to be fun.




OLBERMANN: Many women spend their entire lives waiting for one singular moment, envisioning to that last detail the buildup, the perfect execution, the grand finale. As we men so often are wont to do, we louse it all up by giving it about three seconds worth of thought.

Then again, as we arrive at our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, there are some of us for whom a public marriage proposal is just a long-shot opportunity to watch a 47-car pile-up in slow motion, our horrible evil wish, that the guy will say, "Will you marry me?" and the gal will say, "Drop dead, Skesics (ph)," which brings us to the halftime of the National Basketball Game, the Indiana Pacers at the Washington Wizards, and how the he in this equation arranged for the her to participate in a center court contest in which she would win free tickets to a future home game.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... in 30 seconds, she'll win a pair of tickets to a future Wizards game. OK, Kathy, on your mark, get set, go. And she's off. Is she hot or cold? Let's hear it, fans. She's running around. Where is she? Where is the Chevy Chase Bank man? She's getting hotter. Hotter. She's found him. Congratulations, Kathy? You've just won a pair of tickets to a future Washington Wizards game.

But, Kathy, we have another surprise for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honey, honey, honey, will you marry me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh. Well, thanks for competing in the Chevy Chase hot and cold contest. It looks like it ran just a little bit cold this time.


OLBERMANN: Oh, the humanity.

Perhaps she was embarrassed for being asked something so intimate in such a public setting. Or perhaps she's just not the marrying kind. Or, no, the one thing you most need to know about our No. 1 story, that was all a hoax. He's an actor. She's an actress. The whole thing was dreamed up by the good people in the Wizards' public relations office.

They did not threat crowd in on the gag until later in the game, symbolic of the fact that the franchise has not won the championship since 1978.

Let's recap our five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you'll be talking about tomorrow.

No. 5, lawmakers want to know why the CIA had the first name and number of a 9/11 operative in 1999, yet did nothing about him. Four, the 10-year-old child lured out of the supermarket, sexually molested, she is back home, police now looking for the suspect. Three, President Bush reversing his 2000 campaign stance, saying now that banning gay marriage is not a states' rights issue anymore. He wants a national constitutional amendment against it.

Two, can you hear me now? The governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, pretends to get a phone call conversation with God in the middle of a speech. And, No. 1, the backfired proposal in public that turned out to be a publicity stunt.

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

Good night and good luck.