Tuesday, March 30, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 30

Guests: Thomas Hartman, Toure


ALEX WITT, GUEST HOST (voice-over): These of stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

About face: The White House will let Condoleezza Rice testify before the 9/11 Commission, in public, under oath. Now the question, what could she say that she hasn't already said to Tom Brokaw, "60 Minutes," Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and on, and on? Fallout from the reversal and a preview of Dr. Rice's testimony.

Vanished, as search for Missing University of Wisconsin student continues, new surveillance video may yield new clues in the disappearance of Audrey Seiler.

"The Passion of the Christ," and conscience of the criminal: First a murder confession, now burglar (UNINTELLIGIBLE), because he saw "The passion." Match that "Scooby Doo."

She is back, new album, new attitude, new media blitz - same wardrobe. Miss Jackson returns to the scene with a bang.

And then there's the dashboard cam: That Texas cruiser and the Hollywood celeb caught on tape.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please we apologize. Please let him go. Please let him go.

WITT: Don't mess with Texas.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: Good evening, I'm Alex Witt in tonight for Keith Olbermann. And preparing to dive into the storm surrounding the 9/11 Commission and former White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke - national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: After weeks of saying no to the White House, it reversed itself today and said yes, yielding to overwhelming political pressure to have Rice do more than testify to the commission behind closed doors. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have also agreed to change the terms for their testimony, as White House correspondent David Gregory reports.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Alex, late this afternoon, the president appeared before reporters to explain his abrupt about-face, saying the important work of this 9/11 Commission outweighs the constitutional concern about a member of his staff testifying.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've ordered this level of cooperation, because I consider it necessary to gaining a complete picture of the months and years that preceded the murder of our fellow citizens on September 11, 2001.

GREGORY (voice-over): The president's decision to give in on Rice's testimony follows a damaging week politically for the White House. Not only did Richard Clarke's charges against the administration take center stage at the commission hearings, but Rice's attempts to undermine him through a total of seven TV interviews in six days appeared to backfire. As the question was repeatedly asked if she can appear on TV, why can't she testify? By week's end, the White House was fueling the story it didn't want. Flynt Leverett worked in the National Security Council under Dr. Rice.

FLYNT LEVERETT, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: This was something that all of the republican members of the commission were calling for, and other prominent republicans were starting to call for, so I think it was becoming a political problem for the White House.

GREGORY: Perhaps the most important question now: What will Rice's public testimony resolve? There are contradictions between her statements and is Clarke's testimony, centering on the question of whether the administration viewed terrorism as an urgent threat before 9/11. Among them: When did the administration develop a plan to eliminate al-Qaeda? And, was it any different than the plan Clarke submitted to them in January of 2001? Was Iraq a larger priority than al-Qaeda before 9/11? Was the administration aware of intelligence that terrorists wanted to use airplanes as missiles in an attack?

Tim Roemer is a democratic member of the 9/11 Commission.

TIM ROEMER, SITS ON 9/11 COMMISSION: The burning issue between Dr. Rice and Mr. Clarke is, speed priority, and clarity. Did they act quickly enough at the highest levels...

GREGORY (on camera): The president's decision to cooperate more fully with the 9/11 Commission makes clear that White House officials simply want to put this issue behind them. They hope and expect that Dr. Rice could testify as early as next week - Alex.


WITT: NBC's David Gregory at the White House, thank you.

The White House wants to put the controversy around the 9/11 Commission behind it, but even without more testimony from Dr. Rice, the controversy doesn't seem to be hurting the president where it counts most, in an election year: In the court of public opinion. True, in the latest "USA Today"/CNN Gallup Poll, nearly 60 percent of those polled said "yes" when asked if the administration had misled the public for political reasons, and smaller majorities agree both that the Bush administration was covering up how it handled intelligence before the 9/11 attacks, and that it could have done more before the attacks, but solid two-thirds majority also said "no" when asked if the administration could actually have done something to prevent September 11 from happening.

For more on today's developments as the White House tries to navigate this latest political storm, we're joined by John Harwood, political editor for the "Wall Street Journal."

Good evening John, nice to see you.


WITT: Why did the White House buckle on this, and why have so many republicans joined the push to have Dr. Rice testimony in public?

HARWOOD: They buckled Alex, because they were getting hammered politically by people in both parties and it was starting to take a toll in the polls. You know, with the country as evenly divided like this one is, you're not going to see big oscillations in the Bush versus Kerry number, but you look inside the poll numbers and see the one that you just cited, that you had a majority of Americans thinking the Bush administration had something to hide. You saw his ratings for handling terrorism edging down a bit, not dramatically, and it was having effect, and extending conversation about the administration's handling of this issue that the administration simply wants to put to rest, and they think that in Dr. Clarke, they've got somebody who can to do that when she goes before the commission.

WITT: So John, what kind of political effect, overall, is the White House hoping for from this reversal? I mean, they have to be addressing more than just the voters out there, right?

HARWOOD: Well absolutely. But, they're hoping that Dr. Clarke, when she's out there on television, this is - because of the build-up to this, this is going to get tremendous exposure, that she can, in effect, rebut effectively and conclusively what Richard Clarke has said, which is that the administration didn't take this seriously, they didn't act fast enough, and they were more obsessed with Iraq than with al-Qaeda.

WITT: Well, given Dr. Rice has spoken on this issue often in the media, I mean, should we expect any revelations from her testimony?

HARWOOD: I don't think so. I mean, really, the disagreements are matters of emphasis, you know, Clarke says, "serious but not urgent." What does that really mean? That's not the kind of thing you resolve with a piece of smoking gun evidence or anything. But Clarke will be - I'm sorry, Dr. Rice will be able to get out there in a platform which will have tremendous attention to it, many, many millions of Americans are going to see what she has to say, and she - we know what she is going to say, which is that the White House did the best it could. Of course, we all know the answer; neither the Clinton administration nor the Bush administration was effective in what they did in stopping these attacks.

WITT: OK, you bring in the Clinton angle here, John. So, how do you expect the democrats on that commission to handle their line of questioning of Dr. Rice? Will they be aggressive?

HARWOOD: Well, I think they've got to both pursue the evidence where they think it leads, but also be mindful that if they appear to make this into a, sort of, partisan food fight, it's going to hurt their effectiveness, as well and I don't think the Kerry campaign even wants that. You know, the Kerry campaign profited last week by staying out of this story and letting Richard Clarke really carry the ball at this - at these commission hearings, and the more this turns into a partisan fight, the less effective an issue it is for John Kerry, and I do think you have members with integrity, Lee Hamilton, Tim Roemer, Jamie Gorelick, who are - - clearly have a different point of view than the republican members, but they're not going try to turn this, I don't think, into campaign-style event.

WITT: All right, John Harwood, political editor for the "Wall Street Journal." Thank's so much for joining us this evening on the COUNTDOWN.

HARWOOD: You bet.

WITT: And this programming note: Richard Clarke is scheduled to be a guest on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews, Wednesday. You can catch "Hardball" every night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Wrapping up this segment now with the latest from the war on terror, and the rest of the political news, starting with the war on terror: A major arrests in both London and Philippines. At dawn in London, 700 police and special agents launched Operation Crevasse, that is an anti-terror raid that netted eight arrests, and about half ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which when combined with fuel oil can make one powerful bomb.

And in the Philippines capitol of Manila, police grabbed weapons and explosives and arrested four members of an alleged terrorist cell. Philippine President Arroyo told reporters; those arrests prevented a bombing campaign aimed at trains and shopping malls.

Back on the political front, democratic presidential contender John Kerry will be leaving the campaign trail Wednesday, this for surgery to repair a torn shoulder tendon. He should be back on the trail four days, though his recovery is going to complicate a candidate's typical routine. His doctors have told Kerry to avoid shaking hands for two or three weeks after surgery, and warned him that can't pick up constituent's babies for quick smooch, until mid-May, at least. Kerry hurt his shoulder when campaign bus stopped short during the run-up to the Iowa caucus.

And while Kerry says his wife is a major asset to his campaign, the condiments company famous for 57 varieties is trying to increase distance between it and her. Mrs. Kerry's first husband, Senator Heinz, died in a plane crash 13 years ago, leaving her heir to fortune, estimated at around $550 million. Now some conservative Web sites and talk show hosts, are calling for Heinz boycott. And that firm has heard from about 150 callers who say they're going to do that. The Heinz Company wants them to know, neither the senator nor his wife has anything to do with running the firm, and that the firm is not contributing to his campaign.

And making contribution of his own on Capitol Hill today, none other than Michael Jackson, the self-styled king of pop, didn't dance on any SUVs today, that was just after the pretrial hearing for arraignment for alleged lewd and lascivious acts on child. Instead, Jackson met with members of Congress to talk about the work he has done to try to ease the AIDS crisis in Africa. Jackson will also an award for HIV awareness work from African Ambassador's Spouses Group on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a Santa Barbara grand jury is taking testimony from witnesses in molestation case.

The COUNTDOWN now past the No. 5 story: Politics and terror. Up next, tonight's No. 4: The mystery surrounding a missing Wisconsin college student. A month ago she's assaulted outside her apartment, now she's vanished and these surveillance pictures are the last anyone's seen of her since Saturday.

And later, the nightly battle to get kids to bed. A new study suggests if parents don't put their foot down, they could be doing serious damage to their kid's health.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN's opening numbers, five figures that shape this news day. And tonight's theme is "By the Gallon."

One dollar and eight cents, the nationwide average price for gallon of gas, still at record high.

Three oh three, the average price for gallon of milk.

Four, thirty-four for a gallon of orange juice.

Six, twenty-five, the average price for bottled water.

And $605.62, the average price for gallon of Dom Perignon champagne.

The moral of the story: If we'd just drink gasoline, we would be a lot better off.


WITT: Up next, tonight's No. 4 story: The search for Audrey Seiler. The University of Wisconsin student missing since early Saturday morning, the latest on search efforts up next.


WITT: Back with the COUNTDOWN and our No. 4 story tonight, the bizarre disappearance of Audrey Seiler. Tonight police and volunteers in Madison, Wisconsin, are desperately searching for the missing 20-year-old college student . Seiler's disappearance comes just one month after she survived an attack outside her apartment complex and now investigators are trying to gather any shred of evidence that might lead to Seiler's safe return. Here's NBC's Leanne Gregg.


LEANNE GREGG, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A surveillance tape from University of Wisconsin student Audrey Seiler's apartment building shows her leaving without her coat or purse and her apartment door left open. It was around 2:30 Saturday morning, the last time she was seen.

CAPTAIN LUIS VUDICE, MADISON POLICE DEPARTMENT: Detectives have interviewed numerous individuals, some more than once.

GREGG: Her family remains optimistic.

KEVIN SEILER, AUDREY'S FATHER: Audrey's whole family is hopeful and remains confident that we will find Audrey safe. We have no reason to believe otherwise and we will continue to look for Audrey for as long as it takes.

GREGG: Just last month, Seiler was assaulted in an unusual incident that baffled investigators. She was walking near her apartment when someone struck her from behind and knocked unconscious. She was moved to another location a block away, nothing was taken and she was not sexually assaulted.

SCOTT CHARLESWORTH-SEILER, AUDREY'S UNCLE: She never said anything to me about believing that someone was following her or that this was something that was ongoing.

GREGG: Authorities are trying to determine if the attack is related to her disappearance. More than 100 volunteers have expanded their search to a large wooded area south of campus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this stretch, right here, is what we want to take care of.

GREGG: Their overwhelming feeling is disbelief, as the wait continues for information on what happened to Audrey Seiler.

Leanne Gregg, NBC News.


WITT: Officer Louis (sic) Kamholz is with the Madison Police Department. Scott Charldsworth-Seiler is Audrey's uncle. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining me this evening.



WITT: Officer Kamholz, let's begin with you. What can you tell us about Audrey's disappearance, what's the very latest this evening?

KAMHOLZ: Well, we really don't have much more information to give, at this point. He have - with the hundreds of volunteers and many of our staff members and assisting agencies. We have not come up with anything significant at this time, to give us any information as to where Audrey's at.

WITT: OK, officer, let's go to what we do know, at this point. Audrey left her apartment at 2:30 in the morning, she left behind her car, she didn't take any personal belongings. Any idea why she might have left at that time? Is it perhaps to meet a friend?

KAMHOLZ: You know, I think there's many speculations about what happened. We don't know, and the only person who will know is Audrey when we find her. The video obviously doesn't give us a lot of pictures of what actually happened outside. We don't know if there's somebody outside or if she was just going outside to get something from her car. We don't know that, and unfortunately, we don't have the surveillance camera. So, we have many theories, many speculations, but obviously we don't know that until we have good solid proof of what happened. And like I said, only Audrey will be able to answer that when we get a hold of her.

WITT: Scott, your niece was the victim of a bizarre attack in February. Was she afraid to return to school, or did she just kind of assume this was a random act of violence?

CHARLESWORTH-SEILER: Well, Audrey's normally a cautious person, and a reasonable person, and after that incident, she took extra precautions. She made sure that she walked often with friends and tried to be in buildings when it was dark. She, as far as any indication that we've had, assumed that was just a random act and didn't anticipate any more problem like that.

WITT: Officer Kamholz, is there any kind of link between these two incidences?

KAMHOLZ: You know, we've been asked that question, and would love to say there is, but we really have no evidence that indicates that case that happened on February first is linked to her missing status, right now. I mean, we just have nothing. That case is so bizarre, in of itself, that it's disconcerting, I mean, we just don't have anything.

WITT: Scott, given you know Audrey, her personality, her interest, is there any reason you can think of that would have her leaving her apartment at 2:30 in the morning?

CHARLESWORTH-SEILER: There's no reason that I can think of, that any family member can think of, that she would be out by herself that time of night. She was not in the habit of going out for something to eat or to - you know, go jogging or anything like that. We're puzzled completely by it.

WITT: Officer Kamholz, what is the neighborhood like around Audrey's apartment? I mean, are there any kind of night spots where she might have either gone or from which she might have been spotted?

KAMHOLZ: Well, where she lives is predominantly college students. Its right near our Camp Randall, where they play football, we've got the fire station right near it. It's a very - basically a very safe neighborhood, I mean, and as in any neighborhood, you may have trouble spots, small spots, but nothing that's significant in this neighborhood that would lead us to any clues where she is at.

_WITT: And Scott, how's your family holding up? _

CHARLESWORTH-SEILER: We're tired. We're worried, but we are both confident and determined. We're just looking for that next person to tell who may have some information for us that gets Audrey back.

WITT: All right. Our thoughts are with you. Scott Charlesworth-Seiler and Officer Larry Kamholz of the Madison Police Department, thank you so much for your time tonight.


KAMHOLZ: Thank you.

WITT: Now for four more things you need to know about tonight's No. 4 story. Here are four organizations you can turn to if you have information that might lead to the safe return of Audrey Ruth Seiler or any missing person.

No. 4: The Madison Area Crime Stoppers, its number is 608-266-6014.

No. 3: The Polly Klaas Foundation, it is a national nonprofit organization that helps find missing children and educates the public about protecting kids. You can call them at 1-800-587-4357.

No. 2: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, its number is 1-800-THE-LOST, that's 1-800-843-5678.

And No. 1: The FBI has a division devoted entirely to kidnapping and missing persons investigations. You can find out how to contact your local FBI office by going to its Web site: www.fbi.gov [link].

Tonight's No. 4 story: The search for Audrey Seiler.

Coming up, those stories that know no COUNTDOWN number, yet find their way into our show anyway. "Oddball" is up next and we got more things getting blowed up.

And later, another dashcam video making its way into keeping tabs. Find out which star is getting in trouble this time and for what. Stay tuned.


WITT: We are back, and we pause the COUNTDOWN to bring you empty calories from candy aisle of news, those goofy stories we just can't help but indulge. Let's play "Oddball."

First, how to turn a 2,500 ton warship into an underwater tour attraction in less than 10 seconds, brought to you by the British Royal Navy. That's the decommissioning frigate Scylla, once proud member of the royal feet - fleet, soon to be U.K.'s first artificial diving reef, the National Marine Aquarium bought that ship and promptly loaded up real good, sinking it to the bottom of the sea, 80 feet underwater off the coast of Cornwall, England. Officials are hoping fish will move into their new home immediately and they're already selling tickets for divers to tour that site.

Remember Ahab and that thing he had with whale? Well, Los Angeles inventor Eddie Paul had the same sort of idea but with cars instead of fish. It's called a "Chase Stopper," or as Eddie Paul calls it the "Silver Bullet," because it stops police chases in their tracks. Well, not high-speed chases, but if O.J. ever tries to get away again, the police could stop his white Bronco with hook grappling hook fired from the front end of a police car. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Police Department is not impressed and neither are the police in San Diego.


ASST. CHIEF GEORGE SALDAMANDO: To look at this for the first time, and what I've seen, I am not real impressed.

CHIEF SKIP CARTER, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PETROL: That was on a vehicle standing - sitting still. How does it work with a vehicle going down the road at, 10, 15, 20 miles an hour?


WITT: Well, this is mainly because it doesn't work, which is one of the top 10 reasons not to install a chase stopper on your police car. So Eddie Paul is looking elsewhere to market his invention, like maybe to the whale hunting Eskimos in Greenland, right after he sells them a refrigerator.

And speaking of refrigerators, "Southern Living" magazine was forced to send out an urgent e-mail, telling its readers not to try its great new recipe for Icebox Rolls in the current issue. Apparently combining the water and shortening as described in the recipe causes that mixture to ignite, which as we all know, would turn Icebox Rolls into roasted Icebox Rolls. All of which raises two questions: One, can the recipe be used by terrorists? And two, didn't we stop calling it an icebox when grandpa died? A safer recipe, and one that does not require a fire permit, is available on their Web site. The old recipe Icebox Rolls should be destroyed and not carried on your person when attempting to board a plane.

The COUNTDOWN now set to pick back up with No. 3 story, your preview:

The bizarre "Passion" confession machine keeps churning; now a former burglar comes clean to the cops. What's behind a parade of criminal conscience?

And later, Janet Jackson returns to the scene of the crime, CBS, and guess what topic she tries to avoid, and what David Letterman won't let lie? Of course, you guessed it. Can Ms. Jackson ever rebound from the nipples seen around the world?

But first, here are COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of the day:

No. 3: Christopher Williams of Jacksonville, Florida. Mr. Williams tried to escape house arrest by cutting off ankle monitor bracelet and duct taping it to the leg of the family dog. Didn't work. The bracelet sent a signal to police as soon as he took it off.

No. 2: An unnamed 15-year-old girl in Pennsylvania. The young girl was caught uploading nude photos of herself to the Internet and has been arrested. State police have charged her with child pornography.

And No. 1, Susan Brenner, owner of "You're Fired" pottery studio in Chicago, she has owned the place since 1997 and is warning Donald Trump if he tries to trademark "You're Fired" and sell stuff on her turf, she'll slap him with an infringement lawsuit. Ms. Brenner will join Keith tomorrow night on COUNTDOWN. Who is fired now, Donald?


WITT: Welcome back to the COUNTDOWN. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith.

And we are up to our No. 3 story. And for it, we turn to Mel Gibson's fantastically successful cinematic effort, "The Passion of the Christ."

Before the movie even hit theaters, its very premise spawned controversy, and now in the wake of release, it's soliciting not controversy, but confessions. The latest comes from Turner Lee Bingham, who turned himself into authorities in Mesa, Arizona, after allegedly burglarizing a convenience store early Sunday morning. After confessing to robbing the Yakety-Yak store, he proceeded to do just that, admitting to six additional crimes.

Bingham apparently explained to authorities that his mother had recently taken him to see "The Passion," prompting the sudden attack of conscience, his only the latest in series of such admissions. Yesterday, ex-neo-Nazi ordered held in Oslo, Norway, after confessing to two bombings. And, as we've been reporting, 21-year-old Dan Leach, arrested one week ago, moved to admit to his girlfriend's murder after seeing the film.


DAN LEACH: After watching that movie, I was very emotional and I thought about the things I had done, and I was upset that I hadn't repented yet.


_WITT: Just what in heaven's name is going on here? _

Monsignor Tom Hartman is the co-author of the syndicated column "The God Squad" and co-host of a television program of the same name.

Father Tom, good evening.


WITT: You have seen the film. What do you think is provoking these confessions?

HARTMAN: Well, the film itself I thought was very moving personally.

It was like going on retreat.

And it made me and so many other people think a lot about how do we look at Jesus. Sometimes you read the words, but you don't really visualize what he went through for us. And I can see what happens is what we call a moment of grace. It's a moment in which somebody is moved to do something that's positive. It's a moment in which somebody is moved to do something that is positive. If somebody has killed somebody else and hidden it over because of fear, or punishment, or fear of being discovered, that person carries that with them for so many years. They never not know that they once killed somebody.

And when they see a movie like this, which says, you know, God died for our sins, they say maybe I ought to confess because there's going to be another world in which, if I don't confess here, I have got to confess there.

WITT: So, Father Tom, these moments of grace you are talking about, in your experience, what ordinarily moves people to feel remorse? Isn't it unusual for something like a movie to do it?

HARTMAN: Well, it is unusual for a movie to do it because most movies are not focused in on remorse or the idea of somebody going to confession or doing something sacred.

However, it often happens under severe circumstances. For example, somebody gets sick and they go and speak to a priest or a minister or a rabbi. And all of a sudden, they start to recognize, well, maybe if my friend could die, I could die. Or perhaps somebody is hurt or somebody loses out on a job. And you are wrestling with, what does all of this mean? And you look for deeper meaning in life. Is there hope in the midst of despair?

Well, so many people find in their lives that, when they admit they have done something wrong, it's the beginning of the process of healing and peacefulness.

WITT: And, Father Tom, I would imagine that people of all differing faiths react differently to this film. We don't know the religious affiliation of any of these three men who confessed to crimes. But is it a safe bet that they are Christians?

HARTMAN: Oh, not only Christian, but probably Catholic.

Most religions do not have confession in the sense that you don't usually go to a minister or you don't go to a rabbi, but you talk more directly in other faiths. You talk directly to God. In the Catholic faith, the priest is an intermediary for God, acting on behalf of God. And it's a very powerful thing.

On the other side, whenever somebody comes in to confession, I am happy. I think it's a wonderful move. I have had the feeling myself where you have a burden on your back, and you go and you confess your sins. It's like somebody taking that burden off, and you want to begin again and begin fresh.

WITT: All right. You say it with a smile on your face. Monsignor Tom Hartman of the syndicated column "The God Squad," thanks very much for your time tonight.

HARTMAN: God bless.

WITT: It was only a short time ago that they were considered, as they said in the ad business, a niche market, niche market, really, but as Mel Gibson has thoroughly illustrated, to the tune of over $300 million, Christians have cash.

And as NBC's Kerry Sanders reports, they are willing to spend it.


KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More popular than "Harry Potter" in some parts of the country, "Glorious Appearing," a work of fiction based on scriptures in the Bible.

KEVIN GILMORE, "LEFT BEHIND" READER: They've taken things in the Bible that some people have a hard time sitting down and reading and made it real.

SANDERS: This book the final in a series of 12. One is considered a niche market, but now with more than 40 million sold. Today, the book went on sale at that most mainstream of stores, Wal-Mart. And it's not just this religious series that has gone mainstream.

"The Passion of the Christ" has now taken in $315 million, the 13th biggest grossing movie of all time. Why do these commercial successes now? Coauthor, glorious appearing.

TIM LAHAYE, AUTHOR, "GLORIOUS APPEARING": I think there's religious awakening in our country. The Bible has a message of hope. And that's one of the things that we are trying to convey.

SANDERS: From yellow pages with just Christian vendors, to gyms where members bombarded with God's word of inspiration.

(on camera): America is a country where 40 percent claim to read the Bible once a day. Religion sells.

JOHN GREEN, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF AKRON: There are millions of Christians that appreciate these types of materials, but also modern marketing has gotten ahold of these groups and found ways to put these materials in front of them much more efficiently.

SANDERS (voice-over): And increasingly religion is fair game in the political arena.

President Bush last year:

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ask God for strength and guidance. I ask God to help me be a better person.

SANDERS: Candidate Kerry just days ago.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The scriptures say, what does it profit, my brother, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?

SANDERS: And now religion food for the soul, literally. "The Maker's Diet" No. 1 on some best-seller lists, a health and wellness book guiding readers to eat just as Jesus did.

Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami.


WITT: With all this talk of Jesus and Christianity, what is a Jew to do? The devious and occasionally satirical minds behind Comedy Central's animated series "South Park" ready as ever with the answer. Premiering tomorrow night, an episode entitled "The Passion of the Jew."

The network has a lid on the details, but it definitely involves the show's Jewish character, Kyle, and I hope I am not spoiling things for you here, but Kenny dies.

That wraps up No. 3 on the COUNTDOWN, confessions, profit, and parody, all courtesy of Mel Gibson's "The Passion." Our second story up next, and here's a hint, why sleeping like a baby isn't as healthy as it sounds. Plus, a real shocker, a Hollywood actor, of all people, arrested for being drunk and abusive to police. That never happens.

But, first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.


KERRY: I pledge to you that we will create in the first four years of my administration - first four years.


KERRY: Little slow on the uptake.


BUSH: I read this, and I wasn't quite sure. It says that Wisconsin cheese is being sold in France.


BUSH: That's a good cheese.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now that you have all this money coming in. Are you going to stick around?

RODNEY COKER: Yes, ma'am.

_UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And why is that? _

COKER: Because this it the only work - this is the only thing I know. And I am not going to sit around the house and get fat and sassy.



WITT: As millions of tired and crotchety parents can testify, kids just don't get enough sleep. Now a new study shows that all that awake time can be just as wearing for the children.

Our No. 2 story coming up next on the COUNTDOWN.


WITT: Any parent that has ever dealt with a child the morning, afternoon, and night following a slumber party will tell you, sleep-deprived kids equal cranky, tough-to-deal-with kids, and that leads to slightly irritable adults.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, duh. Now there's a survey to prove it.

Here's NBC's Robert Hager with the details.


ROBERT HAGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Allison Aricardi's (ph) third grader, Madison (ph), normally goes to bed about 9:00.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go night-night, then.

HAGER: But if she doesn't, her mom says it can be noticeable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Madison stays up late, sometimes in the morning, we are battling the "I have a tummy ache; I don't feel good." Like, for instance, she did that this morning because last night was a late one. She was up until probably quarter to 11:00.

HAGER: For years, we have known most busy adults get less than their recommended eight hours or more of sleep a night.

(on camera): But now a surprise. A poll of parents by the National Sleep Foundation reveals little children aren't getting enough sleep either.

(voice-over): How much sleep do kids need? For infants, researchers say probably 14 to 15 hours, toddlers, 12 to 14, preschoolers, 11 to 13, and elementary schoolers up to 5th grade, 10 to 11.

But the poll found they all averaged at least an hour less. A director of the study, Philadelphia Children's Hospital's Jody Mendell (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Attention, memory, concentration, it's affected

by even 30 minutes less sleep per night.

HAGER: Teachers like Denise Docans (ph) can see it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have kids who will tell me that they are sleepy, and I can also just tell by their behaviors, that they seem a little bit on edge, they seem a little cranky.

HAGER: Bad for kids, researchers said, a caffeinated beverage, cost 30 minutes lost sleep on average, a TV in the bedroom, 20 minutes, or any other energizing activity before bed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anything that is going to be stimulating, whether that is instant messaging, e-mailing, computers in the bedroom, all of that is going to get a child charged up and make it difficult for them to fall sleep at bedtime.

HAGER: On the other hand, good for sleep, a nightly routine at 20 to 30 minutes before bed, like reading with a parent.


HAGER: There's something in it for adults, researchers said. When children sleep better, parents do, too.

Robert Hager, NBC News, Washington.


WITT: We hit the snooze button on the COUNTDOWN, take a brief respite from our big five stories to tackle the dream-inducing Hollywood headlines we lovingly refer to as "Keeping Tabs."

It's getting so they may have to provide hair and makeup at police stations these days. Our latest celebrity mug shot making our wall of shame, actor Jason Patric. You remember him. Well, you will now. Mr. Patric was in Texas for the premiere of his new movie "The Alamo." You remember that. It seems Patrick mouthed off to the police there and assumed an aggressive stance with them.

Not a good choice. So, after a bit of a wrestling match, the arresting officer was motivated to take him into custody and book him on public intoxication. It's an embarrassing incident that Jason Patric and I am sure one of his handlers would like to forget.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, we apologize. Please, let him go.


WITT: But at least his mug shot is the best we have seen in a long time, and we have seen some good ones.

Alistair Cooke died last night only a month after the final broadcast of his acclaimed radio program "Letter From America," which had run on the BBC continuously since 1946. We remember him best as the unflappable Brit who hosted "Masterpiece Theater" for 21 years and whose impeccable performance became the stuff of delight parody. Alistair Cooke was himself a masterpiece and filled his life with about as much as you can cram into 95 years.

He was a British subject who fell in love with America and became the Boswell our culture and 12 of our presidents. In his final broadcast, he thanked us for our loyalty.

Alistair Cooke, thank you for yours.

Our top story, who was actually wearing a complete top this time, is up next.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN's top two photos of the day.


WITT: All of this brings us to our No. 1 story tonight on COUNTDOWN.

If you're wondering whether the fallout from Janet Jackson's Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction has died down, guess again. The pop diva has hit the airwaves in the latest attempt to garner up some publicity for her new album, "Damita Jo."

Last night, talk show host David Letterman grilled the pop diva about her wardrobe malfunction. Network censors hit the mute button when Jackson exclaimed, "Jesus." Jackson also proudly proclaimed that she was again wearing a nipple ring? How's that for too much information.

But will all the publicity and media hype help Jackson's C.D. sells? Her first song didn't make a dent in the music charts and her latest video is being overlooked by an industry giant.

Here's NBC's George Lewis.



DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: Here's the lovely Janet Jackson.



GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For those of you who haven't seen enough of Janet Jackson, she's all over TV this week promoting her new album out today. Last night, in a revealing getup, she joined David Letterman.


LETTERMAN: Now, that's almost malfunctioning, isn't it?



LEWIS: What happened at the Super Bowl was very much on Letterman's mind, but Jackson was reluctant to discuss it and seemed uncomfortable.


LETTERMAN: You didn't know it was going to happen?


LETTERMAN: So it came as a complete surprise to you?



JACKSON: It was completely an accident. It wasn't a stunt.

LETTERMAN: Was not a stunt, was not premeditated, was nothing that you had rehearsed?




LEWIS: Some observers think that after the Super Bowl Janet Jackson's career has kind of gone bust. Two songs from her new album have fizzled on top 40 radio. And MTV, the outfit that produced the Super Bowl halftime show, hasn't exactly gone bananas over her music video, giving it no airplay whatsoever. "Us" magazine writer Ian Drew (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of these kids that are now listening to her for the first time have been introduced to her for the first time through the Super Bowl stunt and they don't really know what to make of the whole thing, basically.

LEWIS: So do people think the Super Bowl debacle and all that bad press hurt Janet Jackson's career?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that it was really ridiculous because it was so planned. And I think that's sad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Given the state of mind of most Americans, I think that maybe there's some backlash.

LEWIS: But on "Letterman," Janet stuck to her story that it wasn't planned.


JACKSON: It was supposed to kind of happen like that, but what actually happened wasn't supposed - I wasn't supposed to come out of it the way I did.

LETTERMAN: Yes. Yes. Right.



LEWIS: Even if others want to dwell on the subject.


JACKSON: I want to put all that behind me. I truly do.

LETTERMAN: Well, not me.



LEWIS: George Lewis, NBC News, Los Angeles.


WITT: Joining me now is Toure. He's a contributor for "Rolling Stone" magazine and also the host of "Spoke 'N' Heard," an interview and music video show on MTV2.

Welcome back to COUNTDOWN, Toure.

TOURE, "ROLLING STONE": How are you, Alex?

WITT: I'm well. Thanks. Hope you are, too.

Got to ask, Janet, she tried to change the subject several times last night on the Letterman show.

_TOURE: Wouldn't you? _

WITT: Well, yes, but he was continuing to grill her about this wardrobe malfunction.

TOURE: As a good journalist should.

WITT: OK, well, Dave is a great journalist.

But, look, MTV, you know it so well, it hasn't been playing her music video.


WITT: Her first single was a dud. So how damaging, Toure, do you think this Super Bowl incident was to her music career.

TOURE: Well, first of all, the MTV thing, I don't want to make too much out of that just yet. MTV is often slow to put on the new videos. BET sometimes gets out ahead of them. She's definitely a VH-1 artist.

So, MTV, I think they are going to come around in a week or two and start playing it. So let's not make too much out of that.

But what happened after the Super Bowl is, people over 35 condemned Janet as if she was the worst person in America. And you know what? People under 35 are saying, hey, wait a minute, what was so bad there? Like, what was really, really so bad that she had to be chastised in this way? And there's a lot of sympathy that's come from the post-Super Bowl paranoia and backlash.

So there's this whole countermovement of, let her go. It's too much attack on her. Now, the big problem is for Justin. He has lost his ghetto pass. He was the white guy who could hang out with black people, who could be on the cover of "Vibe," and he was cool. Now he backed away from Janet. He let her be all alone in the apology. And so he's in more trouble now than she is.

WITT: Yes, people are thinking he just abandoned her.

But back to last night. The network censors, they hit that mute button when Janet said Jesus. Do you think they were a bit trigger-happy there?


TOURE: Yes, I do. There's this post-Janet paranoia going on, where Simon Cowell puts his finger to his forehead and he's giving some kid the finger. And Michael Powell is all in a tizzy about things.

It's going to be OK. One of the quotes from Janet's album is, relax, it's just sex, like, it's not that big a deal. It's going to be OK.

WITT: It's just sex. So how does Janet's new C.D., "Damita Jo," how does it compare to other the albums she had success with?

TOURE: It's not "Rhythm Nation," OK? It's not her best album. It's not her worst. It's not "Dream Street," so it's not horrendous.

I wish I loved it or hated it, so I could come here and throw the gauntlet down. But there's some hits on there. There's some duds. Kanye West has a great song. Under-35s are going to check it out. I'm not - she may have a big week. She may end up No. 1. Norah Jones, her hegemony is over. She had five, six weeks at No. 1. That's over. But it's a big week for Janet. So she's right to be out in front of the cameras and let us see her.

I was at her record release party last night. She came with a beautiful white dress looking amazing. So...

_WITT: Was she doing any interviews or no? _

TOURE: You had to be like a print journalist to run up with your tape recorder and be like, hey, what's going on? I saw "The New York Times" cornered her and talked to her for a minute. But they ran up on Courtney Love as well and talked to her just like impromptu.

WITT: Well, I'm sure that was scintillating and very revealing, yes.

Listen, what can you find on the C.D. that Janet didn't reveal on her previous albums? Is this kind of - "Relax, It's Just Sex," is that on the C.D.?

TOURE: Yes. It's just, she's cooing. She's that sort of sweet and sexual at once Janet. Just sort of like, it's much more of the same sort of person we've been getting that we've known from her, a little naive, a little sexual, intimate and loving and now sexual again, so dance, pop. It's a fun album, not incredible, but not terrible.

WITT: All right. Well, we're glad to hear about it from you.

Thanks so much, Toure of "Rolling Stone" magazine.

TOURE: Thank you.

WITT: Much appreciated and thanks for your time this evening.

TOURE: Thanks.

WITT: Well, I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann. He's going to be back on COUNTDOWN tomorrow night.

So have a good evening, everybody. Thanks for watching.


Monday, March 29, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 29


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

Richard Clarke's testimony may be made public. Condoleezza Rice's testimony will not be made public. The 9/11 Commission controversy lives into a new week as a republican commissioner calls Rice not testifying, quote: "a political blunder of the first order."

The Tyco trial: Thumb up does not mean thumbs down. Though one of the jurors gives the high sign to the defense, the judge does not tell them to Tyco hike.

Treasure or pleasure? Money or honey? Checks or sex? A new public opinion survey answers the burning question, which would the average American rather have, more sex or more money?

Well into overtime in his 15 minutes of fame, the William Hung phenomenon continues. It is not just a William Hung music video, it's a William Hung music video directed by the guy who directs Nine Inch Nails and Missy Elliott for a lot more money. Why are we still hung up on William?

And it escaped race horse, escaped race horse, escaped race horse, but here comes pickup truck on the outside. And now surging it's gray k-car (ph), gray k-car. Look at the power in those thighs. But now, it's escaped race horse, passing park police pickup truck and down the stretch they come. Escaped race horse, escaped race horse, escaped race horse by they lengths!

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. Like his "American Bandstand" name sake, it sure looks like this Dick Clarke isn't getting old and isn't going to be anywhere soon any time. Either.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The former national counterterrorism czar versus the current national security adviser, week two. The 9/11 controversy's boiling down to one question. Why the White House thinks one presidential adviser should not testify in public, but the classified testimony of another presidential adviser should be made public. Our correspondent is Andrea Mitchell.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice today, still resisting pressure to testify in public and under oath about what the White House did before 9/11. But, even the republicans on the commission say unanimously that the president should wave executive privilege and let her appear.

JOHN LEHMAN, REPUBLICAN COMMISSION MEMBER: I'm saying it's a blunder, because they've got nothing to hide.

MITCHELL: But, last flight on "60 minutes," Rice said she wants to testify, but can't.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have yet to find an example of a national security adviser - sitting national security adviser who has been willing to testify on matters of policy.

MITCHELL: There are precedents on both sides. President Gerald Ford testified about his pardon of Richard Nixon. Congressional studies have found 20 cases where White House advisers testified and five where they refused. Some republicans are pressing Rice to at least release a transcript of her private testimony to the commission.

On "Meet the Press," Richard Clarke told Tim Russert, his own e-mails and memos should also be declassified to prove the Bush White House did not focus on Osama bin Laden enough before 9/11.


MITCHELL: Officials say that won't happen. But, NBC News has learned at the request of the White House, the CIA Is already going through Clarke's testimony to congress two years ago to see what could be declassified, supposedly to show contributions. All part of an unrelenting White House counteroffensive.

CLARKE: The word is out in the White House to destroy me professionally. One line that somebody overheard was, "he's not going to make another dime again in Washington, in his life."

MITCHELL: Today, even Laura Bush, joined in.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: And if the implication was that my husband, in some way, does not take his role seriously, it's just absolutely wrong.

MITCHELL: A far cry from this personal note from the president thanking Clarke for his service last year.

(on camera): Will all of this have an impact on the president's re-election? So far, not. In a new Q Poll, released tonight, the president has gained ground over the past week and has now pulled even with John Kerry.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: Boy, oh, boy is this not going away. How on earth did the White House make, as the republican 9/11 commission John Lehman put it, "a political blunder of the first order?"

I'm joined now by Margaret Carlson, senior writing for "Time" magazine.

Margaret, good evening.


OLBERMANN: It's not only not going away, it seems like there's no obvious way out for the White House. The president is reported to be adamant about Dr. Rice. Are they going to hold their position here, or is Condoleezza Rice going to wind up, at some point, testifying on the record for the 9/11 Commission.

CARLSON: Well, they're working on a compromise, but it's not a compromise which puts her in the commission under oath, and so the drama continues.

The White House made a 9-day story out what of - what could have been a two-day story by not doing it, because - you know, the public - you know, criminals have a right to take the fifth and not testify, and administration officials have the right to exert executive privilege. But, the public has the right to hold it against them, even though - you know, you're not supposed to. And so, the fact that Dr. Rice is not testifying, in the public's mind, is not necessarily understood, and here's hardly a republican on the Hill that doesn't want her to testify.

OLBERMANN: The other problem part about this, the guys in the White House are supposed to be so slick, politically. How did they manage to turn a debate over what, in essence, would be pretty ho-hum testimony that a commission, in essence, already has into what looks, certainly at first blush to a lot of people who don't spend a lot to time thinking about this, like a possible cover-up.

CARLSON: Well, the public is prepared to believe that nothing could have been done prior to 9/11 to stop 9/11, and the White House could have gone on that track, and at the same time, said we're going to waive executive privilege so that Dr. Rice can testify. They - you know, the White House is stubborn, look at the energy task force, the information on that hasn't been revealed, they preferred to go to court. I think eventually those names will be revealed, but it looks like the White House has something to hide.

OLBERMANN: Is the adamants of the White House about Dr. Rice perhaps about containment, I mean there's - the "Newsweek" survey is out, reacting to all this, which we'll get into detail in about five minutes or so. It says that 44 percent of people believe that the 9/11 Commission should get public testimony from President Bush. Is the White House at all worried that Rice testifying might set up at least the environment in which the next controversy would be about the president testifying?

CARLSON: Well, it is a slippery slope probably, but the poll gives the White House some sustenance in that the president hasn't dropped over the last week in the public's mind on his handling of terrorism, so maybe the White House feels that this is not been a total - you know, that they're holding steady, if not winning this war with Richard Clarke.

OLBERMANN: Although, it does look like they've lost some in the swing voters, that this might a component in that very small, very narrow field of guys who are still up for grabs out there in the voting populace.

CARLSON: Right. The truly red and truly blue people just believe more of what they've already believed. But yes, they area up for grabs. And in that extent - to that extent, Keith, the longer it goes on, I think the more those swing voters swing towards, "well, what do they have to hide?"

OLBERMANN: Margaret Carlson of "Time" magazine, as always Margaret, and many thanks for your insight. Good night.

CARLSON: Thanks, Keith. Good night.

OLBERMANN: Ultimately, tonight's fifth story, like any political saga, is not a question of who's wrong and who's right. To quote Mae West, "Goodness has nothing to do with it." Nonetheless, at least part of the outcome will come down to the facts, and to check those facts, here's senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers.


LISA MYERS, NBC SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: In the days before 9/11, is it true that President Bush had no sense of urgency about dealing with al-Qaeda?

CLARKE: Although I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don't think it was ever treated that way.

MYERS: Here, Clarke is supported by three other former White House insiders. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, the NSC's Flint Leverett, and Clarke's deputy, Roger Cressey, now an NBC News analyst.

What's more, the "Washington Post's" Bob Woodward quotes the president himself on Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11. Quote: "I knew he was a menace, but I didn't feel that sense of urgency."

However, the White House insists, before 9/11, it was working hard on a new tougher policy to eliminate al-Qaeda. And the CIA director says he briefed the president on the threats daily. Still, the 9/11 Commission concludes it took nine months just for the White House to hatch out a policy.

PHILIP ZELIKOW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR 9/11 COMMISSION: There's no evidence of new work on military capabilities or plans against this enemy before September 11.

MYERS: What did Condoleezza Rice know about al-Qaeda? Clarke claims when he briefed Rice on al-Qaeda in January 2001, "she gave me the impression she had never heard the term before." Rice calls that "arrogant and insulting." In fact, Rice spoke at length about al-Qaeda in a radio interview in 2000.

RICE: We don't want to wake up one day and find out that Osama bin Laden has been successful on our own territory.

MYERS: Finally, are there inconsistencies in Clarke's statement?

Clarke now says:

CLARKE: President Bush did nothing prior to September 11.

MYERS: But, he boasted to reporters in 2002 that the White House had increased funding five fold, and "changed the strategy from one of a rollback with al-Qaeda to rapid elimination of al-Qaeda."

Clark's explanation now:

CLARKE: When you're in the White House, you spin.

MYERS (on camera): Clarke's supporters claim the differences between now and then are largely a matter of tone. But, others claim in ratcheting up his rhetoric, Clarke has become a combatant in an already heated election.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: And, if the fact that his book is now in a fifth printing was not indication enough, there is nothing like a poll to also prove his political staying power. Along with the approval ratings of the president "Newsweek" providing us with a character rating of Richard Clarke. Of those who said they had been following the story, one in four said they saw Clarke as a self-less public servant. Half see darker motives, suspecting that the former counterterrorism chief has a personal or perhaps a political agenda.

Clarke note's he'll be giving his profits to the 9/11 families and keeping the rest since, as he said his government career is obviously over. And obviously impacted the president's approval rating on terrorism and homeland security, down to 57 percent from the high at 70 percent two months ago.

But slide or no, the controversy over the 9/11 testimony seems to have had very little effects on the race for the White House. "Newsweek's" poll finding Bush with a two point edge over Kerry; Nader coming in at five percent. If the numbers look familiar, it is because they are exactly the same as they were last week. There's also been little change in the two-way race version of this question. Kerry and Bush still locked in a statistical dead heat with the senator at 48 and the president at 47.

An unexpected twist in the fifth story, akin to something similar to the Vietnam War era protests. In what they should already be calling the "Rove Rave." The president's chief political adviser Karl Rove discovered to his shock, yesterday afternoon, that his Washington home was surrounded by hundreds of people demanding educational opportunities for the children of immigrants. Waving signs and chanting, "Karl, Karl, come on out." The group even resorted to pounding on the window of the house. Rove finally acquiesced meeting with two protesters on the condition that everybody else leave. Everybody else did. Rove then admitted two delegates into his garage for two minutes, and according to one of them, he yelled at them and told them, don't ever dare to come back.

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: Politics, specifically the increasing pressure for Condoleezza Rice to testify before the 9/11 Commission.

Coming up, the No. 4: Juror No. 4, that's the polite name. She's also been called the "batty blue blood," the "paranoid socialite" and "Misses Trial." The juror that put the six month Tyco trial in jeopardy.

And later, a dark page from Wichita's criminal past: The string of unsolved serial slayings, more than two decades ago, now new evidence, another murder tied to the crime spree. New evidence supposedly sent in by the killer.

Those stories ahead, but first, here are COUNTDOWN's opening number, the five figures that shaped this day. And tonight's theme is America is Divide.

Yes, more poll numbers from polls released today.

Eighty-one percent, that's the share of people planning to vote for George Bush who say they are more likely to believe the Bush administration instead of Richard Clarke.

Twelve percent of Bush voters say they believe Clarke.

Ten percent of John Kerry's voters say they believe Bush.

Eighty percent of them say they believe Clarke.

And, eleven percent of people who are certain that they're going to vote for Kerry say they believe that the man they think can best defend the U.S. from terrorism is George Bush.


OLBERMANN: Up next, tonight's No. 4 story. The runaway juror in the Tyco trial. Hand signals to the defense, an alleged problem in the jury room, is it perhaps a Grisham novel, come to life?


OLBERMANN: Unless you're a lawyer, you're probably thinking the same way I am. If a juror, to quote the comedian and philosopher, Rodney Dangerfield, gives "one of these" to the defense during a high-profile corporate corruption trial, we laymen might tend to assume this could mean something's gone wrong with the jury. Something very, very, very, very, very, very wrong.

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN tonight: They, the juries. And we begin in New York at the trial of two former executives of the infamous Tyco investigation whose attorneys got "one of these" from juror No. 4, on Friday. Our correspondent, Anne Thompson, now on why the judge did not declare a mistrial by saying "one of these?"


ANNE THOMPSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski is in a real-life legal thriller. The jury in his corporate corruption case began the day on the brink of collapse. Torn apart by infighting, but ended the day back on track. Working to decide if Kozlowski and his chief financial officer, Mark Swartz, looted the conglomerate of $600 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you going to have a good day, sir?

THOMPSON: The latest plot twist involves jury No. 4. seen Friday making an OK sign to the defense. A signal that was front page news in New York with some news organizations reporting her name.

The coverage led the Kozlowski attorney, Stephen Kaufman, to move for a mistrial today, arguing the added pressure on this juror would be enormous. But after speaking to the juror privately, Judge Michael Obus dismissed the mistrial motion. He described the juror as a very independent woman. And said she told him, "nothing that has happened will," from her point of view, "prevent her from deliberating in good conscience with the other jurors."

THOMPSON (on camera): But, in trying to get the jury to reach a verdict, some legal experts say the judge may have created grounds for appeal, especially on the issue of coercing the jury in question.

HOWARD MEYERS, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: At the end of the day, if Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Schwarz are convicted on some of the charges, but not others, there may be a specter raised that, well, maybe she just went along with everyone else just to save face.

THOMPSON (voice-over): And there's the issue of the judge's actions.

ROBERT MINTZ, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He's really gotten to the end of his rope, if he pushes them too far, that in and of itself, is going to be an issue on appeal.

THOMPSON: The so-called "runaway juror" now corralled. Trying to reach a conclusion in what's become a gripping legal drama.

Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: Judging by the juror's gesture, life in a high-profile jury room is not as straightforward as we would have assumed. Dick Corcoran has been there. He was on the case of a prominent case in Texas. The Celeste Beard murder trial.

Mr. Corcoran, good evening.


OLBERMANN: So, having been in those kinds of seats, what did you think of the story of this juror and the OK sign?

CORCORAN: Well, it's quite unbelievable. I can't comprehend someone, who has particularly passed the bar, doing something like that, frankly.

OLBERMANN: Does it mean anything to you in terms of, is it a signal that juries use? What possibly could it have meant?

CORCORAN: I don't know. I think that was something very personal on her part. I doubt it very much that it gave any signal as to which way the jury was leading - leaning.

OLBERMANN: Although the indications seems to be that she is the proverbial holdout, and I - everybody - well I hope everybody, has seen the movie "Twelve Angry Men" and has appreciation for the idea of the sole holdout juror and how he or she might just be right. In your case, did you have anybody like that, holdouts and near holdouts and how did the majority handle the people seem to be not on the fence, but not even close to being on the fence.

CORCORAN: Well, as a matter of fact we did have a very near holdout, but it never got the point where I would have to classify it as a holdout. We had a juror who had some very troubling issues on his mind and had some problems with the issue of a reasonable doubt. But, I think it was handled very well because we simply addressed the issues that concerned him and we did it very quietly as a group. We did not put any pressure on him, and eventually, he came to his own decision, and it went quite smoothly, quite frankly.

OLBERMANN: And that leads to that observation that there has been this series of notes from, apparently eleven-twelfths of the jury to the judge that essentially translate to "we are all being held hostage by this crazy woman in here." When it gets to that stage, knowing the dynamics of a jury, do you think there's any chance that a jury could reach a settlement or should they pack this in right now?

CORCORAN: Well, I think the judge has an obligation to do everything they can, particularly in a long trial, and one that has the impact, such as this has, to do everything they can to allow the jurors to work this through. Eventually, of course, it may come to exactly that, a holdout is going to holdout.

OLBERMANN: Or they'll come one their own hand signals and settle it that way. Dick Corcoran, former juror in the Celeste Beard case. Many thanks for your insight inside the courtrooms.

CORCORAN: You're welcome, sir.

OLBERMANN: The fourth story continues in Santa Barbara, California, where your entertainment dollars went back into action on day 133 of the Michael Jackson investigations. And the operative word was "secret."

A grand jury heard secret testimony from unidentified witnesses in an undisclosed location. Nobody knows if Jackson's alleged victim, the now 14-year-old boy, has testified. But nobody thinks it unlikely. NBC analyst Diane Dimond, of "Court TV" quotes sources who tell her that also on the witness list, the accuser's mother, his attorney, and the psychologist who first had conclude that had the child was molested.

Four more things you need to know about tonight's No. 4 story. The four juries you would not have wanted to be on.

No. 4: The nanny case jury. They found Louise Woodward guilty murdering the 8-month-old child. The judge promptly nullified their decision and said she was guilty of only involuntary manslaughter. Thanks for stopping by, jurors.

No. 3: In 1935 the Lindberg baby kidnapping trial, billed as the trial of the century. Forty-two days, 162 witnesses, 381 exhibits.

No. 2: The O.J. Simpson case. Nine months, $20 million. Several of the jurors were goof balls.

And No. 1: The Charles Manson trial which went on for about nine and one-half months. And during all of it, the jurors had to spend most of their time looking at Charles Manson.

No. 4 in the book, straight ahead on COUNTDOWN, those stories that are the empty carbs of our news diet. "Oddball," just around the corner. That's right, the mutts and their mocha.

And later, William Hung, the man, the myth, the legend, it's not going away. Behind the scene of his new video. That's right, his new big video. The music world is now taking him seriously - sort of.


OLBERMANN: On the racetrack of news, COUNTDOWN's nightly "Oddball" segment is the riderless horse running the wrong way, impressive but ultimately not that important. Nonetheless, let's play "Oddball."

Well, what a shock, horses running the wrong way. In this case, the barn door that was left unlocked was at the Golden Gate Fields Racetrack in Albany, California, just north of Oakland. Fortunately, the racehorse is running with traffic along the access road for Interstate 80. Imagine his confusion as he was passed by a pickup and a gray k-car. At this point he's thinking "Shouldn't we have all made left turns by now?" Ultimately, the horse would fall to the pavement and get some minor scratches on his hind legs, otherwise he was fine. The nag was unidentified but the odds are 6-5 that I had a bet on him.

So, if there is a horse trying to commute down an interstate in northern California, thus it must follow as night to day that in southern California, there's a dog, a shepherd named Allie, who just can't get started without a vente mocha from Starbuck's. We're in Toluca Lake where this is almost, but not quite enough to stop passersby. If this is you, only without the woof, woof, you'll be strangely comforted to know that there are other dogs in the neighborhood who just hang around taking up the chairs, and there's one that's been in there with his laptop since late 1997.

To Orlando, Florida, where - well, no, that hole is not supposed to be there. Somebody crashed the family van into the side of this house, the somebody was a 9-year-old boy. His father had asked him to move the van out of the way so could move - mow the yard. The kid got the van up to 30 miles per hour, that would be 20 miles an hour on the driveway, but 30 in the living room. He escaped unharmed, but perhaps you're asking yourself, "what kind of father would ask his 9-year-old son to drive the family van?" Cue the guy with the mullet.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He'd moved my van before, but when he crunk it up, the choke was closed and it idles real high. He didn't even think about it, he just threw it into gear, pushed us through the house, there, you can see what happened.


OLBERMANN: And, to balance out that guy, we now bring you rocket science. Good news for those of you who had dreams of flying from Chicago to Istanbul in little over an hour. NASA's experimental Hypersonic Jet soared at seven times the speed of sound, over the weekend. Released from a B-52 bomber, the jet flew over the Pacific at about seven times the speed of sound, nearly 5,000 miles an hour, that's the good news. The bad news is, after 10 seconds, the plane crashed into the Pacific, and to begin with, the thing was exactly 12 feet long.

Back to the COUNTDOWN and our No. 3 three story in a moment. A murder mystery looms anew over a Midwestern city years after residents had begun to breathe easy. A serial killer sending an alarming message to law enforcement.

And first, there was the happy reunion for a little Delimar Aaliyah Vera and her real mother. Now comes the dollar signs for the rights their ordeal.

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

No. 3: The prime minister of Canada, Paul Martin. The P.M. may or may not have seen it, but according to a Canadian air traffic control a week ago, the pilot of Mr. Martin's plane saw a UFO, a very bright light falling through the air above Alberta, smoke trailing. Pilots of three other plains also saw it, possibly a comet, possibly the career of Martin Short.

No. 2: The mermaid of Utka, the symbol and logo of the Polish coastal town may be getting a makeover. She may be redesigned after a city councilwoman said the mermaid's hips were too big and her breasts were too small.

And, No. 1, Roxanne Perez of San Antonio, she never saw the edition of COUNTDOWN where we warned about this. And she never knew that her acquaintance had hidden a .357 in the bottom of her stove. While Ms. Perez was cooking on said stove, the intense heat caused the weapon to discharge. She is OK after a hip injury, yet another victim of a gun in the oven.


OLBERMANN: Back now at the intersection of crime and celebrity, where criminals, alleged and otherwise, draw sustenance and inspiration from the big screen, the small screen, and the corner newsstand.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the media made me do it. Our correspondent Don Teague is in Wichita, Kansas. More than 20 years ago, that community was terrorized by a serial killer. Now it is terrorized again because that killer has apparently been brought to the surface by an anniversary story in a local newspaper.


DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For more than 30 years, Bernie Drowatsky, has been haunted by a man he has never met, a man who brought fear to the heart of Wichita, Kansas, killing at will and publicly thumbing his nose at those who tried to stop him, including then lead investigator Bernie Drowatsky, who, to this day, can't shake the memory of eight brutal murders.

BERNIE DROWATSKY, FORMER SERIAL KILLER INVESTIGATOR: Those scenes were something that you'll never get out of your mind once you see them.

TEAGUE: It began in 1974 when four member of the same family were bound, gagged, and strangled. In following years, four more murders, each victim bound and tortured, earning their killer an infamous title, the BTK strangler.

DROWATSKY: BTK are the initials for bind, torture and kill.

TEAGUE: The killer also bragged about his crimes, taunting police and the community in a series of letters to the local newspaper, "The Wichita Eagle."

JAMES FOX, PROFESSOR, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: He feels superior to the cop. That's part of the thrill for the serial killer, feeling important, special, brilliant.

TEAGUE (on camera): It continued off and on until what is thought to be BTK's final murder in 1986. Authorities have heard nothing from the killer for 18 years, nothing, that is, until 10 days ago.

(voice-over): When a letter and pictures of a 1986 crime scene were sent to "The Wichita Eagle," which had recently published a series on the 30th anniversary of the first murder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His way of saying, I'm still here.

TEAGUE: Police are certain the BTK strangler is the author, taunting them once again, bringing fear back to Wichita, but giving Bernie Drowatsky hope that the killer will slip up and finally be caught, bringing justice for the victims and end to the case that won't let him go.

DROWATSKY: I wanted so badly to solve and bring closure for all these families. I wasn't able to do it.

TEAGUE: Don Teague, Wichita, Kansas.


OLBERMANN: Media and mayhem meeting again, as the third story continue in Houston. Closure delayed in yet another killing.

As we reported Thursday, after seeing Mel Gibson's biblical epic "The Passion of the Christ," 21-year-old Daniel Leach was inspired to tell police he had killed his pregnant girlfriend, 19-year-old Ashley Wilson. Police had ruled it a suicide two months ago. As for why he confessed, Leach explained it this way to a local radio station.


DANIEL LEACH: I will plead guilty for the crime that I have committed. And being guilty, I knew that I couldn't repent to God for it and be forgiven spiritually without going to the law."


OLBERMANN: However, this morning on "The Today Show," Leach's attorney questioned whether his client's statements could really be held against him.


RALPH GONZALEZ, ATTORNEY FOR LEACH: I don't want to construe this as a confession at this point in time. He has made a statement. The admissibility of that statement will be probably looked by a court and maybe 12 people if this case goes to trial.


OLBERMANN: The victim's parents, however, had no doubt that the case would go to trial and that the Leach confession would stick.


RENE COULTER, VICTIM'S MOTHER: Dan Leach is an able person. And he could have walked away from all of this and not have - to have murdered her.


OLBERMANN: In Tyler, Texas, another mother with a broken heart thanks to twin murders inspired by her own delusions that God had told her to kill. Deanna Laney went uncontrollably at the start of her trial today on two counts of capital murder for the bludgeoning deaths of two of her three little boys, 8-year-old Joshua, 6-year-old Luke.

Police say Laney attacked the boys and their 14-month-old brother the day after Mother's Day last year, believing that God had told her to kill. The baby was brain damaged, but he survived. Psychiatrists for both the prosecution and the defense agree that Laney was legally insane the night of the murders, but Smith County's prosecutor says sanity is a legal issue to be - quote - "tried in the court, not in the hospital." The prosecution is not seeking the death penalty in the case.

And at least one interaction of events and the media that is not heartbreaking, although it might cause a little head shaking. You cannot have forgotten the story of Delimar "Aliyah" Vera. Her kidnapping as an infant was covered up with a fire. Six years later, her birth mother recognized her at a party. The little girl has been home for about a month. And today, her real parents have found something else, a book and movie deal.

Luzaida Cuevas, the mother, and the father, Pedro Vera, will reportedly be sharing a fee in excess of $150,000 for their stories and that of their daughter. The Larry Thompson Organization of Beverly Hills which brought the right to their stories has made also such fine TV fare as "The Sonny and Cher Movie" and one of my favorites, "Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter."

No laughter here. Police in Madison, Wisconsin, now looking for 20-year-old Audrey Ruth Seiler, a University of Wisconsin student last seen leaving her apartment building early Saturday morning. But her roommate was out of town, not the first time Seiler has needed the assistance of the authorities. Police say somebody assaulted her last month, knocking her out and leaving her unconscious in a secluded area.

But because Seiler was attacked from behind and no witnesses were forthcoming, her assailant could not be identified. Police are calling her disappearance suspicious.

That wrapping up No. 3 tonight, crime, consequences, celebrity, in some cases. Our second story on the COUNTDOWN ahead, if this is the sexiest women in the world, would most American prefer her or money? You do think math. Then later, even budding rock stars have to listen to their mothers. Yes, William Hung and his mom.

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


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They found Dick Cheney in an undisclosed location and brought him out to attack me. That seems to be his designated role.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we proudly welcome Estonia...


... Latvia...


... Lithuania...


... Romania...


... Slovakia...


... and Slovenia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With a new world record of nine pounds of the crawfish jambalaya, world jambalaya eating champion Sonya Thomas!




OLBERMANN: Coming up here on COUNTDOWN, choosing between profit and passion. If you could have the one, but not the other, which would you select? And why the majority answer seems to have a dumb side to it.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: It smacks a little of the storyline from the movie "Indecent Proposal." Which is more important to you, love or money? Let's take love out of the equation. Just leave it at sex.

The No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the answer is sex. Here you thought you knew all there was to know particularly after those super informative hygiene films from the eighth grade. But tonight, two studies that may surprise you, the first commissioned by a personal finance firm called the Rich Dad Company. Given the choice between more money or more sex, just about two-thirds of those surveyed of both genders would take money.

But the results get more interesting when you break down household incomes. In households earning less than $50,000 a year, more than three-quarters prefer the payout to the other kind of out. But in six-figure households, while those surveyed still like the idea of the more money, it was by only a little over half, meaning rich dads not necessarily happy dads or necessarily very bright ones.

As another study has triumphantly found, sex makes you smart. Verner Hebemel (ph), a researcher from the Hamburg Medical Research Institute - and who would doubt a German scientist named Verner Hebemel? - found that the act of physical congress stimulates not just the body, but also increased the production of adrenalin and cortisol, the hormones that get the old gray matter going. The study does not explain its results in light of the following, your high school chess club, the readership of "Harper"'s or people who study the time travel sequences in the movie "The Time Machine."

On that note, we leave the COUNTDOWN to visit the strange world of people who keep our supermarket checkout aisles full of juicy, unsubstantiated gossip, the segment we call "Keeping Tabs."

And if sex really does make you smarter, we would like to see Britney Spears with 30 seconds a Rubick's Cube, because research suggests she is a genius. The readers of "FHM" magazine have voted her the sexiest woman in the world, thus dethroning 2003 champ Halle Berry. This is the British survey, so Rachel Stevens is second on the list, then Beyonce Knowles and Carmen Electra.

Carmen Electra? Carmen Miranda, maybe.

If you own an outfit like the one Britney was just wearing, you may want to put it on and head down to the casting call for the new Johnny Depp flick. They are looking for extras, naked extras, 300 naked extras. The casting agency says it is looking for a wide range of people to play partially and totally nude roles. That R-O-L-E-S. The film is described as a period piece packed with sexual material. It is not called "Edward Busyhands" nor "What's Eating Edward Grope?"

John Malkovich and Samantha Morton are also to appear. Depp plays the

· quote - "debauched 17th century poet the Earl of Rochester.

And from Nero in "Quo Vadis" in 1951 to the old man in "Logan's Run" in 1976 to Friedrich in "Luther" in 2003, the acting career of Sir Peter Ustinov spans seven decades, 90 films and maybe twice as many accents. Ustinov died near his Swiss home Saturday night, heart failure. The role as Nero earned him a Golden Globe in 1951. Twice, he took home best supporting Oscars. He won three Emmys and a Grammy Award for his narration of Tchaikovsky's "Peter and the Wolf."

And he could master or fake or just about any dialogue or accent, including American. The great Peter Ustinov dead at 82.

Coming up, the No. 1 story tonight. Where there's a will, there remain a way, or at least a way to rival Ricky Martin. The new video from America's newest idol next.

But, first, here are COUNTDOWN's top two photos of this day.


OLBERMANN: We are nothing if not a fickle society. One moment, we are embracing trends and fads, sucking all the joy and fun we can from them, until, sooner or later, we're happy to see them go, tossed aside like so many used Koosh balls.

On rare occasions, however, something comes along that manages to escape both critical mass and the shortness of our collective attention span. Thus, one again, the No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, the exception to the rule. A week from tomorrow, his album, "Inspiration," debuts. The music video has already been shot.

And, as Matt Lauer reports, the only thing that might slow down the meteor that is William Hung is his mom.


MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": He walked away from "American Idol" and into American dreams. Simon may have sent him packing, but it seemed nation was hooked on Hung.

MARC JURIS, PRESIDENT, FUSE MUSIC NETWORK: When I saw him, I knew he had something very different and very special.

We saw William's performance on "American Idol" and we fell in love with him.

The next thing you know, I'm standing in a volleyball stadium in San Francisco offering him a record contract.

You are a star.

LAUER: With a $25,000 record deal and a music video scheduled to air next month on Fuse Music Network, Hung's dreams of becoming a recording star appears to be coming true.

WILLIAM HUNG, SINGER: I can't even believe that somebody would give me the opportunity to do what I love. I love singing. I love performing for the audience.

LAUER: His debut C.D. titled "Inspiration" goes on sale April 16. It's a collection of some of his favorite songs, including, "I Believe I Can Fly."

HUNG (singing): There's nothing to it. I believe I can fly.

LAUER: Bailamos.

HUNG (singing): Bailamos. Let the rhythm take you over, Bailamos.

LAUER: And, of course, his signature tune, "She Bangs."

HUNG (singing): She bangs, she bangs, oh, baby, when she moves, she moves.

"She Bangs" is definitely one of my favorites. It's a very fun number. And audiences are having fun and I'm having fun with it. Everybody is having fun with it.

LAUER: Including his mom, who coaches her son on his acting. And she keeps him grounded in reality.

HUNG (singing): My parents are especially - they really encourage me to finish school as well. And I totally agree with them, because the chance of succeeding in the music industry or entertainment industry is very small.

LAUER: But, for now, Hung is enjoying the ride to wherever the music takes him.

HUNG (singing): Nobody knows how long this fame will last. It's way beyond 15 minutes of fame right now.


OLBERMANN: Oh, God, they've double-tracked him.

William has been on this show twice. We did not discover him here. We were early bandwagon. He broke, if you will, around January 17. And, as you see, he's still breaking. Well, how is that working?

Shirley Halperin joins us now. She's music editor for "Us Weekly" and a contributing writer for "Rolling Stone."

Ms. Halperin, good evening.

SHIRLEY HALPERIN, MUSIC EDITOR, "US WEEKLY": Good evening. Nice to see you.

OLBERMANN: Why has he survived his seeming pop culture expiration date?

HALPERIN: Well, William Hung really is like the ultimate underdog. He's the lovable loser. He's so genuine and so clueless at the same time that people just gravitate towards him.

There's something about the sincerity of William Hung that really attracts people and wants - and keeps people rooting for him. And, yes, the clock is still ticking. It's amazing.

OLBERMANN: Do you think there might be a message in there also to the music industry, to the entertainment industry, that the kind of overwrought, take themselves too seriously, even though nobody else takes them seriously, pop star, just to pull a name out of the hat, maybe Britney Spears, that these people are beginning to wear on people and we will take mediocre talent if it seems like it's coming from this sincere guy?

HALPERIN: Well, I don't know if the music industry has shifted its entire base towards accepting mediocre talent.

But what I think this - this doesn't really bode well for the music industry because there are a lot of super talented artists out there who can't get record deals, who really struggle to get their names out there. And here come this kid who can barely sing, who doesn't know how to dance, who basically just pops up out of nowhere, and he gets himself a record deal.

Granted, it's only $25,000. It's not like the multimillionaire-dollar deals that you hear about with the Britneys of the world. William Hung, he's just encapsulated sort of what like everyone sort of hopes and dreams for. It is what "American Idol," is like reaching for the stars and trying to get yourself out there.

OLBERMANN: Tell me about this phenomena of people wanting to work on that music video that we saw being record.ed. Who is Jeff Richter?

HALPERIN: Jeff Richter is a very well known music video director.

He's directed videos for Nine Inch Nails. He's worked with Missy Elliott. He has worked with Puff Daddy. This is a big-time guy. He also edited all of the Ricky Martin videos.

So it's funny that he should pair up with Will Hung and do the sort of spoof of three Ricky Martin videos, because he really knows the material. He put all that stuff together. But what's more interesting is that he worked for half of what he would normally charge and a lot of the people who showed up to work on the video either worked for free or for rock-bottom rates.


HALPERIN: And just because they love this guy and they wanted to be involved. And they had a crew of over 150 people on this video.

OLBERMANN: Last question in about 30 seconds. Could this record that he's putting out possibly be an actual hit? And I ask this while reminding you that Hootie and the Blowfish sold 11 million copies of "Cracked Rear View"?

HALPERIN: That's right. Well, Koch certainly hopes it does. And they banking on this record to go platinum, which means it would sell one million copies. But they're being very modest in their shipments. They're only shipping about 100,000 copies.

So it's not going to be everywhere. It's not going to be like this huge blitz. But, yes, there is a chance. If it sells 100,000 and they press more, this is going to be a gold record in a matter of months.

OLBERMANN: What will happen, we know without question, is it, will outsell the Jayson Blair book. So at least there's something right about American pop culture.

Shirley Halperin, music editor of "Us Weekly" and contributing writer to "Rolling Stone," thanks for joining us tonight.

HALPERIN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Before we leave the No. 1 story, one more thing you need to know.

And that is the . Of the over 500,000 songs you can download on iTunes, William Hung's now legendary rendition of "She Bangs" is the sixth most downloaded of them all, right behind "Toxic" by Britney Spears. I'm not really sure what you can do with that information, but now it's yours to deal with. I'm done with it.

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

No. 5, Richard Clarke or Condoleezza Rice or both, his public testimony of the 9/11 Commission seen by half of those surveyed as politically or personally motivated, her public testimony still not forthcoming. Four, trying juries. The Tyco case comes close to a mistrial ostensibly because of a poisonous atmosphere in the jury room because one of the jurors flashes the - one of these OK sign to the defense.

Three, crime and consequence, a serial killer resurfacing after nearly 20 years of silence to claim responsibility for another chilling murder in Wichita Kansas. Story No. 2, Americans preferring money to sex, according to one study. And according to another, sex makes you more intelligent - rich and stupid. And, No. 1, the brand spanking new video from "She Bang" or the Sinatra "She Bang," Mr. William Hung.

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

Good night and good luck.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 25

Guests: Ben Pershing; Kevin Smith, MIchele Borba, Penn Jillette


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

The Richard Clarke experience, the testimony, the book sales, the new anti-George Bush commercial, and that oath not to serve in a Kerry administration? Does it mean anything?

Justice Delayed is justice denied: Quiet discussions reported among house majority leader Tom Delay and key republican colleagues about whether or not he will have to step down from the leadership temporarily.

Michael Jackson, the car: Film director Kevin Smith joins to us recount the day the king of pop suggested making a film in which he turns into a car and a little boy drives him around. Oh-oh.

The Houdini who done it: The museum that honors the legendary magician wants to explain his most famous trick so current magicians are protesting. We'll get the truth from the inimitable Penn & Teller.

And your tax dollars in action:



MCPHAIL: No, I will not be quiet. I was put here by the people to be quiet.

EVERETT: Sharon, you got to chill it. She just keeps sitting closer to me, keeps talking to me, you're going to see me from inside Detroit. Now stay out of my ear.

OLBERMANN: The Detroit City Council style of contemplative government.

All that and more now, on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. It would be an informed guess, but probably a good one. A week ago, less than one percent of Americans knew who he was. Tonight his apology to the families of 9/11 as being assessed for its correct historical weight, a Pew Research survey suggests only one in 10 Americans has not heard about his criticisms of Bush administration. His book is at the top of a best seller list. His quotes are being edited into pro-Kerry, anti-bush television commercials. And Condoleezza Rice is now offering a rebuttal to those remarks.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Richard Clarke, superstar.

The book and the oath in a moment. First, the ad. Moveon.org announcing that it will be taking a quote from the former counter-terrorism czar and build around it an ad that will be beginning - airing nationwide next week on cable.

While Clarke had to answer repeated questions about partisanship and the fact that he co-teaches two college courses with Kerry's foreign policy advisor, Rand Beers. The Moveon folks just blew through that barricade. "Evidence unearthed by Mr. Clarke says the organizations political action committee confirms President Bush should not running campaign ad boasting of his 9/11 role now that we have seen mounting evidence that he dropped the ball."

The ads will also include images from those Bush advertisements along with Clarke's quote and the concluding line: "George Bush, a failure in leadership."

No comment from the White House or from Clarke.

But, today in response to Clarke's testimony, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has asked the 9/11 Commission to again meet with her in private off the record so she can rebut some of what Clarke said. Until Clarke's remarks, Rice's refusal to testify under oath had been the biggest headline generated by this commission.

Mr. Clarke's vowed neutrality was seemingly taken to new heights when he noted he was under oath before the 9/11 Commission and was thus swearing he was not as accused, angling for a job with the senator who would-be president. It proves that legally, that oath means nothing.


RICHARD CLARKE, FMR. COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF: So, let me say here as I am under oath, that I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one.


OLBERMANN: In the words of constitutional law expert, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, he has never heard of an oath imposing a future limitation.

Lawrence Walsh, the independent council during Iran (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but it this way: "If you honestly believe at the moment you took the oath, you weren't intending on working on Kerry, you can in fact change your mind later." Walsh notes the political consequences of that and Turley points out the ethical one, quoting him again, "There is moral force behind the oath, but not necessarily legal force."

The oath, the 9/11 Commission is not merely quoting from the book, but actually holding it up on TV for long stretches of time, the general brouhaha, all that has propelled sales of "Against all Enemies," Clarke's book, through roof: it shot past the "Da Vinci Code" and the "South Beach Diet" in the first place on the sales list of the website, Amazon.com.

Continuing the fifth story, the firmament, apparently, can only hold so many stars. For each new political meteor, another one must fizzle out. The man Dick Clarke could be replacing, in a prominent sense anyway, is the majority of leader of the House of Representatives, Tom Delay. He has reportedly begun quiet discussions about the possibility that he will to have step down over alleged campaign finance abuses. The Washington insider publication "Roll Call," so reporting today. Delay is the Texas exterminator turned congressional flame thrower. "Roll Call" reports that the majority leader has talked to a handful of collages about the possibility of stepping away from that position temporarily if he is indeed indicted by a Texas grand jury investigating alleged irregularities in his campaign financing. Republican Party rules are explicit. A member of the elected leadership, who has been indicted on any felony count carrying the possibility of at least two years in jail, must step down from his leadership position temporarily or otherwise. Mr. Delay's office and his supporters have described the Texas investigation as a quote "political witch hunt."

Ben Pershing is the reporter who broke this story for "Roll Call," he joins us now from Washington.

Mr. Pershing, good evening.

BEN PERSHING, "ROLL CALL": Good evening to you.

OLBERMANN: Obviously Richard Clarke's a hot topic, but let's start with Tom Delay and your story in "Roll Call." Is he indeed on the verge of being indicted? On the verge of giving up, at least for the time, the majority leadership?

PERSHING: I wouldn't say "on the verge" is accurate, this is a grand jury investigation. As you know, everything a grand jury does is meant to be secret, so there's really no way of saying whether he's on the verge of it happening or whether it's going to happen soon. At this point, it's difficult to tell what direction the investigation is going in. But it is serious enough that Mr. Delay and some of his colleagues on Capitol Hill have started talking about "what if." What would happen if this happens?

OLBERMANN: What would have caused the "what if's" to occur? Was there some event that has been cited for the reason for these discussions taking place? I mean obviously, this investigation did not spring up overnight.

PERSHING: No, it didn't. It has been going on for a while, it's looking at a number of different issues down in Texas, but one of the issues it's looking at if a fundraising group started by Mr. Delay. And while he hasn't been subpoenaed, a lot of people who work for the pack and are close to him have been subpoenaed. His daughter has been subpoenaed, she did some phrasing work and some event planning work for the pack. And, while Mr. Delay himself hasn't been subpoenaed, nor has he been called a target of the investigation, it is certainly possible that the grand jury will hand down an indictment of Mr. Delay. Especially given track record of the district attorney who's leading this, and he has been known to indict a prominent figures in the past.

OLBERMANN: Is it an automatic? Does he - does he have to step aside? Are there ways out for the republican leadership to keep him among, if he is just at the indictment stage?

PERSHING: That's certainly the way the rules work, they do say he would have to step aside. It's always possible that the members, the House republican members could move to either exempt him from the rule, to change the rules, right away, so that he wouldn't have to do that. There's some question about whether that would be beneficial to Mr. Delay, himself. Certainly, he wouldn't want to it appear that he was engineering some way for him to be above the rules, for him to avoid the rules. It's all a question of when this happens, when - if it happens close to the election. I imagine he'll react differently than he would if it happened - you know, tomorrow or after the election.

OLBERMANN: One last question about Mr. Clarke. This is political superstar from - essentially from a standing start, nine out of 10 Americans. Nine out of 10 have heard something of what he said about how Mr. Bush handled 9/11 and terrorism. Is he suddenly a genuine wildcard in the presidential campaign?

PERSHING: It looks like it, right now. Obviously, we're several months away from the election, but he has been everywhere, he's leading off the news shows, like yours. He's been all over the front page of every newspaper, and he is given some credibility, or at least the media lends him some credibility because he's worked for both democrats and republicans. So, I think the public will give him a little bit more time and listen to him more than they would if he was just seen as a regular partisan.

OLBERMANN: Ben Pershing of "Roll Call," many thanks.

PERSHING: Thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN: And, while the republican leadership struggles to keep its footing, on the other side of the aisle, a unique display of political pomp. You are looking at live pictures of the democratic unity dinner. All the party aristocracy in attendants, tonight, including former President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Senator Kerry, Jimmy Carter. The presumed presidential nominee, John Kerry will speak last of those four. Former presidents Clinton and Carter and Mr. Gore, even many of the former presidential candidates, including Howard Dean, all on stage at the same time, and nobody scratched anybody else's eyes out. More than just a photo op, it is a fundraiser. The democrats are projected to rake in more than $11 million for the Party National Committee.

And so many dinners, so little time. Last night, the annual White House Radio and Television Correspondent's Gathering in Washington. And in keeping with tradition, Mr. Bush showed up to do a little executive stand-up, there were the usual self-deprecating jokes:


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oops, this photo wasn't supposed to be in here.


BUSH: This is the Skull and Bone secret signal.


BUSH: One thing about being president is you get a lots of advice.

Yes, mother.

Yes, mother.



OLBERMANN: But, not everyone was laughing when Mr. Bush joked about

the elusive search about the elusive WMD


BUSH: Those weapons of mass destruction have to be somewhere.


OLBERMANN: Senator Kerry has already fired back a response to that. Referring to the 585 American dead and 3,354 wounded in Iraq. At least in part, over WMD. Mr. Bush's opponent has said, quote, "There's nothing funny about that."

And there's certainly no humor in this next story, although there might be a cartload of irony. A week after Pakistan's president had hinted that al-Qaeda's No. 2 man was cornered near the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, a tape has emerged that may be from that No. 2 man.

U.S. officials are now analyzing the audiotape purportedly recorded by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri. The tape, secured by the Arab network, al-Jazeera, references fighting in the Pakistani/Afghan border area, an indication it may have been recorded sometime in the last month. But, experts note another significant clue about the timing of the recording. What it does not say. It makes no mention of the assassination of the Hamas leader, Ahmed Yassin, that took place last Monday.

COUNTDOWN underway tonight, with politics and terror politics, we sort out which is which. Coming up, tonight's No. 4: Law and order including an emotional appeal in the Kobe Bryant case from the mother of the alleged victim.

And later, gas pains: Prices higher than ever. Where are the profits going? Why do costs vary so widely state to state?

All of which, speaking of numbers, brings us to COUNTDOWN's "Opening Numbers." And today's theme: Bike rage.

Thirty-seven, the age of that man. Bicyclist Ashley Carpenter of England. He was riding along when a car drove through a mud puddle next to him leaving him completely soaked.

Five hundred and forty-eight, the number of cars Mr. Carpenter took on

· took his revenge on by flashing 1,728 tires with a screwdriver over the course of 10 days, causing an estimated $375,000 in damages.

Remember, you can't spell cyclist without psych.


OLBERMANN: No. 4 story up next, including Michael Jackson's big screen dream to be a car driven around by a little boy. Film director Kevin Smith what went through his mind when he was pitched that idea.


OLBERMANN: Whether Kobe Bryant is the most innocent defendant in the world or he is guilty of rape, his prosecution seems to have framed the stark reality of the different worlds of the accused and the accuser. In court yesterday, in Colorado, Bryant said nothing. His alleged victim had to relate her past sexual history. After the hearing, Bryant returned to Los Angeles in time to score 36 points in a National Basketball Association game. After the hearing, the accuser returned, to what here mother today, essentially described as, "a life on the run."

The fourth story in the COUNTDOWN: Justice and the thumb that sometimes seems to be on its scales.

Bryant's alleged victim did not testify in the last of the two-day closed door hearings. In this case, one of her former boyfriends did. Bryant's defense team, continuing the argument - its argument, that the 19-year-old woman's sexual history should be admitted at trial.

But all of it was overshadowed today, by an extraordinary document submitted to judge Terry Ruckriegel among paperwork asking that he expedite the trial. It is a letter from the alleged victim's mother. It reads in part:

"Your honor, I would like to share with you the reality of my daughter's life. You are aware of three people that have been arrested for threatening her life. She has received literally hundreds of death threats on the phone, in the mail, and e-mail. In addition, she has received thousands of obscene messages. We are constantly worried about her safety.

My daughter has lived in four different states in the past six months. She is followed everywhere by the defense and the media. The defense begins to question everyone she meets. The media reveals her location. Her safety is as risk and she has to move again.

... no one else involved in this case has had to make the life changes and compromises that my daughter has had to make and will continue to make until this case is over. Even the defendant is able to continue living in his home and continue with his employment.

I am asking what the court can do - or that the court do whatever possible to bring this case to trail as soon as possible."

OLBERMANN: Against that backdrop, almost everything else from the dockets of our celebrity justice system would seem absurd. But then to some degree, that has been true for all the time that your entertainment dollars have been in action. Day 129 of the Michael Jackson investigations and we have an unlikely development from an unlikely source providing unexpected insights, perhaps, in the April issue of "Playboy" magazine. The noted film director Kevin Smith was asked, quote: "What's the weirdest script you've ever been asked to direct?" And his answer, as quoted by the magazine, "A movie called 'Hot Rod,' in it, at Michael Jackson's suggestion, Michael Jackson would have played a man who turns into a car in order to have himself driven around by a boy."

Joining me now to elaborate on that is Kevin Smith, whose latest movie "Jersey Girl" opens in theaters tomorrow.

Mr. Smith, good evening.

KEVIN SMITH, DIRECTOR "JERSEY GIRL": Hey, man, how are you?


SMITH: But first should I clear up - good to hear - I should clear up that that comes from 1994. Back when my first movie, "Clerks" got sold and I did a tour of the studios and people pitch you scripts to do. They pitched me, I believe it was at Fox, this movie "Hot Rod," in which Michael Jackson is a guy who hangs out with little kid and can morph into a car. But for - as far as I know, Michael Jackson - they kept saying "Michael Jackson," but I never met him. He was never - you know, the guy that pitched it. I guess he was attached, or one of the things he was attached to.

OLBERMANN: When you heard it though, what 0 - did you go for the door immediately? Or did you say, well this has possibilities? Or what was your reaction?

SMITH: My first reaction was, well, can the car be a hummer?


SMITH: A little joke. A little joke there, Keith.

OLBERMANN: I appreciate it.

SMITH: I don't know. My reaction - no problem - my reaction was just like: why on earth would you think that I would be right for this film after seeing "Clerks," my first movie? A little black and white movie. To this? It didn't make sense. But, I didn't - you know, it never occurred to me. I think this was before the whole Michael Jackson boys thing kind of caught my attention. I mean, definitely years before this latest development.

OLBERMANN: Do you - do you remember any of the particulars? I mean, were there any unfortunate metaphors or any plot line in here? Even that title "Hot Rod" seems a little disturbing in the context of what's happened in the last 10 years.

SMITH: "Hot Rod" seems a little suggestive, but for all I know, dude, it was a studio guy who said Michael Jackson and maybe Michael Jackson didn't even know it existed. I don't know, but the way he presented it, it was a Michael Jackson vehicle.

OLBERMANN: Dose that happen? Do you mean to tell me that happens in Hollywood, people might lie while they're trying to convince you to go work for them? I've never heard of that happening.

SMITH: Oh, could you imagine? People lying in Hollywood? This is unheard of.

OLBERMANN: I have to issue an official "gosh."

Last question. It would be unfair to have you out here without asking about the new film and, that you don't to have deal now with interviews about that Michael Jackson film that you did with the car and the kid, but "Jersey Girl" is coming out tomorrow with sort of the wake of the Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, "Bennifer" (PH) "Gigli" stuff. Have you - have you dodged a bullet with - dodged that bullet with this film?

SMITH: I think so. I think enough time has passed between "Gigli" and now and their relationship kind of came to a close, so it feels like the movie is kind of being judged on its own merits, which is all I ever wanted. I - you know, I didn't care if critics loved it or hated it. I just didn't want the moving being judged against it back story, about what two people who were in the movie did off camera.

OLBERMANN: Another thing that people who don't know Hollywood would just react to amazement with. Wow, they do that, too? Extraordinary.

SMITH: Oh, yes.

OLBERMANN: Director Kevin Smith, I appreciate your time, we're out of it, but thanks for sharing the Michael Jackson thing. That image, I think, is going to be with me for a long time, unfortunately. Thanks for your time and good luck with "Jersey Girl."

SMITH: Thanks, man. No prob.

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN's No. 4, law and order, and some disorder.

Up next, those stories that know no COUNTDOWN number, but find their own glory in "Oddball."

Coming up, your tax dollars in action, Detroit City council style.

And later, a Houdini masterpiece unveiled: His museum wants to unveil one of his biggest secrets. Thus other magicians are threatening bodily harm.

And while we're on the subject of presto change-o gee-whiz stuff, tomorrow night, be sure to check out the MSNBC "Tech Summit" hosted by Lester Holt and Lisa Ling. It will be at 9:00 Eastern, 8:00 Central. We will continue in just a moment.


OLBERMANN: As ever at this hour, we pause the COUNTDOWN to bring you the pie fights of news - full of action, full of splatter, devoid of meaning. Soupy Sales is not available, so I'll just say: Let's play "Oddball."

Not, two weeks ago, we showed you the South Korea Parliament going to hell in a hand basket, brawling and shoving over the impeachment of a president and we laughed smugly at the politicians of distant and foreign shores. Nobody is laughing now.

This is Detroit City Council. In the hat, Councilwoman Kay Everett who is chairing the meeting. Not in the hat, Councilwoman Sharon McPhail. They are discussing a bill to regulate topless bars. They have not recently consulted "Robert's Rule of Order."


KAY EVERETT, DETROIT COUNCILWOMAN: Please. Please. Please. Please.

Please. Please.


SHARON MCPHAIL, DETROIT COUNCILWOMAN: Well, if you're not doing it, somebody's got to tell you what to do.

EVERETT: Just sit there or else move down one seat, because I ain't ready for this today, OK?

MCPHAIL: Whatever. Whatever just let's go.

EVERETT All right, So, just be quiet.

MCPHAIL: No, I will not be quiet. I wasn't put here by the people to be quiet.

EVERETT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) chairin' you got to chill it. OK? You got your dog gone vote. Chill.

EVERETT: Either I'm going to bang this thing closed and then we're going to have a - have it out right here without the cameras on. But you will be quiet while I try to chair this.

MCPHAIL: Oh, I'm scared.

EVERETT: But, I mean it. I'll cut the dog gone cameras off and we can go for it, baby. But, I'm going to chair this meeting. This is crazy.

MCPHAIL: Right here, baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, come on. Don't, forget it. Come on Kay.

EVERETT: I'm serious. Cut the cameras off. I'm recessing.

No, no, we're not all right, because if she sits any closer to me, keeps talking to me, you gonna to see me from inside Detroit. Now, stay out of my ear.


MCPHAIL: Whatever.

EVERETT: Stay out of my ear.

MCPHAIL: Whatever.

EVERETT (CLAPPING HANDS): Stay-out-of-my-ear. I mean it.

I don't care. I want to be able to chair this meeting without having somebody jaw-jag on me every five seconds. Now, either move down a seat or we gonna to have it out...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our children are watching, now. Let us be respectful to the process.


OLBERMANN: The verb, to jaw-jag. Better yet, perhaps, the post game show in which Councilwoman Everett appears with a reporter to be grasping for plausible deniability.


QUESTION: What on earth happened here?

EVERETT: What you talking about?

QUESTION: Do you believe that tone is justified?

EVERETT: I don't have to justify anything to anybody but my God. It is over. Now, if you want to carry it on - I mean, that's the media, I guess I made your news story for the day. Fine.

QUESTION: That's not fair. Council...


OLBERMANN: What are you talkin' about? Oh, great now Gary Coleman's going to be upset. Like the residents of Parkland, Florida are. How many things are wrong with this picture? Five actually. All five of Parkland's police officers were photographed at a bagel shop in the adjoining town of Karl Springs (ph). Four black and whites and the sergeant's unmarked car were spotted in the parking lot. There's a law against leaving the city unprotected, also against taking one-hour breakfast breaks. And the photo, incidentally, was snapped by a citizen with a cell phone camera.

Can you hear me now, officer?

COUNTDOWN picking up with our No. 3 story after the break, your preview: Kids in trauma leading to kids in court. But, is going before the judge only victimizing the kids twice?

Then later, first it was the pre -"Passion" publicity, now wait until you hear about the next phase of the passion of "The Passion."

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

No. 3: Steven Allen Miller, the Arkansas man made two mistakes when he made to a bank in Harrison and tried to cash a stolen check. First he used his own driver's license as I.D., then he sped away from the bank and left the license with the teller.

No. 2: Charlie. Charlie was a boy dog from Greeley, Colorado, left in the freezing cold, suffered a major frostbite to a very sensitive area. But, a local shelter adopted Charlie. The whole community chipped in to pay for life saving surgery and Charlie will live happily ever after with only one slight change. Charlie is now a girl dog.

No. 1: Jennifer Rohrs from Boone County, Iowa. She was fired from her job as a radio dispatcher because her bosses said her tongue made it impossible to understand her. She was wearing a tongue stud. Now a judge has denied her any unemployment benefits, he conducted his hearing by phone and said he could not understand a word she said.


OLBERMANN: When I was 9 years old and the fifth grade took a field trip to West Point, one of the teacher, Mr. Pratt (ph), suggested I would enjoy eating the mushrooms growing at the base of a big oak tree on the campus.

We kids had long known that Mr. Pratt was a little nuts. We rarely did anything he said anyway. Everybody told. The next thing we knew, Mr. Pratt was gone and there was some story about his family taking him to a rest home near Seattle. Nothing, but nothing could please a fifth grader more than the thought that one of his teachers has been institutionalized. It was almost as good as being grown up.

But in our third story tonight, three examples of how it is no longer good enough. We didn't sue Mr. Pratt. I didn't have to go testify against him. He just vanished. But today from California, from New Jersey, from Florida, a reinforcement of just how long ago that really was.

First to West Palm Beach, where a middle school principal is being sued, a mother accusing David Samore of holding a toy gun against her 13-year-old son's neck. The boy had been rumored to have brought his own real gun into the school. The principal, in front of witnesses, took a starter's pistol out and held it under the boy's neck to - quote -

"illustrate to him that even toy guns scare people." Samore apologized and was suspended for 10 days.

But today a lawyer, saying the boy was left with nightmares and was emotionally scarred, sued for an undisclosed amount.

And how many times in school were you threatened with the most dire of consequences if you talked? It used to work. It doesn't now. So a librarian in Elk Grove, California, finally went off the deep end. He put pieces of tape over the lips of as many as 20 third graders. The incident occurred in October of last year. It finally came to light when Norma Ortega (ph) overheard her son Jack talking about it just recently.

The librarian is on administrative leave now. He has not yet been sued. But Ms. Ortega says she no longer trusts that teacher.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She put tape on our mouth. We had to pull the tape off. And then she said, next time she heard us talk again, she will get the same tape and put it back on your mouth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I think about all these babies in line with tape because they get out of control. But kids talk. He's only in third grade.


OLBERMANN: And the third part of the third story, eight years ago, West Windsor Plainsborough High School girls basketball coach Daniel Husong (ph) told one of his players, Jennifer Bessler, that she should lose 10 pounds. Now 25 years old, Ms. Bessler has just been awarded $1.5 million after having convinced a jury that the coach's comment led to her developing an eating disorder.

The jury also awarded Bessler's father $100,000 because it found he was unfairly barred from speaking at a school board meeting. The jury initially awarded Jennifer Bessler $3 million. They cut it in half because they felt she hadn't done enough to mitigate the damage.

Apart from the idea that maybe a sports coach has not only the right, but the responsibility to tell a student athlete to lose a little weight, are kids better off when they sue? Win or lose, does the lawsuit wind up hurting them as much as the presumed injury?

Joining me now, educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba. She is the author of "Don't Give Me That Attitude: 24 Selfish, Rude Behaviors and How To Stop Them."

Dr. Borba, good evening.


OLBERMANN: The big picture first.

I don't know how many times the gym teacher told me to lose weight. I only remember that, eventually, I told him he looked like he had swallowed a basketball. We had a big laugh. And that was the end of it. Is that not a better resolution?


OLBERMANN: Emotionally for the kids than suing, then going through a court case that could last eight years?

BORBA: Absolutely, because what you're doing is something just absolutely unique called talking it out. What we seem to be doing these days is called litigating, instead of resolution. And it sends a real clear pledge to a child that, honey, if we don't get our way, we'll just sue.

OLBERMANN: Nobody is going to suggest that, in the example from

California, that taping a kid's mouth shut is a good idea. But


BORBA: Oh, absolutely, yes.

OLBERMANN: But what's the next thing here? Where do we now - does the line go back even further to, you can't give out little gold stars because the students who don't get them will be traumatized? Or you can no longer give out A's because the B students will be traumatized?

BORBA: Well, it's a growing picture because it's a growing trend. This whole concept of accountability is lost and we've become - as a society, it is a very concerning situation here. I think the two R's that are getting lost in the school system are respect and responsibility, not to say that what any of the educators did was right, for heaven's sakes.

But we're looking at kids who are learning that you don't to have talk it through. You don't to have learn those wonderful things you used to learn in the sandbox called I'm sorry or I admit that I did something wrong. And after a while, it really plays a key role in our kid's character development.

OLBERMANN: What made this change happen? When did parents start presuming that life for their kids has to be perfect and unblemished or, gotcha, we're going to court? When did it happen?

BORBA: The interesting thing is that I've been studying myself, and there's not one clear point. It is kind of like pollution. It is a slow, gradual process. But, all of a sudden one day you walk out and you go, oh, my goodness, the Earth is brown.

It didn't start that way overnight. But steady, one by one, we've gotten this attitude of a sense of entitlement. And the funny thing was, when I wrote the book "Don't Give Me That Attitude," I wrote it for kids, for parents doing the makeover. What I'm seeing in each one these cases, it is the parents with the bad attitude.

OLBERMANN: Is there a way back from it or is it too late to sort of at least save the schools from constant litigation?

BORBA: It is never too late, but the issue, what you have to do, step one, to any problem, is admit there's a problem. And I think there lies our biggest misnomer here, is that we may have become an issue where we've got this sense of entitlement that all we have to do is go to the courts, instead of learning how to do what we used to do in the good old days, sit down at the table and talk through our problems.

And there lies a lot of our children who are therefore going to be lost in the conflict skill that I think they need most, is, how do you solve a problem peacefully?

OLBERMANN: And, therefore, you lose all those things like we had in that fifth grade class, where we all knew this guy was nuts. And eventually we would just look out for each other. It was a great lesson.

BORBA: Absolutely.

OLBERMANN: And that's the sort of stuff that always works.

Educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba, we're out of time. Many thanks for yours.

BORBA: You're welcome.

OLBERMANN: Of course, to balance this off, childhood has not devolved completely into a series of lawsuits and bad adults. Allan Burns (ph) was sitting by the pool at the Dorsan Suites in Florida when he heard a woman screaming. Burns looked up and saw a child dangling from a railing three stories above where he sat.

The 2-year-old girl lost her grip, fell from a resort walkway safely. This was outside of Orlando. Mr. Burns reached out and caught her. The impact was great enough to send them both into a nearby bush, but the little girl suffered only a bump and a few scratches. The infant's mother has been charged with child neglect.

Our No. 3 on the COUNTDOWN, as Paul Linde (ph) used to sing, kids.

Coming up, our second story, what costs more, raising a child or keeping the tank of your car filled for six months?

And later, Richard Simmons goes from stretch and flex to slap and fly.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Record highs already, a long summer stretching ahead. The weather? No, no, our No. 2 story, gas prices, any relief in sight?



OLBERMANN: Asking in advance for your forgiveness if this seems a little crass considering the efforts of American troops in Iraq, but if the conspiracy theorists are right and that was a war for oil, we lost. Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, pump shock.

As Robert Hager reports, recent destabilization of the world's gas market explains 23 cents of what you're paying. So what about the other $1.51?


ROBERT HAGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gas prices are at a new all-time record high for the third day in a row, over $1.74 a gallon for regular on average, more than $2 in some areas.

(on camera): There are lots of reasons. Speculation, even hysteria in the marketplace, higher prices for crude oil and for refining, and, frankly, higher profits as well. To understand all this, let's look at what normally makes up the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

(voice-over): In normal times, crude would account for about 65 cents of the cost, refining 20 cents, distribution and marketing 15 cents, tax 40 cents, and maybe 10 cents for the gas station, a total of about $1.50 a gallon normally.

So what is pushing it so much higher now and increasingly creating huge disparities state to state. Well, instead of 65 cents on the gallon, crude has been costing 88 cents lately on fears of OPEC and tight supplies, though crude prices did finally ease some today. As for refining, instead of costing 20 cents on the gallon, in places like California, that's up to almost 50 cents because of strict rules about switching to summer blends to prevent pollution. Drive around California today and you'll see prices like this.

Oil analyst John Kilduff.

JOHN KILDUFF, OIL ANALYST: Its own pollution rules are stricter than the federal government's and therefore we can't ship gasoline from other parts of the country to meet the demands in California. They've isolated themselves. They've isolated their supply, so therefore they pay for that.

HAGER: By contrast, drive around North Carolina, where rules about blends aren't as tough and taxes are low, and you'll see prices like this.

KILDUFF: They use a conventional grade of gasoline that's readily available throughout the region and they also don't tax motorists as heavily as some other states do, which all combines to give them usually the lowest price at the pump.

HAGER: But analysts say, with the market frenetic and an industry eager to profit, it's unclear whether today's break in the price of crude might temporarily stop the steady increase at the pump.

Robert Hager, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: We've reached the old fork in the COUNTDOWN road that tells us it is time to turn from the bright lights of the main highway and meander down the neon-lit streets of news that we like to call "Keeping Tabs." I'll never say anything like that again, I promise.

Not enough that it's set to break the $300 million mark any moment, it is not enough that it could become the most popular R-rated film in history, but now Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is being credited with miracles and also causing something much more profane, a group of filmmakers shooting a documentary about the film. The makers of "Changed Lives: Miracles of the Passion" are now soliciting all miracles big or small through a Web site.

Specifically, they're looking for - quote - "a marriage being rescued, an addict who was set free, a Jew who now accepts Jesus as the messiah." That may cause problems later on.

Those would be the - quote - "good" - unquote - reviews, but what about the bad ones, the two heart attacks, the hole punched in the sheet rock of the Davidsons' house, and the grisly story of Dan Leach? His pregnant girlfriend died in January. Police ruled it a suicide. But after watching that movie, Leach walked into a Texas sheriff's office and admitted he had killed her. He now faces murder charges.

Two audience members, Peggy Law Scott of Kansas, and a priest, Jose Geraldo Soares of Brazil, succumbed to heart attacks while watching the film, and also attributed to "The Passion," the first fight in the 10-year marriage of Melissa and Sean Davidson. The couple started arguing on the finer points of theology and ended up fighting, scratching each other, calling the police and one of them kicked a hole in the wall.

Speaking of fights, that's exactly what exercise legend Richard Simmons apparently had tried to start while waiting for a plane in Phoenix. According to the police report, he was signing autographs when a fellow passenger spotted him and said, "Look, Richard Simmons, drop your bags. Let's rock to the '50s."

Simmons then allegedly walked over, slapped the man across the face. The man was Chris Farney, a professional ultimate cage fighter who weighs 255 pounds. Farney did not fight back, but did he press charges. Before the slap, Simmons had reportedly told Farney, "It's not nice to make fun of people with issues." You bet.

Tonight's top story up next. Here's your hint, Houdini whodunit.

But, first here are COUNTDOWN's top two photos of this day.


OLBERMANN: When the world's greatest escape artist died in 1926, he left the trunk he used in his metamorphosis act to his brother, with this condition, go ahead and use it. Just make sure it is burnt and destroyed after you pass on.

He didn't. It wasn't. And, as a result tonight, magicians around the country are furious at the Outagamie County Historical Society in Wisconsin. Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, Harry Houdini's death bed wishes unfulfilled may mean that the secrets of his signature trick will be unwrapped.

His hometown museum in Appleton, Wisconsin, is planning to turn the metamorphosis trunk into an interactive exhibit which would allow visitors to do the trick themselves. But other professional magicians are furious. They say their code of ethics requires that those secrets be forever veiled.

Magician Ron Lindberg, otherwise known as Rondini, has organized an online protest, for, in the words of Walter "Zaney" Blaney, emeritus president of the World Alliance of Magicians, exposing those tricks - quote - "robs us of the fun and delight we would otherwise experience."

Our last guest would recoil at the term magician being applied to him, but probably would agree that he and his partner have been responsible for a lot of fun and delight, visiting scholar at MIT, currently appearing with his silent co-star Teller at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, co-star for a second season of the upcoming Showtime series "Penn & Teller's Bull****" - thank you - the one and only Penn Jillette.

Good evening.

PENN JILLETTE, PENN & TELLER: I think that you only need one asterisk in there.

OLBERMANN: They sort of repeat?

JILLETTE: I think you can go S-H-asterisk-T, you know, bull, bull. I think you're OK with that. I think we are loosening up a little bit. The FCC hasn't come over the top yet, so take advantage of it. Use one asterisk.

OLBERMANN: Yes, well, we are still on the pay side of the cable package, so we could be in trouble.

This a shame. The magicians code of ethics may be violated? Are they being a little overblown here? It's more like somebody handing out Bob Hope's old jokes, isn't it?

JILLETTE: Yes, it's a little more like that. There is no code of ethics. That is just a lie.

Jim Steinmeyer, who is probably the best magic building in the world today, built a lot of stuff for David, a lot of stuff for Siegfried & Roy and everybody, he once said - I believe I'm quoting him right - that magicians were guarding an empty safe.

And what we are trying to keep secret from people, of course, is that we don't have magic powers.


JILLETTE: What is sad about this whole issue is, you can go to any library in the United States of America, you can go online and you can find out how this trick is done.

It is not how the trick is done. It is the singer, not the song. You can pick up John Lennon's guitar. You can pick up Elvis Costello's guitar. You can play Elton John's piano. And it doesn't tell you anything. This is just the props.

Now, obviously, Houdini wanted this stuff destroyed. That he didn't get his wishes is a sad thing. But if I may be presumptuous to understand Houdini a little bit, I think just the fact that we are talking about him here tonight in a different century would cancel out everything else.

OLBERMANN: Yes, getting good pub 78 years later would be worth it.

JILLETTE: It is pretty wonderful to be, well, one of the two biggest stars of the 20th century. And Houdini has got that hands down.


Now, tell me this. Why would revealing the metamorphosis box spoil the event? Don't you guys tell your audiences what you are doing at least half the time anyway?

JILLETTE: We once in a while we do. It is always a choice of what is the most beautiful.

And most magic secrets are really, really ugly. The metamorphosis is not particularly beautiful, but it's not particularly ugly. You get to play around with a little bit of apparatus. I still defy anyone that goes to Appleton to do it in the time that Houdini did it in or to make it as beautiful an event as he did.

We once gave away the cups and balls, did it with clear plastic cups. And a wonderful magician by the name of Jerry Camaro came in during our intermission and did it again with opaque cups and fooled everybody. It is always the singer, not the song.

And David Copperfield's quote about Houdini not approving this is probably correct. But David would tell you as quick as I can that his tricks are so much more complex that if you know exactly how metamorphosis is done, you are going to be much more amazed by Copperfield's show or, humbly, by ours. The technology does move on. It is more complicated. It is a whole lot going on.

And I really believe that if you have been in that trunk and played around with it, if you are on a cruise ship and see a wonderful, charming magic act that has that, it is not going to be too much different than hearing Hendrix after you've seen sheet music. There's a lot - from the base information to the beauty of art, there's a long way to go.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, in about a minute, I'm wondering now if the kvetch aspect, some extremes of magic and performance may be coming into the act here, that not only do you have to make things disappear but you have to threaten a lawsuit. Did some of the fun come out of it?

JILLETTE: Oh, I don't know. It has always been done that way. If you want to talk about what was in Houdini's heart, he would have loved publicity and lawsuits and anything.

And it is probably a good move to come out against it and say that this is appalling, because it makes it so much more sexier. I have been to that museum in Appleton. And what is exciting is not seeing Houdini's trick, but just being in the town that he - well, at least he claimed for his own, after getting out of Budapest.

It is a beautiful thing. And to be able to touch a trunk just like the one Houdini used is pretty wonderful. He was one of the first true modern American heroes. And we all love him. And no matter how we are talking about him, it is good.

OLBERMANN: I can't imagine, if you are a magic fan, especially if you're a practitioner and a fan, how it wouldn't be one of the great thrills of all time to actually get in the box, get in to his box. But, anyway...

JILLETTE: Well, I doubt they are letting it be actually his, but the same design is wonderful.

And I'll tell you, I touched a pair of his handcuffs once. And as skeptical and cold as I try to be, my heart was racing.

OLBERMANN: Wonderful.

JILLETTE: It's just wonderful.

OLBERMANN: Penn Jillette, many thanks for joining us on COUNTDOWN tonight.

JILLETTE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Always good to talk to you, sir.

So, before we go, let's recap the top five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you'll be talking about tomorrow.

No. 5, one political star rises, another one sets, perhaps. Richard Clarke now the main feature in an anti-Bush ad, and his book hits No. 1. In Congress, the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay reportedly considering stepping aside because of a corruption investigation. Four, crime and drama, Kobe Bryant, and the Michael Jackson grand jury getting under way.

No. 3 childhood traumas, a coach causes an eating disorder, so there's a lawsuit that lasts 10 years. Two, the record highs and wide range of gas prices. And No. 1, magicians in a fluster over a plan to out Houdini.

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

Good night and good luck.