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. 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,

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.