Tuesday, May 25, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 25

Guests: Louis Licari, Richard Leiby, Pat Buchanan, Carl Bernstein


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

The president's five points, day two: The reaction in Iraq; the reaction in Washington; the big picture from Carl Bernstein.

A familiar picture in D.C.: A sex scandal. This is where I came in.

The latest from below the beltway.

Having a bad hair day? Don't blame your shampoo, blame your DNA.

And the dumb car chase of the week. When you get out of your car and you try to carjack somebody else's car, and that somebody else kicks your butt, you know you are in big trouble.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.



DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the White House this morning, the president hoped to remind the country why the U.S. is fighting in Iraq. He met with victims of Saddam Hussein's torture, men whose right hands were cut off at the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison.

BUSH: They are examples of the brutality of the tyrant.

GREGORY: But as the president tried to rally support among the allies for his handover plan, French president Chirac told Mr. Bush, during a phone call, that Iraqis must really be in charge. The government can't be a front for the U.S.

BUSH: And that's what we want. We want there to be a complete and real transfer of sovereignty so that the Iraqi citizens realize the fate of their country is now their responsibility.

GREGORY: British Prime Minister Tony Blair said today, the authority of Iraq's interim government would even allow it to VETO U.S. military actions.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: So, if there's a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Fallujah in a particular way, that has to be one with the consent of the Iraqi government.

GREGORY: At the same time today, signs that the U.S. will once again have troubles getting other countries to send troops to Iraq. After a meeting with Secretary of State Powell, Belgium's foreign minister suggested the NATO alliance is already overextended in Afghanistan.

LOUIS MICHEL, BELGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I think it should not be wise to engage NATO now in Iraq.

BUSH: We must keep our focus.

GREGORY: After the president's speech last night, democrats charge that Mr. Bush had himself to blame for the U.S. being alone in Iraq.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: He must get on a plane, call a summit in Europe of our NATO allies in the major powers.

GREGORY: :The president's goal last night, to stop the slide of public support for the war, which in this election year, has dragged his approval rating down to new lows. Even fellow republicans have pressured the White House to turn things around.

REP. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: People are seeking reassurance that there is a plan and the president laid it out very clearly last night.

GREGORY (on camera): The U.S. representative in Iraq hopes to have a new caretaker government named by the end of the month. But, the big challenge is filling the top four positions with people acceptable to all the Iraqi factions. And well-placed U.N. sources say member of the Security Council want that new government to have some say in U.S. military actions, something that could be a hard sell to the Bush administration.

David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.


OLBERMANN: We apologize for the audio problems at the beginning of this news hour. To continue, at home, who is fighting alongside the president? In a moment, the analysis of Carl Bernstein who wrote yesterday that republican leadership needed to straighten out Mr. Bush about Iraq the same way it straightened out Richard Nixon 30 years ago about Watergate. First the reaction, 24 hours out.

I'm joined now by Pat Buchanan, former advisor to three presidents and now an MSNBC analyst.

Pat, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Congressman Portman of Ohio there, just said people are seeking reassurance that there is a plan and the president laid it out have clearly. Pat, did he do so last night?

BUCHANAN: I think he did, there's no question about it. The president of the United States is going to try transfer power, as much as he can, to the Iraqis on June 30. Their election is on January 31 of next year. I think power is going to be transferred. I think it's going to be real sovereignty. But Keith, we're headed for real problems, and the question of whether or not this interim government can tell the Americans, you can't fight in Fallujah, you can't fight in Najaf, but I think the president has downsized his goals realistically in Iraq and I think we're moving out.

OLBERMANN: The five points, most seem to be consisting, at least, of scheduling and logistics, as you referred to, the election by next January; handover still on track, 37 days from now. But, there was one phrase in there that seemed to be pregnant with additional meaning: "I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them Americans. Iraqi's will write their own history and find their own way."

Does - to you, "find their own way" sound a little bit like "every man for himself?"

BUCHANAN: Nope, this is a dramatic change in American policy. The

idea of the neoconservatives going in was we're going to remake Iraq in the

image of America, we're make it free and democratic, it will be a strategic

base camp of the United States in the Middle East, flanking Syria and Iran,

this is permanent and this is going to ignite a revolution across the area

· all that is gone, now. The president is a hard-nosed realistic. We have limited goals we can achieve. I think our hope is we can get out of there, put a government in place that won't be terrorist in character, and that will not have weapons of mass destruction and won't attack its neighbors and frankly, most Americans, I think, would settle for that.

OLBERMANN: The speech was part of a preannounced strategy of a series of speeches and the morning after, today, the British were saying, Tony Blair was saying, one thing about who would be in total control of coalition troops after the handover, specifically he said that in the event that political decisions needed to be made about where coalition troops would be used after June 30, that would ultimately be under the veto of the interim Iraqi government. Meanwhile back here at home, Colin Powell said at almost the same time, no matter what happens, U.S. troops will still be under the control of U.S. authorities and they can do what they need to do to protect themselves. Does that happening so close to the speech itself last night, indicate that this speech last flight and the series of them have been a very well planned out strategy by the White House?

BUCHANAN: Well, clearly they have not coordinated with Tony Blair who's got his own problems. But quite frankly, Keith, you cannot have this interim government telling the United States when and where it can attack. We just can't do that. Because this interim government will be a weak government, it's going to try to win popular support and you don't win that by telling the Americans to go take out the people in Fallujah. So, I think we're headed down for a train wreck, quite frankly. But my guess is, the United States is going to retain the right to attack when and where it feels it has to. But the election upcoming, almost everybody running, I think, going to be saying, "I will get the American out of Iraq." I think this war could be over, quite frankly, by January 31.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC's Pat Buchanan. As always sir, thanks for your insight.

BUCHANAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: As I mentioned earlier, Carl Bernstein, best known for his reporting during Watergate published an opinion piece in "USA Today" yesterday, in which he argued there are disturbing parallels between President Nixon's handling of Watergate and President Bush's handling of Iraq. Earlier tonight, I spoke with Mr. Bernstein about what he termed a lesson of history.


OLBERMANN: Carl Bernstein thanks for joining us.


OLBERMANN: Your piece in yesterday, "USA Today" was printed under the headline, "History Lesson, GOP Must Stop Bush." Can you correlate your comparisons between the Nixon and Bush administration's with Mr. Bush's speech, last night?

BERNSTEIN: As I say, I don't think that this is about high crimes and misdemeanors. I think this is about dishonesty and lack of competence. And what I say in the piece is that it's time that the courageous example of republicans who challenged Richard Nixon and said, "Enough, already. Enough of the lies, enough of not being willing to acknowledge mistakes," that it's time for republicans, perhaps, to think of the consequences to their country and to the party by allowing George Bush to continue to take the actions that he has that have produced an unmitigated disaster and seem to be going in no other direction but disaster in Iraq.

OLBERMANN: John Dean's book, "Worse than Watergate," emphasized the adherence to secrecy in the Nixon administration, and again repeating that the Bush administration now. It seems secrecy is a two-way street. So many of Nixon's advisors, as I if I need to tell you this, seem to be keeping the truth secret from him, in that case, about the reaction nationally to Watergate. Do you think Mr. Bush's advisors are keeping the facts in Iraq and the reaction to them secret from him?

BERNSTEIN: I think - I think that the facts about Iraq are there for all to see, including the president and that those facts deserve a second look at what our policies are. George Will, the conservative columnist, who interestingly enough, was one of the first conservatives to say to Richard Nixon, "enough," wrote the other day about this administration. He said "this administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and having thought, to have second thoughts." That we need a real reassessment of what we're doing, not another speech like last night which is the same old bromides about freedom and liberty and democracy, which are very nice concepts, but that's not what we're up against, here. Instead of containing terrorism, instead of effectively fighting terrorism and its causes, this war has given terrorists a field day. There were no terrorists to speak of in Iraq. It was not a terrorist state, it was a Stalinist state. You know, not for nothing did bin Laden say of Saddam Hussein, "he's an infidel." Saddam Hussein would no more permit terrorists in his country than I would in my backyard.

OLBERMANN: I tried to watch that speech last night as a civilian, just a guy at home off the clock, trying to disconnect from what I know because I'm in news, and as you said, I didn't hear anything new in that. What would have happened if last night George Bush had said, "we've made some major mistakes in Iraq, some our fault, some circumstantial. We need to amend the plan to fit those mistakes, we need to back building them and because I'm the commander-in-chief, I'm going to take responsibility of them, whether I did them myself or not." What would have happened if that had been the message last night?

BERNSTEIN: I think he could have united the country to some extent. I think that really uniting the country under George Bush is impossible, at this time. But certainly, he could have gone a long way toward it, but I think it is too late now. But, the real thing is that somehow we have to enter - internationalize the exit and the last act of this tragedy. That means calling a summit meeting, perhaps, it includes Arab leaders that the president would call, it means having some kind of multinational force, perhaps under a joint command that doesn't produce more terrorism. Our presence is producing terrorism, it's not reducing it.

OLBERMANN: Last question. Everything today, it's automatic, we go right to the finish line, we pass go, we collect the $200 and everything is viewed, in politics today as partisanship, what you said in the piece yesterday, what you've said here, defend that for me as not being a partisan statement.

BERNSTEIN: I think that the great example of courageous party leadership is what the democrats did under Lyndon Johnson with - when George McGovern and William Fulbright, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Robert Kennedy said of Lyndon Johnson and his disastrous conduct of the Vietnam War, "enough," and Johnson was forced not to run. I think that when republicans, like the great conservative Barry Goldwater, and the House and Senate republican leadership said to Richard Nixon, "we won't take any more of your lies, we won't take anymore of leading our party down this path, it's time for you to go." I think the republican leaders need to say to their president, "Mr. President, we need a mid course correction, here. And we need to you acknowledge error. And we need to you work with us to get us out of this in such a way that we don't further endanger the world to terrorists, because you have inflamed terrorism, rather than contained it."

OLBERMANN: Carl Bernstein, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, most recently author of the biography of John Paul II, "His Holiness."

Thanks again for your time tonight, sir.

BERNSTEIN: Good to be here.


OLBERMANN: Polls are perhaps the ultimate expression of partisanship. Mr. Bush's opponents will see two new one, as further indication of plummeting support. His admirers will point out that despite some soft spots, they reflect continuing strength versus Senator Kerry. The rest of us, all 143 of us neutrals, will raise a hand and point out that each poll was completed before last night's survey.

"Washington Post" survey, it concludes that the drop in the president's approval rating to a new low of 47 percent, his due almost entirely to a drop in support from republicans.

The numbers from a second poll for "CBS" also showing the president at new lows with 41 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving.

When asked about how the president is handling Iraq, 40 percent told the "Post" they approved, 57 (sic) percent more said they disapproved.

And an even starker spread from the "CBS" poll. A little over one-third approving, six out of 10 disapproving.

But, how this will effect the elections remains unclear. In the "Post" view of the 3-way race, Bush edges Kerry by one percent, Nader picking up six percent.

In the "CBS" poll, by contrast, it's Kerry six points ahead of Bush with Nader grabbing five percent.

All of this, those poll numbers included, last night's speech would have seemed to be an ideal time for Mr. Bush's challenger, Senator Kerry, to do something dramatic and impactful, presumably about Iraq. Instead, today's Kerry headline was the unveiling of the new campaign plane. A Boeing 757 intriguingly emblazoned with his name and the word "president" on it. Not "for" president, just "president." The senator did get a few points for joking, quote, "in the event of an emergency, my hair can be used as a flotation device."

The COUNTDOWN opening tonight with politics and Iraq. Everything from the looming Iraqi handover to Senator Kerry's new wheels.

Up next, tonight's No. 4 story: Essential flash news in the war on terror here on the home front. The "Associate Press" quoting counterterrorism sources who say they have highly credible intelligence about the planning of a major attack here this summer. Our own Pete Williams will put the report into perspective for us.

And later, a senate staffer fired because she claims she's a part time call girl, and one of the president's appointees is one of her clients. "Oh, good," he said unconvincingly, "another Washington sex scandal."


OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN's No. 4 story is up next, a breaking new report tonight: Terror chatter on the rise, al-Qaeda operatives supposedly on the ground in the U.S. hoping to make a major strike here. Pete Williams will join us from Washington with the latest from his reporting. Stand by, we're here in a moment.


OLBERMANN: What we know as of this hour is that a news conference has been scheduled for tomorrow. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Directory Robert Mueller, as which they are they are to outline their plan to detect and disrupt any potential terror plots this summer. But, our fourth tonight is that about which we can only guess. The "Associated Press" broke the headline at 7:03 Eastern daylight time tonight, verbatim:

"U.S. officials have obtained new intelligence deemed highly credible indicating terrorists are in the United States and preparing to launch a major attack this summer."

Our correspondent, Pete Williams, joins with us more from now, from Washington.

Pete, good evening.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening to you.

OLBERMANN: What do we have on this?

WILLIAMS: Well, what we have is that, yes, officials verified that there is some new information. That much we know. It is hard, a little bit, to parse this out because officials have told me tonight that the intelligence is that the possibility exists. And they stress word "possibility," that terrorists may have recently come to the U.S. and could be planning attacks this summer.

The intelligence, they say, come from various places, indicating that terrorists either from al-Qaeda, or maybe some other organizations, have recently entered the U.S. and may be planning attacks. But beyond that, there's nothing specific. Nothing about what they were planning to attack, when, in what city, what kind of target, what the nature of the attack would be, time, place, dates, manner, none of that apparently is in the intelligence.

Now, officials for months have been saying they're worried about the possibility for terrorist attacks in the U.S. this summer. And there are some specific reasons. One is the obvious; you've got big high-profile events: The republican and democratic conventions. You have a G-8 summit in Georgia next month, you have this weekend, the world - big World War II dedication of the new memorial here in Washington. And then of course you have the election in November and that received a lot more attention from anti-terror people, here in the U.S., after the Madrid train bombing, which terrorism analysts now say looked like an attempt by the terrorists to effect an election. And that got people here thinking a lot more about whether terrorists might try to stage some kind of an attack before our elections - our general elections this fall. But there's nothing specific here, Keith, we're told.

And indeed, a good deal of the news conference tomorrow, from Attorney General Ashcroft and the FBI Director Robert Mueller may be, to some extent, to review old ground, to talk about names we've heard of before that are on the FBI's Web site that they've asked people before to help them look for. So, we may be hearing about that, whether we'll hear from any new name isn't clear yet. And they'll also talk a lot about what new steps are being taken that were already in the works to try to beef-up security at the events this summer and what the public can do to help out.

OLBERMANN: Two things from the "Associated Press" story, maybe you can put them in perspective, and I know we're basically saying, "it's a brown-haired man, we're looking for" and that could be anybody in this country, when we talk about the texture or the nuance of the language, here, it's so insubstantial and really guessing. But, the "A.P." story quotes there - their sources saying there is clearly a steady drumbeat of information that they're going to attack and hit us hard and describes this intelligence as "among the most disturbing pieces of intelligence received by the government since 9/11." What would possess someone with knowledge of this kind of information, within the government, to characterize it that way and to pass it on to the "Associated Press," which will put in it every newspaper in America tomorrow morning?

WILLIAMS: Well, you could have said that same thing for the last two or three times that the U.S. has been publicly worried about terrorism attacks. That was said before in December, before the threat level went up, that this was some of the most urgent chatter they'd seen, some of the worst concern they'd had. So, that statement has been made before. It seems like recently, Keith, the last two or three times we've been through this, officials have said the same thing. This is the most concerned they've been since 9/11. So, that keeps coming up a lot. Secondly, the steady drumbeat thing is - I mean, we could have been having this conversation a week ago. There has been a steady drumbeat of potential threats this summer, but there - you know, this kind stuff comes in all the time about potential attacks, but none of it is specific. This new information we're told, is somewhat more credible, but again, it is not specific. So that's always the trick here, is how do you put all that together?

WILLIAMS: Obviously, we know what the first question will be at that news conference, tomorrow.

Pete Williams in the Washington bureau with the latest on the latest in a series of disturbing terror reports. Great thanks for staying with us.

WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN now past the fourth story. Coming up, a much-needed break from the war on Iraq, the war on terror here at home, "Oddball" next with an unusual end between daily dance between good guys in the cars and the bad guys in the cars.

And later, road rage of a different kind: Frustration over high gas prices. You might be able to avoid it driving, but you're still feel it in the pocketbook no matter what you do.


OLBERMANN: We rejoin you and pause the COUNTDOWN now to bring you the segment called the, quote, "best source of weird news on television," unquote, by some guy who works on the staff. Let's play "Oddball."

And we begin in Arizona with the COUNTDOWN car chase of the week. A man and a woman in a stolen car fleeing police at up to 100 miles per hour. Checking the "Oddball" scoreboard, for the year we see its cops: 43, guys who think they can escape the cops, bupkis (ph). And today's contestants never had the chance.

After blowing out the tires on the off ramp and crashing into a truck, this out of control car thief tries to steal another car, while his girl wanders around the intersection aimlessly. But, did you ever notice something, pal? Your average carjacker usually has a weapon of some kind. No one's just going to give you the car simply because you have stared daggers at him. This is underscored by the driver of the white truck who kicked and punched the attacker until the police took the guy down. He'll have plenty of time to nurse his wounded pride where he's going - the big house!

Now, in all my years covering sports, I learned one thing about car racing. It's that the Formula One people think the NASCAR people are a bunch of hicks. And the NASCAR people think the Formula One people are a bunch of snooty champagne-drinking snobs. We don't like to perpetuate the stereotypes here, but at Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, in the streets of Monte Carlo, the rookie driver, Christian Klien crashed his Jaguar into a metal barrier in a hair pin turn. The car may not have been a total loss, but the 108 carat diamond that was embedded in the nose of the car, that was a total loss. It had been fitted to the nose cone as a decoration, but now the Jaguar racing team is scouring the streets trying to find the diamond, which is worth more than 250 grand. Cleverly, they're offering a reward if the gem is just turned in: A new Ford worth one-tenth of that, $25,000, that'll work.

To India, and another new world record claimed for something that had no old world record. Meet Major Singh, a Sikh cleric who has taken 400 meters of cloth, 100 hair pins, and 51 metal religious symbols and used them to build the world's largest turbine. He's applied to the Guinness World Book of Records, but they have yet to recognize his feet, which might explain why he's riding that motorcycle. Because, see, if he can jump 30 flaming school buses with that thing on his head, he might make the cover.

Back to the COUNTDOWN, and tonight's third story in a moment. Until now, we all thought it was a matter of poor judgment or at best a bad hare day - yeah, I'm talking about you, sir - but tonight, scientists may have discovered the real cause of hideous hair. And there is nothing you can do about it.

Then later, it might smell as sweet, but the secret ingredient of the brand new genetically engineered rose will probably turn your stomach. These stories ahead.

First, here are COUNTDOWN's the top three newsmakers of this day. No. 3, Humberto Ulloa, sentenced to five months in prison in Miami. He used counterfeit Postal Service credit cards to illegally buy gas, $230,000 worth of gas. That's right. He was trying to fill up his Humvee. Bum-dum-bump.

No. 2, the late Spike Milligan, eccentric British comic, discoverer of Peter Sellers, inspiration to "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Two years after his death, a court rules the Catholic cemetery where he's buried does to have fulfill his last wish. And thus on his tombstone in Gaelic will be inscribed with the epitaph, "I told you I was ill."

And No. 1, Cyndi Lauper. Performing on an outdoor stage in Boston, her mouth wide open for a high note. And a passing bird relieves itself and scores an exact hit. She gamely sang on. But as the lyrics to one of her own hits go, if you fall, I will catch you. I'll be waiting time after time.


OLBERMANN: Well, men, the results are in. Science tells us tonight that, if you die young, it is probably your own fault. But, if you have a bad hair day, that's probably mom and dad.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the Professor Frinks of our world are back with another roundup of weird science, everything from a gene that supposedly causes frizzy or unpredictable hair, to a new blue rose colored with enzymes from your liver.

This men dying because it is their fault stuff, this is from a news conference on men's health, which concludes that the reason men die an average of seven years before women do is because they are more likely to die violently, more likely to die accidentally, less likely to seek medical care when they should, really, really should, do so.

Anecdote about the last point, researchers asked 1,000 new victims of heart attacks what they wanted to know first about their health. Women's answers, high blood pressure, chest pain, how to take care of themselves, men's answer, how their heart attack would impair their sex lives.

No doubt their reactions would be similar to the discovery of a gene in mice called Frizzled 6. It determines whether the hair on our little cheese-eating friends grows in traditional, predictable patterns or causes the micey equivalent of cowlicks and that no-man's land of swirl back here, where your part sort of vanishes and some hair goes left and some right and some up.

Geneticists say there's virtually an identical gene in human. In a moment, we'll consult an expert on clinically bad hair. First, a refresher course.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair give me hair, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen. Give me down to there hair, shoulder length or longer, here baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy. Hair. Flow it, show it, long as I can grow it, my hair. I let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees. Give a home to the fleas in my hair. A home for the fleas, a hive for buzzing bees, a nest for birds. There ain't no words for the beauty and the splendor and the wonder of my hair. Flow it, show it, long as I can grow it, my hair.


OLBERMANN: And not a single old prom picture in the bunch.

On the front lines leading the fight to turn bad hair days into good ones is stylist to the stars Louis Licari, who owns his own salons in New York and Beverly Hills. He is also a contributor to "The Today Show." And he joins us now from Beverly Hills.

Mr. Licari, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Well, how does this jibe with your own vast years of experience? Does it look to you like people could have a bad hair gene?

LICARI: I think certainly people genetically have sometimes hair they don't want to have. In fact, I find that often people have the hair, you know, always want what they don't have.

The bad news is that it takes extra work to make your hair look the way you want to it look. The good news is, I'll always have a job.

OLBERMANN: Let me rattle off some famous or infamous hairstyles, some of which we saw in the piece right now. You tell me what you think, bad hair gene or something else.

And start with the champion of hair, Don King.

LICARI: Oh, Don King. What can you say about Don King? It is big. It's wild. It says, look at me. It's just - he wants you to know. Hair is often your accessory that says the most about you. He wants you to know that, I am not a normal guy.

OLBERMANN: And I think he got the point across. The alleged comedian Carrot Top.

LICARI: Well, Carrot Top, reds can be either - redheads are - the brighter the red, the more they want people to acknowledge them. There's fewer red heads than any other colors. So, if you choose to be read, you choose to be noticed. Obviously, Carrot Top chooses to be noticed.

OLBERMANN: Someone else who has chosen to be noticed, Christina Aguilera, maybe a redhead for about 15 minutes two or three years ago.

LICARI: Well, Christina Aguilera loves to play with her hair color. She started off very blonde. Then she went very black. And now she is sort of strawberry. So she's trying for a softer look. And actually she's wearing this one the best of all.

In most cases, the trick is, extremes don't work. And try to work closer to what you do have. If you start to accept your bad hair, you can turn it into good hair.

OLBERMANN: All right, one more, Hillary Clinton, not that it's necessarily bad hair, but there's just so many different styles over the years. Is she ruining her own head right there?

LICARI: Well, I think that Hillary certainly can go look really beautiful. I can remember when she did the cover of "Vogue" a few years ago, when she was the wife of the president. Certainly, now, I think that she has a more serious look. And her hair, perhaps, isn't as important to her as it once was.

OLBERMANN: Louis Licari, stylist to the stars, many thanks for your time tonight, sir.

LICARI: My pleasure to be here.

OLBERMANN: More science on the march, from hair today to dad tomorrow, what appears to be a world record for the viability of frozen sperm, with or without the Frizzled 6 gene.

In Great Britain, they're hailing the birth of the ice, ice baby. He was conceived after his Y chromosome had been frozen for 21 years. Back in 1979, the baby's father banked some sperm before undergoing cancer treatment. More than two decades later, some defrosting, plus vitro fertilization leading to the birth of a healthy baby boy. No truth to rumors that the now toddler does go around his parent's house trying to turn thermostats down to 57 degrees.

Fertility treatments are exactly what they do not need in Fayetteville, Arkansas. There tonight, one family celebrating the birth of its 15th child. Streamlining becomes important when your household exceeds the baker's dozen. Perhaps that's why all the kids, like their father Jim Bob, have names beginning with the letter J.

Meet the Duggars. They are Joshua, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger. Looks like they forget to spell check on Jinger. Moving on, there's Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jeremiah, Jedidiah, Jason, James, Justin. And crossing the finish line Sunday at No. 15, baby Jackson.

Mother Michelle - how did that happen? - has 15 kids. She's only 37 years old. She says she may be ready for more. If so, we may suggest taking a page out of the Jermaine Jackson playbook. Name the 16th child, Jer Majesty.

And our third story, a look at the scientists run amuck in pushing the limits of genetic engineering and family planning, would not be complete without mention of the breakthrough responsible for nature's first blue rose. It would look something like this. Biochemists researching drugs at Vanderbilt University discovered something startling. They put some genes from a human liver into bacteria. The bacteria turned blue.

Then they put the genes from the human liver into roses. The roses turned blue. Horticulturists for decades have tried to create a natural blue rose. Now they all think they have one, all natural, just like Audrey in "Little Shop of Horrors." All it needs to survive is human livers. Feed me, feed me. Thanks a lot, Mr. Science.

That flushes out No. 3 of the COUNTDOWN. Up next, our second story, the pain at the pump. You are paying for high gas prices in ways you may not even realize. And later, the W. vs. W, a major hotel chain taking on the George Bush reelection campaign.

All that ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN's No. 2 story is up next. High gas prices, for most people, it's a major inconvenience. For others, it's triggering a potential life-and-death struggle.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: You don't need to watch this newscast to know about gas prices. Heck, you don't have to have electricity in your house to know about gas prices, up again over the weekend, the national average now $2.06.

But in our No. 2 story tonight, it not like the pain stops when you put the nozzle back in the pump.

As our correspondent Anne Thompson reports, the ripple effect means that's where the pain begins.


ANNE THOMPSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meals on Wheels is a lifeline to seniors in Spokane, Washington.



THOMPSON: Its lifeline, volunteer drivers. But soaring gas prices are forcing some like Bob and Doris Suela (ph) to cut back on miles and others to drop out all together.

PAM ALMEIDA, MEALS ON WHEELS: If volunteers can't afford to deliver the meals, then we can't afford to get the meals out to the people who need them. My fear is that seniors will go hungry.

THOMPSON: A growing problem for Meals On Wheels programs nationwide, just one of the ripple effects of $2 gas and nearly $42 oil.

DANIEL YERGIN, NBC GLOBAL ENERGY ANALYST: The increases in oil prices are like a $50 billion tax increase on the American people and, clearly, a growing drag on our economy.

THOMPSON: It's felt in every part of Tim Hanon's (ph) florist business outside Denver. He is paying more for freight charges, so he has raised the price of roses nearly $1 a stem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a delivery for you.

THOMPSON: And his delivery fee has jumped as much as 50 percent, hurting customers and Hanon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got some people that are choosing to take some of the increased delivery charge out of the arrangement rather than spending the extra.

THOMPSON (on camera): But not everybody is holding back. Yellow Roadway, the nation's largest trucking company, reports, despite a 7 percent fuel surcharge, it is seeing no drop-off in demand for its services to haul everything from clothes to machine cogs.

(voice-over): That business able to absorb these price shocks in a growing economy, a buffer against the ripple effect that's putting pressure on others.

Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: From gas to gas, as we segue neatly into "Keeping Tabs."

Courtney Love back in court this afternoon, and maybe for the last time. Well, let's not get carried away. Remember who we're talking about here. But as far as the current drug and disorderly conduct charges against her in L.A., a plea arrangement has ended the case. She's pleaded guilty. She will be sentenced July 16, but will enter an outpatient drug rehab program almost immediately. She does, however, still face a charge of hitting a fan with a microphone stand in New York.

A little late on the draw, evidently. Salt Lake City attorney Eric Stephenson, he is suing over the Super Bowl halftime show. Anybody remember that? Stephenson hit the owners of CBS, Viacom with a $5,000 suit in small-claims court, insisting the show was falsely advertised. He said he was never led to believe that he would see Janet Jackson's bare breast, only - quote - "marching bands, a patriotic celebrations and balloons."

Look, the joke here is so obvious, I don't even have to say it, do I?

That guy thinks he has got a lawsuit. How about the people who saw the singer Jewel in her second show in Hampton, New Hampshire, Saturday night. Witnesses say she came on stage and immediately began insulting the fatter member of the audience, then the ones with no teeth. Then she asked the crowd to shout out requests. And when some of them did, she yelled, shut the hell up.

When she finally started singing, she stopped abruptly and spent 10 minutes talking about the prescription drugs Zoloft and Paxil. Finally, one witness told the newspaper "The Hampton Union," Jewel told the fans to stop looking at her teeth and instead to look at her breasts. Bad show? It sounds like a pay-per-view event to me.

And lastly, it looks like a lawsuit cooking between W and W. The hotel chain W is playing nice, saying it is flattered, but it is none too happy that George Bush's reelection campaign is now selling baseball caps and accessories featuring its own version of the W. logo. "The New York Daily News" reports that the hoteliers are ready to send a lawyer letter to the campaign, ah, and one of the "Sesame Street" crowd, too.

Tonight's top story is up next. And that video you saw five seconds ago should be your hint. The real question is, will I flee from the studio during the break and pummel the staff?


OLBERMANN: So to our No. 1 story tonight and the eerie echoes provided by it, Bill Clinton, politics, sex scandals and the fact that, despite any real urge, I cannot run screaming from this room for any of this.

We begin with Cornell University's 2004 senior convocation. Scheduled date, May 29, scheduled speaker, Bill Clinton. Funny thing about the senior convocation. It takes place the day before the commencement ceremonies. But that's not it. I too was an invited speaker at that event. Mr. Clinton is scheduled to address seniors and their families at 9:00 on Saturday, 9:00 on Saturday of graduation weekend.

Well, many of the seniors will still be awake, but I think my attendance record of about 6,000 may be safe. That occurred when I gave the speech in 1998. You may remember 1998. I remember 1998. Mr. Clinton remembers 1998. That was when that Lewinsky thing happened. Isn't this where I came in?


OLBERMANN: The story exploded this morning that former White House employee Linda Tripp had worn a hidden microphone that recorded her conversations with former intern Monica Lewinsky, in which Lewinsky is alleged to have said she had an affair with the president and that he told her if asked to lie about it.


OLBERMANN: But wait, now a new and unimproved Washington sex scandal, thanks to our new friend, the World Wide Web. Her name is Jessica Cutler. She sorted mail in the office of the Ohio Senator Mike DeWine to the tune of $25,000 a year, interesting job, sort of mail. In between stuffing envelopes, Ms. Cutler found time to stuff a blog, an Internet diary, filled with her sexual exploits.

Quote: "Most of my living expenses are thankfully subsidized by a few generous older gentlemen." Beginning to sound a little like Tennessee Williams here. "I'm sure I am not the only one who makes money on the side this way. I am convinced that the Congressional offices are full of dealers and hos" - her word.

Ms. Cutler was dismissed from her job Friday, lost the blog into one of the black holes of cyberspace as a result. But before the plug was pulled, she managed to list the six men she was sharing her gifts with, one she claims the head of an agency appointed by the president.

Richard Leiby writes the "Reliable Source" column for "The Washington Post" and has spoken with young Ms. Cutler a couple of times.

Rich, nice to talk to you. Good evening.

RICHARD LEIBY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thanks for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Sex scandals in Washington, well, that's hardly new. Using my personal favorite as the measuring stick, Clinton-Lewinsky, by that scale, how much of a story or nonstory is this really?

LEIBY: Well, by the Lewinsky standard, which can't really be topped, since it led to the impeachment, I think we're talking about a scale of two on a 10. It's not even a Wayne Hayes scandal of 28 years ago. That was the congressman from Ohio 20 who had a lady on the side who worked for the - quote - "keep out of sight committee."


OLBERMANN: And she wound up trying to escape via the tidal basin, as I recall.

LEIBY: That was another one.

OLBERMANN: Yes. How do we know that this stuff on here is not completely made up, that this blog is not the fantasy or the time wasting of your taxpayer dollars?

LEIBY: We don't know anything except that it's great reading. I have interviewed the lady face to face for over an hour. She will not give up any names. If she is a liar, she is a good one. I mean, and it's good erotic fiction.

On the other hand, this sort of behavior by interns and young women in Washington is an unknown. See the Starr report. So we have - I have a confidence that it's real. She told me she didn't think there was any reason anybody should be interested since it happens all the time in Washington. And that is sort of one threshold. Does it happen all the time? Yes. Do we read about it all the time on the Internet? No. That's why it's news.

OLBERMANN: Now, when did we expect the book deal? And given that this is just the slightest twist on the very first plotline from the very first episode of "The West Wing" from five years ago, do we think a book would sell?

LEIBY: Well, I know that Manhattan is interested in a book because I fielded a call today from a top literary agency that wanted her phone number. They cast it as, we'd like to do it as sex on the Hill, sort of like the devil wears Prada, the intern's insider view. It could be fact or fiction. I don't think they really care at this point.

They are interested in these bloggers. They are interested in young people. And then tonight, just as I was leaving to come over here, I fielded a call from "Playboy." So it seems to me that it is going out in the logical direction of any scandal.

OLBERMANN: But we're convinced that there is no connection, other than the wasting - potentially wasting of government resources by wasting time? This is not connected to any Senator DeWine's office, other than the fact that she worked there? It doesn't have anything to with him? But are there repercussions here for anybody besides her?

LEIBY: Well, there's no evidence of anything untoward in his office.

The repercussions for this agency chief of staff, as he is described, whom she will not name, who apparently had a tryst by her account with him at the lunch hour on May the 18th and paid her $400. Now, that's what it is. That's either a generous gift, as she described it, or it's prostitution. No one is calling for an investigation.

And so far no one has come forward to say, hi, I'm one of the people in Jessica's blog. I would like to talk to you, Rich.

OLBERMANN: Well, as to the investigation, just remember, there is always another day.

Richard Leiby, the writer of the "Reliable Source" column from "The Washington Post," chronicler of the Cutler phenomenon, thanks for joining us tonight.

LEIBY: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Before we leave you, a reminder of the developing story in the war on terror, what the Associated Press has called among the most disturbing intelligence received by the government since 9/11, more reports of a terrorist plan to attack in the U.S. this summer, the attorney general, John Ashcroft, and the FBI director, Robert Mueller, to hold a news conference tomorrow, when we will get presumably some details on the efforts to interrupt this.

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

Good night and good luck.


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 19

Guests: Richard Ben-Veniste; Howard Fineman, John Fugh, Floyd Blair


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

The 9/11 hearings with unexpected witness witnesses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son was murdered, murdered!

OLBERMANN: And Britain's Parliament is evacuated as protesters throw purple-colored flour?

Abu Ghraib, the first guilty plea, perhaps the first cover-up: Why did three witnesses refuse to testify in the hearing for Specialist Charles Graner? Why did the Army try to keep the Red Cross out of the prison?

It's just a factory in Canton, Ohio, but if it closes, could it wind up deciding the presidential election?

And you may now kiss the bride. Huh? You may now kiss the bride.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening, they are either testaments to the indefatigability of democracy or chilling reminders that on both sides of the Atlantic, post-9/11 security is not what it's cracked up to be.

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: The New York hearings of the 9/11 Commission were interrupted by hecklers who shouted down former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. While in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was hit by projectiles as he stood at the center of the British Parliament. Fortunately the projectiles were merely flour-filled condoms.

More on them later, first the 9/11 hearings. Our correspondent is Lisa Myers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole truth and nothing but the truth?


LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Major Giuliani immediately put the commission on the defensive praising his embattled fire and police commanders and admonishing the panel that no American is to blame for the loss of life that day.

GIULIANI: Your anger should clearly be directed, and blame should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone - the terrorists who killed our loved ones.

MYERS: While the 9/11 Commission suggested poor planning and misusing the rescue effort may have cost lives, Giuliani argued that the rescue operation and the individual heroism of rescuers enabled eight or 9,000 people to evacuate, who might otherwise have died. Giuliani said he was never informed of this August, 2001, Presidential Briefing which warned of suspicious surveillance of federal buildings in New York, but:

GIULIANI: I can't honestly tell you we would have done anything differently. We were doing, at the time, all that we could think of.

MYERS: The same commission that yesterday blasted Giuliani's subordinates, called some problems "scandalous" was gentle with the politically popular boss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brave and courageous leadership.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The captain was on the bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And for that, I salute you.

MYERS: But some victims' families were not satisfied.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son was murdered! Murdered!


MYERS: The current mayor of New York complained that Homeland Security funds to improve readiness since 9/11, have been diverted by Congress for pork projects back home. He claimed New York State now received about $5 per person, while North Dakota gets $30 a person, even though terrorists are less likely to strike there.

BLOOMBERG: It is the kind of shortsighted "me first" nonsense that gives Washington a bad name.

MYERS: Today, some victim's families complained bitterly that the commission went easy on Giuliani who admitted there were, quote, "terrible mistakes that day brought on by the unforeseeable magnitude of the attack."

Lisa Myers, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: Of course Giuliani's testimony was far more on the admission of terrible mistakes that awful September morning, it was about more than the heckling, it was more than about his defense of his staff. It was also about the fact that even if you were in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, you stood about a 90 percent chance of survival as Giuliani himself survived.


GIULIANI: We arrived, as we got very, very close to the Word Trade Center, one of my police officers said to me, and all of us, "keep looking up, keep looking up" because things were falling down around us, and I imagine that was for our own safety. But, when I looked up, at that point, I realized that I saw a man, wasn't debris - that I saw a man hurling himself out of the 102nd, 130rd, 104th floor and I stopped. Probably for two seconds, but it seems like a minute or two and I was in shock. My first question to Chief Gancey (ph), maybe because of what I had just seen, was: "Can we get helicopters up to the roof and help any of those people?" and Pete pointed to a big flame that was shooting out of the north tower, at the time, and he said to me, "My guys can save everybody below the fire. But, I can't put a helicopter above the fire."

I saw people running, I saw people fleeing, which is what we wanted them to do, I wanted to get them out of the area, but I didn't see people knocking each other over, I didn't see people in chaos, I didn't see people in panic, I didn't see people hurting each other, which you also would expect might happen, and I actually saw acts of people helping each other. Somebody would be running, see somebody fall down, stop and pick somebody up.


OLBERMANN: The unity of that morning was not to be found on this one as Lisa Myers mentioned earlier, hecklers and upset family members interrupted Giuliani at least three times and called for better answers, tougher questions, and even different panelists. The first reference you'll hear to Motorola is about flawed communications systems used by rescuers that day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ask about Motorola.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ask them about who...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put one of us on that panel.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now, someone who is on that panel, Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste.

Thanks for joining us again, sir.


OLBERMANN: A broad question about those hecklers, not their means, but the tone of their questions - the failures of the radios, Mayor Giuliani's minute-by-minute account. Those have long since been put on the record somewhere, should that time or could that time have been better spent asking the broader, tougher questions, like as - just as an example, why nobody in authority in New York City behaved like it was a terrorist attack until after the second plane hit or any other question like that?

BEN-VENISTE: I don't think they knew it was a terrorist attack until the second plane hit and I think Lisa Myers' point was correct, there were two things established at the hearing. One was the incredible bravery of the first responders in the fire and police departments in New York, who did save innumerable lives in evacuating those who got out of the building, 25,000 or so. And it is also true that things could have gone better had there been better planning, had there been a more unified command, and had equipment, such as a better radio communication interoperability between the police and fire departments who, like the military services back in the '80s, had each owned their own equipment. The Navy couldn't talk to the Army, the Air Force couldn't talk to the Marines, because they all used different kinds of equipment and that required leadership and that's a question I asked Mayor Giuliani and his response was, there was no such equipment available and that's a question for experts now to comment on and to see whether that holds water.

OLBERMANN: The bill that created the commission, as you well know, cites as the commission's first purpose, at least the first one listed, to examine and report upon the facts and causes of the attacks. Did you get anything representing to cause out of the - this part of the trip, the New York part of the commission?

BEN-VENISTE: Yeah. This really wasn't the focus of this hearing. This hearing had to do with preparedness and what happened on the day of 9/11 which are also included in our mandate as to what we are supposed to be investigating. Look, this is a commission that has to go about its business doing the right thing the way we, as commissioners, who are all experienced people, see our best course. Now, we're not going to please everybody. Some have said we've been too tough, some will say we're not tough enough. At the end of the day, I've just got to do the best I can, and that's what I'm going to do and I'm not going to be intimidated one way or another.

OLBERMANN: When it is all done, will the commission be addressing, at all, that issue that so exercised Mayor Bloomberg during his testimony, this apportionment of resources, the idea that much of the northern plane states get five times the counterterrorism funds per capita then New York...

BEN-VENISTE: I don't think it was limited to the plane states, it's limited to every place other than those that have a big target painted on them that are likely places, in the crosshairs, for a terrorist attacks. And yes, that's a very legitimate point, one which we have been working on for some time and we will definitely be making a recommendation to take this whole 9/11 funding of preparedness out of the pork barrel congressional tranche (ph) that it finds itself in and into really apportioned funds on the basis of need and likelihood of attack rather than everybody slicing up a pie.

OLBERMANN: Nine-eleven commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste now partner in the Washington law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe, and Maw. Again sir, many thanks for your time.

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: In an irony of timing, today of all days, there has been a resurgence in efforts to rebuild the World Trade Center, more or less exactly as it was before the attacks. The current plan is for the leaseholder, Larry Silverstein, to construct a new complex focused on a 1,776 foot-tall "Freedom Tower," but Silverstein's funding is suddenly in doubt. He has lost a series of court decisions; he will have no more than two-thirds of the money he needs to build the new place. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has demanded that Silverstein explain how he's going to build a $7 billion project with about $4.5 billion in funding.

Now two groups, "Team Twin Towers" and the "World Trade Center Restoration Movement" think this is an answer: Reconstruction. Not on the footprints of the original towers, but providing an instant and constant reminder of both the attacks and the recovery.

Any kind of rebuilding would be welcomed in the Middle East which had a reminder today of the ongoing conflict that is both closely connected yet clearly separate from the war on terror. Israelis forces fired on a crown of Palestinian demonstrators killing at least ten, wounding dozens of children and provoking international outrage. The United Nations passing a resolution shortly of an assault on the refugee camp in the Gaza Strip urging Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes. The White House abstained from that vote, but it did issue a statement urging restraint by Israel. Israel itself expressed, quote, "deep sorrow over the loss of civilian lives," but the army there added, it did not deliberately target the rally.

And lastly in the No. 5 story, the simultaneously ludicrous and frightening sight of the prime minister of Britain being attacked by condoms filled with flour dyed purple as he stood in Parliament's famed dispatch box and fielded the thrusts and parries of the traditional prime minister's question time. The incident is fleeting, it's barely visible. A condom hits Blair on his left shoulder, the right of you screen. Parliament would be evacuated for 75 minutes in fear of a chemical or biological attack. The replay shows it a little more clearly. Watch for the blur of purple approaching the shoulder. Investigation makes the motive a little more clear, too. The condom was thrown by one of two men belonging to a group calling itself "Fathers for Justice," pushing for more access to kids for divorced dads. What remains unanswered, how did they get into the visitor's gallery of the British House of Commons?

COUNTDOWN opening up with the war on terror. Straight ahead, tonight's No. 4 story: The war on the white house, an unlikely crossroads in the election, a steel factory in Canton, Ohio, it could decide who wins on November 2?

And later, the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq: One court-martial, another held up by unexpected reluctance to testify by key witnesses, and yes tonight, more photos.


OLBERMANN: Tonight's No. 4 story is next. You'll remember, "It's the economy, stupid." Could this year's electoral mantra be, "It's Timken and steel, stupid?" And, why did John Kerry meet with Ralph Nader, today? Howard Fineman joins me next.


OLBERMANN: Well, one guy's handlers said their man was not going to ask the other man to withdraw. The other guy's handlers said their man wasn't going to offer to withdraw.

Our forth story in the COUNTDOWN: If that was true, then why did John Kerry and Ralph Nader bother to meet each other, today? And how could the uncertain fate of one factory in Canton, Ohio, affect the entirety of the presidential election. Kerry and Nader, first.

Neither is spoke directly to the media afterwards, but both issued written statements, they say wrote that their meeting lasted 70 minutes, focused on corporate responsibility, their own agendas, and their shared goal of ousting President Bush. Kerry made a pitch about why he was the best candidate to take on the president, Nader countered that he could go after Bush in ways that Kerry could not, he did not go into any detail. They then talked about Kerry's record on campaign finance, they chatted about Nader's possible participation in the presidential debates. They did not speak about Iraq and they are not scheduled to speak again.

Trivial political events, like the Kerry-Nader meeting that contained no meeting of the minds, can have unforeseen political consequences, however. Ask Archduke Ferdinand of Austria about his visit to Sarajevo in 1914. Or ask President Bush about his visit to the Timken Steel Factory in Canton, Ohio, on April 24, 2003 to rally Midwesterners about his tax cuts and promised special assistance to the manufacturers in the rust belt, the Timken Steel Factory. Which Timken Steel is now going to shut down.

In many quarters the economy is rebounding, even accelerating, but when the very place you pick as the symbol of economic recovery goes out of business, the implications are obviously and unavoidable. Howard Fineman addresses them in his new piece on "Newsweek's" Web site, today. And Howard joins us now from Washington.

Good evening, sir.


OLBERMANN: I gather you see the impact of this one plant as being far greater than just 1,300 layoffs and even the symbolism.

FINEMAN: Well, it hasn't closed yet and I can tell you that the republican governor of Ohio, Bob Taft, and the republican-oriented and Bush-supportive officials of Timken are desperate, I think, to try to cut a deal with the steelworkers there, to keep it open because of the symbolism of it, Keith. As Timken go, so goes Canton, Ohio, and as Canton goes, so goes surrounding Stark County, Ohio, and Stark County votes the way Ohio votes in every presidential election and no president - no republican president has ever won without winning the state, so that's the kind of domino effect of symbolism and jobs that has the republicans worried.

OLBERMANN: You mention, in the piece, that it's not just a question of what the impact is on this campaign, but that this particular building, and this particular company, have a kind of a republican pedigree, almost. That, I mean, what - what does it mean in terms of the republican campaign now that this should even be an issue, that it should have gotten this state?

FINEMAN: Yeah, well, it's because this is a symbol, this is a happy watering hole politically and has been, until now, for years for republicans. Ronald Reagan went there in 1984 in his re-election campaign in a really iconic moment where he stood in the middle of the factory and kind of bonded with those steelworkers, there. George H.W. Bush, when he was a candidate and president, was all over this part of the country, took a train trip that went through this area, and that's why George W. Bush went there last year. And as I said, the Tiananmen family, which has been around that part of the world for 100 years, a place that also made William McKinley president, you know, they feel close to the republican machine and also have. That gives it a special importance that they try to keep the plant open.

OLBERMANN: And we all remember the McKinley campaign, especially the second one, particularly.

FINEMAN: Well, Karl Rove does, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Sure he does.

FINEMAN: Karl Rove visited the McKinley shrine in Canton, so it's really sacred ground for republicans.

OLBERMANN: Well, we have you. Ralph Nader and John Kerry meeting today, and presumably staring daggers at each other for 70 minutes...


OLBERMANN: What the hell was that about? Did they arm-wrestle, did they try to hypnotize each other into withdrawing, what went on in that room?

FINEMAN: Well, it was a great photo op for both, at least for now, because Kerry got to say, hey, Nader supporters, I'm with your guy, and Nader, of course, was elevated by the photo op. But, the key question is whether Nader will be allowed into the debates in the fall and I can assure you Kerry made no promises. Look, Ralph Nader got less than three percent of the vote in 2000, but many analysts say Al Gore would be president today, were it not for Ralph Nader's presence in the campaign. In some polls, Nader's running at five, six, even seven percent. That's a tremendous threat to Kerry, which the republican's are pleased to point out every time they can. Kerry's trying to run as a moderate, but he also wants the anti-war votes, that's a difficult maneuver even for Kerry to pull off, and he - but he's going to have to try to do it if he's going to keep Ralph Nader from costing the democrats the White House, again.

OLBERMANN: Wild thought: Would he ever offer him the vice-presidential slot on the democratic ticket?

FINEMAN: No, that's a little to wild, I think.

OLBERMANN: All right, well we'll see. "Newsweek" senior political correspondent, Howard Fineman who is far more often right on this stuff than I am. As always, Howard, great...

FINEMAN: Save the videotape. Who knows? Yeah.

OLBERMANN: Great stuff. Great thanks.

Our No. 4 story behind us, up next, those numbers and stories that don't earn numbers, but are stories, the do get a big spot in the big show. "Oddball" is up next. Do you think you can do virtual exorcisms online?

We'll explain that.

And later, what started as a trip to rent an apartment, ending in an extraordinary mystery. A little girl left behind, she knows only her first name, where she's from, and that she misses her mom. The effort to find her father or mother or both. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: We rejoin you now and immediately pause the COUNTDOWN to travel the world above ground, underwater, and even into cyberspace, because nutritionists insist you never outgrow your body's need for weird news. Let's play "Oddball."

And we begin in the holy cyber ground that is the Church of Fools, a virtual chapel opened just this month on the Internet. It was designed as a place for webbies to gather and pray in a little online animated chat room church while listening to sermons from a little animated chat room preacher. Unfortunately for the virtual faithful, the online church had been invaded by virtual demons. People logging in under the name "Satan" have been disrupting and the services with profanity, getting out of their seats, and the old chat room stand by, trying to pick up chicks. Norton anti-virus does not offer exorcism software, so the church has been forced to upgrade its own firewall or in this case, its own fire and brimstone wall.

On slightly more unorthodox event, this German wedding ceremony held in a giant fish tank. Marco and Diana Jokiel are recreational divers and they tied the underwater knot in full scuba gear. Do you Marco take this fish... eee. Apparently he also proposed to Diana in some other fish tank, so this must have seemed like the next logical step. The two plan to honeymoon in the front window of the local Red Lobster.

And you may recall the story of the L.A. Philharmonic cellist who took 320-year-old three-and-a-half million dollar Stradivarius cello, left it out on his front porch and was surprised when somebody walked away with it. Well, it's been found. A Los Angeles nurse named Maloney Stevens found it in a trash bin, brought it home - this is video of it actually being lifted - and seeing that it was cracked in the front back upper rib, she took it to her boyfriend the cabinet maker and said, "can you fix this thing or maybe make it into a CD holder?" Seriously. On of the 60 cellos ever made by Antonio Stradivari and she wanted to store her "Poco" Before her boyfriend could get his abs in gear, she saw a TV news report about the cello and contacted authorities. The cellist, who left in on his porch, will be beaten severely everyday for the rest of his life.

"Oddball" on the record books now, we'll pick the COUNTDOWN up from the No. 3 story, your preview: The court-martial in Baghdad. One soldier sentenced to a year in prison, but in another case, commanding officers trying not to implicate themselves, apparently.

And later, that story you heard as a kid, if you got run over by a car, adults could suddenly be strong enough to lift a car off of you, it is true. It has happened outside Phoenix - stand by.

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

No. 3: Jonathan Schempp, no not the "Three Stooges" guy. This Schempp was trying to get home from Fall River, Massachusetts, to the island nation of Cape Verde off the African coast. He tried to ship himself in a crate. Unfortunately, the boat had already sailed, four days after Schempp vanished, one of his friends realized what had happened, called police. They found Schempp dehydrated, but OK, still in the crate, and still in the shipping warehouse in Fall River.

No. 2: Doe, a deer, a female deer, we think. Female or male, it ran the length of the Golden Gate Bridge from Morin County to San Francisco. No it didn't pay the toll. Why did the deer cross the bridge? Evidently because it did not like the Bart Commuter rail system.

And No. 1: Terry Hong of Malaysia, suing the owners of the Famosa Resort. He was playing on its golf course when a crocodile appeared and tried to drag him into a pond. Fortunately, he hit it over the head with a mashi (ph). Watch that water hazard on the 7th, it's a killer.


OLBERMANN: The new loose ends from Abu Ghraib prison are tonight

continuing to outrun the tied-up loose ends by a ration of about 3-1

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, a conviction and court-martial in Baghdad today, but also news of still more photos of abuse and of an attempt to keep the Red Cross out Abu Ghraib and of keeping three key witness refusing to testify at a critical hearing.

The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reveals that the Pentagon has uncovered another disc full of photos. And while it's unclear if the public will get access to those images, Senator John Warner said he would arrange a viewing for other members of Congress. He made that announcement as two of America's top-ranking generals in Iraq addressed his committee and accepted responsibility for the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners.

And while the head of Central Command, General John Abizaid, called problems in the prison systemic, senators were hard-pressed to get straight answers on just who was responsible for interrogations in the prisons.


SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: General Abizaid, if someone at the Pentagon is required to approve these rules of engagement surely you know.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: If I knew, Senator, I would tell you. I would not forward any rules of engagement to anybody. Nobody's asked me for any, and I wouldn't have forwarded it to them.

BYRD: So you're indeed saying that nobody in the Pentagon approved these rules.

ABIZAID: I don't know that I'm saying whether they reviewed them or not. I am saying that I have not personally forwarded anything to the Pentagon for their approval.


OLBERMANN: And from the very highest rungs of the chain of command to the specialist at the very bottom.

Just hours before his top commanders appeared on Capitol Hill, Specialist Jeremy Sivits took the stand at a Baghdad convention center filled with reporters. He pleaded guilty to four abuse charges. The 24-year-old broke down in tears. He told the judge that he had learned his lesson, that he wished to stay in the service. And at one point, he even issued an apology to the Iraqi people saying - quote - "I should have protected those detainees, not taken the photos."

But his remorse did not change any leniency from the judge, who sentenced him to the maximum penalty, one year in prison, a reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge.

But while Specialist Sivits' plea was expected, the proceedings for three other reservists charged in the abuse proved much less predictable. Specialist Charles Graner, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick and Sergeant Javal Davis were all arraigned today. But the three, who investigators describe as ringleaders of the abuse, decided to delay announcing whether or not they would plea guilty. They're now expected to make their pleas during a hearing next month.

And the reason for that delay may have something to do with new revelations reported this morning by "The Los Angeles Times." While Specialist Graner has become one of the most well-known faces in the scandal, his attorney has maintained that he was instructed to abuse prisoners by higher-ups. His lawyer even provided this photo to NBC News claiming that four of the military personnel seen in it were military intelligence.

And for the first time, there seems to be some confirmation to that story, court-martial documents obtained by "The L.A. Times" indicating that three key witnesses, two of them Graner's superiors, refused to testify in a preliminary hearing about Graner's conduct. One of the three is apparently that civilian contractor seen in the picture reaching towards the Iraqi prisoner, all three men taking the military equivalent of the Fifth Amendment.

And as investigators try to sort through who saw what, we're also finding out more about who was not allowed to see anything inside the prison. "The New York Times" reported that, after the Red Cross complained about abuses, Army officials tried to keep its observers out of Abu Ghraib. Army officials in Iraq apparently responded to the International Committee's protest, issues last November, by asking Red Cross observers to schedule appointments before visiting high-security cell blocks.

The picture is beginning to emerge of a controversy, its dimensions so large that it makes the original photographs look like the remnants of a college fraternity prank. Where and how high up is all this going?

Joining us now from Arlington, Virginia, an expert on military law, retired U.S. Army General John Fugh, who served a judge advocate general.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

RETIRED GEN. JOHN FUGH, U.S. ARMY: Thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN: We saw the Sivits court-martial completed today. We have see the focus on Private Lynndie England. Is military justice moving too quickly here? Is it shooting too low?

FUGH: Well, I don't think it's moving too quickly, because the first thing they want to do is get a guilty plea in exchange for the Sivits' testimony against the other accused. And I don't think it's moving too quickly.

My understanding is that the other three soldiers you mentioned will be tried by general court-martial. And that's going to have to go through Article 32 proceeding, which is a hearing, a pretrial hearing, and so I don't believe it's moving too quickly. They have to go out and do whatever they have to do from a military justice standpoint.

OLBERMANN: How about too low? We seem to be seeing people who are hands-on, no pun intended, and no one above them.

FUGH: Yes.

I think, you look at the Taguba report in which he talked about failure of leadership and failure of supervision, that would suggest there probably should be further investigation about possible upper level of next echelon people or even higher for their involvement in this tragedy.

OLBERMANN: The Graner case, the report from "The Los Angeles Times" that the three witnesses against him refused to testify, to a layman like me, that sounds awfully unusual and indeed awfully suspicious. Is it to you and what does it mean?


I mean, by invoking the Fifth Amendment, in our military as Article 31, it's not necessarily - you shouldn't infer from that guilt. I think they probably did it on the advice of counsel to take the Fifth Amendment not to speak, because if they are in the chain of command, and just looking back at the Taguba report, you know, the failure of supervision, they could be charged later on at least for dereliction of duty.

So they don't want to say anything that might incriminate themselves. That's why I think they took the constitutional privilege of Fifth Amendment.

OLBERMANN: One mores aspect to this, General Fugh, "USA Today" reporting that deep in that 6,000-page classified section of General Taguba's investigation, there's a reference to General Ricardo Sanchez authorizing the use of sleep deprivation, intimidation by guard dogs, excessive noise and the inducing of fear as interrogation techniques against one particular prisoner at Abu Ghraib.

Does that sound to you like a description of the exact moment when Pandora's box was opened here? Or can you see a scenario from a military law point of view where it might be justified?

FUGH: Well, I would say this.

The things the general had approved could very well be in violation of the Geneva Convention because these are detainees. And under the Geneva Convention IV, they are supposed to be treated in a humane manner. So the question is whether or not the things you described that were authorized were really humane treatment. And if they're not, they're in violation of the Geneva Convention.

OLBERMANN: General John Fugh, former judge advocate general in the U.S. Army, great thanks for our insight this evening, sir.

FUGH: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And we finish up the third story if not where we began then at least with whom we began, Specialist Jeremy Sivits.

His home and the home of what as until this morning was his unit share the same broad neck of the woods, an area of which Hyndman, Pennsylvania, is the symbolic, if not the exact center.

NBC's Natalie Morales is there.


NATALIE MORALES, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, as people here in Jeremy Sivits' hometown are learning of his sentencing and detailed confession, now more than ever they're coming to his defense. Last night, an emotional outpouring of support at a candlelight vigil where Sivits' family spoke out.

(voice-over): The parents of Jeremy Sivits embraced by this community on the night before their son was to face special court-martial, his father standing firmly by his side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeremy, no matter what, is still my son.



MORALES: This the home front for the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a show of solidarity and prayers, as Jeremy and six others in his unit face serious allegations. Members of the 372nd come from the quiet working-class towns in the tri-state area of West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. They left here hometown heroes.

And now their friends and neighbors, those who know them best and love them most, are straining under the world's glare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There have been e-mails to our mayor and city council calling us monsters.

MORALES: To Becky McClaron (ph), it's very personal. Her son, Daniel Mysack (ph), served with the 372nd at Abu Ghraib. He's not facing charges and is now home after being injured during a roadside bombing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard for me to sit here in peaceful Western Maryland or even anywhere in the United States and say what's justified, what's not justified.

MORALES: Many here say the seven accused in the prison abuse scandal must simply have been following orders.

JAN ALDERTON, MANAGING EDITOR, "CUMBERLAND TIMES-NEWS": You can't excuse away anything that these soldiers did. There's no way you can excuse that away. But I also think that this is a more widespread problem.

MORALES: Still, there are those who say the sons and daughters of this proud region should have known better, did know better. George Strickland (ph) served in Vietnam, his father in World War II. He knows war, but offers no excuse for the abuse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Geneva Convention. Who wrote it up? We did. And everybody signed it. You can't do that to people.

MORALES: But this community isn't turning its back on the unit, no matter how heavy the toll. Reverend Harold Muclay's (ph) church is down the road from the reserve base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're disappointed. I think they're confused about, how could this happen, why did this happen?

MORALES: With the courts-martial and investigations under way, people here say they want justice to be served and the 372nd to come home, so they and the country can now move on.

(on camera): Tonight, no comment from the Sivits family as they learned of Jeremy's sentencing, a trailer now parked in front of their home shutting out the media and the world.

In Hyndman, Pennsylvania, I'm Natalie Morales - Keith, back to you.


OLBERMANN: Natalie, great thanks.

The COUNTDOWN now three-fifths complete. Up next, the No. 2 story. The girl is 3 years old. She is unharmed. She is alone. She is in Baltimore and nobody knows who she is. And later, the other side of not knowing what a kid's name is. New mother Gwyneth Paltrow starts a epidemic.

Those stories ahead, but first, here our top COUNTDOWN's three sound bites of this day.


ALEXANDRA KERRY, DAUGHTER OF JOHN KERRY: I'm covering my breasts this time.

ALEX VANCHER, POOPER SCOOPER ROBOT ADVOCATE: We thought that lots of people have dogs And they're hurt, so they can't clean up their yard. So we thought this machine could help with it.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like the story of Lukash Dora (ph). Lukash is from the Czech Republic. Like he said, they tell me he talks a lot on the ice. He's a talkative guy. But he uses unique English to confuse the opponents.


BUSH: Kind of sounds like the strategy I use at the press conferences.




OLBERMANN: Straight ahead here on COUNTDOWN, tonight's No. 2 story, the case of the missing parents. A 3-year-old girl from Brooklyn winds up in Baltimore uninjured, but unsure of her own last name.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: It seemed like nothing more than a show of respect and trust between virtual strangers.

More than two weeks ago, a man approached a woman at a Maryland apartment building and asked if she would watch his 3-year-old daughter briefly while he went to get money with which to rent one of the units. The man never came back.

Our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, after three days, the woman called authorities. The little girl is named Courtney. She does not remember her last name, only that she's from Brooklyn and that she misses her mother. Ordinarily, we don't do those "We're asking your help" stories. This one is different.

I'm joined now by Floyd Blair, interim director of the Baltimore City Social Services.

Mr. Blair, good evening. Thanks for your time.

FLOYD R. BLAIR, BALTIMORE CITY SOCIAL SERVICES: Good evening. A pleasure to be here.

OLBERMANN: Other than what I just mentioned, what do you know about Courtney?

BLAIR: We know only that Courtney has stated to us that she's from Brooklyn, New York, that her name is Courtney, and that her father has left her, and she wants her parents.

OLBERMANN: What physical condition is she in and how is she holding up emotionally?

BLAIR: Well, good physical condition. All the children that are taken into our care are given a physical by a medical professional. So she was in great physical condition, no abrasions, no abuses on her face or any part of her body.

But for her age, I think she's doing quite well. She's taking it like a champion.

OLBERMANN: Is there any reason to believe that that man who left her was not her father?

BLAIR: We have no indication that that person who stated that he was the father is not her parent at all, none at all, sir.

OLBERMANN: You've got, as I gather, almost no sense of the events that preceded that abandonment or are there any other details that you've been able to piece together?

BLAIR: All we know was the lady stated that a gentleman who stated he'd been living in an abandoned building, I understand, had wanted to rent an apartment in one of the complexes of the building itself. He stated that he had the cash, I think some money orders or some cashier's checks, and could she watch the child until he comes back with the cash to rent the apartment?

And she thought, well, he's only going to go for a little while. Why not? And then it turned into a couple of days and then she decided to give us a call.

OLBERMANN: What happens if no relative comes forward?

BLAIR: Well, we try to preserve families.

But if no relative comes forward, basically, we'd have to go through a court process to sever parental ties. That's a last resort. We'll try desperately to find her parental parents - her natural parents.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, since we're still not implanting locator chips in kids, what can parents teach kids of this age to prevent this exact set of circumstances from befalling them?

BLAIR: Well, I guess - I'm a father of five. And so at a very early age, we taught our children to at least know their name, the name of their parents, a telephone number of our home and our home address and the state that they live in.

I think it's the basic information. As soon a child, you believe a child can understand, you start repeating it over and other. Children get it. So I think this is a prime example of what parents should be doing with their young children. This is the basic information, so, if they are lost, we can at least begin to find their parents or someone, a living relative or anyone to get them back to their home and safety.

OLBERMANN: Floyd Blair, the interim director of social services for Baltimore, Maryland, many thanks for your time and good luck with this case.

BLAIR: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much for having me.

OLBERMANN: If this story strikes a chord with you, here's who to call. If you can't write this down now, just go to our Web site, COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com. The information will be there, too. Her name is Courtney. She says she's from Brooklyn. It's the Department of Social Services in Maryland, area code 410-361-2235, 410-361-2235.

And while we all hope for the best for Courtney, it does not always

end up the way we would like. It's been exactly a year and a day since

they found Mateo (ph). He was 2 years old found wandering the dark streets

of East Bakersfield, California. Authorities never identified the boy's

family. They did receive a phone message from a woman who claimed to be

his mother who said she had abandoned him because he was being mistreated

by her husband.

It is not all grim, however. Since there have been no new leads since August, Mateo, who is now 3, is going to be adopted by another family. That should be finalized within weeks.

We take an bankrupt left turn now and move from the all too reality of No. 2 to the playgrounds of life that are the homes of the denizens of our celebrity and gossip segment, "Keeping Tabs."

And, evidently, somebody wants to put a basketball player on the Monday Night Football" telecasts, not just any basketball player, but Charles Barkley, who used to be outrageous before his sport so far to his left that he seems almost quaint now. Bloomberg News reporting Barkley was informally offered a role as an analyst on the "Monday Night Football" games by ABC, already featuring Al Michaels and John Madden, Madden and Barkley together? Al better keep their hands away from their mouths.

Anyway, Al is safe. Barkley is quoted by the newspaper "The Arizona Republic" as saying he's just a layman when it comes to football, so he's turning it down. Well, it didn't hold Dennis Miller back. Maybe it did.

We told you of the latest goofy name inflicted on a newborn by his or her celebrity parents, Apple Blythe Alison Martin, daughter of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and rocker Chris Martin. Well, now look at what you two have started. "The New York Daily" region that Peter Farrelly, who directed Paltrow in the movie "Shallow Hal," has named his daughter Apple and that Marty Diamond, booking agent for Martin's band Coldplay, has named his daughter Apple.

So, great, starting in, when, 2010, 2011, there'll be three little girls who is get nicknamed rotten.

And, of course last night saw two of the most amazing feats in recent baseball history. You may already know that 40-year-old Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitched a perfect game last night against the Atlanta Braves. That's 27 batters faced, 27 batters retired, only the 17th such game in the 134 years of pro baseball in this country. And Johnson became the oldest pitcher ever to craft one.

But besides that, yesterday also saw achievement by another aging pitcher, our own Tim Russert, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs at Chicago. We thought we'd give you the opportunity to guess which one is Tim and which is the guy who threw the perfect game. Well, of course, you can tell which is Tim and which is Randy Johnson. Randy is left-handed.

Still ahead on the COUNTDOWN, true American heroes, saving a child's life, an extraordinary No. 1 story next.


OLBERMANN: And so to the top of tonight's COUNTDOWN and a little perspective.

Our No. 2 story was about the heartbeat of those two toddlers, evidently unharmed, evidently unwanted. And during "Keeping Tabs," we told you of the 40-year-old baseball pitcher who was in some quarters described as a - quote - "hero." No. You want a story about a child and heartbreak and some heroes?

Reporting from Glendale, Arizona, here is Veronica Sanchez (ph) of our affiliate in Phoenix, KPNX. These are heroes.


VERONICA SANCHEZ (ph), KPNX REPORTER (voice-over): This is what Sky 12 saw this morning, firefighters trying desperately to pull an 8-year-old boy from underneath a car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was pancaked underneath the vehicle, right dead center.

SANCHEZ: Firefighter Shawn Alford (ph) was there. So was Chris James (ph) and Tom Lazara (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was one of the first people that looked underneath the vehicle. And it did not look good.

SANCHEZ: They were told equipment that would pull the boy out was on its way, but these guys knew they couldn't wait. The boy couldn't breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just a split-second decision.

SANCHEZ: Alfred, James, Lazara and two other firefighters picked up the car, instead of waiting for backup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They picked that vehicle up to their shoulders.

You could have walked in there and grabbed the child.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just incredible.

SANCHEZ: It was incredible, but Glendale firefighters are trained to do whatever it takes to save lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was so much adrenaline pumping.

SANCHEZ: Paramedics took over and rushed the boy to the hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a bad call that turned out to be good.

SANCHEZ: In Glendale, Veronica Sanchez.


OLBERMANN: The boy now identified as Tristan George (ph), age 8, is at St. Joseph's hospital, still in critical condition, expected to live, because five men, not matter how well trained, no matter how strong, five men managed to pick up a car weighing 1.5 tons.

Before we go, we'll recap the five COUNTDOWN stories.

No. 5, America's mayor meets America's 9/11 Commission. Rudy Giuliani testifies. Four, the Timken factory, the same Ohio factory where the president trumpeted his economic policy last year, could shut down this year. Three, Specialist Jeremy Sivits gets the maximum sentence, a year in prison, a bad conduct discharge. Two, the 3-year-old girl abandoned in Baltimore. She can tell investigators only her name is Courtney, she lives in Brooklyn. And, one, firefighters in Phoenix saving an 8-year-old boy by lifting a car off of him.

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

Good night and good luck.


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 18

Byline: Alex Witt, Natalie Morales, Andrea Mitchell, Lori Hirose, Tom Costello, Dawna Friesen, Lisa Myers, Ray Lane, Carl Quintanilla


ALEX WITT, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The roots of abuse: The first court-martial for a serviceman accused of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison now less than 24 hours away. The penalties, the procedures, and the questions: Were these soldiers just following orders?

A steal girder collapses in Colorado and an entire family killed. Now 9-1-1 tapes show the collapse of communication that could have saved this family's life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like it's structurally unsafe over the freeway.

WITT: More trouble on the freeways. Gas prices increase. The size of your wallet decreases. Why the latest surge in fuel costs could cost you more than you think this summer.

And the heat is on: Michael Moore's Bush-bashing documentary, on fire in France and on ice in America? The latest attempt to block the release of "Fahrenheit 9/11."

All that have and more now on COUNTDOWN


WITT: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to COUNTDOWN I'm Alex Witt in for Keith, tonight. It will be the first major trial in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, but it won't be the country's former dictator who takes the stand, it won't even be an Iraqi. At No. 5 tonight, the first test of justice in Iraq centers around a 24-year-old from Hyndman. Pennsylvania. It is a small town that is standing behind their hometown boy, Specialist Jeremy Sivits. In a moment we're going to take to you a vigil being held in support of the Pennsylvania native.

But a world away, there are new developments on the prisoner abuse scandal. More evidence today, that the military police may have indeed been following orders. the "New York Times" is reporting that military intelligence actually instructed guards to force Iraqi detainees to strip before questioning. Detainees were also apparently shackled while naked. That comes from classified testimony given by the officer in charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib. But, while more fingers point to the involvement of military intelligence, the U.S. spokesman in Iraq was pointing the press to towards tomorrow's court-martial.


BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY: We would hope that by making it open to the public, by making it open to the press, that the press would take advantage of this situation, not only to see American justice in action, but to record it and tell the readers about their observations.


WITT: But while the press is invited to cover the story, they may already be the story. One Iraqi journalist who worked with our sister network, NBC, and three with the British-based news agency "Reuters" have come forward accusing U.S. forces of abusing them. All four were reportedly detained last January in a military camp near Fallujah. They allege that they were forced into sexually explicit positions, hooded for several hours, and repeatedly kicked. The journalist's also report being taunted by soldiers and then photographed, making demeaning gestures.

A U.S. military report issued in January found no specific incidents of abuse. NBC has yet to receive the full results of that investigation despite repeated requests.

And as we hear from more victims of the abuse, we're also hearing from those on the other side of the scandal, a prayer vigil for the seven reservists implicated in the prison abuse scandal has just wrapped up in Cumberland, Maryland, it is a city that is home to many families whose loved ones have served as guards at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

But tonight, no one occupies the spotlight of this scandal more than Specialist Jeremy Sivits. In his hometown, local residents are right now holding a vigil to show their support for their native son. Natalie Morales is on the scene in Hyndman, Pennsylvania.

Natalie, good evening to you. What's the mood like in Hyndman?

NATALIE MORALES, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi Alex, well as you can probably hear behind me, very animated and certainly a very strong show of support here, for Private Jeremy Sivits on the eve of his court-martial. His mother, in fact, is here today along with the neighbors and family who are standing here in a show of solidarity. As one community member here, said today, that this is a community that they feel, even though it's only a town of about 1,000, they are speaking for many communities here, that they stand by their troops, through the prisoner abuse in Iraq, they stand by the actions while they may not support those that - well, they may not support the seven who are accused now of the prison abuse, they stand by Jeremy Sivits and believe that, in fact, that they perhaps were ordered to do it and, in fact, we spoke to a minister earlier this week who talked about how the community now is suffering and they're now facing up to what has happened in Iraq.


DAVID KLINK, PASTOR IN SIVITS' HOMETOWN: To be in the national spotlight in - for such a thing is a little embarrassing and a little hurtful and so we would rather be remembered for something else.


MORALES: And that was the local pastor who spoke to us earlier in the week to talk about how the community is now having to deal with the hurt. They don't want to be remembered for this, but they feel like the world spotlight is now shining on them, the glare and the scrutiny is now clear and they are standing by their troops and they say now they need to be embracing their time of greatest need - I mean, need to embrace the families of those who are now suffering through this - Alex.

WITT: Natalie, a lot going on there behind you, so in light of that, thank you so much for that live report, we do appreciate it.

MERLES: It's hard to hear, sorry.

WITT: Natalie Morales in Hyndman, Pennsylvania.

Specialist Sivits will be a long way from home tomorrow when he faces the special court-martial in Baghdad with a preview of just what he's up against, here's NBC's Campbell Brown.


CAMPBELL BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trial and punishment for these seven soldiers, three will be arraigned tomorrow entering pleas while one, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, has made a deal with prosecutors foregoing a trial and pleading guilty to taking pictures of the abuse and doing nothing to stop it. He faces a maximum of one year in prison in exchange for his plea he's expected to testify against other soldiers charged.

(on camera): This is the room where Specialist Jeremy Sivits will face a special court-martial, tomorrow. No cameras will be allowed, only a courtroom sketch artist. The room, however, will be filled with media from all over the world.

KIMMITT: Our aspiration is not to turn this into a show trial, our aspiration is to mete out justice to Mr. Sivits.

BROWN (voice-over): But, even Sivits claims he was following orders and the other soldiers say they were doing what intelligence officers told them to.

MICHAEL NOONE, LAW PROFESSOR, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: Some of the soldiers will have a legitimate defense because they thought that they were doing what was all right.

BROWN: Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has denied giving any specific order to toughen up the questioning.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't recall that a - that policy came to me for approval.

BROWN: In Jeremy Sivits' hometown in Pennsylvania, people are standing behind the former high school wrestler. They believe he's doing the right thing, admitting his mistake in the special court-martial tomorrow.

Campbell Brown, NBC News, Baghdad.


WITT: And for more now on what to expect from tomorrow's proceedings, we're joined by military law expert Michael Noone.

Good evening to you, Michael.

NOONE: Good evening.

WITT: Specialist Sivits is expected to plead guilty tomorrow. So what does he gain by doing that?

NOONE: Well, he gains the - limits down the punishment that he could face. Otherwise the offenses with which he's charged could expose him to a dozen to 15 years confinement of hard labor. By pleading guilty and by agreeing to be tried before a special court-martial, the most he can face is a year in jail.

WITT: So, when this investigation was beginning, and it was back in January, Specialist Sivits told military investigators, quote, "I was laughing at some of the stuff they had them do. I was disgusted at some of the stuff, as well. As I think about it now, I do not think any of it was funny."

What do you read into that statement? What does it tell but his level of complicity in all of this?

NOONE: I read it as a rather low level of complicity. He was an observer, a neutral participant, if you will, not an active participant. And just the sort of person that prosecutors would want to reach early in the investigation in the hope that by achieving a guilty plea from them he would then incriminate people who more actively participated in the abuse of the prisoners.

WITT: And should he be found guilty on these charges, you say that under this special court-martial situation he would only be facing a year in prison. Sir, would that be in the United States that he would be imprisoned or does it have to be in the country where the abuses were alleged to have happened?

NOONE: It would not be in the country in which the abuses took place. There is an Army regional confinement facility in Manheim, Germany. There are also Army regional confinement facilities in the United States, particularly at Fort Knox, Kentucky. There's a major military prison at Fort Levin worth in Kansas, but only those prisoners who are sentenced to more than five years and a day would go there. We don't know where Sivits would go if he's to be confined, but typically nowadays that's part of the guilty plea arrangement. He'll have negotiated with the government as to where he will serve his time.

WITT: Mr. Noone, three other reservists are going to be arraigned tomorrow, they are all facing much more serious charges. So, what kind of defense do you expect from them?

NOONE: Until about a week ago I would have expected no defense at all. It seemed that their conduct was outrageous, incomprehensible, and far outside the bounds that one would expect of American soldiers. Now as information comes forward that perhaps special treatment had been directed towards some of the prisoners and that these military policemen may very well have thought that the kind of treatment that they were according the prisoners was what could be expected. I'm beginning to wonder whether or not I'm going to see guilty pleas or some sort of defense on the grounds of what they did was they thought consistent with the orders that they had received from higher authority not just from some sergeant, but probably from a colonel at least.

WITT: All right. We'll certainly be watching. Military law expert Michael Noone, many thank you for your expertise tonight, sir.

NOONE: Thank you.

WITT: And as the U.S. military begins to tackle the scandal, there may be an even larger problem looming over the Iraqi horizon, the crisis of leadership. A day after a suicide bomber killed a member of the Iraqi governing council the Bush administration has backed away from a man once pegged as Iraq's once future leader. For more on that, we go to NBC's Andrea Mitchell.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The State Department has said that Chalabi fabricated intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Under pressure the Pentagon finally cut off payments to him and his supporters. They had received at least $27 million from the U.S. over the four years, most recently $340,000 a month.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: We felt it was no longer appropriate for us to continue funding in that fashion.

MITCHELL: Chalabi's firing comes as surging violence threatens the transition, even though U.S. officials say it will take place as scheduled.

In Baghdad today, mourners buried a governing council leader assassinated in a car bombing, yesterday. So, who will run Iraq? The big question today at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

SEN. JOE BIDEN, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: There's going to be no single national figure. There's going to be no George Washington, There's no Madison.

MITCHELL: The U.S. is now relying on the U.N. to pick interim Iraqi leaders and plan an election by early next year. A related issue, how many U.S. troops will have to stay and for how long? The administration still doesn't know.

SEN. RUSS FIENGOLD, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: There are reports that Iraq - our troop strength in Iraq will remain at about 135,000 troops until the end of 2005. Is that report inaccurate?

WOLFOWITZ: It could be. It could be more or it could be less, Senator.

MITCHELL: A big part of the problem, training Iraqis to take over.

BIDEN: There is no seriously trained Iraqi force, now. I mean, this malarkey you came up with, that you got 200,000 trained Iraqis...

MITCHELL: And finally Abu Ghraib. One senator recommended bulldozing it.

(on camera): So with fewer than six weeks until Iraqis are supposed to take over, there are no decisions about who will be in charge, how Iraq will be secured, what will happen to Iraqi prisoners, and what America's role will be.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, at the State Department.


WITT: The COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the headlines from Iraq from the abuse scandal to the looming handover. Up next, tonight's No. 4 story:

A tragedy on the highways of Colorado. A family is crushed by a fallen girder, a girder officials were warned about a full hour before that accident.

And later, the 9/11 Commission takes their investigation to New York City. The tough questions and answers about what happened inside the World Trade Center on that fateful morning.


WITT: The COUNTDOWN's No. 4 story is up next, your preview: A call to 9-1-1 gets misunderstood and entire family ends up losing their lives. The highway horror in Colorado, coming up.


WITT: It proved to be a prophetic warning, quote, "It may not be a big deal," said the unidentified caller, "but I've done bridge construction in the past and it doesn't look right." Our No. 4 story tonight, a tragic, yet preventable accident, killed a family of three in Denver this weekend. More than an hour earlier a 9-1-1 dispatcher misunderstood that warning and set into motion a fatal sequence of events that went unchecked. Lori Hirose of NBC affiliate KUSA, reports.


LORI HIROSE, KUSA CORRESPONDENT: A horrifying scene from Saturday morning: A 40-ton, 100-foot-long steel girder dropped from an overpass just as the Post family's SUV drove under, killing William Post, his pregnant wife, Anita, and their 2-year-old daughter, Koby. Now comes word of a detailed warning more than an hour before the accident in a call to 9-1-1.

CALLER: It looks like the hung a new I-beam girder in the last couple of days. Well, it's rolled and it looks like it's structurally unsafe over the freeway.

DISPATCHER: So, is the sign actually hanging down?

CALLER: Well, it's rolled towed the existing bridge, a good two or three feet.

The dispatcher calls the Colorado Department of Transportation to take a look. The road crew fixes a damaged sign and does not notice the structural problems. An hour later the girder collapsed.


WITT: And that was KUSA's Lori Hirose reporting right there. One more sad twist to this story, William and Anita Post move their family to Colorado from New York City after the terrorist attacks of September 11. Friends say they wanted to raise their family in a safer place.

Joining us now with further details on this tragedy is Stacey Stegman of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Good evening to you, Stacey. Nice to have you with us.


WITT: The man who alerted emergency personnel clearly said that he was concerned about an I-beam girder that appeared to be structurally unsafe over that freeway. Why were a repair crews looking for a downed sign rather than damage to the overpass?

STEGMAN: Well, believe me, we wish we had known. Unfortunately, when the dispatcher from the Colorado State Patrol called us, she reported to our crews that they needed to find a sign, so they went out and were searching all over the area for a sign that looked to be potentially dangerous and they did find one.

WITT: They did find that sign. Where was it in proximity, though, to the downed girder?

STEGMAN: Coincidentally it was above the bridge so the girder is hanging from the bridge down to interstate 70. The sign was up above on c-470 exactly where the dispatcher told them to go, and so as you can imagine our crews are devastated just, as well.

WITT: I can imagine. What would have happened differently if they had been told that it was a girder rather than a sign, that that was a problem? What would they have done?

STEGMAN: You know, that's a good question. You know, we can only say "what if," but we would hope if any of our crews had any inkling that the highway was unsafe, we would have been able to close the highway.

WITT: Stacey, at this point in your investigation, why did the girder collapse?

STEGMAN: Well, that's the question that we're all wanting answers to. In fact, I just met with the project team today. All of us want to answer that same question because everyone here is just so horrified and sickened. We want to make sure nothing like this ever happens on one of our projects again.

WITT: And who is handling this investigation right now and what, in fact, are the next steps?

STEGMAN: The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation with partners from law enforcement agencies, the federal highway administration - everyone is fully cooperating and putting all of their resources into finding the answers to these questions and making sure we know exactly what happened. And so it's going to take a long time because it is a very slow process. We want them to be professional and thorough and give us the good answers so that we can good decisions on future projects.

WITT: And Stacey, what can you tell me about this photo we're about to see? It was taken by another motorist of that very same overpass on Thursday, just two days after it was installed.

STEGMAN: That photo actually was e-mailed to me by local media on Sunday night and so I just, again, forwarded that to all of the structural engineers on the teams. They're going to be reviewing that as part of everything else in this investigation and, again, hopefully we can get some answers soon.

WITT: We hope so. Thank you very much for being with us tonight on COUNTDOWN Stacey Stegman of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

COUNTDOWN, now past our No. 4 story. Still ahead, a dangerous trek to the top of Mt. Rainer triggers a daring rescue effort, that story coming up.

But, next those stories that know no COUNTDOWN number, but we just have to tell you anyway. "Oddball's" right around the corner. Some bees with a dream. Gee, do you think we could get the colony a double wide and a satellite dish?


WITT: We're back and we take time out from the COUNTDOWN now to travel from the news of the world to the news of the weird. Let's play "Oddball."

And what would you do if you found $92,000 in a cheap filing cabinet you bought at a tag sale? Well, you'd keep it, of course, and spend it wildly on extravagant trips and expensive gifts for yourself and that's why school cafeteria worker, Patsy Sherin (ph) of Pleasant View, Tennessee is such a better person than you are. Sherin bought the cabinet at an estate sale over the weekend for $15 and when she got home found that it was stuffed with cash, $92,000 in dozens of envelopes. Without giving even a thought to keeping the money she returned it to the unsuspecting widow who was having the estate sale in an attempt to keep her house.

A touching story indeed, especially considering the housing market out there. Here is a nice property; it's located in Hillsboro County, Florida. It's an abandoned motor home. But, it might be nice after they clean it up a bit and remove the gigantic minivan sized bee's nest and the 200,000 yellow jackets living inside. Authorities aren't sure how long the bees have called this trailer home, but the huge nest filled the inside of the vehicle and was starting to go bulge out through the windows. Exterminators sprayed the nest with chemicals and cut it to pieces to be taken away. The mobile home should be ready for tenants by the first of the month. But who's moving in, is my question?

And if you thought that was strange, we end "Oddball," tonight with the very weird story of Robert Chamberlain. Listen to this, Mr. Chamberlain is 44 years old, hails from Virginia and can only be described as a serial slimer. He was arrested this month in upstate New York after brief stays at a Super 8 hotel and a Motel 6. Now, each time after Chamberlain checked out cleaning crews discovered every single thing in his room covered in Vaseline. We're talking the mattress, the pillows, the sheets, the television, the artwork, the furniture, everything slathered in Vaseline. When police finally caught up to Chamberlain he was staying at a nearby Econolodge and when he answered the door, police say, he was completely covered from head to tow in, you've got it, Vaseline.

COUNTDOWN is picking back up with our No. 3 story, your preview: The horror of September 11 as seen through the eyes of the commission investigating what wept wrong that day. Alarming information that TV viewers thousands of miles away knew more about what was going on at ground zero than people directly on the scene.

And later, will America's gas pains mean political gains? The presidential campaign trading barbs over what's wrong with the high gas prices?

But first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day:

No. 3: A German mugger who brings the term "dumb criminal" to a whole new level. After robbing a man at Sullington (ph) Train Station, the mugger, thinking he was handing the victim back his empty wallet before running off, actually handed him his own wallet complete with his name and address. Yikes.

No. 2: Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, who had to sit out his team's game last night against the Padres with a back injury. The cause of the injury was attributed to a, quote, "violent sneeze."

And No. 1: We told you gas prices were out of control. A would-be gas thief is still on the loose in Scotland. Apparently, under cover of night, the thief used a plastic hose to siphon the diesel fuel from the tank of an R.V. owned by John and May O'Hare. Only problem is he stuck the hose in the wrong place and found himself sucking out the contents of their R.V.'s septic tank instead. OK, eeewww!


WITT: I'm Alex Witt, sitting in for Keith tonight.

A mile from the footsteps where the World Trade Center once stood, there was a roomful of tears today. The No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN, the 9/11 Commission tracking the timeline of the tragedy in New York; 979 days after the towers came crashing down, the minute-by-minute account of that tragedy was still painfully vivid, all the more so because it recounted what went wrong in all the chaos.

NBC's Lisa Myers has our report.


LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 8:46 a.m., the first plane hits the north tower. Within minutes, a fire safety official orders immediate evacuation. But the public address system is damaged, so no one hears it.

Amid the chaos, frantic callers to 911 get standard instructions for high-rise fires, stay put and wait for rescuers. Some workers on upper floors head for the roof, having never been told the doors there are locked. Meanwhile, workers in building two, the undamaged south tower, recall hearing an announcement.

BRIAN CLARK, WORLD TRADE CENTER SURVIVOR: Your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen. Building two is secure. There is no need to evacuate building two.

MYERS: Around 9:00 a.m., those instructions change. Officials order the south tower evacuated. But for some, it's too late. 9:03, the second plane hits the south tower.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The initial impact...

MYERS: As the anguished families of victims relived that horrifying day, 9/11 Commission members suggested that despite the heroics of rescuers, mass confusion added to the loss of life, that no one was sufficiently prepared or clearly in charge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go, this way.

JOHN LEHMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: The command-and-control and communications of this city's public service is a scandal.

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FORMER FDNY COMMISSIONER: You make it sound like everything was wrong about September 11 or the way we functioned. I think it's outrageous that you make a statement like that.

MYERS: Commission members also found, evacuees were confused that day by the configuration of the stairways and had never taken part in evacuation drills. With 911 emergency operators still telling frantic callers to stay put, at 9:59, the south tower collapses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a number of floors on fire.

MYERS: As debris crashes into the north tower, commanders there still don't know the other building has collapsed. Communications are so bad that day, they say TV viewers had better information. Still, commanders ordered police and firefighters to evacuate immediately, but many never hear the order.

10:26, the north tower collapses. Commissioners also questioned why there were no plans at all for rescuing people on floors above the fire. In 1993, after the Trade Center was bombed, a helicopter rescued people off the roof. But on 9/11, that was not even a possibility, in part because heat from the fires caused high winds and poor conditions.

ALAN REISS, FORMER WORLD TRADE DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR: I'm concerned that if you try and get people up to the roof of the building that we may have a scene like when the embassy was evacuated in Vietnam.

LEHMAN: By the way, many people got out that way.

REISS: That's true.

MYERS: Also today, a familiar refrain from the panel.

BOB KERREY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: We had ample reason to believe that New York City, as the financial and media capital of the world, was going to be the target and we didn't give it the primary attention.

MYERS (on camera): The commission pointed out that New York City remains at the top of the terrorist target list and that even today critical problems still have not been fixed.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, New York.


WITT: The commission members are not alone in demanding answers. Filmmaker Michael Moore's latest documentary is the most talked about entry at the Cannes Film Festival this year, but there's still a question on when, if ever, it will be released in the U.S.

Whether you think he's a righteous watchdog exposing wrongdoers or a radical propagandist willing to skew facts to make his point, you have to admit, he knows how to create a buzz.

NBC's Dawna Friesen brings us that story.


DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Moore was greeted at Cannes in the style usually reserved for Hollywood stars, not maverick moviemakers.


FRIESEN: In his latest provocative work, "Fahrenheit 911," Moore slams President Bush and his administration.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER/AUTHOR: The lack of character begins with him and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and the fish rots from the head down.

FRIESEN: Using lots of archive material, Moore accuses Bush of being asleep at the wheel in the months leading up to September 11.

MOORE: In his first eight months in office before September 11, George W. Bush was on vacation, according to "The Washington Post," 42 percent of the time.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hit every shot good, people would say I wasn't working.

FRIESEN: But it's Bush's handling of the war in Iraq that Moore takes special aim at, using footage his own crews secretly shot.

MOORE: We had footage because I've been able to sneak crews into Iraq. We were able to get crews embedded with the U.S. military without them knowing it was Michael Moore.

The first screenings of the film at Cannes were packed. Reaction ranged from outrage to admiration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was crying through this film. I'm deeply moved, deeply moved.


JOHN POWERS, FILM CRITIC, "L.A. WEEKLY": It's actually a better film than I thought it was going to be. It's overlong, but it is a good political polemic.

FRIESEN (on camera): Whether Americans will actually see it remains up in the air. Disney has blocked its release in the U.S. But two Hollywood producers have bought it back from Disney and are working on getting it in theaters by the July 4 weekend.

MOORE: Thank you very much.

FRIESEN (voice-over): Not everyone in the U.S. would give it a standing ovation, but, if the reaction at Cannes is any indication, it's sure to make a big impact.

Dawna FRIESEN, NBC News, London.


WITT: Another moviemaker made headlines at the French film fest.

Alexandra Kerry, daughter of presidential wanna-be John, has entered "The Last Full Measure," a depiction of the ravage wreaked upon a U.S. family by the Vietnam War, in the short film corner. But it's not her movie that is causing tongues to wag. According to the tabloids, when Alexandra walked the red carpet, the 30-year-old revealed a bit more than she bargained for. Her sexy little off-the-shoulder black number turned transparent under photographers' flashes, giving all new meaning to the Cannes Film Festival.

The COUNTDOWN now past the three-fifths mark. Up next, tonight's No. 2 story, the dangerous mission to the top of Mount Rainier, a climber gravely injured in a fall, rescuers racing against the clock to save the man in time.

And later, remembering an entertainment legend. Tony Randall, star of TV, stage, and the silver screen, passes away. A look back at the finicky half of "The Odd Couple."

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


ALBERT STRAUS, COW DUNG ENTHUSIAST: Once I heard that there was energy to be gained from the waste product manure, that it interested me and excited me to be able to do this. Yes, we're taking cow manure. We're digesting it and producing energy from it.

BONO, U2: Doctor of Laws, wow. I know it's an honor and it really is an honor. But are you sure?


BONO: Doctor of law? All I can think of is the laws I've broken.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My fellow delegates, please welcome the president of the United States.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Finally, AIPAC elected a president I could kiss.




Three down, two to go in our trek to today's No. 1 story. Danger on Mount Rainier, the fight over gas prices or the death of Tony Randall, which of those stories will top the COUNTDOWN?

Stand by.


WITT: Every year, 11,000 people try to climb its slopes and every year some don't make it back down.

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Mount Rainier has claimed another victim. For 72 hours, Peter Cooley lay injured stranded 12,000 feet up that mountain. Despite the constant care of his climbing buddy and an amazing helicopter rescue, he didn't survive the trip down to the hospital.

Ray Lane from our Seattle affiliate KING-TV reports.


RAY LANE, KING REPORTER (voice-over): There was so much optimism and relief as Peter Cooley dangled from that Chinook helicopter, strapped to an orange lift.

With an unexpected break in the clouds, a crew from the Oregon National Guard pulled off a daring rescue in treacherous conditions late yesterday afternoon. The 39-year-old veteran climber, former mountain rescue volunteer in Alaska, suffered severe head injuries on Saturday when he fell 30 feet and hit his head on a rock, his helmet not offering enough protection.

For the next 2 ½ days, his climbing partner, Scott Richards, cared for his friend as best he could, keeping him warm, nursing the injury, dripping melted snow in his mouth. But as that helicopter raced toward Madigan Army Medical Center, just 15 minutes away, Cooley could not hold on any longer.

LEE TAYLOR, PARK RANGER: It appears that the trauma of his injury and the stress, just the physical stress of being at high altitude for so many days and all of the physical demands that had been made upon him were too much.

LANE: Cooley's parents, who flew in from the East Coast, thankful to hear their son had been rescued, only to learn the devastating news on the drive to the hospital that he had died on board that helicopter.

In the family's hometown in Maine, a shocked community, many knowing Peter Cooley was doing what he loved to do.

VIRGINIA HANSON, FAMILY FRIEND: This was not something that was taken lightly. This was something that these two men had been planning for a long time. They attempted this route three years ago and were hampered by weather and were frustrated that they had to take what they considered an easier route.

LANE: This time around, on what's considered the most difficult route up and down Rainier, tragedy instead of triumph for two friends searching for the climbing adventure of a lifetime.


WITT: Ray Lane from our Seattle affiliate KING-TV reporting there.

Scott Richards didn't learn of his friend's death until he, himself, was being rescued off Mount Rainier today. Tonight, he is reuniting with his family and friends at a park ranger station nearby.

Moving now to news in the world of entertainment and the nightly segment we call "Keeping Tabs."

And we begin with the death of actor Tony Randall. Known best to Americans from his role on the sitcom version of "The Odd Couple," he died in his sleep last night of complications from a long illness.

NBC's Tom Costello has more on the life and career of Tony Randall.


TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Millions of Americans knew him not as Tony Randall but as Felix Unger, the lovable, slightly prissy roommate of New York slob Oscar Madison in the 1970s TV series "The Odd Couple." It was a role that earned Randall an Emmy.

But Tony Randall was well known in Hollywood and on Broadway long before "The Odd Couple." He appeared in several Rock Hudson-Doris Day hit "Pillow Talk." Most recently, he played Scrooge in a stage production of "A Christmas Carol" in New York City. Tony Randall underwent heart surgery last year that left him struggling with pneumonia. He leaves behind two small children and his wife, Heather, who made him a father for the first time at the age of 77. Tony Randall was 84 years old.

Tom Costello, NBC News, New York.


WITT: And he will be missed.

If there was ever anyone that could be described as a female version of Felix Unger, it would be Martha Stewart. Now her television show is going off the air. The producers of the award-winning "Martha Stewart Living" have announced that show will go on hiatus at the conclusion of this, the show's 11th season. With the star facing a possible prison sentence, this was an inevitability, though Stewart promises fans she'll resume production as soon as possible.

How long will the show be on hiatus? Oh, about three to five with good behavior.

Finally, it's been a big week for celebrity mommies. Yesterday, we announced the birth of Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter, Apple. Today, it's Geena Davis and twin boys. Neither one of them is named banana. Actually, it's Kian and Kaiis, the second and third child for Ms. Davis and her husband, surgeon Reza Jarrahy. Her publicist says mommy and two sons are doing beautifully. Mommy, by the way, is 48 years old. You go, girl.

Tonight's No. 1 story is straight ahead. Your preview, soaring gas prices, how the fight to get prices in check could have a major impact in the battle for the White House.

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


WITT: Reaching the top of the COUNTDOWN and the prices at the pump sending people over the edge. This week, the cost of gas soared to over two bucks a gallon on average across America. And now we are being given a chance to revolt.

An e-mail declaring that May 19 has been formally declared "Stick It Up Their Behinds Day" and the people of this nation should not buy a single drop of gasoline that day is busy circulating on the Internet. Vive la revolution. Gas prices will plummet. OPEC will be brought to their knees. Actually, no.

This kind of thing has happened before in 1999 and 2000. And both years, hardly anyone paid attention to the boycott. And even if drivers don't fill up tomorrow, they'll still have to fill up at some point. So it really makes no difference at all to the companies.

But it might make a difference to the presidential race.

As Carl Quintanilla reports, Democrats are using the high prices to take a hefty swipe at the White House.


CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Democrats, a coordinated attack on high gas prices and the president's response.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Highest prices that we've had in this country on average ever. And where's the president?

QUINTANILLA: John Kerry campaigning in Portland, Oregon today, where prices almost matched the Democrats show-and-tell gas cans in Washington.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: It is now time to can Bush.

QUINTANILLA: Two weeks before Memorial Day weekend, Democrats now sense a political opening, voter frustration over fuel costs, and echoing loudly in key Western battleground states, prices there all above the national average. The Democrats' plan? Pressure OPEC to increase supply, simplify rules on fuel additives, which vary state to state, and take 30 million gallons from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a key argument today on Capitol Hill.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: We're at 96 percent of capacity in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve today. If we can't draw it down at 96 percent, when can we?

But Republicans bristle at that suggestion, saying the small drop in prices wouldn't be worth the risk.

SPENCER ABRAHAM, ENERGY SECRETARY: We should maintain as much oil as we can in our Strategic Reserve to protect us in the event of a national security crisis.

QUINTANILLA: And while Kerry has been flirting with the gas price issue since March, the Bush campaign today railed on his one-time support for a 50-cent gas tax and his opposition to the president's energy bill, which would boost domestic capacity.

TERRY HOLT, BUSH CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: For John Kerry to attack anybody on higher gas prices is for him to ignore his own vote history on this issue.

QUINTANILLA (on camera): Democrats privately admit gas prices don't win elections, but they can be used to make broad assertions about the fragile economy, even if the job market is improving.

KERRY: And you feel it everywhere, you know, in the products you buy, the trucks that drive them there. They're paying more in prices. It just squeezes everybody downwards, folks.

QUINTANILLA:(voice-over): Tonight, 10 Democratic governors called for an investigation of the nation's gas pricing structure. And Kerry's aides say he'll ride the issue through at least the Memorial Day weekend.

Carl Quintanilla, NBC News, Portland, Oregon.


WITT: Now, according to some economists, for every extra penny paid at the pump, the country loses about $1 billion in consumer spending. Wal-Mart backs that concept up, claiming that the high price of gas is taking an average of seven bucks a week out of the American pocket and out of their stores.

So what exactly are you looking at losing every time you fill up the family cruiser?

Patricia Powell, financial expert and owner of the financial planning and asset management firm Powell Financial Group, joins us tonight with some answers.

Thank you so much for joining us.


WITT: So where will those extra gas pennies come from, missed lunches or places more serious than that?

POWELL: It depends where you are in the economic food chain.

The guy on the bottom, the guy working at McDonald's, he's in trouble. If he's got to spend another $20 a week to fill up his tank to get to and from work, he's got $1,000 to come up with. And he's really in trouble. As you move up the food chain, the economic food chain, what you'll find is the middle class may be getting some benefits on the tax cuts. The tax cuts are going to be spent at the gas pump. So you're not going to feel the economy the way everybody thought they might.

WITT: And, Patricia, let's look long term here. Will your average driver still be spending less at other stores because gas is so expensive?

POWELL: Well, long term, you have really, major, major issues. Long term, this is a fundamental shift. The reason that gas is rising is due to two factors called supply and demand. We have short-term disruptions in the supply, but we have a real increase in the demand for oil and oil products, and that's a long-term shift.

Right now, we, in the United States, have about a consumption of 20 barrels - 20 million barrels a day. China consumes about six million barrels a day. Their growth rate is about 20 percent per year. So this is a fundamental shift. We're going to have to get used to higher prices, because both supply and demand are a problem here.

WITT: And let's look at the big and little picture of this, because it kind of sounds like a pyramid, domino effect. The high gas prices mean the truckers are paying more, and that means, what, the grocery store is paying more, which means we're all paying more, right?

POWELL: You bet. It is systemic.

Every good and service produced in the United States has an element of energy in it, down to the carton of milk that you buy. A trucker is going to bring that to market. You're going to have to package that. Maybe you're going to package that in plastic, a petroleum product. You're going to see it everywhere, from the simplest item, which you may only see a couple of pennies difference in the price of a carton of milk, to expensive things like cars.

Do you realize how much energy it takes to make the steel that goes into a car? You might be seeing thousands of dollars in a price change for the car that you buy. We're talking about inflation. And most adults who are under 40 have never experienced real inflation. We're going to be seeing inflation very differently than what we've seen for the last 20 years. This is a huge problem.

WITT: And you're talking things about energy as well. Does this mean like washing machines, air conditioners, everything like that?

POWELL: Not only the expense of the washing machine, but also running the washing machine. You heat the water, the air conditioning, buying the unit, but also running the unit is going to get more expensive. A lot of our electric utilities depends on oil to provide us with energy. So you're not only going to see that at the gas pump.

You're going to see it in the utility bill. You're even going to see it when you go and buy a pair of sneakers. Those sneakers are going to be transported into this country from Japan - I'm sorry, from China. Excuse me.

WITT: Well, Patricia, all I have to say to that is, ouch.


WITT: Patricia Powell, owner of the financial planning and asset management firm Powell Financial Group, thank you so much for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

POWELL: My pleasure, thank you.

WITT: And the No. 1 place to find cheap gas prices, COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com. We have a link to a Web site that helps you find the cheapest price at gas stations in your neighborhood. Happy driving.

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

No. 5, torture trials. The first court-martial in connection with the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon in Baghdad. Specialist Jeremy Sivits will plead guilty as part of a deal to testify against his fellow soldiers. Three others will also be arraigned tomorrow.

No. 4, preventable tragedy. A motorist calls in an unstable-looking girder on a Colorado freeway. The dispatch reports it as a broken sign. The maintenance crews fix a sign in the area, but don't notice the girder. The girder breaks off the bridge, killing all the family of three. Now the federal government is investigating. No. 3, screen shocker, filmmaker Michael Moore's film documentary about the ties between the president's family and the Saudi kingdom getting a popular welcome at the Cannes Film Festival. But the politically charged film still doesn't have an official distributor here in the U.S.

No. 2, rescue on Mount Rainier. A climber survives a 30-foot fall and 72 hours stuck 12,000 feet up a mountain with the help of his close mountaineering friend, but he died in the rescue helicopter on the way to the hospital. And No. 1, more than a pain in the pump, how the soaring gas prices could have a knock-on effect on the economy and on your everyday bills.

And that's COUNTDOWN. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann. Have a good night, everyone.

I'm going to give this shot a try once again. Oh, bingo!