Tuesday, June 22, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 22

Guests: Steve Emerson John Harwood, Mack McLarty, Christine Webber


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

Another civilian beheaded: After a brief ray of hope and negotiations extended, Kim Sun-il murdered in Iraq. Now, negotiators report of up to 10 more foreigners held hostage by these terrorists.

Rhetoric versus reality: Why John Ashcroft's current stance on terror doesn't match what he said before 9/11 - an exclusive report from Lisa Myers.

Breaking the glass wall, as in Wal-Mart: A federal judge's decision to let up to 1.6 million women bring the largest class action suit in history against the retail for sexual discrimination.

Out of the womb and into the gym:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we chant OM? Ready? Oooom.

WITT: Babies crawling the path to health and harmony real early with baby yoga.

And one anchorman's path to the title of "Playgirl's" sexiest and most intelligence newscaster. Guess who's nominated?

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: Good evening, everyone. I'm Alex Witt in for Keith, tonight.

The ending has unfortunately become predictable. We all wait and watch, hoping for a different conclusion, but for the second time in less than a week, the ending has been the same.

At No. 5 tonight, the terrorist's new calling card, Al-Jazeera first reported the news that an Iraqi militant group had followed through on their threat to kill 33-year-old Kim Sun-il. There had been last-minute hope after his kidnappers extended a 24-hour deadline put on his life. But that hope was lost this afternoon when the South Korean embassy confirmed that Mr. Kim's body and severed head had been found west of Baghdad. And in one final act of indignity, U.S. military officials said that the body was rigged with explosives. Fortunately they did not detonate when the body was found.

Though news of his death had an air of sickly inevitability. The announcement left Mr. Kim's family in deep anguish; his sister and parents seen breaking down after hearing that efforts to save their loved one had failed. But as another family comes to term with the death of their son, there seems to be little standing in the way of this story repeating itself again.

So, is there any way to stop these kidnappings, or will news of beheadings become the new normal in this war? Joining us now to talk about this gruesome new tactic is terrorism expert and MSNBC analyst, Steve Emerson.

Good evening, Steve, nice to see you as always.


WITT: There was some last-minute hope, Steve, that Kim would be released. And there were all kinds of people involved in these negotiations - Mr. Kim's company, the Jordanian foreign minister. What do you think happened here?

EMERSON: Good question. We still don't know exactly what the kidnappers and executers actually said, but they obviously enticed the company executives to be in negotiations. First they issued demands that South Korea quit Iraq, but then they said that there were other demands, we don't know what they were.

But clearly when the head of the company was able to leave, he reported back there were 10 other people being held captive there, and obviously their fate could be the exact same as the fate that met this individual today. It's horrific. We really don't know the full story, why there were negotiations, because obviously a company official cannot negotiate on behalf of a country.

WITT: Steve, this video released of Kim bore a striking resemblance of the video of Nicholas Berg: they were both in orange jumpsuits; they were kneeling in front of this row of mass gunmen. Is this now the standard picture, the terrorist's calling card, if you will?

EMERSON: Unfortunately, it seems like the terrorists are going to start replicating this. They are snatching victims off the street with impunity. The fact that they chose somebody from South Korea, as opposed to American, shows that Americans are probably being much more careful. So, a little desperation there, but clearly they can snatch anybody. U.S. intelligence, unfortunately, is not that good on the ground in terms of these safe houses for al-Zarqawi and his network.

So, Alex, you're right. We are going to see a repetition of this, not just in Iraq, probably another time we'll see it in Saudi Arabia. We may even see it in other countries, as well - not places where the U.S. exercises total sovereignty, however.

WITT: But Steve, any chance at all that this worldwide backlash against this barbaric behavior is going to work against these terrorists in terms of getting people to give them up?

EMERSON: Well, that's a good question. The fact of the matter is that terrorists really don't have to worry except for those that are giving them hospitality, logistical support. And the reality is that they do command a certain amount of popular support for a variety of reasons, as inexplicable they are to Westerners, the reality is they do believe in attacking Westerners and carrying out - look, the fact is, after 9/11, there was popular support for the attacks on the American targets in the United States. And you would think there would have been the backlash or fear of that, but that didn't stop people from demonstrating in favor of those ghastly attacks on 9/11.

WITT: Steve, now you've got your hands on another - disturbing, rather, piece of video. This is a rap video, apparently being used to recruit a new generation of terrorists. I want to take a listen to some of this, and then have you tell us how exactly it's being used and where and with whom? Take a listen.




_WITT: All right, Steve, so what's this all about?_

EMERSON: Well, this was put out months ago by a militant Islamic group in Britain. It was posted on its Web site, then it was shut down. We actually captured a copy of it. But clearly, it shows a very sophisticated MTV-style appeal by this radical group that supports bin Laden in trying to induce young Westerners, either Muslim or non-Muslim, but clearly appealing to Western types of musical and cultural - you know, traditions: he syncopated beat, the rap music.

But the lyrics, if someone parses them out calls for killing apostates, killing Jews and Christians and calls for carrying out suicide bombings. It's just an MTV meets jihad, is really what's going on here, and it's designed to pull people into this orbit. Whether it succeeds, no one really knows, but the problem is that the bad guys know how to exactly transcend the traditional type of recruiting into the very sophisticated type of recruiting as this video shows, Alex.

WITT: Yes, understatement to say we hope it does not succeed. Terrorism expert, Steve Emerson. Thanks so much for your time tonight. We appreciate it, as always.

EMERSON: You're welcome.

WITT: And from the tactics of terrorists to the political toll on the president, it has always been his strongest suit, but a new poll indicates that months of bad news is starting to erode the president's image as a strong commander in chief.

The "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows that the president's approval ratings in the war on terror have taken a nosedive, dropping to 50 percent, that's a 13 percent decline from just two months ago. And that drop seems to playing to Kerry's advantage. When asked who they trusted to deal with the terrorist threats, for the first time, voters were evenly split, 47 percent preferring Bush and 48 percent favoring Kerry. Now two months ago, 58 percent trusted Bush, while only 37 percent preferred Kerry.

But those aren't the only numbers tripping up the White House. After weeks of questioning about some fishy numbers in their annual terrorism report, the Bush administration today issued a new report with new numbers. The original report said 307 people had died in terrorist attacks last year, and it was a number touted by the Bush administration as proof that they were winning the war on terrorism.


RICHARD ARMITAGE, DPTY. SECRETARY OF STATE: Indeed you will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight.


WITT: Well, it turns out the actual number is more than double that, about 625. The original report apparently failed to include attacks in November and December, including this bombing near a synagogue in Istanbul. It is a mistake that Secretary of State Colin Powell insists was not political.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The report is not designed to make our efforts look better or worse, or terrorism look better or worse, but to provide the facts to the American people. And I think the way in which we have responded to this challenge to the report by coming straight out and saying, "You're right, it needs correction," and it has been corrected.


WITT: But according to one ranking Democrat, there is more than that one report that needs correcting. Senator Ted Kennedy was on the stump today delivering some fiery criticism of the president's nuclear policy. His accusation: that Bush's focused on the war in Iraq may have brought us to the brink.


SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The last four years of the administration's policy have been a constant flirtation with nuclear disaster. The seeds that disaster may have already been planted and begun to sprout, in some terrorist camp in some distant corner of the globe, while the attention of this administration has been so preoccupied with Iraq.


WITT: And with just over four months to go until the election, the preoccupations of the White House span a wide spectrum. Joining us now to assess this week's choppy political waters is political editor of the "Wall Street Journal," John Harwood.

Good evening, John.


WITT: All right. Bush's approval rating in the war on terror has dropped dramatically since April, a full 13 points. He's been campaigning on his security credentials. Can he win with those numbers, John?

HARWOOD: Don't think so, Alex. He's going to have to do something about this and count on events on the ground in Iraq improving that standing. Ever since 9/11, his image as a strong leader against terrorism has really been at the root of his political strength. He's had problems on the economy from time to time, that seems to be getting better, but really Iraq is the number one issue in this election. He needs to have a clear edge over John Kerry, because right now there's a lot of sentiment developing in the country for change and that's danger to him - dangerous to him.

WITT: Do you think if the transfer of power to the Iraqis does go well in this next week, he will see a boost in the ratings? And would it be immediate or long-term boost?

HARWOOD: I think it will take a while, Alex. But if that transfer of sovereignty proceeds smoothly, if the American people can draw a conclusion from what they see - that there is light at end of the tunnel, that there's some promise that the 140,000 fellow citizens who are over there on duty in Iraq may be coming home in the foreseeable future - that may clear the decks a bit for the president to capitalize on this good news on the economy, including the addition of a quarter million jobs a month over the last several months.

WITT: Yes, we're going to get to the economy in just a minute, John. But he seems to be losing support among the crucial swing voters. Among independents, those who said the war was not worth fighting jumped up 11 points since May, so what does he need to do to get the independents back in the fold?

HARWOOD: He's got to show them. It's a pragmatic group of voters; they're not particularly ideological. The ideologues in this election on the left and on the right have chosen upsides. The voters in the middle are very results-oriented, and they want to see is this worth the money that we're spending, the lives we have devoted to this cause, and is it going to work and create a safer United States of America? That's the test that George Bush has to pass.

WITT: Today, John, we saw Secretary of State Colin Powell stuck in another kind of embarrassing position, really reissuing the annual terrorism report with revised numbers. This is just the latest in what seems like an unending string of retractions from the administration on everything, from Iraq and al Qaeda to WMDs to Medicare. Can Bush win in November if this keeps happening?

HARWOOD: Alex, the last thing the president needed today was another credibility problem as was surfaced in that State Department report on terrorism. We've seen problems with WMD, with claims by the administration that they knew where weapons of mass destruction were. Those haven't been found.

We've had the controversy over whether or not there was a link or cooperation between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda. That's a credibility problem for the administration. Even on domestic policy - how much is a Medicare prescription drug benefit bill going to cost? That has dogged the administration, and we've seen some of that fallout, too in these numbers. The president's ratings on being straightforward, honest, and trustworthy have also suffered.

WITT: But there is some good news, I mean, one area where he does seem to be performing well - the economy, as you mentioned, no one seems to be noticing, though. What does the president need to do to make sure voters start noticing that in time for November?

HARWOOD: He really needs Iraq to be better and allow people to focus on something else. One of the things that we saw in the last couple of weeks when the nation's attention was off Iraq and on the Ronald Reagan funeral celebrations, Bush's ratings went up. That may have been partly because of fond memories toward a republican President Ronald Reagan, but it's also because the attention was taken off all the bad news in Iraq. That's what the president needs.

But you know, we've been wondering when George Bush was going to catch a break on the economy, given how good the job news has been lately. There may be some signs that that's about to happen in these post numbers improving his ratings on the economy.

WITT: OK, John Harwood, political editor for the "Wall Street Journal." Pleasure speaking with you, as always.

HARWOOD: Me, too.

WITT: Terror tactics and terror politics combining to make our fifth story on COUNTDOWN, tonight.

At No. 4, under scrutiny: Did the attorney general testify truthfully to the 9/11 Commission? An exclusive NBC News investigation next.

Then later, always low prices, always - not only at the register, but apparently in certain paychecks. The huge legal asteroid heading straight for Wal-Mart world, ahead on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: Ashcroft and al Qaeda: He swore that he didn't brush off FBI warnings about an imminent attack in the summer of 2001, but now two FBI officials are contradicting his testimony. An exclusive NBC investigation next.


WITT: The 9/11 Commission wraps its public hearings this week, but its work is not done. Our No. 4 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: Attorney General John Ashcroft allegedly ignored the terror threats in the months before September 11th.

NBC News has learned that the commission has interviewed two FBI officials who contradict Ashcroft's sworn testimony about whether he brushed off terrorism warnings in July 2001. NBC senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers has the exclusive report.


LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the critical months before 9/11, did the attorney general dismiss threats of an al Qaeda attack in this country? At issue, a July 2001 meeting between Ashcroft and acting FBI Director Tom Pickard.

That month, threat of al Qaeda attack was so high, the White House summoned the FBI and domestic agencies and warned them to be on alert. Yet, Pickard testified to the 9/11 Commission that when he tried to brief Ashcroft, just a week later on July 12th, about the terror threat inside the U.S., he got the brush-off.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE (D), 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Mr. Ashcroft told you that he did not want to hear about this anymore, is that correct?


MYERS: Testifying under oath...


MYERS: Ashcroft categorically denied the allegation.

ASHCROFT: I did never speak to him saying that I did not want to hear about terrorism.

MYERS (on camera): However, another senior FBI official tells NBC News he vividly recalls Pickard returning from the meeting that day, furious that Ashcroft had cut short the terrorism briefing. This official, now retired, has talked to the 9/11 Commission.

(voice-over): NBC News has learned that commission investigators also tracked down another FBI witness at the meeting, that day: Ruben Garcia, head of the criminal division, at that time. Several sources familiar with the investigation say Garcia confirmed to the commission that Ashcroft did indeed dismiss Pickard's warnings about al Qaeda.

_Government reform expert and New York University professor, Paul _


PAUL LIGHT, GOVERNMENT REFORM EXPERT: When you get two people coming forth and basically challenging a sworn statement by the attorney general regarding a critical meeting in the history of the 9/11 event, you raise serious questions about the attorney general's truthfulness.

MYERS: Ashcroft's version of events is supported by his top aid who attended the meeting. But another justice official also there, whom Ashcroft's office claimed would dispute Pickard's account, says he doesn't remember.

LARRY THOMPSON, FMR. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I do not recall the conversation that Interim Director Pickard referred to.

MYERS: Experts say in the context of 9/11, the issue is not trivial.

MICHAEL BROMWICH, FMR. JUSTICE DEPT. INSPECTOR GENERAL: Was there a communications breakdown between the FBI and the Department of Justice at the highest levels of each agency?

MYERS: Today, Ashcroft's spokesman dismissed the allegations, saying the "suggestion that the attorney general wasn't concerned about terrorism is absurd." He says if Ashcroft was ever short with FBI officials, it was because "he was unhappy with the quality of information he was getting."

Pickard did brief Ashcroft on terrorism four more times that summer, but sources say the acting FBI director never mentioned the word al Qaeda again in Ashcroft's presence until after 9/11.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


WITT: Lisa Myers tracking down the truth in our fourth story tonight for us.

Up next, we steer away from the serious stories and head toward a little town we like to call "Oddball." There you'll find that not all car chases look like this. A completely different perspective coming up next.

Then later, the common thread of eBay, stretching from an aspiring author to a horny and hungry teenager. Those stories ahead on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: I'm Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann. And time for us to press pause on the big COUNTDOWN for our nightly look at the news of the weird, those bizarre headlines that then to come out unmasked in the of dark of night. Let's play "Oddball."

(voice-over): Don't adjust your sets. You're watching the cops give chase to a bad guy in Florida in the middle of the night. And on the "Oddball" scoreboard, another big loss for the guys who run. Cops 47, law breakers zero. And how do we know? Night scope, baby. This is Martin County, Florida. This guy is outrunning the cops when he's behind the wheel, but he gets out of the car and, like they all do, starts to run. He's the big shiny guy there on the screen, jumping over fences, running through people's yards, homeowners completely oblivious to the drama playing out in their own backyards. And then, the cops close in and make the arrest. This guy has plenty of time to be afraid of the dark where he's going - the big house.

(on camera): And in the dark of night, while millions of Americans sleep, a bizarre ritual is sweeping the country's nightclubs. Your mission, see if you can't figure out what it is from these enthusiasts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It takes absolutely no talent. It's all about heart, is really what it boils down to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the spirit that - weird essence, that creepiness that - you know, we can kind of pull out of our souls and - you know, put on display for everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about having a lot of sex, doing a lot of drugs, listening to a lot of music, and just rocking out.


WITT: Got it? Suspense killing you? Have a look. It's the national air guitar championships. The regional winners going head-to-head at Hollywood's famed Sunset Strip. The winner is Mary "Sonic Rock" Park of New York. Look at that form and can you believe she's never actually ever picked up a real-life instrument? She says she practices her air guitar technique while lying in bed. Ms. Park has now won right to represent the U.S. at the world championships in Finland later this year. You go!

COUNTDOWN continues with the continuing saga of book author Bill. The big push to sell Clinton's autobiography officially kicked off today, but is anybody buying it?

And later, a certain someone nominated for a popular award of dubious prestige, but plenty of perks. Those stories ahead.

But first, COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" today - a British trifecta today, in fact.

No. 3: David Vardy. He's 19 years old and looking to lose his virginity. He hasn't hit it off with any girls at school, so he's turning to eBay for help. Yes, he is auctioning his virginity off to the highest bidder. So far, that's around $11,000.

No. 2: Jasper the dog. Not just any dog, the richest dog in England. When his owner died about 10 years ago, he was left $90,000, but the inheritance also came with an investment team. Jasper's now worth $236,000.

And No. 1: The events planner of the Plaza shopping center in London, shut down the mall and opened up the doors to naked shoppers only. A grand total of 15 people showed. Low turnout could be because everyone had to pre-register because they couldn't really - um, you know, really carry their a credit cards a anywhere. Yes, OK, eeeww!


WITT: Two people the COUNTDOWN never imagined mentioning in the same sentence, Harry Potter and Bill Clinton, one a fictional wizard, the other a former president, both of them publishing superstars.

No. 3 on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the selling of President Clinton. We can finally report that his memoir is in book stores tonight. Long lines of fans turning out today for autographed copies. And officially this is just day one.

As Andrea Mitchell reports tonight, Bill Clinton coming soon to a TV set or bookstore near you.



From coast to coast, the selling of Bill Clinton. His fans have been lining up since soon yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't wait to read it.

MITCHELL: Midnight in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so much easier when it's kids for "Harry Potter" because they actually tend to behave.

MITCHELL: Dawn in New York, rain or shine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've come this far. We are sticking it out.

MITCHELL: It's the Bill Clinton book club. But after paying the former president $10 million up front, how does the publisher sell enough books to make money? First, personal appearances.

(on camera): Did you accomplish what you wanted to, Mr. President, in the book?

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think that is something only the readers can decide. But I tried to tell the story of my life and the story of America's life in the last half of the 20th century and then I tried to elevate the importance of politics.

MITCHELL (voice-over): Second. Go on morning TV. This airs tomorrow.

CLINTON: My biggest disappointments abroad were that we didn't get bin Laden and Mr. al-Zawahiri and the top leadership of al Qaeda.

MITCHELL: Third, good reviews. So far, not.

(on camera): That was a bad review.

SONNY MEHTA, CLINTON PUBLISHER: It wasn't a great review. And I wish it hadn't happened.

MITCHELL (voice-over): And fourth, go on "Oprah."


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: Did you honestly believe that you were never going to be caught?

CLINTON: I knew it was wrong from the get-go. I thought it was nuts.


WINFREY: You don't think about getting caught when you're the president of the United States?


MITCHELL (on camera): It's all there, 957 pages of policy and personal drama, tailor-made for confessional television.

Mr. President, do you think people will read it?

CLINTON: Yes, I do.

MITCHELL (voice-over): And even if they don't...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's worth playing hooky for.

MITCHELL: They are still lining up to pay their $35.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, New York.


WITT: Some folks waiting on that long line today had ulterior motives to keep them company. Try the hundreds of dollars many of those autographed books are now fetching on eBay. The entrepreneurial spirit alive and well on the Internet tonight. Signed copies of President Clinton's memoir now selling for as much as $300 and the bidding isn't closed, all for a book that retails for just $35 without Mr. Clinton's John Hancock.

Mack McLarty was not only Bill Clinton's first chief of staff. He was also his classmate in Ms. Mary's kindergarten back in Hope, Arkansas. These days, he is president of the consulting firm McLarty Kissinger Associates in Washington. And he joins us now from Mexico City.

Mr. McLarty, thank you for your time tonight.

MACK MCLARTY, FORMER CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF: Alex, delighted to be with you.

WITT: Well, thank you, sir.

From kindergarten to the White House to now. I understand that President Clinton consulted with you while writing this book. What did he ask you about?

MCLARTY: He really, of course, talked a lot about his childhood, about the various passages in both of our lives. And then we talked a lot about the presidency. It was a time for transformation, Alex, without question. I think he writes about that in a very eloquent and thoughtful way.

WITT: What was Bill Clinton like as a child? Was he a good talker? Was he a prankster? Was he a deep thinker? What did you two do when you were just hanging out together?

MCLARTY: Well, in many ways, he hasn't changed all that much.

He was a thoughtful, sensitive person, a caring person, always an optimistic, always saw a better day ahead, always verbal, a talker, in your words, not mine, and a pretty good communicator, turned out to be, I think, both as governor of Arkansas and then of course later as the first two-term Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt.

WITT: When you consider how long you've known Mr. Clinton and the role that you have also played in his political life, is there anything new that you learned from reading this book?

MCLARTY: Well, I haven't read all of it yet. I've read excerpts from it. I'm looking forward to reading it all.

WITT: You've got to put aside some time to do so. You've got to admit that.

MCLARTY: Well, it's not a quick read. I agree with that.

And there may even be passages I want to reflect on. I think all of us have grown and matured over the years. I think it makes you reflect, really. I think it's interesting you did the eBay piece, because there was only a few Internet sites when we went to Washington in 1993. And, of course, now it's changed the way we live.

So it makes you reflect on the tremendous changes that have taken place. As far as anything new about President Clinton, I think we all grow, mature, change. But some of those fundamental values that has made him what he is, what he believes in, those haven't changed. They've remained constant.

WITT: There are those who believe that - former Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers among them - that Mr. Clinton wrote this too soon, that the presidency parts of his book would have benefited had he given himself a little more time to reflect. What are your thoughts on that?

MCLARTY: I like and respect Dee Dee very much. And I see that point of view.

On the other hand, I think there was a real interest in the president's thoughts and reflections on his presidency. I think you are seeing that as the books have gone on sale. He took this very seriously. He handwrote it himself, Alex. So I don't think I would second-guess the timing of it. And I suspect there will be other books ahead, if I had to make an educated guess.

WITT: We are looking at a picture of the president and the former first lady together, now Senator Hillary Clinton. Do you think there was incentive in writing this book and the timing and the release of all that to help her political career?


The president of course and Hillary talk about all of these kind of major decisions. Her book of course was a splendid book and a great best-seller as well. But I think the timing he has planned for some time with his publisher. I think frankly it would be helpful to Senator Kerry's campaign. I think it will underscore the accomplishments, the job creation, moving from a deficit to a surplus, welfare to work, moving millions off the welfare rolls, and generally peace around the world, as well as prosperity at home.

So I think all that will be a positive for the Kerry campaign. But I don't think that was in the calculus in terms of the timing, Alex. I think it was just more a straightforward exercise of writing his memoirs, as most recent presidents have done.

WITT: All right, former Clinton Chief of Staff Mack McLarty, thanks so much for joining us tonight on COUNTDOWN. And enjoy Mexico City, sir.

MCLARTY: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

WITT: Other news in the world where politics and mass media collide.

No happy ending today for filmmaker Michael Moore. His bid to save "Fahrenheit 9/11" 11 from an R-rating has failed. The Motion Picture Association of America denied his request to drop the rating to PG-13. So that means moviegoers 17 and under won't be allowed in without mom or dad tagging along. The appeals panel says some images are just too violent.

The film's distributor had argued teenagers should be allowed to see this film since they could end up serving in Iraq in the near future.

That wraps our third story on COUNTDOWN, the written word and the moving image. At No. 2 tonight, two very different perceptions of women workers at Wal-Mart, one from the company and one from the court. Then later, Ben Affleck on a winning streak, first extricating himself from J.Lo and now cleaning up at the casino. Details on his latest brush with lady luck. That's ahead.

But first, a special COUNTDOWN collection of Clinton-inspired comedy that we call Bubba busting.



CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST: This Sunday on "60 Minutes," former President Clinton discusses his problem with infidelity. Yes. Yes. At one point, Clinton says it's a shame you guys only have 60 minutes.


O'BRIEN: Should be on "48 Hours."



JAY LENO, HOST: Bill Clinton said in an interview that will air on "60 Minutes" on Sunday that he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky because he could. That's what he said. That's what he said. Then he said he was with Paula Jones because he lost a bet.




JON STEWART, HOST: Rather began by asking Clinton to reflect on the good times.

DAN RATHER, CBS ANCHOR: On a personal level, what was the best day you had in the White House?






DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: Bill Clinton is going on one of those book tours. And he will be in bookstores in New York City on Tuesday, and they are expecting huge crowds. So you can go and you can have him sign, but it's going to be crowded and there's going to be millions of people. So to keep the line moving, he'll only sign one breast.





WITT: All is not well in Wal-Mart world, how 1.5 million workers can now collectively sue the company - next on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: The largest company in America is now the subject of the largest civil rights lawsuit in U.S. history.

Our No. 2 story on COUNTDOWN, Wal-Mart, that bastion of the American dream, tonight accused of discriminating against women, paying them less than their male counterparts and repeatedly passing them over for promotions. What started out as six women taking on the retail giant may be 1.6 million now that a federal judge has granted the class-action status. The latest twist in this three-year-old lawsuit smacks of Erin Brockovich-like vindication.

Wal-Mart plans to appeal the decision and denies discriminating against its female employees.

Joining us now from Washington, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Christine Webber.

Good evening, Christine. Thank you for joining us.


WITT: What kind of treatment did the women that you talked to experience at Wal-Mart?

WEBBER: Well, it was really consistent among all of the class members I spoke to.

And repeatedly women were told that they didn't deserve to be paid as much as their male colleagues, that the men were working to support their families, but that the women were working just as a hobby or for a little extra money, but their financial needs and their financial support of their families was not just recognized. They were told repeatedly that only men should be managers, especially in departments where they would be managing other men, that men might not want women as a boss. It was really a pretty consistent pattern of discrimination that we found.

_WITT: Also explicit sexual things said to them as well? _

WEBBER: There were several reports of derogatory comments using sort of slurs against women.

It's not a sexual harassment suit, but that certainly showed some of the attitudes towards women. In fact, even the vice president for people, their human resources department, when asked about reports that district managers might hold meetings for store managers at a Hooters said, well, that might be OK. That might be the best restaurant in town and we don't have a problem with that.

WITT: Has all the media attention and going public with their stories helped your clients?

WEBBER: Well, I think that for some of them it has, because some of them felt that they are in one Wal-Mart in one small town, and they feel that they've been wronged, but they don't get any support from their management at Wal-Mart, obviously. And they don't know if their story is being taken seriously.

When they hear from many other women around the country who have had similar experiences and see that that story is being taken seriously, that these complaints really will be dealt with by the court system and that they can get justice, I think that really gives them some hope that things at Wal-Mart can change.

WITT: Christine, 1.6 million women here possibly involved in this class-action lawsuit, does that number surprise even you, an attorney in this business?

WEBBER: Well, it's certainly larger by a couple orders of magnitude than any other employment class action, but that is simply because Wal-Mart is the largest private employer.

And given the size of Wal-Mart's work force and how large a proportion of their work force is women, it's not surprising that the total class size winds up at about 1.5 million people. They employ over a million people. And the vast majority of their workers are women, which is what makes it so surprising that so few women have made it into management, given they promote from within and they obviously have so many women employees.

WITT: I am certain it hasn't escaped your attention these ads that Wal-Mart is running right now, with women employees giving these glowing testimonials. What do you think of that?

WEBBER: Well, I think that, even though the case hasn't gone to trial yet, we have clearly had some impact on Wal-Mart. They must have promoted at least some women to be able to have them in these ads saying that they've been promoted to management positions.

So we are glad for them, but we would really like to make that benefit far more widespread and have the system change, so that women going forward can expect to be promoted on a fair basis.

WITT: All right, Christine Webber, attorney for the plaintiffs in this case, thank you so much for your time tonight. We appreciate it on COUNTDOWN.

WEBBER: Thank you.

WITT: And thus we make the turn to our nightly foray into fame and fortune in the segment that we like to call "Keeping Tabs."

And we begin with a story in which the women are firmly in control. The editors of "Playgirl" magazine have launched their own version of decision 2004, asking readers and people who might be online looking for that sort of thing to vote. What for, you ask? Why, only the sexiest, most intelligent newscaster on network or cable news. That's all.

Candidates include such hunky anchors as CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Fox's Brit Hume, Andy Rooney and this guy. The contest ends July 1, the winner to be profiled in "Playgirl"'s October issue, which, if the vote isn't totally rigged, is going to look a little something like this, we think.

And you dear COUNTDOWN viewers can cast your ballot for Keith by logging on to our Web site, COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.

And joining me now from an undisclosed, secure location, the nominee himself, Keith Olbermann.

Keith, good evening.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Good evening, Alex.

WITT: All right, so, when you heard this news, what was your reaction? Was it just kind of a thrill to be nominated, Keith?

OLBERMANN: My reaction, Alex, was one clear and abiding thought. I am going to have to work on a day off. That was my reaction.


WITT: All right, 18 newsmen on this ballot. How do you think you're going to do? How, really, do you want to do? Do you want to win this thing?

OLBERMANN: They had one for sportscasters back when I used to do that and I think I finished right in the middle. And that is perfect. I like to finish ninth or 10th. Just as long as I am ahead of Andy Rooney, that will be sort of the minimum requirement.

WITT: Keith, why don't you want to win it? You don't want to have it wreak havoc on your life that it might otherwise if you win?

OLBERMANN: I will answer that question in a moment.

Greenstein (ph), lose that graphic of me with the map, OK? Thanks very much. Just a little note to our director.

I mean, yes, I suppose it would be a thrill to win. I just can't envision that picture that you - that phony graphic of the cover of that staring out at me from every newsstand for a month. I think I would have to leave the country, rather than face that.

WITT: I have feeling we would probably blow that thing up and put it right next to your office door.

OLBERMANN: You're blowing this thing up right now. What are you talking about? And what is that thing about bigger breasts in the corner? That doesn't have anything to do with me. Sorry.



Keith, now, listen, the news community a pretty tight-knit group, as it is. On top of which, there are three other nominees from MSNBC, like Lester Holt, and, as listed by "Playgirl," Brian Williams. Any friendly in-house competition here?

OLBERMANN: Well, Lester is going to be tough to defeat, because, as you know, the nickname around the office is "Iron Pants." And I think that might be a factor, in a way he perhaps could never have perceived when that nickname was thrown at him. So, yes.

WITT: We have got to get that one out there. That might have been an inside joke. Wait. Wait. We're not playing with equal time rules here. It's your show. Here is your opportunity to make a campaign plea. Go for it.

OLBERMANN: Please vote for me, but don't so many of you vote for me that I win. Thank you.


WITT: Keith Olbermann from an undisclosed, secure location tonight.

Thanks, Keith. Best of luck. See you soon.

OLBERMANN: Thanks. Back to work, Witt. Back to work.

WITT: Yes, I'm getting on it. Thanks, Keith.

In other "Keeping Tabs" news, lady luck sure was kind to Ben Affleck over the weekend when he won just over $356,000 and first place in a California state poker championship. It was the biggest booty Affleck had gotten his hands on since dating the bodacious J.Lo earlier this year. Besides outlasting the competition that included Spider-Man Tobey Maguire, the 31-year-old Affleck earned the right to take a $25,000 seat at the World Poker Tour championships next year. It's the first time a movie star has achieved that honor. And, hopefully, it will take his mind off "Jersey Girl," "Gigli" and J.Lo.

Serious news today about the Olsen twins, role models to millions of young girls. Mary-Kate Olsen has announced that she has entered treatment for an eating disorder. Mary-Kate, seen on the left here with her sister, has been the subject of speculation in the papers about possible health concerns. The twins' publicist says it is a precautionary decision and that Mary-Kate is trying to take charge of her health. She hopes to be able to join her sister for their freshmen year of classes at NYU this fall.

Tragedy struck again for the ACL-impaired Britney Spears. After canceling her tour because of a blown-out knee, the recuperating teenage diva was heading home after buying a white Maltese terrier when her mother plowed their SUV into a British photographer. Britney was rendered incoherent and near hysterical. But paramedics who rushed to the scene swung into action, with one of them holding the pop star's hand in a valiant attempt to prevent her from lapsing into a panic attack.

Now comes the hard part. Police told Britney and her mother they would have to give a full written statement. Shortly thereafter, a mascara-streaked Britney was finally well enough to be driven home. Oh, yes, the guy they hit, he was taken to the hospital. But Britney and the Maltese terrier, they are doing just great.

Up next, bend that baby. How young is too young to start doing yoga?

Tonight's No. 1 story coming up on COUNTDOWN.

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


WITT: If you have been within a doughnut's throw of your local gym lately, you probably have a passing familiarity with yoga. In addition to poses no single-jointed individual could possibly hope to get themselves into, it also includes exotic vocabulary like Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Kundalini and Itsy Bitsy.

Our top story on tonight's COUNTDOWN, this 5,000-year-old craze, this blend of mind, body and spirit, this yoga thing has finally branched out to babies.

But as our own Monica Novotny reports, although mom loves bonding with junior over a downward facing dog or warrior exercise, doctors aren't so sure the benefits outweigh the potential for harm.



MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new mommy mantra.


NOVOTNY: Helping little ones find kiddie karma, baby balance, and a workout?

Itsy Bitsy Yoga, where meditating tots trim and tone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're special and you know it because your body is here to show it.

(on camera): With the number obese children in the U.S. at about 17 percent, some fitness gurus think it is time to get a jump on healthy habits by bringing infants and toddlers into the exercise mix.

(voice-over): Helen Garabedian (ph) teaches young yogis, ranging from a few weeks to a few years old.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today, the obesity rate is so alarming that it just anything that we can do to get parents and children active together from the start of life, the better off we are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to encourage exercise and fitness in him. And I believe that if you start developing your muscle tone earlier, it benefits you throughout your life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When he's in a bad mood, I can do some of the poses and that - he just perks right up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The benefits of yoga for babies and toddlers is better sleep, improved digestion, stimulates neuromuscular development, increases body awareness and self-esteem.

NOVOTNY: But is this path to health and harmony safe for little ones? Dr. Jordan Metzel (ph), a specialist in sports medicine for children, isn't so sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is such a thing as inappropriate sports at inappropriate ages. There are cartilage growth plates in kids' bones that can be injured and sometimes cause lifelong injury and impairment of a joint or a bone. And so I would take any activity with kids' bodies very, very seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a playful, gentle way to bring them into exercise.

NOVOTNY: One where even the smallest students strike a pose, sort of.

_UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You ready to be a burrito? _

NOVOTNY: Did she say burrito? It can be tough to keep up and stay up. For some, tougher than for others.

(on camera): I can feel that in my thighs. What about you? No, of course, not. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doing this for kind of parent-infant bonding is one thing. But when you start saying you're going to prevent medical problem, I think many people would have issue with those kinds of claims until they're studied properly. You don't want to mess with Mother Nature too much.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): For COUNTDOWN, Monica Novotny.


WITT: That's COUNTDOWN. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith.

See you tomorrow.