Thursday, June 24, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 24

Guests: Robin Wright, Bernard Parks, David Sterritt, Brian Cooley, Mickey Sherman


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

Six days and counting: massive fatalities from coordinated bombings in multiple Iraqi cities. Less than a week from the handover, the heightened terror in Iraq as insurgents increase their efforts to sabotage the transfer of power.

Shades of Rodney King: 13 years after this police beating tore a city apart, this violent footage puts the LAPD back under the microscope.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know this to be true. I got a kid myself.

Pregnant women are crazy and it's all - you know.

WITT:... Yesterday juror No. 5 in the Laci Peterson trial gets his walking paper. Today the question: does a jury of your peers mean everyone gets one of these guys?

And the great ape escape: Plan A "Bokito" (ph), the German gorilla makes a mad dash from the Berlin Zoo, but one tranquilizer dart later, it's time for Plan B. How about a seat on that bench?

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: Good evening. Welcome to COUNTDOWN. I'm Alex Witt in for Keith, tonight. It looked, for all the world, like early April. Police stations overrun, the shells of bombed out cars lit egg the streets and hospitals overwhelmed by the dead.

But, it was not two months ago, it was today. Six days before the handover of power. Six days before Iraqis are slated to take control of Iraq and there is no turning back the clock. At No. 5 tonight, will it be any different next week? The analysis in a moment, but first the recap of the day's violence.

In the northern city of Mosul, it was a series of car bombs that dealt the damage. Targeting several police stations, blasts killed upwards of 40 people, but the violence had an especially threatening edge in the city of Baqouba where over 100 insurgents attempted to seize control of the city attacking police stations and government buildings in a dawn assault.

And the familiar hot spot of Fallujah flared up again today. Marines and insurgents fighting it out in the streets for the first time since late April. In all, it's estimated that nearly 100 people were killed today, including three American soldiers.

And while the attacks wreaked havoc on a wide swath of Iraq, there was one man who claimed to be at the controls. Communicating again by the Internet, the Jordanian-born terrorist, Abu al-Zarqawi said he and his group had masterminded the violence.

Figuring out just how true that is could prove vital to the fight against terrorists in Iraq. And as Andrea Mitchell reports, it's a fight that top military commanders now admit they were not fully prepared for.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today's deadly attacks, the most coordinated since Saddam Hussein's fall. Dramatic evidence, according to U.N. intelligence of Zarqawi's command and control. And the dangerous alliance he's forged with pro-Saddam insurgents.

Today, General George Casey, named to be the new commander of coalition forces in Iraq, acknowledged that the Pentagon did not expect such a violent uprising.

_SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What do you think's gone wrong? _

GENERAL GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, COALITION FORCES: I think the insurgency is much stronger than I certainly would have anticipated.

MITCHELL: U.S. intelligence now blame Zarqawi and his foreign fighters, including some from al-Qaeda, for an appalling death toll, more than 1,000 killed since August. He is the target of an intense U.S. manhunt, including two air strikes this week on safe houses he's been known to use in Fallujah, but he's very hard to find. He never uses electronic communications.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, DPTY. DIR. COALITION OPERATIONS: We constantly are developing intelligence, constantly conducting operations to find him.

MITCHELL: How does Zarqawi keep springing his surprises on coalition forces? The U.S. says he is working closely with top intelligence officials from Saddam Hussein's regime, possibly Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri No. 6 (sic) in the deck of cards, still at large.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, Iraq EXPERT: The tight coordination here, suggests a small group of has a very clear chain of command.

MITCHELL: Al-Duri may have thousands of foot soldiers, former Saddam troop permitted to go home with their weapons last year. That is now widely viewed as a major mistake by coalition administrator, Paul Bremer.

The clear aim of the escalating violence, to create even more chaos as the handover approaches and afterward.

SEN. JOE BIDEN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: This is all done to intimidate Iraqi people from getting involved in supporting this new government and giving this new government the capacity to govern.


WITT: And that was Andrea Mitchell reporting there. The hostile fire wasn't just flying in Iraq today. Just days before the start of a much anticipated NATO summit in Turkey, explosions rattled the capital city of Ankara and the city of Istanbul. Authorities believe one bomb may have exploded early when it took out this bus traveling just five miles from where next week's summit will take place. But the blast, which authorities suspect was the work of a radical Marxist group, still killed four people.

In Ankara, three people were injured when a package bomb exploded outside of a luxury hotel. The very hotel where President Bush is expected to stay this weekend. And while security concerns are sure to put world leaders on eggshells at next week's NATO summit, they'll also have the delicate issue of Iraqi security to contend with.

Joining to us talk about today's highly coordinated attacks could affect the handover is Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent for the "Washington Post" and author of "Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam."

Robin, great to have you on the show tonight, thanks for joining us.

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": Nice to be with you.

WITT: We have been warned repeatedly, it could get worse in the ramp up to June 30. Does it get any better on July 1?

WRIGHT: Not necessarily. I think there's a strong belief in the United States that the insurgents will continue to attack the new Iraqi government, trying to undermine it, as well as American troops. The broader message is that the opposition wants the United States to withdraw, so it's not likely to lessen in the immediate aftermath at the end of the occupation.

WITT: Robin, the victims of today's violence, once again overwhelmingly Iraqi citizens. But, this week there was another high-profile beheading of a foreigner, a South Korean worker. How deeply do you think those brutal acts of violence rattle our allies?

WRIGHT: Well, terrorism is a psychological weapon and this is likely to challenge many of the foreign governments that have a major military presence in Iraq or even a small presence in Iraq. But, it's also likely to make it more unpopular for those governments to continue to have a long term military presence in Iraq. So, it plays to the immediate public attitude, as well as the domestic politics back home in many of these countries.

WITT: And now the United Nations has agreed to endorse the new Iraqi interim government. There's at least this veneer of international support. Does that do anything at all to quell the insurgency, do you think?

WRIGHT: Well, for the short term, I think it will help. The fact is that there's a new poll out that shows that among the Iraqis, there is very strong support for this new government and that will play well in the international community. How long that honeymoon will last is still to be determined, but compared with the previous Iraqi Governing Council which had only about one out of every four support, four out of five Iraqis now believe the new Iraqi government is going to improve conditions and will have the support of the majority of Iraqis.

WITT: Our focus shifted to Turkey today, because of the bombings there in that country, and of course, that is where President Bush, of course, he's headed next week to the NATO summit. There doesn't seem to be any hope of getting new troop commitments out of that summit, so what is the administration's goal going into that meeting?

WRIGHT: Well, I think that the United States is hoping that at the last minute, NATO members will provide some kind of peripheral support for the mission in Iraq. Perhaps provide training for the new Iraqi army and police. Perhaps contribute small contingents to protect the new U.N. aide workers and election workers who will go in to oversee the next phase of the Iraqi transition, which is really critical.

Everyone thinks June 30 is the end of the occupation, the end of the transition and really, it's the beginning for Iraqis, the bigger part of the transition. And so the NATO commitment for this next phase is really critical. And there's increasing optimism among some in the Bush administration that they will get some small commitment.

WITT: All right. Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent for the "Washington Post," many thanks for you time tonight. We appreciate it.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

WITT: And joining us now for the military angle on today's attacks, is retired Army General, NBC News military analyst, Wayne Downing.

General Downing, welcome to the show. It's nice to have you, sir.

GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Thanks, Alex, nice to be here.

WITT: Let's talk, sir, about who we are actually fighting here. Last night on "Hardball," the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said that he thinks we're essentially fighting the same guys we were battling a year ago. Let's take a listen.


PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It's not an insurgency, an insurgency implies something that rose up afterwards. This is the same enemy that butchered Iraqis for 35 years, that fought us up until the fall of Baghdad and continues to fight afterwards.

It's not an insurgency in the sense of an uprising. It is a continuation of the war by people who never quit.


WITT: What do you think, General? Is it the same people or has the insurgency become a lot broader than that?

DOWNING: Well, I think it is strengthened and it is certainly broadened, Alex. I mean, I think the interdiction Zarqawi, although he has in Iraq, the influx now of his foreign fighters have given a lot of impetus and a lot of spirit to this insurrection, and it definitely is an insurgency. I don't think you can say anything other than that, Alex.

WITT: But you look at this one Iraqi city that we saw today where the

insurgents were seen wearing the headbands, bearing the name Abu al-

Zarqawi's group. Is he indeed the mastermind behind all of these attacks -

· this appearance of coordination today?

DOWNING: Well, I'm not sure how in control he is, Alex. He certainly, though - his past history, he has the great capability of working with a variety of very, very different Islamic jihadist group and bringing them together. So, he may well be playing a very, very important role. Is he orchestrating at all? Does he have the exact command and control? I doubt it.

I think what we're seeing here, and what the thrust of your program has been so far, is there's a wide range of groups, three, four, maybe five different groups, they're working together, loosely coordinated and Zarqawi may well be the catalyst to bring all this together.

And, this is where I really have to differ with what Paul Wolfowitz said yesterday. This truly has taken on a completely different complexion and is certainly much more widespread than it was a year ago.

WITT: General, let's look ahead to next week. What happens then? The U.S. military already has some disputes with Iraqi police, so who's going to be calling the shots?

DOWNING: Well, I think the U.S. military and coalition are going to continue to call the shots as far as their military operations. They're going to try to coordinate those with the Iraqis, they're going to have to do that. You're going to have to expect that there will be disputes. I'm sure that there are going to be these kinds of things.

And I also - you know, the thrust of Robin Wright's comments. This insurrection's going to continue. There may a pause after June 30, just as they regroup the insurgents. But, they're going to come on strong. They're going to try to destroy this interim government, demoralize it, make it lose - you know, the confident of the Iraqi people.

And as long as we have this kind of a security situation, Alex, the U.S. and coalition forces are going to have to be very, very heavily involved in reinforcing the Iraqi security forces.

WITT: All right General Wayne Downing, as always, sir, we appreciate your insights. Thank you very much.

DOWNING: Yes, thanks Alex.

WITT: And finally, words of disbelief from the woman who may know the Jordanian-born terrorist, Abu al-Zarqawi, best. In an interview with the paper in Amman, Zarqawi's first wife insisted that her husband was not a terrorist but instead, quote, "a friendly and a good man." Qualities that apparently didn't stop him from slitting the throat of a captured hostage or speculating on the comparative tastiness of Iraqi and American flesh. 1999 was the last time Zarqawi saw his wife, I guess a lot can happen in five years.

COUNTDOWN underway with our fifth story, tonight: coordinated terror. Up next, deja vu on the streets of Los Angeles: an unarmed black man, a group of white police officers, and a beating caught on camera.

Then later, separating the spin: how much of Michael Moore's latest movie is fact and how much is fiction? COUNTDOWN's search for the truth coming up.


WITT: ""Rodney Kingesque"," the words of a Los Angeles police

official and our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight. It is next, stand



WITT: Police chases are a common occurrence in Los Angeles, a veritable nightly fixture on the local newscasts, not to mention this one. They average several hundred a year, but our No. 4 story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight, the arguably more rare occurrence when they end like this.

Thirty-six-year-old Stanley Miller behind the wheel of a stolen Toyota Camry was spotted by LAPD officers around 5:30 yesterday morning. They pursued the suspected car thief for more than 30 minutes before he bolted from that car, eventually surrendering, raising his arms and beginning to get on his knees, when he was subdued.

And then this happens, one of the offers identified as 35-year-old John Hatfield appears to kick Miller in the head and repeatedly beat him with a flashlight. He was treated for minor injuries and is currently being held on suspicion of grand theft auto.

Both the LAPD and FBI have launched investigations and all officers involved have been placed on administrative assignment. But ultimately, Stanley Miller was unarmed and the incident has prompted the highest ranking African-American LAPD official to describe it as "Rodney Kingesque." But will this echo one of the ugliest periods in that city's history?

I'm joined now by councilman Bernard Parks, he held the post of Los Angeles Police Chief from 1997 to 2002. He is now running for mayor of that city.

Councilman Parks, good afternoon, sir.


WITT: I'm well, thanks, I hope you are too. And you have seen this tape. The suspect seemed pretty much subdued before the third officer came in. What was your impression?

PARKS: My impression was exactly what you stated, that it appeared that the two officers that initially made contact with the suspect had him subdued. It's unclear as to what the kicking motion was initially, but it's certainly very clear of the striking motions that appear to be well after the suspect was down and not being aggressive.

WITT: Councilman, Deputy Police Chief Earl Paysinger described the incident as "Rodney Kingesque." Do you think that assessment is fair?

PARKS: Well, I think to some degree, I think what you find, if I understand the statement, is that you have something on videotape, what basically in this community, that people believe that validates a variety of things that have gone uninvestigated or they believe are issues that are ongoing. And they don't believe that this is an aberration, what they will tell you is they think it is a routine occurrence. And so this videotape, much like Rodney King, validates, in many people's mind, that there are still problems within LAPD.

WITT: So, you're staying people of Los Angeles believe that the only reason we know about this one is because it was caught on videotape?

PARKS: I think to some degree, you'll have some parts of the population that will believe that, that this is the evidence that validates many instances in which cases have been investigated and came to no conclusion, or that they believe that these officers within the department, are on a routine basis, mistreating the public.

And I think you have that level of review from one side and then you have the other side that would believe that the person, had he not run and been pursued, that none of this would happen. So you have those extreme views in one city.

WITT: Chief Bratton speaking this evening about this case, promising a, quote, "transparent investigation." In your experience, how should it be handled?

PARKS: I think it should be handled as quickly as possible, that it should be given sufficient resources, both inside and outside the department, to be working hand in hand with the district attorney or the U.S. attorney, whoever is invited themselves in.

But clearly, the district attorney, as the primary reviewer of those investigations, this should be done quickly and openly to where the public is fully aware of every step and brought to a conclusion so that the public will - can make a determination of just how fair and accurate and thorough the investigation was done.

WITT: And as a result of that investigation, sir, do you believe charge will be filed?

PARKS: You know, I don't know. That's the toughest part of this. The district attorney is going to have to determine, by looking at the actions of the officer, at what point did physical force go from in policy to out of policy and then when did it become criminal. And that was a similar discussion with the Rodney King - what point, what strike of the baton, what strike of the flashlight, where is it that it becomes an illegal act? And that's going to be toughest part for the district attorney to make that determination.

So, I would not want to project what the D.A. is going to do. I think they're going to have evaluate this. And then there's also the assessment of all of the witness statements and to where they get a complete investigation, And so I don't believe that you can jump to the conclusion of a filing before that's completed.

WITT: Former L.A. police chief, now current contender for mayor of that city. Councilman Bernard Parks, thank you for joining us tonight, sir, we appreciate it.

PARKS: Thank you, Alex.

WITT: Two down, three stories to go on COUNTDOWN. But first, a short detour into the tales of the absurd, like seeing there running around. "Oddball" is next.

And later, the controversial call that put one of America's best tennis players out of Wimbledon. That's coming up on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: I'm Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann. And we pause the COUNTDOWN now, for our nightly trip into the strange world of man and animal in the bizarre things that happen when those two worlds collide. Let's play "Oddball."

We start at the Berlin Zoo in Germany where "Bokito" the gorilla lives there. That's Bokito, there caught on armature video strolling down the zoo's main promenade mingling with the tourists. Oh, my god! Run for your lives!

No one was injured. It seems Bokito just wanted to go for a walk. The 260 pound silver-back gorilla had scaled the 15-foot glass wall of his enclosure and wandered around the zoo for a while as terrified visitors scrambled away. Two zookeepers caught up to Bokito and calmly walked him over to a park bench where Bokito sat for a while and thought about all the trouble that he had caused.

To South Hill, Washington and the first annual running of the Rottweilers. This home near Spokane has been overrun with puppies after the family dog gave birth to a litter of 19. Two did not make it, but the remaining 17 little furballs are just a bundle of joy for the family who is looking for possible adopters. And if all goes well, these little guys could be protecting junk yards and malling trespassers all around this country.

Finally tonight, scientists around the world are turning their attention to a young boy born in Germany with a rare genetic mutation that caused him to come out of the womb literally muscle bound. The mutation actually blocks the gene that limits muscle tissue growth so the young boy developed large strong muscles in the womb and has continued to get bigger and stronger since.

So far there's only these pictures of the baby, now four and a half years old, but we have an artist's rendering of what he might look like when he grows up. We can only hope that he'll use his super powers for good and not evil.

Back to COUNTDOWN and our third story tonight: telling the truth or twisting it? An appraisal of "Fahrenheit 9/11," next.

Then later, just what was he thinking? How juror No. 5's comment about pregnant women seems to justify his dismissal from the Scott Peterson case. But first, here are COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day:

No. 3: Joseph Freer, the assistant manager of a sporting goods store in Binghamton, New York. Freer's been charged with fourth degree arson after a fire that he set in that store, spread out of control and ended up shutting down an entire shopping mall for the day. Police say Freer was trying to kill a spider in the storage room by spraying it with a flammable substance and lighting on it fire. Oops!

No. 2: John Edgell, the man facing the lawsuit from Governor Schwarzenegger over the "Governator" bobble head doll has responded to the lawsuit by commissioning a new bobble head, the "Gropenator."

And No. 1: Judge Donald D. Thompson of Creek County, Oklahoma. He's been removed from the bench after numerous complaints that while in court, he was doing some strange things, quote "Under his robe." The attorney general charges Thompson was - well, pleasuring himself on the bench and witnesses report he used a variety of oils, had shaven on the bench, and was using what can only be described as a male enhancement pump on the bench, during trials. Wow!


WITT: In the political arena, leaks may happen routinely, but there was nothing routine about last year's leak blowing the identity of a CIA secret agent whose husband had been critical of the White House.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, plugging the leaks in politics. Only three weeks ago, President Bush put a lawyer on standby in case he would be questioned in the investigation of the CIA leak. Today, that lawyer had to report for duty by the president's side at the White House, as Mr. Bush answered questions in a criminal matter, something few presidents have ever done.

David Gregory is at the White House - David.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alex, in addition to the leak, NBC News has learned tonight that the inquiry is also now focused on whether anyone has lied to investigators.

(voice-over): The leak investigation has now reached the highest levels of the White House. Today, aides say the president met for more than an hour starting at 10:25 this morning with the special prosecutor investigating the leak, Patrick Fitzgerald, and a number of his deputies. Also present was Mr. Bush's recently retained private lawyer.

Officials would not disclose what Fitzgerald asked the president, but experts say a likely topic is what the president learned after the leak.

LAWRENCE BARCELLA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: One of the things that I'm sure Fitzgerald is incredibly interested is in what conversations were there at the White House afterwards about who may have been responsible for the leak, what the motivation may have been for the leak.

GREGORY: The president was not under oath during today's rare interview conducted in lieu of an appearance before the grand jury. A number of White House officials, including the vice president and White House counsel, have been questioned about who leaked the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, to the columnist Robert Novak, a federal crime.

Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has accused White House officials of leaking his wife's identity in retaliation for his criticism of the administration's handling of prewar intelligence.

(on camera): Aides say no one wants to get to the bottom of all this more than the president. Today's interview is a signal that perhaps the investigation is winding up or just reaching its most critical phase -



WITT: NBC's David Gregory, thanks.

A little more than a mile away at a speech to Georgetown University law students, Al Gore had questions of his own for President Bush. The former vice president may not have been as scathing or as sweaty as he was when he attacked Mr. Bush last month, but today, the new and improved Al Gore found the funny on a topic that could not be more serious, whether President Bush is intentionally misleading the American public about a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If he actually believe in the linkage that he asserts, that would, by itself, in light of the available evidence, make him genuinely unfit to lead our nation's struggle against al Qaeda.


GORE: If they believed these flimsy scraps, then who would want them in charge of anything?


GORE: Are they too dishonest or too gullible? Take your pick.



WITT: Of course, you would have to go to the box office to find the most scathing criticism of the Bush administration, the Michael Moore documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" now playing in some cities, opening nationwide tomorrow. And there's not much Moore's conservative critics can do about it.

But if one conservative group has its ways, commercials for the film will soon be off the air, the group today asking a government agency to ban the ads on the grounds that they run afoul of federal campaign laws, an argument that naturally Michael Moore disputes.


MICHAEL MOORE, DIRECTOR: I have not publicly endorsed John Kerry. I am an independent. I am not a member of the Democratic Party. So for them to try and remove my ads from the television because I want people to come see my movie, it is a blatant attempt on the part of a right-wing Republican sponsored group to stop people from seeing my movie.


WITT: Now, few would dispute that Moore's movies can be highly entertaining. But does he play fast and loose with the facts?

Joining us now is David Sterritt, film critic for "The Christian Science Monitor."

David, thank you for your time tonight.

DAVID STERRITT, FILM CRITIC: It's good to be here.

WITT: Is this a movie with an agenda? And if it is, does agenda necessarily mean inaccurate?

STERRITT: Well, every Michael Moore movie has an agenda. He is an agenda-driven guy. And he is always very open about that agenda.

One thing I think that even his severest critics would have to go along with is the idea that you know where he's coming from and you always know pretty much what he's aiming at and the message that he's trying to get across. And having an agenda doesn't necessarily mean that you're accurate or inaccurate. Having an agenda just means that there's some particular point of view that you want to get across, certain ideas that you want to pitch.

They may be right or wrong. And, obviously, in the present case, we have a lot of people with a lot of different ideas on both sides of the issues that Moore is discussing in this movie. So, to answer your question, having an agenda does not mean automatically being accurate or automatically not being inaccurate.

WITT: OK, David, Moore is not a journalist. He is a filmmaker, after all. So, should he be held to the same standards?

STERRITT: Well, I think that what he really is, is a commentator. He is kind of the movie equivalent of an op-ed writer.

Again, he is always giving his point of view. And of course he writes as if he knows the truth about everything and he directs his movies as if he knows the truth about everything. So, in that way, he is a journalist, but a journalist in the commentator sense, in the op-ed writer sort of sense.

WITT: OK, what about the label of documentary? Is that the correct one for a film like this?

STERRITT: I can't see what other label it would have. It's a term that even a lot of documentary makers don't like anymore. They prefer to think of their work as nonfiction films and they wish people would use that category.

And, of course, Michael Moore is coming from a very specific place and he's selective what he shows us. And he's ordered it. And he has given his voice-overs and all of that to sort of put everything into his perspective. But, still, what else would you call that but nonfiction? In the same sense that a book by Michael Moore is going to be sold in the nonfiction section of a bookstore, just as a book by Ann Coulter is going to be sold in the nonfiction section of a bookstore.

WITT: And, David, in the end of all this, how much does it really matter? Because Bush's supporters, they're unlikely to go to this movie. Those who do see it are unlikely to vote for Mr. Bush.

STERRITT: Well, I hope that people go to see this movie in a spirit of curiosity. And believe me, they're free to disagree with it. They're free to argue with it. They're free to have it reinforce their own ideas that may be exactly the opposite of Michael Moore's.

There are times when I was watching the movie when I felt I was being sort of - he was out to scare me more than to enlighten me. There's a whole lot of talk about the tremendous amount of Saudi investment in the United States and the Bush family actually did business with the bin Laden family and so forth. And there wasn't really enough detail or enough supporting evidence for me to be sure that this all meant what he was implying it meant.

So I'm a little bit skeptical about some things in this movie. And there's a whole section in the last part of it when he's having a long conversation with a woman whose son was killed in Iraq where I thought he was trying to tug too much at my heartstrings.

WITT: Interesting.

STERRITT: Yes, I think it's a movie people will have fun agreeing with and disagreeing with.

WITT: All right. Film Critic David Sterritt of "The Christian Science Monitor," we thank you for your insights tonight. Appreciate it.

An unusual apology tonight from the second in command at the Pentagon. In an open letter to journalists in Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says he is sorry for remarks he made to Congress earlier this week in which he said, journalists are - quote - "afraid to travel, so they sit in Baghdad publishing rumors instead of positive stories."

Today, Wolfowitz made note of the 34 journalists who have died in Iraq, commending all journalists for their professionalism, dedication and courage.

To a situation the COUNTDOWN is fairly certain General Henry M. Robert of Robert's Rules of Order never anticipated, Vice President Dick Cheney getting ready to rumble on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Cheney confronted Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont yesterday, incensed about Leahy's criticism of Halliburton, the oil conglomerate and Iraqi contractor company Mr. Cheney used to run.

COUNTDOWN's artistic rendering of the confrontation here, looking something like this. That's because Democrats who were there tell NBC News, one of the words used by Cheney was four letters long, beginning with F. In a statement, the vice president's spokesman said - quote - "That doesn't sound like language that the vice president would use, but I can confirm there was a frank exchange of views."

Sources say Leahy's response was, "The vice president must be having a bad day."

That shuts up our third story tonight, politics, proof-checking and profanity.

Coming up, you've got spam, 92 million of you, apparently, thanks to an ex-employee of American Online. That story next on COUNTDOWN.

Then later, get ready for Moammar the musical. And we're not kidding.

That disquieting story still ahead.

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


MELVIN CALHOUN, PRETENDS HE'S A TRUCK: Feel like a truck. Hit third gear, like I'm driving a truck, you know?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First, we've got to make sure that broadband access is affordable. Thirdly, we want to help consumers find more ways to obtain affordable broadband access. I just told you that. I told it to you again.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Conan, that book signing, it was amazing, just amazing!


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, thanks to my strict policy. Check it out.

O'BRIEN: Oh, let's see that right now. Oh, for God's sake.







WITT: Millions of screen names stolen and sold to purveyors of sex aids and online casinos. The spam scam next on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: In Nora Ephron's 1998 film, "You've Got Mail," perky Meg Ryan got even perkier when she found messages from Tom Hanks in her inbox. These days, she would have to slog through dozens of ads for everything from hair growth pills to horny goat weed before getting to the e-mail that matters.

In our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, if you think spamming is criminal, well, in some cases, it is. And today, a young man faces serious charges.

NBC's Anne Thompson has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got mail.

ANNE THOMPSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The take, 92 million screen names from AOL. The accused, 24-year-old Jason Smathers, in a federal court in Virginia today, charged with stealing those names from his now former employer and selling them to this Las Vegas man, who allegedly sold them to spammers. The result? AOL customers getting junk e-mail for a sexual aid and Internet gambling.

Rita Salam (ph), the mother of two teenagers, is fed up with spam.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've switched Internet service providers no less than three times. And it basically has not done anything to increase our e-mail. If anything, I feel like our spam is increasing.

THOMPSON: But these e-mails could cost you more than your patience.

STEPHEN CURRIE, ANTI-SPAM TECHNICAL ALLIANCE: Not only is it annoying, but now, more and more, you're seeing spammers join with criminals to steal your identity.

THOMPSON: One scheme is called phishing, spelled with a P-H, where users respond to an e-mail they think is from a legitimate business and hand over their credit card and bank account numbers to spammers.

Spam was the vehicle for the So Big virus, the fastest spreading e-mail virus ever, infecting computers nationwide last summer. And now there's spam that can turn your computer into a zombie.

CURRIE: You'll see spammers hijacking consumers' machines, so that they can - they're actually using the customers, or consumers, to send out spam on their behalf.

THOMPSON (on camera): There are economic costs as well. An estimated 70 million American use e-mail at work. And given that one in every two e-mails is spam, researchers say all that junk is costing American businesses plenty.

PHEBE WATERFIELD, THE YANKEE GROUP: It costs the economy around $3.5 billion in lost productivity, using a very conservative figure of a couple of minutes a week reading and deleting spam.

THOMPSON (voice-over): An exploding problem for users trying to protect their identities, businesses trying to protect their customers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We would never use any of this.

THOMPSON: And parents trying to protect their children.

Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.


WITT: If convicted, Jason Smathers could serve up to five years in prison and pay at least a quarter of a million dollars in fines, which clearly scared the dickens out of him outside the courthouse today.

Joining me now to talk about what, if anything, can be done to stop spam is Brian Cooley, editor at large of CNET.

Good evening, Brian.


WITT: We just heard the spam cost billions in lost productivity.

What other costs are associated with junk e-mail?

COOLEY: The companies that are getting hit with this stuff in the corporate environment, they're the ones that are paying so much. They have got to take on extra bandwidth, extra pipelines to bring all this volume in. They have to expand the servers that handle e-mail for their clients. They have got to put in anti-spam software. There's a bunch of money spent on what we call the back end of corporate America to control this stuff.

WITT: So, Brian, the Canned Spam Act, that requires bulk commercial e-mailers to include this opt-out function. It bans them from using false header info. What effect has this law had since it went into effect on January 1?

COOLEY: Let me quote from an attorney at the FTC who says: "Canned Spam is not going to solve the problem. Spam is going to rule our world in the near future." That was about two months ago at some hearings. That should tell you enough. Canned Spam is toothless.

WITT: All right, why can't these guys be traced back and shut down?

Isn't there technology to stop them?

COOLEY: It's a fairly technical question. But the ability to spoof and hide and fake where you're coming from is legendary among people who are in the spamming, hacking, virus, phishing community, as we call them. So it's very difficult. And you have got to find one egregious spammer to make it worth the resources. This, of course, is a case where we have a very egregious case.

_WITT: OK, Brian, so, overall, what can be done? Any advice from you? _

COOLEY: Here's the future, I'm afraid. E-mail is going to get less friendly. The big companies like Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL, they're talking in the back rooms right now about how, in the future, e-mail, you may not receive an e-mail unless the person sending it you have given previous permission to, which is not the most convenient way to handle e-mail. But it is going to have to come down to that. Technology is never going to catch up with this. It has to become a permission grant system.

WITT: All right, we'll see if that happens.

Brian Cooley, editor at large of CNET, thanks a lot for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

COOLEY: You bet.

WITT: It is time now to plunge into the pool of celebrity gossip in a segment we like to call "Keeping Tabs."

First up, how do you beat Venus Williams at tennis. Get the chair umpire to play with you. Two-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams was eliminated today when she lost in straight sets to an unknown Croatian player named Karolina Sprem. Sprem's victory was helped along by chair umpire Ted Watts, who mistakenly awarded her an extra point in the final tie-breaker.

It was enough of a margin to send Venus packing at the earliest point in her career at Wimbledon since 1997. As for Karolina Sprem, she hopes to take on Serena Williams, the reigning champion, as soon as she can get the line judge on her side as well.

Let's see, when it comes to opera, there's "La Boheme," "The Barber of Seville," and of course the new classic "Jerry Springer: The Opera." And if you thought it couldn't get any more tawdry than this, brace yourself. Coming soon to an opera house near you, "Gadhafi: The Opera."

It seems the English National Opera has commissioned a work to be written by guitarist Chandra Sonic celebrating the life and crimes of none other than Moammar Gadhafi. Could this mean that an opera about Saddam Hussein be not far behind? And you thought Mel Brooks pulled off the impossible with "The Producers."

(singing): Springtime for Moammar and Libya.

Coming up, the pregnant comment that will make you pause and question the whole process of trial by jury.


WITT: And so to our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, juror No. 5. Dismissed from the Scott Peterson trial only one day ago, 28-year-old Justin Falconer is already raising questions about the trial and offering a rather startling peak behind the curtain of our judicial system. He's now free to talk about the case and his opinions both on it and, well, all things related.


JUSTIN FALCONER, FORMER SCOTT PETERSON JUROR: I know this to be true. I got a kid myself. Pregnant women are crazy. And so, you know, they one minute, one day can be pouch-ridden and not want to move. The very next day, they're up thinking they are fat and want to run a marathon.


WITT: In any other context, the statement perhaps merely guilty of poor taste or, dare I say, abject stupidity, and the statement he tried to retract this morning on "The Today Show."


FALCONER: I kind of wish I could take that back, because that's not how I feel. I don't think that all pregnant women are crazy. I was just referring to the behavior. And, on occasion, it could be - the differences can be pretty crazy. Just, like I said, they can be couch-ridden one day and not want to move. The next day, they want to go for walks or whatever.


WITT: But in a case where the victim is a pregnant woman, the defendant, her husband, on trial for her murder, perhaps this minor predisposition of thought seems a little more dangerous.

So how did he make the panel of 12 in the first place?

I'm joined now by criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman.

Mickey, good evening to you.


WITT: During the jury selection process for the Peterson case, we had two incidents of stealth jurors. They were screened out of the final 12. Did we see one make it in with this juror No. 5?

SHERMAN: That's two that we know about. And that's the problem here is, you don't know whether or not the other 11 sitting there are as kooky as this guy.

I'll tell you, I say hats off to Jo-Ellen Dimitrius, the jury picker, for finding this kooky guy for the defense. And I feel bad for Mark Geragos, because he is seeing what looks like a very definite not guilty go by the wayside.

WITT: Mickey, he's been off this case, this Falconer guy, he's been off for one day. He's been speaking volumes about the process already, how each side is handling their case, how he would have voted. Are you surprised by that? Should he be talking at all?


SHERMAN: I'm surprised that the judge didn't impose some type of order, whether it would have been legal or not, to say, don't open your mouth. I'm kind of surprised at that.

But you know who's to blame? It's us. We are responsible for the mediazation of people like this. This guy, his biggest moment in the sun before this was probably confiscating the nose clippers of somebody, because he's an airport screener. All of a sudden, he is besieged. He is being seduced by every booker, by every talent, by every person in the entire cable news and network world.

So you can't blame him for falling prey to it.

WITT: Yes, going for his 15 minutes of fame, clearly.

SHERMAN: He's getting 20 minutes out of this, at least.

WITT: Yes, 20.

Geragos asked for a mistrial. I mean, the case continues. But could Mr. Falconer, do you think, have caused any harm? Could the other jurors be affected by his departure now?

SHERMAN: No, and not to any extent that a judge would ever grant a mistrial.

Another thing on his behalf, I'll say, is, what's he been talking about? All he's been saying is that, well, he hasn't been convinced. So he's kind of standing up for the proposition that he believes in the presumption of innocence. Our problem is that, we shouldn't be hearing his viewpoints at this point.

WITT: Mickey, it seems like, in most of the high-profile trials lately, that we've had, we've had some sort of juror incident, whether it be with the Tyco trial, the Martha Stewart trial. Is this actually the norm, and should we be afraid of further juror tainting with this kind of behavior?

_SHERMAN: But what are we going to do?_

You know what's interesting, Alex? These are not televised trials.

So you can't say that it's like another O.J., where we made these jurors television stars. These are not televised trials. But the big case brings out the big nuts and it also brings out the big kooky jurors at some point.

The problem is - actually, maybe it's a good thing, is that sometimes there's kooky jurors on both sides. They're supposed to be a jury of their peers, a cross-section of the community, and that includes some pretty weird people at times.

WITT: So, Mickey, you know you've got 12 unbiased individuals, supposedly, a jury of peers. That's the ideal. Is it real life?

SHERMAN: It is real life.

And the idea is that you're not looking for - the biggest myth in the world is that the lawyers want people who are not prejudiced or who are not swayed to one side. I want people who are prejudiced towards my client. The state wants people who are prejudiced towards their state, or the government. And when you have that dynamic working, and if it works well, if both sides are equal, then you're going to find 12 people who are kind of in the middle.

WITT: Mickey, do you think there will be any kind of juror tainting or anything as a result of this at all?

SHERMAN: No, no. I think all it does is just sets the stage for the next 11 jurors or the next 12 jurors, when this case is over, to get their interviews on "The Today Show" and everyplace else.

WITT: Oh, my. I detect a note of cynicism right there.

SHERMAN: That's true.

WITT: Thank you so much, criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman.

SHERMAN: Pleasure.

WITT: Thanks for your time tonight.

And that is COUNTDOWN for this Thursday evening. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann. Good night, everyone. I'll see you back here tomorrow night, so stay tuned.

That was a hit right there.