Friday, July 30, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 30

Guest: Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, Spencer Ackerman, Slade Gorton, Frank Rich


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

Some of our electronic ballots are missing. Oh no, here they are, on this C.D. Florida's lost 2002 democratic gubernatorial voting records magically reappear. Never mind who you will vote for. How do you even know your vote will even be counted?

The Pakistani terror arrest: They said they were pressured by the Bush administration to deliver high value terrorists during the Democratic Convention. And what do you know? They delivered one.

Connecting the dots in Utah: Now police say they don't think Lori Hacking ever went jogging. The conclusion seems to be inevitable. Then why haven't investigators reached it?

What have we learned from the Democratic Convention? Well, we've learned not to talk about balloons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All balloons. What the hell, there's nothing falling. What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) are you guys doing up there?

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. If you've been watching at this hour all week, let me make you feel at home. Every vote counts. But will every vote be counted?

Ninety-five days to the election and suddenly we are flooded with reports of the republicans in Florida warning their constituents to use not touched screen voting booths, but absentee ballots, of vanished past results in that same state suddenly turning up today on a C.D., of computer hackers possibly targeting electronic voting software to see how vulnerable it really is.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Honestly, if you had to rely on your home or office computer to make sure every vote counts, would you? Or would you insist we go back to paper ballots marked in indelible ink? First to Miami-Dade County in Florida where, where oh where are the electronic vote records from the state's 2002 democratic gubernatorial primary? Oh, there they are over there.

Officials say the voting data proclaimed lost two days ago has been found on a compact disc that turned up in the office. "We are very pleased," says election supervisor spokesman Seth Kaplan.

But, with more than half of Florida's voters scheduled to use touchscreen machines in the presidential election, not all the state's politicians seem pleased - Republican politicians.

While Florida, Governor Jeb Bush, and his secretary of state have both repeatedly said that the touchscreens are both accurate and reliable. His party disagreed. A Florida GOP paid for and distributed a glossy brochure mailed to voters in the Miami area, urging them not to use the touchscreen system.

Quote, "The liberal democrats," it reads, "have already begun their attacks and the new electronic voting machines do not have a paper ballot to verify your vote in case of a recount. Make sure your vote counts - order your absentee ballot today." The brochure comes complete with two picture of President Bush.

To a spokesperson, his brother the governor said he has not seen the brochure, he's apologized for it. "He does not agree with any message that is going to criticize the touchscreen system, because it works," said the spokesman, "We had elections in 2002 on electronic machines. They work and voters should be comfortable using them." Maybe you don't want to mention those 2002 electronic votes if you want to make your case.

Their disappearance was uncovered by a citizens group called the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition. Its chairwoman is Lida Rodriguez-Taseff. She joins us now from Miami.

Good evening.


OLBERMANN: So, the entire primary election record just sort of turned up today, is that it?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Magically indeed, Keith. It appeared inside a conference room. Oops! Some secretary found it.

This is akin, if you remember the old days of coming with ballots a month later in somebody's trunk. So, we're a little dubious as to how this all came to be. And shocked and amazed that the Department of Elections can't even keep track of its own records.

OLBERMANN: Half, as we've said, of Florida's voters will use touchscreens in the fall, all of Nevada's, maybe 50 million people nationwide. Putting aside the magic act today, what are the facts about their reliability? How many votes get lost compared to how many get lost with punch card ballots or the old mechanical voting booths?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Well, the facts are murky, but we know this. We do know that in the past, they have been, they have proven less reliable than the old punch card system. We had more lost votes in September 2002 than we did with the old punch card system in Miami-Dade County. Shocking but true.

Their reliability depends entirely on how we test them and how we check using the audit data to see that they are accurate. Since nobody looks at the audit data anywhere in the country, it appears, we have no real way of gauging that they're actually accurate.

It's surprising, but nobody seems to bother to take the time to look at the audit data and determine that these machines are actually counting every vote.

OLBERMANN: As we said, an intensely contested presidential election, three months, three days away. What do you want done between now and then in Florida and elsewhere? Is it enough perhaps to retrofit these machines with those printed receipts that indicate that somebody's actually voted when they think they've voted?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: It'd be nice, but it's not going to happen before the presidential election. What we're asking for is battle testing of the machines.

What do I mean by battle testing? Not in some laboratory in secret where the vendor pays for the test, wink, wink. But real testing in battle, in real elections. We have primaries coming up in August and there are primaries coming up all over the country. That's when the machines should be battle tested. Real citizens should get to test them. And real public scrutiny should come upon them after they're tested.

That's what we're seeking. That's what we're looking for. Simple, look at the audits and test them. Test them now, test them openly.

OLBERMANN: Lida Rodriguez-Taseff chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Election Reforms Commission. Thanks for being with us. Let us know if those records disappear again.


OLBERMANN: As if the touchscreen voting issue were not touchy enough, speaking of battle testing, the gauntlet has been thrown down to this nation's hackers it's crackers and its freakers trying to hack into computerized voting.

A Harvard affiliated research fellow named Rebecca Mircuri told the computer hackers' annual Black Hat Conference that they should try to inspect the codes in the voting software produced by the Vote Here Company. She says that is a way of testing whether or not electronic voting is really secure.

A pro computer voting scientist had already promised $10,000 to anybody who could hack into a machine undetected, saying, "It's impossible." Ms. Mircuri points out that the scientist is going to get many takers since what he wants them to do is a felony.

Much the way what Michael Moore's critics viewed what he does. But stand back, on top of everything and everyone else involved here, now he is too. Moore says he is headed to Florida to record voting at target precincts in November and he is bringing lawyers, cameras, and money.


MICHAEL MOORE, PRODUCER: I will be there. I will have my cameras there. And we will put a huge spotlight on them. They will not get away with it this time. No way!


OLBERMANN: So the end result of your voting? If the votes get counted, will be a movie, also a president.

As both candidates hit the road today, the impact of the Democratic Convention hit the polls. In surveying that was completed before John Kerry's speech last night the Zogby Poll showed a slight Democratic bounce. It's Kerry 48, Bush 43, undecided 8. Three weeks ago, it was Kerry 46, Bush 44, undecided 9.

That is not an overnight poll. It does not represent the democrat's expected bounce. It does not register any impact that Kerry might have had last night. Those kind of numbers apparently will have to wait until next week. Besides, that's what we have Craig Crawford for. MSNBC analyst, contributor to "Congressional Quarterly," survivor of the Democratic Convention.

Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC ANALYST: Hello, help is on the way, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Oh, thank you. Help and hope, both. Don't forget that.

I pointed out...

CRAWFORD: You know, if the president thing doesn't work out, he could run an employment agency.

OLBERMANN: Absolutely. I pointed out during convention coverage that of our 43 presidents, 18 have had significant war records. Last night, John Kerry started his speech by saying he was reporting for duty and in Missouri today, George Bush used this phrase, "This will not happen on my watch." We are going to be out medalling each other for the next 95 days, I see.

CRAWFORD: There's going to be a lot of combat metaphors going on. I never saw so many generals at a Democratic Convention as we had at this one. But I got to say, this committee have used the combat metaphor. It was an evasive maneuver at the very least at this convention.

OLBERMANN: Why do you say that?

CRAWFORD: They really didn't talk about their own issues. They ran away from their own issues. They were so concerned about offending swing voters, that on gay marriage or gun control or free trade or Iraq, they didn't want to talk about where they stand. And I think what's going to happen is the Republicans are going to tell us more about where Democrats stand than Democrats did at their own convention.

OLBERMANN: So, did John Kerry get what he paid for by doing that? Did he introduce himself? Did he sell himself to the swing voters - the undecideds?

CRAWFORD: I think they got all they were really looking for, which is "no harm done," by the convention, and a little bit of a biographical introduction to a lot of voter's who don't know much about him. But, you know, it really did seem like he wanted to run more on his four months in Vietnam than his 20, 30 years in the Congress, and President Bush already started today to fill in the blanks on Kerry's congressional career.

OLBERMANN: Earliest part of the Kerry campaign, 21-state tour, the best sign I've seen yet, "Insulators for Kerry," it was a union group for people in the insulation business.

But, you've got 31 days now until the Republican Convention. Does Senator Kerry have a specific goal for within that span? Does George Bush have a specific goal? Is there a place that either one of them wants to get to before the Democrats - or Republicans convene in New York?

CRAWFORD: Well, when I watched the competing strategies of these campaigns, Keith, it's remarkable. Senator Kerry is almost running as the incumbent and President Bush is the challenger. Sometimes it seems that Kerry's - well, I've never seen a challenger run a rose garden strategy, which is what Senator Kerry seems to be doing.

They seem to have this view that that if they just run out the clock and audit the course, they'll win in the end, because they just believe George Bush is that unpopular. I think that's a risky one, but I thought they wouldn't win the primaries back earlier in the year and I was obviously wrong about that, so maybe they know something I don't know.

OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford, as always, a pleasure having you on the show tonight. Appreciate it.

CRAWFORD: Good to see you.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.

And one more note here, we're not done with politics. Later: What have we learned from the Democratic Convention?

We start tonight with politics and the campaign trail to inside the voting booth, if any.

Coming up later: Movies and the election: Move over, "Fahrenheit 9/11," will the "Manchurian Candidate" have a bigger impact still on voters?

And up next, tonight's No. 4 story: Conclusions about the Lori Hacking case seem inevitable. Yet there has been no conclusion from the police. Why not?


OLBERMANN: Don't read anything into it, insists the investigators:

The cadaver dogs and police experts stopped searching a Salt Lake City landfill tonight. Why because they're - not because they've given up hope of finding Mrs. Lori Hacking but because, quote, "It's the dogs, the need a break."

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The dogs may need a break, but not as much as Mark Hacking seems to. Over 12 days since the Utah woman disappeared investigators, human and canine alike, have been searching the Salt Lake Valley Solid Waste facility. They've dug through a one to two acre area in it at least four times, three nights in a row ending Wednesday.

The family will resume its volunteer search over the weekend. Police say the husband, Mark Hacking, is still in a psychiatric hospital and not cooperative.

They add they are not even sure if his story that she was out running at the time of her disappearance, is true. He is still considered a person of interest in this case, not a suspect.

And as usual, when such matters present themselves, we turn to an expert. Clint van Zandt was an FBI profiler, now he is an MSNBC analyst.

Clint, good evening.


OLBERMANN: What's missing from this equation? To the layman it seems sadly, almost open and shut.

VAN ZANDT: Well, you know, the problem right now is, is there enough evidence to arrest Mark and charge him with the murder of his wife? And the problem is that even though someone can be arrested, charged and even convicted in the absence of a body, and this is a terrible thing to say because we're still looking for this young woman, but juries need a body. Juries need to assure themselves that something actually happened, that some terrible crime took place.

And that's what police are trying to do real quick, they're trying to put together all the physical evidence they can that they can find in the apartment.

Now the challenge is to find, if she in fact is dead, to find Lori Hacking, get the physical evidences there. And then, Keith, you have to separate it from what might simply be shared, hairs, fibers, other things, by husband and wife, and what actually relates to a crime that links Lori's death, should it be, back to her husband, Mark.

OLBERMANN: Is the record on this man's lying. He didn't graduate from the University of Utah, he had not applied to the med school, let alone been accepted, he wasn't a exactly faithful missionary. Is that consistent with the profile of someone who could kill?

VAN ZANDT: Well, it would be very much, here. It's consistent with the type of person who has told lie upon lie upon lie. He's built them up like blocks, one on top of another.

And all of a sudden, somebody's reached in now, Lori probably, and pulled that block right out of the middle. That block is - my husband, you haven't been telling me the truth. I've verified that you're not going to med school. What is this? What other lies have you told?

And this is the type of guy, I think, who probably couldn't handle the stress of the situation, of being confronted. One more lie in this case might not have got him through. So therefore, you have the potential for anger, frustration, rage, and a confrontation between Mark and Lori. And the result may well prove to be her death.

OLBERMANN: As I'm sure you know, one of the mysteries about the so-called Lizzy Borden axe murders of the 1890s, is that the woman had a financial motive to kill her stepmother, but none apparently to kill her beloved father.

Since then, it's been theorize that had she might have killed her father merely because she could not have beared him knowing that she had killed the stepmother. Is that collision with reality, the key to this case the - particularly the man's lie about medical school and the wife and all these things coming together? Is that where the case focuses right now?

VAN ZANDT: Well, you're crossing a few comments for me way out in space, right now, but not withstanding that, I think the analogy bears true, that if, in fact, Mark can't sustain the lie, what does he do about it then?

And Keith, how does someone like him, how does he justify not leaving, not going to medical school. And it's a stretch for you and me and for your audience, but this may be the type of guy who could well say, something horrific happened to my wife, therefore, I can't go forward and go to medical school, and totally not having any comprehension that the police would say, by the way, is he really a college graduate? Is he really going to med school?

OLBERMANN: MSNBC analyst, former FBI profiler, Clint van Zandt. As always, sir, many, many thanks.

VAN ZANDT: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN past the No. 4 story, up next, after a week of no "Oddball," our cup runeth over. Everything from weird car races to animals on the attack. Stand by for no news, but big laughs.

And later, the big finish that was little on the big and short unfinished. For a little on the big and short unfinished, if you want to hear it again in English. The balloons. Cue the balloons. I said balloons! Balloons! Balloons! Balloons! Balloons! Balloons! Balloons!


OLBERMANN: We're back and we pause the COUNTDOWN now, because after a week of strange and bizarre political news, it is refreshing to get back to the news that is just straining and bizarre, no political. Let's play "Oddball."

There's always a race somewhere. This is the Reliant Robin Race in Mildenhall, England. All the romance of automotive nostalgia combined with the merry old English tradition of wrecking stuff. You may remember these little three-wheeled dynamos, for a while in the '70s they were among the most popular cars in England and not just for their cornering ability. This is where old flavors of the month to go die - the gladiator arena of the fiberglass fad car. You know they still make new Reliant Robins. Why? No man can say.

Now three stories about mammals in water. The Humane Society in the U.S. calling for SeaWorld to immediately cancel all interactive Shamu shows after this little incident in San Antonio. The big mammal started to whale on the little mammal. The Killer Whale, Ky, outweighs the trainer Steve Aibel by about 6,000 pounds, so when he began belly flopping on the man in the middle of the pool, officials and spectators alike, were aghast. They blamed this on Ky coming up age. He has raging breeding hormones, but confinement in a tank has made him, in one scientist's description, a "social misfit." But a damn fine bully!

Speaking of misfits, it's championship monkey tree diving from China. Release, rotation, splash. What's odd is they seem to be having a contest for distance and they're jumping from two different heights. Later in the afternoon, while one of the monkeys was in the water, the rest stole his clothes and ran off giggling.

Finally, you can lead 150 horses to water, but you can't make them swim. This just in: Yes, you can. It's the annual Assateague Island Pony Swim in Chincoteague, Virginia. Either that or it's a horse's only re-enactment of D-Day. We're not sure. These horses make the five to 10 minute swim from the island to carnival ground, many will swim back to the island, and they will remain there for another year, and still others will continue training for the upcoming horsey triathlon.

"Oddball" on the record books, now. Up next, COUNTDOWN continues with the third story. It was reported on July 8 that the Bush administration wanted Pakistan to arrest a high-value terrorist during the Democratic Convention. Golly gosh! It happened that way.

And the Senate hears from the 9/11 Commission. Commissioner and former senator Slade Gorton joins us here.

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

No. 3: Nick Sigmon of Castro Valley, California. One of two teenage who strapped a firecracker to a rabbit - a firecracker equivalent to a quarter stick of dynamite, then threw the rabbit into a lake. Then when the bunny did not blow out - blow up, Sigmon fished her out of the lake to keep her from drowning. Both of the kids have been charged. Sigmon says, "A lot of people are judging us without knowing us at all." Buddy, who wants to know you?

No. 2: Another duo. Unnamed men in Scottsbluff, Nebraska who walked through the Wal-Mart there wearing only women's thongs. They say it was a quote, "triple dog dare." There's supposed to be video surveillance camera tape. We will pay for it!

And No. 1: Donald Trump. This fine corporation gave that man $50,000 an episode for the first season of "The Apprentice" and now he wants a raise, to $18 million per episode. Guys, if you decide to get rid of him, can I do? Can I say it, please? You're fired!


OLBERMANN: July 8, it was, three weeks ago yesterday, that we reported to you a seemingly farfetched, even outlandish story from the pages of the magazine "The New Republic."

Its correspondent in Karachi reported that Pakistani counterterrorism officials had been pressured by the Bush administration to - quote -

"deliver high-value targets," terrorists, that is, before our presidential election. In fact, one of its sources said a White House aide told the head of Pakistan's intelligence service - quote - "It would be best if the arrest or killing of high-value targets were announced the last 10 days of July." As the magazine noted, that span happened to include the Democratic Convention.

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, Pakistan's intelligence service yesterday arrests a high-value terrorist suspect and today identifies him officially over the next to last two days of July. Coincidence, no doubt.

The man is Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He is on the FBI list of the 22 most wanted terrorists. The Pakistanis say they cornered him 125 miles south of Islamabad last Saturday, then seized him after a 10-hour gun battle. Those who captured him said he was identified shortly after the arrest and Pakistani officials say they delayed announcing all this to accommodate - quote - "double-checks and even triple checks in such cases."

So it wound up being announced yesterday. Coincidence, no doubt.

Assistant editor Spencer Ackerman contributed to the report in "The New Republic" and he joins us now.

Good evening to you, sir.

SPENCER ACKERMAN, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Hey, Keith. Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: It seems to me farfetched that after you published this virtual train schedule that anybody in Pakistan or the U.S. government would actually be stupid enough to let Ghailani's arrest basically follow that schedule. Is it possible this was coincidental?

ACKERMAN: It is possible.

I heard that it did take a little while in between the capture to announce the arrest. I don't know what really guided that delay, why it happened the day that John Kerry officially gave his nomination speech. I suppose it could be coincidence. I really don't know for certain, but it does seem a little fishy.

OLBERMANN: We'll cut to the chase on this. Did your article in the July 19 issue suggest that there was direct manipulation of the arrest of terror suspects in Pakistan for political gain by the Bush administration or was it something less or what was it?

ACKERMAN: Well, what we found from talking to a best of officials in the Pakistani security apparatus was that, over the last couple months, the Bush administration had introduced a new factor into the pressure that it has put on Pakistan since 9/11 to bring in high-value terror suspects, and that's the U.S. electoral calendar.

Now, the reasons that we've had to pressure Pakistan are numerous. Sometimes, there's not as much enthusiasm as we would like on their part to capture these terrorists. Other times, there are circumstances domestically in Pakistan. What doesn't really seem to be a particularly pertinent factor in getting the Pakistanis to bring in these terrorists who are coming after the United States is the U.S. electoral calendar. And yet that's what we found administration officials had been telling their Pakistani counterparts.

OLBERMANN: For a sourced story like this to so hit its mark, the sources have to have been pretty good, obviously, and they usually wind up having a little more to say. Did they have anything more to say on this front? Anybody going to be arrested in Pakistan on September 2 at 12:00 p.m., for instance?

ACKERMAN: I don't really know that I want to talk more about that at this point. But I can only tell you it will sound farfetched and outlandish and probably that's the best thing to say at this point.

OLBERMANN: Well, you were off by a day on this one, because you actually said the 28th and it happened the 29th.

ACKERMAN: I know. I'm kicking myself.

OLBERMANN: Shame, shame. Spencer Ackerman, assistant editor of the magazine "The New Republic," our thanks tonight for your reporting and your time.

ACKERMAN: Thanks very much.

OLBERMANN: From the timing of a terror announcement to the timing of what happens next in the fight against terror.

Firstly, aides to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge are denying reports that he's been talking about resigning after the election due to exhaustion and low pay. Secondly, the 9/11 Commission hearings officially today were transformed into the hearings about the 9/11 Commission hearings.

Today's hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee the first of at least 15 to be held in coming weeks, the commissioners trying to convince lawmakers to put someone in charge of getting U.S. intelligence agencies to work together.


THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: No one was the quarterback. No one was calling the play. No one was assigning roles so the government agencies could execute as a team and not as individuals. We believe the solution to this problem rests with the creation of a new institution, the National Counterterrorism Center.


OLBERMANN: Creating a National Counterterrorism Center is so important to Governor Kean and many of his fellow commissioners, that they may wind up keeping their public commission going as a private operation. Only one month remaining until the commission's government money runs out. Commission leaders said today they are seeking private charitable donations to open a small office in Washington, hire support staff, and continue their work.

Today's Senate hearings were an old home week of sorts for 9/11 Commission member Slade Gorton. From 1982 through 2000, he represented the state of Washington in the Senate. And he's been good enough to join us tonight.

And thank you for your time, sir.

SLADE GORTON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Delighted to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: You've seen this from both sides now. Do you think that the urgency conveyed in your report really has done the seemingly impossible, really inspired the Senate and the House to get legislation out in a matter of months or even weeks?

GORTON: We are both surprised and delighted at how fast the reaction has been.

But if you sit back for just a moment and reflect, what we have really said is, there's still a bomb out there. It has got a fuse and the fuse is lit. And we don't know whether that fuse has five days left or five years. But anybody who delays beyond the time the fuse hits, that is to say that there's another attack, is not going to escape overwhelming criticism and overwhelming blame.

And I think that sense of urgency has caught on with Senator Kerry, with the president, and with both houses of Congress and both parties.

OLBERMANN: Separating the proponent from the plan here, you just mentioned Senator Kerry. He has suggested that the commission should remain officially active for another year and a half and continue to report out every six months during that time.

Regardless of who supports it, who is the president, is the premise correct? Should you as a commission remain on the public payroll and reporting back to the public? Is more time required?

GORTON: We've already made the most important decision. And that is that we're going to stay together. And we'll stay together without any public support or private support. We'll stay together if a foundation wants to help us out and give us a little office. We'll stay together if Congress wants to extend our mandate.

But we're going to stay together and we're going to give the Congress and the administration a report card whenever it is due.

OLBERMANN: That idea of keeping the commission intact unofficially but obviously still very seriously. Do you have a time frame in terms of that? Do you have a time frame in terms of - or a specific purpose, other than keeping this urgency alive in Washington?

GORTON: Well, in fact, the time frame is somewhat quicker now.

We really did not expect that the response would be as prompt as it has been. We were really looking to next January and the beginning of the next Congress for any real action. Now it is certainly possible that there will be some action, both on the part of the administration and the Congress before the election. We're delighted. And if there is, we'll comment on it.

OLBERMANN: Slade Gorton, 9/11 Commission member, former senator from Washington, for your time, sir, and for your work on the commission, our great thanks.

GORTON: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And there was one more development today on the broad front of terror, terror investigations and the 9/11 Commission.

It appears that former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger has been cleared of taking original classified documents accidentally or intentionally out of the National Archives. Last week, only days before the 9/11 Commission was due to report, somebody leaked the fact that Berger was the focus of a criminal investigation for having taken documents from those archives. One version had him stuffing them into his socks, the implication, he was trying to withhold information from the 9/11 Commission.

The timing of the leak suspicious because the infraction of it allegedly occurred last October. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting today that the National Archives has told the paper it is - quote - "confident that there aren't any original documents missing in this case." Berger reviewed only photocopies. He admitted to taking some of them inadvertently, but insisted he had returned them. And officials have accounted for all originals to which he had access.

No apology from House Majority Tom DeLay, who, evoking Watergate, had called the episode a - quote - "third-rate burglary."

Up next here, a potential political wolf wrapped in the sheepskin of a summer blockbuster, how "The Manchurian Candidate" could outinfluence even "Fahrenheit 9/11." And later, "What Have We Learned?" the conventional wisdom gleaned from this week's Democratic love-in still ahead here on COUNTDOWN. All that ahead.

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


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate my running mate. I will tell you, he's not the prettiest man in the race. But he's got sound judgment.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want a chocolate frosty. I got chili and a frosty, a chocolate frosty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that all you want, a chili and a frosty?


TRIUMPH THE INSULT COMIC DOG: Tell me, Joe, you're from Florida. How much are the Republicans going to win by this year? It is all fixed anyway.


TRIUMPH: Come on. That state is more fixed than I am.



OLBERMANN: Who will have a bigger impact on the presidential election, Michael Moore or Denzel Washington?

That's next. This is COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: In its characters, critics have already claimed to have seen fictionalized doppelgangers of such diverse politicos as Hillary Clinton, Dick Cheney, John Edwards, Karen Hughes and Peggy Noonan. It is supposed to be a big-budget Hollywood action thriller epic, but is it really an election-year mind-bender aimed at the citizenry and influence that could make "Fahrenheit 9/11" look like one of the lesser Bugs Bunny cartoons?

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, the premier tonight of the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate."

Frank Rich, once dramatic critic of "The New York Times," now its essayist and associate editor, sees much more in the Denzel Washington-Meryl Streep film than just Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.

I spoke with him earlier.


OLBERMANN: Frank, good evening. Thanks for your time.


How are you?

OLBERMANN: "The Manchurian Candidate," explain the premise here. How could what is obviously a work of fiction and a remake, at that, be a potentially more politically influential film than stuff like "Fahrenheit 9/11" or "Outfoxed?"

RICH: Well, it's a big-budget, mainstream Hollywood film with big stars in it such as Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep. And because it's fictionalized, it can play with the facts even more than the Michael Moore or any documentarian could.

They've taken this movie from the Cold War, where the enemy was obviously the communists, particularly the communist Chinese, and turned the enemy into a company called Manchurian Global that suspiciously resembles both Halliburton and the Carlisle Group, sort of an international money-lending equity fund that seems to have all sorts of hands in the American Army in terms of privatizing it, deals with Saudi Arabia, and which in this movie is out to not only take over the world, but specifically take over the White House by putting sort of a sleeper operative on the ticket.

OLBERMANN: The original version, the almost flawless Laurence Harvey-Frank Sinatra film, had a message in it. If it was one message, it was that the people doing the most to encourage fear of communism in the country were in fact the communists themselves.

Does the new version of the film have that same kind of inside-out premise, that the people doing the most to encourage fear of terrorism, fascism, whatever, are actually terrorists or fascists themselves?

RICH: Yes, absolutely. This is not to say the new one is as good as the 1962 one. It is not.

However, it is really the same premise. Basically, they're saying that the people who are constantly telling you to fear the terrorists, to fear the next terrorist incident are the same ones who are secretly plotting to terrorize the country by subverting the First Amendment and taking everything that is not nailed down in terms of money and favors and serving their corporate interests.

So it is indeed a variation on the original film's premise.

OLBERMANN: You spent more than a dozen years as the dramatic critic at "The Times." You have spent more than a dozen years now as a columnist, largely about politics and the world. And perhaps you're uniquely qualified to answer this.

Did Jonathan Demme and his cast do the impossible? Did they make a film in 21st century Hollywood that actually provokes original thought on the part of the audience or did they merely try to and fail?

RICH: They tried to.

I'm not sure, for a sophisticated audience, it will - whatever the politics of that audience, will tell them anything they didn't know. It's possible that along the fringes - not the fringes, I mean some viewers who don't really follow the news, who have no familiarity with the first man "Manchurian Candidate."

Your sort of routine everyday moviegoer, who doesn't know Michael Moore from Jerry Lewis, it might shake people up a bit, because one of the interesting things about the film, one of the cleverer things about the film is, throughout the movie, you're constantly seeing cable television news, a fictional network that might well resemble this one, with terror alerts, with politicians constantly demagoguing terrorism, with crawls underneath with warnings.

And it may cause people to say, wait a minute, this is some sort of fantastic, but maybe not so fantastic view, if they buy it, of what is really going on here.

OLBERMANN: Just the one network in the movie? Or is there more than one?

RICH: There's only one network. It has some call letters I can't even remember. However, it tells you a little something about where the movie is coming from that its principal correspondent seems to be Al Franken.

OLBERMANN: OK. Well, we know how that battle turned out, then.

Frank Rich, associate editor and essayist of "The New York Times," My pleasure, sir. Thanks for you time.

RICH: Thank you.


OLBERMANN: As usual, life presents us with an unexpectedly smooth segue from the supposed real world to the celebrity news contained within our nightly segment "Keeping Tabs," if only I could say it smoothly.

And "The Manchurian Candidate" may smoke Michael Moore here, but not in Cuba. There, "Fahrenheit 9/11" was shown last night on prime-time television, the state-run channel, naturally, this after it had already run at 120 theaters throughout the imprisoned island. Fidel Castro, not surprisingly, loves the film. But Moore in fact has 100 percent popularity in Cuba, because anti-Castro dissidents who have seen it feel the same way, because, they tell Reuters, the public criticism of the president, of any president is something they wish they could do.

And, meanwhile, you may remember the show, "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis." Well, how about the many cases of Courtney Love? Courtney, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Sorry. They switched her L.A. assault case to the same court in Beverly Hills where they're handling her drug possession case. The New York assault case is staying in New York. If you're confused, please write to us here at COUNTDOWN for our 977-page guide, which diagrams all the charges and cases currently against her.

Coming up, what we have learned from the Democratic National Convention, such as, never put the convention producer on TV without telling him, at least not while he is obsessing about the balloons. That's next.

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


OLBERMANN: Ordinarily here on Fridays, we suspend the No. 1 story to bring you our news quiz, "What Have We Learned?" But, honestly, this is the first full COUNTDOWN of the week. And thus, we felt we would be kind of shortchanging you if we preempted an actual number for what is basically an end-of-the-week time killer. It will return next Friday and we invite to you again to submit questions and punishments for when I get one wrong, if I ever do again, at our Web site,

So at No. 1, tonight what have we learned - from the Democratic Convention, that is? Three parts to this, what we've learned about balloons, what we've learned about from outside the convention, and, first, what we've learned from inside it.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): Ten, put him on national TV and Al Sharpton may deviate from the approved text. Nine, towheaded tots are always crowd-pleasers, albeit somewhat difficult to control.

Eight, Teresa Heinz Kerry is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, French, English and Italian, meaning, as Jay Leno pointed out, she can say shove it in five languages. Seven, Al and Tipper Gore are still into PDA. They have a harder time keeping their hands off each other than do Kerry and Edwards.

Six, delegates dance for no discernible reason. Five, this convention's theme was stronger at home, respected in the world. Four, 2008's theme, Obama-palooza. Three, Ben Affleck is everywhere. He gets more airtime than Chris. Two, John Kerry does not believe in pausing for cheers. And, one, balloons - much more on this in a moment.


OLBERMANN: And about what we've learned from the events around the event, who better to reprise them than our special convention correspondent, Brian Balthazar.


BRIAN BALTHAZAR, COUNTDOWN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a week of nonstop excitement, the DNC has come to a close. And for anyone who would like to get in on the action next time, there are some important lessons that will help you along. First, if you're not invited, you're not getting in.

(on camera): Can you tell me where I can get in here, get a soda or something?

(voice-over): But there's plenty of fun outside the FleetCenter. If you're a young voter, local bars are a great place to meet like-minded liberals.

(on camera): Do you date outside your political party?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't date someone whose beliefs weren't in line with mine, but I would make out with someone of any party really.

BALTHAZAR: Your mother must be so proud.

(voice-over): To make an informed decision this November, talk to all the candidates.

(on camera): How do you plan on winning the election this year?

(voice-over): And I do mean all the candidates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By reaching out to as many people as possible.

BALTHAZAR: If you're out campaigning, understand there are some undecided voters you just can't reach, like Nick (ph).

(on camera): If you had to choose between Bush and Kerry, that would be a very tough decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't choose which eye to pluck out. It is kind of - you know, democracy these days is giving someone a pointy stick and asking them to jab out one of their eyes and telling them that's their choice.

BALTHAZAR (voice-over): My suggestion? Let Nick vote for whoever he wants.

If you decide to demonstrate, make your point abundantly clear. The slightest mistake can change everything.

(on camera): I made this sign.


BALTHAZAR: Give peas a chance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give peas a chance?

BALTHAZAR (voice-over): When speaking, stay on point. Don't talk in circles.

(on camera): I feel of all the people that are on that side of the middle and me, as compared to those people, I'm much more in your corner than I am in that corner, because I have spent 27 years of my life eating butter noodles.

(voice-over): And make sure what you're doing doesn't confuse the tourists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good day and welcome to Boston.

BALTHAZAR: These are street performers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is time for a new president.

BALTHAZAR: These are demonstrators. Street performer. Demonstrator.

Demonstrator. Your guess is as good as mine.

Getting around won't be easy, so no matter what you're doing, wear sensible shoes, whether you're campaigning, demonstrating or keeping the peace.

(on camera): But after a long week of convention, my best suggestion is to take a cab.

(voice-over): And if you're me, don't forget your camera guy.

(on camera): Skip, you coming?

(voice-over): Reporting from outside the convention, I'm Brian Balthazar.


OLBERMANN: Lastly, go, balloons. Go, balloons. Go, balloons. I don't see anything happening, these some of the words of the convention producer Don Mischer. He has won 13 Emmys, produced four Emmy Awards telecasts, plus one Olympic opening ceremony, to say nothing of the series "Donahue and Kids."

But there's a reason producers are producers and not hosts. They don't always know what to do when they're on TV. Mr. Mischer's dissatisfaction with the complex formulas that determined the speed and volume of the descent of the balloons in the wake of the candidate's triumphal speech was, unbeknownst to him, carried live by a cable news network - fortunately, not ours.


DON MISCHER, DNC PRODUCER: Go, balloons. Balloons. What's happening, balloons? There's not enough coming down. All the balloons. Where the hell? There's nothing falling. What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) are you guys doing up there?


OLBERMANN: We leave tonight, then, with you the immortal words of the veteran actor Frank DeKova portraying Chief Wild Eagle on the television series "F Troop." "It is balloon!"

That's COUNTDOWN. Thank you for being part of it.

Bet you didn't see that coming, huh?

I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.

_END _

Friday, July 23, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 23

Guest: Alice Hoagland


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

The 9/11 report, the day after: It's conclusions about the heroes of flight 93 and how a mother responds? Its conclusions about the fiction of contact between Muhammad Atta and Iraq. Its conclusions that may make it the central theme of American politics between now and the election. John Dean joins us.

Send lawyers, guns, money, and a band: Why the military is recalling reserve musicians.

Democrats take over Boston: The preparations - just keep looking into the eye scanner until you can clearly see the image of John Kerry.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. While the country's cry to its leaders of "do something" has followed in the wake of the release of the 9/11 Commission report, it is the echo of another cry that still resonates from the pages of that report itself, "Let's roll."

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, the day after the release of the 9/11 Commission report and the details revealed only by cover to cover reading, that include an almost-overlooked criticism of the Bush administration concept of a war on terror. And they cause the Congress and the president to tonight decide to interrupt their vacations. But most compelling perhaps, the commission's conclusions about the United flight 93, whose passengers they lauded as probably the only people in this country who did everything they could have done that morning. But who they also concluded never breached the cockpit of the doomed airliner. That there was a passenger rebellion and that it caused the plane to crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania and not into the Capitol or the White House. That, the commission found was true, but relying on the cockpit recorder and the flight data, the commission reconstructed a scenario in which many of the passengers indeed tried to take back the plane. The hijacker pilot then rocked the jet's wings violently and as sounds of a fight were heard in the cabin, the pilot asked, "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" And another criminal replied, "No the not yet, when they all come we finish it off."

One passenger shouted, "In the cockpit. If we don't, we die." Sixteen seconds later, another yelled, "Roll it," presumably a reference to the food cart. With which the passengers tried to batter down the cockpit door. And at that point the pilot wad heard asking, "Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" Then another hijacker answers, "Yes, put it down - put it in, rather, and pull it down." The plane crashed 90 seconds later.

Mark Bingham was one the heroic passengers of flight 93. His mother, Alice Hoagland has been a tireless spokesperson for 9/11 families and on behalf of better airline security. She has, herself, resumed her work as a flight attendant for United Airlines; she joins us now from San Francisco.

And thank you so very much for your time again.

ALICE HOAGLAND, SON KILLED ON 9/11: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here.

OLBERMANN: First off...


OLBERMANN: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

HOAGLAND: I was going tell you I'm a retired flight attendant from United Airlines, now. Continuing to try to speak out about aviation security issues.

OLBERMANN: This first issue of whether or not the passengers got into the cockpit. Do you accept the 9/11 Commission's conclusions that they did not?

HOAGLAND: Well, I'm so pleased with the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission on every other point. I'm not going to dicker with them about that. I drew a different conclusion as did most of the folks who sat around me, the flight 93 families who listened to the cockpit voice recording when we were allowed to hear it back in 2002. It seems to me that any person who listened to the cockpit voice recording would draw the same conclusion that we have. That yes, indeed, there was a breach of the cockpit door, by native English-speakers. Very last words I heard on the cockpit voice recording were spoken at a low - at a low level. And they were spoken at close range, to the microphone inside the cockpit and they were spoken by a native speaker of English, and it wasn't "pull it down," the words I remember were, "pull it up" pull it up, spoken once.

OLBERMANN: Regardless of that part of the story, as you suggested, there's no question about the overall conclusion that your son, and the other passengers saved the lives of who knows how many people on the ground. What does it mean to you to have that fact verified, validated, on the record, if you will, for all time?

HOAGLAND: Well, I think all the flight 93 families are very pleased that the September 11 Commission has spoken specifically of the heroics of the passengers on flight 93. I miss my son, Mark, very much, as does every mother who lost a son or daughter on September 11th. It means a great deal to me, I was very pleased to, to read what they, what they wrote. It makes me realize that our loved ones did not die in vain. That because of their sacrifice, even though they weren't able to save their own lives, they did manage to save countless lives on the ground, very likely the lives of senators and U.S. reprehensive, and to also save the U.S. Capitol building.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, the commissioner's yesterday emphasized both that it was the victim's families who had forced the creation of the commission itself and that its essential that the government act on these recommendations with urgency. What are you and other family members going to do to try to force the government into action again?

HOAGLAND: Well, I think that the September 11th families, especially those on the East Coast, deserve a lot of credit. It was because of their untiring, unflinching efforts to bring about the investigation that the 9/11 Commission ever came into existence. I, speaking just for myself, I intend to continue to speak out to the end of my days, about what we need to do in this country, to end terrorism. We still are - we still are not safe. We still face the specter of terrorism, aviation security is not at all what it should be, despite what the airlines would attempt to have us believe. The government needs to do a great deal.

OLBERMANN: Alice Hoagland, again we owe you our greatest thanks for joining us on the newscast tonight.

HOAGLAND: It's my pleasure and honor. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: How the government itself answers that last question has changed tonight. Uniformly, the commissioners said that officials and politicians who ignored their recommendations did so at their own risk. They said this a day after Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert wearily dismissed the idea of any recommendations even being considered by Congress before the elections. And a day before the congressional summer recess began, tonight, that plan has already changed. Speaker Hastert doing a complete about-face calling on several House committees to begin hearings in August, come back with recommendations on specific legislation by September. This, after senators Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman today announced the urgency of the situation will necessitate Senate hearings next month during the vacation.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS COMM: Because of the urgency of this task, we will begin work right away. And we will hold our first governmental affairs hearing to evaluate these recommendations, the first week in August, so no longer is it going to be a sleepy, quiet August around here.


OLBERMANN: And there is late word also that the president plans to use some of his vacation to review the 9/11 report, although he is headed to Crawford for a long weekend. Tonight a White House official announced it will assemble a special task force to outline next steps as soon as possible and Mr. Bush will meet with National Security Adviser Rice on the subject on Monday, in Texas.

Meantime, as politicians and other readers of that report checklist the opportunities missed to stop or mitigate 9/11, they will find an almost-unbelievable one inside a footnote. Al-Qaeda, the commission concludes, might have called off the entire plan on August 17, 2001, if they had known one of their operatives had been arrested. Zacarias Moussaoui detained in Minnesota on that date, for having overstayed his visa. The report reveals that the plot organizer, Ramzi bin al-Shibh told interrogators that the news would have had a chilling impact on al-Qaeda operational chief, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Quote, "Had he known that Moussaoui had been arrested, he would have canceled the attacks."

The FBI knew of Moussaoui's flight training, his radical Islamist beliefs, and his unexplained supply of ready cash, but no one in authority connected him to al-Qaeda, nor publicized his arrest.

Another of the panel's conclusions will be anything but a footnote in the White House. It blasts one of the administration's most frequently expressed theories, that the hijacker, Muhammad Atta met an Iraqi agent in Prague in April of 2001.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Czechs alleged that Muhammad Atta, the lead attacker met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. But we've never been able to develop any more of that yet, either in terms of confirming or discrediting it. We just don't know.


OLBERMANN: The commission discredited it. Not only does it report that Atta was in the U.S., not in Czechoslovakia at the time of the purported meeting, but now it also reveals that the Iraqi agent Atta supposedly met, was also not in Prague in April of 2001.

And lastly, an perhaps most importantly, the 9/11 Commission report argues the very concept of war on terror is not helping things. While lauding the Bush administration for its immediate effort to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and military pursue al-Qaeda, the commission insists that the focus was too vague and diffuse to be effective. "The enemy is not just 'terrorism,' some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment is posed by Islamism terrorism, especially the al-Qaeda network, its affiliates and its ideology." American strategy, it argues, should be focused on dismantling al-Qaeda, prevailing against that which creates Islamist terrorism, and that every element of national power from diplomacy to foreign aid to homeland defense must be employed in that strategy, not just one of them.

The sudden flurry of activity in the legislative and executive branches suggests the initial analysis of the report is almost free of politics, would seem to have been hasty and wrong. John Dean has been a student of American politics since long before he was at the center of one of its most dramatic eras. Once Richard Nixon's White House council, is most recent work is his study of the Bush administration, "Worse than Watergate," and he joins us from New York.

John, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Not bad, yourself.

Where did we get the idea that the 9/11 report was without serious political implication or serious implications about the current administration? And how wrong was that idea?

DEAN: Well I think we got the idea because Mr. Bush did everything in his power to try to stop any kind of 9/11 investigation at all. He started on Capitol Hill, and as you've mentioned in the top of your piece, the families when they were unhappy with that result, forced the formation of this commission. Try - he was trying to downgrade this investigation from day one. What we know is anybody who reads this report, knows this is deadly serious business.

OLBERMANN: Are those hidden conclusions in that report, hidden is my term, the ones dismissing the Atta-Iraq connection, the ones criticizing, not the conduct of the war on terror, to use a Civil War term, but the very concept of a war on terror. Are these things actually going to have impact the White House or what we've seen here today, these decisions by the president to have a meeting with Dr. Rice on Monday, is this - is this for public consumption? Or does it suggest there might be a policy change?

DEAN: Well Keith, I think your choice - I think your choice of words is very good. They are, in a sense, hidden conclusions and they're very nicely laid out. I'm sure that's one of the ways they reached unanimous bipartisan judgment on this, by just sort of tucking them down, not making them black letter but yet laying out very clearly many of these items, that the facts they had just showed had to be said. And they did it and did it in a way that wasn't finger pointing, they're not looking to play the blame-game, and I must say the hats off, not only to the commissioners - the 10 commissioners, but to the staff that assembled this material, which is really quite remarkable. I, in fact, had my doubts about the staff because it's very close, some of the members, to the Bush White House. But they rose above that partisanship and actually did a hell of a job putting together this very, very important document.

OLBERMANN: Especially judging by what happened today, the swing by Dennis Hastert; the swing in the Senate to reconvene select committee meetings and hearings next month during the vacation. Could the report itself wind up becoming, not just an aspect of the presidential election, but "the" aspect of the presidential election?

DEAN: Well, I think it's started a populist movement, of sorts. I was, frankly, horrified when I heard Dennis Hastert first said, that well, this is something I think we can get to in Congress, it was really quite out of - inappropriate and really quite remarkable for as able a politician as he is, to come out and make that remark. Those are often very carefully considered remarks. It was the plan they had, but obviously, when people were going to Hastert's district with microphones and getting a very negative reaction to the speaker's comments, he quickly had an about-face. Plus when the Senate came out, when senators Lieberman and Collins came out and said they were commencing an investigation, they put the heat on, and they read the public right, I think on this, that the movement has started, that the public wants to see result. In fact, it's occurred to me this would make a wonderful COUNTDOWN, take all those recommendations, hard and soft and let's see how fast they can deal with them.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, the thing coming back from vacation is reminiscent, I guess, of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, who had, as I remember it, dissolved Parliament in the late '30s, just on the eve of the Hitler's deal with the Russians and then obviously suddenly everybody has to snap back into place. But, my last question John, ultimately, and to draw on your own White House experience and your work as a historian, you use the term "populist." Can a populist movement spring up out of a report like this? Can people, just ordinary citizens move so quickly that even politicians have to sit up and take notice?

DEAN: I think they can if particularly if they become aware of the contents. Taking sound bytes of the report, taking clips from radio or television or seeing summaries in the newspaper will obviously have an impact, but not nearly as great an impact as if people actually look at this report. It was a very delicate job to write it, they wrote it, it is not a James Patterson thriller, but it is thrilling to read it, because it is really quite emotional to read it. And when you get to the recommendation section and they start laying out those black letters, they make such eminent good sense that people are going to say, "Why not do that? Why shouldn't we implement these things?" And I think the Congress and the White House, whoever may be there over the next say, year to 18 months, they're going to have to answer to this if they don't deal with it because the commission has said clearly, terrorism hasn't gone away. In fact, I would recommend page 365 for one very nice tight summary of what a president can and can't do in this area.

OLBERMANN: Page 365. I'm writing it down, John. John Dean, the author of "Worse than Watergate" White House council to President Nixon. Thanks, as always, for your time tonight, my friend.

DEAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Late-breaking news here, as well. Just three days after the Sandy Berger document story broke, another prominent Washington figure is under investigation. According to law enforcement officials, republican Senator Richard Shelby, for eight years a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee is now a subject of a criminal investigation probing whether he was behind a leak to the media of what are called "classified intercepts." The intercepts in question included a message delivered the day before September 11 that said, quote, "Zero hour begins tomorrow." The leak of that information triggered a firestorm of criticism towards the White House. Senator Shelby was the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time. Law enforcement sources telling NBC News that his case has now been referred to the Senate Ethics Committee, an indication that he is unlikely to face a criminal indictment.

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the fallout from the September 11 report. Up next, the No. 4 story: Special delivery to Iraq. More money, more ammo, and more music? That's not a joke.

And later, the breaking Kobe Bryant news, plus the Hollywood effect in a tight election race. Well outspoken celebrities actually woo voters? Or are the voters saying, "Eh, we're not that interested in what you have to say?"


OLBERMANN: Next here on COUNTDOWN, supporting America's bravest, by bringing back into service all if its retired band members.


OLBERMANN: The U.S. Army has called for back-up from the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines, not personnel, cash. Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: The military has burned through most of the $65 billion Congress appropriated for Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army spending the most of it, and they're evidently also way low on musicians. The Army is in red by more than 10 billion, Air Force one billion, and Navy nearly that, the Marines looking like good managers at only half a billion, but Congress racing to find another 25 billion to get the military through the start of the recess. But, much of it will be immediately spent, and this all may recur before year's end. The budget problem has led to cuts in everything from night vision equipment to armor plating of vehicles, to say nothing of the manpower shortage. The Army has called Dr. John Wicks out of retirement, he is a psychiatrist. He's headed to Iraq, he is 68 years old. Fifty-six hundred other ex, or thought they were ex-military personnel will soon be notified they're being recalled as part of the individual ready reserve, including a lot of people with specific skills, like Dr. Wicks or the 627 supply specialists, the 361 mechanics, the one euphonium player. According to the IRR list, Uncle Sam also needs two trumpeters, a pair of French hornists, three saxophonists, four clarinet players, a percussionist, an electric bass player, and a guy with a trombone. We are blowing neither smoke nor trumpets at you, your country needs a new band. This is serious stuff and Tom Squitieri of "USA Today" broke the story this week, and joins us now having left his trombone at home.

Tom, good evening.

TOM SQUITIERI, "USA TODAY": Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: It sounds like there's a lounge act playing in some motel bar tonight that may find itself in Iraq by the fall. What the hell is this all about?

SQUITIERI: Well, the truth is, that they need a lot of bands people to play for funerals, as well as morale-boosting activities. And when these guys are not performing, they're doing guard duty.

I've heard, Keith, today at the Pentagon they were not very pleased to have this out, because they didn't want this, the depth and the width of the call-up being known. But, I've been told that by this weekend, they will have found volunteers for these 15 musical slots, and no one will be forced to pick up their trumpet and go to Iraq.

OLBERMANN: Just going to ask you to reaction to the - you know, the concept of forcibly reuping Clarence Clemmons. Is the - you know, the ludicrousness of this, does it extend to any other areas? Are there - you know, I don't know a lot of graphic artists that are forcibly being recalled?

SQUITIERI: No graphic arts, there's some morticians, there's some bug experts, a lot of truck drivers as you noted in sort of support positions. But what it underscores Keith, is that - is that the degree of difficulty the military is facing in these ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to experts.

The military is stretched and you've talked about this before, and a lot of these skilled positions - you know, you think of the military only as shooting, but there are all the other positions that are required to make the military work. And they don't have them any more. And the problem is, they have to plan for next year and the year after, now. And to take the troops from other reserve units means busting up those units and then they can't use them next year.

OLBERMANN: Is there anybody still saying in the Pentagon, no, we did not under budget in terms of personnel for Iraq? Or, are they suggesting that somehow their predictions were correct but then events changed?

SQUITIERI: It's more of the latter, that their predictions were correct. And we've always said we would have to have more troops or less troops depending on the circumstance. But in reality is, that canard isn't flying too much any more when you talk to people, especially on the record or in the hall - off the record or in the hallways. Even secretary Rumsfeld acknowledges that he'll put as many troops in there as is required. And the problem is, Keith, again, there - they've tapped Peter to pay Paul, much as you said in the introduction, taking money away from night vision to pay for the ongoing war today, means in the future they won't have them. One key thing, they're sending the elements that now train the soldiers in Forts Irwin and Fort Polk, they're sending these sophisticated people to fight in the war, which means troops that will be trained will not be trained as well as the ones in the past.

OLBERMANN: An adage of Benjamin Franklin suddenly comes to mind. Tom Squitieri of "USA Today" who in fact play the trombone.


OLBERMANN: Thanks for your time tonight, glad you're not going and take five.

SQUITIERI: Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN now passed our No. 4 story. Up next, from the hard news of war and terror to the hard to understand headlines that we love so well, "Oddball." Monkey gets sick, monkey gets better, monkey walks like human.

And nothing leaves us scratching our heads more than Michael Jackson. Will the latest M.J. news make it into our weekly news quiz, "What have we learned?" Learn later.


OLBERMANN: Time now to lay down the heavy mantle of serious news and pick up instead the paper crown of serious silliness. Let's play "Oddball."

Meet the Natasha the Mackambakay (SIC) monkey - Macaque. About two weeks ago she and several other fellow primates at the Safari Park in Tel Aviv came down with a near-fatal stomach flu. Vets were able to save her life, but she suffered a seriously strange side effect. Natasha started to do this. Those of you familiar with the threat of the damn dirty apes can appreciate just how rare this is. This is a monkey walking continuously upright. Just like us. Well, some of us. In fact, the zookeepers had never even heard of this happening before. What did it all mean? Is she the missing link? Does it prove that there's a Yeti or a Sasquatch or a Bigfoot or Natasha? Actually none of the above, Natasha only did this for two days, possibly because her body pain had subsided, possibly because she had temporarily brain-damaged herself, or she made have read her "Animal Farm" by George Orwell and agreed "two legs bad, four legs good."

Apparently four short legs, better still. If you thought the running of the bulls in Pamplona was brutal, you obviously have not seen the carnage from Kansas. Humans line up waiting for the gates to open and they're running. It's the 11th annual running of the wiener dogs in Kansas City. Several pounds of dangerous animal chasing mere mortal men. Stop turning around, flee, please flee! At lest that guy in the orange had the right idea, just keep going. Whatever you do, do not look back at these fearsome creatures. Fortunately nobody got gored during the grisly spectacle, although some human socks were reportedly damaged.

Finally tonight, in honor of the man who first brought bull-running to our national attention. Dozens of white-hired full-bearded men gathering in Key West, Florida to compete for the title of Best Ernest Hemmingway Look-Alike. Look-alike, not drink alike. It's part of the 105th annual Hemmingway Days festival held at one of the authors favorite bar. Actually not 105th annual, it's his 105th birthday would have been today.

More than 150 fans competed this year, including a pensioner who came all the way from Kazakstan for the festival. And once again, none of men chose to enter the "Recreate How Ernest Hemingway Retired" Contest. Think about it.

"Oddball" in the record books now.

Up next, gearing up for Beantown, security measures tightened, local patience frayed as the Democrats prepare to descend on their convention. And later, "Fahrenheit 9/11" may be depicted as the opening salvo from Hollywood. Salvo of what? Is it having any impact? These stories ahead.

First, here are the COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.

No. 3, the unnamed driver on the Germany Autobahn highway. Almost any speed is OK on the Autobahn, but not any vehicle. The Swedish tourist was on his skateboard carrying a golf club. Police got him off the road.

No. 2, John Corson of Madison, Maine, hit by lightning earlier this week says he's not just fine. He's feeling more energy than he has in the last 10 years. You bet. In fact, he says he feels 100 years younger. Now, since Mr. Corson just passed his 56th birthday, his improvement would mean he's now minus-44 years old.

No. 1, Ziggy Zablotny, no, not just for his name. He was aboard a charter fishing boat off the Georgia coast. He got a bit of a surprise. Out of nowhere, a 30-pound barracuda leaped 30 feet out of the water into the boat's salon, where it then bit Mr. Zablotny. Man bites dog is news. Fish bites man, gets book contract, that's COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: More than 65 million people in this country voted on the last night of "American Idol"; 105 million Americans voted in the last election, making it not that implausible to state that more people will dial a phone for the next "American Idol" this fall than for the next American president this fall.

No. 3 on the COUNTDOWN tonight, politics somewhat in peril, from voter apathy to convention security to Hollywood liberals in the crosshairs.

First, the body politic, beginning with the latest numbers on where things supposedly stand; 49 percent of registered voters surveyed by "USA Today" and Gallup favoring Senator Kerry, 45 percent President Bush. Plus-or-minus, though, is three. The president faring slightly better among voters likely to vote, 47 percent to Mr. Kerry's 49, putting the president within the three-point margin of error. A two-point spread also evident in "The L.A. Times"' latest survey, Kerry 48-46, but, again, a three-point margin of error.

A large majority of votes already entrenched, according to "The Times" survey, 82 percent saying they are certain this is how they will actually vote in November, compared to 17 percent the says it might still change. That certainly not wavering along party lines either, 83 percent among Democrats and 85 percent among Republicans.

On the other hand, the "USA Today" pollsters asked how much thought voters had given to the upcoming election; 66 said quite a lot, 3 percent some, 28 percent only a little, 2 percent none at all. And the last group is the special people, 1 percent having no opinion about whether they even think about the election. No word on whether they know their own names.

Senator Kerry's coronation looms. So do fears of terrorism or nonterrorist trouble at the convention. It is thought-provoking though not necessarily useful to remember that 231 years ago in that same city, the government of the moment would have viewed things like the Boston Tea Party as terrorism or at least nonterrorist trouble.

The latest threat supposedly directed at us, an FBI warning that domestic radicals might attack the transmission trucks of television news operations. COUNTDOWN will emanate from here next week.

Our correspondent Bob Faw is already on security watch in the old town.


BOB FAW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Boston, for its first national political convention, is sprucing up and hunkering down, massive, unprecedented security, with riot gear, bomb-sniffing dogs, even robots to diffuse explosives.

None of that however will stop traffic, already choking, from snarling even more convention week when some major arteries are closed for security. The gridlock predicted as merchants steam. Here, where three generations have sold wine and liquor they expect sales to plunge 50 percent.

JEFFREY CIRACE, MERCHANT: My regular customers are leaving the neighborhood, the neighborhood customers that I have. And my out of town customers are certainly not going to attempt to come into the city.

FAW: Rich Faracano (ph) figures it will be so hard to get to his barber shop, he's closing up four hours early each convention day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to lose, yes, half a day's pay for three days this in a row.

FAW: One survey here says only 11 percent of local businesses expect the convention will benefit them. Reservations next week at this police north end restaurant, zero.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am proud that the Democratic Convention is going to be here. But, on the same token, we're losing money.

FAW: Some of course like restauranteur Peno Arano (ph) counter, the sky is not falling, that 36,000 conventioneers won't be chained to their seat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to be there to say, I was there for our half an hour. Then you go have some pasta for dinner.

FAW (on camera): That's what you're hoping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what I'm hoping and that's what going to happen.

FAW (voice-over): Hoping for foolproof security, the posh Nine Zero Hotel is even scanning irises of some guests and all employees.

JIM HORSMAN, NINE ZERO HOTEL: And that if they're not authorized to be here, guess what, they don't get access.

FAW: Just the way some residents who live near the convention center have found their access restricted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a resident, I'm very miffed by it.

FAW: So pride here and exasperation. Or as one Boston cabbie put it, everyone should be happy, but no, everything is upside-down.

Bob Faw, NBC News, Boston.


OLBERMANN: Boston's own Ben Affleck not only expected to attend the convention, but also to speak. And even though Bennifer is now done-a-fer, it is perhaps surprising that Affleck's support of Senator Kerry has not been cause for controversy, at least not yet.

So far in this election cycle, it seems as if there's been little patience for or in fact influence by the proverbial Hollywood liberals intent on speaking their minds. Liberals in Hollywood, who knew? Somebody ought to look into that, like correspondent Tom Costello.


_UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So how are you doing? _

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Moore may have fired the opening salvo, but now the attacks are coming from all sides, celebrities taking aim at President Bush.




COSTELLO: Whoopi Goldberg, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Ozzy Osbourne, Linda Ron, Linda Ronstadt, Barbra Streisand, Martin Sheen just some of the entertainers who have made it clear they want to make President Bush a one-term president.

JESSICA LANGE, ACTRESS: yes, I'll do everything that I possibly can, short of selling my children.

COSTELLO: But can the rhetoric backfire? Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: They're using their views and their celebrityhood to push issues home. But I don't think you get a lot of people wanting to hear it.

COSTELLO: Jane Fonda was accused of crossing the line when she traveled to Hanoi to protest the Vietnam War. And Sean Penn traveled to Baghdad.

(on camera): But with Republicans winning the White House in six of the last nine elections, Hollywood's ability to influence those elections may be questionable. Many voters say the entertainers should stick to entertaining.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any opinion any celebrity has towards politics, I don't really pay attention to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess my friends and family influence me more on politics than celebrities would.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they can influence somebody who is not really thinking about what the issues are.

COSTELLO (voice-over): "Newsweek" magazine's Howard Fineman says it's the undecided voter who is being targeted.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I do think people get information and guidance from wherever in the atmosphere of American culture today. And popular culture does have an impact.

COSTELLO: No matter how it affects the vote, there can also be consequences for being outspoken. Linda Ronstadt was run out of a Vegas casino for promoting Michael Moore's movie.


WHOOPI GOLDBERG, COMEDIAN: If I can do it, you can do it.


COSTELLO: And Slim-Fast dropped Whoopi for being obscene. And remember what happened to those Dixie Chicks C.D.s?

Tom Costello, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: Speaking of great performances, lastly on the political front, if you were waiting for round two between Vice President Dick Cheney and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, keep waiting. The vice president passed the senator in the Cabinet room of the White House yesterday. Mr. Cheney nodded politely to Senator Leahy, but no words were exchanged, unlike June 22, when, during the annual senatorial team photo, the veep told the Vermonter to blank off.

So no rumble in the jungle, no thrilla among the vanilla, no rap at all in the Capitol.

COUNTDOWN now three-fifths complete. Up next, No. 2, the new ruling from the judge in the Kobe Bryant case against Colorado's rape shield law for the admission of a limited look at the accuser's sexual history. Is this case over? And from within the Martha Stewart camp, is she actually chomping on the bit to go to prison?

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Next, ahead on COUNTDOWN, a victory for the defense tonight in the Kobe Bryant case and a defendant rushing to jail in the Martha Stewart case, perhaps.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: It is a familiar defense strategy in a rape case, put the victim on trial to some degree or another. And it's common because it's proven to work. Kobe Bryant's attorneys now putting it to work for their client.

Our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN, a victory late this afternoon, evidence a major victory for the defense, Judge Terry Ruckriegle deciding to admit some of the physical evidence of sexual activity by the alleged victim in the two days before and the hours immediately after the claimed rape. The state's case against Bryant, what's left of it, will go on display when the trial begins a month from next Thursday.

Here to weigh in on the significance of the ruling today, the former district attorney of Denver, Colorado, Norm Early, now an MSNBC analyst.

And good evening to you, sir.

_NORM EARLY, MSNBC ANALYST: Hi. How are you, Keith?_

OLBERMANN: Point blank, did the prosecution probably just lose this case?

EARLY: I don't think so, Keith.

This isn't the first time that the Colorado rape shield law has been pierced. And it won't be the last. This is exactly the kind of situation that the Colorado legislators anticipated when they passed this law. She's claiming injury at the hands of Kobe Bryant. The defense has probably introduced an expert who says that this injury could have been caused by consensual sex with someone else. Given that, it's up to the jury to determine how it actually occurred.

OLBERMANN: There's a reference in the judge's ruling to the credibility of the accuser being a factor. Does it mean just that, literally, or a factor, or is this judicial code for, right now in my eyes this accuser doesn't have a lot of credibility?

EARLY: I don't think it's the latter.

I think what we're talking about is that the jury should decide whether or not this woman is credible in terms of her prior sexual history. You will recall that they paraded a slew of individuals into that courtroom to testify about things that happened months, weeks and years ago.

The judge has said, hey, it's limited to 72 hours and 72 hours only, because it is within that 72 hours that it's possible that she could have sustained that tear to her vagina. But, Keith, even did she did sustain that tear to her vagina a few hours before the sex with Kobe Bryant, you've got to ask yourself, why would somebody with that kind of tear have consensual sex with Kobe Bryant or anybody else if they're suffering in that way?

OLBERMANN: Well, just because you're nuts doesn't mean you weren't attacked.

EARLY: That's right.

OLBERMANN: But let me ask you to summarize this. Did you expect this would be the ruling or is this a surprise, given the fact that, although it may be flexible, that rape shield law in Colorado is still a fairly strong and potent thing?

EARLY: I think both sides have been given to hyperbole in terms of the importance of decisions that go their way in the case. I predicted that it would be allowed in a limited way. And I predicted that it would be probably 72 hours of the alleged rape. What the judge has done is narrowed it even more, 72 hours of the rape examination.

OLBERMANN: Norm Early, the former district attorney of Denver on the ruling in the Bryant case, admitting the alleged victim's sexual history for the three days prior and several hours after the reported rape, as he said, as he predicted. Thank you for your insight, sir.

EARLY: Thanks a lot, Keith. Take care of yourself.

OLBERMANN: As we go from the No. 2 story to our nightly celebrity roundup, "Keeping Tabs," we go from one high-profile court case to another. When asked directly about the topic last week, Martha Stewart seemed to pooh-pooh the idea, but the high doyen of household hints may have had an epiphany, sources close to the case telling our correspondent Anne Thompson that Ms. Stewart is now seriously considering serving her five-month prison term sooner rather than later.

Premise, it would make Wall Street, stockholders and magazine advertisers happy. And we know that they mean enough to her that she did everything but sell subscriptions on the steps of the courthouse after sentencing last week.

The remaining detail of the case was cleared up today, too. The former brokerage assistant who became the top witness against Stewart, Douglas Faneuil, was sentenced, no time, just a fine of $2,000.

And another regular contributor to "Keeping Tabs" has finally surrendered to police two weeks after a judge issued a warrant for her arrest when she failed to show up for arraignment on an assault charge. Courtney Love, oh my gosh, posting $150,000 bail at an L.A. police station this afternoon, currently roaming free. Stay indoors, please. Stay indoors in greater Los Angeles County. Just joking.

That's until her next precourt date, a pretrial hearing on a different charge next week. That one deals with her felony counts of drug possession. She'll be back in court for the other charge, the one for assault - you following this? - next month. That is, if she can keep track of which charge, which court, which city, which coast, which time zone, and which time.

Still ahead of us here on COUNTDOWN, it was the political ad of the week. It had the whole country pointing and clicking and laughing and singing along and unified in its disunity. But will the details of this cartoon stump even me in our weekly news quiz, "What Have We Learned?"

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: It's Friday.

And the rules here say that, on Friday, there is no No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, just a review of the week's other 24 numbered stories and the hundreds of others we just kind of slipped in. We've turned this review into a chance for you and the staff to torture me. It may look like a news quiz. It is in fact, a communal pig-sticking that we call:

_ANNOUNCER: "What Have We Learned?" _

OLBERMANN: Here to explain the rules, how you affected them and how I get punished is the lovely and talented emcee of "What Have We Learned?" Monica Novotny.

Monica, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Yes, I'll bet.

NOVOTNY: As always, we will begin by reminding viewers that you can take MSNBC's weekly news quiz on our Web site at

As for our news quiz rules, when we say, what have we learned, we really mean, what has he learned, if anything. So, consider this your chance to stump Mr. Olbermann. You choose the questions and just in case our esteemed host cannot come up with the answers, a punishment. Again, go to our Web site. Click on e-mail the show, type in news quiz in the subject line and send us your question and punishment. We will do the rest.

And now, with our thanks to those of you who took part this week, sir, the viewers have spoken. Are you ready?


NOVOTNY: There will be punishment, by the way, if you don't get at least half of these right.

OLBERMANN: Half. All right.

NOVOTNY: That's right.

OLBERMANN: And what's the punishment?

NOVOTNY: We'll determine that at the time.

OLBERMANN: But a viewer has suggested it?

NOVOTNY: Absolutely.


NOVOTNY: These are all viewer punishments.

OLBERMANN: Terrific.

NOVOTNY: All right, two minutes on the clock, please. And please don't be difficult.

Rhonda (ph) from Massachusetts asks, what celebrity is reportedly a distant relative to Senator John Kerry?

OLBERMANN: Britney Spears.


From J.C., more than five million people have downloaded a political parody featuring the president and Senator Kerry from which Web site?

_NOVOTNY: Indeed _

When did the Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger first use the term girly men in a political context?

OLBERMANN: It was February of 1992. He was stumping for the first President Bush in Derry, New Hampshire.


From Kato (ph), what's the name of the rabbit claiming to be the world's largest and how much does the rabbit weigh?

_OLBERMANN: Which Kato? Is it Kato Kaelin? Kato?_

NOVOTNY: I don't know. Kato, our viewer.

OLBERMANN: Wow. I remember it's not - it should be Harvey, but it's not. It's Roberto.


OLBERMANN: And, what, it's how much he weighs?


OLBERMANN: Twenty-seven pounds, 26 pounds?

NOVOTNY: Twenty-seven pounds.

OLBERMANN: Twenty-seven pounds. I was right.

NOVOTNY: You were right.


NOVOTNY: This is so painful this week. Michael Jackson is rumored to be expecting how many children next year?

_OLBERMANN: What do you mean by expecting children? __NOVOTNY: How many children? _

OLBERMANN: What do you mean by expecting children? I'm burning a little time here?


_NOVOTNY: I mean, what's the rumor? _

OLBERMANN: Oh, all right. I was just - it's supposedly quadruplets that he's the nominal father of. Four.

NOVOTNY: And question, bonus question, who's the daddy?

OLBERMANN: Who's the daddy? Mr. Anonymous.

NOVOTNY: Exactly. Anyone not Michael.

OLBERMANN: Anyone not - all right. Fine.

NOVOTNY: Steve from Indiana, a poll of Hispanic American voters puts what presidential candidate ahead and by how much? And Steve actually requested that you answer this in Espanol.

OLBERMANN: Well, I don't speak Spanish, sadly. But I can say - no, I can't anything at all. I can only then tell you it's 60 percent for Mr. Kerry and 30 percent for Mr. Bush.

NOVOTNY: Moving on.

Jenny (ph) from Florida writes, Brian Berg (ph) has built a house of cards, hoping to break the world record for card stacking. How many cards did he use?

OLBERMANN: Seven. No, that one, I remember we did this story, and I have no bloody idea how many there were. But there were a lot.


NOVOTNY: That's wrong; 20,000.

OLBERMANN: But I said - you're so proud of yourself. That's wrong.


NOVOTNY: I am proud of myself. This will be a miserable week.

OLBERMANN: Yes, it will. No punishment coming up.

NOVOTNY: This is the best that you've done.

OLBERMANN: Is that it?

NOVOTNY: That's it.

OLBERMANN: We're out of time and we're out of questions? How did I do, tell me, pray tell? What's that?

NOVOTNY: You got six for seven, so that's your...

OLBERMANN: What's this?

NOVOTNY: That's your reward.

OLBERMANN: What is it?

NOVOTNY: It's an eight-ball.

OLBERMANN: It's an eight-ball? Like I didn't have one of these already that I'm always behind?

NOVOTNY: If you don't know the answers next week, you can just ask.

OLBERMANN: Yes, well, OK. Now, how many cards did that guy put up there?

All right, be sure to keep those questions coming, because, really, nothing is more fun than this.

NOVOTNY: Oh, yes.


OLBERMANN: Possibly root canal.

Thank you, Monica.

Thank you, questioners.

No punishment. I guess we'll find that out next week.

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

Good night. I got six of seven. And good luck.


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 20

Guest: Sean Smith, Carl Bernstein, Mike Huckabee, Ken Baker


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

The Justice Department investigates former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Sensitive documents walked out of the National Archives. Sloppiness or scandal? And why is it coming out now? Investigative journalist Carl Bernstein joins us to sit for the truth.

Thirty-six hours before the release of the 9/11 Commission report, it seemed to be the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century. Now we know better. Lisa Myers tonight, with the solemn catalog of opportunities missed to stop the nightmare.

Martha Stewart misses nothing. She will write a new book about how to prepare yourself for a trial. We'll have suggested chapter headings.

And what's the one thing the world needs most right now? Exactly. More kids fathered by Michael Jackson - quadruplets, reportedly. It could be worse, could be the Jackson Five.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. Samuel Richard "Sandy" Berger grew up in a family that ran a clothing store in Millerton, New York, and then between his works for President Carter and President Clinton, one of his legal clients was Payless Shoes. Tonight, the imagery of jackets and footwear has taken on an entirely different meaning for the former national security adviser.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The Justice Department criminal investigation into whether or not Mr. Berger illegally or just accidentally took sensitive documents from the National Archives, has grown into a cottage industry of conspiracy theories, one of which, loudly and angrily denied by Berger and others, suggests he stuffed some of the documents into his socks.

But another one may have been advanced by Berger's decision late this afternoon to step aside, but not down, as an informal adviser to presidential candidate John Kerry. Berger admits that in preparing for his appearance before the 9/11 Commission, he inadvertently took copies of classified documents, some of them said to be critical of the Clinton administration handling of the millennium threat.

Government officials telling NBC News that employees at the archives told the FBI they saw Mr. Berger putting some of the documents into his clothing. Berger says he has returned all documents, except for a few he apparently discarded. And he repeated at a news conference earlier this evening that he deeply regrets his, quote, "honest mistake."

The 9/11 Commission says its efforts were unaffected by whatever Mr. Berger did or did not do, but his ex-boss says the timing of leak is, quote, "interesting," what with the commission's report due out Thursday. President Clinton also says he buys Berger's explanation.


BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The innocent explanation is the most likely one, particularly given the facts involved. And I know him, he's a good man, he's worked his heart out for this country and he did everything he could to protect us, so I'm confident he'll be fine.


OLBERMANN: Once more, an atypical event in Washington, missing documents, explanations, innocent and nefarious, and political spin going in all directions at once. To try to help sort this out, we are fortunate to be joined again by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, now contributing editor of "Vanity Fair" magazine, Carl Bernstein.

Thank you once more for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: I'd like to start actually at the end. This went instantly from a missing documents story to at least a duel-edged political sword set of insinuations that somehow this tracks into Sandy Berger's affiliation with the Kerry campaign, another that - a story about events that happened last October was perhaps deliberately leaked out now to distract somehow from the release of the 9/11 Commission report Thursday. Have the political machines become too slick now to allow for what used to be called plain old breaking news?

BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. This is a very important journalistic moment, because this is a story that we don't understand yet. It needs context, it cries out for facts which we don't have yet. It ought not be politicized, unless in the end there really is a political explanation, which could be doubtful, but there's always the possibility that there is.

And it also, it seems to me, about the 24-hour news cycle in cable television. It's very important that cable television not allow this to become a screaming fest between talking heads of the Republican and Democratic parties, that has nothing do with what this election is really about. And so far, it seems to me in the 24 hours since this story has broken, the cable news industry has not really responded in a contextual, serious way - hopefully until this moment, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Well, I was going to say, I think the boat there has not only sailed, but we can't see it at the horizon.

BERNSTEIN: It's off the edge.

OLBERMANN: I would suspect particularly that you would have blanched yourself visibly, late this afternoon, when the House majority leader, Mr. DeLay, said this incident involving Mr. Berger was, quote, "a third-rate burglary."

BERNSTEIN: I blanch at most things Mr. DeLay says, actually, and I think there's a pretty good reason for that and a pretty good history for that. It's too bad that we have a majority leader that speaks in those ways instead of is a serious man who's serious about government and not about redistricting and gerrymandering the opposite party.

OLBERMANN: Well, let's bring it back to the essentials. Walk me through the journalistic process that apparently has been ridden roughshod over in the last 24 hours. Which are the key questions of substantive fact here that you would look to have answered?

BERNSTEIN: One, what were these memos? And my understanding, I think of the material that Berger was looking at, so far from what I read is, that he was preparing for the 9/11 Commission. That particularly there were reports that reflected badly on both the Bush and the Clinton administrations, particularly from National Security Deputy Richard Clarke, who of course wrote a book on all this.

I think we need to be looking at the question of, does this really have anything to do with the 9/11 Commission's report and alter it in any way, and was Mr. Berger really doing something nefarious here to aid the Kerry campaign, which seems to me to be a stretch, but anything is possible. And that - at the same time, he obviously acted inappropriately in the way he handled these documents, but the reasons I'm not ready to say that it's nefarious, and I think we ought to find out some more facts.

OLBERMANN: The mechanics of a secure reading room at the National Archives would be an entire mystery to me. But one universal question I've heard, and I'd appreciate your perspective on it if you have anything to add to it, is it plausible that any former national security adviser, Republican, Democrat, Federalist, could either accidentally walk off with material from one or would in a million years try to walk off with material? These two things seem equally far-fetched to the layman.

BERNSTEIN: It seems fairly far-fetched. Certainly - first of all, they're talking about first some handwritten notes he made. I certainly can understand how somebody in the National Security Archive or that kind of environment could write some notes to himself and stick them in his pocket.

In terms of the original documents, it - I don't know. It certainly sounds exceptional, and at the same time, I can't imagine what the purpose of it would be, unless it had to do with real preparation for the 9/11 Commission. It certainly seems to me that there's very little to suggest that it was to brief or aid the Kerry campaign, as Republican Congressman Smith of Oregon said today.

But then again, we have to withhold judgment. You know, anything can happen. And we need facts, and I suspect that we're going to find out the facts, and it sure would be great to see that this sideshow not get us away from the real question of this election, which is about this war and the honesty and the competence of the Bush presidency, and people ought to be able to make up their minds about these two candidates on that basis, whatever way they see it. If they see that George Bush is the superior person in terms of handling national security, then vote for him. If they think that Mr. Kerry is and that Mr. Bush has led us into a needless, disastrous war and has been dishonest with the American people, and Vice President Cheney has been dishonest, then cast their vote for Kerry, or not at all.

But the real point here is this is a sideshow. At least it is now, and it will remain such and probably should remain such, but we also need to know what the facts are and keep this thing in some kind of journalistic perspective rather than it be another occasion for a shouting fest between talking heads from each party.

OLBERMANN: Once again, the boat is over the horizon. Carl Bernstein...

BERNSTEIN: Well, call it back.

OLBERMANN: We'll do our best, thank you for contributing.

BERNSTEIN: Get them on the radio.

OLBERMANN: The contributing editor of "Vanity Fair" magazine. Once again, our great thanks, Carl Bernstein.

If the timing of the leak about the Berger investigation is indeed politically connected, it might still not be the ugliest campaign story of the day. That dishonor would come from Louisville, where only after the urging of the local Republican congresswoman, the headquarters of the Jefferson County Republican Party has removed an extraordinary bumper sticker from its front window. "Kerry is bin laden's man," the sticker read, "President Bush is mine." Forty to 50 of these stickers appeared on a campaign paraphernalia table at the GOP headquarters there last week. Republican Congresswoman Anne Northup she agreed with her Democratic opponent, Tony Miller, that the sticker was inappropriate and that local Republicans should stop displaying and distributing it.

Chairman Jack Richardson says he does not know how it got there, but he didn't have a problem with letting visitors take any of the stickers. He has no idea who made these, but says if he finds out he will tell anybody who calls and asks where they can get one.

Ultimately, there is this political question - why limit yourself to disparaging just one candidate? Both tickets are skewered in an animated parody burning up the Internet. More than five million so far logging on to watch it. From the Spiridellis brothers of, it's "This Land."



This land your land, this land is my land. I'm a Texas tiger, you're a liberal wiener. I'm a great crusader, you're a Herman Munster. This land will surely vote for me.

CARICATURE JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): This land is your land, this land is my land. I'm an intellectual, you're a stupid dumb (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I'm a Purple Heart winner. And yes, it's true, I've won it thrice. This land will surely vote for me.

BUSH: You have more waffles than a House of Pancakes. You offer flip-flops, I offer tax breaks. You're a U.N. (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and yes it's true that I kick (EXPLETIVE DELETED). This land will surely vote for me.

KERRY: You can't say nuclear, that really scares me. Sometimes a brain can come in quite handy. But that's not going to help you because I won three Purple Hearts. This land will surely vote for me.


OLBERMANN: We move from real-life politicians made into caricatures to a fictional one who might look a little too much like a caricature of a real-life senator and former first lady. Paramount has remade the John Frankenheimer classic, "The Manchurian Candidate." Replacing Angela Lansbury in the role of the traitorous mastermind of the plot is Meryl Streep. Several Web sites supposedly plugged into Hollywood reporting that Paramount executives, including chairman, Sherry Lansing, thought Streep's performance was astoundingly good, but a little too reminiscent of Senator Hillary Clinton. The studio has denied that anybody asked director Jonathan Demme to cut some of the more Hillary-esque moments from the film, which premieres at the end of the month.

Let's ask somebody who's actually seen the "Manchurian Candidate," Sean Smith, senior writher with "Newsweek." He writes about the movie in the magazine's current issue.

Mr. Smith, good evening.

SEAN SMITH, "NEWSWEEK": Good evening.

OLBERMANN: OK. Is Meryl Streep as Eleanor Shaw reminiscent of Hillary Clinton or too close for comfort, or nothing like her or what?

SMITH: A lot of people think that. She says that she isn't doing Hillary at all. Because I did ask her that question. She says she isn't. She wouldn't tell me who she is doing. I've heard everyone theorize everyone from Arianna Huffington to Nancy Reagan to Barbara Bush. And there are people who think she is doing Hillary, and I think it's because she's about the same age and she's got - you know, she's very stylish and polished and emphatic.

But there are differences, obviously, it's not as if she's doing just a straight up senator, mainly because her ambition, her character's ambition in this movie is for her son, not for herself. She is a powerful woman, but she's not - she's not trying to become president, she's trying to get her son to become president, and that's this - a lot of maternal maneuvering going on there that gets a little creepy as the movie - you know, goes on.

OLBERMANN: Those Web sites that reported that the studio was worried about the supposed similarities and asked for cuts in the film, is that, to your knowledge, hogwash or were they on to something?

SMITH: I certainly know nothing about it. I know there were some scenes that were tried out, that I won't discuss because it ruins the end of the movie, but they - but not that I know of, and also, as I said, Meryl says she isn't doing Hillary. So I - it's weird that someone would think they're too Hillary-esque when, in fact, Meryl doesn't think they're Hillary-esque at all.

OLBERMANN: When we talk about the original "Manchurian Candidate," we're talking about perhaps my favorite movie of all time. I thought that Lawrence Harvey/Frank Sinatra version was just about perfect. But when it came out, it caused a firestorm, because there was an assassination in it and the Kennedy assassination followed not long after the film's release, and understandably, the film was withdrawn. Does the remake seem to have the potential to stir some similar amount of real-world trouble, or is this going to be seen purely in terms of art and film?

SMITH: It could. I mean, I think that it - I mean, "Fahrenheit 9/11" has probably served up enough trouble as any movie's going to do this year. But I do think that it has - it's going to have a pretty big impact, only because what's scaring us now is what's in the film, which is this idea that there are these sort of shadowy, multinational corporations doing things that we don't know about. And with the original "Manchurian," it was communism that was the fear, and at the time that was really - that's what America was afraid of. It was only - it was just after the McCarthy era when that came out, and it was only 18 months past the Bay of Pigs, a lot of things going on then.

And this feels just as timely, but it is interesting how what we fear as a country changes and the idea that, sort of, we've gone from communism being the ultimate fear to sort of unchecked capitalism being the fear.

OLBERMANN: Just plug in the fear of the decade.

Sean Smith of "Newsweek." I still think people who have seen neither should rent the original and then go and see the new one. But in any event...

SMITH: I agree.

OLBERMANN: Thank you for your insight, sir. We appreciate it.

SMITH: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN opening tonight with politics, from real-life dramas in D.C. to make-believe ones in Hollywood. Up next, our No. 4 story: The missed warnings before September 11.

And later, the battle of the bulge in Arkansas: It is taking the fight straight to school kids. How would you like to get a report card sent home to mom and dad that grades your waistline? Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Tonight's No. 4 story is next. In advance of the 9/11 Commission report, the tragic checklist of the missed opportunities to prevent or minimize that awful day. Lisa Myers with a special report coming up next.


OLBERMANN: We began with the unusual timing of the leak of the investigation of Sandy Berger over documents taken out of the National Archives - inadvertent, perhaps, irrelevant, apparently. We continue with our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, and three years and one month ago, the leak was about an FBI counter-terrorism agent, who a year earlier had briefly misplaced a briefcase full of sensitive documents. Not long after the briefcase story hit the "New York Times," the FBI man, John O'Neill, retired from the bureau and the FBI lost the guy most convinced that Osama bin Laden was planning an imminent attack on the United States.

On September 10, 2001, O'Neill moved into his new office, as director of security at the World Trade Center. As of Thursday, the events John O'Neill foresaw, which would claim his own life, will have been officially investigated by an elite bipartisan panel representing the United States government. Correspondent Lisa Myers now with a special report on the missed opportunities to stop or minimize 9/11 that will constitute much of that panel's findings. Details that John O'Neill knew all too well.



LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That day, it seems sudden and without warning. But three years and two investigations later, it's clear there was a tragic trail of missed opportunities to stop some of the hijackers, disrupt the plot, and perhaps save 3,000 lives.

The Malaysia meeting. January 2000, top al Qaeda operatives converge on Kuala-Lumpur for a planning meeting that includes these two hijackers. The first time a hijacker comes on the radar of a American intelligence. The CIA loses track of the hijackers and fails to watchlist them or warn the FBI one has a valid visa to enter the U.S.

ROGER CRESSEY, TERRORISM EXPERT: It's one of these critical knows where we could have disrupted the 9/11 plot, well before it ever got off the ground.

MYERS: The calls. Once in the U.S., that hijacker gets up to a dozen calls from this known al Qaeda switchboard in Yemen. The NSA is listening, but doesn't figure out that the calls are to someone inside the U.S.

The walk-in.

GHIAS KAHN, TRAINED BY AL QAEDA: I've been to Pakistan, I know about this hijacking. Something going on.

MYERS: April 2000, Ghias Kahn, who says he was trained by al Qaeda, walks into the FBI with an incredible tale.

KAHN: I told them before the 9/11 about more than a year be hijacking an American - an America airline.

MYERS: He says he was sent to the U.S. to join operatives here. Kahn passes two polygraphs, but FBI headquarters doesn't believe him and lets him go.

The sighting. Fall 2002, a Predator spy drone captures extraordinary live pictures of al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, and a tall man in flowing white robes, believed to be bin Laden.

STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM EXPERT: This was equivalent of having bin Laden in the crosshairs.

MYERS: But no military assets are on standby to take a shot.

The Phoenix memo. A prophetic memo in July by a Phoenix FBI agent warning bin Laden may be training pilots at American flight schools. The memo gets buried in FBI headquarters.

The Moussaoui arrest. Suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested training at a Minnesota flight school. But the FBI won't allow agents to search his computer, which would have tied him to the plotters.

CRESSEY: The Moussaoui episode is one of the top three examples of where we might have been able to stop 9/11.

MYERS: The search. In late August, the CIA finally tells the FBI two hijackers may be in the country, but the FBI can't find them, even though they're listed in the San Diego phonebook.

The watch lists. The two hijackers are finally watchlisted, but never put on the FAA's no-fly list, because they hadn't previously shown interest in hijacking planes.

Air defenses. September 11, 8:24, a hijacker believed to be Mohammed Atta thinks he's talking only to passengers.

MOHAMMED ATTA, HIJACKER: We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be OK. We are returning to the airport.

MYERS: The FAA repeatedly fails to alert the military's air defense system until it's too late. Chaos and confusion reign.

When F-16's do scramble, some go in the wrong direction and aren't even told to look for hijacked planes.

BOB KERREY (D), 9/11 COMMISSION: You look at the details of what these 19 men did on the 11th of September, they defeated every defense that we had in place. Every single one of them.

MYERS (on camera): After analyzing more than 1,000 interviews and millions of documents, the 9/11 Commission does not conclude 9/11 could have been prevented. Delayed, disrupted? Probably. We'll never know. But the commission says everyone at all levels of government should have been more ready.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: More of Lisa's special reporting tomorrow night here on MSNBC. She and Chris Matthews with a special edition of "HARDBALL," they'll be exploring the 12 missed chances that could have prevented 9/11. That's tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern, right after COUNTDOWN.

Elsewhere, other nations may be critical, and counter-terrorism experts perturbed, but all is still happiness in the Philippines tonight, where that nation celebrates the release of a truck driver kidnapped in Iraq. Angelo de la Cruz was released a day after Philippines President Gloria Arroyo removed her nation's 43 peacekeepers from Iraq a month earlier than planned. Critics would suggest Arroyo bargained with terrorists, but that point seemed incidental to the de la Cruz family and to President Arroyo herself, who smiled broadly during a national television broadcast announcing the man's release.

Whether connected or not, an Islamic jihadist group promptly warned Japan that its 550 peacekeepers in Iraq would be attacked with car bombs, and it issued the message, quote, "To the government of Japan, do what the Philippines has done."

COUNTDOWN now past the No. 4 story. Next, a much needed break from these headlines, to give you the comic relief headlines. "Oddball" is next. And we promise you when it's done, you will never look at flowers the same way.

And later, a magazine report about Michael Jackson so strange that even he has denied it.


OLBERMANN: We're back, and on this 35th anniversary of the moon landing, we pause the COUNTDOWN to bring you the loony stories surround our planet's animals, vegetables and minerals. Let's play "Oddball."

And how many times have you said to yourself, we can put a man on the moon but we can't seem to get a potted plant to play Metallica? I know, I know. But your long wait is finally over. Science has again found the way. Inventors in Japan have developed the flower speaker amplifier - a device placed in the soil below the plant that turns the flowers themselves into functioning stereo speakers. They're already selling the devices to some area hotels about 450 bucks per. Although, after some initial complaints, the group has scrapped its plans to add a poison ivy headphone set and the Venus flytrap MP3 player.

Meanwhile, what the hell is this thing here? What's it doing in

Maryland? Baltimore County resident Jay Row (ph) shot this video of a

creature that has been lurking around his neighborhood for more than a

month. No one's just sure what it is, or where it comes from. Only like -

· kind of looks like a hyena or a little horse or something, and it lives in the nearby woods and it comes out to steal cat food from the Rows' (ph) back porch.

An "Oddball" investigation reveals striking similarities between the beast and the mythical manticore of ancient Mesopotamia, the legendary monster with the head of a horned man, the body of a lion, the sting-tipped tail of a scorpion, and of course the hankering for cat food. Scientists warn not to get carried away with that manticore stuff. They say this is probably just Bigfoot's pet dog off his leash once again.

This is more easily explained. This is a really big rabbit. His name is Roberto. He's from Amsterdam and he's 27 pounds and 3.5-feet long. His owner believes Roberto is the biggest and longest rabbit in the world. But the folks from "The Guinness Book" will not confirm it. They have stopped listing biggest animal records, fearing that people will deliberately overfeed their pets. Roberto was not overfed. He's just big-boned. And, no, his owner is not named Elwood P. Dowd.

Another "Oddball" now belongs to the ages.

Up next, from fine living to living with fines, Martha Stewart's new book and a few helpful suggestions from her friends here on COUNTDOWN. And later, is the king of pop about to become a pop yet again? They report. He denies. They insist. These stories ahead.

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

No. 3, we had nacho man. Now we have syrup boy. Unnamed suspect breaks into an ice cream store in Jackson, Michigan, drops his wallet in the store, crashed into a large container of strawberry syrup. They used the I.D. in the wallet to get his address. They go there, he's there and still covered in strawberry syrup.

No. 2, Nancy and Donald Comita from outside Chicago. They thought they were getting a good price on a new 2003 SUV, but only after they had driven it after a few months did they learn it wasn't that new. The odometer has evidently been rolled back at least 1,500 miles. And worst yet, the SUV had been used as a pickup truck by a funeral home. Ah, that new car smell.

And, No. 1, the Television Critics Association, whose commemorative program and annual awards this year feature a small typographical error. On them, the association misspelled the word television. It reads telvision, no E. Well, that explains the disconnect. All these years, we've been doing television and they've been watching telvision.


OLBERMANN: It is of course a natural.

Martha Stewart has already written books about hors d'oeuvres, Christmas cooking, health cooking, easy entertaining, weddings, wedding keepsakes, kids, lullabies for kids, decorating, gardening and flower arranging. So obviously her next topic would be how to be on trial.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When a judge gives you a sentence, add a couple of hundred of your own and make them into a book. Three days after her sentencing to five months in jail and five months in beautiful home detention for having lied to federal investigators, Ms. Stewart announced her writing plans on the show of our dear friend Larry King.

Danbury Minimum Security Correctional Facility, hello.


MARTHA STEWART, CONVICTED FELON: I think I'll write a book because I think it could be helpful to other people just about - just about what lawyer to choose, how to behave, how to attend an interview. I mean, there's things that, you know, there's no how-to book about this.


OLBERMANN: How to behave? COUNTDOWN, of course, is always happy to help the high doyen of household hints. Using her own trial and others, we may have actually written part of Ms. Stewart's new book for her.


ANNOUNCER: Martha Stewart's courtroom decorum dos and don'ts.

NARRATOR: Do show us promptly for court every day, at least 10 minutes early. Don't be late. Judges tend to get annoyed if you show up 20 minutes late with a caravan of vehicles, a crowd of protesting fans and a trailer full of circus animals.

Do always look your best. Consider a trip to the hair salon. Choose a proper hairstyle and stick with it. One never knows when the authorities may want to take your picture. Remember, a photograph lasts forever. And always dress appropriately. I find business attire works best. And you can never splurge too much on accessories. But whatever you do, keep your clothes on at all times. This is a court of law, not a Super Bowl halftime show.

Do sit quietly in the courtroom and pay attention. Take notes, if you like. Get involved. Don't be disruptive. Resist the urge to growl or hiss at the judge or to say anything that might be used against you.

DONNELL WINSTON, CHARGED IN BANK ROBBERY: I'm a drug dealer, not a bank robber. I'm the mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) drug dealer.

NARRATOR: Do leave every day without a fuss. Remember, the court of public opinion never takes a recess. Don't make a spectacle of yourself outside. Leave the dancing and singing to those unconcerned with projecting a proper image. And wild rants on the courthouse steps are best left to the wild and the ranting.

ROSIE O'DONNELL, COMEDIAN: True or false? True.

NARRATOR: Do always be gracious. Thank the judge when the trial is over. Try to help find the real killers, if appropriate. Remember, revenge is a dish best served cold, much like a plate of tasty cyanide-laced smoked salmon canape. Mmm, delish.



OLBERMANN: Still, it's not all good news for Martha. A California software developer has won the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which selects the worst opening to a novel in the making. And Dave Zobel won in part at least because he invoked Martha, Martha, Martha.

Quote: "She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight," begins Zobel's apocryphal book, "summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail, though the term love affair now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism, not unlike sand vein, which is after all an intestine, not a vein."

Thanks for that image.

Martha, Martha, Martha tonight's No. 3 story on COUNTDOWN.

Up next, our No. 2, turning around America's obesity trend. Arkansas thinks it has the answer, report cards. And new details from the Peterson case, new details of a new other other woman.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day. And in the first of them, please pay particular attention to the little girl in the green floral dress in the front row on a very warm day in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We take action to the country. Given that choice, I will defend America every time.

To get antiretrovirals.

Now, having said that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE) new job this year.

BUSH: Yes.

To defeat the radicals.

More free place.

On the proliferation and security.

Small business owners of America.

JOHN BURTON (D), CALIFORNIA STATE SENATOR: I'm not that much of a girlie man. Why would I possibly call them? Come on. Are you people nuts? Hi, this is the scumbag girlie boy. How you doing? Give my best to the kids. Yes, did you get anything good for Maria over at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mills.

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, NBA PLAYER: I'm going to come down here and I'm going to play hard. I just bought a house on the beach. And my wife lets me walk naked on the beach. So I will be walking naked on the beach.

So if you take pictures of me naked on the beach, don't sell them to the "Enquirer" unless I get 15 percent.



OLBERMANN: Once a report card was a simple thing. That was in the days when your first graduation ceremony was in high school, not prekindergarten and when childhood obesity was a problem to be solved by having you run an extra five or 10 laps or 20 or just not solved at all.

But in our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the state of Arkansas has realized that the oldest means of warning a parent about a student in distress can also be the newest one, report cards about weight. After a year of measuring every public school child in the state, Arkansas can report that 47 percent of them are at risk or overweight. This is the first state to try the report card method. Not all parents are convinced that the waistline is the school's business. But one mom says she was glad to get two good report cards this year.


LEA BAKER, PARENT: Well, I was happy with both of them not only passing the first grade, but finding out that he's a healthy weight. I think anything to help a parent pay attention to what's going on with their child probably is a good thing.


OLBERMANN: Governor Mike Huckabee signed the report card measure into law while in the middle of his own fight with obesity. If there's still leadership by example in this country, he is it. His first wakeup call he says came when he was diagnosed with diabetes about a year ago. He's lost 105 pounds in the interim.

Governor Huckabee joins us now from Little Rock.

Well, congratulations, sir.

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), ARKANSAS: Well, thanks, Keith. It's great to be with you, a lot less of me fortunately after that report.


We'll get to your dieting experience in a moment. But I'd like to talk to you first about the kids and which came first here, your efforts on your own behalf or your state's efforts on theirs.

HUCKABEE: Well, as we began to realize the huge epidemic of obesity and what it was doing not just to kids, but to adults and the just epidemic proportion of diabetes among kids and what that meant for them as adults, it was already obvious to me that I was not a picture of health and I was leading by example in exactly the wrong way.

And I knew I needed to do it for me, but I also believed that leaders don't ask others to do what they're unwilling to do. And so all of that sort of converged and made me wake up and realize that 48 years of bad habits were literally going to make it so that I was digging my grave with a knife and fork and I needed to change any behavior. And our whole state needs to make some changes and hopefully we can see that happen.

OLBERMANN: I know this will sound naive. But when I was in the sixth grade, we had vending machines with Twinkies in them, and unless you were seventh grade or older, if you were caught trying to buy the Twinkies from the machine, you either got sent to the principal's office or you got sent home.

What are you doing now? What can you do now in the schools themselves?

HUCKABEE: Well, we're looking at several things.

And one of the great thing about having the body mass index, it gives us a baseline of where the kids are right now. And a year from now, we can really determine how much impact the vending machines, for example, are having, by doing test groups to see kids who don't have any access to vending machines, those who have any kind of access, and those whose access is to vending machines that are filled with only healthy snacks, then take a year-later report and determine, is that the real problem?

CDC says that the caloric intake of most kids is pretty much the same as it was 20 years ago, but the exercise levels are dramatically down than they were. And if you think about it, parents are afraid to let their kids run around in the neighborhood because of predators. So kids instead go home and will sit down with a Gameboy or a computer screen with a bowl full of totally unhealthy snacks. They would be better off eating the bowl than they would most of the stuff that is in the snack.

And, as a result, this whole sedentary lifestyle is resulting in a true epidemic of obesity and all the medical problems that go with it.

OLBERMANN: I only have about 30 seconds left. But about yourself and your process, did you learn anything in your own weight loss that dieters or would-be dieters don't know or could benefit from, one 30-second piece of advice?

HUCKABEE: Well, I did. In fact, Time-Warner's going to do a book on it next year, because I learned a lot of things. And mainly, I learned what I had to unlearn before I could learn.

There are so many things that we have to recondition ourself for. And I think, Keith, that's the real challenge, is to learn that there are reasons why we end up getting overweight. And we have to break the bad habits before we can establish the good ones. And then we have to realize this is not a diet. It's not a plan. It's a lifetime and a lifestyle change that has to be there for the rest of our lives.

OLBERMANN: Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, congratulations to you. And I hope we get to congratulate your whole state in the not-too-distant future.

HUCKABEE: Well, I do, too, Keith. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.

Now from the real news to the nightly roundup of celebrity stuff. We report it and we call it "Keeping Tabs."

And it begins tonight with a conspiracy theory about Linda Ronstadt. We told you last night that the head of the failing Aladdin Hotel kicked the former pop diva off his stage Saturday night after she dedicated a song to filmmaker Michael Moore. Several hundred of the 5,000 fans in attendance booed, stormed out, defaced her posters in the lobby.

Ah, but now from's Jeannette Walls comes the alternative revisionist history version, that Ronstadt may have had an inner ear infection that caused her to deliberately cut her concert short because she wasn't feeling well. In other words, she tanked.

An update on a familiar tabloid story tonight and unfortunately, another such story that may be being groomed as the next big obsession. MSNBC's Dan Abrams reporting tonight that California Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that Scott Peterson, the defendant in the murder of his wife, had an ongoing romantic relationship with another woman identified only as Janet. Like the already acknowledged Amber Frey, Janet believed that the married Peterson was single.

And another young white pregnant woman, having been last seen Monday while jogging. Her name is Lori Kay Hacking. She's 27 years old from Salt Lake City, Utah, married five years. Among 1,200 volunteers searching for her today, relatives of Elizabeth Smart.

Up next, tonight's No. 1 story, the story that has jaws dropping everywhere, reportedly someone carrying quadruplets fathered by Michael Jackson. We'll talk to the magazine that is standing by this story.


OLBERMANN: We close tonight with our No. 1 story. Yes, it's your entertainment dollars in action, day 246 of the Michael Jackson investigations.

Now, before we get to tonight's believe-it-or-not Jacko saga, if you were just back after exactly 246 days in, say, the 23rd dimension, permit me to bring you up to speed. Previously on Michael Jackson, there was the guess-the-plane-media event when Jackson turned himself in, in the first place, the accusations of police brutality, the 73 minutes he claimed to be locked in the bathroom at the sheriff's office, lest we forget, the dancing on the car at the first arraignment, or the old lawyer switcheroo before the second arraignment.

This one, though, may top them all. A spokeswoman denies it outright, but tonight, "Us Weekly" reports that Michael Jackson, whose trial for child molestation is set to begin September 13, is about to become a father again and again and again and again. The magazine reporting that Jackson, already the father of three, Prince, who is 7, Paris, 6, 2-year-old Prince Blanket Michael II, is expecting quadruplets and has just recently spent time with a Florida-based surrogate mother who is carrying them.

Jackson's spokesperson telling us today - quote - "It's not true, period, none of it."

The story appears in the issue hitting newsstands tomorrow. Ken Baker, the West Coast executive editor at "Us Weekly."

Mr. Baker, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Well, let's address the denial from Raymone Bain, the Jackson spokeswoman: "This is not true. We're not going to further comment on stories of this nature. It's not true, period, none of it."

Somebody's really wrong here, I'm thinking.

BAKER: Well, I'll just point to the history of the Jackson camp over the last few months. This is the same Jackson camp that denied that the Nation of Islam had any involvement with Michael Jackson. We later learned that they were deeply involved.

You know, they denied that Mark Geragos would be leaving the case. Mark Geragos has left the case. And today, they're denying that Michael Jackson has brokered some sort of relationship with a surrogate mother who is going to give birth to four Michael Jackson babies. Now, I will say -

I say Michael Jackson babies, but they're not his - necessarily his biological kids.

In fact, I highly doubt that they are. All we know is that he has a relationship with this woman to give birth to babies that will become his custody.

OLBERMANN: So we're thinking it might not be - you're saying not biological, but his nonetheless?

BAKER: Yes. Don't get nervous. I know we're painting a picture of Michael Jackson having sexual relations, which I don't want to do.


OLBERMANN: No, no, I'm not even going that far, just the idea that - is the premise suddenly here that he used somebody's sperm in an artificial insemination? Doesn't that defeat the point?


BAKER: Are we already giving out too much information here from everyone?

What we know from the sources that we've talked to is that Michael has had a relationship with this woman of a business nature to carry children for him.


BAKER: And that we know Michael Jackson loves children, maybe a little bit too much, according to some people. But we'll find out in the trial.

But the reality is, we can - with all the jocularity and frivolity of all this, there are a lot of people today who are actually saddened by this and who think that Michael Jackson endangers children. And so it's - while it's bizarre and it's fun, I also think at the same time that there's a serious side to it. This is a man who is going to trial, like you said, in September for child molestation charges.

So it's just the latest chapter in what has been a series of bizarre chapters for the last year.

OLBERMANN: Yes, I think less making light of it, the public reaction to this is just further astonishment.

But I've got to clarify this one more time, because it still doesn't make any sense to me.


OLBERMANN: He's a surrogate mother. There's a relationship with this woman. She's in Florida. She's going to have quadruplets. But we aren't sure or we don't think that the biological fatherhood of these children, even in an artificial insemination situation, is Michael Jackson's?

BAKER: We're not sure whose sperm impregnated the woman.

What we have learned from our sources is that the children that the surrogate mother is carrying will become Michael Jackson's children. So we're working on it. It's a developing story. And, you know - but he was meeting with the woman in Florida just this week and it's a done deal.

OLBERMANN: And I just want to emphasize at the end there, you said meeting with the woman and not mating with the woman.


OLBERMANN: Ken Baker, the West Coast executive editor of "Us Weekly," which is standing by its story...

BAKER: He might have.



BAKER: You never know.

OLBERMANN: Michael Jackson will become at least the legal father of quadruplets, let's put it that way, by early next year by via surrogate mother in father and maybe even a surrogate father, too.

Mr. Baker, thanks for your time tonight.

BAKER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: OK. I've now seen everything.

Thank you for your time, too. That's COUNTDOWN. I'm Keith Olbermann.

But what's the - good night. Good luck.