Monday, July 5, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 5

Guest: Ben Venzke, John Harwood


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

The Zarqawi highlight tape: The terrorist deeds from the assassination of the chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council to the ambush of a convoy full of G.E. security personnel captured on tape by Zarqawi's own people and made public now by Zarqawi's own people.

The senators' spokeswoman says he still has not made up his mind about the other senator or the congressman or the governor or whoever he will anoint as the democratic vice-presidential nominee.

MARLON BRANDO, ACTOR: I'll make him an offer he can't refuse.

OLBERMANN: The struggle in the wake of the death of Marlon Brando. Not for the godfather's power, but for frequent father's purported hundred of millions, unless he died penniless.

And an Independent's day weekend salute to the real cornerstone of American justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man had a total disregard for the safety of anybody else on the road.

OLBERMANN: All that and more now on COUNTDOWN


OLBERMANN: Good evening. It is in the dark movie satire of this business, "Network," in which a television programming executive played by Fey Dunaway nonchalantly cuts a deal with a terrorist group who, as she puts it, "go around taking home movies of themselves robbing banks. Maybe they'll take movies of themselves kidnapping heiresses, hijacking 747s, bombing bridges, assassinating ambassadors. We open each week's segment with that authentic footage, hire a couple of writers and we've got a series."

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight: Technology and terrorism have tonight moved a step closer to realizing that implausible scenario from the movie that is now 28 years old. Only they are enabling the terrorists to cut out the middleman at the net networks. The architect behind much of the insurgency and chaos in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has just release ad slickly produced hour-long documentary chronicling his group of murders, kidnapping, hijacking, bombing, and assassinating.

Originally obtained by "Time" magazine, the hour-long video is largely a portfolio of terror. In this attack, the cameraman seems to know exactly where to look. He follows a convoy of foreign contractors, apparently Westerners, on their way to provide security for General Electric.

The camera is in position when an explosion hurls orange flames and black smoke into the sky. The tape also showing the assassination of the U.S.-appointed chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council, Izzedine Salam. As by standers reach their car, the distant car bomb goes off with enough force to send them to the ground and to break the windshield, through which, the cameraman is shooting.

And while each successive explosion seems designed to offer proof of Zarqawi's reach, it is the inside look of the lives of the foot soldiers that maybe the most disturbing. Here a young man about to have his body ripped apart by a bomb that he will detonate smiles and relaxes on a boat in Basra. Another reads his last will, rhetorically asking, "How could I live when the infidels are stepping in our country?" Cheered on by other rogue Zarqawi follower, the young man is led to a truck packed with explosives. He even gets one last minute hug before taking the last step towards his own death. Last thoughts before he drives to the end, at once seemingly philosophical, mundane and delusional, pointing to the detonator he is heard saying, quote, "in the name of Allah most merciful, this is all about a button," unquote.

Zarqawi not only has a jihad and a production company, he appears to have underwriters. Three distant relatives of Saddam Hussein funneling money back into Iraq to support Zarqawi's real life nightmare. That tape seems to suggest that many of his followers, like him, are not from Iraq, but the new report puts the former Iraqi regime back into the equation into the role of money men. According to the "New York Times," three Hussein relatives, all member of the powerful Majid clan, are allegedly smuggling money, guns and even people into Iraq, possibly through Syria. But exactly how much control or influence Saddam's cousins may wield over the insurgents is unclear. The "Times" report notes that military and intelligence officials still believe a significant component of the resistance is not tied to Saddam's ousted followers.

And for the second time in its young history, the new Iraqi government today postponed the announcement of an overall plan to deal with insurgents and terrorists, one which is supposed to include some form of amnesty for many of them. Moments before Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan, who was to reveal the details, the news conference was canceled. The proposal to give the so-called foot soldiers of the insurgency the right to lay down their arms had split the coalition. The U.S. protested it vehemently, while at the exact hour, the Iraqi news conference was to begin, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the concept of limited amnesty was acceptable and had many precedents in world history.

Here, three weeks to the day that the democrats will convene in Boston, reports that al-Qaeda may have, of necessity, scaled back its designs on a domestic attack this summer, to coincide with the conventions. Again, the "New York Times" quoting recent intelligence reports as having "hinted" that any attack might involve relatively crude materials in an uncomplicated fashion, possibly a car or truck bomb. The suggestion is that the massive security expenditures in Boston, $50 million, and for the republican convention in New York next month, $75 million, may have rendered a high end to the al-Qaeda plot almost infeasible.

On the other hand, while that report also indicates federal authorities have been conducting interviews door to door in Muslim communities where terrorists could blend in, the "Los Angeles Times" is reporting that such interviews, announced on the 26th of May, have not yet taken place out of fear that the FBI will be accused of racial profiling.

With the pack of terror headlines, we figured we had better get the perspective of an authority on the subject. So joining us now, Ben Venzke, author of "The Al-Qaeda Threat" and CEO of IntelCenter.

Ben, welcome back, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Working backwards, the conventions - the idea that terrorists might, out of some necessity, go low tech. The reasoning is they prefer to leave a calling card in the way of a car bomb, but I'm wondering, would they not shy away from, not only anything small, but also anything that would make it look like they have been hindered or that counterterrorism efforts by the U.S. were successful?

VENZKE: Yeah, you know, I'm really not sure where they're coming from with that report. We do know that al-Qaeda, while trying grand things, will sort of self-limit and scale itself back, that it feel it's trying to do something that is a - the chance of success isn't as great. I mean, they'll limit themselves to what they feel very confident, very able to do. But, I would agree with the comment that you just made that they're - they don't want the follow-up to 9/11 in the United States to be a small explosive device placed on a sidewalk. They're going to want it to be something that in some shape or form is grand or unprecedented.

OLBERMANN: To the Zarqawi tape, we've seen these kind of self-promotional tapes before, there's always that quality of vandals videotaping themselves, destroying mailboxes, to them. But, is there anything on this that gives away their secrets, aids defense against them, incriminates them, in anyway? Is in anyway is that tape is useful to the good guys side?

VENZKE: Well, this was - I haven't examined the complete tape here, but - and we've seen many of these from the other groups. It's actually the fourth produced video to come out of Iraq and on any of these tapes, when you have groups filming their operations, when you have them delivering statements and addresses, it enables to get in their heads a little better to get a better understanding of how they're thinking, of how they're operating, and which operations - you know, when they're actually filming the operation, before it happens, and as it's happening, there's a pretty clear indication that they were the ones responsible for it, so it helps clear up some of the confusion about who's doing what in Iraq.

OLBERMANN: Ben, the cancellation of the new Iraqi government's announcement of its plan to deal with insurgents and terrorists, the second time, obviously there's debate over whether you ever offer terrorists amnesty. But, I've always wondered, something made that shoe bomber, Richard Reid, choose not to go into the bathroom to blow himself up where he wouldn't have been hindered, something made him hesitate, something made him try it in front of people who could have stopped him and did stop him. Is amnesty, is the idea that there is a way back from that preface - precipice, an effective tool against terrorism?

VENZKE: Well yeah, I think - you know, in the United States, when we hear the word "amnesty" for terrorists, there's this sort of gut reaction that turns us against it. But I think the important details with an amnesty program is in the fine print. And it can be a very effective tool in terms of trying to persuade those, or those that are sort of on the line that are maybe questioning their involvement in the group that are on the fringes of it to perhaps reconsider the direction they're going in. You're not going to get the hardcore people, but if you do get those sort of tertiary people, or perhaps a mid-level person, it can be an effective tool to use against trying to hinder future attacks.

OLBERMANN: Ben Venzke from IntelCenter as always Ben, great thanks.

VENZKE: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: To domestic terror now, and the old good news/bad news, this time about anthrax. Good news? A scientific clue about the 2001 attacks, bad news, authorities have had it for a year, yet it has shaken nothing off the trees.

The newspaper the "Baltimore Sun" reporting that the FBI determined that the anthrax that killed five people nearly three years ago was actually a mixture of two slightly different samples of the pathogen. That gives the bacteria a distinct signature that might be an easier match with its source, but it also means the FBI has understood the supposedly tough part, the science, since last year, and still has not been able to crack the case. The bureau is to present a secret progress report to a district judge in Washington, D.C. tomorrow.

And the progress on freeing an American Marine held hostage in Iraq remains equally dubious. After a weekend of conflicting reports about whether or not Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun was dead or alive, there was a new statement issued today that sowed as much confusion as hope. That statement given to the "al-Jazeera" network by the Islam Response Movement, which is the group that claimed it had kidnapped the 24-year-old corporal, the new group statement says he has been taken to a, quote, "place of safety." So, while the statement seemed to indicate that he has not been killed, it remains unclear, do his captors have any plans to release him?

Meanwhile in Utah, where Hassoun's family remains in seclusion, a spokesman said only that the news had added to the list of prayers.


TAREK NOSSIER, SPOKESMAN FOR HASSOUN FAMILY: We pray that the news of his safe release is true. If he is still in captivity, we remind the captors of the saying of our beloved prophet (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE), "be merciful to those on earth, mercy will come - descend upon from you heaven."


OLBERMANN: And back to Iraq and the trial of Saddam Hussein. And if the proceedings against the former Yugoslavian president, Milosevic, are supposed to form the template for the case against Saddam, there's another bad omen, tonight. Milosevic's war crimes trial was adjourned again this morning, this time after another doctor reported his blood pressure was dangerously high and Milosevic accused the judge of trying to sabotage his defense by forcing him to appear in court today, despite his bad health. Two years and five months into this trial, and it is going so slowly that what was postponed indefinitely today was Milosevic's opening statement.

Whatever else you can say about the controversial Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, you cannot accuse him of being a victim of the foolish hobgoblin of consistency. After vowing to "resist oppression and occupation to our last drop of blood," he has now said he is committed to the truce with the U.S. and will disband his militia once foreign forces leave Iraq.

A spokesman today saying peaceful resistance will remain until the last moment that foreign troops are present on Iraqi land, but that al-Sadr's Mehdi army would not raise its weapons. Yesterday Arabic media had quoted al-Sadr as saying, the new interim government of Prime Minister Allawi, was without legitimacy.

COUNTDOWN opening with the war on terror from Iraq to here at home. Up next, the No. 4 story: The mother of all escape battles could be brewing over the man who lived there. A man who was reported just a week ago to be living in poverty. How much was Marlon Brando really worth? And how many kids did he really have?

And later a Fourth of July tribute of a very different nature. Fireworks on the road: A COUNTDOWN tribute to the American justice system and the daily weaving in and out of traffic among the good guys and the bad guys.


OLBERMANN: Sources are telling NBC News, at this hour, that John Kerry's selection of a vice presidential running mate for the Democratic Party is expected to be made tomorrow morning in Pittsburgh. More details on that story, who it might be, coming up as COUNTDOWN continues.


OLBERMANN: When you saw James Lipton of "Inside the Actor's Studio" on this program, Friday night, you may remember that he boiled down the life of the late Marlon Brando to the story of a man so good at acting, that he eventually failed to see the point in it and grew contemptuous of it.

Our fifth - fourth story, rather, on the COUNTDOWN: Mr. Brando may have the final laugh on this subject. Post mortem, he could be the off-camera star of a real life version of, if not "Streetcar Named Desire," then at least "Take the Money and Run."

Did he die broke hiding his Oscars from his creditors? Or did he die leaving $200 million in Tahitian Islands to what might be his nine children, his 12 children, or his 14 children? Act one, scene one, as described by our correspondent, Mark Mullen.


MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Marlon Brando's Beverly Hills estate, guards are posted, though it is unclear whether they are watching for trespassers or family member trying to get in.

BRANDO: You're an errand boy sent by the grocery clerks.

MULLEN: The expected battle for Brando's estate is as secretive and complicated as some of the characters he played. Reports that Brando died broke and others detailing a massive fortune. Brando acknowledged nine children, but he could have as many as 15. And the actor was said to have multiple trusts registered under various names in several states.

CARY GOLDSTEIN, FAMILY LAW EXPERT: You know, Brando was a quirky kind of guy. He may have not left an organized estate, and he's the kind of guy who didn't go to go his daughter's funeral. Just - he may have left the mess of an estate for his heirs to unravel.

MULLEN: Brando bought what may be his most valuable asset 1966, after filming Mutiny on the Bounty," 13 small islands in the South Pacific worth possibly $200 million if sold to developers.

GOLDSTEIN: I think there are going to be lots of interesting stories and characters surfacing as a result of Marlon's death. We'll be hearing about this estate for a long time in the future.

MULLEN: Perhaps this generation's greatest actor, leaving a legacy of high drama, both onscreen and off.

Mark Mullen, NBC News, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN: The COUNTDOWN now past the No. 4 story. Up next, grab your wife and run! There's got to be a better way to get free beer than this. This video can suggest just one thing - "Oddball" is around the corner.

And later one of the oddest moments in recent jurisprudence history, a defendant protecting his reputation by insisting he's not the bank robber, he's the drug dealer. Part of our Independence weekend COUNTDOWN tribute to American justice.


OLBERMANN: We rejoin you now and immediately pause the COUNTDOWN, for what better time is there that during the celebration of our nation's independence, than to point and giggle at the strange things people do in other countries. Let's play "Oddball."

And we begin with the seventh annual running of the wives. Actually, it is the husbands doing the running, they are carrying the wives, which as many wives will tell you, is a 24/7 process. Anyway, the competition is in Finland. The object is to run as past as you can through an obstacle course with your wife draped your shoulders.

An Estonian couple was a repeat winner this year. They win a free sauna, plus he wins her weight in beer. And there in lies the husband's great dilemma. Does he prefer a lighter wife, easier to carry, better chance of winning, but you get less beer? Or a heavier wife, harder to lug, but more beer? Life is not easy.

Now to those who were ineligible for the wife carrying contest by (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the fact that they have devoted most of their lives to making these bird costume. The 25th annual Birdman Competition offering a prize of more than $45,000 to anybody who could fly in one of these, the 328 feet into the sea at Bognor Regis on the south coast of England. The guy in the Muttley plane, the man in the cow suit, and the guy who you'll see one wearing a version of Doctor Who's telephone booth, all placed behind - there's the TARDIS - all placed well behind the guy who got closest, 270 feet - he used a glider! Splash.

One more story that makes you wonder about the future of mankind, if any. Competitive eating is in a dangerous rut. For the fourth consecutive year, Takeru Kobayashi has won the Fourth of July hotdog contest in New York. No competitive balance whatsoever. He broke his own record again, 53 dogs in 12 minutes, 15 more than the runner up. The guy is on steroids or at least tums.

And in other sports, Greece's win in the European Soccer Championship was shock enough, now news of what it meant to one gambler. The Greek triumph over Portugal, one-nil, was not just its first title, but its victory ever in a major international tournament match. The London bookmakers, William Hill report that a businessman from Burma placed two bets on the Greeks at different odds, all told, he wagered about $31,000 and got back about $630,000.

"Oddball" now officially in the betting and record books, COUNTDOWN picks back one the No. 3 story after the break, your preview: They are adding a decal to the side of John Kerry's plane as we speak and supposedly it has his running mate's name on it. Those final three may, in fact, be a final four. The latest, next.

And speaking of political rumors, a Hillary twofer, she's planning on '08 and like Nancy Reagan, she has the help of a psychic. Rumors, mind you.

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

And see if you can discern tonight's theme.

No. 3: The shamans of Peru, who today prayed for the gods of soccer to take care of all the teams and players in the Copa America tournament, which starts tomorrow. What, you're praying for all the countries, not just your own? What the hell kind of god do you people got down there?

No. 2: The Hindu god of machines is officially blamed for a spate of accidents on India's massive railway system today by India's ministry of railways. No fool, he.

And No. 1: Nepal's rain god, who's been who has been holding out on Kathmandu, so female rice farmers are plowing their fields at night in the nude because says one of them said, quote, "My mother-in-law said that the god would be pleased and make rainfall if women till the lands naked." Oh, now you're listening to your mother-in-law.


OLBERMANN: In 1960, at the democratic convention in Los Angeles, presidential nominee John F. Kennedy called Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson to his hotel suite and asked Johnson to run with him as vice president. In 1980 at the republican convention in Detroit, presidential nominee Ronald Reagan negotiated with former president Gerald Ford and his go-between, Henry Kissinger, in hopes of getting Ford to run as vice president. When that failed, he called up George Bush and asked him to run as V.P., in Mr. Bush's words, "out of the blue."

Gone are the day. Sources tonight, tell NBC News that Senator John Kerry is expected to announce his running mate tomorrow morning in Pittsburgh, 119 days before the election and 20 before the convention, and that that running might still be true dark horse.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, politics, including psychics, discredited doctors and those vice presidential wanna-bes.

Let's start with John Kerry's big choice and Carl Quintanilla with the senator's campaign outside Pittsburgh.


CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Behind the scenes at the barbecue today at John Kerry's Pittsburgh ranch, anticipation about his speech on Tuesday. Will he announce his choice? His closest advisers swear ignorance. And the presumed contenders, like congressman Dick Gephardt, today had little comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you hopeful that perhaps you'll be chosen as his vice presidential...

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D), MISSOURI: You have to refer all those questions to the Kerry campaign and to Senator Kerry. That's entirely their prerogative. I'm just happy to be here.

QUINTANILLA: There are clues an announcement is in the works. According to one source, Kerry's campaign plane is parked in a hangar at Pittsburgh's airport receiving a new decal, presumably the new V.P.'s name. And extra staffers have been flown in for a large-scale morning rally.

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He hasn't done an enormous amount of public auditioning. He hasn't sent a lot of signals or raised expectations about one particular demographic, geographic area that he's favoring over another.

QUINTANILLA: In the four months since Kerry launched his search, speculation has narrowed to just a few candidates, including Gephardt, Iowa Governor Vilsack and Senator John Edwards.

But the guessing game that blankets the campaign has also become its most effective P.R. The size of Kerry's press corps has doubled. And today Bush campaign, trying to lower expectations, said they expect Kerry to get a 15-point bounce in the polls through the Democratic Convention.

MORRIS REID, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It also gives Kerry additional manpower, if you will, to have a V.P. to run around the country and say and do the things he can't do.

QUINTANILLA: In response, the Bush campaign is expected to launch ads emphasizing its ties to Senator John McCain, reported to have been approached by Kerry, the implication that Kerry's running mate, whomever it is, wasn't his first choice.

(on camera): The campaign fended off questions today of whether Kerry is taking too long and appearing indecisive. They say his decision would still be early by historical standards if he makes an announcement this week Keith.


OLBERMANN: Carl Quintanilla for us outside Pittsburgh - Carl, many thanks.

But it may not just be a three-man race. NBC News has learned that, over the long weekend, Senator Bob Graham of Florida, one of the early V.P. front-runners, was called by the leader of the Kerry search group and told he was still among a handful of finalists. The running mate tea leaves have been handled so thoroughly that all that's left is a sniff of the smell.

Joining me now to try to identify that smell, John Harwood, political editor of "The Wall Street Journal."

JOHN HARWOOD, POLITICAL EDITOR, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": John, good evening. Smells pretty good.

OLBERMANN: Well, we'll see.

This late story about Bob Graham, there's a little more to it, namely that Jim Johnson, the Kerry V.P. coordinator, asked Graham to forward a copy of the book he's writing, and that they were in touch in the last four days, and a week before that. It can't be - if it's not the case that he's the vice presidential nominee, it is not certainly made out of whole cloth. What is going on with Graham?

HARWOOD: Well, Bob Graham is a very credible alternative for John Kerry, Keith. He was a successful governor. He's been in the Senate for several terms. He is somebody who ran a brief presidential campaign earlier in the 2004 cycle.

And the home state that he represents, Florida, is of course, a battleground state that John Kerry needs to win. He is running very close. And Bob Graham has incredibly strong numbers in Florida. He could make a difference if John Kerry decides that his strategy on vice president is to target a particular state. He could park Bob Graham in Florida and have him work that portfolio for several months until Election Day.

OLBERMANN: We heard so many different strategies and so many different criteria that have been supposedly presented by John Kerry and by people representing him, the political one that you just mentioned, the broader political one, namely the Democratic sort of groundswell for John Edwards, and this personal one, that he wants to be able to interact with his vice president in a way that hasn't been seen before in a Democratic presidency.

Which way is he going? Is there any indication of which of these is the priority?

HARWOOD: We don't really know. And there's a lot of debate among Democratic strategists outside the campaign as to which is the right paradigm to use there.

Targeting a state has really become sort of unfashionable in presidential politics. The last several picks have been intended to provide a broad lift demographically, creating excitement for the ticket. That's the argument for John Edwards. But you do have what one Democratic consultant told me today is a potential Shaq-Kobe problem with the two.

John Edwards is extremely talented. John Kerry might have to wonder, is he out for himself and his future as a potential president or is he simply devoting himself to me? The one thing about Dick Gephardt, he won't make a mistake on the campaign trail. He is very experienced and his presidential fires have burned out. That's somebody that John Kerry would know would just be in it to help John Kerry and his administration win and succeed.

OLBERMANN: The other developments today, a Kerry spokeswoman insisting at 2:30 this afternoon that he had not made up his mind. Gephardt, as we saw from Pittsburgh, saying he had not heard from Kerry's office, the other report, that Senator Kerry's interaction with Governor Vilsack of Iowa on the campaign trail yesterday was not strong, all those things, prior certainly to the Bob Graham story, would suggest that this was all done and it is still John Edwards.

Are we seeing a final clash here or do we think that the thing has already been decided upon?

HARWOOD: Well, I think it is very close to being decided. But the thing about a vice presidential choice is, until John Kerry picks up the phone, calls his choice and offers the job, you can honestly say that it's not a done deal.

And that's what the Kerry spokeswoman could rely upon in saying that. All indications are that that has not happened. And I wouldn't expect it to happen until tomorrow morning, when John Kerry will look to drive the news for the rest of the week and beyond through the month of July, try to get that big bump in the polls at the end of the convention that Carl Quintanilla's piece talked about.

OLBERMANN: And we'll just reiterate those two developments tonight, that NBC News has learned that that announcement is indeed expected in Pittsburgh tomorrow and also that Bob Graham, the senator from Florida, has been contacted within the last four days. So this is still, last we heard, a four-man race, at least a four-man race.

John Harwood, the political editor from "The Wall Street Journal," it's always a pleasure. Many thanks, sir.

HARWOOD: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: As to Mr. X's vice presidential opponent, it has now been four years since George W. Bush appointed Dick Cheney to head his search committee to find him a vice president. And Mr. Cheney's committee wound up recommending Mr. Cheney.

That means that it has also now been four years since a doctor assured American voters that Cheney's ticker was up to the job, despite his history of heart disease. So now that the vice president is back on the campaign trail, stepping across the Midwest over the weekend, should we expect the same reassuring words from the same doctor about the vice president's health?

Well, not Dr. Malakoff. He is now on a leave of absence from George Washington University after that institution decided he was too impaired to treat patients anymore. Dr. Malakoff has been, the school reports, battling an addiction to prescription drugs since 1999. The vice president's office says Malakoff was just one of many doctors on that medical team in 2000 and that he told them of his problem four years ago and that he has been dropped from the Cheney medical team anyway.

And the third part of tonight's No. 3 story, from dubious medical advisers to dubious psychic advisers. The office of Senator Hillary Clinton is denying a "New York Daily News" report in which a - quote -

"Fifth Avenue psychic" claims she has been consulted by the senator about her presidential hopes, the fortune teller telling the paper that Senator Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2008 and that America will elect its first woman president that year, but it won't necessarily be Hillary, said psychic also predicting that Senator Clinton will face a younger female Republican from the South in the general election.

The senator's office says the whole thing is nonsense. It did not note that, if you have ever been to New York City, you know that the description "Fifth Avenue psychic" is not rMDNM_necessarily a compliment, especially if you're talking about, say, Fifth avenue and 117th Street.

Checking out the turf at the veepstakes, the No. 3 story tonight. Up next, how long will prices at the pump remain so painful? Answer, at least two manufacturers are reintroducing diesels to the American market. If that does not explain itself, we will. Then later, what would happen if you merged "Monty Python's Flying Circus," "The Simpsons" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." We'll find out ahead in "Keeping Tabs."


OLBERMANN: Worried about gas prices? Well, you should be. They're likely enough to stay high long enough to justify at least two high-end auto companies reintroducing diesel automobiles in this country.

That's next on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Life has often been described as having to read not the writing on the wall, but the writing in the small print.

For a hint about the direction of gasoline prices, consider this news from the automotive world. It is illegal to sell a diesel-powered car in New York, California, Massachusetts and two other states because their engines spew out so many nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere. Despite that, Volkswagen is about to lose its voluntary monopoly on selling diesel cars in this country.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, as correspondent Bob Mayer reports, diesel is back, possibly because it is still cheaper than stuffing dollar bills into your tank and lighting them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Diesel is about $1.78 a gallon now. But you go 40 miles to the gallon.

BOB MAYER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John (ph) and Joyce (ph) McGinnis have been driving diesel cars for about 35 years. Their newest, a 2004 V.W. Passat. And current gas prices aside, the McGinnises say diesel is the only way to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it is easy on the gas mileage. It is very low-maintenance to keep it up. The engine runs forever.


NARRATOR: The Rabbit diesel is the best mileage car in America.


MAYER: The first push for diesel engine cars came with the gas crisis of 1979.


NARRATOR: Tomorrow, you can actually buy a new diesel Rabbit for less than a lot of Toyotas and Datsuns.


MAYER: The flight test in 1979 of the Volkswagen Rabbit diesel proved that, for mileage, it was virtually the only game in town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a test of more than 85 percent city-type driving, this Rabbit diesel averaged more than 38.5 miles to the gallon. That is best mileage figure we've recorded in five years of testing cars.

MAYER: But despite the better mileage, diesels never went mainstream. They took longer to start. You had to wait for the engine's glow plugs to warm up and for an OK light to come on before you could actually start the car. Then there was that diesel noise and of course the thick black smoke that always came out of the tailpipe. But that was 25 years ago. Today's new diesels look, sound, and smell a whole lot different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No smoke, no smell, no ticka-dika-dika-dik.

MAYER: And that is why carmakers right now are introducing a slew of new diesel models, as the latest gas crisis makes us all grab hold of our wallets again.

DaimlerChrysler is introducing a new diesel powered Jeep Liberty due out this fall, and it is already selling this diesel powered Mercedes E-Class luxury sedan. But Volkswagen still leads the pack with five models now available with diesel power either in or coming to a showroom near you, the Beetle, the Golf, the Jetta, and this year for the first time, the mainstream midsize Passat and the luxury Touareg SUV, all now with optional diesel engines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish we could get more cars. That's our biggest problem right now.

MAYER: Andy Reboltz (ph) of Esserman (ph) Volkswagen says new quicker diesels with fuel injectors and turbochargers have reignited demand for diesel cars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lately, in the last few months, with the price of fuel and what it has been, it has greatly increased our demand for diesels, just not here, but worldwide as well.

MAYER: One more concern. In testing diesels like this Oldsmobile 98 a quarter century ago, there were some problems when that gas gauge headed towards empty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell me if you have any diesel fuel?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me, sir. Do you all have any diesel fuel?



MAYER: Well, that's changed, too.

(on camera): Have you ever needed diesel and not be able to find it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never had that problem, no.

MAYER: In 30 years?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In 30 years, never, no.

MAYER (voice-over): Bob Mayer for NBC News.


OLBERMANN: From diesel to the realms of Vin Diesel, our nightly steering into the skids that are the lives of the rich and famous, the celebrity news segment we call "Keeping Tabs."

And the knights of the roundtable who dance whenever they're able are beginning to form up. Casting for the Broadway-bound musical "Monty Python's Spamalot" has reportedly taken two more steps forward. In addition to director Mike Nichols and Tim Curry of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" as King Arthur, "Frasier"'s David Hyde Pierce is reportedly set to sign up, along with Hank Azaria from "The Simpsons." The musical remake of the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is supposed to debut in December in Chicago.

And in the only way we judge art anymore, how much money it makes, the Hollywood weekend box office news is reminiscent of the drawing of the kid coming home the baseball game and explaining, we were winning 12-0 until the fifth-graders got out of class.

Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" absolutely taken to the cleaners this weekend by "Spider-Man 2." Just for Friday through Sunday, the sequel with that guy - what's his name? - starring alongside that woman brought in $115.8 million, bringing its haul to a record $180 million since its opening in over six days. "Fahrenheit 9/11" still managed to place second at $21 million for the weekend, nearly what it made in its first weekend and still nearly twice the box office of films like "Dodgeball" and the Wayans brothers "White Chicks." And, by the by, just how many Wayans brothers are there?

Coming up, back to the car and an Independence Day salute to its pivotal role in our justice system.


OLBERMANN: To the top of the COUNTDOWN now.

And wee close out this Fourth of July weekend, the first in which the nascent democracy in Iraq tries to stand on its own feet, we wanted to pay some tribute to the cornerstone of American freedom, the justice system.

We believe the Iraqis can eliminate the 200 years of the kind of slow, painful evolution we have experienced and go right to the essentials of modern Democratic justice. It's all about cars, in particular high-speed car chases and getaway cars. The chases in a moment.

First, the legal etiquette of the getaway car, as conveyed to us for all time by a robbery suspect from Spokane, Washington, in January of this year. Donnell Winston will give up any right, self-incrimination, the preservation of one's own dignity, the advice of counsel to preserve the historically accuracy of his relationship to the getaway car.


JUDGE: You readily admitted your involvement in the robbery and stated that you were forced into it to pay a drug debt. You were searched incident to the arrest. Nine $100 bills, two $20s, one $5, and four $1 were located in your right pants pocket. You were transported, where you were interviewed, and taken to jail, where you were booked.

DONNELL WINSTON, CHARGED IN BANK ROBBERY: Well, first of all, where are you getting all this information from about me walking into the bank and getting something else for a drug debt? I'm a drug dealer, not a bank robber. I'm the one with the drugs. He was the one that robbed, my co-offendant. I'm sitting out in the car waiting for him. He jumps in my car.

JUDGE: Mr. Winston, one of the rights that I advised is your right to remain silent, because anything you say can and will be used against you.

WINSTON: Yes, but you all got the wrong information. You all got wrong information. You're all saying I walked in the bank. I'm on camera sitting in my car.

JUDGE: OK. I'm advising you, cautioning you about making any statements, sir.


WINSTON: Man, I'm telling you, I heard what you said about anything that I say can be used against me in court, man. I heard. I heard you loud and clear on that. But you all are talking about, I walked in the bank and I'm using the money - I want the money because I need to pay off a drug debt.

I'm the mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) drug dealer. I'm waiting for him to come out to give me money. He robs the bank. We go down two blocks. Cars surrounded me.

JUDGE: OK. OK. Well, I do find that probable cause exists. You wanted to know where I got the information? Its from the arresting officers affidavit. I said I found that probable cause existed to make the arrest. The probation department is suggesting that bond be set.

Counsel, do you have any recommendations?


JUDGE: Based on the severity of the charges...

WINSTON: I'm going to kick that mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) I'm going to kill that mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED)


OLBERMANN: Mr. Winston eventually pleaded guilty. He's now serving seven years.

But his near poetry at the end there is of course the language of America's highways and byways, too. Certainly since the O.J. Simpson episode of a decade ago, the wheels have come off. America's small-time criminals have all decided they were in a real-life version of the movie "Smokey and the Bandit."

Thus, on this long Independence Day weekend, as we celebrate our justice system, the one that has made us the envy of the world, we pay loving tribute to the high-speed chase.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): When O.J. Simpson was just another ex-jock athlete with an undeservedly good reputation, it was already a staple of every day life in L.A. A driver tries to elude the police and choppers - two, four, five, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen - swarm overhead to carry it live, live, live. By March of 1994, three months before Simpson, it was already such a cliche that it had inspired a Charlie Sheen movie called "The Chase."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, "Terror on the Freeway."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have just joined us, tonight there is terror on the freeway.

OLBERMANN: But that was car chasing when car chasing wasn't cool.

Ten years ago today the moon landing of the genre.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The white Bronco that you see on the freeway going right your screen contains O.J. Simpson, a fugitive at large.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is A.C. I have O.J. in the car.

OLBERMANN: O.J. and A.C. , the white Ford Bronco and the black and white behind them. And America watching it instead of basketball playoff games, the beginning of the decline of the NBA, the beginning of the decade of the car chase. Soon you needed not the accusation that you had beheaded your wife, a broken taillight and a led foot on the gas pedal was enough for us to interrupt the program. Let's go up to the choppers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we go. He is up on the sidewalk. Here he goes.

OLBERMANN: Local stations anywhere broke in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is just not giving up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you are listening to a briefing on Capitol Hill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are also bringing you some breaking news out of Los Angeles right now. Take this shot up on satellite right now, a car chase in Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw the driver of the black car put on his blinker.

OLBERMANN: It didn't matter what else was on. We once cut away from Clinton and Lewinsky to show a car "chasinsky."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man had a total disregard for the safety of anybody else on the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America just loved to watch them run. They ran in cars, they ran in trucks, they ran in buses, they ran on motorcycles or on that most jaw-dropping of days in a 50-ton army tank on the streets of San Diego. They ran on the highway, the ran on the side streets, they ran in the medium. They ran through red lights. They ran forward. They ran backwards, sometimes... oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There goes a bumper there.

OLBERMANN: We all learned the lingo. The pit maneuver, the box-in, the spite script and the last sad chapter terror of any pursuit, the foot chase. Real life action movies playing out nearly every day not just live but so incredibly inexpensive for television stations and networks to produce, the coverage reached the saturation point. The Fox Network dedicated a weekly prime time show to nothing but car chases. Others treated it all more like a goofy sporting event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Check the odd ball score board for the year, we see its cops 44 and guys who think they can escape the cops, goose egg. Never mind that scoreboard because this guy is in a hurry. Charlotte, North Carolina, the man fleeing a domestic disturbance, crashing in a busy intersection, he just walks away from his still rolling vehicle, just park that anywhere, pal. The other driver was injured but not seriously. Then the foot chase starts. And our suspect turns on the speed. What can I run? An amazing display of Olympian footwork. The suspect outruns the cups in a straight away and then into the hurdles, into the apartment complex. He should have gotten at least a trophy of some sort. But there will be no blue ribbon for this fleet-footed fellow. Maybe he can join the track and field team in the big house.

OLBERMANN: As novelty waned, variety waxed. If it moved, if it was on the ground, if we had a camera we were looking live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sure beats the O.J. Bronco ride, I can tell you that.

OLBERMANN: So after 10 years, the car chase maybe running on fume. We have seen so many that even the cable networks rarely break format just for a chase. Local stations facing pressure from police officials have chosen to scale back coverage, notably after some chases ended violently on live TV. But you can't blame the decline in coverage on the lack of contestants. They are still out there, every day somewhere a guy decides to run, maybe it's drunken recklessness, maybe it's desperation, maybe it's that naive dream that I can be the one who, the one who ran from the law and got away. Doesn't work for them, just as 10 years ago tonight didn't work for him. Hell, he's still running.


OLBERMANN: We salute you, Mr. Yankee Doodle Dandy.

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

No. 5, the most wanted man in Iraq, Abu al-Zarqawi, releasing an hour-long compilation showing the home video of his suicide bombers, the brutal conclusion of their missions. Four, the battle over Marlon Brando's estate begins. Some reports say he was broke. Others say his holdings, $200 million. And there could be as many as 14 Brando kids looking to inherit it.

Three, NBC News has learned Senator John Kerry is expected to announce his vice presidential selection tomorrow morning in Pittsburgh. And sources say Florida Bob Graham has been contacted by Kerry's vice presidential vetting committee and told he is still a finalist within the last four days. So the supposed big three of Edwards, Gephardt and Vilsack may in fact be a big four.

Two, driving diesel, the high price of gas spurring interest in the alternative, any alternative. And, No. 1, the Independence Day weekend salute to the latest ultimate expression of the laws of land, the car chase.

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

Good night and good luck.