Thursday, July 8, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 8

Video via MSNBC: Ron Burgundy interview

Guests: Michael Boyd, Bill Richardson, Will Ferrell


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

The secretary of Homeland Security says al-Qaeda is moving forward towards a large-scale attack here. He also says that security communication is better than ever. Then why was an Air Force general ready to shoot down the plane in restricted airspace the day of Ronald Reagan's funeral procession when the FAA knew why that plane's systems were not working?

The veepstakes, day three: The Democrats defend John Edwards from the Republicans. The Republicans defend Dick Cheney from another Republican?

From tragedy to soap opera back to tragedy: The kidnapping of Corporal Hasoun may have been a hoax, but the people killed in Tripoli for insulting him are really dead.

And the movie "Anchor Man," its star, the legendary newsman, Ron Burgundy, sits down with me to discuss the essentials of great television journalism.


OLBERMANN: Uh, yeah. All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. It was minutes before Ronald Reagan's coffin was to pass through the packed streets of Washington, while above the skies, in the the skies and in the military situation rooms a remarkable drama played out. The details were revealed only today, but one month ago tomorrow, American fighter jets came within minutes and possibly seconds of shooting down a plane carrying the governor of Kentucky, sending wreckage, hurtling perhaps, into those very Washington streets, all because the Air Force did not know what the Federal Aviation Administration did - that the plane had broken signaling equipment.

Our fifth story on COUNTDOWN: The secretary of Homeland Security today insisted that communications throughout the security infrastructure just kept getting better a better. A statement that was made against the backdrop of the details of that near-miss and alongside Mr. Ridge's virtual word-for-word repetition of the statement by Attorney General Ashcroft from six weeks ago about a credible threat from al-Qaeda.


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY: Credible reporting now indicates...

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates...

RIDGE:... that al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans...

ASHCROFT:... that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack...

RIDGE:... to carry out a large-scale attack on the United States...

ASHCROFT:... on the United States in the next few months...

RIDGE:... in an effort to disrupt our democratic process...

ASHCROFT: Now, this disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaeda's specific intention to hit the United States hard.


OLBERMANN: Today's reference to the election was Secretary Ridge's only new detail. His warning, however, did come with new technology and the claim of improved communication. An announcement that the department's Homeland Security information network is now up and running, ready to connect the White House with all 50 states and more that 50 major urban areas almost instantaneously.


RIDGE: This is unprecedented communication and cooperation at the national, state, and local levels. This new ability to receive and distribute critical information allows us to make better decisions more quickly and take action that will deter, detect, and defuse terrorists' attacks.


OLBERMANN: On June 9, detection was not the problem, intelligence was. Homeland Security did not deter the breach of secure air space over Washington, it also did not know the simple explanation for the breach, it also did not know that the Federal Aviation Administration did know that explanation.

And as a result, it nearly - a senior federal security official told the "Washington Post" the chances were at 50/50 - it nearly shot down the plane carrying Ernie Fletcher, the governor of Kentucky.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): The two congressional committees now investigating the incident, today revealed the order had been given to shoot the governor's plane down. What separated him from death and the streets of Washington from carnage may have been little less than cloud cover. In minute-by-minute detail, here's the account of what went wrong that day:

2:56 p.m. Eastern: The pilot manning Governor Fletcher's flight to Washington realizes his transponder is broken. In keeping with FAA regulations, he quickly notifies the departure controller at Cincinnati.

3:45: The pilot repeats the warning, this time to FAA officials in Washington, but as it turned out, no one with the FAA, in Ohio or Washington, notified military and Homeland Security officials about the broken transponder. Without that knowledge, the governor's flight would show up as an unidentified and potentially hostile intruder.

4:24: As the flight closes in on Washington, the alert goes up and a Blackhawk and citation jets were scrambled.

4:31: With a Renegade plane in the air, U.S. Capital police order an evacuation, sending politicians and members of the media, including me and my staff, scrambling onto the streets outside.

4:32: A minute later, a general on the phone ready to make the call, "shoot it down," but cloud cover prevented the scrambled aircraft from getting a clean view of the plane. And it was for that reason, apparently, and that reason only that the awful order to fire was not given.

4:34: Forty-four minutes after the FAA had first been notified about the failed transponder, the plane is finally identified, just as it begins its final approach to Reagan National Airport.


OLBERMANN: Joining us now to assess how much went wrong amid so much security a month ago tomorrow, Michael Boyd, an aviation security expert, president of the Boyd Group.

Thank you again for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: Homeland Security is saying, "Look, it wasn't a terrorist attack and we didn't shoot down an innocuous plane. What are you guys complaining about?" What's your answer to that?

BOYD: That's like parking your car in the worst area of town and when it's not stolen and saying you have a great security system. There's a major breach here, the - we had the same lack of communication as we had on 9/11, except now we know we have a terrorist threat. So, they're dancing around this issue and I have to tell you, this could have been a major disaster and it could happen probably agained today, because no one has gotten fired.

OLBERMANN: Just a wild guess - they shoot that plane down, obviously those onboard are very, very remote survivors, chances-wise, how much damage would that have done on the ground?

BOYD: Oh, if it landed in a populated area, who knows - a school, whatever, it could have been huge, the damage that could have done. The problem here is no one talked to someone else and that system is probably still in place and we're still a danger from those kind of mistakes.

OLBERMANN: Is there an immediate solution? Some were quoted in this "Washington Post" article today said simply, "Washington, D.C., obvious target, make the no-fly zone bigger," but if that would work well, why haven't we done that already?

BOYD: Well, the problem is, you can make the no-fly zone a lot bigger, but if you still have a, excuse the term, a nincompoop system of monitoring, it's not going to make any difference. We have an FAA that needs to be cleaned out, we have a Homeland Security that probably needs to be adjusted or cleaned out. Until that happens, this will happen again and again.

OLBERMANN: I know your blood curdles every day with some of these aviation, the fair terms is "near hits" with Homeland Security, but what was worst here - the idea that they might have shot the plane down or that they didn't shoot the plane down because it was cloudy?

BOYD: I think the worst thing was, they - No. 1, we were lucky it was cloudy. The worst part of it though is they didn't have a system in place to deal with an airplane coming in that might have not have a - might not have had transponder. The real issue here is, those same people who are in control today, will be in control tomorrow, because at the FAA and Homeland Security and TSA no one ever gets fired.

OLBERMANN: Secretary Ridge said today this new system has just done wonders for communications regarding security. Is he - is that statement fair? Does he have a right to make a remark like he did today?

BOYD: I - to be very honest, what's coming out of Homeland Security and the TSA is just contributing to global warming. We really don't have any real answers, because there's no oversight to these things. I think what has to happen is, until we get accountability for failure, like today, or a year - a month ago, we're not going to have better security.

OLBERMANN: Michael Boyd, the aviation security expert, many thanks, as we always say, for your time tonight and good luck to all of us.

BOYD: Yes.

OLBERMANN: From the terror that might have been to the terror targets with political expiration dates reportedly, anyway. The magazine the "New Republic" is reporting that this Spring, the administration began stepping up pressure on the nation of Pakistan to produce some of the most wanted terrorists in that region, but those demands might have also come with some political strings attached.

The pressure to find terrorists believed to be hiding in the Pakistan tribal areas has reportedly come with a timeframe. The so-called high-value targets were to be delivered before the November elections here.

One Pakistani intelligence official told the magazine that White House aides had been more specific still, identifying the 26th, 27th and 28th of July as ideal dates for producing terrorists. Those would happen to be the first three days of the Democratic National Convention. The Bush administration denies there had any such demands made of Pakistan, as is reported in the magazine.

Meanwhile, with his permanent successor not identified, the news back at Central Intelligence is of George Tenet's well-timed departure. This week he ends his seven year tenure at the much embattled agency. And as he packs his bags to get ready to go, he will miss what may be the most significant indictment of his leadership to date.

Tomorrow, the Senate Select Committee on intelligence scheduled to release its much anticipated report on the prewar intelligence in Iraq. Leaks from that report indicating that much of the blame for erroneous information will be placed at the feet of Director Tenet and will largely absolve the White House of responsibility for any mistakes.

In one excerpt, the committee is especially blunt about Mr. Tenet's failures to vet the president's uranium claim involving Niger, saying that he, quote, "Should have taken the time to read the State of the Union speech and fact check it himself."

Those fireworks tomorrow, after intelligence and security in the Senate. Others today, about the same subjects in the White House. Despite heavy Republican majority, a bipartisan bid to block the books and libraries portion of the Patriot Act was defeated so narrowly today, that the final vote was a tie, 210 yay, 210 nay.

And not to use an old joke on such a serious mattle - matter, rather, but the battle may have been closer than the score indicates. Listen to the invective from the usually mild-mannered Connecticut Republican, Christopher Shays and the sharp response from New York Democrat, Jose Serrano.


REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: I have 70 constituents who lost their rights on September 11 and to hear this debate I'm not sure we care about that. Something told me on September 11 we had a wake-up call from hell.

REP. JOSE E. SARRANO (D), NEW YORK: I know that Mr. Shays is not listening to us now, but I personally take great offence to the fact that he would suggest...

SHAYS: Gentleman...

SARRANO: I'm not yielding now. I'm holding up my hand too.

SHAYS: I'm listening. I'm listing.

SARRANO: Well, you should listen, because I think that was a low blow. I knew people that died there. I was friends with people who died there. We all are. Everybody in this country became a New Yorker that day, that's a fact of life, from Oklahoma to Portland, Oregon to, Miami, Florida, everybody became an American and a New Yorker that day. So don't mix one with the other.


OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the war on terror, as divisive as ever. Coming up later:

The Pentagon now knows that Corporal Wassef Hasoun is safe, but was he really kidnapped? And some who criticized him in public in Lebanon are really dead.

Up next, tonight's No. 4 story: Enron's former golden boy, Ken Lay, led away in handcuffs today and then deciding that the best defense was a good public offense. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Whether it is deserved or the worst calumny of the 21st century so far, it is so, especially in the southwest. Ken Lay has the reputation as the corporate version of Jeffrey Dahmer.

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight: Ken Lay has been indicted, he has surrendered and pleaded. Martha Stewart has gotten some equally expected legal news. The high doyen of household hints, in a moment, first Lisa Myers from Washington on Kenny boy.


LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ken Lay was led into the courthouse in handcuffs, pleaded not guilty on all counts, then launched the public fight of his life.

KEN LAY, FORMER ENRON CEO: It's been a very tragic day for me and my family.

MYERS: In an extraordinary news conference, Lay calmly and forcefully laid out his defense.

LAY: As CEO of the company, I accept responsibility for Enron's collapse, as I've said before. However, that does not mean I knew everything that happened at Enron, and I firmly reject any notion that I engaged in any wrongful or criminal activity.

MYERS: Lay blamed Enron's collapse on Enron's Chief Financial Officer Andy Fastow, who cooked the books, looted the company, and Lay says, betrayed his trust.

LAY: I knew nothing at the time that would even give me any suspicion of what was going on.

MYERS: However, today's indictment charges that in the three months before Enron's collapse, Lay himself manipulated Enron's financial results to hide billions in losses and deliberately made false and misleading statements to deceive the public. Still today, Lay insisted, he believed in Enron to the end.

LAY: I continue to grieve, as does my family, over the loss of the company, my failure to be able to save it, and the tremendous hardship it caused so many employees, retirees, and others.

MYERS (on camera): Once one of President Bush's biggest donors, Lay suggested his close relationship with the Bush family contributed to this indictment, he stopped short of blaming the president.

LAY: I don't have any angst against President Bush, as a matter of fact, I think President Bush is doing a good job in a very difficult situation.

MYERS: Lay says he's eager to get on with the fight and will press for a trial in early fall.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: And the ink was hardly dry on the Martha Stewart conviction when the government accused its own star ink expert of perjury. But, a judge today, ruled that still does not mean Stewart should get a new trial.

It was another Stewart in this case, Larry Stewart, who testified that he participated in the ink analysis of a document supposedly altered by Martha's stockbroker. Today, Judge Merriam Cedarbaum said perjury is perjury but, quote, "there is no reasonable likelihood that this perjury could have affected the jury's verdict." Thus, she had denied Matha's appeal for another trial.

COUNTDOWN now past our No. 4 story, there will be no running from the law, but there will be running from the bulls. The Pamplona scoreboard up next. If you're a frequent viewer, you know the score before the event even begins.

And later, a frank discussion with the fabled anchorman Ron Burgundy on the pillars of journalism.


OLBERMANN: That's a nice color on you.

RON BURGUNDY, "THE ANCHOR MAN": Likewise. Very nice.

OLBERMANN: What were to odds? What were the chances?

BURGUNDY: Um, probably - it's probably just a magnificent and beautiful coincidence - is my hunch.



OLBERMANN: We're back and we pause the COUNTDOWN now, to instead examine life's rich pageant which sometimes moves at the speed of, say - angry bulls running through the slick streets of a medieval Spanish town. Let's play "Oddball."

And it's day two of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. And "Oddball" is your MSNBC primetime home for exclusive coverage of this epic struggle between moron and beast.

The moron is risking his life and he knows it. The beast faces certain death, yet has no idea. Another poor showing from the bulls today, there were no gorings. Two minor head injuries, but they were suffered by Australians, so how could you tell?

Traffic was briefly delayed by a five-bull pileup through the s-curve, but all cows recovered and ran with all deliberate speed down the remainder of the half-mile course and into the bull ring. If they knew what awaited them there, they probably would not have been in such a hurry.

Right there. So, sadly, after two matches, the series stands at:

Western bipeds 2, Bulls nothing. But tomorrow brings a new run and with a new run new bulls and that fresh hope that maybe one of them, just one of them can take a human being down with him.

To Seagull now, and Martha, the one-legged turkey. You know, I think I might have that backwards. It's Martha, the seagull, who lost a leg in Turkey when she got caught in a yacht's sail.

Rescued by the crew, she was delivered to the local vet who performed what may have been the world's first leg transplant, from a Barbie doll to a bird.

The doctor says he took the leg from one Barbie doll and the hand, that pink thing, from another bigger Barbie doll and glued the two of them to Martha.

The bird surprisingly, after this loving care, is adapting quite nicely to her new leg. She hops around and even runs a bit. The vet now says he's going to change his name to Dr. Moreau, he's going to open up his own island and he's hoping to transplant Bill O'Reilly's torso to a wet-dry vacuum.

Finally, from "Oddball" a story so bizarre it must be true and if that is not some sort of insight into the vetting process of television news, I don't know what would be.

Workers in Fiji say they're trying to rehabilitate this guy, 32-year-old Sunjit Kumar (ph), after he lived for years in a chicken coupe. He was raised by chickens.

After his parent's died, young Sunjit (ph) was rocked into the coup by his grandfather and left there totally neglected. After escaping years later, he had picked up the behavioral traits of a chicken: clucking like a chicken, hopping around like a chicken, pecking at stuff, crossing the road for no apparent reason.

Following years of mistreatment in hospitals, the local Rotary Club took Sunjin over it's - under its wing. The Rotary Club. Its workers say he is not insane, it's just that years of living like a chicken, it caused him to, well, act like a chicken.

Kumar (ph) is making great progress. He's been learning to speak and walk like a human, but his brother is resisting efforts to convert him fully back to being a person, reportedly saying, quote, "we need the eggs," unquote.


OLBERMANN: Thank you, Mr. Kumar (ph).

"Oddball" behind us now, up next, the No. 3 story: VP day three. Attacks on John Edwards continuing, but now there's a Republican call for his Republican competition to bow out of this race.

Then later, the Marine hostage under investigation, but safe in his family's native land, the same family who today reportedly killed two men to avenge his good name.

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

No. 3: Patrick McCarty of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, wandered into the local police and said, I want to be arrested for being stupid. The cops told him that was not a crime - good lord, where would you put them all? So, McCarty took them to his apartment, handed over his pot and his drug paraphernalia - for that they arrested him.

No. 2: Robbie Knievel, the daredevil, facing a lot more worse than a leaf on a motorcycle over flaming dog poop. Promoting a movie about his father, he's planning to jump over an array of military aircraft aboard the USS Intrepid in New York Harbor. The head of the USS Intrepid Association calls this, "Disrespectful," and the guy says, "It's the stupidest thing I've heard of in a while."

And, No.: Michael Eisner, an industry Web site reporting that last weekend, a security sweep of his office at Disney uncovered tiny electronic transmitters behind his desk and at a conference table. Somebody bugged Eisner. Hmmm, Fourth of July weekend? Where was Michael Moore?


OLBERMANN: While everybody from Whoopi Goldberg to the Dave Matthews Band helped the new Democratic ticket of Kerry and Edwards raise five million fish at a Radio City moneymaker tonight in New York City, the question of the campaign week so far remains not clearly answered: How much political capital will John Edwards himself earn the Democrats?

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, more polls, more attacks on senator Edwards, more defense of Senator Edwards, including from our next guest, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, and a surprise attack by a Republican against Vice President Cheney.

The new poll first from the independent Zogby group. It may not be a big bounce electorate after all, rather a hard split, Senator Kerry at 46 percent, President Bush at 44, that two-point split within the three-point margin of error. Only 43 percent of those surveyed believe Mr. Bush deserves to be reelected. A significant majority, 53 percent, believe it's time for someone new, what might be a more telling indicator than any of the job approval numbers normally bandied about.

And that hard split we were talking about earlier, Zogby's advice, get used to it. In the blue states, those that were won by Al Gore in the last election, the Kerry-Edwards' ticket is at 50 percent, Bush-Cheney at 42. But it in reverse, in the Republican red states, slightly closer, Bush-Cheney 50, Kerry-Edwards 45. We should just start the election night coverage now. With zero percent on the board, Russert, stop scribbling. Stop scribbling, Russert.

A funny thing happened to the Republicans on their third day of trying to either, depending on your political viewpoint, expose or vilify the new Democratic vice presidential pick, Mr. Edwards. A once influential Republican took a surprise shot at his own side, saying President Bush could guarantee his essential reelection by dropping Dick Cheney from the ticket, while the incumbent party continued to hit Edwards on his limited experience and the imprecision of some of the resume details from his 1998 senatorial campaign, like exactly how long he loaded trucks for UPS.

Most of the smoke rose from behind their own lines. While praising Dick Cheney as a - quote - "decent, honorable and patriotic American," three-term former New York Senator Al D'Amato also told Republicans, dump him.


AL D'AMATO, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: This is an extraordinarily close race. This is an important race for the further of America and our direction. And I think if we as a party want to think seriously, we be thinking about strengthening the president's hand. And I think that Secretary Powell would be one of those. And then my good friend John McCain would be another who would bring independents, who would bring the so-called Reagan Democrats back to the ticket.


OLBERMANN: No news of how Secretary Powell responded to that, though if it were reminiscent of his version of the YMCA at the Asian security summit, I wouldn't be a bit surprised. As for Senator McCain, he went on "The Today Show" and at least tied the all-time record by taking himself out of the running for two different tickets in one month.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think the day that President Bush drops Vice President Cheney will be a cold day in Gila Bend, Arizona. I think they have a very good relationship, a very close working relationship, probably the closest of any president and vice president in history. They have mutual trust. And I see no scenario where the president would replace Dick Cheney.

KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST: But if he rang you up and said, Senator McCain, will you join me on the ticket, you would say?

MCCAIN: Katie, that's such a hypothetical, but I have said many times in the past, I don't choose to be vice president, either Republican, Democrat, libertarian or vegetarian.


OLBERMANN: Whig? Federalist?

Kind of makes our guest look like a piker. He only removed his name from party's V.P. sweepstakes, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

Thank you kindly for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: To the degree to which Senator Edwards has had rocks thrown at him since Tuesday, am I just being naive nostalgic and not remembering previous instances of this? But have we seen this kind of degree of attention paid by either party to the other vice presidential candidate since Thomas Eagleton in '72 or is this new?

RICHARDSON: This is new. This is unprecedented, the viciousness of the attacks, the coordinated effort.

I think the Republicans are running scared because clearly this choice has given Senator Kerry a bounce. And I've seen a poll where you match Cheney and Senator Edwards and Edwards is ahead by seven points. I think it's an NBC poll.

So I think that what Senator D'Amato said - and he has got credibility in the Republican Party - has to be probably remote, the fact that Vice President Cheney might get off the ticket.

But if you look at those two poll numbers that are very significant, the reelect numbers of President Bush, which basically say 53 percent don't think he should, and then the low-level favorable-unfavorable of Vice President Cheney, it's about 30 percent favorable, 30 percent unfavorable, you have to look at reality. And I wouldn't be surprised, especially with this enormous bounce that seems to be occurring with Senator Edwards.

OLBERMANN: We heard the vice presidential role in many, many contexts being described as a co-presidency now. Just the comments from Senator McCain suggested that the current president and the current vice president have the closest president relationship in the history of the two offices. Is the concept of the vice presidency, has it just changed in the last four years, the last eight years? When did this happen and what has happened?

RICHARDSON: Well, it has changed, Keith, because Al Gore and Bill Clinton, it wasn't a co-presidency. There was enormous respect and Al Gore had a lot of areas that were basically his, technology, the environment. Gore participated in all national security meetings, but there wasn't a co-presidency.

Right now, you've got a vice president with enormous influence. I don't think that's necessarily healthy. And I think it's causing right now real credibility problems for the president. So I believe that the Kerry-Edwards combination, it's not a co-presidency. This is a very, very strong top of the ticket, foreign policy experience, and you are going to see Senator Edwards play I think not a subservient role, but a secondary role, the way it should be.

OLBERMANN: Governor, in any event, however that turns out, John Edwards is your guy now. And when the Republicans come at him, as they have, with the basic troika here, inexperienced, disingenuous, trial lawyer, your defense of Senator Edwards is what?

RICHARDSON: Well, first, on foreign policy, here's a senator that has been on the Senate Intelligence Committee, on the 9/11 Commission in the Senate. He's authored legislation on domestic terrorism. He's traveled extensively.

When you're in the Senate or the Congress, you get a lot of briefings.

He's met a lot of foreign leaders. He's a quick study, a first-class mind. He has good values. Senator Kerry is going to be making the major foreign policy decisions in the country. I also say, Keith, that he's connecting Senator Edwards with middle-class values, his patient bill of rights, his middle-class tax cuts, his education programs.

This has been a home run for Senator Kerry. And what you are seeing right now is mad negative attacks that I believe are going have a little bit of a negative feedback for Republicans in the days ahead because they've got to start talking positive. It can't just be negative Kerry, negative Edwards. I think they're sort of in a freefall and it's happening very fast.

OLBERMANN: Well, it might be - you say it can't be - it might turn out to be that all the way down the stretch. And that will make the next 120 days almost as much fun as some of the past days.

The governor of the state of New Mexico, former U.N. ambassador, former energy secretary, Bill Richardson, we thank you again for some of your time tonight, Governor.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, I'm not trying to pat anybody on the back here, least of all myself, but given the volume of information that passes through our hands each night, 5,000 words at least, it always amazes me just how much of it we get exactly right.

Having said that, when we get it wrong, we get it wrong in big capital letters. We told last night of a gentleman named Kerry Edwards who owned the Web site and his failed negotiations to sell it to the Kerry-Edwards campaign. In fact, we heard an interview clip from Mr. Edwards, this guy. Well, it turns out this man's name is Kerry Edwards, but he doesn't own the Web site. Another man named Kerry Edwards does own the Web site. And he was good enough to post his picture online today with the caption: "I'm Kerry. I wasn't on MSNBC last night."


OLBERMANN: And we hope he laughed as loudly as we did. Our apologies to Kerry Edwardses for our mistake.

And with that, we move on to No. 2. No. 2 story is next? Five, four, three, two. Through no fault of ours, this is also redolent with mistakes and tragedy, kidnapped, AWOL, the subject of murders in Lebanon? And later on COUNTDOWN, the legendary newscaster Ron Burgundy of the movie "Anchorman" on this noble profession of TV journalism. We share our insights, if any.


OLBERMANN: Was he abducted or did he desert? And why did his family apparently kill in his name? The case of Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun getting curiouser and curiouser - next.


OLBERMANN: From tragedy to possible hoax to labyrinth of soap opera proportions back tonight to apparent tragedy.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, the purported kidnapping of Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun. It came full circle today when, from Tripoli, reports came that Hassoun was being bad-mouthed in public as a - quote -

"Israeli collaborator" and that some of his Lebanese relatives sought out the speakers and shot them.

Our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski with the latest.


JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly three weeks after he disappeared and was then seen in this chilling hostage-style video, Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun is back under U.S. military control.

Pentagon officials say Hassoun first called the U.S. Embassy in Beirut early today. After Hassoun failed twice to show up for predetermined rendezvous, he finally met the U.S. military attache, who took Hassoun to the embassy compound. At the Pentagon, there was noticeable relief.


PUBLIC AFFAIRS: He's at the U.S. Embassy compound and he's alive. And those are two things we're very grateful for. And beyond that, we'll have more to say when we have it to say.

MIKLASZEWSKI: In Utah tonight, Hassoun's brother, Mohammed, gave thanks to Allah after talking to Hassoun in Beirut.

MOHAMMED HASSOUN, BROTHER OF CORPORAL HASSOUN: He sounded OK. I was told that he had lost some weight, but he's well.

MIKLASZEWSKI: But military officials have serious questions about Hassoun's activities since he disappeared.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID RODRIGUEZ, JOINT CHIEFS DEPUTY DIRECTOR: The investigation is ongoing. We don't know how he got there or what went on between the time that he was reported missing from his unit until he got into Lebanon.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Military officials tell NBC when Hassoun disappeared from his Marine unit June 20, he had cleaned out his locker and was believed headed for Lebanon. The Marines declared him a deserter. A week later, after Hassoun appeared in this hostage video, he was then listed captured, but Pentagon officials say military investigators are now looking into the possibility that the kidnapping was a hoax. And how did Hassoun get to Lebanon from Iraq?

Military officials believe one of Hassoun's brothers, a truck driver, drove him out of Iraq through Syria into Lebanon.

(on camera): If any of these allegations are true, Hassoun could face criminal charges up to and including desertion, which during wartime carries a possible death sentence.

(voice-over): Meanwhile, in Lebanon late today, Hassoun family members engaged in a bloody shoot-out with another clan who had accused Corporal Hassoun of being an Israeli collaborator. Two people were killed, three wounded, yet another strange twist in a story that keeps getting stranger by the day.

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.


OLBERMANN: Now from true tragedy and all-too-real soap operas to the fake kind, our nightly roundup of celebrity and gossip news that we call "Keeping Tabs."

And his butt may or may not look too big, but Garry Shandling is going to show it off again at the Emmy Awards one way or the other. The comedian, former star of the landmark series "The Larry Sanders Show," will reprise his role as host of television's most self-congratulatory evening, well, most self-congratulatory evening not on Fox News.

Shandling last hosted the show for ABC in 2000. They've got it again this September 19. And he's back. The announcement of the prime-time Emmy nominations is a week from today.

And pretty soon, the only TV series from the '60s and '70s not to have been made into feature film will be "Sunrise Semester." Stand by for "Kojak" the movie starring Ving Rhames. The familiar burly actor from "Pulp Fiction" and "Mission: Impossible" will play the tough talking and follicly challenged New York City detective in a flick for our sister cable network USA. The 1973-'78 TV version, of course, starred Telly Savalas and his ever-present lollipop and his phrase, who loves you, baby?

Up next, do you recognize either of these cartoonish characters? The great journalist speaks - that would be him on the left - next.

First, here are COUNTDOWN's top two photos of this day, like those weren't them.


OLBERMANN: The movie "Anchorman" opens tomorrow night. And while the advertising may have led you to believe this is a comedy of some sort of starring an actor named Will Ferrell, I can report to you exclusively tonight that "Anchorman" is actually a documentary of the career oft mandarin of local television newscaster, Ron Burgundy.

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, my exclusive interview with the legendary Mr. Burgundy. And by exclusive, I mean he was on "The Today Show" Tuesday and on CNN yesterday. But I'm the only one interviewing him tonight, exclusively.


OLBERMANN: That's a nice color on you.

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: Likewise. Very nice.

OLBERMANN: What were the chances?

FERRELL: It's probably just a magnificent, beautiful coincidence, is my hutch.

OLBERMANN: That's it. My homage.

FERRELL: Yes. I appreciate it.

OLBERMANN: So I thought we could spend our time talking about the three principal elements of television journalism, the first one being...

FERRELL: Great. Which are?



OLBERMANN: The first one is reading the teleprompter.

FERRELL: Reading the teleprompter, absolutely. It's probably the pillar on the journalism pyramid, the base block of the cinder block.

OLBERMANN: Yes, without which the rest of it collapses.

FERRELL: Collapses into something with flames.


FERRELL: Good evening. I'm Ron Burgundy?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Damn it, who typed a question mark on the teleprompter?


OLBERMANN: But reading it, people don't understand that it's an art to read correctly.

FERRELL: It's an art and it's a bitch.


FERRELL: It's a real bitch.

OLBERMANN: You speak as a man who might have had problems.

FERRELL: I've had a few snafus in my career.

OLBERMANN: Snafus, yes.

FERRELL: One of which actually cost me a job.

OLBERMANN: Well, we've all been through that.

FERRELL: But, yes, so it's something you literally and figuratively have to keep an eye on.

OLBERMANN: Very good. But the snafu that you refer to, big snafu?

FERRELL: A big snafu. I basically told an entire city to F off, and I didn't realize I said it, because you're locked in there. You know how it is, Keith. You're locked in.

OLBERMANN: But did they deserve it? Was it a bad city?

FERRELL: No, no, a wonderful city, San Diego, great town, wonderful...

OLBERMANN: Canada, right?

FERRELL: Quaint village.


FERRELL: No, San Diego is a Mexican protectorate. It's actually part of Mexico.




FERRELL: Or San Diego.

OLBERMANN: San Diego. San Diego?

FERRELL: Pronunciation differs.

OLBERMANN: So the second pillar of television journalism?

FERRELL: Right. It's...

OLBERMANN: That there must be someone in every newsroom who believes that they would be a singer, dancer, or musician, right?

FERRELL: I would think so.

OLBERMANN: And if you...

FERRELL: Well, I fancy myself a musician, sure. I dabble.


FERRELL (singing): Afternoon delight.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I don't know, Ron. That sounds kind of crazy.

FERRELL (singing): Afternoon delight.

Going to make phone call here.


FERRELL: I play a little - I play jazz flute.

OLBERMANN: Oh? Do you find it helps with the news in any way?

FERRELL: Not really. It just - it's just an extension of my artistic side. And I find it to be a wonderful tool in terms of interaction with the female species.

OLBERMANN: It's an extended tool, is what you're saying.

FERRELL: Yes, extended tool. That's great. I might steal that from you.

OLBERMANN: You're welcome to it.


OLBERMANN: So a musician. It's a rhythm and a performance.

FERRELL: It's a rhythm and a performance. And you like to move and do this.

OLBERMANN: Well, you have to do that on the air, don't you?

FERRELL: Yes, a lot of times.


OLBERMANN: It's the format that many stations employ is the moving anchor.

FERRELL: Is the moving...

OLBERMANN: The shoulder.

FERRELL: The shoulder.

OLBERMANN: Possibly the tie adjustment at the neck.

FERRELL: The torso turn.

OLBERMANN: So the consultants have let you do all that on the air?

FERRELL: Pretty much. And they've let me be for the most part, because I won't have it any other way.

OLBERMANN: But you wound up telling a whole city to F themselves?



FERRELL: Yes, I wasn't paying any attention at that moment. I'd say 80 percent of the time, I pay attention.

OLBERMANN: Excellent. Excellent.

FERRELL: I'm really focused.

OLBERMANN: And a viewer can't ask for any more than 80 percent.

FERRELL: Hey, that's a B.

OLBERMANN: There you go. But then the third...

FERRELL: And I never got a B in school, mostly C's and C-minuses.

OLBERMANN: So this is the pinnacle. This is what you were meant to do. God ordained you to do this.

FERRELL: The excellent moment in my life, yes.

OLBERMANN: Well, then that leads naturally to the third pillar of television journalism.


FERRELL: Which is...

OLBERMANN: Hair maintenance.

FERRELL: Hair maintenance.

OLBERMANN: How important is the hair?


FERRELL: I almost would put that at No. 1.

OLBERMANN: Well, I was going in a descending order. It's a show called COUNTDOWN, so we have three.

FERRELL: That's - if you don't take care of what's up here, it's not going to work here or here. And the people aren't going to get it here. So I probably spend three hours...


FERRELL:... on my hair before I leave the house and then another three hours in the newsroom.

OLBERMANN: Well, because, all of a sudden, it can be very windy.

FERRELL: Very windy. You don't know what sort of atmospheric conditions might be out there.

OLBERMANN: But do you do it all yourself? Especially some of the

women in the business


FERRELL: I do it all myself at home.


FERRELL: And then I have a team of about 11 people.


FERRELL: Eleven people in the newsroom.

OLBERMANN: They work all at once or in shifts?

FERRELL: Well, in shifts, because I get angry at them on occasion, fire them momentarily. Then I rehire them.


FERRELL:... in rotation.

OLBERMANN: I saw that in the documentary life that they sent in this film.

FERRELL: Yes. Pretty fascinating, wouldn't you say?

OLBERMANN: I thought - yes.

FERRELL: It's amazing they caught all that on film. I wasn't even aware there was a camera there half the time.

OLBERMANN: Well, that would have been during the 20 percent period when you weren't really too focused in to be...

FERRELL: I appreciate this, Keith, because a lot of these other dolts I talk to don't follow. So...

OLBERMANN: Well, they don't own a suit. They don't


OLBERMANN:... clothing. That's what it's all about.


OLBERMANN: When in Rome.

FERRELL: When in Rome. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: No, thank you. It's been spectacular.

FERRELL: It really has.


FERRELL: It really has. And if you ever want to go grab a steak or a chop, lamb chop.

OLBERMANN: Yes? Well, that would be good. Only if you play the jazz flute.

FERRELL: I will.

OLBERMANN: All right.

FERRELL: You pick up the check.



OLBERMANN: It's a good color on you. It really is.

FERRELL: Yes, I like it.

OLBERMANN: It's a little lighter than...

FERRELL: It's a little bit lighter, reflects the light a little more.

OLBERMANN: That's true. Yes, it does.

FERRELL: And these coral buttons, you see that?

OLBERMANN: I know. I got the cheap ones that match.

FERRELL: These are imported from Malaysia.



OLBERMANN: Is that near San Diego?

FERRELL: God, I hope. I have no idea.

OLBERMANN: All the best to you.

FERRELL: Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN: Congratulations on the documentary.

FERRELL: Thank you.


OLBERMANN: Will Ferrell portraying his character in the movie "Anchorman," Ron Burgundy. And we thank him for playing along.

Not to spoil the film for you, but if you do go see it, remember this. Other than the violence, I've met all these people and seen all those things actually happen in TV newsrooms over the last 25 years. Lord only knows how I survived them or they me.

Let's recap the top five COUNTDOWN stories. No. 5, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge says again al Qaeda planning a major attack this summer - also, details tonight on how a month ago tomorrow, the military nearly shot down the plane carrying the governor of Kentucky, even though the FAA knew of the plane's signaling problems.

Four, Ken Lay frog-marched. The former Enron head pleads not guilty to all 11 charges against him, facing 100 years in jail. Three, the V.P. race continues, John Edwards under attack for lack of experience, a Republican suggesting dropping Dick Cheney from the ticket in favor of Colin Powell or John McCain. Two, hostage or hoax? Marine Corporal Hassoun now safe at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, but under investigation for possible desertion. And, No. 1, sharing anchorman insights with the one and only Ron Burgundy.

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

Good night and good luck.