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.

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