Thursday, August 12, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 12

Guest: Jan Null, Lynn Snowden Picket, Arianna Huffington, Jason Dearen


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The governor of New Jersey with perhaps the most extraordinary political speech of our time.

GOV. JAMES MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY: I am a gay American. My resignation will be effective on November 15.

OLBERMANN: We will replay James McGreevey's singular statement in full.

U.S. forces have not found Muqtada al Sadr, but they have captured his house. The fierce fighting in Najaf, Iraq.

Laughter in the courtroom, a juror giggles as today's Amber Frey/Scott Peterson tapes are played and amid the tragic connections, we get to giggle at yesterday's tapes.



PETERSON: You're lucky.

FREY: Why am I lucky.


OLBERMANN: And what is in a name? A lot when it comes to sex appeal.

Got a big front foul guys, you're in luck. Well, which fly by night operation produced this dubious research? Oh, MIT.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. It was merely the resignation of a state governor, at least 14 of them have resigned in the last 30 years. But the why and the how, transformed the speech given this afternoon by James McGreevey of New Jersey from the mere common place to the virtually unprecedented.

Our 5th story on the COUNTDOWN. In an era, in which politicians and leaders have turned parsing and plausible liability and lying into an art form. Governor McGreevey, at the hint of a sexual scandal, admitted to the relationship and announced he was gay.

In a moment, the reaction of the politician ideally posed to comment on this, one who has lived or lived through almost all of the component parts of this drama, Arianna Huffington.

First, since this extraordinary American political event took place in late afternoon, the odds are good you did not see it in its entirety. Regardless of your personal point of view or your reaction, it is worth all six minutes and nine seconds.


MCGREEVEY: Throughout my life, I have grappled with my own identity, who I am. As a young child, I often felt ambivalent about myself, in fact, confused.

By virtue of my traditions, and my community, I worked hard to ensure that I was accepted as part of the traditional family of America. I married my first wife, Carrie, out of respect and love. And together, we have a wonderful, extraordinary daughter. Carrie (ph) then chose to return to British Columbia.

I then had the blessing of marrying Dina, whose love and joy for life has been an incredible source of strength for me. And together, we have the most beautiful daughter.

Yet, from my early days in school, until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense that separated me from others. But because of my resolve, and also thinking that I was doing the right thing, I forced what I thought was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, "good things," and all the, quote, "right things" of typical adolescent and adult behavior.

Yet, at my most reflective, maybe even spiritual level, there were points in my life when I began to question what an acceptable reality really meant for me. Were there realities from which I was running?

_Which master was I trying to serve? _

I do not believe that God tortures any person simply for its own sake.

I believe that God enables all things to work for the greater good. And this, the 47th year of my life, it is arguably too late to have this discussion. But it is here, and it is now.

At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is.

And so my truth is that I am a gay American. And I am blessed to live in the greatest nation with the tradition of civil liberties, the greatest tradition of civil liberties in the world, in a country which provides so much to its people.

Yet because of the pain and suffering and anguish that I have caused to my beloved family, my parents, my wife, my friends, I would almost rather have this moment pass.

For this is an intensely personal decision, and not one typically for the public domain. Yet, it cannot and should not pass.

I am also here today because, shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony. It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable. And for this, I ask the forgiveness and the grace of my wife. She has been extraordinary throughout this ordeal, and I am blessed by virtue of her love and strength.

I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality if kept secret leaves me, and most importantly the governor's office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure. So I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality.

Let me be clear, I accept total and full responsibility for my actions. However, I'm required to do now, to do what is right to correct the consequences of my actions and to be truthful to my loved ones, to my friends and my family and also to myself.

It makes little difference that as governor I am gay. In fact, having the ability to truthfully set forth my identity might have enabled me to be more forthright in fulfilling and discharging my constitutional obligations. Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign.

To facilitate a responsible transition, my resignation will be effective on November 15th of this year.

I'm very proud of the things we have accomplished during my administration. And I want to thank humbly the citizens of the state of New Jersey for the privilege to govern.

Thank you.


OLBERMANN: The governor's lifestyle revelation was not entirely news. A New Jersey right wing newspaper columnist, wrote of McGreevey's use of the campaign phrase, straight talk and mocked McGreevey's use of the word straight 13 time. Ultimately writing more than two years ago, "Those who know McGreevey intimately, know he is not 'straight.' It's just a word he uses to make him to appear exactly the opposite of the what he is."

The governor was facing at least two non-lifestyle scandals. Last month, one of his top fund raiser was indicted on charges of extorting bribes, and campaign contributions. Just a week later, another top political donor was charged with trying to undermine a federal investigation against him, by hiring prostitutes to seduce witnesses, and one of them was his brother-in-law.

McGreevey, it should be noted, was not implicated in either indictment and the speech was not entirely without political calculus. The effective date of McGreevey's resignation means that a new governor will not be elected until 2004 (sic), as opposed to this November. His successor by law is State Senate President Richard Codey, like McGreevey, a Democrat.

But all of that seem almost incidental. This was that rarest of political event, unleaked, dramatic and confessional.

For reaction, we turn to the rarest of those who heard the speech. Her ex-husband ran for the Senate in California, he later announced he was gay. She later ran for governor of California. And while all that was going on, she also wrote 10 books and became one of America's foremost political commentator, Arianna Huffington.

Arianna, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: There's so much to talk about here. Start for me, if you would be so kind on the face value, what did you think of this as a political event?

HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, thank you for playing the whole speech because I had only read the transcript. And it is a very, very powerful speech. And if we can leave aside for the moment of the possibility of a sexual harassment lawsuit which of course would move this whole drama to another domain of law and abuse of public trust. And if you can stay for a moment with the personal and the immediately political.

It was amazing that he came out so clearly, so unequivocally, and that he used that term, "I am a gay American." That he talked about God, issuing, in a way, a challenge to the Catholic Church, as a Roman Catholic himself. And if we can also remember the background of all the Catholic Church scandals with suppressed homosexuals abusing children. All that was going on in my head and at the same time, as somebody who has been through something similar but not at all on that scale because we were already divorced for two years when my ex-husband came out and he was not in public office at the time.

But nevertheless, just looking at his wife and knowing the personal turmoil that goes on, when you question your own marriage, when you wonder what you're going to say to your children. I mean, her daughter is mercifully only 2 years old. Mine were older. And all that is going on at the same time. So there are so many layers and so many levels.

But the other thing, just before you ask me another question is the fact that today in California, the supreme court, as you know, ruled against the 4,000 marriages that had taken place in San Francisco. That reminding us of what a long way we still have to go in terms of accepting gays, both in their personal choices and in our public life.

OLBERMANN: In the nature of this is such an extraordinary event and I think we're in agreement with that. That's the second time I've heard it. Full length and it is just as extraordinary as the first. Why do you think he resigned? What, after making this clean breast of thing, why was it necessary in his own mind to leave that office as governor of New Jersey?

HUFFINGTON: Well, because as he said, he had an affair with an employee of the state. Now, even if that affair had been conducted with a female employee, the point is that he violated his marital vows which is a matter of, again, I believe, personal morality. But there are also public morality issues. And issues of political ethics when - the affairs with an employee, even if we leave aside the question of whether it was or was not consensual. The man was an adult but he was hired. I'm not quite clear, I don't know if you are, whether he was hired before the affair, or after the affair, whether there was expulsion involved but there are a lot of other questions.

HUFFINGTON: Nobody alive heard Grover Cleveland acknowledge paternity of an illegitimate child while he was running for the White House in 1884 obviously and the Lyndon Johnson speech in 1968 saying he would not stand for re-election did not have that same personal element as this speech today did. But I would assume for impact and frankness, that this speech belongs up there with the other two. Is there a chance that it could impact political speechmaking in this country, in some way improve or make more personal or make more honest the political dialogue?

HUFFINGTON: Well, Keith, can we both pray for that? Because I think one of the things that so touched us and many others is the frankness of the speech. Going back to the man's childhood. And it contrasts with the problem that we hear every day. The equivocations. The insincerity of political speeches. So absolutely, I believe we are longing for that kind of speech. We're responding to it. I wish that we didn't have to think about the sexual harassment lawsuit because then we could truly celebrate a public speech on a dramatically, personal painful moment in this man's life. So let's do that for today since we don't know what else is coming tomorrow.

OLBERMANN: On that as a final point, Arianna, that personal equation, it must seem implausible to a lot of people that an adult could not know whether or not he was gay into his 40s or that his wife could not know. Is there something about that that you can address that will make that conceivable to the people for whom it is completely foreign territory?

HUFFINGTON: Yes. Let me just say both from my personal experience and the experience of literally, hundreds of other women who wrote to me, emailed me after my own experience was made public that it is absolutely conceivable. I mean, this man clearly had a full relationship with both of his two wives. He had children. And it is amazing how much confusion can go on in people's lives until they're ready to admit the reality that he so eloquently admitted today.

OLBERMANN: Arianna Huffington's most recent book is titled "Fanatics And Fools. The Game Plan For Winning Back America." Arianna, thanks so much for your insights tonight. We appreciate it greatly. Take care.

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the extraordinary statement from this now soon-to-be former ex-governor of New Jersey Mr. McGreevey.

Up next, tonight's number four story. The Scott Peterson trial. Jurors laughing out loud today at Peterson trying to convince Amber Frey he's been telling her the truth. You'll get to hear some of the tapes yourself.

And later, the latest from Iraq. American troop trying to make the fight against a Muslim cleric. In fact, take it straight to his front door.


OLBERMANN: It is difficult to talk about anything relating to the death of a woman and her unborn child in terms of ridiculousness or even dark humor. But in our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, the murder trial of Scott Peterson actually produced laughs today. Both with the public release of the tape-recorded phone conversations between Peterson and his erstwhile mistress, Amber Frey which collectively sound like a bad "Saturday Night Live" sketch and then in the courtroom itself.

Jason Dearen has covered the legal proceedings for his newspaper, "The San Mateo County Times" since January and has now joined us for a third consecutive night. Jason, thank you for doing so again.


OLBERMANN: It's not often one hears a laugh in the middle of a murder trial. Explain what happened today please.

DEAREN: What happened today is jurors were hearing the first conversation between Peterson and Frey where Peterson came clean. And he was telling her that he was indeed still married and that his wife was missing. Well, part of the conversation, Peterson said that he had never lied to her. And at that point, Frey said oh, really? And that kind of stark admission from Peterson got a laugh from a few jurors. And then he qualified it next by saying, oh, well, there have been 2 exceptions.

OLBERMANN: I gather that sense of slight levity, or condescending humor evaporated rather quickly, particularly when the tapes of how Scott Peterson referred to his unborn child were played. Explain that.

DEAREN: Throughout the conversations, he never referred to the unborn child as my child, at least not that I heard. He said, the child. And in a one instance, which I have actually seen in the transcript he said her child, meaning Laci's child.

Legal experts are, different opinion on whether or not the jury will pick that up. But one legal expert said that he thought that it meant that perhaps Peterson had moved on emotionally or started to kind of detach himself emotionally.

OLBERMANN: Last overall picture, the impact today both of Miss Frey and those remaining tapes?

DEAREN: Well, the biggest impact on the jury today was Frey broke down during one of calls and was saying to Scott Peterson how she worked so hard and she was raising her daughter by herself. And she was just exasperated with the situation. And why did I have to get involved in all this? And in the courtroom, she was sitting in the gallery in the second seat, in the second row behind Laci's family. She started crying, actually crying, in the courtroom today.

And I saw at least three or four jurors look at her and give hear good long look and watch. I think that was pretty affecting.

OLBERMANN: Jason Dearen of the "San Mateo County Times." Once again, putting his deadline on pause to take us inside the courtroom. Once again, our thanks.

DEAREN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Today for the first time, the public had another means of access inside that room. Yesterdays Amber and Scott tapes were released. And were it not for the tragedy attached to them, they might constitute the best man and woman comedy team since Elaine May and Michael Nichols, or at least, Stiller and Mira (ph).


PETERSON: There are no way to describe you. And I thought about you today and there's no no way to describe you. And it would take forever to just to tell them about the nuances of how wonderful you are. I struggle. I need to be an author or something in order to express...

_FREY: You need to be an author or something?_

PETERSON: Well, yeah, I need experience with words to be able to explain, you know, I like you could hire a painter to do a portrait of people, right? Maybe an author who is trained with language could give us a color picture. I don't think there's anyone, maybe a poet, maybe an amazing poet...


OLBERMANN: That's even better than when Stan Freeburg did it with his John and Marsha sketch. As a note to yesterday, Peterson also pretended to be a world traveler. In a vivid piece of improv to try to convince Miss Frey that he is not in Modesto, California, but in Paris, France near the Eiffel Tower. Peterson transforms his wife's dog McKenzie into a French dog next to the hotel.


PETERSON: Do you know what time it is here?


PETERSON: 7:00. And this is why I'm up. I am determined to go out an jog.

FREY: Really?

PETERSON: I'm willing to fight pudge boy.

FREY: So you ate too much with your folks, huh?

PETERSON: No, not with them, but certainly in the last couple of days I have.

FREY: Well, what have you been eating to make you pudgy?

PETERSON: Oh, just all this French food.

FREY: Uh-huh.

PETERSON: And all this wine. And last night - well, this morning too, there is this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) dog next to this hotel.

FREY: There's what?

PETERSON: This dog.

FREY: Uh-huh.

PETERSON: That just keeps barking.

FREY: Really?

PETERSON: Oh, I want to kill it.


OLBERMANN: Tune in tomorrow for Scott and Amber, when we'll hear, oh, Amber, turn cassette over now.

COUNTDOWN now past our No. 4. Up next, "Oddball" as if we're not odd enough. And citizens beware, have your pets vaccinated. The neighbor lady has 300 bats in her house.

And later, M.I.T. has done it again, scientists to unlock the key against who is sexy. And it has nothing to do with looks, it turns out. Thank goodness for that. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: We begin with news that may one day put us all out of work, U.S. scientists have found a cure for lazy monkeys. They say they have found a method to turn them into workaholics. Do you have lessons for that monkey? Gene therapy.

Remember those words when you lose your job through neighborhood chimp.

By temporarily blocking a gene involved in reward learning, researchers at the National Institutes of Mental Health say monkeys don't wait around for a biscuit before they perform their tasks, they just perform the tasks. Wait a minute. This is exactly how that planet of the apes trilogy started. Damn dirty ape!

Meanwhile, meet Victoria Lyn. She has bats in her belfry. We're not insulting her, it's literally meant. She is living in a nice little house in Joliet, Illinois. It's a rental. She is comfortable there, except for the fact that there are 300 bats also living there in the attic. And they've now begun to invade the rest of the house.

Lyn says she was awakened in the middle of the night recently by one one of the flying rats hovering just above her face. She pulled a sheet over herself and was able to escape. And then was good enough to come back and videotape bats. A process which we call news.

Then again, it could have been worse, she could have had a giant squid in the laundry room.

This one here was found in the ocean where giant squid tend to live just off the Canary Islands. Fishermen found it tangled in their nets. They say it was already dead. They hauled the 30-foot long 220 pound invertebrate back to shore and, of course, posed for snap shots with it and the dog. Really it is cute isn't it.

No one has ever seen a giant squid alive, except perhaps that Captain Nemo fellow. And if you're thinking, calamari for everybody, forget it, a squid that big has got enough ammonia in it's system to kill a horse.

"Oddball" now safely in the COUNTDOWN time capsule.

Up next, the No. 3 story, hundreds of thousands told to evacuate the Tampa Bay area. And trapped in floodwaters, a couple in New York getting electrocuted while trying to get out of their car. What you need to know if you are caught in a similar situation. Those stories ahead.

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

No. 3, George Clinton. He has pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of drug paraphernalia possession. Not really newsy. We just wanted to show that mug shot again.

No. 2, Al Goldstein. "The New York Times" reports that the former millionaire publisher of "Screw" magazine is now bankrupt and living in shelters and cars. It was a metal working publication, right? From "Screw" to screwed.

And No. 1, seven hot springs spas and hotels north of Tokyo. A whistle-blower tells a local newspaper that that isn't natural effervescence in the baths. It is tap water. Not even seltzer?


OLBERMANN: We don't tend to do a lot of weather here. But two stories tonight have translated from the theoretical to the grimly realistic.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, when it is life and death. In New York, a young couple is dead because they did not know what to do and what not to do when their car was caught in a flash flood amid downed power lines. And in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Charley, forecasters are saying that, for a time after its arrival, the city of St. Petersburg may become in essence an island.

We start there with our correspondent Martin Savidge.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tropical Storm Bonnie waded to shore this afternoon in the Florida Panhandle, packing less of a punch than expected. But it's Bonnie's big brother, Hurricane Charley, that has much of the west coast of Florida concerned and on the move.

_UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody else with children? _

SAVIDGE: Some 380,000 people in the Tampa Bay area have been told to get to higher ground, the largest evacuation in Pinellas County history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a lot more afraid of this one, yes. This is a worst-case scenario. We're going to get the back side, the southeast corner of that storm.

SAVIDGE: Charley is a growing storm, with anticipated winds over 100 miles an hour when the hurricane strikes land Friday.

MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Up in the Tampa area, you have to go back to 1921 to find a major hurricane. We've had so much development on that Gulf Coast since then. I'm really concerned with the storm surge flooding.

SAVIDGE: Governor Jeb Bush has declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, calling out the National Guard and closing schools and government offices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome, Charley.

SAVIDGE: On the streets of Key West, where Charley is expected to first hit the U.S. mainland, residents and businesses carried out a well rehearsed ballet of closing down and boarding up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody who is going to Miami Airport.

SAVIDGE: But the tourists weren't listening. They were leaving. The last commercial flights took off early this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Fort Lauderdale is going to be about four hours and 45 minutes.

SAVIDGE: Some chose to escape by sea on a high-speed catamaran, paying a storm-cut price of $100 for a one-way run to Fort Lauderdale. These folks found not only their vacation cut short, but also their conversation.

(on camera): You would rather stay?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got a bunch of beer, got my C.D. player. But we've got to go.


SAVIDGE: Charley's storm surge and high winds are double threat to Key West, much of which is at or near sea level. Those who stay will keep one eye on the forecast and another eye on the calendar. Hurricane Charley is expected to hit on Friday the 13th.

Martin Savidge, NBC News, Key West.


OLBERMANN: Now to storms much less impactful, but no less deadly, an intense lightning storm rolling through the New York City area yesterday afternoon. Record rainfall caused flash flooding and led to two deaths in Queens; 19-year-old Alana Berenson and 23-year-old Joseph Cheethman found themselves stuck after trying to drive through a flooded street.

Ms. Berenson jumped from the car, not knowing of the downed power line below the water's surface. Mr. Cheethman dived in, in what witnesses described as an effort to save her. And both were electrocuted.

More of us probably know what to do in the event of a hurricane than what to do if your car got stuck in a flash flood.

To try to correct that in some small way, I'm joined now by Jan Null, a meteorologist and adjunct professor at San Francisco State University.

Mr. Null, good evening.


OLBERMANN: We don't need to tell people to not go into water that has a downed power line sticking out of it. But, obviously, these poor kids in New York did not know that. Is there a way to tell? Is there a way to deal with the situation once you find out that's the case?

NULL: Well, the easy thing is if, any time you see any sort of standing water, you don't drive into it at all, because your car will - likely, it will stall out and then you will be stuck. And if it is not a downed power line, you can be swept away. You can be drowned. So I think the first rule is do not drive into standing water.

OLBERMANN: If it is the other way around, the other prospect of a flash flood is obviously not standing water, but flooding water, the rush of the water part. What do you do if the water comes to you, rather than the other way around when you're in a car?

NULL: If you're in a car, you want to get those windows down prior to losing power, because once you have the force of the water against the doors, and if the windows are up, then you end up being trapped in the vehicle.

OLBERMANN: Does it seem to you that most of the sudden dangers of storm, as random as they might be in terms of their impact, are actually preventable, but people will not acknowledge power of nature and do not remember obvious things, like what happened in New Jersey yesterday, three people hit by lightning while they're playing golf in a thunderstorm? You would think you wouldn't need to tell people that. Obviously, you do.

NULL: Well, yes.

It keeps happening over and over again. And, you know, if you're out on a golf course, you're on wet grass with metal spikes and you're carrying a lightning rod. It is really a recipe to be hit by lightning.

OLBERMANN: Let me recap on the original point that we brought up.

You're in a car, flash storm, a major flooded-out road in front of you.

Don't drive into it. That's the easiest way to deal with that.

And the other way around, if you're on the road and the water begins to rise dramatically, is there a cutoff point again between staying in the car and trying to get out?

NULL: I think you almost always want to get out of the car. And that is especially true if the water is moving the car in a horizontal position. Then you know that you have lost control and you have to get out of that car.

OLBERMANN: Unfortunately, a lot of people will have to deal with this information in the immediate future.

Meteorologist Jan Null, thank you for your time tonight, sir.

NULL: You're welcome, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All of this makes us almost nostalgic for last year's hurricane season and Tropical Storm Izzy, which, at its worst, simply pushed around the incoming anchor of "The NBC Nightly News."

As part of the COUNTDOWN's back-to-school week, wherein we are remembering our favorite guests and moments of the show's first 16 months, we take you back to the storm that seemed to impact more reporters than innocent bystanders.


OLBERMANN: From this vantage point, it seemed easy to be able to make fun of my colleagues (INAUDIBLE) who reported (INAUDIBLE) eye of the storm itself. It is (INAUDIBLE) because of course it is. While they are risking life, limb, hairstyle, I'm here in the parking lot. Please remember as you laugh at some of the things that happened to them (INAUDIBLE) that when they get home, they'll be laughing, too, as they watch these tapes time and time again, just as soon as they all dry out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allow me to introduce to you Mike Seidel of The Weather Channel. Hang on.

_Mike, what is your reading? _

MIKE SEIDEL, THE WEATHER CHANNEL: Well, we're kind of protected (INAUDIBLE) fact that we an actually go places while we're on the air.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the only ones out here. And, quite frankly, I don't blame everyone else for staying away. That was a pretty crazy ride.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, give us an idea what it feels like to be in the middle of this, Carl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'll tell you, Chris, it is great. Who wouldn't want this assignment, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But there were a couple points up at the top back there where - we're guessing it is at least two or three feet.

Right along here, take - I don't know if you can see that stop sign.

Or, actually, it is a yellow sign with a stop sign symbol on it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks like we're also seeing your battery life may be low right now on that video camera you're using, so it is blocking the entire screen. We can't see, but we can hear what you're saying.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, NBC CORRESPONDENT: This city of a half million people is really bearing down and battening up the hatches here, too.

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kerry Sanders in Kitty Hawk, where you can see the waves are coming in, hitting the houses that are right here on the beach. In all likelihood, some of these houses are going to be knocked down as, Hurricane Isabella come ashore. Portions of this road are already washing away.

You can see how the waves come in. Well, I'm not going to stand here much longer. I'll tell you what. I think what we're going to do is, we're going to return to an area which is a little bit further back, because this tropical force is now turning into the hurricane force. And we need to leave.


OLBERMANN: So Kerry went back to Atlanta.

Three stories down, two to go.

Up next, smoking out al-Sadr, a final push to pry the militiamen out of his stronghold in the holy city of Najaf. And later, the people get a second chance to give the proper respect to the people's princess and her reopened memorial.


OLBERMANN: An attempt to quell the insurgency in Iraq sparking uprising across the nation. Our second story on the COUNTDOWN is next.

And, by the way, don't forget to send in your questions for our news quiz tomorrow. Go to and click on, send us an e-mail. Send a question.


OLBERMANN:... almost wishes that the Bush administration would give into temptation and call the Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr a flip-flopper. The radical Shiite has provoked, backed off, challenged, reversed, threatened, negotiated, and now reused a phrase from last spring, vowing, he says, to hold out against the new Iraqi government - quote - "until the last drop of my blood has been spilled."

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, as has Preston Mendenhall reports, apparently, that is now just fine with both the Iraqi leaders and the coalition.


PRESTON MENDENHALL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The military is calling it a final assault. And it came by air and on the ground, though it stopped just short of the Imam Ali mosque, sacred to millions of Shiite Muslims.

JIM RAINEY, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: Being very careful to stay away from the mosque area. Definitely not going to do any damage there.

MENDENHALL: But the shrine is also a base for the insurgents, seen in this Pentagon surveillance video firing a mortar from within the mosque compound. Today, coalition forces also attacked the house of Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the uprising, first bombing, then entering his home. But he was nowhere to be found.

Today's operation in Najaf touched off more violence and protests in southern Iraq. In Basra, more than 10,000 took to the streets; 72 were reported killed in Kut, where militiamen clashed with police. And in Baghdad, firefights raged. Some Iraqi police joined the militiamen, who also tried to take over a police station in the heart of the city today. Al-Sadr, a junior cleric who does not represent most Shiites, has vowed to fight to the death and urged his followers to do the same.

KARL VICK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It doesn't seem to be dying down. And that's a real concern. And that will go into the consideration of how far to push things here, if it is a military solution that is best or if there's hope for a negotiated one.

MENDENHALL: U.S. military and administration officials say the operation will not be halted until the militia is destroyed, al-Sadr gives up or is killed.

(on camera): As the assault on Najaf continues, it is unclear whether the military is snuffing out the insurgency or just spreading it throughout the country.

Preston Mendenhall, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: We've reached the COUNTDOWN crossroads, as it is often necessary to take a sharp left off the road of serious news and go instead to the byways of celebrity stories in our segment "Keeping Tabs."

And, tonight, we return to London, where, once again, the waters are gently rippling around the newly scrubbed Princess Diana memorial fountain, newly scrubbed clean of the leaves, dog droppings and diaper residue that we showed you last week, to our regret. The people who so desecrated the monument to their princess will be allowed to return to the fountain tomorrow. From now on, though, there are rules. They're allowed only to dip their hands and feet in the water.

News from the eccentric president of Turkmenistan, news for people like me. Television anchors in that desert nation are no longer allowed to wear makeup. President Niyazov, who prefers to be called Turkmen Bashi the Great, said that, women makeup, their natural more pale skin tone is hidden, so he often confuses them with their male counterparts. He previously had banned gold teeth in his country, announced he was going to build a palace out of ice. And he made his own book on morality part of the nation's driving test.

Soon the makeup man will no longer be the regular concern of our Mr. Brokaw, especially after his win at the track yesterday - no, not this Brokaw, the other one, the horse - yes, a thoroughbred named after NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw scoring his first career win at Freehold Raceway in New Jersey yesterday. Brokaw's mother was named Network Anchor. His father, of course, was Lester Colt.


OLBERMANN: Made that last part up.

Up next, the science that says George is not sexy.

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


OLBERMANN: Expectant parents agonize over it, what to name junior. Well, here's a hint. Naming him after great grandpa Tucker may lead to playground ridicule and occasional beatings, but give it a few years. The chicks will dig it.

Our top story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, men with short vowel names, such as Tucker or Bill or Keith, are perceived as sexier by the ladies. Don't take my word on it. In fact, don't take my experience on it. Listen to the source, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Amy Perfors, who is a researcher and linguist at MIT, posted picture of 24 friends of both genders on the Web site

She included first names and had people rate their appeal. She played mix and match with the names and pictures, so she could be confident people were responding to the names, not the photos. For men, hard names rated well, front vowels, vowels you make with the front of your mouth, Matt, for instance. Women like the name Matt.

The back of the vowel names like George and Paul, not as sexy. For women, it's the reverse. Names with longer vowels, vowels you make in the back of your mouth, this research concludes, like Sofia or Laura, were considered dreamiest. Nicole or Hanna, forget it.

Let's get a professional assessment on this.

Lynn Snowden Picket is a journalist and author whose work has appeared in "Esquire," "Rolling Stone" and "Vogue."

And good evening. Thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: I am going to start by throwing a couple names out at you here, Greg, Rich, Dennis, Mark and Keith. All by this research would be considered sexy names. And I must tell you, I work with each of them. Not so much.


OLBERMANN: How much credence can we put into this study?

PICKET: I think absolutely none at all. This is a ridiculous study.

Names are the most subjective thing we have in this society. Whenever you try to name a baby, you can guarantee that you are going to have arguments and fights with family and friends, who are going to say, oh, don't name the baby Sam. I knew a terrible person named Sam. Or, oh, I love Sam. Sam was the name of my first love. Our whole experience with names is based on the celebrity culture and with our own grade school experience or some teacher that we had. It's completely subjective within the person. It has nothing to do with vowel sounds.

OLBERMANN: Also, I understand you can change your name if you don't like it.

PICKET: Sure. There's that. There's that, although you often wonder why people don't change their name. Why is it that someone named Richard would...




OLBERMANN: Another question on the methodology here. This must have sneaked in. I didn't see it. How long has the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, been considered one of the leading homes of sexual and gender research?

PICKET: Oh, about, what, 10 minutes now, I think?


PICKET: Yes, they are known for advancing the thoughts of scientific people, the ones who are picked on because of the plastic pocket protectors or their names or something like that.

OLBERMANN: The ones who were born with the first name professor.



OLBERMANN: There is also a gender difference in this study, which I'm trying to hard to figure out. Women with short vowel names like Halle Berry considered not attractive. Halle is not an attractive name, so she wouldn't be attractive.

PICKET: Right.

OLBERMANN: Women with longer vowel names like Uma in Uma Thurman, that would be appealing. And the opposite is true for men. Brad Pitt would be hot, to use the vernacular the kids use these days. And Jude Law would be considered a less attractive figure.

Now, could there be some validity to something with the names about confidence or confidence leading to appearance? Or - and is the problem here that we are just showing pictures of fashion models and actors?

PICKET: Basically, I think if you name anyone who's attractive, any name, people are going to change their opinion of that name.

You mentioned George Clooney earlier. George is - aside from George Harrison, George is not the name of your average studly guy. But perhaps now people will think, oh, I want to you meet my friend, this guy I'm going to fix you up with on a blind date. His name is George. You might think, oh, George. He could be very cute.

So I think the celebrity influence is not to be underestimated. I have friends who just named their baby Leonardo.


PICKET: And they are not even Italian. He is Jewish and she is Greek.

OLBERMANN: But that is exactly my last question. Is it possible that you stick a kid with what is at the time of birth a cool name that becomes outdated 15 years later; it leads to a lack of confidence, and, thus, a lack attractiveness?

PICKET: Right.

OLBERMANN: And, in 15 years, when everybody is named, just to pick two names out of a hat, Lynn and Keith, it is going to be disaster for them.



PICKET: Oh, no, they will be fine.


PICKET: I'm just - I know that there are 10-year-olds walking around now who are named Cody because their moms thought that Kathie Lee Gifford was just the thing. And now there's a lot of Codys out there.

OLBERMANN: Well, MIT, I understand, is conducting a study on Kathie Lee Gifford anyway. So that's our next time. And we'll have you back to talk about that.

Lynn Snowden Picket, contributing editor at "American Thunder" magazine, author of the seminal work "Nine Lives: From Stripper to Schoolteacher," great read. Great thanks for your time.

PICKET: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keith. Good night and good luck.