Friday, August 20, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 20


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

Another Swift Boat ad attacks John Kerry while the Kerry campaign lays it on the line: The president is behind these commercials. And the "New York Times" tries to prove that.

Deadline in Iraq: For once, hopeful signs as Micah Garen appears on videotape to say he's being treated well and Muqtada al-Sadr tries to convince his countrymen to let the American go.

The Transportation Security Administration won't let Ted Kennedy go. How did the terrorist no-fly list stop him from boarding a Boston to Washington flight? And why is Georgia congressman, John Lewis, having a similar problem?

And a new episode of "The McGreevey's": Remember Dr. Miller? The guy who said the governor's ex-lover was also his ex-lover? Well, Dr. Miller has been arrested. There's a clear and convincing witness.

All that have and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. "George Bush is behind it." If John Kerry's gloves came off in the Swift Boat ad fight yesterday, those words from his senior campaign adviser, Tad Friend (ph), served as the first clenched bare knuckled fist of his reply, and the second was a formal complaint this evening to the Federal Election Commission that, quote, "'Swift Boat Veterans for Truth' is coordinating its expenditures on advertising and other activities designed to influence the presidential election with the Bush-Cheney campaign. That would be an illegal campaign practice."

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The Swift Boat ad brawl was originally about what John Kerry did in Vietnam, but in the last 48 hours it has grown a second head, what George Bush did or did not do to enable, facilitate, or encourage what are now two commercials - two of them. A new one was released today.

Though no television time has yet been purchased for it, the Bush administration and campaign have again denied any involvement in the ads, though the "New York Times" has traced a compelling litany of what are, at best, adjoining paths between the campaign and those funding and creating the commercials. While the controversy over the first one still rages, John Kerry and John McCain both comparing it to the ads that questioned McCain's Vietnam service during the 2000 primaries. The second commercial was today distributed, it's less about Vietnam and more about Kerry's return home from there.


ANNOUNCER: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is responsible for the content of this advertisement.


OLBERMANN: But, like an over inflating souffle, the ad controversy grew another couple of feet today. First the ads attacking Kerry, then Kerry's people attacking Bush, then Bush's people attacking Kerry for attacking Bush, then Kerry's people attacking the ad makers for releasing the videotape to news organizations, even though the ad itself is not yet running on TV, and as we mentioned, advertising time has not yet been bought for it, and it isn't even supposed to appear on the air until Tuesday. That complaint will also go to the Federal Election Commission.

Back to some of the older parts of the souffle. Continuing denials of involvement from the White House.


SCOT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have not been involved in this ad whatsoever and Senator Kerry - you know, appears to have lost his cool and now he's just launched into false and baseless attacks against the president.


OLBERMANN: The Kerry campaign, no longer slow to the punch, issued a statement in response almost immediately, "Mr. McClellan," quote, "Needs to understand that John Kerry is not the type of leader who will sit and read 'My Pet Goat' to a group of second graders while America is under attack. John Kerry is a fighter, and he doesn't tolerate lies from others."

The White House, the president personally, in fact, has never tried to discourage any of the benefits of these ads, of course, and the benefits are apparent, at least in the voting block consisting of military veterans. Just after last month's Democratic Convention and the rousing finale, complete with Kerry's boat mates, a CBS News poll showed the senator and the president tied at 46-all among American veterans. Now it's Bush 55 percent, Kerry 37. The number of veterans polled was actually less than 200. The number of living veterans in the country estimated by the V.A. at 25 million.

One more bit of research data today, even though it's actually in only a handful of TV markets, 33 percent in an Annenberg national poll, said they have seen this ad, another 27 percent said they have heard about it, and that one-third that saw it isn't sold one way or the other. Forty-nine percent say very or somewhat unbelievable; 46 percent say very or somewhat believable.

But as the Kerry camp's accusation that George Bush is behind it believable? "They're funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas," said the senator during a campaign stop in Boston yesterday. That much is true, but the long and winding road to the Bush campaign is a little more difficult to follow. It was mapped in part by the "New York Times." Although there is no direct connection, there are coincidences which could use the entire hour to get into all. Here instead, a truncated version of this connection.

The Republican contributor the senator spoke of is named Bob Perry. He also contributed to the president's gubernatorial races in '94 and '98 and is a longtime friend of Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser. Those two have been associated since 1986.

Another of Mr. Rove's clients, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who is close personal friends with Merrie Spaeth, the public relations executive working with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Spaeth was formally a communications official in the Reagan White House and she had a similar role in another group that attacked Senator McCain during the 2000 primaries.

Then there's Ms. Spaeth's husband, "Tex." He ran for the Republican ticket with Mr. Bush in 1994 as lieutenant governor of Texas; now he has a law partner named John O'Neill, who is perhaps the foremost of the members of the Swift Boat group and a man who made his first public anti-Kerry appearance in 1971.

To analyze the ad, its effect, the response to it, I'm joined by MSNBC's senior political analyst, Lawrence O'Donnell.

Always a pleasure, sir, good evening to you.


OLBERMANN: Let's talk response tactics, first. One of his crew mates from Vietnam said today that Kerry had been way too much of a gentleman and should have come out swinging earlier. Should he have?

O'DONNELL: He could not tactically, in the presidential campaign, do it that way, Keith. I actually think both campaigns have handled this perfectly in their ways. What Kerry had to wait for is he had to wait for a linkage to President Bush. It would be unworthy of the nominee, the candidate, to be attacking somebody named John O'Neill or someone involved in the Swift Boat controversy who no one in the country had ever heard of. John Kerry can only mount attacks against his opponent, George Bush, so what he needed was John McCain to come out and condemn the ads, which John McCain did, and then he needed John McCain to ask the president to condemn the ads, and then he needed, very much needed, the president not to condemn the ads, which the president did not do. Which by the way, parenthetically was a wise tactic for the president and his campaign.

Once that had occurred, Kerry needed one more thing. He needed to condemn an ad himself. And so, provided that opportunity by doing an ad that was negative on President Bush's Vietnam non-military service in the National Guard. John Kerry, the nominee, then immediately condemns the Bush ad. That gives him an opportunity, within 48 hours of that, to call on President Bush to denounce the ad against John Kerry.

He could not have done that until he had all those ducks in a row. And then he also needed the investigative journalism that the "New York Times" and the "L.A. Times" and others have done to create a sensation, at least, of linkage to the Bush world and then blame the ad on President Bush.

John Kerry needed every one of those elements to be in place before he could level his attack and have it aimed specifically at one person, George Bush, his opponent.

OLBERMANN: And as the Kerry camp obviously tries to make this debate less about his service, what strategically does the president do next, A, to prevent that, B, to not look like he wrote the commercial and somebody's just been laundering the attack for him?

O'DONNELL: It's very, very difficult to get a president to respond to anything. You see tonight, are footages of the president's spokesman responding to what Senator Kerry said. That's why the Kerry language now is getting more and more intense. They are trying to smoke out President Bush. They are trying to force it to the point where the traveling White House press corps must ask President Bush to respond to this.

President Bush really doesn't want to tactically, and tactically really should not, because the question to President Bush now that the Kerry campaign is trying to frame is, why don't you condemn the ads? President Bush doesn't want to condemn the ads because he then is, in effect, condemning a certain group of Vietnam veterans. He's not one of them, himself a Vietnam veteran, so it's difficult for him to do. He's also now doing better with veterans in polling in the current situation.

So, the best thing for President Bush to do is simply to say "I don't criticize John Kerry's record" and leave it at that and he's going to be forced on this question of "are you going to condemn it" and he's just going to have to continue to say no.

OLBERMANN: So, we will live in the maelstrom for the time being, I guess. Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC senior political analyst, as ever, and cogent and to the point, we thank you for that, and we thank you for your time.

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Behind the political fight, of course, there is a more human one. A group of Vietnam vets gets on a stage in Boston and says, "John Kerry saved our lives." Another group gets of Vietnam vets gets in front of a camera in a studio and says, "John Kerry lied about Vietnam." In a very symbolic and very painful way, we may be refighting the protest over the Vietnam War 35 years later. The thoughts on that, I'm joined by a Vietnam veteran and MSNBC military analyst, Colonel Jack Jacobs.

Jack, good to talk to you. Thanks for coming in.

COL. JACK JACOBS, U.S. ARMY RET.: Good evening.

OLBERMANN: You were there. Are we, in fact, seeing philosophically if not practically, the nation's split personality about that war, the veterans' split personality about that war from 35 years ago?

JACOBS: Sure looks like a distillation of that, doesn't it? It's probably all come together at exactly the right moment in time and never to be repeated again. We've had two guys from the same era, one who served, and one who looks like he tried not to serve. The one who served coming back saying it was a bad idea to serve, and both of them fighting for the hearts and minds of the three people in Wisconsin who are probably going to decide this election.

OLBERMANN: Were unwritten rules among people who were there broken in this process? I mean, did John Kerry break some sort of code by using his service in this - whether it was a popular or unpopular, brutal experience, by using it politically? Did the Swift Boat guys violate anything by saying - you know, questioning his honesty while he was there?

JACOBS: Well, you raise an interesting question. Lots of people who run for office and high political office have used - have used their military service in the past. I remember the first convention I - that was ever televised. Certainly the one that I saw was Eisenhower's, and of course, it was a big deal about Eisenhower's service, and it's one of the reasons why he got elected.

So it's no big deal to talk about your service. The problem is that the war is contentious, as you suggested. It's divisive, yet two guys who were really on opposite sides of that war, in one way or another, and one guy, Kerry, make a big deal of his service at a time when it appears there is a counterveining perception of what he actually did. It's a bit like a drive-by shooting, you know. Who did it? Well, it was a short, tall, fat, skinny, black, white guy and you have - I've never seen anything quite like it, where you have a large number of people who were actually witnesses to one action and you've got half the people on one side of it and half the people on the other.

OLBERMANN: We could draw that and show where everybody was, it just, off the top of my head, is it possible that people in one part of a battle like that could believe that there was no fire and the people in the other part could honestly believe there had been?

JACOBS: No. No. And I think a lot of this is politically motivated and driven, in any case, so we get back to what O'Donnell was talking about. This whole thing is about the election less than it is about the service of either one of the two protagonists.

OLBERMANN: But, take me back there for one thing. The - a lot of the - the big picture framework that the critics are trying to get to stand up now is obviously one that says that John Kerry had, and the term was used last night on the air here, "a plan," go to Vietnam, become a hero, get an "early out" was the phrase he used, which I assume means go home with a self-inflicted wound or for some pretext.

You were there. Is that even theoretically possible, or did people who went to Vietnam with the "plan" of becoming - you know, glorified wind up planning their way home inside of a bag?

JACOBS: Well, there are several questions in there. It is certainly possible - almost anything is possible, especially if you plan it well in advance. I can't envision anybody's actually planning to do something like that, because it, first of all, it's psychotic, and secondly it can go awry very, very quickly, as you suggested, you could come back in a bag. Most of the people I knew in Vietnam didn't want to be there in the first place. The majority of them who did want to be there served honorably, and even the people who didn't want to be there served honorably. It's sort of - it sounds very, very specious. I can't think of anybody but a maniac planning all that in advance.

OLBERMANN: Or an extraordinarily good planner. MSNBC's military analyst, Jack Jacobs, thanks for coming in.

JACOBS: Well, you're welcome.

OLBERMANN: Appreciate it, sir.

One more note on this. We at COUNTDOWN were preparing an apology for my choice of language last night after the writer Michelle Malkin went on Rush Limbaugh's radio entertainment program and wrote in her Web blog that I had called her a, quote, "idiot." It was Ms. Malkin, who on "HARDBALL" last night, raised the accusation that John Kerry's Vietnam wounds may have been self-inflicted. It's naive and old-fashioned, but I feel you should reserve those terms like "idiot" exclusively for men. Political differences, fault or innocence are all secondary. There are codes. It's also a problem. I never called her an idiot.


OLBERMANN: And this woman, Malkin, who made a fool out of herself on this network about an hour ago, basically said that in this - in what she was reading, the book that accompanied the Swift Boat ad, that Kerry, at least, somebody asked whether or not Kerry should be asked, in that sort of, "let's step away from actually making a statement, let's just put it as a question about a question about a question..."


OLBERMANN: Whether or not Kerry shot himself.


OLBERMANN: So, that's what you're dealing with here. She is an author or a journalist or something, and she misquoted the insult to herself.

And keeping track of this particular over inflating souffle on Hardblogger on, a nice place to visit on your way to our corner of the Web at

And from politics to cockroach racing. The New Jersey Pest Management Association annually stages a cockroach derby and it claims that in presidential years it accurately forecasts the electoral results 80 percent of the time. They're running. Actually, only one of them ran. The giant Madagascar Hissing Roach named John Kerry scampered to a quick victory on the six-foot course, while another giant Madagascar Hissing Roach, named George Bush, didn't even move its legs. After the race, the two giant Madagascar Hissing Roaches called a news conference at which they complained about the damage done to their reputations and that of their species by being compared to politicians.

One down, four to go. Next, does this man look like a terrorist to you? All right, that's way too much of a straight line, but Senator Kennedy says he has repeatedly encountered the no-fly list and not even a call from Tom Ridge himself would sort it out.

Then later, the real danger on the ground in Iraq: Surprise, surprise. Al-Sadr has still not kept his repeated promises to disarm and leave the holy shrine in Najaf. The latest on the standoff, ahead.


OLBERMANN: Let's correct something. I misidentified the Kerry adviser at the beginning of this broadcast, his name is Tad Devine. I identified him as Tad Friend. Tad Friend is a newspaper and magazine writer, and my apologies for the mistake.

America's no-fly list means travel is hell for all the David Nelsons, most of the Pete Williams', and at least one of the Ted Kennedys. Yes, that Ted Kennedy, talking about getting names confused. Why the senator is not a real fly guy, next.


OLBERMANN: It was perhaps the first laugh of the age of terror. Al Gore on a round trip from Washington to Wisconsin pulled out of the airport waiting area, not once, but twice on the same trip for the preboarding random extra search. What? Because he lost the election, somebody thought he went over to bin Laden? There was confusion between Al Gore and al-Qaeda?

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN: That story has now been topped. So perhaps, have the sagas of all of the guys named David Nelson, including the son of "Ozzie and Harriet," who got dirty looks; or all the Peter Williams' who were detained however briefly, because their names, or something similar to their names, or maybe something with just the same number of syllables as their names, had shown up on the murky, amorphous no-fly lists.

Senator Ted Kennedy has revealed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that in March and April he was stopped five different times from boarding the same flights between Boston and Washington that he's been taking for more than four decades.


SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: On the watch list, I want to know just in the - my time is running out here, about how this works for the average person.

Let me give you an example. I got on the watch list last April. I was taking a plane to Boston, and I get out to the US Air and I come up (UNINTELLIGIBLE), say, I want my ticket, he said "we can't give you." I said, "Well, wait a minute. Here is a Visa. Something - there must have been a mix-up." And the person behind the gate said, "I can't sell it to you. You can't buy a ticket to go on the airline to Boston."

I said, "Well, why not? You just..." "We can't tell you." "Well," I said, "let me talk to the supervisor on that." This is five of seven, the plane's about to leave. And finally the supervisor said "OK," and I thought it was a mix-up in my office, which it wasn't.

And I got to Boston, I said "There's been a mix-up on this thing with Boston, what in the world has ever happened? Is this what happened?"

Tried to get on the plane back to Washington. "You can't get on the plane." I went up to the desk. I said "I've been on - getting on this plane - you know, for 42 years..."


KENNEDY: "...and why can't I get on the plane back to Boston - back to Washington." They said, "You can't get on the plane back to Washington." So, my administrative assistant talked to the Department of Homeland Security and they said there's some - a mistake. It happened three more times, and finally Secretary Ridge called to apologize on it.

It happened even after he called to apologize, because they couldn't -

· my name was on the list at the airports, and with the airlines, and the Homeland Security. He couldn't get my name off the list for a period of weeks.

Now, if they have that kind of difficulty for a member of Congress, the have it - my office has a number of instances where we've had - where we've had the leader of a distinguished medical school in New England - and the list goes on.

How in the world are average Americans, who are going to get caught up in this kind of thing, how are they going to be able to get to be treated fairly and not have their rights abused?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Senator, we do regret that inconvenience to you.

KENNEDY: No problem.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, quit smiling when you say that.



OLBERMANN: Goes with that phrase "water landing." The 9/11 Commission is asking for an expanded list. The ACLU sued the government over this one in April, and it turns out Senator Kennedy may not even have the worst story in Congress.

A Georgia congressman says he has been stopped 35 to 40 times just over the last year, even subjected to body searches. He's John Lewis, the same John Lewis who was beaten senseless in what was supposed to be the non-violent March in Selma, Alabama, and who stood with Martin Luther King before the Lincoln Memorial.

Up next, the stories that merit no number, but give us great opportunity to point out the morons of the world. Yes, I'm talking about you. "Oddball's" next. Then later, a rare sighting in Los Angeles:

Courtney Love in a courtroom. Breaking news. Ow.


OLBERMANN: We're back, and it's not that the day's real news is not odd by itself, it's just that we have this special segment every night to do the really weird stuff. Let's play "Oddball."

We begin with an update to an earlier COUNTDOWN story, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain has formally reopened. Officials forced to close it shortly after its dedication after some visitors injured themselves on the slippery stone. Others splashed around in the fountain, some changed diapers in it, others let their dogs befoul it.

But today was take two. The surface has been reworked to make it less slippery, they put up new fences, and signs have been erected to announce that this time no one is allowed in the fountain. Excuse me, sir, no one is allowed in the fountain! Sir? Sir? All right, open up the giant sluices, let the 60-foot rinse wall come through, we've got a runner.

All right, gross-out warning. To Washington State, where officials say they have the biggest spider they've ever seen in Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. It's a really big spider, it feeds on birds. There's a spider the size of a Buick in there.

The eight-legged tarantula is described only as the size of a dinner plate, possibly because they couldn't find anybody willing to measure it. In case that is not gross enough, they say the thing has just molted, which means it is still growing. Soon this tarantula will need a bigger home. And the zoo will thus transfer him to a perch atop Seattle's Space Needle.

Nah, I just made that up.

Finally to Dunn County, Wisconsin where Jonathan Wilson says he's on a "spiritual journey". He's doing the Huck Finn thing. He's living 24 hours a day on his homemade raft. There's only one problem, the water you see him on, it's not a river, it's a lake. He's rafting down a lake. We believe his journey is going to be metaphorical.

Locals are just thrilled to have him there and the sight of him unshaven and unclean making his daily canoe trips to dispose of his waste onshore, they've become a sort of lakeside attraction in this small town. Wilson cannot say how long he'll be there; he'll just know when it's time to leave. My guess is 24 minutes after somebody calls the cops.

All right. "Oddball" on the record books. Our third story tonight, an American in peril: Militants threatened to kill Micah Garen by tonight if the U.S. did not leave Najaf, yet today they released a tape of him in which he says he's being treated well. The latest on the situation, next.

Then later, the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq turned up nothing, as you know. Then why do half of Americans polled still think Saddam Hussein had them?

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

No. 3: Joselia Goncalves De Jesus of Santa Maria, Brazil. She became a mother one minute and a grandmother the next. She gave birth to her youngest son, and 60 second later, same hospital, her eldest daughter gave birth to her own son.

No. 2: Mark Caddick and his son, eight-year-old Matthew of Wassail (ph) in England. Yesterday, as many as 50 rescuers pulled them and their inflatable dinghy to safety after they got trapped on the treacherous mud flaps of Somerset.

And No. 1: Mark Caddick and his son, eight-year-old Matthew. Today the same 50 rescuers pulled them and their new inflatable dinghy to safety after they eluded the mud flaps and drifted out to sea. And, this is my son, Moron, Jr.


OLBERMANN: As the nightmare of Nicholas Berg reminds us without much amplification, the story of Americans taken hostage in Iraq has not been a happy one, but in our third story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, unexpected albeit so far unfulfilled hope about Micah Garen.


MICAH Garen, HOSTAGE: I'm an American journalist in Iraq and I've been asked to deliver a message.


OLBERMANN: A tape released by those holding the Manhattan based journalist Garen, in which the network al Jazeera reports he went on to say he's being treated well and called for the end to the killing in Najaf. The rest of that tape itself is in fact inaudible.

Garen was abducted on Wednesday in the city of Nasiriyah while working on a story about the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq. His captors threatened to murder him by this evening if American forces were not out of the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

That is part, of course, of the nine-month-old dispute between first the coalition and the U.S., now the Iraqi interim government and the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. And it may lead to Garen's life being spared.

A spokesman for al-Sadr has again asked that the militants holding Garen release him, saying that al-Sadr was against the kidnapping in general and "especially this journalist who rendered Nasiriya a great service." Based on these comments, kidnappers have said they would release Garen during the day, though conflicting reports said he would only be released after the crisis in Najaf had been defused.

Micah Garen has unwittingly found himself as a pawn in what may ultimately turn out to be the Iraqi power play. Few people have a better understanding of that region than the man joining us now, MSNBC analyst and retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Rick Francona, who has served in a variety of posts in the Mideast.

Rick, thanks for coming in.


OLBERMANN: This looks like the first hostage situation in Iraq where life could be a win-win. What are the dynamics in the Garen case?

FRANCONA: Well, the Garen case is the convergence of two kind of aberrations. First of all, we've got a Shia group taking hostages. We've not seen that before. Most of the hostages have been taken up in the Sunni triangle area. And they've been either part of the Ba'athists or the Zarqawi group.

What we've seen now is a group loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr taking a hostage. The other part of that is Sadr's up against the ropes. He needs some good publicity. He needs something to redeem himself. So by engineering the release of an American hostage, he can really gain some salvation with the Iraqi government.

OLBERMANN: About al-Sadr, is it just me or have these negotiations and back and forth and promises of resolutions to this with him in Najaf, did they begin the night that we first bombed Iraq in March of 2003?

FRANCONA: Well, it sure seems like it. I mean, we've been dealing with him or the effects of his attempts at seeking leadership with the Shia community since April of last year.

Remember, he's got an indictment against him for murder. He was involved in a Khoei killing in, I believe it was in Najaf. And he's got to somehow resolve that with the Iraqi government. So he wants to be a leader of the Shia. This is the real political plum in Iraq because they're the power block.

OLBERMANN: Could the hostage help him in that situation?

FRANCONA: Absolutely, because this will give him some legitimacy with the new Iraqi government. See, he doesn't want to overthrow the Iraqi government. He wants to be part of - he wants to be a major power broker. But he somehow has to get this murder case dismissed. And this might be the avenue by which he does it.

OLBERMANN: Is this finally wrapping up in Najaf as well? Is time running out for him or can he, in fact, live indefinitely between the rock and the hard place?

FRANCONA: Well, we've got two situations here. You've got the Sadr situation. You've got the Najaf situation. They don't necessarily equate.

He could get out of Najaf. He might not even be there now. He can get out and make his case separately. Najaf may just fester for a while. And the key to this is what does the interim Iraqi government want to do about it? Are they willing to stand up and take charge of the situation there?

OLBERMANN: I guess we will continue to wait.

FRANCONA: Absolutely.

OLBERMANN: The retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and MSNBC military analyst Rick Francona. As always, sir, a great pleasure.



Trying to assess the status of Najaf is like trying to shovel smoke. Our correspondent in Iraq, Preston Mendenhall, tried to trace today's abrupt reversals and unfulfilled hopes.


PRESTON MENDENHALL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Only sporadic fighting in Najaf today, but confusion is everywhere. Is the two-week siege over or not? Some Iraqi officials claim police took control of Najaf's sacred shrine. Those statements were quickly denied by aides to Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebel cleric at the center of the latest uprising.

The U.S. military still surrounding the city with thousands of troops said al-Sadr's militia still holds the Imam Ali mosque, even though some weapons were removed from it today.

KARL VICK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It seems to be from a military point of view, a more weakened guerrilla force that's there now and perhaps in some disarray.

MENDENHALL (on camera): The crisis in Najaf is a persistent problem for the new government and it has overshadowed historic political developments here in Baghdad.

(voice-over): This week, scenes almost unimaginable under Saddam Hussein. Iraqi's witness a public airing of political views.

RAJA AL-KUZAI, PHYSICIAN: This is something new. We've never had it, you know. This is very important to us.

MENDENHALL: Dr. Raja al-Kuzai (ph) is one of Iraq's new breed of activists. A physician, she left her practice for politics to fight for women's rights. Along with tribal business and religious leaders, she is one of 25 women chosen to sit on Iraq's new 100-member council, which will guide the country toward elections in January. She was also one of eight delegates dispatched to Najaf on a peace mission.

AL-KUZAI: We hope and we pray that everything will settle and we'll live a normal and peaceful life.

MENDENHALL: And tonight with the holy city of Najaf unsettled by weeks of fighting, the country is now one step closer to democracy.

Preston Mendenhall, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: All of this, of course, stems from the spring that was the presumption - the assumption that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or the imminent capacity to produce them. 17 months and nearly 1,000 American lives after the war began, there is no evidence to support either contention, but that does not mean it's not widely believed.

However, the number is dropping back towards breakeven. A poll released today by a research institute at the University of Maryland indicates that 54 percent of Americans believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or a major program to develop them. It was 60 percent when these people were last surveyed in March.

On the supposed 9/11 link, still some believe that Iraq had a hand. 35 percent suspect a close linkage with al Qaeda. 15 percent believe direct Iraqi involvement in 9/11.

While the CIA is working on writing a report about their hunt for weapons. Pakistani officials are on a hunt of another kind. NBC News has learned that Pakistani officials are searching for the man who was alleged to be the successor to the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Abu Faraj al-Libi was believed to have been Mohammed's top deputy and is now thought to have taken over the number three job in al Qaeda. In that row, Abu Faraj is thought to be in charge of all of al Qaeda's U.S. and U.K. operations, including any current activity or plotting. Pakistani intelligence speculates he knows the general whereabouts of bin Laden. They tell NBC that in the past few days, the president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf has told those close to him that he is confident, and we're quoting, "we'll get him."

Past the midpoint now. Up next, the original little blue pill, shedding the white coat for some younger and funkier duds. We'll translate.

And Dr. Miller falls afoul of the law, the FBI, and the CIA. Stay tuned for the latest episode of COUNTDOWN's favorite soap opera, the McGreevey's.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bytes of the day.


ABBY RITZ, AGE 9, DETECTIVE CAMP: Please pull over. We have you surrounded. Can I see your license, please? Thank you. We're learning about like the cop cars and showing us how to work the stuff they have in the car and how to make tickets.



JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: Mayor Bloomberg's made particular mention of food and restaurant discounts telling reporters "we want to make sure protesters feel welcome here. It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach." To which Gandhi replied, "Tell me about it."



SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John Edwards gave me a little advice. He said when you go down to my state, North Carolina, just, you know, call everybody you meet sir and ma'am. And if you see anything you don't recognize, it's grits.



OLBERMANN: The song may have insisted you have to fight for your right to party, but the simple fact is no country makes it easier to party than this one. And as our number two story suggests, we just keep streamlining that process. Hard to believe you could try to improve on sex and booze, but first, getting drunk without drinking. The alcohol without liquid machine makes its debut in New York City tonight. The gizmo turns vodka, whiskey, other spirits into mist. Then all you have to do is strap on a mask, lie back and breathe deeply.

The machine's makers claims it lowers the risk of hangover and of course, the risk of beer belly. No word yet about whether or not it reduces the risk of sex.

After all, we now have three different prescription medicines. And as our correspondent Bob Faw reports, the brand that lost its monopoly in the field has decided that advertising-wise, it's time for the hard sell.


BOB FAW, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Madison Avenue is forever building a bigger, better mousetrap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember that guy?

FAW: Behold, Viagra's new get back to mischief ad campaign, nice and just a little bit naughty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember the one who couldn't resist a little mischief?

FAW: Once upon a time, Viagra went a different, more clinical route.

Remember Bob Dole?

BOB DOLE, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: You know, it's a little embarrassing to talk about E.D.

FAW: Now Viagra has retooled, gone from discreet to devilish. Why?

DOROTHY WETZEL: There are tremendous barriers. And we're trying to reach to all the men who have erectile dysfunction, who haven't gone to their doctor yet.

FAW: The other barrier, market share. Viagra's has plunged from 100 to 74 percent. Because of that couple which can't stop smiling since he used Levitra.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it gives him the quality response that he wants.

FAW: And from that Cialis fellow, who can do more now than just leer. Some on Madison Avenue, however, think Viagra has realized too late and too half-heartedly sex sells.

JERRY DELLA FEMINA, AD EXECUTIVE: Horns coming out of the back of the guy's head in the shape of the "V"? That's - it's going to be seen as silly. Viagra is trying to imitate their smaller competitors. And they're not doing it as well.

FAW: Well enough, though, to rile traditionalists who see all this as just one more sign of the times.

GENEVIEVE WOOD, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: As a culture we need to say, hold on a second. We don't want Janet Jackson doing what she did in the Superbowl. We don't want Viagra pumping into our livingrooms at 7:00 p.m. when my 14-year-old son is watching.

FAW: Watching Madison Avenue's latest mousetrap turn a medical condition into an indoor sport.

Bob Faw, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: You don't plan segues like that from a story like that one to our nightly celebrity roundup called "Keeping Tabs." They just happen.

And first, another episode of - and another shocker in the McGreeveys. Remember the new character, Dr. Michael David Miller, the guy who held his news conference in his skivvies, claimed he's CIA, claimed he's the ex-boyfriend of Golan Cipel? The Golan Cipel who says he isn't gay, but who is the guy that Governor Jim McGreevey resigned over?

Well, Dr. Miller has traded in his blue trunks for an orange jumpsuit. He was arrested late last night at home for having impersonated an FBI agent. One newspaper also says he told authorities he's not just FBI, he's also CIA. And also, that satellite dish on his house, that's their equipment.

Today a judge has ordered Dr. Miller to undergo psychiatric evaluation. He told the court, quote, "I have no law enforcement responsibility in this country whatsoever."

Watch all of them wind up on the next "Oprah," like the jurors with whom she served. If you wondered why the lawyers let her on the jury, it turns out they didn't, kind of. "The Chicago Sun-Times" quoting the transcripts of closed door discussions, among the lawyers and Judge James Linn reporting that the defense attorney asked that Ms. Winfrey be dismissed as a potential juror. Pointing to her resistance to the idea of the defendant not testifying, the prosecutor also did the same, pointing to her celebrity and how it might disrupt the court.

The judge refused, but to confuse this matter a little further, the defense still had one of its seven peremptory challenges remaining, the means of dismissing a juror for any reason or no reason, but they did not use it to cancel Oprah's appearance.

And turning to a "Keeping Tabs" regular, Courtney Love has pleaded not guilty to hitting a 32-year-old woman with a bottle. "I'm scared, it's scary," Love told reporters at her biweekly court appearance, this one today in Los Angeles. "I just want to play music and being in that court and having the judge say the state of California vs. Me - why it's just scary." Love, who blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Talk about scary, it's our end of the week news quiz. What have we learned? Featuring Monica Novotny as Torquemada. I thought I read somewhere that Chris Matthews was Torquemada. That's ahead.

First, here's COUNTDOWN'S top two photos of the day. .


OLBERMANN: It's Friday. And as the COUNTDOWN policy book states quite clearly, there is no number one story on Friday, only our once a week attempt to see if anybody is paying attention. And by anybody I mean me. Your quiz questions about the week's news, my humiliation. Let the pillorying begin under its official title of...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have we learned?

OLBERMANN: Now I turn control of your television screen over to the gracious and talented emcee of "What Have We Learned," Monica Novotny.


MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. As always, it is a pleasure.


NOVOTNY: Since we are following COUNTDOWN policy, we begin, as always, by inviting our viewers to join in our Friday festivities. So if you'd like to take the official MSNBC News quiz for this week, go to our Web site -

Now while you are there, click on "e-mail the show". Type "news quiz" in the subject line and send us your questions for our amiable anchor. We only ask that these questions be related to something reported here on COUNTDOWN at some point during the week.

Remember, our objective here is to baffle the boss. Not give him something to gloat about for the next week. So feel free to make the questions challenging, we beg you.

And go ahead and suggest a punishment in case our humble host loses. A quick reminder of the rules. We'll put two minutes on the clock and ask as many of your viewer questions as time allows. If Mr. Anchorman answers at least half correctly, he wins a prize. If not, a punishment will be assigned.

Are you ready, sir?

OLBERMANN: No, I haven't fit put my - that little small piece of brain back into his holder yet.

NOVOTNY: And you know, the viewers are already sending in tougher questions. You just may go down this week.

OLBERMANN: No more math. It's not fair.

NOVOTNY: Two minutes on the clock. We're ready to go, if you are, sir.


NOVOTNY: Deborah in Maryland asks, "What was the beer-loving bear's favorite brand of beer?"

OLBERMANN: Oh, Rainier.

NOVOTNY: From Anne, how many did the bear drink?


NOVOTNY: Yes. From Chris in Utah, approximately how many postcards did the artist with the typewriter say she's typed? Plus or minus 10.

OLBERMANN: Pass the reporter, 350.

NOVOTNY: Oh, and you're not listening, 550.

OLBERMANN: I got the 50.

NOVOTNY: From Shawn, which three actresses did John Kerry tell "GQ" magazine he found sexy?

OLBERMANN: All right, among the all-time sexiest, yes...

NOVOTNY: Not your list?

OLBERMANN: No, Marilyn Monroe, Charlize Theron and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

NOVOTNY: You are correct.

Costco is test marketing caskets.


NOVOTNY: How much do they cost?

OLBERMANN: Oh, they're all the same price, $799.99.


OLBERMANN: I got the math one so...

NOVOTNY: Yes, that's right. From Rick, in what city and state did Comcast show pornography by mistake?

OLBERMANN: Every one. No. It was - particularly it was in - it was in Boston.

NOVOTNY: You're stalling now. I think you're wrong.

OLBERMANN: Was it in Boston? It's greater Boston. I don't remember what city it was.


NOVOTNY: You're wrong on that. Number seven, who is Yu Shen Wahn (ph)?

OLBERMANN: Yu Shen Wahn is the guy with all of the hair on his body?

The hairiest man in China had to have surgery to get it out of his ears.

NOVOTNY: George - the FBI sent agents to Denver, Colorado, to investigate Sarah Bardwell's house because she was an intern.



OLBERMANN: Those Denver Nuggets.

NOVOTNY: It's not going to happen.

OLBERMANN: The Association of Federated Associations.

NOVOTNY: We're moving on. That was the American (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

Service Committee.

OLBERMANN: Right, of course.

NOVOTNY: What's inside a Fat Darrell sandwich?

OLBERMANN: Him. There's mozzarella sticks, there's french fries and gas. I don't know, I forgot. No, I don't know.

NOVOTNY: Chicken fingers, Mozzarella sticks, french fries.

OLBERMANN: All right.

NOVOTNY: Who is Patna? What happened to Patna? Three seconds.

Three seconds.

OLBERMANN: The rhino with the broken leg because mom stepped on him.

NOVOTNY: Judges, did we get that in time? Seven correct. I'm afraid you've won, sir.

OLBERMANN: I'm afraid I've won again, too, including all the math questions.

NOVOTNY: The only good news is this week the punishment and the prize were the same.

OLBERMANN: I'm not only happy about it, I'm smug about it. Whoa, it's the rest of that - our friend the bear's...

NOVOTNY: Beer. That would be beer.

OLBERMANN: The stuff he didn't like.

NOVOTNY: That's right.

OLBERMANN: You know, they herded him back in today. They had to get him back to the campsite.

NOVOTNY: That's right. And what did they lure him with?

OLBERMANN: They tempted him with two cans of beer, meaning he's a cheap date. Thank you, Wink Martindale. So these proceedings are closed. Another week of news trivia or trivial news. Join me next time, if there is a next time when we again play...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have we learned?

OLBERMANN: And that's COUNTDOWN. Thank you for being a part of it.

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