Wednesday, September 29, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 29

Guests: David Von Draehle, Richard Wolffe, Maury Povich


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

It's debatable: 41 percent of the country says the debates don't matter.

Two new polls stay candidates are tied.

Some TV folks say they don't like the rules.

The fear factor, what happens if John Kerry convinces voters that Iraq and counter terrorism are a mess?

Will they get scared into voting for the president?

And away we go! Private citizens in space! Fasten your seat belts, it was a bumpy ride.

And Washington is back in the big leagues. Baseball moves in 33 years after it moved out. Of course, as they used to say, Washington, first in war and last in the American league.

All that and more now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening, this is Wednesday, September 29, 34 days until 2004 presidential election.

The old joke about the weather has been applied to many different locals. If you don't like it, wait a little while, it will change. And now we can now apply that to the ancient presidential opinion polls. Two of which show the race tied or John Kerry leading.

Our fifth story, the night before the first presidential pseudo debate. New numbers disputing the conventional wisdom and new noise from the television networks disputing the wisdom of abiding by the debating rules.

Math first. The YouGov poll, conducted on behalf of the publication "The Economist," showing a 46-46 tie, Ralph Nader at 2 percent, margin of error, 2 percent. Kerry lead this poll by one point last week, Bush by a point the week before.

In the "Christian Science Monitor"/"Investors Business Daily poll, the two are tied at 45 a piece, with Nader at 2 percent. Bush lead this poll by 3 points as of the 18th. Taking Nader out of that equations, the IDB/"Christian Science Monitor poll also shows Kerry up by a point.

Perhaps a joke even better about waiting for the weather or the polls to change is, don't run for a bus, there will always be another one. The next meaningful surveys will began to trickle out Friday, after the pseudo debate. But yes, we even have poll about the very meaningfulness about the debates themselves. Nbc news and the "Wall Street Journal" asking that question tonight, 19 percent of the respondents they are extremely important as to how they will vote, 12 percent said, quite important, 28 percent just somewhat important. And perhaps the most telling of these numbers, 41 percent saying not at all important.

All those numbers are down from 2000, except not at all important which is way up, up by half in fact. And analyst guess that's because so many voters are already so locked into their choices. In the real world when applying for a new job or making the case to keep your old one, the aim is to highlight your skills. Hard sell yourself as an accomplished and capable performer. Not so in that alternate universe we know as American politics, where the requisite pre-debate lowering of expectations is now in full swing.

For months, the Bush campaign has pounded away at Senator Kerry, calling him a flip-flopping, soft on terror, self-inflicting war wound liberal. But I asked them this week and the Massachusetts Democrat is suddenly in the word of Bush strategist Matthew Dowd, the best debater since Cicero. Kerry himself equally complementary of the president skills, he's won every debate he's ever had. He bad Ann Richards, he beat Al Gore, people need to understand that. Kind of curious when you consider that both men had the same debate teacher at Yale.

Joining to us talk pseudo debates and polls, expectations, MSNBC political analyst and "Congressional Quarterly" columnist, Craig Crawford.

Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi there. I love the job application comparison. Imagine going negative on the other applicants, that what it would take.

OLBERMANN: If you had a 527 group working for you, that would be a big help.

CRAWFORD: Yes, wouldn't that help. Yes.

OLBERMANN: All right. You're in Miami. Let's start with these Bush and Kerry quotes, and I'm remind of Lou Holtz when he was the football coach of Notre Dame - University, inevitability would say of the upcoming opponent, a great team to be feared and respected. Even if that opponent was South Bend high school's J.V.

CRAWFORD: I think the bush people almost mocked their own argument saying that Kerry is better than Cicero. I think that, in the expectations game, which is always played, that's really going pretty far.

OLBERMANN: Do we know how good an debater Cicero actually was?

CRAWFORD: I've wondered. And I have a feeling he probably didn't bother with downplaying expectations ahead of time. I don't know.

OLBERMANN: As to the contents themselves, too fascinating pieces of data from the NBC poll about what one goal voters felt was most important about each candidate tomorrow night. The first one, for Senator Kerry, it was a clear and consistent domestic plan, followed right behind that with a clear and consistent defense plan, and not too far behind either of those things, show he's strong leader.

Is there a theme in these three answers about consistency?

CRAWFORD: Yes. I would say, don't flip-flop. Those responses are showing how the flip-flopping case against Kerry is working. As people don't expect him to be clear and consistent, and that's what they're looking for. And he'd certainly better provide that tomorrow night for his own good.

OLBERMANN: And for the president. The number one thing on that poll, if we can see the graphic again, almost more so than number two and three combined, showing that he is willing to adjust his policy when's they are not working. If you were advising the president, what does that 37 percent say to you to tell him?

CRAWFORD: People are looking for a little more flexibility out of the president. He's gotten a lot of mileage out of being forthright and resolved in his decisions, but there's an indication - and I think he understands this. I think the Bush administration understood this sometime ago when the president came out and said, that he had miscalculated the aftermath of the war in Iraq. I think they're conscious of that. And it's all about stubbornness vs. flip-flopping now. Those are the two character types, almost in a cartoon fashion that we've seen put forth in this campaign.

OLBERMANN: But coming from the campaign headquarters themselves, are we getting any indication that President Bush would do that? Because, obviously, there's a down side to saying, we misunderstood the after effect of the shooting war in Iraq, that it would be worse than the shooting war. You suddenly say that, does now John Kerry come down like a ton of bricks?

CRAWFORD; You bet. It they've done all the conceding they were going to do back when he said they had miscalculated. Although, it might unnerve Kerry a bit if Bush did give an inch on something. It could throw Kerry off. Who know, they might not be expecting that. But still, I think this close to the election, the president's going to be resolve, to put it nicely or stubborn, as others would say.

OLBERMANN: In term of the big picture polls that we mentioned at the start here, there's still, obviously, a larger and more prevalent and more quoted set that indicates there is a four to six or even more point lead for Mr. Bush. But these two from the "Christian Science Monitor" and "the Economists" suggesting a tie.

Is somebody way off base here? Is it nearly a tie or nearly a blowout right now?

CRAWFORD: I think this campaign is coming down to one or the other.

There's not a lot in between. Of course, if it is a tie like these polls show on election day, then we're not going to know who is president until December when the Supreme Court decides. But the campaign is tight. I've never bought a lot of these blowout poll that we've seen. And I could easily be wrong. But it feels so much tighter than those other polls, that we had seen. And of course, what's happening in the individual battleground states is what's important also. We're not seeing a lot of those big leads in those states. So, I really do think this is a very close election. And tomorrow night might just ratify that and we go on to the next debates with the same situation.

OLBERMANN: Lastly about tomorrow night and tying this all together, is there beginning to be a sense of some sort of back lash that this is tomorrow, it is not a debate per se? It is not Lincoln vs. Douglas. It's not even Kennedy vs. Nixon.

Is there some feeling, that perhaps we're getting short changed by the way these simultaneous bipartisan speeches are going to be made tomorrow night?

CRAWFORD: Well, we always hope for the best. That these candidates come out, don't play it safe, actually tell us what they think, get to the gut of the matter and that just doesn't always happen. Given where - and I think this is where we get back to the poll. If this race is as tight as I think it is, and as I think the campaigns think it is, these candidates might be fairly aggressive tomorrow night. If Bush out there and just ropes-a-dope and just tries to get through it without falling down, then you'll know, his campaign thinks they really are as far ahead as these poll show. But I don't think he'll do that. I think we're going to see a very aggressive President Bush, because I think he knows, he has not put this in the bag yet.

OLBERMANN: Something else to look for tomorrow night. Craig Crawford will be there. MSNBC and "Congressional Quarterly," as always, sir, great thanks.

CRAWFORD: Good to talk to you.

OLBERMANN: So, we have a date for the first debate, tomorrow in case you've been out of the loop or you're just joining us from another dimension. We also have a place. We have two candidates. We have 32 page of details outlining everything from the podium height to the camera angles. There's one small problem. The campaign may have reached agreement on all that, the television networks have not. They say they not only object being told how to cover a news event, they plan to ignore many of those request. They will use whatever camera's and angles that strike their fancy.

Cut-away shots are what made it possible after all, for us to see the first President Bush checking his watch during a 1992 debate with Bill Clinton. Not to mention Al Gore sighing when then Governor Bush was answering four years ago. And as for what may transpire tomorrow behind the camera or in front of it, the official statement around these parts, from NBC News is, we will "use pictures as we see fit."

A programming reminder again about tomorrow, we invite to you join us on a special edition of Countdown. Countdown to the pseudo debate. Tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. eastern, 3:00 p.m. Pacific right here on MSNBC. Be there, aloha.

And then there's the debate about over Ralph Nader, not only to be to be absent from tomorrow's little clam bake in Florida, but also from the ballots in Ohio and Wisconsin. The buckeye state, secretary of state ordering the board of elections to remove Nader/Cuomo ticket there, because it failed to turn in 5,000 valid signatures as required.

Yet in Wisconsin, a measure of hope remains. A state judge has already kicked Nader off the ballot there, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court has not yet ruled on whether or not it will take on an appeal of that decision.

Senator John Kerry has always been called a strong closer, but does he run the risk of his campaign strategy working so well that he'll actually scare people into voting for his opponents, fear factor.

And a more tangible fear, captors of a British man in Iraq release another tape plea by him to Britain's prime minister. Could something like this happen now here between now and the election?

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Candidates and catastrophe: John Kerry taking the president head on on the security questions. But could such an argument backfire on him in the long run. Stand by more on the debates after this.


OLBERMANN: What would happen if tomorrow night, all those debate viewers who think things are going well in Iraq or in the war on terror were suddenly convinced otherwise by Senator John Kerry? Would they vote for the senator, or would they thank him for lifting the wool from their eyes and vote for Mr. Bush anyway.

Our 4th story in the Countdown: Perception and debate from revised signals about Iraq to really revised signals from Dick Cheney. A former CIA official telling the Washington Post today that colleagues inside their agency characterized the policy in Iraq as, quote, "a disaster" with quote, "no obvious way to fix it."

An army officer, concurring with Secretary of State Powell from Sunday that the situation on the ground is quote, "getting worse."

Another telling "The Post," "there is a feeling that Iraqi security forces are in cahoots with the insurgents and the general public to get the occupiers out." Against that back drop, it was a poor time from the vice president's point of view for the newspaper, "The Seattle Post Intelligencer" to dredge up Mr. Cheney's comments about the price of removing Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Comments from 1992. That an appearance in Seattle in August 1992, to then secretary of defense, responded to an audience question about leaving Saddam in power in Iraq after the Gulf War. He answered, "the question, in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?" And the answer, is not very damned many.

Today, Democratic vice presidential nominee, John Edwards, noted the story and what critics might call a flip-flop.


SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, (D-NC) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 12 years ago, Dick Cheney was saying there's a great danger and a great risk of going in and occupying a country like this and getting bogged down there. And then, you know, now 12 years later, where are we? Oh, yes. We're exactly in this place.


OLBERMANN: Through a spokeswoman, the vice president has responded to the inconsistency tonight by saying, September 11 changed everything. But you probably guess that had already.

For several weeks, in a campaign recalibration, Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry have been describing the place that Senator Edwards just mentioned in the graphic terms. Kerry is expected to hit the theme hard tomorrow night in the pseudo debate, that the president's strategy in Iraq has made the country less safe, that it has marginalized the hunt for Osama bin Laden, that it has heightened American or anti-American sentiment worldwide.

It is a quote, "high risk strategic shift," according to two of Kerry's advisers quoted today by "The Washington Post." David Von Draehle is a national political reporter for that newspaper. And he join us now. Mr. Von Draehle, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Back to the question that I posed at the start of this segment, if Senator Kerry hit a home run tomorrow night and got the country thinking, we're in a lot of trouble in these areas, who gains politically there? Himself or the president?

VON DRAEHLE: Well, we'll to have see, Keith. It's a high risk strategy, as my colleague said in the paper this morning. You can tell it is risky, because John Kerry has had to be dragged to it. He tried for much of the summer to try to change the subject of this election away from national security to the economy and the jobs and the domestic issue. He wasn't able to do it.

With each day of increasingly bad news out of Iraq, the voters are more and more focused on this. People see it as issue No. 1. And Kerry has to talk about it.

But his problem is, in most of the polls, he trails President Bush right now by double digits on questions of who is the strongest and who is the best position to defend us. So he is taking this chance that he can raise the profile of the issue without boosting his opponent's numbers.

OLBERMANN: So Kerry's strategy tomorrow, and in the rest of the campaign has to be deeper than just, we're in a mess of trouble. Does it have to be, we're in a mess of trouble and you Mr. Bush have spent more time trying to make voters worry about Democrats than about terrorists?

VAN DRAEHLE: Yes. I think that's exactly the direction that he goes. He has to say, look at the facts in front of you. Is this your vision of successful war? However you define the mission. It doesn't look, at least, like it is going very well. And you talked about another story in our paper this morning that had key people in the CIA, and the United States armed forces talking about how badly it is going.

OLBERMANN: And when he raises it, of course, he has to phrase it in the form of a rhetorical question if he does that as well.

Harkening back to one of the interior numbers in the NBC poll, the one about which of five goals is most important for each of the candidates in the debate to reach. For the president, he hands down again, showing that he is willing to adjust his policies when they are not working, 37 percent.

To some degree, is that statistic - although, poll numbers are wildly unreliable in some areas, given that that is as huge as it is, is that to some degree evidence that Kerry's tactical switch has made some impact on voters, making this Iraq question an Iraq question?

VON DRAEHLE: Yes. Absolutely. The voters are smart. Everybody is -

· I think everyone in America is unsettled by what is happening over there, to say the least. And President Bush is continuing to present a rosier scenario than what most people are seeing with their own eyes.

And so I think there is this feeling that, well, does he get it? Is he responsive to what is going on over there? And at what point does steadfastness, resolution, resolve, bleed over into stubbornness or inflexibility built?

OLBERMANN: It will be a fascinating thing to look for tomorrow night in the reactions of the days after. We appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

VON DRAEHLE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: If politics on the campaign does not scare you enough, perhaps a trip to the amusement park will. Oddball is next. That's an animation by the way.

And if not to the amusement park, how about a trip to the stars? Not exactly on gossamer wings. Is it supposed to vibrate like this, captain?


OLBERMANN: We're back. And we pause the Countdown now for the segment that 3 out of 4 MSNBC producers call television at the best. And the 4th producer was just let go. Let's play ODDBALL.

We begin in the futuristic cyber world of Jackson, New Jersey circa 2005. It is here at the Six Flags Amusement Park where you all bow down before Kingda Cah, the world's tallest and fastest roller coaster. They have released this computer animation of the 456-foot behemoth with little computer generated people suffering computer generated whiplash.

The ride on Kingda Cah will last just 50 seconds, reaching top speeds of nearly 130-mile-per-hour. Almost as fast as rush hour on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The song, "Plastic Jesus" is from the movie "Cool Hand Luke." where this plastic Jesus is from is anybody's guess. But border patrol agents found it last month on a sandbar in a river near Eagle Pass, Texas. And the faithful, 200 of them a week, have concluded it is divine, because despite being in the river, it is not all that banged up.

I don't care if it rains or freezes as long as I have got my plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of my car. Comes in colors pink and pleasant. Glows in the dark, because it's iridescent. Travel - take it with you when you travel far.

And the records are a little spotty, but we saw a tradition upheld in baseball last night. One that's about a century old. It was July 8, 1907. The Chicago Cubs first baseman and manager Frank Chance was hit by a soda bottle during a game in Brooklyn. He promptly picked it up and threw it back in the crowding a boy on his leg.

Last night in Los Angeles, Dodgers right fielder Milton Bradley did the same thing. And in tribute to his recent bad luck, when he threw it, he missed. Didn't hit nothing.

Returning to the serious headlines, another plea from British captive Kenneth Bigley to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, this time Blair answers.

And if you think politics here are strange, how about meeting the newest candidate for president of the liberated Iraq?

Those stories ahead. First here are CountdownS top 3 newsmakers of this day. No. 3, Steven Konopatzke of Montana, arrested as he attempted to board a flight to Michigan with his components for a crystal methamphetamine lab in a carry-on bag. Yes, even the T.S.A. screeners sat up and took notice.

No. 2, Brian Miser. He will not be shot out of a cannon. His lighter fluid doused costume set ablaze by his wife and assistant Tina at this week's visit of the circus to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Authorities say the human cannonball part is OK, but the flaming human cannonball is inappropriate, because this is the eve of fire prevention week in Grand Rapids.

And No. 1, Justice Antonin Scalia of our Supreme Court. Speaking at Harvard University last night, he gave voice to his usual themes that dangers with anti-sodomy laws, the inappropriateness of racial profiling, et cetera. And then he said that none of his views were personal, only legal. Quoting him, I even take the position that sexual orgies eliminate social tensions, and ought to be encouraged.

Now judge, I would like to you meet Mr. And Mrs. Flaming human cannonball.


OLBERMANN: While the administration has warned repeatedly and vaguely about terrorist hopes of intervening in the election by some kind of spectacular act, it may be possible that in Iraq and England right now, we are seeing the template for a much more efficient means of influencing political decisions.

Our third story on the Countdown, the abducted British civil engineer Kenneth Bigley has been shown on videotape again pleading for his life again. And for the first time, the prime minister of his country has responded. In the latest plea, Mr. Bigley has thrown or has been directed to throw by his captors a gauntlet into Britain's upcoming political campaign by accusing Tony Blair of lying.


KENNETH BIGLEY, HOSTAGE: Mr Blair says he won't negotiate with terrorists. The French are negotiating with these people to release hostages. I am begging you, I am begging you to speak and push Blair, push Blair, to help me.


OLBERMANN: The timing seems to be not accidental. With the general election probably just eight months away, both Blair's Labor and the opposition Conservatives are holding their party conferences, events once described in simpler times as organized panic.

In an interview conducted during the Labor conference, the prime minister responded.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The difficulty here is that we are trying to make contact with this particular group, because these are outside people. They're not Iraqis that are holding these people. They're outside terrorist groups. And we're trying to make contact with them. And we're doing everything we possibly can. As I always say to people, it is probably better if I don't go into details of all that.


OLBERMANN: One recent poll showed Blair and Labor only two points ahead of their rivals, the Conservative Party. Another found that only 38 percent of Britons believed the war in Iraq was justified.

Are we in fact seeing not a mindless act of brutality and psychological torture, but a geopolitical act as impactful of any train bombing?

For some perspective, I'm joined now by Richard Wolffe, a diplomatic correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Mr. Wolffe, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Did the Tawhid and Jihad group, Kenneth Bigley's captors, just luck into the timing in England? Or is this as politically sophisticated a plan as it seems to be on the surface?

WOLFFE: Well, it is hard to get into their minds, but these people have shown themselves to be really politically astute.

We've seen al Qaeda affiliates try and intervene in the Madrid election in Spain. And what's particularly interesting about this one, obviously, it is very poignant and heartrending hearing anyone beg for their life. But the pleadings are targeted very specifically toward Tony Blair.

And there, the terrorists who have hit on a weak spot. Tony Blair has spent all his political capital on Iraq. And as you heard, as you said, public opinion has turned against him on that.

OLBERMANN: Should we be on guard for exactly this kind of thing relating to this country in the next 34 days?

WOLFFE: Absolutely.

We've already seen the kind of hostage-taking, the pace of that increasing. The fact that America is holding an election right now is no secret. And the terrorists have a stake in it, too. We've had administration officials try to play that in their own favor. But there's no question that they're trying to apply political pressure on the coalition, trying to split off members of the coalition that are perceived to be weaker and exploit that political difference.

OLBERMANN: There's an entirely different edge, as you suggested, to the Bigley situation, as opposed to being some sort of template for us to be worried about. But this was voiced by a senior U.S. official who told NBC News today, it appears to be an effort to split the U.S. and the U.K., as you suggested.

Let me start with whether or not that reading is sound. And, if it is, what are the implications? What is the methodology there?

WOLFFE: Well, for starters, I think it is going to work. Tony Blair has invested, as I said, his political capital in Iraq. He is not going to back out of this.

And it is extremely unlikely that he would engage in any meaningful negotiation with these terrorists. Frankly, it is just as unlikely that Blair would pull out as it is that Kerry would under this kind of pressure. These are just not going to happen. What they are trying to do, though, the terrorists, is apply public pressure and turn the public mood even more against the governments.

That's where these terrorists - we originally thought that al Qaeda were unlike any other kind of terrorists. Zarqawi may be an affiliate of al Qaeda, but he is showing the same kind of political goals as we've seen from terrorists throughout the ages. There are political goals here. They want to shift public opinion against the occupation.

OLBERMANN: Is there an impact they could have on the British elections that we could use as a warning towards the kind of impact that would be seen here? Obviously, the British have a flexible election schedule. It has been talked of as next May for the next general election. But it could be as late as 2006.

Could they be influencing timing? What sort of things might actually result as the fallout from whatever happens to the case of Mr. Bigley?

WOLFFE: Well, a couple of immediate things.

For a start, the number of British troops in Iraq is substantially lower than it was during the peak of combat. And these kinds of events make it extremely unlikely that Britain will supply any more troops any time soon, no matter how bad the situation gets. So, in that sense, the worsening situation, a lack of public support, has affected the coalition quite directly.

Tony Blair does have an advantage over any American president because he can call the time of his own election. So he can call it to his advantage. But you've got to remember, British public opinion was much more in favor of the war than any other part of continental Europe. So there has been a decline. But the message for American politicians is, you have got to keep people on your side. If people don't know what the mission is about, then that public support can dribble away very quickly.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of "Newsweek" magazine, great thanks for your insights, sir.

WOLFFE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: The release of two Italian hostages, meanwhile, has created an entirely different kind of controversy, as a senior parliamentary in Italy official accused their own government of paying a ransom to free the two women.

Aid workers Simona Pari and Simona Torretta returned safely to Rome last night from Iraq. And almost immediately, the chairman of the Italian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee said the government paid $1 million to save the women. "In principle," said Gustavo Selva, "we shouldn't give in to blackmail, but this time we had to." Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi has flatly denied that the government paid any ransom or conducted any negotiations with terrorists.

And just to add a mad coda to today's news from a mad world, when you create a democracy, you just never know who will take advantage of it and run for office The new presidential candidate in Iraq, Saddam Hussein. That's what his lawyer, Giovanni Di Stefano, tells London's newspaper "The Mirror," that Saddam intends to get his name on the ballot for January's elections and with it, the names of many of his former Baath Party henchmen.

Di Stefano pointed out that, in the last election, Hussein got 98 percent of the vote. But, curiously, he also cited what he called a Gallup poll from Iraq that indicates, while 42 percent wanted to see Saddam elected or reelected, 40 percent wanted to see him executed. But unfortunately for Mr. Di Stefano and his client, Gallup never took a poll about Saddam being reelected. And when it asked Iraqis about his possible execution, 61 percent were in favor, not 42 percent. So this ain't exactly going to the Electoral College.

Moving from out of his gourd to out of this world, SpaceShipOne shooting for the star and a possible prize of $10 million. For a while, the goal became: "Stop this crazy thing. Help, Jane."

It's too crowded in Florida. It is too close to the street in Connecticut, but they have found a jail for Martha Stewart that's just right somewhere else. That's ahead.

First, here the Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.



JAY LENO, HOST: Well, the terror level on John Kerry's face has now been raised to orange.


LENO: What is the story on Kerry? Is he changing colors? No, shown him last - here is the actual photo, unretouched. That's last week. Last week, this is unretouched. Show yesterday. Look at this.



DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got proctors in the audience with microphones. You'll note they're the people in the orange shirts.

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Dick, what do those orange shirts remind you of?


L. CHENEY: I'll say it. How about John Kerry's suntan?


D. CHENEY: We're trying to bring her along here. But she's doing good. That was a good line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I usually cut my own hair. But I just have stuff to cut my hair (INAUDIBLE) Well, he's drinking a beer and getting his hair cut in the middle of the day.




OLBERMANN: Losing gravity and losing your lunch. The latest step towards getting tourists in space goes, eh - next.


OLBERMANN: Thirty-five years ago, Neil Armstrong said one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. He was supposed to say one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. It can be argued that the outer space quotation business began its sad and inexorable decline that day.

In our No. 2 story on the Countdown tonight, evidently, we're down to

· quote - "Now, that was fun." That's what the guy said who piloted SpaceShipOne to the edge of space and back today.

Our esteemed correspondent George Lewis, who has been on quite a run of these out-of-the-world stories lately, was on the ground on the Mojave Desert as what went up came down.


GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just after dawn this morning, SpaceShipOne, latched to its carrier plane, took off from California's Mojave Airport heading for an altitude of 47,000 feet.

An hour later, the two aircraft parted company and 63-year-old pilot Mike Melvill, blasting towards space.

MIKE MELVILL, PILOT: Traveling now at 100,000 feet per minute.

LEWIS: But it didn't go exactly as planned. The spaceship, buffeted by shifting wind currents known as wind shear, began rolling, turning at about 20 to 30 revolutions per minute. Ground controllers advised Melvill to shut down his rocket early. He did that and, using all his skills as a veteran test pilot, was able to bring the ship under control, reaching an altitude of 337,000 feet, the lower edge of outer space.

Once on the ground, he laughed it all off with a touch of right-stuff bravado.

MELVILL: I'm very happy with how it worked out. And a victory roll at the top of the climb is important for an air show pilot.

LEWIS: His boss said the design of the ship prevented a disaster.

BURT RUTAN, SCALED COMPOSITES: That would be an accident if it happened on the space shuttle or the X-15. No question we would be looking for small pieces now.

LEWIS (on camera): What they're trying to do out here in Mojave is prove it is feasible to have commercial spaceflights with passenger on board. If they make two successful test flights in two weeks, they win a $10 million award, the Ansari X Prize.

(voice-over): And on Monday, British airline tycoon Richard Branson announced the deal with Rutan's company to fly passengers on rocket ships by the year 2007, the cost, about $200,000 a ticket.

But today's flight raises the question: How many passengers would pay that kind of money for this kind of ride?


LEWIS: Now, what they're trying to determine is if they have some serious problems with the spacecraft. If not, their next flight could go as early as Monday of next week - Keith.

OLBERMANN: George, are there people who have already made reservations here, and after today's little spin roll, are they reconsidering them?

LEWIS: We actually talked to some people today watching this thing who have made reservations to go into space. And, no, they don't have any reservations about their reservations. They want to go.

OLBERMANN: Well, I guess you're going to get a lot for your $200,000.

George Lewis near Mojave, California, great thanks.


OLBERMANN: And keep watching the skies.

LEWIS: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: From civilians in space to celebrities in stir, a big surprise for Martha Stewart leading tonight's segment "Keeping Tabs."

She wanted to go to jail in Connecticut or Florida. She's going to jail in West Virginia. The Justice Department announced that today they can blame the weather for part of this, at least the Florida part, damage to prisons there leading to overcrowding. As for Connecticut, they say the Danbury is too close to public streets and paparazzi could take Ms. Stewart's photo endlessly.

I had relatives who lived near there, and they're right. So, instead, the high doyen of household hints will be assigned to the federal prison at Alderson, West Virginia. And that might not be so bad for the domestic diva, in so much as Alderson's nickname is Camp Cupcake.

A brief moment of self-serving promotion. I am on "Last Call With Carson Daly" tonight on your local NBC station. Probably, they should have a picture Carson there and not me, because, of course, they've run out of guests. Actually, Al Franken and I are on at the same time. We're still replaying that "Jeopardy" incident.

Lastly from "Tabs," unless you are or were from New York, the name may not register, but the voice will. A broadcasting legend is dead.


SCOTT MUNI, DEEJAY: Hi, everybody. This is Scott Muni. I started playing the Beatles to start my show each day. We want to continue to do that. And, of course, it is goodbye and hello. I say goodbye. You say hello. Or I'll say hello. And you stay right where you are.


OLBERMANN: Scott Muni was a New York disc jockey and radio executive, probably the New York disc jockey from the late 1950s through the heyday of top 40 into the FM rock era, right up until yesterday. For a decade, he was also the sports promotional voice for ABC Television. He did commercials, national radio programs as well.

He may have been the first person to be called the fifth Beatle. Scott Muni, the professor, had suffered a stroke earlier in the year. He was 74 years old.

Richard Nixon was president. There was no such thing as a designated hitter and Barry Bonds was 7 years old the last time Washington, D.C., had a Major League Baseball team. It has one tonight. Why that matters with chief fan Maury Povich - next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Thirty-three years ago tomorrow night, the Washington Senators, playing their last baseball game before moving to Texas, where they would ultimately be owned by a man named George W. Bush, were leading the New York Yankees 7-5 with two out in the ninth inning.

It was at this point that Washington's fans, who had already seen previous teams move out of the capital in 1960, 1900, 1889, 1884, 1875, 1873, and 1872 stormed the field and refused to leave. Some said it was the most enthusiasm Washington's baseball fans had ever shown. The umpires had no choice. They forfeited the game to the Yankees and Washington's baseball history seemed to end with both a bang and a whimper.

But in our No. 1 story tonight, Washington is back. It will have its eighth big league franchise next season. The Expos, the long moribund baseball franchise in Montreal, will move to Washington for 2005, protracted negotiations finally completed today. In some senses, they've been going on since the old Senators moved out, the last time, incidentally, a big-league ball club changed cities.

The Expos' last game in Montreal was tonight. A fan at that game threw a golf ball that landed near second base. The players were waved into the dugout as a precaution. So they didn't know it was a golf ball. The game resumed about 10 minutes later, as the great tradition of last games in soon-to-be-lame-duck cities continues.

For any Washingtonian over the age of, say, 40, today is like finally getting the bicycle they were denied on Christmas 1971 or maybe the Holy Grail they've been seeking for even longer than that.

Few are better qualified to comment on these dramatic developments than my next guest, a former Washington sports journalist himself, a former Senators team batboy, and the son of "The Washington Post" sports editor who chronicled the Senators from 1924 until they left for Texas.

A pleasure to welcome the host of "The Maury Show," Maury Povich.

Good evening.

MAURY POVICH, HOST, "THE MAURY SHOW": Keith, nice to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Congratulations. Can you express this in mere words?

POVICH: Well, this is sky-high country right now. I wasn't really scheduled to be here in Washington. And it's kind of the stars are in line and my father is applauding from heaven. And this is a great moment.

And I can tell you this. In Washington, D.C., you know, where they use politics as ground chuck every day, that will be on page two tomorrow, the day of the great debate, and baseball coming to Washington will be page one.

OLBERMANN: Now, there were those six Washington teams that went out of business in the 19th century. And the old Senators won a pennant in 1933, and that was the last time. And they won a World Series in 1924, and that was the last time.

POVICH: Right.

OLBERMANN: And they were so bad so long that the saying developed, Washington first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.


OLBERMANN: The team only drew one million fans once. And that was in 1946.

I know it's a great day of optimism. And I know I'm being something of a wet blanket. But why will it be any different this time?

POVICH: Because it will.

Because it will because Washington, you're talking about attendance back in the day where there were 16 teams in the American League. There was little television being exposed and everything like that. And Washington fans are great fans. Just ask Peter Angelos, who is trying to hold Washington hostage because - and he says that Maryland and Baltimore are going to unfortunately be damaged by all this.

And it's all about money. And he's holding us for ransom and he's been making his behind-the-scene deals with baseball. And, in reality, Washington is one of the great markets in the country, great television market, the most powerful city in the world, according to my father, and I think he's right. And we deserve a baseball team.

And we've been denied that baseball team for 33 years. And I was there in 1971. And I covered that game in which we had to forfeit. And I remember when I had to put it on the air for Channel 5 here where I was working as a sportscaster. I used Graham Nash's "Better Days" as my theme song when Washington went down.

OLBERMANN: It was kind of exciting out there, but not in the sense that anybody wanted it to be.

POVICH: No, not at all.

OLBERMANN: As you know, shortly after that, the San Diego Padres made a deal to move to Washington in '74.

POVICH: I know.

OLBERMANN: And they had a press conference, like they had one today.

POVICH: Right.

OLBERMANN: And they had designed new uniforms, which they displayed. And they even printed the baseball cards with Washington National League on them. And that deal fell through. Are you sure this one is not going to fall through? Is this signed, sealed and delivered?

POVICH: It better not. It better not.

It better not, because if it does - I've had this theory for years and years about what baseball owners think about Washington and why they've been on the wrong side of reality for a long, long time. I mean, this city is made up of a majority of nonwhite people. We have not had a baseball team for 33 years. A lot of people don't want to make the connection there, including those baseball owners.

But those of us who have long suffered, unfortunately, could use that as one of the reason why Washington does not have a Major League Baseball team. And it's wrong. It's just dead wrong.


OLBERMANN: Well, it was one of the excuses that Calvin Griffith used when he moved the original Senators out in 1960.

POVICH: Well, right.

And my father was instrumental, for instance, in getting the expansion team back then. And my father lobbied Congress very hard. And Congress basically said, Calvin Griffith could leave town and become the Twins, as Washington had an expansion team. And then everybody said here, oh, you know, it's going to be a terrible, terrible team. And my father used to say, well, halitosis is better than no breath at all.


OLBERMANN: Part of the classic writings of Shirley Povich.

POVICH: Exactly.

OLBERMANN: One last question here in the minute that I have left.


OLBERMANN: Given all this, they were wearing 1971 Washington Senators caps at the news conference today.

POVICH: Oh, the red ones?


OLBERMANN: Yes, the red ones.

POVICH: Right. I have one.

OLBERMANN: But would you call this team now, after such an interval and after such, attendance wise, not a great history, would you call them the Washington Senators again or would you come up with a different name?

POVICH: Apparently, some people in town, because we don't have a senator, object to that. And I can understand that.

But I think a great compromise would be the Washington Nationals, which was the original name for this team. And the nickname was the Nats.


POVICH: And I can remember growing up here and reading my father's column and headlines in "The Washington Post" every day about the Nats, usually lose.

OLBERMANN: That's right, "Nats Drop Two."


POVICH: Right. It's always "Nats Drops Two to Yanks" or something like that.


POVICH: But I think that is a great compromise. I think the Washington Nationals would be a great team.

OLBERMANN: And it would work perfectly.


OLBERMANN: Because of course, presumably, they are not going to change leagues. They're going to be the Washington team in the National League. So you call them the Nationals.

POVICH: In the National League. What's wrong with that?

OLBERMANN: Maury Povich of "The Maury Show" and one of the first fans of the new Washington whatevers.

POVICH: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Great thanks, sir.

POVICH: Nice to talk to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: My pleasure.

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

Congratulations to Washington and its baseball fans. Now you're enjoying it. When they go 52-110, call me then.

Good night and good luck.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 28

Guests: Jason Dearen, Stephen Battaglio, Susannah Meadows, Tracy Potts


ALEX WITT, GUEST HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Anybody but Bush, except maybe him. What looked like good poll number for Bush so people are looking for John Kerry to give them any reason to vote him into office.

Can a strong debate performance turn things around for Kerry?

We'll ask Howard Fineman.

Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, George and John, forget Iraq, is is Florida ready for an election?

The impact of the hurricanes on how Florida votes.

Lost in translation: the FBI.'s backlog of over 100,000 hours of terror recordings, not translated and collecting dust.

And the late shift, Leno weighed in last night.

JAY LENO, HOST "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Conan, it is yours. See you in five years, buddy. OK.

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST "LATE NIGHT": Say king of late night.

CROWD: King of late night.

WITT: Five short years out. A preview of the transfer of power.

All that and more now on Countdown.


WITT: Good evening, everyone. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann.

This is Tuesday, September 28. Thirty-five days until the 2004 presidential election, just two days until the first presidential debate. The build-up to Thursday night's face-off brings good news from the pollsters for President Bush as well as a potential opening for Senator Kerry should he deliver in Miami.

Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, what are Americans really looking for in a president?

And can John Kerry show them what he's got?

Let's go to the polls. The president maintaining a solid yet

shrinking eight-point lead among likely voters in the latest "USA Today"

survey. Their last poll had Mr. Bush up by 14. But some strong internal

number for the president, a whopping 27 point lead on the questions of who

would better handle terrorism. Mr. Bush more than doubling the margin he

held during the Democratic Convention. When it come to the economy,

Senator Kerry losing his edge for the first time, 45-51. Same for the

female vote. Women voters now in favor of Bush, 49-46, according to the

"Washington Post."f

Our years ago, Al Gore carried the female vote by 11. The lack of a gender gap and the rest of it, may help explain the next results. Bush now polling away, the latest research from Pew Research, a three-point gain in just the last week. But when you think a trend is starting to emerge, you get this, Kerry retaking the slight lead 46-45 in "Investor's Business Daily." A statistical dead heat, given the four-point margin of error.

That poll one of the bright spots for Senator Kerry, but even the biggest of margins can be looked at as constructive criticism when you consider this. The polls suggest that Bush's gains, have less to do with the president's own strengths than with Kerry's weaknesses. Despite the concerns American's may have with four more years of Bush, it seems voters have yet to be convince that had Kerry can do any better. Here's where the opening comes in play, the three debates, specially first one, probably offering Kerry his best chance to show what is his stuff and convince him that he has what they are looking for in a candidate.

Here to help us crunch those numbers tonight and look ahead to Thursday's crunch time debate, "Newsweek" magazine senior political correspondent, Howard Fineman, also our very own political analyst.

Howard, many thanks for your time tonight, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK": Good evening, Alex.

WITT: Lets start with that 27-point terrorism lead for President Bush. If you're sitting at a bar with Senator Kerry right now, drinking a beer and he asked you, what happened, how do you explain it?

FINEMAN: The question is what is John Kerry's plan and how is it different from and better than the president's?

All the polling number I studied show that he hasn't convinced the American people that he has a plan, let alone better one. And one of his big tasks on Thursday night in a debate that after all, is about foreign policy and defense, is to lay out what that plan is clearly and concisely. He hasn't done it and because he has done it, he's way behind the president both in the rankings on the war on terrorism in general and on handling that war in Iraq in particular.

WITT: What do you say about the polls that say there are voters that want him to win. They really want him to win, but they just can't quite get to vote for him? What do you say to them?

FINEMAN: Him meaning John Kerry?

WITT: John Kerry, exactly.

FINEMAN: That's where you look at the so-called favorable ratings.

And one poll, the "Washington Post" poll, John Kerry was only regarded favorably by about a third of the electorate. There's no way you can win an election like that. When another big task he has on Thursday night is to come across as someone who, by whatever way you want to quantify or define it, is a likable, trustworthy guy. Because the presidency is an intimate office to the American people. The American people have a direct emotional relationship with whoever their president is, especially in war time. They're going to spend a lot of time with that person psychologically. And they have to be comfortable with them. And they aren't with John Kerry. He has got to somehow turn that around. This is like a mini-convention for him on Thursday, Alex. He's got to reintroduce himself all over again one last time.

WITT: There's one more poll I want to bring to your attention. This is an apparent weakness. Listen to this, 55 percent of the people believe he takes too many risks. This compared to just 17 percent for Senator Kerry.

What does Mr. Bush have to do to overcome that Thursday night or is it a big deal?

FINEMAN: I think it is. In looking at all the numbers, that's one of his big weaknesses. People think he's to much of a gambler. To much of a river boat gambler. I think he has to say Thursday night, that his ultimate objective is peace. That he is not a guy who likes war for the sake of war. That the objective here is peace and tranquility in the world and in America. He has got to get that message across. He has a simpler task. People know the president on balance more than half the American people like him. But he has got to convince them that he doesn't to go war for the sake of it, because the American people are quite skeptical about the war in Iraq. It is just that John Kerry hasn't given them an alternative to it.

WITT: You write in your web column piece that President Bush has to be humble in this debate. How come?

FINEMAN: Well, just the way, the size killed Al Gore in 2000. That famous George Bush smirk could hurt him. You know, there are times you see him giving that, I can't believe I have to answer this kind of look on his face. If the camera catch him doing, that'll be a bad thing. The president is president. It has to be presidential. And you know, to a certain extent, this is like an election for the presidency of the senior class. But it is the biggest senior class on the planet. He has to be serious about it. He has to be respectful of Kerry.

WITT: Howard, you know, Senator Kerry, He's been running for president for months and months now. How is it that voter still feel they don't know enough about him?

FINEMAN: That is a very good question. That is question of the election. I think we thought at the time of the convention, that he had done a pretty good job, in Boston, of introducing himself. The Bush campaign dismantled him piece by piece. Turned him into the caricature of the flip-flopper, and John Kerry hasn't recovered. Whether that's all John Kerry's fault because of his Senate record or his lack of clarity and speech and program will be debated for many years. But unless he turns that around Thursday night, unless he speaks clearly and succinctly. If I was his advisor, I would say ban the word but from your vocabulary Thursday night. No sentence with the word but in there. No qualifier. No if's, and's or buts. Speak from the heart and speak clearly. If he can do that, he has a chance of getting back in it on Thursday Night.

WITT: OK. "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman, thanks a lot of for your time and insight. Great to see you.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Alex.

WITT: Today's polling number also point to an important new subset of American voter, to the ranks of the soccer mom and NASCAR dads, we now have security moms. With young kids, the security moms are focused on the future and concerned about the threat of another terrorist attack.

As White House correspondent, David Gregory reports, how they vote just five weeks from now could determine the outcome of this election.


DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For, Michigan mom and Democrat Carey Frasier (ph), this year politics is very important. It's her families safety she thinks about most.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People want to attack us the. It is obvious they want to attacks. They're trying to all the time.

GREGORY: Liz Bradshure (ph), the mother of two from Fairfax, Virginia, and a Republican, considers 9/11 a wake-up call.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I watch my kids to go school and I hope they come back.

GREGORY: More than any single issue this year, security has defined the battle for women voter, and has created a new swing group, the security mom.

(on camera): On the losing end of an 11-point gender gap four years ago, the President Bush has used the war on terror to undermine the Democrats traditional advantage among women. Now latest NBC News "Wall Street Journal" poll shows Kerry leading by just four points.

ANDREW KOHUT, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: What it represents is simply this. If Kerry cannot get as much support from women as Bush gets among men, which is the traditional pattern, he's going to lose the election.

GREGORY (voice-over): For these women, security is the top priority.

_But they disagree about who will make the country safer. Liz is standing _

by the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do believe he will send us on that journey to keep us safer, more so than his opponent. Yes.

GREGORY: Lisa Adler (ph) is voting for Kerry.

(on camera): You're at a point where you're rejecting what the president has done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I reject what he's done because I don't think we should have gone to Iraq at the time that we went in. We should have gone after Osama bin Laden, putting all our money there.

GREGORY (voice-over): Laurie (ph) is undecided. We asked about Senator Kerry.

(on camera): Do you feel like you know what he would do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no idea. That's why I'm hoping that a question will be presented to them at the debates where he will have to actually address the issue and tell us what would he do in George Bush's position?

GREGORY: A direct challenge to the sought after security moms voting this year, not only for president but for peace of mind. David Gregory, NBC News, Crawford, Texas.


WITT: And for more now on the impact security moms could have come election day we're joined now by "Newsweek" magazine's general editor Susannah Meadows.

When it comes to the security mom vote, how big of a chunk of the electorate are we talking about here?

SUSANNAH MEADOWS, "NEWSWEEK": It is hard to get an exact number. One estimate places them at 10 percent of the electorate which is as you know, plenty of votes to swing the election either way.

WITT: Absolutely. It used to be that any talk of the gender gap and the female vote focused on issues like healthcare or education. Could the emergence of the so-called security moms represent the new normal that is post 9/11?

MEADOWS: It seems there is some correspondence between a terrorist attack and this issue being important to women. After 9/11, the issue sort of dropped back a little bit and we saw these more traditional issues of health and education reemerge in women's mind. Then this last month, when we were faced with these images of the attack on the Russian school, that brought the issue roaring back. And now people are saying, women especially are saying, who cares about healthcare when I'm worried about my child getting shot.

WITT: Are you surprised by the female vote right now leaning towards President Bush?

MEADOWS: I think that President Bush has done a very good job of selling himself as the one who would keep you safer. And I think Kerry has not been as clear on that issue. He now is out there every day saying, I promise I will keep you and your children safe. But he is playing catch up a little bit.

WITT: You look ahead to these debates. What does he have to do, Mr. Kerry, in the last five weeks of the campaign, what does he have to do to get his point across to the security moms?

MEADOWS: One of the things he's doing, he has this group of 9/11

widows planted in Ohio. And what they're doing is they're calling other

women their age, other mothers saying, look, I believe in Kerry. I believe

Kerry will keep me safer. Iraq was a diversion. It's not helping us in

the war on terror and Kerry will keep us safer and so he has this sort of -

· and this is on the ground going on right now where they're making these calls. That sort of sister to sister message is very effective.

WITT: Much has been made in this campaign about the single woman's vote. That so-called "Sex in the City" vote side by side with the security moms. Is one bloc of voters, is it more powerful than the other of these two?

MEADOWS: If you compare single women with single men and married women and married men, the single women are the worst voters of them all. Only half of them voted in 2000, compared to 2/3 of married women. So if you're going to be pursuing a voting bloc, you want to go after the group that is more likely to vote.

WITT: OK. Susannah Meadows of "Newsweek" magazine. Thanks for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

And from the battle for voters to the battle to just get people to vote, nowhere could it be a bigger problem or have a bigger impact than Florida. That much of the state is reeling from hurricane damage. And the Laci Peterson murder trial, the wrong woman theory, the drugging theory, the dependence a cad theory, has Mark Geragos entered enough reasonable doubt in this case?


WITT: From women voters to Florida voters, in the most pressing issue on their mind, security of another kind. Nearly a million hurricane-struck residents spent the day waiting for the power to come back on. Many standing in long lines in 80-degree heat for just a bag of ice.

Our number four story on the Countdown tonight, the lasting political effects of this brutal hurricane season. President Bush has now asked Congress for $7 billion in emergency aid. This for Florida and other southeastern states hit hard by Jeanne and Ivan. Add that to the $5 billion issued for Charley and Frances and we're looking at a $12 billion federal price tag. And hurricane season runs well past the election.

Florida status as a key swing state and the debacle there four years ago make it the focus of intense political attention and speculation. But the six-week non-partisan pummelling by four different hurricane has forced a political hiatus for many living there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were wondering when we'll get our lights back, you know. The air conditioning. Nobody is talking about politics at all. I haven't heard a soul.

WITT (voice-over): Where politics is not the priority, the Florida battleground today, actually looks like one.

CHARLES BRADLEY, FLORIDA RESIDENT: At this point in time, I'm tired. Most people are realizing they have to rebuild their houses or find another place to live.

WITT: But election day looms as does the question. Will Mother Nature have her own vote on November 2?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is no chance that these hurricanes will not affect the outcome of this election.

WITT: Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, the chair person of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Commission says the affected people just don't have time to pay attention to campaign issues. And that's not all. Election officials are faced with their own problems.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These problems include having to move polling places because they're either flooded or have been decimated or destroyed.

People trying to get absentee ballots who have had to leave the area because their homes were destroyed or flooded out.

WITT: While election officials talk logistics, residents are still talking Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne not George and John. Both candidates were forced to cut short their summer Florida campaigning.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the first chance I've been able to get back here to Florida because of the weather situation over the past weeks.

WITT: And President Bush making official visits and proposing billion of dollars in federal disaster relief for storm victims.


WITT: It's not the first time a hurricane season has had an election impact. In 1992, when Hurricane Andrew did an estimated $20 billion of damage just over two months before the election, Bush 41 was criticized for leading a slow federal response. He did win the state, but only by 1 percentage point.

The lesson?

BUSH: The lesson is, respond quickly. And we are responding quickly.

WITT: Pictures of the president on the ground may offset the fact that residents have not been getting political coverage, which has been replaced by nearly wall to wall storm coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is very crucial to Florida voters how the different politicians respond in moments of crisis. As far as Floridians are concerned, these hurricanes are a moment of crisis. What we need to do right now to ensure voter turnout is to facilitate the logistics, to fix all the little problems, so voters can get out and vote, either by absentee or on election day. Turnout is going to be crucial.


WITT: But Florida's voting problems started long before hurricane season. The touch screen machines meant to solve all the state's voting woes and prevent another chad-like fiasco, they've already been the center of controversy and the subject of lawsuits. Tonight we take a closer look at electronic voting machines, which a third of you will be using at the polls come November as part of a new MSNBC election series, "Making Your Vote Count."

This week, a Florida appeals court revived a lawsuit asserting the need for a printed paper receipt to verify the accuracy of their touch screen machines. But with only the election five weeks away, is there even a chance of fixing them in time? Our correspondent Tracy Potts reports.


TRACY POTTS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Arlington, Virginia, seniors practice for election day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now you can make a new selection.

POTTS: These touch screen machines, like most, record votes electronically, but do not provide paper receipts. So how do you verify the votes if there's a recount?

DOUG CHAPIN, ELECTIONLINE.ORG: Right now, a recount on a touch screen machine basically means reading the numbers on the machine again.

POTTS: Gloria Berg is concerned about that. Four years ago, she voted in Florida.

GLORIA BERG: I certainly don't think that money should be spared to have it the way it should be so that there's proof that everyone voted.

POTTS: It won't be cheap. Outfitting these machines with a printer could cost another $800 a piece. Nevada has done that, but for the most part, the 50 million voters using these machines in November will only have their votes recorded electronically.

There's also concern about hackers changing electronic votes. Manufacturers insist the machines are secure, but voting rights advocates urge election officials to double-check.

NANCY ZIRKIN: We believe it is absolutely the wave of the future, but it must be tested and retested. And states have to step up to - to play.

POTTS: Now, five weeks from election day, is it too late to prevent another Florida?

CHAPIN: We may have a controversy. Not so much because of problems with the system, but because there are so many people looking for problems to occur.

POTTS: Problems that were supposed to be resolved.

Tracy Potts, NBC News, Washington.


WITT: From election 2004 to Olympics 2006. It is mascot unveiling time. A ceremony big on disappointment and full of confused looks. By that barometer, this year's was a smashing success. "Oddball" is next.

And later, the heir apparent to "The Tonight Show" throne. Five years out and counting. Why announce the big Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien swap now? You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


WITT: I'm Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann. And we pause THE Countdown now for a segment called a must watch by the publishers of the Web site Let's play "Oddball."

We begin in Rome, where it is 500 days until the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. And today, organizers introduced the world to their official mascot.

Look, everyone. It's Nev (ph) and Glizz (ph), the magical pansexual, non-threatening spokesies thingies. In English, their names are Snow and Ice, and not exactly sure what they are, except that one is male, the other is female, and they're said to represent the universal Olympic values of participation, respect, friendship and loyalty.

However, here they kind of appear to be mating? Take it from me, I love you.

To the Mekong Delta. It's 1969 and you're the tactical commander of a ragtag bunch of Navy men abroad Swift Boat PCF-94. You're Lieutenant John Kerry in Kuma's new video game, Silver Star. The game is based of course on the now controversial events of February 28, 1969, when Kerry earned his Silver Star medal for bravery in combat. As John Kerry, you'll take fire on the boat, you'll beach the craft and chase down a variety of enemies, including the Viet Cong, the Donkey Kong and John O'Neill.

Finally, yet another breakthrough in America's war against obesity. The pharmaceutical giant Merck & Company has unveiled its latest weapon in the battle, a diet drug, in a nasal spray. The company says the spray makes the stomach feel full faster. One squirt up the nose and you no longer crave that third pork chop. Merck won't reveal exactly what's in the little bottle, but "Oddball" has learned the secret ingredient is gravy. Oh, gross!

From the battle of the bulge to the war on terror. The serious news returns next, and very serious concerns about stopping al Qaeda again. On September 10, 2001, important clues about the attack on America lay untranslated. Now three years later, the translation backlog is worse than ever.

And little Johnny Jihad. His mom is now pleading with the government to commute the sentence of the young man who became known as the American Taliban. Those stories ahead.

But first here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Pavel Banaszek, a 19-year-old Polish man who was run over by a train in Warsaw last summer. He lived, but was paralyzed in the incident. This week, the Polish rail system sent him a bill, $580, to compensate for the delays he caused by getting run over.

Number two, Frank Kelly Rich, the editor of "Modern Drunkard" magazine, and one-time Countdown guest, is on the crusade against the makers of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. The distiller has just quietly lowered the amount of alcohol from its drink from 86 proof to 80. Rich calls this - quote - "unfathomable blasphemy."

And, No. 1, the 50 fine residents of Playas, New Mexico. The Department of Homeland Security has announced they have purchased the entire town to use for anti-terror training. Workers will use the town to simulate suicide bombings, anthrax attacks and water supply poisonings. Well, there goes the neighborhood.


WITT: Welcome back to Countdown. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann.

There's an old joke about calling a suicide hot line and being put on hold, at its core, the absurd notion that a service dedicated to protecting human life can be so overwhelmed and understaffed that they can't do their job.

Our third story on the Countdown, news that the FBI has neither the tools nor the translators to adequately fight terrorism. A newly declassified Department of Justice investigation concludes that the FBI language program with over 12,000 linguists cannot decipher all of the counterterrorism materials it collects. In September 2001, 119,000 hours of audiotapes recording possible terrorist activity in counterterrorism languages have not been reviewed.

Another tape backlog contains 370,000 hours of languages associated with counterintelligence. The FBI says it has been trying to hire more translators, but 90 percent of job applicants don't make it through the vetting process. And then there's the tools. The Justice Department report also found that the FBI's digital collection systems have limited storage capacity.

So, because of this, audio sessions resident on a system are sometimes deleted through an automatic file delusion procedure to make room for incoming audio sessions.

I'm joined now by terrorism expert and MSNBC analyst Steve Emerson.

Hi, Steve. Nice to see you.


WITT: Here we go, three years after 9/11 and thousands of hours of audiotapes untranslated. I mean, what is it going to take to get the department up to speed? Is it better computers? Is it more translators, more training?

EMERSON: You know, Alex, it is going to take a lot of things. And it is not just the FBI's fault, although some fault does lie in FBI headquarters, because of, as you noted, technology that should have been 2004 technology is basically five years old, where they're actually recording over existing or deleting actual conversations because they don't have enough storage capability.

That can remedied, should have been remedied instantly. However, other things, such as vetting, the actual translators, ensuring that they're not leaking information or mistranslating, and also having enough resources to hire these translators, is a very different process that I think the FBI should be assisted in by giving them more resources that they simply don't have. Yes, they're not allocating entirely correctly.

But Congress knew about this problem nine, 10 years ago. I remember -

· just so you know, I testified before Congress I believe in 1996 about the shortage of translators. There was a dismissal in Congress that this was an issue because we didn't experience terrorism. Now in 2004, the chickens are coming home to roost.

WITT: Yes. And I can't imagine the number of times you and I have talked about this on our air in the last three years or so.

But, anyway, the day before September 11, Steve, officials intercepted two messages, as you know, those being, tomorrow is zero hour and the match is about to begin. Of course, those messages didn't even get translated until days after the attacks. Are we in a similar situation now? I mean, could warnings about this potential kind of thing for an attack during an election season be in that kind of backlog?

EMERSON: If they are not prioritizing the al Qaeda recordings and those that are categorized as al Qaeda-related - and there's an allegation by the I.G. that they're not adequately giving the translators the actual markers for which translations, which tapes should come first - there's a possibility that we will overlook a tape that says, there's going to be a bombing taking place.

The NSA, National Security Agency, was the one that translated those conversations right after - or it was released right after 9/11, but it was the day before. But they didn't put it together. Here, the FBI is trying to fill a void which that it never really been filled, which is the tremendous amount of linguistic challenges faced by tens of thousands of hours.

We're looking at an increase of tens of thousands of hours every year for the FBI. I think the report says 89,000 hours of still untranslated tapes remain on the FBI system.

WITT: OK, Steve Emerson, this is rather chilling information. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. We do appropriate it.


WITT: One of the most notorious terrorist suspects already in American custody is now appealing his sentence.

John Walker Lindh, nicknamed the American Taliban, wants President Bush to commute the 20 years he received for supplying services to the Taliban and carrying explosives. Lindh was arrested with other Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in late 2001. His mother today laid out the reasons why she believes his sentence should be shortened.


MARILYN WALKER, MOTHER OF JOHN WALKER LINDH: John has never had any sympathy for or involvement in any sort of terrorist activity. Despite what people think or may think, John Lindh took no action whatsoever against his native country.


WITT: Walker Lindh's lawyer said his client should be subject to the same sentence as Yaser Hamdi. Hamdi was also arrested in Afghanistan, but will now be allowed to return to his native Saudi Arabia a free man if he reannounces terrorism and gives up his American citizenship.

Hackers have taken revenge against a Web site that recently hosted video showing the brutal murders of two American civilians in Iraq. A group calling itself Team USA took over the site and redirected visitors to a different Web site which showed a penguin holding a machine gun and carried a warning to other Web sites not to host terrorists. Team USA has already attacked other Islamist and pro-al Qaeda with orders to free Web service companies to start securing their servers against militant groups.

Finally tonight, police are hunting for a fake FBI agent in Rochester, New Hampshire. The man showed up at the Sky Haven Airport last week wearing a jacket saying "FBI Anti-Terrorism." He then started asking about entrances and security. Airport workers say they were immediately suspicious and chased him away from the hangar. So what tipped them off? His choice of footwear. Word to the not-so-wise. FBI agents don't wear flip-flops.

Was Laci Peterson's murder a hit gone horribly wrong? Scott Peterson's defense raises the issue that a look-alike neighbor with threats against her may have been the intended target. We're going to take you inside the courtroom for reaction.

And Paris Hilton, the sequel. We're not talking the reality show, folks. We're talking that tape that made her the Internet's most popular gal. It turns out there may be some scenes on the cutting room floor.

But, first, here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.



DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: And so they announced it. NBC releases that Conan O'Brien will be doing "The Tonight Show." Good for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's fantastic.

LETTERMAN: I wonder if I can get a tape over there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It may be a little late.

LETTERMAN: Yes, a little late.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I was worried the speech is going to be too...


BLAIR: Thank you.

Changing Britain for better, changing it for good.


BLAIR: Excuse me. But if there's any more of you, do you mind standing up now and we...


GARRY SHANDLING, COMEDIAN: So I'm just really impressed by how you handled that, because these people may not know in fact that when all that was going on with Johnny, there was a lot of awkwardness and you have dealt with it straight on. And you're a real man.

JAY LENO, HOST: Well, thank you.


LENO: Well, that's very nice.

SHANDLING: That all being said, are you out of your mind?




WITT: Reasonable doubt in the Scott Peterson trial, is that what attorney Mark Geragos is achieving? We're going to get the very latest twists and turns from inside the courtroom next, including a new twist that Laci was the wrong person killed.

Stand by.


WITT: It's not every day that you'll hear a defense lawyer in a high-profile case hoping to bring out more negative information regarding their client on cross-examination. But if it works, it may well go down in the legal annals as the serial skirt-chaser defense.

Our No. 2 story on tonight's Countdown, multiple mistresses and mistaken identity, the defense hoping to take some wind out of the prosecution's sails in the trial of Scott Peterson.

Lead investigator Craig Grogan was back on the stand today for more cross-examination by Peterson defense attorney Mark Geragos. Geragos wasn't looking to downplay his client's caddish behavior. He did just the opposite. He instead questioned the detective regarding the fact that Scott had multiple adulterous affairs in addition to the one with Amber Frey.

But the cross wasn't just limited to just the identify of Peterson's sexual conquests. The jury also heard details regarding the possibility of mistaken identity, that shortly after Laci's disappearance, that Modesto Police received a tip that Laci's murder may have been carried out by someone seeking to attack a woman who looked just like Laci Peterson.

Here to help us sort all this out tonight, Jason Dearen. He has been covering the trial extensively for "The San Mateo County Times."

Jason, thanks for joining us.


WITT: All right, heading into this week, it did not seem possible that Scott Peterson could be made to look like any more of a creep. But Geragos seemed to have achieved just that. What is the defense hoping to achieve by bringing out more negative information about Peterson during all the cross-examination?

DEAREN: Well, the prosecution has hinged a lot of their case on the motive for murder that Scott Peterson killed his wife because he wanted to be with Amber Frey.

So by bringing out these past affairs and the possibility that Laci knew about at least one of them, I guess Geragos is trying to show that this is a pattern of behavior that Laci was aware of, that it's something that they dealt with before in their relationship, they had worked through in their relationship, and that, you know, it was not abnormal behavior for Scott Peterson to engage in an affair.

So why would he, you know, choose to kill his wife over this one when he had other affairs in the past?

WITT: You know, Jason, Geragos also used the cross-examination to float this mistaken identity theory, an alternative as to how and why Laci might have been killed. What is the story there?

DEAREN: Well, he has floated a few different theories. We've heard of a brown van, of an eyewitness who had seen a woman that matched Laci's description being pulled into a van by a couple of men.

And the theory that you're talking about is one that he spoke of yesterday, that a neighbor in the Peterson's neighborhood is a deputy district attorney in a neighboring county who prosecuted a case against a violent criminal. I guess, after the case was finished, this person threatened the deputy district attorney, who was also pregnant, who was the same size as Laci and who actually had a golden retriever also named , McKenzie, just like the Petersons' dog. And she walked it often in the neighborhood.

So Geragos was floating out yet another possibility that perhaps the man who wanted to kill this woman mistook Laci for her and killed her instead.

WITT: OK, multiple mistresses, mistaken identity. Can you gauge how effective this cross-examination has been? What sort of impact might these theories be having on creating reasonable doubt in the mind of the jury?

DEAREN: They could be having a great effect. The jury isn't very - they don't have a lot of strong facial reactions or anything. But in a circumstantial case like this, when there's not a lot of direct evidence, all Geragos really has to do is give one or two reasonable interpretations that some of the juror will buy and think that, you know, this is a reasonable explanation for what happened to Laci Peterson. And here, the prosecution hasn't given me anything really - no direct evidence, no blood or anything like that.

So I think it has been very effective so far. Throughout this trial, he has put on his case during the prosecution's case and has been able to float a number of theories out there that don't seem crazy.

WITT: You know, Jason, in fact, the prosecution is expected to rest its case sometime next week. So put your jury cap on. Who do you think is ahead at this point?

DEAREN: I think the defense is definitely still ahead. They've had so much time during this trial to attack the Modesto Police investigation, which he's continued to do today with Craig Grogan on the stand.

The police made a number of mistakes in especially not following up on leads that seemed credible in the days after. Sometimes they didn't interview people that called in one or two days after Laci went missing. They didn't start interviewing them until the trial had already started. So that really shows that - that makes it look like they had targeted Peterson and they were kind of throwing everything else out that they were getting.

WITT: All right, Jason Dearen, thank you very much for your time tonight.

DEAREN: Hey, thank you.

WITT: And with that, we make the turn to the rest of the entertainment news and the stories of "Keeping Tabs."

And it is official. Comedy Central viewers are smarter than Fox News viewers. The Comedy Channel did little research on the subject after a recent Jon Stewart appearance on Fox's "O'Reilly Factor." During the interview, O'Reilly repeatedly referred to the viewers of "The Daily Show" as - quote - "stoned slackers."

But according to Nielsen Media Research figures, the average Jon Stewart viewer is smarter and more likely to have completed four years of college than O'Reilly viewers. The average Fox viewer, in contrast, is less likely to have finished college, less likely to answer simple political questions correctly, and more likely to be confused by common household items like the dishwasher.

And just when you thought Paris Hilton was overexposed, along comes news of yet another sex tape. According to "The New York Post," a London tabloid has obtained footage of a private tape featuring Paris and ex-boyfriend Nick Carter and another scene with another ex-boyfriend, Jason Shaw.

The tape is believe to have been among the items stolen from Hilton's Hollywood rental home during a burglary last month. It contains graphic scenes very similar to the tape that made her famous. But this one has more intricate plotlines.

And finally, more strides being made by the actor-turned-governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governator has been on a bit of a roll lately. He has passed laws banning underage tanning, necrophilia and now smoking in prison. The governor, who recently put up a tent outside the Capitol Building so he can smoke cigars, announced the prison ban would save the state money on health care and improve the health of the inmates, though it will likely triple the number of escape attempts.

Tonight's No. 1 story is straight ahead of us. It is official. Jay Leno is calling it quits five years from now. And Conan O'Brien will be filling his shoes five years from now. The longest long-range succession plan possibility in the history of TV, that's coming up.


WITT: The last time we attempted such a regime change, things didn't go quite as smoothly. The media was electric in its wall-to-wall coverage. Books were written, television movies made.

Our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, this time around, clearly, the coup was bloodless. Last night, with very little fanfare and a great deal of class, Jay Leno announced his retirement as host of "The Tonight Show."


LENO: This show has been No. 1. We will keep it No. 1. And then, in '09, I'll say, Conan, take it over. It's yours, because, you know, you can do these things until they carry you out on a stretcher or you can get out when you're still doing good and things. I'm not quitting show business. But I realized I'm not spending enough time with my cars.


WITT: His successor, Conan O'Brien, he anointed without the industry infighting and public bickering of 12 years ago, when it was announced Jay Leno would succeed Johnny Carson over David Letterman. O'Brien will be only the fifth man to hold down the job, and surprising some insiders, the decision made just ahead of the expiration date on his contract.

Of course, this is all five years away. For the mechanics of the why now and what's next, we turn to senior correspondent for "TV Guide" Stephen Battaglio.

Stephen, thanks for joining us.



Was this all about keeping Conan on the NBC payroll, or is there more nuance to the timing than that?

BATTAGLIO: I just think they did want to keep him. But I think there was a timing aspect as well. Jay signed his contract last spring that would keep him in "The Tonight Show" Chair for five years. Conan, who has toiled very successfully at 12:30 a.m., aspired to the 11:30 time slot. And he wanted "The Tonight Show," but if he wasn't going to get "The Tonight Show" anytime soon, he was probably going to go to another network. ABC or Fox certainly would have accommodated him.

WITT: You know, this is a position, as you well know, that Jay Leno fought for and one that, as he said last night, did irreparable damage to friendships. But this transition seems to be one that he welcomes, that is amicable. Is that really the case?

BATTAGLIO: Jay is not a showbiz phony. And I think that he's really appreciative to have this chance to be part of broadcast history by being on "The Tonight Show." And 17 years is not too shabby. It's a good run.

WITT: Yes, yes.

You know, Conan on "Late Night," his audience certainly younger, his comedy a lot edgier, if you will, is he going to be expected to ramp it down a lot for "The Tonight Show"?

BATTAGLIO: Well, Conan is edgier because he knows he's at 12:30. A lot of people said that about David Letterman. Would he work at 11:30?

And once you go into that time period, I think you do adjust. Conan's audience has grown up with him or - in five years from now, the college kids who are watching him today are going to be older and they're probably not going to be staying up as late, but they like Conan. They'll be comfortable with Conan. And I think Conan is a good fit as a result.

WITT: Stephen, it's impossible really to talk about this show without talking about Johnny Carson. In one article today, the job was referred to as Carson's chair. His legacy is monumental. But after 17 years, what will Jay Leno leave in terms of a legacy?

BATTAGLIO: I think he's a man of the people. I think he has a very populist approach to comedy. I don't think that everything he does on the show is his taste.

But I think he is an entertainer who wants to please. Johnny Carson, a little bit more aloof, had his own point of view. Jay is much more of a crowd-pleaser. I think Johnny had the benefit of not having much competition during much of his reign. With Jay, it was like - he approached it like a political campaign. He went out to the affiliates and shook hands and made friends wherever he went.

And I think that did a lot for his reputation and I think the goodwill toward him in the industry.

WITT: OK, Stephen Battaglio, senior correspondent for "TV Guide," many thanks.

BATTAGLIO: Thank you.

WITT: And that's Countdown. Thank you for being a part of it. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann. We're certainly hoping that he is going to be back with you tomorrow night.

Until then, good night, everyone, and good luck.

And here we go. Batter up. What is that?


Monday, September 27, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 27

Guests: Tom O'Neil, Karen Tumulty, Craig Crawford


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? The debate agreement. No props, notes, charts, diagrams, other writings, other things. Real explanations for all this from Craig Crawford. Cynical explanations from us.

The latest clean up in Florida. Thirty-one percent of Orlando residents polled tell a local TV station, they're thinking about moving out.

First Virgin Records, then Virgin Atlantic, now Virgin Galactic?

Richard Branson offering suborbital flights. Maybe with a liquor license.

Yep! Drugs in space! And this space for rent.

Corporate sponsorships for the Star Jones wedding. I wonder who paid groom to go through with it.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Monday, September 27. Thirty-six days until the 2004 presidential election. Forty-four years ago yesterday, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon conducted the first of their four presidential debates. And if anybody thought the face-to-face meetings did not matter or were not, as Wellington described Waterloo, a damn near run thing, it is essential to remember that those watching the debates on television handily believed Kennedy had won. And those listening on radio handily believed Nixon had won.

To paraphrase Billy Crystal, it may be better to look good than to sound good.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the meaningfulness of Thursday's first Kerry-Bush debate. The debate over the rules of the debate and the slice of debate history today appropriated by John Kerry. Meaningfulness, first. "TIME" magazine has a poll of the day. Mr. Bush by four points among registered voters, a margin of error of three. Two debate-related numbers in their survey. Nineteen percent of all of their respondents say they are either undecided or might still change their vote. Sixty-nine percent of that 19 percent say the debates may clinch their decision, whatever it may be. But the prospect of one out of every five voters on the line, it thus does not surprise that both candidates are now spending much of their time cramming for Thursday's big test.

The challenger Senator Kerry setting up camp, debate camp over the weekend at a secluded resort in Wisconsin. Can you say swing state? The Badger State's 10 electoral votes make it that much more convenient. Afternoon study breaks turned into town hall meetings. Senator Kerry criticizing the president for saying not only does he not regret the "mission accomplished" speech aboard that aircraft carrier a year ago in May but that he would do it again.

But one man's stubborn refusal to admit a possible error is another man's, "hey, at least I'm not a flip-flopper." President Bush on the campaign trail today in Ohio. In case you're wondering, he has been preparing for the debates at his ranch in Texas. Today his communications director Dan Bartlett tells the "Associated Press," quote, "obviously, President Bush has had to practice twice as hard to learn all the different positions that John Kerry has taken on the big issues of the day."

The president himself suggesting today, he may not even need to show up on Thursday night because Senator Kerry, quote, "probably could spend 90 minutes debating himself." Kerry partisans, please restrain all inner dialogue about the senator thus debating his intellectual match.

With the Kerry-Kerry debate unlikely, it is still scheduled to be Bush-Kerry. Joining me to begin our countdown to the debate, Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent, for "TIME" magazine. Karen, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Perhaps nothing else in a campaign in our campaigns has devolved so starkly from political analysis and the rhetorical process to a simply popularity contest as these debates. We hear about Bush and Kerry preparing for this. How do you prepare to look presidential?

TUMULTY: The first thing you try to prepare to do is not make any big mistakes. Certainly, that is the experience we've seen. It is really hard to make up ground and do yourself a big favor in these debates. It is not hard to screw up.

OLBERMANN: So finish this paragraph for me. George Bush can screw up or even lose the election Thursday by...

TUMULTY: I think that George Bush's biggest danger here is saying or doing anything that makes him look as though he is out of touch with the reality that people are seeing coming across their television screens and what they're reading in their newspapers. Certainly our polls suggested that a lot of people think George Bush is not being straight with them about Iraq. And that of course is likely to be what this debate will be all about.

OLBERMANN: Same question for John Kerry. What can he do to bury himself on Thursday?

TUMULTY: Flip flop. Anything that even - anything that has a hint of a flip flop to it or that can be spun that way the next day. Because don't forget, it is just as important to win the spin game after the debate as it is to win the actual debate.

OLBERMANN: If you were advising John Kerry, would you say to him, go out there and the first opportunity you get and use that phrase against President Bush?

TUMULTY: Actually, I would be very surprised if he doesn't do that. Although, interestingly enough, by the way, these rules of this debate are so constrictive, that these candidates are not allowed to ask each other questions. Although the rules do say, and probably sub chapter 4 of section 5, that you are allowed only rhetorical questions.

OLBERMANN: Part of the great article that you have in the current issue of "TIME" magazine. After they read it, if they could, Lincoln and Douglas would be turning over in their graves no doubt. Final question. The benchmarks, I assume, in this process. The bad benchmark is what Al Gore did and the good would be what Ronald Reagan did. Is John Kerry's goal as the underdog to look quietly serenely dismissive of the incumbent president?

TUMULTY: I think so. It is to put himself in the situation where people are comfortable with him and where they can imagine him in the big chair.

OLBERMANN: We'll see how it turns out. We'll also see how the remaining predictions and the remaining pregame show stuff turns out. Karen Tumulty of "TIME" magazine, as always, great thanks.

The mechanics of debating have now gone as Karen mentioned from coin flips to 32-page memoranda of understanding. If you have any doubts as to the intensity of the negotiations that led to those 32 pages, you need only look at the negotiators. Representing Team Bush, James Baker, secretary of state for Bush 41. And that there even is a Bush 43 due in large part to Mr. Baker. He was Bush's point man during the bitter Florida recount battle.

For the opponent, Vernon Jordan, lawyer, former civil rights leader, Clinton pal, ultimate Washington insider. Almost every detail of the debates, of which there are many indeed, more on what they are and what they mean in just a moment was decided in Mr. Baker's favor and thus the president. That's because Jordan and by extension, Kerry, were keen on winning just one point, that there would be three debates not merely two. Thus no ties and more opportunities to pound the president.

To go over those details line by line, a pleasure as always to be joined by MSNBC political analyst and "Congressional Quarterly" contributor, Craig Crawford. Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Hello there. Line by line is right. I think some treaties are shorter than this.

OLBERMANN: Yes, the nuclear test ban treaty, the first one is actually literally shorter. I have about 10 of these 10,000 details and I want to run through as many of these as we can in about five minutes. You give me the decision who it favors and very, very briefly why it favors them and then I will respond by giving you the cynic's answer to the same question. So we'll have our own little debate here. Is that all right?

CRAWFORD: Sounds good. No wonder you were so good on "Jeopardy."

OLBERMANN: Shut up! I lost by a dollar.

The podiums shall be 50 inches tall and stand 10 feet apart. Who does that favor?

CRAWFORD: That's an advantage to Bush. They're worried that Kerry is five inches taller than the president. And taller candidates tend to win. So since Bush can't wear his flight suit, they want to make sure that they don't see how tall Kerry is.

OLBERMANN: So that agrees with the cynic's answer which is advantage, President Bush. At that distance he is less likely to forget Kerry's name and call him Stretch.

Number two, there will be no opening statement. To whose advantage is no opening statement?

CRAWFORD: I would say that's the advantage of President Bush. Because - I'm sorry, advantage Kerry because in the formal speeches, Kerry is very stilted and any time he's not giving his stump speech, I think Kerry is better off.

OLBERMANN: The cynical explanation to that one is actually, advantage audience. It will be one less time we will hear Kerry say, "my friends..." So that's sort of an agreement.

Number three here, the audience will be able to see the warning signal lights that tell the candidates when they are about to go over the time limit. Who does that favor?

CRAWFORD: That's advantage Bush, because they think Kerry, who is so long-winded will get the buzzer, the light more often, and that he will look bad to the audience as he is talking over the warning light.

OLBERMANN: The cynic's response to that one was, lights will be used to alert viewers when the crap is coming down so heavy that they should wear a hat. And incidentally, the default setting is as you see orange.

CRAWFORD: I'm taking my COUNTDOWN shovel down there.

OLBERMANN: Number four - I hope we all do. And boots. Number four, studio temperature. Kerry's camp withdrew its demand that the hall should be cooled to below 70 degrees. Who is that one for?

CRAWFORD: The Bush people think because they saw him sweat in the debates for his Senate re-election some years ago, they saw him wipe a bead of sweat from his brow and decided, he is a sweater. And people are afraid of sweaters. So they want it nice and warm so Kerry will sweat.

OLBERMANN: That agrees with the sarcastic explanation where the advantage is in fact for Mr. Bush. Because at 76 degrees or higher, it is believed that Kerry's face may dissolve fully into Edvard Munch's "Scream."

CRAWFORD: As opposed to the Dean scream.

OLBERMANN: The fifth one, no props, notes, charts, diagrams, other writings, other things. It's somewhat inclusive but does it favor one rather than the other?

CRAWFORD: I think it definitely is advantage Bush. Because again going back to the Senate debate against William Weld, where Kerry really won that re-election, in those debates, he used charts and diagrams to great effect, to withering effect to that debate. The Bush people don't want him to do that here.

OLBERMANN: And our cynical answer is, does Dick Cheney count as a prop.

OK, the sixth element, there will be no direct questions from candidate to candidate, as Karen Tumulty mentioned.

But rhetorical ones are OK. Who does this work for?

CRAWFORD: I have to give advantage to bush on that one. Any opportunity Kerry has to take it directly to Bush, that's what the Bush people don't want, because they want the president some distance from Kerry, not just in physical distance but rhetorically.

OLBERMANN: And once again, the lousy stinker answer agrees with that. It is advantage, Bush. He only took office on the understanding that there would be no direct questions.

CRAWFORD: Not even from the moderator.

OLBERMANN: Exactly or anybody. Number seven, Mr. Crawford here, no questions shall be asked of a candidate in the final six minutes of the debate.

Who does that favor and why?

CRAWFORD: That maybe advantage Kerry. He can't even answer a question in less than six minutes.

OLBERMANN: And the cynics' answer agrees with you as well. Advantage, Kerry, if randomly ad-libbing, Bush may return to the subject of OBGYN's. That's actually interesting possibility.

And last one here, Craig, no television shots of the audience at the debates.

Who liked that one and why?

CRAWFORD: That was a little tough to figure. I think that may be the advantage Bush as well. I think that takes the camera away from Kerry and the stage is time that Kerry is not on the air. That's about the best I can do on that one.

OLBERMANN: The cynical explanation disagrees with you. It is advantage Kerry, because it eliminates the president's planned closing statement to the live studio audience which was, you get a new car, and you get a new car, and you get a new car.

Craig Crawford from MSNBC and "Congressional Quarterly," as always, thanks for the info, and thanks for playing with our little stupid game here.

CRAWFORD: You're my winner in "Jeopardy."

OLBERMANN: Thank you very much. I'll tell Al Franken he owes me a dollar. Thanks, Greg.

For the unique blend of this kind of political insight, with this kind of lame political humor, we invite to you join us for another special edition of COUNTDOWN, COUNTDOWN TO THE DEBATE, 6:00 p.m. Easter, 3:00 p.m. Pacific, this Thursday on MSNBC. Be there, aloha.

Tonight, 72 hour to the campaign - to the debate rather. The Kerry campaign pulling out a subtle stick from the Republican wood pile and trying to beat Mr. Bush over the head with it. A newly released Kerry commercial entitled "He doesn't get it," begins with a familiar phrase, "There he goes again." Who is that supposed to remind us of just before a debate?


JAMES CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Reagan, again, typically, is against such a proposal.

GOV. RONALD REAGAN (R), CALIFORNIA: Governor, there you go again. You know, I was not going to say this at all. But I can't help it. There you go again.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There he goes again. George Bush said Iraq was mission accomplished, 16 months later, he still doesn't get it. Today, over 1,000 U.S. soldiers dead, kidnappings, even beheadings of Americans. Still, Bush has no plan what to do in Iraq. How can you solve a problem when you can't see it? John Kerry's plan, train Iraqis to handle their own security, real elections, and work with allies to shoulder the burden. It is time for a new direction in Iraq.


OLBERMANN: Of course, if Sylvester Stallone's mother is right. Kerry and Bush campaigns can put away their advertising dollars and just go home. Her psychic dogs have made their presidential predictions now. Jackie Stallone says her pincher are forecasting a major pinching of Senator Kerry. President Bush to win by 15 percent, she said. Not so fast on the laugh track.

In a "Los Angeles Times" article in 2000, she said the dogs told her -

· Bush would beat Al Gore "by a couple hundred votes." On this program, she forecast an easy victory for both the California recall and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of course, the dogs also told her Kobe Bryant was going to prison and they did not bother to tell her when she was actually on television with us, so that at the end of our interview, she asked, what kind of questions are you going to ask me?

From dogs and democracy - it actually happened, to dogged democracy, the very real worries about election influence by terrorists here, by the U.S. Government there. The CIA acknowledging today, a plan to pull strings in Iraq.

And Florida's hurricane hangover. The devastation and now the decisions to move or not to move.



OLBERMANN: The situation in Iraq is getting worse. The insurgency is getting more audacious and aggressive. And the American presence has increased anti-Americanism throughout the world? The platform of John Kerry, no. The comments of Colin Powell.

Our fourth story, elections here, elections there. Including doubts about the authenticity of the voting in Iraq and Florida.

And starting with the secretary of state's explanation, that events are worse in Iraq because of a focused effort to forestall the schedule, the Iraqi national elections in January.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes. It is getting worse. The reason it is getting worse is that they are determined to disrupt the election. They do not want the Iraqi people to vote for their own leaders in a free democratic election. And because it is getting worse, we will to have increase our efforts to defeat it. Not walk away and pray and hope for something else to happen.


OLBERMANN: Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi said voting would be possible tomorrow in 15 of his country's 18 provinces. An alternative that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld embraced but Powell rejected. Incidently, the three provinces where voting would not be safe include Baghdad, that's 25 percent of the population, and two critical Sunni provinces. Among the 15 where it would are several provinces of made up of nothing but open desert and the occasional wandering nomadic tribe.

An irony of timing, Secretary Powell's remarks were followed by an opinion piece this morning in the "Washington Post" by former president, Jimmy Carter. He's wondering about the integrity about the integrity of the electoral process in the state of Florida. Carter, co-chair with his predecessor Gerald Ford on the Blue Ribbon Commission that investigated Florida's 2000 voting debacle, says almost none of their panel's recommendation for de-politicizing the election have been followed in Florida.

And he today writes that "The disturbing fact is that a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely. It is unconscionable to perpetrate or fraudulent or biased electoral practices in any nation," he writes. "With reforms unlikely at this late stage in this election, perhaps the only recourse will be to focus maximum public scrutiny on the suspicious process in Florida."

If president Carter's comments can be interpreted as a warning that there will be an attempt to influence or interrupt the November elections in this country, there's a certain bitter irony to that.

As our correspondent Pete Williams reports, it is a similar sounding though far less domestic threat, one that Homeland Security officials are combating, in part by making as much noise as possible as they do so.


PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): Many U.S. intelligence analysts believe terrorists tried to influence Spain's elections by attacking in March. And that a terror group tried to do the same in Russia by crashing two planes in August. That's one reason why U.S. security officials worry al Qaeda could be planning an attack to disrupt the U.S. Elections, even though flood of intelligence contain nothing concrete.

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: They've not received any additional information beyond what they had in the spring timeframe. There's still a general concern about an attack in the fall that could be time toward the election.

WILLIAMS (on camera): Even so, the officials at the Department of Homeland Security believe they have no choice but to act as if an attack is in the works. The government plans an unprecedented deployment of federal agents. Thousands nationwide, a highly visible show of determine nation.

(voice-over): Among the tactics, stepped up surveillance on a few hundred suspected sympathizers. Detaining and arresting those whose immigration papers aren't in order. Questioning recent arrivals from countries known to harbor terrorists. Urging people who act as law enforce sources to press contacts for information. And appealing to Arab-American communities for minute help in reporting anything suspicious. Agents will review threats of rental trucks and limousines, even unconfirmed reports of stolen delivery service uniforms.

ASA HUTCHINSON, HOMELAND SECURITY DEPT.: So a substantial amount is being done, both from a deterrent, preventive method, and also, from a disruptive method.

WILLIAMS: And while no intelligence suggests an attack is more likely on election day, some states like Ohio and Minnesota are urging poll workers to pay closer attention to potential trouble. With more than 180,000 polls nationwide, vote day security will be a largely local problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May I see your voter's registration card.

WILLIAMS: And sensitive to concern that this October push could bring criticism of the administration trying to scare the electorate into voting Republican, security officials are going out of there way to insist, that they've been planning this final push since the spring.

Pete William, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: We worry about undue outside influence in our election, others worry about our undue outside influence in their elections. On the one hand, the CIA was looking to get a little electoral shot in the arm to U.S. friendlies in Iraq. More on that in a moment. On the other, we seem to be in the middle of the old diminishing expectations game. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Republican Jim Kolbe of Arizona, telling a "The Los Angeles Times" that administration officials have told him privately that this country has set its sights a little lower in Iraq.

"They've definitely recalibrated their goals. One of the told me when we went in there, I thought we would build American-style democracy. Hell, I'd be happy with Romanian-style democracy now."

Goodness knows this country has often tried to influence OPE, other people's elections. But the question of how much we can help or would help burst from the pages of "Time" magazine today, when it revealed a covert plan to use the CIA to help friendly Iraqis win in January's votes.

Our Andrea Mitchell has the advanced story, tying it back not just to Central Intelligence, but also to the National Security Council.


ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): With daily violence already threatening Iraq's January elections, the White House plan was for the CIA to secretly help pro American candidates. But as first reported in "time" magazine, the plan was scaled back after Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi strongly objected to National Security Advisor Condoleezza rice. Senator Ted Kennedy in an interview today with Chris Matthews.

TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: If that were true, that would just shatter any credibility that the United States had, not only in Iraq but in the, across the Muslim world.

MITCHELL: In the past, the CIA has been criticized for trying to influence elections in Chile, Nicaragua, Italy and Portugal by financing newspapers and radio stations, running smear campaign. Printing election posters, sometimes at CIA headquarters. The plan for Iraq's election was so secret, it would have to be approved by the president. The White House denies he was involved. But the White House says the U.S. does need to counteract Iran's efforts to influence Iraq's voting.

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMM. DIR.: There was a real concern about the Iranians trying to have undue influence on the election process.

MITCHELL: Intelligence experts are say Iran is paying for television broadcasts seen widely in Iraq. Arming and financing insurgents in Fallujah and Sadr City.

ELLEN LAIPSON, IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE EXPERT: They are pouring in money. As far as we know, they have hundred if not thousands of agents of agents of influence in the country.

MITCHELL: Already the Iraqi prime minister says if the Sunni Triangle is still a war zone, only 15 of the 18 provinces are safe enough to vote in, and many experts say that is optimistic. The administration plans to spend more than $150 million on Iraq's election. It claim on public programs like voter registration, promising that the CIA plan is dead.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: From the horse race of elections to the real rat race that is every day life, by rat, we mean gorilla, chipmunk, rabbit. "Oddball" ahead.

And the risk of oddballs with too much cash to burn. Richard Branson now with a plan to send you into outer space if he can get himself a liquor license.


OLBERMANN: We're back and we pause the COUNTDOWN now for the segment named the quote "The best three minutes in all of television" by a guy who works on my staff. Let's play "Oddball."

And we begin in England with "Oddball"'s spectacular one-camera blowout coverage of the sporting event of the year, the big annual Grand National Mascot Derby at the Huntingdon Racecourse. Over a dozen soccer team mascots ran. We're not really sure why. But, honestly, who cares? A girl won. The chipmunk fell down. An owl finished second. And in a special tribute to British soccer fans, the remaining mascots grabbed tire irons and loose two-by-fours and whacked each other into unconsciousness.

To Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and we're going to need a bigger boat. You have no doubt heard by now they have a bit of a shark problem there, a 2,000 pound great white, to be exact, which swam into the inlet here last week and has apparently decided to live there. Woods Hole, incidentally, is where you catch the ferry to Martha's Vineyard and otherwise waste your time, otherwise known as Amity Island in the 1975 movie "Jaws." Researchers tagged the shark last week, but they have been unable to steer it clear back out to the ocean.

I'll make this offer to the people of Woods Hole. I'll find your fish for $3,000, but I'll catch him and I will kill him for that $10,000. And I won't be riding no underwater jeep when I be doing it either, matey.

Ms. Sherry Eichorn (ph) Los Altos, California, was reading in bed.

Saturday night when one of her neighbors drove over to use the pool. Nobody injured. The owner simply parked the car at the top Ms. Eichorn's hill without putting on the emergency break. And the rest was gravity. Ms. Eichorn put up a humorous sign reading: "We don't swim in your driveway. Please don't drive in our pool." Well, what about when there's flooding?

Coming up, Florida's unwilling place in history. After four hurricanes, what percentage of residents in the Orlando area do you suppose are thinking of moving? There's actually an answer to that. And later, this wedding is brought to you by - you will not believe the Star Jones nuptials sponsorship deals.

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

No. 3, Alfred French, a prosecutor in Clackamas County, Oregon. He will be suspended for two weeks for having used office equipment to print an affidavit he signed for the swift boat ads. He will not, however, be suspended for having lied for years about an affair with an office secretary. OK, just as long as we have our priorities in order.

No. 2, Walter Breuning of Montana, he gave up smoking cigars nine years ago because he could no longer afford them. That got into the newspapers. People sent him gifts of cigars, so he started smoking again, figuring it can't do him any harm at this point. Mr. Breuning is, after all, 108 years old.

And, No. 1, the True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo, which on Saturday opened inside its doors its own Subway sandwich franchise. Oh, yes, I'll have the body of Jared with holy oil and vinegar - to go.


OLBERMANN: It is hard to imagine that Florida's run of four hurricanes in 44 days could possibly be near the low end of the American natural disaster scale. But, in short, if Floridians think they have got problems, they should look at the latest from Mount Saint Helens.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the cleanup in Florida and the anticipation of a possible big mess-up in Washington state, seismologists reporting that the volcano which erupted on May 18, 1980, blowing up part of the mountain, killing 57 people, ravaging hundreds of square miles, has been hiccupping. A series of earthquakes, most of them at a depth less than a mile below the lava dome, began last Thursday. They seem to be trailing off now. These are still the old pictures, obviously.

But officials are worried that - quote - "clearly, something new is happening." They're worried about the prospect of a - quote - "small explosion without warning." To them, a small explosion of Mount Saint Helens could litter a five-mile area north of the volcano with mud flows and rock debris and maybe some ash and steam.

Pick your geology, pick your natural poison, a volcano in the Northwest, earthquakes along the Pacific Coast, tornadoes in the Midwest, hellish snowstorms in the East, and then the seemingly unending nightmare, one hurricane averaging every 11 days in Florida, 2.5 million without power there now and some residents talking about giving in, giving up, and moving out.

First, where Hurricane Jeanne is now, downgraded to Tropical Depression Jeanne and moving steadily northward through Georgia and the Carolinas towards Washington, D.C., and then ultimately New York, a tornado warning still in effect for the coastal Carolinas.

Florida got no such diluted product. Jeanne hit their Saturday night, killing at least six and tying for the place formerly known as the Sunshine State the dubious record of four hurricanes in one season. That was last recorded in Texas in 1886. This latest storm followed almost the identical path from Hurricane Frances three weeks ago. Ivan, the third hurricane chronologically, hammered the Panhandle. The third one, Charley, it suddenly switched right and smacked into the state's Gulf Coast.

Hurricane fatigue may pass, but not right at the moment. An unscientific poll by an Orlando TV station asked residents now hit by three of the four storms there if they were now thinking of moving out of Florida and 31 percent of them said yes.

Of course, leaving requires fuel and/or electricity. Staying requires a conviction that Jeanne was the last of the load-bearing hurricanes. Either option takes a lot of effort just now. The hurricane season does not officially close until November 30. And late-season storms tend to hit the one major area of the state not really affected by any of the first four, Miami and environs. But that's tomorrow or next week or whenever.

And, as Kerry Sanders reports from Port Saint Lucie, in the wake of Jeanne, tomorrow seems a long, long way away.


KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like a repeat of a bad movie, Floridians once again dealing with heartache. Today, for the first time, evacuees returned to see what was left, like Donald Base (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where I live at. This is where I used to live at would be a better question. Where am I going to live now?

SANDERS: More than 148,000 people are in shelters, wondering the same thing; 2.5 million residents are without electricity. In Port Saint Lucie, waits 90 minutes long for ice. It's a routine learned during Frances. Among the volunteers this time, 15-year-old Kendrick (ph) and 12-year-old Michael (ph). No one told them to help. They just showed up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm doing it for them.

SANDERS (on camera): Airborne over the damage reveals just how extensive it is, roofs off houses. And this is not just the hurricane season. It is also the rainy season, which means a simple rain shower could make life here just that much more miserable.

(voice-over): In the crosshairs of three hurricanes this year, Orlando. Ed Granahan (ph) was slammed every time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to deal with.

SANDERS: All four hurricanes have made this FEMA's largest ever response, including the 9/11 attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tomato soup, ravioli.

SANDERS: FEMA's Jana Pennington (ph) has hopscotched the state trying to keep up.

CAMILLA CANARAS, HURRICANE VICTIM: She must be here from God or something, because she helps.

SANDERS: Recovery will take some time. In Punta Gorda, where Charley hit six weeks ago, FEMA only just delivered Amanda Somrani's (ph) new temporary home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And home sweet home.

SANDERS: Kerry Sanders, Port Saint Lucie, Florida.


OLBERMANN: At this point, Florida residents may be thinking outer space is an option. If so, Richard Branson has an idea. We'll show you that. And Jay Leno is retiring from "The Tonight Show." His successor already named, not immediately, mind you. There will be two presidential inaugurations before the big change.

Right now, let's bring you COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.


OLBERMANN: Have the picture established to West Palm Beach, where last we saw Joe Scarborough. He invoked by saying occasionally there were gusts of 120 miles an hour. Then one came along and disconnected his microphone.


OLBERMANN: OK, Joe. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need to add this, that my children know discipline. In fact, they were just reminded last night about discipline. But if this is not a...


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Probably want to keep that one to yourself, mom, you know?


BUSH: We'll just turn this into "Dr. Phil," you know?


PEDRO MARTINEZ, BOSTON RED SOX: No, I wish they would (EXPLETIVE DELETED) disappear. Pardon me the F-word. It was all me. It was all me. I wanted to bury myself in the mound. What can I say? Just take my heart and call the Yankees my daddy.





OLBERMANN: Out of this world. Three years from now, you could be on a trip to the stars on gossamer wings with a drink in your hand for only $208,000.


OLBERMANN: "Stop the world, I want to get off," sang one Englishman, Anthony Newley, in 1961. Get me $28,000 and I'll send you into space, sings another Englishman, Richard Branson, tonight.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, if Branson is right, by 2007, he will be able to take you into suborbital space for two or three hours. And if he's really lucky, he'll be able to get a liquor license for the expeditions and you'll be able to experience a gin and tonic in zero gravity. Branson plans to use the same technology that spent the world's first privately manned spaceship into orbit last June.

That would send tourists into space, too. Included in the ticket, an orbit 62 miles into space, four minutes of zero gravity, and even, license pending, intergalactic booze.

We were going to show you the news conference at which the Virgin Atlantic mogul and balloonist unveiled his plans or even interview him here on COUNTDOWN. Then we saw his animated presentation tape. And just as we did when we saw the sales video for that Japanese high-tech toilet, we thought, you've got to see this. These people are so high.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Release. And fire.


OLBERMANN: Two questions. Exactly what am I supposed to do with lunch during that part of the trip where we're going straight up? And if you're applying for a liquor license outside the Earth's atmosphere, who are you applying to? Booze in space!

Branson's time frame, flights starting in 2007, means the first three years of customers will still get to watch Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show," our cousins at NBC leading off tonight's edition of "Keeping Tabs" with what is believed to be most long-range succession announcement in television history. Jay Leno will retire from "The Tonight Show" and be succeeded by Conan O'Brien five years from now in 2009 - 2009!

No truth to rumors that Jay decided to retire after his staff today announced that I will be one of his guests on the 18th of October. OK, that's it. The announcement is timed to coincide with the celebrations of the 50th celebration of "Tonight," which has had only four full-time hosts, Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and of course Leno. By the time of Jay's retirement, he will have hosted the program for 17 years.

No successor for O'Brien at "Late Night" was named. But there is chance that, given the lead time, that individual has not been born yet, which might be an apt description for whoever at CBS floated a trial balloon picked up this morning by "The New York Post" that the network wants to pass the $550,000 fine for Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction on to Jackson herself.

A - quote, unquote - "insider" tells the paper, CBS is playing with the idea. Yes, that's close to what they're playing with. In all probability, this will likely not happen, the source says, but they are mulling it over. No source indicated anything about how hard Jackson would laugh if she were to get a bill from CBS after she had already been paid for her appearance.

Somebody else in the entertainment field not exactly taking their real world pills, Olympic gold medalist Paul Hamm, the gymnastics all-around winner, the one whose win owed to the fact that the event scorers could not handle their math, whose victory was so dubious, not even Wheaties would put him on the box. He is still fighting to keep his gold medal. It is at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, where Korean Yang Tae-young and Hamm will face off. The Korean was awarded the bronze medal, but because of the judge's mistake, he had technically won the gold.

Hamm and the Americans' answer to that? Hey, pal, judges make scoring errors all the time. Live with it. The International Olympic Committee basically took the same stance. The appeal was today, the timing of the ruling uncertain. If he loses, Hamm may also be ordered to face reality.

And lastly in "Tabs," billionaire oilman Marvin Davis has died at the age of 79. Apart from his semi-annual attempt to buy the Oakland A's baseball team and move them to Denver, he will be best remembered for having owned the 20th Century Fox studio. Mr. Davis was worth an estimated $5.8 billion. He is believed to be explaining to his maker at this hour why on earth he sold Fox to Rupert Murdoch.

Still ahead, for richer, for richer. Nothing says true love like selling your wedding to the highest sponsor. COUNTDOWN crowns the new Bridezilla.


OLBERMANN: There are some romantics left. These are the people afraid that the discussion of a prenuptial agreement will tempt fate or sour the love or get their beloved used to being in a lawyer's office.

And then, in our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, there is Star Jones, whose wedding is going to be sponsored, apparently, sponsored just shy of the point where she'd be wearing a big neon sign on the back of her wedding dress reading, the wedding is brought to you by Sealy Posturepedic.

The impending nuptials of the former New York City district attorney, now a host from TV and "The View," Star Jones, to investment banker Al Reynolds, the wedding to take place in New York on November 13. And according to "The New York Post," it will be the first celebrity openly for-profit ceremony in history, the happy couple offering beauty companies the chance to provide the bridal spy for Jones and guests for just $4,500, or to surrender $1,500 bills apiece to underwrite Oscar-style gift bags, or finance the 10 best manicure-pedicure stations for the pre-ceremony declawing of the invited.

It was P.T. Barnum who observed no one would ever go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. But somehow you can't help wonder if Ms. Jones may have just disproved the old promoter.

I'm joined now by Tom O'Neil, senior editor of "In Touch Weekly."

Tom, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Is my umbrage appropriate here or are we belittling the first celebrity in this country who has been honest about trying to bring in a wedding at a profit, when lots of these people do these kinds of things without admitting it?

O'NEIL: Exactly. We're belittling Star at the expense of these other stars.

Look what happened last Saturday, Keith. Britney Spears charged a magazine $2 million for exclusive photos to a wedding that may not even be a wedding. We don't even know if that thing was real or not.

OLBERMANN: Which has been said about her many times before. But we'll just skip that for the moment.


OLBERMANN: We always sit back and think, you know, this is it. This is the case. There will be a backlash from this from the public. And we're just kidding ourselves, aren't we?

O'NEIL: There already is a huge backlash. Already in media circles today, people are screaming shakedown. And I can see why. Where does this lead us? This is the first blatant attempt to sponsor a celebrity wedding. What happens next? Do they interrupt the ceremony so that the choir can break into a jingle from 1-800-FLOWERS? If she and Al have twins, are they courtesy of Doublemint Gum?

OLBERMANN: I like that.

But what does it do on the other side of things? What does it do to celebrities who are trying to - and I know there are fewer and fewer of them - but they still, some of them still try to hide their private moments and have a wedding without a pay-per-view broadcast of it.

O'NEIL: Right. And we just saw J.Lo do that earlier this year, which I thought was fascinating. When she married Marc Anthony, she did it privately. There was no big paycheck that went out to a magazine for photographs.

But remember last year when she had three bogus weddings set up to, what's his name, Ben Affleck, that was a fiasco.

OLBERMANN: He sounds like he needs a sponsor in a hurry, by the way, the way that little - the Freudian slip right there.

If this turns out with Mr. Jones and Mr. Reynolds getting divorced, do we know, do the companies get their money back?


O'NEIL: That is a great question, Keith. I don't know. What do you think?

OLBERMANN: It would seem to me only fair if you're entering into a contractual agreement, that there should be some sort of minimum period of time where that logo is appearing on the shoulder of the bride or the groom.

O'NEIL: I think they should write that into the contracts. I think you're on to something here.

OLBERMANN: Yes. But we're just making it easier for people to do this, easier to reduce the sacrament to something for profit.


O'NEIL: But we've done that all this year already. Look at "The Bachelorette." We put together Trista and Ryan. We sponsored the entire courtship as a television show. The wedding was fully sponsored. This is love in the 21st century, Keith. I have bad news for you. You're a romantic at heart. You probably still believe in love.

OLBERMANN: Yes, I know. I'm a big sucker, which brings me to the last question.

Since everything else is sponsored or underwritten in this deal, should we assume that somebody is paying Mr. Reynolds to marry this woman?

O'NEIL: Actually, yes. Everybody who agrees to be a corporate sponsor is paying them both to get married. But we will see whether or not they can last the true test of time.

OLBERMANN: See, this is how the David Gest-Liza Minnelli thing turned out. And he needs what? He gets seven injections in his head a day or whatever it is, whatever the complaint was. Anyway.

O'NEIL: I know. And it's still in court. And they haven't figured that one out there.

OLBERMANN: Tom O'Neil of "In Touch Weekly" magazine.

Coincidentally, "In Touch" and COUNTDOWN are going to split the sponsorship costs of Ms. Jones' garter for the ceremony.


O'NEIL: It's a deal.

OLBERMANN: Yes. Well, it's a big garter.


OLBERMANN: Thanks so much for your time tonight, sir.

O'NEIL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: She's like a punching bag. I'm sorry. I'm normally nicer than this, though I'm not that much nicer.

On that nightmare-inducing thought, that's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.