Wednesday, September 15, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 15

Guests: Walter Maestri, Carl Bernstein, Karen Tumulty


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? The docu-drama escalates. The secretary who says the Killian memos are fakes but they are correct. That's how Killian felt about Lieutenant George Bush.

Congressional calls for an inquiry into CBS News. CBS News responds. We'll talk journalism, typography, and what happens when it looks like lies are used to help the truth with Carl Bernstein.

Target New Orleans. Just what could happen if Hurricane Ivan hits the Delta City just right. An emergency manager says you're talking about the potential loss of a major metropolitan area. He will join us.

Disease kept a piano virtuoso from playing for four decades. Then the miracle cure courtesy Botox?

And the high doyen of household hits says send me to jail now. Why?

MARTHA STEWART: Because I would like to be back as early in March as possible in order to plant the new spring garden.

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


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Wednesday, September 15. Forty-eight days until the 2004 presidential election. But just hours until American landfall for the third destructive storm of this exhausting hurricane season. We will get to the other hurricane, Hurricane Killian. The ever escalating dispute over the so-called Killian memos in a moment with the noted journalist Carl Bernstein joining us.

First we start our continuing coverage tonight of Hurricane Ivan which could theoretically wipe out New Orleans, which brings more havoc to Florida and most pressingly, which threatens Mobile, Alabama. That is where our correspondent Robert Hager is stationed tonight. Bob, good evening.

ROBERT HAGER, NBC NEWS: Good evening, Keith. Well, as you can see, we're getting the early wind and rain. But as you can also see it is just the early beginnings of what is really to come and it's going to - promises to be big, really. Where we are in Mobile Bay is sort of ground zero. That's the prediction, anyway. It is expected to come right up Mobile Bay if it lives to that prediction.

As a category four storm right now, it is not weakening as some had expected. That is 135-miles-an-hour category four. It is the second highest category there is. Meantime, it is already caused tragedy in Panama City, Florida. We can show you videotape of at least a weather phenomenon that caused that, taken by the tower cam of our station in Panama City, Florida.

It is a tornado associated with the outer bands of Ivan. Struck there about an hour or so ago. And sadly, it killed two people. Tornadoes are a typical phenomenon of hurricanes, particularly on the outer bands and particularly this one. There's still a tornado warning for all up and down the Gulf Coast for another couple of hours.

Mean time, this big storm is packing its hurricane winds out 100 miles from the center. So we're expected to get some of those gale force winds shortly. And then hurricane winds as midnight approaches. And then a big eye that might come through here sometime just after midnight. The strongest winds on the wall of that eye. And then maybe just calm for an hour or so. It is a pretty big eye right now. Then a storm surge that sounds scary. A 10 to 16 feet. That could pile up right here at the Mobile Bay, too and cause a lot of damage - Keith.

OLBERMANN: Robert Hager in Mobile. Great thanks.

Four to five hours until landfall. We'll go live to New Orleans and Pensacola presently. Keep your eye on the hurricane graphic on the lower right of the screen. If something breaks, we will cut to it immediately and the full coverage is ahead.

But now to the political storm. The latest evidence seems to suggest conclusively that the so-called Killian memos are themselves falsehoods but that the stories they tell are truths. Several Republican lawmakers want congressional hearings into CBS News and the majority leader thinks somebody could wind up going to jail.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, as the late Colonel Jerry Killian's secretary put it so distinctly and memorably, all the yak-yak continues to spiral upwards as the evidence she gives is that Killian did feel pressure to sugarcoat Lieutenant Bush's service ratings. Probably did write memos about that pressure but that the memos we've seen are not the ones he wrote.

First the breaking news about Congress. California Representative Chris Cox wrote to Michigan's Fred Upton, the chair of the House subcommittee on telecommunications asking him to, quote, "commence a subcommittee investigation into the continued use by CBS News of apparently forged documents concerning the service record of President George W. Bush intended to unfairly damage his reputation and influence the outcome of the 2004 presidential election."

Holy alien and sedition acts, batman.

A problem though for Congressman Cox. Congressman Upton's group is a subcommittee in the House energy and commerce committee which is now chaired by Texas Republican Joe Barton who is not happy. After a response that amounted to telling Cox to mind his own committee, Barton added, "a news organization's responsibility is to fact and truth but the oversight of network news generally is a matter best sorted out by the viewing public and the news media It seems clear that the press and the two presidential campaigns are properly dealing with that issue."

It is not clear to House Majority Leader Tom Delay. "I understand that people want to protect their sources," that Texan says, "but we're dealing with the alleged forgery of government documents to influence a presidential race during war. This isn't politics as usual, it's dangerous and possibly criminal."

But it is not all fire and brimstone from the side of the alleged victims towards a network they savaged last winter over the Super Bowl halftime show and an anchorman they have not liked particularly since he stared down Richard Nixon at a news conference 31 years ago.

Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah on the floor this afternoon saying he doesn't think any of this traces back to the Kerry camp. And that pillaring CBS is useless. That the focus should be on the truth.


SEN. ROBERT BENNETT (R), UTAH: However, I think everyone ought to focus on finding out who did it. Because until we do find out who did it, we will continue to poison the atmosphere with the suggestions that maybe the Clintons did it. Maybe Carl Rove did it. The Republicans played the dirty trick. No. There are other forces at work. We owe it to clear the atmosphere by finding out who it is that forged these documents.


OLBERMANN: At CBS, to paraphrase the words of the French chanteuse Edith Piaf, I regret nothing. The network tonight interviewed the late Lieutenant Colonel Killian's secretary, first interviewed yesterday by the "Dallas Morning News." She told CBS she did not type those memos, quote, "however the information in those is correct." Unquote.

Marian Carr Knox added, quote, "Killian was very friendly with Bush, they had fun together and I think it upset him, meaning Killian, very much that he was being defied."

CBS news president Andrew Hayward told his own news division today that the memos of which they have six that have heretofore only reported on four are accurate. There's a great deal of corroboration for them but, quote, "given all the questions about them, we believe we should redouble our efforts to answer those questions."

Killian's former secretary Ms. Knox is the second primary witness to say that the memos are fakes but that they represent precisely what Lieutenant Colonel Killian felt about Lieutenant Bush right down to the pressure to make his record look better than Killian felt it was. Ms. Knox, 86 years old, alive and well and evidently full of vinegar and the other stuff telling the "Dallas Morning News," "these are not real," but adding, "the information was correct. I probably typed the information and then somebody picked up the information some way or another."

She is in fact the plague-on-both-your-houses witness. She also contradicted Killian's widow. Ms. Knox says the colonel did keep files full of memos to himself and notes to cover his back. That kind of file in a locked drawer in his office desk. And she remembered, quote, "vividly when Bush was there and all the yak-yak that was going on about it."

Ms. Knox is also a theorist on the controversy. She speculates that, clearly, somebody had seen Killian's private file about Mr. Bush and forged the memos from memory. But she says the language makes it sound like it was written by an army man not Air National Guard people. Words in there like "billets" and "administrative officer" are army terms, she advises us. Ms. Knox is also no fan of President Bush. Calls him selected not elected.

So how many things are wrong with this picture of all the yak-yak? To talk about the full range of implications here, I'm honored to be joined by the Pulitzer Prize-Winning journalist, contributing editor to "Vanity Fair" and author, Carl Bernstein. Good evening.

Let me start with the journalistic end of this and this mystery wrap inside of the proverbial enigma. It sure looks like the memos are fakes. But the charges they contain are not. Fundamentally though, even if there's truth in this story, the truth isn't supposed to get the help of lies, is it?

CARL BERNSTEIN, "VANITY FAIR": That's a lot of yak-yak. I think there are a number of issues at once. First there's the issue of, and it is a side show, all of this. To the real campaign and the real issues in this campaign. Those issues are, who are these two candidates? What are their records? What about this war? What did one of them do during a war and what did the other one do during a war since they've raised that issue.

But in terms of CBS, Andrew Hayward has said they're going to take a good look and see if something went wrong. There are some real suggestions that it did. I hope that CBS will be like the "Washington Post" or the "New York Times" when they make errors, if there are errors in this instance, and say how they happened.

That's not really what is at issue here. What's at issue is that this is a presidential campaign that has descended into a kind of McCarthyite (ph) exercise with most of it coming from the White House. I've never a campaign like this. It started with the swiftboat ads, which were produced by people associated with George Bush and with the White House, endorsed by the White House. Obviously, false. Listening to these Congressman calling for Congressional investigation, there ought to an investigation of congressmen who don't read the constitution, particularly the first amendment. Congress, shall make no law, et cetera.

OLBERMANN: Oh that document.

BERNSTEIN: If we were to have an investigation of everything in the Congressional record, everyday that it wasn't true and smeared people, we'd be in a hell of mess.

OLBERMANN: You know the process of vetting a story far better than I do. The stuff I've had to do is get Wayne Gretsky hockey trade stories pass.

BERNSTEIN: That's a hell of a story.

OLBERMANN: Well, it was a good story, nothing depended on it except ticket sales. The number of hurdles, even a story like that has to leap in any news organizations, whether it's in Washington or it's in Waco. How could documents with holes in them, let's put it that way. How could they get over the hurdles of a longstanding news organization like CBS?

BERNSTEIN: First of all, we don't know what's happening. And I expect that CBS will tell us what's happened. There are suggestions, as you say, that the substance of the memo is accurate, and perhaps they are copies of some kind or reconstituted documents which obviously, if that's what they are, that's not good enough. And it is not good enough for a news organization. And if that is the case, CBS will have to find out how it happened. You know, we're a little bit like doctors, reporters. We make mistakes. I would imagine 10 percent or 5 percent of the doctors in this country might kill you. We probably have a kind of similar percentage, in terms of the way we go after stories. It could be that somebody missed something on this. I also suspect that CBS tried very hard to pin down the accuracy of this. They'll tell us what they did and we'll find out if it is sufficient or not. There are some suggestions that it wasn't sufficient.

OLBERMANN: If you're evaluating physical evidence in a story. I'm not necessarily talking about this one, but any one of this importance perhaps. And the physical evidence is iffy, could that iffiness, that's a journalistic term, obviously. Could that iffiness be relegated in importance if you say, yes, they're a little iffy but we got these from such and such. Mr. Whistle blower - I'm sorry, you know knew this had to be coming, the deep throat of the Air National Guard. Does the source influence a news organization's assessment of the validity of the materials themselves?

BERNSTEIN: Sure. It is like the Gretzky story you just said. It is the same thing. If the source was the owner of Gretzky's club, I would says it's a pretty good story. Something though can always get fouled up. But I want to go back to what is fundamental here. We have had now for weeks and weeks and weeks, an awful, dirty, thugish debate about the two candidates for president. And there are some very simple facts. One is, that one candidate was a hero. He went to war. He volunteered. He went to war. He served bravely. He got shot. He came home.

The other candidate was a shirker. And there's nothing wrong with that. You know, there were millions and millions of American young men who were shirkers. I was in the guard myself. I didn't to go Vietnam. I didn't want to go to Vietnam. But he was a shirker, And that's clear.

There's a whole period - a great column in the "New York Times" today. I urge everyone watching this to go to the "New York Times" Web site and look at Nick Kristof's column about President Bush's record in the service, because he says, correctly, that there is about the truth. This is a question of our president being able to be truthful with us. And there is an awful lot of untruth in this election campaign coming from our president, our vice president, out of the White House.

And I think that the truthfulness may be, of both these candidates needs to be subjected to some kind of real journalistic test, particularly on talk television. I think there's a huge problem on talk television that we treat these stories, for instance, swift boat and CBS, et cetera., the swift boat controversy is treated as if it is a 50-50 proposition. The fact that it is 90 percent or 95 percent untrue on its face, then we get two talking heads that start screaming about what, there might be 2 percent of it untrue. Let's get back to the basic facts and the basic truths. And that's what our coverage ought to be about. And this whole thing is a side show.

OLBERMANN: And one of the reasons you just stated there, one of the reason we seldom have two guests on at the same time here, because it devolves into exactly what you say.

BERNSTEIN: You're absolutely right. I thank you for having me here by myself.

OLBERMANN: We appreciate it as always.

The author and journalist Carl Bernstein, we appreciate your time and your perspective, sir.

COUNTDOWN opening with the docudrama yack-yack. Up next tonight's number four story, Senator Kerry's campaign. Will he close the deal with voters in the closing days? Perhaps his appearance on Imus helped, perhaps not.

Later, bracing for Ivan, not Imus. MSNBC's continuing coverage of the next hurricane - headed apparently for Mobile, Alabama. But still theoreticly at least, capable of actually destroying - destroying New Orleans.



OLBERMANN: As we continue to watching Hurricane Ivan, COUNTDOWN's number four story is up next, Decision 2004, John Kerry, is he doing a good enough job of explaining the differences from President Bush?

And the latest twist in the Florida ballot. We'll have that story coming up.


OLBERMANN: It is instructive to remember that last November, a sympathetic article in "New York" magazine began, "John Kerry has a hero's war record, a Senate seat, all the family wealth one could hope for. He even looks like a president. But to become one, he has to get past Howard Dean, and time is running out." Last November, 10 months ago.

But in our fourth story, what seems in retrospect like a blowout come from behind victory over Howard Dean, added to Senator Kerry's reputation as a closer. Take away the C from closer and you get loser. You know what you would get if you took flip flop and didn't have the flip anymore. Even if the Investors's poll is correct, and it is a 47-47 tie, Mr. Kerry is still seeking a launch position.

So today, he did what any of us would do, he went on Don Imus's show here on MSNBC.


DON IMUS, HOST IMUS IN THE MORNING: Unlike Senator Kennedy, you chose a supposedly safe and overly newanced route, that in Mr. Cohen's view, has left you, Senator Kerry, tongue tied.


IMUS: He is urging you to admit the war was a mistake and then start attacking these people. Why can't you do that?

KERRY: Well, I think the war - but I do. It's exactly what I am doing. I think the war - I've said it 100 times. I think it was a huge mistake for the president to go to war the way did he. I've said that a dozen times. I mean, the fact is...

IMUS: Do you think there are any circumstances we should have gone to war in Iraq, any?

KERRY: Not under the current circumstance, no, none that I see. I voted based on weapons of mass destruction. The president distorted that and I've said that. I mean, look, I can't be clearer. But I think it was the right vote based on what Saddam Hussein had done, and I think it was the right thing to do to hold him accountable. I've said 100 time, there was a right way to do and it a wrong way to do it. The president close the wrong way. Can't be more direct than that.


OLBERMANN: Well, we're all glad that's cleared up.

Just a few days since John Kerry's previous at length interview with our next guest Karen Tumulty, the national political correspondent of "Time" magazine.

Thanks for your time. Welcome back.


OLBERMANN: So John Kerry says that his position on Iraq is clear. Is he the only person who actually thinks that's correct?

TUMULTY: Well, you know, to be totally fair, his position becomes a lot clearer if you have 30, 20, 15 minutes even to sit down and talk to him and ask him about it. But the fact is, that he is having to navigate between the fact that he voted for the war, that he now famous comment that he voted for the $87 billion to fund the reconstruction before he voted against it. And the fact that he is trying to explain now how he differs from the president. It is a difficult thing to explain in the minute and a half that you usually get in politics.

OLBERMANN: No offense to you, or to our beloved I-man, but there are regular reports of the senator avoiding questions from the national media out on the road. There have been precious few one-on-one interviews.

Is he holding off to go on Letterman or something? Does he have an exclusive deal for an interview somewhere?

TUMULTY: That's interesting, too. I think what he is trying to do right now is find his message. And he knows that the more often that he submits himself to these sorts of interviews, the more likely toast say something that gets him in trouble. In fact, the last time he had a media availability before the interview that I did with him last week had been a month before. And that was where he had said that, yes, even if he had known we wouldn't find weapons of mass destruction, that he would have voted for the war anyway.

Well, the bush campaign just pounded him for a month on that. And a lot of his Democratic allies just kind of pulled their hair out at that comment. So I think as much as anything, he is just really trying to stay as they say, in the political game, on message here. It is much easier to do that in a speech than it is in an interview.

OLBERMANN: Right now, the message seem to be, the senator is out. Please leave a message. Nothing hurts an athlete or an actor or a broadcaster or a politician more than reading and believing the proverbial press notices. Are we seeing that?

Is John Kerry convinced about this closer rep? Is he too convinced for had I own good?

TUMULTY: That's a good question. We won't know until at least the debates. Everybody who has ever been around him in any of the races, he certainly said in the interview I did with him, I've been in worse situations than this before. Well, time is running out. He is up against an opponent who is unlike any that he has ever dealt with before. The stakes are much higher. I think the next big opportunity to get himself together and prove that test closer that his reputation says he is would be at these debates.

OLBERMANN: Karen Tumulty, who's interview with John Kerry is in the current issue of "Time" magazine. And goodness knows when we'll see another one. Karen, great thanks for you time tonight.

TUMULTY: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That wraps up the fourth story.

Coming up here, we'll get latest forecast on landfall of Hurricane Ivan. We'll show you the initial impact and why if things go wrong, New Orleans might be flooded out of existence. And later, how of all things, Botox helped one man realize his dream of playing the piano again. Standby.


OLBERMANN: Coming up here on COUNTDOWN.

Up next, tonight's number three story, back to Hurricane Ivan. Live to Pensacola and New Orleans and all too familiar weather maps here.

And later, Martha Stewart rushing to jail, she'll have a blue Christmas, but a delightful garden come next spring. Those stories ahead.

But first we can't skip COUNTDOWN's top three news maker of this day.

Number three, David Page Norfolk, England, dug up what he thought was a unexploded World War II bomb. He held it in his arm for four hours for fear of dropping it. Police and bomb experts finally reached him and discovered he was holding on to an unexploded suspension from a late model French car.

Number two, an unidentified couple in Acken (ph), Germany sought by police for sneaking into a woman's apartment and using her drier. The perpetrators left behind a jumbo pair of men's underwear and a XXL brazier. Police say the suspects should be considered very fat and very clean.

And number one, Shelia Bilyeu, the independent candidate for Senate for Oklahoma. Experts think the vote between Democrat Brad Carson and Republican Tom Coburn will be so close, that Mrs Bilyeu could wind up deciding which one of them wins. So what? Mrs. Bilyeu's candidacy is based on her contention that in the 1970's, the federal government implanted a device in her head by which they sent her put-downs. Your tax dollars in action.


OLBERMANN: One hundred and four years ago last Wednesday, a Category 4 hurricane hit the unprotected low-lying city of Galveston, Texas, just right, or just wrong.

When it arrived on September 8, 1900, 37,000 people lived in Galveston. When it left, somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 of them were dead, as much as one-fifth of the population; 3,600 buildings were destroyed.

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, of course, that couldn't happen now, could it? In a moment, an emergency manager in New Orleans says that if Hurricane Ivan were to hit the Crescent City full force, it could destroy it. Though 1.2 million citizens of New Orleans were ordered evacuated, the forecasts still have the third hurricane of the trifecta impacting more like 200 miles to the east on the Florida Panhandle.

Pensacola is where we find our correspondent Kerry Sanders.

Kerry, good evening.

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. Well, actually, not a good evening. A miserable evening out here.

I've been clocking the wind speeds that have exceeded about 600 miles

· 60 miles out here. I'm sorry. It is really buffeting. This rain, as you can see, is rather stinging as it is blowing. I have got my back turned a little bit. The house over there you can see it is right on the coast here on Pensacola Beach. The waves have been coming in. In fact, this is a barrier island we're on here. The waves have crossed over the street and have now flooded the street.

That's part of the arriving storm surge. Now, I got off the phone with meteorologist Roland Steadham at WTVJ, the NBC station in Miami, who explained that we will see likely a storm surge right in this area between 12 and 16 feet. The storm with its strongest winds will probably hit here at around midnight Eastern time tonight. And we'll see those winds last probably up for about four hours, and then they'll let down.

Anticipated to see winds here up and around 110 miles an hour. So, Keith, your immediate question is going to be, what are we doing right here? We're actually in a unique structure, the camera inside right now in what's called a dome home. It doesn't have like walls that and a roof. It is actually a dome and it is designed to handle a hurricane force wind, in fact, in excess of 300 miles per hour.

So this home has been structurally built to withstand a hurricane. It is on 16 pilings. We're up at this point, where I am, I am 35 feet above the sea level. And the idea is, when the storm surge comes through the way, this house has been constructed, the water will just flow through. And if this island is flooded and submerges, as it is anticipated it will be, this home is designed to stay here and we'll continue to provide pictures.

As you can see, it is kind of hard to see a little bit of some of what's going on because it is dark. But as the sun come back up tomorrow morning, I think we'll get a real clear picture of how strong Hurricane Ivan has been and how much damage has hit here Keith.

OLBERMANN: We're seeing the horizontal rain, Kerry. Get inside that dome and dry off until you have to do it again. Kerry Sanders in Pensacola, great thanks. And it just picked up again.

The last month, with Charley, Frances and Ivan rolling through, and now Jeanne next on the schedule, has been a baptism of fire for our MSNBC meteorologist Sean McLaughlin.

Sean joins with us again with an all-too-familiar weather map.

Good evening, sir.


Just saw in the Kerry Sanders' report there. Let's go into Pensacola, Florida, here. We've got the Baron's VIPIR high-resolution radar dialed in to the Pensacola Naval Air Station. And boy, Kerry, he is sustaining winds at 43 miles an hour and he's surviving gusting winds at 55 miles an hour with heavy rain. And these are just the outer bands, Keith.

When we fly back out and show you the big picture, this is just a monster. And it is still about eight hours away from making landfall. It is moving due north at 14 miles an hour. It has taken a little tiny wobble to the east within the last half-hour or so. It is still a very low center of pressure. This continues to be a strong Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 135 miles an hour. I say all that because the news continues to be good - cross our fingers for New Orleans - that it is going to be to the east.

Now we're talking heavy rain, though. And, again, landfall expected by about 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, again, about eight hours away. What they're dealing with right now is called the VIPIR rain rate. Look at some of these dark colors, four inches to three inches per hour. And, again, these are only the outer rain bands, Panama City, Tyndall Air Force Base. They are just getting hammered with heavy rain, saturates the ground. They can't take much more rain.

Again, the bulk of the moisture is yet to be here. Let's talk about what we're also dealing with, some very severe weather. Let's wipe away this computer, go to the next one and talk about some tornado watches and warnings. These are watch boxes that are in effect late through tonight. These red boxes right now, these counties, are all under tornado warnings. We've been seeing a lot of tornadic activity, more than seven reported tornadoes on the ground.

They turned fatal down in Panama City. We've had two dozen reports of tornado warnings. The news keeps getting worse. Again, Keith, to wrap up, about eight hours away from landfall, we expect it between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida if it stays on this rate. We'll be here throughout the night keeping you updated.

OLBERMANN: Sean McLaughlin, many thanks. And we will all be here throughout the evening, live coverage as Hurricane Ivan approach continental landfall, including a special live edition of COUNTDOWN tonight at midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific.

The late shift of the storm seems to have lessened the chances of a direct hit on New Orleans, as you saw in Sean's report. But hurricanes are like giant thwarted children. They have no plan. They just go wherever momentum takes them and they destroy what they find there. That fact has for centuries terrified the city fathers of New Orleans, like Walter Maestri, director of emergency management for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, who joins us now.

Thank you for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: People who don't understand topography can't imagine why New Orleans would be worse off than Miami or Mobile or anywhere else would be. Without making this into a physics class, can you explain it briefly?


I think the easiest way to understand it is, to consider a soup bowl. And New Orleans is at the center bottom of that bowl. In essence, the city is surrounded on three sides by water and surrounded on all sides by levees. Levees are mounds 15 to 20 feet in height that keep that water out of the city. The city on average is about six to eight feet below sea level. That's it.

OLBERMANN: In theory, then, you could be hit by what amounts to a tidal wave that has nowhere to go but throughout the city. And then you could be hit with tornadoes and the whole thing could be under an extraordinary amount of water.

But, realistically, what are you now expecting? What are you hearing about this storm and New Orleans?

MAESTRI: Well, the good news is that we are on the good side, supposedly. And that's I'm sure a euphemism, but the good side of the storm.

That is, we're not in the right front quadrant, where the power is, that you were describing in Pensacola and so forth. We're on that other side. And it is a dry side. In fact, right now, we're getting 35- to 45-mile-per-hour wind gusts, but literally no rain, because we're on the good side of the storm. And we're again, it appears, to be spared the possible devastation that we were just chatting about.

OLBERMANN: We know about the evacuation instructions, one million, 200,000 told to leave or suggested to leave. Do you have any idea how many actually left?

MAESTRI: Yes. We think right now about 65 percent of the citizens in the area paid attention to the recommendations and picked up and left.

Several of our communities were under mandatory evacuation orders. But, basically, the city itself was not and never will be, because it can't be enforced. The leaders here, the political leaders here, take the approach that, since it can't be enforced, they simply strongly recommend, urge, beg, plead with the citizens to get out of here because it simply isn't safe.

OLBERMANN: It sounds like a lot them listened.


OLBERMANN: The director of emergency management for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, Walter Maestri, great thanks for your time. And good luck tonight, sir.

MAESTRI: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

OLBERMANN: Hurricane Ivan, our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN. Our coverage will continue throughout the night.

COUNTDOWN's No. 2 story is up next. Your preview, a former piano prodigy loses his ability to play. Decades later, doctors restore his gift of music. You will not believe how.

Also, the follow-up to the free chair night at the old ball yard.

First, the furniture flies and then the excuses. That's ahead.

But now, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.



(singing): Summertime and the living is easy.

OK, only 47 days to go.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST: There's a Trump doll. What child is going to want the Trump doll? I'm sure you pull a string, it says, you're fired.

DONALD TRUMP, DEVELOPER/BUSINESSMAN: It does lots of different things. It gives you tips on how to make money. Can you imagine? This could be a very sick kid.

O'BRIEN: It forecloses on Barbie's dream house?




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so "Playgirl" magazine conducted a poll to determine who its readers think is TV's sexiest newscaster. I came in third. I can live with that, especially considering the fact that I didn't do any electioneering at all, none whatsoever, whereas the guy who came in first campaigned like crazy.



NARRATOR: Anderson Cooper, not sexy. Keith Olbermann, now, that's sexy.



COOPER: Can't say for a fact whether Hannity was as shameless as Olbermann because I was away at the time. See, I was working, going on patrol with soldiers and facing danger in Baghdad instead of groveling day and night for sexiest news guy votes. Nonetheless, as I say, I placed third without any campaigning at all.



OLBERMANN: Coop, Coop, Coop, if it means that much to you, take it, babe. It's yours.


OLBERMANN: Up next here on COUNTDOWN, medical miracle, medical mystery. A pianist crippled by disease can now play again. And Martha, Martha, Martha, dying to go to the pokey so she can plant her pansies, as it were.


OLBERMANN: The oldest joke in the book. As a patient is wheeled into the operating room, one of his loved ones turns to the surgeon and say, doctor, will he ever play the piano again? The surgeon says, of course. The loved one looks dumbfounded. That's funny. He never played the piano before.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, a real-life medical saga hardly that silly, but nearly that startling. A once promising pianist suddenly without the use of one of his hands and then, 40 years later, well, we'll let COUNTDOWN's Monica Novotny finish this mind-bending story.

Monica, good evening.


I'll pick it up at 40 years later, which brings to us today. With the help of Botox, Leon Fleisher can play the piano again with two hands. And Fleisher, who is the only living pianist inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame, says somehow he knew it would happen.


LEON FLEISHER, PIANIST: There's always hope, always.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): For 40 years, he kept the faith, Leon Fleisher beginning again at the age of 75. It was the height of his musical career. Fleisher was 35 years old when a mysterious paralysis froze his right hand. But, today, his fingers roam the keys freely, thanks to an unwavering love of music and the help of Botox, a surprising therapy even now, but unthinkable when back in 1964:

FLEISHER: I became aware that my fifth and fourth fingers on my right hand were slowly, uncontrollably and irresistibly curling under bit by bit.

NOVOTNY: For Fleisher, there was no warning and, from the doctors, no diagnosis.

FLEISHER: They had no idea, no idea.

NOVOTNY: A cruel reality for this former child prodigy who, at the age of 16, debuted to rave reviews with the New York Philharmonic and continued collecting accolades over the next 20 years.

David Zinman, director of the Aspen Music Festival.

DAVID ZINMAN, DIRECTOR, ASPEN MUSIC FESTIVAL: By the time he stopped being able to use his right hand, he was already in the high pantheon of pianists.

NOVOTNY: But then, as Fleisher puts it, it felt as if the gods had come to get him. And they knew exactly where to strike.

FLEISHER: I went into a really serious depression for about two years.

NOVOTNY: He would spend the next 30 seeking a diagnosis and a cure.

FLEISHER: There isn't a therapy under the sun that you can mention that I have not tried.

NOVOTNY: Eventually, within the search, there came acceptance. He continued playing with his left hand alone and began teaching. Remarkably, it was his inability to play with both hands that made Fleisher a virtuoso as an educator.

FLEISHER: I could no longer push the student off the chair and demonstrate. This is way I think you should go. This is what you have to do. I had to suddenly begin thinking in much greater detail and trying to put into words things that are very ephemeral.

ZINMAN: When you are put through a trial by fire like that, you come through the fire either distorted or enlivened. And, certainly, Leon has done that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is very articulate. He knows exactly what he wants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has been such a great mentor. It is the greatest experience I've had in my life so far.

NOVOTNY: In 1994, Leon Fleisher was finally diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that afflicts about 300,000 people in North America alone. Recently, his doctors tried a new therapy, shots of botulinum toxin, Botox, that relax his constricted hand muscles.

(on camera): What was it like to play that first time?

FLEISHER: Almost as though the preceding 40 years hadn't existed. I had just kind of gone from one, continued on. It was a deep breath of satisfaction.

NOVOTNY: When you got the use of your right hand back, what was the first thing? Was there anything?

FLEISHER: Yes. D minor concerto of Brahms.

NOVOTNY: Was that a favorite or was it...


NOVOTNY (voice-over): And though he has had four decades to ask why, for Fleisher, regrets are fleeting.

FLEISHER: I've had so many extraordinary experiences and benefits from this whole adventure, from this whole odyssey. I'm not so sure I would give that up.


NOVOTNY: Mr. Fleisher just recorded a new C.D. called "Two Hands." And a portion of the proceeds will go to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation Keith.

OLBERMANN: We've heard about these poisons in the botulinum creating this effect in many of these kind of conditions. But it is not a cure precisely?

NOVOTNY: Exactly. The therapy changes according to the needs of the patient. Initially, for Mr. Fleisher, he was getting shots every six months. Now he says he's getting to the point where he needs to go more often. So there is no cure for dystonia for him. But this works at least for now. How long or how well the injections will last is just not something that the doctors can predict.

OLBERMANN: An extraordinary thing.

COUNTDOWN's Monica Novotny, many thanks.

A pianist returns, but, ah, can a sports heckler still thumb her nose after the nose gets hit with a flying plastic chair? That's the big question dominating our news of celebrity gossip and what not, the segment we call "Keeping Tabs."

Craig and Jennifer Bueno say they have not yet sued the pitcher who threw a strike with a seat and broke Ms. Bueno's nose in Oakland Monday night. But their attorney, personal injury attorney Gary Gwilliam, said, "We definitely feel the Texas Rangers are responsible for this and that they should pay for this." No truth to rumors that the Oakland A's let out a huge sigh big enough to blow away Hurricane Ivan.

The actual heckler, Mr. Bueno, defended his insults which provoked rookie relief pitcher Frank Francisco, saying: "It's a part of the game. It is an American tradition," like chair flinging. For his part, Frank Francisco, right there, wanted to remind everybody that he is not related to Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

COUNTDOWN about to reach the top. Your preview, Martha Stewart wants to go to jail, for soon harvest will be here. The latest bizarre touch to this eminently bizarre case next.


OLBERMANN: She's going to miss her chickens. She's not going to count her chickens. She's not going to wait for them to come home to roost. She's going to miss them. On the one hand, though, if she gets her way, she will not miss the early planting season back at her house next March.

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, remember Martha Stewart trying to sell subscriptions to her magazine on the steps of the courthouse after her sentencing? She topped it today. She actually topped it. Sentenced just two months ago and free pending her appeal, Ms. Stewart chose to forego that lengthy legal process, instead sending a letter to Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, requesting her incarceration start as soon as possible, then convening a news conference to explain.


MARTHA STEWART, CONVICTED FELON: I suppose the best word you use for this very harsh and difficult decision is finality and my intense desire and need to put this nightmare behind me both personally and professionally. I must reclaim my good life. I must return to my good works and allow those around me who work with me to do the same.

I am very sad knowing that I will miss the holiday season, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and I will miss all of my pets, my two beloved, fun-loving dogs, my seven lively cats, my canaries, my horses, and even my chickens.

I hope, too, that I will be able to begin serving my sentence in the veneer future because I would like to be back as early in March as possible in order to plant the new spring garden and to truly get things growing again. Unfortunately, there is no way to know today exactly when or how long it will take the Bureau of Prisons to be able to arrange for me to begin serving my sentence or where I will serve it.

I do hope that there will be room at the Danbury facility, which is the prison nearest to my home and close enough so that my 90-year-old mother and others can visit me. And I just have one little joke, because, despite what you all might think, I do have a sense of humor. And I was walking in front of the General Motors building the other day and there were a group of very well-dressed businessmen standing outside. And they looked at me, recognized me and said, oh, she's out already.


STEWART: Well, I hope that my time goes as fast as that.


OLBERMANN: Martha Stewart, a brave woman who looked around at this world in which we lived and asked: "The crocuses. What about the crocuses? Won't anybody think of the crocuses?" and then looked herself in the mirror and said, "I will."

That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann, back live at midnight Eastern, 9:00 p.m. Pacific, with a special edition of COUNTDOWN.

Next, MSNBC's coverage of Hurricane Ivan continues with Deborah Norville.

Good night and good luck.