Thursday, September 23, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 23

Guests: Michael Boyd, Janice Huff, Lisa Myers, Kerry Sanders


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? The guest speaker on the everything's great in Iraq tour?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's important for the American people to hear is reality. And the reality's right here in the form of the prime minister.

OLBERMANN: But is reality what Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi and President Bush are saying? We will fact check in Baghdad with "Newsweek's" bureau chief and in Washington with the "Post's" diplomatic correspondent.

Cat Stevens on the no-fly list. He says it's crazy that a flight was diverted because of him. Critics say it's crazy that if he's on a no-fly list they let him fly.

So many hurricanes we're now in reruns. As Ivan comes back for more, we will ask, is something really wrong here or just really rare?

And Elton John, live, live, live in Taiwan.

ELTON JOHN, SINGER: Rude, vile pigs! You know what that means?

Rude, vile pigs.

OLBERMANN: As he sang, the bitch is back.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Thursday, September 23. 40 days until the 2004 presidential election. Four months until the Iraqi election. This is the wrong day on the calendar to make any kind of political speech. 52 years ago tonight Richard Nixon went on national television when that still meant something and explained about his wife's respectable Republican cloth coat and the little dog that came in the crate all the way from Texas called Checkers.

Anniversary or no, Washington and Ohio rang with speeches today seen by some as the symbolic start of a democracy, seen by others as the first time an American presidential candidate ever got an endorsement from a leader of Iraq.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN. Mr. Allawi goes to Washington.

We'll put his comments and the president's to the smell test in a moment. First, those comments. The prime minister of the interim government telling first a joint meeting of Congress and then a news conference that more U.S. troops were not needed in his country, that the upcoming elections would not only come up as scheduled, they could take place tomorrow in 15 out of 18 of his provinces and generally speaking there's good news tonight.


AYAD ALLAWI, INTERIM PRIME MINISTER, IRAQ: I have come here to thank you and to promise you that your sacrifices are not in vain. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis are grateful. The insurgency in Iraq is disruptive but small and it has not and will never resonate with the Iraqi people. For now, of course we need the help of our American and coalition partners but the training of the Iraqi security forces is moving forward briskly and effectively.


OLBERMANN: Like the coach of a championship sports team, Prime Minister Allawi was then escorted to the rose garden by the president for photos and questions. Mr. Bush then made his fact-checkable remarks, things are getting better in Iraq. Even if there are problems, the security of the world including our security is now linked to the future of Iraq.


BUSH: It's hard work in Iraq. Everybody knows that. We see it on our TV. My message is that we will stay the course and stand with these people so that they become free. It's in our national interest we do so. I believe this is a central part in the war on terror. I believe that when we succeed in Iraq, that America will be more secure.

ALLAWI: I understand why, faced with the daily headlines, there are those doubts. I know, too, that there will be many more setbacks and obstacles to overcome but these doubters underestimate our country and they risk fueling the hopes of terrorism. Mr. President, there are those who want to divide our world. I appeal to you who have done so much already to help us, to ensure they don't succeed.


OLBERMANN: In the city both Mr. Allawi and Mr. Bush cited as evidence of the resurgence against the insurgents. Samarra, clashes erupted tonight. At least one child was killed and several were injured. Mr. Bush said Americans need to know the reality of Iraq. Did they get it today?

We turn to the Baghdad bureau chief for "Newsweek" magazine, Rod Nordland, who joins us by phone tonight. At this late hour especially thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Let me get your assessment of some of the specifics of Prime Minister Allawi's comments, the first being that to secure the country Iraq does not need more American troops even as everybody from John Kerry to the acting director of the CIA have suggested otherwise. Is Allawi right?

NORDLAND: No. I don't think Allawi is right and I think he knows it very well. Things are very bad now. To cite Samarra, for one example, yes, U.S. troops and Iraqi forces have gone back into Samarra in great strength. I could not go to Samarra. Prime Minister Allawi could not go to Samarra without very, very heavy armed escort and it probably would provoke a fight. Things are bad there and many other places in the country.

OLBERMANN: A second point, Mr. Allawi said that 15 of the 18 Iraqi provinces are safe enough to hold elections in tomorrow and he sounded like he was reading a railroad timetable of them. Listen to this with me and then I'll get your reaction.


ALLAWI: Go from Basra to Nasiriyah, to Kut, to Dialla (ph), to Najaf, to Karbala, to Diwaniya (ph), to Samarra, to Kirkuk, to Slemaniya (ph), to Tehuk (ph), to Arbin (ph), there are no problems. It's safe. It's good.


OLBERMANN: I don't know if you've been to all those places, Rod, but are they safe? Are they good? Is the insurgency really small as he says?

NORDLAND: I've been to all those places before. I could not go to those places now. It's far too dangerous. A couple of those places are reasonably safe in the Kurdish north, but the others, it's impossible to go there now for contractors, for civilians.

Iraqis do go there, but those are dangerous places. They're not the worst places in Iraq by any means. He may well be right that there's 15 provinces in Iraq they could have elections in, but what he neglected to mention is the two provinces they could not have elections in tomorrow, one of them is Baghdad, the capital and the other two are probably Sunni provinces in the Sunni Triangle that have the bulk of the Sunni population that has always been the political elite in this country.

OLBERMANN: A third key point. For a year and a half, the Bush administration has told the people of this country that the media here has kept good news about Iraq from them. Mr. Allawi echoed that today. Let's listen to that tape.


ALLAWI: Today the foreign media have lost interest and left.


OLBERMANN: So Rod Nordland, you've lost interest and you've left? I guess that means you're not there anymore. When the administration is getting slammed by its own party leaders for spending just 1/18th of the rebuilding budget, is it still possible that the good news is being hidden by the American media?

NORDLAND: It reminds me of another president, another era, another war, Vietnam. When things were bad they blamed the media for making them seem as bad as they were. The fact is things are bad. No, the media hasn't left. It is true a lot of journalists have pulled out because it's become too dangerous, particularly Europeans. But there are a lot of American journalists here and we're continuing to report what the situation is and it's bad. They can blame us for it all they want to but they've got a big problem and I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

OLBERMANN: "Newsweek's Baghdad chief, Rod Nordland, many thanks.

Good night and good morning as well. Thank you, sir.

Now for what Mr. Bush said today and how much of his reality matched conditions on the ground or even the reality reported by Prime Minister Allawi. I'm joined now by "Washington Post" diplomatic correspondent Robin Wright. Robin, thanks again for your time.

Prime Minister Allawi said to have more troops, we don't need and he added that there are nearly 50,000 fully trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security personnel. And then Mr. Bush said this...


BUSH: Nearly 100,000 fully trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers, police officers, and other security personnel are working together and that total will rise to 125,000 by the end of this year.


OLBERMANN: Robin, Mr. Bush said 100,000 Iraqi soldiers now and Mr. Allawi said 50,000 now. Are either of them correct? What's the actual data?

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": I'm afraid that that's not actually clear. These numbers have been fuzzy for a long time in part because you have to define what is a fully equipped and trained person? The fact is the kind of training they're talking, the U.S. requires as a minimum in months, whereas in Iraq it's happening in weeks. There are not nearly enough troops and I suspect the president's comments or estimate was a little bit high.

OLBERMANN: On the subject of voting we heard the prime minister say that, as has been referred to several times now, that 15 of the 18 provinces are safe enough to hold elections in tomorrow. And Mr. Bush added, let me read this exactly, "if elections go forward democracy in Iraq will put down permanent roots and terrorists will suffer a dramatic defeat." They used to speak of those elections as a lead-pipe cinch, as a certainty and for the last week, 10 days or so, he has used "if." What is the reality about the elections? Are they in jeopardy? Are they in question at this stage?

WRIGHT: I think one of the things to come out of this visit is a real determination by both the Iraqis and the United States to hold these elections in January even if they are not perfect, even if they are not held in all 18 provinces. The secretary of defense said today up on Capitol Hill that it might be that Iraq has to hold elections in most regions, but not all regions given the insurgency and he said that's not the ideal solution but it's better than no elections. I think there's a strong feeling on both sides that any delay gives the insurgents an advantage.

OLBERMANN: But we just heard Rod Nordland say from Baghdad, those three that are clear will not be ready to have votes tomorrow are Baghdad and the Sunni providence. Which is the equivalent to saying, we could have the election on November 2 here except in Washington and New England. Would an election under those circumstances have an validly, even symbolic validly.

WRIGHT: Well, the interesting thing is that Baghdad alone accounts for about a quarter of the electorate. So that's incredibly important. And of course, Baghdad includes Sadr City, the enormous Shiite slum where there's been a lot of opposition and some clashes with U.S. forces. So that's a very important question.

OLBERMANN: Last question - obvious the big message of the whole day here was things are going well in Iraq, freedom is winning as the president said, you know who to vote for. And that it's even in, as the president said, and here's another tape, it's in the Iraqi version of the Gallup Poll.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I saw a poll that said the right track/wrong track in Iraq was better than here in America. Pretty darn strong. The people see a better future. Talk to the leader. I agree, I'm not the expert on how the people think, because I live in America which is nice and safe and secure.


OLBERMANN: After the president's statements, Scott McClellan admitted the poll he was talking about was from the end of July. It was 51 percent of Iraqi's saying, things are on the right track. There has not been a poll like that since. What track somebody is on is largely a subjective matter, but what about that national intelligence estimate in the interim that told the president it's not likely to get much better than this and it could get much worse, it could easily become civil war?

WRIGHT: That's the bottom line on the visit today. For all the rosy portraits in Iraq, the bottom line is the U.S. goal post has been lowered significantly, from the goal of creating a catalyst in Iraq for democracy throughout the Middle East to hoping that the U.S. can extricate itself some point down the road and leave behind a very fragile government probably still struggling.

OLBERMANN: Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent of the "Washington Post," as always, great, thank you. Many thanks for you time tonight.

Somebody else had doubts about the quality of the two speeches, redolent of Kevin Bacon speech from "Animal House," "Remain calm, all is well."

Senator John Kerry, so felt the need to respond, that he spoke out in

Ohio just after a spokesman had said Kerry had laryngitis and would not be

talking for a while


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The prime minister and the president are here, obviously, to put their best face on the policy. But the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story. I think most people would tell you that - the United States and the Iraqi's have retreated from whole area's of Iraq. There are no go zones in Iraq today. You can't hold an election in a no go zone. So it's time to talk the truth and the reality about the number of troops on the ground.


OLBERMANN: And the reality on the ground in Iraq tonight, still no word on the fate of British hostage Ken Bigley, seen yesterday on videotape pleading for his life. But expected Iraqi, American and British officials all insisting today, the would not negotiate with terrorist. Bigley's brother Paul calling that sabotage, accusing the U.S. Government of wrecking efforts to save his brother by not negotiating. No response to whom Bigley's plea was directed, Prime Minister Tony Blair. His wife Cherie did say, like everyone in Britain my heart goes out to the Bigley family.

Meanwhile, more confusion about the fate of two women, Italian aid workers also being held captive in Iraq. Two different groups now claiming to have killed them. Officials still, though, holding out hope tonight as no videotape has surfaced and no bodies have been found.

The COUNTDOWN, just underway on MSNBC and you don't want to miss this. The man who will investigate Dan Rather getting investigated himself. He's anti-CBS says one group, he's anti-Karl Rove says another group.

And later Charlie, Frances, Ivan, now Ivan take two, simply put why all the hurricanes?


OLBERMANN: Up next the new dramas inside the docu-drama drama, is Dan Rather pointing the finger at someone else?

And the man searching for the conflict of interest, himself guilty of conflict of interest, maybe two of them. Standby.


OLBERMANN: Just when you thought it was safe to start the CBS investigations, we may first need an investigation into the chief investigator.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, widespread reporting that former attorney general, Dick Thornburgh, may have a longstanding grudge against CBS. And wide spread reporting that former attorney general, Dick Thornburgh against the president's chief political adviser.

Do two conflicts of interest make a neutral?

While "The New York Times" said Dan Rather had told colleagues, that Thornburgh ways confounding choice, because he had worked for two presidents, Nixon and Bush one, with whom Rather had clashed on live television. "The Times" and the blog of "Philadelphia Daily News" senior writer Will Bunch, a high school classmate of mine by the way, both pointed out that in 1989, Thornburgh As attorney general of the United States, publicly branded CBS "Unfair." The network had reported that a Philadelphia congressman was under investigation, and Thornburgh's office spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars trying to find out who leaked that story about him to CBS.

In the middle of the brouhaha, Thornburgh top aid quit and he to demote two other close associates suspect of giving information to CBS. So while there are those at CBS who think Thornburgh is biased against them. The blog-o-sphere got back into the act, calling up old newspaper articles suggesting Thornburgh is biased against White House pilot meister, Karl Rove. When Thornburgh ran for Senate in Pennsylvania in 1991, his campaign committee hired Rove to handle some fund raiser appeals. When he lost that run, he claimed the committee was out of funds and it could not pay Rove $170,000 in fees. Rove sued, claiming that if the Thornburgh committee couldn't pay, Thornburgh him on self should. And the courts sided with Rove, including attorney fees and interest, the courts order Thornburgh to pay Rove $295,000.

Today Thornburgh was asked about Rove by a Pittsburgh television reporter. "That was business, not personal," he said. A reporter Scott Baker (ph) asked, "but it was a personal law suit against you, wasn't it?" Yes, came the answer, but the issues weren't personal, I know Karl well.

So the search for, among other things a possible conflict of interest of at CBS News, itself begets two possible conflicts interest for one of the searchers. To try to unravel this latest mutation of the Rather story, I am joined now by Paul Burka, executive editor at "Texas Monthly" magazine. Good evening. Thank you for you time.


OLBERMANN: Big picture: Do Thornburg's histories relative to CBS and Karl Rove matter? Do they neutralize each other? Is one more important or more tainting than the other is?

BURKA: I think personal histories always matter, but I don't think it means there say conflict of interest here. A conflict of interest really means that you are in a position where your personal interest or financial interest prevents you from making a decision. And that just isn't the case here.

Everybody has personal histories. There's hardly a politician in Washington that hasn't had reason not to like CBS or NBC or ABC or anybody else in the media. And there are probably not very many who haven't had conflicts with political consultants. So I don't see the kind of thing that amounts to a conflict of interest.

OLBERMANN: Heretofore, Mr. Rather has been feisty only about the documents and the story. Seemed to change a little bit today. The "New York Times" has him, today, upset about Thornburg and saying he will cooperate fully with his investigation, but was that a shot across the bow at Thornburg or a preemptive strike against his inquiry? What was that all about?

BURKA: I don't think it would be good tactics for Mr. Rather to be taking shots across anybody's bow right now. I think he pretty much meant what he said, that it's somebody that is - that he has a history with and it's not a good history. So I could see why he would be concerned.

But again, to me this is not really about personalities, it's about facts. I know all of us in the media love to talk about these things, but CBS has much more to be concerned about about the facts of this situation than you do about the personalities.

OLBERMANN: That having been said, television being an industry built

on personalities, another thing about Mr. Rather and that Times article

came up, in which he is quoted, it's not even a second reference, he's

quoted as saying that he had brought all this to CBS news, to its

president, President Andrew Hayward, well in advance of the story, saying -

· I'm going to read the the exact quote that was in the New York Times, "I have to ask you to oversee in a hands-on way the handling of this story."

Is he trying to spread the wealth or the lack of wealth here? Is he trying to set Hayward up for a fall? Is he laying an explanation that does not set this whole story down at his own doorstep?

BURKA: Well, it does have a bit of a covering aspect to it. On the other hand, if it is accurate, it's what he should have done. If I had a story like that, I guarantee you that I would take it to my editor and say look, we've got a big story here and I want to let you know where we're headed. You know, we've all seen all "The President's Men," that's what Woodward and Bernstein did. So, I would hope that Dan Rather did take it to his boss.

OLBERMANN: We'll see if the timing of the announcement, or the timing of that revelation is more interesting than what would be good journalistic procedure. In any event, Paul Burka, the executive editor of "Texas Monthly" magazine, many thanks for your time tonight, sir.

BURKA: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: Two related stories on this tonight. A news talk radio station in Norfolk, Virginia, says it is dropping its affiliation with CBS because of listener complaints about the Killian memo story. Fact-check, the station is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, which earlier in the year would not run the ABC News "Nightline" special reading the names of the dead American service personnel in Iraq on its TV stations in Norfolk. Sinclair has now replaced its CBS affiliation with one with ABC.

And the FCC fine against CBS stations for the Janet Jackson Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction is official at $550,000. Fact check on that, CBS sales figures for last year, $7,761,000. $550,000 is for that company is the salary of two local TV sport casters, or one good one.

Still coming up on the COUNTDOWN, Felix, just because we told your you're no longer the coolest guy in the world, that does not mean you need to be jumping off any bridges.

And the unfortunately familiar side of a Catholic diocese settling sex abuse cases changes dramatically when one of the accused priests storms the news conference. The COUNTDOWN continues on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: We're back. And we pause the COUNTDOWN now, because it's not that the rest of the day's news isn't odd, it's just that this stuff is a little bit more so. So, let's play "Oddball."

We begin in Panama and the Puente de los Americas, the towering 330 foot bridge correcting North and South America. And who's that standing at the very top of that magnificent structure? Why it's our old pal Felix Baumgartner. Felix Baumgartner. Yes, that guy. Sky boy.

Perhaps you saw last night's show in which we named somebody else our coolest guy ever, because today Felix jumped off the Puente de los Americas Bridge. That illegal base jump from 330 feet, gliding down in front of the giant ship, landing safely on shore and immediately getting his butt arrested.

For his next stunt, Felix will attempt to escape from a remote Panamanian problem.

To Cape Girardeau, Missouri, home of Rush Limbaugh, and this nation's most overzealous bridge demolition team. You may remember this scene from 2 weeks ago. They were only supposed to destroy part of this span, but they blowed it up good, the blowed it up real good. They blowed it up too good.

Today, take 2. The crowd gathering as the charges were set the remaining portions of the structure come crashing into the water. A fish living under the bridge at the time of today's explosion was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, you'll let me know when you're going to do that again, huh?

Speaking of fish, want to know what happens when you venture into Russian territorial waters while on board a Taiwanese fishing junk? You get the wrath of the Russian Coast Guard rained down upon you. We mean the literally. The fisherman on this troller had landed hundreds of tons of illegally netted fish, they were not sunk by the missile fire, no one was hurt, but the crew was arrested, the ship was seized and the fish. I don't know. Possibly all you can eat night at the Long John Silvers in Murmansk.

And this bad boy with be up for auction this weekend in San Antonio, Texas. It is a '68 Camaro with a 427-cc motor, pumping out 500 horsepower and something special under the hood for you. Stamped on the engine block, David's 427, go, God, David as in David Koresh, the unlamented leader of the Branch Davidian religious cult. The muscle car is said to be in good condition, other than the body damage from where the FBI tank hit it 11 years ago during the siege at the compound. Organizers are hoping to get up to $60,000 for it, even more were Janet Reno to join the bidding.

When COUNTDOWN continues, the hole in airport security bigger than the hole in the singing career of Cat Stevens. That's next.

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

No. 3, Fred Merkle; 96 year ago today, the 19-year-old rookie baseball player was wrongly accused of costing his team, the New York Giants, the pennant. He has been wrongly blamed ever since. Actually, the Chicago Cubs took advantage of a loophole in the rules to beat Merkle's Giants. And they won the World Series that year. They have not won it since.

No. 2, Michael Chartrand, again, the Disney World Tigger acquitted of fondling a 13-year-old, then accused of shoving two people while portraying Goofy, now charged with touching the breasts of two fellow female Disney employees while reaching for their lanyards. OK, lanyards.

And, No. 1, the folks at Ipsos Public Affairs. It actually conducted a poll, a poll, that has determined that people who make more than $75,000 a year are more likely to say they are very satisfied with their lives than are people who make $25,000 a year. Tomorrow's poll from Ipsos Public Affairs, is breathing good for you?


OLBERMANN: It is one of the much-needed lighter moments of the so-called war on terror, the idea that the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens was on the no-fly list because somebody at the National Transportation Safety Administration really, really didn't like his song "Morning Has Broken."

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, says it's crazy that he was on that list and that his flight from London to Washington was diverted to Maine and that he was deported to England. Others say it's crazy that, if he was on the list, he was allowed to board and the plane allowed to leave and reach an American airport. And what's the point of a no-fly list when you let people on it fly?

Lisa Myers begins our security roundup with Cat's latest hit, the one taken by the TSA.


LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three years ago, two suspected terrorists known to the U.S. government breezed through security at Dulles Airport and boarded a plane. They had not been put on the government's no-fly list. And that day, they crashed their plane into the Pentagon.

Now in a report obtained by NBC News, a government watchdog warns the problem is still not fixed. The no-fly list still includes only suspected terrorists who pose threats to civil aviation, not all suspected terrorists.

SLADE GORTON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It's just plain wrong.

MYERS: Nine-eleven Commissioner Slade Gorton calls the policy outrageous.

GORTON: The potential consequences are that terrorists can still get on aircraft in the United States.

MYERS: On 9/11, only a dozen names were on the no-fly list. Now there are about 3,500, but that's only a fraction of more than 300,000 names on the government's main list of suspected trusts and associates. Counterterrorism experts insist that all suspected terrorists should be banned from planes.

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: They could be couriers or they could be operatives or they could be suicide bombers. It doesn't matter. You have to keep them all off.

MYERS: The report also criticizes the Department of Homeland Security for not playing a lead role in ending turf battles and not forcing agencies to work together on one of the most important post-9/11 reforms, consolidating all terror watch lists.

Even with the new Terrorist Tracking Center, there is there still no single list. Border agents say they sometimes have to check as many as eight databases.

T.J. BONNER, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: T's mind-boggling to me that they haven't made more effort to do something that is so fundamental.

MYERS (on camera): A Department of Homeland Security official acknowledges the no-fly list isn't perfect and says eventually there will be one list. But Homeland Security argues that the delay in consolidating terror watch lists is mostly the responsibility of the FBI. The FBI says a combined list will be ready by the end of the year.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: And if Cat Stevens, Yusuf Islam, was on a terror watch list, how did he make it onto that airplane in the first place? The aptly named Clark Kent Irvin probably has an idea.

In another new classified report, this one to Congress, the top watchdog at Homeland Security tell lawmakers that undercover operators were able to sneak explosives and weapons passed the newly federalized security screeners at 15 airports nationwide. Federalized does not mean better trained. And while checked baggage is tested for explosives, most carry-on items and passengers still are not. Mr. Science will be the first to tell you metal detectors are worthless when it comes to finding plastic explosives.

More to worry about now with aviation security expert Michael Boyd, president of the Boyd Group, who joins again tonight.

And thanks once more for your time.


OLBERMANN: Let's start with the explosives and the weapons. We really have just kind of mailed this in with airport security for the last three years, haven't we?

BOYD: It's been more show than go.

If we're after hairdressers armed with pointy objects, we're safe, but in terms of professional security, to defend ourselves against real terrorists, we're right where we were on September 10, 2001.

OLBERMANN: What could you do for the same money or approximately the same money that we are not doing at the airports?

BOYD: Well, the first thing, what we have to do is have professional security.

The Transportation Security Administration is really just a playground of patronage in terms of who is running it. There's no real direction in terms of vulnerability analyses. There's no real event mitigation programs. What it is, is just looking for pointy objects and reacting when someone blows up a Russian airliner, reacting when someone puts something in their shoe and tries to blow up an airplane. If we're reacting, we're not proactively trying to stop terrorism.

OLBERMANN: Or rerouting a flight from London to Washington that had Cat Stevens on it. Cat Stevens, no-fly list. He was flying. Now Homeland Security wants more data about the average passenger. It sounds like what we've done is made flying for the innocent difficult and flying for the presumed to be guilty just slightly more difficult than it used to be.

BOYD: That's entirely accurate.

Right now today, Jim Davis, the name Jim Davis is on a list and you get harassed. Ted Kennedy, that name was on a list. Now, that guy might be dangerous, but only on the floor of the Senate, not when he's flying around in an airplane. We're wasting time with this. And now the TSA wants to get another 45 million records from June so they can monkey around with that.

The point of the matter is, we're dealing with people that are not particularly competent at the TSA. And unless we fix that, we're going to be talking about this until the next explosion.

OLBERMANN: Some of these things, though, seem like make-work, as if someone has said, OK, look busy. Are there other motives at hand here besides simple incompetence, because we've talked about this half a dozen times. And it's been going on now for more than three years, that it doesn't look like there's anybody actually seriously trying to improve safety in the air, but, at the same time, it does appear that there are people who are trying make it look like we are trying to improve safety.

BOYD: That's exactly right.

The problem is, the Transportation Security Administration, like the FAA before it, who had security, has no accountability whatsoever. There's no real oversight. If a 20-year-old kid a year ago put a lot of stuff on an airplane, this Nathaniel Heatwole, no one got fired. Everyone got their hands slapped. We had politicians making speeches, but the same people are still running the show and mismanaging security and leaving you and I and the rest of the flying public at risk.

OLBERMANN: And as if we needed a dark joke to conclude with, briefly, from that story that I just read, is that actually true? The top government watchdog at Homeland Security answers to the name Clark Kent Irvin? Or is this just some other kind of joke that we're being played with?

BOYD: It probably is true and he probably has a secretary named Lois Lane, for all we know.

OLBERMANN: We need them now, I think.

Aviation expert Michael Boyd of the Boyd Group, it's always kind of a grim pleasure, sir. I wish we had better things to talk about, but we appreciate your time.

BOYD: Me, too. Good evening.

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN continues with a surprise during the settlement of a church sex abuse scandal. An accused priest crashes the news conference. And hurricane fatigue, two more storms bearing down on the coast, as Americans ask, what's going on this summer and fall?

And now a special president-meets-the-press edition of sound bites of this day.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll take a couple of questions now. Terry (ph)? Steve? Yes, NBC man there. Your name?


BUSH: We've got other people from - hold on for a second - from Iraq. Terry. Terry.


BUSH: Yes, please. Terry, you're next. Are you from Iraq? Excuse me, ma'am. Wendell.

Is anybody here from the Iraqi media? King.


BUSH: Hold on a second. We need people from Iraq first, please.

You're not from Iraq, Alan (ph). And neither are you, Elizabeth (ph).

One journalist from Iraq? Is anybody here from CBS?

Roberts, there you are. Please.



OLBERMANN: Ahead on COUNTDOWN, an all-too-familiar church sex scandal news conference is turned on its head by a priest who protests, he's done nothing wrong. And a quick reminder: Send us your news quiz questions for my weekly grilling tomorrow. Go the to send us an e-mail.

And stand by, please.


OLBERMANN: The convulsion over the sex abuse scandals inside the Catholic Church is usually seen from one of two perspectives, the victims' big picture, the almost inconceivable idea that 450 priests had been officially accused of 11,000 instances of abuse in this country since 1950, or the small picture, one victim at a time.

But in our second story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, a different perspective altogether, a priest vowing his innocence and interrupting the public announcement of the group settlement made by one diocese.

As our correspondent Kerry Sanders reports, it evoked King Henry II of England's rhetorical question about Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket:

Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?


KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Archdiocese of Miami hoped, by settling a sex abuse case against 10 South Florida priests the decades-old scandal would finally go away.

Instead, it exploded Wednesday. Father Alvaro Guichard, who is seated here, is accused of sexually abusing four altar boys. He showed up uninvited to a news conference. The victims' families were announcing a $3.4 million settlement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact that you raped and sodomized...

FATHER ALVARO GUICHARD, PRIEST: I did not rape and sodomize.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not going to happen.

SANDERS: The Miami Archdiocese says the decision to settle was made with the alleged victims in mind.

MARY ROSS AGOSTA, MIAMI ARCHDIOCESE SPOKESWOMAN: Our intention was to be fiscally responsible, but at the same time allow the victims, the alleged victims to move forward.

SANDERS (on camera): Under the settlement, no members of the church admitted any guilt. The suspended priests now all face trials, but under church canon law.

Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami.


OLBERMANN: To our news of celebrities and former celebrities, "Keeping Tabs," and two completely unrelated headlines passed on the wires earlier today.

The first read "Taiwan Stages First-Ever Terror Drill." And the second was "Elton John Explodes in Taiwan." Well, thank goodness they were prepared. Sir Elton did not literally explode, of course. He's quite a few pounds away from that happening, for the moment. But he certainly lost his temper when he arrived at the Taipei Airport in the middle of the night, was met by a swarm of paparazzi, some of whom may have gotten a little too close.


ELTON JOHN, MUSICIAN: Rude, vile pig.


JOHN: Rude, vile pig.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of Taiwan.

JOHN: Yes, we would love to get out of Taiwan if it's full of people like you. Pig. Pig.



OLBERMANN: Who's the guy on the phone? Just trying to make a phone call here, sir.

Hold me closer, Tony - Dony - never mind the joke. I blew it.

Speaking of showbiz figures making fools of themselves, besides me, Jimmy Swaggart is back again and he's sinned again. Still in the God business 17 years after the revelations of his special personalized sermon to a New Orleans prostitute, Swaggart has now apologized, but says he doesn't understand why anyone took an obvious humorous statement as an insult. His statement to his congregation 11 days ago on the subject of same-sex marriage: "I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm going to be blunt and plain. If one ever looks at me like that, I'm going to kill him and tell God he died."

Swaggart says he's used that "kill him and tell God he died line" thousands of times about different things. Well, that's all right, then.

No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, Ivan arrivin' again. When hurricanes hit twice, it's a bad season. But why?

That's next. This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Given that the America of the present lives almost entirely in the present, it is amazing that any historical natural calamities remain in our collective consciousness, the Johnstown flood of 1889, the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

And our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, perhaps, in the future, we will add the hurricane season of 2004. Tonight, Haiti continues to deal with the devastating death toll visited upon it by Hurricane Jeanne. That storm is now headed for America's hurricane catcher, the state of Florida. Forecasters predicting landfall north of Palm Beach early this Sunday morning.

And, as we told you last night, Ivan is back. The reconstituted tropical storm, formerly hurricane, is to make landfall presently near Cameron, Louisiana, on its way to Texas. Charley, Frances, Ivan, Ivan in reruns, Jeanne on the second try and then maybe Karl, about whom we are not talking, perhaps simply because there's no room left for it near our continent.

Has something gone wrong in the atmosphere? Is this just a really bad year or, in our obsession with today, have we forgotten worse hurricane years?

Joining me now to try to explain the hurricane, meteorologist with our New York City station WNBC and the weekend edition of "Today," Janice Huff.

Janice, good evening. Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: So big question, how unusual is this season? How far back do we have to go historically to find one that has been this painful to the continental United States?

HUFF: Well, this has been an unusually painful one, particularly for the state of Florida. They've had three storms already with direct hits and possibly now a fourth, talking about Jeanne.

It's not the first time that we've seen three storms make landfall in one state. As a matter of fact, the state of Texas had three storms that hit in 1989 in the same season, Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricane Chantal and Hurricane Jerry. I have not been able to find one that hit four times in one season. I'm sure that's possible somewhere in the records, but I haven't seen that just yet.

We're going through at least what hurricane forecasters are calling a cycle in the Atlantic called a multidecadal cycle, where the Atlantic waters are warming up unusually high. Also, there's a huge area of high pressure over the central Atlantic and there's a favorable jet stream coming off the African coast. And all those things, plus some other variables, helping to make this a very strong season.

Actually, it's a period that can last for several years. Since 1995, this active multidecadal signal has been going on. In 1995, there were actually 21 tropical storms; 11 of those were hurricanes. The thing is, though, is that it's hard to know early in the season. You don't know where the storms are actually going to make landfall. Predictions are made about how many storms there are going to be, and this was predicted to be an above-normal season.

OLBERMANN: So there is some theory that these things are going in 20- to 30-year cycles with a transition in between, meaning that maybe we hit the end of the relatively low cycle, 1994, '5, '6, somewhere in there.

HUFF: Exactly.

OLBERMANN: And we're just either at the end of the transitional or we've just started a 30-year stretch where it could be like this every year?

HUFF: Pretty much. We're sort of I think it looks like, if it goes 30 years, we're in the middle, because the 25 years prior to 1995, the hurricane season, the hurricane activity was below average, with the exception of one or two storms here and there.

But now, since '95, we've certainly been in an above-average. Average year, you might see 10 named storms, five major hurricanes, or five hurricanes and two major hurricanes. This year, the National Hurricane Center was predicting between 12 and 15 tropical storms, six to eight hurricanes, and two to four major hurricanes. So far, we're up to 14 named storms, seven of which have become hurricanes and five have become major hurricanes so far.

OLBERMANN: Janice, I have literally have got 15 seconds left. Senator John McCain suggested the other day this might have something to do with global warming. Is anybody buying into that?

HUFF: Well, I think that what I've been hearing from the other forecasters, particularly the hurricane forecasters, it's a little too early to actually attribute it all to global warming. There still has to be a lot of research done over the years to see if that's what's really going on.

But this is not something that has never happened before. There have been several years in the past, particularly, I think, in the '30s, when there were a lot of hurricanes as well.

OLBERMANN: Yes, where they nearly lost Key West.

HUFF: That's right.

OLBERMANN: Meteorologist Janice Huff of WNBC and the weekend "Today" show, good to talk to you again. Thanks for your help on this.

HUFF: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Good night.

And that's COUNTDOWN. Thank you for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night. Thirty years of hurricanes. Good luck.