'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for April 5
Guests: John Dean, David Yassky, David Gergen, Max Wallace, Ian Halperin, Tom Grant
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Iraq, the lid has not blown off but it rattles atop the pop in Fallujah, and as the supporters riot in Baghdad, the U.S. declares a radical Shi'ite cleric an outlaw.
Worse than Watergate, the explosive new book from John Dean: Richard Nixon's White House counsel during Watergate calls the presidency of George W. Bush worse. John dean joins us exclusively.
The Statue of Liberty fundraising scam: Send me your huddled masses yearning to breath free, also send me more money than we need to reopen the place.
Ten years since the death of the seminal musician, Kurt Cobain.
Suicide, or as our guest tonight suggests, maybe murder?
And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) apparently, they are fleeing after one of them spotted a large concentration of mint jelly.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. One year ago this month, on this newscast, a republican party operative insisted that George W. Bush was one of the greatest presidents in American history, today even his own campaign committee admits that all polls indicate that Mr. Bush currently has no better than a 50-50 chance of re-election. And six books decrying his administration now populate the various top 25 best seller lists. The newest of these is easily the most strongly worded.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: "Worse than Watergate." Richard Clarke may have produced a book with anger and Al Franken may have produced a book with humor and Michael Moore may have produced a book with cynicism. But John dean, who was at the center of the greatest political scandal in this nation's history, has produced a book with perspective and that perspective is simply, terrifying. "At bottom line, George Bush has done more damage to have than his old boss Richard Nixon ever dreamed of."
The former White House council to President Nixon, John dean joining us here in the studio.
JOHN DEAN, AUTHOR, "WORSE THAN WATERGATE": Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Do you have a political agenda in this? Do you have an axe to grind? Is there something a reader should know before he picks up the book.
DEAN: I really don't. I'm a registered independent and I really don't carry partisan water anymore. I must say that if I have one thing I really want to do, thought, and I feel very strongly about, and behind the book, is good government. And secrecy is not good government.
OLBERMANN: If, because of the secrecy that you go into such detail about, this really is worse than Watergate, why has no lid blown off? Where are the tapes? Where are the smoking gun memos? Where is the fingerprint of the secrecy that you allude to?
DEAN: One of the reasons I needed to do it is because no one was talking about and I felt it was an issue that the major media should not be ignoring the way they have. With. the 9/11 Commission investigations, we've had more talk of late of the problem with secrecy than we have in the last some three years. But, it is a serious problem; it's a matter of people not knowing what's going on because it's secret often, so I had to get in and start connecting up the dots and looking at the various ramifications and it runs across all policy lines and it's not really just a national security issue, it's not a war on terrorism issue, it really is just a policy of this administration.
OLBERMANN: But you analogize, from your own experience, in that White House of 1971, '72, 73 - the parallel between Richard Nixon's obsession with secrecy that was unleashed, I guess would be the best way to describe it, after Daniel Ellsberg released the "Pentagon Papers" to the "New York Times," and the desire for secrecy that was inspired in the Bush administration after 9/11. Explain why that peril is valid and why people at home are going, "Well, that is 9/11, that has nothing to do with something like the Pentagon Papers."
DEAN: It's the exploitation of secrecy. Nixon's secrecy was far in excess of what need be. He, himself, was one of the worst, after he left office, to confess that he had become a basket case, he'd become - he'd gone way over the line and gotten excessively secret. He'd also relied on others around him who suggested that he should become more secret, principally people like Henry Kissinger. It appears to me that George Bush has relied on Dick Cheney who is by nature a very secretive person.
OLBERMANN: Who you describe as the co-president of the United States?
DEAN: No question, he is the co-president of the United States.
OLBERMANN: How do you have that situation? I thought the guy - I can't speak the constitution from my photographic memory, but I believe it says there's one president and one vice president.
DEAN: Well, we have a vice president. We have a situation where the president himself is not particularly interested in a lot of domestic and some of the areas of foreign policy. George Bush is wonderful at campaigning, he's good at working the lines, he's good at going out and fundraising and he is good at head of state. So, he has become a very effective head of state. Dick Cheney, who doesn't like to kiss babies and work the rope lines, and - but is fascinated by policy and has very strong beliefs about policy from his long tenure in government, has really become the chief of government, he has his own shadow national security council. Not my name for an operation, but the White House's own name for a parallel operation.
OLBERMANN: When we talked about this previously, I said that the feeling that I have been left after reading "Worse than Watergate" was that this could have been the historical, essentially, prequel to George Orwell's novel "1984," that if you wanted to see what the very first step, out of maybe 50 steps, towards this totalitarian state, that Orwell wrote about in his novel, this would be the kind of thing you would see, and I know that a lot of people have concerns about civil rights and how the edges of democracy seem to have been worn down since 9/11. But you quote many of them; you quote Dick Armey of all people in the middle of the book. But, do you really feel the Bush administration has gone past that and is actually putting not just an element or two of democracy at risk, but democracy at risk?
DEAN: What I see, Keith, is the most extreme secrecy that I've ever seen in any president, one, that I have in my lifetime experienced. Two, in any I've studied and I've studied all 42 prior, if you will, and there's just never been an operation where we've had a government by gag order at a time it is not necessary. Yes, there's no question there are area of national security where do you need secrecy. No question, I wouldn't debate that, in fact, I don't even deal with the covert side which has been one of the most active sides of the Bush administration, more so than Clinton, more so than even Reagan. It's a whole other area. I deal with policy that shouldn't be secret and tried to marshal and show and lay out the case. Really, making a, if I might, a prima facie case, I don't try to write an encyclopedia on this, I partic - I take really strong examples in each area and collect them and say, all right, reader, now how can you refute that we have one of the most secret presidencies and we have situations here, that are all inherently dangerous. They are many in co-eight (PH) scandals that are just below the surface. And when you add it all up, you have a situation that, no question to me, is worse than Watergate.
OLBERMANN: You describe the administration, particularly the president, as misleading the country into war and in particular, you're devoting a lot of time in this book to the president's response to the congressional authorization for war in Iraq, as opposed to weapons of mass destruction, the Niger stories, all of that, this - just the legal paperwork between congress and the president, which you compare to LBJ, hoodwinking the country in the Gulf of Tonkin, Nixon's rationale for bombing Cambodia, and your account of what Bush did to respond to congress's authorization. It reads like the old story about two men who want to climb a 20-foot wall, and the first one says, "I'll get up on your shoulders, and then we'll be up 12 feet, then you get up on my shoulders, we'll be up 18 feet. And then finally I'll get back on your shoulders and we'll be on top of the wall." What was wrong with how to president responded even after he had gotten the authorization from congress?
DEAN: The president went for his authorization in October of 19 - excuse me, of 2002 to go into Iraq. He didn't want to have to go back when he actually sent the troops in. There was a lot of doubt about whether there were weapons of mass destruction, whether there was a need of more diplomacy, all those issues were still up on the table. He cracked a deal on the House where if they were going to grant him this very unusual and unprecedented authority, they wanted certain conditions and they attached conditions to the grant of authority. The conditions were that he make a formal determination that, one, that there was no need for any further or any potential for working anything out through diplomatic relations to resolve the weapons of mass destruction issue. The second thing is that it was consistent with the war on terrorism and the whole al-Qaeda problem. In other words, the two premises in which he had really been selling the congress and the nation on war, he was to make a formal determination. Everyone thought, fine. And then no one ever looked back after he went to war. And 48 hours after he does invade Iraq, he does make the determination, and it is a sick joke. It is the most fraudulent document I've ever seen a president file. I lay it out on the book, I put the - all the details in, it's so - I make what, hopefully, is a technical legal argument into a very plain, simple argument because what he's done is he's taken his own information, some whereas clauses that he gave the congress to - typical stuff, window dressing that goes into any resolution. He says, those are findings of congress.
OLBERMANN: Because he had submitted them to congress.
DEAN: He'd already submitted them to congress, then he declares them to be findings of congress, and he bases his determination on his own whereases.
OLBERMANN: Let me move to the topical. This week Dr. Rice is going to testify on Thursday before the 9/11 Commission, this something the White House fought and ultimately lost? Maybe it's because of the 9/11 speech that she didn't give in which basically, it dismissed terrorism was the major issue. Maybe it was about the daily security briefs. Whatever it was, join the commission for me for a moment, John. You get the first question to Dr. Rice. What do you ask her on Thursday?
DEAN: One of the first questions would obviously be about her speech on September 11, what she had planned, her state of mind. The "New York Times" op ed page, on the weekend, did an excellent thing offering questions to some people who were experts. And Scott Armstrong, who is a good expert on national security and terrorism, had some very penetrating questions, and principally, he - one of the things he really wanted to know is why was Iraq still even in play at this point and why was it coming up, and what was its connection? And there is, obviously, no connection and I think she's going to be pressed hard on that.
OLBERMANN: Last point. The terrifying part, at some point you see a political dispute, you see a secrecy in a presidency throughout your book, but the terror come at the end. You describe what the people of this country have not been told regarding emergency preparations for situations that would make 9/11 look like just a bad day. What this president, or indeed any president could do, you've seen similar documents and instructions as to what would happen?
DEAN: Yes, I have.
OLBERMANN: What don't we know?
DEAN: I talk about, for example, I used - I put in a footnote, in fact one of my readers called me right away and said "you are one of those people that actually flew out of Washington and went down into the cave and operated?"
I said "Yes, and even in my day, they had all those plans were in place and they're really quite frightening plans." What I was not quite sure how the handle this in the book because I didn't want to be an alarmist. About the time I was working on this section, General Tommy Franks came out with a statement and gave an interview, and he said, that if terrorists get a hold of weapons of mass destruction, and the United States knows it, he said, "this constitution in this country in this democracy we love, is in deep trouble." I didn't really need to say much more after Tommy Franks said it, because that is the danger. We have a presidency that has found that governing by fear is a lot easier. They have managed to keep the terror in terrorism. They've done nothing to educate the American people about these issue, they've made them worse rather than better, they've exploited the travesty and a tragedy, and to me, that - the reason that's at the end of the book because this is, - this is - these are the secrets that are going to really potentially threaten democracy and take the air out of democracy, if you will.
OLBERMANN: We've seen that once before in your lifetime, I don't want to see it again, not in mine, certainly.
John Dean, the book is called "Worse than Watergate," it is out officially tomorrow. I don't know if you will like it or if you will try to throw it through a window, all I know is that the basic text is 198 pages long and in my copy, I have the corners of 27 of them turned over and about 60 of the passages underlined.
John, many thanks for coming out.
DEAN: Thank you, pleasure.
OLBERMANN: All right. Up next, tonight's No. 4 story: Not even Lady Liberty can escape scandal. First we wondered: Why wasn't it open? Now we're wondering: Why wasn't it opened even though they had already raised all the money to reopen it?
And later, what is: "I stopped Al Franken from trying to punch out Alex Trebek?" The report from the taping of "Jeopardy: Power Player's Week."
And the death of Kurt Cobain: Authorities said it was a suicide, but now ten years later, two authors think he may have been murdered, they will join us.
First COUNTDOWN's opening numbers. Looking ahead to that Cobain story:
He died 10 years ago, this week, at age 27. That is literally life or death for a lot of musicians.
Twenty-seven, how old Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was when he drowned.
Twenty-seven, Jim Morrison's age when he had is fatal heart attack.
Twenty-seven, that was when Janis Joplin died O.D.ed on heroin, a month after a 27, Jimmy Hendrix died, also drug related.
OLBERMANN: Up next here, tonight's No. 4 story: The Statue of Liberty, after a big drive to get the money to open the symbol of freedom back up to the world, now comes the news that the money was really there all along. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: The old saying notes that charity begins at home. The new corollary adds, "And it ends at the charity's office building."
Our fourth story, the "New York Times" reporting that the Department of the Interior is investigating what appears to be a scam, a scandal, or at best, mass stupidity involving the fundraising to get Statue of Liberty retrofitted for counter terrorism and then reopened. It was closed after 9/11 and it was supposed to open again after about $7 million had been raised by the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation to make the security improvements. Robert De Niro even volunteered to make television commercials encouraging companies and citizens to donate, but the government source said that not only has it been the $7 million been raised, but even beforehand, that foundation had an endowment of $30 million and still the statue is not open to the public.
To help us try to figure out what's going on here, I'm joined by David Yassky, member of New York City Council and chair of its select committee on water fronts.
Councilor, thanks for your time tonight.
DAVID YASSKY, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: What is going on here?
YASSKY: Well, there are two things. First of all, the foundation, as you suggested, made some very bad choices and I think probably some unethical decisions about how to continue paying themselves big salaries while doing very little for the Statue of Liberty, but the bigger issue is:
How did the Department of Interior, how did the Bush administration give over the management of this crucial symbol of national freedom to a bunch of amateurs, if not hucksters?
OLBERMANN: We all know that occasionally projects can get away from departments of the federal government. But seriously, should not someone in the Interior Department have taken an occasional look at what was happening to what is the symbol of freedom, not merely in this country, but across the planet.
YASSKY: Oh, absolutely. First of all, if what we needed was $5 million or $7 million to reopen the statue, and by the way, originally the Department of Interior said it was $2 million, now it's - then it was five, now seven. But, whatever it was, they should have come up with that money from day one, there's $250 million in the Parks Department budget this year for adding walkways in national parks, adding restroom in national parks, visitors centers, but they couldn't come one even one penny for the Statue of Liberty. I think that was absurd.
OLBERMANN: So they just asked De Niro and American Express for it.
You and I are New Yorkers, we'll get this reference, maybe others won't. But raising $7 million to get other people to pay to improve your statue when you have $30 million in the bank sounds like a touch of the 19th century and Boss Tweed. Is anybody going to wind up going to jail here? Is that how serious this is?
YASSKY: Yeah, I don't know if it's Boss Tweed or - you know, P.T. Barnum, "There's a sucker born every minute." But well, look, I don't know that anything was done that was criminal, but what is clear is that the foundation management did continue to pay itself huge salaries while the Statue of Liberty is still closed to the public. But again, I think the real focus needs to be on why did Gale Norton, the secretary of the Interior, let this happen?
OLBERMANN: Keep it closed when we needed the statue, perhaps, symbolically more than ever over the last three years.
YASSKY: More than ever, and listen, it's now two-and-a-half years since September 11. Every other national park is 100 percent open. The Statue of Liberty still isn't open. And she came here a couple weeks ago and said well, we're going to reopen it, but they're really only opening the base of the statue. People aren't going to be able to climb up to the top, as I did when I was a kid, as so many American have done.
OLBERMANN: Councilman David Yassky of New York City, many thanks for your time tonight, sir.
YASSKY: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN past the No. 4 story. Up next, those stories that do not know a COUNTDOWN number but still make it into our daily time capsule anyhoo, "Oddball" is next. Ahhh, sheep!
And later, important news for parents about their kids, the T.V., and the ADHD.
OLBERMANN: And we rejoin you and immediately pause the COUNTDOWN for a brief moment to span the globe in search of the strange news that always follows these three little words: "Let's play Oddball."
And the sheep have hit the fan. They've taken over the streets of Te Kuiti, New Zealand. It's the first annual running of the sheep to open up the national sheep sheering championships. Evidently it will also be the last running of the sheep. They're supposed to be placid, follow the herd individuals, in fact, they proved totally uncooperative, refused to follow course markers, and would not gore anybody. This was based, of course, on running of the bulls. But, unlike in Pamplona, where the bulls are rushing towards certain death and try to take out a few humans on the way, this is a much better deal for the participant, no one gets injured, in the end, they all get naked. This is, in fact, merely a stampede toward the blessed relief that is: A summer hair cut.
And if you celebrated a birthday last Thursday, you don't need me to tell that you being born on April Fools Day is a perennial mixed blessing. Then again it could be worse, you could be Robert May of Hartford, Illinois. Not long after March 31 became April 1, Mr. May returned to his home to discover it ablaze. Police later took into custody a suspect, his ex-girlfriend.
Happy birthday, hon, I got you some fire!
But, it got worse. By night fall, Mr. May had been arrested, too, accused of stealing a truck right in front of some policemen.
(SINGING): Happy birthday to you!
COUNTDOWN picking up with the No. 3 story after the break. Your preview: The newest danger in Iraq, one of the biggest worries before the war could become a reality a year in. The U.S. military now working to stop a widespread uprising by the Shi'ites.
And later the clash of the titans, well the clash of the titanic egos. "Keeping Tabs" goes behind the scenes as politicians and reporters play "Jeopardy." Only one near-riot reported.
Those stories are ahead, first are COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day:
No. 3: Bill Gates, our boss is no longer the richest man in the world, or so says a Swedish news weekly which says the founder of Ikea has now passed him at 52 and a half billion. The Ikea guy denies it, no comment from Mr. Gates. Though I notice we are broadcasting in black and white here, for six hours a day.
No. 2: Raymond Sobeski. Two weeks before the deadline to report the winning ticket in the Canadian lottery, he did, he claimed his $22 million prize and then left the continent. Apparently he's trying to avoid a 1996 bankruptcy, two ex-wives, a current wife, and child support he has not paid.
And No. 1: Cleto Ruiz Diaz, who has called upon the government of Argentina to offer all its male citizens free vasectomies. Mr. Diaz has 37 children. As the old Argentinean proverb goes, "buddy, I think that boat has sailed."
OLBERMANN: The administration continues to insist that 86 days from now, it will turn over political control of Iraq to Iraqis. What will actually happen there on June 30 seems to be an open question. As does what will actually happen there tomorrow or Wednesday.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, continued insurgency in Fallujah, a call to anti-American terrorism from a Shiite cleric in Baghdad.
Our correspondent there is Richard Engel.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. Apaches in action today over Baghdad, the second day of gun battles in the city's largest Shiite neighborhood.
Overnight, eight American soldiers were killed, as were 30 Iraqis, some just children. But Baghdad wasn't the only place where Shiites erupted in fury yesterday, Basra, Nasiriyah, and Najaf, where 20 were killed, 200 injured. The crosscountry uprising provoked by this man, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who in his sermon last Friday called on his supporter to bring terror to the occupying forces.
U.S. intelligence sources say Sadr has about 600 hardcore supporters and commands a militia, the Mahdi army, with 2,000 to 3,000 men.
DAN BRUMBERG, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: They are impoverished young. They are literate, though, and they tend to despise the American occupation force and see it as obstacle to establishing an Islamic state in Iraq.
ENGEL: But Sadr's war is not just with the coalition. He is also challenging the leadership of Ayatollah al-Sistani for control of Iraq's Shiite community. The Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the Iraqi population, were suppressed under Saddam Hussein. But they've benefited under the Americans, who gave them majority of seats on the Governing Council.
Last summer, when Sadr first started recruiting his army, the U.S. dismissed him as a young hothead with little real influence. But he has gained momentum since the U.S. closed down his anti-American newspaper last month. Today, the coalition announced an arrest warrant for Sadr in connection with last year's murder of a Abdel-Majid al-Khoei, a U.S.-backed Shiite cleric who was stabbed outside a Najaf mosque. It's a risky move.
DR. GAILAN RAMIZ, POLITICAL ANALYST: If he is totally humiliated, is giving the surroundings and circumstances of conflict in Iraq, you would turn him to be a hero.
ENGEL: The U.S. military says it is up to Sadr what happens next.
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. DEPUTY CHIEF OF OPERATIONS: A lot will depend on how he intends to take the news of this warrant and whether he decides to come peacefully or whether he decides to come not peacefully.
ENGEL: Tonight, Sadr is in a mosque in Kufa surrounded by armed supporters who say they'll fight to the death if the Americans move to arrest him.
(on camera): Keith, tonight, al-Sistani to renounce violence, request which he rejected - Keith.
OLBERMANN: NBC's Richard Engel in Baghdad for us tonight, many thanks.
Meanwhile, 35 miles to the west and the Sunni stronghold in Fallujah, and with no end to the violence there that included the murder and desecration of four Americans last week, coalition forces have bottled up the city, 200,000 residents currently in lockdown waiting for the start of Operation Vigilant Resolve. U.S. troops, including 1,200 Marines, have blocked all entrances to Fallujah and instituted a curfew from sundown to sunup. They will now try to round up the insurgents, time of that to be determined.
Already tonight, though, U.S. forces came under heavy fire at the town's outskirts. They report having killed one of their attackers and wounded two others.
Some progress on the desecration story. U.S. forces telling NBC News that some of those who attacked and killed the four civilian security contractors last week actually appear in the videotape depicting the mutilation of the Americans' bodies.
In less than three months, the U.S. is scheduled to hand over authority to the provisional government of Iraq. June 30, L. Paul Bremer slated to leave that country for good and leave behind an American ambassador and 3,000 embassy staff. But the last week's wave of violence in Fallujah and that insurgency by the Shiite majority, previously a relatively cooperative group, has prompted both the leaders of the Senate Foreign Policy Committee to question if now is the right time for the U.S. to transfer power.
The president today insisted anew that it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our intention is to make sure the deadline remains the same. I believe we can transfer authority by June 30. We're working toward that day.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I hope to God we do something between now and the 31st to decide what is going to be follow-on entity to Mr. Bremer, because this is what you're going to see more of.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: I think, in all fairness, the June 30 deadline, the thought was of some back then that in fact Iraqis wanted this, that they would assume democracy. Well, fair enough. But they're at a point in which surely they can't control the situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: It would belittle the seriousness of the situation to say that the U.S. is between Iraq and a hard place. But, unfortunately, the saying fits.
Joining me now for some perspective, David Gergen, director of the Kennedy School Center For Public Leadership, veteran of four different White Houses.
Thank you again for your time tonight, David.
DAVID GERGEN, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Hello, Keith.
OLBERMANN: In all senses, politically in Iraq, politically in the U.S., simply in terms of what is right, this begins to feel like a room rapidly filling with smoke. What do we do now?
GERGEN: Keith, I don't think anybody knows exactly what to do now. There are some people who say, well, let's get the U.N. in here to solve this. The U.N. does not want to take over Iraq. Others say, well, let's get NATO to do this. There's no indication that NATO wants to go in.
I think it is ours and we're going to have to persevere. But how we do this is really going to be tricky. Tonight, totally unexpectedly now, we're facing possible violence on two fronts, not only with the Sunnis, but what we've long, long feared in Washington. And that was that the Shiites would go into rebellion. And to have to go get that cleric, to force him out of that mosque where he is with those young kids with all their guns, it could be pretty bloody. We could make a martyr out of him in the process of going after him.
But, clearly, the officials, our officials on the scene think they have to shut him down, just as they have to round up people in Fallujah, as we must. So we have got our hands full now. I think that when Senator Biden and Senator Lugar, two of the most respected members of the Senate -
Senator Lugar, of course, a Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - when they both begin saying, maybe the deadline is too early and we clearly have to do more planning in the next 83 days, this is a serious business.
These next weeks are going to be critical. In fact, this week and the next week could be very critical for whether we ultimately succeed in Iraq. And right now, it is not - we're all of course reeling still from these terrible pictures and the violence of the last few days. But this is, this one is one that requires utmost concentration on the part of from the administration. We may need more troops in there before this is out. The general there on the ground is now considering that question. We may have to put - we may have to put more American troops in there to at least bring order. You have to have order before you can turn over sovereignty.
OLBERMANN: David, we all wish that these things could be decided without letting politics into play. But that's not realistic.
GERGEN: Not realistic.
OLBERMANN: There is a Pew Research poll that was taken after the desecrations in Fallujah, the tape of which we're looking at again. There's still a strong majority in this country believing that the country did the right thing in going to war Iraq. It is 57 percent.
But a couple other number are less sanguine; 50 percent favor keeping the troops there until a stable Iraqi government is in place; 44 percent say bring them home as soon as possible. Mr. Bush is taking a hit, 40 percent approving of the way he is handling Iraq. That is a complete swing since January, when it was nearly 60 percent who approved and 40 who did not. And asked if they think the president has a clear plan for an end game there in Iraq, 32 percent say yes and 57 percent say no.
Pure politics, David, let me ask you to advise this president. What do you tell him to do about Iraq based on those numbers?
GERGEN: Well, there are two numbers that he has to be very concerned about.
One is that, as you show it, there's only - by only 50 to 44 do Americans want to stay in Iraq. And just a couple months ago, with that same poll from Pew and Andy Kohut, it was well over 61 percent wanted to stay. And down in the 30s wanted to leave. So that gap has closed dramatically here in the last couple months. And from the White House's point of view, the president's approval rating, that poll was only 43 percent, the lowest by far of his entire presidency.
So it is an outlier poll, I might point out. I don't think we've seen
anything that negative for the president. So we'll have to wait and see if
the number is supported by other polls. But given that, it does seem to me
· and, now, Jerry Bremer was supposed to come to Washington this week, had to cancel his trip, had to stay in Iraq because of all the fires that are burning. It does seem that what the president has to do is get his team together and come up with a clear strategy for the next 90 days and for the post-handoff period.
It's not obvious to the American people right now what is it we're going to do after June 30. What is the game plan here? We all keep hearing, we're going to have stay there at least a couple more years. Well, I think people have prepared themselves for that. But they would like some clear sense of a game plan that everybody can follow. And right now, the administration of course is also distracted by the 9/11 hearing.
So this must be a really hard week for Condi Rice, who has to testify on Thursday.
OLBERMANN: Extraordinarily so.
David Gergen, as always, time well spent. Many thanks, sir.
GERGEN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That wraps up our third story tonight, deadly riots and deadlines in Iraq.
The No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN explains so many things, including our nation's collective 10-second attention span and the surging popularity of Ritalin. Then later, forget taking on Trebek. But, first, we'll take a break.
OLBERMANN: Our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN is next. Do you watch too much television? Did you do so as a toddler? Evidence tonight that it could be the cause of learning disorders, like attention deficit and hyperact - oh, a kitty.
OLBERMANN: Try to entertain a jumpy child and sooner or later, you may be faced with this slippery slope. You might fall back on television, but tonight research suggests that too much TV can cause attention deficit disorder. So you turn to Ritalin. But tonight more research suggests too much Ritalin can stunt your child's growth.
In our No. 2 story this evening, before you wind up with a short hyperactive child who watches too much TV, take some notes. Researchers from Cal-Berkeley watched 540 kids, ages 7 to 9, for about two years. Those who were prescribed Ritalin or similar stimulant drugs did not grow as much, nor gain as much weight. The difference is half an inch and eight pounds. ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is the most neurobehavioral problem among children.
And the relationship between it and TV became a little clearer today after more research was conducted in Seattle. You could you say television was the most destructive weapon ever invented by mankind.
As our chief science correspondent, Robert Bazell, reports, you would get at most a halfhearted argument from those researchers who are beginning to gauge its impact on kids younger than 3.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Prom is what, a month away?
ROBERT BAZELL, NBC CHIEF SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Candy (ph) and Larry Jacobs (ph) have raised five children, two of them diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity or ADHD. They say it's been rough.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually, they're doing great. Both used to be on medication. The oldest one, who is 17 right now, went off his medication about a year ago and has been doing extremely well.
BAZELL: No one knows the causes of ADHD. The study out today suggests that TV viewing when kids are 1 to 3 years old plays a role. And it includes some startling statistics.
The researchers that found children under 3 watch an average of two to four hour of television a day; 30 percent of children under 2 have televisions in their bedrooms; 36 percent of households have television on all the time even when no one is watching. The researchers conclude that for every hour of TV a day that kids watch when they are under 3, the risk of behavioral problems at age 7 goes up 10 percent.
They say that TV is bad for toddlers because their brains are still developing.
DR. DIMITRI CHRISTAKIS, SEATTLE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: It is mesmerizing for children but it is unnatural and potentially damaging, as our study suggests.
BAZELL (on camera): But other experts say TV could not be the only cause of ADHD, which affects between 3 and 5 percent of American kids.
DR. JEFF EPSTEIN, DUKE UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Genes plays a large role in ADHD. We think that genes play a greater role in the environment does in this disorder.
BLITZER (voice-over): And Candy Jacobs says she hopes the study will not make parents of kids with behavioral problems feel guilty.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope that they still seek assistance if they need it, not thinking that someone is going to point the finger at them and say, well, you did this to your child.
BAZELL: Still, the American Academy of Pediatrics already recommends that children under 2 not be allowed to watch TV at all.
Robert Bazell, NBC News, New York.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of too much TV, on to the segment of the news which we concede to those of who dance and prance across your screens, we call it "Keeping Tabs."
And Saturday in Washington, it was either a dream or a nightmare, 15 heavy hitters from media and politics - well, 14, plus me - convening for the taping of "Jeopardy Power Players." Among those playing for clarity, Tim Russert, Former Governor Whitman of New Jersey, Tucker Carlson, Peggy Noonan, and the man who co-authored "All the President's Men," who knows who Deep Throat is, Bob Woodward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JEOPARDY")
BOB WOODWARD, REPORTER: Well, I would like to see a category, scandal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Be careful what you wish for, Bob. In his game, one of the categories was political movies. Political movies for 100: "Two reporters unearth a scandal that goes all the way to the top in this 1976 film based on a book." Peggy Noonan buzzed in before Bob got the chance to answer the question about his own book.
Then crossword clues, letter D for 100: "He's the shadowy Watergate source." Again, Peggy beat Woodward to the buzzer about his own source. In the green room, Al Franken shouted, "No, let him answer. He might say, who was Alexander" - never mind. In his game, Franken's opponents were Gretchen Carlson of CBS and yours truly. Good game, almost as good as what happened before it, when Al sat in the miniature Lincoln Memorial they had on the stage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look what Al is doing right now.
OLBERMANN: Al has broken Lincoln.
OLBERMANN: And it's captured on tape. You are a bad man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: He broke Lincoln's hand off. "Jeopardy Power Players" airs the week of May 10. Can't tell you who won or lost, although 15 charities shared $450,000. But I can tell you did I manage to hold Franken back when he went after the host, Alex Trebek, probably averted a riot, countless injuries. You know, all in a day's work.
Still ahead of us tonight, from TV "Jeopardy" to the real kind. Was there more than suicide to the death of singer Kurt Cobain 10 years ago this week? The journalist and investigator behind the initiative join us here.
First, COUNTDOWN's top two photos of this day.
OLBERMANN: You can exaggerate importance of his death; 10 years ago this week, it was. It was not the Gen-X equivalent of the death of Elvis Presley. It is not comparable to the assassination of John Lennon in 1980.
But when Kurt Cobain disappeared and then turned up dead in his house in Seattle on April 8, 1994, another musical age did indeed close. He was the creative force of the first breakthrough grunge band, Nirvana. And he killed himself. Or maybe he didn't.
In our top story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, maybe his death had more in common with John Lennon's than previously was thought. In the new book "Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain," authors Max Wallace and Ian Halperin say there is new evidence to support the theory that Cobain did not take his own life.
I'm joined now by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Halperin, along with Tom Grant, a private investigator once under the employ of Courtney Love, who assisted them with the book.
Gentlemen, good evening.
Mr. Wallace, let me start with you.
This is not your first book on the death of Kurt Cobain. What warranted a second book?
MAX WALLACE, CO-AUTHOR, "LOVE & DEATH": Well, the first book just looked at the theories for suicide and murder. It didn't really take a stand.
And in this book, we have a lot of new evidence. And we're willing to go on the record for the first time and say this was a murder. We're still not exactly sure who did it. But there's certainly a lot of compelling evidence based on the case tapes of Tom Grant, the private investigator that was hired by Courtney Love to find Kurt when he went missing in '94.
OLBERMANN: And we'll get to Mr. Grant in a moment.
Mr. Halperin, a question for you. Do you worry of the timing of the release, the 10th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, that that might be perceived as a reason for writing a book of this sort at this time? Does it leave you open to that kind of criticism?
IAN HALPERIN, CO-AUTHOR, "LOVE & DEATH": Not at all, Keith.
I think the most important thing here is that, in this book, we revealed that it was scientifically impossible that Kurt Cobain committed suicide. There's just a plethora of new evidence that we reveal in the book. And it all leads up to a suicide that was not a suicide. It really was a murder. And that's why it is owed to Kurt's fans at this time to really look into the case, get all the facts and make their own decision.
We're not pointing the finger at anyone. A lot of people say - they question Courtney Love's role in the whole scenario. And so did we. But the fact is, Kurt Cobain was a great rock icon. And this case is definitely a murder.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Wallace, it has just been raised. It can't be avoided. Family things and murder things often happen to be the same things. Is there a connection - is there a suspicion that connects Kurt Cobain's death to his wife?
WALLACE: Well, there's no question. On these case tapes that we obtained after eight years of trying, Tom Grant finally agreed to let us hear them, he taped all his conversations with Courtney, with Courtney's lawyers, with the police medical examiner and Kurt's friends.
And on these tapes, Courtney's own entertainment attorney, Rosemary Carroll, who was godmother to their daughter, tells Grant that she believes that Kurt was murdered, that the suicide note was a forgery. And she urges him to look into the possibility of murder. She gave him a lot of new evidence, which we now have in our book. And it is clear for the first time that Tom Grant, no lunatic conspiracy theorist, as we thought when we first heard about this. We thought it was another half-baked celebrity conspiracy theory.
When you listen to these tapes, they reveal that Kurt was leaving Courtney, that he had booked two plane tickets out of Seattle for himself and a mystery woman, who Courtney was convinced was Kurt's new girlfriend. They reveal that she filed two false police reports lying to the police about Kurt and whether he was suicidal. She filed a missing persons report in the name of Kurt's mother for some unfathomable reason.
And you hear Rosemary Carroll, Courtney's attorney, telling Grant that they were getting a divorce, that Kurt had approached her to take Courtney out of the will that she was drawing up, that Courtney had approached her and asked her to find the meanest, most vicious divorce lawyer she could find. They had a prenuptial agreement. If the divorce had gone through, Courtney would have received very little.
As it is, she inherits an estate worth tens of millions of dollars. Now, that's certainly a motive to convince the police to at least look into it. But, instead, the police took one look at this dead junkie lying on the floor, shotgun on his chest, what appeared to be a suicide note at his side. And they labeled it an open-and-shut case of suicide, instead of looking into it.
HALPERIN: You see, Keith, no fingerprints were found on the gun. Dead men don't like their own prints. If you look at the so-called suicide note, the handwriting at the bottom that - it doesn't match the top of the note. It really was a note to his fans that he is leaving the music business, not that he's quitting life.
OLBERMANN: We should mention here that Courtney Love denies any involvement in Kurt Cobain's death.
But before we go - and we're about down to 90 seconds in the show -
Mr. Grant, you saw the actual scene. He was on the floor with a shotgun. There was drug paraphernalia. There was a note. What about this scene bothered you so much that you pursued it for a decade?
TOM GRANT, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: Well, I arrived at the house the morning the body was found. I did not gain entrance to the scene at the time. I gained entrance later and took photographs inside the scene. I gathered information about the scene from undercover work that I did with the medical examiner's office and with other officers who were on the scene and came to some pretty strong suspicions right from the beginning that something was wrong.
I did feel it was probably a suicide initially. But because of all the inconsistencies and all the lying that had been going on, when I was first hired and all the stories that had been planted in the press by Courtney Love, I was extremely suspicious. And I was trying to get the police to just slow down a little bit from day one and look a little bit closer.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Grant, forgive me, I have to cut you off. We're off at the top of the hour here.
But the book is "Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain." Its authors, Max Wallace and Ian Halperin, my thanks to them, along with the private investigator in the case, Tom Grant.
Thank you all, gentlemen.
OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it.
I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.