'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 17
Guests: Richard Wolffe, Richard Murphy, Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, Jon Hein
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will be you talking about tomorrow?
The state of the secretary of state: Mr. Powell says prewar intelligence sources were inaccurate and wrong, deliberately misleading, and on "Meet the Press" he takes the side of the press.
The abuse at Abu Ghraib: Where are its roots? One report, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, another the White House council opinion that parts of the Geneva Conventions were, quote, "quaint," and a novel one, that the abusers have been desensitized by the lewdness, crassness, and barbarism of television.
The barbarism of Columbine: Dylan Klebold's parents speak out and they say it wasn't their fault, it was somebody else's.
Maybe it was all a dream, like on the "Sopranos": Did one of TV's favorite shows just jump the shark? And has another been manipulated so much that it's no longer safe for you to bet money on it?
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening, in the last 36 hours a key member of George Bush's cabinet has admitted that intelligence vital to selling the concept of the war was "inaccurate and wrong and in some cases deliberately misleading." The same official abraded an aide for interrupting a television interview and apologized to a reporter for the interruption. And that same official today, told a university graduating class that the nation is going through a period of "deep disappointment" and that they should aspire to do the right thing.
Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN tonight: Has Secretary of State Colin Powell strayed from the administration herd? Even if he is a lame duck, does George Bush have enough room or enough patience for a secretary of state who confirms prewar intelligence mistakes, respects the media, and acknowledges public angst? And why has Mr. Powell done these things?
Working backwards, chronologically: The secretary of state giving the commencement address this morning, at Wake Forest University, advising the graduating class of 2004 to follow four simple words: Do the right thing. A rule that Powell said was clearly broken in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our nation is now going through a period of deep disappointment, a period of deep pain over some of our soldiers not doing the right thing at a place called Abu Ghraib.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But while doing the right thing, they seem like obvious enough advice to collimations on the day of their graduation, that simple four word mantra seemed to take on a whole new meaning when spoken in the secretary's voice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: Do the right thing, even when you get no credit for it, even if you get hurt by doing the right thing. Do the right thing when no one is watching or will ever know about it. You will always know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Mr. Powell was in Jordan yesterday, from which venue he appeared on "Meet the Press" on NBC, during which interview came both the exchanges with host, Tim Russert, remarkable for its respect for the media also, the startling admission that one of the centerpiece of his own address to the U.N. Security Council in February, 2003 was based on intelligence that wasn't just wrong, but was, in some cases, deliberately wrong. Then he told the world that U.S. had descriptions of mobile labs in Iraq on trucks on trains, capable of producing biological weapons of mass destruction, but yesterday Mr. Powell said the sources of that information were not only wrong, they were in some cases intentionally so.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: It turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong, and in some cases, deliberately misleading, and for that I am disappointed and I regret it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Then came the end of the interview, apparently earlier than Tim Russert expected, or Secretary of State Powell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, "MEET THE PRESS": In February of 2003 you placed your enormous personal credibility before the United Nations and laid out a case against Saddam Hussein's sighting...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Off...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, they can't use their editing...
POWELL: He's still asking questions, Em.
Tim, I'm sorry, I lost you.
RUSSERT: I'm right here, Mr. Secretary, I would hope they would put you back on camera.
I don't know who did that.
POWELL: You would really...
RUSSERT: I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary. I don't think that's appropriate.
POWELL: Emily, get out of the way. Bring the camera back, please. I think we're back on, Jim, go ahead with your last question.
RUSSERT: Thank you very much, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Whether you view it as a good thing or a bad thing, you must concede that statement is true. Nobody that prominent in that administration has shown that level of concern for any reporter and for a program, unless they were from "Fox News." Secretary's civility was not lost on the man at the other end of the equation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: Secretary Powell, to his credit, took charge. He was stand up, he asked for the camera to come back on and he answered the question fully. It's the first time in my 13 years of doing "Meet the Press" that a press aide has every actually tried to pull the plug on an interview.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So, urging graduates to do the right thing, acknowledging misinformation propagated by the U.S. by himself on the eve of war, recognizing national disappointment and deep pain over Abu Ghraib and placing a reporter ahead of his own aide, coincidences, conscience, something else?
Richard Wolffe covers State and the diplomatic beat for "Newsweek" magazine. I spoke with him a little while ago.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Wolffe, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, "NEWSWEEK": Good evening.
OLBERMANN: From the admission about the mobile labs misinformation to the exchange with Tim Russert to the do the right thing speech in Wake Forest, aren't these very atypical things for somebody in the Bush administration? Is there now a real breach between Mr. Powell and the administration?
WOLFFE: There is, and there has been for a long time. I think what you're seeing now is it's just come out into the open. There's a sense that Colin Powell doesn't have a whole lot to lose. He's got his own popularity, it's still holding up pretty well, but he's not sticking around for another term and I guess the gloves are off in some ways.
OLBERMANN: Do you think, watching this situation from your advantage point, that Mr. Powell is doing more than just what he feels is right, I mean, tracking him on the weapons lab story, not much more than a month ago he was describing that information as not solid.
OLBERMANN: Now it's inaccurate and wrong. Does it sound like he's leading up to an apology, a resignation, something else?
WOLFFE: He's not a quitter, he's not going to resign, but he's trying to defend himself. There's a reason Colin Powell keeps talking about this speech. That's because he feels he was given a bad set of information, not from the media, not from anyone else, but from the White House, and he was let down by the White House. It turns out, he feels he was let down by the CIA, as well when he was trying to check that speech. So he's protecting his back, he's trying to protect his legacy.
OLBERMANN: Is it farcical to hear, in all this, some sort of advance echo of something else down the road?
The assumption has been, as you mentioned, that there is no chance that he would be back in the cabinet, even if Mr. Bush were to be re-elected.
Could Mr. Powell be distancing himself in case Mr. Bush is not re-elected?
Could he be preserving his political viability if the Republicans were to lose the White House?
WOLFFE: You know, I'm not so sure how Mack Evalian (ph), but he is certainly aware of his own popularity, he guards it very preciously. You know, one of the things he likes to do, right now on foreign trips, more than talking to foreign leaders, is going out there and talking to young kids. He likes being popular, and if that sustains his political career or his public career in one way or another, whether it's non-profits or whatever, he'll do it. I don't know that he's expecting to serve a President Kerry, but he wants to be out there in public and he still wants to have that credibility that he guards so preciously.
OLBERMANN: Could we see the thought being, at least, preserved, in his mind, of a President Powell?
WOLFFE: You know, I think he turned his back on that, and Almay, his wife, turned her back on that a long time ago. He likes pokeling (ph) around with his Volvos and e-mailing his buddies, and of course he's got plenty of money out there, he can do pretty much what he wants. I could see him going back to the boys and girls clubs things that he was doing, but presidential run? I don't think so.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe, diplomatic correspondent at "Newsweek" magazine. Great thanks for your time and your insights, sir.
WOLFFE: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: If Secretary Powell is distancing himself from George Bush, he is not alone. Three new polls over the weekend and in each Mr. Bush's approval ratings hit all-time lows. The polling "Time" has that approval at 46 percent. Polls by "Newsweek" and Zogby International think it at 42 percent, and to the degree he is sinking, Mr. Bush's millstone is Iraq - 39 percent in "Time" poll approve of the president's handling of the war, 35 in "Newsweek," 32 in Zogby. For comparison, 32 percent approval of his handling in Zogby, with 64 percent disapproval five months ago, December 2003 the same polls showed 54 percent approving his handling of Iraq. The president has lost one-third of his support over Iraq in the last four months.
And the $64 question, for the first time, even in polling, including a three-way electoral match-up, the inclusion of Ralph Nader in the equation is not universally neutralizing Senator Kerry's lead over Mr. Bush. Only the "Newsweek" poll showing Mr. Bush within the range of statistical error:
Kerry 43, Bush 42, Nader five. The Zogby poll, with Nader included in it:
Kerry 47, Bush 42, Nader three. The "Time" poll, Kerry 49, Bush 44, Nader six percent.
In Iraq, political decisions are not yet made by polls nor at them. There they are still in the French revolution stage of representative government. A senior U.S. official tells NBC News that it may very well have been a, quote, "inside job" that led to the assassination, this morning, of the president of the Iraqi governing council.
Izzedine Salim was among nine Iraqis killed when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle at a checkpoint outside coalition headquarters in central Baghdad. The U.S. source says the fear is someone inside that interim Iraqi government tipped off the assassins about his movements of Salim. This afternoon a group itself the "Arab Resistance Movement" claimed responsibility for the murder of a man it had called a "traitor and mercenary." But, General Mark Kimmitt said that the car bomb had the classic hallmarks of the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to whom one Web site attributed the murder of the American freelance contractor, Nick Berg.
The death of the IGC president, Salim, underscores one of the problems lurking behind the current problems. If the handover of power in Iraq works, what kind of government will follow? Will the first thing an elected Iraqi leadership do is turn anti-American? I'm joined now by Richard Murphy, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria, now senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Ambassador Murphy, good evening. Thanks for your time.
RICHARD MURPHY, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: To that first overarching question, sir, could an Iraqi government actually get itself elected and supported in Iraq and still wind up being pro-American?
MURPHY: It will be increasingly hard to be purely pro-American. I think any candidate, to be successful, is going to have to show some light between themselves and Washington, because that reflects the drop in our popularity throughout the country.
OLBERMANN: What does Mr. Salim's death mean to the process, even getting to that stage, both short-term and long-term?
MURPHY: Well, it's another one of those threats, do not collaborate, do not cooperate with the Americans. It's a - you know, a taunt that the Americans can't provide you security or anybody else security. It may be a sign of some growing tension between Sunni and Shia in Iraq, that's a possibility. But I think mainly it's, don't trust the Americans, don't collaborate with them.
OLBERMANN: Whenever Iraq stands on its own, however we get to that stage, governmentally at least there, what is that Iraq going to look like? Is it going to wind up being religious or semi-religious? Is it going to be a theocracy like Iran? What is it going to look like?
MURPHY: It's not going to be a theocracy like Iran, I think that's way off the charts. It will be inspired by Islam, the vast proportion of the population, Sunni, Shia, Kurd, are Muslim, so that wouldn't be a surprise. But the Iranian theocracy, no. The Shia, may be a majority, but they are divided and they're only 60 percent as a majority, they are divided between secular and religious, and I don't think Iran is seriously going to push its own model of government on Iraq. That would destabilize the country.
OLBERMANN: Have we sent, in the last week, a mixed message to all those involved in this process in Iraq regarding troop withdrawals? Ambassador Bremer and Secretary Powell both saying if asked, essentially, the troops will go, and then immediately saying, but, of course, we won't be asked?
MURPHY: Well, frankly, I was surprised when I heard that theme sounded first by Ambassador Bremer, then by the secretary. I think that has - it's more useful as a theme outside of Iraq. Inside Iraq it encourages our enemies and it makes our friends and supporters nervous that we really might be about to pull out.
OLBERMANN: How is this conversion going to take place on June 30? Is it?
MURPHY: It won't be full sovereignty. Nobody can expect that. It will be part of the process. I mean, you can't be fully sovereign and have a 130,000 American troops in your country under the control of a foreign power, namely, the United States. But there will be a process and it behooves the Americans to move steadily, granting every possible measure of sovereign decision-making to that transitional government. It will not be an elected government. It's still an American-dominated government, but there are lots of things that they can do to take from the current coalition authority decision-making, and we had better pay attention to that or we're going to be in real trouble when the national elections come next January.
OLBERMANN: The former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria, Richard Murphy. Great thanks for your time tonight.
MURPHY: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Ironically, on this, of all days, a weapon of mass destruction was unquestionably found in Iraq. One roadside bomb containing two chemical components of the deadly nerve gas sarin went off near a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad. The components apparently failed to mix. Two servicemen were treated for, quote, "minor exposure." U.S. General Kimmitt said he believed the insurgents who planted the device didn't even know it contained sarin and experts concluded this was probably a leftover from before the first Gulf War.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID KAY, FORMER CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: They all date from the mid to late1980s. Prior to 1991. They should have been destroyed. The Iraqis were required to turn these over to the UN and the UN to destroy them. But, in fact, they produced so many of these that it's not at all surprising that there are leftovers, onesies and twosies, scattered around that country, just as there are huge amounts of conventional armament scattered around the country and every day they're the real danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the political fallout from the war both here and in Iraq, and coming up later the Iraqi prison abuse scandal. New details about the decision-making process from the President on down and the new theories to explain the behavior found in and in reaction to the abuse pictures.
But up next, new abuse for the victims of Columbine. After five years of silence, the parents of gunman Dylan Klebold speak out and apparently cop out.
OLBERMANN: Psychologically speaking, rationalization is the process by which you let yourself off the hook for petty crimes and misdemeanors of illogic. Denial is something far more serious, a whole aspect of your life that you keep as far away from the truth as you can. And then there is whatever the parents of Columbine murderer Dylan Klebold are suffering from. Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the Klebold publicly face the reality of what their son did more than five years ago, and, as our correspondent Mark Mullen reports, they blink.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: .screw with that little kid. If you do, I'll rip off your (expletive deleted) head.
MARK MULLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Looking back, this tape showing the Columbine shooters spewing venom and playing with guns seems like a warning sign. But five years after the worst school violence in U.S. history, the parents of one of the killers, Dylan Klebold, have gone public about their son and whether they bear any responsibility. In an interview with the "New York Times" columnist David Brooks published over the weekend, Tom and Susan Klebold likened the shootings to a natural disaster, using words like "hurricane" and "rain of fire" to describe 13 murders. Some parents of Columbine students are not happy.
RANDY BROWN, COLUMBINE PARENT: Pretty disappointed that this much misinformation has gotten out, especially by a writer for the "New York Times."
MULLEN: The Klebolds do acknowledge they missed warning signs, saying of Dylan, "He was hopeless. We didn't realize it until after the end."
But who bears responsibility? Susan Klebold told the "Times," "Dylan did not do this because of the way he was raised. He did it in contradiction to the way he was raised."
In fact, the Klebolds suggest it was a toxic culture at the school.
The worship of jocks and a tolerance for bullying that set their son off. Some other parents, such as Randy and Judy Brown don't think the Klebolds knew enough to prevent the tragedy, but they say the community should have known.
JUDY BROWN, COLUMBINE PARENT: These kids were putting out signals and sings every direction there was. They were being very open, and a lot of people had signs and they chose to ignore them.
MULLEN: A community still at odds over the violence of five years ago. Mark Mullen, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: The columnist who interviewed the Klebold's, David Brooks, added that the perception is accurate, based on his conversation with them, the parents lack a sense of culpability for the murderer they raised.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID BROOKS, "NEW YORK TIMES" COMMUNIST: I would say they don't feel a tremendous weight of responsibility. I think it's a sense of mystification. They feel they raised their kid as they would say, with Midwestern values, they were around, I wouldn't say they - you know, they see it - it's interesting, they see it as a suicide, primarily. They know their kid killed people, they know horror that he brought to other families, but as they talk about it, they see it as someone who was in pain and who committed suicide in this horrible way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN now complete through the fourth story. Up next, those that know no number, but still earn COUNTDOWN fame, "Oddball" straight ahead, and how would you like to order an omelet that requires a pre-order credit check? Price that omelet.
And later, Lexington and concord, it was not, but in the war over same-sex marriage, today was the battle of Cambridge. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: We return you now and we take a quick detour from the COUNTDOWN to amble sadly down the boulevard of broken news stories. Let's play "Oddball."
And I don't know much about art, but I know what I like, and a 36-meter long painting created by forty Malaysians in scuba gear, 50 feet below the surface of the South China Sea, that, I don't like. Of course, span the scope, the forcefulness of the line, it's not just a Malaysian record for underwater paining, it's also breathtaking, which explains why they were wearing scuba gear. Now, if they can just locate the world's longest refrigerator, they can hang it up with little near - little, little, little things on the refrigerator. What kind of paint did they use? Magnets. Watercolor.
To London and another visual medium all together, the eighth annual Playtex Charity Moonwalk for Breast Cancer Awareness. An estimated 15,000 women gathered in Hyde Park at Midnight and proceeded to march 26 miles through the streets of London wearing - well, wearing their bras. The good news is the march is said to have raised more than 4 million pounds for breast cancer research and care. The bad news, more than 10,000 British men were reported injured by accidentally walking into telephone poles and scaffold supports.
And lunch in New York can get expensive, but how about 1,000 bucks per omelet? Norman's, in the Parker Meridian Hotel, my own lunch hangout, with just a terrific menu and staff has introduced the "Zillion Dollar Frittata." Six eggs, plus a lobster, and 10 ounces of caviar - Sevruga caviar, 65 bucks an ounce wholesale. Your cost: $1,000. No, it's not made out of Faber eggs.
And from $1,000 omelets to people who do not know that to make one you have to break some eggs. A couple walks into the fertility clinic at the University of Luebeck in Germany and says, "Doctor, eight year we've been trying, no kids." They run the tests on both, great eggs, sperm moving along swimmingly. Fertility doctor says, "How often do the two of you have sex?" Husband looks at him blankly. Wife looks at him blankly. The doctor says the people were not psychologically nor physically challenged, they had just been raised in a very religious environment, so religious they had never been told of the connection between sex and procreation.
COUNTDOWN picking back up with our No. 3 story in a moment, your preview: Inside the Iraqi abuse scandal, understanding the decisions by commanders, getting perspective, perhaps, on the behavior of American soldiers.
And later, was it a dream sequence or just the bottom of the barrel?
The episode that sent the "Sopranos" into eternal slumber.
These stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day:
No. 3: An unnamed man, let's call him "John Cicada," in honor of the musician, hospitalized in Bloomington, Indiana, covered head to toe in hives. He told doctors he had caught and cooked nearly 30 cicadas. They told him he had an allergic reaction. Might have been the cicadas.
No. 2: Six pupils at the Clywedog School in Wrexham in England, they attended a demonstration by local cops who came in with drug-sniffing dogs and these six attended the demonstration with pot in their pockets. The dogs were well trained, obviously the kids were not.
And No. 1: A former part time baseball scout who had worked for five years for the Anaheim Angels, who recommended several guys who became stars. The Angels ignored his suggestionings, the Seattle Mariners did not. They have given him a full time job as a scout, his name is David Lander. You may remember him from the TV series "Laverne and Shirley," in which he played "Squiggy." And, no, he does not greet those prospects by, "hullooo."
OLBERMANN: The original theory, the original hope that the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison was the result of a bunch of proverbial bad apples seems now to have been little more than wishful thinking and the best available benefits of the doubt.
The third story on the COUNTDOWN, the dots are connected backwards by one reporter from Abu Ghraib to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, by another reporter from the prison to the office of the White House counsel, and by a number of academics from the moments of the posed abuses and humiliations to things like "Fear Factor" and MTV's "Jackass" and "The Howard Stern Show."
The Rumsfeld dots first, Seymour Hersh of "The New Yorker" magazine now reporting that the interrogation techniques were approved by Secretary Rumsfeld. According to Hersh, the highly secret Pentagon operation encouraged physical coercion, sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in order to get better intelligence information on the growing role of insurgents there. The administration has loudly denied it and denounced Hersh.
The other series of lines tracing back to the office the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales. "Newsweek" has obtained a copy of a Gonzales memo from 2002 which urged the administration to reexamine the Geneva Conventions with regards to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Gonzales wrote that the need to protect American civilians and the need to take terrorists to justice made the war on terror different, writing - "In my judgment, the new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
Today, the White House stressed that this memo did not refer to the situation in Iraq. It emphasized that it did not advocate the complete rejection of the conventions.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan even finished off the sentence of the memo that had been excerpted in "Newsweek." It concludes that provisions of the conventions that shouldn't apply to al Qaeda and the Taliban are the ones - quote - "requiring the captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip, i.e. advances of monthly pay, athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments."
It says nothing about providing them televisions. But tonight TV comes into the Abu Ghraib story anyway, as part of a theory proposed by several political scientists and communications specialists here in the U.S. It puts some of the blame for the degradation, some, and the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners on modern American culture. The theory in part is that the active popular public humiliation seen in the reality shows like "Jackass" and "Fear Factor" is entertaining, and because it is entertaining that on some level it becomes acceptable.
And as Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, the communications instructor at DePauw University points out, that level of acceptance helps to create an environment where humiliation can be seen as rewarding and without consequence.
He joins us now Terre Haute, Indiana.
Mr. Nichols-Pethick, thank you for your time tonight.
JONATHAN NICHOLS-PETHICK, INSTRUCTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, DEPAUW
UNIVERSITY: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: How much of a line do you see between the general coarsening of television and something like the culture that's strung up in the prison itself?
NICHOLS-PETHICK: Well, I don't think we can talk about direct influence, per se, in terms of making a direct line. But I think we can talk about the fact that, say, reality television, which we often associate with this coarsening of television, is part of a larger media environment that capitalizes on the routine documentation of all sorts of behaviors, from humiliation, from - and, you know, in terms of scandalous behavior and even tragic behavior.
And I think that reality TV is one part of this environment and it affords us a range of pleasures from the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing people humiliated and put in frightening situations.
OLBERMANN: The voyeuristic element of this, if there's anything really new about torture, abuse, humiliation of prisoners, it's the fact here that we have photographs of it, and not merely photographs, but that we have photographs of the participants standing laughingly and sometimes seemingly proudly next to the victims.
Is there something - is there some kind of connection between that smiling and the desensitizing of the public? What I guess I'm asking is, is that the explanation for why anybody would be stupid enough to pose for photographs that would then be used as evidence against them?
NICHOLS-PETHICK: Well, I think this comes out in Lynndie England's statements that were made on the 5th of May, where she talks about a couple thing .
She talks about the fact that it was just fun and they were having fun and pictures were taken. She talks about fooling around. She talks about also not going to extremes. And I think if there is a connection to be made, it's this idea that this situation was somehow a controlled situation, that they didn't feel that they were going to extremes in this behavior, even though we can see plainly that they were.
And so, in terms of their attitudes about their behavior, I think it really is just a matter of not seeing the consequences, because this was just seen as fun behavior. And I think we can, again, not draw a direct line, but certainly it's part of the environment.
OLBERMANN: Seventy-five percent or so in the polls reacting to this with some degree of discomfort in this country, some degree of shame, perhaps. But that means there's a quarter who didn't feel that. Does their response to this in some way connect to the culture, to the pop culture?
NICHOLS-PETHICK: Well, I think so. I think, you know, there's always going to be people who take some pleasure in other people's pain.
I'm actually quite encouraged by the fact that 75 percent of the people are outraged by this. I think this actually demonstrates that there is a lack of control in these images. And if the Bush administration has been trying to control this war from the outset through positive images, there is an indication that they're not in total control of this. And I'm proud that people are outraged by this. And it tells me that we aren't desensitized to the extent that we fear that we might be.
OLBERMANN: Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, an instructor of communications at DePauw University, we appreciate your time tonight, sir.
NICHOLS-PETHICK: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: From reality TV to too much reality in a classroom, three California teachers now on leave after they showed their various grade school students the full and gruesome death of Nicholas Berg.
In Santa Ana in Orange County, California, it was shown in English class. The teacher, Stephen Arcudi, reportedly called his seniors up to his desk after a test on "Pride and Prejudice." He then played the entire video footage, showing militants hacking off Nick Berg's head slowly on his laptop computer. For his sophomore students, Mr. Arcudi refrained from showing the footage, but he gave them the Web site address, writing it on the blackboard.
In San Diego, teachers at two other high schools were also removed from their classrooms, either for showing the video or still images of the execution to their students.
COUNTDOWN past the No. 3 story. Up next, No. 2, gay marriage. After a heated debate, it's a reality in Massachusetts. But the big question is, will it stay that way? And the fastest woman on Earth, Marion Jones, with plans to run to court if Olympics officials don't change their mind about something they're hinting at right now.
Stand by for that.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): And now a COUNTDOWN to the Athens Olympics.
Four years ago, at age 17, the tremendously talented Paul Hamm made his first Olympic team, alongside his identical twin, Morgan. Last year, Paul Hamm became the first American man ever to claim the world all-around title. This summer, Hamm, a world champion in the prime of his career, seeks to make history once again, as he leads the surging U.S. men's gymnastics team in Athens.
OLBERMANN: Tonight's No. 2 story up next, gay couples tying the knot. For the first time, it's legal in Massachusetts. But opponents are planning any number of ways to bring the same-sex unions to a grinding halt.
OLBERMANN: Marriages between American men and women have been running for decades at a 50 percent divorce rate and an estimated infidelity rate of up to 60 percent for men and 50 percent for women.
In that context, you might think that somewhere, somebody of the most virulent homophobes might say of gay marriages, what the heck, they can't mess it up any worse than we have.
But in our No. 2 story of the COUNTDOWN, one novelty will have to be enough.
Our correspondent Rehema Ellis reports from Boston today, where the first state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage licenses were issued.
REHEMA ELLIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just after midnight, thousands celebrated what was once just a dream. Paul McGrath (ph) and Lorenzo Claudio (ph) were among those who made history, getting one of the first legal marriage licenses for same-sex couples in Massachusetts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been together 13 years, but it feels like a new beginning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By the power vested in me...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I now pronounce you...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Legally married.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ELLIS: By mid-morning, couples previously denied the opportunity now able to say, I do. But the happiness was not embraced by everyone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the voice of evil.
(on camera): And here at the statehouse, some Massachusetts lawmakers have started a process to overturn same-sex marriage by putting the question before the voters in 2006.
(voice-over): Across the country, 38 states have already passed laws banning same-sex marriage. Six other states will vote on the issue this year. It means the rights that come with marriage, such as making medical decisions for each other and being able to adopt children, would not apply outside of Massachusetts for gay couples whose marriages are recognized here.
Sanford Kess (ph), an expert in family law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we're going to have a unified country, all states really should recognize other states' decisions, decrees, and laws. Otherwise, we'll have a divided country.
ELLIS: Today's Massachusetts action is further limited because the marriages are not recognized by the federal government. So such things as Medicare and Social Security benefits are still denied to same-sex couples.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be nice that we're all able to sit together at one table.
ELLIS: As Paul and Lorenzo finalize wedding plans, they're optimistic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that it's just a matter of time that we are going to be recognized in every state of the nation as a couple.
ELLIS: Tonight, while some couples celebrate in Massachusetts, the debate here and around the country goes on.
Rehema Ellis, NBC News, Boston.
OLBERMANN: And the developments in Massachusetts inspired the president to reiterate his controversial support for a constitutional amendment requiring marriage to include one from each gender, a written statement: "The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges," the president said. "All Americans have a right to be heard in this debate," which brings up the curious coincidence that the same-sex marriage licenses began to be issued on the exact 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in the famous civil rights case, Brown V. Board of Education.
A belated bit of humorous relief on the Brown V. Board anniversary from John Hall, senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service. As the ruling took effect, Hall was the editor of the school paper at Morgantown High School in West Virginia. Not long after he wrote a pro-integration editorial, his newspaper was closed down. Hall today reports he confronted one of his teachers about it years later.
The teacher said the integration editorial had nothing to do with the paper being shut down. The faculty was simply upset that editor Hall had axed the paper's gossip column. The column had been how teachers and parents knew who was fogging up the car windows with whom. And once it was discontinued, the school didn't want to spend any more money on the paper.
Here at COUNTDOWN, we would never be foolhardy enough to drop gossip. We keep it going and call it "Keeping Tabs," and we run it every show, beginning tonight in the criminal justice system, where the characters are represented by two separate, yet equally important actors.
As "Law & Order" says goodbye on the only real character actor left in the series, Jerry Orbach, there is word of his replacement. Dennis Farina of "Get Shorty" and "Midnight Run" fame will be joining the NBC News show in his stead.
Elsewhere, like we needed it, the Summer Olympics has another controversy. Star American runner Marion Jones says she will sue if she is banned from the Games even though she has not tested positive for using steroids. The U.S. Anti-Doping agency has the right to suspend an athlete suspected of drug use even without a positive test if it - quote - "has other reason to believe that a potential doping violation has occurred, such as admitted doping."
Jones was one of the group of select athletes, including baseball's Barry Bonds, swept up before the grand jury investigating a California lab accused of distributing the banned performance-enhancing drugs.
And further proof, as if it were needed, that just because your favorite actor or actress can act, that does not qualify them to give well-out-thought out names to their own children. Apple Blythe Alison Martin is the newborn daughter of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and singer Chris Martin. No explanation if Apple is named for the fruit, the computer or the city of New York. It is instructive that the mother, Ms. Paltrow, was herself given the antique name Gwyneth by her own actress mother, Blythe Danner. Blythe, Gwyneth and Apple, Apple Martin. Could have been worse. Could have been a boy, Aston Martin.
Tonight's top story is up next. Here's your hint. Is it time to whack the writers, or did I just dream that?
OLBERMANN: The real reality television is that in ever increasing amounts, we have been mistaking television for reality. Not new. It started about 1948.
But in our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, more evidence still, questions about whether or not one show can be trusted enough to wager on it, questions about whether or not another landmark innovative series has just used another term inspired by the tube, jumped the shark.
The wagering first. Four pages - four pages - in the new issue of the trade publication "Broadcasting & Cable" about the victory of technology over democracy in the voting for "American Idol."
Analyzing means of blocking voters from getting through or changing votes as they were recorded by the computer, correspondent Deborah Starr Seibel asked, who would go through all that trouble? Critics say, follow the money. She notes that viewers can bet on the program online.
Speaking of critics, there's the loyal but in many quarters tonight frustrated fan base of the milestone TV series "The Sopranos." While not all viewers complained, last night's 11 episode of the fifth season featured a 21-minute long dream sequence which probably sent many aficionados to sleepy land earlier than anticipated.
As one online wag put it, the combination fantasy and flashback was so convoluted that it - quote - "probably makes sense if you have watched every episode 10 times and written a 15-page recap about each of them. It also helps if you have seen or read every movie, book or TV show ever made."
"The Sopranos" was on the ropes with the viewers and critics alike last season, the more yaks than whacks season. Now comes the question, based on the infamous episode of "Happy Days" in which Fonzie vaulted a shark while on water skis, does the nightmare dream episode mean "The Sopranos" jumped the shark?
Who better to ask than Jon Hein, author of the book of the same name and creator of JumptheShark.com.
Mr. Hein, good evening.
_JON HEIN, CREATOR, JUMPTHESHARK.COM: Hi, Keith. How you doing? _
OLBERMANN: They pull a stunt seemingly rendered a cliche by they soap opera "Dallas" in 1986. Shark jumped, shark not jumped?
HEIN: Well, any time you go to the dream consequence, you're looking for trouble.
But "The Sopranos," although it's a great, great show, I think you have to go to back to the end of the third season, when Jackie Jr. got whacked by Vito, who we learned this season is a rather large gay Yankee fan. At that point, I think the show really started to go downhill. But even if you disagree with me there, last night for any "Sopranos" fan was a tough, tough night.
OLBERMANN: Do you think we're being too rough on them, when "The Sopranos" is long gone and people miss it and say, there's nothing quality on television anymore, will there be master's theses written on the rich interwoven text of the famous dream sequence, you know, the dream sequence that won 19 Emmys back in 2004?
HEIN: When you were watching it last night, you just felt like they were kind of trying to make some kind of David Lynch art piece. And it's "The Sopranos." It's a great, great show, as I said before.
But I think it missed on so many different levels, different people popping up from nowhere. And, again, any time you go to the dream sequence, you expect to see Bobby Ewing walking out of the shower. And for a show that's that good and that we hold to such high standards, it was just a disappointment.
OLBERMANN: Aristotle's rules for tragedy clearly state you can't just throw in a character at the last minute whose presence starts to explain everything. And here in one dream, we have Annette Bening. We have the actor John Heard, who has been on the series before. But he is singing.
And now we have some high school football coach who suddenly becomes the key to Tony Soprano's entire development. I believe Aristotle called this kind of sudden character introduction crappy writing.
HEIN: It's so true. When you throw that character in out of nowhere to explain everything - and, of course, it's Annette Bening playing Annette Bening, come on. And John Heard, the bad guy in "Big" with Tom Hanks breaking into "Three Times a Lady," they were just pulling in things that seemed like left and right for absolutely no reason. And it didn't forward the plot of the show at all. And it could be definitely when the show jumped the shark.
OLBERMANN: Jon Hein of JumptheShark.com and the book of the same name, I just kept thinking last night, you see that many actors who all were under contract and aren't anymore, it's like somebody in accounting discovered they had one last shot and they either had to appear one more time or give the money back. That was just my thought. But, in any event, thanks for your time tonight.
HEIN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: All right, let's recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you'll be talking about tomorrow.
No. 5, Colin Powell, is he breaking with the administration? The secretary of state defying his actions of his press aide who tried to stop his interview with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press," and then admitting in that interview that he represented erroneous information about mobile weapons labs in advance of the war in Iraq.
The fourth story, defending Dylan Klebold. For the first time since the Columbine massacre, his parents speaking publicly, telling "The New York Times" their son was set off by the - quote - "toxic culture" at the school. And they say they feel no reason that they need to be forgiven. Three, accounting for the abuse at Abu Ghraib, an instructor in communication tonight telling us the public humiliation celebrated in reality TV shows could have fostered the atmosphere where humiliation is entertaining and that could partly explain the grinning soldiers willingly posing for pictures in front of their own soldiers.
Two, marrying in Massachusetts, hundreds of gay and lesbian partners lining up to be the first same-sex couples in the nation to be legally married by a state. And No. 1, the dream sequence that could mean "The Sopranos" will soon be sleeping with the fishes. Will we next see Tony strapping on water skis and jumping a bear in the swimming pool? Is that how it all ends?
That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann.
Good night and good luck.