'Countdown wiht Keith Olbermann' for July 12
Guest: DeForest Soaries, Jr, Michael Duffy, Steve Dahl, Michael Musto
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Postpone election: In the event of a terrorist attack, who has the right and what are the criteria? And what do you mean there's no law covering any of this? Pete Williams joins us to analyze this most fundamental of American questions. And we'll look at the Madrid attacks and other events to try to figure out whether terrorists are thinking they would change the government here or merely assure its reelection.
A Reagan speaking at the convention, talking about stem cell research. Only it's Ron Reagan at the Democratic convention. Will his mother speak at the Republican one?
The day disco died: Twenty-five years since disco demolition night in Chicago. That went well. We will reminisce with the chief blower-upper.
And Courtney Love: What the - what the? Michael Musto on our most wayward and most forlorn celebrity.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. Two-and-a-half weeks ago, we told you about a bureaucrat you had never heard of from a commission you probably didn't know had been created who had a question you probably thought you would never hear in your lifetime. That question has tonight burst from the area of obscure logistics and policy into a tangible, fearful, unprecedented issue.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: In the event of a terrorist attack, just how would you postpone the presidential election? Who would have the right to? And what would happen after that? In a moment, the commissioner who started all this and our correspondent, Pete Williams, will join me to go through the nuts and bolts. First the latest on a prospect so unnerving that it was never seriously addressed, even during the Civil War.
The obscure official was DeForest Soaries Jr., chairman of the newly created United States Elections Assistance Commission, and on June 25, he said he had written to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to ask for guidance and for guidelines. "Newsweek" magazine reports now that Homeland Security has, in turn, asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to analyze Mr. Soaries' question to determine the how, who, and by what right that the election could be postponed if the worst comes to worst and there is an attack.
I spoke with Chairman Soaries of the United States Election Assistance Commission earlier this evening.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Soaries, thank you for your time tonight.
DEFOREST SOARIES, JR., CHAIRMAN, UNITED STATES ELECTIONS ASSISTANCE
COM: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Have you yet gotten a response to your letter to Secretary Ridge and Dr. Rice? Is this "Newsweek" report about all this going over to the Justice Department correct?
SOARIES: No, I have heard from Secretary Ridge's office. We will begin meeting and planning together next week. The fact is, we have mutual interests in communicating to both law enforcement and election officials around the country as we prepare for November 2.
OLBERMANN: What, in your opinion, is required here? Is there special legislation that Congress needs to get together in a hurry? An executive order? What's needed?
SOARIES: Well, in the first instance, each state which has the constitutional authority to really run elections has to make sure that it knows what to do, the way New York did not know what to do on September 11. On September 11, 2001, New York election officials discovered that no one had the real statutory authority to suspend voting. This has less to do with expecting terror than it has to do with making plans in light of the eventuality of a crisis.
OLBERMANN: Obviously the last thing we would need under those circumstances would be confusion over the proper procedure.
SOARIES: Well, that's exactly right. And - you know, I've heard -
I've heard rumors about possibly wanting to postpone the presidential election. We've never discussed it. I've never asked for guidance on that, I don't recommend it, I think the Constitution forbids it. The point is, if I suggest that you buy a spare tire, I'm not suggesting that you postpone your trip. We need, as a country, to live in the state of reality, and reality is that we learned it on September 11, that one state just did not know what to do.
SOARIES: Say there has been no legal clarification about postponing the election and there is a significant attack on that day or before. What do you suppose would actually happen under those circumstances?
SOARIES: Based on the information we have today, each state must decide for itself what to do in the event of a disaster. When you have a national election, that has serious implications, because we don't have a real national standard for what constitutes a disaster. What is a disaster in Alaska may not be a disaster in Alabama. And I think this discussion on a federal level will have to also involve state officials so that we have some national consensus and can offer national guidance on what we mean by a disaster.
OLBERMANN: DeForest Soaries, Jr. chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission, great, thanks for your time tonight, sir.
SOARIES: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: Now for some of the answers Chairman Soaries might be getting, we're joined from Washington by Pete Williams, who has been following and studying this story all day.
Pete, good evening. Thanks for your time tonight.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: You bet, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Bottom line here, do we have any structure in place that allows for that election on November 2 to take place any other time but November 2?
WILLIAMS: No. As a matter of fact, we have quite the opposite. We have the Constitution and federal law. The Constitution says that the election for president has to be on the same day throughout the United States, the - but it says Congress can decide what that day is. And then there are separate federal statutes that say it's the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. So Congress could change the date. And many legal scholars think Congress could also delegate to some committee of wise non-partisan people the ability to change the date at will, if they decide that there is some kind of national catastrophe, but it would it take an act of Congress.
OLBERMANN: There are wise non-partisan people? That may be - mean that...
WILLIAMS: That could be the hard part, too. Yes.
OLBERMANN: When - Mr. Soaries said this too, the prospect of there being a problem in a specific state and that the election must be the same date in all states, what would happen in fact if there were - if September 11, 2001, had been a national election day and the events, the physical events were limited to Washington and New York?
WILLIAMS: The election would have happened. You know, you look back at the Civil War. This was widely debated. And President Lincoln said in 1865, if we postpone or delay the election, which is after all the hallmark of the democracy, then - he used the term "rebellion" to refer to the Confederate states - he said then the rebellion would basically have won.
And so we've never postponed a federal election.
Now, here's the trick. Suppose it's Ohio. And suppose there is a terror attack somewhere in Ohio. A battleground state on which the election outcome might hinge. What do you do? It's not an - there's no pretty answer here. Do you say to the people of Ohio, we're very sorry you've had this misfortune, but we're having an election today, do your best. Or do you say to the people of Ohio, OK, we know you're having a problem, you vote later. If you say that, then Ohio, when they finally come to vote, know what the election is - the results are everywhere but Ohio. And that will put them at an unfair advantage.
So there's no clear answer. And by the way, I think legally right now, this is something of a dead letter. There was a request pending, but I don't think the Justice Department is actively looking at this, and the administration made it very clear today that this is not anything they're terribly interested in doing.
There may be individual government officials who will continue to look at this, but as a - an administration, as the Department of Homeland Security, has more or less decided it's not the place that should be doing this, and the answer may be to your previous guest that he needs to take his concerns directly to the Congress, because it doesn't seem like he's going to have the backings of any cabinet level department now no matter what.
OLBERMANN: If nothing gets cleared up, does this fall under conceivably presidential wartime powers or national emergency powers? Thinking back to, as you just mentioned, the Civil War and Lincoln. He did suspend habeas corpus; he did ignore the Supreme Court during the Civil War.
WILLIAMS: I think - I would have said a month ago, probably no. After the Supreme Court decided the Guantanamo Bay and American detainee cases, I would say definitely not. There are limits to what presidents can do in wartime. President Truman tried to nationalize the steel mills during the Korean war; the Supreme Court said you can't do that. The Constitution is very clear on this, that Congress has the authority to do that. And the cases have always said, when the Constitution clearly says one branch can do it, the other branch cannot step in, because there's no void.
So, without action of Congress, which it seems very clear now there isn't going to be any, we are in this potential pickle.
OLBERMANN: Good grief. Pete Williams, our eyes and ears at the Justice and pickle department, as always, sir, a pleasure to have you on the show.
WILLIAMS: You bet.
OLBERMANN: As important as the literal fact of a first-ever postponed presidential election would be, could be the question of the intent. What would terrorists be seeking by, in essence, targeting the election? Making sure the government changes? Making sure it doesn't? That question is multi-layered. Largely because only the silhouette of the reported al Qaeda plan is known to us, and even then, it's only known to precious few of us.
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Credible reporting now indicates that al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): And if that's all we know, how could we possibly know with what end in mind they would seek to disrupt our elections?
After 3/11, the atrocities along the Madrid commuter lines in March, Spanish voters quickly turned out an American-friendly, pro-Iraq war government. The mourners in Spain streets were not merely solemn, they were angry. Their perception was of a Spanish government that had ignored popular opinion and allied their country with the coalition in Iraq. It may be too subtle for the murderous minds of al Qaeda's evil men to comprehend, but they may not have influenced those Spanish elections at all.
And as Spain is not the United States, nor are Spanish politics American politics. If anybody, al Qaeda included, assumes the results of Madrid are a template for what would happen in the event of a pre-election attack here, they show they know even less of our society than we think they do.
And our perceptions of such an attack here are similarly clouded. It is widely assumed on the far right that al Qaeda would intend to force Americans into some kind of automatic cowering repudiation of the current government. Why, some conservatives have asked, would the terrorists want John Kerry to win?
But it is widely assumed on the far left that an al Qaeda attack would in fact guarantee the reelection of the current government. The political events in the wake of 9/11 would suggest that the second view might be closer to reality. In New York City, where voting had already begun in the Democratic mayoral primary on the morning of the attacks, the entire event was postponed without incident or complaint.
RUDY GIULIANI, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Secondly, we need all of the open space we can get.
OLBERMANN: But moreover, there was an immediate and in many cases, a bipartisan groundswell in the city to somehow extend the tenure of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. With Giuliani scheduled to be forced out of office at year's end, barred from seeking reelection due to term limits, there were efforts to change or suspend those limits in time to let him seek another term. Even when those efforts failed, Giuliani himself suggested a delay of a new mayor's inauguration until March of 2002.
GIULIANI: I'm willing to go either way based on the best interests of the city.
OLBERMANN: But that was followed by two curious and seemingly mutually exclusive political events. While Democratic candidates for mayor, who recoiled in horror at the thought of a postponed transfer of power, lost considerable political capital; at the same time, that sense of the necessity of Giuliani's continued presence began to fade.
By the time of the actual election of his successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the "keep Rudy" talk had all but vanished in less than two months.
Nearly three years later, New York State had done nothing to change term limits, not even during emergencies. Ultimately, even 9/11 did nothing to seriously disrupt local elections or local government.
Nationally, we have no recent history to turn to. The obvious parallel, the election of 1864, is ancient and profoundly different. Despite more than three years of Civil War in this country, the presidential election, the reelection of Abraham Lincoln, was conducted without incident. Of course, with the few exceptions like Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, voting took place only in areas in which the impact of the war had been psychological, not physical. But the outcome was clearly affected by the conflict.
In late summer, Republicans proposed dumping Lincoln from their ticket. He confessed he expected to be beaten and badly beaten. The peace Democrats, led by former Union general in chief George McClellan, were ready to take office and ready to cut a deal with the South. And then, General William Tecumseh Sherman captured, evacuated, and burned Atlanta. Lincoln was reelected in a landslide.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're getting the same report out of Florida, as well. The networks called this thing awfully early, but the people who are actually counting the votes are coming up with a little different perspective.
OLBERMANN: Perhaps the real guide to the supposed disruption of American elections, the guide one wishes could be slipped under al Qaeda's doorstep and studied carefully, comes to us from the very recent past. Exactly three years and seven months ago tonight, the most contentious presidential election in more than a century. A period of uncertainty, universal charges of fraud, accusations of the politicizing of the court system, and inaugural preparations by both major candidates ended.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does appear here as I look through here, to be a 5-4 opinion.
BUSH: So help me God.
OLBERMANN: A president was sworn in right on time on the 20th of January. Thus disrupting our democratic process, no matter how much devious and evil intent might be harnessed to affect it, would still seem to be much harder than it looks.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN opening tonight with terror and its potential to derail the election.
Up next, the No. 4 story: Despite gay weddings, the institution of marriage and its track record still intact. Three months after a gay couple wed in San Francisco, they're going for a divorce.
And later, the art of a political ad: Slinging mud, making an impact with voters, all the while trying to stay squeaky clean.
OLBERMANN: One of the sidebars to the debate over same-sex marriage in this country has been the argument that, given the poor collective track record of the heterally (sic) sexually hitched, gays couldn't do much worse.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: It was inevitable. As soon as there would be gay marriage, there would necessarily have to be gay divorce. That part of the story in a moment; first, the news developments on the bigger picture.
While Republicans, led by President Bush, admit they do not have close to the two-thirds vote needed to pass the anti-gay marriage amendment, they continue to press the issue. Mr. Bush made it the focus of his weekly radio address Saturday. And Senate Republicans pushed for a vote for it for the day after tomorrow. While the amendment is an important issue for many conservatives, obviously for gays, it has not registered very highly among swing voters or the undecided.
Or it causes too much conflict to be so easily resolved. Now the wife of the vice president of the United States has said that the individual states, not the federal government, should have the final say on the legal status of all personal relationships, same-sex or otherwise. The daughter of Dick and Lynne Cheney, Mary Chaney, is a lesbian and works in her father's re-election campaign as director of Vice Presidential Operations, while her father continues to oppose her right to be legally married to another woman.
If, as critics contend, gays are incapable of embodying all the traditions of marriage, two of them, at least, have ventured into the area of one of those traditions: divorce. After just three months of wedded bliss, a San Francisco same-sex couple calling it quits. They, gender not revealed by their attorney, have been together for 10 years prior to tying the knot. Their split could be complicated by the fact that they own property together.
Here's one of the more mundane elements to this hot-button topic:
Divorcing straight couples are subjected to laws governing the division of assets; with the uncertainty of the legality of gay marriage, this couple gets no guidance at all. And yes, fans of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, if they do legally split, these guys or girls would be the "Gay divorcees."
No. 4 story behind us. Now up next: "Oddball" might have taken the weekend off, but the bulls kept on running. Complete and comprehensive coverage of all your running of the bulls needs. The bovines versus the buttheads, coming up.
Then later: What happened when the disco ball collided with the baseball? Pandemonium, so much so that, 25 years later, we are celebrating the fateful day that disco died.
OLBERMANN: Time now for the tales of daring bravery and sheer stupidity, both epitomized by the most popular pastime of a quiet Spanish town. Let's play "Oddball."
Of course that town is Pamplona; the activity: running with the bulls. And we continue MSNBC's exclusive continuous primetime coverage of this ancient pitting of man v. beast. First a quick recap of weekend's action.
On Saturday, the bulls managed to snag two bipeds on their run, but it was not good enough to get on the scoreboard. The bovine brotherhood faring slightly better on Sunday, injuring three, leaving one runner with a horn-sized hole in the buttocks. And the bulls also made record time, just two-and-a-half minutes from the opening gate to the bullring. But as all of the quadrupeds face certain death once they got there, the score remained: man five, bull zip.
And then there was today. Either the runners are getting slower or the bulls are getting smarter. Either way, this morning's carnage was the first time the bulls had a real chance to beat the odds. Tossing hapless pedestrians like pancakes, the bulls charged down the main stretch, stopping to gore people along the way. And until that pileup going into the corner there, it was a near perfect run for the bulls.
But the real action started when they were warming up in the bullpen, itself. Confusion and a certain lack of coordination, leaving a heap of bipeds at the entrance to the ring. Sensing an opportunity, one of the bulls stopped, turned, and violated the spirit of fair play. Look at the effort on the part of the other humans to help out. One guy yanking on the tail, another other one slapped the bull's butt, and the guy on the left there waving his hat. Good job, sir! Your slow hat waving is guaranteed to distract a 400-pound bull!
All told, the six bulls managed to gore eight people. Hell of a ratio, boys. Hell of a ratio. And it left another 10 wounded, but alas, for los toros, still not good enough, because at the end of the sixth day, our scoreboard reads: beef-eaters six, beef zero.
Both man and beast faring better down under this weekend at the 34th Annual Australia Camel Cup. Joe was the early leader, but then it was Spitty in the lead and finally - and down the stretch they come - it's Rupert by a nose. Actually, we have no information on who won or what won; that was all made up. But, we can tell you the Camel Cup dates back to 1970 and was the result, surprisingly enough in Australia, of a bar bet.
And finally, here's what happens when you race humans versus humans. At the NASCAR championships yesterday, the championship crash between eventual race winner Tony Stewart and rookie driver Kasey Kahne, leading to this: an all-out brawl in the pit between Stewart's crew and Kahne's crew. The good news, the two pit crews managed to give each other a collective lube job in only 17 seconds.
"Oddball" now officially in the record book. Up next, tonight's No. 3 story: Ron Reagan and decision 2004. He fired the first salvo in his face-off with Republicans during his moving eulogy of his father. Now he will take it to the convention and not the Republican convention.
And later, the hits keep on coming for Courtney Love, and we're not talking about snappy tunes.
These stories ahead; first here are COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day:
No. 3: Mr. Gregg Henson of Birmingham, Michigan. E-Bay stopped his auction, but not before it had risen to $102.50. Mr. Henson was selling his vote in the presidential election. Not the first to do it, just the first to be honest about it.
No. 2: Dr. Stephen Instone of London who decided to salute the Olympics by recreating the ancient Greek Olympics in which everybody competed naked. Oh, like we couldn't figure out what that would look like by ourselves.
And No. 1: Francisco Zambrano of New Haven, Connecticut. He told police he'd been shot in the right leg by a thief. Mr. Zambrano finally conceded he had paid a teenager about 100 bucks to shoot him deliberately so he would not be drafted and sent to Iraq. No report about Mr. Zambrano's reaction when somebody told him that there's no draft!
OLBERMANN: It had been evident since early spring, when Nancy Reagan told a group of Alzheimer's advocates that she couldn't understand how any research that might provide research from the terrible disease could be ignored, that there was an excellent chance that a Reagan would wind up speaking at the convention, possibly on the topic of stem cell research.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, who knew it was not going to be the president's widow, but rather his son, and who knew that the convention was going to be the Democratic one? The leading headline on a day of image before substance in politics, Ron Reagan, political analyst for this network, confirming he will speak about stem cell research in Boston week after next.
Earlier tonight, on MSNBC's "HARDBALL," he also confirmed he got a thank you call from John Kerry, one that had a lot more than just thank you in it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "HARDBALL")
RON REAGAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: He further told me - and I thought this was very interesting - I thanked him for it - that his first act as president of the United States, should he be elected, would be to sign an executive order reversing the Bush administration's policy on embryonic stem cell research.
Again, I'm not going to the convention to make a political speech. I'm going there to talk about embryonic stem cell research, which is of critical importance to this country and the world. And the Democrats support it and the Bush administration doesn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Also, a note from Ron Reagan tonight. He said he's been told by convention organizers that his remarks will be in prime time when there is the potential the broadcast networks could be carrying those remarks. As for how his mother, the former Republican first lady, feels about it, Mr. Reagan says she's OK with it. She supports the issue.
Whether the Republicans were just pushed into the supporting the issue as well, one of the questions we'll have for the Washington bureau chief for "TIME" magazine, Michael Duffy.
Mr. Duffy joins us now.
Good evening to you, sir.
MICHAEL DUFFY, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Given the subject matter, given the speaker, given the freshness of Ronald Reagan's passing in the minds of Americans, did the Democrats just score heavily with this move?
DUFFY: Oh, I think it is probably a threefer, Keith, threefer in this way.
The last couple of weeks, Kerry and now with Edwards, have been trying to say this election is about the future, not the past. They're trying to say let's look ahead, let's embrace the future. Let's not go back. And so any time you can say let's move heavily into science, an area of explanation, I think that helps them.
Obviously, they've stolen a march - with a Republican name, even though I don't think anyone is under any illusion that Ronald Reagan Jr. is a Republican. To have him up there probably more valuable actually to a Democratic and moderate audience than having Nancy Reagan. And the third thing here is, this is kind of the way Republicans think. Who can we steal? Who can we get from the other side to steal a march on the Democrats?
So it's creative for the Democrats to go down this road. So I think on three levels it works.
OLBERMANN: Could this be one of those rare political maneuvers that actually impacts policy? You heard about what Ron Reagan said John Kerry had told him about reversing Bush's executive orders on stem cell research. We'll all hear him two weeks from now, possibly in prime time.
Lord knows what Nancy would say on this subject if given the opportunity again. Does Mr. Bush have to risk the anger from the right now and move off this no further research?
DUFFY: Well, I don't expect him to move, because I think he is very careful about doing anything that upsets the social conservatives on the right wing of the party.
But it is an indication of Kerry's strength here. This is an issue that is a majority issue for Kerry. Most Americans probably would support broadening the amount of federal money that is spent on these things and expanding the number of sort of lines that there are investing in what these cells can do to help solve other diseases.
So again it's a place where the Democrats have the advantage of the majority being with them. It will be real news, a real headline if he gets elected and eventually takes that step. But I don't really expect Bush to back off. He might signal it is OK for some Republicans to do so. But I don't expect him to do it, at least not yet.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, the pure politics of the thing, did Nancy Reagan's luster get somewhat stolen by her own son?
DUFFY: Well, you saw him both on the day of the funeral and subsequently and of course he is an MSNBC commentator.
He is good on his feet, just like his father. And his father said about 50 years ago this year, the Democratic Party didn't leave - I didn't leave the Democratic Party. They left me. So it's a little bit ironic that, 50 years later, he has sort of turned the tables also and is now coming to speak at a Democratic Convention, his son.
OLBERMANN: Michael Duffy, Washington bureau chief from "TIME" magazine, many thanks, sir.
One wonders if Ron Reagan's appearance might just make its way somehow into a Democratic campaign ad. Combined so far, the two tickets spending $150 million on commercials, with the bulk of the barrage in that area yet to come. There is an art, if not a science, as to how such ads are constructed.
And as Diana Dwyer reports for us tonight, very little of that process is left to chance.
JASON KINNEY, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: To us, TV ads are to political consultants what handguns are to the Sopranos. They're most effective, immediate and deadly way of delivering a message.
Basically, it's a tear-jerker.
DIANE DWYER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democratic political consultant Jason Kinney believes there's a science to creating a successful political ad.
KINNEY: Every TV ad has to be at least three things in this order. They have to be accurate. They have to be credible. And that's two different things. And they have to be effective.
DWYER: Kinney often works with his father, producer Paul Kinney, on political commercials. And they go through a couple dozen versions. They use polls and focus groups to create the strongest spot possible.
KINNEY: It's a lot like "Spider-Man 2." We go through and we keep showing them the same ad with a different ending or the same ad with different graphics or the same ad except now we're having a different person speaking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
NARRATOR: Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DWYER: Truth be told, research and experience shows voters consistently respond to a particular kind of ad.
KINNEY: Ultimately, every campaign finds out very quickly that the most effective ads are comparative ads, as we call it in the trade, which is really a negative ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before 9/11, I was obsessed with Iraq. Then I used 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DWYER: This year, we'll be seeing a new kind of attack ad. Groups outside of a candidate's campaign can pay for their own commercials, as the campaigns apparently know nothing about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DWYER: MoveOn.org made headlines with this recent attack against president.
DAN SCHNUR, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: When an independent organization like MoveOn.org puts a negative message on the air, they've achieved the best of both worlds. They transmit negative information about George Bush to the electorate, but without causing any splash back on John Kerry.
DWYER: Negative ads paid for by who knows what special interest group, is this really what the voters want to see? The experts' research says yes.
KINNEY: We're giving them what they want. It is the same way that you sell toothpaste or detergent.
OLBERMANN: Diana Dwyer with that report.
Oddly, the more campaign ads look like movies, the more movies begin to look like campaign ads. While "Fahrenheit 9/11" held fourth place in the box office standings, doing another $11 million of business over the weekend to a total of $80 million, it now has competition on the political film stage.
Documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, himself no stranger to charges of extreme partisanship, today unveiled his film "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism." It will be available on the Internet after also screening in just a few theaters tomorrow. Unexpectedly, the response from its subject, the Fox News Channel, was less legal than expected.
It had been expected to claim with great accuracy that tapes of its copyrighted broadcast were being used by Greenwald in his film without their permission. But Fox was burned last fall when it sued Al Franken over his use of some of their words and a judge literally laughed the network out of court.
Instead, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes issuing a statement describing four ex-Fox News shown in the film as - quote - "former low-level Fox employees who are hardly worth addressing." Ailes also blasted "The New York Times" for writing about the film and accused the newspaper of taking orders from a George Soros-funded Web site, not that Fox blasting "The New York Times" is news exactly.
Meanwhile, Fox owner Robert - Rupert Murdoch has now personally denied he was the source of "The New York Post"'s now infamous Dick Gephardt headline scoop. But a former reporter at the paper says Murdoch did that kind of stuff all the time. If you've been off the planet for the last week, you missed this, last Tuesday's front page claiming John Kerry had selected Gephardt as his running mate.
On Friday, "The New York Times" identified Murdoch as the story's source. Today, Dan Cox, former media reporter for the paper, wrote to a news industry Web site run by the Poynter Institute to note that during his tenure there - quote - "Barely a day went by when Murdoch didn't force-feed items about his rival media moguls and their particular transgressions. Not only were we not allowed to ask Murdoch any specific questions about these tips, we were not allowed to check their veracity anywhere. Murdoch expected us to use them wholesale, unattributed, of course. Most of the time, he would contribute that was almost entirely impossible to verify."
COUNTDOWN now past the halfway point with the medium overwhelming the message in politics. Up next, the No. 2 story, the silver anniversary of the day disco died. And by died, we mean there was a riot, a brushfire and a bunch of broken records. And something that did not even outlast disco, Britney Spears' first marriage. We're getting new details about wedded bliss. During the break, you might want to get a pen and paper so you can take notes.
OLBERMANN: Still ahead, goodbye to disco, Britney the blushing bride the first time around, and love is in despair, as in Courtney Love. Oh, what now?
OLBERMANN: It was one of the most symbolic, if not one of the most successful, promotion nights in sports history; 25 years ago this everything, the Chicago White Sox baseball team offered its fans the opportunity to watch not just the double header at Comiskey Park, but also the chance to bring disco albums with them and watch all the records get blown up en masse between the two games.
That, of course, was before the riot and the minor brushfire in center field. The No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, disco demolition night 25 years later. And if you think this is trivia, think again. There are negotiations under way to make a movie about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disco sucks! Disco sucks! Disco sucks!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: We don't know who will play Steve Dahl, the then anti-disco disc jockey of WLUP-FM, now afternoon host on WCKG-FM in Chicago. It was not his idea, but it was him in the helmet blowing up the albums.
Steve joins us now from Chicago.
Well, happy anniversary.
STEVE DAHL, RADIO HOST: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Explain what didn't go exactly as planned that night.
DAHL: Well, they stopped collecting records after they got about 20,000 of them, enough to fill up the box. And then they let everybody keep their record, you know, the other people keep the records. So those of course became Frisbees. So that was a bad start. And then things just kind of got worse from there. The explosion on the field, it draws people toward it.
OLBERMANN: Wow. You think it actually, though, did signal the end of disco as the predominant American music genre?
DAHL: You know, I think that it was a fad. And it was probably on its way out. But i think it hastened its demise.
DAHL: I don't want to take credit for killing it.
OLBERMANN: Yes, but whose idea about taking credit for disco demolition night, whose idea was this? I've heard this described in two or three different ways. Presumably no one can tell by now.
DAHL: Well, actually, I believe Mike Veeck, Bill Veeck's son, came to the radio station that I worked at because he had heard me blowing up records on the air. And it was his idea to turn teen night into disco demolition night.
DAHL: Mike Veeck.
OLBERMANN: Yes. And they continue to let him promote baseball to this day, despite all of that.
_What's the movie? There's going to be a movie? _
DAHL: Yes, there's talk about it. There's a script and meetings have been taken. So we'll see. It is either going to be Jack Black or Louie Anderson for me. I don't know which one.
OLBERMANN: I was just going to say, you must get a say or at least a vote that they don't count as to who is going to get to play you.
I don't know this. A lot of what I read about this, even back in 1979, when this happened, suggested this was the worst event to happen in baseball in terms of a promotion. Do you think that's true? Did you feel that this was a real disaster that was averted or do you think that 10-cent beer night in Cleveland was a much worse idea?
DAHL: Well, I know nobody got hurt at Comiskey Park. I've always felt bad.
I'm a baseball fan. I've always felt bad that the second game was canceled. But the Sox were like 22 games out before the All-Star break. And the event would have not become notorious had they not ended up canceling the game. So I have mixed emotions about it, I guess.
OLBERMANN: And you have the rare opportunity to claim as someone who was not a Major League Baseball player that you had a decisive impact on the outcome of a Major League game. You helped the White Sox lose a game.
DAHL: I'm 1-0 with the Tigers currently.
OLBERMANN: Steve Dahl of WCKG-FM Radio in Chicago, thank you, my friend. And I'm putting it behind 10 cent beer night. So happy anniversary.
DAHL: All right. Thanks.
OLBERMANN: Yes, disco might indeed be demolished, but we still have a kind of post-disco bubblegum music, meaning we still have Britney Spears, unless she blows herself up, professionally speaking, of course, which might just happen, as we see in the opening story of tonight's "Keeping Tabs."
This just in. When Ms. Spears became Mrs. Jason Alexander, however briefly, she was not wearing underpants. For these and other historical nuggets, we are indebted to Mr. Alexander himself, who has told the British tabloid "News of the World," that she asked him to get hitched after a wild night of Vegas love.
Alexander also says, "When her lawyers demanded I end our marriage, she didn't stop them and it caused chaos in my life." Alexander also mentioned of his ex - quote - "At times, she was noisy. She didn't call me any names. She just moaned." "But," he added, "it wasn't cheap. I really cared about her and it felt right." That's the reason he went into such graphic detail for a newspaper, no doubt.
There's also a William Hung update tonight. His second album has finally been titled. They will call it "The Real Idol." And his latest video, a somewhat recognizable version of the Queen classic "We Are the Champions," has now placed second all-time among debuting streamable music videos on the AOL server. It has been streamed 1.3 million time since it debuted five days ago. That's 260,000 people a day, just over 10,000 an hour, all with a case of Hung fever.
And, lastly tonight, the actress Isabel Sanford has died. She was before television and movie cameras for 35 years beginning in 1964, but will always be remembered as Louise Jefferson, Weezy, on the '70s and '80s CBS comedy series "The Jeffersons." In that role in 1981, Isabel Sanford became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a comedy. Then, last January, she was finally given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Tonight, fans are adoring that star with flowers and other tributes.
Isabel Sanford was 86 years old.
Coming up here on COUNTDOWN, she's usually a regular fixture in "Keeping Tabs." But the latest episodes of the drama of Ms. Courtney Love are just too strange. They demand the insight of Michael Musto.
OLBERMANN: Some women take the big 4-0 well, and some don't. And then there's Courtney Love.
Our top story on the COUNTDOWN, Friday was the actress and singer's big day. And while it's unclear how much of it she will remember, she certainly made it unforgettable for the rest of us. Piecing together the tabloid accounts, her 40th birthday went something like this. A Los Angeles judge waited for more than three hours for Love to show up in court on a charge of hitting a guy.
When she did not show up, the judge finally issued an arrest warrant. Of course, Courtney was not in Los Angeles. She was in New York and kind of tied up, this the aftereffect of a phone call to 911, saying Ms. Love had suffered a miscarriage. She reportedly told the authorities she had an abortion. Love was hospitalized, not just strapped to the gurney, but also handcuffed to it.
Her lawyer denied speculation that this was some kind of drug thing, saying - quote - "It's a feminine issue. It's a medical condition related to gynecological issues." Thanks for sharing that. The Reuters News Service now says Love has today been released from the New York hospital.
Who better to assess the tragic comedy that Courtney Love has become than the columnist of "The Village Voice" and friend of COUNTDOWN, Michael Musto?
Michael, good evening.
MICHAEL MUSTO, "THE VILLAGE VOICE": Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: First of all, is it seemly for two men to sit around making light of a woman who may have just had a miscarriage or an abortion?
MUSTO: Well, speak for yourself. I have no problem with this whatsoever. In fact, I make a living from this. The more she screws up, the more items I get to write about.
Yes, it is seriocomic. It's not just funny. We're not just making light here. In fact, it's the most seriocomic spectacle since Colin Powell sang a village person song last week. Look, I have a personal insight into Courtney's soul because she actually used to stalk me in the early days when I was press and she wanted press.
And I actually like the girl, OK? I think everything she does is kind of self-promotion mixed with self-destruction, but it's real. She's not a fake punk. She's not Avril Lavigne. She's not going that mellow, cabala drinking route of Madonna in her later years. She's living on the edge, literally, on that terrace. And she's about to topple off of it.
OLBERMANN: As that videotape of her being wheeled off that we're seeing again suggests, it seems to be reminiscent of kind of borderline Frances Farmer stuff. The part of her that something is wrong with, what is it?
MUSTO: Look, Frances Farmer got lobotomized.
I hope Courtney is never lobotomized, because she has a very vivid mind. And she marches to her own drum. All right, it's the drum that's played by the one-armed guy from Def Leppard, but still. No, I like her. I really like her. And I just want to know who made her pregnant. Was she breaking into that ex-boyfriend's home to get some sperm samples or did she keep some from Kurt Cobain, along with some limbs? Kidding. That's insensitive. She's a grieving widow.
You're talking about early warning signs. The early warning signs are like 30 years ago. This is a long ongoing process. And I really think she's not self-destructing any time soon. She's one of those Liza Minnelli types, who is self-destructing for a living and will just go on forever. There will be roaches and her when the nuclear war hits.
OLBERMANN: The music writer and essayist Toure was on here on one of the many nights that Ms. Love did one of her social face plants. And he said, nothing is really wrong with her. She's an anti-establishment rocker. She's one of the few remaining. This is what she's supposed to be doing.
MUSTO: Exactly. This is what it says on her resume. And this what the job description was. And she's putting the word court in Courtney. She's the only person wheeled out with handcuffs on a stretcher since John Gotti faked a psychotic episode.
I think she's doing just fine. I just hope, if she does ever have another child, that she doesn't, because they would grow up in court and they would have to grow up to be a lawyer.
OLBERMANN: And help mommy until the doctor comes, as the last one had to deal with.
On a final note, though, if you're in legal trouble on both coasts at the same time, and you don't know which court on which coast you're supposed to be at, at a given day, would that be an early warning sign where you'd say to yourself, I may need additional professional help here?
MUSTO: Absolutely not, because that happened to me recently. And I'm doing fine. And what are you saying? She needs professional drug dealers? I think she has them.
OLBERMANN: No, guidance of some sort.
MUSTO: Oh, guidance.
MUSTO: OK. Well, no. If anything, maybe guidance towards a Frances Farmer lobotomy, like you mentioned earlier.
No, I think she's doing great. I may be the only one here. But...
OLBERMANN: You may have a propriety interest
MUSTO: Me and Toure, actually. Toure and I are the only ones who think she's doing terrific.
_OLBERMANN: So she used to stalk you? _
MUSTO: Yes, and I'm still scared.
OLBERMANN: Well, did it have the same impact as watching her in a - on a gurney strapped down yelling help to the cameraman?
MUSTO: Well, now the tables have turned and I'm chasing her, going, Courtney, one last interview.
OLBERMANN: Ah, excellent.
Michael Musto, auteur of the column "La Dolce Musto" in "The Village Voice," as ever, sir, thank you for your insights. And if you see a woman come down near your house on a gurney with handcuffs on it, you know she's resumed those old habits.
MUSTO: I'll run for my life, as I always have.
OLBERMANN: Thanks, Michael.
MUSTO: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And that is COUNTDOWN. Thank you for being part of it.
I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night.
And, Courtney, this is for you. Good luck.