'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 20
Guest: Sean Smith, Carl Bernstein, Mike Huckabee, Ken Baker
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Justice Department investigates former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Sensitive documents walked out of the National Archives. Sloppiness or scandal? And why is it coming out now? Investigative journalist Carl Bernstein joins us to sit for the truth.
Thirty-six hours before the release of the 9/11 Commission report, it seemed to be the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century. Now we know better. Lisa Myers tonight, with the solemn catalog of opportunities missed to stop the nightmare.
Martha Stewart misses nothing. She will write a new book about how to prepare yourself for a trial. We'll have suggested chapter headings.
And what's the one thing the world needs most right now? Exactly. More kids fathered by Michael Jackson - quadruplets, reportedly. It could be worse, could be the Jackson Five.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. Samuel Richard "Sandy" Berger grew up in a family that ran a clothing store in Millerton, New York, and then between his works for President Carter and President Clinton, one of his legal clients was Payless Shoes. Tonight, the imagery of jackets and footwear has taken on an entirely different meaning for the former national security adviser.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The Justice Department criminal investigation into whether or not Mr. Berger illegally or just accidentally took sensitive documents from the National Archives, has grown into a cottage industry of conspiracy theories, one of which, loudly and angrily denied by Berger and others, suggests he stuffed some of the documents into his socks.
But another one may have been advanced by Berger's decision late this afternoon to step aside, but not down, as an informal adviser to presidential candidate John Kerry. Berger admits that in preparing for his appearance before the 9/11 Commission, he inadvertently took copies of classified documents, some of them said to be critical of the Clinton administration handling of the millennium threat.
Government officials telling NBC News that employees at the archives told the FBI they saw Mr. Berger putting some of the documents into his clothing. Berger says he has returned all documents, except for a few he apparently discarded. And he repeated at a news conference earlier this evening that he deeply regrets his, quote, "honest mistake."
The 9/11 Commission says its efforts were unaffected by whatever Mr. Berger did or did not do, but his ex-boss says the timing of leak is, quote, "interesting," what with the commission's report due out Thursday. President Clinton also says he buys Berger's explanation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The innocent explanation is the most likely one, particularly given the facts involved. And I know him, he's a good man, he's worked his heart out for this country and he did everything he could to protect us, so I'm confident he'll be fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Once more, an atypical event in Washington, missing documents, explanations, innocent and nefarious, and political spin going in all directions at once. To try to help sort this out, we are fortunate to be joined again by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, now contributing editor of "Vanity Fair" magazine, Carl Bernstein.
Thank you once more for your time, sir.
CARL BERNSTEIN, "VANITY FAIR": Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: I'd like to start actually at the end. This went instantly from a missing documents story to at least a duel-edged political sword set of insinuations that somehow this tracks into Sandy Berger's affiliation with the Kerry campaign, another that - a story about events that happened last October was perhaps deliberately leaked out now to distract somehow from the release of the 9/11 Commission report Thursday. Have the political machines become too slick now to allow for what used to be called plain old breaking news?
BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. This is a very important journalistic moment, because this is a story that we don't understand yet. It needs context, it cries out for facts which we don't have yet. It ought not be politicized, unless in the end there really is a political explanation, which could be doubtful, but there's always the possibility that there is.
And it also, it seems to me, about the 24-hour news cycle in cable television. It's very important that cable television not allow this to become a screaming fest between talking heads of the Republican and Democratic parties, that has nothing do with what this election is really about. And so far, it seems to me in the 24 hours since this story has broken, the cable news industry has not really responded in a contextual, serious way - hopefully until this moment, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Well, I was going to say, I think the boat there has not only sailed, but we can't see it at the horizon.
BERNSTEIN: It's off the edge.
OLBERMANN: I would suspect particularly that you would have blanched yourself visibly, late this afternoon, when the House majority leader, Mr. DeLay, said this incident involving Mr. Berger was, quote, "a third-rate burglary."
BERNSTEIN: I blanch at most things Mr. DeLay says, actually, and I think there's a pretty good reason for that and a pretty good history for that. It's too bad that we have a majority leader that speaks in those ways instead of is a serious man who's serious about government and not about redistricting and gerrymandering the opposite party.
OLBERMANN: Well, let's bring it back to the essentials. Walk me through the journalistic process that apparently has been ridden roughshod over in the last 24 hours. Which are the key questions of substantive fact here that you would look to have answered?
BERNSTEIN: One, what were these memos? And my understanding, I think of the material that Berger was looking at, so far from what I read is, that he was preparing for the 9/11 Commission. That particularly there were reports that reflected badly on both the Bush and the Clinton administrations, particularly from National Security Deputy Richard Clarke, who of course wrote a book on all this.
I think we need to be looking at the question of, does this really have anything to do with the 9/11 Commission's report and alter it in any way, and was Mr. Berger really doing something nefarious here to aid the Kerry campaign, which seems to me to be a stretch, but anything is possible. And that - at the same time, he obviously acted inappropriately in the way he handled these documents, but the reasons I'm not ready to say that it's nefarious, and I think we ought to find out some more facts.
OLBERMANN: The mechanics of a secure reading room at the National Archives would be an entire mystery to me. But one universal question I've heard, and I'd appreciate your perspective on it if you have anything to add to it, is it plausible that any former national security adviser, Republican, Democrat, Federalist, could either accidentally walk off with material from one or would in a million years try to walk off with material? These two things seem equally far-fetched to the layman.
BERNSTEIN: It seems fairly far-fetched. Certainly - first of all, they're talking about first some handwritten notes he made. I certainly can understand how somebody in the National Security Archive or that kind of environment could write some notes to himself and stick them in his pocket.
In terms of the original documents, it - I don't know. It certainly sounds exceptional, and at the same time, I can't imagine what the purpose of it would be, unless it had to do with real preparation for the 9/11 Commission. It certainly seems to me that there's very little to suggest that it was to brief or aid the Kerry campaign, as Republican Congressman Smith of Oregon said today.
But then again, we have to withhold judgment. You know, anything can happen. And we need facts, and I suspect that we're going to find out the facts, and it sure would be great to see that this sideshow not get us away from the real question of this election, which is about this war and the honesty and the competence of the Bush presidency, and people ought to be able to make up their minds about these two candidates on that basis, whatever way they see it. If they see that George Bush is the superior person in terms of handling national security, then vote for him. If they think that Mr. Kerry is and that Mr. Bush has led us into a needless, disastrous war and has been dishonest with the American people, and Vice President Cheney has been dishonest, then cast their vote for Kerry, or not at all.
But the real point here is this is a sideshow. At least it is now, and it will remain such and probably should remain such, but we also need to know what the facts are and keep this thing in some kind of journalistic perspective rather than it be another occasion for a shouting fest between talking heads from each party.
OLBERMANN: Once again, the boat is over the horizon. Carl Bernstein...
BERNSTEIN: Well, call it back.
OLBERMANN: We'll do our best, thank you for contributing.
BERNSTEIN: Get them on the radio.
OLBERMANN: The contributing editor of "Vanity Fair" magazine. Once again, our great thanks, Carl Bernstein.
If the timing of the leak about the Berger investigation is indeed politically connected, it might still not be the ugliest campaign story of the day. That dishonor would come from Louisville, where only after the urging of the local Republican congresswoman, the headquarters of the Jefferson County Republican Party has removed an extraordinary bumper sticker from its front window. "Kerry is bin laden's man," the sticker read, "President Bush is mine." Forty to 50 of these stickers appeared on a campaign paraphernalia table at the GOP headquarters there last week. Republican Congresswoman Anne Northup she agreed with her Democratic opponent, Tony Miller, that the sticker was inappropriate and that local Republicans should stop displaying and distributing it.
Chairman Jack Richardson says he does not know how it got there, but he didn't have a problem with letting visitors take any of the stickers. He has no idea who made these, but says if he finds out he will tell anybody who calls and asks where they can get one.
Ultimately, there is this political question - why limit yourself to disparaging just one candidate? Both tickets are skewered in an animated parody burning up the Internet. More than five million so far logging on to watch it. From the Spiridellis brothers of Jibjab.com, it's "This Land."
CARICATURE GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (singing):
This land your land, this land is my land. I'm a Texas tiger, you're a liberal wiener. I'm a great crusader, you're a Herman Munster. This land will surely vote for me.
CARICATURE JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): This land is your land, this land is my land. I'm an intellectual, you're a stupid dumb (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I'm a Purple Heart winner. And yes, it's true, I've won it thrice. This land will surely vote for me.
BUSH: You have more waffles than a House of Pancakes. You offer flip-flops, I offer tax breaks. You're a U.N. (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and yes it's true that I kick (EXPLETIVE DELETED). This land will surely vote for me.
KERRY: You can't say nuclear, that really scares me. Sometimes a brain can come in quite handy. But that's not going to help you because I won three Purple Hearts. This land will surely vote for me.
OLBERMANN: We move from real-life politicians made into caricatures to a fictional one who might look a little too much like a caricature of a real-life senator and former first lady. Paramount has remade the John Frankenheimer classic, "The Manchurian Candidate." Replacing Angela Lansbury in the role of the traitorous mastermind of the plot is Meryl Streep. Several Web sites supposedly plugged into Hollywood reporting that Paramount executives, including chairman, Sherry Lansing, thought Streep's performance was astoundingly good, but a little too reminiscent of Senator Hillary Clinton. The studio has denied that anybody asked director Jonathan Demme to cut some of the more Hillary-esque moments from the film, which premieres at the end of the month.
Let's ask somebody who's actually seen the "Manchurian Candidate," Sean Smith, senior writher with "Newsweek." He writes about the movie in the magazine's current issue.
Mr. Smith, good evening.
SEAN SMITH, "NEWSWEEK": Good evening.
OLBERMANN: OK. Is Meryl Streep as Eleanor Shaw reminiscent of Hillary Clinton or too close for comfort, or nothing like her or what?
SMITH: A lot of people think that. She says that she isn't doing Hillary at all. Because I did ask her that question. She says she isn't. She wouldn't tell me who she is doing. I've heard everyone theorize everyone from Arianna Huffington to Nancy Reagan to Barbara Bush. And there are people who think she is doing Hillary, and I think it's because she's about the same age and she's got - you know, she's very stylish and polished and emphatic.
But there are differences, obviously, it's not as if she's doing just a straight up senator, mainly because her ambition, her character's ambition in this movie is for her son, not for herself. She is a powerful woman, but she's not - she's not trying to become president, she's trying to get her son to become president, and that's this - a lot of maternal maneuvering going on there that gets a little creepy as the movie - you know, goes on.
OLBERMANN: Those Web sites that reported that the studio was worried about the supposed similarities and asked for cuts in the film, is that, to your knowledge, hogwash or were they on to something?
SMITH: I certainly know nothing about it. I know there were some scenes that were tried out, that I won't discuss because it ruins the end of the movie, but they - but not that I know of, and also, as I said, Meryl says she isn't doing Hillary. So I - it's weird that someone would think they're too Hillary-esque when, in fact, Meryl doesn't think they're Hillary-esque at all.
OLBERMANN: When we talk about the original "Manchurian Candidate," we're talking about perhaps my favorite movie of all time. I thought that Lawrence Harvey/Frank Sinatra version was just about perfect. But when it came out, it caused a firestorm, because there was an assassination in it and the Kennedy assassination followed not long after the film's release, and understandably, the film was withdrawn. Does the remake seem to have the potential to stir some similar amount of real-world trouble, or is this going to be seen purely in terms of art and film?
SMITH: It could. I mean, I think that it - I mean, "Fahrenheit 9/11" has probably served up enough trouble as any movie's going to do this year. But I do think that it has - it's going to have a pretty big impact, only because what's scaring us now is what's in the film, which is this idea that there are these sort of shadowy, multinational corporations doing things that we don't know about. And with the original "Manchurian," it was communism that was the fear, and at the time that was really - that's what America was afraid of. It was only - it was just after the McCarthy era when that came out, and it was only 18 months past the Bay of Pigs, a lot of things going on then.
And this feels just as timely, but it is interesting how what we fear as a country changes and the idea that, sort of, we've gone from communism being the ultimate fear to sort of unchecked capitalism being the fear.
OLBERMANN: Just plug in the fear of the decade.
Sean Smith of "Newsweek." I still think people who have seen neither should rent the original and then go and see the new one. But in any event...
SMITH: I agree.
OLBERMANN: Thank you for your insight, sir. We appreciate it.
SMITH: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN opening tonight with politics, from real-life dramas in D.C. to make-believe ones in Hollywood. Up next, our No. 4 story: The missed warnings before September 11.
And later, the battle of the bulge in Arkansas: It is taking the fight straight to school kids. How would you like to get a report card sent home to mom and dad that grades your waistline? Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Tonight's No. 4 story is next. In advance of the 9/11 Commission report, the tragic checklist of the missed opportunities to prevent or minimize that awful day. Lisa Myers with a special report coming up next.
OLBERMANN: We began with the unusual timing of the leak of the investigation of Sandy Berger over documents taken out of the National Archives - inadvertent, perhaps, irrelevant, apparently. We continue with our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, and three years and one month ago, the leak was about an FBI counter-terrorism agent, who a year earlier had briefly misplaced a briefcase full of sensitive documents. Not long after the briefcase story hit the "New York Times," the FBI man, John O'Neill, retired from the bureau and the FBI lost the guy most convinced that Osama bin Laden was planning an imminent attack on the United States.
On September 10, 2001, O'Neill moved into his new office, as director of security at the World Trade Center. As of Thursday, the events John O'Neill foresaw, which would claim his own life, will have been officially investigated by an elite bipartisan panel representing the United States government. Correspondent Lisa Myers now with a special report on the missed opportunities to stop or minimize 9/11 that will constitute much of that panel's findings. Details that John O'Neill knew all too well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God!
LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That day, it seems sudden and without warning. But three years and two investigations later, it's clear there was a tragic trail of missed opportunities to stop some of the hijackers, disrupt the plot, and perhaps save 3,000 lives.
The Malaysia meeting. January 2000, top al Qaeda operatives converge on Kuala-Lumpur for a planning meeting that includes these two hijackers. The first time a hijacker comes on the radar of a American intelligence. The CIA loses track of the hijackers and fails to watchlist them or warn the FBI one has a valid visa to enter the U.S.
ROGER CRESSEY, TERRORISM EXPERT: It's one of these critical knows where we could have disrupted the 9/11 plot, well before it ever got off the ground.
MYERS: The calls. Once in the U.S., that hijacker gets up to a dozen calls from this known al Qaeda switchboard in Yemen. The NSA is listening, but doesn't figure out that the calls are to someone inside the U.S.
GHIAS KAHN, TRAINED BY AL QAEDA: I've been to Pakistan, I know about this hijacking. Something going on.
MYERS: April 2000, Ghias Kahn, who says he was trained by al Qaeda, walks into the FBI with an incredible tale.
KAHN: I told them before the 9/11 about more than a year be hijacking an American - an America airline.
MYERS: He says he was sent to the U.S. to join operatives here. Kahn passes two polygraphs, but FBI headquarters doesn't believe him and lets him go.
The sighting. Fall 2002, a Predator spy drone captures extraordinary live pictures of al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, and a tall man in flowing white robes, believed to be bin Laden.
STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM EXPERT: This was equivalent of having bin Laden in the crosshairs.
MYERS: But no military assets are on standby to take a shot.
The Phoenix memo. A prophetic memo in July by a Phoenix FBI agent warning bin Laden may be training pilots at American flight schools. The memo gets buried in FBI headquarters.
The Moussaoui arrest. Suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested training at a Minnesota flight school. But the FBI won't allow agents to search his computer, which would have tied him to the plotters.
CRESSEY: The Moussaoui episode is one of the top three examples of where we might have been able to stop 9/11.
MYERS: The search. In late August, the CIA finally tells the FBI two hijackers may be in the country, but the FBI can't find them, even though they're listed in the San Diego phonebook.
The watch lists. The two hijackers are finally watchlisted, but never put on the FAA's no-fly list, because they hadn't previously shown interest in hijacking planes.
Air defenses. September 11, 8:24, a hijacker believed to be Mohammed Atta thinks he's talking only to passengers.
MOHAMMED ATTA, HIJACKER: We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be OK. We are returning to the airport.
MYERS: The FAA repeatedly fails to alert the military's air defense system until it's too late. Chaos and confusion reign.
When F-16's do scramble, some go in the wrong direction and aren't even told to look for hijacked planes.
BOB KERREY (D), 9/11 COMMISSION: You look at the details of what these 19 men did on the 11th of September, they defeated every defense that we had in place. Every single one of them.
MYERS (on camera): After analyzing more than 1,000 interviews and millions of documents, the 9/11 Commission does not conclude 9/11 could have been prevented. Delayed, disrupted? Probably. We'll never know. But the commission says everyone at all levels of government should have been more ready.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: More of Lisa's special reporting tomorrow night here on MSNBC. She and Chris Matthews with a special edition of "HARDBALL," they'll be exploring the 12 missed chances that could have prevented 9/11. That's tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern, right after COUNTDOWN.
Elsewhere, other nations may be critical, and counter-terrorism experts perturbed, but all is still happiness in the Philippines tonight, where that nation celebrates the release of a truck driver kidnapped in Iraq. Angelo de la Cruz was released a day after Philippines President Gloria Arroyo removed her nation's 43 peacekeepers from Iraq a month earlier than planned. Critics would suggest Arroyo bargained with terrorists, but that point seemed incidental to the de la Cruz family and to President Arroyo herself, who smiled broadly during a national television broadcast announcing the man's release.
Whether connected or not, an Islamic jihadist group promptly warned Japan that its 550 peacekeepers in Iraq would be attacked with car bombs, and it issued the message, quote, "To the government of Japan, do what the Philippines has done."
COUNTDOWN now past the No. 4 story. Next, a much needed break from these headlines, to give you the comic relief headlines. "Oddball" is next. And we promise you when it's done, you will never look at flowers the same way.
And later, a magazine report about Michael Jackson so strange that even he has denied it.
OLBERMANN: We're back, and on this 35th anniversary of the moon landing, we pause the COUNTDOWN to bring you the loony stories surround our planet's animals, vegetables and minerals. Let's play "Oddball."
And how many times have you said to yourself, we can put a man on the moon but we can't seem to get a potted plant to play Metallica? I know, I know. But your long wait is finally over. Science has again found the way. Inventors in Japan have developed the flower speaker amplifier - a device placed in the soil below the plant that turns the flowers themselves into functioning stereo speakers. They're already selling the devices to some area hotels about 450 bucks per. Although, after some initial complaints, the group has scrapped its plans to add a poison ivy headphone set and the Venus flytrap MP3 player.
Meanwhile, what the hell is this thing here? What's it doing in
Maryland? Baltimore County resident Jay Row (ph) shot this video of a
creature that has been lurking around his neighborhood for more than a
month. No one's just sure what it is, or where it comes from. Only like -
· kind of looks like a hyena or a little horse or something, and it lives in the nearby woods and it comes out to steal cat food from the Rows' (ph) back porch.
An "Oddball" investigation reveals striking similarities between the beast and the mythical manticore of ancient Mesopotamia, the legendary monster with the head of a horned man, the body of a lion, the sting-tipped tail of a scorpion, and of course the hankering for cat food. Scientists warn not to get carried away with that manticore stuff. They say this is probably just Bigfoot's pet dog off his leash once again.
This is more easily explained. This is a really big rabbit. His name is Roberto. He's from Amsterdam and he's 27 pounds and 3.5-feet long. His owner believes Roberto is the biggest and longest rabbit in the world. But the folks from "The Guinness Book" will not confirm it. They have stopped listing biggest animal records, fearing that people will deliberately overfeed their pets. Roberto was not overfed. He's just big-boned. And, no, his owner is not named Elwood P. Dowd.
Another "Oddball" now belongs to the ages.
Up next, from fine living to living with fines, Martha Stewart's new book and a few helpful suggestions from her friends here on COUNTDOWN. And later, is the king of pop about to become a pop yet again? They report. He denies. They insist. These stories ahead.
First, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.
No. 3, we had nacho man. Now we have syrup boy. Unnamed suspect breaks into an ice cream store in Jackson, Michigan, drops his wallet in the store, crashed into a large container of strawberry syrup. They used the I.D. in the wallet to get his address. They go there, he's there and still covered in strawberry syrup.
No. 2, Nancy and Donald Comita from outside Chicago. They thought they were getting a good price on a new 2003 SUV, but only after they had driven it after a few months did they learn it wasn't that new. The odometer has evidently been rolled back at least 1,500 miles. And worst yet, the SUV had been used as a pickup truck by a funeral home. Ah, that new car smell.
And, No. 1, the Television Critics Association, whose commemorative program and annual awards this year feature a small typographical error. On them, the association misspelled the word television. It reads telvision, no E. Well, that explains the disconnect. All these years, we've been doing television and they've been watching telvision.
OLBERMANN: It is of course a natural.
Martha Stewart has already written books about hors d'oeuvres, Christmas cooking, health cooking, easy entertaining, weddings, wedding keepsakes, kids, lullabies for kids, decorating, gardening and flower arranging. So obviously her next topic would be how to be on trial.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When a judge gives you a sentence, add a couple of hundred of your own and make them into a book. Three days after her sentencing to five months in jail and five months in beautiful home detention for having lied to federal investigators, Ms. Stewart announced her writing plans on the show of our dear friend Larry King.
Danbury Minimum Security Correctional Facility, hello.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
MARTHA STEWART, CONVICTED FELON: I think I'll write a book because I think it could be helpful to other people just about - just about what lawyer to choose, how to behave, how to attend an interview. I mean, there's things that, you know, there's no how-to book about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: How to behave? COUNTDOWN, of course, is always happy to help the high doyen of household hints. Using her own trial and others, we may have actually written part of Ms. Stewart's new book for her.
ANNOUNCER: Martha Stewart's courtroom decorum dos and don'ts.
NARRATOR: Do show us promptly for court every day, at least 10 minutes early. Don't be late. Judges tend to get annoyed if you show up 20 minutes late with a caravan of vehicles, a crowd of protesting fans and a trailer full of circus animals.
Do always look your best. Consider a trip to the hair salon. Choose a proper hairstyle and stick with it. One never knows when the authorities may want to take your picture. Remember, a photograph lasts forever. And always dress appropriately. I find business attire works best. And you can never splurge too much on accessories. But whatever you do, keep your clothes on at all times. This is a court of law, not a Super Bowl halftime show.
Do sit quietly in the courtroom and pay attention. Take notes, if you like. Get involved. Don't be disruptive. Resist the urge to growl or hiss at the judge or to say anything that might be used against you.
DONNELL WINSTON, CHARGED IN BANK ROBBERY: I'm a drug dealer, not a bank robber. I'm the mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) drug dealer.
NARRATOR: Do leave every day without a fuss. Remember, the court of public opinion never takes a recess. Don't make a spectacle of yourself outside. Leave the dancing and singing to those unconcerned with projecting a proper image. And wild rants on the courthouse steps are best left to the wild and the ranting.
ROSIE O'DONNELL, COMEDIAN: True or false? True.
NARRATOR: Do always be gracious. Thank the judge when the trial is over. Try to help find the real killers, if appropriate. Remember, revenge is a dish best served cold, much like a plate of tasty cyanide-laced smoked salmon canape. Mmm, delish.
WINSTON: I'll kill that (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
OLBERMANN: Still, it's not all good news for Martha. A California software developer has won the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which selects the worst opening to a novel in the making. And Dave Zobel won in part at least because he invoked Martha, Martha, Martha.
Quote: "She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight," begins Zobel's apocryphal book, "summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail, though the term love affair now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism, not unlike sand vein, which is after all an intestine, not a vein."
Thanks for that image.
Martha, Martha, Martha tonight's No. 3 story on COUNTDOWN.
Up next, our No. 2, turning around America's obesity trend. Arkansas thinks it has the answer, report cards. And new details from the Peterson case, new details of a new other other woman.
But first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day. And in the first of them, please pay particular attention to the little girl in the green floral dress in the front row on a very warm day in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We take action to the country. Given that choice, I will defend America every time.
To get antiretrovirals.
Now, having said that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE) new job this year.
To defeat the radicals.
More free place.
On the proliferation and security.
Small business owners of America.
JOHN BURTON (D), CALIFORNIA STATE SENATOR: I'm not that much of a girlie man. Why would I possibly call them? Come on. Are you people nuts? Hi, this is the scumbag girlie boy. How you doing? Give my best to the kids. Yes, did you get anything good for Maria over at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mills.
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, NBA PLAYER: I'm going to come down here and I'm going to play hard. I just bought a house on the beach. And my wife lets me walk naked on the beach. So I will be walking naked on the beach.
So if you take pictures of me naked on the beach, don't sell them to the "Enquirer" unless I get 15 percent.
OLBERMANN: Once a report card was a simple thing. That was in the days when your first graduation ceremony was in high school, not prekindergarten and when childhood obesity was a problem to be solved by having you run an extra five or 10 laps or 20 or just not solved at all.
But in our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the state of Arkansas has realized that the oldest means of warning a parent about a student in distress can also be the newest one, report cards about weight. After a year of measuring every public school child in the state, Arkansas can report that 47 percent of them are at risk or overweight. This is the first state to try the report card method. Not all parents are convinced that the waistline is the school's business. But one mom says she was glad to get two good report cards this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEA BAKER, PARENT: Well, I was happy with both of them not only passing the first grade, but finding out that he's a healthy weight. I think anything to help a parent pay attention to what's going on with their child probably is a good thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Governor Mike Huckabee signed the report card measure into law while in the middle of his own fight with obesity. If there's still leadership by example in this country, he is it. His first wakeup call he says came when he was diagnosed with diabetes about a year ago. He's lost 105 pounds in the interim.
Governor Huckabee joins us now from Little Rock.
Well, congratulations, sir.
GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), ARKANSAS: Well, thanks, Keith. It's great to be with you, a lot less of me fortunately after that report.
We'll get to your dieting experience in a moment. But I'd like to talk to you first about the kids and which came first here, your efforts on your own behalf or your state's efforts on theirs.
HUCKABEE: Well, as we began to realize the huge epidemic of obesity and what it was doing not just to kids, but to adults and the just epidemic proportion of diabetes among kids and what that meant for them as adults, it was already obvious to me that I was not a picture of health and I was leading by example in exactly the wrong way.
And I knew I needed to do it for me, but I also believed that leaders don't ask others to do what they're unwilling to do. And so all of that sort of converged and made me wake up and realize that 48 years of bad habits were literally going to make it so that I was digging my grave with a knife and fork and I needed to change any behavior. And our whole state needs to make some changes and hopefully we can see that happen.
OLBERMANN: I know this will sound naive. But when I was in the sixth grade, we had vending machines with Twinkies in them, and unless you were seventh grade or older, if you were caught trying to buy the Twinkies from the machine, you either got sent to the principal's office or you got sent home.
What are you doing now? What can you do now in the schools themselves?
HUCKABEE: Well, we're looking at several things.
And one of the great thing about having the body mass index, it gives us a baseline of where the kids are right now. And a year from now, we can really determine how much impact the vending machines, for example, are having, by doing test groups to see kids who don't have any access to vending machines, those who have any kind of access, and those whose access is to vending machines that are filled with only healthy snacks, then take a year-later report and determine, is that the real problem?
CDC says that the caloric intake of most kids is pretty much the same as it was 20 years ago, but the exercise levels are dramatically down than they were. And if you think about it, parents are afraid to let their kids run around in the neighborhood because of predators. So kids instead go home and will sit down with a Gameboy or a computer screen with a bowl full of totally unhealthy snacks. They would be better off eating the bowl than they would most of the stuff that is in the snack.
And, as a result, this whole sedentary lifestyle is resulting in a true epidemic of obesity and all the medical problems that go with it.
OLBERMANN: I only have about 30 seconds left. But about yourself and your process, did you learn anything in your own weight loss that dieters or would-be dieters don't know or could benefit from, one 30-second piece of advice?
HUCKABEE: Well, I did. In fact, Time-Warner's going to do a book on it next year, because I learned a lot of things. And mainly, I learned what I had to unlearn before I could learn.
There are so many things that we have to recondition ourself for. And I think, Keith, that's the real challenge, is to learn that there are reasons why we end up getting overweight. And we have to break the bad habits before we can establish the good ones. And then we have to realize this is not a diet. It's not a plan. It's a lifetime and a lifestyle change that has to be there for the rest of our lives.
OLBERMANN: Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, congratulations to you. And I hope we get to congratulate your whole state in the not-too-distant future.
HUCKABEE: Well, I do, too, Keith. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.
Now from the real news to the nightly roundup of celebrity stuff. We report it and we call it "Keeping Tabs."
And it begins tonight with a conspiracy theory about Linda Ronstadt. We told you last night that the head of the failing Aladdin Hotel kicked the former pop diva off his stage Saturday night after she dedicated a song to filmmaker Michael Moore. Several hundred of the 5,000 fans in attendance booed, stormed out, defaced her posters in the lobby.
Ah, but now from MSNBC.com's Jeannette Walls comes the alternative revisionist history version, that Ronstadt may have had an inner ear infection that caused her to deliberately cut her concert short because she wasn't feeling well. In other words, she tanked.
An update on a familiar tabloid story tonight and unfortunately, another such story that may be being groomed as the next big obsession. MSNBC's Dan Abrams reporting tonight that California Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that Scott Peterson, the defendant in the murder of his wife, had an ongoing romantic relationship with another woman identified only as Janet. Like the already acknowledged Amber Frey, Janet believed that the married Peterson was single.
And another young white pregnant woman, having been last seen Monday while jogging. Her name is Lori Kay Hacking. She's 27 years old from Salt Lake City, Utah, married five years. Among 1,200 volunteers searching for her today, relatives of Elizabeth Smart.
Up next, tonight's No. 1 story, the story that has jaws dropping everywhere, reportedly someone carrying quadruplets fathered by Michael Jackson. We'll talk to the magazine that is standing by this story.
OLBERMANN: We close tonight with our No. 1 story. Yes, it's your entertainment dollars in action, day 246 of the Michael Jackson investigations.
Now, before we get to tonight's believe-it-or-not Jacko saga, if you were just back after exactly 246 days in, say, the 23rd dimension, permit me to bring you up to speed. Previously on Michael Jackson, there was the guess-the-plane-media event when Jackson turned himself in, in the first place, the accusations of police brutality, the 73 minutes he claimed to be locked in the bathroom at the sheriff's office, lest we forget, the dancing on the car at the first arraignment, or the old lawyer switcheroo before the second arraignment.
This one, though, may top them all. A spokeswoman denies it outright, but tonight, "Us Weekly" reports that Michael Jackson, whose trial for child molestation is set to begin September 13, is about to become a father again and again and again and again. The magazine reporting that Jackson, already the father of three, Prince, who is 7, Paris, 6, 2-year-old Prince Blanket Michael II, is expecting quadruplets and has just recently spent time with a Florida-based surrogate mother who is carrying them.
Jackson's spokesperson telling us today - quote - "It's not true, period, none of it."
The story appears in the issue hitting newsstands tomorrow. Ken Baker, the West Coast executive editor at "Us Weekly."
Mr. Baker, good evening.
KEN BAKER, WEST COAST EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "US WEEKLY": Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Well, let's address the denial from Raymone Bain, the Jackson spokeswoman: "This is not true. We're not going to further comment on stories of this nature. It's not true, period, none of it."
Somebody's really wrong here, I'm thinking.
BAKER: Well, I'll just point to the history of the Jackson camp over the last few months. This is the same Jackson camp that denied that the Nation of Islam had any involvement with Michael Jackson. We later learned that they were deeply involved.
You know, they denied that Mark Geragos would be leaving the case. Mark Geragos has left the case. And today, they're denying that Michael Jackson has brokered some sort of relationship with a surrogate mother who is going to give birth to four Michael Jackson babies. Now, I will say -
I say Michael Jackson babies, but they're not his - necessarily his biological kids.
In fact, I highly doubt that they are. All we know is that he has a relationship with this woman to give birth to babies that will become his custody.
OLBERMANN: So we're thinking it might not be - you're saying not biological, but his nonetheless?
BAKER: Yes. Don't get nervous. I know we're painting a picture of Michael Jackson having sexual relations, which I don't want to do.
OLBERMANN: No, no, I'm not even going that far, just the idea that - is the premise suddenly here that he used somebody's sperm in an artificial insemination? Doesn't that defeat the point?
BAKER: Are we already giving out too much information here from everyone?
What we know from the sources that we've talked to is that Michael has had a relationship with this woman of a business nature to carry children for him.
BAKER: And that we know Michael Jackson loves children, maybe a little bit too much, according to some people. But we'll find out in the trial.
But the reality is, we can - with all the jocularity and frivolity of all this, there are a lot of people today who are actually saddened by this and who think that Michael Jackson endangers children. And so it's - while it's bizarre and it's fun, I also think at the same time that there's a serious side to it. This is a man who is going to trial, like you said, in September for child molestation charges.
So it's just the latest chapter in what has been a series of bizarre chapters for the last year.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I think less making light of it, the public reaction to this is just further astonishment.
But I've got to clarify this one more time, because it still doesn't make any sense to me.
OLBERMANN: He's a surrogate mother. There's a relationship with this woman. She's in Florida. She's going to have quadruplets. But we aren't sure or we don't think that the biological fatherhood of these children, even in an artificial insemination situation, is Michael Jackson's?
BAKER: We're not sure whose sperm impregnated the woman.
What we have learned from our sources is that the children that the surrogate mother is carrying will become Michael Jackson's children. So we're working on it. It's a developing story. And, you know - but he was meeting with the woman in Florida just this week and it's a done deal.
OLBERMANN: And I just want to emphasize at the end there, you said meeting with the woman and not mating with the woman.
OLBERMANN: Ken Baker, the West Coast executive editor of "Us Weekly," which is standing by its story...
BAKER: He might have.
BAKER: You never know.
OLBERMANN: Michael Jackson will become at least the legal father of quadruplets, let's put it that way, by early next year by via surrogate mother in father and maybe even a surrogate father, too.
Mr. Baker, thanks for your time tonight.
BAKER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: OK. I've now seen everything.
Thank you for your time, too. That's COUNTDOWN. I'm Keith Olbermann.
But what's the - good night. Good luck.