Wednesday, August 25, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 25

Guests: Ruth Peters, Charlie Black, Craig Crawford


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Max Cleland, the Vietnam vet in his wheelchair urging the president to stop going after Vietnam vets as the Swift Boat ad controversy expands again, now forcing the resignation of a top lawyer on the committee to re-elect.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've flip-flopped, flop-flipped.

OLBERMANN: John Kerry on "Comedy Central." The reviews are in and so are the quotes that can be taken entirely out of context.

Russian airliner disasters. Still no confirmation that it was terrorism, still no believable odds that it could not have been.

Raising children in 2004. Free doughnuts when they get As in school, a drop of Tabasco Sauce on their tongues when they misbehave. What if your kids are smart and disobedient? Do they get both? All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Wednesday, August 25. 69 days until the 2004 presidential election. And it is a former U.S. senator and former head of the nation's veterans' administration who may have changed the dynamic of this still burgeoning controversy over the so-called Swift Boat ads as he tried to hand deliver a letter of protest to the Bush ranch in Texas.

Max Cleland told reporters, quote, "keep in mind that this president has gone after three Vietnam veterans in four years."

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, Mr. Cleland posts a letter and gets an immediate response. A bush attorney finds that in the 527 era you cannot serve two masters and the vice president uses in public apparently for the first time, that phrase, "I have a gay daughter."

The political pornucopeia (ph) overflows. We start at a modernized high noon in Crawford. The Texas sun not quite at its midpoint when ex-Senator Cleland arrived in Crawford, immediately making his way to the Bush ranch, uninvited, certainly not unannounced. Cleland who lost both legs and one arm in Vietnam was there to personally drop off a letter. It is signed by nine Democratic senators, all of them vets. It asks Mr. Bush to denounce the commercials.

Also of note, his sidekick there Jim Rassman, the Vietnam Green Beret, registered Republican who is the man who credits John Kerry with having saved his life in Vietnam that they were stopped at the gates was probably less than disappointing to them. A southern gentleman would probably have to refrain from immediately criticizing his host before the excited White House press corps. But with the president's people refusing admission or acceptance of the letter, there were no such constraints on Cleland.


MAX CLELAND, FMR. U.S. SENATOR: If the president of the United States does not stick up for veterans who distinguish themselves in war when they come home, who will he stick up for? So this is a very serious issue with me, with members of the United States Senate with whom I served and those who wore the uniform in this country. We can't let these attacks continue. It's one thing to provide political combat here in America. It's another thing to try to go behind somebody's military record and trash them in a campaign of character assassination.


OLBERMANN: It's not as if no one was on hand to greet Mr. Cleland at the gates of the Bush ranch. The welcoming committee led by Texas land commissioner, Jerry Patterson (ph) seen on the left alongside fellow Vietnam veterans, therein matching Cleland note for note. Meant quite literally. They have a letter of their own. In it, they told Senator Kerry, quote, "you can't have it both ways. You can't build your convention and much of your campaign around your service in Vietnam and then try to say that only those veterans who agree with you have a right to speak up. There is no double standard for our right to free speech. We all earned it."

As for the accuracy of what the Swift Boat Veterans have been saying about Senator Kerry, the letter pretty much steered clear of that.

New acts, new actors being added to Swift Boat theater with each passing day. White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell was a witness to today's episode. Political pony express. She joins us now from Crawford. Norah, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Was this really a showdown? Was it less theater and more two one-man plays? Did these men ever actually interact?

O'DONNELL: Well, it did have all the makings of a classic Texas showdown, but it was a somewhat of a disappointing duel, if you will. It was sort of more monologue than dialogue. Cleland, of course, appeared at the gates of the president's ranch with letter in hand ready to hand it off to the president. He was refused entry, but a Bush supporter appeared and tried to talk to Cleland and Cleland turned his back on him.

So there were never any letters exchanged even though Cleland had a letter for the president and members and veterans supporting President Bush had a letter for Cleland to pass on to Senator Kerry. Cleland then had a press conference later which he called on the president to denounce and condemn these scurrilous attacks. So there was a great deal of political theater here but the point was when we asked Cleland, isn't this a stunt, as the White House said, and he said, yes, it is, but it's a genuine one, and there were clearly some feelings felt on the part of Cleland. He felt he needed to come down here and do this.

OLBERMANN: Norah, who was the man leading the anti-Kerry vets, Jerry Patterson and does he have something to do with the Swift Boat ads or not?

O'DONNELL: Well, Jerry Patterson does not have anything to do with the Swift Boat ads. It's interesting. He is the Texas land commissioner, a Republican who was also a state senator here. A 58-year-old father of 6-month-old twins, also has a son who is on his way to Iraq as U.S. marine pilot, helicopter pilot. He says he was on his way to Dallas this morning when he got a call from the Bush-Cheney campaign saying Cleland was coming into town. They had a letter with some other veterans signing and they needed his help.

So he turned around, came to Crawford and he said he got the letter faxed to him at the Texas ranch and the president actually called Mr. Patterson and spoke with him and thanked him for doing this. Patterson was just here as a supporter of the president and said veterans have the right to speak their mind and didn't really disagree - didn't really disagree with the Swift Boat ads. It was interesting. He was also asked has he seen many of these Swift Boat ads and he said, actually, I haven't because I live here in Texas and they don't air many of them.

Someone asked him if he knew Bob Perry, who is the man who has been funding some of these Swift Boat ads and he said, yes, he happens to be a good friend of his, but he didn't know of any connection in terms of with these particular ads. He was here mostly he says, because the Bush-Cheney campaign called him to duty today. He says he hasn't spoken with the president in four years.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, Norah, a matter of some more substance here. Ben Ginsberg, who by the way for disclosure, was a frequent guest of mine during the Clinton-Lewinsky shows here, has resigned as the chief outside lawyer for the Bush reelection campaign admitting that he had also been doing some lawyering for the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. In quitting, Ben said that he had violated no law, no spirit of the law. There had been no coordination between the Swift Boat folks and the Bush folks. He had done nothing wrong. They had done nothing wrong. If all that's true, how come he quit?

O'DONNELL: Well, Ginsberg said that he didn't want to be a distraction to the campaign and so he decided he would remove himself. It's interesting. Ginsberg, of course, has been - is an election law expert, has worked with the president for more than five years, central certainly to this campaign, but apparently according to the campaign, he didn't let them know that he was working independently and helping to advise those who put together the Swift Boat ads.

Karl Rove said tonight that Ginsberg had to resign because of a hypocritical double standard. He said that the media and others are focusing on the Swift Boat ads and the fact that Ginsberg works at the Bush-Cheney campaign and also happens to advise them, where there Democrats that do the same thing. He pointed out that there's Bob Bauer who works with the Kerry campaign, is involved in some of these other liberal-leaning independent groups. And so the Bush campaign making the point they didn't want the distraction, but they think that there's a double standard that exists.

OLBERMANN: Well, Mr. Rove can't have it both ways. Can't have the spotlight without it showing something now and again. Norah O'Donnell tonight at the Texas White House, thanks for your time this evening, my friend. Appreciate it.

O'DONNELL: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: While the battle rages, that one does in capital letters between the two parties, evidence of a new one, much more low key entirely self contained developed today among the Republicans coming from Davenport, Iowa, but with repercussions for next week in New York City.

That's where at its national convention, the G.O.P. will put into its platform a hard line against same-sex unions. Not just no marriages, not just a constitutional amendment prohibiting marriages, no legal same-sex recognition of any kind. This while other parts of the convention will apparently be aimed at softening some of the hard-seeming edges of the party, a seemingly mutually exclusive feat made theoretically by the fact that almost nobody has actually read a party political platform since Thomas E. Dewey lost in 1948.

At that exact moment, Vice President Dick Cheney of all people seemed to wander off the platform. It's long been known that one of his daughters is lesbian. He had apparently never spoken about it publicly until now at a campaign stop in Davenport.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with. We have two daughters and we have enormous pride in both of them. They're both fine young women. They do a superb job of supporting us and we are blessed with both our daughters.


OLBERMANN: The vice president brought this up because he had been asked in a question-and-answer session about what he thought in his heart about, quote, "homosexual marriages."

Cheney said he believes the relationships are no government's business, the marriage or union issue is best left for the states to decide and that the president supports the constitutional amendment that would take that right from the states.

Joining me now from New York, Charlie Black, veteran Republican strategist and adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign. Mr. Black, thank you for your time this evening.


OLBERMANN: Is there a disconnect between what's going to be in the platform, the Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and what Vice President Cheney said in Iowa?

BLACK: First of all, with the a platform is a statement of fundamental principles of a party. It's not an effort to get every elected official to agree on every bit of the platform. But rather, it's an effort to get most Republicans can agree with most of what's in it. That said, the vice president also said that it's the president who sets policy and the president does believe that a Constitutional amendment is necessary to protect the sanctity of traditional marriage. So, if the platform comes out for a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage when it's all done, that reflects the president's position.

OLBERMANN: Cynical Democrats may suggest that the vice president took the opportunity yesterday to soften up his own image there, because there would be no political ramifications because he, in fact, as you said, was deferring to the president's judgment in terms of the stated policy.

BLACK: Well, listen, the vice president's not that way. His position on this has been known for a long time. You'll recall that he talked about this issue and took the same position in his debate with Joe Lieberman four years ago. So I think the foes have known that the vice president's personal views about the Constitutional amendment might vary from the president or the platform, but he deferred to the president saying that the president sets policy, and that's the way it is.

OLBERMANN: Lastly on this point, something else that the vice president said yesterday may be more pertinent on a purely political point of view, his assessment of the actually chances of passing such an amendment.

Let me play this tape first.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where we're at the this point is that he has come out in support of a federal constitutional amendment and I don't think - well, so far it hasn't had the votes to pass.


OLBERMANN: In that hesitation there, it sounded like the vice president was switching to so far it hadn't had the votes to pass to something like I don't think it has the votes to pass. Not many people seem to think it has a chance of passing. And I know the you said about the platform being more or less a statement of principles. But is there a particular reason that what seems like a practical nonstarter would be part of the Republican platform in a hotly contested presidential year?

BLACK: Well, we don't think it's a nonstarter. The history is that Constitutional amendments usually take many years to pass. They often have to be voted on in Congress several times. And then they have to go to the states to get ¾ of the states. It might take as much as eight or 10 years, but the president believes it's an important principle and something we should try to get done.

And you have to start somewhere. The first vote in the Senate was split along party lines. There were some Democrats that probably would like to protect the sanctity of marriage, what were order bid Tom Daschle to vote against it. So, we'll have another vote in the next Congress. Maybe we'll make progress and we might get it done someday.

OLBERMANN: Bush/Cheney advisor, Charlie Black, thank you for your forthrightness, sir. And thank's for being with us tonight.

BLACK: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Appreciate it.

The invisible threat of politics takes us now to New Jersey, where the term gay marriage has had a entirely different meaning since Governor James McGreevey announced his resignation. McGreevey made his first public appearance today since his announcement two weeks ago tomorrow, signing an economic development bill in Atlantic City.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party, which needs him out of office by September 3 or 15 depending on which law you read in order to force a special gubernatorial election this year, launched a new TV ad, today, demanding his immediate resignation. No 527 group here. The spot was unveiled by Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie. Lastly, an e-mail for friends, written by the McGreevey's deputy press secretary has fallen into the hands of "The New York Post."

Juliet Johnson (ph), title her message, worst summer ever. And went on to explain that she did not know, and did know that McGreevey was gay, because "Jim, when with a small group of us would make extremely heterosexual jokes, and elude to the various characteristics of hot women. But also, "Surrounded himself with, young attractive men. Although, all of them, outwardly, heterosexual.

Lastly from politics, a follow-up to our story last night that the wife of vice-presidential candidate John Edwards had demanded that a woman reporter interview her for a newspaper in Tucson. This was correct by viewer of last night's edition of COUNTDOWN, Elizabeth Edwards herself.

She tells us, she'll talk to anybody at anytime and never asked that

"Arizona Daily Star" send only a woman be sent. Specificly, only the women

· music critic. Those parameters were proposed to the paper, she says, by the staffer who set up the interview. Mrs. Edwards adds, they were necessary. All right, Mrs. Edwards, but how did you think "Oddball" and the newsmakers went last night?

COUNTDOWN, drinking deep from the political bowl of politics there and anticipating the hangover all ready.

Up next, the number four story. When you say I flip-flopped on national TV, even if it's on a comedy show, is that a win?

John Kerry, Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart, John Kerry, next.

And later, a heart wrenching story from Florida. The distraught father. He has just been told his son was killed in action with the Marines, in Iraq. He sets the Marines' van on fire and then tries to get inside the burning vehicle.


OLBERMANN: Somewhere in 527 group land, last night around 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, some advertising writers started swing, Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I found you. Just Madeline Khan did in the movie "Young Frankenstein."

Our forth story in the COUNTDOWN: Politicians out of context and quotes out of context.

John Kerry on the "Daily Show." In a moment, the thoughts of Craig Crawford.

First the clip from the interview that you might see in a swiftboat-like ad on a television near you.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Are you or have you ever flip-flopped?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I've flip-flopped, flop-flipped.


OLBERMANN: Might have wanted to have a better answer prepared for that one, senator.

For all the successful bypassing of traditional news venues and the chance to speak directly to a demographic group sweep if he could just get it to vote, there still was the collision of cultures. Ever since, Jack Paar, invited then candidate, Jack Kennedy on "The Tonight Show" in 1960, and hesitatively asked, if it would be rude to call him by his first name, no matter how smooth the host or the politician, there's always been one overriding fact - politicians are not show biz quality, and entertainer hosts are not journalism quality serious.


KERRY: You sit here and - I'm telling you. I shouldn't go into that, but I've been in some - you would be amazed at the number of people who want to introduce themselves to you in the men's room.


KERRY: I swear to God. It's the most bizarre part of this campaign.

STEWART: I'm going to make a suggestion, too. Secret Service...

KERRY: They're right in the door.


OLBERMANN: As promised, I'm joined now by MSNBC political analyst and the contributor to Congressional Quarterly, Craig Crawford. Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You remember what happened in the movie "The Candidate" when Robert Redford met the guy in the men's room.

OLBERMANN: Yes, vaguely. But was the senator's appearance on the Daily Show last night, was it awkward, was it useful. what was it?

CRAWFORD: There were points he looked like he could eat sawdust without butter and it would be more tasty. I think he was uncomfortable. This is not something John Kerry's comfortable being and doing. It comes across that way. He just doesn't - he doesn't put on pretense very well.

OLBERMANN: It was the classic film, "A Face In The Crowd" I think, where we saw this whole collision of the moons thing sort of prophesied. 1957 picture, Andy Griffith playing a down home TV host interviewing who is interviewing a stuffed shirt politician. And the stuffed shirt politician is trying to explain steel tariffs to a bunch of guys sitting around on haystacks. It's priceless.

And like I said, everything following it seemed to have stemmed from it. Is it better for a politician to go and just do a Bill Clinton in this situation? Go play the saxophone. Should you remember you are on an entertainment show and entertain first?

CRAWFORD: Like Kerry did on the Jay Leno Show earlier this year. He rode his motorcycle on there and thought he might pull that off, but it turns out he was second billing to the comic insulting dog who made some unfortunate remarks.

And that was not - that was a pretty good effort to try to be entertaining and different, but again, Kerry just doesn't pull the situations off very well, because he isn't an actor, he's not a showman and that's one reason we say he lacks charisma and isn't good on the campaign trail.

Well this is another example of it. This is not a skill he has to go on these shows and really pull it off smoothly.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, the flip-flop quote? As Chris Matthews can tell you, stuff can be pulled off this network and used out of context in an advertisement in a flash. Could a 527 group somewhere, obviously without the guidance and coordination of the Bush campaign, could they pull that, I flip-flopped, I've been flip-flopped clip, and run it endlessly?

CRAWFORD: I think there are propeller heads in the editing room at those independent groups, cutting that tape as we speak. That will be very tempting for them to use that and show it.

OLBERMANN: Will it be legal?

CRAWFORD: Sure, yes. I think that would be legal. I mean, it's - he went on and in that interview to try to defend himself on the flip-flopping and not everything is simple and black and white and he said the president is too stubborn. But of course, that's the stuff that will not make a lot of the clips.

OLBERMANN: And, he also said flip-flop also is a definition of the term compassionate conservative, so he got his licks in, but again, you're not going to see that anywhere.

Craig Crawford of MSNBC and Congressional Quarterly. And we might add, next week of Countdown To The Convention, 5:00 pm Eastern, 2:00 Pacific. We're looking forward to it, Craig.

CRAWFORD: You bet. I'm heading up to New York tomorrow on the train.

OLBERMANN: We'll see you then.

The No. 4 story completed. Now up next, as we look at the daily food fight that is "Oddball," some say tomato, some say tomayto, me, I say, duck.

And if you found your child participating in a scene like that, would you say that a time out can't fix that, nor spanking, nor just grounding? Hot sauce, that will learn them. Spicing up the disciplinary debate.

Coming up.


OLBERMANN: We're back. And we pause the COUNTDOWN for a respite from the agitating political news for some fun stories that will not make your blood boil unless you are from West Virginia. Let's play "Oddball."

We begin with an "Oddball" update. You may remember the big controversy regarding the company Abercrombie and Fitch, and its T-shirts reading It's All Relative in West Virginia. The state's governor Bob Wise was offended, the people of West Virginia were offended, the company was not offended. It sold countless extra T-shirts. Which might explain its latest creation: West Virginia: No Lifeguard In The Gene Pool.

This time Governor Bob is really mad, but his letter to the company isn't likely to accomplish much. He may want to take a cue from the governor to his neighbor to the west who seems to just be ignoring the A and F shirt that reads Kentucky: Electricity In Almost Every Town.

And despite significant reforms, things are still not going well at Abu Ghraib Prison. No, no, we're in Bunol, where those whacky Spaniards, recovered from the bull run, are now spilling red of a different kind. Police say that 36,000 people participated in the hour-long tomato fight.

An annual event in Bunol since the late '40's. This in a city that is only home to 10,000 people. Total amount of tomatoes rendered down in ketchup, 140 tons.

You poor saps, you are work for Teresa Heinz Kerry and you don't even know it.

Finally, the lights (ph) and ingenuity used by those trying to enter the United States never ceases to amaze. You will recall the Cuban immigrants who drove to Miami in converted 1951 Chevy flatbed. But why drive when DHL moves the world?

This crate, which arrived at Miami International Airport Tuesday night on a DHL cargo plane contained contents: 1 Cuban woman, undamaged, self-shipped, fragile.

She mailed herself to America in a box, 36x26x18 inches. Much as the shipping court, Charles McKinley shipped himself from New York to his folks in Dallas almost exactly a year ago. The unidentified Cuban woman is in custody now, but the rules of the immigration derby are generally, that if you make it to U.S. soil, you get to stay, even if you arrive C.O.D.

So much for "Oddball." Up next, our No. 3 story, you're preview the new reports on Abu Ghraib. Investigations that went further than just the seven G.I.'s who have been accused of wrongdoing. And Senator Kerry is renewing calls for high-level resignations.

Also, a double tragedy of war: An young American soldier dies in Iraq. Went the father gets the news, he sets the marine van on fire and tries to take his own life in it.

These stories ahead. First, here are COUNTDOWN's top 3 newsmakers of this day.

No. 3, David Mason, a passenger on a flight from Norway to London. Before boarding, he brought - bought a pornographic magazine to peruse on board. In mid-air, he told authorities, he became offended by some of the pictures. OK. So he ripped them out and lit fire to them under his seat, which is where I believe the rocker Perry Farrell got the name of his band, Porno For Pyros.

No. 2, Deputy Don Hess of Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office in Florida. Drug dealers and prostitutes have been congregating around a giant ancient oak tree in the city of Fort Walton Beach, so Deputy Don has come up with a solution, cut down the tree - the yellow hacksaw and the old oak tree.

And, No. 1 - and I promise not to do that again - Stephen C. Jackson. Police say he robbed a bank in West Lake, Ohio. The dye-pack staining devices went off, so he took the money to a car wash and started stuffing the dye-stained singles into the change machine. When the cops got there, his pants were filled with $457 in quarters and he could barely move. Talk about laundering money.


OLBERMANN: The Pentagon postmortem on Abu Ghraib prison, the one produced by former Defense Secretary Schlesinger, specifically does not call for the resignations of the current secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld, nor other senior civilian leadership. That report in fact says such actions would send the wrong message to the enemy.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, prevention of terror in New York, investigation of terror in Russia and the consequences of the imprisonment of terror in Iraq. And in light of the Schlesinger report, the salient question might be, what message are we sending to the enemy? The wrong one, John Kerry said today, as he renewed the previous call for Rumsfeld to go, this during a campaign stop in Philadelphia, while in Washington, it turned out, the number of military people and private contractors being investigated over Abu Ghraib is not seven, but 48.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Schlesinger report said specifically that Secretary Rumsfeld set the climate within which these kinds of abuses were able to take place. And again today, as I have previously, I call for the resignation of the secretary of defense for failure to do what he should have done.


OLBERMANN: The Army today released its investigation into the abuses. It also cites a failure of leadership, but it names names, the Fay-Jones report blaming Colonel Thomas Pappas, 23 military intelligence personnel and four civilian contractors working under this command, complicit in 44 instances, the report says, of prisoner abuse.

The report also documented more abuse at the prison, detainees as young as 15 ordered to urinate on themselves as part of a bizarre game. It also confirmed earlier reports that intelligence personnel had hidden a number of prisoners from Red Cross inspectors. And it maintains that direct abuse was committed by a few, but it also criticizes the head of CENTCOM, General Ricardo Sanchez, for failing to address the problem.

American losses in Iraq are nearing the 1,000 mark. Each death, whether noted nationally or only in the victim's immediate family, is a tragedy of indescribable impact, but an incident in Hollywood, Florida, this afternoon transcended even the usual horrors of war, a death notification proving to be too much for the father of a Marine killed in Najaf.

Our correspondent Mark Potter joins us now live from nearby Miami.

Mark, good evening.

MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Keith.

This is a sad story on several levels. Three Marine reservists were sent to a home in Hollywood, Florida, this afternoon to tell a family that their son had just been killed in Iraq near Najaf. The son, Alexander Arredondo, had just turned 20. It was his second tour of duty. His father, Carlos Arredondo, was so distraught by the news he had just received that as the Marines stood outside he smashed the window of their van, threw in a can of gasoline, then set it afire using a propane torch.

Police say the father actually went inside the van, but then came out severely burned. The three Marines, who were unhurt, called 911 and tried to help the father. Afterward, the stepmother spoke about what has now become a double tragedy.


AMELIDA ARREDONDO, STEPMOTHER OF KILLED MARINE: Three Marines came to our door. You could see through the window. And my husband immediately knew that his first-born son had been killed. And my husband did not take the news well. I'm asking for everybody to keep us in their prayers.


POTTER: Today is that father's 44th birthday. He's now being treated in a Miami burn unit. The Marines say they will keep watch on him and his family - Keith.

OLBERMANN: Mark, it's a morbid question. It's a valid question.

Does he face charges after something like that?

POTTER: It's a question that many people have asked, Keith. The police say they don't know yet what they are going to do. It's too early. But they have indicated that they will take into consideration all that he's been through, his emotional state, the horrific news that he received. It's not official, but the indications are that charges are probably unlikely, although, again, that decision will be made later.

OLBERMANN: Some small solace.

Mark Potter at Miami, Florida, thank you, sir.

From the consequences of a war against terror to continuing domestic efforts against it. As we mentioned here Monday, New York City has already removed mailboxes from large public areas as much as 1.5 miles away from Madison Square Garden. Tourist buses are one-half to one-quarter full and the phrase oh, I'm on vacation next week seems to have replaced hello in the lexicon of the natives.

Fear of terrorism, fear of gridlock, perhaps both. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cannot help with the latter, but, as Pete Williams reports, today he went to New York to sniff around about the former.


PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While officials say there are no specific credible terror threats, security will be far more intense in New York than it was at the Democratic Convention in Boston.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: New York City is being well protected on land, at sea and in the air.

WILLIAMS: Protecting an incumbent president, officials say, is a more complicated mission and this convention comes closer to the November election, which intelligence analysts say al Qaeda seems determined to disrupt.

Nearly 15,000 police and federal agents will be on duty, intensively patrolling what they call the frozen zone around Madison Square Garden and keeping close guard on the two dozen delegate hotels. Snipers will watch from rooftops aided by helicopters, while harbor patrols guard bridges and landmarks and Air Force jets circle overhead for the entire week.

The Secret Service is sealing off access to the water from an adjacent building that helps chill the convention hall's air supply. With fears high of a Madrid-style train attack, rail service is getting especially close attention.

(on camera): This will be the largest mission for dogs in New York history, checking every train that comes into Penn Station.

(voice-over): But the station itself, beneath the convention site, will remain mostly open because it's the equivalent of five stories underground.

With nearly 250,000 protesters expected, police have been trained to arrest crowds that become violent, practicing with mock demonstrators. Some officers will even be equipped with TV cameras in their riot helmets, part of a stream of nearly 400 video sources feeding into the main command center, staffed by people from 66 separate agencies.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It's a very complicated scenario to protect, but they've been working on it for about 18 months and we're pretty confident they've done everything they need to do to provide a safe and secure convention.

WILLIAMS: With so much to watch and worry about, the top Secret Service agent here today said this will be the biggest public security mission ever, and the toughest.

Pete Williams, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: And then there are the only options to explain what happened to the two airliners that left Domodedovo Airport in Moscow within 45 minutes of each other yesterday. Either they accidentally crashed in the most heart-stopping coincidence in aviation history or terror has again visited Russia. Authorities are ruling out neither. At least 89 were killed in the crashes. Officials searching for six more people who checked in for the flights, but never boarded.

Witnesses on the ground reported hearing explosions before each plane when down. One of the flights reportedly activated an emergency distress signal, indicating a possible hijacking. While authorities insist so far there is no other evidence to support a conclusion of terrorism and there have been no claims of responsibility, today, the flight recorders from both planes were recovered and some clue may be contained in their data.

Lastly, the comic relief that only the dark age of terror can provide. We have nothing to fear but Bea Arthur herself. The star of TV's "Golden Girls" and "Maude" tried to board her personally chartered flight out of Boston's Logan Airport while carrying a pocket knife in her handbag. When it was discovered in screening, the 81-year-old actress reportedly said it wasn't hers and - quote - "The terrorists put it there."

But before boarding the Cape Air flight, she also surrendered a key ring to the five TSA agents at the scene, saying the terrorists had put that in her bag, too. She then added - quote - "We're all doomed." It sounds bizarre until you realize that the entire passenger manifest for that flight consisted of Bea Arthur. It was just her and pilot.

Up next, tonight's No. 2 story, one of sacrifice and heroism at sea, the dramatic Coast Guard rescue in the Gulf of Mexico.

That's ahead. First, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We got married and we'll mark our 40th wedding anniversary on Sunday.


CHENEY: Forty more years, huh? All right. Well, I'm willing to commit for four.


J. ADAM ERELI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: And if I may, I will begin by welcoming our visitors from Colombia. We have a distinguished delegation from the Southern Hemisphere.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the northern hemisphere.

ERELI: Colombia?


ERELI: Whoa.

MELISSA BAKER, BIRD OWNER: Are you hungry? Come on, Mango. Mango, come on. Don't tell me no. Come on, Mango. You have got to come down, baby.



OLBERMANN: Still to come, a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico turns into a disaster. The Coast Guard is called, but not everyone could be saved - that and a bizarre new twist in the debate on how to discipline kids.


OLBERMANN: It's as old as the legends of the Odyssey, as real as the Titanic, as new as a just-released film called "Open Water," the dream of the ocean and the nightmare that comes with it of being lost upon it.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, another authentic version of all of the tales of tragedy at sea, with the added irony tonight reported by our correspondent Peter Alexander, that two of the men, including one who did not see land again, had the surname Fish.


PETER ALEXANDER, REPORTER (voice-over): In a drama set in motion by high seas and a failed engine, three fishing buddies finally spotted by a Coast Guard cutter after 54 hours drifting in the Gulf of Mexico. They were clinging desperately to their overturned boat.

LT. J.G. RICHARD GUNAGAN, U.S. COAST GUARD: They were near their limit. You can talk about two days without water.

MIKE JACKSON, RESCUED BOATER: It's a nightmare that doesn't go away.

ALEXANDER: A bittersweet moment for the men badly sunburned and stung by jellyfish, whose rescue came too late for a fourth, John Fish, who died trying to keep his father and two friends alive.

KEITH SMITH, RESCUED BOATER: He took his watch off and lit it up and showed me how to work it and put it on me. And he said, whatever you do, shine this thing. They are going to be looking for you all tonight.

ALEXANDER: John Fish, incapacitated, asked his friends for final favor.

SMITH: He said, take care of my daddy. Take care of daddy.

ALEXANDER: John Fish's friends and father are now safe at home, mourning a brave man lost at sea.

Peter Alexander, NBC News, Monticello, Georgia.


OLBERMANN: From that frightening prospect, we make quickly for less serious ground in our nightly roundup of the celebrity news that we call "Keeping Tabs."

And nothing will break that sort of tension faster than a Rodney Dangerfield story, even this one. The unstoppable 82-year-old comedian just did stop. He underwent heart surgery this morning, replacement of a valve. We don't have a further report on it. Last year, they operated on his brain to reduce his chances of having a stroke when he would have this heart operation. It sounds like something from Dr. Vinnie Boombatz.

Dangerfield checked into the UCLA Medical Center with a one-liner ready for deployment. "If things go right," he told reporters about his stay in the hospital, I will be in there about a week. If things go wrong, about an hour and a half.

And, lastly, this brief and very self-serving promotional announcement. For those of you in New York City metropolitan area, if you would like to hear a fish out of water at noon Eastern tomorrow, I will be the guest host of the radio show of the legendary rock 'n' roll disc jockey Scott Muni. The station is WAXQ in New York, 104.3 FM, noon Thursday. No Captain & Tennille will be played during this program.

Tonight's No. 1 story next, the perils of raising kids these days. It used to be a debate over a carrot and a stick. Now it's a doughnut and a hot sauce bottle. It's all on the tip of my tongue.


OLBERMANN: Reward and punishment were once the staples of child raising in this country. Whether at the home or in the school, spankings, even canings, were frequent, if not common. One of the oldest cliches was the "You go wash your mouth out with soap" bit. The rewards, you didn't spanked, caned or told to go suck on a bar of Life Boy.

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, old school revised. Do well and you get free doughnuts. Do badly and it's a little shout, a bell rung, a little Tabasco on your tongue. The oral exams, the rewards first. Students in Palm Beach County, Florida, from kindergarten through the sixth grade, have been offered a free Krispy Kreme doughnut for every A they get on their report card.

The finest fat delivery mechanism on the planet is also available to galvanize the group effort. Students can get doughnut posters for their classrooms, decorate them with success sprinkles as school goals are met and then turn the posters in for boxes of doughnuts. Free doughnuts during a childhood obesity epidemic, like smart kids don't have enough problems.

You may recoil at that idea, but I'll bet you hot sauce to doughnuts that it at least seems more palatable then the latest aversion theory being promoted by no less an authority than Lisa Whelchel, the former child actress from the series "Facts of Life," a drop of Tabasco sauce on the tongue of any little hell-raiser in your house. Whelchel's book is called "Creative Correction."

And in it, she writes, "A correction has to hurt a little. An effective deterrent has to touch the child in some way. I don't think Tabasco is such a bad thing." Authorities do not necessarily agree with her. A Maryland Home Family Services officer tells "The Washington Post" that, while there are no laws on the books against hot saucing, repeated use of it, especially on a child less than 5 years old, might induce an investigation of child abuse. Ms. Whelchel offers alternatives to Tabasco, per se, vinegar or lemon juice.

To assess the appropriateness of raising kids by increasing their waistlines and shortening their tongues, we are joined by a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of kids and families, also the author of "Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting," Dr. Ruth Peters.

Dr. Peters, good evening.

DR. RUTH PETERS, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Good evening, Keith. Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: Our pleasure.

Let's start with the hot saucing. Apart from the insight it might give us into how the child actresses were encouraged to remember their lines on "Facts of Life," is this within bounds? Is there not a terror factor in here that maybe even a spanking wouldn't carry?

PETERS: I think it's kind of dumb, to tell you the truth.

If you think about it, the method of administration, I don't know a single kid that's going to sit still when you delicately put a drop of hot sauce on their tongue. You're going to have kids wiggling around and things like that. And it's basically I think it's kind of barbaric by the time you get the hot sauce down the kid's throats. I think there are a lot, many more effective and efficient ways of getting your message and your reasoning across to a child than that barbarism, personally.

OLBERMANN: And we'll get to those in a moment.


OLBERMANN: But let's do the doughnuts as the rewards for A's. I don't harbor any grudge against my parents and it hasn't had any long-term ramifications for me other than the slight tick, but it was unintentional. But I know I had a similar reward system when I was a kid. And it seems to me it lost its value the moment I had enough money to go out and buy junk food myself. I'm thinking of this as kind of cynical and dastardly on the part of the Krispy Kreme Corporation.

PETERS: Well, yes, I think that is.

But the bigger problem here and the bigger issue is, should you bribe children? And absolutely yes if it gets the job done. Personally, I don't know a single fourth grader who is going to work for six or nine weeks just to get a doughnut, OK?

OLBERMANN: A doughnut.

PETERS: A doughnut?

I think that the dastardly thing is not the doughnut at six or nine weeks, but I think it's the poster in the classroom that whole time with kids working to fill it up with colored speckles and turn it in for a dozen doughnuts or two dozen doughnuts. We have a big obesity problem with kids. I think we should stay away from it. I'm not so upset about the doughnut or two every nine weeks. I am upset about the poster in the classroom.

OLBERMANN: In a minute, somebody watching this is saying, OK, smart people, I can't reward the kid with food, I can't punish him with a little McIlhenny's or (UNINTELLIGIBLE), so what do I use instead?

PETERS: OK. You quit giving the kid stuff just for showing up alive on Saturday.

Instead of giving them the allowance, you make them work for it. They should get their homework done each day. You should check up on that. You should use electronics, which is screen time, TV, computer, all of those things we just give kids as a given. And it shouldn't be. They should use it for getting their work done, not using dirty language, not using potty mouth, not having to had Tabasco put on their tongue. In other words, you have them work for their rewards.

OLBERMANN: And if they're really good, they can watch COUNTDOWN.

PETERS: If they can stay up that late if they still have their electronics privilege.

OLBERMANN: There you go. I like that. And we also touched upon one of the immutable laws of doughnuts here, which is one doughnut definitely leads to another doughnut. And we have to keep people away from these.

PETERS: And you just can't each one.

OLBERMANN: Dr. Ruth Peters, author of "Laying Down the Law" and contributor to NBC's "Today Show," we appreciate it. And great thanks to you.

PETERS: Thank you. My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann.

A doughnut with Tabasco sauce on it, think we can get some of those?

That sounds pretty much. That shows you a little bit about my youth.

Good night and good luck.