'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Nov. 29
Guest: Kenneth Blackwell, Jim Hall
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Our nightmare, Dick Ebersol, head of NBC Sports and Olympics, survived a chartered plane crash in Colorado, as does one of his sons. The other son is now presumed dead.
Another al Qaeda tape, not bin laden, but al-Zawahiri. Experts believe it was recorded in the same place as the one he released a month ago today.
The F-word. Jesse Jackson uses it in Ohio. The new f-word, fraud.
Republicans strike back at what they call an unnecessary recount there. Ohio's top election official, secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell joins us tonight.
And an eerie look into a love and a life lost. The videotapes are 12-years-old, but they are being seen and heard for the first time.
PRINCESS DIANA: There's just nobody to physically scream at. Or someone to put their arms around me and just listens.
All that and more now on Countdown.
Good evening. It was damned cold in Cleveland seven years ago last month, 22 degrees with the wind chill and snow falling during the third game of the baseball world series.
None of the NBC sports staff televising that series were prepared for that much cold from the sportscasters, to the guys who plugged the wires into the camera's, to the boss. But The next morning we were directed to a large dumpster that as had arrived if by magic over night from New York. In it, hundreds of pounds of every winter-wear garment imaginable. Report to the dumpster, state your size, here are your shoes, your socks, your thermals, your parkas, no charge. The boss had noticed we were cold. The boss was named Dick Ebersol.
Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, as the National Transportation Safety Board begins its customary news conference at the start of the investigation of an airplane crash. This is a story that has resonated unexpectedly outside these offices because it invokes the question of the safety of the small chartered jets that dart across our skies. It resonates within these offices because its victims included Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics, perhaps the ideal television executive, but a much better man. He is in a Colorado hospital tonight along with his oldest son.
But as our correspondent George Lewis reports tonight from the accident scene, his younger son is now presumed killed in that plane crash.
GEORGE LEWIS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Late this afternoon, federal investigators began to probe the wreckage, looking for the cause of the crash. Sources tell NBC news they located the plane's cockpit voice recorder. Eyewitness Chuck Distal (ph) saw the plane slide off the end of the runway.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it was sliding there was a lot of smoke and flames boiling into the air. The plane turned sideways, then a huge flash of flames come out of the airplane, then it was just smoking.
LEWIS: The pilot and another crew member were killed by the impact but three people survived, including Dick Ebersol, chairman, NBC Universal Sports and Olympics. He was pulled from the wreckage by his son, Charles, a senior at the University of Notre Dame.
DOUGLAS PERCIVAL, EYEWITNESS: He grabbed him by the shoulder and shaking and crying and saying my brother, only 14-years-old, he's in the plane, he's in the fourth row.
LEWIS: Fourteen year old, Teddy Ebersol is still missing. Today, authorities said they don't think he's alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have been unsuccessful in finding anybody. We believe at this time that the boy probably has perished within the crash.
LEWIS: Ebersol's wife, actress Susan St. James was not on the plane. She had gotten off in Montrose prior to the crash. The weather at the time was snowy and cold. Airport officials told NBC News the pilot did not have his wings de-iced.
(on camera): Federal rules say that's up to the pilot. But it raises a question for investigators, did ice on the wings, something that can interfere with a plane's ability to climb, cause the charter jet to go down?
This is an enormous tragedy for Dick Ebersol, a man who as head of NBC Sports, built a multi-billion-dollar Olympic television franchise. Investigators want to talk to Ebersol and his son as soon as possible, because they are the closest witnesses who can help the government sort out the details of what caused this crash.
George Lewis , NBC News, Montrose, Colorado.
OLBERMANN: At that news conference that began on the hour of the National Transportation Safety Board in Colorado, sad news, a body has been recovered now in this plane crash. It is believed to be that of Dick Ebersol's youngest son, Teddy. They will now be going through dental records to confirm that match, but to repeat the breaking news from Colorado, a body has been recovered of a young man believed to be the 14-year-old son of NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol. More on Dick Ebersol in a moment.
First more on these planes and these airports. There was slush reported on that runway, the pilot as George Lewis reported, opted not to have the craft de-iced before trying to take off in the aftermath of an snow storm.
To try assess this from a an air safety point of view, I'm joined now by Jim Hall, former chairman of the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board.
Mr. Hall, good evening. Thanks for your time.
JIM HALL, FORMER CHAIRMAN, NTSB: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: You've heard the outlines of this accident, of the decision not to de-ice under those conditions.
Do you have a best guess as to what probably happened?
HALL: Well, Keith, first, my condolences to the NBC family and of course my prayers are with the Ebersol's. That's got to be very difficult to have some family members live, survive the accident, and others killed in the accident. Obviously, everyone's first guess here would be to look at icing or some type of contamination that might have affected the lift of the aircraft. Of course that contamination could have come either on the aircraft's surface or it could have come off of the runway.
OLBERMANN: About this jet, the challenger CL-600, there was a test flight in October, 2000, they had a crash on takeoff, a huge fire, three crew members were killed. December of that year, they had another flight, captain trying to take off, but literally could not get the plane off the ground. No one was seriously injured but they had to abort. And now you have a flight that lasts less than 300 yards.
Is conceivably something wrong with this plane's capacity to take off?
HALL: Well, I know that the NTSB investigators working out of the Rocky Mountain office there will look very closely at the accident history of this aircraft in trying to determine what happened in this instance and to make safety recommendations in the future.
OLBERMANN: Do you think there could be something intrinsically unsafe or unsound about flying this kind of plane under these kind of weather conditions?
HALL: Well, let me say that this aircraft is part of a series of aircraft that was first manufactured in 1980, so it has a long history. However, the wing on this aircraft does have a hard leading edge, there are no slats. And a wing like this is very susceptible to any type of contamination. Now, I assume this was operating under the federal regulation called part 135, and it would have been the pilot's responsibility to insure that there was no contamination on the aircraft before he took off. But hopefully, the first officer or co-pilot, who survived, will recover and will be able to provide some additional information in addition, of course, to the cockpit and flight recorders.
OLBERMANN: Jim Hall, former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, many thanks for your time tonight, sir.
HALL: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And thanks for the kind words for the family. We appreciate it.
Repeating the late news from the NTSB in Colorado, a body has been recovered tonight from the crash site. It is believed to be that of Dick Ebersol's 14-year-old son, Teddy.
I mentioned earlier Mr. Ebersol's public persona as the president, latter chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics, it is that of the ultimate deal maker, the man who locked up the Olympics for NBC for 16 years. The man who walked away from the NFL and baseball and basketball when the money no longer made sense. The man who decided what time the World Series games would start.
But I wanted to give you some idea of who this man actually is, why the coverage of this tragedy has been as voluminous as it has been. Why those bring it to you have been as distraught as they have been. It's because the importance of Dick Ebersol is far greater than all the deals he ever put together and all the influence he ever wielded. Of all the individuals I've ever met in 25 years of broadcasting, he is the one who put people ahead of business. I know. I was one of them, three times.
In 1998, as my first show on MSNBC came to its messy end, the situation seemed irredeemable, possibly cataclysmic, there were lawyers. But Dick called one day and said I think I know a way out of this, you're too good a person, your bosses are too good people that this should end badly. Just stay calm, let me work on it. Two months later, he had convinced everybody at MSNBC to simply sell my contract to Fox, saved my career, saved NBC's public face.
Four years later, he did it again. He called into his office and casually mentioned that he wanted me to host the Olympics for him on cable. I pointed out to him that I had not left NBC under the best of circumstances, that there were still clearly hard feelings. Not from here, he said, matter of factly. With that I was back at NBC, simply because Dick Ebersol values people as much as he values the willing and the dealing.
The third time came just last summer. It was evident I was going to have to be in two places at once, in Athens to broadcast the Olympics for him and here to continue this program as the presidential campaign heated up. With the greatest possible reluctance, I was voting for here. He wasn't. He wanted me in Greece. One day he called up and said, I understand, we'll get through it.
That's why all of us who have or who have had the privilege of working for and with him are in such shock and grief now. I have often joked I'd like to be Dick Ebersol when I grew up. I still do. Not the executive. The man.
More tonight. Osama bin Laden's number-two says al Qaeda is patient and willing to face a long, drawn-out fight with the United States.
And speaking of drawn out, Jesse Jackson enters the recount fray in Ohio. That state's secretary of state will join us here tonight. Your watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Straight ahead here, al Qaeda's latest message to the U.S.
And why more troops, more than expected, could be soon headed to Iraq.
OLBERMANN: Eight times in six years before today a statement from Ayman al-Zawahiri has been released and eight times proved a harbinger to an al Qaeda attack or assassination attempt.
Our fourth story on the Countdown tonight is a 9th statement from Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant. It is released a month to the day that bin Laden's was.
And as our chief foreign affairs Andrea Mitchell reports, it seems to be considerably out of date.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The newly released videotape from Ayman al-Zawahiri appears to have been taped before the November presidential election. In it al-Zawahiri warns that al Qaeda will continue to target the United States until America changes its policies toward the Muslim world, no matter who the U.S. elected. In the tape, al-Zawahiri says the two candidates are competing to win the satisfaction of Israel and, he warns, we are a nation of patience, we will continue fighting you until the last hour. Past messages from the Egyptian-born pediatrician have been followed by terrorist attacks, most recently this September 9 video, one month later, al Qaeda bombed three Egyptian hotels, killing 34.
BRUCE HOFFMAN, TERRORISM ANALYST: With al-Zawahiri's appearance, al Qaeda almost seeks to lay down a marker, to presage or to almost to really set the stage for a terrorist incident.
MITCHELL: Intelligence analysts say the latest tape may have been recorded at the same time as the September 9 video. Same backdrop, same weapon. A neutral backdrop to prevent identifying the location. The words al-Zawahiri used are also important. His warning is similar to Osama bin Laden's message last month. Both men addressed the American people but are also reassuring supporters.
EVAN KOHLMAN, NBC NEWS ANALYST: While some of these threats may be serious and should be taken seriously, we have to also realize this is a propaganda tape.
MITCHELL: Last week Pakistan, under tremendous local pressure, suspended its search for bin Laden and al-Zawahiri in some tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. U.S. officials say the two men have not traveled together for a year and a half.
(on camera): Pakistan's President Musharraf, surviving two al Qaeda assassination attempts, will meet with the president Friday to discuss how to improve the hunt for the terror leaders.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: To the other front of the administration's war on terror, Iraq, a new division splitting that country's religious and ethnic fractions over when to begin the first towards democracy. This weekend, the two main Kurdish parties switched positions, joining with their political enemy, the Sunni Arabs and now calling for a six-month delay in those elections. That announcement prompting 42 Shiite parties to sign a joint statement of their own, declaring support for the January 30 scheduled vote and warning postponing elections will send the wrong message to terrorists. The Shiites groups also argue that any delay would be illegal. Legal and illegal are relative terms in Iraq, just now ones often determined by how much firepower and how many men each side has at a given moment at a giving place.
From the Pentagon, our correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski reports tonight that this country's efforts to make sure it has the most men on its side come those Iraqi elections has now required a doubling of the planned increase in American personnel on the ground there.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): Faced with the real threat of terrorist attacks during the Iraqi elections next January, U.S. military officials tell NBC News the Pentagon is planning to raise the number of American troops in Iraq by 10,000 to 11,000 to provide additional security. That's twice the number of needed reinforcements first anticipated. And will temporarily raise the number of U.s. Troops in Iraq to about 150,000. That means soldiers from the Army's 1st Infantry and 1st Cavalry and some who U.S. Marines, who were scheduled to leave Iraq this month may now be ordered to stay longer, while soldiers from the 3rd Infantry and 82nd Airborne could be ordered into Iraq earlier than scheduled. Even then, it would seem impossible to protect all 9,000 polling places in Iraq from terrorist attacks.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, MILITARY ANALYST: We could see 10, 20, 30, 50 people killed on election day in Iraq, including some American forces, some Iraqi security forces and some innocent voters.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Fifteen Iraqi political parties, mostly minority Sunnis, are demanding the elections be postponed for six months.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, IRAQ EXPERT: If the Sunnis do not participate in the elections, it will raise questions about the legitimacy of the Iraqi government not only within Iraq, but especially in other Arab and Muslim countries.
MIKLASZEWSKI: But Secretary of State Colin Powell said today elections would be the most potent weapon against insurgents and terrorists.
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: They must not be allowed to succeed. And the way to show the light to their efforts is to have a successful election on the 30th of January. And that's what we are all committed to.
MIKLASZEWSKI (on camera): Pentagon officials worry, however, that the terrorist bombings and assassinations are a powerfully effective form of intimidation.
(voice-over): The bodies of 70 Iraqis, most of them Iraqi security forces, were found executed last week in Mosul alone. Military officials do report since the U.S. invasion of Fallujah attacks across all of Iraq have dropped from 130 to 50 per day. But the fear is the insurgents are only regrouping for an all-out offensive in time for the elections.
Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.
OLBERMANN: One of those 10,000 to 11,000 new slots in Iraq could be filled by a command sergeant major in the signal brigade who was asked to delay his mandatory retirement by a year, so that he can go with his troops to the warzone. It might be an exception story even if you didn't know the man's name. It certainly is when you meet Sergeant Major James Jordan, the senior enlisted man in the 33rd Signal Brigade at Fayetteville, North Carolina, and he and that state look and sound as familiar as they do. That is because at 47 years of age, he is the eldest brother of the basketball great Michael Jordan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SGT. MAJ. JAMES JORDAN, U.S. ARMY: It happens. It depends on what you think was legally right or what's the right thing to do. The right thing to do if you're a leader, you lead from the front. I'm going to do what I have got to do. Just my time is not out. Thirty years is not 30 years; 30 years could be 31. So whatever it is, you've got to fall in line and make it happen. That's what I'm doing. What anybody would do. If you put yourself in the same situation, I think you'd do the same thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Another sports story, kind of. It's Ivy League football, and as usual it's more interesting to watch the fans than the players. "Oddball" will give you that opportunity. And it is the seemingly endless story - the Marilyn Monroe of royalty. New tapes, new sadnesses, 12 years after they were recorded, seven years after her death. Princess Diana tonight again in her own words.
OLBERMANN: We are back, and as we all slogged back to work today, there was strange consolation that the people who do all the dumb stuff that makes it into our strange news segment were already here waiting for us again.
Let's play "Oddball."
We begin in Mozambique, where a Belgian group has a new high-tech method of finding and destroying old land mines - giant Gambian rats. Giant Gambian rats, hello! The mines are left over from Mozambique's civil war, which ended over 10 years ago, and so far the huge rodents are showing some success. The trainers say the rats are better equipped for the job than metal detectors or bomb-sniffing dogs.
But how do you know when one of the giant Gambian rats has found an old land mine? Oh. Oh, dear.
To Glenwood Springs, Colorado. When they post those falling rocks ahead signs, they really mean it. Sure enough, just in time for the holiday travel rush, this rock slide closing down I-70, the main highway through the Rockies. No word what caused this one. No one injured, but a 24-mile stretch of the road was closed down for more than 30 hours as crews worked to clear and repair the road and turn big rocks into little rocks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire in the hole!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A lot of stuff blowing up.
That's the traffic. Now the sports news, kind of. It's actually Ivy League football, which explains why it took nine days for anybody to notice. November 20, 2004, the 121st meeting of Yale and Harvard in football. And a group of Yale students made this video of themselves plotting and carrying out one of the great sophomoric pranks of all time. They now have posted this on the many Internets.
Dressed in Harvard colors, with shirts reading "pep squad," they Yalies raced through the Harvard fans, handing out red and white placards that were to held up at a certain moment in the game and would spell out in giant letters, "go Harvard." The crimson fans all obliged and held up their placards at the designated time.
Guess what? The card array did not spell "go Harvard." It spelled something else. Yes, it did, didn't it? That went by too fast for you? There it is again. The students are now selling commemorative posters of the event on their Web site. You can probably guess the address. All of it proving once again, as George Bush proved to Al Gore, that a Yalie can always run rings around them Harvards.
After days of protests, the Ukraine government gets to crack, or starts to crack. Calling for a new election there growing amid new evidence of voter fraud, and new calls here, Greens and Libertarians filing for more recounts, besides Ohio. Jesse Jackson joining the battle in that state. And that state's secretary of state joining us here.
These stories ahead, but first, here are Countdown's "Top 3 Newsmakers" or this day.
No. 3, Bernard Kensky, president of the Optimists Club of Quakertown, Pennsylvania. The group is disbanding after 24 years of community service and optimism in general, which in this case proved to be entirely unfounded.
No. 2, an unnamed archer in Sweden who was arrested for planning to aid a jailbreak. Officials say the man parked in the woods near the outer wall of the Marathraid (ph) prison in Stockholm and fired three cell phones over the wall using a bow and arrow. No one escaped, possibly because officials were on to the plan, most likely because it would take years, years to dig a tunnel under a wall with a cell phone.
And No. 1, Chrissy Hoover, owner of the Krispy Kream ice cream stand in Belsano, Pennsylvania. That's Kream. She is being sued by, you guessed it, Krispy Kreme. Hers is an ice cream place. The doughnut people wanted to change it now to something less confusing, you know, like Baskin' Ribbons, or Ben and Kerry's.
OLBERMANN: It could end up with a new vote or a new country or anything good or bad or in between.
Our third story on the Countdown tonight, the post-election chaos in the Ukraine, in which the nation's 21 Supreme Court justices began televised hearings into the presidential vote, and post-election strong words in Ohio, where the term fraud was openly used for the first time today and from which place Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell will join us in a few minutes.
First to Kiev. Ukraine's current president, Leonid Kuchma, now admitting under fire that a new election might be the only way to resolve the crisis, one that now threatens to break the former Soviet republic into two different states. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell among those to phone Kuchma today urging him to do all he can to keep the country intact.
More bad news for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the man originally designated president-elect. His campaign chief has resigned. Also stepping down is chairman of Ukraine's Central Bank. Yanukovych now saying that he, too, would support another vote if allegations of fraud are proven. His caveat, he says he has not seen any proof yet.
It appears the relentless protest on the streets of Kiev is having an impact. The opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, urging supporters today to keep going despite the freezing cold saying - quote - "The next couple of days will bring a solution."
Some of the most remarkable signals of protest in the former Soviet state are coming from the most unlikely source, state-run television. The first act of rebellion, an entirely silent one. It came last Thursday when a sign language interpreter named Natalya Dmitruk ignored the report about the prime minister's victory that she was supposed to be translating, signing instead - quote - "The results announced by the Central Electoral Commission are rigged. Do not believe them."
Ms. Dmitruk then declared that opposition candidate Yushchenko was the true winner, adding - quote - "I am very disappointed by the fact that I have to interpret lies. I will not do it anymore. I do not know if you will see me again." Since then, hundreds of journalists have been inspired to join Ms. Dmitruk in her act of defiance, choosing to walk off their jobs rather than report what they see as government propaganda.
Here, the prospective recount in Ohio now has cousins out west. The Green and Libertarian parties have today filed for recounts in Nevada and New Mexico. The complaints are based largely on the absence of paper trails for electronic voting in each state.
Back at the ranch, the word fraud has been used on the record by a former presidential candidate about the voting four weeks ago tomorrow in Ohio. In turn, the man who used the word was described by local Republican leaders as a - quote - "professional publicity hound." The Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke this morning in Cincinnati. He had addressed a rally in Columbus yesterday saying voting irregularities disenfranchised many of Ohio's citizens.
He also told reporters - quote - "The playing field is uneven. The rules are not public. The goals are not clear."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: We want everybody to vote and their vote to count. We can we can live with winning and losing. We cannot live with fraud and stealing. Most Americans must know the election in Ohio has not been certified. This is the 28th of November; 26 days, that election has not been certified because there are patterns of irregularities that are impeding the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: While Jackson reiterated the Democratic Party line that a different outcome is at best an unlikely result of a recount, Jackson had earlier told reporters that he spoke with Senator Kerry on Friday and that Kerry - quote - "supports the investigation. His lawyers are observing it closely."
But "The Baltimore Sun" quoted Kerry's chief Ohio attorney, Daniel Hoffheimer, as saying: "Our eyes are wide open. And to this date, we've found no evidence of confirmed fraud." Asked why, if Ohio had problems meriting the recount, Senator Kerry had conceded the election on November 3, Jackson was quoted by "The Cincinnati Enquirer" as saying: "Kerry was inclined to believe what he was told, and he was told the election was over. But now we're unearthing information that did not surface at first. I suppose the more information Kerry gets, the more you will hear from him."
Republicans today responded with a news release headlined "Democrats Struggle to Justify Unnecessary Recount," noting it will cost Ohio taxpayers $1.5 million and quoting the state GOP Chairman Bob Bennett as saying, "Jackson has a stellar reputation for ignoring the facts and distorting the truth."
The focus of criticism of the Ohio count and legal actions about it and a recount is the state's top election official, its secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell, who joins us now from Cincinnati.
Secretary Blackwell, thank you for your time tonight.
KENNETH BLACKWELL, OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: When the Green and Libertarian parties filed for the recount, I didn't hear anybody in Ohio's government jumping up and down and applauding, but I also didn't hear anybody accusing them of being professional publicity hounds or of ignoring facts. Why the harsh reaction towards the Reverend Jackson?
BLACKWELL: Well, Keith, I think what happened is that Jesse Jackson ran around the block and tried to get out in front of a parade that was already on the march.
We had indicated that Ohio law allows for a recount once the vote has been certified. So, the recount is already a determination. You know, so for him to run around the block, get out in front of the parade, probably gives credibility to the charge that, you know, he is a provocateur for hire.
OLBERMANN: One of his suggestions and that of some of your critics has been that there is an attempt to make the window for a recount in Ohio so narrow as to make a recount meaningless. How would you respond to that criticism, sir?
BLACKWELL: We are, in fact, abiding by the law, which basically that, once there is a certification, you have five days to ask for a recount. I would anticipate that they will ask for a recount, the two minor-party candidates, and they will get it.
The fact of the matter is, is that they are entitled to request a recount. We are entitled to give them a recount, even though the cost to the taxpayers far exceeds the $120,000 that it will cost the two candidates to ask for this count. These are two gentlemen that, between them, got less than - got just a tad bit more than a quarter of 1 percent of the vote. They know, the courts know, the people know that they have no way of changing the results as it affects them. They have the standing, not Jesse Jackson.
And because Senator Kerry has conceded and has not asked for a recount, he has no standing. And so, I would anticipate that the Electoral College will be held on the 13th of December and our 20 votes will go to the certified winner.
OLBERMANN: Then again, as your law gives you the right to certify under the conditions that you mentioned, your laws also say how much a candidate is charged per precinct. It's not like these are the prices...
BLACKWELL: Oh, absolutely. And that's what I said. They are entitled to it under the law.
I think the legislature will probably have some work to do. This was a rule that was established in 1956. And the price of $10 per precinct was established, you know, back then. They're going to have to make a determination as to whether or not they want to keep at 1956 dollars or if they want to really have the recount charge reflect the real cost of doing business in the 21st century.
Hey, look, Keith, here's the deal. I just heard Jesse Jackson complaining about the unfairness and the unevenness of the field. Ohio has a delicately balanced bipartisan system that counts votes at the local level. I have nothing to do with counting the votes. They're done by the 88 county boards of elections. And let me give you a point here to show you the duplicity in Jesse Jackson's criticism.
In Franklin County, where Columbus, Ohio, is located, the head of the Board of Elections is an African-American Democrat, not just any Democrat, the head of the Franklin County Democrat Party. He is overseeing. You know what he said last week? He told Jesse Jackson to stop it. He says, what makes Jesse Jackson think that he would sit quietly and watch the African-American vote be suppressed or watch Democrat votes be suppressed?
You know, Jesse Jackson is just trying to stir up a hornets' nest. And what I've told people today is that Elvis is dead and I'm not going to fret over Jesse Jackson's misinformation and confusion.
OLBERMANN: As it plays into the recount, though, sir, are you saying that your office does not anticipate taking any steps to try to prevent a recount in Ohio?
BLACKWELL: No, we haven't. We've told the two officials candidates that have - the candidates that have asked for a recount that, once we certify on December 6, they have five days to certify, I mean, to ask for a recount.
Once they ask for a recount, we will provide them with a recount. And that's what I've said from the very first indication that they were interested in a recount. Once it was established that they were statewide candidates withstanding, our law says that they can ask for a recount. We will regard this as yet another audit of the voting process.
The reason it takes us from November 2 to December 6 to certify is because we have a very tedious, very comprehensive process where we audit five precincts across the state, every vote that was cast, to make sure that every vote that was legally cast is counted.
Look, Keith, we have 45,000 square miles of geography in Ohio, 88 counties. And, on Election Day, I was dealing and leading 50,000 poll workers and election officials. They did a great job. And what we are planning to do in February, in March, is to take a look at how we can improve our system.
The reality is, is that we have - 70 percent of our voters use a punch-card system that I tried to change and that bipartisan resistance in the legislature stopped. And so, we had the punch-card system. We have a system that allows us to manage a free and fair election, free of fraud, free of intimidation, and that's what we delivered on Election Day.
And we're very, very proud of it and we have the most scrutinized election system in the United States. And we are we have met every test. Every test, we have made. And I'm very proud of the 50,000 co-workers and election officials who delivered a free and fair election.
OLBERMANN: As part of that scrutiny, one of the criticisms regarding the campaign and the election in Ohio that was directed at you personally that, as the state's top election official, it is a conflict of interest, or, minimally, it is the appearance of a conflict of interest for you to have also been the honorary co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.
As Reverend Jackson put it - and you may or may not agree with his presence there, but the phrase is certainly interesting - Mr. Blackwell cannot be the owner of the team and the umpire. Should those two jobs not be mixed?
BLACKWELL: Well, let me tell you, I just told you, Keith, we have a bipartisan system in Ohio, where the Hamilton County chairman of the Board of Elections, Tim Burke, is also the Democrat chairman of the Democrat Party in that county. The same for Dayton.
The Democrat chairman is the - is the chairman of the Board of Elections in Montgomery County. So, I've just given you three counties where Democrat chairmen who were pushing for John Kerry are the chairpersons of the boards of elections over our 88 counties. We have a checks-and-balance system that allows for a bipartisan review, a very transparent system.
And Jesse Jackson, let me just tell you, he would like to be the co-secretary of state of the state of Ohio, but Jesse Jackson has not had the courage or the credibility to run and get elected to dog catcher.
OLBERMANN: Last question, sir. Can you refute or confirm one of the Internet's favorite stories that no one seems to have gotten an answer, that you had a meeting with President Bush on the day of the election in Ohio?
BLACKWELL: That's just hogwash, absolutely zero, not true. And it's the sort of mythology that grows out of, you know, a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands and the imaginations of Jonathan Swift.
But it goes with the territory. Like I said, we had 45,000 square miles of geography, 88 counties' board of elections, 50,000 folks that ran a great election on Election Day. We had a record turnout of voters in Ohio. We had record registration. And I think the facts speak for themselves.
Thank you for having me and giving me an opportunity to speak to the truth of the matter.
OLBERMANN: Kenneth Blackwell, secretary of state in Ohio, our thanks for your time tonight, sir.
BLACKWELL: Thank you, sir.
OLBERMANN: Coming up, the future Supreme Court, Americans weighing in on whether justices forced to retire. A couple of those moral values issues came before the high court today. And later, an NBC News exclusive. They are 12 years old, yet brand-new within the canon, more tapes of the late Princess Diana.
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OLBERMANN: Gay marriage and medical marijuana, both issues that came before the Supreme Court today. On one, the justices passed. And there are more newly discovered tapes of Princess Diana. A life has ended. Its sad echoes apparently never will.
OLBERMANN: Immediate multiple choice exit polling suggested the foremost issue deciding votes for president this year was moral values. Later, free-form polling suggested that ranked a distant third, behind other and Iraq.
In either case, the Supreme Court apparently did not get the moral values memo. Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, given the opportunity to knockdown the Massachusetts decision to legalize same-sex marriage there, it passed, the court effectively rejecting a conservative group's challenge to the legality of gay marriage in Massachusetts. By declining the case without comment, the justices let stand the 4-3 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
That decision granted gay couples the right to marry under its own state Constitution, ordered the state legislature to make it so. In the past year, 3,000 gay couples have married in Massachusetts. And early attempts by the state legislators to enact a state constitutional ban on such marriages failed.
Today's failed challenge follows two lower-court decisions against Liberty Council, a conservative group which claimed the Bay State court has usurped its constitutional powers. By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court effectively kept the hotly contested issue at a state level. Voters in 11 different states approving constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in the November election. And Massachusetts state lawmakers are considering a similar ballot measure for 2006.
But the court did hear arguments today on controversial medical treatments. And medical marijuana appeared to take a hit. Two seriously ill California women, one whose home was raided by federal agents, are plaintiffs in this case, which pits 11 state laws allowing the use of medical marijuana against a federal ban.
The high court has already dealt a blow to the 10 states that have active programs, declaring three years ago that the government could prosecute distributors. Today's plaintiffs, including one who grew her own cannabis, argued that the federal ban is unconstitutional if the drug does not cross state lines.
But Justice Stephen Breyer may have signaled the court's intention when he suggested that the issue should go to a federal judge regulator before it went to the court. All of today's Supreme Court activity went forward despite the continuing absence of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who has missed court sessions since he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in October.
Today, news of continuing radiation and chemotherapy and continuing absences for the chief justice through December. A court spokesperson says Rehnquist, who is 80, meets with law clerks and court officials at home and reads the legal briefs and transcripts from each case. But his illness created widespread speculation about his possible retirement and casts a sharp on the ages of all the justices, only one of whom, Clarence Thomas, is under 65.
According to an Associated Press poll released today, six out of 10 Americans favor mandatory retirement for Supreme Court justices, though the poll did not ask what that retirement age should or could be.
With that, we make the transition to the entertainment stories of "Keeping Tabs," starting tonight, where else, but in court. To the lyric, we don't need no compensation, education, those the words of the 1979 hit "The Wall" by Pink Floyd, the chorus of which was sung by a group of London schoolkids; 25 years later, royalties attorneys suing on behalf of the now adults who were never paid anything at the time.
The suit was filed on behalf of just one of them. They happened to be studying at a school near the studios where Pink Floyd was recording. Pink Floyd's "The Wall" is the third most successful album of all time, over 29 million copies sold. When the song came out, the school head banned the 23 former music students from appearing on TV or in the video or getting any cash, to which one of them said, no doubt, please, sir, I want some more.
Two new little potential bricks in the wall for actress Julia Roberts and Danny Moder, the pretty woman giving birth to twins yesterday at a Southern California hospital about a month early, about a month after she had been confined to her bed after premature contractions. Mom is fine. So are the kids, one, though, more than the other. The girl has been named Hazel Patricia Moder, but they stuck the boy with Phinnaeus Walter Moder, presumably after the character from the cartoon "Tennessee Tuxedo."
Phineas J. Whoopie, you're the greatest.
From a Macedonian demigod to a British princess, a sad NBC News exclusive tonight, new words about old sadness from a timeless public figure.
OLBERMANN: Whether it would astound the late Princess Diana to know just how many people would yearn to listen to her and for how long after her death they would continue to yearn is, of course, conjecture.
But in our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, seven years and nearly three months after her passing, new recordings of her words and frustrations and suspicions are coming to light. And they will transfix a large percentage of the public, while another large percentage will continue to miss that fascination.
Tonight, recordings from the early '90s made by a former actor, Peter Settelen, who was giving Diana voice lessons. NBC News has obtained exclusive access to some of that video. In September 1992, as her divorce was coming through, she revealed her relationship with Prince Charles had never been particularly satisfying, not even the day they first met, shortly after his great-uncle's funeral.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCESS DIANA: And I said, you must be so lonely. It's pathetic watching you walking up the aisle at St. Paul's with Lord Mountbatten's coffin in front. I said, you know, it's ghastly. You need someone beside you. Wrong word, whereupon he leapt upon me and started kissing me and everything. And I thought, Waaah, you know, this isn't what people do. And he was all over me for the rest of the evening, followed me around, everything. A puppy. And, yes, I was flattered, but I was very puzzled.
He wasn't consistent with his courting abilities. He would ring me up every day for a week and then he wouldn't speak to me for three weeks. very odd. And I accepted that. I thought fine. Well, he knows where I am if he wants me. And then the thrill when he used to ring up was so immense and intense. Drive the other three girls in my flat crazy. but, No, it was all - it was odd.
PETER SETTELEN, ACTOR: There's virtually no sexual relations between you and Charles?
PRINCESS DIANA: Well, there was. There was. There was. But it was odd, very odd. But there was. It was there. And then it fizzled out about seven years ago. Six years ago? Well, seven was Harry. It's eight.
SETTELEN: How do you know it was odd?
PRINCESS DIANA: Instinct told me. It was just so odd. I just - I don't know.
There was never a requirement for it from his case. Sort of once every three weeks look about it, and I kept thinking. And then I followed a pattern. He used to see his lady once every three weeks before we got married. I remember saying to my husband, you know, why, why is this lady around? And he said, well, I refuse to be only prince of Wales who never had a mistress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: More of the exclusive Princess Diana tapes from the NBC News special, "Diana Revealed," tonight at 10:00 Eastern and Pacific, 9:00 Central time, on your local NBC station.
That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann.
Good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END