'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 9
Guest: Michael Musto, Doug Waller
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Rumsfeld grilling, two of yesterday's toughest questions turn out to have come at least in part from an embedded reporter from Chattanooga. Responses from the secretary, from the president, from CENTCOM, from the people who arm the Humvees, they can present 20 percent more of them a month. Only, they say the army has not asked them to do so.
So, does it even matter who asks the question?
The question to the jury today in the Scott Peterson trial, life or death?
How romantic? Donald Trump's engagement ring for his fiancee is the rule of TV product placement.
And he's pack. A new controversy envelopes with Bill O'Reilly. Have your falafels at the ready, please.
All that and more now on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. If you thought there was more to yesterday's grilling of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld by three ordinary grunts in Kuwait than met the eye. Or if you wondered how in such a scripted environment, a national guardsman could wind up describing soldiers scrounging through landfills looking for metal with which to armor their unprotected transport vehicles, compliment yourself on your instincts.
Our fifth story, under-armoring protection in Iraq, day two. It turns out that an embedded reporter has claimed responsibility for at least two of those searing questions Rumsfeld faced yesterday. You will recall that as Army Specialist Thomas Wilson of Tennessee guard united, asked Rumsfeld why vehicles he and his comrades will be driving into Iraq had no armor and why soldiers had to find and build protective devices themselves. He appeared to be reading his question from a small piece of paper in his hands. The answer may be contained in the e-mail to his colleagues from reporter Edward Lee Pits of the "Chattanooga Times Free Press" newspaper. An e-mail posted on Jim Romenesko's media blog at the Pointer Journalism Institute Web site.
Pits, embedded with the 278 Regimental Combat Team, writes that due to a scheduling delay, he discovered he could attend Rumsfeld's visit to the troops in Kuwait yesterday. But he also discovered questions from reporters would not be accepted, only those from soldiers. So, Pits writes, I brought two of them along with me as my escorts. Beforehand, we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles had going into combat have.
I went and found the sergeant in charge of the microphone in charge of the question and answer, and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd. One of my guys was the second person called on. That would have been Wilson, whose question about the lack of plating was greeted by first stunned silence and then roaring applause and shouting. Pits did not indicate which of the other tough questions he had influenced. They were principally about the military's stop loss policy and the quality of material given to guard and reserve troops relative material given to active duty units.
In the e-mail, Pitts insisted that was merely a cleaver journalistic strategy. Quoting again, "I have been trying to get this story out for weeks. As soon as I found out I would be on an unarmed truck and my paper published two stories on it. But it felt good to hand it off to the national press. I believe lives are at stake with so many soldiers going across the border to Iraq, riding with scrape metal as protection. It may be too late for the unit I am with, but hopefully not for those who come after.
Pitts' boss, the "Chattanooga Times Free Press" executive editor Tom Griscom said, "I believe he did exactly what a journalist is supposed to do. It's a question that's been on the minds of a lot of journalist over there." In a later statement the newspaper added, "If Lee Pitts was unable to get the answer to a question that is on the minds of the members of the 278 and that he has written about in our newspaper, he looked for other ways to get the question" answered. "The soldier made a decision to ask the question, not Lee Pitts."
And a statement tonight from the Pentagon spokesman, Larry DiRita, " Town hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense. It would be unfortunate to discover that anyone might have interfered with that opportunity, whatever the intention. It is better that others not infringe on the troops' opportunity to interact with superiors in the chain of command."
The newspaper adding that because he would be unreachable for a period of time, Pitts would not be commenting. He was just about the only person who didn't comment. More reaction from Mr. Rumsfeld, a comment from the president, a news briefing by CENTCOM all before 1:00 in the afternoon. The secretary said from India, that the questions were constructive and if he had been the soldier and Specialist Wilson, the secretary, he would have asked them of Wilson. He did not know about the reporters' connection to them as he spoke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: For the person who asked the question, I just - someone has to sit with him and find out what - I've heard three different things about that comment on his part. I don't know what the fact are, but somebody is certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows, that they may not know. And make sure he knows, they know, that he may not know. That's a good thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Similarly, President Bush responded to the grilling and the armor issue before the providence of the question was known. And he used the same, I were the soldier analogy, that Mr. Rumsfeld did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The concerns expressed are being addressed. And that is, we expect our troops to have the best possible equipment. And if I were a soldier overseas, wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the secretary of defense the same thing, and that is, are we getting the best you can get us? And they deserve the best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The issue obviously is a sensitive one for Mr. Bush. During the election campaign, he repeatedly dismissed charges from Senator Kerry, that U.S. service person in Iraq did not have sufficient protection, particularly armor.
Just how true that is came from his last statement of the day in a briefing from Kuwait from Lieutenant General Steven Whitcomb.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. STEVEN WITCOMB, U.S. ARMY: We've got about 30,000 wheeled vehicles in our theater, in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and other areas that Seaflick (ph) in Central Command operate. Of that 30,000 vehicles, around a little less than 8,000 of them do not have some type of armor protection on them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That's all right then. Some are tool trucks and some are Humvees that escort prisoner buses at slow speeds across Iraqi highways. Only 27 percent of vehicles don't have enough protection to save an American soldier in the event he encounters insurgents with car bombs or missiles or bullets or really big rocks. More bad news about this today. The sole the supplier of protecting plating for the Humvees being used in Iraq says, it is producing at below its own capacity. Would be happy to go from 450 of the trucks a month to 550, except that the army has not asked it to do so.
Yesterday Secretary Rumsfeld said, "It is a matter of production and capability of doing it." Today, the President Robert Mecredy of Armor Holdings Company, said he told the army last money that it could immediately increase production by more than 20 percent.
To analyze the hardware situation and the new information about the reporters influence on the questions Mr. Rumsfeld faced yesterday, I'm joined by retired Army colonel and MSNBC military analyst, Jack Jacobs.
Jack, good evening.
JACK JACOBS, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: The providence of the question first, journalisticly, it's certainly open for debate as to whether or not the reporter did what he should have done. But in terms of the issue itself or Rumsfeld's meeting with the troops, does it actually make a difference?
JACOBS: No, it doesn't make a different. As a matter of fact, this story, the allegations about the fact that there hasn't been sufficient armor or insufficient equipment on various types and varieties, has been out there for quite sometime. The secretary of defense should have known that a question like this would be asked. And whether it was instigated by a reporter or generated by the soldiers is irrelevant.
OLBERMANN: And the soldier, as they said, asked the question. It wasn't he report.
JACOBS: Did he and it was obviously on the minds of a large percentage of his unit. Don't forget, a lot of these people who are in Iraq are guardsmen and reservists. They don't have the top equipment, all that goes to the active forces. Now, we have about 43 or 44 percent of the people who are in Iraq are guardsmen and reservist, for force a lot of that equipment is not going to be up to snuff.
OLBERMANN: The people who asked the questions yesterday, are they likely getting retribution in anyway?
JACOBS: No. Not likely at all as a matter of fact. It's such an open forum can't generate the kind of retribution that one would expect to happen in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
OLBERMANN: But even if there was some sort of subterfuge in the way of cooperation with a reporter trying to sneak a question in?
JACOBS: No, I don't think so either. Don't forget, that if a reporter came to the soldier and said, listen, if you get called on, why don't you ask the secretary of defense what he had for breakfast. He can say I will do that or I won't do that. He was asked if he would ask this question. He thought it was good question. He asked it. I can't imagine that there's going to be any retribution.
OLBERMANN: All right, so the armor question itself, as you said, we've been hearing about this anecdotally for months. It was a campaign issue. But now we have a DOD figure today from Kuwait, 30,000 vehicles out there, 8,000 not suitably armored, 27 percent.
Is that acceptable?
Is it indefensible?
Is it somewhere in between?
JACOBS: Somewhere in between. Twenty seven percent happens to be a very large absolute number of vehicles. It is - it's not acceptable and here's the reason why. A large proportion of the operations that take place theoretically behind the lines, transport operations, by vehicles that are not armored. The large proportion of attacks on American troops are on these kinds of vehicles. The enemy is not going to attack the 1st Armored Division, because the 1st Armored Division is going to squash it like a bug. What does it attack, Iraqi policemen, untested Iraqi soldiers, and rear echelon troops that are ferrying men, material, supplies in unarmored trucks. Of course, they are going to hit soft targets like that, and they should be armored.
OLBERMANN: Is it to some degree a self-fulfilling prophecy? Because the planners of the war assumed they would meet in Iraq another army, as opposed to insurgents, they did not orient themselves towards ambush oriented insurgents and instead, said we don't need plate everything or armor everything. In response to that, the insurgents said they're not plating everything, that's the way to go?
JACOBS: Yes. But they started doing this 15 to 17 months ago, the enemy did. Hitting soft targets, ambushing our soldiers and so on. So we've had a long, long time to rearmor and up-armor soft skin vehicles in which our troops have been wounded, as a matter of fact. And you would think that if you had that much time, it would have been done already.
OLBERMANN: A quick question. Do you think there is anything to this statistic that has just been offered by United Press International, that there's an estimate that 20 percent of the casualties of American fighting men in Iraq could have been prevent by better armoring of the vehicles?
JACOBS: Probably not a bad estimate. Things are always smaller, both smaller and larger than you expect. But there's no reason to expect that that estimate wouldn't be accurate. If you recognize the fact that, particularly recently, the large majority of the attacks have taken place around soft skin vehicles, maybe that's the right number.
OLBERMANN: That's 200 men living or dead.
JACOBS: Yeah, 200 too man. A lot of wounded people.
Don't forget, however, that it's not going to stop rocket propelled grenades, but it will stop bullets and it will stop shrapnel.
OLBERMANN: Retired colonel Jack Jacobs. As always, Jack, great thanks.
JACOBS: Good to see you.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight on this front, other forms of protection for other Americans in Iraq. An army transport plane with a group of U.S. senators on board taking evasive action after it was the apparent target of a surface to air missile.
Senator's Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Joe Biden of Delaware, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Dianne Feinstein of California constituted the senatorial contingent leaving Baghdad last Thursday, when the pilot tried to dodge something. In Feinstein's words, you go up and down and sideways very fast.
Feinstein says upon arrival in Kuwait, she asked the pilot if there really had been a missile headed toward the plane and says he told her, he had no idea. That when he saw warning flares, he always flew as if there was really trouble.
Soon those senators will be voting on the very first national intelligence director. The names of the candidates are seemingly as numerous as the grains of sand on a beach. Not so the name of those who are being credited for getting the bill creating the office passed in the first place. The families of the 9/11 victims.
We met two of them here. Mary Fetchett (ph) and Beverly Eckertt (ph). They happened to run into Speaker of the House Hastert on Capital Hill one day. Then lobbied him personally to push the 9/11 commission recommendations. Fetchett and Eckert along with Carol Ashley and Kerri Lamack were personally credited by Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. I pray, said Lieberman, that the passage of this bill and its signature soon by the president will give the families of 9/11 some measure of peace.
Proving that Washington really is a tiny town, Lieberman is on that list of candidates for NID. Doug Waller is not, but he is senior correspondent with "Time" magazine. And he is at work on a piece on this very subject.
Mr. Waller, good evening. Thank you for your time.
DOUG WALLER, TIME: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: It's intriguing that Lieberman, and at least one other Democrat, Congresswoman Jane Harmon from California, are supposed to be on this short list. Is there a chance that this one could wind up being a nonpartisan appointment?
WALLER: My sense is that probably not. There are other Democrats that are being named, too. Retired Democratic Senator Sam Nunn. Also, former Congressman Lee Hamilton who is the advice chairman of the 9/11 commission and a Democrat has also been mentioned. But this is a very politically sensitive job. And I would suspect that the president wants somebody who is a loyal Republican and also loyal to him.
OLBERMANN: A lot of the lists have included some who, on one hand, would fill, seemingly that resume that you just put out. Porter Goss is still relatively new head of the CIA. But in another sense, taking him from CIA, where he's only been for a few months and putting him in NID would seem to be counterintuitive. Is it? Or is it a possibility?
WALLER: Well, it was thought to be a possibility. In fact, a lot of people thought he would be a shoe-in for the new national intelligence director job. The problem though, is in the two months at the CIA, it has been a bumpy start for him. He's had five senior CIA officials there resign. A number of agency hands have been grumbling about the rough treatment they have from some of the House aides that he brought with him. The White House realizes that he could have a confirmation battle. So that's why they're looking at maybe other candidates.
OLBERMANN: All right. We have Hamilton, Nunn, maybe Goss on one short of short list. Is there, are there other front runners? Is there at least another group of front runners?
WALLER: I've heard the name of former Navy secretary John Layman as a possibility. Also another possibility that is being talked up on Capital Hill is Lieutenant General Michael Hayden who is the director of the National Security Agency. He impressed a lot of Congressmen and senators on the Hill, because he is believed to be a reformer and supported a lot of the reforms from the 9/11 bill.
OLBERMANN: And if you get Hayden, you get somebody already in the security apparatus. Would that tend to calm down the other 14 agencies that suddenly have a super chief on top of them?
WALLER: It would calm down 800 pound gorilla, among those agencies which is the Pentagon which, obviously, General Hayden works for.
OLBERMANN: Senior Correspondent Doug Waller of Time magazine. Great thanks for your insight on the NID job.
Whoever gets that position, we might today have learned about the first item on the to-do list: another list. Homeland Security's national database, a potential terrorist target. It was characterized by Oklahoma Republican Congressman Ernie Istook as a quote, "joke." By California Democrat Zoe Lofgren as so bad that I think you could take the average mayor or member of Congress and give them a month and they would come up with a better list.
This is not a no fly list. It is the ultrasecret classified compilation of public facilities that terrorist might want to target. The pictures you see are not on the list. They might be, we don't know. Nobody has seen the list.
One member of Congress who has indeed looked through it says that missing from its 80,000 entries are some major key sites. But included are a few water parks and miniature golf courses.
One Homeland Security expert at the Brookings Institution told the newspaper U.S.A. Today that so far, the entire project amounts to a stapling exercise.
Which would perhaps describe how many Republicans viewed yesterday's voter forum on Capitol Hill. Conducted by some of the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee. One of them is going to do something about it saying the hearing the other day was basically one sided.
Ohio Republican Bob Ney, chairman of the House Administration Committee tells Countdown that he the senior Democrat on his committee, John Larson from Connecticut, will conduct as many as 4 hearings into the election in late January or February.
On Ney's agenda at these hearings, everything from voting irregularities to the effectiveness of provisional voting, reports of multiple voting, controversies over people being paid to register voters and the impact of the 527 groups.
Ney, whose committee overseas electoral reform said of the election, "I don't think it went that bad, but we still should review the entire system. And it will be bipartisan."
Thousands line the streets in tribute to a New York firefighter. He survived the World Trade Center attacks, but then continued to serve his country and lost his life in that battle.
And the Countdown clock is back. Bill O'Reilly is in trouble again.
And I will be defending him. You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: History will prove whether Iraq had even the slightest connection to 9/11. It will have the last word about whether there were any international terrorists there before Saddam Hussein was toppled, or if they arrived only after he was deposed. But in a small picture, a precise, unmistakable line has been drawn between the attacks on America and the war in Iraq. The line was one man. His name was Christian Engeldrum. And they buried him today.
Our No. 4 story on THE Countdown, our correspondent Mike Taibbi's report from the funeral of Christian Engeldrum of Ladder Company 61 and Company B of the 1st Battalion 105th Infantry.
MIKE TAIBBI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They gathered by the thousands to pay their last respects. Most of them firemen. But scores of National Guardsmen, too. Because 39-year-old Chris Engeldrum wore both uniforms with gusto and honor.
He was the steadying hand in a famous photograph of exhausted firemen raising a tattered flag amid the ruins of the trade towers. And he was the Gulf War veteran who chose to fight in another war a dozen years later, and who on one of Baghdad's especially bad days last week was killed by a roadside bomb.
(on camera): No one who knew Chris Engeldrum was surprised that he put on his other uniform again, even at his age. In fact, more than 100 New York City firemen, not all of them young, have now seen active duty in Iraq.
(voice-over): Among them, Fire Department lieutenant and Army Reserve Colonel Neil Scow (ph), 11 months in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doing that as a military or firefighter or police officer to me basically serves the same purpose.
TAIBBI: Which made the loss the same for whoever wore either of Engeldrum's uniforms.
DARRIN FINNEGAN, FIREFIGHTER: This is a family, his extended family.
I lost a brother.
TAIBBI: A senator, a governor, a mayor, and an ex-mayor all paid their respects. For a father of two, whose widow was pregnant with a third child, and whose oldest son, Shawn, seemed to speak the thoughts of so many others.
SHAWN ENGELDRUM: My dad was always there when I needed help.
TAIBBI: The first on the rig, the last to leave the scene.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time (UNINTELLIGIBLE) comes across, you wish he was right there with you.
TAIBBI: And the first New York firefighter to die in a war he believed began two Septembers ago. A final journey tomorrow to Arlington National Cemetery, where only heroes are laid to rest.
Mike Taibbi, NBC News.
OLBERMANN: Turning a sharp corner from the story of true American heroes to some of the stranger stories in the news, like paying $56,000 for that. "Oddball" is next.
Speaking of expenses, and of strange looking things, two months' salary for a wedding ring? Fine, says Donald trump. So long as it is my fiancee who's doing the work.
OLBERMANN: We're back and we once again pause the Countdown, not because the rest of the day's news isn't odd, but just because we have a special song for this segment. Let's play "Oddball."
We begin in Christy's auction house in London, on a special episode of "The Oddball: Antique Room Show." On the auction block today, this 18th century badminton cabinet. Originally commissioned by the duke of Bolford (ph) in 1720, it was built by 18th century craftsmen in Florence. How convenient, insomuch as 1720 was in the 18th century.
It sold today for a record price of more than $36 million. That is an obscene amount of money to pay for a cabinet that doesn't even have room in it for a decent size TV.
The new owner is Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein, who plans to chop up the cabinet and use it as kindling, just because he can.
Made that last part up.
From badminton to bad truffle. Speaking of colossal wastes of money, you are looking at the world's most expensive hunk of fungus. An Italian truffle, which was just purchased by a London restaurant called Zaparano (ph) for more than $54,000.
One problem. It spoiled before they could serve it. Apparently the head chef locked the truffle in the restaurant's safe and went on vacation with the only set of keys. When he returned, the thing had gone bad. He is, of course, a moron. But Zaparano (ph) manager, Enzel Cassini (ph) says, it's not so bad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are saddened in a way, but we're all very happy that we showed it to so many people. More or less, it is like the pope. Everybody wanted to see it, touch it. Everybody wanted to smell it. So why should we slice the poor thing? It just looks so nice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I've never heard anybody say they wanted to smell the pope.
And thus, to remote Siberia in Russia, where it is so cold and lonely, you take companionship wherever you might find it. And perhaps that's the explanation for Zeta. Zeta's father is a lion. Zeta's mother is a tiger. They're calling Zeta a liger. Which is very clever. I would have gone with tion.
Officials say the mating was not part of any scientific experiment. The lion and tiger had just been living next door to each other at the Novosibirsk Zoo for so long that love, sweet love finally won them over. Incidentally, it also appears the affair occurred through the bars of their cages. Heard enough? I certainly have.
Scott Peterson's life or death now in the hands of the jury that not only convicted him, but also looked rather disinterested during much of his sentencing defense.
And counting down to Bill O'Reilly, back in the news back in trouble.
Those stories ahead, but now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
No. 3, the former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, my cousin. He's been arrested. That's a shock. This time, it was in Scottsdale, Arizona, trying to leave a strip bar at 1:00 in the morning. Tyson got stuck in traffic, so he what any of us would do. He jumped up and down on the hood of another car. Its driver said Tyson was his all-time favorite boxer - quote - "I never even thought I would come across meeting him, let alone having him on top of my hood." For 300 bucks, he'll get up there permanently.
No. 2, Jeff Bustle, the owner of another strip club, Teasers in Statesville, North Carolina. Last year, Teasers collected more than 500 gifts in a toy drive for area needy. But this year, the housing authority there has said thanks, but no thanks. They do not want any more toys that have been collected in a strip bar. Sorry, kids, it's more important that we get to be judgmental than that you get Christmas presents.
And, No. 1, James Kenney, city councilman in Philadelphia. His proposed legislation would fine parents who brought crying children to movie theaters for showings after 7:00 p.m. unless it is a G-rated movie. His spokesman said - quote - "I think anybody who went to see 'Spider-Man' at 9:00 at night and had a screaming baby next to them can appreciate why this bill should be looked at."
I'm Keith Olbermann and I approve this message.
OLBERMANN: When do we justifiably take human life? When do we justifiably incarcerate someone? Do you, for instance, jail a reporter for refusing to reveal a source? Do you kill a man because you have found he has killed?
Our No. 3 story on the Countdown, a day full of regalities - or legalities, rather - and behind them, ethics, starting with what is apparently an unfathomable reason to kill four people, because you are angry about one of them leaving your favorite heavy metal band.
At a Columbus, Ohio, performance last night, a gunman, identified by authorities as 25-year-old Nathan Gale, jumped up on to the stage and fired up to six shots at point-blank range into a guitarist named "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott. Gale turned on the bouncer who tried to subdue him. Ultimately, he opened fire into the audience of between 200 people and 500 people. But it was when he put a hostage into a headlock, appearing ready to fire once again, that an officer on the scene discharged his own weapon, killing Gale.
There are five dead, including the shooter. Police are still investigating. But they say Abbott's career decisions might be the key point. At least one witness says that, before the attack, the murderer, Gale, was shouting about the breakup of the band that Abbott had once played in, called Pantera.
Meanwhile, a 202 Pacific Standard time this afternoon, the jury got the case back in the Scott Peterson trial. And it will decide his fate perhaps as early as tomorrow. In a word, no last-minute witnesses, only lawyers talking, prosecutor David Harris spending 40 minutes to remind the jury, as he put it, today marked the two-year anniversary of the start of Peterson's - quote - "monstrous plan to kill his wife." Calling him the worst kind of monster, Harris insisted that the jury render the death penalty.
The defense attorney Mark Geragos, who would later sit through the judge's instructions to the jury with his head completely enclosed by his hands, also describing for the jury how the trial has tortured him and has tortured the families of both Laci Peterson and Scott Peterson. Geragos told the jurors there does not need to be any more death in this case.
And their deliberations will resume at 8:00 a.m. Pacific on Friday. And in suburban New York City, the case is of a classical mode, teenagers never considering the consequences of their actions. After allegedly having stolen a credit card from a parked car a month ago Sunday, Ryan Cushing, Rachel MacDonald, Steven Manzolina and Michael Hasbrouck bought hundreds of dollars in food and other material from a local grocery.
Included in that, a 20-pound turkey. Authorities allege that Cushing, who faces the most serious charges, including first-degree assault, threw the turkey out the rear window of his car. It hurtled through the windshield of an upcoming vehicle in the other direction. It hit the driver, Victoria Ruvolo, nearly killing her, breaking bones in her face. Her face now being held together by plates and screws. And now she is forced to eat through a tube. The teens' lawyers pleaded not guilty and said their clients were sorry for Ms. Ruvolo.
One of the odder cases facing any court at the moment moved from suburban Detroit to a downtown New York law office today, with one side announcing that presiding official has no jurisdiction to rule whatsoever. It is the fight over the fight, the National Basketball Association's suspension of Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers for the balance of the season and four of his teammates for a lesser periods of time, between five and 30 games apiece.
The Players Union appealed in atypical fashion. It asked an arbitrator to decide whether the suspensions are valid. But the league says the arbitrator is not valid, the NBA claiming Roger Kaplan has no jurisdiction in the matter. It will not participate in the hearings. It will in fact go to court to seek to block them. Kaplan, the arbitrator, nonetheless, heard six hours of testimony today.
And then there's the crime story of the man who would not talk. It was rich in texture and tabloid characteristics. He had a heart condition that could have made even a short jail term dangerous or fatal. The person he was protecting talked anyway. It's the kind of story journalists love to cover, but not to star in.
John Seigenthaler reports from Providence, Rhode Island. The protagonist was a television reporter with the NBC station there, WJAR.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Journalist Jim Taricani was ordered by a judge to say nothing as he walked out of a federal courthouse tonight. His crime? Criminal contempt for refusing to tell a federal judge the name of the confidential source who gave him this tape.
Three years ago, Taricani broadcast this undercover FBI video, which showed a prominent city official accepting a bribe, part of a federal investigation into City Hall corruption called Operation Plunder Dome.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really appreciate this. You're a busy guy.
SEIGENTHALER: At today's sentencing, Judge Ernest Torres said he took into consideration Taricani's medical condition. The reporter had a heart transplant in 1996 and a pacemaker implanted in 2001. But the judge said he hoped today's sentence would send a message to promote respect for the law and prevent others from engaging in similar actions.
(on camera): This case has become part of a larger debate in our country about First Amendment rights and whether journalists have any legal grounds to refuse to reveal their confidential sources.
(voice-over): Taricani is not the only journalist to end up in court in recent months. Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper of "TIME" magazine are under pressure to reveal who in the Bush administration leaked the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.
MATTHEW COOPER, "TIME": In the United States of America, no reporter should have to go to jail for doing his or her job at a time when we're trying to promote democracy abroad.
SEIGENTHALER: Nationwide, 31 states and the District of Columbia offer some measure of protection to journalists and their sources. But there is no federal shield law, something reporters say they need to do their job. Former federal prosecutor Joseph DiGenova says that amounts to a special privilege reporters don't merit.
JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Reporters are not any different than any other citizen when it comes to giving information to grand juries.
SEIGENTHALER: And, in Providence, Judge Torres agreed, saying he would have sent Taricani to prison if not for his medical condition, something Taricani will have sex months to think about.
John Seigenthaler, NBC News, Providence, Rhode Island.
OLBERMANN: He claimed he had been kidnapped and held hostage in Iraq. Now the Army has charged him with desertion. And outrage over the ousting of a noted blue state hawk. You will not believe whose husband is reported to be behind this eviction.
OLBERMANN: It was one of the more remarkable escape stories. An American corporal taken hostage in Iraq makes it all the way to the Lebanon border before getting freed. Not so, according to the U.S. military. It has just charged him with desertion.
OLBERMANN: It was after the gruesome murders of Nicholas Berg, other Americans and other Westerners.
Wassef Ali Hassoun, a Lebanese-born American Marine corporal from Utah had been kidnapped. The cross-cultural implications were enormous, as were the crowds outside his family's home. But so, too, were the apparent holes in his story of kidnap and release.
Our second story on the Countdown tonight, the military has now charged Corporal Hassoun with desertion.
As our correspondent Pete Williams reports, it is the climax of seven months of growing realizations that the corporal had made the whole thing up - Pete.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
The charges are serious, including desertion to avoid hazardous duty, and could bring as much as 25 years in military prison if Corporal Hassoun is convicted.
(voice-over): After Hassoun failed to report for daily duty in Iraq on June 20, the Marines suspected him of desertion. But this tape showed up a week later, appearing to show him held hostage, supposedly by insurgents in Iraq who threatened his life. The military reclassified him as captured.
Then, around the time investigators showed up at his parents' home in Utah, Hassoun surfaced in early July in Lebanon. He came back to the U.S. and claimed he was kidnapped.
CPL. WASSEF ALI HASSOUN, U.S. MARINES: In the name of God, I'm glad to come home and thanks for everybody who prayed and support me.
WILLIAMS: But military investigators tell NBC News they were suspicious of the video from the beginning, believing Hassoun looked too clean-shaven. And then his Marine uniform was found in Fallujah in perfect condition.
(on camera): These are not the most serious charges the military could have brought. If he had been accused of desertion in wartime, he could have faced the death penalty Keith.
OLBERMANN: Pete Williams in Washington, great thanks.
We segue now into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, a very special edition of "Keeping Tabs."
And Bill O'Reilly returns to Countdown, but for something far more serious at first glance than just falafels and loofahs. You will recall that the commentator settled his legal crossfire with former producer Andrea Mackris out of court. As part of the deal, the presumed smoking gun, the purported tapes of Mr. O'Reilly at his smoking-est best, whispering not-so-sweet nothings into Ms. Mackris' telephone ear were suppressed, but not the tapes relative to this newest controversy.
This time, O'Reilly he has been accused of anti-Semitism by the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Abe Foxman - what a coincidence that name is - issuing a news release claiming that on his syndicated radio program last Friday, O'Reilly told a Jewish caller that if he was going to be offended by Christian attempts to convert him - quote - - "You have got to go to Israel, then."
Foxman told "The New York Daily News - quote - "How simplistic. How gross. It crosses the line into anti-Semitism." Actually, the term simplistic might better refer to the Anti-Defamation League interpretation of what O'Reilly actually say. Mr. Foxman appears to have taken that quote out of context. Yes, I'm kind of defending Bill O'Reilly.
O'Reilly was talking about the secularization of Christmas. A listener called to complain that Christmas is also used to convert Jews to Christianity.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Well, what I'm telling you, Joel (ph), is, I think you're taking it too seriously. You have a predominantly Christian nation.
You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus and you don't want to hear about it? Come on, Joel. If you are really offended, you've got to go to Israel then, because we live in a country founded on Judeo - and that's your guys - Christian - that's my guys - philosophy. But overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus. So you don't want to hear about it? Impossible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, it's true. Ignorance is bliss. Whether or not ignorant is anti-Semitism, that's another question.
And proving "Keeping Tabs" is an equal-opportunity basher, you have no doubt heard that the co-op board of a famed New York City apartment building on Fifth Avenue has destroyed the nest of the two rare red-tailed hawks who had lived there since 1993. The giant birds and about two dozen offspring over the years circled Central Park year-round using the nest on the 12th floor of 927 Fifth Avenue as their base. Not anymore.
What, pray tell, does this have to do with celebrities? "The New York Daily News" reports that the head of the co-op board that made the red-tailed hawks homeless is developer Richard Cohen, the Richard Cohen who is the husband of Paul Zahn of CNN. No comment from Mr. Cohen, nor Ms. Zahn, but the building's attorney said the birds were notorious for dropping some of their food on to the building, on to the street in front of it and on to the residents.
The hawks were thus dropping their food, the carcasses of dead pigeons all over the place. Note, dead pigeons, not dead raccoons.
For richer, for poorer, for free - how Donald Trump popped the $1.5 million question without dropping a dime.
OLBERMANN: The old joke about the billionaire who leaves the quarter tip is, that's how you get to be a billionaire.
Our No. 1 story on the Countdown, like all humor, there's a grain of truth there. Ask Donald Trump, the man who has now brought OPM into the world of third marriages - OPM, other people's merchandise.
"The New York Post" reporting that the wedding ring he will present to Melania Knauss was as free as the prize inside a box of Cracker Jacks. It is worth between half a million and a million and a half. But the Graff diamond sellers thought the publicity was word cutting the price. For you, Donald, how about free? What kind of publicity?
On the November 11 edition of "The Apprentice," the winning team earned itself a shopping spree at Graff Diamonds. You call it corn. We call it product placement. In a recent interview, however, Trump had blasted another individual who got a free engagement ring in exchange for TV time. The individual was Donald Trump Jr.
Getting your hair the exact color of the red hawk falcon, $300 a week;
13-karat masterpiece wedding wing, $500,000. Having jewelers give it to you just for the pub, literally, priceless.
Joining us, as ever, for these moments of great societal import is Michael Musto, the inimitable columnist from "The Village Voice."
Michael, good evening.
MICHAEL MUSTO, "THE VILLAGE VOICE": Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Is this tacky or this just business in the 21st century?
MUSTO: It's both. It's sensible, yet it's incredibly tacky.
A wedding ring is symbolic. It should have some integrity. I think a Cracker Jack ring would have more integrity, because you have it from the box, at least. But, in this case, the wedding ring has contracts and press releases attached. And it is from a company called Graft - I mean Graff. And it's tacky all around.
But Donald is becoming the male Star Jones, AKA Swagzilla, though at least he is marrying a straight person. Are you with me?
OLBERMANN: Yes. No, I followed all of it.
I was just for a second thinking, what if Donald Trump had married Star Jones? We would have had like a TV broadcast, a telethon, a pay-per-view.
MUSTO: Thanks for that. I'm going to have nightmares tonight.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Well, all of us are.
There are two side elements here, though, that sort of magnify this. One is that he gets the ring for free, but the fiance has got to model for the diamond company. Now, we know she can't have much in the way of personal standards. She's marrying Donald Trump, for God sakes. But does this be violate labor laws or something?
MUSTO: No. She's legal. And I don't think Melania is complaining, and not just because she doesn't speak English. Kidding. She's actually very smart.
But, look, they always said Melania is a model. Now she can finally say, I'm modeling something. I'm a model. And, also, yes, she is working for the ring a little bit. And that is appalling, but not as appalling as working for the ring in the bedroom. You know, best sex I ever had? I don't think so.
OLBERMANN: Now you've given me you need nightmares.
MUSTO: Good. We're even.
OLBERMANN: The other side element, of course, as I just mentioned, Trumped bashed his own son for cutting a promo deal on an engagement ring. And now he does this. Is that a little ethical hypocrisy, something in there, something?
MUSTO: A famous person, star of a reality show hypocritical? You're really shocking me now, yes.
Well, they're both tacky, OK? But they're both sensible. And let's face it. As much as we like the criticize, we would all do the same thing. Nine companies offer their rings to the Donald Sr. He took one of them with a little product placement. And now I'm scrutinizing everything I see on TV. In fact, there's a floral arrangement in your office, Keith. And I'm wondering, did you make some deal?
OLBERMANN: Well, yes, but if I did, it was a bad one. So it's not like I made any money off it.
MUSTO: It's pretty cheesy, yes.
OLBERMANN: Wound up paying them or something.
And I'm not asking this - it's the same topic - I'm not asking this on behalf of my corporate employers who televise "The Apprentice," but whatever happened to the good old days of, as they called it, product placement, wherein the company got the money, not the performer?
MUSTO: Well, I think Donald is producing his own show. He's skipping the middleman of the network and he's just saying, give me the swag directly. And I think Star Jones set that wonderful example, when she actually charged companies for the privilege of putting free gift items in her gift bag for her wedding and wrestled people to the ground if they took a picture, because she had an exclusive deal.
Donald is following in the same pattern. And both Donald and Star are successful, aggressive people, with bad hair. And they seem to know what they're doing. It is tacky, but everyone is going to forget how tacky it and they're going to save lots of dough.
OLBERMANN: In 30 to 45 seconds, do we have any idea if Trump and Melania are going to go the same way in terms of a wedding as Star Jones and fill in whatever name the husband was?
MUSTO: Well, David Gest, wasn't it?
I actually think this one is a little bit more sincere. Despite the slight age difference and the hair difference, I do think Melania is good for the Donald. I do think they actually have sexual relations and it is not disgusting to either one of them. And so there's something there. It is sick. But I think, even though it will be a lavish, tacky, sick wedding, I will watch and I won't throw things, the way I did with Star and Liza's wedding.
OLBERMANN: Thank you also now for a second set of nightmares. I once sat back to back in Trump's restaurant in the building on 59th Street in New York. And I just got this just weird, creepy vibe from him.
But we're out of time, so we can't explore that issue, I know.
MUSTO: And we are not going to sleep for weeks now.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I know.
The one and only Michael Musto, columnist with "The Village Voice," friend of Countdown, as always, thank you, sir, except for the nightmares.
MUSTO: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. He was sitting like right behind me.
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