Wednesday, February 16, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 16

Guest: Clifford Acree, Michael Kocher


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Here we go again. Rumsfeld talks terror here, Mueller talks terror here, Goss talks terror here. Goss talks terror supported by Iran. Is it the Iraq pre-war build-up version 2.0?

More charges against CusterBattles, the contractor accused of defrauding the coalition in Iraq. All contractors in Iraq now accused of behaving as if it were the wild west.

Jose Canseco: he is not just about steroids and baseball stars. His revelations about Madonna, and about how steroids may reduce the size of parts of your anatomy, while human growth hormone can increase other parts.

And from the hospital, Michael says hello! The rest of the day's Jackson news present by a Michael Jackson puppet theater.

All that and more now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. The secretary of state, the head of the CIA and the director of the FBI. All today publicly raised anew the prospects of terror, al Qaeda, chemical, biological and nuclear weapon used here. And the CIA chief also declared that the leading threat, the leading supporter of terrorism in the Middle East is Iran.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, does any of this sound familiar?

Is the message identical to the one that the Bush administration began to pound out on its drum nearly three years ago? Identical, save for the letter N instead of the letter Q. First the threat at home. The FBI Director Robert Mueller telling the Senate Intelligence Committee, that his agency are working to stop an underground movement to radicalize inmate in prison, which he called fertile ground for extremists to exploit inmates conversions to Islam. Mueller also saying that he worries about al Qaeda sleeper cells already inside the U.S., awaiting orders to launch another attack.

The new CIA chief making his vow (ph). Porter Goss adding that it may be just a matter of time for terrorists trying the use chemical or biological or nuclear weapons. Today's testimony highlighting Iran's role when it come to supporting terrorist groups. The Administration painting Tehran as the leading threat to U.S. interests in the region. And from London, Israel's foreign minister chimed in, saying his government believes Iran will have the knowledge to build an atomic bomb within six months.

Iran responding today, first by threatening to shoot down any spy planes, American or other by, that would enter the air space. Then forming an alliance with the other Middle Eastern nation currently in hot water with the U.S., Syria. They can call it Syran. The two states joining forces to face what they say are all challengers and threats, stressing that it is not an anti-American alliance. The U.S. relations with Syria all but collapsing after Monday's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The popular politician laid to rest today in Beirut, the giant funeral procession drawing hundreds of thousands, an outpouring of anger from all faiths, most of directed at Syria. The Syrian government, again, denying it had anything to do with the killing.

The Bush administration withdrawing it's ambassador from Damascus, at least for now, for consultations, which is ancient diplo-speak for a shot across the bow. The State Department saying it is outraged but Hariri's murder, calling it a heinous act of terrorism.

North Korea, yet, another nation in President Bush's so called axis of evil, and the updated outposts of tyranny marking birthday of leader of Kim Jong Il with feasts and dancing. And by comparing the U.S. to the injured party in a Korean folk tale/TV cartoon.

Less than a week after North Korea's announcement that it has nuclear weapons, and would be staying away from international arms talks, state run media had nothing but praise for the incomparable courage of the birthday boy. To quote Pyongyang radio, the Americans swagger like a tiger around the world, but they whimper before our republic as the tiger does before the porcupine. That's because we have our great leader Kim Jong Il who is undefeatable. In the popular Korean folk tale, the porcupine defeats the tiger by sticking its quill in the tiger's nose. Any resemblance between the porcupine and Kim Jong Il's hair cut is, presumably, purely coincidental.

Back in Washington, a nominee for deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick (ph), says North Korea might be bluffing about having the nuke. This after months in which the administration implied quite the opposite.

Now back to Iran and terrorism. For a fact check, let bring in the former National Security Council staff counterterrorism coordinator, now MSNBC analyst, Roger Cressey.

Roger, good evening.


OLBERMANN: First off, what would create simultaneous don't forget the terrorist mentions form Rumsfeld, Mueller and Goss today. Is something going on? Are they trying to make it look like something is going on?

CRESSEY: Well, actually, they've said similar things in the past. I mean, Iran has been a supporter for of terrorism for some time now. If you look George Tenant's statements from last year, it's very similar to Porter Goss's statement. So, there's some continuity statement. But look, they're also trying to present a unite front, bring in all elements of the intelligence and defense community together to say, look, Iran is a big issue for us. And everyone needs to keep that in mine.

OLBERMANN: We get, though, however, the terrorism references to al Qaeda and the references to Iran on the same day. Flatly, Roger, do you think the administration is trying to establish the same kind of word association between terrorism and Iran, that worked so well, linking terrorism and Iraq before the Iraq War?

Is this essentially a remix of an old tune?

CRESSEY: Oh, certainly, they're going to try to do that. And the irony here, Keith, is, unlike Iran, which did not have terrorism program, which did not have strong or real ties to al Qaeda - I'm sorry Iraq. Iran does have that. Iran has a very global program. Real support to Hezbollah. It's active in every facet. So, the problem we're going to have here is, the message is actually going to be accurate, but the messenger is not going to be believed.

OLBERMANN: Let me turn you quickly over to North Korea and these comments from the nominee for deputy secretary of state, Mr. Zoellick, that the North Koreans might be bluffing about having the nukes. That this announcement may be just another part of the world according to what goes on inside Kim - Kim Il Jong's head - Kim Jong Il's head?

Is there anyway of assessing it?

Did we just see, at least, a change in American perception? Was not the Bush administration saying all this time, no, they probably have nukes? Now all of a sudden we're getting the message, this may just be a bluff?

CRESSEY: The intelligence communicate has believed for some time that they've had between one and two nuclear weapon. We have no firm intelligence to confirm that. Now the fact that Kim Jong Il declares now that they do have it, in light of all the diplomatic negotiations going on, it's not a coincidence. So it's safe to say this posturing going on here. The North Koreans still want to have direct talks with the United States. We refuse to do that. We insist on a multi-lateral setting. And if North Koreans are going to do anything to try and change that approach, maybe this type of comment is a means to that end.

OLBERMANN: Bluff vs. bluff. Roger Cressey, formerly the NSC staff counter-terrorism coordinator. As always, Roger, great thanks.

CRESSEY: Good to see you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And tonight the Bush administration fighting one more battle in the aftermath of the first war in Iraq, and it is an ironic one to say the least. It is opposing a group of 17 U.S. military pilots beaten and abused at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime during the 1991 Gulf War. A federal judge awarded the former POW, many torture at Abu Ghraib Prison, nearly $1 billion in total as compensation for their torture. But the Bush administration now trying to keep them from collecting that money.

Its argument goes something like this. The Iraqis are the good guys now and they need the money. The case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. No word yet on whether or not the justices plan to hear it.

I'm joined now by one of the former POWs, retired Marine Corp Colonel Clifford Acree.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

COL. CLIFFORD ACREE. (RET), U.S. MARINE CORPS: You're welcome. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: How do you feel about this extraordinary truth that Secretary Rumsfeld says, Iraqis who were abused at Abu Ghraib by Americans in 2003 should be entitled to compensation from the U.S. government, but because you were an American tortured at the same place by Iraqis in 1991, the government says you aren't entailed to compensation by anybody?

ACREE: Oh, I've got two answers to that question. My first is that I was glad - I was proud of our nation, that we stood up and said, our military people had abused and mistreated Iraqi prisoners. We acknowledged that, and we're going to correct it. We're going to compensate those folks. And I was proud of our country for doing that. It was the right thing to do. At the same time, our current administration is doing everything they can to stop us from prevailing on a lawsuit that we won. A lawsuit that was won under existing laws at the time, that the administration had about two years to - we keep them apprised throughout the legal proceedings. They never acknowledged it, said nothing about it. And then two weeks after the verdict came in, they elected to begin challenging it.

OLBERMANN: I gather, it must be an extraordinary - extraordinary churning inside to you actually fine yourself opposed now to the government in court when you went into a POW prison cell on behalf of the government 14-years-ago?

ACREE: It's not a good feel, certainly. And it makes me feel that, and Iraqi citizen, an Iraqi prisoner or more important than American prisoner of war, an American citizen. And I - I don't think that's right.

OLBERMANN: In light of that and your lawsuit, what's your response when you hear the presidents press secretary, Mr. McClellan say. as he did, about 15 months ago, no amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women, for the suffering they went through at the hands of this very brutal regime, and at the hands of Saddam Hussein. I guess, you probably didn't know when he said that, that he literally meant no amount of money.

ACREE: I thought the comment at the time was pretty smooth, probably, you know, appeased the press and their questions about our captivity experiences, but frankly, those are words. There's no action there at all. The rationale between supporting an Iraqi, a foreign national and not supporting an American citizen under the same circumstances, if not worse, makes no sense to me at all.

OLBERMANN: And when you say, "if not worse," you were in those camps from day one. You were shot down on the first day?

ACREE: I was shot down on the morning of the second day of the war.

That's correct.

OLBERMANN: What was it like?

ACREE: Captivity is bad. It's terrible, actually. Some parts of captivity are absolutely horrific. And I would not wish my captivity on anyone, frankly. We were tortured, repeatedly beaten by three, four, six people at one time. We were starved. Just generally abused and mistreated the entire time. And I think it is important for our nation to hold other nations accountable, especially those that sponsor state terrorism. We need to hold them accountable. This is the time to do it. This could be a landmark decision for our country to tell other nations, look, you mess around, you abuse, you mistreat, you torture an American citizen, an American POW there are going to be severe and immediate consequences for that and you will be held accountable. That's what we should be saying.

OLBERMANN: Clifford Acree, retired colonel from the Marine Corps, and Gulf war veteran, great thanks for joining us tonight and good luck.

ACREE: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: A familiar senatorial face on defense, terrorism and homeland security subcommittees has today been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania faces these facts about this cancer of the lymph system. It has a five year survival rate of 70 percent. Spector's office, says he expects to be able to perform all his duties as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, even while undergoing chemotherapy over the next five to eight months. Quoting the senator, "I have beaten a brain tumor, bypass heart surgery and many tough political opponent, and I'm going beat this, too. Arlen Spector turned 75-years-old last Saturday.

Also tonight, are some private security contractors in Iraq behaving like out of control cowboys? And did their bosses rob the proverbial gold train, too?

In a rare scene in Southeast Asia, a reunion today for a family after the tsunami. What's going to happen to the thousands of other orphans?

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Their mission is to provide security for people working in Iraq, but are private contractors treating that nation like the wild west, and who's responsible for making sure they don't cross that line. Standby.


OLBERMANN: If you were with us last night, you're already aware of a company called CusterBattles LLC, of Fairfax, Virginia. The curiously name outfit has handle security contracts for the U.S. military in Iraq. It's moniker not some kind of perverse reference to the Little Big Horn, but rather the name of its founders, Scott Custer and Michael Battles.

Last night our chief investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, reported that if anything, their employers did seem to resemble General Custer only in how they each attacked native civilians who got in their way.

Our number four story tonight, company whistle blowers have now accused CusterBattles of defrauding the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq of at least $15 million, maybe more. And Lisa Myers has a second report tonight, not just about one private contractor out of control in Iraq, but apparently a lot of them.


LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are the army you rarely see. Thousands of heavily arm security contractors, protecting top official, escorting convoys, most paid by U.S. taxpayers. But unlike American soldiers, critics say these men sometime operate under vague rules with little accountability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like the wild, wild west out there.

MYERS (on camera): One former manager tell NBC News, he caught inexperienced frightened security teams, literally shooting civilian cars off the road, to clear the way for a convoy. Though contractors can use lethal force, the U.S. government does not vet who is hired. The Pentagon say it does watch how company perform, and investigates any alleged misconduct. Retire General Monty Meigs (ph), who monitored U.S. contractors in Bosnia, says it is up to the companies themselves, and to military commanders in Iraq to ensure rules are followed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's difficult and it takes a special effort by the military chain of command. And if they're overburdened fighting a way, it is even more difficult.

MYERS (voice-over): Contractors who commit crime can be prosecuted under U.S. law. How disciplined are these men?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very greatly from highly professional contractors to flat out danger guys.

MYERS: Marine Colonel Thomas Hammond (ph) spent two months working along Iraqis. He said some contractors showed outright contempt for civilians, and even good contractors sometimes use tactics that turned Iraqis against the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if the government is hiring people that are run them off the road and intimidating them, that that really undercuts your message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But contractors say they perform a vital role with discipline.


Nobody is running around with bandanas and knives this their teeth.

MYERS: Given the dangers of Iraq, where 70 security operator have been kill, they argue extreme tactics sometimes are necessary.

DOUG BROOKS, INTERNATIONAL PEACE OPERATIONS ASSOC.: When you have people that are ready to kill you, if they get the opportunity, it mean getting caught in a traffic jam can be a lethal experience.

MYERS: Private contractors essential to the war effort, but who critics say, sometimes undermine the battle for Iraqi heart and minds.

Lisa Meyer, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, "CSI" meets the Diana car crash. Seven years after the princess was killed, why are forensics expert again combing the Paris tunnel?

And leaving behind the serious news of the day for an "Oddball" investigation into the weird news, we now know who this guy is. Kill Roy (ph), obviously.


OLBERMANN: It is time, once again, to pause our Countdown of the day's real news to check in on the day's really weird news, in a special bad art and bad cultural tradition. Lets play "Oddball."

Regular viewers may have pick up on the fact that I'm not particularly a fan of the artist Christo's creation in Central Park, The Gates. You know, as the old saying go, I don't know much about art, but I know 7,500 shower curtains when I see them.

Now this I like. Don't laugh, I'm not the only one. This painting of dogs playing poker sold at auction, last night in New York, for $590,000. The price paid by an unidentified collector in New York, actually for two paintings, from the 1903 series by artist, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. He painted 16 of them in all. They were commissioned by an ad agency for Minnesota, and they will soon flutter in the breeze from gates in New York's Central Park.

And finally, we have a name for this face. If you aren't familiar with him, this guy is the biggest thing to hit the many Internets since the Star Wars' kid. This video recorded on his own Web cam has become an Internet sensation, e-mailed around the world, downloaded millions of time, most assuming the lip-syncing kid was from somewhere in Eastern Europe, since his song of choice is the Romanian smash hit, "Dragostea Din Tei."

It turn out 19-year-old Gary Broma (ph) hails from Saddle Brook, New Jersey, which explains everything. And he's quite pleased with his viral video fame. Now yesterday and today, our theater has been jammed with news paper men and hundred of photographers from all over the nation. And these veterans agree with me, that the city never witness the excitement stirred by this youngster from Saddle Brook, ladies and gentleman, the Numa Numa (ph) dance.

The influence of William Hung already being felt on society.

From lip-sync to loose lips, Jose Canseco and "Juiced." We'll save you the trouble of buying the book. I will read you the highlights.

And the tsunami tragedy. A long - today a long-awaited reunion and a very public and painful custody battle. But What's being done about all the other kids separated from their parents or orphaned?

Those stories ahead, but now here are Countdown's "Top Three News Makers of this day." A theme tonight, good intentions gone bad.

Number three, Police Chief David White of Berks County, Pennsylvania. He sent a police chopper and the bomb squad to Valley High in Oley, PA and locked the place down. This after a member of the senior class was discovered on the school roof dressed in a gorilla mask. It's not al Qaeda, it was a senior prank.

And number two, however caused the I love you power outage in Mishawaka, Indiana. Yes, a mylar filled Valentine's Day balloon, somebody let it go, and it went right into the electrical substation, shorting it out, cutting off power to 2,100 customers.

And number one, J.D., the Labrador retriever. Good dog, J.D. Good dog. He and his owner Matthew Porter of Richland Hill, Texas, were walking along the Bear Creek Park Frisbee Golf Course, when police approach Porter. Officials say, Porter quickly tossed a plastic bag containing four grams of marijuana into a water hazard on the course. J.D., the lab, promptly drove in, recovered the pot, brought it back and dropped it at his owner's feet. Man's best friend!


OLBERMANN: It took half his lifetime to reunite him with his parents.

Half his lifetime, 7 weeks.

Our third story in the Countdown focuses on children and investigations. In a moment, you'll fine this hard to believe but it is true. The French are launching another probe into the death of Princess Diana.

But first the investigation that led to today's emotional reunion in Sri Lanka. Baby 81 and his parents going home. Our correspondent is Ned Colt.


NED COLT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Finally, the family together again, they're agonizing wait over. In a Sri Lanka courtroom, a doctor put Baby 81 in the arms of his mother Jenita today. And she smothered him with kisses that were almost 2 months in coming.

His saga captured world attention, a tiny symbol of hope amid the destruction and heartache of the tsunami. Just 2-months-old, somehow the infant survived after being torn from his mother's grasp. Hours later, found sitting on top of debris.

He was the 81st admission to the hospital that day the tsunami hit.

And Baby 81 is what he became.

Nine couples initially came forward to claim him, hoping that he was their lost child. Thousands of Sri Lanka parents are desperately looking for missing children. 1,000 children were orphaned in Sri Lanka alone.

It was science which finally brought the family together again. With documents and photographs washed away, D.N.A. testing proved parents and child, his birth name is Abalos (ph), to be a family.

There were tears and smiles today and visits to Hindu shrines to quietly thank the gods for Abalos' (ph) safe return. There won't be any celebration. A gesture of respect, say the parents, for the thousands of others still grieving.

Ned Colt, NBC News, Singapore.


OLBERMANN: Indeed. Take that story, a child separated from or left orphaned by his parents and multiply it 8,000 or even 10,000 time. That is latest nightmare on this long road that is the Indian Ocean tsunami.

The United Nations says up to 10,000 children in Aceh Province alone are still looking for any surviving family members. And the shocking number is actually far lower than anyone thought it would be.

The government initially estimated that 35,000 children had been orphaned When the earthquake and tsunami destroyed the northern province in Sumatra Island, 240,000 killed, 400,000 more displaced and about half of all victims children.

Now aid agencies and government officials are trying to reunite the thousands of orphans with their families. Several agencies have set up a database to that purpose, but only about 170 kids are registered so far. One of the aid agencies that originally set up database, the International Rescue Committee. It's regional director for Indonesia, Michael Kocher joins me tonight.

Thank you for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: 170 kids in that database. That's not even 2 percent of 10,000 reportedly without parents. Is the technology just not appropriate to the problem or the area? Is it all still just chaos? Or why is that figure so low?

KOCHER: That's a good question. I think we have the technology. It is more an issue of access. Roads, bridges have been washed away. Some communities remain difficult to reach. But we're getting out there.

The International Rescue Committee, for example, we have a helicopter now so we're able to reach much more effectively remote areas and get into these communitites and find these children.why havely the remote areas and getting into the communities and fining these children.

OLBERMANN: You know that largely because you have visited the region recently. You're going back there this weekend. What is the overall situation on the ground right now? How far removed are we from the trauma? And how close to the rebuilding are we?

KOCHER: Yeah. I think that we are nearing the end of the emergency phase. It is difficult to describe the scale and scope of the devastation. Television doesn't do it justice. The panorama of the devastation is beyond my ability to describe.

That said, I think that essential health services, water sanitation, shelter, food, these things are being met. Now we are reaching the next phase where things like economic opportunities become essential. But part and parcel of this, and certainly a priority for us, is child tracing and child reunification.

OLBERMANN: And turning to that, Americans respond the way they usually do, with great empathy, with great heart, but not necessarily any real sense of being clued in to the local culture. We think orphaned kids, let's adopt them. Tell me why that's not a viable option in Aceh.

KOCHER: Yeah. I think that's not a viable option. One, it is a bad practice. Generally research shows children who suffer trauma do far better within familiar surroundings and within communities. Hopefully with families, extended families. But certainly with neighbors, friends, and among their language, their culture, their people.

I think also here, it is not necessary for adoption in Indonesia. The Acehenese have a sense of community, extended families. And we're seeing already that the vast majority of those kids that have been separated have been taken in by neighbors, family, friends, and good caregivers. And it's incumbent upon us to help those caregivers give these kids the support they need.

OLBERMANN: Finally sir, be as realistic for me as you can on this. Are we going to have any - or many or any cases in Indonesia like the Sri Lanka Baby 81 story where there's actually reuniting, or is that too much to hope at this point?

KOCHER: There will be more. There have been some. But to be very frank, there will not be that many. Most of the missing parents are presumed dead. And it will be the rare case that has a happy ening like Baby 81.

That said, I think you will see many, many happy enings. As happy as possible where children are integrated into host communities with families, with many extended families and certainly communities and neighbors. It can be done. It's being done now.

OLBERMANN: Amen. And we're glad you're contributing to that.

Michael Kocher, regional director for Indonesia of the International Rescue Committee. Great, thanks for you time.

KOCHER: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: Investigation playing a big part in the last section of the third story too, and so do children. Two facts providing an awful perspective. To Mark Potter's report from London, the first time they investigated the death of Princess Diana, her eldest son William was 15,her younger, Harry, was about to turn 13. Today William is a 23-year-old man. And in September, Harry will be 21.


MARK POTTER, NBC NEWS CORRESONDENT (voice-over): It was scene out of shows like "C.S.I." and "Medical Investigation." A high-tech search of the Paris tunnel where Princess Diana and her partner Dodi Feyad died 7-1/2 years ago in a car crash.

British and French detectives, using special cameras, lasers and sophisticated measuring equipment, trying to piece together a 3 day computer model of the crash scene, hoping to find new forensic clues that may have contributed to the crash, evidence that perhaps can only be unearthed now almost a decade later.

MICHAEL COLE, INVESTIGATION WITNESS: The technology is able to look at the last seconds or fractions of seconds before the car hit the 13th pillar in the Alma Tunnel.

POTTER: It is all part of a Scotland Yard investigation into rumors and conspiracy theories that Diana's death may not have been accidental, but instead was murder. A French court concluded the death indeed was an accident blaming her chauffer, Henri Paul for drinking and driving too fast.

But Dodi Fayed's wealthy father and others have long argued the 2 were killed to prevent Diana from marrying a Muslim. The head of the British inquiry has promised to leave no stone unturned, even reexamining autopsy results of the driver.

COLE: He's going to be looking very, very carefully at the blood sample from Henri Paul which showed, appeared to show, that Henri Paul had in his blood 20 percent carbon monoxide .

Investigators even promised to question Diana's former husband, Prince Charles. And to look at secret files from British intelligence.

Mark Potter, NBC News, London.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, footage of the gloved one in his hospital room. This is indeed his bare hand.

Also, late-breaking news about Jackson. All of him is now elsewhere.

The latest.

And Jose Canseco on stars, on steroids, on Madonna, so to speak.

Those stories add.

Now here are CountdownS top three sound bites of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he put his hand out like three or four different time, you know the peace sign, red shirt, black watch, we could see it all. You know, he kept on doing it. And then at one point, he just played peek-a-boo with the curtains, you know, opening them and chosing them for a second.

I watched Michael put on his bed shirt. It's time to go home.

CONAN O'BRIEN, THE LATE SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN: This week, of course, the artist Christo used 1 million feet of orange fabric to create a giant piece of art in New York Central Park. Some of you have probably seen it. And at first, I got tell you, I walked through the park, I thought the exhibit was really classy. Then I saw this aerial photo. This bothered me. I just think...

LYNETTE SALTZMAN: They all did everything right. It was not an easy decision, but there's something about this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that's really spectacular.


OLBERMANN: You're going to the emergency room? The pool reporter at the Jackson trial heard one of Jackson's attorneys say into his cellphone yesterday. Well, you better make sure you get a note or a report.

Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, indecency in all its forms starting in Santa Maria, California where yes, it's your enterainment dollars in action, day 457 of the Michael Jackson investigations.

At a news conference, at about 4:40 Pacific Time, his doctor reported Jackson was still hospitalized with viral symptoms, in good spirits. However, a short time after that announce, ladies and gentlemen, Michael Jackson has left the building.

NBC News confirming with hospital sources, that Jackson is no longer at the Marion Medical Center. That caps a day of great vigilance for any signs of life from the hospital window. NBC News believes it confirm that Jackson's hand still works.

That's about it. We went to the hospital twice, once about 9:15 Pacific, then again 11:20 Pacific this morning. Let's see it in slow motion replay. It could be Michael's, could be somebody else's hand.

Also, and with face, could be both Michael Jackson's face and somebody else's face. We don't know for sure.

The jury selection postponed until Jackson feels better. News of the trial is limited, but we do have a summary courtesy our Michael Jackson trial puppet theater.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I have a flu-like symptom. What happened?

Oh, I remember. It was yesterday.

Don't take me to the courtroom. I need a doctor and Uri Geller.

Yes, I remember now. I got sick. I better go to the window and wave to NBC. Whew!


OLBERMANN: Cable does not fall under the aegis of the Federal Communications Commission. Thank god! And if the broadcast networks have their way, neither will they anymore. They're developing a challenge to the 1969 Supreme Court ruling that validated the F.C.C's power over everybody.

If that challenge does not succeed the commission may soon have retaliatory powers of biblical proportions. The House voting 389 to 38 today to lift the cap on fines of broadcasters for so-called indecent programming.

Now the FCC can punish an individual station no more than $32,500 for each offense, it can penalize an entertainer no more than $11,000. The House bill would raise the maximum in both cases to half a million. The White House said it fully supports the measure.

The Senate is considering its own version. Last year, though, even in the wake of the Janet Jackson disaster, it and the House could not reach a compromise on legislative language and the fines stayed where they were.

Meanwhile, the head of PBS says she will go elsewhere. Conservative groups are toting another head around on top of a pike. Not so fast, though they claim Pat Mitchell was driven to leave public broadcasting over the new Secertary of Education's complaints about an episode of the kids' series "Post Cards from Buster." There's one small fact standing in the way of that logic train, Mitchell is not going to leave her job until her contract expires in June 2006, 15 months from now.

The Buster controversy was over an episode in which the animated bunny met a same sex couple from Vermont and did not disparage, condemn, attempt to convert nor sink his deadly rabbit fangs into them.

An easy jump now from public TV to that which Satan sent to balance it out. FOX News Channel. An item from there leading our celebrity and entertainment news, keeping tabs.

FOX host Sean Hannity has a new dog. Before you call animal rescue, on his Web site, Hannity has allowed Internet passers by to submit a name for the dog. May we suggest Colmes?

Or how about Bob Ritchie? That's the name on the police blotter in Nashville, Tennessee. If like me, you are no longer cool, Bob is better known as Kid Rock. And he was booked on simple assault after having allegedly struck a dejay at a nightclub, breaking his glasses.

The police spokesman says officers went to the club. Mr. Kid had already slid out a back door. He later surrendered without incident. And before being released on bail of $1,000 asked the Nashville magistrate quote, "how is my hair?"

Well it sucks, frankly.

Countdown on your side. Jose Canseco may not be here, but I've had to read his book anyway so now you won't to have lose the cash or the time. The juiciest parts of "Juiced" next.


OLBERMANN: If a league calls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Our No. 1 story in the Countdown, sports cancellations. From the National Hockey League to Jose Canseco.

Hockey first and the icemen goeth. Yes, this is what professional hockey used to look like back when they played in this country. Even if you remembered that the rapidly declining hadn't gone out of business years ago.

This afternoon, 154 days after the owners locked their players out in hopes of coercing them into lower salaries, league comissioner Gary Bettman announced it'll be too late to start a 2005 season, even if the sides were to come to an immediate agreement which they were far, far from doing.

Players may be nice enough, however, to go door to door and stage fights for fans in their driveways. You will hear it widely reported that this is the first major sports league in North American history to cancel an entire season. That is not correct, several others ranging from the original American Football League to the American Basketball League, to Baseball's United States League called off entire seasons either just before or just after they were to start. None of them ever resumed play. We'll see if the National Hockey League ever does.

And in baseball, we'll find out if the Jose Canseco publicity tour will ever resume. In the interim the part of the steroid scandal he touched off has an argument of fact ongoing between an FBI agent and baseball's owners.

The New York Daily News reporting that special agent Greg Stiescall (ph) delivered a warning 10 years ago to baseball security chief Kevin Halidan (ph) that Conseco and many other players were using anabolic steroids. Halidan (ph) says he never met an FBI agent named Stiescall (ph). Baseball's executive vice president Sandy Alderson, Canseco's old boss, claims the official FBI liaison to baseball never mentioned any warning in 1995 or any at time.

The Daily News quotes Agent Stiescall (ph) as sticking to his story and says he hopes the bureau will give him the chance to defend himself.

How will baseball defend itself from Canseco's allegations and the earlier steroid messes? It may not have to. The crack Countdown staff got a steroid question slipped into the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll tonight and the public reaction does not seem to be getting worse. Respondents were asked if recent use of steroids in baseball diminished their opinion of the game.

In December with only 12 percent saying they didn't follow the story. 26 percent said, yes, it diminished their apearance of baseball a lot, 13 percent said, yes, a little, 48 percent said not at all.

Now in the wake of Canseco naming names, 24 percent said it had a lot, 15 percent yes a little, 48 percent said not at all. Stastically a slight improvement for basball's reputation.

Several issues here to raise with Jose Canseco, the former he homerun hitter, admitted steroid user, other of the book "Juiced" and guest volunteered scheduled to be on this program at this time for the last 10 days until his appearance was canceled yesterday along with his appearances on "The Today Show" and CNN and ESPN Radio.

The explanation we got was he had to have an MRI, a magnetic residence imaging scan. Befoer you joke that MRI's of Canseco's head showed nothing. We're not going to descend into such petty retribution.

I have read Canseco's book, and as amazingly self-absorbed, infantile and self-contradictory as it is, in its main value, the shining of light on the use of steroids is baseball, it's largely plausible.

All the players he accused have denied using steroids. And Canseco clearly does not have every fact right. In the book, he says he injected Mark McGwire with more steroids quote, "more times than I can remember." unquote. In one of his interviews, though, he says he can only doing it twice.

Its usefulness as a historical document, however, does not mean you have to go and waste $25.95 and several hours of your life to read it. We will now do that for you. The most interesting and or salacious parts anyway. Starting with the fact that most of the headlines featured his accusation that former teammates Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Raphael Palmeiro and Yvonne Rodriguez were steroid users, the book mentions also several 7 other names to say nothing of Madonna.



OLBERMANN (voice-over): The simple fact is that Barry Bonds was definitely using steroids.


OLBERMANN: I don't know Sammy Sosa personally, so I can't say for a fact that he ever took steroids. But I remember thinking that his transformation looked even more dramatic than Mark McGwire's.


OLBERMANN: I've never seen Roger Clemens do steroids. And he never told me that did. But we talked about what steroids could do for you in which combinations. A lot of pitchers did steroids to keep up with the hitters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Canseco also accuses 4 lesser known players as steroid users. Pages 263 through 266.

OLBERMANN: Wilson Alvarez, Bret Boone, Dave Martinez, Tony Saunders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Canseco says two players don't use steroids. Ben Grieve and Yankees star Derek Jeter, pages 183 and 185.

OLBERMANN: And if Jeter had used steroids, he'd be even better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The book isn't just about steroid users today, it's about more steroid users later, page 2.

OLBERMANN: All those people crying about steroids in baseball now will look as foolish in a few years as the people who said John F. Kennedy was crazy to say that the United States would put a man on the Moon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; And it's more than just steroids, it's about players bribing umpires, page 162.

OLBERMANN: Fans would be amazed just how far some players, especially pitchers, even the best of them, will go to try to stay on the good side of umpires.

Roger Clemens was always very conscientious about taking care of umpiring crews. One thing he would do is use his pole to get them on the best golf courses. Some players are constantly signing bats and balls for them, taking pictures with their kids, even sending them Christmas gifts like sporting equipment ordered directly from whichever company they have an endorsement deal with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; And there's baseball behind the scenes like the 1994 strike. Canseco would have been happy to break it. Page 150.

OLBERMANN: That strike never should have happened. And it never would have happened if the owners had approached things intelligently. All they needed to do was find half a dozen influential players without guaranteed contracts who were willing to distance themselves from the stance of the Player's Association.

Those players could have brought other players along to their way of thinking until the union was really in trouble. If the owners had approached me in the right way, I could have done it for them myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All work and no play makse Jose a dull boy. We learn about visiting friends page 102.

OLBERMANN: Madonna gave me a tour of her house. We walked around for a few minutes and wound up in her bedroom. Sit down, she told me. So I sat down. Who wouldn't? She hit the remote control on her VCR and started showing me parts of "Truth or Dare" her documentary which hadn't hit the theaters.

I think you can guess which scenes she showed me. It was the famous masterbation scene on that big bed. So what do you think? She asked after the scene ended? I looked back at her for a minute. It's very interesting, I told her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; And finally, good news for you youngsters just starting out on steroids, page 98.

OLBERMANN: One definite side effect of steroid use is the atrophying of your testicles. I can confirm that. Whatever size they start out, they will definitely shrink if you're taking steroids over a period of time.

But here's the point I want to emphasize, what happens to your testes has nothing to do with any shrinking of the penis. That's a misconception. As a matter of fact, the reverse can be true. Using growth hormone can make your penis bigger and make you more easily aroused. So to the guys out there who were worried about their manhood, all I can say is growth hormone worked for me!


OLBERMANN: Gee whiz, Jose, thanks for sharing that.

And if you had that suspicion that he has a lot of, you know, evidently not.

That's Countdown. Thanks for being a part of it. I'm keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.