Wednesday, March 30, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 30

Guest: Harry Peachey, Jeffrey Ponsky, Ben Johnson, Mike Wise


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

They said they would no longer go back to court. Today, Terri Schiavo's parents went back to court. Their latest appeal quickly rejected.

While a feeding tube is central to that story, suddenly it's also key for the pope. Why the nature of his tube may be good news and whether inserting a feeding tube is or is not a true medical procedure. We will talk to one of the doctor whose developed it.

A nightmare from Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's blood coming out of my dad's mouth and he fell off the bed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He did? Where's mommy at?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. I think they're dead.

OLBERMANN: The 5-year-old girl who discovered the scene of horror and the 911 operator who talked her through it.

Baseball scandal again, now it's medical advisor on steroids is reported to have a degree not from a school in New York state, but one from Guadalajara, Mexico - oops.

And speaking of pretending you are something you are not. That's an elephant in Kenya doing an impression of trucks driving by. Next thing you know she'll be doing an impersonation of a news caster and it would sound something like this.

All that and more now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. It is said that immediately after Judge John J.K. Ralston slammed his gavel to end the famous Scopes monkey child, in which the right to teach evolution in public schools was debated in a Tennessee court, an ice cream vender marched into the courtroom and started barking out get your Eskimo Pies, get your Eskimo Pies.

Our fifth story on the Countdown. Long before today, the Terri Schiavo case had taken on the same inappropriate circus like components that surrounded the Scopes trial. But now five days after the legal battle had supposedly ended it, it resumed. And it's now headed again to the Supreme Court.

And today, Jesse Jackson conferred with the brother of the man who's presidential victory last fall, Jackson called, invalid. The calliope (ph) music just got a little louder and the big tent a little bigger. Reverend Jackson meeting with Governor Jeb Bush as part of his effort to get Florida lawmakers to intervene. It does not seem to have had any impact. The state Senate in session today, without any discussion of reviving a bill that would have ordered Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube be put back in. That bill had been defeated by three votes last week.

The legal events of this day no easier to understand, a federal court in Atlanta all but inviting Terri Schiavo's parents to file another appeal after the parents had said there'd be no more appeals. They have filed the appeal and then the court turned them away again for a fourth time. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling it would not step into the Schiavo case, saying that Congress and the president should not have stepped in either, especially since they like to complain about activist judges. "

Quoting Judge Stanley F. Birch, "Generally, the definition of an a activist judge is one who decides the outcome of a controversy before him according to personal conviction, even one sincerely held, as opposed to the dictates of the law as constrained by legal precedent and, ultimately, our Constitution. In resolving the Schiavo controversy it is my judgment," he continues" that despite the sincere and altruistic motivation, the legislative and executive branches of government have acted in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Father's blueprint for governance of a fee people - our Constitution."

Early this evening, the Schiavo family said it would again go to the Supreme Court asking for an emergency order to get the feeding tube reinserted. The court took just 12 hours to refuse a similar request last week.

To try to fathom the latest legality, I'm joined again by NBC justice correspondent, Pete Williams, who is at the Supreme Court. Good evening, Pete.


OLBERMANN: As we both predicted back at the doorstep of the Supreme Court. Do you see anything that differentiates this appeal from the one the Schiavo family filed last week?

WILLIAMS: Well, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta certainly didn't. There are new claims, no mistake about it. Lawyers for the Schiavo parents have come up with a new legal theory on why they think this should be granted this time. In brief what they say is, it's clear from case law, not just what Congress passed, that the trial court in Florida, the judges now in the federal courts have to take a new look at the evidence that the state court judge in Florida used to say there was clear and convincing evidence that Terri Schiavo would have wanted to die.

That didn't buy - that didn't get past the 11th Circuit Today. They said no, that's not what the law says. And based on that, I don't think there's any reason to think the Supreme Court will respond differently this time then it did a week ago. But you have to give credit. There was very clear indication in the filings, I thought the lawyers for the Schindlers, the Schiavo parents, were quite candid, Keith, in saying that the parents are leaning on them to do everything possible legally. And you have to give credit, the lawyers are trying everything they can think of.

OLBERMANN: And to that point, it was a surprise to a lot of people that this wound up back in court, in the 11th Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The analogy was used in the newsroom here today that what the court did, to some degree, was reminiscent of Charlie Brown, and Lucy and the football. And she holds it for him to kick, and then she pulls it away and he falls. And then he stands up again, she stands up again. She holds the football for him again, pulls it away again. Why did it go back to the 11th Appeals Court?

WILLIAMS: I would change your analogy a little bit. I don't think that here the football has ever been held out for them to kick. You know, the appeals courts have never given them any indication. The first time a 2-1 ruling against them. And then only two votes in the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the whole 12 judges. Then last Friday, 3-0 against them. And now the same two judges again.

All the court has done is let them try. But you know, we were all a little surprised because last Friday night the three-judge panel said, you lose again and if you want to keep going you have to file by Saturday morning. But technically, Keith, in the federal courts there's a 10 days. You really have 10 days. It would have been extraordinary if the court had said no, I'm sorry. You didn't meet the Saturday morning deadline - and especially in this case. So I'm not surprised by that. I think they had to entertain this again.

Just as I said, the lawyers have gone the extra mile, I think the courts have been very patient. And I was a little bit surprised, frankly, to see what you said from the judge today about the constitutionality. I'm sure that's been bubbling below the surface. The courts have been very patient with this, and now that's starting to come out a little more.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of surprises, I was surprised to hear reported on another news network this afternoon, and repeatedly, that the entire process in the 11th today was simply the judges of that court responding to public and political pressure. To your experience is that plausible?

WILLIAMS: Well, if by that the commentator meant that the court agreed to take this up again. But all they did is agree to let the parents ask again and they said no again. That's what they did last week. So I don't know how that's responding to public pressure. If they mean public pressure by not giving the Schindlers what they want, the courts have said from the very beginning that there was no legal entitlement to that. And that's been a consistent theme throughout this. So, I'm not sure what they mean by responding to pressure. It's been pretty much the same theme here all along.

OLBERMANN: Pete Williams, staying late with us, outside the Supreme Court once again. And we may see you again there next week, next month, who knows?

WILLIAMS: Could be.

OLBERMANN: Great thanks, sir.

WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.

OLBERMANN: And once again a subject that you have never heard of before it leaps halfway around the world. As it does so, totally, coincidentally the same subject becomes a headline in a totally different context. The pope has gotten a feeding tube. The Vatican confirming this morning that to improve caloric intake - John Paul is been fed by a straw through his nose, plastic straw. It is a fairly common procedure for elderly patients, especially those who have had recent throat surgery or recurring throat problems, the pope has both. The decision to go with the nasal procedure, not the kind of the stomach tube, that her parents want Terri Schiavo reattached to. This is being interpreted as a good sign. The nose tubes are said to be usually used for temporary problems and the stomach ones for long-term problems.

The Pontiff appeared at his window for four minutes this morning - as greetings to the faithful in his name were read in many languages, he tried to speak but witnesses described only a growling croak.

This underscores confusion about feeding tubes. In Florida, Terri Schiavo's family that a feeding tube wasn't really a medical procedure. In Rome, the heads of the Catholic Church referred to it today as "medical care," being supervised by the John Paul's personal physician.

If anyone can answer questions on this topic, it's Dr. Jeffrey Ponsky, one of the doctors who developed the feeding tube technique in 1979. He's the chief of surgery at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Dr. Ponsky, Great time - great thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Frist feeding tubes in general. These are conveniences like meals that astronauts drink through straws or these are medical procedures like breathing tubes?

PONSKY: Well, the liquid we administer is very much like what astronauts drink. It's like what people take to increase their weight. These high caloric, high fat and high carbohydrate diets are liquefied. And you can even take regular food and blenderize it, and create a feeding out of it that will go through one of these tubes.

OLBERMANN: But would you describe it as a medical procedure as opposed to something other than that?

PONSKY: Well, the feeding itself is not a medical procedure, it's part of eating. The insertion of the tube, be it through the nose or through the abdomen is indeed a medical procedure, absolutely.

OLBERMANN: Now, obviously, you can't diagnose the pope nor Terri Schiavo and we're not asking you too, although everybody else on television seems to be doing both. But let ask you about the use of tubes in individual cases like these, Mrs. Schiavo first.

As you develop the tube 25 and more years ago, did you think about the possible impacts, not of attaching people to them, but of detaching people from them who were not say ready to go home from the hospital?

PONSKY: Almost not at all. In fact, we had very specific hopes that this would assist in the care people, and particularly at that time children, who would need long-term care and had a great potential for recovery over a period of time. So we didn't look into the issues of end of life care and those of - actually, have not been a major focus of the tubes all these years. The focus has always been on who we should select to put them into, and probably still should be the focus.

OLBERMANN: Also regarding Mrs. Schiavo's case, is there a reason that you can asses from distance as to why she was put on a stomach feeding tube as opposed to either not being put on any tube or being put on one of those nasal tube?

PONSKY: The nasal tube is only a precursor to the stomach tube that you referred to. The nasal tube is great for a short-term feeding situation, and if the patient needs it for a week or even a month, it's a great opportunity to do this instead of doing the abdominal procedure. But after a period of time, the nasal tube begins to irritate the nose and throat and the esophagus, and it has other consequences associated with it, likes aspiration and pneumonia. And in those cases, particularly when the patient is going to a nursing home, a trans-gastric tube, such as we developed, is much more appropriate.

OLBERMANN: And thus in the case of the pope, the suggestion that the use of the nasal tube as opposed to the stomach tube is comparatively good news regarding his overall health. Is that fair assumption?

PONSKY: It's interesting that these two cases appear side by side.


PONSKY: The pope is totally cognizant, a wonderful gentleman with everything to give to the world. And the mere fact that he needs supplemental feedings is very clear indication for a feeding tube. And the one they've started with is perfectly appropriate. It's probably unlikely that he'll go on to need the long-term abdominal tube. But even if he did, he's a functional member of society with so much to offer. It would be inconsequential that he couldn't swallow and had to have a feeding tube. It would even allow him to talk and do other things more easily. So when a patient is functional and able to contribute to society, these are of great benefit.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, sir, as I said, here's a subject that a lot of people probably knew nothing about - two weeks ago. And now it comes into these two stories in such prominence and such short period of time, here you were, one of the co-developers of the process. Personally, how do you feel seeing this subject on the news and in the newspapers literally every day?

PONSKY: Well, there's no question we've been bombarded and inundated with too much information. But I told one reporter today that this is - one good thing about the United States that we can have this dialogue. That we become educated, that we inform each other about these things. And if families speak to each other and air their differences and that we learn from each other, this couldn't happen except in America.

OLBERMANN: Doctor Jeffrey Ponsky, co-developer of the modern feeding tube, great thanks for sharing your expertise.

PONSKY: Thank you for allowing me. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Good night.

PONSKY: Also tonight, more medicine you need to learn in a hurry. The FDA could regulate tattoos, but usually does not. So the tattoo artists can basically inject anything he likes into your body, for example, lead.

And it's the kind of call 911 operators hope never to have to answer, a 5-year-old child asking for help after finding both of her parents bleeding, shot.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: 911 operators have been the focus of justified criticism lately. Next, one will be the focus of justified praise and thanks for how she handled a call that no 5-year-old should ever have to make. Standby.


OLBERMANN: Aeneas and Julie Hernlen were shot and killed early Monday morning in the bedroom of their home in Volusia County, Florida. The suspect was a man who thought Mr. and Mrs. Hernlen had fingered him for drug activity. It is a nightmare. A moment when the most fundamental component of society vanishes, but actually it was worse than that.

Our Fourth story on the Countdown, Police learned about the shootings because the person who discovered the bodies called 911. She knew to call 911, even though she was just 5-years-old. That's because Aeneas and Julie Hernlen were her parenting. Listening to the tape of that call is hard. Hard because of the tragedy, hard because of the intrusion. But because of Tia Hernlen's bravery and the compassion of one of the 911 operators, people so often criticize in the media, listening to the tapes of that call may be essential.


OPERATOR: 911, what's your emergency?


OPERATOR: Hello. Is everything OK?

HERNLEN: My mommy and daddy...


HERNLEN: I think there is a bullet on the floor.

OPERATOR: There's a what?

HERNLEN: And there is blood coming out of my dad's mouth and he fell off the bed.

OPERATOR: He did? Where's mommy at?

HERNLEN: She is, I don't know. I think they're dead.

OPERATOR: OK, your daddy's on the floor. How old are you?

HERNLEN: I'm 5-years-old and I have a dog in a house.

OPERATOR: Are you the only one there besides mommy and daddy?

HERNLEN: And I said "Mommy" and "Daddy" and they didn't even answer.

OPERATOR: What made you wake up tonight?

HERNLEN: There was - I think I heard a gunshot. I don't see a gun, but I'm scared.

OPERATOR: Oh, sweetheart, I will not let anything happen to you.

HERNLEN: Can you send a deputy down here?

OPERATOR: I promise I will. And you're only 5-years-old?

HERNLEN: Mmm-hmm.

OPERATOR: Was there anybody else in the house besides you and mommy and daddy tonight, like an uncle or anything?

HERNLEN: No, there's no robber in the house.

OPERATOR: OK, well, I didn't think there'd be a robber, sweetheart.

Did you have anybody staying over the night with you guys tonight?

HERNLEN: Nnn-nnn.

OPERATOR: OK. And the doors are all locked? And everything like that. Where are you in the house?

HERNLEN: Well, I was in my room sleeping until I heard a noise shot and it woke me up.

OPERATOR: Listen to me. Is your phone the kind of phone you can take with you and walk around?

HERNLEN: Um, this...

OPERATOR: There should be an officer at your front door. I need for you to take your phone with you and walk over to the door and open it for me, OK? And I will stay on the phone with you, OK?

HERNLEN: I'm to the door. I'm unlocking it.

OPERATOR: OK. You let me know when the officer talks to you. OK, you go ahead. You talk to the officer.

OFFICER: You're talking to the dispatcher? OK, tell her I'm here now saying you can hang up.

DISPATCHER: Bye, sweetheart.

CHILD: Um, he's here.

DISPATCHER: OK, sweetheart. You be good, OK? Bye.


OLBERMANN: Police say the Hernlin's had not given investigators any information on their apparent killer, a man named David Edward Johnson. They found Johnson at his home hours later, dead, an apparent suicide.

Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson filled out some of the details earlier today and he was in awe of the 5-year-old girl at the center of the story.


SHERIFF BEN JOHNSON, VOLUSIA COUNTY: She's doing all right. She's with family. A 5-year-old at this time, they don't really understand death, I don't believe. The fact that she's never going to see her family again. We're worried about long-term effects on the little girl. She's a very smart little girl, and her parents, they taught her well, and she did a great job. It's just a masterful job, especially for a 5-year-old. She gave us information that, a lot of times, we have problems getting out of adults, and she just did a super job.

Well, there was a - the family asked for a restraining order and they were given the paperwork and they did go to the courts, trying to get a restraining order, and the restraining order was rejected at this time. But the problem with a restraining order, even in a case like this, had we gotten it, had the family gotten it, I don't know that it would have stopped this. Now, you have a little girl who is parentless, you have a mother and father who are dead, you have families who are devastated and it's really a sad situation. She has plenty of family and she'll be taken care of by family.


OLBERMANN: Also, tonight, much less tragic, much more stupid. The baseball-steroids scandal, the doctor advising the sport reportedly padded his own resume.

And, from Russia with love. Two do's in the Duma. They're not your tax dollars in action, but they are somebody's. Stand by.

ANNOUNCER: You're getting the news Olbermann-style. It's Countdown, with Keith Olbermann, part of the best prime time in cable news. MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: We're back and once again we pause our Countdown for a segment of weird news, international news, and, best of all, international weird news.

Let's play "Odd Ball."

And we, tonight, continue our "Odd Ball" educational series, inside the governments of the former Soviet republics. Last night, we brought you this guy, who was once candidate of president of Lithuania and is now an internet viral video star.

Tonight, a special look inside Russia's lower house of parliament, throughout history, known as the Duma, where today's debate is over the disputed results of recently held democratic elections. Oops. It seems party leaders Vladimir Zhirinovskiy has just spit on Duma deputy Andrei Savelyev. And - let's get ready to rumble. Zhirinovskiy is the Democratic leader. He's upset his party was excluded from the election process and that, my friends, is grounds for a thrashing. Will the gentleman yield? No, but I bet you'll yield to this.

To India, where the residents of the tiny northern village of Mucrai (ph) are celebrating birth of Rada with the traditional dance of fire. Then again, you'd dance, too, if someone stuck a 120-pound flaming pyramid on your head. Legend has it that Rada was a consort of Krishna and was born in the village; actually, she was born on the West Side, but she had a little place in the Village. The women train from childhood for this moment, and say they are granted divine ability to hold the tremendous weight, which explains how the actress Radha Mitchell managed to carry that new Woody Allen film pretty much all by herself.

This was the scene later at the Rada birthday party, when that woman got too close for the curtains. No, no, no, we're kidding. This is Mount Colima in Mexico, so-called "volcano of fire," or, world's biggest lava lamp. The mountain began spewing the incandescent green molten rock over the weekend in what scientists say could be a precursor to a major eruption. Though no one is allowed to get within four miles of the volcano of fire, local residents have found that the glowing green light show matches up perfectly with side one of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."

More trouble erupting in baseball: its chief medical advisor, this guy, the doctor who testified about steroids, turns out we may need to call him, not doctor, but "el medico."

And everyone knows they never forget, but can elephants also learn new things, like how to communicate with big trucks? Seriously, these stories ahead.

Now, here are Countdown's "Top Three Newsmakers."

Number three, conservative columnist William Kristol, speaking at a Earlham College in Indiana, hit in the face with a pie by a student. But you can't stop Bill Kristol, you can only hope to contain him, to borrow a phrase. "The Palladium-Item" newspaper reports that Mr. Kristol wiped the goo from his face and then said, quote, "just let me finish my point."

Number two, Ann Coulter. No pie in the face but at her speech at the University of Kansas, retail price, $25,000. She was so flustered by hecklers that she had some fans and security guards threaten and expel them, and then she threatened to end her speech halfway through. Ladies and gentlemen, if you can't be quiet, Miss Coulter will be forced to stop her hatefulness.

And number one, to round out our disrupted stage performance theme, the Great Velcro, a British magician, the Great Velcro was half-way through his magic act in a London pub when a man suddenly ran on stage, snatched his magician's hat, and ran off. Inside the hat was Velcro's rabbit, Georgiana. The thief ran out the door and disappeared. It's an illusion.


OLBERMANN: On November 1, the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team hired a former player named Wally Backman as the manager of their team for this season. Three days later it turned out Backman had not only neglected to mention the fact he had been arrested for spousal abuse and drunk driving, but that he'd also padded his resume. On November 5, the Arizona Diamondbacks fired Wally Backman as the manager of their team for this season.

Our third story in Countdown, it has happened again, only this time it's not one of baseball's 30 team managers, it's the one and only medical advisor for the entire sport, the guy who testified to Congress on the whole steroid scandal.

Now Dr. Elliott Pellman is his own scandal, after it was revealed his degree is not from a med school in New York but rather from a med school in Mexico, the Universidad Autonomous de Guadalajara, in fact. But the "New York Times" reported today that Dr. Pellman has, quote, "repeatedly" claimed that he got his medical degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In fact, he got the degree, officially, in Guadalajara. Pellman only spent one year as a resident at Stony Brook.

But wait, there's more. Dr. Pellman, who had great difficulty testifying correctly about the details of the new steroid policy in baseball also claimed to Congress that he's an Associate Clinical Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Turns out, he's an assistant professor - doesn't sound like a big difference, but an associate teaches at the school, an assistant, well, that's just an honorary position that is held by thousands.

Baseball's authority on steroids isn't even an authority on his own career, reportedly. Reactions vary. "Those discrepancies are not important enough to be there and have all been fixed," Dr. Pellman told the "New York Times." "I don't see why it should impact his credibility, I really don't," the paper quotes Rob Manford, baseball's executive vice president. Not everyone agrees, including one of the Congressman who heard Dr. Pellman's testimony 11 days ago.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), GOV'T REFORM CMTE.: First of all, I do wonder whether he has the appropriate experience to be testifying before Congress on the subjects that he testified on. He's provided inaccurate information about his past experience and his past credentials.

I think when they put up somebody like Dr. Pellman, who provides sworn testimony and who is, according to his testimony, the number one medical advisor to Mr. Selig and to Major League Baseball, you have to wonder who's running the shop, how it's being run, and whether the people at the top know what's going on.


OLBERMANN: Welcome to baseball. So, in the middle of a disaster that may have knocked it's former homerun record holder Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame, baseball has a scandal within a scandal.

I'm joined now by report Mike Wise of the "Washington Post." Washington gets baseball back for the first time in 34 years, just in time for this.

Mike, good evening.

MIKE WISE, WASHINGTON POST: Good evening, Keith. How are you?

OLBERMANN: Well, confused, like everybody else on this. Dr. Pellman is all baseball needs at the moment, is he not?

WISE: Unbelievable. I mean, that and another Jose Canseco novel. The thing that bothers me about it is, not so much the resume, but the fact that he didn't know there was a loophole in the agreement when he testified before Congress that gave players an hour to leave the room during a drug test. That he didn't know that is just - it's unconscionable.

OLBERMANN: Now, it may be explicable because he didn't, apparently, know his own resume, so at least we have some consistency on his inconsistency. But, as of close of business today, as those comments from baseball's vice president Mr. Manfred suggested, baseball has not distanced itself from Dr. Pellman. Is that going to change, is it going to have to change?

WISE: I think so. At some point - there's part of me that wants to tell Dr. Pellman to distance himself from Major League baseball. This policy is a joke. If the Olympics had this policy, Ben Johnson would still be the fastest man in the world. You can leave the room for an hour? Bud Selig now has the discretion to suspend you, not suspend you, but give you a $10,000 fine instead of a 10-game suspension after a first offense? That's not anything to deter anybody from drug use.

OLBERMANN: Is it any wonder now, given what - the actual testimony by players was like, and given what Dr. Pellman did know and didn't know and didn't know about his own career, that baseball fought so hard not to have those hearings come off the way they did?

WISE: I think it's indicative of how scared they are to really peel back the layers of their testing policy, of what their game has become over the last 10 to 15 years. And, you know, I - the whole thing to me is a joke. I really think that Dr. Pellman - I don't know if Wally Backman is the standard because Jerry Colangelo (ph) made that decision - but in the case of Dr. Pellman, if you don't distance yourself from him a little bit, what credibility do you have as an organization at this point?

OLBERMANN: While I have you here, let me broaden this out, briefly for the latest on the once and future home-run king Barry Bonds. In our last episode, Bonds was claiming that we all wanted him to jump off some cliff somewhere, and he had jumped off, and he might retire, he might miss the whole season, and there was, in turn, the observation that, guess what? If you're out injured, as he now is, they don't test you for steroids. What's the latest on Bonds? Is he playing, is he not playing, is he on steroids, is he not on steroids, what?

WISE: My God, I would hate to - probably Dr. Pellman with his Guadalajara certificate could tell you that easier than I could. But I do think that Barry Bonds may play at some point - I don't think he'll play for a while. This is just personal, Keith, but I do think that he's more disturbed by the allegations by a former mistress, by the allegations in the "San Francisco Chronicle," that he testified in a grand jury that he may have used something that was a steroid. He's bothered more by that than his injury right now, and I think he just wants to take a mental break.

OLBERMANN: But the physical break would also be abuse, as we've observed, it doesn't have to apply necessarily to Bonds. But if you were a baseball player and you were on steroids last year or over the winter and you needed to get off steroids, the best place for you is on the injured list, on the disabled list.

WISE: Well, that's true. But if you got an hour to actually go out to GNC and get a masking agent and then come back and finish your drug test, I think, you know - if they did that at the "Washington Post," you know, there would probably be a lot of people gunning the G.N.C.

OLBERMANN: Or a lot of blank pages. Mike Wise of the "Washington Post," great, thanks for joining us.

WISE: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Moving from the injection of steroids to the injection of ink or chromium or nickel or lead. Just some of the so-called secret ingredients courtesy of your tattoo parlor.

And, if that information doesn't disturb you enough...

WISE: I'll talk to you later. Bye.

OLBERMANN:... Lisa-Marie Presley - Mike, you're still on the air here - shares details about her marriage to Michael Jackson. Ew.


OLBERMANN: Tattoos and heavy metal together again, but in a different context. Stand by for news.


OLBERMANN: Twenty years ago, a tattoo meant you were or were once in the Navy, you were or were once in a motorcycle gang or you were or were once very drunk in the vicinity of a tattoo parlor.

Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, mom used to warn us about getting tattoos. Two decades back, most of us stopped listening and tattoos got cool. Turned out mom may have known what she was talking about. They may turn out to be more than just an aesthetic risk. Countdown's Monica Novotny joins me now to report that they may be a serious health risk -

Monica, good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening. For years there were concerns about tattoos being administered without needles being sanitized prompting fears of the spread of hepatitis C and other infectious diseases. Now, a new area of concern as college-age researchers sporting their own body art are looking deeper beneath the surface to find out exactly what got under their skin.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ultimately we found 14 metals: nickel, copper, chromium, lead, and several others.

NOVOTNY: It is the taboo of tattoos. The question no one asks, what is in the ink? College chemistry major Leslie Wagner decided to find out what was in her tattoo, pairing up with a classmate and her professor to analyze 17 tattoo inks from five different manufacturers. Their research now attracting national attention. The most disturbing finding...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lead, simply because it's been taken out of paint that they use for houses and everything else so long ago, I didn't expect to find it in something they're putting into the body.

NOVOTNY: Though the health effects of these metals in humans in the form of tattoos are not known, these researchers think it's time for more study and regulation.

JANI INGRAM, CHEMISTRY PROFESSOR: It is being injected into the skin, so it was surprising that, that you know, we really were sort of in the dark as to what they may be made of.

NOVOTNY: Manufacturers of tattoo ink don't print a list of ingredients on the bottles, calling it a trade secret. Though tattoo artists don't seem mind.

(on camera): You can smell them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Oh, definitely.

Though the inks used are subject to F.D.A. regulation, so far the agency has chosen not to do so, instead leaving it to be handled by local jurisdictions. But some experts say that may not be enough.

DR. LANCE BROWN, DERMATOLOGIST: There's a study that just was presented from Germany and they found that many of these tattooings, the breakdown products were toxins and some were even carcinogenic .

NOVOTNY (voice-over): Dr. Lance Brown, a dermatologist who performs laser tattoo removals, says the mystery surrounding the makeup of the inks makes it difficult for doctors. Certain compounds can cause allergic reaction once injected, others interfere with M.R.I.'s.

BROWN: Many tattoo inks are actually industrial colorings that are used in machinery, automobile parts, etc. And many of these are mixed into tattoo ink.

NOVOTNY: In fact, Brown believes some ink may be most dangerous if it's removed. Laser treatments don't always remove all pigment. Some particles may break up, seeming to disappear, but could remain within the body.

But tattoo artists say history proves there is no problem.

MATT MARCUS, TATTOO ARTIST: We've been working with tattoo ink long enough where if it was doing any real damage, you would see it. If there was a general flow of health conditions that are the results of bad inks.

NOVOTNY: Though for some, the questions leave an indelible impression.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to see more of an effort to find out what is in the inks and the reactions with the body.


NOVOTNY: We should point out that on occasion, the Food and Drug Administration has weighed in on this issue. Last summer, the agency issued a warning about a cosmetic ink used for permanent makeup that was causing health problems. And a spokesperson from the F.D.A. today tells me that if the science show there is a serious problem, the agency may step up its surveillance of the industry.

OLBERMANN: So roll reversal of when we do the news quiz. Is this a subject that hits close to home for you? Do you have any tattoos?

NOVOTNY: In fact, I do not. What about you, buddy?

OLBERMANN: The last two people in America who do not. But my grandfather, my maternal grandfather had one, a big heart, I think, somewhere around here.

NOVOTNY: Was he in the Navy?

OLBERMANN: No, he was in the army. But it was a heart that said Marie on it, which was useful because that was his wife's name and his daughter's name. So he was completely covered.

NOVOTNY: Multitasking.

OLBERMANN: We're very efficient.

Countdown'S Monica Novotny, great thanks.

NOVOTNY: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of getting tattooed, another day, another boat load of bizarre news from the courthouse in Santa Maria, California. It's the perfect way to begin our entertainment news segment "Keeping Tabs," your tax and entertainment dollars in action: day 499, big milestone coming up of the Michael Jackson investigations.

With the wave to the crowd and a pat on the head for his aid, rubbing it for luck, a cheery Michael Jackson showed up at court today to hear more testimony from one of his former flight attendants.

Cynthia Bell, who already admitted to serving Jackson wine in Coke cans, was asked whether she ever saw him cuddling his accuser. She said she didn't think so. And when the prosecutor asked her to define cuddling, she smiled and said I'll have to show you. That comment illicited a gaffah from the courtroom. And then a quip from the lawyer who asked the job if he could approach the witness.

No such merriment from Michael Jackson's former wife Lisa Marie Presley. She told and interviewer that the marriage was indeed consummated. Thanks for that image. Even though she felt that Jackson was using her.

As for why she married him in the first place, she said she wanted to help him with his problems. Quote, "at that time, the way he did that looped me into, oh, my God, you poor misunderstood soul. I feel really bad for you."

And prison may toughen the celebrity, but apparently it didn't do much for Martha Stewart' skin. The electronic monitoring bracelet she has to wear on her ankle has apparently given her a rash. Just like you would get from a watch, or a bad tattoo. She required the assistance of a dermatologist.

This, according to's Janet Walls who not only reported this story, but her new book "The Glass Castle" has just debuted at number 12 on the New York Times best-seller list. Way to go, Walls.

Also tonight, an elephant that can make a sound like a tractor trailer truck and she apparently has a good reason for doing it. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: The great impersonators, the vocal impressionists who can virtually recreate somebody else's manner of speaking. There were David Frye and Rich Little, Harry Shearer and Brian Williams. Brian does an outstanding impression of the just retired NBC correspondent Robert Hager. And then, of course, there are Dumbo, Jumbo, and Babar, say nothing of Mlaika in Kenya and an unnamed impressionist from Switzerland.

Our No. 1 story on the Countdown, elephants do impressions.

That the tentative conclusion of researchers writing in the journal "Nature" as reported in the endlessly fascinating science section of the New York Times each week. An African elephant at a Swiss zoo has learned how to make a chirping sound usually made only by Asian elephants. And Mlaika at the Tsavo National Park in Kenya makes a noise unlike any made by other elephants.


OLBERMANN: That wasn't her doing the buzz, but the mmmmm, that was her. It sounded kind of like the low rumble of one of those heavy trucks you can hear on the street or the highway, even when it's a mile or two from your home. That's because, the theory goes, that's what Mlaika wants it to sound like, that she's recreating the sound the trucks make on the Nairobi/Mombasa Highway which runs just about two miles away from where Mlaika lives.

Harry Peachey is an elephant manager at the Columbus Zoo and has been good enough to join us tonight on Countdown along with a friend of his named Coco. Mr. Peachey, good evening. Thanks for your time.

HARRY PEACHEY, COLUMBUS ZOO: Oh, you're more than welcome, Keith.

How are you?

OLBERMANN: The theory here is that Mlaika learned to make the truck sound. And that the African elephant at the Swiss Zoo learned to make the chirping sound. Do we have an idea why? Are they trying to learn a second language?

PEACHEY: Well, you know, that's a good question. In the case of Mlaika in Kenya, I did not hear the recording that can you played, but they have a low rumble that is part of their normal vocabulary anyway. So the fact that she would be able make a sound like a lorry is not really that surprising.

In the instance of the animal in the Zoo in Basel, that sounds like she was attempting to communicate with her social peers. She was making the same sound that they made, trying to speak the language that they speak. It would be a little like moving to Paris and eventually you would learn to order a beer. You may not pick up the entire language, but...

OLBERMANN: There was a second conjecture in the article in "Nature" that elephants are known for their ability to recognize other elephants to which they are related, even if they haven't seen them for decades, a strong family sense. And the theory was maybe they learn how to imitate the exact voices of their relatives and that's how they recognize them so easily. Do you buy that?

PEACHEY: Well, part of that is obviously true. It's obvious that elephants have an incredible ability to recognize individuals that they're familiar with, particularly individuals that they're related to. They live in very complex matriarchal kinship-based groups. And they spend their entire life in the company of family members. And if they are separated for a period of time, when they come back together, they recognize each other instantly.

As part of their ability to communicate, they vocalize in subsonic frequencies, low frequency tones. And those tones, the advantage of those tones is that they will travel over long distances. So elephants that are separated by a mile or two can stay in touch, can communicate with one another for a long period of time over great distances. So when they come back together, it's not like they have been apart al that time.

In regards to mimicking one another's vocalizations in order to recognize that individual later on, you know, I don't know. We don't see things in our animals that suggest that that's the case. We see a lot of things that suggest they have an incredible ability to learn and this certainly would be within the realm of possibilities based on what we know and have seen. But we don't see anything that suggests that's the case.

They have an incredible large, incredibly large olfactory lobes, and incredible ability to smell. And it would seems more likely to me that they would recognize each other by individual smells.

OLBERMANN: But now to the point that you just raised, from your personal experience with your elephants in Columbus, learning by observation or perhaps nonvocal mimicry if you will, give me an example of that.

PEACHEY: Oh, absolutely. We have had a number of examples. We have a young calf here right now, Bodey, who is not quite a year old and Bodey spends a lot of time mimicking mom. He learns a lot from watching what mom does and doing exactly what she does.

And we'll take advantage of that to put some behaviors in place that we're going to need later on to provide proper husbandry for him.

We've got another great example. We have an overhead shower in here for the elephants. And we have a switch on there that they can use to turn that shower on. Oddly enough, it's a sonar based advice, but it's a proximity device, a security device. And at first when we put that up we painted a metal disk bright orange thinking that would attract their attention. It was up for a couple of days, they never touched it.

So we put a dab of peanut butter on it, we only did it once. And of course, somebody went up and touched it. Immediately the shower came on. And they made the connection right away. One trial learning, they knew right away that what they did caused that shower to come on.

Other elephants have learned to do it since then. We've had a total of seven elephants, including Bodey, the young calf who started to do this initially when he was only a couple months old. The only opportunity that they have had to learn is been by watching one another. So it's anecdotal, but it's clear that that's how they learn. They really had no other opportunity to learn how to work it.

OLBERMANN: There was one other theory regarding the elephant making the truck-like sounds which seemed to be such a surprise in Kenya, if not to you, that she might have been just bored, that she might have just been entertaining themselves. Do they try to entertain themselves?

PEACHEY: Well, they're actually pretty good at entertaining themselves. And one of the things that they will use to entertain themselves is one another.

Coko sometimes will make sounds in his environment, he'll clang on metal things that. And he does seem to get enjoyment out of it. Whether or not he would stand in the corner and make truck sounds, I don't know.

OLBERMANN: If he does, can you let us know? Because we would love to come back and check in on him?

PEACHEY: We'll give you a call. Believe if he does, we'll film it.

OLBERMANN: Columbus U elephant manager Harry Peachey and his pachyderm friend Coko. And we should explain why we're showing tight shots of Coko which Harry was talking, that was Harry talking. It was not Coko doing an impression of Harry.

OK, we got that all straight.

PEACHEY: He's mimicking that.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.

That's Countdown. Thank you for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Trunks are packed. Good night and - sorry - good luck.