Tuesday, May 31, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 31

Guest: John Dean, Jim VandeHei

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: The mystery of Deep Throat. Not just the journalistic enigma of the last 100 years, but the ethical enigma as well. Who could contribute covertly to the fall of a corrupt presidency, and then for 30 years deny he had anything to do with it? Whose emotions would be so mixed, whose motives would be so opaque?

Who would it finally prove to be?

With simple words to his own family, today the mystery ended. Find the guy they call Deep Throat.

This 91-year-old lawyer reveals himself as journalism's most elusive source in an article quoting his relatives in "Vanity Fair." He admits he was the one who guided reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein through the maze that was Watergate.

We'll be joined here by former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, who has pursued the source's identity for more than three decades, and former Nixon speechwriter, Pat Buchanan.

This is Countdown's coverage of the unmasking of Deep Throat.

Good evening from New York.

"I would have done better," he said in his last public denial that he was the anonymous Watergate source known to history as Deep Throat. "I would have been more effective," he insisted. "Deep Throat didn't exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?"

The mystery of the man's motives, his attitude towards himself, and what it tonight proves he did are all perhaps explained by those quotes to the "Hartford Courant" newspaper in 1999, plus a statement he made to his own grandson that he didn't think being Deep Throat, quote, "was anything to be proud of."

It was a mixture of loathing that he did it all and loathing that he didn't do more.

Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, on this date in 1972, the world-turning political scandal called Watergate was still 17 days in the future. On this date in 2005, the man who did as much as any other to make the scandal public and permanent has identified himself.

He is the former deputy associate director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, W. Mark Felt.

Reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, whose Watergate coverage kept what had seemed like a tiny political contained scandal alive inside the pages of "The Washington Post," always insisted they would keep their source's identity anonymous until he died, or until he relieved them of their burden of secrecy.

Then came the shocking story in the magazine "Vanity Fair," to which Bernstein is a contributing editor, but evidently was not involved in the magazine's revelations in this case.

Felt, the former number two man at the FBI, kept his identity as Woodward's famous subterranean parking-garage friend a secret, even from his own family, until 2002, the magazine reported.

But that has changed. His grandson, Nick Jones, confirmed what Felt had said and how the family had convinced him to let them go public. "The family believes that my grandfather, Mark Felt, Sr., is a great American hero," he said, "who went well above and beyond the call of duty at much risk to himself to save his country from a horrible injustice."

But after the story broke late this morning, Woodward, Bernstein, and "The Post" for hours said nothing. The reporters insisted they would stick to their original promise, they would not give up their source until his death, or until he authorized them to say something.

By shortly before 5:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time tonight, he had evidently authorized them to say something. On its Web site, their former paper ran this story that began, quote, "'The Washington Post' today confirmed that W. Mark Felt, a former number two official at the FBI, was Deep Throat."

Tonight, Woodward and Bernstein went to Woodward's home in the Georgetown section of Washington, and one was heard to exclaim to reporters, "We are in for the night. We have work to do."

So, for those who have sought Deep Throat, for the first time in our lives, instead of discussing theories and investigations, we can discuss the identity of the secret source.

Nixon White House counsel John Dean joins me now from Los Angeles.

As always, sir, great thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: How surprised were you to hear Mark Felt's name, and today?

DEAN: Well, I was surprised because I've always had him out of the loop, so to speak. He doesn't seem to be, to me, somebody who had all the information that Deep Throat had when he gave it to Woodward. So he's been off my list for years, and this, to me, just raises a lot of questions.

OLBERMANN: We'll get to those questions at length in a moment, but let me get your overall reactions on the other facets of this first. On the tapes, on the Watergate tapes, it's clear that Richard Nixon himself suspected that Mark Felt was the source of many press leaks.

How surprised would Richard Nixon have been to have heard Mark Felt's name today?

DEAN: I don't think at all. In fact, I have a conversation, a taped conversation with Nixon about Felt being a source of a leak in February of 1973, where we talk about a national security leak. And Felt has been fingered by somebody else in the bureau, and we'd had a number of reports from people in the FBI that Felt was the source.

And Henry Peterson, the head of the criminal division, had told us that he knew that Felt was a source for stories.

So I don't think it would surprise Nixon at all.

OLBERMANN: What was Felt's motive? Is that clear now? Is it more clear from the article? Is it what has been suspected all along about lack of promotion? And if that's the case, why did he fight the identification for so long?

DEAN: Yes, the motive still isn't very clear. There are lots of - as I say, to me there are so many questions clouding this. Bob once told me, after - in the same conversation when we talked about it being definitely one person, he said, John, when you know who it is, it will be sort of an epiphany for you. You'll understand all this.

Well, that hasn't happened. To the contrary, I've just ended up with more questions than I have answers, by far.

OLBERMANN: Yes, the - you'll shake your head and say, Why didn't I think of that? But somebody thought of this in 19 - when, '76 or '77 was the first time Felt was identified?

DEAN: Yes, he has been identified continuously, and there was a whole school that thought it could be outside the White House, the source could be. I always looked at the information and said, Hey, nobody outside the White House could have had this.

For example, I think Felt is out of the bureau by the time, in November of 1973, that Woodward and Bernstein write their last reported Deep Throat story about the fact there are erasures on some of the tapes, Nixon tapes. And they identify four sources from the White House. And then in the book, when you cross-check those, one of those is Deep Throat.

So they, in essence, labeled him as a White House source. So these are the kinds of questions. Hopefully Woodward, when he addresses this, now that he's indeed said this is the source, he'll tell us how this all works out, so we won't have all these questions.

I'm waiting for my epiphany.

OLBERMANN: Yes. And to that point, in the midst of what I guess would be kind of a semieuphoria about this - this must have been the way people felt when the 100 Years' War ended - obviously there is a lot that does not add up. Felt repeatedly denied it.

And from your book for Salon.com in 2002, "Unmasking Deep Throat," which was a very methodical analysis of this, as opposed to guesswork or suppositions, I want to read one - actually, two quotes.

"Deep Throat worked for the federal government," and you cite page 23

of "All the President's Men," "in the executive branch," page 71, his

position was "extremely sensitive," and he was in a "unique position to

observe the executive branch with access to information at the Committee to

Re-Elect the President as well as at the White House," page 71. In act, at

one point, Deep Throat tells Woodward that "The FBI," "The FBI doesn't know what is truly happening," page 72.

So here's the question, John. What did Mark Felt know, and when did he know it, and did Woodward and Bernstein mislead us about him for 33 years?

DEAN: Well, that's a very, very pertinent question, Keith, because that's what always struck me, and one of the reasons I took Felt off the list, because how could Felt, as an FBI man, be telling Woodward things that the FBI didn't know when he, indeed, is the man running the FBI investigation?

So this just doesn't work. It's an oxymoron, if you will.

The other issue that comes up is, indeed, has the man obstructed justice? Is that one of the reasons he remained silent? Is there not the motive of what he did what he did, but why he remained silent, because he felt the threat of a criminal investigation, having been through one of those himself already?

OLBERMANN: Ben Bradlee, the legendary boss of "The Washington Post," and at the time of the Watergate stories, the guy who okayed the use of this very unusual source, and relied on it, said today that he felt pretty comfortable, in retrospect, and he felt that way then, because this was a number-two guy at the FBI. Yet, as you point out in the book and here tonight, so much of what was attributed to Throat had to have come from inside the White House, lots of it had to have been unknown to the FBI, or the whole story doesn't hold together.

Is the new version, the new evolution of the Deep Throat mystery going to be reconciling the information with this identification?

DEAN: It's going to be a problem. One of the other things that Ben Bradlee said in that statement was that Deep Throat had given him, given "The Post" nothing that was wrong.

Well, that isn't correct. If you - now, obviously, we have the benefit of hindsight. But if you go through and marshal all the facts, what Woodward told him, when he told him, and take each one of those facts, which I've done a couple times, a startling number, maybe as much as 50 percent of the information, is dead wrong, historically wrong. It was wrong at the time, and it has been proven wrong.

I'm anxious to hear Bob's explanation of that. And, you know, he's remained silent, while he did correct a few errors along the way in the manuscript, where he knew he had misinformation from Deep Throat.

For example, Pat Gray going to the White House and demanding, in essence, that he get the job. When that was found wrong, he corrected it by a footnote in "All the President's Men."

OLBERMANN: You know the theory, one of the theories about William Shakespeare not being the actual author of all the plays that we consider his, that he was the stage manager of the Globe Theatre at a time when it was deeply, deeply dangerous for people to publish controversial, politically controversial plays, and Shakespeare merely put his name on all of the plays that came out of the Globe Theatre, whether or not he'd had a hand in writing them. That's why there's so many different areas of expertise that the Shakespeare character supposedly has.

The first conclusion about Deep Throat, from almost anybody who investigated it, was, this is a composite. Could we now, in fact, be seeing that it was a composite with a sort of centerpiece to it, in Mr. Felt, that he represented a lot of this information, but that many other things were sort of thrown on top of the Deep Throat-Mark Felt pile?

DEAN: I think that's going to be the case. And I'll - what's striking to me is that Bob, over the years, assured me it was not a composite. I suspect he still says that. So how is he going to explain Felt having some of the information he had, when it just isn't in the realm of possibility that he had access to it, even third-, fourth-hand hearsay?

So these are the questions that are new, and we have a new mystery. And probably what this is going to force, and maybe this is why Woodward initially denied or decided to take his former stance is, because it's now focusing on Woodward's journalism. And maybe he didn't want to have that experience at this point.

But that's obviously what this story's going to do.

OLBERMANN: The other new element, the videotape that you may have seen as you were speaking just there, was that shot that I described earlier of Woodward and Bernstein going to Woodward's home - there it is again - in Georgetown, just before sunset tonight in Washington.

And you can hear them - there it is - bantering with the cameramen.

"We need to get some work done. We're packing it in for the night."

Let's evolve the speculation, John. What is the work at this point? When they go in there behind those doors that we just saw, they're going to say, What do we do now?

DEAN: Well, we know from Ben Bradlee that at one point they had written not quite an obituary, but a front-page story explaining a lot about Deep Throat and his role and what-have-you. So that was already in the can, so to speak. They now - that was premised on Deep Throat not being around to comment.

I'm not sure that Mark Felt is in any condition, at his age and mental state, to refute, or really get out and discus anything that Woodward and Bernstein say at this point.

So they've got this set up nicely. The question is, how do they handle it? Because there's not many people that are able to refute anything they might say.

But yet there are very important questions about how they constructed their story, how they relied on Felt, you know, what Felt...

You know, for example, how did Felt get "The Washington" - "New York Times" and circle page 20 of Bob Woodward's paper to signal he wanted to talk to him? How did Felt manage, while he's running the bureau as the day-to-day operations, to keep an eye on the flower pot on Woodward's balcony to see if the red flag is out?

Why hasn't Felt told us what garage they met in to see how he physically was able to do this, given where he lived and what-have-you?

So lots of these things need to be addressed. And hopefully when Woodward and Bernstein come forward in this piece they're working on right now, they'll do so.

OLBERMANN: One thought on that, John, before we go to break, and I ask you to sit tight, because we have, oh, only another 2,000 or 3,000 questions to get through. One thought on the - that might explain the flower pot, now, that perhaps we hadn't considered before, if he was the man-to-man operating - or day-to-day operation of the FBI man, perhaps Mr. Felt was able to have people address the flower pot and "New York Times" situation for him. Perhaps he had people that were Deep Throat-ettes, or Deep Throat, Juniors.

In any event, Countdown's continuing coverage of the unmasking of Deep Throat will resume. We have Pat Buchanan, who, of course, is now part of that great group cleared of presumption, supposition, questions about were they Deep Throat? We'll talk to Pat, and we'll continue with John Dean.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The scene once again at just about 7:45 Eastern Daylight Time in Georgetown, in the Washington area, as you see, Bob Woodward on the left, and Carl Bernstein on the right, the two famous "Washington Post" reporters who kept the Watergate story alive in the summer of 1973 and into 1974, leading ultimately to the impeachment procedures against - proceedings, rather, against President Nixon, and finally his resignation on August 8 and 9 of 1974.

This is Day One AI, after the identification of their principal source, Deep Throat, as Mark Felt, the former deputy associate director, that was his actual title, at the FBI.

And we're joined again by John Dean, author of "Unmasking Deep Throat," "Worse Than Watergate," and many other books, and a man who went from a principal in the events that were described by Deep Throat and covered by Woodward and Bernstein to the principal Deep Throat hunter (INAUDIBLE)...

DEAN: Sleuth.

OLBERMANN:... sleuth, from which all pretenders, or people who deserve that title as you do, John, all are officially retired from, I guess, tonight, except for the details here.

But as we continue to discuss the details, one of the things that's evident in reading "All the President's Men" and throughout all the coverage that the Deep Throat moniker was added later on, and originally this was simply known as - the source was simply known as Woodward's friend.

DEAN: Bob's friend.

OLBERMANN: Right, implying that there was a connection to - between them prior to that story.

Does it match with Mark Felt? Is there evidence of a Mark Felt-Bob Woodward friendship?

DEAN: Well, I wouldn't say it's a - you know, they talk - Woodward talks about how much he respected this person, how they had had long conversations about the way the government, federal government was operating, and what-have-you, which may or may not be true.

Felt seems to me that he - as I understood, was one of these workaholics that would work until he dropped and then go home late, and then start all over the next day. So it - but who knows where they met? We'll find that out, hopefully, in Bob's reporting on this.

Carl, it was not Carl's friend. In fact, I think Carl went quite a ways before he actually learned who the source was. But it's very possible, sit, you know, Washington is its own incestuous city. Woodward was an aggressive young reporter, still is an aggressive older reporter, and very easily could have crossed paths.

And as I say, there's no question that Felt was a regular source for an awful lot of reporters.

OLBERMANN: So much of the image of Deep Throat, obviously, is that of the movie, and that image of Hal Holbrook in the shadows behind the buttresses in this parking garage. Certainly in terms of appearance, that was a pretty good match, if it is indeed Mr. Felt. But does the personality match as well, the Scotch-drinking bachelor, or live like a bachelor, was chain-smoking or smoking heavily, end-of-the-world temper? Do all those elements fit as well?

DEAN: They don't. The - I think he's both a Scotch and bourbon drinker, I read somewhere. I read Felt's book years ago, when, of course, he was still denying the fact that he was Deep Throat, and didn't leave so much as a hint in that book that he might be. It was actually a ghost-written book that he did.

So it got filtered and what-have-you, so we didn't learn much from that about his personality or his feelings and motives, and how he Felt about how Washington worked, and what-have-you.

What, Keith, what's striking to me is that in coming forward at this time, that he didn't drop so much as any inside information that would help corroborate this. I don't understand that.

So, you know, this just lends more to the composite theory. And while it lets some people off the hook, I'm not sure it lets everybody off the hook.

OLBERMANN: Yes, I'm sure you had the same reaction and in greater magnitude than I did when I first heard about this, which was, with that long interval between "Vanity Fair"'s announcement and the announcement from Woodward and Bernstein that, yes, OK, that's it, Mark Felt was Deep Throat, you caught us. There was this big gap in which they simply said, We're not going to say anything until we are authorized to do so by our source.

And it seemed as if there might have been some sort of big, big disconnect here, because as this component parts certainly do not add up to the picture of Mark Felt.

DEAN: Well, there are two things in the statements they've made so far. Woodward, in that first statement, he said he had a duty to protect his sources, which sounded like this might not be his source. And in the more recent and second release, after he identified it, and said it - they were going to go to work on it and what-have-you, he indicated that Felt wasn't his only source, that there were many.

And this begins to sound, again, more like composite than being one person.

So, as I say, it's given us a new twist in the story at this point, and not a total resolution of the story, in my estimation.

OLBERMANN: Having looked at it for so long, John, and in so many different ways, do you think, even assuming that Mark Felt is perhaps this centerpiece to this composite, as that picture is beginning to, I think, draw clearer to us, do you think Watergate would have turned out as it did without Mark Felt?

DEAN: I do. In fact, one of the - I think one of the important things to understand about the story is, there's a certain mythology about Deep Throat and his being omnipotent and knowing all and seeing all. As I said earlier, he missed a lot of information, had it wrong.

The other thing that people need to understand is that Bob and Carl did not crack this - the case. I think they'd be the first to tell you they didn't. What they did, and what Felt did, Felt gave Ben Bradlee reassurance, with these very young reporters, who were on this story to keep it on the front page, because here he had the number-two man in the FBI giving him, you know, through Bob, assurance that they were on the right track.

And that kept the story alive with the Congress, with the prosecutors, with the FBI itself, with judges. So it had a very important inside-the-Beltway impact, and had that not have happened, Watergate might have disappeared. Bob once said he didn't think he'd write another Watergate story after Nixon was reelected.

Well, because of the momentum of the story, they just couldn't drop it. And so it was - clearly, Mark Felt did have an important role in keeping Ben Bradlee's attention on the story.

OLBERMANN: He was the voice in the wilderness that kept everybody from leaving the entire playing field.

DEAN: Well, that they were on some kind of right track.


DEAN: But there are still lots of questions, Keith, lots of questions.

OLBERMANN: Well, but that brings me to the last one of mine, for the moment, anyway, personally. The old joke comes to mind about the dog chasing the car. And of all the Deep Throat sleuths, yourself foremost of them, and me, way back down on that list, if we are collectively the dog, apparently we just caught the car. How does that feel?

DEAN: We are still tasting it to see how we like it, now that we've got it.

OLBERMANN: Is there plenty of disassembly yet to do? Do we still have to go and now take the car to the body shop?

DEAN: Well, we have to see what kind of car we've caught, and what it really - whether it was worth the chase.

OLBERMANN: John Dean, the author of "Unmasking Deep Throat" and "Worse Than Watergate" and so much more, Richard Nixon's former White House counsel, and now, like the rest of us, in some sense former Deep Throat sleuths. It's a very odd feeling. The trophy, to some degree, is on the wall, my friend.

And our great thanks for being with us tonight, sir.

DEAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: All right, John, thanks.

Coming up, the view from the Deep Throat shortlist. What's it like to be lifted, or have the veil of suspicion lifted from you, after years of the - being part of the D.C. favorite guessing game? Pat Buchanan joins me next with that insight and so many more about Watergate and the role of Deep Throat and who Mark Felt was.

This is Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: If you are just coming back from an eight-hour walk or something, three decades of a mystery shrouded in secrecy wrapped in an enigma are over tonight. Our fourth story on the Countdown, Deep Throat of Watergate is former deputy associate FBI director Mark Felt, a 91-year-old attorney in failing physical and mental health, living in Santa Rita, California, this confirmed by Woodward and Bernstein after an article that revealed Felt's identity in the new edition of "Vanity Fair" magazine.

That it is Felt means it isn't any of the other Nixon aides and or the investigators who have been fingered at various times as Deep Throat. It isn't Alexander Butterfield and it isn't not Steve Bull. It isn't Dwight Chapin, and it isn't Chuck Colson. It isn't Fred Fielding, and it isn't Len Garment. It isn't David Gergen. It isn't L. Patrick Gray. It isn't Larry Higby. It isn't Henry Kissinger. It isn't Gordon Liddy. It is not Jeb Stuart Magruder. It isn't Ray Price. It isn't Earl Silbert.

And it isn't Pat Buchanan, former Nixon speech writer, presidential candidate, now MSNBC political analyst. Hey, Pat, you're not Deep Throat. Congratulations!



Keith, I've always known it.

OLBERMANN: I know! You have, but now it's official.

BUCHANAN: Well, you know, listen, you ran down that list of names. I must say, I knew it was - didn't know for certain, but I've put Mark Felt at the top of my list for years. And I've told people privately, and I haven't used the name publicly for a simple reason. I don't think Deep Throat is an honorable man, and I felt it would be a slur on him if I said it was he, and it turned out to be not he.

But you've got all those names of Nixon people. It never could have been them, in my judgment, for a simple reason, Keith. All those individuals owed their careers and everything else to Richard Nixon. They had no motive to go to "The Washington Post" and give "The Washington Post," Nixon's enemy, information to damage a president who had befriended them all and benefited them all.

OLBERMANN: Do you think, Pat, that that issue is at the heart of these conflicting statements that we had from Mark Felt all these years - in other words, that last denial in '99 to "The Hartford Courant," where he said, I would have done better, I would have been more effective, and then supposedly telling his grandson or his son that it is not an honorable thing to have been the leaker of information like that?

BUCHANAN: I think you - Keith, you are right on the money. I think Mark Felt is at times very ashamed of what he did. It is not honorable, in the middle of an investigation, to grab secret - grab material that you've dredged up, which is supposed to go to the prosecutors who decide who to indict, and slip it over to "The Washington Post" to damage a president in the middle of a campaign.

And his motive, as Mr. Woodward indicated, is Mark Felt was passed over. When Hoover died, Nixon gave the eulogy, and we put L. Patrick Gray, who was very close to the president, who as assistant secretary at Justice or assistant attorney general - put him in charge. And the FBI fellows who were senior fellows that served under Hoover, had run the place since the '20s, were very bitter.

And so his motivation, I think, is not good. His deeds are dishonorable, if not criminal. And I don't know what he thought he was doing for his country. My sense is he was probably ashamed of what he did.

OLBERMANN: I thought, also, in terms of whether or not he did all that has been attributed to Deep Throat...


OLBERMANN:... that John Dean did a really masterful job in analyzing the "who had to know what, when," the "who had to be where, when," and his analysis eliminated Felt very quickly. Is the implication there that Woodward and Bernstein fudged this, that they must have assigned information they got elsewhere to Felt, stuff he couldn't have known?

BUCHANAN: I think that's possible. But Dean, too, is wrong. He's put my name out and Bull's name out, I believe. Look, let me give you an incident, Keith.

In the fall of 1972, I was called around 6:00 in the morning by Haldeman and told to get over to the White House, we had a serious problem. There in "The Washington Post" was the story of the dirty tricks operation run by Segretti, Donald Segretti. Now, I knew we had an operation of some kind out there, a Dick Tuck operation. I didn't know it was big like that, and I didn't know Segretti's name. And nobody in the White House, except for Chapin, I think, or maybe Haldeman, knew Segretti's name.

Now, who had that - A, the information of Segretti's name, and B, a motive to give it to "The Washington Post"? That's why down the road, I said to myself, the only people who could have the information, besides the insiders, is the folks at the FBI and Silbert and Glanzer. And nobody had a motive in the White House, so it's got to be over at the FBI. It's not Gray. Who is it? Who's the number two guy, who has a reputation for leaking? Mark Felt.

OLBERMANN: Certainly wasn't Dwight Chapin, with whom Segretti went to college. But let me...

BUCHANAN: Exactly. Why would Dwight Chapin leak information that eventually sent him to prison?

OLBERMANN: Let me - let me conclude with this aspect to it.


OLBERMANN: We think of this man as the 91-year-old we saw hobbling on the walker to the doorstep today. not an entirely happy picture. But at that time, this was, if not the second-ranking man in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the third or the fourth, depending on how you map that out. What kind of potential for law breaking was there if he had been identified at that time?

BUCHANAN: Well, if he'd been identified, he'd just have been fired. I don't think anything would have happened to him. He did get prosecuted and convicted after - years later, because he - apparently, he had been authorizing some of these break-ins on the - or unwarranted searches on the Vietnam opposition folks. But I think if he'd have been identified, again, he would simply have been fired.

But you raise a good question, Keith. If what he did was honorable, why didn't he come out after he left the FBI and say, I want to say this is what I did, it was right to do, and here's why I did it? Why has he hidden all these years?

OLBERMANN: The answers to those questions, I think, are now going to be the new version of the Deep Throat mystery, which will just evolve now.

_BUCHANAN: It'll keep Keith's show going forever!_


OLBERMANN: Look, we've done this before with political stories, you may recall from seven years ago.

BUCHANAN: OK, my friend.

OLBERMANN: Pat Buchanan, the former - the former Nixon speech writer, now MSNBC political analyst, and again, for all - once and for all time, not Deep Throat. Thank you for your time, sir.

BUCHANAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The greatest political mystery of our time now solved, at least in large part, at least with that one name attached to the identity of Deep Throat. The motivations, the fall-out and the checking of facts will doubtless continue.

And believe it or not, that's what passes for a day off around here. I'm Keith Olbermann in New York. Alison Stewart is at headquarters to take this edition of Countdown the rest of the way.

Good evening, Alison.

ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST: And good evening to you, Keith. We're bringing up the rear here.

Here's the 411 on tonight's 321 (ph). No picnic for the president in the Rose Garden today before the press, and on the defensive, Mr. Bush came out swinging at Congress and critics of the U.S. detention center at Gitmo. The Michael Jackson trial, a hugely important day that could make or break the case for either side. What rules will be laid out for the jury? And the wackiest of traditions we just can't let go without another look. It's the great cheese roll, people. What makes the Brits go through this year after year after year? And event organizers offer some excuses, explanations. Stand by.


STEWART: The year is 2007. Work with me. It's May 31, approximately seven months after the mid-term elections. With less than two years remaining in his second term, the quacking sound you hear from 1,600 Pennsylvania Avenue could be the sound of a lame duck. No hard feelings there. It's just an unfortunate fact of politics.

But the year is not 2007. It's just about seven months after President Bush's reelection, and yet that lame duck label has a little bit of stickum on it. Our number three story on the Countdown tonight: With certain agenda items in limbo, President Bush made the short trip to the Rose Garden today to answer some questions and give what seemed to be a pep talk to himself. And it may have worked. As our correspondent, David Gregory, reports, the president has plans.



Appearing in the Rose Garden today, the president sounded like a politician campaigning against Washington, and particularly Congress, which lately has either stalled or set back his agenda.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My attitude toward Congress is - is - will be reflected on whether or not they're capable of getting anything done.

GREGORY: The President appeared to be criticizing both Democrats and Republicans when he spoke of John Bolton, his pick for U.N. ambassador.

BUSH: And so I was disappointed that once again, the leadership there in the Senate didn't give him an up or down vote.

GREGORY: Reporters challenged the president about whether he's got enough clout left to muscle his Social Security plan through.

BUSH: I'm not surprised that there's a reluctance, and I'm not surprised that there's been some initial pushback. Congress has a duty to come up with some solutions.

GREGORY: The president saved his sharpest attack for Amnesty International's recent report calling Guantanamo Bay prison the, quote, "gulag of our times," a charge the president called absurd.

BUSH: Seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of - and the allegations by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that have been trained, in some instances, to disassemble (sic). That means not tell the truth.

GREGORY (on camera): Mr. Bush insisted today he's not worried about anything here in Washington. But privately, aides admit there is frustration about a second term agenda increasingly stalled. David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.


STEWART: And we're joined now by Jim VandeHei, the White House reporter for "The Washington Post," who was at the president's Rose Garden news conference this morning. Jim, good evening to you.

JIM VANDEHEI, "WASHINGTON POST": Good to see you, Alison.

STEWART: As you noticed - noted in your piece in "The Washington

Post," the president, shortly after he was elected - we all remember this

· he said, I have political capital, and I'm going to spend it. What happened to it?

VANDEHEI: I think reality set in. I mean, you have Republicans who were so tethered to the president in 2004 because he was at the top of the ticket now looking at their own survival, looking 18 months ahead at having to win elections on their own, so they're much less obedient, as far as what the president would like. And at the same time, you've got Democrats, who have to draw a line in the sand and show that they're different from Bush and challenge him. And they are challenging him on Social Security, on the Bolton nomination and on judges.

STEWART: You mentioned those last three things. Of those three that are considered stalled, which one is likely to get shoved overboard?

VANDEHEI: I think Social Security is very difficult for this president. It depends what victory is, in his mind. If he wants a Social Security package that reduces benefits and creates these personal accounts carved out of the existing system, I think that's very difficult to do. Republicans on Capitol Hill say those are very, very tricky and that there's sort of a tepid response from Republicans and just all-out opposition from Democrats. So the president's going to have to make a decision some time in the next couple of months about whether he's willing to jettison, I think, those accounts, as he has outlined them, to get a deal with Democrats on Capitol Hill.

STEWART: Do you think there's anything else that he can do to recreate sort of the kumbaya feeling he has with his other Republicans in Congress? It just seems so odd to see him standing up there, wincing and kind of having bad feelings about Congress, when you have a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress.

VANDEHEI: I think the president is still very popular with Republicans on Capitol Hill, and he still does have leverage. But his leverage comes from popularity. If the polls show that he's very popular with the people and that his ideas are popular with the people, then lawmakers will respond. But if you look inside those poll numbers, they show that the public does not back the president's prescription for how to fix Social Security, so that makes them a little bit leery. They wonder, Should we take this political risk on a program that we don't want to really change? So the president has to somehow shape public opinion to back his goals, and then have lawmakers see that.

STEWART: We talk so much about the domestic agenda. Let's talk about the foreign agenda. Iraq will always be associated with this president.


_STEWART: Is his foreign policy agenda at the mercy of events there?_

VANDEHEI: You know, it really is. I mean, if you think of this presidency in the second term, the sort of the twin pillars, you've got Social Security on the domestic side and Iraq on the foreign side. I think that his success in doing so many things on the foreign stage, about spreading democracy, about ending tyranny, which he talked about in the inaugural address, it's all predicated on having success in Iraq. And so when you have more violence, when you have a more robust insurgency, when you have more deaths, that makes it much harder for the president to remain popular, as far as his policies in Iraq. So if he can't bring home troops, if he can't show progress that people can really see here in the United States, it makes it harder for him to have leverage in doing other things.

STEWART: Jim VandeHei of "The Washington Post," thanks so much for sticking with us this evening.

VANDEHEI: Have a good evening.

STEWART: Our condensed version of 321 barrels ahead. All along, court observers have said too close to call, but on a day when there was no defendant, no jury, no lead defense attorney, we get what is perhaps our first real hint of how things might all shake out, lead prosecutor, district attorney Tom Sneddon, overheard telling a colleague, quote, "We just got screwed."

That's our number two story on the Countdown: Day 561 of the Michael Jackson investigations. Today arguments on the very procedural legal minutiae known as jury instructions, but oh, so important minutiae it is! Prosecution and defense lawyers grappled over such important details as should Michael Jackson's name be in all caps or fender (ph) defender style? Matters to some.

What excitement came in the day resulted from a jury instruction about considering the criminal past of witnesses. Arguing for the prosecution, Deputy DA Jerry Franklin (ph), an expert in appellate issues. It was when he walked away from the agreed-upon wording that reporters heard the Sneddon smackdown, quote, "I don't think you thought this thing through when you opened your mouth. We just got screwed." Oops.

Jury instructions will be finalized tomorrow. Closing arguments expected to begin on Thursday.

Coming up, our number one story. If you saw "Cliffs of the Cheese Roll" last night and wondered what is that all about, you are not alone. We'll talk to an organizer of this bizarre event. Cheese, please!


STEWART: There are many reasons to celebrate America's final liberation from British rule 221 years ago. We don't have to drink hot tea and have cold showers. We don't have to add the letter "U" to every other word, and we don't have to choose from a plethora of dates with bad teeth.

The last line was written by a British woman, so don't write me.

Our number one story tonight: Add two more things to that list. We don't have to chase wheels of cheese down a hill. And unlike ITV news reporter Steve Hargrave, we don't have to listen to a hit single based on a cell phone ring.


STEVE HARGRAVE, ITV NEWS (voice-over): Chris Martin of Coldplay is waking up today, trying to come to terms with the strange fact that a madcap cartoon frog has beaten him to the top of the charts. Yes, as expected, the (INAUDIBLE) crazy frog ring tone has hit number one after brainwashing the nation's kids and students. The relentless advertising for the tune has been criticized by some and has no doubt left the majority of us rushing for the CD remote. The question now, though, is, How much longer do we have to put up with it?

DANIEL MALMEDAHL, CREATOR OF CRAZY FROG: It might live for, say, a month, a year. It's very hard to know.

HARGRAVE: Incidentally, there is one thing more annoying than the frog, and that's the sound of its creator. It was his impersonation of a broken moped that led to this track in the first place. Don't say I didn't warn you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ring ding ding ding ding ding ding da-ding ding.


HARGRAVE: I think that's quite enough of that.


STEWART: All right. That incredibly irritating tune also beat out Oasis, the Black Eyed Peas and Gwen Stefani to take the number one spot in Britain, this from the land that originally brought us the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but also the Spice Girls, so you could see how it could happen.

I'm not sure how a cheese chase happens every year, but it is a Countdown favorite. Dozens gather in the English countryside to hurtle down a hill in pursuit of an eight-pound wheel of double Gloucester cheese. After years of just running the video for sheer enjoyment, we got to thinking, What does possess these people? Why chase a hunk of cheese? Who started this crazy sport?

For answers, we called Richard Jeffries (ph), the press secretary of the cheese rolling race committee. There is actually a committee and a press person for this event.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the technique?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just - I don't know, go for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you get back (INAUDIBLE) do it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know exactly when it started, but I'm pretty sure it's hundreds of years old. Now, at midsummer in ancient British times, they used to hold bonfires on top of high hills in which the local people would jump over the bonfire, and so on, to scare away the witches, to stop the cattle aborting, and so on. As a result of that, they made a cheese at the same time.

_UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got the cheese!_

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first person down to the bottom wins the cheese. The second person gets 10 pounds, and the third person gets 5 pounds. And the others don't - go home and try again on the next race, if they want.

To ankle injuries, I understand from the people that there is one person who's got a slight spinal injury. But I don't know how serious it is. I don't think it's serious. But in fact, last year, we had one, I think, who had concussion and refused treatment by the ambulance people and went back up and ran in the second race. So you know, then there are the nutters (INAUDIBLE)

Clothing is optional. Last year, we had a streaker, but this year, that was the minimal one - the only one we had this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Better, (INAUDIBLE) better than everybody else.

And stay on me feet. Stayed on me feet quite well, as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The secret is to keep to the right-hand side of the hill, where the slope is fairly even. The left-hand side has dips in the middle, and that's when people start tumbling down the hill. But to lean back and make sure you stay on your feet, because if you stay on your feet, you're usually the winner.


STEWART: You don't want to see what they'll do for fondue.

And that is the Countdown. Thanks for being a part of it. Stay tuned for a special edition of "Hardball" with Chris Matthews next, Deep Throat revealed. I'm Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann. And good night.


Monday, May 30, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 30

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

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's new audiotape, in which he speaks directly to Osama bin Laden and says it is, in essence, just a flesh wound.

The awful reminder of what Memorial Day is all about. As we remember the fallen, four more U.S. personnel fall in a military aircraft crash in Iraq.

Waiting for the guy to give up is good. But TASERs is better. Hanging in suspense, hanging over Atlanta, now it's all over except the indictment. The good news for that guy, he is a lock for the Countdown Hall of Fame.

So is this year's crop of British cheese chasers.

And the Bengal tiger who needed a root canal.

To say nothing of the 34-year-old woman who got her son for his 16th birthday a stripper. Thanks, Ma!

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

If the new reality of the last four years has not already convinced you that the supposed leader of a political or terrorist movement may not have as much support from his own side as he claims, our fifth story on the Countdown offers you very new and very old evidence.

The very old evidence, 574 years ago today, on May 30, 1431, the British burned Joan of Arc at the stake in Rouen, largely because her own French King Charles would neither ransom nor rescue her.

The very new evidence, as an audiotape surfaces of the al Qaeda in Iraq leader Zarqawi insisting his health is fine, security officials in the Gulf suggesting tonight that the continuing debate over what condition his condition is in may in fact be a power struggle within that terrorist group.

That's what they're telling NBC News off the record, anyway, echoing assessments made last week by U.S. officials, who saw more to this than just whether or not Zarqawi got shot somehow.

Now, in a 21-minute audio message posted on the Web, a voice claiming to be that of Zarqawi directly addresses Osama bin Laden, saying the media reports were, quote, "near rumors and unfounded. My injuries were minor. I'm still amongst my brethren and people in the Mesopotamia" - Iraq, that would be - "and continue combating the crusades."

The new message contradicts a report in this weekend's London Sunday "Times" that Zarqawi was seriously wounded by shrapnel after his convoy was bombed three weeks ago, that he is likely in Iran, and that his operatives are waiting to smuggle him into another country for medical attention.

More on Zarqawi and the implications of a power struggle in a moment.

But first, back here, two American citizens stand accused of conspiring to help al Qaeda. According to the FBI, Tariq Shah (ph) and Rafiq Savir (ph) were caught on tape pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden and offering to help other recruits. Shah, a self-described martial arts expert from New York, allegedly offered to teach his trade to terrorists and even scouted out a Long Island warehouse as a possible training ground.

His purported partner, a Florida doctor, Savir, reputedly offered to treat wounded jihadists in Saudi Arabia. He meant to fly out there and begin work at a Saudi hospital in four days. Instead, he was arrested early Saturday morning at his home in Palm Beach County, Florida, to the surprise and shock of neighbors and friends. One of them, Dr. Daniel McBride, telling the "Florida Sun Sentinel" that Savir is, quote, "a quality guy and a quality physician."

His ex-wife even told the paper he was a lovely father and husband and nothing if not a hard-working man. Tariq Shah's mother voiced similar disbelief, saying the charges against her son were, quote, "ridiculous."

Both men will be arraigned in federal court tomorrow.

Joining me now to discuss al Qaeda in America and in Iraq, MSNBC terrorism expert Juliette Kayyem of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

Juliette, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: These domestic arrests, if these men were actual threats, how come the best the government can muster against them after two years of study is one conspiracy charge each?

KAYYEM: Because a conspiracy charge is a pretty nebulous charge of material support. This is the new PATRIOT Act provision, which basically says if you get steps close to a terrorist act, materially support a terrorist act, then we're going to go after you.

I don't mind so much that it's only one charge against them, if in fact it's true the allegations and the indictment are true, that they actually took steps, were looking at warehouses, had promised to help. The doctor had promised to help jihadists in Saudi Arabia.

Then the material support provision is what we should be going after them.

What I think's interesting about this case, well, two things are interesting. One is, it shows that these counterterrorism investigations are crossing state lines now, that there might be a lot better communication between, say, New York and Florida at this stage.

But also, I think we've gotten a little bit of taste of how the Europeans are doing that, and I think that's good. We, immediately after September 11, we were making a series of arrests that were just sort of, you know, sort of immediate arrests of, the charges never held up. People were being arrested for things that never held up in court.

This investigation was two years. And this is what the Europeans do, the French, the Germans, the Brits. They wait, they listen, they try to infiltrate. They get their FBI agents in or their intelligence agents in and try to get these guys to say things that they wouldn't otherwise say.

I think it's a good move on the part of the Justice Department to not just simply go after everyone that they think might be a terrorist, but to kind of wait it out and see what these guys are really up to. If the allegations against these two are right, it's probably some of the more serious, one of the more serious terrorism cases to go forward since September 11.

OLBERMANN: But isn't there, with that one charge, could there not be a second way to look at this also, that these guys could be the 2005 equivalents of the victims of the Palmer raids in the '20s, or the McCarthy witch hunts in the '50s? In other words, if they had no real links to terrorists, but only to FBI agents posing as terrorists, we didn't really interrupt any terrorism here.

KAYYEM: Right. I will admit, the government is not alleging that these guys were planning a terrorist attack. The law now permits the government to go after these guys for materially supporting terrorism.

Now, you are raising a point that civil libertarians and others have raised about the PATRIOT Act. Is material support, what does it mean? Isn't it kind of vague, doesn't, you know, just because someone says that he likes bin Laden, is that enough?

The government has to make the case at this stage, has to make the case that these guys were doing more than thinking good thoughts about bin Laden, and that they were actually training or helping in a terrorist conspiracy.

So the one charge, we don't know what that means any more. The truth is, is that, two years ago, on September 11, they were throwing 80 charges against some these guys that never held up. So the number, to me, doesn't really mean much. It's going to be, what is the evidence? Does it hold up in court?

OLBERMANN: Before we move to the Zarqawi tape, just for the record, I'm not really as much raising the libertarian point as much as the American history point.

But to the Zarqawi tape. That analysis that I mentioned earlier, that this could be way more than just a health update, that there could be a power play, A, is the evidence in that contained in the fact that the tape includes a part where he says, I would like to assure you, bin Laden?

And B, does a power struggle necessarily mean something good, or does it just mean there are more people who have a motive to blow things up?

KAYYEM: I think it's, unfortunately, I think it's the latter. I mean, I thought last week that it, that the evidence did suggest, and a lot of counterterrorism specialists thought that the evidence suggested Zarqawi in had, in fact, been hurt, simply by the evidence coming out on the Web site.

If this Web site, or if this tape is authentic, it suggests that someone is lying about Zarqawi to sort of cause a lot of infighting amongst the group, which could, which is not necessarily good for us. It means that now there might be a splinter group or two groups. Think of the IRA and the real IRA, that there might be two groups going after American troops or Iraqi democratic interests, rather than one.

The other, you know, the other truth may be that Zarqawi is actually telling the truth, that originally there were lies about him placed by whoever, maybe another insurgency group, but he is, in fact, fine.

The scariest thing about this tape, though, has, you know, has, basically has to do with, he says to bin Laden, Let's wait. We have the plan. Something in the future is going to happen. So that, I don't know what that means at this stage.

OLBERMANN: Terrorism expert Juliette Kayyem of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, great thanks, as always, for your time tonight.

KAYYEM: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Whether or not Zarqawi is currently engaged in a political power struggle, it has not affected his group's capacity for terror, not yet, anyway. As coalition forces launched a massive crackdown on the insurgency in Baghdad, code name Operation Lightning, they were met with renewed resistance. Terrorists killed dozens of Iraqis around that country, including, as well as the Iraqis, a British soldier, and a senior Kurdish official.

Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, including a double suicide bombing in Hillah. Two attackers detonated themselves in a crowd of policemen and ex-policemen, killing 30 and wounding 100 more.

And there's no word yet on whether insurgents were responsible for an Iraqi plane crash in eastern Diyala Province today that may have been simply a crash. Four American airmen were on board, and all are presumed dead.

The war in Iraq casting an enormous shadow over Memorial Day's commemorations here at home. Two years ago at this time, only weeks into the war, the president had declared major combat operations over in Iraq. The number of Americans killed to that point, 160.

Today, that total is more than 10 times that. It has exceeded 1,650.

President Bush paying tribute today at Arlington National Cemetery, first by the traditional laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and then in his remarks to an audience of military families, in which he vowed to stick with the mission in Iraq on behalf of the fallen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we look across these acres, we begin to tally the cost of our freedom. And we count it a privilege to be citizens of the country served by so many brave men and women. And we must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, advancing the cause of liberty, and building a safer world.


OLBERMANN: For the soldiers still on patrol in Iraq, this Memorial Day the same as almost any other day, their fallen comrades never forgotten, their work of stopping the insurgency seemingly never done.

Their story tonight from our correspondent in Baghdad, Jim Maceda.


JIM MACEDA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dawn over Baghdad. But it's no holiday for these soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division on patrol in a haven for insurgents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's still work to be done.

MACEDA: Captain Keith Haviland from Pomona, California, leads the mission, finding IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here, open this.

MACEDA: They could be anywhere, inside a minivan, under a brick, or a cardboard box.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an empty box. And then they put the IED on the backside of it.

MACEDA: His men raid houses used by suspected insurgents and detain the brother of a local insurgent leader still on the run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether you help me or not, I will find your brother.

MACEDA: This could be any day, but today is Memorial Day. Patrolling this road again is especially hard.

It's a landmark for us we'll never forget.

MACEDA: The spot where, last month, one of his gunners, 42-year-old Glen Watkins, was fatally wounded when a bomb-laden taxi blew up next to his Jeep. Watkins, a father of four from Tacoma, Washington, could have been home, but he signed on for a second tour of duty with Alpha Company to be with his buddies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every year is Memorial Day for us here.

MACEDA: It's a similar story for the men of 767 Company, all explosive ordinance disposal engineers remembering one of their own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Staff Sergeant Russell Verdugo (ph)...

MACEDA: Sergeant Russell Verdugo from Phoenix, Arizona, died last Monday in a secondary blast when he set out to defuse an explosive. Like all bomb disposal experts, Verdugo, known as Vee to his men, took enormous personal risk to save lives.

MAJ. MATTHEW GOFF, CHAPLAIN, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: Most of them under danger every day. But they come willingly, and they make that sacrifice because they see the benefit of being here.

MACEDA (on camera): But for American troops here in Iraq, there's little time today to grieve or to remember. The focus on the day's mission and the constant threat pushes just about everything else aside.

(voice-over): Still, Alpha Company Sergeant Tom Stone can't help but recall his uncle killed in Vietnam, whose name and rank he wears on a bracelet, as well as his fallen buddy, Glen Watkins.

SGT. TOM STONE, ALPHA COMPANY: And when you lose someone that's one of your own, it brought us even a little bit tighter.

MACEDA: Two companies of the 3rd ID in a war where everywhere is a front line, taking some of the highest casualties, but soldiering on, and for whom Memorial Day will never end.

Jim Maceda, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight domestically, an exciting end to the crane drama in Atlanta. Too exciting for the guy. Just exciting enough for the cops, thank you.

And an exciting end to the Indianapolis 500 motor race. So? Well, if you know my career history, you know I have been wondering about that name of that rookie woman driver, Danica Patrick.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Probably heard the name Danica Patrick over the weekend. She drove in the Indianapolis 500 yesterday. As a sports humor columnist at FOXSports.com noted, she accomplished this, quote, "despite the recent loss of pit boss Keithica Olbermann."

Our fourth story on the Countdown, if you thought this was the breaking-down of one of the last gender barricades in sports, I hate to pull rank on you, but I was a sportscaster for 26 years, and women have been part of the Indy 500 since 1971. The first one to compete in the race, Janet Guthrie, did so in 1977.

As our correspondent Kevin Tibbles reports, what made Ms. Patrick so special was not that she was a woman racer, but rather she was a rookie racer who nearly won the darn thing, that, and the whole Dan Patrick, Danica Patrick business.


KEVIN TIBBLES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the very beginning, this race was going to be very different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lady and gentlemen! start your engines.

TIBBLES: Twenty-three-year-old Danica Patrick, just the fourth woman to start the Indianapolis 500, was quick to make a little history of her own. Before the race was even half over, she'd become the first woman ever to be in the lead.

Low on fuel, she was passed with just six laps to go by eventual winner Dan Wheldon. Still, after 500 miles, Patrick finished the race as she'd started, in fourth place. Another milestone as the best finish ever for a female driver.

DANICA PATRICK: It was good. It was, like, I just want to stay here, just stay here, just pull away. I know this car is fast. But with, you know, with having to save a little bit of fuel, you can't be as fast as, you know, as your potential.

TIBBLES: A series of near-disasters and almost miraculous recoveries made for a nailbiter of a race. First, she stalled the car in the pits, dropping her way back in the field. Then a collision and spinout damaged the front end. Still, the five-foot-two rookie driver simply never gave up on her dream to make history at the Yard of Bricks.

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.


OLBERMANN: It survived German bombings, mechanical malfunctions, even four seasons of "Monty Python's Flying Circus." The great mystery in London, what made Big Ben stop?

And speaking of being stopped, that's what the police did this weekend to filmmaker Oliver Stone. DUI and drug possession. But they won't say what kind. It's a conspiracy!


OLBERMANN: We're back, and we pause our Countdown of what we're calling the real news for a segment of what we're calling the odd news. And it's all pretty much the same meat to me.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in Lodi, California, where Kubi (ph), the 600-pound Bengal tiger made a visit to the dentist this weekend. Aw, isn't that cute? No, it's not. Kubi needed a root canal - he doesn't floss enough - after he broke off a tool while snacking. What was he snacking on? Obviously, his old dentist.

But the new dentist had some help, two assistants, an oral surgeon, a veterinarian, and enough anesthesia to kill a horse. Kubi came through just fine and made the trip home to the tiger preserve in Oregon, where he will dine on pureed Vegas entertainers until the tooth feels better.

Meanwhile, not far away in Depoe Bay, Oregon, there's a shih-tsu in trouble down at the old ocean. He fell halfway down a cliff and can't get up. His name's Tinky-Winky, and for some reason, passers-by didn't want to just leave him there.

So the fire department was called in, a rescuer rapelled down the cliff, put Tinky-Winky in a bag, and brought him back up to his relieved owners. Moral? Never take a shih-tsu that close to a cliff.

And finally, engineers in London are still perplexed as to why Big Ben stopped for more than an hour Friday night. I'm pretty sure we winded it, guv'nor. The 147-year-old really big clock, famous for its accuracy, stopped at 10:07 p.m. Friday night, started again, then stopped for 90 minutes. It's working fine now. Officials say they didn't find anything wrong with the gears. The best they can come up now is that it was a really, really hot day.

Which is the same problem I had with that Rolex that I bought in Times Square for $3.78.

Also tonight, the power of cheese. It's that time of year again, time to kill off a few more Englishmen who don't realize you can't really run downhill in pursuit of a cheese roll, you can only fall downhill.

And his nickname was Sugarfoot. Now it may simply be Zzzzzzz. What happened when the cops' patience ran out high in the skies above Atlanta?

Those stories ahead.

But first, now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Craig Stanley, a state assemblyman in New Jersey. He is introducing legislation to force the New Jersey hockey team there to change its name from the Devils to something else. Evidently, Assemblyman Stanley did not hear about the hockey owners blocking out the players and there being no season this past winter, and maybe not next year either.

Number two, Larry Joy, an electrician from Winstead, Connecticut, who owns one of those biodiesel cars we told you about, but runs on vegetable oil. We mentioned the exhaust on the biodiesels is a lot nicer than on ordinary cars, especially to bears. Mr. Joy's 1981 VW Rabbit biodiesel had a window broken and a lot of the hoses chewed on by a bear.

And number one, Paris Hilton. It starts (INAUDIBLE) enough if you're named Pat, and you're dating somebody else named Pat. But how is this possible? Hilton is reportedly engaged to Greek shipping heir Paris Latsis. If they got married, he'd be Paris Latsis and she'd be Paris Latsis.

And by the way, it is her, after all, so I have to ask this. You say they're engaged? Engaged in what?


OLBERMANN: The assumption was that they would just wait until he collapsed from sleep deprivation, and hope that he collapsed onto the crane in Atlanta and not off of it.

Never assume.

Our third story on the Countdown, remember our Hall of Fame, with its section entirely devoted to idiots, morons, goofballs, and criminals who have to remind the judge that they're the bank robber, not the bank robber, they are the blanking blanker drug dealer?

Well, when the annual Hall of Fame voting is conducted in the fall, there will be three new names on the Legends ballot," led by Mr. Carl Roland. Roland, infamous for bringing the busy upscale Buckhead section of Atlanta, Georgia, to a screeching halt for than three days, is now in police custody. How'd they do it? Skilled negotiations, psychological trickery, waiting for that sleep deprivation to kick in? No, tasers. Like he was Rick Sanchez or somebody.

Early Saturday morning, shortly after midnight, authorities used a cup of water to lure Roland to what they considered a low-risk area of the 350-foot-high crane. And when he reached for it, zap. Like Rick Sanchez.

He was lowered safely from his perch by what appears to have been two guys and a pulley left over from then construction site, and then examined at an area hospital. Roland has been charged with a number of crimes in Atlanta: trespass, reckless conduct, criminal damage to property - those in addition to the murder charge outstanding in Florida. "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" newspaper reporting Roland was uncooperative during an interrogation by both Atlanta and Florida detectives. He did, however, ask for a lawyer.

Can I please - zz - have a lawyer - zz?

He's expected in court tomorrow.

Next to Nashville, Tennessee, home of 34-year-old Anette Pharris. She's another mom who decided it was incumbent upon her to make her son's milestone 16th birthday unforgettable. Yes, that way. In attendance, 30 guests, not including the entertainment. Here's the entertainment, stripper Cassandra Joyce Park, AKA "Sassy," with young Brandon Pharris. Sassy's on the left, by the way.

Mrs. Pharris has now been indicted on charges of contributing to the

delinquency of a minor and involving a minor in obscene acts, caught after

an employee of the local drugstore developing pictures of these festivities

· she took pictures! - called the cops. Pharris told her local newspaper, "The Tennessean," that she doesn't see anything wrong with having a stripper at a party where 10 of the attendees were under 18, saying, quote, "Age is just a number. My son is very mature."

Well, maybe, but obviously, it ain't hereditary, lady!

And you may recall Mr. Stinson Bailey of Arkansas, who we mentioned on "Newsmakers" one night. He had obtained a permit to knock down his house. He opted not for one of those complicated wrecking balls or implosions, but decided instead to simply torch the place. You may remember, too, his priceless quote afterwards. "I would have been all right if the wind hadn't changed." His house burned, and so did those of three of his neighbors.

Mr. Stinson Bailey, meet Mr. Dean Craig. Mr. Craig, falling just a

tad shy of winning the Most Hospitable Resident award in Aurora, Illinois -

· goodness - tried to get two house guests to leave his residence, but they refused. So he burned the place down. Craig and his guests escaped the blaze. The home conveniently actually belongs to his mother, and thus he's been charged with felony arson.

There must be an entire psychodrama behind this, but it's probably most easily and quickly explained by one, as they say in painting, detail. Surviving the blaze, the Craig house trash can full of crushed beer cans, and you can just read on it "Ice House." No wonder those people wouldn't leave.

Get the thing that wouldn't leave to leave by torching the place, hire a stripper for sonny's sweet 16, go on the lam on a crane. How, even if forced, could you choose just one of these three rocket scientists? That's why we have a Countdown Hall of Fame "Pantheon of Legends."



OLBERMANN (voice-over): The Hall of Fame is a big imaginary building, but not so not big that we could afford to devote an entire wing to just dumb criminals and another one to only wacky stunt men and a third to only drunken idiots who got themselves stuck in a trash can. There's just not enough room. Especially since we had to enlarge the animal wing to accommodate the huge bouncing bear crowd.

So here in the Hall of Fame's great hall - yes, that's right, there's a hall inside the hall, bear with us here - each of these individuals whose bizarre actions have brought us joy, bewilderment or just great videotape over the years has his own little plaque. It is here that the Countdown Hall of Fame honors the legends.

Who are these people? Well, they're everyman and everywoman caught on tape in strange situations either of their own making or of someone else's.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you talking about? You're crazy.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you just hit me?

OLBERMANN: Perhaps they got drunk and did something stupid, or perhaps they didn't get drunk at all and still did something stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a bubbling cauldron of hell, and I advise upon (ph) no human being on the face of the earth, you will die if you go over those falls. I reached out and touched the face of God, and he smiled. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Or they're just run-of-the-mill weirdoes and show-offs out for our attention. We're not too proud to oblige if they make it strange enough.


OLBERMANN: Some of the legends are dumb criminals, and some are really dumb criminals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you readily admitted your involvement in the robbery and stated that you were forced into it to pay a drug debt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a drug dealer, not a bank robber! I'm the one with the drugs. He was the one that robbed (INAUDIBLE) I'm the mother-(DELETED) drug dealer!

OLBERMANN: Some of them are television personalities, others are just personalities caught on television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of Taiwan! Get out of Taiwan!

ELTON JOHN: Yes, we'd love to get out of Taiwan, if it's full of people like you! Pig! Pig! Rude, vile pig!

OLBERMANN: And one is here because he solved the Countdown magic equation: High pressure sales guy plus four-foot samurai sword, plus live TV equals...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nice thing about these - (INAUDIBLE) Ow! Oh, that hurt!

OLBERMANN: His partner entered the hall on the write-in ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We may need emergency surgery in the studio.

OLBERMANN: Many of our legends are Guinness World Record holders, as well. You wouldn't believe how easy it is to get into that book. Mixed in are the true stuntmen and the daredevils, like the all-time great Felix Baumgartner. This guy goes out there and performs all manner of unsafe acts, literally risking death on a regular basis. And for what? So we can have 30 more seconds of really cool video. Felix, we salute you.

And we salute you, Miss Universe, the klutziest supermodel on earth.

We salute every celebrity who ever had a glamour shot taken at 3:00 AM in

some Arizona drunk tank. And we salute the true legends, those caught in

unbelievable but unfilmed situations, who later, for some reason defying

belief, agreed to reenact the event for the cameras

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was only one I had that I could use, my tongue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as odd as this looks, with her hands and legs tied, Benee Lance (ph) called her office, not police, for help.

OLBERMANN: The Hall honors all of these wild stunts, feats of strength, strange people and even stranger things they do. You may call them dopes, you may call them maniacs, you may call them miscreants, and you may even call them common criminals. But here, here on this ground, we call them the Legends.



OLBERMANN: Also tonight, no, he is not the child of tongue lady, he's just one of the many faithful who has helped the new "Star Wars" film sweep the holiday box office business. Details in "Keeping Tabs."

And the tranquilized bear on the trampoline you've seen. But how about the bear who led the orchestra at a wedding? That you will see when this hard-hitting, news-filled edition of Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: You'd think if one of its stars slapped - or heavily tapped - a CBS news producer in the middle of an interview that the remake of the 1974 classic "The Longest Yard" would do better than third in the weekend holiday box office. But as we find out in our number two story on the Countdown, it had two problems. One, the remake pretty much stinks, Burt Reynolds or no Burt Reynolds. Two, the "Star Wars" epidemic is still fully communicable. In its second weekend, "Revenge of the Sith" is expected to have taken in nearly $71 million. That four-day estimate beats the two big premiers of the Memorial Day weekend, the animated feature "Madagascar," $61 million, and the Reynolds and Adam Sandler remake of "The Longest Yard," which came in third with $60 million.

You may recall, as demonstrated in this Countdown "Puppet Theatre" recreation, last week, Burt Reynolds slapped a CBS producer who had seen neither the original nor the remake of the film, asking him, quote, "What the hell kind of guy are you?"

"The Longest Yard" may have turned into the longest watch, but even if it had been good, it probably would have been no match for episode - whichever one this is, of the "Star Wars" double trilogy. Much of this weekend's $71 million worth of audience was also part of last weekend's $150 million worth audience. As "comic book guy" says on "The Simpsons" of the latest edition of a fictionalized version of George Lucas's creations, "Worst cosmic wars (ph) ever. I will only see it three more times. Today."

We mentioned the Countdown Hall of Fame earlier tonight. It's a good time to go back and visit the "Star Wars" wing.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): In a wing in the Hall of Fame far, far, far -

· oh, my mistake. It's right here by the front door, next to the gift shop. It is here, in a special place of honor, that we keep our most curious specimen in a secure glass case - plastic really, kind of a giant action figure box. It is the "Star Wars" geek. The species dates back to the last century, in fact, the late 1970s...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Star Wars," rated PG.


OLBERMANN:... with the confusing premiere of the first episode of the "Star Wars" saga, which, thanks to marketing considerations, later became known as the fourth episode. Fanaticism spread across the world as millions of youngsters found themselves captivated by all the spaceships and puppets and stuff. But a strange thing happened. About 95 percent of fans grew out of their Boba Fett Underroos and action figure collections and became productive members of society. The rest? They got stuck somewhere along the way and became "Star Wars" geeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Jar-Jars are the most irritating thing and should have been edited out of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this just is an average Jedi knight robe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The critics don't know what they're talking about.

It was a great movie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grade A, number one. Go for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much of a "Star Wars" fan are you? It's obvious really, isn't it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With these new three episodes, you're going to finally get the full scope of the drama.

OLBERMANN: Perhaps they had some trouble adjusting to life on this planet, or maybe they just went looking for fellowship in the force, if you know what I mean. That was certainly easier to find than it was to find a date. Or some of them tried to socialize with the normals and found that, for some reason, it was hard to get women in the clubs to talk to them. The fact is, when you're 10 years old and playing with a plastic light saber, you are as cute as a button. When you're 35, you're a Countdown Hall of Fame geek.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I modified the toy version of the light saber, put a 6,000- volt transformer in it, a neon tube from Mr. Neon (ph), and a nine-volt power supply, a couple switches, and boom.

OLBERMANN: So these outsiders looked inside for fulfillment, and they began building stuff. They build their own spaceships. They build their own robots. They build their own lousy Chewbacca costumes. They go to conventions to rub elbows with other "Star Wars" geeks, or whatever they're rubbing. They camp out for days, weeks, months to see the latest installment on the first night. And whatever they do, they do it in full costume, just in case they should ever have to face the "Star Wars" geeks' archenemy, the talking rubber dog (INAUDIBLE)


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what are the principles of the Jedi knight?

Always to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To always defend truth and justice throughout the galaxy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And to eat a lot of peanut every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't deal with lesser life forms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't deal with lesser life forms? You must be a lonely guy!

So this is to help you breathe, yes?


UNIDENTIFIED: And which of these - which of these buttons calls your parents to pick you up?


OLBERMANN: But through the nearly ever-present abuse and mockery, the "Star Wars" geek perseveres and somehow even manages to pass the gene on to new generations, a phenomenon which is baffling to our research scientists here at the Hall of Fame. Must be some sort of airborne or contact-eye (ph) kind of thing because we're pretty sure they're not procreating.


OLBERMANN: Speaking of stars, or at least seeing stars, there's the arrest of Oliver Stone in our latest edition of the gossip and celebrity news, "Keeping Tabs," arrested for DUI and possession of an unidentified drug. Oliver Stone. How in the hell do you not see that coming? This was at a police checkpoint late Friday night on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, pulled over for erratic driving, police say. Then they searched Stone's Mercedes and found the alleged drug. It's still being analyzed. Stone pleaded guilty to possession six years ago. There's still an outstanding warrant for him, as well, for being really loud in a restaurant with the actor William Hurt while I was at an adjoining table and Stone kept shouting, I hope nobody recognizes us and annoys us here, Bill!

The future of another master of the low-key public appearance should be in the hands of the jury by this time next week. It is your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 560 of the Michael Jackson investigations. And this was a day off, time to plan ahead. Analysts, who now outnumber the residents of Santa Maria, California, suggest that the closing arguments, which will probably begin Wednesday, will be critical to this case because neither side has decisively sold its picture of things: the prosecution, that Jackson groomed for molestation and then molested the son of a very strange and not very admirable family, the defense that Jackson did no such thing, that the family was so strange and so not admirable that they'd already tried to grift a series of celebrities before glomming on to Jackson and fabricating the molestation story.

But some things you just know are utterly authentic for the simple reason that nobody would make this stuff up. Here it was Memorial Day. In England, it was Cheese Day. Want to guess how many were injured? Think about that while we make the network some money.


OLBERMANN: For us, this has been, of course, Memorial Day. Other nations celebrate it or similar invocations at other times. Thus, in those lands, this is an open date, or a date open to the components of our number one story on the Countdown tonight, the stupid wheel of life, traditions that did not make sense when they started and do not make sense now, like today's annual cheese-rolling day in Gloucestershire, England, the inarguably stupid 640-foot collapse down a hill in pursuit of an eight-pound piece of cheese - Gloucestershire cheese, of course.

The pain was worth it, said teenage winner Chris Anderson, as he lay on a stretcher en route to the hospital with a fractured limb, clutching his winning trophy to his chest, the eight-pound slab of cheese. "This cheese is going straight in a cupboard when I get home," he said. "It's definitely not for eating." Anderson then added, of course, "Then again, I'm a bit mental."

If you weren't before, you are now. Fortunately, only 20 other competitors were injured.

Hearkening back to our Countdown Hall of Fame, the Gloucestershire runners, fallers and bone brokers especially are already members in good standing in the wing of Stupid Traditions.

Well, with those injuries, maybe standing is the wrong word, but you get the point.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): It is open year-round, but you'll want to check your calendar before visiting this exhibit, since you may need a helmet to enter the wing of "Stupid Traditions." Here we celebrate the strange and dangerous things people do year after year all around the world just because, annual events that keep our newscasts filled with interesting video but also make one wonder what is going on in the empty heads of the participants.

Why, for instance, each year in August do the people of Bunol, Spain, engage in Tomatina, a giant, messy tomato food fight? Some sort of ketchup shortage? They do the same thing with oranges in Italy. It signifies an ancient townfolk revolt that had nothing to do with oranges, but hey, orange-ya glad they didn't choose coconuts?

In Galaxidi, Greece, it's flour. They throw flour at each other. Then the spring rains come, and the streets run brown with gravy. The granddaddy of them all, of course, is the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Why, for nine days in July each year, do man and male cow risk life and limb alike in this bizarre spectacle? No one there really knows for sure, especially the bulls. Trust me. If they knew what was waiting for them in the stadium at the end of each day's run, we'd see a lot more bulls' offense on the cobblestones.

But traditions don't have to involve the slaughter of animals nor the waste of food to be stupid. In fact, our favorites usually involve people hurting themselves. Take, for example, the cheese roll in Gloucestershire, England. Only one hunk of cheese is wasted. Of course, all of the participants are wasted.

They have a hill in Japan, too, but they raised the stakes a bit. They've added a big log to the mix. No, not very safe, but safety doesn't get you into the Countdown Hall of Fame, now, does it. It does not. Here we only honor the upper echelon of hazardous traditions, the once-a-year fire-walking, belly-flopping, bed-racing, wife-carrying, unsafe-boating, bun-snatching dangers to themselves and others.

Why do they do it? One reason and one reason alone beats in their breasts. Because they did it last year, and the year before that and the year before that. That's not just stupid, that's Hall of Fame stupid.


OLBERMANN: There is, perhaps, a level of traditional stupidity above that even that of Hall of Fame. I don't know what we would call it, but we would probably have to use Chinese words in the description because the event in question is a marriage ceremony in Chungchun (ph) in northeastern China, a marriage ceremony for two tigers, a rare white tiger named Zorro and a female Siberian named Lele. But since they apparently remain in cages both before, during and after the so-called marriage, their nuptials per se were dwarfed by the wedding procession, celebrated by man and others. That's the bride there.

And this is the band here. They couldn't get Bare Naked Ladies, so they just got the duo of the bear and the monkey. Wedding pyrotechnics provided by another monkey. I always like to leave my monkey in charge of the blowing up of things. And yes, you're right, you recognized it instantly. This one was planned by the same people who did the Trump wedding.

Now, who gets into the Hall of Fame for that one, the tigers or the all-bear-and-monkey orchestra? I don't know what we'd do without bears on videotape, not merely the musical kind but also the amateur acrobatic kind. We've been wandering back inside the Countdown Hall of Fame tonight, and there's one more wing to explore. Just hand your ticket stub to the bear at the turnstile and follow that barnyard smell.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): Enshrinement in the animal wing is not an easy achievement. There are many pretenders. On the eve of the balloting, leading candidates often revert to their vices to ease the stress of election night. And if they don't get in, sometimes they blame the media.

That being said, your admission to the animal wing comes with caveats. Remember the buddy system. Keep your hands away from Pinky the cat at all times. And if you think you smell something, yes, guess what? You do.

Ladies and gentlemen, the animal wing. Attraction number one, that which people line up around the block to see, the bear in mid-air. An original Countdown classic, it's bear falls out of tree. Sure, the people enjoy dog riding on a skateboard, and the three-eyed, two-mouthed cow is nice, but there's something about an unconscious bear doing involuntary gymnastics that makes Americans giddy. To say nothing of making the bear giddy.

Of course, you have your hybrids, the wholphin, the zonkey, and yes, the liger, plus the half machine, half dog and the half seagull, half Barbie doll. This squirrel over here can water ski. This parrot can ride a bike. If you think a cat using a toilet is impressive, how about an elephant?

Speaking of elephants, some of our Hall of Fame exhibits play tribute to animals who have met top Republicans. Reversing his earlier stance that turkeys make good bowling balls, here President Bush pardoning two turkeys named Biscuits and Gravy. Sadly, they later died anyway. Happily, they were young.

And of course, there was that impromptu "No elephants left behind" moment witnessed by the president's safari in Africa. We have this tape playing at the Hall of Fame 24 hours a day in a continuous loop. And lastly, in this group, the commander-in-chief's old friend, Barney, who gave the phrase...


BUSH: We're making progress on the ground.


OLBERMANN:... a whole new meaning.

In the politics-free zone, if you can ride a dog, you're elected. If you can free your enslaved colleagues, you're elected. If you're the missing link, we're all afraid not to vote for you. Let us not forget the Hall of Famers who have gone ahead to that great zoo in the sky, like Dick the goldfish or Bubba, the 100-year-old lobster. Fortunately, there's a new generation chomping at the - something - to get into the hall.

Then, most importantly, let us not forget that the bear survived his fall. He was OK and went on to live a productive and happy life and he gave up smoking and everything. Thus we honor the beasts that ease our burden because here at Countdown, we're crackers about animals.


OLBERMANN: And we're just crackers generally. That is Countdown. Enjoy what's left of Memorial Day. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night, and good luck.


Friday, May 27, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 27

Guest: Raghida Dergham, Martin Fletcher, Jennifer Berman

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

Can't blame this on "Newsweek." Muslims protest in at least five countries after U.S. military admits to mishandling the Qu'ran at Guantanamo Bay.

On the other hand, this sign at a North Carolina church has come down.

Fifty would-be suicide bombers headed for Israel under the age of 18, half a dozen under the age of 16. Tonight, news that some families in the West Bank are fighting back against terrorist recruiters.

Yes, yes. You've already heard the "Stop it or..." jokes. Thirty-eight reports of Viagra users going blind, four of Cialis users going blind. But were those men's odds of going blind just as good, whether or not they used the drugs?

And I do my little turn on the catwalk. Yes, on the catwalk. The horse who apparently has had enough of the dog-eat-dog world of modeling.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

We can't say we didn't warn us. Within 24 hours of the Pentagon's admission that there were probably three intentional mishandlings of copies of the Qu'ran at Guantanamo Bay, and probably two more accidental ones, anti-American protests, including flag and effigy burning, broke out in at least six Muslim nations today.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, plenty of words, plenty of smoke, plenty of chanting. No deaths reported. And the largest individual rally appears to have been in Alexandria, Egypt, with about 12,000 on hand.

These protests, just like the ones after the "Newsweek" story, had actually been previously planned, in this case, planned a week ago. But with the Pentagon's admission, the timing now auspicious. Effigies of President Bush both burned and beaten, other protesters holding anti-American signs aloft to voice their anger over the acknowledged mishandling of the Qu'ran.

Meanwhile, protests of another sort here in the U.S. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, interrupted during a speech in San Francisco this afternoon by hecklers wearing black hoods just like the ones worn by at least one Abu Ghraib inmate. The crowd applauding as they were escorted from the hall. Madame Secretary seemingly undisturbed by the interruption, telling the audience that freedom of speech is a good thing.

If by this point you're confused about what has been done to the Qu'ran, by whom, when it was done, and which reports of alleged abuse are actually accurate, that may, in fact, be the intended goal of the entire exercise. Our goal tonight, to clear up any confusion as best we can.

In a moment, the guidance regarding that from Raghida Dergham.

First, a quick recap. The Pentagon confirming that it has identified five incidents of Qu'ran mishandling at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Out of 13 allegations it has investigated, of those, officials characterizing two as likely to have been accidents, downplaying all as infrequent relics of the detention center's first days - that would be in early 2002 - and taking pains to stress that Islam's holy book was never flushed down a toilet. That claim made by "Newsweek" in its now-retracted report.

Of note, it appears that neither the retraction nor the apology that preceded it ever made it into the magazine's Arabic edition.

As mentioned, we're joined now by Raghida Dergham, the senior diplomatic correspondent for the newspaper "Al Hayat" and an MSNBC analyst.

Raghida, good evening.


OLBERMANN: These protesters look at the Pentagon statement and presumably say, The U.S. is disrespectful and dishonest. And many in this country would probably look at the protesters and say, The U.S. is forthright and trying to correct a problem.

Why can't we please anybody? Is either version of reality correct here?

DERGHAM: Well, what's clear is that there was a mishandling by the Pentagon of the whole story to begin with. From the very beginning, I think, they should have simply said, We are outraged if any such thing has happened, and we will investigate it fully, and we'll put the investigation up front.

Instead, they were outraged by "Newsweek" and its report, and they turned this whole episode to attack the media and to have more control of the media and to spin. That is one of the problems. The effect is that there was a disbelief that "Newsweek" acted on its own when it apologized or retracted its story, and then now we hear of mishandling.

And the word "mishandling" of the Qu'ran by itself leaves a terrible impact on those people who already have recalled the visions of what happened in the prison of Abu Ghraib and in Guantanamo Bay, the Guantanamo prison, which really a lot of people are saying, Shut it down. And I think it should be. By now, it's become a stigma for the United States.

OLBERMANN: Another measure of the cultural gap here, are there considered to be degrees of desecration regarding the Qu'ran? Would the protests today have been the same if the allegation were thrown in a toilet or thrown on the floor, or anything else?

DERGHAM: Well, Keith, of course, you know anything, when you take a holy book and you bring - (INAUDIBLE) show of throwing a holy book in the toilet, that, of course, is more instant outrage than, say, the holy book on the floor.

The fact of the matter is, this is the Word of God for the Muslims. And it is offensive to use it for interrogation or for - in a way that it's desecrating the Holy Qu'ran.

I noticed the women, I think they were in India, the Muslim women, when they were demonstrating, I saw that they were burning the Constitution of the United States. In effect, this is their saying, Well, this is our revenge. But we will not go as far as burning the Book of God, the Holy Bible.

So I - you know, I think - of course there was total outrage at the reports of the toilet, but I think any mishandling of the Qu'ran is offensive to Muslims.

OLBERMANN: This news tonight about the "Newsweek" retraction and the apology not getting printed in the Arabic edition of the magazine, nor posted on the Arabic Web site of the magazine, is that as important as it would seem at first blush, or with the Internet now and translations in and out of English as readily as it happens, does that not really make a difference?

DERGHAM: Well, you said it. It actually has been covered throughout the Arab media in reports about what "Newsweek" did first in apologizing and secondly in retracting the story. I don't understand why the Arab "Newsweek" did not publish fully its apology or its retraction. I think they should have, if they didn't. But I think it was well covered throughout the Arab media in as far as the "Newsweek" angle of it.

The Arab media was, of course, trying to also focus on what happened to the responsibility of the media altogether, American media, and that it was questioning what - how come there was no accountability and transparency when the American media really got it totally wrong on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a justification for going to war? And a war later in the Arab - (INAUDIBLE) the American media really did not apologize or did not really take itself, you know, to task seriously.

So "Newsweek" should be, of course, if they had been wrong, and they said they were wrong, they apologized as they should have. But I think we should take a deeper look at what the responsibility of the media here altogether.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, big picture. There's so much conflict and so much in conflict between these two cultures. Does it surprise you that what seem like the easier things aren't being handled smoothly by the U.S. military? Or, in at least one case, the U.S. media?

DERGHAM: But isn't this where it matters, Keith? Normally it's what we think is the easier thing, and the fact of the matter, it is the culture of secrecy, the culture of everything is justifiable in the name of the war on terror. And that is wrong.

I think the bottom line is that we are doing something totally wrong in not letting the International Red Cross, the humanitarian - you know, that we need to be more (INAUDIBLE). Guantanamo must be put under international jurisdiction. Otherwise, just shut it down. It's become harmful to the United States.

OLBERMANN: Raghida Dergham of "Al Hayat" and MSNBC. As always, great thanks.

DERGHAM: I thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: There is tonight one small step forwards towards understanding on this front. The Reverend Creighton Lovelace has gone from defending the sign in front of his church 60 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina, to apologizing for it. Lovelace has removed the message that read, "The Qu'ran Needs to Be Flushed!" exclamation point.

Four officials of the Southern Baptist Convention contacted him and suggested that the sign by itself might be putting missionaries overseas in danger. The Reverend Lovelace, who appeared as a guest on this program Tuesday night, adding in a statement, quote, "I apologize for posting that message and deeply regret that it has offended so many in the Muslim community."

Further turmoil in the Middle East tonight because of reports concerning the deteriorating health of a Saudi monarch. King Fahd taken to a Riyadh hospital today, apparently because he's suffering from pneumonia, the official news release saying only that the 82-year-old Fahd had been admitted for unspecified medical tests and was doing well.

But Saudi princes have reportedly begun arriving in Riyadh, raising alarm bells, and an Arab official telling the Associated Press that the government has put the kingdom on a state of alert, canceling all military leaves as a precaution, that report being denied by the Saudi government.

As analogies go, putting the nomination of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador on a state of alert would be an obvious exaggeration. Nevertheless, it's back in limbo tonight, banished there at this time last night by Senate Democrats staging a procedural attack as successful as it was surprising. The no-cloture vote, better known as a filibuster, catching everyone, nearly, off-guard, no one more so than the Republican majority.

In name, the move against Bolton in no way linked to Monday's deal, the one that sidestepped a showdown over the right to filibuster judicial candidates. Bolton is an executive branch nominee, not a judicial one, and the Democrats claiming they are not trying to block the vote, merely to force the administration to cough up information about Bolton.

Nevertheless, Republicans are trying to wrap it all up into one donkey-embossed image, the White House press secretary saying today, "Just 72 hours after all the goodwill and bipartisanship, it is a shame to see the Democratic Senate leadership resort back to such a partisan approach. This is a nominee that enjoys majority support."

I'm joined now by Chuck Todd, editor of "The Hotline," the "National Journal"'s daily political briefing.

Chuck, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Senator DeWine of Ohio, "It is unfortunate, it is too bad, but the deal was on judges, not on anything else." Who are the Senate Republicans madder at, themselves or the Democrats?

TODD: Oh, I think they're angry at the Democrats. I do think they thought they would get goodwill when it comes to the John Bolton nomination. But at the same time, you know, this shouldn't come as a surprise. Harry Reid first threatened a filibuster on John Bolton six weeks ago. So the fact they were caught off-guard here shows an inept leadership more than anything else.

And I think that that - this is where this story sort of is interesting to people that are watching Congress. It's the fact that it seems that if the Senate Republican leadership was somehow caught off-guard, that's not a very good defense, considering they didn't have a good week as it is, when it comes to whether - how much they really knew about the judges' deal and all this stuff.

OLBERMANN: There are a couple of ways of projecting what's going to happen now, one of them being that in a perverse way, this could all help guarantee Bolton's approval, in the sense that unless the documents on him that the Democrats want to see get released, and they show him to have caused, you know, flu epidemics or something, that there's no way now that a Republican other than George Voinovich could vote against him. Is that the line of thinking, or is it the other way?

TODD: I'm - look, I think it's the other way. This feels like, the longer this drags out, the more likely his nomination is in trouble. You know, through the grapevine this week, you know, a source tells a source tells a source of (INAUDIBLE), you know, supposedly when John Bolton found out that Voinovich wasn't just going to just make a speech coming out against his appointment to the United Nations, but he was actually going to start lobbying other senators, that that's when Bolton started wondering, Jeez, I think my nomination's in trouble.

You know, I think the - Voinovich seems like he's pretty passionate about this. Look, there were plenty of Republicans who seem uncomfortable about having to toe the line on Bolton. They were getting a lot of pressure from the base. Some of these interest groups bought radio ads, did phone calls, did a lot of phone banking.

Now, though, that the longer you drag it out, the less intensity there is, and the less intensity, the easier it may be for some of these Republicans to say, You know what? I just don't like this guy. I'm not voting for him.

OLBERMANN: Now the other question is, is the there going to be a long-term impact on that judicial filibuster compromise? Could the Republicans now be so ticked off at what happened regarding Bolton that they now back out of that deal at some point?

TODD: Well, I'll tell you, I think secretly Bill Frist would love nothing more than to trigger this nuclear option. He needs to desperately prove to the Republican base that he has the guts to do this, and he's going to stand up to the - stand up for conservatives. I think his presidential hopes took a big hit this week, because the base is very unhappy that he cut any deal.

That said, I think these guys are exhausted, number one, in the Senate. You know, this is hard work when they have to work every day of a five-day week, really tough for them.

But number two, I think they all realize, Let's see what happens. The Supreme Court is going - we're going to get some announcements from members of the Supreme Court, probably in the next three or four weeks. And I think everybody's realizing, let's keep the powder dry till the Fourth of July, and then see what happens.

OLBERMANN: Yes, those cots that they brought in for the supposed filibuster, those are there every day. People don't realize that.

TODD: Yes, well, that's because, as Fritz Hollings said, it's the best nursing home in America.

OLBERMANN: Chuck Todd, editor of "The Hotline," thanks for starting your holiday weekend with us.

TODD: You got it, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the battle to keep teenage boys from becoming Palestinian suicide bombers. One family there fighting back.

And big concerns tonight over impotency drugs. Did Viagra cause 38 out of its 23 million users to go blind? Or is that just the number that you would expect would go blind out of any group of 23 million people?

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Whether it would significantly impact the insurgency in Iraq seems to be as debated as whether or not Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is actually dead, or actually seriously wounded, or neither.

Our fourth story in the Countdown tonight, those who traffic in suicide bombs, from the self-described masterminds to the manipulators of teenage boys to whom the devices are strapped.

Zarqawi first. The new Internet statement, reportedly from Zarqawi's chief spokesman, says the terrorist leader is in, quote, "good health" and still in charge of his group, Al Qaeda in Iraq. The last such statement attributed to the same spokesman said he was badly wounded, an assessment that has been endorsed by the Iraqi minister of the interior, although that official would not say how he is supposed to have known that.

The insurgency in Iraq uncharacteristically quiet today, but not so in Islamabad in Pakistan. A suicide bomber there blew himself up in the middle of a group of Shi'ite worshipers, at least 20 killed, 150 wounded. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but sectarian violence between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites flares up periodically in that country as well as in Iraq.

Of all things, that leads us to the controversy over the opening of the Broadway musical "South Pacific" in the spring of 1949. At the last minute, the backers of that production tried to kill one of the songs, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught," which argued, maybe for the first time in this country, that racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice was not natural, but had to be deliberately created in kids by adults.

Seemingly, it's a long way from that song echoing in the Majestic Theater in New York to this report from our correspondent Martin Fletcher among the would-be suicide bombers of the West Bank. But as you will discern presently, it is pretty much all the same place.


MARTIN FLETCHER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mohammed, a 15-year-old schoolboy with murder on his mind. "I came to kill the Jews," he says.

On Sunday, Israeli soldiers thought he looked suspicious at this West Bank roadblock. They found a bomb strapped to his chest, but detonated it safely.

Already this year, 50 Palestinian boys under the age of 18, five under 16, have been found trying to carry bombs into Israel.

At Mohammed's home in the Nablus refugee camp, his parents were devastated, and furious - surprisingly, not with Israel, but with the Palestinian militants who they say brainwashed their son.

Delal (ph), Mohammed's mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They are criminals, these people who send children. God will punish them.

FLETCHER: So who are they? She had no doubt. The Al Aqsa Brigade, the militia that's carried out dozens of suicide attacks against Israel that are financed by the Palestinian government.

(on camera): So now we're walking through the Nablus refugee camp looking for Al Aqsa leaders. (INAUDIBLE) they usually do.

(voice-over): Yesterday we found the Al Aqsa leader. Since the truce with Israel, Naser Ab-Waziz (ph) can walk more freely. He himself was jailed at the age of 13 for attacking Israeli soldiers, but he swore he would never send a child to his death, never.

(on camera): You're the head of Al Aqsa in Nablus. How is it possible that you don't know who did it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Maybe it was the Israelis. We told them (INAUDIBLE) Palestinian president we will investigate. But Al Aqsa would not do this.

FLETCHER (voice-over): And today, we found Mohammed. He's being interrogated by the Israeli secret services.

(on camera): This is a message to you from your mother. She asked me to tell you this, that you should depend on God and confess. Boy, please, tell the Israelis everything, tell them who sent you.

(voice-over): And we asked him...

(on camera): Who gave you the bombs?

(voice-over): At first he wouldn't say. Then...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Al Aqsa. They came to get me five times. In the beginning, I refused. Then they kept talking and talking to me, and in the end, I agreed.

FLETCHER: Delal took us to her son's school and found his classmates.

They too were angry at Al Aqsa.

"It's quiet now," Mustafa says. "It's safe. Why send Mohammed with a bomb to destroy everything?"

And the loud cry to the children, Don't let anyone brainwash you.

Your mothers need you, like I need my son.

Mohammed says Al Aqsa promised him he will be a martyr, and God would forgive him. Instead, tonight, he is lost and alone.

Martin Fletcher, NBC News, Nablus, on the West Bank.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, what happens when the worlds of beauty and beast collide?

I'm getting out of here, Wilbur. Nobody told me there'd be cameras.

And we're now past the 51-hour mark, the standoff with a murder suspect continues high above Atlanta. Is there anything for authorities to do besides keep waiting?

Stand by indeed.


OLBERMANN: As we resume Countdown, we swerve to a grinding halt to offer up our regular segment full of rampaging horses, rampaging elephants, and, of course, rampaging egos.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in Lima, Peru, at a particularly ambitious fashion show. It was not enough to just showcase the former Miss Peru, Ms. Frida Jimena Joler (ph), wearing a wedding dress. No, no, no, no. She had to be on a white steed too.

Big horse, big dress, big crowd, itty-bitty little catwalk. When the unfortunate model tried to turn her ride around. Down goes Frida! Down goes Frida!

Notice how the fashion crowd rushed up to help the horse get back up.

But it's all in vain. The steed promptly follows the supermodel off the stage. Neither beast nor beauty was hurt in the making of this debacle, although there was copious weeping in the audience, in the vow that the designer made, that, That horse will never work in this town again.

From new runways - or new runaways on the runway to old runaways on the menu. Seoul, South Korea. You'll remember two months ago the three rogue elephants who decided they wanted takeout service at the local barbecue joint. They made a mess, but the owner has now made a profit.

She has renamed the place, choosing the singularly creative title Restaurant Where Elephants Have Been. She's also changed the bill of fare. She is now offering elephant-themed meals, like the Elephant Set, consisting of seven vegetable dishes, because, she says, elephants like to eat vegetables.

Finally, the doors reopened, and presto, locals and tourists alike flocking in to chow down. You know, we never did find out what happened to those elephants who broke into the place. But, say, waiter, what's this particularly pungent flavor in the secret sauce, hmmm? Hmmm?

Fort Hood, Texas. (INAUDIBLE)! It's the newest edition to the Fourth Infantry Division Museum there, Saddam Hussein. You couldn't tell? This is a lifesized latex mannequin of the former Butcher of Baghdad, modeled on what he looked like when the Fourth ID pulled him out of his spider hole in December 2003.

It cost the taxpayers $7,500, and a rush order was made so they could get in it place by Memorial Day. Before you begin asking if it was worth it, just remember, it could have been worse. It could have been modeled after that photo of him last week in his underwear.

Luckily, that image did not blind us. But now there are concerns that Viagra might have the capacity to do that. The FDA launching an investigation. But could it be that the drugs did not have anything to do with the reports of blindness?

And more outrage for Australians in Indonesia. First it was a short sentence for a Muslim cleric convicted in the Bali bombing which killed so many Australians. Now it's an incredibly long sentence for an Australian woman convicted of marijuana possession.

These stories ahead.

But now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, an unnamed woodpecker in Sullivan, New York, near Syracuse. He's convinced that every other woodpecker he sees, especially the ones near automobiles, are his mortal enemies, so he tries to smash them head first, fly right into them. Of course, the other woodpeckers he's seeing are actually just his own reflections in car mirrors. He broke at least 30 car mirrors last year, just got his 17th and 18th of this year on the passenger's and driver's sides of the same Chevy Malibu.

Number two, the National Counter-Corruption Commission of Thailand. It's rooting out a very serious problem in that nation. It just caught nine government officials who had each padded their salaries by about 1,500 bucks a month. The nine officials were the members of the National Counter-Corruption Commission. Oops!

And number one, Northwest Airlines. In February, it eliminated free meals for passengers, substituting a free bag of pretzels. In April, they eliminated the free pillows. As of two weeks from now, the free pretzels will cost 3 bucks.

Next year? No wings!


OLBERMANN: George Carlin once asked how anybody could wonder why drugs were a problem in this country when in every city on every other street corner, there was a big neon sign reading, "Drugs." Our third story on the Countdown: Plenty of trouble with drugs tonight of all different kinds, starting with a surprise that leads the a very obvious, and in this case, very tasteless joke. Three of the - all three of the leading male impotence drugs have been - may have caused a few dozen cases of blindness in its users. The FDA is investigating 43 such reports now: 38 among users of Viagra, four among users of Cialis, 1 among users of the third drug, Levitra.

A spokesman for Pfizer, which makes Viagra, acknowledges that the company has discussed, in addition to the warning label, they would say that in rare cases, men taking Viagra had developed blindness. But he points out that the two things may not be linked. The vision loss is a specific kind called NAION, sudden vision loss when blood flow to the optic nerve is blocked. There are anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 cases in this country per year, and the risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol.

I'm joined now by urologist and sexual dysfunction expert Dr. Jennifer Berman. Dr. Berman, thank you for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: So Pfizer's argument is, if out of the 23 million men who have ever used Viagra, 38 of them really did go blind with NAION, the odds are those 38 guys would have gone blind from NAION, even if they'd never used Viagra. Is that the gist of it?

BERMAN: Well, clearly, a causal relationship cannot be established at this time based on the data that we have. Certainly, there may be an association, but as you mentioned, these were patients that were at risk for that happening anyway. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are all associated with that disease. So we don't have an animal model, and we don't have a pre-clinical explanation for why or how it's happening. And certainly, it's premature to say that Viagra or any of the other drugs is actually causing it.

OLBERMANN: There's also no information, I assume, on how many of those 38 guys shouldn't have been using the drug in the first place, right, I mean, whose doctors didn't know or didn't understand the risks, or people who took it without a prescription or who took it even if they were told not to.

BERMAN: Well, that's a good point. I think the message from all of this should be that patients that are at risk for that condition should be screened appropriately with an ophthalmological exam and should be informed about the potential risk. That's really as far as we can take this. Certainly, it's not - you know, all men taking Viagra are not at risk of becoming blind.

OLBERMANN: All that having been said, because the best known side effect of that drug is the famous blue tint to your vision, because this was the lead story on two of the three network news broadcasts tonight, isn't this still likely to cause a panic among Viagra users and the people who love them?

BERMAN: I mean, it's too early to panic. What we should gain from this is that patients at risk for this condition - high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease - should be aware that there is a potential risk to their eyes, and they should be screened appropriately. As a clinician, and for my patients, that's really what I would gain. But certainly, it is way premature to say that that's exactly what's causing it. Viagra actually increases blood flow, and what we're talking about is a condition of ischemia or decreased blood flow. So we certainly don't have an explanation for how or why it's even happening.

OLBERMANN: So sum this up for us medically and psychologically. What would you recommend a Viagra or Cialis or Levitra user to do? Do you throw the stuff out the window? Do you go and have your doctor doublecheck your risk factors, even if you don't have any risk factors? What would you do to reassure yourself that you're not leading to blindness in some way?

BERMAN: Be aware of the risk factors, speak to your doctor about it, undergo a full ophthalmological exam to determine if you do have the pre-determining risk factors for that condition, and don't take it if you do. Not all patients do. I mean, 38 out of 23 million is really not a significant number. But just be aware. The blue vision is a completely different mechanism. This is something new. It's something different. It's something that we need to be aware of. But I don't think that it's going to be a condition that affects all patients.

OLBERMANN: Yes, 38 cases out of 23 million would not sound like many, except if you were looking at the media coverage of this story today. Dr. Jennifer Berman, director of urology at the Rodeo Drive Women's Health Center in southern California, great. Thanks for your time tonight.

BERMAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Then there's drug smuggling or having drugs planted on you in a foreign country. One of those two things has happened to an Australian woman on the Indonesian island of Bali. And this kind of Bali high is so charged with emotion that it's now threatening the diplomatic relations between those two countries. Our report is from correspondent Paul Davis of our affiliated British network, ITV.


PAUL DAVIS, ITV (voice-over): The trial had attracted massive attention in Indonesia and in the native Australia, but now it was over and Schapelle Corby was ushered into the Bali courtroom to hear its verdict.

Schapelle, a 27-year-old beauty therapist, was arrested when nine pound of cannabis was found in her surfing bag when she arrived in Bali on holiday. Among those cramming into the court to hear her fate were her parents, who've consistently claimed the drugs were planted in her luggage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, she's innocent, so she will be coming home.

DAVIS: The judges had the power to impose a death sentence. But Schapelle's lawyers had told here they were confident they'd done enough to prove her innocence. They were wrong. The verdict was guilty as charged.

At first, Schapelle didn't realize she'd been sentenced to 20 years in prison. But when the judges' decision was translated for her, she broke down. Schapelle's family berated the judges, and for a few minutes, there was pandemonium in the courtroom, the young Australian woman pushing through, police and court officials to reach her family. The angry scenes and protests continued outside the court as Schappelle's family were forcibly removed from the building.

GLEN JEFFER, CORBY'S FRIEND: All Australia asks is that you give Schappelle back to us. Schappelle is innocent!

DAVIS: Flanked by police officers, Schapelle Corby was taken back to prison. Her lawyers say they'll appeal, and the Australian government has offered its own legal team to assist them. Paul Davis, ITV News.


OLBERMANN: For the record, in 2002, an al Qaeda attack in Bali killed 202 people, 88 of them Australian. It's a popular tourist location for Australians. That same court that gave Ms. Corby 20 years found a Muslim cleric guilty of involvement in the bombing - 30 months.

Meantime, not in any dispute, the ambitious smuggling plan by somebody in Ecuador, who managed to send 750 pounds of cocaine to Miami in fake plantains. A customs agent noticed some of the plantains seemed unusually stiff, so he cut a few open and found out they were not the green bananas, they were glass fiber vessels painted and filled with coke. But the phony fruit was mixed in among 1,080 boxes of real plantains, so DEA agents are still sifting the drugs from the fruit. They figure the smugglers had a simpler plan. They were just going to let the shipment rot, leave the real rotten ones and keep the fakes.

It feels like an entire crop could have rotted in the time this murder suspect has sat perched atop a crane in Atlanta. We enter the third night of the stand-off. He's still there. When will police patience wear thin, and what happens then?

If he was waiting for the testimony in the Jackson trial to end, you can come down, buddy! It's a wrap!


OLBERMANN: He is still up there, high above the city of Atlanta, atop a 25-story crane, clearly in no hurry to go anywhere. More than 50 hours have passed. He's been without food, without water, apparently without sleep for the duration, as authorities do their best to keep him comfortable, awake, and most importantly, aloft.

Our number two story in the Countdown tonight: The sky-high stand-off of the Florida murder suspect, Carl Edward Roland, continues. There are two kinds of observers here, the professional, police, negotiators, psychologists. Then of course, there are the casual observers, residents of and maybe even employees of businesses in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, some of whom are not subscribing to the police theory here, wait Roland out. They're the ones standing along Peachtree Street holding up signs encouraging him to jump.

It's not the most important case we've ever asked him about, but nonetheless, former FBI profiler and hostage negotiator Clint Van Zandt joins us. Thanks for your time, Clint.


OLBERMANN: Well, what do you do about this guy?

VAN ZANDT: Well, you know, number one, you don't ask him to jump. Number two, if it was Keith and Clint in charge, at this point, we're 50 hours into it, I'd say, Hey, let's pull everybody back. Let's get the TV cameras out of here. Let's end the circus environment. Let's take away his platform. And tell the guy, You've got until Tuesday morning to come down, and here's the ladder, and otherwise, we're out of here.

I mean, you know, you can't run out and tackle him. There are people that are saying, why don't you shoot him with an animal dart and anesthetize him and take him down? Why don't you give him, you know, food that's been contaminated so he gets sick and he needs - it's like a diuretic. I mean, it's amazing, the responses you get to this. But the bottom line is, you've got to - at this point, you've got to wait him out. It's his choice. It's his call. He wants to be as big a victim as the woman he allegedly killed is. Well, let's just take away the platform.

OLBERMANN: Yes. Everybody who suggests one of those things needs to remember the second part of that, of their idea is, he could fall off then.

VAN ZANDT: Absolutely.

OLBERMANN: Can you assess, at this point, if there's any real suicidal intent here, or is he now just thinking if he inconveniences everybody long enough, they'll all go away and he can escape somehow?

VAN ZANDT: I - you know, he - could he jump at any second? Sure, he could. But if there was any real intent - I mean, this guy's had 50 hours to do a header and have people stand below, hold up signs that say 6.5, 8.3 as he came down. Now, that hasn't taken place so far. She he's worked through it. You know, he's already confessed to one worker that he did something terrible. We know he's alleged to have beaten this poor woman to death. So at this point, he just has to make a decision when is it time to come down, and the authorities are going to let him do that. They're going to let him make up his mind. They've carried him through Friday. There's no rush until Tuesday now.

OLBERMANN: This is not, by the way, for those who don't know the area, some out-of-the way construction site.


OLBERMANN: They had to close a couple of blocks of Peachtree Street, which is one of the main drags in Atlanta. The businesses are reported losing money. The town's nightmare traffic, at all times of the day and night, is now worse, if that's possible. Is the city going through this and the people who are handling this going through this right now, basically, to avoid him falling on somebody or keeping him from taking a would-be rescuer with him? Are those the motivations, at this point?

VAN ZANDT: Well, these are tough situations, Keith. Unfortunately, this guy's in control at this point. He's in control because law enforcement doesn't want to do anything that facilitate his death. I mean, here you have this potential brutal murderer, and we're doing - sociologically and law enforcement-wise - what we should do. We're trying to save the guy's life.

But again, you know, there's a lot of people being inconvenienced right now. You know, I'll take you back two years ago in Washington, D.C. A guy was threatening to jump off a bridge at rush hour time. Traffic was stopped up. The good citizens of Washington - right behind me, you can see it - were saying, Either jump or tell the cops to shoot him, one or the other, but we got to get home. It's rush hour time. We're a very empathetic people.



OLBERMANN: MSNBC analyst, former FBI profiler and negotiator Clint Van Zandt. We always learn something new from you, sir. Many thanks.

VAN ZANDT: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Well, over we go to the more traditional entertainment news. Leading our segment, "Keeping Tabs," tonight, Angelina Jolie has once again denied ever having had a romantic relationship with Brad Pitt. Of course, other not so famous guys? Sure. "We got on great," she has told the magazine "Marie Claire" about working with Pitt on "Mrs. and Mrs. Smith." But as to anything more than friendship, quote, "absolutely not." She continued, "To be intimate with a married man, when my own father cheated on my mother, is not something I could forgive. I could not look at myself in the morning if I did that." The father she's referring to, the actor John Voight. But Jolie did say she has had, quote, "intimate friendships," unquote, in the interim. She's calling them "maintenance men." Yes, I'm here about the plumbing?

And it's all over but the closing arguments, your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 557 of the Michael Jackson investigations. Today the prosecution wrapping up its rebuttal case by playing a tape of the accuser's original interview with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. And in what is being described as a stunning turn of events in a case where the phasers have always been set for stun, the defense chose not to mount a rebuttal of its own. It rested. They originally planned on recalling the accuser, his mother, as well as two other witnesses to rebut the playing of that taped interview but chose not to. In it, the boy essentially telling a story similar to the one he gave on the witness stand. Michael Jackson allegedly grabbed him in his, quote, "private area," with as many as five incidents occurring before the family left Neverland ranch.

Closing arguments could now begin as early as Wednesday of next week, with the jury getting the case by Friday.

And one of the most enduring and versatile of American actors has died. He appeared in everything from a trapeze act to the very first private test broadcast of NBC television, yet he will doubtless be longest remembered for just one role, Oliver Douglas on "Green Acres." The series lasted just six years on CBS, and often all around him seemed hell-bent on looking as ridiculous as possible. But Eddie Albert always brought a kind of frustrated dignity to that program, as did he in movies like "Roman Holiday" and "The Heartbreak Kid," for each of which he received an Academy Award nomination.

His acting career began with that NBC test broadcast in 1936 and continued through 1995. A family friend says he stayed vital until the end, even playing basketball from his wheelchair with his granddaughter just three days ago. There is some dispute over his exact age, but Eddie Albert has died of pneumonia at either 97 or 99 years old.

Also tonight, a few friends crawling over for one of your fabled holiday picnics? Begin your holiday weekend with stories with which you can regale them, the Countdown favorite five of the week.

Hurray, I said it right. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Well, we had some doozies in this 21st week of 2005, more examples what the late, great Jean Shepherd used to call "creeping meatballism." Our number one story on the Countdown: our top five stories of the week. And when we say "favorite," of course, we mean "dumbest."

We first need to acknowledge some of the honorable mentions here: the 24-hour suicide prevention hotline in the tiny Canadian providence of Prince Edward Island, which is cutting back its hours to 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM - 24 hours, yes, but not in a row. Then there's the guy in Arkansas so drunk that when his cigarette blew out through the open car window, he dived after it, forgetting for the moment that the car he was in was going 60 miles per hour at the time, the Tennessee bureaucrat who got stuck in an elevator for 13 hours overnight on a weekend because his own office forgot to pay the bill for the emergency phone in there.

Yes, it's been a rich and rewarding week. But only these are Countdown's five favorites.


(voice-over): Number five, this is Romeo. In case you can't tell, he's a cat, a 33-pounder. A loving and apparently rich Sacramento family just adopted him. They hope to diet him down to 20 pounds. How? Subway sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Number four, attention residents of Australia. Now would be the time to flee. The spider crabs are coming, more than 50,000 of them just off shore. There's no telling what they're planning, although Rupert Murdoch is said to be heading for higher ground.

Number three, meet Tim Pruitt of Alton, Illinois, and the 124-pound catfish he fetched on the Mississippi River. It's a world-record catch that fought him for half an hour before Pruitt got him in the boat. The fish eventually died, but as they say, you should see the other guy.


TIM PRUITT, CAUGHT 124-POUND CATFISH: About 10 minutes later, I got a little bite, and I thought, OK.

KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST, "TODAY" SHOW: Wow. Well, that's quite a fish story. And when you say, I caught one that big, you can actually mean it, right, Tim?


OLBERMANN: That's right, Katie. If I could only move my arm!

Number two: Hey, check out the cool prize in the Wal-Mart claw machine. Why it's 3-year-old James Manges of Elkhart, Indiana. Mom says he climbed up through the prize chute when the two were shopping just after 3:00 in the morning. Yes, you heard right, 3:00 in the morning. It took firefighters more than an hour and almost $11 in quarters to get little Jimmy out of there.

And number one, a notice to airmen who like to paint scary faces on the front of their planes. The planes may become aggressive and attempt to mount smaller aircraft. No one injured in this Louisiana crash. The yellow plane actually landed on the white one. It'll remain on the airfield like this until the FAA has completed its investigation - not into the crash, but rather into how airplanes get it on.


Meaning how airplanes get that paint on, how they get it on.

All right, let's take another shot of Atlanta, sunset at Buckhead. Carl "Sugarfoot" Roland is now standing up. Alert the media, break into programming. He's standing up.

I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night, happy holiday, and good luck.