Wednesday, May 4, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 4

Guest: Rachel Yehuda, Tom O'neil

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

They've captured al-Libbi. Not the teenage race-car driver from Maine, Al Libby. This is the reputed third man in al Qaeda al-Libbi.

This does nothing for Iraq. A suicide bomber in a line with job applicants. About 50 more dead, twice that many wounded.

The newest victims of 9/11, people who were not even born then, studies suggesting that children still in the womb may have inherited the stress their mothers experienced.

The worst stress for a mother.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My baby's in the (INAUDIBLE), he's not breathing.


OLBERMANN: And yet, she manages to save her child.

And the Paula Abdul "American Idol" scandal. Fox's show exposed by ABC's newsmagazine, and now reported on by MSNBC's newscast. Do you think the whole thing could be a publicity stunt? Naaaah.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

Well, we got him, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, finally tracked down and captured after a firefight in northwestern Pakistan. The Pakistanis, the U.S. military, U.S. intelligence, they combined forces, and we got Abu Faraj al-Libbi.

Just one question. Who in the hell is Abu Faraj al-Libbi?

Well, this is his "after" picture, after he was picked up and interrogated and triangulated among the spies, the military, and the Pakistanis, and this is the "before" picture. Al-Libbi appeared on wanted posters describing him as one of Pakistan's most-wanted terrorists, a price on his head, $340,000.

We are now told by U.S. counterterrorism officials - we will ask a more independent source in a moment - that he is the number-three man in al Qaeda. And if anybody knows exactly where Osama bin Laden is, it could be this man al-Libbi.

The number-two man in al Qaeda is still supposed to be Ayman al-Zawahiri. Libbi's third ranking once belonged to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before his famous capture as the least-threatening looking terrorist ever.

Whatever the story, and a gold star to you if you had heard of him before today, in Washington, at least, since it says al-Libbi-Libbi-Libbi on the label-label-label, the president likes it-likes it-likes it on his table-table-table.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today's report on the capture of a top al Qaeda operative, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, represents a critical victory in the war on terror.

Al-Libbi was a top general for bin Laden. He was a major facilitator and a chief planner for the al Qaeda network. His arrest removes a dangerous enemy who is a direct threat to America.


OLBERMANN: We are also told, incidentally, that al-Libbi is about 40. He is slightly built, and he has a bad skin condition, possibly psoriasis, that has made him highly recognizable.

To fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the itchy terrorist, I'm joined now by Roger Cressey, who was responsible for coordination and implementation of counterterrorism policy while he was director on the staff of the National Security Council.

Good evening, Roger.


OLBERMANN: Well, firstly, burn away my cynicism here. You had heard of this man before today, yes?

CRESSEY: Oh, yes. I do get a gold star, my friend. Yes, the intelligence community has known about him for some time. And it's been universally agreed upon that he was the number three in the organization. He had taken over for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And he was the key operational planner for any future al Qaeda attacks against American interests.

OLBERMANN: And the other premise is that he has conceivably been in contact, even direct contact, with bin Laden in, what, the last year, the last six months?

CRESSEY: Yes. I mean, here are the three real reasons why he is important. One, he's got current information on al Qaeda's threat planning against U.S. interests. Second, he probably has a good idea where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are at right now. And third, he may have knowledge of al Qaeda's cooperation with the Zarqawi network inside Iraq.

So if all those three things are taken together, that's a pretty good package.

OLBERMANN: How good are we at opening those packages? Many times people have been described as having been caught based on the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or of other al Qaeda midlevel people that had been picked up in the last three years. But is the overall likelihood that we're going to drain this guy of what he supposedly knows very good?

CRESSEY: I think the first concern is that al-Libbi will do what he can to try and protect the people who are still out. And so he is going to give us disinformation. He is going to do our best to buy his people some time.

So part of our challenge is going to be getting the good information out of him, but also trying to ensure that he is not sending us on wild goose chases. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the rest of the senior guys we have in custody right now have talked, but they've talked after a period of time.

So if al-Libbi has current threat information against the United States, then that's the race against time we're under right now, getting that information out of him.

OLBERMANN: Roger, again, with absolute respect for you and for the seriousness of terrorism and counterterrorism efforts, since this news was made so large by the president's comments, and yet probably almost no one who was not connected somehow to this process knew who this man was, just verify for us that there are sources outside of American intelligence who say this is a big catch.

CRESSEY: I know for a fact there are intelligence sources in Europe and in the Middle East who believe that al-Libbi is an important player in the al Qaeda network.

Part of the problem we've had since 9/11, Keith, is, we've rolled up all the usual suspects in al Qaeda at the middle and lower tier level. Now we have a new generation of people coming up. They're not well known. They've not been publicized. So we do get someone like him, it does catch people by surprise.

But this is one case where your government is telling you the truth.

OLBERMANN: One last question about this. That picture, let's throw the picture of the man up again. Does this - is this - anything look wrong to you about this picture? There's a lot of speculation in the office here that this man does not necessarily look alive.

CRESSEY: Well, you know, he hasn't seen a whole lot of sunshine, I think that's for sure. No, I think he's probably alive. I think if the Paks had killed him, they would have showed us the corpse.


CRESSEY: But I think he's alive, at least I hope he is.

OLBERMANN: But he doesn't look good. MSNBC terrorism expert Roger Cressey, who gets the gold star tonight. As always, sir, great thanks.

CRESSEY: My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The news out of this day in Iraq, however, far less encouraging, a week of unrelenting violence capped off with the deadliest attack yet, a massive suicide bombing claiming at least 60 lives.

It should be no surprise, then, that here at home, support for the war is at record lows. Only 41 percent of those Americans surveyed by Gallup for "USA Today" now believe that going to war in Iraq was worth it, 57 percent saying they believe it was not.

Support for the war the lowest it has ever been, and as a statistic, almost unrecognizable from April 2003, two years and barely a month ago. That month, only days after the fall of Baghdad, nearly three out of every four Americans, 73 percent, were in favor of the war effort, and only 23 percent were not.

That poll, closing Sunday night, at which point, at least 100 Iraqis had been killed in a three-day period. Since then, more than 100 additional lives have been taken. They're adding up to a stunning total, six days, 245 dead, at least.

The worst of the attacks, as we mentioned, coming this morning in what had been one of the safest areas in that country, in the Kurdish north in the city of Irbil. A suicide bomber masquerading as a job applicant killed at least 60 people who wanted to become public safety officials.

As Richard Engel reports from Baghdad, that was just the first attack of an awful day.


RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iraqi officials say at 9:25 this morning, a suicide bomber in his mid-30s walked into a crowd of people signing up to be security guards at government buildings. The U.S. military says at least 60 were killed in the attack in Irbil, and 150 were wounded.

The interior minister in this Kurdish city said the bomber wore traditional Kurdish clothing and a belt full of high explosives, shards of metal, and nails.

The minister described seeing a lake of blood.

MOHAMMED ISHAN, ACTING INTERIOR MINISTER, KURDISTAN (on phone): There were roughly a lot of dead bodies, and a lot of people are shouting and asking for help. And the area was full of blood.

ENGEL: The group behind the attack, Ansar al-Sunna (ph), one of Iraq's most organized insurgent groups. Just over a year ago, it killed 116 people in Irbil in a double suicide attack. Today, the militants said their target was the battle-hardened Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga.

But Iraqi officials say Ansar al-Sunna has another objective.

BARHAM SALIH, MINISTER OF PLANNING: The terrorists are trying very hard and have been trying for some time to instigate a civil war on ethnic as well as sectarian lines.

ENGEL(on camera): In just the last week, more than 230 people have died in insurgent attacks. And tonight, the U.S. military reports another major bombing, this one here in Baghdad. Fifteen Iraqi soldiers killed when a car bomb hit their convoy.

The Iraqi people are now watching to see what their new government will do. And they want action.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: Now to the east, to Afghanistan, another major front for the U.S. military. New details tonight about the death there of Pat Tillman. And they raise the question of whether good publicity might have been placed ahead of telling his family the truth about how he died.

Tillman, of course, the pro football player, moved by 9/11 to sacrifice his career, to instead join the Army Rangers. The Army now admitting that its own investigators withheld their findings for weeks that his death was the result of a friendly-fire incident, and they knew it immediately, fellow soldiers immediately sure that Tillman had been killed by a barrage of American bullets. But they were told to keep that information secret even from Tillman's family, presumably to shield the unit from embarrassment.

It was only weeks later, after his nationally televised funeral, that the details about Tillman's death were finally revealed.

Anything you may have heard about the Lynndie England prisoner abuse trial is probably no longer relevant tonight, her plea deal effectively over at least for now, her case possibly heading to trial after all. A military judge in Texas today throwing out Private England's guilty plea. He says he is not convinced that she knew that her actions were wrong at the time. You can't plead guilty, he said, and then say you're not guilty, which is what she did.

The move came after Private Charles Graner, England's immediate superior and the father of her infant son, testified at her sentencing hearing that the pictures that he took of her holding a naked prisoner on a leash were meant to be used as a legitimate training aid for other guards.

The case now goes back to the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding.

Also new details tonight about another haunting image of the war in Iraq, that of a U.S. Marine shooting an unarmed, wounded insurgent last November. NBC News learning tonight that the Marine Corps has now officially ruled it will not file any charges.

It was also revealed today, the Marine reportedly shot three wounded insurgents. He has now been cleared in each of those three shootings, the five-month investigation concluding that the Marine was indeed firing in self-defense, sources telling NBC News that the decision was based on the fact that the Marines had been warned that many insurgents had been feigning death and even booby-trapping bodies as a tactic to lure Marines to their deaths.

Also tonight, an incredible medical story. Post-traumatic stress from 9/11 suffered by children who were still in the womb.

And stress and that runaway bride. We may all get an apology tomorrow, but tonight, we can all go buy one of the wedding invitations online.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: They're putting up the pedestal and finalizing the wording for the Jennifer Wilbanks plaque in our Countdown Apology Hall of Fame building. But while we think we know when she will say something, 4:00 p.m. at the Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, Georgia, tomorrow, we are not sure by what means, verbal or written.

Judging by the statement today from her newly hired attorney, we cannot even be sure how apologetic she will actually be. We do know that some of the guests she invited to her wedding that never was are not in a forgiving mood. They have turned out to be in an eBay mood. More on that in a moment.

First, the roundup of day seven of the desperate-to-avoid-becoming-a-housewife saga, from our correspondent Don Teague in Duluth, Georgia. Don?


One week ago today, Duluth, Georgia, was swarming with volunteers and police officers. They were, of course, looking for Jennifer Wilbanks, who had disappeared the night before while going on a jog. The fear was that something terrible had happened to her. We now know, of course, it was a terrible case of cold feet.

Well, we still haven't seen Jennifer Wilbanks here in Duluth. We know that she's hiding out, for lack of a better phrase, at a home several miles north of here in the Lake Lanier (ph) area. But she has hired a criminal attorney, despite the fact that no criminal charges have been pressed against her as of yet.

And here's what that attorney had to say to the media today.


LYDIA SARTAIN, WILBANKS'S ATTORNEY: She, you have to understand, has suffered a trauma. So she's not, you know, in it to come please the public. She wants the public to know that she's sorry, but she really is not well.


TEAGUE: So Jennifer Wilbanks is working on a written statement, which we hope to see sometime tomorrow. Her attorney, before addressing the media today, put in a phone call to the mayor of Duluth, Georgia. She apologized to the mayor for the whole situation and expressed Jennifer's concern over the trouble that had been caused to everyone.

Then there's the question of money. This search cost the city of Duluth about $60,000. I asked the mayor about how they would resolve that issue.


MAYOR SHIRLEY LASSITER, DULUTH, GEORGIA: I would like to be able to sit down with her attorney and someone from her family, or Jennifer, and try to work out some type of system where she could pay retribution, where there could be some community service.


TEAGUE: And another thing, that 911 call to police, in which Jennifer Wilbanks told authorities that she had been abducted by a Hispanic male and a Caucasian woman, well, a Hispanic group now called Hispanics Across America has said that plays into racial stereotypes, and it really put Hispanic males across the country in danger. They are demanding an apology. None so far that we know of from Jennifer Wilbanks.

Also, the rumors continue to fly as people try to figure out what happened around this case. There are published reports in the media that she had asked off of work that specific day, the day that she disappeared, saying she needed to work on her wedding dress. Other co-workers have told NBC News that Jennifer already had the whole week off of work because she was preparing for that massive wedding, the wedding that actually never happened. No word yet on whether or not it ever will.

Back to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Don Teague in Duluth, Georgia. Great thanks.

As mentioned, if Ms. Wilbanks does apologize tomorrow, some of her would-be wedding guests will respond, Tell it to the high bidder. Six hundred invitations to the Mason-Wilbanks nuptials were put in the mail. Six of them now up for sale on the Internet auction site eBay, all but one is from - or one of the sellers is from Georgia. There's Alfaretta (ph), there's Smyrna, there's Duluth itself.

The highest bid thus far, $400. How the other invitees will recoup the cost of, say, their cheese dome purchases? Well, that's really anybody's guess.

Wait, I have an idea. On eBay right now, no fewer than 76 different cheese domes up for auction. After a couple of those, you'd need to buy one of these. What they are, you can see. The why and the where, stand by.

And coverage of the coverage of the "American Idol" quote, "scandal," unquote. Call me cynical, but I'm wondering, is this all just one publicity stunt in which two networks, one author, and a woman's social life get a huge push? Think that one over.


OLBERMANN: We're back, and you're watching Countdown, now with 30 percent less runaway bride news.

But when it comes to weird stuff, there's never a shortage. Let's play Oddball.

One lucky viewer, last night's Rangers baseball game against the Oakland A's, had a shot to win $25,000. Miss Evelyn Fleming of Kemp, Texas, had her name drawn to be the lucky winner if by some chance the Rangers happened to hit a grand-slam home run in the predetermined Sonic Slam Inning.

They've been running these contests in baseball for as long as there's been television and radio. But what do you know? The Rangers managed to load the bases in the special inning. And all Evelyn Fleming needed to do was for Barry (ph) Matthews to hit a homer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By now, Evelyn Fleming of Kemp has alerted the whole town.

Matthews whips it, deep into right field. It is at the (INAUDIBLE), it is at the wall. Wait! The $25,000 is lost!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) only knew what he just did to us.


OLBERMANN: He hits deep, and, sadly, I think it's playable. I'm terribly sorry, Ms. Fleming. You go home with nothing, $25,000 for a grand slam, and a warm smile for a sacrifice fly. But at least you can take solace in the fact that the guy who robbed you is one of the league's lesser-paid players. Oakland outfielder Bobby Kelty (ph) only makes about $10,000 a game.

Meanwhile, hey, look at those really big pants. They're the world's largest blue jeans, 10 stories tall, and visible for miles at the first-ever Denim Festival in Seoul, South Korea. This is what has gotten Kim Jong-Il so pissed off.

The bad news, the guy they made them for is due back shortly.

But wait, that's not all. This fair, which was put together by Levi's to celebrate the company's 150th anniversary, also featured the world's smallest pair of jeans just three-tenths of an inch long. A quick inventory of its pockets turned up a Tic-Tac, tiny little car keys, and Gary Coleman's driver's license.

And remember Teresa Heinz Kerry and that reporter last year? You remember the Laura Bush's comedy routine? Forget them. This is Lucy Kibacki (ph), the first lady of Kenya. And unhappy with a recent newspaper story, she has just made this photo-op into the Kenyan version of "Meet the Press." This video instantly among the all-time greats. But the sound bite from the cameraman she has just slapped, well, you know what? That's even better.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She slapped me here. And by slapping me here, to me, she had no right to slap me. I've never been slapped in a very long time.


OLBERMANN: Do not slap me here.

Also tonight, an incredible post-9/11 story, research showing some kids who were still in the womb on that awful morning inherited the stress their mothers experienced that day.

And another mother in crisis, her baby, lifeless after a fall into their pool. But she did not fall into a panic, and the child lived.

That's all ahead.

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

Number three, Nancy Grace, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that while prosecutor of Fulton County in Georgia, while prosecuting a triple murder, Ms. Grace, quote, "played fast and loose with her ethics." They needed a court to tell this? They couldn't just put on her show?

Number two, speaking of which, the Loew's chain of movie theaters, it will now run ads listing the actual starting times of its films, not the time that the coming attractions start, 10 or 15 minutes, or three days, earlier.

And number one, Jordan Willett from Gallie (ph) in Shropshire in England. Jordan is 5 years old, and he got the surprise of his 5-year-old life when he poured out his bowl of breakfast cereal the other day. A two-foot-long corn snake was hidden inside. Well, Jordan, what kind of prize did you expect in a box of Frosted Snakes?


OLBERMANN: It really was one of the few comforts for those of us who were in New York City on September 11, 2001. Someday soon, many of us thought, there will spring up a generation that has no memory of any of this, who will understand and respect the pain but not feel it.

Apparently, that day will come later than any of us could have imagined. The aftereffects are being felt by some New Yorkers who on that awful day were as yet unborn. Researchers at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Edinburgh University in Scotland studied the stress levels of pregnant women who were in or around the World Trade Center at the time of the attack. They compared those measurements with the stress levels of their new babies the following year, and they found a correlation. The stressed moms had passed the hormonal indicator of stress along to their unborn children. And the more pregnant the mothers were on September 11, the more biological stress signs they passed on to the baby.

Well, this is an extraordinary finding, and I'm pleased now to be joined by the co-author of this study, the director of traumatic stress studies at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Dr. Rachel Yehuda. Thank you for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: To try to reduce this to laymen's terms, you found infants with low levels of cortisol, which helps the body control its reaction to stress. Is it specific to pregnant women who were in New York that day, or could it be broadened out? Could it be true for women around the country who felt equally frightened?

YEHUDA: Well, this can be true not only for pregnant women in New York but all over the world, and also, not just pregnant women. The findings of the study has implications for everybody because the findings really address the question of why some people develop long-term symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder following trauma and others do not.

OLBERMANN: Is there guidance yet on what the difference is between those two responses?

YEHUDA: Yes. The response that's associated with post-traumatic stress disorder involves lower cortisol levels. And what this study helped us do is determine that one of the things that determines why people have low cortisol has to do with in-utero factors, or the transmission of stress hormone responses from the mother to the baby.

OLBERMANN: So does this then apply now, thinking of these particular babies, to the long-term effects on the kids, say, of 9/11 in terms of their ability to handle future stress? Are there things now that their parents should be planning to look out for?

YEHUDA: Well, yes. What the findings suggest is that people that have low cortisol levels might be exceptionally vulnerable when they experience a traumatic event. But this idea that we have risk factors for things is quite - we all have risk factors. Some of us have risk factors for obesity, some for hypertension, some for cardiac illness. So now we've determined that there also might be risk factors for post-traumatic stress disorder.

OLBERMANN: In other words, those people who are still sitting here three-and-a-half years later in the metropolitan New York area and going, I'm not back to normal, it's not that they're having trouble, quote, "getting over it," unquote.

YEHUDA: Well, they're certainly having trouble getting over it...


YEHUDA:... but there's a biologic reason for it. There's probably a difference in their stress hormones. And yes, there are probably a lot of things that they can do about it.

OLBERMANN: And obviously, this has broader implications about psychological stress in pregnant women, not just women who were pregnant on 9/11. You can't say to them, Hey, avoid stress. Being pregnant by itself is inherently stressful. What are the implications? What do you tell pregnant women regarding this?

YEHUDA: Well, I think that the important message is that just as pregnant women watch what they eat and they take care of themselves and ensure that they're not subjected to physical trauma, it's also important to understand that emotional distress and trauma can also lead to physical changes that affect the developing brain. So you can't avoid stress, but you can certainly take care of yourself and reduce the distress. And it's actually the distress, not the stress, that was associated with the hormonal findings.

OLBERMANN: So if you have found this, if it's cortisol and you can measure this - the amounts of it as indicative of how likely somebody is to be physically responsive to stress, is there going to be cortisol therapy? Are we going to see cortisol replacement at some point?

YEHUDA: Well, there are people that have studied the effects of cortisol in post-traumatic stress disorder. But we're not suggesting that low cortisol in and of itself is a bad thing. It just means that the person is more sensitive to experiencing effects of stress. This may even be protective in some ways. We don't know. We have to do more studies and follow these babies as they become children and adolescents and young adults to know more about this.

OLBERMANN: Dr. Rachel Yehuda, director of traumatic stress studies at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. It's extraordinary information. Thanks for sharing it with us.

YEHUDA: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Another study about 9/11 aftermath in New York suggested that what was to be built where the World Trade Center once stood was not very satisfying to a lot of the city's residents. Conveniently for them, the city's bureaucracy has just swallowed whole the original design for the so-called Freedom Tower. It will have to be redesigned.

The decision came after the city's Police Department raised a number of security concerns about what was to be built there, the original concept, namely, that it was too close to a major thoroughfare which would allow uninspected trucks to get too close to the building. The original fountain-pen-like plan was unveiled and approved over a year ago. No word yet on why it took that long for local government to recognize its potential security risks.

And a possible development tonight in the Oklahoma City terror attack, accusations of a third conspirator coming from the second convict co-conspirator. Terry Nichols is accusing an Arkansas gun dealer named Roger Moore of having supplied some of the explosives that Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the Murrah building. The FBI did investigate Moore immediately following the attack, but despite the fact that he was friends with McVeigh and shared similar anti-government views, Moore always maintained he had nothing to do with the bombings.

Nichols made the accusations in a letter to a woman who had lost two grandchildren in the Oklahoma City attack. He claimed he wanted to set the record straight. He says that other explosives found recently at his home in Kansas came directly from Roger Moore and should have his fingerprints on them. Nichols also claims the government is covering up Moore's alleged involvement with the Oklahoma City bombing. Moore's whereabouts right now not known, at least not known to the public.

Far removed from the cowardice of the Oklahoma City attack, examples of courage under crisis tonight, a mother holding back her own panic long enough to save the life of her drowning child. And Paula Abdul coaching a contestant. Scandal a-brewing at "American Idol," or is it the publicity stunt of the century a-brewing at "American Idol"?

Those stories ahead, but now here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... was raised a Democrat, and today I'm still a Democrat. And I'm a little embarrassed to say it, but I think I shared with the president that the first time he ran, I didn't vote for the president. So excuse me for that, sir, but I'm sure that...


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It turns out a lot of other people didn't, either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That's right.


JAY LENO, "TONIGHT" SHOW: Well, here's the amazing - her fiance still wants to marry her. Talk about not being able to take a hint! Hey, pal, the woman pretended to be kidnapped! She rode a bus halfway across the country to get away! Face it, she's just not that into you, all right? Call!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Long way from Atlanta!

JOHN ROCKER: Well, I'm still a millionaire, and you're still a sack of (DELETED).



OLBERMANN: The prosecution has finally finished presenting its case against Michael Jackson. Now we can all go back to discussing the serious and weighty matters of our time. What? You mean now the defense has a turn? Oh, man! Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: The alarms in the dorm did not go off, and 70 students at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, many of them international scholars, did not know that their residence was on fire. They were saved because ordinary people went room to room, floor to floor, banging on doors and making sure everybody got out. Americans can still think quickly, level-headedly, unselfishly and courageously at a time of crisis.

More on that college dorm story in a moment. First, a more focused example of this. As our correspondent Janet Shamlian reports, there was a 911 dispatcher, a terrified but determined mother, and a dying toddler.


JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Phoenix home Monday afternoon. While Donna Lee is distracted only a moment to grab the phone, her 19-month-old daughter, Nicki, makes it out of the house and into the family pool.

DONNA LEE: I just dove into the pool and got there as fast as I could and flipped her over, and she was blue.

SHAMLIAN: Bending over her daughter's body, frantically working to get her breathing again, pausing only to dial 911.


LEE: It's my baby. She's in the pool. She's not breathing!

JOE WITT, 911 OPERATOR: OK. Did you get her out of the pool?

LEE: Yes.


SHAMLIAN: Dispatcher Joe Witt is on the line.


WITT: OK, do you know how to do CPR?

LEE: Yes, I do. Nicki! Oh, Nicki!

WITT; Keep doing CPR, ma'am. Don't stop.


SHAMLIAN: Finally, Lee feels her daughter's pulse.


LEE: OK, her heart's beating.

WITT: OK. That's good. Then we won't do the compressions, we'll just do the rescue breathing, OK?


SHAMLIAN: When paramedics arrive to take over, mom is overcome by emotion.

JIM LESLIE, NEIGHBOR: We overheard one of the paramedics radio to the helicopters up there that the baby's breathing but it's in critical condition.

SHAMLIAN: A moving experience for dispatcher Witt, too.

WITT: I have a 2-year-old at home, so it hits hard. It really does.

I had to get out of the room and call her and make sure that she was OK.

SHAMLIAN: Nicki spends the night in the hospital, but it's precautionary. She's going to be fine.

LEE: And we're so blessed that we have this outcome.

SHAMLIAN: Janet Shamlian, NBC News, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN: To Williamsburg, Virginia, now and that college dorm fire story. At 1:00 in the afternoon almost any day of the week, Preston Hall at the College of William and Mary would likely be empty. But this is the week before finals. The three-story structure was filled with students studying. Fire broke out in the attic, away from the smoke detectors, so no alarms sounded.

It could have been, obviously, catastrophic, but quick-thinking and unselfish students and building housekeepers saw smoke billowing from vents near the roof of the building. They went room to room, pounding on the doors, urging everybody to get out. Out they got. Two buildings severely damaged, but 72 residents and 68 in the dorm next door unharmed.

And yes, if the students find the prospect of taking finals too daunting after all that, or if their notes were destroyed in the fire, the university says it will be liberal about letting them take the exams later.

From the nobility and selflessness of those stories to the exact furthest spot away in our universe. It is our nightly round-up of the celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs," and it's still your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 534 of the Michael Jackson investigations.

The prosecution has rested. The rest of us shmucks have to keep reporting and listening to this crap. Final witness, team Sneddon, Mr. Rudy Provencio. Would you enter and sign in, please? Rudy Provencio. He was identified as somebody who had worked with one of Jackson's associates. He testified that two years ago, he heard that associate, Mark Schaffel (ph), make an offhand reference to "the killers." He said, Which killers? And then he said, The killers that are after the family. Namely, the family of the accuser.

It is prosecution theory that Jackson and his people conspired to convince the accuser's family that their lives were in jeopardy so that they would, at least in part, willingly stay at Jackson's home or wherever Jackson suggested they stay.

The defense opens up its case at around 10:00 AM tomorrow morning Pacific time. Be there. Aloha.

And now perhaps the most disturbing tabloid tale that we've ever had, at least from the land of tea and serious crumpet. Someone said no to Colin Farrell, a British actress telling a local talk show that the notorious ladies' man spent two-and-a-half hours trying to tempt her into sex with no strings. She eventually refused because she has been married happily, possibly becoming the first documented actress to so refuse.

Farrell lists among his romantic conquests Angelina Jolie, Naomi Campbell, Demi Moore, several women whose names he doesn't remember. So who turned him down? Dame Eileen Atkins from the film "Gosford Park," among countless others. She is 70 years old. I swear I am not making this up. So does she swear she's not making it up.

Speaking of making it up, someone involved in this year's "American Idol" is talking trash, but is it a former contestant? Is it a judge? Or could it be the producers of the entire series?


OLBERMANN: If you know someone who believes professional wrestling is a fully legitimate sport, don't tell them any of this, but events in that world do not unfold under their own power. Stars suspended? It's in the script. Champions suffer upset losses? It's in the script. Controversy engulfs the federation? It's in the script.

Thus it also is, goes a theory, in the world of "American Idol." Every event is unfolded to bring the program new publicity, free mentions and even the attention of other television networks. Phone voting fails? It's in the script. Popular singer loses? It's in the script.

A story breaks the judge had an affair with a contestant? Well, we don't know if that was in the script, but we do know it has generated free publicity for the program on another network, ABC, which has an hour-long special on the subject tonight about a Fox broadcast. It gets curiouser and curiouser.

First the back story from our correspondent Mark Mullen.


MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): TV's top-rated talent competition, drawing nearly 28 million viewers per show, and lately, a lot of speculation about what went on back stage at "American Idol."

DINA SANSING, "US WEEKLY": There's always something going on on "American Idol." There's a scandal to keep us going. Paula has a huge scandal going on right now.

MULLEN: A network news magazine is promising to reveal allegations, claims by former "American Idol" hopeful Corey Clark. Clark says he had an affair with judge Paula Abdul while he was a contestant. Clark is seen here hugging Abdul during an audition for the show's second season. He made it to the finals, then appeared on "Today."

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST: Did you schmooze Paula?COREY CLARK, "AMERICAN IDOL" CONTESTANT: I did not schmooze Paula!

MULLEN: Clark was later dropped from the "American Idol" show and is now said to be promoting a tell-all book detailing the allegations against Abdul. Fox television released this statement. "Disqualified 'American Idol' contestant Corey Clark was removed from the show for failing to disclose his criminal arrest history," adding, "We will, of course, look into any evidence of improper conduct that we receive."

PAULA ABDUL, "AMERICAN IDOL" JUDGE: Simon's looking at the glass half empty.

MULLEN: But Abdul is fighting back. Her attorney is threatening legal action if the report airs. And in a statement to "Access Hollywood," a spokesperson for Abdul called Clark, "an admitted liar and opportunist who is communicating lies about Paula Abdul in order to generate interest in a book deal." All this, one more bit of what could be considered bad news that has so far been good news for "Idol's" ratings. The show has survived voting mishaps every season, including a phone number mix-up that led to a re-vote earlier this year.

SANSING: The fourth season seems to be bigger than all the rest of the seasons. There's more scandals to talk about. There's more things going on. And the ratings are higher than ever.

MULLEN: We'll soon know if Americans will look past these latest charges against a favorite show and its most forgiving judge. Mark Mullen, NBC News, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN: ABC News is reporting that one of Clark's accusations is that Abdul helped him soothe his sore throat with her prescription cough syrup. So they're calling it cough syrup now, are they?

I'm joined now by Tom O'Neil, senior editor of "In Touch" magazine.

Tom, good evening.

TOM O'NEIL, "IN TOUCH" MAGAZINE: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let me start with my grand conspiracy theory. This is exactly like one of those staged feuds in pro wrestling. Somebody, presumably Fox, creates this rumor about Abdul. It gets publicity and ratings on Fox. ABC then does a special on it, which gets ABC ratings. This kid, Clark, gets publicity for his potential book. And Paula Abdul gets the best kind of publicity for a 43-year-old woman, that she's alive on the dating scene. Is this possible?

O'NEIL: It's really possible. To some extent, they're all after self-interest, and these are people with no integrity. Come on! This Corey Clark is somebody who beat up his 15-year-old sister. And when the cops came to get him, he beat them up. Paula Abdul has the musical reputation on an artistic level, shall we say, equal to David Hasselhoff. And this show has no presumption at all of fairness. You can vote one time, 10 times, if you can get through on the phone lines being jammed by producers who want to you vote for this one over that one.

OLBERMANN: Where would we be locally in all this, do you know? I mean, would a fix reverberate in any way similar to the way that the quiz show scandals of the '50s did?

O'NEIL: Yes, and that's really the $64,000 question here tonight because if this special can prove that Paula's affair - forget the seediness of the personal side of this. If the affair helped the status of this guy in the contest, it is in violation of FCC rules. And what the FCC rule says is that the show must be - the contest must be shut down. You can't solve this problem by just getting rid of the corrupt judge, you have to shut down the contest.

OLBERMANN: So the - then the fake theory, the publicity scandal intentional theory, requires them to discover this but - or to promote it and make a big deal about it, but not to prove it?

O'NEIL: Correct.

OLBERMANN: And the reason I say that is this - you know, they had to scheduled that emergency extra edition of the show this season because the voting got screwed up. And you know, the poor dears at Fox, it must have cost them millions to do that. Actually, no. What's the word I'm looking for? It made them millions. Do people who watch this really think it's all on the level?

O'NEIL: No. Anybody who follows this show knows how rigged this is. I'm still in therapy over the Ruben versus Clay thing. You know, it's going to take me a lifetime to get over that. But - no. And anybody who's watching now - look, this Scott Savol, who's on the show now, he couldn't - he'd be booed off the stage or lynched if he appeared at the karaoke contest at your corner saloon. What is he doing in the final five or six of this show?

OLBERMANN: So ultimately, though, I'm interested as a news consumer tonight of watching this hour-long special for what? For why? What reason? What nugget am I looking for?

O'NEIL: Beyond just the pure Cheese Wiz fun of catching Paula Abdul doing a duet under the sheets with a contestant is the legal side of this.


O'NEIL: How is the show affected? Because, Keith, this is the great American dream show. It means that you or I or any ordinary citizen can become a superstar here. And if that's fake, if that isn't true, then the basic premise of this show is faulty, just like "The $64,000 Question," because that was a dream show, too. Average citizen can become a superstar by pure brain power.

OLBERMANN: Well, fortunately, if it's not true on "American Idol," it will always be true here on MSNBC. At least there's that.

O'NEIL: That's right.

OLBERMANN: And I don't know about the big deal about Paula Abdul. I was in LA when she was a Laker girl, and who she slept with then didn't seem to bother anybody, 25 years ago. Tom O'Neil, senior editor for "In Touch" magazine, as always on these entertainment and legal nexi, thanks for joining us, sir.

O'NEIL: OK. Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. Thank you for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Just for the record, no, not me. Good night, and good luck.