Wednesday, May 11, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 11

Guest: Jim Moret

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

Red alert at the White House. A student pilot wanders into restricted airspace, all hell breaks loose at the presidential residence, the Capitol, the Supreme Court. It all seems to have gone OK. But did it? And would they have actually fired on a plane that weighs about a third as much as your average automobile?

His daughter broke curfew, insisted on staying and playing in the park. So Jerry Hobbs killed her, and her best friend. His confession to Illinois authorities.

McCauley Culkin's testimony. He was home alone with Michael Jackson, but Jackson never molested him, and he never saw Jackson molest anybody.

And a salute to Florida. It may have already been the state, the one that gave us the most strange stories. Then came this. In cover of darkness, two guys kidnapping two cats from an animal shelter from which they could have just adopted the two cats. Oh, boy.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

Spain has the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona. We now apparently have the annual running of the evacuees around the Capitol. In a virtual replay of the scare of last June 9, the White House, Supreme Court, and Capitol buildings emptied at midday today as security officers shouted about an imminent airplane threat.

Just like last June, it was a false alarm. This time, a midair showdown between two F-16 fighter jets and what turned out to be a pilot and a student out of Smoketown, Pennsylvania, on their way to a North Carolina air show.

Nancy Reagan was even affected again. Last time it was the Wednesday before her husband's funeral. Today, she was staying at the White House in advance of a dinner in her honor tonight.

Of course, it was not the airplane itself, a 35-year-old Cessna 150, that precipitated the White House's red alert. After all, a similar Cessna slammed into the White House 11 years ago. It barely dented the plaster.

It was what might have been in the aircraft that set off the panic, and that it got to within four miles, a minute and a half or two minutes away from the White House itself, although officials insist they had engaged the plane when it was still 21 miles and at least 17 minutes away.

All this started at 11:28 this morning Eastern time, when that plane was spotted approaching the restricted area and not responding to radio contact.

By noon, the two F-16s had intercepted the jet,circled it, fired four warning flares, and got the pilot, Jim Schaeffer (ph), and the trainee, Troy Martin (ph), to change course, which pretty much ended the incident as of 12:14 p.m., not counting, of course, however long it took to get hearts back to normal speed on the ground, including those of Schaeffer and Martin, who were released by authorities, not charged with any crime, at around 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

The president was biking in Maryland, so this didn't even affect him directly. The first lady and Mrs. Reagan were moved to a secure location within the White House. And Vice President Cheney was moved to his now-customary secure undisclosed secure location somewhere else.

By the way, not to make light of any of this, I was in the evacuation last year. No matter the perfect 2020 of hindsight, that is not what you're thinking while it's all happening.

At the White House, when the evacuation order came, it was Norah O'Donnell, who today was named chief Washington correspondent for NBC. Well, that's a hell of a way to celebrate a new job.


OLBERMANN: Give us the play-by-play of that experience, Norah.

O'DONNELL: Well, it was a heart-thumping moment, and it was just before noon, when this plane had already entered the restricted air space around the White House. Jets were scrambled. Someone in the briefing room, there was no sirens that went off, someone in the briefing room said, Hey, the guys have got the guns drawn outside. Something's going on.

At that point, all the reporters went outside. The Secret Service agents told us immediately, It's time to leave, go, go, go. We started running. And then we looked up, and we heard the F-16's scrambled, the roar of the F-16s tracking this Cessna and trying to get it out of the White House. It was within just three miles of the White House.

The president was not here. The vice president, I saw his motorcade quickly exit West Executive Avenue, the first lady and Nancy Reagan brought to a secure bunker, other White House officials were evacuated as well.

And then 15 minutes hear, the all-clear, as this plane was brought out of the restricted airspace, Keith.

OLBERMANN: As I said, last year, the evacuation of the Capitol, on the Wednesday of the week of President Reagan's death, and the funeral, then it was the plane of the Governor Fletcher of Kentucky which had strayed. I was in that one. In fact, while all the Washingtonians were running away from the Capitol, a group of us from New York were cleverly running towards it.

I am gathering that this event was taken a lot more seriously than last year's, felt a lot more serious. First off, am I right? And secondly, if so, why was that?

O'DONNELL: This was the highest alert since September 11, the White House, for the first time, going on red alert.

The reason was because in the previous incident, during Reagan's funeral, Governor Fletcher's plane, the squawker had been off. And so all of a sudden, they saw this plane. It was too late to scramble jets. It was just that it was - they didn't know what the plane was there.

They've been, today, they were tracking this Cessna since 11:30, as it entered the outer ring of restricted airspace and then the inner ring. So they were watching it. The jets were scrambled. It just kept getting closer. They were incommunicado, they couldn't get in touch with them.

It was only until those flares went off that the plane decided to veer off and move. So this was a much more serious, in term of the White House. But, I mean, as you noticed, this happened, noted, this happened a year ago, and then two weeks ago, we had a similar piercing of the restricted airspace, which caused some evacuation of the White House.

So this is scary. And last time this happened, two weeks ago, the president was also brought to the secure bunker. That's the first time he had - that had happened since September 11.

OLBERMANN: So we know that the president wasn't there, as you mentioned and as I mentioned. And we also know that he was not notified about the entire event until 45 minutes after the all-clear. And that raises the question, do we know who handled the decision, the big decision here today, on shooting down, or, in this case, not shooting down a private aircraft?

O'DONNELL: First, let's make that, that, that very clear. The president was on a bike ride today. We'd just gotten back from this European trip. The White House has now disclosed that even though the White House was evacuated, that Vice President Cheney was evacuated, that the president's wife and Nancy Reagan were brought to a secure bunker, that the president was not informed during his bike ride that this was going on.

The White House says the reason is because they were able to determine that the president was not in any danger, and they said that all of the different protocols were in place. It did not require the president's approval. And that's why the president was not informed until 12:50, after he had finished his bike ride.

This is clearly going to be the subject of more discussion, as the days go on, just as it was on September 11, when the president had not been in - did not know until after he had finished reading his book down in that Florida school. So clearly, this will be a subject of discussion.

Who made the decision not to shoot down the plane? Well, U.S. military officials were tracking this, a number of other government agencies.

We've been told that NBC News and our colleague Jim Miklaszewski first reported that the shootdown order was never given in this case, and that's because they recognized that there was no hostile intent on the part of this Cessna. It merely just appeared to be an accident. And the guy had been flying by sight. It did not appear that he was flying towards the White House. It was merely (INAUDIBLE) that he just didn't know where he was going.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell, who will always remember exactly which was her first day in this job.

Congratulations, chief. Many thanks.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Let's go a little further on the nuts and bolts of the response. As false alarm and unscheduled fire drills go, was this a good one, or a bad one?

We're joined now by Roger Cressey, formerly of the National Security Council and now a terrorism analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.

Good evening, Roger.


OLBERMANN: The big question first, was that, do you think, from looking at this thing in a timeline sense, was that a decision not to shoot a plane down? Or did we never get that close enough to make that decision?

CRESSEY: I don't think we got close enough to have that actual decision made. But when F-16s are dropping flares, you're getting closer than you've ever have before. We came real close to having a couple early candidates for the Darwin (ph) Awards, I'll tell you that.

OLBERMANN: Break the day down into its critical components from your perspective, and give each of these components a letter grade, if you'd be so kind.

CRESSEY: Well, I think Secret Service and the Capitol police, they'd get high marks, because they did the notification quickly, people moved quickly. I think NORAD and the air defense infrastructure worked well. I also give high marks to the Customs police and others around. I give low marks to the pilot, of course.

But overall, I think this was a good reminder that you have to have plans and procedures in place that allow to you respond rapidly to this type of scenario.

OLBERMANN: But about the evacuation, what kind of grade does that get? Was it an overreaction? Will it happen exactly the same way the next time this happens?

CRESSEY: Well, never happen the same way again. I - overreaction? Look, I mean, it is a judgment call, and I'm sympathetic to the timelines that people are operating under. In some respects, this was an easy one, Keith, with a slow-moving Cessna plane. You got time to really think about your decisions.

If it was a fast mover, a jet airliner, the timeline gets collapsed, and people have to make decisions a hello of a lot quicker, and sometimes that leads to fire first and ask questions later.

OLBERMANN: Were you surprise that the president was not involved in this process until it was after? Since originally, the authority on shooting down a private plane or a commercial plane would have been entirely his. It has since devolved to several others, including the secretary of defense. But they did not contact him about this until nearly 1:00?

CRESSEY: No, I don't think it's a big deal, given how we were able to ascertain pretty quickly there was no hostile intent.

You know, having been in the White House on 9/11, I know firsthand the challenges of the rules of engagement we had that day. They've delegated authority based on particular scenarios. So depending on who is there, be it the vice president or the president, they have a playbook for dealing with how you escalate, how you delegate, and how you actually give the order.

So I think the process worked well. The key now is in the after-action review, for everyone to take a look and see, What did we do well? What can we do better? And, in a more threatening scenario, how would we respond differently?

OLBERMANN: The private pilots' associations have been pushing for less restricted air space, especially in Washington. The administration just this past week was arguing for reopening Reagan National in Washington to private planes or to private small commercial planes. Did all that evaporate today?

CRESSEY: No, I don't think it went away. I think there's going to be greater scrutiny on the proposal. And that's not a bad thing, because you need to have a real dialogue between all the stakeholders as to, What are the plans? What are the procedures? And how do we make sure, if we have another situation like this, it doesn't escalate to the point where somebody actually does lose their life?

OLBERMANN: Last question, not meant entirely seriously. But you brought up the question of the flares, and we've been talking about them all day. What happened to those four flares? Did they wind up in somebody's backyard in Maryland? Or where - what happens to them?

CRESSEY: Well, the good news is, no brushfire were started as a result. They pretty much evaporate in the air once they burn out. So someone may get some cinders on their ground, but it's more decorative than anything else.

OLBERMANN: Trivial, but everybody was asking.

MSNBC counterterror analyst Roger Cressey. As always, Roger, great thanks for your time.

CRESSEY: Pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Before we leave this, let's just recap the timeline today as released by the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan. At 11:28 a.m., that first report of an aircraft about 15 miles from the White House airwise, inside that 50-mile restricted zone, on a path that would put it into the literal no-fly restricted airspace. At 11:55 a.m., Black Hawk helicopters go up to check it out. At 11:59 a.m., the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court put on yellow alerts.

Twelve noon, the F-16s scrambled to intercept the plane, 12:01, the threat alert at the White House raised from yellow to orange. Twelve-oh-three p.m., raised again from orange to red, 12:11 p.m., the plane safely on its way out of the airspace, the alert level returned to yellow, and 12:14 p.m., the all-clear.

If it feels a little like mid-September of 2001, maybe that's understandable. A false alarm today, a false alarm yesterday, a grenade thrown towards the president yesterday in the Republic of Georgia, the one nobody saw being thrown, it may not have been thrown.

The chairman of the Georgia's national security council saying today only that it was, quote, "found" 100 feet away from the stage from which Mr. Bush spoke. A Russian RPG-5 grenade, dating from the era of the Soviet Union, found by a security man working the crowd at Freedom Square in Tblisi, determined to be inactive, and, in the chairman's words, "a so-called engineering grenade."

Of course, he did not definitively say that it wasn't found after it had been thrown and hit a spectator, which was yesterday's report. But the grenade evidently was not blown up, since the man added that it was being, quote, "studied jointly by the Georgian and American sides."

No false alarms, sadly, in Iraq. An all-too-familiar phrase, at least 67 more people are dead there. The latest from Baghdad.

And the heartrending and grisly confession from Zion, Illinois. Why and how a father killed his own 8-year-old daughter and her best friend.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Imagine the impact if it had been in American lives, and it becomes almost incomprehensible. Nearly 400 dead in Iraq in less than two weeks, the swell of violence claiming at least 67 Iraqi lives just today. Measured by its ability to kill the citizens of a new democracy, the insurgency is experiencing unarguable success.

But as Richard Engel reports to us from Baghdad, much harder to quantify is what the insurgency really wants, and where it might be planning to strike next.


RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The story was tragic, grisly, and too familiar in Hawija (ph) today. A hundred fifty people were looking for jobs as police. A suicide bomber killed 30 of them.

In Baghdad, three car bombs killed at least four people. And in Tikrit, the death toll it was 27. But the target was less clear, shoppers in a market.

Four hundred people have been killed in the past two weeks.

We found Mahboud Awad (ph) rebuilding his currency exchange shop in Baghdad. It was destroyed last week by a car bomb. Six of his neighbors were killed. He's baffled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know, who are they? This is, this is a -

· What do they want?

COL. MARIO COSTAGLIOLA, U.S. ARMY 42ND INFANTRY DIVISION: The only explanation is that they're trying to delegitimize the government and make the Iraqi people feel unsafe.

ENGEL: U.S. and Iraqi officials suggest there are at least three reasons why attacks are up to 70 a day from 30 or 40 a day a month ago. Isolation, Sunni Muslims feel they are excluded from the Shi'ite-dominated government. Indecision, the new government took three months to appoint defense and interior ministers, paralyzing the security forces. And foreign fighters, senior U.S. military officials say there's been an influx of al Qaeda-like militants.

That's why the U.S. military is fighting back with the most aggressive offensive in months, near the border with Syria. It's now in its fourth day.

COL. ROBERT CHASE, 2ND MARINE DIVISION (on phone): Our goal is to stay within their decision cycle, to keep them tired and keep them moving, not allow them rest and not allow them to rearm or regenerate their forces.

ENGEL (on camera): But the offensive offers little comfort to the dozens of Iraqis who will be burying relatives tomorrow, wondering why they were the target, and where insurgents will attack next.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, from the unbearable to the unbelievable. You pays your money and you takes your chances, as a female commuter in Tokyo. The grope-free zone.

And extreme headlines from Florida. A manhunt for kitty-nappers, K-I-T-T-Y, kitty nappers. We will pay special tribute to the state that keeps the news hits coming.


OLBERMANN: We're back, and once again, we pause our Countdown of the day's important news for a brief segment of silly stories and stupid video. Don't laugh at it, it's up for a major award. Well, not really. Fragile, must be Italian.

Let's play Oddball.

That's a Christmas-story joke.

In the United States, of course, the use of cell phones on trains has become some - so annoying that Amtrak has designated quiet cars for passengers who want to escape all the racket. In Tokyo, you're out of luck about cell phones.

But there is some good news. There's now a new no-groping section. The last car on every metropolitan train has been designated as a women-only car marked with bright pink signs. This, officials say, how they will clamp down on the out-of-control groping of women on trains by Japanese men.

Yes, that should work. And I guess the rest of the train is for grope volunteers.

Female passengers have been rushing to the pink doors to try to get a spot on the crowded last car. Of course, same-sex women daters now have an interesting commuting choice, don't they?

Advice to women tourists headed for Tokyo, pepper spray, and plenty of it.

To Rome, where the new Pope Benedict XVI is beginning to define his papacy, and there are some slight changes from the last guys, like the saber dance in the background of his picture. And also, for instance, rule number one, more papal booze endorsements.

German brewery Stuttgarter Hofbrau says it was having trouble selling its wheat beer until it discovered that back in his cardinal days, it happened to be the new pope's favorite brand. So they put him on the label. And now the beer is flowing like wine. The pope actually gave his permission to use his image. And in return, the brewery this week sent 185 gallons of it to the Vatican.

It's good to be the pope.

Finally, if not pope beer, then some other alcohol delivery system must have been involved in the meticulously planned escape attempt last night at the county jail in Martinez, California. Cops say Mr. Richard Allen was trying to bust his lady friend out of the Big House. So he showed up in the middle of the night with a plan. Step one, throw homemade bomb into lobby of jail to create diversion. Step two, smash through metal front door of jail with van. Step three - Well, there was no step three. The first two didn't work too well either, because the wick fell out of his homemade bomb, so it never exploded, and the metal door held. Oops.

Richard Allen is now in the Big House with his lady friend.

Step four, I put bomb in room where are moose and squirrel. I go into other room with lady spy. Who gets blown up? Me.

The prosecution has dreams of making Michael Jackson plan an escape. But today, he had a witness described as the most composed yet in the trial, McCauley Culkin.

Go ahead. Make the "O" with your mouth and slap your face with your hands. I'll wait for you.

A Jacko three-fer tonight. Our eBay charity auction of the Jackson puppets continues. And tonight, we will have another installment of Puppet Theater itself.

These stories ahead.

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

Number three, Anna Loach, coordinator of New Zealand's Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Support Group. This was the International Awareness Day for chronic fatigue. Ms. Loach said her members in New Zealand put up a couple of posters in libraries, but basically, that was all the energy they could muster today.

Number two, Jim Sterling, Republican chairman of Seminole County in Florida. He is suing another committee member there, saying she tried to sabotage his bid to head Florida's Republican Party, the state Republican Party, by claiming that Sterling had been married six times. That's unconscionable, Sterling says. I've only been married five times.


And number one, Ontario Smith of football's Minnesota Vikings. This newsmaker, incidentally, was sent in by a Mr. D. Patrick of Bristol, Connecticut. Thank you, Dan. Smith was detained at the airport in Minneapolis-St. Paul after screeners found he had a device with him designed to circumvent drug tests. It was called the Original Wizzinator (ph), obviously so you would not confuse it with any of the cheap ripoff wizzinators.

Also found on Smith's person, sex or seven vials of dried urine, which we can only hope were somehow needed to make the device work.


OLBERMANN: The crime itself was horrific enough, two young girls literally butchered on Mother's Day by one of their fathers. But we must warn you in advance that exactly how and why Jerry Hobbs allegedly murdered his 8-year-old daughter, Laura, and her 9-year-old best friend, Krystal Tobias, is the stuff of nightmares. Police in Zion, Illinois, say that Hobbs confessed to the brutal crimes in oral, written and videotaped statement. And for good or for ill, the prosecutors shared the details today with the media.


JEFFREY PAVLETIC, LAKE COUNTY ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY: Mr. Hobbs, the defendant, indicated that he went to the park and he was looking for Laura, who is his natural daughter. He said that she had been a little bit of a discipline problem. She had been suspected of taking some money from her mother. She had recently been grounded. And she had been recently, as recently as this weekend, had been taken off being grounded. He thought that the girl was having too much latitude as to what she can and can't do.

Between 4:30 and 7:00 o'clock on Sunday night, he said that he went out to the park. He said that he went out to the park, he was looking for Laura to bring her home. He said that he went out there. He was in the wooded area that's north of Beulah Park. He said that he saw her with Krystal. He said that he then confronted Laura and said, Come home. You're coming home with me. She said she didn't want to. An argument developed.

He then said, in his own words, that he had punched her twice, at least twice, in the face. She went down to the ground. Krystal then came to Laura's rescue. The defendant then stated that he punched her to the ground, as well. He then stated that during this period of time, Krystal, who was coming to the aid of Laura, had pulled out what he described as a potato knife. He said that once that potato knife was pulled out, he said that is when he then struck Krystal. He then took the knife from her and then repeatedly began to stab both girls in the bodies.

You can see, through the injuries to these individuals, the rage that was exhibited. I mean, this was a slaughter of two little girls. Laura had 20 stab wounds to her. She was stabbed in the neck. She was stabbed in the abdomen. She was stabbed once in each eye. Krystal had also been stabbed 11 times. She had been stabbed in the neck and she had been stabbed in the abdomen, as well. And to get an idea of the type of thrust that was being used, the injuries to Laura's neck actually not only went through tissue but were striking the spinal cord, as well.


OLBERMANN: Prosecutors say they do not believe that Krystal Tobias was carrying a murder weapon or that either girl posed any kind of physical threat to Hobbs. He remains in jail tonight. No bond.

Once again, we can almost be thankful for the Jackson trial. Your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 541 of the Michael Jackson investigations. And after the back and forth over whether he would testify, the actor Macaulay Culkin did, and to Jackson's evident benefit. Our correspondent, Karen Brown, now from outside the courthouse.


KAREN BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Actor Macaulay Culkin made sure that Michael Jackson was not alone in his fight against his molestation charges. The 24-year-old actor, perhaps best known for his "Home Alone" movies, testified that the accusations against Jackson were absolutely ridiculous. Culkin described his friend as child-like, and even under tough cross-examination, Culkin said that sharing a bed with Jackson was all part of the innocent fun of the Neverland ranch.

The actor described how their friendship began when he was 9. He said Jackson called to talk about being a child celebrity, and then they developed a close relationship that involved trips, phone calls, and even expensive gifts.

But legal analysts said Culkin's description of their friendship is that to similar to that of other alleged victims.

SUSAN FILAN, FORMER CONNECTICUT PROSECUTOR: What he described was the exact same pattern of grooming to set the stage for molestation. And even though he denied it, it's not necessarily a fact.

BROWN: Culkin is the first on a long list of celebrities who could testify for the singer.

(on camera): During the prosecution's case, the former chef at the Neverland ranch testified that back in the early '90s, did he see Michael Jackson inappropriately touch Macaulay Culkin. In Santa Maria, Karen Brown, NBC News.


OLBERMANN: To figure this day out, I'm joined again by legal analyst, senior correspondent for the syndicated program "Inside Edition," Jim Moret. Good to talk to you again, my friend.

JIM MORET, LEGAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith. How are you?

OLBERMANN: Some of the courtroom observers said Macaulay Culkin made a very believable, and rare for this trial, a calm and collected witness. Is that your assessment, too?

MORET: Absolutely. You know, he walked in, it was dead quiet in that courtroom. He walked in. He was of affable. He was calm. He was charming. He smiled a great deal. And he was very believable.

And Susan Filan, your legal analyst, is right. He did describe what was similar to this grooming pattern, but there's one very significant difference with Macaulay Culkin. He said Michael Jackson understood him. Michael Jackson actually called Macaulay Culkin after the "Home Alone" movie came out, and that's how they started their friendship. And Macaulay Culkin said Michael Jackson understood what it was like to be taunted, to be hunted, if you will, by paparazzi, people outside in the bushes, people trying to prey on and make money off you when you're a big star. So there was this bond and an understanding between them. And that's what was different about this witness.

OLBERMANN: But about that bond, that argument about fellow child

stars - the defense tactic here is what, to portray Michael Jackson as a -

· still a 10-year-old child star trapped in a 46-year-old man's body?

MORET: I think that's exactly it. You know, you have to make this huge leap, where it's OK to sleep in beds with 10, 11, 12-year-old boys. Macaulay Culkin said that Michael Jackson is basically Peter Pan. He is a kid. He's trapped in a grown man's body. But he had an arrested development himself at age 10, and he's basically a big kid, and he can relate to other kids only. He doesn't trust other people because they always want something from him because he's a celebrity. And it was a very interesting argument.

Once you make that bizarre argument, you've got to find somebody to support it. Macaulay Culkin, I think, is the first link in that step.

OLBERMANN: Has the prosecution had its cross yet? And if not, where are they going to go with this? Are they going to try to say, Well, of course, you say you were not molested. It would be a very embarrassing thing for a 24-year-old man, let alone one who is in the entertainment industry right now.

MORET: Right. And you have to realize that Macaulay Culkin wants to have a career. He said he took a break after he was 14. He intends to be an actor. It would certainly not help him to come to this courtroom. The prosecution did a very strident, quick, rapid-fire examination. Macaulay Culkin was unflappable and basically held the position that absolutely nothing inappropriate happened between him and Michael Jackson.

OLBERMANN: Jim, a different topic to wrap it up. The judge also admitted a 2-hour-40-minute video that's going to be shown. Is this - what is this, an episode of "Behind the Music" with our old colleague, Jim Forbes (ph)? Or what is this?

MORET: No. It's actually outtakes from the Bashir documentary that aired on ABC and also in England. And what it is, essentially, it's Michael Jackson testifying without cross-examination because it's Jackson talking about his horrible childhood, how he really didn't experience childhood, how that's why he clings to the notion of being a kid today. It's dramatic and very powerful because it enables the defense, through Tom Mesereau's promise to this jury, to hear what Michael Jackson has to say, and yet it's perfectly clean. There's no cross-examination whatsoever. So the defense puts its spin, and that's what hangs out there for the jury.

OLBERMANN: What a wonderful thing videotape is. Jim Moret, attorney, legal analyst, senior correspondent for "Inside Edition" and old friend, thank you once again for joining us, sir.

MORET: Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: The testimony of Macaulay Culkin, a man of the theater. Tonight, a man of the puppet theater. Yes, with in-court cameras not available, there is always, now and forever, "Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Culkin, you say that Mr. Jackson never touched you, that the accusation is completely ridiculous, that you never saw him bother any other child. What would your reaction be then to all these witnesses here who say they saw him touching you?


"MICHAEL JACKSON": Man, that was predictable! Big-shot eBay auction guys. You mailed it in today, huh? Woo-hoo!


OLBERMANN: Cast getting snippy. We can always auction that Michael Jackson off, too. That puppet is a second edition.

The original can still be yours, if the price is right. That's right, the creative geniuses behind what could only be describe as the most cutting-edge TV production ever made out of popsicle sticks have put six of the original puppets on the block. The eBay for charity, the Celiac-Sprue Association, is up to $15,000 - $15,000! Sorry. With just over 24 hours left in the bidding, it closes at 9:00 PM Eastern tomorrow. We'll announce the lucky winner on Friday's edition of Countdown - $15,000! Be there. Aloha.

My old friend, the late Elizabeth Montgomery, would have been proud of this theatrical nonsense, but not everybody is proud of the statue of her that will now be dedicated in Salem, Massachusetts. One modern-day witch says the idea is an affront on many levels. She will join us.

And judge not lest ye be judged. A week ago, he was running the Democrats out of his North Carolina church. Now they are staying and he is going. Stand by.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, America, you love the Jackson trial. But boring sketches and scary talking heads don't come close to getting you into the courtroom. Until now! Finally, Countdown with Keith Olbermann has brought America's love affair with celebrity trials and puppetry together in this very special TV offer. It's the Michael Jackson Puppet Theater Home Starters Kit. Hand-chiseled from real popsicle sticks by unskilled laborers at MSNBC, Countdown's puppets are only the highest quality. Just watch it slice through this ripe tomato. You'll get the Jackson puppet, the Sneddon puppet, Mesereau and the judge. But that's not all! Act now and we'll throw in Bubbles the Chimp and Fancy Pajama Michael. That's six puppets, all autographed by Keith Olbermann. Log onto Search "Michael Jackson Puppet Theater" and make your bid today!



OLBERMANN: They do not usually get 50 citizens to show up for the meeting of the redevelopment authority in the city of Salem. Massachusetts. Come to think of it, insert any city name you choose in there, and they usually don't get 50 citizens to show up for their redevelopment authority meetings, either. Then again, they don't vote on whether or not to put up a TV network-sponsored statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha from "Bewitched" in the middle of a town still notorious for its 1692 witch trials.

The newspaper, "The Salem News," reports that there was about a 50-50 split of public support last night at that meeting. One opponent, as we quoted yesterday, likened the idea to that network, TVland, putting up a statue of Colonel Klink from "Hogan's Heroes" at Auschwitz. But the redevelopment authority listened for 90 minutes and voted 4-nothing in favor of going ahead and putting up the statue of the late actress, complete with broom and hat, directly across the street from the site of the church in which some of the 19 victims of the witch hunt were excommunicated before they were hanged 313 years ago.

It has always been asked why that happened, why the whole event took place. Everybody talks about the Salem witch trial, but nobody seems to understand what occurred. It was a PBS documentary last year that suggested that what set the whole thing in terrifying motion was accidental poisoning of the city's grain supply - ergot poisoning, they called it - that anybody who ate bad grain would have acted like people on LSD do. There would have been death, disease, hallucination and paranoia, and that that might have been explained both those people who looked like they were possessed and others who said witches must be at the cause of all this.

And a big development from a more modern religious scandal tonight, the one at the East Waynesville Baptist church in North Carolina, split down the middle since Pastor Chan Chandler declared that nine people who voted for John Kerry were no longer members of his church. Tonight, he is no longer the pastor. Offering his resignation but not an apology to his congregation last night, the pastor said that to remain at the church would only hurt his family. And just as nearly half the congregation walked out last week, 40 supporters of the pastor have now left the church when he did last night.

Thus the nightly segue to our round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs." And leading off: born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia, King Tut. This, after careful forensic investigation by French scientists, is what the boy pharaoh of the Egyptians of 3,300 years ago would have looked like if he'd been sitting on a Lazy Susan. They do not know what killed him. They say he had a leg broken. And he was 19 years old when he died, and he may have been a reckless driver. But as to his appearance, well, yes, it's a cross between Barbra Streisand and Sinead O'Connor.

With more on this, our King Tut expert, correspondent George Lewis.


GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The ancient Egyptians always portrayed King Tut in glorious terms, the boy ruler worshipped as a god. But in reality, Tit may have looked far less glamorous - more like this, or this. These reconstructions created by teams of artists and scientists from Egypt, France, and the United States are based on high-tech computerized X-ray images of Tut's mummified body, so-called CT scans taken in January, 1,700 3D images in all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the finished time, we can see King Tut as we see each other in a photograph today.

LEWIS: The reconstructions are featured in the June issue of "National Geographic" and the program "King Tut's Final Secrets" that will air Sunday on the National Geographic channel.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The face of King Tutankhamen, the face that ruled ancient Egypt 3,330 years ago.


LEWIS: Some observers say the French depiction of Tut makes him look kind of wimpy, a guy with a receding chin and a strangely shaped skull. The Internet today was full of jokes about how he resembles Barbra Streisand.

(on camera): Americans will soon have a chance to judge for themselves. The busts are part of a traveling King Tut exhibition coming to this country next month. First stop, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

(voice-over): Curator Nancy Thomas (ph), who presides over the museum's collection of Egyptian art, says the ancient Egyptians used plenty of artistic license in depicting King Tut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was a young man of 19, probably somewhat modest and not, you know, the big, bold warrior that he might have been depicted to be.

LEWIS: Bold warrior or not, with his new image, Tut is bound to attract millions of spectators when he come to museums around this country. And people will probably remark, Hey, doesn't he resemble So-and-So?

George Lewis, NBC News, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN: A little bit of Boy George in there, too.

One thing the French scientists did not determine and did not even offer a real theory was the ongoing discussions about the possibility that King Tut, Tutankhamen, had been murdered, possibly by one of his tutors or one of the potential suitors of the Egyptian throne 3,300 years ago. That would be then a case of "CSI Egypt."

The forensics of a mummified television program now for Dennis Miller on our sister network, CNBC, is, Bye-bye, Cha-Cha (ph). The last program will be Friday night. The network hoped to continue its current line-up into summer, it says, but the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member said, when notified that his show would not be continuing, Let's get it over with pronto, babe. The program debuted not quite 16 months ago. Dennis goes, the chimpanzee remains CNBC property.

Also tonight, kitty-napping. Well, why not? It happened in Florida. And if it makes weird headlines or leaves you scratching your head or laughing your head off, like this, the odds are, 6-to-5 that it occurred in the Sunshine State. Countdown's special tribute to Florida, my Florida, is up after this.


OLBERMANN: I've seen some pretty dumb things in my life, but our number one story in the Countdown may take that putrid cake. It may be the equivalent of hijacking a garbage truck. Somewhere in this surveillance tape - oh, a kitty! - two guys, one of them wearing heavy work gloves, breaking into an animal shelter and kidnapping two cats - two cats! - regarding whom they could have come in at any time during business hours and simply adopted. Now sheriff's deputies are investigating them because even if they had something unhappy planned for these cats they stole, adopting them would have been legal anyway, but cat-napping is a crime.

And where did that happen? Where else but at the Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control facility in Florida. Florida! Florida, Florida, Florida! When we need a bizarre story for this program, we first thumb through the humidity-soaked newspaper columns and Web sites of the place where kitty-nappers are still on the run.


(voice-over): America, U.S. and A. Here at Countdown, we love each and every state in the union for all the wonderful stories they bring us, from the runaway brides of Georgia to the celebrity trials of California...


OLBERMANN:... from the prison camps of West Virginia to the sexually unfocused mayors of the great Northwest...


MAYOR JAMES WEST (R), SPOKANE: I don't deny that.


OLBERMANN:... each state has something to offer Countdown. But one state in particular seems to bring more to the table time after lovable time. It's the state that brought us count-recount, the pregnant, dimpled, hanging and regular chads, Katherine Harris, Bush vs. Gore itself, the state that brought us the midnight raid of Elian Gonzalez, the state that brought us the Schiavo saga. And it's the state that brings us more crazy news than we can shake a rundown at.

It's Florida, 900 miles of gator-taping, doctor-shopping, tiger-groping, mullet-wearing, kitty-snatching, Virgin-Mary-sandwich-selling Countdown contributors. When network news anchors want to get whipped around in a storm, they head to Florida. When Vanilla Ice looses his wallaroo (ph), which state does he lose it in? Florida. When the president courts those NASCAR dads...




OLBERMANN:... or when he wants to listen to his iPod during a debate, where does he go? Florida! When dumb criminals with dumb hairdos get drunk and ride scooters, where does it happen? Florida!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You try driving a goped (ph) drunk. It's impossible.


OLBERMANN: When you need a robotic blaster (ph) refrigerator to bring you cool beers, where can you find it? Florida! When Donald Trump gets married - again - where does he get married? Florida! When D.C. (ph) and Toto the dogs get married, where do they get married? Florida! When an Orange County sheriff's deputy uses an elevator as a port-a-john? Florida! When amateur dentists decide to open a practice in a garage? Florida! When sumo wrestlers go street surfing, get caught and aren't worried about the charges...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I got a great lawyer and a lot of money, so I don't really care a whole lot.


OLBERMANN: Florida! When Fidel Castro gets crank called, who's on the line? Florida! Car chases, blown-up (ph) bridges, alligators, sharks, manatees, even Tarzan's tigers. Florida, our most favoritist peninsula in the whole wide world, including Wangaparoa (ph) penninsula in New Zealand. When it comes to the news that we here at Countdown use, Florida is numero uno!


yes, we hope we have the same sort of success as the grilled cheese lady from Florida. A little reminder that the eBay auction still - shows something. Thank you. The eBay auction still continues almost to the 24-hour mark. A bid on the 24-hour mark, and exactly the 24-hour mark, usually wins these eBay things, I'm told.

I just made that up because we're trying to kill some time.

That's Florida. That's the Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre auction, and that's another edition of Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.