Wednesday, May 18, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 18

Guest: Dana Milbank

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

The Democrats call each of the judges radicals. The Republicans call the Democrats' protests radical. Neither side is presumably using the slang meaning "terrific." The nuclear option is nigh.

Apparently that's the way Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was thinking at a meeting in Syria last month. The U.S. believes he personally ordered the surge from the insurgents.

His debt was $50. But forget a pound of flesh. The guy he owed was willing to accept just a fingertip. And that's how the finger-in-the-fast-food-chili story started.

And "Star Wars," the new flick opens to the same old crowd. While we tour their gallery of immortals - well, maybe "immortals" is the wrong word - while we tour their gallery in our Hall of Fame.

All that and more now on Countdown.

Good evening.

Of the countless arcane procedures and laws in Roberts' Rules of Order, only the filibuster has any kind of romantic connotation to it, largely because of its pivotal role in the plot of the Frank Capra film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Jimmy Stewart, as described by the actual radio commentator H.B. Kaltenborn, keeping the entire Senate at bay by employing, quote, "the right to talk your head off."

The American privilege of free speech in its most dramatic form, the least man in that chamber, once he gets and holds that floor by the rules, can hold it and talk as long as he can stand on his feet.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, make no mistake about it, there is nothing either of Frank Capra or Jimmy Stewart in today's real-life filibuster fight, which has kicked off with the Republican majority moving the first judicial nomination, that of Judge Priscilla Owen, towards a vote next week.

And by the way, I'm no H.B. Kaltenborn, either.

Anyone seeking closure from the filibuster fight may be waiting for quite some time. But if it's cloture you're after, that is, the parliamentary rule limiting debate, sometimes the process of forcing a vote, then uninterrupted viewing of C-Span is the remedy for you.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: The issue is not cloture votes per se, it's the partisan leadership-led use of cloture votes to kill, to defeat, to assassinate these nominees.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: The words are expressed during the course of the debate that those of us who oppose these nominees are setting out to kill, to defeat, or to assassinate these nominees. Those words should be taken from this record. Those words are inappropriate. Those words go too far.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: She is not a rabble-rousing speaker. Priscilla Owen is a judge. She's soft-spoken. She's scholarly. She's what you would want a judge to be.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: I did sit down and meet with Judge Owen yesterday at the request of the senator from Texas. And I couldn't agree more. She was a lovely person. But this is not a debate about a lovely person, this is a debate about a record, and judicial decisions.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The Senate now faces dual threats, one called the filibuster, and the other the constitutional or nuclear option, which rival the U.S.-USSR confrontation of mutual assured destruction. Both situations are accurately described by the acronym MAD.


OLBERMANN: Judiciary chair Specter, still showing the aftereffects of his treatment for Hodgkin's disease, among the Republican moderates who are trying to broker a deal of some kind that would avoid a filibuster if not avoid the end of the filibuster as we know it.

But is that in line with what the rest of his party really wants?

In a moment, who those judicial nominees actually are.

First, the fight pitting party against party, and perhaps the Grand Old Party against itself.

Here to help us call the action, "Washington Post" national political reporter Dana Milbank.

Good evening, Dana.


OLBERMANN: The minority leader, Senator Reid of Nevada, suggested a senators-only meeting, get in a room and close the door, and apart from the temptation to lock them in a room and seal the door shut permanently, is that compromise possible? Or are any of those moderates like Specter getting anywhere with their compromise attempts?

MILBANK: Well, the - it's good that you phrased it that way, because it's two completely different issues.

The leadership is pretty much hopeless on both sides of this. They are getting pressured by their bases on either side. They have no real political incentive to have a compromise. The moderates, that's another story. And things are looking better today than they had previously. There's all kind of rumors of a potential deal being brokered right now.

And it's - really the only way it could happen now is for the moderates to say, Look, we've had it, Senator Frist and Senator Reid. We're going to take on with the - take care of this ourselves.

OLBERMANN: But if there is a possible compromise amid essentially the rank and file, would not Senator Frist or Senator Reid, would they be in the position of trying to break that up and trying to use the whip on their own members - members of their own party?

MILBANK: They can try, but that's the beauty of it when you have a chamber where five votes can make the difference. And that's what they're sort of working out here, is the idea that, OK, we will keep our right to filibuster for the future, but we're going to let through these judges. And if you have six Republicans who are going to agree to that, then that's all you need. It doesn't really matter what Frist does with the other 45 of them.

OLBERMANN: But is Frist in too much of a political - off too much on a political limb after that appearance on the religious broadcast several weeks back? I mean, essentially, he made this, or he endorsed by his presence this idea that the attempt to stop these judges and other judges is, as they said, a filibuster against people of faith.

MILBANK: Well, there was some more talk of that today. And (INAUDIBLE) as your clip showed, you know, you get to a point where you're suggesting the other side is trying to kill and assassinate, that you're probably beyond the point of no return in terms of a compromise.

The Democrats are in a similar position. You hear words like "tyranny" and "dictatorship." It's really sort of an overblown day. The only sort of sympathetic words on the floor were the chaplain as he kicked off, asking for peace and unity. And that lasted about 12 minutes, by my watch.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of lengths of time, let's go back to the prospect of filibustering and the Frank Capra thing. Harry Reid did an eight-and-a-half-hour filibuster on the right to filibuster two years ago. But that's not even close to the record. Strom Thurmond went 24 hours in 1957 against race relations rights, Al D'Amato 23 ½ hours, Wayne Morse 22 ½ hours. Would the Democrats need somebody with big lungs who plays the Jimmy Stewart role here, or will it never even get that far?

MILBANK: Forget about the lungs, you'd need a tremendously strong bladder, because as soon as you leave the chamber for a moment, you're finished.

But fortunately for everybody, we don't to have deal with a Mr. Smith situation. It's really going to be over with very quickly. We're going to have this debate for a few days, then we get to - maybe it will be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. The question will be brought up. There will be objections from the Democrats. They won't reach cloture, as you spoke of that word.

A point of order will be called, presumably by the vice president. And they will decide this thing one way or the other right there before our very eyes, and nobody gets to read the encyclopedia or the phone book.

OLBERMANN: No all-night C-Span coverage, alas.

"Washington Post" national political reporter Dana Milbank. As always, Dana, great thanks.

MILBANK: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Many would argue that this fight has less to do with the merits of the nominees than with the machinations of American politics today. Nevertheless, who these judges are and what they stand for remains an important factor in this debate, the Senate beginning by weighing the candidacy of the Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen. Conservatives call her an ideal choice. Her opponents accuse her of - say it with me, now - judicial activism, citing, in particular, her decisions in parental notification of abortion cases.

The other name we'll be hearing a lot of on Capitol Hill in the coming days, Janice Rogers Brown, justice on the California Supreme Court. controversial not as much for her decisions as for the socially conservative views she has expressed in some of the speeches she has given away from her bench.

Those are the broad strokes. Here to help us flesh out more of the details is our justice correspondent, Pete Williams, in Washington.

Good evening, Pete.


OLBERMANN: We're seeing Judge Owen first. We heard Senator Murray of Washington call her a lovely person and then say, Yes, but she shouldn't be on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Why specifically do the Democrats feel "not" about her?

WILLIAMS: Well, you mentioned the abortion cases, and that is very important to them, because they say in a series of cases involving the Texas parental notification law, she interpreted the law more narrowly than the legislature wrote it, saying that fewer young people could get through the hoops which allowed some exceptions to giving notice or permission from parents.

And they often cite that in one of his opinions, when he was on the Texas Supreme Court with her, Alberto Gonzales, who is now the attorney general, said that that view of the law was an unconscionable form of judicial activism.

Now, we should point out, Attorney General Gonzales supports her nomination and said at the time he wasn't specifically referring to her, but nonetheless, that is the accusation.

They also say that she is very pro-business, to the point that she is anticonsumer, they believe, siding against people when they have lawsuits against companies for product liability and that kind of thing.

So for all those reasons, they say that she is - her temperament is out of the legal mainstream. Now, her supporters, Keith say that the Texas law she was interpreting was very vague, and she was doing her best to clarify a muddy law.

OLBERMANN: Is it black and white about Judge Owen? Are the same things that the Democrats see as (INAUDIBLE) disqualifiers, like the Texas abortion notification case, are those same things seen by the Republicans as her virtues, or are the Republican emphasizing different points and different points in her career?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think the Republicans would say there's nothing wrong with being pro-business, and that in none of her opinions does she make an implausible reading of the law, and that judges disagree. That's why so often Supreme Court rulings are five to four, or six to three. And even the Texas Supreme Court isn't unanimous, and wasn't unanimous on many of these cases involving parental rights. And in fact, in one of, I think, the nine decisions that she had involving parental rights, she did side with the minor, the young person in the parental rights case.

So they say it's - all of these were plausible readings. They point out that she, like Janice Rogers Brown, has the endorsement of the American Bar Association, with its highest or well-qualified finding for both of them. They're smart people, they say, well qualified, and they stay within the law.

OLBERMANN: There will obviously be plenty of time to fully judge Judge Brown of California whenever they start her process going. But I have one big-picture question to finish with, Pete. It seems to have been treated as if it's clear to everybody, and it's not clear to me, so I'm going to ask you, (INAUDIBLE) you can make it clear to me, which is this.

Why do people in both parties see this debate right now as really being about the next Supreme Court openings. You know, explain that to me as if I were a small child asking this question.

WILLIAMS: Well, place both feet on the floor, your hands on the table, and I'll do the best I can. The - I think one reason there is so much about this particular set of judges, these two and the four or five, the number keeps changing, that are behind them, is, they are nominations to the federal courts of appeals.

And that is where most federal cases in this country are decided, not at the Supreme Court, it takes only a teeny fraction of all the cases in federal court. It's the courts of appeals that do all of the really heavy lifting in the federal courts. That's one reason the stakes are high.

Secondly, they think that if the Bush administration is able to get either of these two state supreme court judges onto the federal courts of appeal, then it would be much easier to nominate them to the U.S. Supreme Court. So they want to block a potential move up, if you will.

And thirdly, they want to try to set the stage for the kind of rules that will be used when there is a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court if, as most expect, Justice Rehnquist, Chief Justice Rehnquist steps down because of his thyroid cancer.

So it's about them, it's about the process, and it's about promotions.

OLBERMANN: I got it. Pete Williams, NBC's chief justice correspondent. As always, sir, a pleasure, and an education having you on the show.

WILLIAMS: OK, glad to hear it.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.

From approving judges to protecting them physically. The federal judge in Chicago whose husband and mother were assassinated testifies to the Senate and blasts some politicians for potentially inciting hatred against judges.

And incitement overseas, the blame game over the "Newsweek" Koran story. On Capitol hill, it moves to symbolically - or there are moves made to symbolically punish the magazine.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: It is hard to believe that just since February 28, Congress passed unprecedented legislation to override the judges who had heard the Terri Schiavo case, the majority leader in the House used language that could have been interpreted as a threat against them and other judges, televangelist Pat Robertson said the last century of judicial rulings was probably more serious than the 9/11 attacks.

And we have moved to a political dispute over the judiciary that is summarized by the phrase "the nuclear option."

All of this symbolic violence, upheaval, and language alike, all of it since just February 28. Well, why choose that date as the focus as our number four story on the Countdown? Because that's the day that the husband and mother of U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lefkow were murdered in her home in an act of retaliation for one of the judge's rulings against a man.

This morning, 79 days later, Judge Lefkow told the Senate committee that political criticism of judges and physical harm against them may not be unconnected.

Here again is Pete Williams.


WILLIAMS (voice-over): Arriving on Capitol Hill with her daughters today, Judge Joan Lefkow said her family's 9/11 was February 28. That's when a man whose case she handled years ago hid in her Chicago house and murdered her mother and husband.

His sisters wept as she told Congress that the feeling of danger has not passed.

JUDGE JOAN LEFKOW: An entire family has lost its ability to feel safe when we walk through door of our own homes.

WILLIAMS: She proposed a ban on posting personal information about judges on the Internet, as she says a white supremacist did about her, and said judges urgently need home alarm systems promised to them.

LEFKOW: Had the Lefkow family had this system in our home, this horror could have been avoided.

WILLIAMS: Today's hearing marked an unusual public expression of concern by federal judges about their protection from the U.S. Marshals Service, which has actually cut courthouse staffing since the murders in Chicago.

JUDGE JANE ROTH, JUDICIAL SECURITY COMMITTEE: It to me seems unconscionable that you have cuts in staffing for court security at this time, when court security is so vital.

WILLIAMS: The marshals say Congress gave them a huge job, including catching fugitives and transporting prisoners, all on a tight budget. Still, they insist, security comes first.

BEN REVNA, DIRECTOR, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE: We investigate inappropriate communications, which include (INAUDIBLE) judges, federal prosecutors, witnesses, and jurors. We do this on average of 60 times a month.

WILLIAMS: And Judge Lefkow said Congress must do something else, tone down its own antijudge rhetoric.

LEFKOW: The fostering the of disrespect for judges can only encourage those who are on the edge, or on the fringe, to exact revenge on a judge who displeases them.

WILLIAMS (on camera): The judges say the marshals are spread so thin, they're finding it hard to provide enough protection without a bigger budget.

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, this is not a real crack in a nuclear reactor somewhere, but there were real protesters who got to the nuclear reactor, and they were real weird.

Speaking of weird, may the Force be with you. Say nothing of the horse and the Norse. We'll visit the "Star Wars" display at the Countdown Hall of Fame. Oh, boy.


OLBERMANN: We like to take a moment each night to look around the globe for other news, news that reminds us that there are more important things to life than a filibuster. There are people in funny costumes doing crazy things all over the place, and they warrant attention too.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin at the Borsell (ph) nuclear power plant in the Netherlands, where - Warning, warning, danger, Will Robinson, the nuclear waste has sprouted legs and is climbing the fence to escape.

Actually, those are Greenpeace protesters. They're climbing the fence to get in. Despite the high-tech supersecurity, about a dozen goofballs in funny barrels managed to break into the 32-year-old nuclear power plant, scale the side of the thing, and have time to paint a giant crack on the reactor.

The plant officials, apparently in a communal coma at the time of the break-in, finally released the hounds, and at least one barrel was arrested.

As for that big crack in the reactor, I don't know, Smithers. I think it gives the old place character.

No protests at the new Wal-Mart in Middlefield, Ohio, just kudos to the corporate behemoth for having found a whole new demographic group to gouge, the Amish. Actually, the prices are quite reasonable, and there's parking too, 84 carriage spaces, complete with hitching posts for your horse.

It's an entire store especially designed to meet the needs of Amish Wal-Mart customers. The only thing they didn't need to modify, of course, was the selection of censored books and music. That's pretty much the same as in all the other Wal-Marts.

Still, having to walk right by the power tools department when there's a barn to be raised, oh, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, that must be very tempting.

Also tonight, terror tactics. Did Abu Musab al-Zarqawi risk everything and actually go from Iraq to Syria, essentially to hold a kind of terrorist pep rally?

And the grenade in the Republic of Georgia? The FBI is not quite saying it was an assassination attempt, but nor is it saying that Georgians were right when they said it was nothing.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Tracy Goss of Alexandria, Alabama. Police claim she stole nearly $700 from a concession stand at a youth baseball game. When, they say, they found it in her car, her explanation was, I didn't get that by stealing it from the concession stand. I got it by selling drugs.

Well, so long as you've got a plausible explanation.

Number two, Steven Villa Masson. That, officials thought, was the name of the piano man whom we profiled here yesterday. He was discovered a month ago sopping wet in a tux on a British beach, unable or unwilling to talk, but he was able to play the piano at concert-level quality.

Officials say when his story hit the world media, they got a call from a former colleague of this man, a Polish mime who said he worked with Mr. Villa Masson in France, where he was a street musician. Turns out the guy was wrong. Masson's sister has now said Masson is alive and well in France. He is not the piano man.

Well, that's what you get for trusting a Polish mime who calls in a tip.

And number one, town officials in Germantown, Tennessee. This is one of those communities, where how big the numbers on your house is regulated by zoning law. The city is considering establishing specific hours when residents can open their garage doors and leave them open.

Only during those hours. That's because seeing the junk in somebody's garage is apparently offensive to other residents driving by.

Of course, you losers could just keep your eyes on the friggin' road.


OLBERMANN: It was a secret meeting to talk tactics. The leader reportedly did not like the way the war in Iraq was going. He want to step up efforts against enemy, to start using the most effective techniques on a more regular basis. Our third story on the Countdown. The result, more than 400 people, mostly civilians, killed by the insurgents over the past three weeks, a senior U.S. official telling reporters that Abu Musab al Zarqawi personally ordered the ratcheting up of violence during a meeting with al Qaeda leaders in Syria last month.

And while it is still unclear whether Zarqawi actually was present at the latest gathering, or whether it was attended merely by one of his lieutenants carrying a message, the message was clear. Our government claims he specifically ordered his followers to carry out more suicide car bombings and to use them in everyday operations. There were 21 such bombs in Baghdad this month alone. That is more than during the whole of 2004. The commander of U.S. forces in the Gulf, General Abizaid, today said that Syria was probably unaware of that high-level meeting, but he said that country need to do more to seal its border with Iraq.

Joining me now, the founder of and MSNBC analyst, Evan Kohlmann. Good evening, Evan.


OLBERMANN: This is not some guy going from Iraq to Syria on a bus for a business meeting. That would be difficult enough to pull off. Do you buy the idea that Zarqawi would run so many risks just to essentially get his followers together and slap them on the back and kick them in the back side?

KOHLMANN: Well, it's actually interesting because this area along the Syrian-Iraqi border, particularly around the western Iraqi city of al Kayim (ph), has been extremely active for al Qaeda fighters in recent weeks. We've seen both coordinated U.S. military strikes on large groupings of foreign fighters affiliated with Zarqawi in this area, and as well, we've seen dramatic attacks by Zarqawi's fighters, including suicide bombings, using fire trucks loaded with explosives, dump trucks loaded with explosives aimed at U.S. Marines in this region. So there is a lot of activity here.

Certainly, it would seem that, given how many Zarqawi lieutenants have been killed in recent months, that perhaps it would even be almost safer meeting in Syria, where there's no chance of being taken out by an air strike or by, you know, an errant U.S. military attack.

OLBERMANN: So this, then, raises the next point, which is that our military officials say Zarqawi is not moving freely, wherever he is or wherever he's going to. But evidently, at the same time, they are fairly confident that he's crossing in and out of Syria and Iraq. Everything is relative, but that sounds like he is moving freely enough. Is it because of that concentration of his people along that border that he would not have been caught, or even more likely, not have been betrayed by somebody?

KOHLMANN: Yes. I think, actually, someone made an interesting description. They described that foreign fighters are trying to turn this into what Fallujah used to be. And as long as there are large numbers of foreign fighters around, and local Iraqis who are supportive of Zarqawi, it's relatively easy for him to move around. However, there are other areas of Iraq that used to be dominated by al Qaeda that perhaps their influence is waning. And perhaps that is due to the fact that many Iraqis now are growing tired of these suicide car bombings, are growing tired of these attacks that end up killing many more civilians than they do U.S. soldiers.

OLBERMANN: Evan, all of the American analysis of al Qaeda and its affiliates have said the same thing - it's almost four years' worth of it now - that no one man is key to any one operation, that just because you'd arrest one leader or one leader of one operation, it wouldn't cripple the whole operation. But does the prospect of Zarqawi traveling, even if it's within a fairly safe zone into Syria - does that suggest otherwise? I mean, is he more personally necessary to this process than we would have thought?

KOHLMANN: Well, I think Abu Musab al Zarqawi has definitely distinguished himself over the last three years. He took a conflict that was primarily driven by local Iraqi concerns and he's now turned it into one that is fundamentally shaped by al Qaeda, by radical Islam, and by firm anti-Western sentiment. Now, that being said, I don't think that Abu Musab al Zarqawi is entirely irreplaceable. There is an entire, I guess you'd call them, league of mid-level al Qaeda commanders, both in and outside of Iraq, who are just thirsting for an opportunity like this. Zarqawi was once one of them.

Now, certainly, his death or his capture, it would do damage to this movement, perhaps critical damage. But as long as these fighters are still around, they remain a threat, and not just to Iraq but also to Iraq's neighbors and to their own home countries. Eventually, these men will exfiltrate back to their own countries, where they will engage in the same activities - suicide car bombings, missile firings, mortar launches, improvised explosive devices. That's what we've got to really be on the watch for right now, is these guys returning home.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, the U.S. statement about wanting Syria to do more about closing or policing this border with Iraq - is not the Iraq end of that border the U.S. responsibility?

KOHLMANN: Yes, it is. I mean, this is an extremely difficult task, and I think that's why you see the U.S. military giving the Syrians a little bit of leeway here. We're not exactly able to police the border 100 percent. Neither are they. But the Syrians could definitely do more. I mean, we know that foreign fighters that are aimed at Zarqawi's movement are entering Syria not just through - you know, through open border crossings, but are actually flying into Damascus International Airport and are going from there.

These are the kinds of entry points and exit points that the Syrians should do a much better job in policing. Frankly speaking, the overwhelming majority of foreign fighters that are in Iraq right now have entered Iraq through the Syrian border. And that fact stands. I mean, there's got to be a reason why these guys are not crossing through Turkey or through Saudi Arabia. They're coming through Syria, and that has to be explained.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann. Great. Thanks for your time tonight.

KOHLMANN: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: An update on a different threat abroad. Remember that grenade found 30 yards away from President Bush while he was in the Republic of Georgia, the one that the Secret Service was not even told about until after they had all left that country, the one the Georgian police said was a dud, not necessarily ever thrown, just found lying on the ground? Well, try live grenade, and it was too thrown. The FBI says it was a fully capable explosive device, but a firing mechanism had malfunctioned. According to the Georgian officials, the grenade actually hit a girl in the crowd on her head before bouncing to the ground 100 feet from President Bush.

NBC military analysts tell us that the Soviet-designed fragmentation RGD-5 grenade only has a blast radius of about 15 feet. So even if it had gone off, the president, who was behind some bulletproof glass, would probably not have been injured. The same could not have been said, of course, for the hundreds, maybe even the thousands in Freedom Square in Tbilisi who would have been in range.

In any event, the FBI is treating the act as a, quote, "threat against the health and welfare of President Bush," but they will not say it was an assassination attempt.

We now have an explanation from American security forces as to why the president didn't know about last week's scare in Washington until after he'd finished his bicycle ride in nearby Maryland, a Homeland Security source telling "Newsweek" magazine that if they warned Mr. Bush about every suspect plane heading towards the capital, he wouldn't have time to deal with anything else. Yes, just wait until later, after we see how it all turns out.

Officials say the kind of incursion that sent fighter jets scrambling to intercept that wayward Cessna last week happens all the time, an average of twice a day. Apparently, there have been 2,211 violations of the capital's outer no-fly zone since 9/11. And officials say that even though Mrs. Bush and the visiting Nancy Reagan were spirited into shelters and the press corps was evacuated, it was never clear whether the plane posed a real danger to the White House.

But at least there was an actual plane involved this time. Last month, according to "Newsweek," the president and vice president were moved to emergency bunkers because of a blip on the radar screen. It turns out the blip was probably a cloud or a flock of birds. Perhaps a flock of seagulls, which would have explained why they had ran so far away. Thank you, '80s rock (ph) fans.

From controversy over to the White House to the controversy in it. What do we really know about what was going on at Gitmo? And we finally know what Scott McClellan meant when he said "Newsweek" should do things to repair America's image: More TV. Great. And the great chili finger food fraud mystery. Last week, we found out who the finger belonged to. Today, we'll find out why it doesn't belong to him anymore. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Back in college, I had a government laboratory class in which we all played roles in an imaginary small city. The training for those of us who played the local politicians was simple: Whatever happened, we were supposed to either supposed to issue a press release about it or introduce legislation pertinent to it as quickly as possible. Doesn't matter if the legislation was unconstitutional or ridiculous. Didn't matter if we had nothing to merit our names in the paper about the event.

Our number two story on the Countdown: It's nice to see that some of the members of Congress took the same class I did. It's the "Newsweek" story, the press release, and ridiculous legislation edition.

Congressman Randy Neugebauer of Texas today introduced a non-binding resolution condemning the magazine for, quote, "irresponsible and inaccurate," unquote journalism, a phrase used seven times in the six-paragraph resolution. His primary "whereas" reads, "Whereas the prevalent media culture encourages journalists to get the story first rather than to ensure that reports are accurate and factual"...

Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, has urged a "Newsweek" boycott on the Hill. "I urge the magazine and members of the media to return to the journalistic integrity that the public deserves," the congresswoman said, "and I encourage every congressional office to cancel their subscription to 'Newsweek' until accountability is restored."

Which would carry a lot more oomph to it if a lot of those offices didn't get "Newsweek" for free. And if they didn't, those in the waiting room would be checking out Goofus (ph) and Gallant (ph) from an October, 1964, edition of "Highlights" magazine.

Meantime, at the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan today got a little bit more specific about what he meant when he said yesterday that "Newsweek" had to help repair the, quote, "damage," unquote. He wants its editors to appear on Arab television networks to explain events.

As to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers said today he has not revisited the original conclusion from the ground that the violence in Afghanistan which killed 17 people began not over a "Newsweek" article but over local politics there. He did add today, with Secretary Rumsfeld standing by his side, that the "Newsweek" piece, quote, "certainly doesn't help," unquote.

There's also a flip side to the flap. The Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee have called a forum for next Tuesday about media bias, about reports that some outlets are avoiding stories because they're fearful of Bush administration retribution, and about the administration's response to the "Newsweek" story.

One more note on the original subject, which was Quran abuse, which somehow got lost in the frenzy of the last four days. On Sunday, May 1, "The New York Times" reported that as the military investigated abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the paper had spoken to a former detainee named Nasser Niger Nasir al Moutari (ph). He said that in his three years at Gitmo, there were three major hunger strikes by detainees, one of them after the guards there had piled up copies of the Quran and stepped on them.

Al Moutari said that action was so bad that even a senior American officer at Gitmo got on the camp public address system, promised that the abuse of the Quran would stop, and apologized for it. "The Times" also quoted an unidentified former U.S. interrogator at Guantanamo who confirmed the hunger strike, confirmed the broadcast apology, although he evidently did not witness the piling up of and stepping on of the Qurans.

Meantime, the journalistic home of the last great media cat fight is no more. CBS today canceled the Wednesday edition of "60 Minutes." But if you think that it also means it also canceled Dan Rather, not so much, two sources close to the situation suggesting to "The New York Times" that Rather, who retired from the evening newsdesk but was to stay on with the Wednesday show if it continued, will, in fact, be offered a spot with the Sunday edition of "60 Minutes."

It was "60 Minutes" Wednesday that premiered flawed Killian memo story, but as ever in the world of television, the problem was not just low ratings. The show was up against ABC's "Lost," and it did. But more importantly, it had an old audience. "60 Minutes" Wednesday had one of the oldest average viewer ages in primetime TV.

And we make the odd segue from journalism via TV news into our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment stuff called "Keeping Tabs." And frankly, this is not celebrity news, but it is tabloid. The Wendy's finger story, part four. And one is reminded of Al Franken's old joke "Saturday Night Live" joke about the Jewish religious figure, the mohel, who refused to accept payment for performing circumcisions. He only took tips!

Turns out that's how police believe Anna Ayala wound up with the fingertip with - which they claim she then stuck in a bowl of Chili at a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose. Her husband, Jaime Plascencia, got it from a co-worker at a paving company. That much we already knew. Today we learned that he allegedly got it as payment of a debt of some sort. "The San Francisco Chronicle" interviews the mother of the co-worker. His name is Brian Rossiter. Her name is Brenda Shouey. She says that he got his hand caught in a mechanical truck lift last December at the same time he owed somebody 50 bucks. Plascencia supposedly covered the debt for Rossiter in exchange for the fingertip, and the rest was extortion. Rossiter's mother on her son's involvement in all this: "I believe he got caught in something, and he didn't understand what was going on."

Well, duh, he got caught in something! That's how he lost his fingertip!

And he was one of the major impressionists of his time and once Emmy-nominated in a very serious role. But Frank Gorshin, who died yesterday in a Burbank hospital, will probably always be associated with one character, the Riddler on the TV series "Batman." He never denigrated that TV role. "I was nobody, but after I did that, I became a headliner in Vegas," he said, making his debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" the night the Beatles broke in. Gorshin was still impersonating for a living three years ago, starring as George Burns on Broadway. And he got one of his Emmy nominations for an episode of "Star Trek" which explored racial tensions on a planet in which the people who were white on the left sides of their body and black on the right hated the people who were white on the right and black on the left. Frank Gorshin was 72. He had lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia.

Also tonight, these lines mean only one thing. There's a girl out there who likes guys who dress up as "Star Wars" characters! No, it's another opening, another show. A new film is out. Plus, our tour of the "Star Wars" wing of the Countdown Hall of Fame next.


OLBERMANN: "Star Wars," those near and far wars, your, mine and our wars "Star Wars," our number one story tonight, as it has been all week, our Countdown Hall of Fame, which has its own wing devoted to that series, whose 447th edition premieres in the morning, meaning that the line started forming two months ago.

Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny. Space supremacy is our vision of the future, says General Lance Lord. A preview of some of the dialogue from "Revenge of the Sith"? Hardly. General Lord is no figment of George Lucas's intermittent imagination, he's a real general in the real Air Force talking, on this of all days, about the real "star wars" - you know, missile defense.

General Lord heads up the Air Force Space Command, it now seeking presidential approval for a new national security directive to facilitate the development and deployment of space weaponry, programs with nicknames like Global Strike and Rods from God already well under way. And if this all sounds far-fetched to you, you may recall it was merely two decades ago that President Reagan introduced the concept of SDI, space shields against incoming missiles, lasers and stuff, even though there did not seem to be much technology behind the ideas, nor after the Soviet Union went out of business, many people left who were likely to fire stuff at us.

Major Karen Finn of the Air Force insists the focus of the process is not putting weapons in space, the focus is having free access in space. But the just departed acting secretary of the Air Force had a different view. Quote, "We haven't reached the point of strafing and bombing from space. Nonetheless, we are thinking about those possibilities," said the former acting secretary, Pete Teets.

Acting Air Force secretary Pete Teets. General Lance Lord. And you think this movie nonsense doesn't have any real-life implications, huh?

Well, that may be General Lance Lord right there. Anyway, hordes of "Star Wars" geeks lining up all day long to get tickets to the film, slated to premiere at midnight Eastern. They can spend days in on-line chat rooms discussing the merits and fallacies of a character like Jar-Jar Binks, but somehow, they've yet to learn about movie theater on-line reservation services.

The movie itself on track to having the biggest opening weekend ever. Why, that hasn't happened since the "Spidey" flick way back on '02. On-line sales for "The Revenge of the Will Smith" reported at two tickets per second and predicting the pace would quadruple - I'm sorry, it's called "The Revenge of the Sith," not "The Revenge of Will Smith." The studio's president of distribution saying, quote, "I'm doing this a long time. I can never remember anything like this."

It's from watching those films. Soon you won't remember anything at all.

So anyway, you wonder, is there anything so outrageous, so tasteless, so out of touch with even the outer fringes of reality that "Star Wars" fans themselves are ashamed of it? Well, yes, there is one such thing, the "Star Wars" holiday special televised by CBS on November 17, 1978, starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, Harvey Korman, Carrie Fisher singing, and a holographic version of the Jefferson Starship. Critics in over 23 galaxies agreed it sucked. It was so bad, they never even released a video or DVD of it. Now, think about this for a second, a "Star Wars" product and they did not try to get to you buy it.

Everything else about "Star Wars" and its fans goes into tonight's tour of the Countdown Hall of Fame.


(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's 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. (INAUDIBLE) dates back to the last century, in fact, the late 1970s.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Star Wars," rated PG.


OLBERMANN: With the confusing premier of the first episode of the "Star Wars" saga, which, thanks to marketing considerations, later became known as the (INAUDIBLE). 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 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 built 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 knights? Always to...

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. So long until tomorrow. Good night, and good luck.