Tuesday, August 9, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Aug. 9

Guest: Adrian Havill

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Shakespeare wrote, "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." Yesterday, in the wake of Peter Jennings, we told you of the appalling statistics about lung cancer, that before this day is over, 473 Americans will be diagnosed with that disease.

One of them has gone public, the widow of the actor Christopher Reeve. And she says she has never smoked cigarettes.

Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Dana Reeve. For nine years, the rock of support for her paralyzed husband. Now, lung cancer. An optimistic prognosis, she says, but she's 44 years old.

And you've written us asking how to quit smoking. Every night starting tonight, we'll give you another suggestion.

Not on the planned day, not at the planned site, but the shuttle is back.

"American Idol" for the military, "Military Idol." Finally, a way to get back at Simon Cowell.

And look out, it's the runaway bride, and she's got a lawnmower.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

On the list of the atrocities that come with cancer, we offered last night having to quit smoking while you have it. Today, we learned of something worse, having to publicly announce you have lung cancer to keep a tabloid report from announcing it for you.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, tomorrow it will have been exactly 10 months since her husband, Christopher Reeve, died after nine years of near-total paralysis. Today, Dana Reeve told the world she has lung cancer. With that announcement, another atrocity. She says she's never smoked.

After rumors that she was already undergoing treatment for the deadly disease surfaced in the "National Enquirer" today, Ms. Reeve set the record straight about her own health, acknowledging that she is indeed battling lung cancer, adding that her doctors are optimistic, and asking now for privacy.

Our correspondent is Mike Taibbi.


MIKE TAIBBI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Dana Reeve spoke at a Connecticut fundraiser for breast cancer research seven weeks ago...

DANA REEVE, CHRISTOPHER REEVE'S WIDOW: Woe is me is really an important moment in the day sometimes. We really...

TAIBBI: The world didn't know of the woe she faced, that she herself had cancer, lung cancer.

DONNA TWIST, NORMA F. PEREM BREAST CANCER CENTER: I'm sure that Dana will handle this as she's handled everything in the past, with love, perseverance, with compassion.

TAIBBI: The 44-year-old widow of actor Christopher Reeve fought with him in his recovery for nine years after his paralyzing accident. In a Web site statement revealing her own cancer and chemotherapy today, she said, "Now more than ever, I feel Chris with me as I face this challenge." It's the same challenge that on Sunday claimed broadcast giant Peter Jennings, even though Dana Reeve, unlike Jennings, never smoked.

(on camera): In fact, some 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer patients are nonsmokers. And of those nonsmokers with the disease, 80 percent are women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just devastated, is the best word.

TAIBBI (voice-over): Women like Maureen Infischino (ph) of New Jersey, a working mother who, three years ago, at the age of 44, did her usual three-mile walk on the day she got the news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is just, it seems so unfair, the disease.

TAIBBI: As unfair as any other cancer, doctors point out, but more lethal.

DR. DANIEL LIBBY, NEW YORK WEILL-CORNELL MEDICAL CENTER: Lung cancer for women, as well as for men, is the leading cause of cancer death.

TAIBBI: But the connection between lung cancer and smoking and the late detection and poor prognosis for most lung cancer patients make raising awareness and research dollars very difficult. Right now, research funding per patient death rests at $23,000 for breast cancer, $14,000 for prostate cancer, and only $1,800 per lung cancer death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the invisible cancer. Nobody knows it, nobody recognizes it.

TAIBBI (on camera): And nobody talks about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And nobody talks about it.

TAIBBI (voice-over): You can bet Dana Reeve will talk about it.

Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: Let's examine this now from the medical and the personal sides, personal first.

Joining me, Adrian Havill, the author of "Man of Steel: The Career and Courage of Christopher Reeve."

Thanks for your time tonight, sir.



HAVILL: Sad day.

OLBERMANN: Yes, indeed. And she was, understandably, private about it. But are there any details about this which she didn't reveal, how long she's known, if she had symptoms, was there a routine screening? Do we know anything else?

HAVILL: I called a friend tonight. She - they said she learned about it about 40 days ago, and she was going to keep it private. She wasn't going to tell anybody until, you know, until she really had to. But when one of the tabloids found out about it, "The Enquirer," I think, and when "The Enquirer" was going to publish, she decided that she better beat them to the punch.

OLBERMANN: Speculation about a cause is obviously futile. Cancer is cancer. But everybody wonders about that disconnect, with the numbers being so small among nonsmokers, especially a woman in her 40s. In her circle, is there a supposition? Is it a question of family history? Is it second-hand smoke?

HAVILL: Well, yes, her mother did die of cancer six months ago. But, of course, it wasn't lung cancer, it was ovarian cancer. So there is a possibility that it's family-related cancer.

Also, Dana Reeve, although we know her as an actress on things like "Law and Order" and in TV movies and things like that, she is basically a nightclub singer. And she sang in a lot of smoky nightclubs in her time. And if you believe in second-hand smoke as a possibility for lung cancer, then indeed, she was subject to it, and subject to more smoke than most of us would be exposed to.

OLBERMANN: Having dealt with her in connection to the book that you wrote, how would she be handling this?

HAVILL: Oh, well, listen, Dana Reeve and Chris Reeve have a 13-year-old son. And she is bound - she's got to be bound and determined. She's in her mid 40s. She's still a very young woman. And she's got to be bound and determined to see her son reach the age of maturity, 18, 21 years of age. So I think that gives her a lot to go on, wanting to see her son reach manhood.

OLBERMANN: For most of his conscious life, his father was in that chair in that condition. Does he seem stronger than a 13-year-old would because of that? Is the blow likely to fall any less severely on him than it would your average 13-year-old?

HAVILL: Well, he has been, you know, you're right. He has been exposed to a lot. He's seen his father suffer through everything from blood poisoning to - you know, I mean, Christopher Reeve in his last years was in and out of hospitals a lot. He was always having some small problem that would seem to be an emergency to us, but, you know, being rushed to the hospital.

By the way, Dana Reeve's father is a doctor. She's a doctor's daughter. He's a cardiologist. So she knows a lot about medicine, growing up as the daughter of a doctor too.

OLBERMANN: Perhaps that led to this - to the quick diagnosis, what we hope was a quick diagnosis.

HAVILL: Well, Keith, I, you know, I'm sure we all hope it's a stage one and not a stage four. Stage one, I'm sure the doctor that comes on after me will tell you, you got 75 percent chance to survive. Stage 4, you got 5 percent.

OLBERMANN: Exactly. Adrian Havill, the author of "Man of Steel: The Career and Courage of Christopher Reeve," joining us to talk about Dana Reeve. Great thanks for doing so, sir.

HAVILL: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And now the clinical side of this. I'm joined by Dr. Claudia Henschke, who directs the lung cancer screening program at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Dr. Henschke, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: As Mike Taibbi reported earlier, most nonsmokers who contract lung cancer are women. Is there an explanation for why that is?

HENSCHKE: No. But we know that even among smokers, women tend to be more susceptible to lung cancer. And perhaps that's the same of nonsmokers.

OLBERMANN: Her statement today says that the doctors have told her her prognosis is good. But the survival rates are so terrifyingly low, 15 percent living for five years or longer. What must be true of a case like hers if there really is reason to be optimistic?

HENSCHKE: Well, if you catch it early, before it's spread to any other organ, if it's still confined to the lung, what we call stage one, then you have a pretty good chance of a long-term survival. The smaller the cancer is, the better it is. So smaller is better. And hopefully it's a stage one.

OLBERMANN: We raise this question about her early career as a night, essentially a nightclub singer, and exposed in a period of time to nightclubs where there were no smoking bans. Is it plausible to you that second-hand smoke could create this kind of illness in someone otherwise healthy?

HENSCHKE: Absolutely. I think that it is very plausible. It's one of the real reasons, if you've been exposed to smoke early on in your life, or through your job, it's thought that could very well be a cause.

OLBERMANN: The statistic in Mike Taibbi's report for the - that was provided by Women Against Lung Cancer. Obviously, this is not a competition among the diseases. But the - but breast cancer receives 10 times as much funding per death than does lung cancer, yet lung cancer kills twice as many women as breast cancer does.

Do you have an opinion as to why the funding disparity exists?

HENSCHKE: No. All of us in lung cancer research are concerned about that. It may be that people think that you bring it on yourself because you've been smoking. But still, 10 to 15 percent, as he said, are in nonsmokers. And even the smokers, if you quit, just like Peter Jennings, you still are at fairly high risk of lung cancer for a long time.

So we think that really there should be much more funding.

OLBERMANN: You mentioned Peter, and you hate to take two stories over the course of three days and suggest they constitute a societal sea change. But between Peter Jennings' death and the diagnosis of Dana Reeve, do you sense that people now might become more aware, more proactive about lung cancer?

HENSCHKE: We hope so. That's what really brought breast cancer to the, to prominence, by people saying that they had it, talking about it. And we think the same may be true, will happen for lung cancer. It's kind of been a hidden disease. People don't really admit to it. They feel badly about having smoked.

And hopefully, this will present a sea change and an opportunity for looking at it, understanding it better, and seeing how we could improve the prognosis.

OLBERMANN: Dr. Claudia Henschke from New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell Medical Center, great thanks for your insight tonight.

HENSCHKE: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: Now, for the second time in as many nights, the subject of you and cancer. Frankly, we were overwhelmed here by your response to my comments last night about the benign tumor that was removed from the roof of my mouth, the one that wasn't cancerous, but nobody knows how, considering I smoked a pipe and cigar for 27 years.

Perhaps half the e-mails we received asked something, though. How do I quit?

Well, you can start by joining me in this effort. Every night here, we will have a suggestion, a tip, some advice, not a lot, just something to work with.

Tonight, the quick overview. The most important thing to remember is that all the patches and gum and gimmicks can work, but each one does not necessarily work for each person. You may have to experiment. Remember, though, you only need one of these things to work.

For me, this is day 12 with my new best friend, nicotine gum. From the standpoint of the purely physical addiction, this is supposed to be the least effective of the gimmicks, if you will, but that means, if you're not a heavy cigarette smoker, or if you smoke pipes or cigars, or if you chew tobacco, this might be the best for the psychological addiction. It gives you something to do with your mouth instead of smoking.

A lot of people use the patch. It releases a steady, constant dose. If you're hooked on smokes, this could be your methadone. And the newest gimmick, inhalers. Basically, you get a hit, immediate nicotine gratification. These, though, still require prescriptions.

As I said, each night we'll look briefly at something that might help you. Tomorrow, specifically, at that gum. Remember, there are a lot of subtleties to these things. For instance, you don't actually chew the nicotine gum, you just let it sit there. So we need to explain these things before you try them. And we'll try to do that.

My secret so far, my oral surgeon gave me a picture of my tumor. I'm not going to show it to you here. It's not really that gross, but you should have a choice.

But as we do the blog version of this, we will make that picture available on the Web at countdown.msnbc.com.

So e-mail us your suggestions on how to make quitting easier or possible. And please, tell us your stories. We want to know.

One more disturbing development tonight in the battle against another virulent kind of cancer, contracted not by smoking but by sunbathing. Over the past quarter-century, the number of young women, women under the age of 40, who develop basal and squamous skin cancer cells, has tripled. That, according to a Mayo Clinic study of cancer patients in Olmstead County, Minnesota.

And despite numerous warnings about the dangers of not protecting your skin in the sun, doctors are blaming the increase on the popularity of beach tanning and tanning beds.

Also tonight, some good news, the shuttle is back. But when will the American manned space program be back, if ever?

And move over, "American Idol." The armed forces trying to one-up Simon, Paula, and Randy. "Military Idol," coming to a base near you. Sing and salute, please.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: As positive as the end results might be, it is still evident that mankind's exploration of space is another victim of diminished expectations.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, the space shuttle "Discovery" returning to earth this morning. A truly spectacular test flight, said the control astronaut. A fantastic mission, said the commander.

Twenty-nine years ago today, the Soviet Union launched the last spacecraft bound from this island Earth to the moon.

To our more prosaic present, our correspondent at the cape is Tom Costello.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mission "Discovery" has the runway in sight.

TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was not the preferred landing strip, but after 219 earth orbits and 14 days of the nation holding its collective breath, finally, reason to celebrate and breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Main gear touchdown. And "Discovery" is home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome home, friends.

COSTELLO: The morning had started out with NASA hoping once again for a landing in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have rain showers and thunderstorms.

COSTELLO: But when a stubborn lightning storm refused to clear out, Mission Control told "Discovery"'s crew to head west.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how do you feel about a beautiful, clear night with a breeze down the runway in the high desert of California?

COSTELLO: By most accounts, the mission had been challenging and nearly flawless. An unprecedented back-flip in space, the space station repaired and resupplied, a spacewalk to test new tile-repair techniques, and Steve Robinson's spectacular trip to the belly of "Discovery" to remove those tiny pieces of gap filler.

But NASA is still investigating why foam fell off the external fuel tank on liftoff, narrowly missing "Discovery," the same problem that brought down "Columbia." And until that's solved, future shuttle flights are suspended.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to try as hard as we can to get back in space this year. But we're not going to go until we're ready to go.

COSTELLO: Today's return flight was purposely routed away from Los Angeles to avoid large population centers on reentry.

Once back on solid ground, Commander Eileen Collins and her crew inspected "Discovery" and paid tribute to "Columbia."

CMDR. EILEEN COLLINS, "DISCOVERY": We have mixed feelings. It's a very bittersweet day for us too as we remember the "Columbia" crew and we think about their families. Remember, the "Columbia" crew believed in their mission, and we are continuing their mission. And that's very important to us.

COSTELLO (on camera): "Discovery"'s landing makes it even more unlikely that the next mission could launch in September, even if the foam issue is resolved quickly, since "Discovery" must be readied as a standby rescue shuttle for "Atlantis," yet still has to be ferried across the country.

Still, tonight, NASA is celebrating the safe return of seven of its own.

Tom Costello, NBC News, Cape Canaveral.


OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, how about this? Yes, it's fair bull fighting. You don't kill the bull, you just leap out of his way. Put the air into the Ole!

And the runaway bride getting ready not for a wedding, but for some weeding. Yes, it's a pun.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Back now, and we pause the Countdown, as usual, to take our nightly stroll down the boulevard of brainless endeavors. We just want to alert you in advance, there is a Jennifer Wilbanks story contained herein.

Let's play Oddball.

Our first stop, (INAUDIBLE) DeSoto, Spain, where the bulls are crazy and the matadors are crazier. These are young acrobats, not bullfighters, timing their leaps - Ole! - With amazing precision, so that as the bull charges, they're in midair before the bull hits the bullseye.

The team of daredevils saying it is not into the traditional version of Spanish bullfighting, where, no matter what, the bull is ultimately slaughtered. Their style, you know, more like the Harlem Globetrotters brand of bullfighting.

You make the Washington Generals, in this case, the bulls, look like bumbling ninnies, and you fly through the air, dazzling the crowd, gracefully landing on your feet, and nobody gets hurt, until that awful day when the Washington Generals finally win.

But while the onlookers to this innocent exhibition agree that the sport is tasteful and humane, others in the media are not so sure.


ROBERT NOVAK: I think that's (expletive deleted). And I hate, I hate that. Just let it go.


OLBERMANN: OK, that made no sense, but I just love that tape.

(INAUDIBLE) acrobat fly over him.

To Grand Rapids, Minnesota. You will recall the old "Saturday Night Live" skit where the Incredible Hulk just exited the men's room and he exclaims to the crowd of superheroes waiting for their turn, gagging at the odor, Come on, it's not supposed to smell like roses.

Well, Lee Jackson wants to it smell like roses. This plumber-turned-artist has turned 40 old toilets into flower planters and lined them up next to the road in what he thinks is artistic fashion. Looks like pink and purple petunias in Jackson's potties. And there's even a sign next to them for his septic company.

Only one problem here. The toilets are on city property. And Grand Rapids, Minnesota, does not think these are as artsy as Mr. Jackson does, so now he is up on trespassing charges, meaning with his whole artistic project could - say it with me, now - go down the toilet.

And finally tonight, it's the wedding escaper turned landscaper. Jennifer Wilbanks, hello. Oh, boy. You thought watching grass grow was boring. Sentenced to 120 hours of community service for having lied to the police, the infamous runaway bride served a portion of that sentence in public today, Wilbanks wearing an orange vest and a hat that reads, "Life Is Good," as she cut the grass at a Lawrenceville, Georgia, government building.

I haven't mowed a lawn in a long time, she joked. But what skill she lacked in lawnmowing acumen, she more than made up with her unique weed-killing ability.

Well, OK, that's a loss here.

I knew she could do that.

After she finished doing the lawn at the government building, Ms. Wilbanks volunteered to cut the town's football field as well. She took the keys to the ride-on and said she'd be right back.

Also tonight, and seriously, the war in Iraq, supposed to make us safer from terrorism. Americans polled on that issue disagree by a margin of two to one.

And in Tennessee, a massive manhunt at this hour after a courthouse shooting. A woman kills a correction guard to help her husband escape. The woman used to be the prison nurse. We'll get the latest live from the scene.

More on those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Rafael Antonio Lozano, better known as Winter. He's in Houston, and he's in year eight of his quest to visit every Starbucks in the world, and buy a cup of coffee in each one. He reached his 4,988th yesterday. How does he travel from Starbucks to Starbucks? Well, he just shakes really fast from all the caffeine and sort of vibrates all the way over, like electric football.

Number two, Robert McClain of Royal Oak, Michigan. Police say he tried to flee a car crash there. When they went to his home to try to arrest him, he emerged trying to stave off the officers with a four-foot sword and a large medieval mallet. They say he announced to them, I got 1,000 years of power. Come and get me, which they did, going medieval on his arse.

And number one, another nailgun guy. Nigel Kirk of Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire in England. He's fine, but only by about half an inch. Shot himself in the chest. Putting down floorboards in his bathroom, he tripped, he fell, the nail got him in the liner of his ticker. And, no, he's not singing the old squeeze tune, "Another Nail for my Heart."


OLBERMANN: Weapons of mass destruction came and went. Regime change waxed and waned. Democracy in the region sank and rose.

But for what is now nearly two-and-a-half years of American involvement in Iraq, there has been one steady rationalization from the government. It would make us safer from attack by terrorists here.

Our third story on the Countdown, no, that now the unmistakable conclusion from the latest set of poll numbers in which two-thirds of Americans say the war in Iraq has not, not, made us safer from terrorism. A whopping majority of those surveyed by Gallup for "USA Today," 57 percent, saying the war in Iraq has in fact made the American homeland more vulnerable to terrorism, only 34 percent believing it has made the country safer. That is a new low in that poll question.

Slightly more optimism about the long-term security prospects, 42 percent believing the war will make us safer in the long run. But that is still six points lower than those believing it will not. As for the conflict itself, 56 percent say the war is going badly, only 43 percent answering well, a huge drop in support or at least evaluation of the war's conduct in just the last month.

A majority, 54 percent, now saying it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq, a total reversal in that number since July. At that point, it was 53 percent saying the invasion had been worth it. And perhaps the most important number in the poll, registering no change since last month, more than half, 51 percent, still disapproving of the president's job performance. In July, that number was 51 percent.

And a new report on pre-9/11 intelligence raising new questions tonight, but many of those questions are about not just the allegations, but also their sourcing. More on that in a moment from terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann.

But, first, the report itself, on the front page of today's "New York Times," alleging a secret Pentagon unit pegged four of the future hijackers more than a year before the September 11 attacks, the military intelligence team apparently identifying Mohamed Atta and three of three of his cohorts as likely members of an al Qaeda cell operating inside the U.S. back in 2000.

But it is charged that the unit was not allowed to pass its findings on to the FBI, the scoop about Atta coming from Republican Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania and a second unnamed source described by "The Times" as a former defense intelligence officer, the paper saying it talked to that former official while he was in the congressman's office.

This is not the first time that Congressman Weldon has told this story. Most publicly, he did so on the floor of the House in June, a spokesman for the 9/11 Commission saying it reviewed documents from the Pentagon program, finding nothing startling there.

Time now to call in MSNBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann from GlobalTerrorAlert.com for some perspective on this.

Good evening, Evan.


OLBERMANN: Let's begin with "The Times"' report.

Between the dubious, nebulous sourcing, the fact that the 9/11 Commission says it looked into this program and didn't find anything, and that the story has been around for a couple months, but no news organization really had been willing to touch it until today, is there reason to be skeptical about this account in "The New York Times"?

KOHLMANN: Well, even if we were sure this account was actually true, it doesn't tell us anything really that earth-shattering. While we didn't know necessarily about any involvement or knowledge by U.S. agencies of Mohamed Atta's presence here in the U.S., we know that the CIA knew at least about two of the individuals mentioned here, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq al-Hamzi, before 9/11.

So, if the issue is whether or not U.S. government agencies knew about 9/11 hijackers as potential al Qaeda terrorists here in the U.S. before 9/11, we already knew the answer was yes. And the larger issue, of course, is, any time you have a story like this, you have to go back to the source. And the only named source is Representative Curt Weldon.

And, with all due respect, Representative Weldon does not have a particularly good history in terms of reporting information about terrorism. His latest book, which accuses Iran of being behind virtually everything terrorism-related since the World Trade Center bombing, is based upon material that is absolute propaganda and is 100 percent wrong. It is based upon sources that we relied upon for the Iran-Contra affair that have been discredited over a decade ago.

And I think, really, the most telling comment was from a CIA official, who took the unprecedented step, really, of coming out and directly saying that he had reviewed the accusations that Mr. Weldon made in his book and determined that they were not worth his time, that they were a waste of his time. And, unfortunately, I'm concerned that this report may again be a waste of our time, the time of the American public, the time of 9/11 Commission investigators, and the time of FBI and CIA agents.

OLBERMANN: What do you have to say on this other story of the day about the polling from Gallup that suggested 57 percent of us believe that the war in Iraq has made the U.S. not more safe from terrorism here, but less safe? Is there evidence that supports this opinion?

KOHLMANN: The American people have it right.

There's two ways of looking at this, first of all, to look at Iraq as a galvanizing issue that has pushed terrorists forward. There is no doubt that many of the people that are incensed about the U.S. presence in Iraq were angry with the U.S. to begin with. But Iraq has become the "Remember the Alamo." These days, it's, remember Fallujah. Remember Haditha. Remember al-Qaim.

People are shouting, remember Abu Ghraib. And they are using this as a spark to ignite really a gasoline drum full of resentment. And so, while, again, these individuals were angry with us before, they are using this as an impetus to launch terrorist attacks. And if you look at 3/11, for instance, the attacks in Madrid, the person that ordered 3/11 did so the day after Osama bin Laden issued an audio recording indicating that the United States and its allies should be struck with terrorism because of their involvement in Iraq.

We also know that a number of the London bombers were also motivated by their anger over what they saw in Iraq. The second point to make, of course, is that there actual terrorists who are going to Iraq, who are getting training there, who are developing their skills. They are undergoing an evolution in tactics, and not just battlefield tactics, but propaganda, the media war.

And they are winning. And that is the problem. These guys are going to use these same skills that they have developed in Iraq the same way they used the skills they developed in Afghanistan. And they will use them to strike against the United States and its allies. Today, we see suicide bombings involving fire trucks packed with explosives, ambulances packed with explosives in Iraq.

And I'm afraid that, tomorrow, we may see those very same attacks occurring in London, in New York, in Washington, D.C. The simple answer is, Iraq has definitely made the world a more dangerous place.

OLBERMANN: So, relative to terrorism alone, to try to separate that from whatever nation-building or responsibility to Iraqi troops or responsibility to train Iraqi troop or protection for our own troops in Iraq, relative solely to terrorism, what should this country's course of action be about Iraq now?

KOHLMANN: We are, unfortunately, more or less stuck in a catch-22. I think the natural inclination is to say, well, if our presence there is increasing the world terrorism threat, then why don't we withdraw?

Well, now we can't withdraw. If we withdraw, it is the equivalent of running out of a burning building and hoping the fire is going to put itself out. We have, unfortunately, helped create this problem. And we have a responsibility to stay there until that problem is solved. The sad part is, in the meantime, dozens of American soldiers, innocent American are losing their lives.

The only thing I can say is that they are indeed at this point in a - in a major battle against terrorism. They are on the front lines. And, hopefully, we will win this front-line war, because this is the major front line al Qaeda is currently fighting on.

OLBERMANN: Albeit a self-fulfilling prophecy of a war.

Evan Kohlmann of GlobalTerrorAlert.com, as always, great thanks for your time.

KOHLMANN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, armed and dangerous and then some, an intense manhunt now for an escaped convict and his wife after she shoots up a courthouse in Tennessee.

Also, from the battlefield to the stage, the armed forces now looking for a few good singers.

These stories ahead. But, first, here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


GEORGE SHEA, THE BRATWURST BARKER: We are going to count it down here, 45 seconds left, 30 for Sonya Thomas (ph). Absolutely unbelievable performance here. I am emotionally exhausted. What a journey we have just traveled. With 35 Johnsonville brats in 10 minutes, Sonya Thomas! Sonya!


JAY LENO, HOST: And Rosie O'Donnell has announced that she will join the cast of "Fiddler on the Roof." Let's hope she's not playing the fiddler on the roof.


KEVIN EUBANKS, BAND LEADER: You liked that joke, Jay.


LENO: Oh, you know, she is going to kick my ass.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After a while, Antauer is able to get her cuffed hands in front of her. And she's able to grab an antenna from the back of the cruiser. At that point, officers had seen and heard enough. They maced the suspect, got her medical care, and charged Antauer with vandalism.



OLBERMANN: A guard is dead, an inmate on the loose in Tennessee, this after the prisoner's wife opened fire outside the courthouse. And, from the terrifying to the absurd, a BB gun shooting outside the Britney Spears baby shower could also wind up in court.

This is Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: If it weren't glamorizing criminality, you could almost compare them to Bonnie and Clyde.

Our number two story on the Countdown tonight, the wife of a convict serving 35 years in prison, herself a former prison nurse, opened fire outside the courthouse at Kingston, Tennessee, and she and her husband escaped. This is about 30 miles west of Knoxville, about 140 east of Nashville.

Our correspondent Ron Mott is outside the Roane County Courthouse in Kingston.

Good evening, Ron.

RON MOTT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening to you.

If this violence weren't so real, you would think we were on a Hollywood set and that this story were coming off the pages of a script. But it is not. This is very real.

I want to show you this van behind me. This is where this violence took place this afternoon. The state corrections officer, two of them, were escorting Mr. George Hyatte from the courthouse back to this van. He was on his way back to prison. His wife, apparently driving a blue Ford Explorer, pulled up to the side. He told her to shoot them. She opened fire, striking 56-year-old state corrections officer Wayne "Cotton" Morgan several times in the abdomen.

George Hyatte then jumped into the Ford Explorer. He has got handcuffs on. He is shackled at the feet. Somehow, he hobbles over to the Ford Explorer. They take off. About a half-mile from here, they ditch the Ford Explorer, jump into a gold-colored Chevy Venture van and take off. They have not been seen since.

There was plenty of blood, authorities tell us, found inside that Ford Explorer. They believe that the second corrections officer was able to get off a few rounds and perhaps struck Mrs. Hyatte, who was driving that car. So, potentially, she is dealing with some gunshot wounds tonight.

Earlier today, we caught on up with the police chief here in Kingston.

Let's listen in to what he had to say.


JIM WASHAM, KINGSTON POLICE CHIEF: At this time, we are looking for them statewide. They apparently hit the interstate, got out of the area. But we are not sure of that. Right now, my main concern is keeping the public safe. There is no need for anybody being in panic. We are going to find these subjects. We are going to bring them to justice.


MOTT: All right, two things I want to point out to you, Keith.

We spoke to a lawyer who was in the courtroom on another matter waiting for his case to come up before the judge. He says there were only two people inside the gallery at this time, Mrs. Hyatte and an unknown person who was clearly with her. They then left soon as his, Mr. Hyatte's case was resolved. And that is when all this violence took place.

Now, earlier this evening and late this afternoon, the family of George Hyatte hit the public airwaves today, trying to plead with him and his wife to turn themselves in, so far, no word on their location. That is the latest - back to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: George and Jennifer Hyatte on the loose somewhere in an area whose epicenter is Kingston, Tennessee. That's where Ron Moot is reporting from.

Great thanks, Ron.

By way of contrast and escape from the real world, it is the nightly roundup of celebrity and gossip news, the place where clueless celebrities do battle with even more clueless media types who cover clueless celebrities, "Keeping Tabs."

The British "The Sun" reporting that the photographer Brad Diaz plans to sue pop tart Britney Spears for - quote - "millions." Diaz claims he was struck in the leg by a BB fired by one of the bodyguards at a house in Malibu, California, at which they were throwing a baby shower for Ms. Spears. A spokeswoman for the agency representing Mr. Diaz telling "The New York Post": "He could have been hit in the eye and blinded. He could have been hit in the head and killed. People don't like paparazzi, but it is not a good reason to shoot at them."

Spears' people do deny that they had anything to do with the BB gun, but at least we can rest easy tonight knowing it was really her baby shower and that Mr. Diaz was not just shot by some civilian whose photo would not have been even worth $2.

And word of a celebrity impersonator on the loose, somebody pretending to be Paris Hilton, no, a woman, "The New York Daily News" saying that an almost exact double has showed up in Saint-Tropez, in Hawaii, even at Disneyland, claiming to be Ms. Hilton. Only, she ain't. Suspicions were raise in Hawaii when the fake Hilton asked for an upgrade at a hotel, a pretty odd thing to do if you are a hotel heiress, unless, of course, you are the clone of a hotel heiress.

Good lord, there could be thousands of Parii roaming the countryside, foraging for food and diet pills. Run for your lives!

No impostors here, just kids with a song in their hearts and a dream in their heads who happen to be in the service. "Military Idol," that is next.

But first time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for the coveted title of worst person in the world. The bronze nominee, an unnamed man from Macedonia who drove into the gas station at Pesaro, Italy, with his wife and daughter, so they could use the restroom. Six hours later, six hours, he says, he noticed she was not in the back seat with the kid. He had driven off without his wife.

Also, there's Joe Lucero of Salt Lake City. Police allege he tried to unsuccessfully rob two women, then tried to - unsuccessfully to break into an apartment, then tried unsuccessfully to drive a jeep he had carjacked and rolled the thing, then tried unsuccessfully to break into some more apartments, then kicked in a door, tried unsuccessfully to get a woman to give her - give him her baby, then tried unsuccessfully to flee by jumping out the window, all in about 10 minutes.

But the winner, the baseball pitcher Kenny Rogers, the guy who assaulted two TV news photographers and was suspended for 20 games. First, he apologized, supposedly sincerely. Then, at his arraignment, he yelled at another TV photographer. And, today, he got his suspension reduced to 13 games, so he can play again tomorrow. If you want to go and boom him, he'll be at Fenway Park in Boston.

Kenny Rogers, today's worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN: We have noted here previously that events in our 21st century seem to dividing into three separate and distinct categories, scenes from the TV show "The Simpsons" that then come true in real life, bits from the old British comedy "Monty Python's Flying Circus" that then come true in real life, and sketches by the great comedians Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding that then come true in real life.

Our number one story on the Countdown, exhibit number 438. Bob and Ray had a running spoof of talent shows called "Armed Forces Amateur Hour," featuring four-star generals who could play the song "Nola" (ph) by tapping the interior of shell casings. And the contestants were offered a shot at the finals, invariably to be held at the Linkletter (ph) Air Force Base in Alaska in January.

Well, here we go.

Countdown's Monica Novotny went to the Fort Myers in Arlington, Virginia, for the kickoff edition of "Military Idol," which varies from the Bob and Ray sketch only in that you can't play "Nola" (ph) on shell casings. You would have to sing it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be really great for just America to say, you know what, our military is full of real people, you know, full of people that have talents.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sergeant Robert Meacham (ph), soldier and singer, on a mission to become the first "Military Idol."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is usually a lot of heads peeking in when I'm singing really, really loud.

NOVOTNY: Hoping win the first-of-its-kind internal military competition kicking off this summer, based on the TV talent show. A member of 3rd Infantry Regiment's honor guard, this 25-year-old husband and father has always been this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I started singing literally when I was about 3 or 4. My dad is a preacher and I started singing in church. My singing style would definitely be country, with - there is definitely maybe a little hint of Gospel in there.

NOVOTNY: His built-in fan club, Bravo Company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give us a taste? Because it's going to be pretty crowded. I just one a little taste.


NOVOTNY: The competition open to those on active military status, if they have got what it takes.

VICTOR HURTADO, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "MILITARY IDOL": Not every soldier is a great athlete. Many of them are really great performers. We hope that the "Military Idol" will be a representative for the Army that humanizes the soldier to the American public.

NOVOTNY (on camera): Contestants are competing at 34 military installations around the world, throughout the summer. Now, the winners get $500, a chance at the finals, and, if all goes well, a shot at a performance on that other "Idol."

HURTADO: That is the hopes, that they will be seen on the next season of "American Idol." But, just like anything else, that really depends on who that is and - and how they do.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): While an "American Idol" guest appearance for the "Military Idol" remains under negotiation, even if they don't become TV stars, Fort Myers' best are ready for their 15 minutes.

(on camera): Are you nervous at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, a little nervous. I know that there's probably some very talented people that are going to go up there.


NOVOTNY: The judges easier than Simon to stomach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did a nice job with it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, your tone is really wonderful.

NOVOTNY: And, at the end of the night, Sergeant Meacham moves one step closer to the October finals and to showing his country a different side of the American soldier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is over now.

NOVOTNY: For Countdown, Monica Novotny.


OLBERMANN: That is Lieutenant Novotny to you. And not to get to Simon Cowell on you here, but the October finals will not be held in Alaska. They will be at Alexander Hall at Fort Gordon, Georgia, near Augusta. Not to get too Paula Abdul on you, but there were more contestants we just had to let you hear.




OLBERMANN: But if the "American Idol" experience is ultimately remembered as much for William Hung as it is for Ruben Studdard, perhaps "Military Idol" will also make its mark thanks to those service men and women who couldn't make their notes.






OLBERMANN: Excellent posture.

And, of course, there's always a place for all of you who didn't make it in serenading the detainees.

That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck.

I can't promise any singing now, but it is now time for edition two of


Good evening, Rita.

RITA COSBY, HOST, "RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT": All right. Thanks, Keith.