Wednesday, August 10, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 10

Guest: Evan Grossman, Howard Bryant

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Just when you thought it was the athletes you had to worry about, in a time of steroids and ballplayers beating up cameramen, a fan does something to remind you that you can find stupidity anywhere in the ballpark. You know those screens behind home plate at baseball stadiums, the one designed to protect spectators from balls hit hard into the stands? A fan wondered if one of those screens would support his weight, so he jumped on it, from the upper deck.

Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Well, it did. Of course, they arrested him afterwards. The story of a New Age kind of fan, on the net.

Rafael Palmeiro. Will fans want to throw him somewhere when he comes back from his steroid suspension tomorrow?

The Tennessee manhunt. The Bonnie and Clyde references multiply. So does the area in which they are searching for George and Jennifer Hyatte.

Searching for a new way to stop smoking? We continue our quest tonight with nicotine gum.

And new admissions to our Animal Hall of Fame. Children, half-price.

Meet the oldest member.

Looks like a fan at a baseball game.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

This does not qualify as earth-shattering news, but it is being talked about by ordinary, stupefied Americans tonight. Legendary and tragic was the story of the New York Mets baseball fan who decided to try (INAUDIBLE) one of those big movable trash dumpsters and ride it down the ramps at Shea Stadium 25 years ago. He forgot that the ramp made turns, that that those dumpsters could not.

But in our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, he has now been matched by a fan of the rival New York Yankees, who decided to test the strength of the protective screen behind home plate at Yankee Stadium in much the way you might test to see if your hair would actually burn if you lit your head on fire.

Scott Harper jumped down onto the screen from the upper deck. The game telecast did not capture his 40-foot leap visually, but Michael Kay's (ph) play-by-play caught the moment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a pretty bunt.

And somebody just fell out of the upper deck and landed on the screen right in front of us. He looks like he's OK. He's sitting up. But as that ball was put into play by Jeter, this kid came tumbling right out of the upper deck.


OLBERMANN: A camera mounted under the screen there registered the impact as Harper, 18 years old, from the New York suburb of Armonk, finished what he told three friends he was going to do, see if the net would really support his weight.

It did. Harper then learned that the police could also support his weight. They carted him off on a stretcher, his head later immobilized in a neck brace. He was not seriously injured, not even by the police, the easiest observation being that of course he wasn't injured, he had fallen on his least vital organ, his brain.

Harper has now just been charged with trespassing upon the playing area of a professional sporting event. Also reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, and other unnamed violations, arraigned late this afternoon at the Bronx Criminal Courthouse, which is the big white building you can see over the right center field fence at Yankee Stadium. He has been released, apparently on his own recognizance, and he faces up to a year in jail.

When he fell, he would have gone right past the Yankee Stadium press box in a sort of downward direction.

One of its regular denizens is Evan Grossman, sportswriter of "The New York Post," who's been good enough to come in and join us now.

Good evening, Evan.


OLBERMANN: Well, what was that like?

GROSSMAN: It was quite a shock. We were all anticipating another one of those vintage Yankee comebacks, a runner on first, Derek Jeter laying down a bunt with this - the Yankees down one-nothing. And all of a sudden, a body just fell from above, and the only place it could have come from was the upper deck. And it was an unmistakable silhouette of a human body in just total free fall.

It got everybody out of their seats in the press box, and we all sort of peered over the side and saw this kid sitting and holding his head. And almost like he was bouncing on a trampoline there in the - on the backstop. And then he really had nowhere to go. You know, if he would have gone out towards the field, it would - it's a good 20-, 25-foot drop...


GROSSMAN:... (INAUDIBLE) he probably would have gotten hurt even further.

But - and then he started scrambling towards the luxury boxes directly behind home plate, almost climbing up the net. So...

OLBERMANN: And the police gave him a little help there at the end too.

GROSSMAN: Yes, they - power lifting, yes.


OLBERMANN: Alert, alert, uniformed Yankee Stadium police authority there.

Incredibly, this has happened before in many - several other ballparks where players have fallen - or fans have fallen out of upper decks, intentionally or otherwise. It happened at Yankee Stadium five years ago. a 24-year-old guy fell out and landed on the screen, was knocked out. Nobody was really ever sure if that was deliberate or not.

Are we confident, though, that this fellow last night, his motive was to do this deliberately? Did you talk to some of his - the people with him?

GROSSMAN: Yes. I talked to a number of eyewitnesses up in the upper deck, including three of his friends, who had told police that he didn't slip, he wasn't knocked off. He had talked about, you know, going over the side, and had wondered aloud if the backstop would be enough to support his weight. And according to the three friends I talked to during and after the game last night, next thing they knew, the guy was gone, and 50,000 people were looking at this guy floundering on the backstop.

So I believe, or according to accounts last night, it was a premeditated stunt, and it was completely intentional, by somebody who's known, according to people who know him, as a bit of an attention hound.

OLBERMANN: You think?

Those three friends, I noticed also, were good enough to tell you that they did not throw him out of the upper deck.

Lastly here, does it surprise that you fans deciding to do bizarre things, run on the field, attack the first base coach, heckle players to the point of provoking them to throw a chair into the stands, and now this screen-diving guy, does this surprise that you seemingly, it's increased since 9/11?

GROSSMAN: It does surprise me, in that there - you know, people are more willing to put themselves in harm's way. I mean, every time you see somebody run out on the field anywhere, you know, it's, they always get tackled by, you know, 15 or 20 security guys. And they really, you know, subject themselves to, you know, to legal troubles and, and, you know, and the risk of going to jail. And in his case last night, he was arraigned or formally charged today with a host of charges.

So, you know, people, you know, people never cease to amaze me. And, you know, that's a big jump right there. And, you know, to think that, you know, that's something that's smart or fun, I mean, that's a 40-, 50-foot drop. And what - he came down with enough force, I mean, you guys, you saw the camera shake...


GROSSMAN:... the backstop actually tore, it ripped behind him. So, I mean, thank God nothing like this happened...


GROSSMAN:... because he could have gone right through and...

OLBERMANN: And landed on somebody else...

GROSSMAN: Right, who's...

OLBERMANN:... which is maybe the not-so-fun part of this.

GROSSMAN: Right. So, you know, people are - there's some wild people out there. And it was certainly a wild series of events last night.

OLBERMANN: And we'll to have find out if alcohol played a part. I'm sure that will be investigated shortly.

Evan Grossman of "The New York Post," watching home runs flying into the stands at Yankee Stadium and watching fans fly out of the stands. Thank you, sir.

GROSSMAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: No reason to stop selling beer at ballgames. Naah.

What would you want at tomorrow night's Tampa Bay Devil Rays game versus the Baltimore Orioles? What you want is for the fans to be really gassed up for the return of Rafael Palmeiro from his suspension as baseball's first big-name convicted steroid user.

Palmeiro, who until that positive test was revealed a week ago Monday, was a lock for the Hall of Fame, will return to an uncertain welcome at his home stadium. The Orioles' own patron saint, the retired consecutive games played record-holder Cal Ripken, is now calling steroid use cheating, and saying it's created a, quote, "black cloud hanging over the game. Of Palmeiro, his teammate for five years, Ripken said he's dismayed. And quoting again, "I don't want to think it's true. I am in a state of denial."

But will his fans remain in one? Or will Palmeiro's return tomorrow night mark some sort of sea change in what has been pretty much the ambivalence of the paying customers?

I'd like to call Howard Bryant, sports columnist to "The Boston Herald" and author of a very good book on the subject just out, "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball."

Good evening, Howard.


OLBERMANN: How big is that game tomorrow night at Camden Yards, Baltimore? I mean, will the fans' reaction to Palmeiro tell us anything?

BRYANT: Well, it all depends, because now it looks like he might not play tomorrow, because his manager thinks that he's rusty. So I think it's a question of when he does come back.

I honestly believe that he's going to be welcomed with open arms. And in the same way that Jason Giambi was. And I think that if he's not, if he is vilified by the fans, I think the reason won't be that he tested positive for steroids. I think the reason will be, going back to March 17, when he looked in the face of America, and he essentially lied to them. I think that's the thing that may not be forgiven.

OLBERMANN: As to Palmeiro's future, since that positive test, there have been whispers that the Orioles wanted him to retire, that they were going to summarily fire him. They obviously have issued statements since to the contrary. Do you think baseball's trying to phase him out?

BRYANT: Well, you know, I don't think so. It doesn't make sense. I mean, I think the thing that's very interesting about this is the timetable. And that's what everybody wants to know. And that is certainly what the players who tested positive and were already suspended, that's what they want to know.

If the Orioles and major league baseball knew about this since May, then you've got some real bizarre behavior going on here, one, because he was allowed to play and affect pennant races during that time, and two, because you've got a guy who got his 3,000th hit, and the, you know, baseball sponsored a full-page ad.

So that doesn't really sound like a league that's trying to get rid of the guy. I just think it sounds like some very bizarre behavior, where you've got a system that doesn't quite - that isn't quite equitable for everybody.

OLBERMANN: Big picture. I only get out to the ballparks once or twice a week now. But I heard it, you heard it, you've written about it, that Palmeiro's positive test was, as you suggested there, withheld for some sort of sake of timing, and that there are yet a couple of full teams' rosters' worth of other positive tests that have not yet been revealed, maybe because the players are still appealing the results, maybe for other reasons.

The owners and the players' union issued a joint statement tonight after your piece in "The Herald" today, denying that that's the case. Do you believe them?

BRYANT: Well, I think that the game - they need this to be true. And I hope for their sake that it is true, because if you've got 12, 40, 50, 60 players that you're sitting on in terms of positive tests, then not only is that simply undermining your own drug policy, but you're affecting pennant races.


BRYANT: I know that the Boston Red Sox officials were very upset that Rafael Palmeiro was allowed to play. And if you remember that three-game series right before the all-star break, they took three out of four from the Red Sox. He goes seven for 10 with nine RBIs. And so let's suppose those two or three games affect the pennant race if the Red Sox didn't make the playoffs.

So I think that they need this to be true. I hope that for baseball's sake that it certainly is true, because if you've got that many positive tests going on right now, I mean, this is what players have been saying this to me last week, even four days before Palmeiro went down. They told me, Hey, be on the lookout. Something's going to happen.

So how do they know these things if it's all confidential?

OLBERMANN: You made a great point in there that I've tried to hammer home a couple of times, and it doesn't seem to register. But everybody looks at steroids and says, You know, this affects those home run records. And people seem to be overlooking the larger effect on steroid use past and present, as you just cited, that Boston-Texas series touches the authenticity of the outcome of every game of baseball played, conceivably since the late 1980s, doesn't it?

BRYANT: No, absolutely. And the last thing you want, I mean, just imagine the type of grievances that you would have if some of these players who have tested positive have affected the pennant race, if one team makes it by two games, one team doesn't make it by a couple of games.

This was supposed to be the year where the game got cleaned up. And instead, once more, we've got more questions than answers.

OLBERMANN: Howard Bryant of "The Boston Herald," author of the first textbook on this subject, "Juicing the Game." Great thanks, Howard.

BRYANT: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And, what the hell, one more front-page kind of sports story, the Olympics. After a round of profitable or at least break-even games, Athens fell on its keys. The cost of last summer's Olympics now passing the $16 billion mark. That's "billion," with a B. That's in a nation that only has 11 million citizens. The newly revised yet unofficial figures still cited in an Athens radio interview by the government minister in charge of these games.

It's not hard to see where the money may have gone. First, the original overruns due to construction delays, then the mammoth post-9/11 security efforts, finally the apparent miscalculation about how vital certain Olympic stadiums would prove to be after the games left town, the minister saying that maintenance costs for those venues running $124 million a year. And that's a problem, because they thought they would make a mint renting out two of the venues, at least, the Olympic soccer stadiums. So far, not a nibble.

All of which reminds me to remind you that this is the kind of stuff Dan Patrick and I now talk about once a week on his show on ESPN Radio. Due to scheduling problems beyond my control, this week it will be tomorrow at 2:00 Eastern, 11:00 a.m. Pacific. Be there. Aloha.

Also tonight, manhunt in middle America. Police expanding the hunt for a fugitive and the wife who busted him out in Tennessee.

And the path of progress for highway robbery. How did one of the least-populated states in the nation just get one of biggest handouts of taxpayer dollars?

You are watching this big show, Countdown, on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: If a court officer were not dead, this would have all the elements of cheap jailhouse fiction. Prison nurse starts sneaking food to an inmate. She gets fired, they get married. And yesterday, she kills the officer in order to spring her prisoner husband from jail.

Our fourth story on the Countdown tonight, just to add some more schmaltz, it turns out police now know where the motel where Jennifer and George Hyatte were last night, producing the irony that two people named Hyatte have been staying at an Econolodge.

Rita Cosby, host of this network's newest program, "LIVE AND DIRECT," is outside the Rhone (ph) County Courthouse in Kingston, Tennessee, with the latest.

Good evening, Rita.

RITA COSBY, HOST, "LIVE AND DIRECT": Good evening, Keith.

Well, a massive manhunt is underway at this hour, and now is indeed crossing state borders. Now that George and Jennifer Hyatte have been spotted, as you say, at an Econolodge in Ollinger (ph), Kentucky, which is about four and a half to five hours north from here, quite a good distance away.

Now, authorities just ascended on the hotel when they got that information. They scoured all the rooms. They believe that they missed the couple by minutes.

And here's what authorities had to say about that, just about two hours ago.


MARK GWYN, DIRECTOR, TENNESSEE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: We believe the couple had been there. They has left just minutes, probably minutes early, prior to the entry into the rooms. Right now, we are - there are FBI, U.S. Marshals service, local law enforcement are still in the area. We believe that George and Jennifer Hyatte are still in the area, and we think we're getting closer to making a capture of these two individuals.


COSBY: Well, authorities did not find the couple. But you can see what they did find, it's a gold van which was their getaway vehicle. They would not say if they found any evidence in that van, but they do say that now at least four federal agencies and many local agencies are on the lookout for now the couple, believed to be sort of a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.

They are believed to be on foot. He is not believed to be in shackles. He had a waist shackle on, he also had foot shackles on, also handcuffs on. The authorities believe, from the sightings that they got and the information they got, that he is out of those shackles, somehow he broke free of those.

And tonight, they are on a massive manhunt looking for this couple.

Also, Keith, in just about half an hour from now on "LIVE AND DIRECT," we actually went inside the courthouse. We're going to give you an exclusive tour of the sort of the final moments leading up to the shooting, exactly what happened, maybe some of the security breakdowns, and just give you the perspective of just how close. All of a sudden this car pull up and (INAUDIBLE) a few feet away with the inmate, also the officer who was gunned down.

And we're also going to talk to the officer's family, and also to the fugitive's family. It's going to be a dramatic moment. And you've got to tune in for that, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Rita, freed from the shackles, that would only add to the speculation that they must have had help. Anything from the authorities about accomplices?

COSBY: I asked, in fact, the head of the bureau of information, the Tennessee Bureau of Information, that exact question, Keith. And he said, at this point, they are not sure. They say that the sighting was just of the couple, nobody else at this point. But they do believe there probably was someone who had help. Remember, there was a car waiting for them. They left in an SUV here, then they pulled into that gold van.

They believe somewhere along the line, there probably was some help, and they're trying to pin that down right now.

OLBERMANN: Rita Cosby, reporting for us Tennessee tonight, and shortly hosting her own show, "LIVE AND DIRECT," from the scene. Great thanks, Rita.

COSBY: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Moving from dangerous criminals to dangerous crimes, what happens when you repeatedly steal a woman's underwear? Her husband leaves you looking like this.

And a new challenger taking on Hillary Clinton, one who accuses her of using New York as a stepping stone. But is the challenger herself just being used as a stalking horse? Overwhelming political terminology ahead.


OLBERMANN: Back now, and we pause the Countdown, first for a brief correction. I got my county courthouses in the Bronx, New York, confused. The Bronx County State Supreme Courthouse is the one you see over the center right field fence at Yankee Stadium, not the Bronx Criminal Courthouse. I was born in the Bronx. You would have thought I would have heard of this by now.

Meantime, it's time for a jaunt through the juvenile news that other shows sweep under the rug, while they're getting their courthouses correct. We have to start with famous cliches illustrated. Number 117, don't get your panties in a bunch.

Let's play Oddball.

Enid, Oklahoma, hello. This is a 50-pound box filled with women's underpants. Police obtained said box of unmentionables from the home of Bruce Taylor. And speaking of unmentionable, this is Bruce Taylor. He got nabbed stealing the panties from his neighbor's house. Bruce's neighbors suspected Bruce of underwear theft, so set a trap for him. The neighbor nicked Bruce him taking the knickers, and then done some whip action upside his head.

Police are not sure if all 50 pounds of panties recovered from Bruce's home were ill-gotten undergarments, but he still faces first-degree burglary charges, could get up to 20 years in a place where he won't see London, won't see France, he won't see this other guy's wife's underpants, in the Big House.

To Point Place (ph), Ohio. Take this, all of you, and bid on it. It's Jesus Christ's image on a pierogi. The well-known, popular savior continues his inexplicable tour of America's kitchens and comfort foods, now appearing at Donna Lee, at her home near Toledo, on a little Polish dumpling. Donna first noticed while cooking the pierogi for Easter dinner this year. She originally kept the treat in the freezer, but has now decided to do what any responsible believer who finds a religious apparition on cuisine should go and do. She's going to sell it to the highest bidder.

But buyers beware. In her haste to cash in, Donna misspelled her listing. Pierogi is P-I-E-R-O-G-I. Donna forgot the first I, so she spelled it P-E - Wait. Why am I enabling this, again?


The Iowa State Fair, where they've captured Tiger Woods and coated him in butter. So that's why the club kept slipping out of his hands. Actually, it's a Tiger Woods butter sculpture, right next to a bucket of butter balls, and the real tiger, also made out of butter.

The lady touching Butter Tiger's knee in a creepy fashion would be the sculptor, Norma Duffy Lyons. She has been sculpting butter at the fair since 1960. She makes this butter cow every year, and with leftovers, she'll carve a famous celebrity, like John Wayne, Elvis Presley. This year, Lyons made a tiger. Oh, my.

So if you want to be try to be hip and say, Tiger's last shot there on 17 was butter, now you can mean it literally.


Back to the serious news of the day, that story last night that everybody pooh-poohed, that in 2000, the government had already labeled four of the future 9/11 hijackers as serious threats. It now may be seriously investigated.

And expect serious delays on Interstate 6. A truck full of explosives tips over on and then detonates a Utah highway and a nearby railroad.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Chris Pullen and Chip Davis, two teenagers from Saint Joe in Missouri. They needed some cash for college, so they auctioned off themselves, said they'd do all your chores and tasks for a week. They figured they'd get some serious change for school, $246.50 between them, for a week. Oops.

Number two, the first of two great dumb criminals tonight, (INAUDIBLE) Buffalo Man, who was already drunk on beer, so naturally he stole a truck full of potato chips. Then the beer buzz began to wear off, so he kept one bag of chips and offered to sell the truck to passers-by for $5, so he could buy a couple more beers.

And number one, another rocket scientist, this one from Westboro, Massachusetts. He allegedly burgled five apartments, then stuffed the stolen jewelry into his getaway car, which would not start, so he called a tow truck. He'd be in jail now.


OLBERMANN: Last night, the terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann told us that, even if it were true that four of the 9/11 hijackers really had been identified by the government as potential threats as early as 2000, but nobody told the FBI, it didn't really mean much, that it's establish fact that two of them were being watched by the FBI that early anyway.

In our third story on the Countdown, the accusation passed by a Pennsylvania congressman on to "The New York Times" may nonetheless get a full investigation, at the insistence of what was the 9/11 Commission. That panel has called on Congress to investigate the charges. "If this is true," said chairman Tom Kean, "the former New Jersey governor, somebody should be looking into it."

"I think this is a big deal," said another former commissioner, Republican John Lehman. And the commission says through a spokesman that, although the staff was told in 2003 about the existence of a Pentagon unit that reportedly pegged the hijackers in 2000, it was never told just who the unit had identified, namely, Mohamed Atta and three other future hijackers.

The special unit was reportedly not allowed to pass its findings on to the bureau. Those allegations have been advanced most publicly by the Republican Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, claiming he spoke to members of the special unit while researching a book.

Speaking of your elected representatives on Capitol Hill, one of the better known ones is getting a lot of publicity now because a would-be challenger for that representative's seat has just announced she'll run in her own party's primaries. The incumbent in this case would be Senator Hillary Clinton, the would-be challenger, a familiar face to cable news viewers, but not to many other people, a suburban New York district attorney named Jeanine Pirro.

There are already polls out, after a mere declaration of a candidacy. And that is not a good start. Senator Clinton opens with a 50-28 lead, although the executives at the three all-news cable networks, plus Court TV and FOX, are supporting Clinton 100 percent, because, were Pirro to win, she could not be a legal guest on any of their shows. And each of those five networks would have to go dark for a minimum of 12 minutes a day.

Is Pirro serious or just a burning ship sent out by the Republican Party to rough up Senator Clinton before the latter's possible presidential bid?

That burning question addressed now by MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell.



Today, Jeanine Pirro made clear what will be the central theme of her campaign.

JEANINE PIRRO (R), NEW YORK SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: When Hillary first came to New York and said she wanted to be a New Yorker, she asked us to put out the welcome mat, and New York did. But now she wants to use it as a doormat to the White House.

O'DONNELL: A doormat? That is what she said. And Pirro claims Clinton is using her Senate seat as a stepping stone.

PIRRO: If Hillary wants to be president, she should be honest with herself and her constituents and just say so.

O'DONNELL: It is true, Senator Clinton has rMDNM_ever said she will serve out a full second term.

QUESTION: Your thoughts on Jeanine Pirro, the challenger?

O'DONNELL: And she's never fully answered the question whether she will run for president in 2008.


TIM RUSSERT, HOST: Senator McCain, a serious question. Do you think the lady to your right would make a good president?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Oh, we can't hear you, Tim. We can't hear you.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You're breaking up.



O'DONNELL (on camera): But Republicans admit they had been searching for the perfect candidate to make Senator Clinton's likely run for the presidency more difficult.

LEE MIRINGOFF, POLLSTER: A couple jabs, a couple uppercuts and you've bruised Senator Clinton. That might linger to 2008.

O'DONNELL (voice-over): But Pirro claims she's no sacrificial lamb.

PIRRO: My job and my role is not about bloodying anybody up for a future race.

O'DONNELL: Democrats disagree and claim that's exactly her goal.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I think, if you compare the records of Jeanine Pirro and Senator Clinton, Senator Clinton is going to win this race by a whole lot.

O'DONNELL: There's also likely to be a whole lot of talk about what the tabloids call both women's husband issues. President Clinton was impeached. Al Pirro served time for tax fraud.

"The New York Post" reported Pirro's Web site has dozens of pictures, even with her and a monkey, but not one with her husband.

PIRRO: I deserve to be judged based upon my record and my record alone.

O'DONNELL: For now, Pirro must first win her party's nomination, then battle Clinton, all in a state where New Yorkers have never in history denied a Democratic senator's bid for reelection.

For Countdown, I'm Norah O'Donnell.


OLBERMANN: And the joy of being in the House or the Senate is the political barbecue, pork, that is. It's that time of year, $286 billion in a new highway bill just signed by the president, at least $24 billion of that in special add-ons, you know, pork, you know, your senator or congressman's bribe to you to encourage to you reelect them.

Chip Reid has the latest grisly details from D.C.


CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When completed, it will be christened the Gravina Island Bridge, but critics already call at the bridge to nowhere, from the Alaskan mainland to an island, population 50, high enough for cruise ships to pass underneath. Cost to taxpayers, $223 million.

In Vermont, the bill calls for new snow mobile trails, a cold $5.9 million. In Michigan, help for the Henry Ford Museum, a not very affordable $1.5 million. And, in Southern California, landscaping on the Ronald Reagan Freeway, a very un-Reaganesque $2.3 million. Ironically, it was Ronald Reagan who vetoed a highway bill in 1987, too much lard, he said. That bill had 152 pet projects, cost to taxpayers, $1.4 billion.

But the bill President Bush signed today has 6,371 congressional projects, grand total, more than $24 billion. The bill is so hefty, it apparently takes two to hoist it. It was signed today in the district of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. The former wrestling coach muscled $207 million into the bill for a parkway in his fast-growing district.

KAREN MCCONNAUGHAY, KANE COUNTY CHAIRMAN: We need the Prairie Parkway in order to give the citizens of this area some relief.

REID (on camera): But here in Hastert's district, some people are not at all happy with this new parkway, especially farmers. This cornfield, for example, has been in the same family since 1836. The parkway would run right through it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How all that farmland is going to be sacrificed.

REID (voice-over): Seventy-eight year-old Marvel Davis (ph) has lived here most of her life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they really don't understand a person's ability to love the land.

REID: Local activist Jan Strasma (ph) says congressional pet projects too often favor developers and political contributors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My major gripe is that you have got the politicians and the lobbyists doing the highway planning.

REID: Leaving people like Marvel Davis all but powerless to stop them.

Chip Reid, NBC News, Big Rock, Illinois.


OLBERMANN: And this is a tenuous connection at best, but one would hope that, somewhere, in that $286.5 billion in highway funds are some funds for Highway 6 near Basin, Utah.

This is the scene tonight. Isn't this where the highway used to be? A huge crater in the road after a truck carrying 35,000 pounds of explosives rolled over and then exploded, and nearby Union Pacific railroad tracks damaged as well. So far, a motorist and a passenger in the truck's cab are among the few injuries reported, but there have yet to be any reported deaths, which would be an extraordinary bit of good luck.

Also tonight, the best cure for a range of fatal diseases, giving up smoking. Once again, we will try to help you do it.

And more pearls of wisdom from the singer, reality star, sort of actress Jessica Simpson. No, she is not expressing enduring surprise about how the so-called chicken of the sea isn't really a chicken that can swim. This is about her chest. Well, that should get you to stay with us.

Now here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What could be more innocent than a bunch of women going roller-skating? Unless, of course, you're these women. Roller derby is back again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is legal to elbow anyone from your elbow to your shoulder, so I can elbow you right across your chest.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I can't use my forearms to hit you that way.



JAY LENO, HOST: Two jurors in the Michael Jackson case now say they've changed their mind. They now say Michael is guilty. I believe the legal term for this is called book deal, book deal.


LENO: No, the two jurors said they now have second thoughts. Did you see them? I'm surprised these people had first thoughts.


LENO: Did you see them on the...



BRAD BUTLER:... walking your dog. Your dog poops. Simply reach down, point at the poop, freeze it, pick it up. No odor. Throw it away. That's Poop-Freeze.



OLBERMANN: Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inspired by the late Peter Jennings to give up smoking. If you're one of them, we're trying to help with you some quick suggestions.

And sad news about another lung cancer victim, a famous one.

Tonight's edition of "I Quit" next here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: It seems like an epidemic.

Our number two story on the Countdown, lung cancer again, Peter Jennings on Sunday, the diagnosis announced by Dana Reeve yesterday, and, tonight, the loss of another beloved figure, Barbara Bel Geddes. Her extraordinary acting career stretched from 1945 to 1990, most recently remembered as Miss Ellie Ewing from "Dallas."

She was also starting in two of the greatest "Alfred Hitchcock" episodes, "Lamb to the Slaughter" and the terrifying "The Fog," was the unsung hero of his movie "Vertigo" as well and earned an Academy Award nomination for the 1948 film "I Remember Mama." She was 82. Her family is not confirming it, but "The San Francisco Chronicle" reporting the cause was lung cancer.

It has been in the news so much, you would sometimes have trouble convincing yourself it was not contagious. Well, there may be some good in that touch of paranoia. If you smoke, the news and the famous names contained in it lately might just help you quit.

Our nightly suggestion next.

First, here's our correspondent Dawn Fratangelo.


DAWN FRATANGELO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The consequences may seem remote, that is, until death arrives in such a real and public way.

PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS: Yes, I was a smoker until about 20 years ago. And I was weak and I smoked over 9/11.

FRATANGELO: Peter Jennings passing in just a few months time from lung cancer is rattling long-time smokers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the time to do it, now.

FRATANGELO: Like 31-year-old Nicos Fotonopolis (ph), who first picked up a cigarette 12 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no tomorrow. There's no next year. This is the right time to do it.

FRATANGELO: Jennings' death and the disclosure by nonsmoker Dana Reeve that she has lung cancer are resonating an extraordinary ways. Membership in the American Lung Association's online plan to stop smoking has more than doubled in just the last three days.

JOHN KIRKWOOD, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION: We've seen a very significant increase in inquiries to the American Lung Association. Several thousand people have already enrolled in our online program to quit.

FRATANGELO: In online testimonials, a female smoker writes, "I guess my wakeup call was Peter Jennings' death." Another who vows to quit says, "My concern is, I may be too late, and that scares me."

(on camera): There's another result when tragedy befalls well-known people, a public service of sorts. Folks become more generous and give more money to save lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because people do follow celebrities so closely, they are likely to think a lot more and want to do something about the problem.

FRATANGELO: Countless new vows to quit smoking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm absolutely determined. I want to do this.

FRATANGELO: Encouraged by a longtime messenger, who, even in death, is spreading the word.

Dawn Fratangelo, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: Here, we continue to be amazed by the extraordinary reaction to the report I did Monday on my own false alarm on oral cancer, after 27 years of smoking pipes and cigars.

Despite the deliberately graphic nature of that story, 99.9 percent of the response has been supportive. And, still, about half of the e-mails asked for suggestions, any suggestions, for quitting.

As part of our "I Quit" program, we are asking ex-smokers to tell us what has worked for them. And we will be going into depth about those ideas next week. One hint in advance. Someone who would buy a pack of cigarettes every week or so put it in a big jar of water and watched the chemicals gradually turn that water a sick brown, a reminder of what they were not putting in their body anymore, terrific idea.

But, first, something more conventional, what I have used for my 13 days of being an ex-smoker, nicotine gum. It comes in 2-milligram and 4-milligram pieces. If you smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day or you light up within half-an-hour of waking up, is the official line, you should start with the larger version, the 4 milligrams.

There's a very important caveat on both kinds. This is not chewing gum. You chew it only briefly, usually less than a minute, until you sense a peppery taste. That is the nicotine actually coming out of the gum. And stop chewing. Tuck the gum against your cheek in there between the gum and the cheek, wherever, for a while. When the taste fades, you can chew a little bit more, activate it again, and you can chew as many as 20 pieces of these a day, although you may find out you really don't need that many.

The pluses, it gives you something to do with your mouth. It takes care of that end of the cigarette or smoking deal. And it accurately recreates that post-smoking flavor in your mouth, for good or for bad. It also allows to you substitute appointment chewing for appointment smoking.

The minuses, you have to remember not to keep chewing it. I tried to quit using it five years ago. Nobody told me about the chew-it-and-park-it process. I wound up with heart palpitations.

More tomorrow.

A hard left and some much-needed comic relief, as we dive into our celebrity news and gossip, "Keeping Tabs."

Simon Cowell, "American Idol" judge and, speaking of nicotine gum, cheeky Brit is being sued. The creators of a syndicated television show, "Million-Dollar Idea," filing in L.A. today, claiming Cowell and ABC directly ripped them off with its new show called "The Million-Dollar Idea." Hmm. Coincidence, no doubt. Both shows cultivate business ventures, with the best idea winning $1 million in seed money and marketing support, the plaintiffs alleging tens of millions in damages. The exact amount will be determined at trial or on our new NBC reality series, "Go Sue Yourself."

Meantime, an entirely different kind of asset at issue with Jessica Simpson. Two guesses. The pop-star-turned-actress out promoting her feat of cinematic excellence, "The Dukes of Hazzard," telling Britain's Sky News that her breasts are real, claiming she has overcome her fear of her - of her - of herself and has since moved on. "I feel they make my outfits look better," she says. "They're like an accessory." Earrings, check. Necklace, check. Chest, check.

Yes, that's about right.

Speaking of remarkable reality, a first-class turtle, a panda double act joining our favorite bouncing bear on the Countdown Animal Hall of Fame. That's ahead.

But, first, time for Countdown's nightly list of today's three nominees for the coveted title of worst person in the world, the bronze level nominee, David Teel (ph) from Grasse in Southern France. He's 81, so they gave him a suspended sentence of a year in jail. Last month, he was awakened from his nap by noisy helicopters. So, he shot at them with a hunting rifle.They were there trying to put out a nearby forest fire.

Also nominated, James C. Garrett, insisting he deserves a spot on the ballot in the race for mayor of Seattle, even though he was convicted four years ago of felony assault on the then mayor of Seattle. He said he should be excused for that because he is suffering from what he called post-traumatic slavery syndrome.

But the winner, Officer Dan Bray of the police department of Hooksett New Hampshire. He went to the home of Natasha Fryou and handed out a citation for littering in the amount of $288, Officer Dan claiming he saw Natasha throw at least three objects out of her car window the other day and she has to pay up. Natasha's parent spoke on her behalf, saying she did throw or drop a small ball out the window.

See, the alleged perpetrator, Natasha, she's 4 years old, which makes Officer Dan Bray today's worst person in the world!


OLBERMANN: Look, we are all consenting adults here. You even paid money to watch this show, indirectly, probably, so let's just face up to this. You don't have a good excuse for wanting to watch stories about cute or exotic animals. And we don't have one for wanting to show them.

Our number one story on the Countdown tonight, sea turtles and really cute pandas.

First, the loggerhead sea turtle. One of their kind was illegally brought from its home in a Florida beach to Minneapolis when it was just a week old, the abduction by one of those pesky non-native inhabitants, a tourist. The Minnesota Zoo has been caring for the turtle since September and will now send it home via Sun County Airlines, first class.

And to Xi'an City, China, where a giant panda has given birth to twins. Their Chinese names translate to Joy for the girl and Prosperity for the boy. Prosperity weighs less, however, and is getting the cold shoulder from mom. Pandas usually look after their cubs one cub at a time. The research center where the twins were born is trying to pick up the slack.

Another class of inductees, then, to the place that offers the greatest honor a critter can ever receive, entry into the Countdown Animal Hall of Fame. Yes, we don't have an excuse for showing this either.


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

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

Ladies and gentlemen, the animal wing.

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

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

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

And, of course, there was that impromptu "No elephants left behind" moment witnessed by the president's safari in Africa. We have this tape playing at the Hall of Fame 24 hours a day in a continuous loop.

And, lastly, in this group, the commander-in-chief's old friend, Barney, who gave the phrase...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're making progress on the ground.

OLBERMANN:... a whole new meaning.

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

Then, most importantly, let us not forget that the bear survived his fall. He was OK.


OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.

"RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT from the manhunt in Tennessee.

Take it away.