'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 13
Guest: Robin Wright, John Harwood, Jim Gray, Dickie Arbiter
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Expectations about the elections in Iraq are lower.
Expectations for trouble for Armstrong Williams are raised. A bipartisan call from senators to investigate his deal with the Department of Education.
A nightmare in La Conchita. It is over. All are accounted for. But it will never be over for the man who lost his wife and three of his daughters.
The national pastime. As in you'd better pass your steroid test. Rare agreement between owners and players. Year around testing and punishment begins now.
And the testing of Prince Harry. He wears a swastika, apologizes, but calls it a poor choice of costume. Better get that second apology ready, Prince. All that and more now on Countdown.
Good evening. On Tuesday, the interim prime minister of Iraq admitted that parts of his country would not be safe enough for voting two weeks from Sunday. Yesterday, it was revealed that the Bush administration had officially discontinued the hunt for WMD there. Today at the same time a senior administration official was telling the "Washington Post" that when it came to voter turnout on January 30, quote, "I would really encourage people not to focus on numbers." Secretary of State Colin Powell said that low turnout by itself could be a triumph for the insurgents.
Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, more evidence this evening supporting the theory that we live in a time of diminishing expectations. The "Post" story, its co-author Robin Wright joins us in a moment, also suggested the administration was trying to broaden the context in which the vote should be evaluated. Specifically the "Post" quoting one of the president's key men as saying Mr. Bush fears Americans will expect results from Iraq reminiscent of the ones from the vote in Afghanistan last fall in which a president was quickly chosen and the voting outcome abundantly clear. And appearing on the "News Hour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS, Secretary of State Powell confirming the assumed that low turnout alone could be seen as a defeat for the electoral process and the U.S.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: In fact, perhaps the insurgents might be more emboldened if they see that they are not persuading the Iraqi people to participate in this new government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That anonymous official also acknowledged the impact of the insurgency on the vote. Whereupon like clockwork, another key player on the ground in Iraq was assassinated today. The latest target, a top aide to the country's most prominent Shiite Muslim cleric, the Ayatollah al Sistani. The aide was returning home from evening prayers when he was gunned down down south of Baghdad. His son and four bodyguards also killed. The murder is appearing to be a message to al Sistani who is strongly behind the elections going on as scheduled.
Also today in Iraq, 10 attackers sprayed gunfire outside a Baghdad hotel where a Turkish businessman was waiting for a mini bus. The Turkish man who reportedly runs a construction company working with Americans was kidnapped. Six Iraqis outside the hotel were killed.
That is the backdrop against which just 17 days remain until the polls open in parts but not in all of Iraq. To help us sort this out, we turn as we often do to the expertise of Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent of the "Washington Post" and co-author of the article in today's paper that I referenced earlier.
Robin, good evening.
The two administration statements. The one from your story, don't focus on the numbers and the one from Mr. Powell, low numbers may embolden the insurgency. Do those statements jive?
ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": I think so. I think the administration is trying to prepare the American public and the international community for an election that is probably going to be flawed, potentially deeply flawed. And trying to say, look, let's think of this just as the first step in a year-long process that will include also of the writing of the constitution and another election at the end of the year. That will really be the test when Iraqis elect a permanent government. Not just an interim body.
OLBERMANN: Can the administration look at what you wrote or at what, say, Prime Minister Allawi said earlier, and say no, these are not diminished expectations. There has always been that bigger multivote context. Or have they really changed themes recently?
WRIGHT: I think it is a deliberate decision to lower expectation. After all this was an election that the administration had heralded as a real milestone not just in Iraq but in the wider Middle East and the Islamic world. It was going to be a catalyst for a transformation of the entire region.
OLBERMANN: Is any of that decrease in expectation line connected to this overall Pentagon reassessment from the general, General Loch (ph) or is he still gathering his information? I ask that because it sounds like somebody in Washington is preaching from a new prayer book on this.
WRIGHT: I don't think so. General Loch is really on a very separate mission which has to do with the strength of the Iraqi forces and is there a way to accelerate the process, to beef up the forces where there have been a lot of problems and defections. People not willing to fight other Iraqis. And is there a way to get that process back on track. Because that's really the core of the exit strategy for the United States.
OLBERMANN: Also on the ground there this attack on the Ayatollah Sistani's aide. Is this more evidence that the insurgents have really finetuned the way they're intending to disrupt the electoral process?
WRIGHT: Exactly. I think the trend over the last month has really been particularly to target. Election officials, and Shiite officials. There was an assassination attempt against the leader of the largest Shiite political party recently as well. And this is an attempt really to bait them, to get them to try to strike back and foment the kind of civil strife that the insurgents would like to see destabilize Iraq.
OLBERMANN: Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent of the "Washington Post." Great thanks.
Meantime, nobody on the flight would think so. Nobody assessing the big picture of counterterrorism would think so either. The U.S. no-fly list has provided another comedy of errors. The list did not stop somebody on it from boarding a flight. That flight had to return to its point of departure. When it got there, the guy on the list was not charged with anything. Nobody is identifying just who was on British Airways flight 175 from London to JFK in New York yesterday except to say he was Moroccan, carrying a French passport. It was not until three hours in that the counterterror of bureaucracy threw up a flag and that flight was sent back to Heathrow in London. Upon its return, the man on the list was questioned by British police and released. Homeland Security says it probably happened because his name was only added to the list last month which raises a whole different set of questions none of which constitute comedy of any kind.
While we're all still not laughing, kiss $170 million taxpayer worth of the war against terrorism goodbye. That is how much the FBI will be writing off now after what was supposed to be its counterterror friendly computer upgrade. Turned out to be about as useful as a 1978 Pong (ph) consul. The "Los Angeles Times" reporting today that the FBI has concluded the customized computer software, called virtual case file, won't do that for which it was commissioned. Namely allow agents to share information especially documents. The software contract with a firm called Science Application International cost $170 million. It was supposed to produce a finished project by the end of the year 2003. The newspaper says the FBI's chief information officer thinks virtual case file is beyond saving and it is better to eat the cost and start all over again. Too bad it is not virtual money.
As to another quarter million dollars of taxpayer cash, that which went from the Department of Education to the Praise For Pay commentator Armstrong Williams so he would sell legislation called No Child Left Behind on its behalf. That questionable business relationship prompting a bipartisan response on Capitol Hill. The leaders of a Senate subcommittee, overseeing education spending writing to Education Secretary Rod Paige directing his office to turn over records of all P.R. contracts on behalf of the department. The request comes from Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican and his Democratic colleague and counterpart, Tom Harkin. They each reminded the education secretary of the federal ban on propaganda.
Separately, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission calling for his agency to investigate whether Armstrong Williams broke the law by not disclosing that $241,000 contract.
Which story will run longer? Armstrong Williams or Prince Harry? For more on Mr. Williams, not on the prince I'm joined by John Harwood, national political editor of the "Wall Street Journal." John, good evening.
JOHN HARWOOD, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Hey, Keith. And I want to make it clear from the get-go, I'm not getting a dime from the Education Department to be on your show tonight.
OLBERMANN: Nor, as you well know, are you getting a dime from MSNBC. There have been separate comments about the Williams deal from the chairman and from the ranking Democrat in the relevant House committee. But they have been nothing like this joint statement by Senators Specter and Harkin today. Does this mean that there's a Senate hearing coming? An investigation? A wrist slap? What is it an augur of?
HARWOOD: We'll see how deep they get into it. One of the things about the advantages of your party controlling Congress is that you control the investigative machinery of the government. And I think Republicans are going to be very slow to try to escalate this into hearings and a fullscale investigation. But that bipartisan letter that was sent is a reflection of how surprised people were by this. This is a quite unusual event even in Washington where people are used to a lot of people getting money to advance agendas.
OLBERMANN: Exactly. And I keep asking why this story would have resonated so much with congressmen and with senators of both parties. I keep getting the same answer. Because it was the wrong thing to do. But there's lots of things wrong in relating to the government, even if you just limit yourself to the interactions between the government and the media. Is there something more on that residence? And what is it?
HARWOOD: Well, we're going to find out if there are more people on the pay roll of this department, and presumably other, because a lot of news organizations are beginning to look at this.
You know, I talked to a senior Republican strategist yesterday who said, I've been around Washington for a long time and I was shocked to find this. At some levels, I wonder why people are so shocked, because there are a lot of people, especially on television who come out of partisan politics and advocacy, and I guess it was only a matter of time before we saw that some of those connections didn't quite go away.
Armstrong Williams is a very well known conservative. And the idea that he would make common cause with the Bush administration, it's unusual to hear about it, certainly to hear about it with taxpayer money, but it's probably not the thing that should be, you know - this is more like a Claude Rains reaction.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Shocked to discover there's any gambling, here's your winnings. But that begs the question, if is there is something that is going to happen officially in the way of investigation or hearings, where is Congress going to be starting? From the idea that this is - this was some sort of lone wolf bad idea that just sneaked through the whole process, or that there are a whole series of Manchurian commentators out there.
HARWOOD: Well, when the Senators get the records from the education department. And I expect that Rod Paige and his successor, Margaret Spellings will cooperate with that investigation, we'll find out if there were others in the, on the pay roll of the Education Department.
If not, I think the thing might die fairly quickly and Republicans would probably be quite happy to see it go away. They have got a lot to do on Capitol Hill. But if more stuff comes out, either through what the news media finds out, or what is disclosed to the Congress, then you could see Congress stepping up and getting deeper into it.
OLBERMANN: John Harwood who is on the pay roll of the Wall Street Journal, and only the Wall Street Journal. Many thanks for your insights, sir.
HARWOOD: You bet.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, it may be the first time they've agreed on anything without the threat of a strike looming since 1966. Steroid testing and suspensions come to baseball.
And the tragedy of the California mudslide. Now all of the missing now accounting for. For that man on the left, tragically so. You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Last week we told you of a family facing an extraordinary challenge and coming one an extraordinary solution. How to keep the money coming in for treatment that could save their son's life. An online auction.
Our No. 4 story on the Countdown, that report generated as much response from you as any in the history of this news hour. You will not believe how the story just changed. Countdown's Monica Novotny joins me now with the latest.
Good evening, Monica.
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
What started out as a simple, even slightly silly idea to help one Virginia family pay for a very serious medical procedure for their son, has turned into very good news for the family and now for a few others as well.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody can make so much money off a grilled cheese sandwich. Maybe I can get at least $500.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): But the Grover family got so much more. $19,000 in private donations, and from the Goldenpalace.com, the same group who bought that sandwich, the winning bid in the online auction: $10,700. All for a bumper sticker printed with the family motto. Frank Must Die.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought I was insane. I was wrong.
NOVOTNY: Frank is the tumor at the base of 9-year-old David's skull.
A rare form of pediatric cancer he has battled for almost 2 years.
(on camera): How did you come one the name frank?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, because I was once scared of Frankenstein. And how to conquer my fears, I named my tumor Frank. It sort of made me laugh.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): After months of chemotherapy, David needs a biopsy to determine his next course of treatment. Last week the family decided to auction off the sticker to help foot the bill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The outpouring is tremendous.
NOVOTNY (on camera): What do you think about this, David?
DAVID GROVER, CANCER PATIENT: I think it is sweet.
NOVOTNY: David's surgery has been scheduled for February 2.
OLBERMANN: But now the family has asked the Golden Palace people to put the money somewhere else? What has happened with it?
NOVOTNY: That's right. Because as we reported, they did get the $19,000 in private donations, really, they said all they were seeking was about $20,000. So, They feel like they've come close enough. And they felt that perhaps this money should go elsewhere so they've asked the Golden Palace people to donate it to a local children's charity in their area. And Golden Palace told me earlier this afternoon that they agree.
OLBERMANN: So now, where does it stand financially for them?
NOVOTNY: Well, they've got the $19,000. And then after they agreed with the Golden Palace to donate this auction money this afternoon. In the mail came a check from another private donor who said, please save this for the future, because David will eventually need some other procedures. Hopefully one to even remove the tumor if doctors can figure out how to do that. So they have gotten a tremendous amount of help, almost $40,000 now.
OLBERMANN: They get the money, they maintain their own standards.
NOVOTNY: They're very happy. And we should point out that we got a lot of e-mails from folks watching the show who mentioned that they were donating privately. People who didn't want to participate in the auction, but did want to help.
OLBERMANN: Great. On the family's behalf, we thank them. And I thank you. Countdown's Monica Novotny.
OLBERMANN: From new rules in baseball to new responsibilities for your local garbage man. The garbage man part, recycling day can take on a whole new meaning. "Oddball."
Then baseball. The steroid urine tests will come no less than once a year for every player. Details ahead on the steroid thing, not on the tests.
OLBERMANN: We rejoin you at just the moment when it's time to pause the Countdown to set aside for a brief time the stories that are serious as a heart attack and instead bring you the ones that are serious as a rerun of "Sanford and Sun." (UNINTELLIGIBLE) lets play "Oddball."
You know, actually, the first story is about heart attacks. And in rural England, if you're having one, you should immediately call your neighbor garbage man? The council in Staffordshire is considering equipping the garbage trucks which run pickup routes out in the sticks where ambulances are few and far between with defibrillators. The premise is simple. If you have a heart attack, your odds increased by 80 percent if the can slap a defibrillator on you in the first four minutes. If the trash collector can do that, so much the better. And if he can't save you, well, he can always just, you know, drop you off somewhere.
On this, the 85th anniversary of a "New York Times" editorial that claims rockets would never achieve flight, we take you to the moons of Saturn, and a special payload on a European space rocket. Tomorrow, the Huygens Probe will detach from the Casinni Spacecraft and make B line for that big moon, Titan. Once there, scientist hope it will send back data that could reveal how life on Earth began.
And that's not all, the probe will be leaving something very special on that moon, a French pop music CD with four songs composed especially for the occasion. Ostensibly, the European Space Agency says it put the music on board to arouse the interest of young people and to leave a trace of humanity in the unknown. But when you actually hear the selection the true motive for jettisoning it into space becomes obvious. Here's a sample.
OLBERMANN: The kids love it on Titan. Obviously the secret mission of the Huygens Probe, get that CD as far from away from Earth as possible.
And speaking of music, beset by an increase of juvenile delinquents throwing rocks at the trains and vandalizing the stations, London's subway station has tested and will now be implementing an anti-teenager plan, piping classical music through the stations. They tried out Pavarotti and Vivaldi and Mozart in four London stops, crime dropped by a third. The experts concluded that the kids split because the music is unfamiliar to them and considered uncool. Scientists also think it has a soothing behavior on British youth. Like that worked like a charm on Malcolm McDowell and The Clock Work Orange, where research suggested that Beethoven was a real quick and good for laughs in lashing of the old ultra violent.
And speaking of the old ultra violent, discipling in pro football not for forearm shiver, rather for a pants up mooning.
Also tonight, the death toll will not rise but that's no comfort to one father reeling from the loss of nearly his entire family. The very personal face of the California tragedy. Those stories ahead now.
Here are Countdown's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day.
Number three, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. It says it will not pull its Crazy For You Bear from the market, even as mental health groups complain, considering the bear comes with commitment papers and is dressed in a straight jacket. If you really want to question sanity, they want $70 for that thing!
Number two, Fate Patterson from West Memphis, Arkansas, who until his arrest was better known as the town's naked jogger. At night, he liked to traverse city streets running as it were, all out. That was until he ran past a police car. Officers chased him and eventually, tasered him into submission. We presume that was necessary.
And number one, Cornelia and Nonu Dragoman of Transilvania, they met over the Internet via the site on which they both had their e-mail. So when their first child, a son born late last month they named him Lucian, Lucian Yahoo Dragoman. Thank goodness they did not meet at moviephone.com.
OLBERMANN: They thought it was happening again. At 2:00 this morning Pacific time, rescuers and geologists working at the site of the mudslide in La Conchita, California, sensed the ground was moving. Despite that fact, the handful of people remained on the mound of mud and debris, still hoping to hear signs of life from victims trapped below.
Our third story on the Countdown, there was another shift in the unstable area. Some of the soil on the mountain did move about six feet. But there was not another slide, and there does not appear to be any further loss of life. The Ventura County sheriff's office announcing this morning that the rescue operations had been called off. But so, too, had the search operation for the missing. They're now convinced that everyone trapped by Monday's sudden movement of more than 700,000 tons of mud have been found dead or alive. There are 10 fatalities, 10 injured. But the remaining 19 listed as unaccounted for are believed to have not been in La Conchita when the disaster transpired. They will keep looking.
And another result of the fearsome weather, about 250 miles further up the California coast, nobody injured there, but one of the world's most famous golf courses is going to have to make some changes. Part of the fairway on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach at the Monterey Peninsula has collapsed into the Pacific Ocean. As the golfers say, four.
Back in La Conchita. Through their shock and sadness, the survivors consider themselves extraordinarily lucky indeed. Diane Hart is one of them. She had already prepared a safe place in her closet earlier the day of the mudslide, after her son had warned her about the supposed possibility of tornadoes in her area, as rare as they might be in Southern California. And as she said on "The Today Show" this morning, that closet saved her life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE HART, RESCUED FROM MUDSLIDE: I saw the roof coming down on me as I was running toward the closet. And I only made it to the doorway of the closet. And the debris pushed me further into the closet, into all that pillows and blankets I had put in there. And that pushed me several yards. And I thought I was going to die. I thought this is too big. I can't survive this.
When everything stopped moving, I was actually still, I couldn't move from that point on. And the air pocket, I was on my right side in a kind of elongated fetal position. And the air pocket was from my head to my thighs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Rescue workers finally managed to reach Ms. Hart a couple of hours after the mudslide and pull her out.
But as we told you yesterday, the family of the man who had run out to get his kids some ice cream just before the earth moved was not so fortunate. Now, Jimmy Wallet, his wife and three of their four daughters lost in the mudslide, has talked with our correspondent Michael Okwu.
MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moments after the mudslide, 38-year-old Jimmy Wallet fell to his hands and knees and clawed through the debris, frantically searching for his wife and three youngest daughters. All buried in their home, almost three stories beneath him.
JIMMY WALLET: I couldn't do anything. I would have ate through it but my hands gave out.
OKWU: It was a heart breaking image.
WALLET: That's Raven right there. That's my 6-year-old.
OKWU: Wallet decided to talk to us about the eight seconds that changed his life. On the day of the disaster, their coastal home facing unrelenting storms, Wallet and his wife of 16 years, Michelle, decided to leave town. Michelle had heard warnings of possible mudslides. But before they left, Wallet stepped out to get ice cream for the kids.
What he saw next shocked him.
WALLET: I was just going, no, and I was running as hard as I could. I mean, that mud was (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but it was like someone turned a faucet on. It was just water. It was that quick.
OKWU: That night, he began digging, next to official rescuers, convinced that he heard his daughter Raven's voice.
WALLET: I wanted to hear voices. I just kept digging, saying, no, I heard it. And I heard her moan. I said, you have got to scream, babies. And I heard a baby cry. And I go, did you hear it? They go, yes. That was her last scream.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was the mother and her three children recovered from the incident.
OKWU: Wednesday morning, officials announced finding the bodies of his wife Michelle, 10-year-old Hannah. Raven, who had just celebrated her sixth birthday, and Paloma, who never made it to her third.
16-year-old Jasmine was away when the mudslide hit.
(on camera): I can't even imagine what that is like. What were you feeling when they told you that they had found your wife and your three children?
WALLET: I knew by the way they were walking, there was no hey, you know. I knew. And I prepared myself from right when I stepped on that mud. I go, man, this is bad. They were so pure and good. They're in a better place. They were ready. They - and Mother Nature took them.
OKWU (voice-over): But shortly after saying this, Wallet got up from his chair to talk about the anguish of identifying the people he loved most.
WALLET: I would describe to you what I saw when I went to see my kids, but I can't because my family is here. My beautiful babies. They were crushed.
OKWU: But he went on.
WALLET: This one right here, my wife. It was purple. Crushed.
OKWU: Wallet and Michelle met at Ventura high school in 1985.
Friends called them soul mates.
WALLET: She took my breath away from the get-go. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Through all eternity and more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pronounce you husband and wife.
OKWU: They married in 1988, started by all accounts a close-knit, free-spirited family. Michelle home schooled the kids while Jimmy worked odd jobs. There was never much money. And living in La Conchita, it didn't seem to matter.
WALLET: The place we lived, I called it never-never land. It was for my kids, paradise. And you saw it in them.
OKWU: But this week, Wallet was a troubled man, appearing to berate a reporter, who came by authorities after crossing a police line to continue digging on his own.
WALLET: I told everyone that I saw passes to get in. You guys can get in, why don't you dig and throw the earth down. Who cares? There is lives in there. Dead or alive. They don't have a chance if you don't dig. And apparently, it's not going fast enough. So get more people and let it be crowded. And who cares? Just dig.
OKWU: Wallet says police gave him a gift by finding his family. And he wants to do the same for others.
WALLET: It's what was in my heart last night when I went home after I saw my kids. It was like, man, I have got to do this for someone else. I mean, all I can do is go dig. And hopefully, pull someone out.
OKWU: Michael Okwu, NBC News, La Conchita, California.
OLBERMANN: Officials have tonight urged residents in La Conchita not to return to their home. Not now, not ever.
Meanwhile, another grim prediction from a different kind of calamity half a world away. Officially, the tsunami death toll in Indonesia stands at 110,229. But the real number may be almost double that. The Knight Ridder newspaper service reporting that an official document posted in Banda Aceh says that nearly 210,000 Indonesians are either dead or missing. And the paper reports that rescue workers think that even that number may be too low.
The search for Americans affected by the disaster continued to narrow down today. The numbers of inquires about missing American, now down to the number 446. The number of those missing and presumed dead is now at 17; 18 Americans confirmed killed by the tsunami.
In Phuket, Thailand, the community is trying to get back into a normal routine, back to work and back to school. Not an easy task when half the town is in ruins. The luxury Kamala Bay (ph) Garden resort was left largely undamaged by the wave, but the nearby Banhat Kamala (ph) school was completely destroyed. So the hotel turned 14 of its luxury suites into classrooms; 15 teachers now using those rooms every day to educate 350 students. But because there are no desks, the kids do their school work on the floor.
Also tonight, the crackdown on steroids in baseball leading to a rare moment of agreement between owners and players. Will the new rules actually make a difference?
And Prince Harry making a difference, hoping the furor over his choice of party outfits will die down. But one former palace insider says not going to happen.
OLBERMANN: The history of rancor between Major League Baseball and its players union has been so bitter for so long that the settlement of one the four strikes that have interrupted the last 33 seasons was delayed for an hour, because the owners negotiator and the players negotiator would not agree to pose for photographs shaking hands.
So in our No. 2 story on the Countdown tonight, when you hear that the commissioner of baseball said thank you to the union repeatedly, you know it is an historic occasion, no matter what it was he was thanking them for. In fact, it is an unprecedented agreement on mandatory testing for and punishment of players who use illegal performance enhancing steroid.
Just 6 weeks after 2003 grand jury testimony leaked out in which Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds linked themselves to the use of steroids and human growth hormone, it all swung to a different kind of leaking: mandatory steroid testing.
The union agreed to reopen its contract with the owners, scrap what amounted to just a monitoring system for possible use of the drugs and signed on to an extensive program of testing and penalties. Each player will be tested at least once each season without warning. All players will be subject to additional random testing. Testing will continue during the offseason. A player who tests positive as a first offense will be given a 10 day suspension without pay, a second offense is 30 days, a third is 60 days and a fourth is a whole year.
There is no plan, at least none we know of, to test the owners for anything.
There will probably be 2,000 baseball urinalysis tests a year from now, turning the national past-time into a word that kind of sound like pass.
Joining me to discuss the ramifications, my friend and colleague Jim Gray at ESPN. Jim, good evening.
JIM GRAY, ESPN: Good evening, Keith. How are you?
OLBERMANN: Not bad. And yourself?
GRAY: Good, thank you.
OLBERMANN: I've covered baseball labor stories, it occurs to me, for 25 years now. And I know you're quite a veteran of this, too. If I see a silver lining in this, I automatically look for the cloud.
Is this legit? Is there some catch we're not seeing?
GRAY: No. I think it is legitimate. And I think it's good that the commissioner, based on what President Bush said in his state of the union, put pressure on these folks. And in essence, what we have here Keith, is the union finally recognizing that the media was going to keep after this and that there was outrage among the fan.
The people want the games to be real. And now with this testing program, while the suspension for the first time is 10 days, that seems ridiculous, at least we will out these people. We will know that in fact they are using steroids and they'll face public harassment.
So, while the penalty doesn't seem that stiff, public scorn will be.
OLBERMANN: To the core of the issue, does this measure up against the policies of other sports. And is the baseball policy going to be that kind of enforcement when those numbers are as low as you point out?
GRAY: Well, it certainly doesn't measure up to the Olympics where you look at two-year bans and lifetime suspensions for this. And in essence, what it does, even a two-year ban puts you out of those Olympics. And it is very difficult to get back to another Olympiad, once you've missed your rotation, so to speak, unless you're a superb, superb athlete.
As far as football, the testing program, there is suspensions that go into place, 4 weeks, I believe, for the first time suspension. So it really doesn't measure up to that, because you're taking 1/16 of your salary. Here, if you should miss 10 days, that's probably seven or eight games, they play 162. So, it's not that meaningful in term of suspension.
But once again Keith, what we have here, it's great that the commissioner was able to get this. It is good that the union recognized it, it's good that the players, the players who are clean, are now putting the pressure on players who are not clean. And so what we have here is an effort to use the word again, clean it up.
OLBERMANN: What do we expect on the field next season? I mean, the guy leading the American league in home runs will hit 38 of them? 42? We're not going to see 60 again, are we?
GRAY: I don't think so. But you know, it is hard to say just exactly where this is going to go and what the numbers will be. It is going to be interesting.
What is the long term effect? What is the long term effect on the health of these players? Those who have in fact used steroids? What will it be years down the line? Will it be like some of the untimely, an unfortunate deaths that have occurred? Ken Caminiti, the most recent.
And what will it do to performance? I mean, if you use steroids for three years and now you don't, does it help you now, or do you constantly have to be on these things?
I mean, there's a lot of things that we just don't know, even the medical community doesn't know. So, certainly, the fans don't. So, I don't know what the drop off will be.
OLBERMANN: And no doubt, we will find out. You mentioned Caminiti. Lyle Alzado comes to mind from the NFL. Unfortunately, that's the way we're going to find out.
Jim Gary of ESPN, always good to you talk to you my friend. Thanks greatly for you time tonight.
GRAY: Thank you for having me, Keith. Talk to you later.
OLBERMANN: Remember the online casino from the No. 4 story? How much do you think they would pay to stick their logo on the back side of a National Football League star who was mooning the crowd at the time? We can almost get you a price range as we open up our nightly romp through celebrity and entertainment news, keeping tabs. The football league today fined Randy Moss, wide receiver of the Minnesota Vikings $10,000 for what was either a pantomime version of a mooning or a very poorly exercised actual mooning.
That the incident occurred in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where fans are notorious for mooning the players while they are in the team bus could avail Moss nothing. An NFL executive told him his actions quote, "were based on poor judgment, did not reflect well on you or the Vikings and were insulting to many."
That was one description. Then there was the one by my friend and colleague, Joe Buck, the play by play man at the game, shown here about 15 years ago. Who called what Randy, Randy did, disgusting and apologized to viewers for it.
This for some reason enraged Moss's boss, Vikings owner Red McCombs. He demanded that FOX remove Buck from the telecast of Sunday's playoff game between the Viking and the Philadelphia Eagles saying Bucks comments quote, "suggested a prejudice that surpassed objective reporting." That's right. The announcer should be removed, but his own employee, the guy who once shoved a meter maid with his car, that guy he has nothing to say about it.
FOX says Buck will broadcast the game as scheduled.
The semiannual, or perhaps semimonthly British royal scandal continues as scheduled. First, the insensitive gaff. Then the inadequate apology. The new trouble with Harry ahead.
OLBERMANN: Anybody who's ever seen "Hamlet" knows that a 20-something prince who's lost his favorite parent is not likely to become the most responsible of kids. But at least when something was rotten in Denmark, it was not good old Ham going to the birthday party of his buddy Laertes dressed up as Attila the Hun or something.
Our number one story on the Countdown, our correspondent Keith Miller reporting from London the latest and ever-expanding British royal scandal, which we here call "Achtung Prince Harry."
KEITH MILLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A nation is asking tonight, what was he thinking? Prince Harry, the youngest son of the late Princess Diana and Prince Charles, caught by a tabloid newspaper dressed up in a Nazi uniform at a costume party on Saturday.
ROBERT JOBSON, ROYAL BIOGRAPHER: It was a very, very stupid thing to
do. He needs to consider his position. I think a lot of people in this
country will be - especially the older people who were involved in the war
· will actually think this is utterly unacceptable.
MILLER: And not just in Britain. In Germany, where owning a swastika is illegal, commentators were appalled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have every sympathy and admiration for British eccentricity, but this is beyond the pale.
MILLER: The same reaction in Israel. The foreign minister calling it deplorable.
Prince Harry's family survived the Nazi bombing of London. And his grandmother, the queen, is meeting with Holocaust survivors in two weeks to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp in Auschwitz.
IDA GINSBURG, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR: It is thoughtlessness. And the reason why he hasn't thought about it, because he doesn't know anything about it.
MILLER: Harry, third in line to the British throne, issued this written apology. "I'm very sorry if I've caused any offense. It was a poor choice of costume, and I apologize."
(on camera): But tonight, some British politicians are saying that's not good enough. They want Prince Harry to appear on television and deliver his apology in public.
(voice-over): He's been in trouble before. Underage drinking, smoking marijuana, and recently attacking a photographer outside a night club.
The prince enters a military academy in three months, not soon enough, perhaps, for the royal family that's been deeply embarrassed.
Keith Miller, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: That royal family tonight announcing that despite the calls for an apology in the flesh, Harry is not going to say anything; moreover, he will not join the British delegation at the memorial at Auschwitz two weeks from today. Once again, the royal family creates its own royal pain in the publicity department. Earlier, I had the opportunity to speak with Dickie Arbiter, formerly the assistant press secretary to her royal highness, Queen Elizabeth II.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Arbiter, thank you for your time this evening. The palace says there's no plan for Prince Harry to go to the ceremonies in Auschwitz. There's no plan for him to say anything further about this, nothing in writing. Is the written apology from the prince going to wind up being sufficient?
DICKIE ARBITER, FORMER ASSISTANT PRESS SECRETARY TO THE QUEEN: Good evening. Well, I don't personally think a printed apology is enough. This is a very serious gaff on his part, given that in two week's time, we'll be commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Holocaust Memorial Day. And I just don't think an apology is enough. There are those who perhaps think that the media has gone a bit over the top, but I think if you reflect back on what happened pre-1945, there's every reason to have a proper apology and not just a written one.
OLBERMANN: In addition to that, apart from everybody who was offended by the costume and the evocation of Naziism and the atrocities and the Holocaust, his own great grandmother, who died not three years ago, was the queen of England during the second world war, who stayed in the country while the Germans were bombing London and other cities, and Queen Elizabeth is her daughter. Should not the family itself, the royal family, be enraged at what Harry did?
ARBITER: Well, I think the queen is extremely angry about what Harry did. And she's very disappointed in him. He can't not have known what effect that sort of uniform would have. He can't not have known what happened between 1939 and 1945.
OLBERMANN: Additionally, sir, to some degree, did that wording of that written apology, all we have and all we think we're going to have from the prince, make this worse? I mean, to say it was a poor choice of costume to some degree sounds like it's trivializing it, like it'll be the phrasing that would be used to defend Janet Jackson's decision to wear what she wore before our Super Bowl football game last year.
ARBITER: Yes, I think poor choice is the wrong words to use. And you know, the question that hasn't been asked is, where did the costume come from? I can't believe that Prince Harry had it hanging in his wardrobe, waiting for the day to wear it at a fancy dress party. So somebody would have gotten it for him. If it was one of the palace staff, then that person should be looking for a job. If it was one of his friends, then perhaps he should be looking for another friend, because with friends like that, who the hell needs enemies?
OLBERMANN: Last week, sort of on that point, controversies are controversies, they happen worldwide with anyone in the public eye. But from a distance here, it seems as if every time there's a controversy involving the British royal family, they always manage to somehow make it worse. Is that a fair conclusion? Is it close to being fair?
ARBITER: It's almost fair. I'll meet you halfway on that one. I think if you look at what's happened over the past few months - last year, Harry was working at an orphanage in Lesotho in southern Africa. And he came out very well out of that. He did a documentary. He came out as a compassionate, caring person. And yet days after getting back here, he was involved in a brawl coming out of a night club at 3:00 in the morning, and a scuffle with paparazzi. Yet a few days ago, he was working for the British Red Cross, packing parcels to go to help the victims of the tsunami in the far east. Days after that, he's photographed wearing this Nazi uniform. It's one step forward and five steps back. And he just doesn't seem to learn by his mistakes.
OLBERMANN: One thinks we'll hear more of this story in the days and weeks to come. Dickie Arbiter, the former assistant press secretary to Queen Elizabeth. Our great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
ARBITER: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: So shall we estimate the over/under on the Harry stories?
Fourteen days? We'll see.
That's Countdown. Thank you for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END