Tuesday, January 18, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 18

Guest: David Lieberman, Katrina Szish


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Condoleezza's confirmation. The hearing is anything but smooth sailing. Boxer, Kerry and Biden on the attack about Iraq.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The current policy is growing the insurgency, not diminishing it.

OLBERMANN: Awful medical news. One common test for colon cancer misses more than nine out of 10 growths. Another misses more than 75 out of 100.

Technology triumphant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: De planes, de planes!

OLBERMANN: Five hundred passengers, two stories, a gym, a casino, a makeover salon. But if you were to take it to Denver your whole trip would be ruined if it happens to be rabbit season.

And Trump world goes crazier. "Apprentice" the musical? And the new wedding dress for the Mrs. costs $100,000. What's it made out of: hundred dollar bills?

All that and more now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening.

It was supposed to be a one-day confirmation of the national security adviser's promotion to secretary of state. Not a give me, but certainly not Rice fried.

It has instead turned into a two-day long morality play. In our fifth story on the Countdown, the confirmation hearings for secretary of state designee Condoleezza Rice transformed by three Democratic senators into a retroactive referendum on the administration's justification for going to war in Iraq nearly two years ago.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): It seemed to have begun routinely enough: Dr. Rice's opening statement to the senators heralding a new edge to American diplomacy, one that was against terrorists and rogue nations, one that was for democracy and opportunity.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: We must use American diplomacy to help create a balance of power in the world that favors freedom. The time for diplomacy is now.

We can do more in this period of tremendous opportunity to unify the great democracies, the great alliances for a push to spread freedom and liberty.

OLBERMANN: But what followed her introductory remarks seemed to have little to do with diplomacy, certainly nothing to do with the future. Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Joe Biden of Delaware led a series of questions from Democrats sounding like the outskirts of a war crimes tribunal, the war in question: Iraq.

And one of the most ferocious of the questioners, a man on his first day back in the office after a little time spent pursuing other work.

KERRY: Current policy is growing the insurgency, not diminishing it. And you need to think - I'm still going to try to see if we can be more precise about what you intend to do to change this dynamic and effect the political reconciliation necessary.

There are many people who believe that Kirkuk, for instance, may explode because of the Kurd issue after the election because of what happened in their efforts to move people in and they were denied the effort. And so the dynamics of the election could actually, without the proper actions, provide a greater capacity for civil war than there is today, absent the right steps.

RICE: The political process, as you - you well know and you all know better than I, is one of coming to terms with divisions, coming to terms with institutions that mitigate against - against people's sense of alienation. It takes time. It takes efforts. Sometimes the compromises are a bit imperfect at first.

KERRY: True.

RICE: But over time, it gets better.

OLBERMANN: The word compromise did not apply to the battle between Dr. Rice and Senator Biden. She testified that more than 120,000 Iraqi police, solders and personnel had been trained and were ready for service there. But Biden said the head trainer of those individuals in Amman, Jordan, said the number was closer to 4,000.

But the day's real sturm und drang was between Rice and California's Boxer.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: The world was sold to the American people, as chief of staff to President Bush Andy card said, "like a new product." Those are his words.

Now, you rolled out the idea and then you had to convince the people as you made your case with the president. And I personally believe - this is my personal view, that your loyalty to the mission you were given to sell this war overwhelmed your respect for the truth.

You know, if you were rolling out a new product like a can opener, who would care about what we said? But this product is a war. And people are dead and dying.

And as much as I want to look ahead, and we will work together on a myriad of issues, it's hard for me to let go of this war, because people are still dying. And you have not laid out an exit strategy. You have not set up a timetable and you don't seem to be wiling to, a, admit a mistake, or give any indication of what you're going to do to forcefully involve others.

RICE: Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything. It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before and what went on before and what I said without impugning my credibility or my integrity.

We went to war, not because of aluminum tubes. We went to war because this was the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a man against whom we had gone to war before, who threatened his neighbors, who threatened our interests, who was the world's - one of the world's most brutal dictators. And it was high time to get rid of him. And I'm glad that we're rid of him.

BOXER: You and I can sit here and go back and forth and be - present our arguments, and maybe somebody watching a debate would - would pick one or the other, depending on their own views, but I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in the facts.

Again, you said you were aware of mistakes in Iraq. We sent our beautiful people, and thank you. Thank you so much for your comments about them - to defend freedom. You sent them in there because of weapons of mass destruction.

Later the mission changed when there were none. I have your quotes on it. I have the president's quotes on it. And everybody admits it but you that that was the reason for the war. And then, once we're in there, now it moved to a different mission. Which is great. We all want to give democracy and freedom everywhere we can possibly do it. But let's not rewrite history. It's too soon to do that.

RICE: It was the total picture, Senator, not just weapons of mass destruction that caused us to decide that post September 11 it was finally time to deal...

BOXER: Well, you should read what we voted on when we voted to support the war, which I did not, but most of my colleagues did. It was WMD, period. That was the reason and the causation for that, you know, particular vote.


OLBERMANN: The hearing was like some day-night baseball double-header or jazz festival. Boxer's rebellion started in the morning, finished long after dark, with her quoting to Rice then White House press secretary Ari Fleischer's statement on the Iraq war from April 10, 2003: "We have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about."

Having finished at 7:51 p.m. Eastern, they will pick it up tomorrow morning at 9.

For analysis, I'm joined again by Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent at "Newsweek" and of course, at MSNBC and NBC News.

Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Did the administration and Dr. Rice know this was coming and if not, why not?

FINEMAN: I'm not sure they knew how intense and even ferocious at times it was going to be. But I think they were well aware that the Democrats were going to use this occasion to try to once again question the original rationale and sales pitch for the war.

And I think Condi Rice was pretty well prepared to defend all of the rationales for the war as they've developed. That part she was ready for. I'm not sure she was quite ready to be called a liar, which is essentially what Barbara Boxer did. And then I was amused to hear Barbara Boxer say that she planned to work together with Condi on many issues down the road.

OLBERMANN: Only in Washington.

FINEMAN: Right, exactly.

OLBERMANN: Dr. Rice's supporters, the administration, Republicans, conservatives, could and presumably would argue that what we saw today was the Democrats simply being obstructionists. And that might well be true, but where were the Republicans on that committee today?

The Democrats were angry, unfocused, unfair, take your pick. The Republicans seemed tepid. Did they leave her out there to hang by herself?

FINEMAN: Yes. I agree with that. And it was somewhat mystifying to me. I think it's partly because of the sort of surreal nature of this confirmation hearing, like some of the others.

Almost everybody is going to vote to confirm Condi Rice. Perhaps Barbara Boxer won't. I think it sounds like she might not. Perhaps John Kerry won't. His staff has indicated that he might not. But most Democrats and all the Republicans are going to vote for her, so they sort of ceded the field. The Republicans kind of ceded the field to the Democrats today in full knowledge that Condi will be sworn in on Thursday.

OLBERMANN: But big picture, how does the tone of this hearing, its elongation into tomorrow morning, how does that fit into what we can expect between the Democrats and the administration and even, perhaps, the Senate and the administration over the next two and four years?

FINEMAN: Yes. That's what I wrote about in the magazine this week, Keith. And it seems pretty clear to me that it's going to be open warfare on all fronts.

The Republicans are talking about wanting to reach out. I was speaking to a couple of Republican members today who said they were hopeful of that.

But at the same time, they know the Democrats are sort of down to their hardcore. They lost some seats in the House and the Senate. It's pretty much the hardcore of Democrats. And they're going to fight tooth and nail on Social Security and they're going to scream bloody murder about the war in Iraq, until - unless and until there's some really good news out of there. And Condi is going to have to try to focus on selling and explaining whatever happens in Iraq in the elections on January 30.

OLBERMANN: Stay tuned for day two tomorrow when we'll hear Condi say, "Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent of 'Newsweek' and MSNBC political analyst." As always, sir, great thanks for your insight.

FINEMAN: You're welcome.

OLBERMANN: As mentioned, first day back on the horse for John Kerry. And he had a second target besides Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of defense.

Having just returned from a trip to Iraq, Kerry today renewed a call he had made several times during the campaign, not merely asking President Bush to fire Secretary Rumsfeld, but posting a petition on his web site.

"He's the man responsible for the well being of our troops," Kerry says in an e-mail to his wired supporters. "He's neglected his duty. He's made excuses. It's time for him to go," unquote.

Kerry's bid may amount to little more than grandstanding. Despite her grilling, Dr. Rice will get confirmed.

But the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to manage to delay the confirmation of the new attorney general. Democrats members, having received just today written responses to questions they posted to Alberto Gonzales, mostly about torture and interrogation, at his hearing two weeks ago.

The stack of responses, they say, is about two inches thick. The minority members have the option to place a one-week hold on the confirmation. And they say today that because of the thickness of response, they are very likely to exercise that right.

The inaugural exercise is already underway. The president attending the very public event this afternoon, the beginning of what will end with the inauguration and the celebrations Thursday night.

Today's was a tribute to the military with celebrity M.C. Kelsey Grammer and performers like Gloria Estefan and Dee Dee Winans (ph) in attendance.

This evening, a youth concert called "A Call to Service," featuring the musical stylings of Hillary Duff and Ruben Studdard. Kid Rock did not make the final cut.

President Bush also squeezing in two private receptions. But it's somebody who was invited to the most public of the week's events making the news today: ill-fated homeland security secretary nominee Bernard Kerik. He says he will attend the inauguration and then go to a party thrown by his former boss, Rudy Giuliani.

One source telling the "New York Post" that Kerik thought he deserved to go to the shindigs because of his efforts in the campaign and in building the Iraqi police force.

No truth to rumors Kerik was invited to the party because whenever he goes to one somebody else winds up secretly picking up the entire cost.

The man who would have been Kerik's new boss may be on the eve of the second inauguration, but he still seems to be paying for the policies of his first administration.

A remarkable number from a "Washington Post" poll taken last Wednesday through last Sunday. Asked, "Do you think if country should go in the direction George W. Bush wants to lead it," only 45 percent of respondents said yes. Four years ago, just before his first inauguration, in that troubled time, the number was at 46 percent.

And on Sunday the president said his re-election was the accountability moment on his Iraq policy. But a Gallup poll for "USA Today" and - showed that 52 percent of respondents think sending troops to Iraq was a mistake.

Mistake or no, voting booths will open 12 days hence, but not before a terrible toll has been counted. Three Iraqi political candidates, all members of the coalition led by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, have been killed there, two shot in Basra as their families looked on. The third also killed Monday in Baghdad.

And the day after the Catholic archbishop of Mosul was kidnapped, he was released unharmed without, apparently, any ransom being paid.

Also tonight, it's a phrase used so often in the news that it's lost its meaning, but there is genuinely alarming health news about tests for colon cancer that almost never get it right. Please watch this.

And please try not to get nauseous while you watch this. Airlines can't get your bags from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, but they now have a plane so big they can put a casino in it. At which presumably you can lose your own luggage. Details ahead.

This is Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: In medical terms it sounds like Titanic being declared unsinkable and then hitting the bottom in two hours and 40 minutes.

Our fourth story in the Countdown, two of the primary screening tests for colon cancer are not only wrong most of the time; they are wrong nearly all of the time.

This is the second leading cause of cancer in America; 56,000 are killed by it annually. But a study published today in the "Annals of Internal Medicine" said that the digital in-office stool sample testing method was, quote, "worthless" and a six-sample home test nearly as bad. The editor called the study shocking.

That office visit test, wrong more than 95 percent of the time, missing both cancerous growths and even potentially cancerous ones. And the home test, which has been around longer and is used more often, was inaccurate 76 percent of the time.

I'm joined by now by the principle author of that study, Dr. David Lieberman, chief of gastrointerology at the Portland V.A. Medical Center and the Oregon Health and Science University.

Dr. Lieberman, great thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Your report reads like a disaster. If the viewer has gotten a negative result, a clear from one of these tests, especially that one shot method in the doctor's office, what should he do now?

LIEBERMAN: Well, he or she needs to talk about their doctor about the recommended colon cancer screening test. Because we know that colon cancer screen works. It is effective. It can reduce deaths from colon cancer. And as you said, it's the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

OLBERMANN: But of course, there was a second study in the same publication today that said that doctors are already overusing the office test and also that when they get a positive result, about a quarter of all doctors don't then go to what is believed to be the next best step, which is a full colonoscopy. They order another screening test.

Does the patient have to know more about this subject than his doctor does going in?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I think the patient and the doctor need to engage in a conversation about the recommended screening tests and what should be done if the tests are positive.

And we know that if the test that detects microscopic amounts of stool in the blood is positive, the patient has a higher risk of colon cancer and needs to have a complete colonoscopy.

So we think these results from the survey that you just mentioned and from our study will encourage physicians and patients to have a conversation about the recommended forms of screening.

OLBERMANN: Dr. Lieberman, how did these digital tests, the ones that are wrong more than 95 percent of the time, wind up getting into use? I mean, it seems as if you or I would be just as successful guessing who had the disease and who did not.

LIEBERMAN: Well, the original studies used the six-sample tests performed every year. And what they found was that when it's performed every year these test can effectively reduce the rate of death from colon cancer.

So this - these are very large studies that show that the test could be effective. But require several things, No. 1, that the patient have the test, No. 2 that they get it repeated annually if it's negative. And No. 3, most important, if it's positive, they need to get a colonoscopy.

OLBERMANN: How did that one, though, in the office, the one-day digital thing get into use if it is right not even five percent of the time?

LIEBERMAN: You know, I can only speculate about why physicians use it. But I think that we know that many patients don't get recommended forms of colon screening. So some physicians may have felt that this test was better than nothing.

I think what our data show was that this test is equivalent to nothing and perhaps even worse, because it gives patients a false sense of reassurance that they don't have something growing in their colon, and then they don't get the recommended forms of screening.

OLBERMANN: So at best, between this and nothing is a tie.

Dr. David Lieberman, thank you greatly for your research and thank you for your time tonight.

LIEBERMAN: Well, thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN: A break from the serious news of the day required right now.

Police in the Philippines have decided what's need to finally cure an age-old problem there. Of what crime are the people there about to hit with a wet blanket guilty.

And a new problem at Denver International Airport. First it was the mammoth new technical facility. Now it's rascally rabbits?


OLBERMANN: Time now to take our nightly detour away from real news to a world where the newsmakers are the locker room towel snappers of our youths.

Let's play "Oddball."

Speaking of which, we begin in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and an utterly novel approach to the universal problem of jaywalking. In the past offenders had to pay fines, do community service, even sing the national anthem in public.

But the jaywalkers were undeterred. So Manila's cops have turned to slapping them in the back of the head with a wet blanket. Hello!

Twenty or so of these high tech law enforcement vehicles are patrolling city streets there, hoping to turn Philippine lawbreakers into Manila folders.

To Cheongiu in South Korea, where there's something definitely amiss in the water. While most fish look like, you know, fish. That's a ray, I think. There's a pair of creatures there that look like this, half man, half cod. Now, actually half carp.

This is one of two female carp fish living in a private Cheongui pond.

She kind of looks like Templeton the rat from the movie "Charlotte's Web."

What appear to be eyes, though, are actually the fish's nostrils. The human-like nose is just a beauty mark of sorts. The carp, though, are not born this way, as the homeowner probably told his local paper, "My fish have been getting more and more human for the past couple of years."

Oddly the other one looks exactly like Bill O'Reilly.

Also swimming around in the murky depths of the news pool, Matteo Brandi, a Swiss restaurateur who claims he's found Jesus on an oyster. Maybe if you squint a bit and move your head to the - here, this works.

All you need is to place it next to a Jesus key ring for comparison.

Looks like a melted key ring.

So what are Mr. Brandi's plans for this miraculous mollusk? He's already eaten the oyster. Now he's going to put the shell up for sale on eBay.

This is up for sale, too, but you won't find it on eBay. The biggest jumbo jet ever made unveiled today.

Great. Now you have to sit with even more people who have never previously left their homes.

And Ken Jennings wannabes take over the corner watering hole. Now the hot new bar trick is trivia.

Those stories ahead. Now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of the day.

No. 3, the unnamed 9-year-old boy in Whiteville, Virginia. Waiting for the school bus yesterday, he decided to find out what would happen if he touched a metal pole with his tongue. It was cold. We all know what happened.

He was liberated by the application of warm water and immediately taken to a private screening of the movie "A Christmas Story." Flick? Flick who?

No. 2, our friend Patrick Lawler, the Colorado construction worker who had a nail stuck in his head for six days without knowing it, thought he had a toothache. He was today presented with the bill for removing the nail: $100,000.

Mr. Lawler promptly asked them to put it back in.

And No. 1, Paris Hilton, a source telling MSNBC.com's Jeannette Walls that somebody has hacked into Ms. Hilton's Blackberry and has been reading her e-mails.

It's one thing to have people looking at your sex tapes, the source says, but having someone reading your personal e-mails is a real invasion of privacy. It depends, I guess, where on your person you keep your Blackberry.


OLBERMANN: Unpleasant knowledge can flare up like a toothache. And like a toothache, a quick trip to the dentist and we forget about all of it.

Remember Y2K? The nightmare scenario of all our technology thwarted

by man's shortsightedness and nature's revenge?

Our third story on the Countdown, it's called Y2K5. Science unveils a super airplane, rabbits wreak havoc at a major airport. Arizona and Washington fight road rage with technology, but unfortunately the technology requires you to be online on the road. And man invents the $5 cup of coffee, and nature answers by raising the price. Coffee first.

It is not comparable and never will be comparable to the human toll, but the Christmas time tsunami may next be felt in your cup of Joe. MSNBC.com reporting today that although the effects on coffee prices might not be known for months or even years, they will be known.

Indonesia is the world's fourth largest coffee grower. The most populated island in Indonesia, after all, is the island of Java. And Sri Lanka is the world's third largest producer of tea.

Economists point out that while the stock price of Starbucks nearly doubled last year, since the tsunami hit, it has dropped 12 percent.

Before you dismiss this as inappropriate commercialism, one thought from a commodities analyst, who notes that Indonesia's urgent need to restart the coffee growing industry could provide a lifeline to the half million or more of its citizens whose livelihoods were swept away with the wave.

And that is the least silly of tonight's stories of technology thwarted. Take science's answer to something it crated, road rage.

"USA Today" reporting that the states of Arizona and Washington have now urged witnesses to tell on motorists suffering from mad drivers disease. They are asked to provide a description of the incident and the evil driver's license plate.

Washington reports getting 90 such descriptions in the first week of the program.

The snag: it's an online service. You either must be hooked onto the Internet while on the highway, which raises all sorts of other driving dangers, or you must, if you're in California, say take the Santa Monica Freeway to the Hollywood Freeway to the Slossen (ph) cutoff. Get out of your car, get on the Internet, report the road rage. Get off your Slossen (ph), get back into your car and continue driving until you see the fork in the road.

Now the gigantic airplane and the flights grind - grid-ruining rabbits.

First the big plane, big enough to carry 555 passengers, some of whom will be getting makeovers while they fly, some of whom will be playing Texas hold 'em and losing the money intended for the trip back.

It's called the Airbus A380. As a comedian once noticed, yes, it perfectly combines the components of the worst two forms of travel: the airplane and the bus.

Our correspondent Tom Costello tonight with the details of a double-decker with wings.


TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the pageantry of Olympic ceremony, Airbus today showed off its prize: the world's biggest double-decker passenger jet, dwarfing the stage and the only other jumbo jet on the market.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The most exciting new aircraft in the world.

COSTELLO: Thirty feet longer in both length and wingspan than the Boeing 747, the Airbus A380 is able to carry 555 passengers in three classes to 416 on a 747.

RICHARD BRANSON, CEO, VIRGIN ATLANTIC: We're going to introduce gyms.

We're going to have standup bars. We're going to have massage areas.

We're going to have casinos.

If airlines go the no-frills route, 800 passengers could be packed into economy seats on both decks, a massive cruise ship in the sky. So far, 149 orders from 14 customers.

In the U.S. FedEx and UPS have ordered cargo versions. Singapore Airlines will be the first to fly it in 2006.

(on camera) Which will give the world's airports time to prepare. The A380 is so big and so heavy most of the world's biggest airports simply can't accommodate it, at least not yet.

(voice-over) New York is spending $120 million on modifications; Los Angeles $53 million. Chicago will be A380 ready when its $6 billion renovation is complete.

The man responsible for selling Europe's jumbo jet is an American who says Boeing surrendered.

JOHN LEAHY, AIRBUS CHIEF COMMERCIAL OFFICER: Letting us move into the market, basically eliminating what they referred to as their cash cow.

COSTELLO: The A380 is impressive, with its grand staircase, lounge and duty free shopping, but Boeing argues the future isn't in jumbo jets, even as a new super jumbo is preparing for flight.

Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: But what good does a makeover or a healthy midair workout do you if on arrival you cannot get your car started because of the long-term rabbits?

This latest manifestation of this problem is at Denver International Airport, but it was well known 20 years ago and more. In the San Francisco Bay area, where the rapid transit lines, BART, kept shorting out because something was destroying the plastic insulation wrapped around key electrical conduits.

BART executives spent thousands trying to figure out what was wrong. Then a long-time resident noted every farmer around here knows gophers love to eat plastic.

Gophers are rodents. Rabbits are rodents. People use plastic on rail lines. They also use plastic in luxury European automobiles.

Enter the long-term rabbits, who are found in the long-term parking at DIA, Denver International Airport, a sort of smorgasbord.

Our correspondent is reporter Amanda Martin of KUSA at DIA.


AMANDA MARTIN, KUSA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paw prints in the snow are only a hint. Look closer: one rabbit, two, three, four, five. And then you want to stop counting.

This is rabbit land. The plains with grass as far as you can see and, well, now, an airport parking lot, too.

ERIC UNDERWOOD, RABBITS ATE HIS CAR'S WIRING: When I actually called the Audi people, they said have you just been to DIA?

MARTIN: Eric parked his Audi in the economy lot. When he came back from his honeymoon, there was a warning light on the dash. Rabbits or rodents had chewed through his oil sensor wires.

UNDERWOOD: I know when I was getting my car repaired there was two other people at the dealing getting the same problem repaired.

It's ragged. You can tell they've been chewing on it.

MARTIN: Casey Warn (ph) has seen the signs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's pretty good evidence right there.

Sometimes there may be hair that's on the belly pan from the rodents or the rabbit.

MARTIN: And sometimes there's more than hair. The hare is still there. McDonald Audi service technicians caught digital pics of this hare towed alive inside a car from DIA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were certain points over the summer where we were getting one to two cars a day.

MARTIN: And even the service managers can't escape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, I've had it happen to my own vehicle, yes.

MARTIN: McDonald Audi has remedied the problem by replacing plastic coating with braided metal wiring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's made out of steel, and they really don't like to chew through this stuff.

MARTIN: It's an easy, but not inexpensive fix, sometimes a couple hundred dollars. But likely, a rather necessary expense in the land of rabbit and car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm flying out next week. And I'll probably have my wife drive me out to DIA and drop me off and pick me up. I just don't want to pay for another repair.


OLBERMANN: Amanda Martin of KUSA, "wabbit" hunting at Denver International Airport.

One food chain reminder to the varmints: rabbits can eat oil sensor wires but car mechanics can eat rabbits.

Also tonight, it may liberate us from the evil that is karaoke. What could be more fun than a night of wild public, indiscriminate trivia?

And the question who will replace Dan Rather, might more be accurately phrased as how many will replace him? Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Coming up, the big quiz: not what have we learned but what have you learned, coming to a bar near you. And the big oops: a reality TV star in big trouble with Uncle Sam.


OLBERMANN: The difference between trivia and trivial is more than that letter "L."

Trivial is the fact that Grover Cleveland's second vice president was named Adlai Stevenson and he had a grandson also named Adlai Stevenson who twice ran for president. It's curious. It's not necessarily interesting.

Trivia, on the other hand, is in its essence contained in the facts that Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater and John F. Kennedy was shot in a Ford Lincoln.

For our No. 2 story on the Countdown, the attempt to separate trivia and trivial by making the former cool.

Countdown'S Monica Novotny joins us now with news of how the geeks shall inherit the earth.

Good evening, Monica.


The word "trivia" is defined as something of small importance. But that may be changing. Though it tends to encompass much that is simply miscellaneous, now trivia is trendy.

So if you find yourself unable to forget that 660 feet equals a furlong or that the actor who played John Conner in "Terminator 2" is Edward Furlong, well, then it is finally your moment to shine.


ALEX TREBEK, HOST, "JEOPARDY": Seneca is the largest of these lakes in West Central New York.

BILL MURRAY, ACTOR: What are the Finger Lakes?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the Finger Lakes?

TREBEK: Correct.

NOVOTNY: Some people know it all. Some like Bill Murray's character in "Groundhog Day," just fake it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is Teddy Cochran?

NOVOTNY: The "it" we're talking about: trivia. And the pursuit of matters of inconsequence is everywhere these days.

While the game shows have been around for decades, now there is a magazine, TV shows, and the hot new trend in happy hours, trivia contests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's cool in an uncool kind of way.

NOVOTNY: In New York City, it's called The Big Quiz Thing, where this guy has all the answers. Just don't compare him to that guy.

NOAH TARNOW, PRODUCER/QUIZMASTER, "THE BIG QUIZ THING": I really don't like Alex Trebek. He's my nemesis, and someday I will steal his crown.

NOVOTNY: Noah Tarnow, a former game show contestant, created The Big Quiz Thing after attending bar trivia night and deciding he could do it better.

TARNOW: People who like trivia games, you know, we were never good at sports as kids, most of us. So here's a way to be - here's a way to be good at something competitive, you know, something different. Here's a game we can finally win.

NOVOTNY: Yes, trivia is the new black when it comes to geek chic.

And many of the people who hit the bar for trivia night are, well, nerds.

(on camera) Do you take offense at that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I absolutely embrace that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's better than sitting at home and going online.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't actually think this is, quote unquote, "nerdy" at all.

TARNOW: I think half the population is geeks, and you know, we have social lives, too.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): Which means I fit in just fine.

(on camera) It's not looking good.

(voice-over) Monday night's contestants here team up to answer about 50 questions in five theme rounds.

TARNOW: What is the name for both William Sidney Porter and a confection of peanuts, fudge, and caramel?

NOVOTNY: The winning team takes $200, and, yes, sometimes they take this very seriously.

TARNOW: Where are the Latin majors here tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here, but I don't remember it.

NOVOTNY (on camera): What do you think it takes to be good at this game?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of spare time.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): So if you can't make it here...

OLBERMANN: What is Gouda?

TREBEK: Gouda is the "G."

NOVOTNY:... and your social life is in jeopardy, head to your local bar and drink in the uncommon knowledge.

TARNOW: People are desperate for a way to use the garbage in their heads. It's a lot more sane than karaoke, that's for sure.


NOVOTNY: Trivia contests are spreading beyond the bar scene. Many communities are using these contests as local fund-raisers. One airline allows passengers to play trivial games with entertainment consoles. And a quick search on the web site Amazon.com reveals 2,599 books currently for sale on the subject.

OLBERMANN: And that guy is Trebek's nemesis in his dreams.

Let's shift gears for a moment. There's an update, another update on one of the other stories that you covered last week?

NOVOTNY: That's right. This was David, the 9-year-old boy who's fighting a rare form of pediatric cancer. His family had put up the bumper sticker to raise funds on eBay.

Well, they found some more good news this week. The doctor in California, he has come forward after hearing their story and said he will perform this procedure for free for them.

OLBERMANN: Wonderful.

NOVOTNY: In addition to that because they live in Virginia, they've got to fly to California, obviously. The Beverly Hilton, where I think they just had the Golden Globes, that is putting them up for free for the week. So very good news for them.

OLBERMANN: Good for them. Countdown's Monica Novotny. Good for you.

Great thanks.

NOVOTNY: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: To our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news. And it was the big question after the Thornburgh/Boccardi report on CBS News came out a week ago yesterday. Why did four mid-level executives lose their jobs when nobody above them and nobody on the air did?

Not so fast. Three of those four executives are still working for CBS News.

So CBS President Les Moonves confirmed to the writers covering the television publicity tour in Los Angeles today: Mary Mapes, the producer behind the so-called Killian memos story was fired outright. But Vice President Betsy West, "60 Minutes II" executive producer Josh Howard and his deputy, Mary Murphy, were asked to resign.

And Mr. Moonves says today they have not. Quote, "They are in discussions now." He added there were lawyers so he couldn't say much more.

But he did go into detail about the continuation of Andrew Heyward as president of CBS News. Moonves said he made the decision to retain him, adding that Heyward's subordinates were responsible for the, quote, "screw up."

As to what's next, he says that when Dan Rather leaves "The CBS Evening News" in seven weeks, he wants a, quote, "revolution, and not an evolution," unquote. Possibly including an anchor team, the members of which might be in different cities. He refused to comment on any of the names mentioned as Rather's successor: Katie Couric, John Roberts, Jon Stewart, Stuart Little, Little Richard, Richard Lewis or Lewis Black.

But Moonves did talk about what he saw as a reinventing of the news format. "One of the ways we're looking at is making it younger and more relevant, something that younger people can relate to, as opposed to that guy preaching from the mountaintop about what we should and should not watch."

Hey, pal, I'm working this side of the street.

The next street this guy will be working may be Broadway. Donald Trump involved in a musical? And no, it's not a revival of "Hair." That's next.

This is Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Now, a Countdown first. They have forced me before, but never have my producers forced me to do a story as our No. 1 item. Here it comes.

"The Apprentice," the musical. Reality television drifting even further into unreality. And sad to say, it's not just about the true Trump, the Trump you knew, the Trump you loved, the Trump with a song in his heart. There's also something about his future missus and this little shocker about the first of reality TV's, quote, "stars," unquote.

Richard Hatch, first winner on "Survivor," as I remember it, "Survivor," has pleaded guilty after the U.S. attorney filed a two-count information in Providence today charging Hatch with having to report his "Survivor" winnings on his tax returns.

Hatch got $10,000 for the last episode of "Survivor" in 2000 and then $1 million for winning the thing. But he left it off of his 2000 taxes.

Hatch's success as naked, devious chubby guy on Borneo then led to an 11-month hitch as co-host of a Boston radio show, for which he made another $391,000, which he failed to report on his 2001 return.

Although the feds will push for a lighter sentence, if the plea deal holds up, Hatch could face fines of up to $5,000 and up to 10 years in jail, during which time he would really get to find out if he was the top survivor of them all.

His tax troubles might serve as a little reminder for Melania Knauss, the future ex-Mrs. Donald Trump.

First the cover of "Vogue," then a featured time slot on this morning's edition of "The Today Show," where at 8:09 Ms. Couric drilled her on details of her reported $100,000 wedding dress, which is made out of, I don't know, passenger pigeons?

It's designed by Christian Dior - the dress, not the wife. And were it connected to a power grid it could supply all the electricity needs of the city of Toledo, Ohio, for a period of 60 days.

There's five more pages of research on this in front of me, but in keeping with the spirit of stories my producers force me to do, I refuse to read it.

And then came the news out of the trade publication "The Hollywood Reporter," Mark Burnett, co-producer of "The Apprentice" series, which we must admit runs on NBC, co-owner of this network, says he is writing the book for "The Apprentice," the musical.

There's nothing set in stone about whether or not "The Apprentice" musical will actually be produced and if so, if it will be produced on Broadway. But Burnett also reports that several songs have already been written.

One can imagine the titles already: "What Do I Say After I Say You're Fired?"; "Ivana be Happy, But I Won't be Happy Until I Make You Happy, Too." And of course, "George, George, George of the Boardroom Jungle."

Let's turn it over to Katrina Szish, style editor at "Us Weekly," formerly an editor at "Vogue" for three years.

Ms. Szish, welcome. Thanks for your time.

KATRINA SZISH, STYLE EDITOR, "US WEEKLY": Thank you for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN: How would you work an "Apprentice" musical? I mean, would it be like "Clue"? Every night on stage you fire a different character? You keep the audience guessing? How would it go?

SZISH: Something like that. It's like maybe pulling characters out of the audience for those wannabe stars who spend their lives going Broadway shows just hoping that they might get plucked for a sad Broadway remake of "The Apprentice."

I don't know. I'm seeing William Hung being in there. You need a cast-off from, definitely, "American Idol" of some sort, or Justin Guarini with a blowout or something.


SZISH: Take the comb-over.

OLBERMANN: But without question, you have to have a Trump here. And casting, obviously, you can get anybody to play the anybodys in the operation here applying for the job.

But who plays a singing Donald Trump? I mean, do you get John Davidson? I mean, who's Donald Trump?

SZISH: I still - I still think you want it young. And I'm still thinking one of those "American Idols" who just didn't make it or even maybe, you know what? Simon Cowell always said that Clay Aiken was bound for Broadway. Maybe this is his chance.

OLBERMANN: Well, with that hair, at least it wouldn't be the same bad hair but it would be...

SZISH: Spiky hair.

OLBERMANN:... spiky bad hair.

I'm just thinking, and now we understand he needs the money, Richard Hatch.

SZISH: Definitely.

OLBERMANN: What about Richard Hatch?

SZISH: I thought we were going there: tax evasion, needing the money, Trump. It all somehow went together.

OLBERMANN: Well, maybe that's - he's next.

While I've got you here, your credentials from "Vogue," trot those out for a second about the now $100,000 wedding dress.

SZISH: Yes. It just - it just might fit in the new Airbus. I'm not sure.

OLBERMANN: I'm reminded of the baseball player, Hank Blaylock, who was told by his fiance that their wedding cake was going to cost $620. And he said the only way that was going to happen is if they bought a $20 cake and stick six $100 bills to it.

SZISH: That's an option.

OLBERMANN: For 100 grand, did she get a nice dress? Did she get a good buy?

SZISH: You know, the dress isn't that bad. It has a couture label, John Galliano for Dior, as you mentioned. It is made out of 98 yards of decadent white satin. It took over 550 hours to do the embroidery alone.

So you know, when you're talking about major manpower, she got a good dress. Not a bad frock.

OLBERMANN: And what happens if she tears it during the ceremony?

SZISH: She's only going to wear it once. And you know what? After the first dance, she's changing into a slinky little number by Vera Wang. So she doesn't care.

OLBERMANN: Right. So this is a $100,000-dollar dress that isn't even going to last the entire wedding and reception?

SZISH: Exactly.

OLBERMANN: That's a - that's a buy in the Trump world.

All right. Katrina Szish, the style editor at "Us Weekly," my great thanks for your time tonight.

SZISH: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann.

A hundred thousand dollars worth of clothing. That would last me, 300 years? Yes, 300 years.

Good night and good luck.