'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 25
Guest: Karen Tumulty, Ruth Westheimer, Howard Weyers, Tom O'Neil
ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
A senator shifts gears. Hillary Clinton treads carefully on the issue of abortion, a move to heal or a move to help her political career? Message and messenger under the spotlight.
Sex and the study: teenagers have it a lot. And their patterns differ greatly from grownups, according to new research. Dr. Ruth Westheimer breaks it all down for us.
Extreme smoking crackdown: you light up anywhere, anytime, you lose your job. It's the policy for one health company and heads are already rolling.
Another video, another hostage. After missing for months in Iraq, a tape of an American in captivity surfaces. How many more Americans are being held?
And the envelope, please. Movie mania, it's here. From the cream deal cream to the crap. We've got your Oscars and your Razzies.
All that and more now on Countdown.
STEWART: And good evening to you. I'm Alison Stewart here, while Keith Olbermann is out on holiday.
Now, just about this time every year, around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we are reminded how deeply divided Americans are when it comes to abortion. After 32 years, the issue not only divides people politically, but it may also subdivide one political party.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, Hillary Clinton, abortion centrist. The current senator, of course, the former first lady, is taking out the middle during a speech to abortion supporters in upstate New York. Telling her audience, it is time to find "Common ground in the debate over abortion." What she called a "Sad, even tragic choice to many, many women." The senator also praised the influence of religious and moral values to keep teenage girl from becoming sexually active.
"There's an opportunity for people of good faith to find common ground in this debate. We should be able to agree that we want every child born in this country to be born, cherished and loved."
The Democrat also managed to criticize President Bush, pointing out that abortion rates have actually gone up since Bush took office, because she says, his administration has been short-changing family planning efforts.
So a little Bush bashing, a little slide towards the middle. Is it only natural to think that Senator Clinton might want to move back into that White House?
Karen Tumulty is White House Correspondent for "Time" magazine and she joins us now. Karen, good evening to you. Let's put this all in context and talk about where the senator gave the speech and to whom she was speaking.
KAREN TUMULTY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Hi, Alison. I think that, actually, is the most interesting aspect of all of this. Hillary Clinton is an absolutely ardent supporter of abortion rights. She has voted right down the line with the abortion rights side. And what she had to say in the speech was not all that different from what she's had to say in the past. And she actually worked at one point, when she was first lady, with Mother Teresa in Washington to set up a home for unwanted babies. When the two of them had an argument over abortion, they in fact did decide to work on something they could agree upon. What was important was where she had to say this. And it - you know, usually, when Democrats go in front of abortion rights advocates, they tend to pander to them. And what she told them was that there are things that other side argued that actually have some validity, and that we ought to work with them where we can.
STEWART: Now, is that new for her, to make that sort of centrist move on an issue?
TUMULTY: Again, it's not that she was saying she had never said before, but that she would go in front of ardent abortion rights supporter and say it. Absolutely, that is true. It is almost reminiscent of her husband's denouncing his great Sister Soulja moment in his 1992 campaign. This is clearly being read as Hillary Clinton positioning herself for a presidential run, and reaching out beyond what people would consider her normal base.
STEWART: So you as a reporter, what do you see when you see a lightning rod issue like abortion coupled with a lightning rod political figure like Hillary Clinton? This just must sound like a great story.
TUMULTY: It does. And it really reflects the debate that is going on right now within the Democratic Party, is they are trying to figure out, just precisely, why it was they lost this election. And particularly at a time when so many voter are saying that they are voting based on values. And Hillary Clinton is clearly coming down on the side of this debate that says, Democrats really need to reach out to voter who may not normally vote for Democrats.
STEWART: Now, this is an interesting and it was a tricky issue for John Kerry, the abortion issue, because of the issue of late term abortions. A lot of people consider that a value issue. Where does Senator Clinton stand?
TUMULTY: Senator Clinton has been against restrictions on what are called partial-birth abortions by abortion opponents. It's a particular abortion procedure that is generally seen as being a late term abortion procedure, although sometimes it is performed in the second trimester. And Senator Clinton has voted in favor of keeping this unrestricted.
STEWART: We are, of course, talking about this because this week marked the 32nd anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. But you also have to know, when you watched President Bush being sworn in by Judge Rehnquist, and the possibility of four potential openings on the Supreme Court, what do you think the chances are that Roe vs. Wade is in any kind of danger of being overturned?
TUMULTY: Well, Roe vs. Wade in the last few tests that it's had in front of the Supreme Court has been upheld by a 5 to 4 margin. It's as tight of a margin as you could get in the Supreme Court. If as people expect, judge - Chief Justice William Rehnquist is the first person, the next person to be replaced on the Supreme Court, the chances are that he opposes abortion. The chances are, of course, that President Bush would replace him with someone else who opposes abortion. It's not going to change the balance on the court on this issue. But it's going to be that next opening on the Supreme Court, particularly if it is one of the liberal justices or someone like a swing vote like Sandra Day O'Connor who decides to retire. That in fact could put the issue totally up in the air once again.
STEWART: Karen Tumulty of "Time" magazine, it's always a pleasure.
Thanks so much.
TUMULTY: Thanks much.
STEWART: Are teenagers having sex with a lot of different people? In a manner of speaking, if you count the number of people that Susie slept with before hooking up with Bobby, who used to go with Mary Kate, who messed around with Biff, Johnny and Spike, it's like a math problem with serious consequences. So much so, sociologists have mapped that complicated tangle of relationships at one high school in the Midwest. Take a look at this, the pink circles represent female students, the blue circles, the guys. Their relationships linked any surprisingly long chain, hundreds of students long. A student at the end of the chain may have had direct sexual contact with only one person. But that one encounter ultimately linking them indirectly to up to 286 others.
A chain of DNA seem less complicate than that. And here to help us sort through this confusing is - Dr. Ruth Westheimer, sex therapist and of course, best selling author. Her most recent book is called "Dr. Ruth's Guide to Talking About Herpes." Dr. Ruth, thank you so much for joining us.
DR. RUTH WESTHEIMER, SEX THERAPIST: Yes, welcome, Alison.
STEWART: This remind me so much of some of the early AIDS awareness campaigns that used to say, when you have sex with just one person, you're having sex with every person they've ever had sex with. Now, in your experience, do people really understand this and process this information?
WESTHEIMER: No. And that's why I'm very glad, Alison, you people are bringing that to the attention of a wider audience. Because when somebody has a sexual experience with a friend, they really never think it out of how many people are down that chain. And what I think, you know, Alison, scare techniques do not work. What we have to do is take a study like that, take a program like that, and say, look, people how important it is that we educate. That we talk about the issue of having sexual experiences, that it is not like sneezing. It is not like - something that you can just say, all right, that was when I was young.
The reason I wrote (ph) this herpes book is exactly because we have millions of Americans, older people, younger people, who have herpes and who have an obligation to tell a partner, a new partner. Nobody dies of it, but let's go and see how it's professional. For all of those young people in that study, it's a wonderful way of using a study like this to educate in a positive way. By saying what's the rush? You're going to have sex for the rest of your life. Make sure you know with whom you're engaged in any sexual activity.
STEWART: So, when I'm hearing you talk about sex education, especially for young people, you're talking about the quality of the protection vs. talking to them about the quantity of the people.
WESTHEIMER: Right. I talk about, first of all you have to make that decision only if you have decided depending on your values, depending on your religious background, depending on what you have decided for your life. Don't let people push you into anything. Because you'll never forget it and with this study, it is clearly shown that there are consequences.
So parents have to be asked (UNINTELLIGIBLE), teachers have to sit with parents, discuss how do we discuss the issue of sexuality? And I do believe that by showing that it has an impact with who somebody else has had a relationship it will make a difference.
You know, I can prove to you that we already see less unintended pregnancies because we talk about these issues. We talk about it on television. Not because of scare techniques. But we talk about it and we know that young people, or older people, whoever is engaged in sexual activity has to be protected. We have to take a study like this and say, this is not an incident just yet. You are going to be in bed with all the people who have been in bed or in the back seat of a car or any other place, out in an open field, in the Midwest that that person has had contact with.
STEWART: There was a really interesting social element to this study. That the kids said they wouldn't sleep with their best friend's boyfriend or girlfriend, and that may explain the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but they went in search of new partners. Tell me a little about the emotional choices that go into making that kind of choice. I'm going to be sexually active but not with you because you're my friend's friend.
WESTHEIMER: I think, bravo. Anybody who makes a moral judgment like that should be congratulated. Because what it means is you don't want to lose the friendship. Because that friendship is going to suffer if you are going to have sex, even if it is an ex-boyfriend.
So when people make these kind of thinking, I like that. It shows that this educated effort is working. People are thinking, OK, I'm sexually attractive. All right. I want to have sex. OK. I know how to be protected. Now I have to make that decision of who am I going to be sexually involved with. So I'm very happy about that.
STEWART: We'll end on a happy note then. Good and practical advice from Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Thanks so much for joining us tonight on the Countdown.
WESTHEIMER: Thank you, Alison.
STEWART: Since this is the Countdown, we couldn't let our number five look at sex and its consequences pass by without the word, the mention of the word "prom." And a certain prom dress could easily lead to more than 288 new friends. Specifically this dress and others like it. They're not only being offered in stores these days, they're flying off the racks. The man whose company sells the dresses says he wouldn't let his own 15-year-old daughter be caught, quote, "dead in it." He says the design was an accident. A model put it on backwards, turning it into an instant bestseller.
See, now that's so much better from the front. You could wear that to church. Some stores are requiring customers to bring in parental permission slips before buying the dress. Double-sided tape, we're told, not included but recommended I think.
A health company gets tired of the rising costs of health care coverage so it tells its employees stop smoking or else. Now people are actually starting to lose their jobs.
And the Senate puts Condoleezza Rice on notice. She'll get the job as secretary of state but they're expecting a much different performance than the lead up to the Iraq war. This is Countdown on MSNBC.
STEWART: You can't smoke while you're pregnant. No argument there.
No more smoking at the office? Fine. Can't smoke in restaurants and bars. OK. Our number four story on the Countdown tonight. You can't smoke at all. Never. Forget it. Not in your car, not in your home, not home alone or else you'll be fired. Omaha, Nebraska's city council today proposed a smoking ban at almost all public places, part of a nationwide trend.
But now one Michigan health care company has taken the crusade against smoking one step further firing four employees who refused to take a test to determine whether they smoked cigarettes. It's all part of the company's new policy adopted January 1 to terminate smokers.
When Weyco Inc., announced its policy back in 2003 about 20 of the company's 203 employees were smokers. 14 of them quit smoking before the policy went into effect. Another one simply quit the company. The company founder Howard Weyers says the anti-smoking policy was created to shield the company from the high health care costs associated with smoking. And joining us now is Howard Weyers. Mr. Weyers, good evening to you.
HOWARD WEYERS, WEYCO INC.: Good evening, Alison.
STEWART: How did your new policy come about? Did you have some sort of epiphany? Was it just the numbers? Is it a values/morals issue?
WEYERS: It was just something that we wanted to do as part of our health initiative here. For years, we've had a program at the work site to improve the health status of our employees. So we decided early in 2003, that we would eliminate the use of tobacco.
So we started with a four-prong program. The first thing we did was quit hiring employees. Then we banned it from campus here. Then the third step we took was a $50 a month assessment for anybody that tested positive for tobacco or refused to take the test. Because it was a voluntary test in January of 2004. Then it was a mandatory test two weeks ago. And if anybody tested positive in that test, they would be asked to leave. We actually did not fire anybody, Alison. We had four people that decided the week before the testing, they signed a release and left the company on their own.
STEWART: Now I think a lot of people at home are saying, yes, we all know smoking is not good for you. But it's a personal choice. What I do in my own home and in my car, completely understandable about not doing it at the campus or on the job. What do you say to those people? Why shouldn't someone be able to smoke in their own home?
WEYERS: Well, we just didn't want - everybody is very familiar with the high cost of smoking and other problems, residual problems it creates. And we felt it was very important for us to improve the health status for our employees. And this is one area that we knew we could go make the move and eliminate the use of tobacco. And it became - it was a team rule that we made.
STEWART: Can I play devil's advocate here on this?
What if someone had a significant weight problem. We all know about the health costs of obesity and being overweight. It's sort of like that. It's a personal issue.
WEYERS: It is. And we have those issues. But we have an issue that's going on now to help those situations. We have very progressive programs at the work site. Have had to help people. Not only just people that may be obese but you could have the same problem on the other end of someone who is anorexic or bulimic. We have programs in place to help those people. And it's just real important to us as we get down the road to - in order for to us control health care costs. That's just one factor.
STEWART: Let me ask you a question before I let you go. Are you sure this is legal?
WEYERS: Yes. We had very good legal advice. There's no law in Michigan that prohibits you from making employment decision on the personal use of tobacco.
STEWART: Howard Weyers, founder of Weyco Incorporated. We thank you for your time and your honesty tonight.
WEYERS: Thank you, Alison.
STEWART: Smoking is hazardous to your health and this doesn't look too good for you, either.
Crazy new sport for 500, Alex. Oh, lordy. "Oddball's" next.
And later, an NBC News investigation. How terrorists in Iraq are looking for recruits in Europe to take part in suicide missions.
STEWART: I'm Alison Stewart filling the extra large shoes of Keith Olbermann. He's 6'4" after all. And it's time to pause our Countdown to check in on the stories where everything is a little bit bigger and a whole lot weirder.
Let's play "Oddball." Are you missing the National Hockey League this winter? Don't worry nobody else is either. But if you're jonesing for some hard hitting ice skating guys in hockey outfits check out the latest sporting event in Prague. It's downhill ice cross. A combination of speed skating, roller derby, and heavy spectator boozing. 93 athletes competed in the event in which skaters race down a 1,500-foot track at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour. A skater from Sweden took home the $5,000 first place prize, a chunk of change that would take an out-of-work hockey player six months to earn washing cars.
To New Castle, England where an entire race of tiny people have been living in an art gallery. Actually it is an exhibit designed to allow grown-ups to see the world through the eyes of a baby. No one there will change an adult diaper for you. You have to go into the city for that. But visitors can climb up on giant-size furniture or use the giant bathroom. The floor is spongy to simulate an infant's lack of balance and adult patrons are invited to lie down and enter the birth simulator.
Scientists hope the exhibit will give parents a greater understanding, oh, my, of their children's development. And if that doesn't work, they can always sell the giant toilet to the elephant zoo in Thailand.
Did you think I made that up? What? This is the Shang Mai (ph) Elephant Preserve where trainers are hoping to use the shoveling burden on the staff by training the animals to use giant toilets. So far, they say the experiment is a great success with all seven elephants potty trained at this point. The males often leave the seat up and only a few grasp the concept of the courtesy flush. A little privacy for these guys maybe, cameraman. It's enough.
We return to the serious news of this day. A new video surfaces in Iraq as an American in captivity. He has been missing for months. What's behind the surfacing of this tape now? We'll talk to terrorism expert Steve Emerson.
And in a region devastated by the tsunami, tragedy today, a dramatic story of hope for so many families left reeling. Those stories are ahead.
Now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of the day. Number three, Stephen F. Cooper, the new CEO of the struggling Krispy Kreme Inc. Apparently they're struggling so much the new boss will be paid by the hour. $760 an hour plus expenses.
Number two, Andrew Fischer, the 20-year-old Omaha man who sold advertising space on his forehead on E-Bay, he received his money, more than $37,000. And he has kept his end of the bargain by sporting a logo for Snore Stop on his head for the next month. It stops snores because no one would fall asleep next to this guy in the first place.
And number one, Richard Hatch. Remember him? Winner of the first "Survivor" reality show? He was arraigned today in Providence, Rhode Island, my old hometown on charges of tax evasion, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Prosecutors say he never reported the $1 million he won on the show in 2000 and the more than $300,000 for media appearances the following year. I don't know how the IRS found out.
STEWART: Just five days until the Iraqi election. It is the timing of a hostage video which underscores the insurgents' determination to attack or intimidate the American presence in Iraq.
Are number three story on the Countdown tonight, the latest American hostage. A videotape release today shows an American man believed to be a contractor who was abducted last November. His name is Roy Hallums and he is pleading for his life. No doubt those are his word. The rest are apparently scripted with a rifle pointed to his head, Hallums says he cannot expect help from President Bush because of his "selfishness."
Hallums instead asked for help from Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi because, "He's known for helping those who are suffering." He also referred to an unidentified resistance group that arrested him because he works for American forces. He was taken hostage November 1 with five other men, three Iraqis and a Nepali man have since been released. A Filipino man is still missing.
Though the video is eerily reminiscent of other hostage tapes, like the horrific one that showed the murder of Nick Berg in May of '04, the background differs on this tape. And unlike the Berg kidnapping, the insurgents made no statements themselves.
Along with this disturbing reminder that insurgents will kidnap Americans and flaunt their captives, NBC News has learned that there are six other Americans hostages in Iraq, though five have not yet been identified.
Joining me now, MSNBC analyst and terrorist expert, Steve Emerson.
Steve, lets talk about the timing of this video. There was no mention specifically of January 30, the election, or Iyad Allawi or anything else political. So, is it fair to call this propaganda or intimidation in the ramp-up to Sunday's election?
STEVE EMERSON, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, the effect may be the same, but I'm not so sure we can say that it was deliberately timed to coincide with the election. It seemed more of a target of opportunity. We really don't know when the tape was actually made or actually given to Al Jazeera where it was initially broadcast.
STEWART: One thing that's very interesting on this tape is some of the content of it. We're assuming that many of these statements that this man said were written for him. One of them, quite interesting. He said I have been arrested by a resistance group in Iraq. The use of the word arrest by the insurgents. Lets talk about that.
EMERSON: Well, the quote, the resistance or the insurgents or terrorist groups, they're claiming that they're playing by their own rules of the game. And so they're claiming that this is their own judicial process. So obviously, they're using the term arrest and they're making him say. He's reading from a statement, obviously not of his own volition, Allison.
STEWART: He also mentions Moammar Gadhafi. Why would he mention Moammar Gadhafi as someone who could help him in this situation?
Why would the insurgents make him say that?
EMERSON: Allison, I think that's the most significant and interesting part of the tape. The fact that he's appealing to Gadhafi suggests to me that one, the abductors are sort of this fusion of jihadists and criminal gang looking to shake down and get a ransom paid by Gadhafi. And perhaps even prehearsed that Gadhafi, who knows that he will be looked upon as a hero if he comes in and ransoms this American. And there by alleviating some of the pressure that's been placed upon him by the United States in the wake of admission by some people that were arrested, that he had been in charge of a plot to assassinate the head of Saudi Arabia. So, in other words, this could be a whole shake down rerehersal - rehearsal plot by Gadhafi and his abductors, to basically get money into the hands of the captors, and also make Gadhafi look good. And it's really a dance that is a charade.
STEWART: Oh, the conspiracy theorists will like that one a lot.
EMERSON: Oh, that's good. I'm not that good. Robert Ludlum can invent better. But Gadhafi has done this before. He has come to the rescue and paid ransom money, and it turned out that he actually had an inkling that he would be asked and he looks good in the eyes of the world.
STEWART: Before I let you go, unfortunately, we've seen several of these tapes. That Nick Berg image is seared into a lot of people's memories. Now, this tape is compared to that one and some of the other ones. The background is quite different in this tape.
What are some other significant differences or anything you see as similar?
EMERSON: Well, this is clearly designed to shake someone down. You know, he's not in the bright orange jump suit. He's - Nick Berg, unfortunately, was given his last rights, essentially. He was decapitated. This is designed to promote psychological warfare. And I think also, to allow this, again, rehearsal of a script that will, you know, allow Gadhafi to be the redeemer here. Clearly, they're not going to kill him. Although, obviously, his life is in danger. It's designed to elicit sympathy, put pressure on the Iraqi government, and to allow Gadhafi to look like a good guy.
STEWART: MSNBC analyst and terrorism expert, Steve Emerson. We thank you so much.
EMERSON: Sure, Allison.
STEWART: And from terror tactics to terror recruitment. Earlier this month, it was National Intelligence Council that said Iraq had replaced Afghanistan as al Qaeda's primary training ground. And many experts have pointed to Iraq as a destination for jihadists.
But today our correspondent Lisa Myers reports on al Qaeda's recruitment in Europe and what that might mean for Iraq.
LISA MYERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The man arrested in Mainz, Germany is alleged to be a key al Qaeda recruiter. Living in this apartment building on a quiet street. Also arrested, a Palestinian, allegedly headed to fight in Iraq. U.S. Officials tell NBC News that the recruiter, Ibrahim Mohammed Kalel (ph) is an al Qaeda facilitator who trained in camps in Afghanistan, fought there after 9/11, and was sent back to Germany. There both U.S. and German intelligence monitored him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He also had contact with the leadership of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden.
MYERS: Expert say the arrest underscores al Qaeda's interests in the war in Iraq.
ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC TERROR ANALYST: It demonstrates that Europe is the central recruitment ground for al Qaeda when it comes to finding jihadists to fight in Iraq.
MYERS: Three men from this basement mosque in the Paris suburb raided by French police died fighting in Iraq in recent months. One was a suicide bomber.
ANTOINE SFEIR, ISLAMIC EXPERT IN FRANCE: They began by dozens, and now there are hundreds. Not only French, European. From Germany, from Belgium, from Netherlands.
MYERS: And even in the tiny town of Crotona, Italy, suspected terror cells provide money, fake documents, and safe passage. Last year Italian police charged five men with allegedly plotting to blow up the Milan Subway and recruiting suicide bombers for Iraq.
LORENZO VIDINO, TERROR EXPERT IN ITALY: The same network that was recruiting fighters for bin Laden in Afghanistan is now sending militant to fight in Iraq.
MYERS: And they may be getting help from radical imams in cities like London, where Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed gives nightly Internet sermons urging young Muslims to go to Iraq.
(on camera): Despite stronger anti-terror laws, experts say it isn't always easy to take down recruiting operations, or to stop heated religious rhetoric that incites young men. European officials say they may not be able to do much more with inflammatory imams than deport them.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
STEWART: Also out of Iraq today, new reports of prisoner abuse by Iraqis against Iraqis. Iraqi jailers and other authorities are committing systematic torture and other abuses of detainees, according to a report out today from Human Rights Watch. The group also reports the abuse is quite commonplace. And it comes at the hand of people holding the same jobs they had under Saddam Hussein, 20 months after his government was toppled.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is fingered in the report. It concludes Allawi, quote, "Appears to be actively taking part or is at least complicit in these grave violations of fundamental human rights," end quote. Allawi's reaction still pending; a spokesman saying, "I will put this report on the minister's desk to see if he has any reaction."
The report cites only one instance where U.S. forces intervened to stop the abuse.
Iraq policy in its entirety and Condoleezza Rice's role in selling it to the people dominated the discussion in Congress as Democratic senators opposed the nomination of Dr. Rice to secretary of state. Rice's confirmation not really in doubt, as Republican senators have comfortable control, and many Democrats are expected to give her their support. But that did not stop the many few from cuing up to sharply criticize Dr. Rice and her friend and boss, President Bush.
Our correspondent Andrea Mitchell reports the focus rests on what was said to justify the war.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrats have never doubted that Condoleezza Rice would be confirmed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under the previous order, there will be...
MITCHELL: But some insisted on first debating everything they say had gone wrong with Iraq.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Dr. Rice was a key member of the national security team that developed and justified the rationale for war. And it has been a catastrophic failure.
MITCHELL: Their chief complaint? Rice's prewar claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Dr. Rice took what was a possibility and portrayed it as a fact.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Her rhetoric even went beyond the questionable intelligence that the CIA had available on Iraq.
MITCHELL: They blamed her for the president's inaccurate claim two years ago that Saddam was trying to buy nuclear weapons fuel from Africa.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: This war was sold to us in part by Dr. Rice.
MITCHELL: But Barbara Boxer is also using her opposition to Rice to solicit political contributions, sending out this e-mail that says, "that's why I took a stand and voiced my concerns about Dr. Rice's misleading statements." The Boxer e-mail has links so people can contribute to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
Today Republicans strongly defended Rice.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: In my interactions and conversations with Dr. Rice over the last four years, she's always been candid and honest.
MITCHELL: Her biggest advantage may be her relationship with the president.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: When foreign leaders talk to Condoleezza Rice, they will know that she is speaking for the president.
MITCHELL: A veteran of the Clinton State Department says today's debate may help Rice.
WENDY SHERMAN: It is actually I think in some ways is going to sharpen the job that she does and sharpen her dedication, her commitment.
MITCHELL (on camera): Rice will be confirmed tomorrow, but Democrats have put her on notice. They expect her to be an independent voice for diplomacy, even while she answers to the president.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, at the State Department.
STEWART: Almost a month after the tsunami, a place that has seen so many tears of sorrow today seeing tears of pure joy. An incredible reunion story from Banda Aceh is next.
And the film industry got up extra early today for the announcement of the Oscars. But for some actors, they went to bed last night already knowing there would be no Oscar dreams. Just visions of Razzies.
STEWART: Mustafa Kamal (ph) left on his route as a truck driver on the morning of December 26th. Ahead of him, a 12-hour drive. Behind him, his home in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
The death toll from last month's tsunami still staggers. The number of displaced families and children, monumental. But in our No. 2 story on the Countdown tonight, amongst the tens of thousands of tragedies, the story of Mustafa Kamal (ph) offers what is very simply pure joy. Our correspondent Ned Colt has the story.
NED COLT, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The pictures convey the utter bliss of the moment. A father who lost a wife and two daughters in the waves, reunited with his only remaining child, 5-year-old Rina (ph). Mustafa Kamal (ph) was overwhelmed to see her. When the tsunamis hit, everything was gone when he returned - home and family.
Like so many survivors, he searched through debris and refugee camps, looking at photos of the living and dead.
It was a friend who saw Rina's (ph) name on a list of child survivors, posted by Save the Children and UNICEF. The father and daughter were brought together yesterday.
EILEEN BURKE, SAVE THE CHILDREN: It was an incredible moment. He entered the room, fell on his knees, grabbed her in his arms, and was wailing. Wailing with - overcome with emotion. And Rina (ph) herself started crying, and saying, where have you been, where's my mother? Everyone in the room was crying.
COLT: Tears of joy an exception, where so many have been shed in sorrow.
There have been only a handful of parent-child reunions, and a constant worry is that the surviving children could be easy marks for child traffickers. Extreme caution in dealing with those claiming children may reduce that threat.
BURKE: And that is why we are very careful in gathering the information that we can from them as well as from the caretaker. And if the child is old enough, the child themselves.
COLT: Rina (ph) pulled her father's photo from a pile, and a few hours later, she was in his arms, being embraced like he'd never let her go.
Ned Colt, NBC News, Hong Kong.
STEWART: Moving now from the tragic to the trivial, with the entertainment stories, "Keeping Tabs," and someone apparently bugging Nicole Kidman. Australian police are looking for whomever is responsible for planting an electronic listening device outside the actress' mansion in Sidney. It wasn't Dick Clark, by the way. But at the moment, they have no suspects. The bug was found during a routine sweep of her estate prior to her arrival there, to film a movie with Russell Crowe and Geoffrey Rush. It was found near where a group of paparazzi had gathered to photograph the star as she arrived. And I'm no detective, but officers, I believe I would start with them.
Now, it wasn't certainly Russell Crowe who planted the sophisticated device, because according to the British tabloids, a man can't even assemble a baby cot from Ikea. The story has been around since Crowe mentioned at the premiere of his 2004 film "Master and Commander," that, quote, "the key thingy was impossible to use, and I couldn't put the damn thing together," end quote. That would be an Allen wrench, big boy.
But this week Crowe felt the need to respond to the worldwide mockery with an e-mail to "The Daily Telegraph" saying, quote, "give me a break. I do know the business end of a screwdriver." Allen wrench, Russell. It's an Allen wrench.
Hollywood's award season high gear. So how is it that President Bush and members of his cabinet could walk away with some honors this year? Tonight's No. 1 story is next.
STEWART: Now, you may have noticed the dearth of cinematic options in recent weeks. That, fellow moviegoers, is because January is a traditional dumping ground for Hollywood's trash. All the good stuff came out before the new year so those Tinseltown types can thank their mom, agent and higher being of choice at the podium.
Our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, the anatomically ambiguous award, the Oscar and its nominees. And the surprises came not by nomination but by omission. Among the movies receiving no love from the Academy, the odd couple of Mel and Michael. Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and Moore's political lightning rod, "Fahrenheit 9/11," both shut out of best picture.
So who got a big air kiss today? "The Aviator," garnering 11 nominations. "Million Dollar Baby" and "Finding Neverland" with seven a piece.
But for those left out of the cavalcade of self-congratulation, there is always the Razzies. It's the 25th year of recognizing films most foul. "Catwoman" and "Alexander" lead the pack this year.
And while Oscar may have forgotten "Fahrenheit 9/11," the humble Razzie did not. And here to help us cut through all of this ball that begins, it's just an honor to be nominated, "In Touch Weekly" senior editor and host of entertainment award prediction site, GoldDerby.com, Tom O'Neil. Nice to see you.
TOM O'NEIL, GOLDDERBY.COM: Same here, Alison.
STEWART: Let's talk about the Oscars. It seems like we have an actual race in the best picture category. Who is the underdog? Who has the strongest shot?
O'NEIL: Well, thank gosh we have some drama this year. Remember last year? "Lord of the Rings." Ho-hum, ho-hum. This year, it's great, because it's a real drama. It looks like "The Aviator" is the classic front-runner. It has the most nominations. It's the big epic from an overdue director, Marty Scorsese. Usually a slam dunk, right?
But watch out for that sneaky left hook being thrown by "Million Dollar Baby," which opens wide nationally this weekend. It looks an awful lot like "Chariots of Fire," which beat the big epic of 1982, "Reds."
STEWART: Now, it's deja vu all over again in the best actress category, while we're talking about "Million Dollar Baby." In one corner, the understated elegance of Annette Bening, and then the scrappy Hilary Swank. Will Annette have to rise to the Oscar occasion again and do the golf clap for Hilary's win?
O'NEIL: She sure wants it. Five years ago, Hilary Swank came out of nowhere to deal "American Beauty" its only defeat in the top category. It won best everything - it won best picture, won director, won screenplay, but Annette Bening lost best actress.
So now finally this is her year, she's coming back. And who is in the race again? Hilary Swank! So what we've got is a diva smackdown between these gals.
STEWART: All right, let's talk about the fellas. Any surprises? Anything interesting in the best actor category, or is it just Jamie Foxx, Jamie Foxx, Jamie Foxx?
O'NEIL: Yeah, well, there was a real jaw-dropper in the nominations. Clint Eastwood! Who knew he could act? That's the big nice surprise of "Million Dollar Baby," when you walk out of there, wow! And here he actually got a nomination, which nobody forecast, because in the past he has only really gotten one at the Oscars and never, ever at the Golden Globes.
STEWART: All right, well, "Fahrenheit 9/11" was dismissed by the Academy. They loved that film over at the Razzies.
STEWART: Tell us what happened.
O'NEIL: President Bush could actually be nominated - or actually could win. He's up for worst actor of the year, thanks to "Fahrenheit." So we have to wonder, is the White House going to use a weapon of mass destruction to quote/unquote win here? So Michael got his revenge not at one award, but at another.
STEWART: Now, the Razzies actually this year show us how fleeting fame and luster can be, because of the movie "Catwoman." And what has happened to Halle Berry in just a short period of time?
O'NEIL: Really, she went from the Oscar podium and Oscar glory to the bottom of a cat litter box! This movie is so bad, it's been every analogy you can make to the caddiest thing that you can - you know, furball to cat litter. That's how bad this movie is. And poor Halle, it really reminds you of what the Greeks remind us of, that glory is fleeting.
STEWART: Tom O'Neil, I'm going to leave it on that highbrow thought.
O'NEIL: OK, thanks.
STEWART: From "In Touch Weekly," we love talking to you. Thanks so much for spending some time with us.
O'NEIL: Same here, Alison. Thanks.
STEWART: And that is Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann. I'll be back here tomorrow night. Hope you'll join me.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END