'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 7
Guest: John Dean, Peter Riegert, Jerry Della Femina
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Who is Deep Throat? John Dean reports that the famed but unnamed Watergate source is ill. Ben Bradlee reports he has written the man's obituary. Are we about to get the answer to the most asked question in recent political history? John Dean joins us tonight.
Here comes the judge.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've always said that a supreme court justice should have a highway patrolman driving them.
OLBERMANN: But they aren't. So when Ohio cops pulled the suspected drunk driver, it was the Ohio supreme court justice herself.
I guarantee at this Wisconsin emergency room, if you aren't treated within 33 minutes, your hospital bed is free! What? You get extra pepperoni, too?
And it wouldn't be the Super Bowl without controversy in the commercials and in the souvenir program? What did Bill O'Reilly write in there?
All that and more now on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. 32 years ago today, the Senate voted 77-0 to create the select committee on presidential campaign activities. It was better known as the Watergate committee. And between what was said by the people who testified during its 319 hours of live television time, and what was said in far different venues by an anonymous source codenamed in history as Deep Throat, the presidency of Richard M. Nixon would end in 1974.
Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, history may soon be catching up with the anonymity of Deep Throat. The reporters who made him famous had said the confidentiality of his identity will end after his death. And now he is not only reported ill but that report has come from the most famous of the Watergate committee witnesses, John Dean. He'll join us in a moment.
Dean's total recall testimony in 1973 was first doubted or even dismissed. Then Nixon's secret Oval Office taping system was revealed and that testimony was proved to be not only accurate but virtually correct word for word. In an op ed about the threat to the confidentiality of sources in yesterday's "Los Angeles Times," Mr. Dean wrote almost in passing, "Bob Woodward, a reporter on the team that covered the Watergate story has advised his executive editor at the 'Washington Post' that Throat is ill. And Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Post and one of the few people to whom Woodward confided his source's identity has publicly acknowledged that he has written Throat's obituary."
The movie version of the "Post's" reportage, "All the President's Men," depicted a growling chain-smoking throat who met Woodward in subterranean parking garages. And as portrayed by Hal Holbrook, he seemed belligerent, angry, furtive enough, almost enough to disappear in a puff of smoke. The real life candidates are too many to list in full. For sure we only know that he is a he. He worked in the executive branch of government during the Nixon administration and later held or holds another public position of some sort which he obviously feels might be compromised were he to be identified. We know he smoked and drank Scotch, and is still alive.
But the speculation has been running for three decades. Of the still living candidates, former acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray was probably the earliest frontrunner. Nixon attorneys running the gamut from Leonard Garment to Fred Fielding to John Sears to John Dean himself have been accused. Garment once wrote a book concluding it was Sears. Others have picked the informer No. 3 man in the FBI Mark Felt which makes for a nice clothing theme Felt, Garment, Sears.
And now due to the ravages of time and health the speculation may all finally be coming to an end. Good news for us. Obviously bad news for the man himself.
Joining me now from Los Angeles, author of yesterday's "L.A. Times" op John Dean. As always, great thanks for your time.
JOHN DEAN, NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let's first establish this issue of the health of the man known as Deep Throat. You wrote, quote, "he is ill" and several news organizations turned that into he's near death. How do you know how he is?
DEAN: Well, the piece I wrote was actually about anonymous sources. I just happened in talking to the editor decide that obviously, the biggest anonymous source that history knows in journalism is Deep Throat. I said why don't I start with that without getting into when I learned this and how I learned it, this was an undisclosed source that gave me the information that Woodward had reported to Downey that this man was ill.
I don't know exactly the words that Bob used. Whether it was that he was ill. That he was in bad condition or what. So when I - I'm not sure exactly what the phraseology was. But it was clear that he was sometimes, he was not in the best of health. So when I saw that later, not too long ago, that Ben Bradlee had admitted or publicly stated that he had done an obituary, I said my goodness. This is getting closer than I really thought it might be. Because I have not been able to figure out which of my former friends this character may be.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned Len Downey the "Post" executive editor, and did you get a Nixon vintage era, nondenial denial in there? Because it sounded like Len Downey said that Woodward has not advised him that Throat is ill or to make any kinds of plans. Is he parsing circumstances to the best of your knowledge? Is he right and you're wrong?
DEAN: Well, it's either he has a very bad memory because my source when he told me this, had no reason to volunteer this other than the fact that he learned it directly from Downey. So there's no reason for him to do it. We may be parsing words here. We may be that Len Downey doesn't remember exactly the circumstances, the conditions in which he made this statement. But as I say, it got corroborated to me when you don't generally have a former executive editor writing obits to put those in the can to be ready for the day they might be needed.
OLBERMANN: And you wouldn't want it in the can too long unfortunately because it would pop out at some point. And that puts everybody in a kind of disturbing position about this. We know this man Deep Throat, whoever he is, has never wanted to be identified. We also know he is ill. To what degree, we don't know. There's a conflict. Respecting his wishes and this overwhelming longstanding desire to solve this mystery. Do you believe that now you know who it is?
DEAN: Well, when I first learned this, Keith, I went around and checked to see who of my friends might be in bad health. And it was only because of a very unusual circumstance that I learned that a couple people are ill that have not told me. In fact, one of them happens to know that I believe this happens to be a clue to the identity of Throat. And another friend of his, a mutual friend of ours told me that he was ill. This is very troubling to me. Because I obviously want to honor this man's shuffling off with his denial and don't want to be the person to blow this up.
So it's been a very difficult situation. But I just thought let's keep it stirred up since Woodward and Bernstein are putting the papers out there. It was a perfect example of epitome of an anonymous source. I also noted in that piece that some of the stuff Throat has said is wrong.
OLBERMANN: Let me get to that in a bit. Let me press you on this to get an actual definition of where you are on this. Do you think you know who it is but you would prefer to respect this man's privacy especially under this health situation? Is that about where we stand?
DEAN: I have given a friend of mine a code that I told him to keep on his hard drive. That one day, he can decipher if I'm right in who I think I do know it to be.
OLBERMANN: Well, hopefully that friend will keep that confidential. How does it - you mention that had this does to some degree change the dynamic here. And the hunt for Deep Throat. Do you think that it is likely now that based solely on the message he's ill, since that automatically clears all sorts of candidates, is it likely now that somebody will name the name in some short period of time?
DEAN: Well, I don't think so. Obviously, everybody who would fall in the candidacy of Throat is - we're all aging. In varying degrees of health, which may or may not be public. I don't think it will change the whole M.O. that Woodward has employed until Throat leaves and shuffles off. He's not going to say anything. We won't know until that final moment comes. And Bob comes forward to say it.
Now the fact that Woodward has made very clear that everybody who has
ever been identified as Throat and that Throat has indeed been named and
they've all denied it, creates an interesting situation. It will be very -
· Woodward will have to in essence go to some burden to show that he indeed is talking about the same person that he wrote about.
OLBERMANN: Three years ago, speaking of writing in the past, almost three years ago, you wrote a very methodical analysis of the identification process. Who knew what when? Who could have met with Woodward at the times he met with Deep Throat in his book. You narrowed it down to four people. The deputy press secretary Jerry Warren, appointment secretary Dwight Chapin (ph), and two speech writers, Ray Price and our own Pat Buchanan who last time I looked, still eats fire and brimstone every morning and will be on the network later this week hosting a show. Do you now think it is none of them?
DEAN: Well, I can't eliminate any of them. Everybody who's ever been tagged has denied it. So, you now, everyone still is denying it. So, my elimination of the process was just sort of the mechanical way to go through it. What did we know that Throat told Woodward, when he told it to him, and then who could have had that information when he gave it to Woodward?
And going through that process, I was able to narrow the field. The scope gets very narrow when you get to the end. Because very few people have that last clue that Throat gives to Woodward, that there's an 18 and a half minute or some degree of erased tape in there. This is known by so few people at the time that Woodward and Bernstein get this information, that as I say, it narrows it down. And clearly narrows it right to the White House.
OLBERMANN: What did Throat know and when did he know it?
You mentioned - you mentioned the mistakes, though. This is one of those things that tends to get glossed over in this coverage. This was not a perfect source. Give us an example of something that he got wrong and whether or not that, in fact, helps the analysis of who it might be.
DEAN: Well, actually, when I was writing the piece for the "L.A. Times" recently, I made an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the fact that Throat had gotten some information wrong that Woodward had never corrected. And they said, well, can you give us an example? So, I just literally opened the book up to the first place that I - I flipped a couple pages and there I was at a page where Throat was talking to Woodward. And right at the top of the list was the fact that I had indeed talked to Howard Baker during Watergate and had him in the bag, so to speak. Well, that's dead wrong. It never happened. But that's just one, as I say, many examples. I've never gone through and cataloged them all. I really have never attempted to do that. But I have in passing note that Throat got a lot of things wrong. And Bob has next had occasion to or inclination to correct those.
OLBERMANN: He got a number of things right though. Let me ask one last question, it's a hit or miss, yes or no the identity of Deep Throat.
Is there any chance at all that Deep Throat was actually Hal Holbrooke?
DEAN: Well, let me tell you this on that score. When he was cast, I'm told that Woodward said, not bad.
OLBERMANN: All right, we'll work with that. Lets to our own devices, John, I think we can talk about this for another 17 hours, but I'm sad to say that for now, we'll have to stop.
John Dean, the former White House Counsel to Richard Nixon, as always my friend, greatest thanks.
DEAN: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: There's another story tonight of health and inexactitude. The well being of Deep Throat eclipsed only by speculation about the condition of the worldwide leader of the Catholic Church. A public appearance by Pope John Paul II yesterday, meant to allay the fears among the faithful, serving instead in some parts to fuel them. Five days after he was hospitalized with breathing difficulties, the pope was wheeled through the window of a hospital room in Rome. The 84-year-old pontiff clearly weakened. How much so, only evident though, when John Paul II began to speak.
Because of that piece of paper, which partially obscure his face, there was speculation in the Italian media that the voice of the pope had been prerecorded. That did he a lip sync. An Ashley Simpson without the ho down. The Vatican spokesman dismissing that speculation today as, nonsense. But it's the Vatican that reignited another category of speculation today, that the pope might retire. Although spokesmen said yesterday, that John Paul said, he had no intention of abdication. Today, the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Sodano, who always brushes off retirement speculation, was asked about it and replied, "Lets leave that up to the conscience of the pope. We have to have enormous faith in him. He knows what he has to do."
No Segway (ph) here, but something odd is happening around the emergency rooms of our fair land. Money back guarantee's of speedy service. Do you really want your doctor rushing from patient to patient?
And a drunk driver trying to talk her way out of a ticket while police video rolls. Only this time the motorist - is a state supreme court justice - oops.
You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: One of our trained professionals does see you in 30 minutes, then your visit is free. The drive through, quick copy, oil change, the emergency room. Is this the best idea when it comes to healthcare.
OLBERMANN: You give us 22 minutes, and we'll give you the world. The pizza's at your door in 30 minutes or it's free. The name of the place is one hour photo.
Our fourth story on the Countdown, guaranteed speedy service is great if your listening to the radio, ordering fast food or getting your picture developed. But is it really as good as it sounds when it comes to a hospital emergency room?
As our correspondent, Peter Alexander, reports from Wisconsin, do you really want the doctors to be checking the clock as often as they are checking to see if you're still breathing?
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Because minutes matter, many businesses boast a speedy service guarantee. Pizza places promising delivery in half an hour or they eat the cost. Auto shop offering an oil change on the spot. But now joining the list, hospital emergency rooms?
As seen on TV, E.R.'s can be chaotic, costly, crowded. But the latest trend in the medical world promises patients won't have to wait. Several dozen hospital E.R.'s now advertise a 30 minute pledge. Some forced to sit get an apology, others earn gift cards worth $25 bucks. Perhaps the most generous offer, at Aurora Bay Care in Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of the 33-minute guarantee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any medications he takes every day?
ALEXANDER: If a patient's care isn't started, both the bed and the exam comped. The value, up to $400.
DR. STEVE STROMAN, AURORA BAY CARE MEDICAL CENTER: I love it when patients say, I came in and no one was here, because the waiting room was empty.
ALEXANDER: On this night, Rebecca Richards knows the urgency. Her son Tirsten (ph) is suffering a high fever.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it's mainly to get in, get out and make sure he's taken care of.
ALEXANDER: Generally emergency rooms are overwhelm and overcrowded.
A record 114 million visits in 2003 alone.
DR. GEORGES BENJAMIN, AMERICAN PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOC.: There's no question that in the emergency department today, there's a frustration. There's a way to be actually seen by the doctors.
ALEXANDER: But some hospitals see this new promotion as a way to boost their bottom line.
(on camera): The strategy is working. Since Aurora Bay Care started the 33 minute guarantee last summer, E.R. visits here are up nearly 10 percent. But some doctors warn, it may not be the best way to serve patients.
DR. JOSEPH CLINE, UNIV. OF WISCONSIN HOSPITALS & CLINICS: It's responding to patients' desires which is a culprit. I just think they need to be cautious.
ALEXANDER: Just two hours away at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, more cases, more doubts.
SUE WOLFE, EMERGENCY NURSE: To guarantee it on a regular basis is unrealistic.
ALEXANDER: Still, in Green Bay out of 8,000 cases, the hospital has only failed to meet its guarantee twice. Peter Alexander, NBC News, Green Bay.
OLBERMANN: These guys might find use for guaranteed quick ER visit.
What would "Oddball" be without morons on skis!
And padding your college football resume. First it was the loofah scandal. Now we have got Super Bowl programgate ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: We're back and we pause the Countdown now to bring you these strange news and goofy video collected from around the world for your entertainment.
Let's play "Oddball."
We begin with two from the final strange things people do in other countries. To Behstendorf (ph), Austria and the annual event they call the jump and freeze festival. Gee, I wonder why they call it that? The rules seem to be fairly simple. A, ski down the snowy hill into the ice cold water. B, attempt to survive deadly hypothermia. Dead or alive, points are awarded to competitors in a variety of categories, including best costume, best vehicle, highest blood alcohol level, and least amount of puckering. Thousands turn out for the annual rite of winter. Mostly for the crashes. Then again, any different from American auto racing fans?
To Ibria (ph), Italy where attendance was down this year at the big annual battle of the oranges because organizers started charging admission. I can't imagine why somebody would be reluctant to pay for this. It's not every day a thousand weirdos dressed in medieval costumes parade through town hurling ripe oranges at one another. Also known as the festival of eye injuries. The annual event is a commemoration of a town revolt in ancient times when a tyrannical king announced that Tang (ph) was the new official breakfast drink. I really need a better research staff.
And heads up. We have another guy with a nail stuck in his melon. Actually Mr. Steven Gomez (ph) had one in his neck. We've had a whole series of stories like these lately. But what makes this guy's nail in the neck tale different from this guy's, this guy, this guy, this guy, or this guy? Well, Mr. Gomez said he has no idea how or when the nail got stuck in his neck. No clue. He is a teacher. He's never been near a nail gun. He's had pain in his neck for a few months but doctors told him the rusted nail could have been in there for years.
And talk about getting nailed. A supreme embarrassment for one state supreme court judge. She's pulled over for driving drunk and the whole thing is caught on tape. And we'll show it.
And the latest D.C. thrower, the bush budget. Short on frills, short on cash. 150 programs getting the axe. Those stories ahead.
Now here's Countdown's top three news makers of this day. Number three, the Israeli army which says it will begin treating soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress by giving them cannabis. Something which soldiers and the rest of the world have been self-medicating with for decades.
Number two, David Whittoft. David is from Richfield, Connecticut. He is 8-years-old. Every day since he got it for Christmas 2003, he has worn his Brett Favre Green Bay Packers jersey to school. He believes he is trying to break a world record. His father says David has a lot of sticktoitiveness (ph). That or the jersey does.
And number one, Bakr and Sanaa Melhem. Their marriage in Amman, Jordan was coming to a close. Their eyes wandering but each limited their infidelities to the Internet. Finally Mr. Melhem decided to go meet the woman with whom he had been e-flirting almost at the same time Mrs. Melhem went to face her web paramour. She was to meet her beau at the bus station. He was to meet his fling at the bus station. You got it. Mrs. Melhem arrived there to meet her secret boyfriend, her own husband.
They've been corresponding online. She probably fainted.
OLBERMANN: Everyone agrees, all politics is local. Except those who prefer all politics are local. Which ever grammar you choose, the truth behind the phrase is always evident, though not always a pretty sight.
Our third story on the Countdown will end with the very big global political picture tonight. But it begins with a car being pulled over in Columbus, Ohio. Police suspected they had a drunk driver. Rather quickly they discovered they also had state Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick. And as our Beth Dal Ponte of our NBC station in Columbus report, what followed had the mixed elements of tragedy and comedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BETH DAL PONTE, NBC 4 CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A week ago today, a Bowling Green patrolman and state trooper first approach Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick at a gas station, after self motorists had called 911 to report an erratic drive. Resnick drove on and was later pulled over by the Ohio State Highway Patrol along I-75. Their conversation was recorded by the trooper's dashboard camera.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... the yellow and back and forth.
ALICE ROBIE RESNICK, OHIO STATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: No, I didn't.
PONTE: Resnick denied that she had been drinking.
RESNICK: There's nothing wrong with me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think from the smell of you, you've been drinking, I know that. I mean, I see - smell some alcohol on you when I approached you on that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
RESNICK: There's no alcohol on me.
I have not be drinking. You know, you're really infringing on my -
OK, I'm not going to argue.
PONTE: She later admitted to drinking some wine and agreed to take a portable alcohol test. Troopers say she registered at more than twice the blood alcohol legal limit.
RESNICK: I don't that, 2.16., that's ridiculous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, that is - that is high.
RESNICK: Because I haven't, you know - that is really high, I mean, I would have to - I don't know what I have to consume.
I've always said that a Supreme Court Justice should have a highway patrolman driving them. (OFF-MIKE) Supreme Court justices do, you know. I mean, this is so embarrassing to me. I'm just dying.
PONTE: The Judge Resnick also alluded to other cases she'd had to rule on.
RESNICK: I decide all these cases in your favor, my golly, and look at what your doing to me.
PONTE: Beth Dal Ponte, NBC News, Columbus, Ohio.
OLBERMANN: This afternoon, Justice Resnick pleaded guilty to the DUI charge, was fined $600, lost her license for six months and she said she has been fighting alcoholism all her adult life and accepts full responsibility for the incident.
A different scandal involving authorities coming to light at the largest military prison in Iraq. Not half naked prisoners this time, just half naked guards, female guards. The "New York Daily News" obtaining these photos from the Camp Bucca in military detention facility in Iraq, showing scantily clad military policewomen mud wrestling while their male counter parts looked on. One of the wrestlers has now been demoted to the rank of private for indecent exposure. Others were reprimanded. Police - prison officials rather, say the Iraqi detainees were not exposed to what the Pentagon described as an "isolated unfortunate incident of partying that got out of hand.
Meantime, native policemen In Iraq say the public attitude toward them and their mission has shifted since the elections. Several officers telling the "Washington Post" that they have been getting more tips this month and therefore, they have arrested more militants. But even though support system might be scaling back, the insurgency certainly is not. And their number one target right now appears to be that self-same Iraqi police force.
In Mosul, a suicide bomber showed up at a local hospital, called a group of policemen to his position, and then detonated his bomb. Twelve officers killed, four others wounded. In Baquba, a car bomb exploded outside of police headquarters, killing at least 15, wounding 17. According to the local police chief, many of those killed were actually civilians looking to join the force.
How to pay to fight those insurgents has become the center piece, if not the biggest line item in the president's new budget. Critics cut it pretty straightforward. They say almost everything social will be cut. Almost everything military will be increased. Our White House correspondent is David Gregory.
BUSH: We're submitting our budget.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's budget was treated like an instant best seller in Washington today, with members of Congress pouring over the details which will fuel partisan warfare for months. Mr. Bush said he was submitting a lean spending plan.
BUSH: It is a budget that focuses on results. Taxpayer of America don't want to spend any money on something that is not achieving results.
GREGORY: The nearly $2.6 trillion budget would scale back or eliminate 150 government programs. A savings of nearly $20 billion next year. Still, the government is a wash in red ink. The White House projects a budget deficit of a record $427 billion this year. A figure the president's budget director predicted today will eventually be cut in half.
JOSHUA BOLTEN, DIRECTOR OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT & BUDGET: If we maintain the policies of economic growth, and spending restrain reflected in this budget, the deficit is expect to decline in 2006 and each of the next four years.
GREGORY: The big winner in the budget, the Pentagon which gets a boost of $419 billion, nearly 5 percent above last year. Also up from last year, homeland security. Left untouched, Medicare which is already slated to eat a sizable chunk of the budget when the prescription drug benefits takes effect next year. But it is the president's hit list that is getting most of the attention today. Billions of dollars in subsidies to farmers would be rolled back. Amtrak will see the billion-dollar annual subsidy disappear. Literacy programs are cut, as is Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor. And there's more. Much of it pronounced dead on arrival by some Democrats.
U.S. SENATOR KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: He's going to cut the Cop Program by 96 percent. That program has put 100,000 police officers on the street in this country.
GREGORY (on camera): White House officials admit they don't expect to get everything they're asking for. But conservatives are urging the president to be tough, even to veto spending excesses if he is serious about cutting the deficit. David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.
OLBERMANN: There may be controversy over the budget, but not over the other big news from Washington today. The president has invited the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president to meet with him separately in Washington and they have accept. It is the first success of Condoleezza Rice's tenure as secretary of state. She met with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today, and he confirmed his acceptance of the invitation to confer with Mr. Bush.
In her previous stop in Israel, she'd gotten Ariel Sharon's RSVP. Nobody is saying this is a precursor to a full scale international summit, everybody is hoping. In the interim, the BBC reporting the Palestinians and Israelis will agree to a truce when Sharon and Abbas meet in their own summit tomorrow in Egypt.
To negotiating the mess that is the Mid East peace process to the big screen mess that was the brilliance of "Animal House," we will pay tribute to the late John Vernon.
Speaking of messes, Bill O'Reilly has another one. All of his own making. Super hyperbole at the Super Bowl. That's ahead.
Now here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOOP DOGG, ENTERTAINER: One, two, three! It's all love out here man. They love the fact that Snoop Dogg took the time to come out here and do this for the community. This is the first annual Snooper Bowl, it's being held out here in Jacksonville. It will be legendary one day. We'll look back at this 20 years from now, and say this is where it all began.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Social Security is three time, three times the social security deficit. If you just took 1/3 of the president's making the tax cut perm, you know, you could you make Social Security safe without having benefits into the 22nd century.
DON IMUS, TALK RADIO HOST: You know - you know, what I've been doing while you've been talking, figuring out how to run this computer here.
KERRY: Well, I'm sorry to bore you with it.
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: After investigating the attacks and circumstances in this case, I have no made no secret of my feelings, however unpopular. It is my constitutionally protected opinion that Michael Jackson is...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Last Friday we reported to you that the actor John Vernon had died. His name might not have been instantly recognizable but his voice, you would have known that in an instant. He played everybody from Big Brother in Orwell's "1984" to Dean Wormer in "Animal House."
Our number two story in the Countdown we didn't think just reporting his passing was tribute enough to an actor who had contributed so greatly to one of the classic comedies of film history so tonight we'll remember John Vernon with one of his co-stars in "Animal House," Peter Riegert. First a quick reminder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN VERNON, ACTOR: The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining me now actor Peter Riegert, Boon in "Animal House." Most recently, director and co-star with Isabella Rossellini in film "King of the Corner." Peter, thanks so much for joining me tonight.
PETER RIEGERT, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: Nice to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I was watching the film again the other day and it dawned on me that all of you in that movie obviously gave wonderful performances, but in the role of the starched, stiff authority figure, John Vernon was probably the only actor on the set who couldn't play it for laughs. The humor comes from how deadly seriously he takes his situation. That must have been extraordinarily difficult for him to do. Was it amazing to watch?
RIEGERT: Well, I guess as an actor, you just take for granted when somebody is doing good work. But your description of the difficulty or the degree of difficulty is very accurate. Because he's not just a straight man. He is not just there to make others say funny things. He is actually getting you to laugh at him simultaneously. So it is a rather sophisticated performance. And I thought he was absolutely brilliant. If the academy took comedy seriously, he would be deserving of a nomination.
OLBERMANN: What was it like to work with him? I gather he was, he and Donald Sutherland would have been the old pros on the set and the rest of you guys would have been the newcomers.
RIEGERT: We were the kids as it were. I was not a kid but I was playing one. For us, John and Donald obviously and Verna Bloom and Cesare Danova represented something important to me that I was working with such talented people who had so much experience. There was a lot to learn from them.
OLBERMANN: The director John Landis was quoted in the "Los Angeles Times" the other day saying - let me read it exactly. "I don't think the picture would work without him."
Given all that bedlam that's going on on the screen between you and Belushi and Tim Matheson and Karen Allen and Bruce McGill and everybody else, do you think he has it right? Would it have not had a center? Would it have not had a nucleus without this man?
RIEGERT: I do agree. I think John's character, that Dean Wormer was the axle around which the film revolved because we were protesting, the guys in the fraternity were obviously rebelling against morality or moralism or moralizing, and culture critics and pomposity. So he represented that part that we had to be in rebellion against. And he was superb.
OLBERMANN: This man had an extraordinary range of credits as an actor from voicing cartoons to voicing Big Brother to Dirty Harry and the outlaw Josey Wales. One of his daughters said that boyfriends would come to her house and do a double take and say your dad is Dean Wormer? Did he regret being identified so closely with that film and that role considering how varied his career had been?
RIEGERT: You know, I don't know. But John had a great sense of humor. My guess is he would be quite tickled that this is how he's going to be remembered. You know every actor knows when it is their time, they're going to be picked, or have a movie associated with them. And it never really fully recognizes the decades that go into making a career in the theater. But I think he would have a terrific appreciation. And being remembered is certainly worthwhile in this case over something so special.
OLBERMANN: Last thing, not to get too academic, but if you were teaching somebody how to act, would you say this is actually one of the great instances of how to get laughs and never letting on to the audience that you're trying to get laughs?
RIEGERT: I would use it as a primer. Absolutely. To this day, whenever I watch him, I'm absolutely fascinated what he could get away with. When he yells out, no more fun of any kind, I mean, that's the theme of the movie in a funny kind of way. That's what the animal house was fighting against. Fun. Or for fun.
OLBERMANN: It was an extraordinary film and his was an extraordinary performance. And of course as I always say when I talk to you, so was yours. Peter Riegert.
RIEGERT: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Remember his "Animal House" co-star, the late John Vernon.
The new film is "King of the Corner." Great thanks as always, Peter.
RIEGERT: Thanks, Keith. Appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: We segue now into our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, keeping tabs. And it turns out the 2005 Super Bowl was not entirely scandal-free. This year's wasn't about the commercials, the halftime show or even the Philadelphia Eagles' pathetic clock management. It was about the Super Bowl program and Bill O'Reilly. The "Fact or Fiction" host and noted loofah user wrote the so-called end piece of the score card sold at yesterday's little game. He waxed poetic about the inspiration that his own football career at Maris College in New York provided observing that he once punted a ball backwards. But that, quoting here, "I won the national punting title for my division as a senior." O'Reilly concludes that, "I guess you could say the end zone was the beginning of the no-spin zone."
But Mr. O'Reilly has done a little spinning of his own here. Others might call it resume padding. The football office at Maris told me today that football was not a varsity sport there until 1978. Seven years after O'Reilly graduated. When he played, it was a so-called club sport where players paid all their own expenses and schedules and most importantly, statistical record keeping were haphazard.
So when he says he was the top punter in his division in the country in 1970, it does not mean what it sounds like. He was not in the NCAA division one or two or the smaller college NAIA Division I or Division II. O'Reilly in Marist played in something called the National Club Football Association. So writing in the Super Bowl program that you won the punting championship in your division would be like me writing in one of my articles in one of the World Series programs that I led the nation's high school baseball players in on-base percentage in 1973.
I did, too. My on-base percentage that season was 1,000. I came to bat once and got hit in the back side with a pitch.
Meantime, a much more serious issue for the entertainer Bill Cosby, but taped phone calls now enter into this story too. You will recall an unidentified woman has accused Cosby of having drugged her and groped her, and the local police are investigating. Now "The Philadelphia Daily News" reports that the woman has turned over to investigators tapes of phone conversations she says Cosby made to her after she made her report to the police.
No comment from attorneys on either side of the case, nor the prosecutors' office, which has said it plans to announce next week whether or not it will file charges against Cosby or anyone else.
Well, the halftime show was squeaky clean. No problem with the - the official program. But this year, it was really one of the commercials that caused the lasting trouble. The flap, as it were, over the GoDaddy ad. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Legendary in television is the story of the show ABC created in 1969 to try to rival the NBC burlesque comedy hit "Laugh-In." It was called "Turn On," and it was so bad, it was canceled after the first broadcast. Actually, it was worse than that. The ABC station in Denver took it off in the middle of the first broadcast.
Our No. 1 story on the Countdown, it was not quite that bad at last night's Super Bowl, but one of the commercials was canceled in the middle of the game by the National Football League. It was for a Web site called GoDaddy.com, and it had already run once in the broadcast. Just like "Turn On," once was enough.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ms. Scapelli (ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'd like to be on a commercial.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what would you be advertising?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: GoDaddy.com! Oh. Oh my God. It's a Web site where you can register dot-com names for only $8.95 a year.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what exactly will you be doing on this commercial?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can do a routine where I went like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Surely by now you must realize that you're upsetting the committee.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset the committee.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May I suggest a turtleneck?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Now that you've seen it at least once, one question, what is GoDaddy's Web site selling? Anybody? Buehler? Internet domain names.
The FOX network says it had approved the commercial. Apparently, the NFL had not, especially the part that evoked the memories of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction of a year ago. The advertiser's president says he wants a refund, and he may sue, even though he has gotten far more publicity for getting the spot yanked than he ever could have if it had just run as planned. Only in the world of television advertising.
Joining us now to try to explain what happened is one of the titans of that field, Jerry Della Femina. Mr. Della Femina, thanks for your time tonight.
JERRY DELLA FEMINA, ADVERTISING EXECUTIVE: Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: Do you buy that story, in this climate, when the NFL actually went to London to vet Paul McCartney's song lyrics, is it possible they didn't know about this commercial until they saw it on TV?
DELLA FEMINA: No. This is the kind of thinking that got a bunch of poor innocent witches burned in 1689 in Salem. The fact is that first of all, they went to London to talk to McCartney? Was he ready to sing, "Why Don't We Do It on the 30-Yard-Line?"
OLBERMANN: Give me the mechanics. How did this, to your experience, how would this have happened? Somebody at the NFL sees this and goes, oh my God, it can't run again. They call up David Hill, the president of FOX Sports, and the threat is then what?
DELLA FEMINA: Well, the threat is, you know, you'll never see the Super Bowl on FOX again. They're pretty powerful.
But the fact is that this was - this was totally ridiculous. No one knows what GoDaddy.com is. And it's taking away from advertisers the opportunity to waste $2.5 million of their - it's their God-given right to waste that money on the Super Bowl.
OLBERMANN: Would not the league have served itself better last night to just say nothing? I mean, as it is, they have given this company, I don't know, $10 million worth of free publicity. They wind up looking like to some degree prudes, or at least frightened, and on top of everything else, they look like bad businessmen who were not minding their own store.
DELLA FEMINA: Bad clock management. They should have at that point stopped and let it run. First of all, they should be looking at the football game, not the commercials.
OLBERMANN: Which brings the other point to this all into it. Do people actually legitimately complain about the commercials even in this current environment, or is that a figment of somebody's imagination?
DELLA FEMINA: No, there are some pressure groups. And they send the identical e-mails, you know, 10,000 of them or 5,000 of them or 10. It doesn't matter, it reaches - look, the NFL should be a little tougher than that. My God, they are ex-football players - or I think they're ex-football players.
OLBERMANN: Not the guys who run it. Those are just people who make money.
DELLA FEMINA: Ex-accountants.
OLBERMANN: Ex-accountants, though they can be pretty tough in the right circumstances.
What about - while you're here, let me tap into your brain on the state of advertising and humor. You've always in the work that you've done managed to get just that right mix, where the humor doesn't overwhelm the product, you still remember what it is. Is a commercial like this just too far out there for anybody to remember what the point was?
DELLA FEMINA: Yes, it was a total waste of money, and if they would have let it run, it would have been a waste. No one knows - I mean, in my house, where we had a Super Bowl party, everyone turned around and said, what's GoDaddy.com? Now, I heard just now, they really did explain what it was. No one was looking. They were looking at this woman sort of bouncing around.
OLBERMANN: Or perhaps the production value where they seemed to copy the whole C-SPAN look exactly right. I mean, it was a fairly well-produced spot, but just a bad conception, is that it?
DELLA FEMINA: It was a waste of - you know, funny, but it's the idea that we have to really amuse the Super Bowl viewer rather than sell them something. And it's a mistake. A lot of people fall for it.
OLBERMANN: Yes, they're not going anywhere. They're going to watch until the end of the game.
Jerry Della Femina, the advertising exec behind Joe Asuzu (ph), Meouw Mix (ph), countless others, thanks for lifting the veil a little bit for us tonight, sir.
DELLA FEMINA: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And 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