'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 17
Guest: Greg Mitchell, Ron Hutcheson, Harry Shearer
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Jeff Gannon, the fake reporter. He had White House press credentials even before his fake news organization was created. How did he wind up here at Ari Fleischer's briefing in February 2003? Fleischer said he stopped calling on Gannon when he learned he worked for a Republican Party Web site.
A Marine recruit in distress near a swimming pool, wanting to quit. All of it caught on tape. And 24 hours later, that recruit was dead at the pool.
Finally, a nominee for the new director of national intelligence, ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte. But still there's no rush. There won't even be hearings until his successor takes over in Iraq.
And speaking of successors, who on earth is this? The new Bugs Bunny?
Ah, what screwed up, doc?
All that and more now on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
A dramatic turn in the cast of the fake White House reporter. The key slim rational for the admittance of James Guckert, alias Jeff Gannon, that the vanity Web site for which he reported, Talon News, was created four days before Guckert, as Gannon, got his first White House pass. That collapsed today. It was revealed that Guckert attended his first White House press briefing, no later than February 2003. Talon News would not be launched until late the following month.
Our number five story on the Countdown. It was a bad enough thing that somebody let in a guy with no media experience, an alias and a background as an online escort. But why did they let him in if he wasn't even pretending to represent a news organization of any kind. This is videotape of Guckert at the White House press briefing, of February 28, 2003. So long ago, that Ari Fleischer was still President Bush's press secretary. So unlikely that, as first reported today on the Web site Salon, Guckert under his pseudonym, Gannon, boasted online about having asked Fleischer a question. And in the context of the time that question bordered on the unbelievable. This was three weeks before the bombing began in Iraq. The news conference was all about resolution 1441 and votes at the U.N. and destruction of Al-Samoud missiles in Iraq.
And Guckert asked...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES GUCKERT/"JEFF GANNON", TALON NEWS: There are reports out of Maine that the children of deployed service personnel were being harassed as a result of their elementary school teacher's expression of anti-war views in the classroom. Can you comment on that?
ARI FLEISCHER:, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not familiar with any specific report. But I can assure you the president in all instances believes that it's important for all to honor and respect the first amendment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The reports were largely from Rush Limbaugh's radio program and the Los - "The Washington Time." And questions like that one and Guckert's affiliations, so concerned Mr. Fleischer, that he says he stopped calling on Guckert during press briefings for about a week. So, Fleischer told the "News Industry" magazine editor and publisher late this afternoon.
"I found out that he worked for a GOPUSA site, and I didn't think it was my place to call on him, because he worked for something that was related to the party. I don't think that party organizations, Fleischer continued, should have people in that room acting as reporters. They are advocates, not reporters and a line should be drawn.
Fleischer nonetheless resumed taking Guckert's questions, he says, after the GOPUSA site owner, Bobby Eberle, phone him and convinced him that it was not an official Republican Web site. Fleischer also said, as press secretary, he did not know Jeff Gannon was an alias. That he had found out with the rest of us.
Guckert's presence in the White House briefing room before the creation of his pseudo news organization changes the dynamic of the controversy, from mere concern over the nature of his questions, and the legitimacy of his credentials. Somebody admitted him to the White House as a reporter, named Jeff Gannon. Even thought, he wasn't Jeff Gannon, he wasn't a reporter and he wasn't representing any media outlet. Current White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has insisted that Guckert was entitled to a so called day pass, just as any other regularly published reporter was. And that he did not decide who merited passes and who did not. But today a "New York Times" columnist said that her credentials from the White House were revoked in 2001 after 15 years.
"I was rejected for a White House press pass at the start of the Bush administration, but someone with a alias, a tax evasion problem and Internet pictures where he posed like the 'Barberini Faun' is credentialed. At first when I tried to complain about not getting my pass renewed, no one called me back. Finally, when Mr. McClellan replaced Ari Fleischer, he said he'd renew the pass, after a new Secret Service background check that would last several months."
Two guests on this changing story tonight. In a moment, the view from the president of the White House Correspondents Association. First we're joined, again, by Greg Mitchell, editor of "Editor & Publisher" which broke the Ari Fleischer part of the story this afternoon. Greg, good evening.
GREG MITCHELL, "EDITOR & PUBLISHER": Hi, Keith, if that really is your name.
OLBERMANN: If that is really your name. Well, I wouldn't change it to Olbermann, we know that much. This has changed now today. This isn't just a spitting contest anymore over journalistic credibility. Is it now best case scenario, is somebody shouldn't have let him in but they did? Worse case scenario is, somebody put him there to ask softball questions as far back as the days before the start of the Iraq War?
MITCHELL: Well, it is starting to look like he was in there before there even was a Talon News. We found that out today in talking with Ari Fleischer. And it sound like from the order of event that may have happened, was that Fleischer called on him for a while, when he was only affiliated with GOPUSA. And then once he got the call from Bobby Eberle, he recognized him with Talon News. So, it seems to me that there is a shell game going on there at best. And you know, I found it very amusing, Fleischer's comment today, that he didn't really think there should be advocates in the press room. Now, here was a guy who had no journalistic experience. As my wife said this afternoon, what did he have to do, have a tattoo on his head to tell you that he was an advocate, and affiliated with the Republicans?
So I think that the - I think that the Gannon story is getting curiouser and curiouser day by day.
OLBERMANN: I thought there were two curious things about the "Editor & Publisher" interview with Fleischer today, that he found out that Guckert was from this GOPUSA Web site after the man was already in the press room. And just recently, within the last few weeks, Fleischer says he found out that Guckert was not his real name, instead of being Jeff Gannon. This means somebody other than the press secretary to the president got Guckert in there, vetted him, cleared him through Secret Service.
How could that happen?
MITCHELL: The most amazing thing we've found in the past week, in talking - interviewing both Scott McClellan and Ari Fleischer, is that both throw up their hands and say, I didn't know anything about it. I don't have anything to do with credentials. Well, in fact, it is their office. They're talking as if the credentials office is down the hall or maybe somewhere over in the Pentagon. This was their responsible, but every time we ask them about it, they say they had nothing to do with it.
We've called their office every day. No one in their office says they had anything to do with it or can get any information. So, it's sort of like the Valerie Plame leak. This has gone on for months and years, and the White House doesn't seem to be able to get to the bottom of anything.
OLBERMANN: Maybe Guckert just materialized there. Maybe he was there when they opened the place up one morning.
Any idea why him in particular? Why was he this guy, whatever the purpose was for having him there?
MITCHELL: Yes, we'll probably find out in the days ahead. I mean, the guy was just working in an auto shop or something, you know, weeks ahead of time. He has very shaky reasons for how he ended up there with no credentials. You know, it's really becoming an incredible story as we go day by day.
And it's particularly outrageous in that the Bush administration has the worst record in working with the press of any administration in recent time. Bush has had the fewest press conferences of any president. We've now had the revelations about payments to journalists.
So, in the one hand, you have no access or bought access. On the other hand, you have someone planted there or at least being allowed to be there, ask questions. The amazing thing is that Guckert attended a presidential press conference in April, just after he start there. Ari Fleischer was the press secretary then. They didn't know his real name. They didn't know what his credentials were. They did know that he worked for GOPUSA. So, this was not just a case of someone being allowed to come in and ask softball questions at press briefings, he was even allowed into the press conference with the president.
OLBERMANN: Now fortunately, we're not living in a time in which aliases or people with fake backgrounds would be an important security concern.
Greg Mitchell, who's the editor of "Editor & Publisher" publication, all over this, as he said, incredible story. Great thanks and I'm sure we'll talk to you again about it.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Now to Ron Hutcheson of "Knight-Ridder" newspapers, current president of the White House Correspondents Association. Mr. Hutcheson, good evening. Thank you for your time.
RON HUTCHESON, "KNIGHT-RIDDER": Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: About getting White House press credentials, obviously we can stretch a point one way or the other, and say that the legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder. One man's, no matter which political affiliation you have, one man's vanity Web site, is another's alternative media outlet. But how do you get a White House press credential if you aren't actually affiliated with anything that look like a news organization, in so much it appears as Mr. Guckert did that before the founding of Talon News?
HUTCHESON: Well, to me, that's what's this whole story is about, Keith.
What "Editor & Publisher" has brought to life, it's pretty easy to get into the White House briefing room. It's pretty easy to go to any news conference in Washington, whether it's on Capital Hill or whether it's at the White House. And the truth of the matter is, most of us in the journalistic profession aren't looking ways to make it harder. Certainly at the White House Correspondence Association, my goal is to get people in to the briefing room not to work with the White House on ways to get them out.
OLBERMANN: As Mr. Fleicsher said today, to quote him again, I don't think the party organization should have people in that room acting as reporters. They are advocates, not reporters, and a line should be drawn.
He's saying, I presume, that if the White House isn't necessarily going to draw that line or it is not fair to draw that line and say, no, opposite party Web site could be represented. Then somebody else has to. Would that devolve to being your responsibility?
HUTCHESON: It could be if we wanted to take it on. And frankly, it is funny, and frankly, I agree entirely with Ari. I looked at Gannon or whatever his name is, his Web site early on. My initial reaction was this is the Republican National Committee thing. That's outrageous. I looked a little closer, it is not really R.N.C.
You know, one thing that's overlooked, we have a long not so proud history of coconuts in that briefing room. We get questions from the left. We get questions from the right. We get questions from outer space. And for most of us, most of us are in there to try to get - try to listen for information, not to promote ideology. So, we all sort of resent it when the briefing gets hijacked for ideology.
On the other hand, trying to figure out how to solve that problem, the solution is probably worse than the problem. So, you get a couple questions that come from the left, come from the right, come from presumably nowhere. So what? We can live with that.
OLBERMANN: But judging by what Ms. Dowd "New York Times" wrote today, and judging by Mr. Fleicsher's surprise about the real name of Jeff Gannon and somewhat contradicting Mr. McClellan's statement, obviously somebody does decide who gets in and who doesn't. Is that one person the press secretary to the president? And if not, who is? And what are the rules?
HUTCHESON: It is definitely not the press secretary. It's somebody at a lower level. The bar is pretty low.
And in fact, I guarantee you if Maureen Dowd wants to go there tomorrow, all she has to do is call up and get a daily pass.
It is harder to get what we call a hard pass, which is a regular White House credential. For that, you have to undergo some certain checks that you don't go for a daily pass, which is really intended for people, say, the mayor from their town goes up, their local sports team comes up, they want to get into the White House, they have a legitimate reason to go there on a short-term basis, but not on a regular basis.
OLBERMANN: And you just brought it up so she clarify this. This whole question that has just been raised about whether or not Guckert had a hard pass or a daily pass. He apparently had nothing but daily passes. And what people thought might have been a hard pass was his own he lanyard, his own thing around his neck that's really had a plastic card that said Talon News. That's what we've been able to see from video.
HUTCHESON: Yes. That's certainly my belief.
OLBERMANN: OK. Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder, president of the White House Correspondents Association, great thanks for an inside view of what's going on there. Thank you, sir.
HUTCHESON: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: A minor development on another front of dubious journalism. Texas Monthly Magazine reporting that producer Mary Mapes fired by CBS after the investigation of the Killian Memo Story thought that those involved in it would receive only a reprimand from her employer.
The magazine's Gary Cartwright writes in the march issue that he quote, talked to Mapes several times in the days before the report was released and I know that she must have been stunned by both the verdict and the severity of the punishment. She thought that a reprimand for the staff would be appropriate. She still believes the documents are factual.
Mapes was dismissed and 3 other CBS News officials asked to resign.
Those three have yet to do so.
Cartwright adds, Mapes told him quote, "for the first time in my life I am unemployed. My son thinks I should get a job in an ice cream store."
If anything, trying to identify the Watergate source Deep Throat is like a quick trip to 31 Flavors, sample anything you like. The latest news that Richard Nixon's top domestic affairs adviser, the late John Ehrlichman was convinced he knew who Deep Throat was, Henry Kissinger.
So says the chairman and C.E.O. of "Parade" magazine, Walter Anderson, a close friend offer Ehrlichman's, himself once one of the two advisers closest to Nixon, and one of the many who went to prison after Watergate.
"He was absolutely convinced of it," Anderson tells editor and publisher. He says they had a conversation about it in 1982 in which Anderson asked Ehrlichman who it was. Without missing a beat, he said, Henry Kissinger. He believed it was very strongly. I was taken aback that he answered so quickly and so assuredly.
Others pointed out Ehrlichman, who died in 1999 and Kissinger were far from friends even before Watergate. And John Dean's 2002 analysis of who knew what when, and who was or wasn't in Washington for Deep Throat's meetings with reporter Bob Woodward ruled Kissinger out as a suspect.
Also tonight, cameras catching a marine recruit in a disagreement with an officer, 24 hours later, the recruit who had been trying to quit basic training is dead.
And after waiting 3 months, the president nominates his top diplomat in Iraq for the job of director of national intelligence.
You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: An altercation between a marine recruit and his drill
instructor near a camp swimming pool is inadvertently caught on tape by a
television news crew. Twenty-four hours later, that marine would be found
dead at the same pool
Our 4th story on the Countdown tonight, military recruiting. We'll get to the late marine's story in a moment.
First, on the same day, new figures painting a dim picture of the state of military reserves in this country. Five out of the 6 reserve branches failing to meet their most recent recruitment quotas. Only the marines were able to reach their goal.
The Army Reserve and National Guard were especially short, although exact figures were not released. For the Army's part, it is planning to add recruiters and offer new signing bonuses of $10,000 to $15,000.
And the haunting video captured by our affiliate in Columbia, South Carolina WIS-TV will make recruitment no easier. Our Pentagon correspondent is Jim Miklaszewski.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The marine recruit seen in the distance walking into the picture is 19-year-old Jason Tharp the day before he died. An autopsy indicates Tharp drowned last week during water survival training at the Marine Corps Boot Camp at Paris Island, South Carolina. But video shot the day before by NBC affiliate WIS TV in Columbia, South Carolina shows Tharp visibly shaken, almost terrified taking a forearm shot by a Marine Corps drill instructor.
In the marines only 5 weeks, Tharp had written 7 letters home telling his family he wanted out. His father, John Tharp, claims Jason had been singled out by drill instructors because he couldn't keep up with the rigorous basic training.
JOHN THARP, JASON THARP'S FATHER: I don't know how they could treat my son the way we saw in that video. He never hurt nobody. He would do anything that anybody asked him.
MIKLASZEWSKI: During last week's training, Tharp, seen here with his back to the camera, had refused to get into the water.
STAFF SGT. ANTHONY DAVIS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: He was just afraid because he is not able to do the swim crawl correctly right now. And he just wants to leave and go home.
MIKLASZEWSKI: After 20 minutes of trying to coax Tharp into the pool, the drill instructor turned physical, in apparent violation of Marine Corps regulations.
EUGENE FIDELL, MILITARY LAW EXPERT: That right there, where this Marine grabs the recruit...
MIKLASZEWSKI (on camera): Why is that a problem?
FIDELL: This is not how you treat recruits. I mean, this is a wrongful touching, basically it's an assault.
MIKLASZEWSKI (voice-over): Marine Corps officials say Tharp voluntarily entered the pool the next day, where he drowned during a 25-meter swim.
(on camera): Marine Corps officials say while there's no early evidence of any misconduct by instructors at the time Jason drowned, their actions caught on camera the day before raises serious questions about exactly what did happen in that pool.
(voice-over): Jason's father is considering a wrongful death lawsuit against the Marines.
THARP: We just want justice for Jason. And if we could get some kind of bill passed so this wouldn't happen to another family.
MIKLASZEWSKI: The Navy and Marines are investigating Jason's death and the conduct of the drill instructors who were supposed to protect him.
Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, another camera recording another drama.
Amazingly, nobody was killed.
And the train wreck that is the Loony Tunes remake. How can anybody do this to Bugs Bunny?
OLBERMANN: We're back, and again we exit the Countdown superhighway of news and spend a few minutes at the Vince Lombardi Memorial rest stop that has all this strange video for sale at the counter near the register next to the 6-year-old salt water taffy.
Let's play "Oddball."
We begin in Oxnard, California, where no one was seriously injured when a truckload of strawberries got in a jam and was pulverized by a speeding Amtrak train and spread all over a hot California road. Mmm, hot strawberry jam!
This was the scene Monday from the news chopper, but it turns out we had a better angle on this one. There's a train coming!
This video was shot by a local resident, Casper Madino (ph), who was kind enough to set up two cameras for it. Madino (ph) says he has been concerned for some time that this particular railroad crossing was dangerous, so he put the cameras there to prove it.
OK, you proved it. The cameras were only rolling for a matter of minutes when the barricades came down. Madino (ph) says that did not give the driver enough time to get the truck out of the way.
The train never derailed, but the engine will have to be taken out of service, which is good because it's probably covered with ants by now anyway.
Speaking of odd smashed food, you remember this a year ago? We brought you the live coverage of the destruction of the so-called bartman (ph) ball? The ritual slaughter was supposed to end the 95-year drought since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series. Instead, the 85-year drought since the Boston Red Sox last won the World Series, that's what got ended.
So what little remained after the ball was blown up last February will be ground up and mixed up in spaghetti sauce, to be served on pasta meals and Harey Carey's (ph) restaurant in Chicago next week. Obviously, tiny pieces. The owners obviously don't realize that the Cubs' curse actually owes not to this ball from the 2003 playoffs, but to a controversial rule book trick that they played on New York Giants rookie Fred Merkle late in the season that they won their last World Series in 1908, and that the only way out is to personally apologize to Merkle's living relatives and have the players wear a patch on their sleeves reading, "we are sorry, Fred, all year long."
Also tonight, John Negroponte. Heavy on the diplomacy, short on the espionage. Is this the best man to keep the country safe from terrorism?
And Bill Cosby finds out whether the allegations leveled against him will turn into criminal charges. These stories ahead.
Now, here are Countdown's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day.
No. 3, Paul Zalewski. He is a driver from Scottsdale, Arizona, who reportedly ignored warnings and tried to drive his Hummer through a flooded street there last week. He had to be rescued because the thing started to float. The county will prosecute him, using Arizona's stupid motorist law. Fair enough. But if you're going to start prosecuting people in this country just because you can prove they're stupid, you know what I'm saying here.
No. 2, Bryan Thomas of the Dupont (ph) Company. They make insoles for shoes. They're suing their chemical supplier. They say the chemicals the company gave them screwed up the gel in the insoles. So air bubbles formed in the insoles. And every time somebody walked while wearing a pair of the insoles, they produced a, quote, "flatulence-like noise." It is the whoopi cushion walk.
And No. 1, Chris Teague, owner of Erotic City in Boise, Idaho. He has the newest ways around laws against nude dancing at his club. City code in Boise permits public nudity for art classes, so Mr. Teague is handing out pads and pencils to his clientele. Hey, need some help sharpening that, big boy?
OLBERMANN: It was no secret that President Bush did not want a new position called Director of National Intelligence. It was no secret that he waited 3 months to even nominate someone to fill it. And today in our third story on the Countdown, he chose a man whose current position means it could be weeks or even months before the new job is actually filled.
It is John Negroponte who switched just last April from being America's Chief Envoy to the United Nations to its ambassador to Iraq. Now he will oversee the nation's intelligence and control an estimated $40 billion budget for 15 different spy agencies.
Not exactly now. Negroponte is headed back to Iraq to finish his responsibilities there. Only then will the confirmation process begin. And although he will not work in the White House, he will become the president's primary intelligence briefer. A position the president says will give him a degree of power.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People can control the money. People have access to the president generally have a lot of influence. And that's why John Negroponte is going to have a lot of influence.
I'm sure there's some people out there wondering right now what this means for their jobs and the influence of a particular agency into the White House. And the answer is, everybody will be given fair access. And everybody's ideas will be given a chance to make it to John's office. And if he thinks it is appropriate I see it, I'll see it. And if he thinks it is a waste of my time, I won't see it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining us now to try to figure out what the wastes of time really are, Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Robin Wright. Robin, thanks for your time tonight.
ROBIN WRIGHT, WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: So, let's start with the Iraq issue. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Pat Roberts, he said we will hold the ambassador's confirmation hearings as soon as his duties in Iraq are completed. That's reasonably vague. Do we have a timeline? Days, weeks, months?
WRIGHT: John Negroponte is expected to go back to Iraq for at least several weeks. And then the nomination will be sent to the Hill, the vetting process. And then he will return for confirmation hearings.
OLBERMANN: I mentioned at the start that the president had not been originally in favor of this position to begin with. And did not rush to find someone to nominate to it. Is this part - the fact that there is going to be a delay before even the hearings begin, let alone the assumption of office, is that coincidental with the other two facts? Or is there a theme going here?
WRIGHT: No. I think the administration was looking for the right kind of person. And frankly, I think that there wasn't a perfect fit anywhere. And they looked instead for someone who could fill this spot. It was a rather imaginative choice.
Here's a man who has dealt with many different factions in Iraq. As a diplomat, he's been in war-torn area, been a huge consumer of intelligence. And so in many ways, he brings the consumer's eye to the intelligence community. Something kind of different.
OLBERMANN: So presumably, actually, the experience in Iraq might be simpler than the one dealing with the various intelligence agencies but at least he's had something similar to it.
WRIGHT: Absolutely. Iraq will look rather tidy and kind of pro forma almost when you compare it with the challenge of coordinating intelligence, dealing with the variety of threats perceived by the United States, not just in the terrorism field.
OLBERMANN: When they occur, what will those hearings look like? Each time he's been up for a job, his past comes back to some degree. His past includes Honduras, the Contra war in Nicaragua, sometimes his past includes Iran-Contra, sometimes it does not. Are we going to rehash all that? Is he likely to get a fairly quick approval?
WRIGHT: I suspect that some of the past will be brought up. But in light of his 2 services since he was brought back from retirement. First at the United Nations and now in Iraq and the effectiveness he showed in both of those positions, that there's likely to not be a huge reaction against him. That his nomination will pass through fairly quickly.
OLBERMANN: And the reaction of those essentially now beneath him in the food chain, the Porter Goss' of this world will be what?
WRIGHT: Well, I'm not sure it is Porter Goss as much as it is those at the Pentagon. This is where the real kind of tension always has been, between the CIA and the Pentagon. That dynamic will probably be the most critical to his future.
OLBERMANN: Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Post. As always, our great thanks for your time tonight.
WRIGHT: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Back in Negroponte's current residence, the recount is now complete, the election has been certified and as expect, the United Iraqi Alliance backed by the most prominent Shiite clergy in that country won the most votes, 48 percent.
But in a little twist on democracy, the party has also ended up with the majority of seats in the new parliament. The Kurdish Alliance got 26 percent of the vote, Ayad Allawi's party got 14 percent. But 99 other parties that ran candidates did not get quite enough votes to warrant a seat in the new assembly. So those remaining seats were divvied up among the other winners, thus giving the United Iraqi Alliance a majority in the new government.
No majority decision on the controversy in New York Central Park. But now David Letterman has joined the criticism of Christo's art display, billowing shower curtains. I'm sorry. I have the name wrong. It's the gates.
And to complain against Bill Cosby. Authorities make a decision and hint at advice to the alleged victim. Details ahead.
Now here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.
BUSH: And environmental concerns. Have I had gone through all the TV personalities yet? Herman. A face made for radio, I might add.
HERMAN: Thank you. My mother appreciates it.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, Hardball HOST: Teeing up all those softball questions for McClellan, and I don't know, we couldn't get anybody from hotmilitarystud.com so we got Pat Buchanan here. I want to ask you, what is this connection?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST: Look, I had to moonlight as well in the early years, Chris.
CONAN O'BRIEN, LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN: A painting of dogs playing poker sold in an auction for $600,000. No word yet about where exactly it will hang in the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": So we call up the Christo people, and the reaction is, we are appalled. That's what the Christo people say to us on the phone. We are appalled, that you would call and give us this invitation on such short notice. Don't here - I'm not done. They also go on to say, don't you understand how much in demand we are? Very huffy and out of sorts like that. And my thought was, well, no, no, I don't understand how much in demand you are. I just don't. And further, I don't understand how you can spend $30 million to cover Central Park in shower curtains.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I'm not alone! Thank god, I'm not alone!
Our number two story on the Countdown, equal time of the kind. I've been whining about The Gates of the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude since they appeared in my otherwise perfect view of New York's Central Park. But given that the city expect between 90,000 and 200,000 tourists to come to the city between now and the 27th just to see them, apparently my opinion, that they stink is not unanimous.
Remembering always the phrase, 800 billion flies cannot be wrong, we sent Countdown'S Monica Novotny out to those buzzing around The Gates themselves. Good evening, Monica.
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
"New York Times" art critic Michael Kimmelman calls The Gates the first great public art event of the 21st century. Countdown's art critic calls them rotting shells of giant lobsters it littering the park. But we wanted to know what did the people passing through gates think, so we asked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is almost like hello (UNINTELLIGIBLE), like the school buses just all had an accident.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought they were going to be a bit more interesting than this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of like a flamboyant construction site.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The habits of the Buddhist monks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like gigantic shower curtains.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Experts of all ages disagree. But like them or not, thousands are walking and talking about The Gates.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a huge event on the planet earth.
NOVOTNY: Auctioning nylon saffron swatches on eBay, wearing their orange crush on their sleeves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got my orange crush
NOVOTNY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) features 7,500 structures, one million feet of fabric covering 23 miles and countless gate keepers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are their guard gates.
NOVOTNY: Not all of them. There has been minor vandalism. But some say even that is a good thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Graffiti is one of the greatest art contributions of any urban culture.
NOVOTNY (on camera): So, you're saying that the graffiti is just adding to the art (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's art on art.
NOVOTNY: All right.
(voice-over): But not everyone's just mad about saffron, vandalized or otherwise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing extraordinary. I'd rather to go a Yankee game.
NOVOTNY (on camera): Is this art?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hmm, that's a tough one.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Not that they care.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Artist create for themselves. If somebody else likes it, it's only a bonus.
NOVOTNY: And the real bonus for Christo and Jeanne-Claude - finally winning over their toughest critic more than two decades later, Gordon J. Davis (ph), the former New York City parks commission, who issued a 107 page rejection to Christo's initial Gates proposal in 1980.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The exact quote was the wrong time, the wrong place, and the wrong scale.
NOVOTNY: David say it was less about an orange intrusion, more about the poor condition of Central Park at the time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the butt of jokes of Johnny Carson. There
· every time there was a crime, it was a national story.
NOVOTNY (on camera): So they've won you over, safe to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time won me over. This park was literally rebuilt.
NOVOTNY: So, if you're still wonder what this all really mean, the artists of said this much. The shape of each individual gate mimics the grid-like structure of the streets of New York. And the pattern of all the gates together highlights the meandering passage ways that run through Central Park. So, what does all that really mean, nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think in itself it mean anything.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't necessarily have to mean something.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): And The Gate walkers agree.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Art is what you make of it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Artwork is what you make of it anyway.
NOVOTNY: And these gates will make something else eventually. The artists say everything will be recycle. Proving you can create something out of nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so happy that I saw this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I should have stayed home.
NOVOTNY: However you feel about The Gates, their removal begin on February 28.
NOVOTNY: If you have an idea for their Christo's next work, do not submit it to them. They say they will not accept any ideas ever, even great ones. If you try anyway, they say you will ensure that they never fulfill your suggestion.
Finally, the artists derive no income from the sale of any books, film or videos based on their works. And there is some merchandise for sale in Central Park. Those proceeds, however, go to Nurture New York's Nature. That is a not for profit group.
OLBERMANN: So, if you make a suggestion to them, they'll automatically turn it down.
NOVOTNY: Right. Exactly.
OLBERMANN: So if I had known this a year ago, I could have said why don't you put up a bunch of orange shower curtains in my neighborhood and make it look horrible, and they would have gone, no, we cannot do that. Right?
NOVOTNY: You would have had to beat them to the idea initially, and then, yes. So all those years ago, had you come up with that.
OLBERMANN: We'll, they worked on it for 26 years?
OLBERMANN: Obviously, they rushed the project, because it's not finished yet.
NOVOTNY: Did you actually walk through?
OLBERMANN: Yes. I live there, remember.
NOVOTNY: But you live up above it. Did you walk through?
OLBERMANN: Yes, I don't have a house in the park. I don't live - no longer do I live on one of the - you know, in a box. Yes, I walked through it.
OLBERMANN: And it felt like going thank you car wash.
NOVOTNY: It didn't change your mind?
OLBERMANN: No, not at all.
NOVOTNY: No, that's because you're so tall. It probably did feel like a car wash. I didn't me when I walked through. I thought it was beautiful.
OLBERMANN: I'm only 6'3" and half. It shouldn't be - it didn't hit me, it just looked strange and felt strange. It's a beautiful park, Go Cover the Trump building with those thing. That would be useful. Do that.
NOVOTNY: It's a great event.
OLBERMANN: Countdown's Monica Novotny with the other side of the story. Great thanks. It still stinks.
From the artists to much in demand to visit Dave Letterman to the other celebrities and other entertainers who populate our nightly round up, keeping tables. Prosecutors in suburban Philadelphia have decided not to press charges over accusations by a Canadian that Bill Cosby drugged and groped her. But it was not a ringing proclamation of his innocence. The statement late this afternoon from Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Caster reads in part that he, "Finds insufficient, credible and admissible evidence exist upon which any charges against Mr. Cosby could be sustained beyond a reasonable doubt. Because a civil" with a court "with a much lower standard of proof is possible, the district attorney renders no opinion concerning the credibility of any party involved."
Sarah Brady was not a celebrity this time last week. But that was the day the 9-month pregnant mother to be from Kentucky was attacked by another woman, apparently delusional, evidently trying to kill her and take her unborn child. Ms. Brady fought her off and stabbed her to death with the assailant's own knife. Sarah Brady now has a daughter, Mckaila Grace Brady, delivered ironicly enough by C-section yesterday, a week overdue, seven pound, four ounces.
Kentucky prosecutors have yet to decide whether or not to prosecute Brady in the death of the 22-year-old Katie Smith. But they continue to indicate nothing in Brady's story has not checked out.
And for more than a century, it has been known as the Big Apple or just the Apple. For 25 years, it has promoted itself with the simple phrase, I love New York. Both gimmicks seemed to have worked well, so they're scrapping them. The city of New York has applied for a trademark on a phrase, asking for exclusive rights to promote, business, tourism and economic development with the phrase, promising to use the phrase on 200 products, from sunglasses to temporary tattoos. The phrase is, "New York, the world's second home."
Why do this strange thing? Maybe Christo suggested it. No, it is actually part of the city's Quixotic pursuit of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Given that the International Olympic Committee does not award consecutive games to the same continent, and the 2010 Winter Games are to be held in Vancouver, the phrase "New York, the world's second home," would seem to be off by one word, better it should read, "New York, the world's second choice."
Speaking of a strange and hard-to-explain makeover, this - this is Bugs Bunny? Yeah, I don't have an explanation either. Harry Shearer joins me next to share in my outrage over the Loony Tune tuneup.
OLBERMANN: "She's television generation," William Holden says dismissively of Faye Dunaway in a scene in a movie "Network." "She learned life from Bugs Bunny."
Our No. 1 story on the Countdown, that was 30 years ago. Now, nearly all of us are television generation, many of us did learn life from Bugs Bunny, and we don't want anybody messing with him. And it does not mean they will not. Your Bugs and his Loony Tunes co-conspirators will be redesigned for a new kids' series for the fall on the WB, quote, "network," unquote. Set in the year 2772, it's called "Loonatics," and these are supposed to be descendants of six of the current characters, and they have superhero powers and they're on a spaceship. And it's orange.
Yes, classic Bugs on the left, and that thing on the right that looks like a Delorean automobile with its doors up? That's the Bugs of the future. Looks a little jaundiced too.
Here's the full lineup. You'll need some help with the IDs. Left to right, Wiley E. Coyote, with ant antenna, apparently. Tasmanian Devil, steroids, no doubt about it. Yellow fever Bugs - likely, by the way, to be renamed Buzz Bunny. Daffy Duck, pending his parole hearing. Lola Bunny, who was introduced around the time of the "Space Jam" film which nearly ended the career of Michael Jordan. And far right, it's the Roadrunner, who, if he was a male, certainly is not anymore.
"The new series will have the same classic with and wisdom, but we have to do it more in line with what kids are talking about today," says Sander Schwartz, the president of Warner Brothers Animation.
Hey, Sander, I got two words for you: New Coke!
"The Wall Street Journal" writes that this is an attempt to tap the funny bone on an audience raised on Bart Simpson and Spongebob.
Joining me to share my outrage and introduce that of somebody who knows Bart Simpson personally is Harry Shearer, humorist, social critic, bonvivant, and voice of dozens of "Simpsons" characters. Hello, Harry.
HARRY SHEARER, ACTOR/HUMORIST: Hi, Keith, how are you?
OLBERMANN: Well, I'm a little ticked off about this.
SHEARER: Well, I'm changing my name to Gannon first of all, before my outrage.
OLBERMANN: Thank you very much. Evidently, kids who watch "The Simpsons" need to have a new and improved Bugs Bunny, who looks like...
SHEARER: Why are they blaming us?
OLBERMANN:... he was made into a scorpion. Your show has been evoked here. What do you think of this?
SHEARER: I know. Why are they blaming us? I plead innocent. "The Simpsons" has done a lot to and for American culture, but this is not our doing at all. You know, Sander Schwartz had a great quote. He said, we're making this an exciting new property for children. Now, that's not the way creative artists talk. That's the way tall buildings speak. What this really is, is brand extension. This is from the same kind of minds that say you like Budweiser beer, you're going to love Budweiser shaving cream.
This is just trying to, you know, the other great quote from Sander Schwartz which, Keith, I look on the bright side as you know, that's sort of my motto in life, is he says to all the critics, "hey, it's just a cartoon."
OLBERMANN: Just a cartoon, yes.
SHEARER: Lighten up! So I'm delighted to know that the next time some kid drawing an underground comic does a riff on Bugs or Daffy, the Time Warner lawyers who drag him into court will say, hey, it's just a cartoon, let's all lighten up. Forget about the intellectual property suit we were going to slap on you.
OLBERMANN: Jot down all your quotes for February 14th for Sander Schwartz, president of the company (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Excellent.
OLBERMANN: But I mean, are we to some degree overreacting? I mean, entertainment companies have been paving over this country since long before Edison invented the movie camera. Why is it different because it's Bugs Bunny?
SHEARER: Well, first of all because Bugs was probably the smartest -
Loony Tunes was probably the smartest, wittiest set of cartoons ever. My wife watches them all the time. She loves them. Chuck Jones was a genius. We're unfortunate that Chuck Jones had passed away, or he'd be sitting in this chair being a lot angrier than I am.
I grew up as a child actor working with Mel Blank, so I had the privilege to being very close to this. And this was, you know, these were comedies about human foibles and frailties, very wittily observed and dressed up as cartoon animals. What they're doing now is they're in the superhero business. And there's nothing funny about super heroes, except, you know, that - the wish fulfillment quality that they embody, which, you know, I wish I could see through buildings too. I could see Sander Schwartz's press releases before he issues them.
OLBERMANN: That William Holden line from "Network," I mean, I, coming along a little after you did, I did learn about life from Bugs Bunny. I learned about the value of words, standing up to authority, and even history. And I can remember this clearly. There was a cartoon with Bugs as an organ grinder, and there's a gorilla as the monkey and the punch line was, I sure hope Petrillo doesn't find out about this. And I might have been 7 years old, remember asking my father, "what does that mean? Who's Petrillo?" And he explained about the music strike in the '40s, and the head of the union was Petrillo...
OLBERMANN: I'm learning about labor negotiations. This was smart stuff.
OLBERMANN: Now, they're just six more cheesy cartoon super heroes.
SHEARER: Yeah, and also, you know, I find it a little nervy that these companies, who work so hard to make us bond emotionally to their characters then stand back in kind of mock disingenuousness and say, oh, well, come on, you can't really care this much about this. Yes, we do is the answer.
OLBERMANN: That was the whole idea.
SHEARER: That was the whole idea.
OLBERMANN: Well, the one and only Harry Shearer, in the new super version "Simpsons 300." Ned Flanders will have a built-in helicopter in his head. Can't wait for that.
SHEARER: All I can say, Keith, is these characters don't look like they belong on a cartoon; they look like they belong on stage with Kiss.
OLBERMANN: Great thanks, Harry. Perfectly said as always.
SHEARER: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. We'll see what I morph into tomorrow. Good night and good -
I'd like to be orange. Good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END