'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 28
Guest: Harvey Levin, Michael Musto
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Jackson trial opens with allegations shocking, even for this case. Accused of showing his victim pornography when the boy was 10 years old. A claim that a Jackson employee told the boy that his mother could be killed.
Finding the BTK Killer, as president of the congregation of the local Christ Lutheran Church. How could anyone compartmentalize that much?
Disaster in Iraq. The worst attack of the insurgency, more than 10 police and national guard recruits dead more injured. Did the post-election momentum just evaporate?
The first World Trade Center bombing. Why did prison authorities let the bombers write letters to Arabic newspapers praising terrorists?
And the new streamlined, faster Academy Awards. Will the winners soon find their Oscars taped to the bottom of their seats?
All that and more now on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
It was already disgusting any way you cut it. Either the world's most recognizable entertainer was being railroaded towards prison by an obsessed district attorney, or that entertainer was a demented fiend who preyed sexually on little boys.
Now our No. 5 story on the Countdown: as the trial finally began today, it all actually got worse. The D.A. portrayed specifics that were nauseating, the defense alleged history that was at best mercenary. It's your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 469 of the Michael Jackson investigation.
The opening statements. Jackson's nemesis, Santa Barbara District Attorney Thomas Sneddon telling jurors that Jackson showed, quote, "adult material" on the Internet to the alleged victim the first time the boy went to Jackson's Neverland Ranch in 2000 when he was just 10 years old.
Sneddon also claimed that this time two years ago, Jackson employee Frank Tyson told the boy, quote, "I could have your mother killed."
He also told the jury that the child, whom he named, will testify in open court.
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau, meanwhile, depicted the boy and his family as virtual panhandlers to the stars, claiming that when the boy was diagnosed with cancer, they contacted the likes of Jay Leno, Jim Carrey, Mike Tyson, George Lopez to get money for medical bills. That one actress gave $20,000 for expenses and the renovation of a room in the family house, only to later discover that the family had not paid the builder and had instead spent the money on a big screen TV.
Joining me now for analysis is the executive producer and creator of the TV series "Celebrity Justice," Harvey Levin.
Good evening, old friend.
HARVEY LEVIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER/CREATOR, "CELEBRITY JUSTICE": Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The headline here is what, that accusation that the sexual exposure began actually four years ago with Jackson's own son in the same room, surfing Internet porn with the boys looking?
LEVIN: Yes and no, Keith. Yes, I mean, it certainly is salacious. But then you have to wonder, if all of this started four years ago, why is it that the D.A. is charging Michael Jackson with molestation that occurred after February 20, 2003? What happened during those three years? Were they looking at porn and looking at porn and looking at porn and nothing?
So this is a very difficult story for prosecutors to tell. It will be interesting how compelling it is.
OLBERMANN: Was the specificity of that death threat a surprise, that Frank Tyson allegedly said, "I could have your mother killed"? I mean, you've cited before, here, how important this man, Tyson, is to the entire case.
LEVIN: Yes. I mean, I've talked to Frank Tyson. And I mean, I've known for awhile now how important he is and that the prosecutors believe he was Michael Jackson's henchman in this case.
But, you know, Tyson, Keith is really an interesting guy. Because when I talked to him once on the phone, and he just really wanted to talk. And that's him when we shot him about a year ago.
I've got to tell you, he went on and on, telling me that he's known Michael Jackson since he was 13. He slept in the same bed with him. They would talk graphically about sexual involvement with women while they laid in bed together. But he said nothing happened. So I couldn't tell in the end whether he was helping Michael Jackson or hurting him.
OLBERMANN: We all kind of laughed, Harvey, when the Jackson defense "Night of 1,000 Stars" witness list was released a few weeks back. After Mr. Mesereau's statement, do we understand its meaning now? Is he going to accuse this boy and that family of trying to get money out of all of those people?
LEVIN: Yes, I can be specific. Not all of them, but many of them, Jay Leno, for example, Kobe Bryant of all people, George Lopez and others.
What the defense believes is, that this woman used this boy's cancer, essentially, and went to these stars and said, "I desperately need money for medical bills." In fact, this boy's medical bills were covered 100 percent by the father's insurance.
So the defense is saying it's all a scam. This woman is looking for a get-rich-quick scheme. And Michael Jackson is the target.
OLBERMANN: Quickly, Harvey, if they find him guilty long-term on the alcohol charges, serving the alcohol to minors, what's the - what's the threat to Michael Jackson's freedom then?
LEVIN: Huge threat, Keith. Six years in prison. And I'm doubting that a lot of the guys in the state pen are going to say, "You're just in for alcohol not molestation." So the stakes are really high. And frankly, I think it would be easier for the prosecutors to prove the alcohol charge than the molestation.
OLBERMANN: Harvey Levin, executive producer of TV's "Celebrity Justice," as always my friend, great thanks for your time.
LEVIN: See you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If it seems the Jackson case has gone on forever, consider instead the BTK serial killer of Wichita, Kansas.
Investigators spent much of Saturday congratulating themselves in public for having caught Dennis Rader, a mere 31 years after his first crime and nearly as long since he started sending clues of his identity to local newspaper men and television reporters.
Rader is 59 years old now, a married father of two, Boy Scout leader, the local dogcatcher, a church leader. The BTK name for bind, torture, kill was self-created.
Sources close to the investigation telling NBC News that he immediately confessed to several of the killings. Rader still awaiting formal charges but has been accused of 10 murders in the Wichita area between 1974 and 1991. A search of his home has already led to further clues police believe can be linked to the killings.
In the center of all this, Wichita's Christ Lutheran Church. The suspect remains president of its 400-member congregation. The church's pastor says police and FBI investigators obtained DNA samples from Rader's daughter and that facilitated his capture.
The degree to which people can keep parts of their lives separate never ceases to astound. But to the layman, this one might take the cake. What about to the professional?
I'm joined by MSNBC analyst, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt.
Clint, good evening.
CLINT VAN ZANDT, MSNBC ANALYST: Keith, good evening.
OLBERMANN: To your experience where does this rank on that scale of outlandish compartmentalization?
VAN ZANDT: Well, you know, there are serial killers we never find, we never catch at all. But this guy, you know, he started his homicides, as far as we know, in his late 20's and he carried it on for 20, 30 years.
And you know, the question is, would law enforcement have ever found him? You know, this guy, you know, Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, the way we caught him, of course, was that his brother looked at his writings.
Well, in this case, too, BTK could not just rest on his laurels. He had to - he had to taunt. He had to challenge law enforcement. He needed that stimulation and probably the attention. If he wouldn't have, Keith, he wouldn't have started writing 11 months ago, I don't know that we ever would have caught this guy.
OLBERMANN: Are we to assume that the sending of those clues, those letters and the leading of the two lives, those elements were as much a part of whatever perverse pleasure he got as the killings were, that the point of the letters to the reporters was not that he wanted to be caught but that he wanted to validate the fact that he was this upstanding figure in the community and, at the same time, he was literally getting away with murder?
VAN ZANDT: I think he wanted everyone to realize eventually, "Look at what I'm really capable of, you know? I'm not just a dogcatcher. I don't just walk around and cite you because you've got a junk car in your front yard. I am capable of evading law enforcement for 31 years. I'm capable of doing these horrific crimes that BTK is accused of. You know what, community? I fooled you for 31 years. I had this secret, and no one in this town was smart enough to figure out who I was."
And you know, notwithstanding the victims we have, Keith, we've got three others. His wife and two children, who apparently had no idea who he was until they realized the monster in the room next door, the monster in the bed, was BTK.
OLBERMANN: As if there were not enough mysteries in this, there was also this two-decades silence between the previous communications and these most recent ones that only restarted about a year ago, as you mentioned.
I'm gathering, obviously, they're finding there was not necessarily that long a gap in terms of crime. But why would there have been a gap in terms of the letters to the media? What sense do you make of that?
VAN ZANDT: Well, you know, one of the things that a sociopath, psychopath, an antisocial personality is they need to be stimulated. They need to have, many times, a position of authority where they're in charge. They can tell people, they can make people do their bidding.
Well, it's interesting, should Dennis Rader be BTK, of course he got his job in the early '90s as this compliance officer. And he was able to go out and taunt, almost terrorize people.
You know, we have psychological tests to keep police officers, to keep police from joining the police force who - who are power hungry. I'm not sure that this guy ever took such tests. And if he did, he's either - he either beat them or somehow got around them.
OLBERMANN: Goodness. Client Zandt, former FBI profiler, especially tonight, sir, great thanks for your insight.
VAN ZANDT: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Lastly among the tawdry and the tabloids, still no breaks tonight, sadly, in the case of Jessica Lunsford, and the expectations that there may be any are declining rapidly.
After concluding the fifth day of searching for the missing 9-year-old Florida girl, the Citrus County Sheriff's Office announced this would be the last day. The full-scale effort being scaled back after investigators and hundreds of volunteer searchers, hampered by bad weather over the weekend, resumed their efforts today with the same negative results. No clues, no leads, nothing to point authorities in the right direction.
Both officials and Jessica's family, Jessica Lunsford's family, believe she was abducted but have uncovered no evidence to support their suspicions. They haven't even found footprints. A sheriff's department spokeswoman saying, quote, "We still have very, very little to go on."
A reward of $25,000 has been offered for any information that would help investigators find that little girl.
Also tonight, Hillary Clinton in '08? One of her potential primary rivals pegs her as the Democrat to beat. Is it a little early?
And first disaster in Iraq, one car bomb, hundreds dead, hundreds more wounded. Then hours later, sudden and contradictory leaks from the U.S. government about intercepted contact between bin Laden and al-Zarqawi. Coincidence? Or have we just seen terror politicized?
You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Social Security and national security. New poll numbers on the president's Social Security overhaul plan.
And are bin Laden and Zarqawi communicating? Why did an old story, maybe weeks old, leak out today? Stand by.
OLBERMANN: As strategies go, it is a simple one: President Bush bypassing Congress, and the fourth estate as much as possible, making his pitch on Social Security directly to the American people. The same strategy went a long way towards getting him reelected. But as a strategy this time it may not be enough.
Our fourth story on the Countdown, the presidential end-run losing yardage.
First of all, the people have spoken, as they always do. More than half of those Americans surveyed by IPSOS for the Associated Press, 55 percent saying they still oppose the president's plan for personal retirement savings accounts; 39 percent in support.
So the Bush White House looking to gain support by targeting African-American voters. The main selling point of the pitch goes something like this. Since African-Americans do not live as long as white Americans do on average, they have less to gain from Social Security as we know it. White House and GOP officials now planning a series of events for African-American audiences.
The only problem, the numbers on life expectancy may not be applicable. According to an analysis in "The Los Angeles Times," the Bush administering is building its argument on the average life span of newborn males. There's a six-year gap, 69 for the average African-American newborn male, as opposed to 75 for whites.
But take away factors like infant mortality and violent crime among young adults, and life expectancy at retirement age has narrowed to just two years, 79 as opposed to 81.
That's something to make note of, politically. February 27, 2005 the first day a possible candidate gave his read on the 2008 presidential horse race.
Senator Joe Biden of Delaware telling Tim Russert that he might take a stab at the nomination. But first, he'll take at least the next year to think about it. But he can identify the competition a lot faster than that. It's another senator, one named Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I think she is the most difficult obstacle for anyone being the nominee. And by the way, I am one, I shouldn't be saying this - in mission against interest. I am one who doesn't believe that she is incapable of being elected. I think she is likely to be the nominee. She'd be the toughest person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And from the world of political media complex, propagandist Ann Coulter may have actually been restrained by one of her employers, or she may have restrained herself.
The Coulter web site column called reporter Helen Thompson a, quote, "sold Arab." The version syndicated to newspapers removed the reference, though the syndicater is not sure whether it changed it or Coulter stopped it herself.
No comment from Ms. Thomas, who is still writing for Hearst News and in her 60th year as a journalist. She is of Lebanese descent.
Coulter's original February 23 column is still posted on her personal web site, referencing the Jeff Gannon controversy, it opines, "Press passes can't be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president."
The Universal Press syndicate version of the February column, however, sent to newspapers is considerably less offensive. It reads, "Press passes can't be that hard to come by if the White House allows that dyspeptic, old Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president."
Ann Coulter leaving a bad taste in your mouth, too? Apparently, you are not alone. Actually, this is from a highlight upcoming from the "Oddball" segment. Guess what they're drinking?
And the stars' big night out. The host joked, this will be the last Oscars. But could there be a kernel of truth in that punch line? Is America award showed out?
ANNOUNCER: You're getting your news Olbermann style. Countdown WITH KEITH OLBERMANN, past of the best primetime in cable news, MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: We're back and we've reached that point in the show where we step away from the so-called hard news, not necessarily for the soft news. That will be later. This stuff isn't really even news. It's just visually stimulating.
Let's play "Oddball."
This is London. When last we left the fathers for justice they scaled the walls of Buckingham Palace dressed as Batman and Robin. It was a bid to draw attention in their crusade for the rights of deadbeat dads, we think.
No, it's not Charles and Camilla pleading for a place to get hitched, it's Fathers for Justice again, our boys in stretch pants. Fifty feet up the side of the British foreign office and desperately trying to unfold a medium-sized sign.
Can Batman, Robin and Captain America get that sign unraveled before it gets dark? Will these fathers ever be granted visitation with their kids when they keep getting arrested while wearing colored underwear? And is anyone on the street even remotely interested?
Oh, look, a double-decker bus just went by.
Speaking of cartoon characters come to life, it's Bambi. Aw! Look at the poor gal go. Just like in the movie this fawn in western Norway wandered out onto the frozen lake and just could not get its footing.
But unlike the film version, man was there this time. Not to brutally shoot down Bambi's mother and set fire to the forest. But to save poor Bambi from further embarrassment on the lake and set him or her free on solid ground.
Hunting ground? Uh-oh.
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia for the world's water tasting competition. The best and worst municipal water from around the world, brought in for the event. And the winner for best city water in the United States is? Daytona, Florida.
Mm, Daytona water! And you can drink it right out of the racetrack hose when you go down there to watch the NASCAR. Our reporter from station WHAG witnessed the judging.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They try and see if there's any kind of aroma in the water, and then some taste. And if they can perceive any kind of taste at all. What does that taste like to you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That has sort of, almost like a metal or a chemical flavor to it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then the one on your left, well that one looks a little different, doesn't it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That one is a little milky looking or something.
It's not quite clear. So let's try this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That gentleman is resting comfortably in the hospital after sulfur poisoning. Actually, I made the last part up. Sorry.
Turning to the serious news of this day, a blow for the fledgling democracy in Iraq, the single deadliest insurgent attack of the war striking south of Baghdad.
And a claim that Osama bin Laden is talking with the man responsible for the insurgency and urging him to attack outside that country. The story was leaking like a sieve today. But why today? The story is a week or two old.
These stories ahead. Now, though, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
No. 3, Myron Kandel. My old friend is retiring from CNN in two weeks after 25 years as a leader of its business news coverage, on air and off. Mike was the network's first hire in its New York bureau in 1980. He is 75. His ceiling-high pile of books, papers and what not in his office is 56.
All the best, Mike.
No. 2, Dan Infalt, of Oconumowoc, Wisconsin. His pet bit him in a sensitive spot. His pet is a skunk. And it bit him in the privates. That stinks.
No. 1, Carlos Cardenas of Bakersfield, California. Mr. Cardenas is not a viewer of this program, or he would have known not to do this. It's happened before. We've counseled him against it.
He went into a cell phone store there last Tuesday, applied for a job, let them copy his driver's license, even got his photo taken for his application. That's the photo you're seeing there.
Two hours later he walked back in and stuck up the cell phone store with a pocketknife. The suspect is 25 years old, 5'6" tall, and he's a few minutes short of a friend's and family plan, if you know what I mean.
(MUSIC: "I've Got a Cell Phone")
OLBERMANN: Two very strange things happened today, one after the other in Hillah. South of Baghdad at least 115 Iraqis were killed and 132 more wounded by one suicide bomber. The worst single attack ever by the insurgency, a personal and political cataclysm. And then this after a series of self-contradicting leaks from U.S. counter terrorism experts about intercepted communications supposedly between Osama bin Laden and his supposed lieutenant in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Communications intercepted even though this country has no idea we're either man is.
Our third story on the Countdown, timing is everything. We will explore the purported contact between bin Laden and Zarqawi in a moment, with counter-terrorism analyst, Roger Cressey.
First, the nightmare seen in Iraq. Our correspondent is Peter Alexander.
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The explosion was so deadly, because it was so precise. Just before 9:00 this morning, roughly 400 Iraqi National Guard and police recruits were lined up waiting for physicals outside a medical center. Nearby, shoppers jammed the stalls at a bustling market, in this predominantly Shiite town. Suddenly, a suicide bomber rammed his car into the crowd. Hot shrapnel sliced through the air, littering the streets with body parts. At least 115 were killed, more than 130 wounded. The attacker's car was vaporized leaving only the smoldering engine.
It is a criminal act which neither Allah nor the people can accept, the officer say. Mangled bodies were piled into flat-trucks. And as survivors picked up the personal remains of the dead in Hillah, in Baghdad indictments were handed down against five men for crimes against humanity. The star of today's lineup, one of Saddam's half brothers, Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan. His trial is not expected to begin before mid April. Another of Saddam's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, the former head of Iraqi intelligence, and the 6 of diamonds in the most wanted deck cards, was captured in Beirut on Saturday. He's suspected of giving financial help to the insurgency.
SIMON HENDERSON, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: He was a close advisor of Saddam. So, he knew all the important people, either left in Iraq or in Syria. And therefore he would have been a good coordinator.
ALEXANDER (on camera): If the arrest of Saddam's half-brother was a blow to the insurgency, it's hard to tell by the death toll in Hillah. Even though police say, they have arrested several people linked to the Hillah bombing, tonight it remains the single deadliest attack since President Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq.
Peter Alexander, NBC News, Baghdad.
OLBERMANN: Now, the bin Laden/Zarqawi story. An unnamed American counter terrorism official has told the Reuters News Agency, that bin Laden has fairly recently asked Zarqawi to consider attacks inside the United States. But at the Pentagon, U.S. officials were telling NBC News that within the last week, a message believed to be from bin Laden to Zarqawi was intercepted. And that it advised Zarqawi to start attacking American targets outside Iraq, Not necessarily in the U.S. And a third version in the loop over at justice, another U.S. official telling NBC News the intel is from a few weeks ago, quite vague and never mentions the United States, referring only to "outside Iraq."
None of the stories explain how the message from bin Laden to Zarqawi would have been obtained or verified, especially given the fact that the U.S. admits it has no idea of either mans hiding place.
I'm joined now by, Roger Cressey, now a MSNBC analyst, formerly counter terrorism coordinator on the national security council staff.
Good evening, Roger.
ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC ANALYST: Good to see, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That first question, that nobody's source is answering on this, if we don't have a clue where bin Laden is, we only have a vague idea where Zarqawi is, how can we be sure this communication is legit? Were they using pay phone?
CRESSEY: Or AOL Instant Messaging. Three possibilities, it's a courier letter that they intercepted. Second, it's an electronic intercept of a cell phone conversation. Third is an Internet message. In each of those case, you can you get the information, get the message, but not know where either bin Laden or Zarqawi is. So, I think you have to take a look at it, see if it is legitimate. See if it is originating from a source that's credible, and then you can pass judgment on it.
OLBERMANN: Assuming that one of three versions of what's in the message is correct, bin Laden actually contacted Zarqawi, and we wound up listening in to the call, capturing a courier, whatever. Bin Laden told Zarqawi to, A, think about attacking the U.S. or, B, think about attacking U.S. interests outside Iraq or, C, think about staging attacks against anybody outside Iraq. How could the message get garbled into three different translations. And if any one of them is true, is any one of them news?
CRESSEY: Well, it's not news that al Qaeda wants to attack. I mean, that's the one theme through all three scenarios here. What is interesting, if it's true, is al Qaeda is asking Zarqawi to see can he hire any of his goons to go - to some how get into the United States. If that's true, that means the core al Qaeda is having really difficulty putting together cells to conduct operations. If that's the case, that is significant. But the fact that Zarqawi himself is doing very well in Iraq, bin Laden recognizes that and wants to tap into him, that's nothing new.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, something else that we've discussed previously, and I think is nothing new as well, the story leaks out in at least three vitally different ways, various sources, all there are vague, it's a week or two weeks or in some cases it has been dated as being more than two weeks. And it just happens to be released to reporters hours after the most horrific single suicide bombing in Iraq since we ran Saddam Hussein out of town. I hate to be an utter cynic about this, but we know that sometimes the issue of terrorism has been politicized, even if only faintly. But - and this sounds to somebody like me, that somebody rushed this story out, perhaps to distract attention from this disaster in Hillah today.
CRESSEY: Well, I hope that's not the case, I tend not to think not. And the fact that you're raising the possibility is based on the administration having done stupid things in the past, which calls into question their credibility, sometimes, and the timing of things, not a coincidence. So, you raise the question, but I think, no, I don't think this time.
OLBERMANN: Fair enough. Counter-terrorism expert, Roger Cresses. As always, Roger, great thanks for your time tonight.
CRESSEY: All right Keith.
OLBERMANN: On the subject of Iraq, some criticism from the man assigned two and half years ago to sell the war to the United Nations. In his first full interview since stepping down as secretary of state, Colin Powell, telling the London newspaper, "The Telegraph," the he was dismayed by the tension between the U.S. and Europe before the war in Iraq began. But he revealed he personally warned the president about the dangers of a unilateral attack on Iraq dating to August, 2002.
Quoting, "My caution was that you need to understand that the difficult bit will come afterwards. The military piece will be easy. This place will crack like a crystal goblet," he says. "And it'll be a problem to pick up the bits. It was on this basis that he decided to let me see if we can find a U.N. solution to this."
And although did not mention Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld By name, he did criticize his handling of the war, saying he believed that the U.S. had, quote, "Enough troops for war but not for peace, for establishing order. My own preference," say former secretary of state, "would have been for more forces after the conflict."
The conflict between the federal courts and the administration strategy on domestic terrorism escalated this afternoon. Jose Padilla accused of plotting to set off a radioactive dirty bomb could be a free man shortly. A federal judge in South Carolina has ruled that the government has no right to hold an American citizen as an enemy combatant if he is arrested in this country. He ordered Padilla's release within 45 days. Padilla has been held in a navy brig since his arrest in Chicago in May, 2002.
Better success for the bush Administration policy of, quote, "freedom on the march." The Pro-Syrian government in Lebanon stepped down today, following weeks of popular protest there. Prime Minister Omar Karami (ph) made the surprise announcement during a special parliamentary session, which had ostensibly been called to discuss the murder of his predecessor.
The anti-Syrian, former leader, Rafik Hariri and 16 others were killed by a car bomb on Valentine's Day. Many in Lebanon blame the assassination on Syrian and Lebanese officials. Both governments deny the charge. The killings sparked a series of a protest across the country, with demonstrators calling for the government to step down. And for Syria to pull 15,000 troops out of Lebanon. One such protest was under way outside the parliamentary building today. The crowd of 25,000 breaking into spontaneous applause when the government suddenly announced its resignation.
A world away, philosophically, if not geographicly, the Vatican insisting it has more good news for the pope. After last Thursday's tracheotomy, he has begun speech and respiratory therapy, and therapist insist, he'll be able to talk again normally, though not as loudly as before. John Paul, surprised the crowd waiting outside Gemelli Hospital in Rome yesterday, by coming to the window of his room. Even making the hand to the throat gesture, interpreted by a Vatican spokesman as, quote, "I can't speak," as opposed to some kind of reference of last year's New York Yankees.
Amid the apparent good medical news, neither the Vatican nor the hospital has said whether or not the pope's breathing tube has been removed, when it might be, when he might be released. The spokesman did say, there would be no need for regular health bulletins. And the next one will not be issued until Thursday.
Also tonight, an incredible lapse of judgment of security perhaps uncovered by NBC News. The terrorists responsible for the first attack on the World Trade Center have been praising Osama bin Laden in newspaper articles and letters written inside American prisons.
And this puzzler for you, the movie headline the day after the Oscars is about John Ashcroft? The movies? Those stories ahead, now are Countdown's top 3 soundbites of the day.
AL ROKER, NBC NEWS: I know you guys are - the stunt people - are very upset about the fact that there's no Oscar for stunt people. So are you upset about that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. And they absolutely should be. Would you...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't you mind your own business?
ROKER: What do you mean? I got a little business for you, pal.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate the members of my cabinet who are here.
Your name is?
OFF CAMERA: Johanns.
BUSH: It takes a while to get to know every member of the cabinet.
GARY COLEMAN: The only opinion I can really share as an objective media personnel now is that I think there's just a lot of losers on the defense side and on the - what's the side that...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The offensive?
COLEMAN: Yes, the offensive side. No, no...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The prosecution?
COLEMAN: Yes, the prosecution.
OLBERMANN: Historically, the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center will go into history as the kind of ignored preamble, perhaps like the first 1917 revolution in Russia, in which the czar abdicated and parliament took over, months before the second revolution, in which totalitarian communists in turn overthrew the parliament.
But in tonight's No. 2 story, an exclusive report on just how much we ignored the car bombing in the parking garage at the Trade Center 12 years ago last Saturday. Our senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, now with an appalling story of how the men convicted in that first attack were somehow permitted to keep writing from jail to Arabic newspapers, to other would-be terrorists, all because somebody in our Bureau of Prisons didn't think these guys were threats anymore.
LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was 12:18, lunch time, when the van exploded. The massive bomb rattled the World Trade Center, leaving a giant crater in the underground garage. Six were killed, more than 1,000 wounded. At that time, it was the worst act of terrorism ever committed on American soil.
These three Islamic extremists were among those convicted. Each sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.
Former prosecutor Andy McCarthy convicted others involved in this attack.
ANDY MCCARTHY, PROSECUTOR: It's difficult to imagine people who were more evil or inclined to do more mass homicide.
MYERS: So the men were sent to America's most secure federal prison, eventually to super-max in Colorado. Supposedly unable to do further harm.
(on camera): Or so we thought. Letters and articles obtained by NBC News showed that while behind bars, the bombers continued their terrorist activities, writing letters to other suspected terrorists, and brazenly praising Osama bin Laden in Arabic newspapers.
(voice-over): According to confidential Spanish court documents obtained by NBC, at least 14 letters went back and forth between the World Trade Center bombers and a Spanish terror cell.
February, 2003, Trade Center bomber Mohammed Salameh writes, "Oh, God, make us live with happiness, make us die as martyrs. May we be united on the day of judgment." The recipient, Mohammed Achraf, later allegedly led a plot to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid and is awaiting trial.
July 2002, a letter Salameh sent from prison is published in the "Al Quds" newspaper, proclaiming "Osama bin Laden is my hero of this generation."
MCCARTHY: He was exhorting acts of terrorism and helping recruit would-be terrorists for the jihad.
MYERS (on camera): From inside an American prison?
MCCARTHY: From inside an American prison.
MYERS (voice-over): The letters to the bombers spoke of the need to "terminate the infidels." And said "the Muslims don't have any option other than jihad."
Among those corresponding, this man, charged with recruiting suicide operatives in Spain. Spanish officials accuse him of using letters to and from the U.S. bombers as a recruiting tool. All this while the Bureau of Prisons reassured the public terrorists were under control.
HARLEY LAPPIN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS: We have been managing inmates with ties to terrorism for over a decade by confining them in secure conditions and monitoring their communications closely.
MYERS: Today, federal prison officials refused to comment directly on what other law enforcement officials call "a horrible lapse," saying only that inmates' letters are monitored and inspected.
So how did this happen? Federal officials tell NBC that the Justice Department failed to restrict communications to and from the three bombers, because key officials didn't consider them "all that dangerous."
Michael Maco (ph) lost his father, Bill, in the Trade Center bombing, and attended the 12th anniversary memorial this weekend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they're encouraging other acts of terrorism internationally, how do we know they're not encouraging other acts of terrorism right here on U.S. soil?
MYERS: Among the many questions now being scrutinized by the Justice Department.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: The invisible thread between the serious news and the absurdity that is "Keeping Tabs" is not as invisible as it might first seem tonight. The justice system failing there, but its former chief making it into the movies. Most unexpectedly, and certainly without his permission.
This is about the movie "Sideways," and how it has been redubbed to cover profanity. You know, whenever Mr. Dictionary fails the screenwriter and he resorts to a seven-letter epithet describing both an orifice and a kind of personality.
"The Washington Post" reporting that on the dubbed version of the film being shown on Aerolineas Argentinas flights to Lima, the seven-letter word is replaced by the name "Ashcroft." Yes, as in former Attorney General John Ashcroft. The dubbings, "The Post" reports, are in the voices of the original actors, so co-star Thomas Haden Church at one point refers to somebody as an "Ashcroft." The movie "Sideways" is produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
And rumors tonight of a settlement in the Kobe Bryant civil case. All because of what as Sherlock Holmes might characterize it, what the dog didn't do in the night. Bryant was supposed to report to Newport Beach, California for a deposition in the suit, filed against him by the Colorado hotel employee he allegedly assaulted in 2003. But our friends at "Celebrity Justice" report he never showed up, and the deposition was postponed indefinitely. Moreover, that the accuser's attorney, Lin Wood, had checked out of the hotel in Newport Beach on Friday.
The television show reports Bryant's accuser was seeking a settlement deal of at least $1 million.
The Oscars are but a fading memory. How fading? Can you remember anything the host said last night? Is that a bad thing? Or in these homogenized times, is it a good thing? Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Luke, I am your father. Nobody flashed, nobody swore, the thing didn't run late, the host didn't set off the fire alarm, and nothing that happened could be morphed into another phony entertainment-as-politics controversy.
Our No. 1 story in the Countdown, the Oscars, hell no! I'm talking about the Razzy Awards, the anti-Oscars. We'll get to the Academy and its new curb-side Oscar delivery service in a moment with Michael Musto. First, the legitimacy of the 25-year-old spoof of the Oscars, awards for worst actress, least supporting actor et cetera, went through the roof when the recipient of its worst actress award not only showed up to the ceremonies, but played along.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALLE BERRY, ACTRESS: No, I don't have to give this back. It's got my name on it!
I've got so many people to thank, because you don't win a Razzy without a lot of help from a lot of people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Halle Berry's performance in "Catwoman" not only earned her the dishonor, but it was also voted the worst film of 2004. Worst actor went to the president for his role in "Fahrenheit 9/11." I don't think that's the president. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Susan Lucci of the Razzies, lost again, this time for his worst supporting actor nomination, to Donald Rumsfeld.
Back to Halle Berry. She has at least four films coming out this year, including the remake of "Foxy Brown," so at least statistically, there's the chance that this time next year, she could become the first person ever to accept the Oscar in the parking lot across the street from the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. That joke, Oscar host Chris Rock's response to this year's practice of having some winners accept their statues in the aisles, to say nothing of having them then give their speeches with their backs to the audience, to save time and boredom among the 99.9 percent of the audience not related to the winner for best animated supporting actor grip.
Besides the parking lot reference, Rock predicted the Academy merger with the fast-food drive-through window - "get your Oscar and a McFlurry and keep it moving."
Did Rock have a good night or a bad night? Did the Oscars themselves?
The Associated Press reviewer Frasier Moore said "Rock scored big." "Washington Post" critic Tom Shales called him "strangely lame and mean-spirited."
I'm joined now by the never lame nor mean, although not betting against strange nor spirited nor well-dressed, Michael Musto of "The Village Voice." Good evening, Michael.
MICHAEL MUSTO, VILLAGE VOICE: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Rock welcomed everybody to the 77th and last Academy Awards, and Tom Shales wrote it will be his last. Is Shales right? How did Chris Rock do?
MUSTO: I think he'll be back because he actually got good ratings, but my feeling was, David Letterman come back, all is forgiven. The Uma-Oprah thing was hilarious in retrospect.
Something about Chris Rock's performance - I don't know, he was serving up a lot of very generic stand-up stuff, and picking on Jude Law and Tobey Maguire, that's like something I would do. That's unforgivable. That's like stepping on a gnat or two gnats.
OLBERMANN: What about this concept of the drive-through awards? That certainly was the surprise of the year. Should they be dispensed with altogether, these particular awards? You know, just hand them out inside the attendees' goody bags and you know, just put them up on your mantle and that's enough?
MUSTO: Ideally, yes, get rid of the category, because nobody even sees those movies, except people voting on them. They open for a week for consideration. That's the only reason they make these short movies.
But if you're going to have them on the show, give these people the dignity of walking to the stage. They live in L.A. It's the only exercise they'll ever get. I really thought the presenter in the aisle was going to go, "here's your Oscar, want to super size that?" And when they huddled a bunch of nominees on stage, I thought it would turn into "Fear Factor," and four of them would fall through trap doors. It was humiliating.
OLBERMANN: It reminded me of when Ed Sullivan used to stand there and say, we have these celebrities in the audience, just stand up please, and then sit the hell down.
What was your version or your vision of the moment of the night? Mine was Hilary Swank just keeping talking and not letting the band drown her out.
MUSTO: That was sweet. Julia Roberts had already done that, so it's been done, but Hilary did that mainly to thank her publicist. And she also called him her best friend. Hilary, I guess you didn't get the memo, publicists are paid to be your best friend.
My personal favorite was Morgan Freeman, being spotted in the audience an hour after he won still clutching onto the trophy as if he thought Clive Owen was going to grab it away or something. And my favorite pre-show thing was Joan Rivers asking Imelda Staunton what it was like to meet the amazing Vera Drake. Joan didn't get the memo that that was a fictional character.
OLBERMANN: Oh, dear. Lastly, back to Mr. Rock's statement, 77th and last Academy Awards. Not to say that it's going to be the last one in the world, but in a time where you can no longer automatically tell the difference between the People's Choice Awards and the Oscars, have the Oscars in terms of a television show jumped the shark?
MUSTO: Yeah, I think - well, actually I do think the Oscars are distinguishable by its boredom. I think the Golden Globes, however, have taken priority, because there's no host, the audience is drunk, they dive right headlong into the festivities, and they are festivities. There is none of those horrible, you know, foreign language songs you've never heard before and you will never hear again. It's just a big old party. And next time, I say make it like the Golden Globes and get Jude Law to host, so he can have one more credit.
OLBERMANN: Michael Musto. The column is "La Dolce Musto" in "The Village Voice." And the tux looks very sharp, sir.
MUSTO: Jamie Foxx, this is what class really looks like. Take a good look.
OLBERMANN: As always, Michael, great thanks.
MUSTO: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And that was Countdown. Thank you for being part of it. Keith Olbermann reporting. Good night - and the suit looks pretty bad in comparison there. Good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END