Wednesday, March 2, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 2

Guest: Christopher Wolf, Eric Zorn, Brian Levin


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

The bid to regulate cable? Watch your mouth, Tony. Extending decency rules to "Sopranos" and cable movies: should government control what you see and hear in entertainment you pay for? A congressional proponent joins us.

A terror threat to Grand Central. Sketches and specs found in the home of a suspect in the Madrid train bombing. But is there less to this story than it would first seem?

The murder of the husband and mother of an Illinois federal judge. Phone calls identified from prison to the murder house and why such rabid reaction on the Internet?

And up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's a plane that's supposed to go around the world without refueling.

This is your captain speaking. We just found we're short 2,600 pounds of fuel.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening.

Somehow it just would not be the same. "The Sopranos" returns to cable next year, and you hear the inimitable Jim Gandolfini as Tony turn to Pauley Walnuts and say, "Want to talk rules? Want to talk all that old school malarkey? Then remember this rule: I am the hall monitoring monitor who calls the shots."

Our fifth story in the Countdown tonight, they are your tax dollars and your cable dollars, and an Alaska senator and a Texas congressman want to spend the former on decency standards for cable. That congressman joins us in a moment.

These are the same kind of restrictions that currently apply to over the air television. They would be extended to cable and satellite TV and cable and satellite radio. To ESPN, to Comedy Central, to or MSNBC, HBO, to Sirius Radio, where Howard Stern is going to go to work. Janice Trucking Christ.

The Senate proponent is Ted Stevens of Alaska, chairman of the commerce committee, who says most viewers cannot tell the difference between broadcast TV and cable. So the rules for both should be the same.

In the House, it's Joe Barton, Texas Republican, chairman of the energy and commerce committee. Representative Barton joins us now from Washington.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: Glad to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: For 50 years the government has said it really didn't have the right to regulate pay TV. In your opinion, where would that right suddenly come from?

BARTON: Well, the - as Mark Twain said, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." The reports of what I said and meant have been a little bit exaggerated.


BARTON: What we're trying to do is pass a decency Bill for a current over-the-air broadcast because of the Super Bowl incident several years ago. We want to raise the fine to $500,000, not just on the broadcaster but also potentially on the entertainer.

As a part of that, since over 70 percent of American households get their television through cable, the subject has naturally come up, if we raise the fines on over the air, shouldn't we apply - shouldn't we apply that to cable? And the answer to that is, maybe.

But first, let's - let's get the over the air fines up, and then we can debate this other thing. But we're never going to - if you pay for a premium channel and you actually pay for it and you want it, we're not - we're not going to regulate the content of that premium channel.

OLBERMANN: So it would just be people like me at MSNBC who you would be regulating?

BARTON: What's happened is the way Americans receive their television. In the old days, you got it from the over the air or you didn't get it. Well, that's the minority now. The majority get it through cable or through satellite, so at some point in time we need to have some convergence.

But if - if you get beyond the basic cable tier package, and you get into any of these premium channels where you opt to purchase the channel and pay for it, we're not trying to make "The Sopranos" into "Leave it to Beaver." We're not trying to do that.

OLBERMANN: I believe Tony will be relieved to hear that. But nonetheless, Senator Stevens had said that, and was quoted in "The Washington Post" today, saying that, since broadcast and - and cable TV come usually as a package to, as you say, 70 percent or more of the American public now, the rules should be at least similar in terms of content.

And - and in the same article, another representative, Fred Upton of Michigan, was a little bit unclear on this as well, saying, "Attempting to apply regulation to cable and satellite would seriously jeopardize our efforts," speaking of the same kind of efforts you were about improving indecency standards on broadcasts."

Moreover, he said, "I have strong concerns about the - the constitutionality of such a provision."

Can we - can we find some - some level here about what you and Mr. Upton and Senator Stevens are talking about? Would there actually be a change in cable network content if, say, Senator Stevens' proposal were to be enacted?

BARTON: Well, I don't think that what you say and do on your show here on MSNBC is going to change.

Step one is for the Senate to pass the Bill the House has already passed. We passed a decency Bill 389-38 about two weeks ago. If we can get Senator Stevens, who's working on it, to pass that Bill as a first step, this issue of cable and satellite is a secondary issue and a separate issue that we can - we can touch base on later.

And there are some constitutional questions. And you've, as you should in the media, you've highlighted those. But step one is to get the over the air decency Bill passed in the Senate, have the conference and get a Bill on the president's desk.

OLBERMANN: Last question, sir, do you anticipate even within that context that there is going to be a catfight between the broadcast industry, which, after all, is 70 or 80 percent of the cable industry, as well, and any efforts to either strength the FCC or even maintain the FCC?

They're thinking of challenging Red Lion, which was the Supreme Court case in 1969 that essentially certified the FCC as having the right to get involved in content of over the air television. In other words, if somebody mentions maybe we should look into what happens on cable, does - do the cable broadcasters respond by saying that's the last time you're going to see C-SPAN ever again?

BARTON: Well, the Bill that Chairman Upton co-sponsored and I co-sponsored that's passed the House doesn't change the definition of what's decent or indecent. All it does is say if the FCC determines that it is indecent, the fine goes up to $500,000 from the current $12,500, and for the first time you could also impose a fine on the entertainer if they did it knowingly and willfully. It doesn't change the definition.

OLBERMANN: Representative Joe Barton of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, our great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

BARTON: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: Do not look for a sudden stampede in Washington to apply standards of decency or even privacy rights when it comes to the murky world of political attack ads.

The same people who brought you the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth now under fire for having used the wedding photo of a same sex couple in an advertisement on the Internet.

This gets tricky. It's not really an ad against gay marriage, per se. It's an ad against the AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, because the AARP is opposing the president's plan to privatize parts of Social Security.

You think you're confused by that, consider Richard M. Raymen and Steven B. Hansen of Portland, Oregon. When they saw their wedding photo - that's them on the right there, in a USA Next Internet ad, they hired a lawyer. He fired off a letter to the Republican lobbying group, USA Next, demanding that the organization stop using the photo and to publicly apologize to the couple for using their image in what they called a homophobic and libelous way.

Quote, "In your hateful attempt to attack the AARP, you have subjected our clients to nationwide ridicule and harassment, and have used a photo showing a celebration of their commitment to one another in a demeaning, mean-spirited way. USA Next has no right to use our clients as targets for those who choose homophobia as the weapon of choice."

The USA Next spokesman called this issue, quote, "a tempest in a teapot." He did not indicate whether or not his organization's next attack ad would protest tempests being in teapots.

For more on all this, I'm joined by the attorney for Richard Raymen and Steven Hansen, Christopher Wolf.

Mr. Wolf, good evening. Thank you for your time.


OLBERMANN: So your clients had no idea this was happening? Somebody just saw it on the Internet?

WOLF: This came out as a shot out of the blue when USA Next decided to engage in basically a hit-and-run homophobic ad campaign against the AARP, which is illogical in any event.

They also collided directly with our clients' legal rights. They had no right to use their image, as any advertiser knows. You have to have a copyright and you have to have a model release. And in terms of my clients they certainly didn't have a model release, and we understand they also didn't get permission from the copyright holder.

OLBERMANN: Obviously, from the statement of yours that I just read, Mr. Hansen and Mr. Raymen are particularly upset that their picture wound up in that ad for that purpose. But would there still be an issue here if the picture had wound up in an Internet ad for, you know, Steve's Tuxedos of Abilene, Texas?

WOLF: My clients are very private people. They went out into public, as you must, when you get married. Everyone goes into public. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles will be going into public to get married. And they had their picture taken. And then they returned to their private lives.

They have no desire to be in any advertising campaign, much less this mean-spirited, hateful, homophobic campaign, which apparently accepted the invitation of those who think that gays are now prime targets in open season because of the call for the gay marriage amendment.

OLBERMANN: To some degree, do you think we are or you are, even, perpetuating and extending the - the USA Next reach against the AARP by making a big deal out of this? Are we giving them free advertising?

WOLF: Well, you know, there's an old adage in the law. You take your victims as you find them. What USA Next did, they knew had consequences, which included widespread publicity on the Web and on network news, which happened long before we wrote our letter.

We wrote our letter trying to get their assurance that they would not use the ad any further and that they would apologize. They did not meet our deadline for a response, which we take as a pound say (ph) response.

OLBERMANN: So other than telling you to do that, is there anything next legally? What are you going to seek from them at this point?

WOLF: Well, we're certainly investigating all of the legal remedies. There's an invasion of privacy that's occurred here. The - our clients right to publicity has been violated. They've been libeled. There was an intentional infliction of emotional distress. I can go on and on with the legalese, but the point is, they have been severely injured in this - in this ad campaign, and they have rights to vindicate.

OLBERMANN: Christopher Wolf, suing the lobbyist group USA Next for using a photo of his clients, Mr. Hansen and Mr. Raymen, in its anti-AARP ad. Thank you again for your time tonight, sir.

WOLF: Happy to be here. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And if you think regulating swearing and nudity on cable or trying to corral the creators of political attack ads would be complicated ethical issues, try being a Supreme Court justice today.

They heard two cases about the Ten Commandments, both of them dealing with whether monuments to the Ten Commandments should be allowed on government property.

An attorney for the ACLU challenged courthouse displays in Kentucky, in particular, arguing that when the Ten Commandments are portrayed as the source -foundation of the nation's judicial system, it is an endorsement of religion which can't be allowed.

That could be a tough sell. The symbol of Moses holding the sacred tablets was hanging in the very courtroom where the justices heard the lawyers speak today.

Also tonight in the news, a suspect in the Madrid train bombings had plans and sketches of New York's GCT, Grand Central Terminal, in his home. A threat or not much of one?

And in Chicago, investigators are piecing together the evidence in the murder of a federal judge's family. On the Internet, hate groups are offering a wave of praise.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Could the people behind the deadly commuter train attacks in Madrid have had designs on carrying out a similar plot in New York City? Conflicting evidence on a potential threat to Grand Central Terminal.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: As we learned the last time parts of this country were put on orange level terror alert, last summer's scare over the discovery of photographs of financial buildings in New York, New Jersey and Washington, in Iraq. That turned out to be at least three years old.

We discovered the reconnaissance by others of possible targets in this country, we can usually tell the who but rarely the when and most importantly, almost never the how good.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, sketches and some technical data about the proverbial crossroads of the world, Grand Central Station in New York were found in the home of a man suspected in the train bombings in Madrid. But how good was that recon?

As our correspondent, Kelly O'Donnell, reports, good enough for the Spanish government to contact the U.S. government, not good enough to keep a Spanish police official from telling the Associated Press that whoever made the sketches captured the building's facade but not much else.


KELLY O'DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First flashed across a Spanish newspaper, the initial reports seemed so ominous. But was the threat real?

A suspect in the Madrid bombing that killed 191 last year had information about this New York City landmark, saved on a computer seized from the suspect's apartment. Described as an amateurish hand made drawing, which was examined by New York transportation officials.

COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: They believe it to be the interior of Grand Central Station.

O'DONNELL: Seven hundred thousand commuters pass through Grand Central each day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's part of daily life. I live in Manhattan and, you know, it comes with the territory.

O'DONNELL: Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says law enforcement has known about the sketch for months, since last November and of another drawing of an unnamed New York building, but did not tell the public.

KELLY: We just don't think it was appropriate to put it out when we came in contact with it, because we didn't see it as a threatening piece of information.

O'DONNELL (on camera): And so officials, both federal and local, spent the day downplaying the report. However chilling it may have sounded, authorities say there is no evidence of any planning for an attack.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: What I wanted to do was to reassure people about a story that...

O'DONNELL: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg practiced anxiety management.

BLOOMBERG: You can rest assured that not only Grand Central but all transportation facilities here received extra security.

O'DONNELL: Experts say government officials are caught in a bind as they weigh which pieces of potential evidence should be released.

STEVE EMERSON, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: Part of the government's role is to mobilize the public about the threat of terrorism. The other part of the government's role is to calm their fears. And sometimes they can't get it balanced correctly.

O'DONNELL: Today, leaving New York commuters in the middle, hoping those assessing the risk got it right.

Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: People are hurrying through Grand Central now.

Meanwhile, about Iran, there appears to be less terror, terror with a small "T" tonight. After dinner in London last night, the good old senior State Department official who asked not to be named said that Secretary of State Rice and the U.S. delegation had, quote, good discussions with Europeans over ways to negotiate Iran back on its nuclear desires.

Our correspondent Andrea Mitchell spoke with the secretary as the European trip ended. See if you can guess the name of that senior State Department official who asked not to be named.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president came to Europe. He listened to his European colleagues. He's gone home now. I've had further discussions with my European colleagues. And we designing, I think, an important common strategy with Europe so that Iran knows that there is no other way.


OLBERMANN: As to the actual horse trading, the news service Agence France-Presse says the Iranians want to become members of the World Trade Organization and they need spare parts for their domestic passenger airliners.

Speaking of being a few spare parts short of an airline, he meant to do that. We'll explain why in "Oddball."

And press your luck. Courtesy adventurer Steve Fossett, his well-planned trip around the world without refueling. One small problem: only 600 pounds less fuel on board than he thought. Oopsie. Stand by.

ANNOUNCER: You're getting your news Olbermann style, Countdown WITH KEITH OLBERMANN, part of the best prime time in cable news, MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: We're back and we've reached that point in this show where we take the hot issue in which you are most interested and give it full vent and total attention. Cue up the cow patties and the idiots jumping off the bridges, please.

Let's play "Oddball."

We begin in Austria, high atop the mighty Europabrucke. The 560-foot tall bridge connects the Austrian region of the Tirol (ph) with Northern Italy. But this baby was built to jump off.

So stuntman Mike Young, he's just done this without a parachute. Because technically, that's not a parachute; that's a paraglider. The stunt was officially called a hangover jump, because it started with a 100-foot free fall before the glider opened. And because anybody dumb enough to do this must have gotten stinking drunk the night before.

We leave Mr. Young (ph) and move westward to Switzerland, and in Geneva the International Auto Show is in full swing. And one car is the talk of the town this year. Unfortunately, we don't have any pictures of the one car, but look at this car.

This is new prototype by Rinspeed, the Senso, a car that knows when its driver is falling asleep at the wheel and attempts to wake him up with a series of smells and noises. Noises, huh?

The Senso monitors the driver with cameras and biometric measurements and deploys the scents, sounds and seat shaking if the driver begins to nod off.

For those really heavy behind the wheel sleepers, American truckers can recommend solutions that are just a fraction of the price of the Senso. They're called amphetamines.

To India. Would you believe this hand lotion can cure cancer? No, it can't, but that's what they say it can, and it is flying off the shelves in this largely Hindu nation. In fact, a whole line of products believed to cure all manner of disease sweeping the country.

Each is made from the waste products of cows. We will leave the precise details to your imagination, but yes, there is an aftershave and a toothpaste.

You got it, tartar control whitening, cavity prevention, plaque stopping, with baking soda, gum care, triple protection Aquafresh for sensitive teeth cow dung brand toothpaste.

Back to the deadly series tonight, who killed the judge's mother and husband? Does it mean anything they were executed on the 12th anniversary of the start of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas?

And the Jackson trial. A witness says a plan to smear the accuser's mother was in place long before the current legal problems occurred.

These stories ahead. Now, though, here's Countdown's top three newsmakers.

No. 3, Queen Elizabeth of England. Once she was hip, but 56 years of Charles will wear you down, evidently. When the Beatles were introduced to her, she knew who they were. But yesterday when Eric Clapton and three other top British guitarists were introduced to her, she asked, "And what do you do?"

_"I play guitar. What do you do besides drain taxpayers' money?" _

No. 2, Oscar Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, invited to Mackey Elementary School as part of Nevada's reading week. And after he mayor 85 fourth graders a story, one of them asked him, "If you could take only one thing with you to a deserted island, Mr. Mayor, what would it be?" And he said a bottle of gin.

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar.

No. 1, Bill Lawton of Palm Bay, Florida. A tornado hit that town Sunday, basically destroyed his home. He's OK. It left exactly one window unbroken. Two men are under arrest tonight after the tornado. They allegedly robbed Mr. Lawton's home. You know how they got in, don't you? They broke the only unbroken window.



OLBERMANN: On the second anniversary of the bloody end to the siege of the Branch Davidian's Complex in Waco, Texas, Timothy McVeigh, perhaps with others, blew up the Mura Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Monday, on the 12th anniversary of the start of the Waco standoff, somebody killed the ailing husband and the immobilized mother of a Chicago judge who was the intended victim of a white supremacist murder plot last year.

Our 3rd story on the Countdown, more on the deaths surrounding Judge Joan Lefkow including the reaction in those hate-filled corners of the Internet. Judge Lefkow is staying at a hidden location under 24-hour watch while a joint federal and city task force investigates what it calls the execution style murder of her husband and her mother.

Their bodies were found in the basement of her home. Police now revealing some of the evidence found, 2 gun casings, cigarette butts left in the sink, a bloody shoe print and a broken window that may yield a fingerprint. There is also a report from the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper that police were tracing the origin of several phone calls made from a prison to the Lefkow house Sunday night.

And as for possible suspects, a local pastor reported seeing two men with military-style haircuts parked outside his church early Monday morning. Police releasing composite sketches of those men tonight.

I'm joined now from Chicago by Eric Zorn, columnist of the Chicago Tribune, who has been following the Lefkow murders and before that, the criminal career of Matthew Hale, the white supremacist we mentioned earlier.

Mr. Zorn, good evening. Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Clear up this report about the phone call from jail to the Lefkow home Sunday night. As unlikely as this could seem, it's really just a coincidence?

ZORN: It turns out to be a coincidence. It was one of those jail scams where an inmate calls somebody's home and tries to get them to transfer a call. Pure coincidence from the county jail here in Cook County and had nothing to do as far as we know with this crime.

_OLBERMANN: Or with Matthew Hale, he's at some other facility? _

ZORN: Well, Matthew Hale - yes. The white supremacist is being held at the federal correctional center downtown. Totally different facility.

OLBERMANN: Anybody who knows this story knows about this Mr. Hale and how he was convicted of trying to get somebody to kill Judge Lefkow, yet the police have not named him a suspect, not even a person of interest. Do you have an idea why not?

ZORN: Well, he - I'm sure they're interested in him. He has been under pretty tight control in the Metropolitan Correctional Center. He doesn't have communication with the outside world. And all his communication with like his parents and his lawyers is closely monitored.

The thinking is that he did not order this done, but his followers are known to act out on their own. There was a shooting spree in 1999 where two people died including Ricky Birdsong, the former Northwestern basketball coach.

The thinking after that was this was a follower of Matthew Hales, but nobody proved or suggested that he ordered this done. The people follow him and do things on his behalf without him having to order it.

OLBERMANN: Which leads to one of two other angles here. Do you buy this Waco siege anniversary hook? And here you have a judge and her husband who was a lawyer, could they not have other enemies involved in this potentially?

ZORN: Well, sure they could. The judge is a federal judge, she handles a number of high-profile and drug cases and high profile cases. Her husband, who was murdered, was a lawyer who had some quarrels with former clients, I'm sure. And there are all kinds of possibilities. And we're confident that the Chicago Police are exploring all of them.

Obviously, the coincidence that Matthew Hale was convicted in April of last year of trying to hire someone to kill this judge and then this terrible crime can't be overlooked or minimized.

But as you pointed out also in your leading piece, there's a lot of evidence here, a lot of forensic evidence. We may see this being a real-life C.S.I. case. There hasn't been a case this closely looked at - a murder scene this carefully combed over, I believe, in the history of Chicago.

OLBERMANN: That's what we're hearing from all reports and your words offer great authenticity to it. Eric Zorn, columnist of the Chicago Tribune. Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

ZORN: Good talking to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Continuing on this hate in the time of the Internet.

First, they posted her family photographs, then her home address. Now, white supremacists Web sites are actually celebrating the murder of Judge Lefkow's mother and husband.

I'm joined now by Brian Levin, the director of the Center of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernadino. Thank you for joining us, sir.

BRIAN LEVIN, CENTER ON HATE & EXTREMISM: Thank you, Keith. The Center for the study of, it sounds by otherwise.

OLBERMANN: OK. Center for the study of...

These sites are celebrating these killings also, condemning the implication that Mr. Hale might be involved. Do those two extreme, no pun intended, positions give you any clue on whether or not there is white supremacist involvement in the crime?

LEVIN: No. Frankly they don't. Because even after 9/11, a fellow with the National Alliance said if someone rams a plane full of - into a building full of Jews, they're great by me. So there's these horrible, vile statements that come up every time some tragedy occurs. So I don't think that gives us a clue.

In fact, what I think gives us a clue are stuff that was posted beforehand. That's where I think gives us some kind a clue. She was targeted on Web sites such as Storm Front and the White Aryan Resistance Web site. And also on an Internet radio show, people were mentioned. So I think this is something to look into.

The fact stuff where they say all kinds of vile things, this is just the knee jerk reaction of these vile, loathsome people.

OLBERMANN: Is it feasible that groups could use these sites to coordinate violence and possibly murder? Or is it more as Mr. Zorn suggested, some follower whom you might want to point the finger at first?

LEVIN: Great question. What we have is something called leaderless resistance. And that's promoted by a long-standing white supremacist named Louis Beam. It has gone throughout the right wing hate world.

And the leaderless resistance says, look, I'm in a hate group or I'm a hate leader, but don't get my fingerprints on the crime scene, but you know what you have to do. And that's what I think happened here potentially, is that the target was known and the means was known and they didn't have to orchestrate it. They could just encourage it without getting the criminal or legal culpability.

OLBERMANN: I asked Mr. Zorn of the Tribune this question and I'll ask you the same one, judge's husband and mother murdered on the anniversary of the start of the Waco siege. Obviously that could be a coincidence, anything with dates in it, it could easily a coincidence. Do you think it is?

LEVIN: You know, I was just talking about that with a friend of mine who was also an extremist monitor, and we thought it was kind of weird, because that's a big date in the anti-government world, but in the church of the creator world, or the creativity movement it's not quite as big. That being said, you can't discount it.

Again, you know, the white supremacist world is the 800-pound obvious gorilla suspect in the room. The question is, is the obvious suspect necessarily the correct suspect?

But certainly, with leaderless resistance and these dates, they could all be clues. And what we see is people who might be on the fringe of organizations, or on the fringe of movements committing loan wolf acts of terrorism. And that might very well be what we have here.

OLBERANN: And is this all being accelerated, is this all being interconnected because of the Internet? If we didn't have a worldwide web, would this stuff have all continue to die out as it appeared to be doing in the mid to late 90's?

LEVIN: Great question. And I think you've hit it right on the head. The World Church of the Creator, and the Church of the Creator, its founder died in 1993, yet the folklore and the rhetoric lives on. And Matt Hale, he wasn't that great of a leader but what he was able to do is harness the power of the Internet to make this stuff readily available to would-be time bombs that otherwise wouldn't have access to it.

So this is kind of like a leaderless vessel on autopilot, but all the hateful rhetoric is still out there at the click of a keyboard or mouse for any kind of would-be lunatic that wants to access it.

OLBERMANN: Yep. We have another one of those going on called al Qaeda too. Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernadino. My apologies for the confusion on the title before. And my thanks for you joining us tonight.

LEVIN: My pleasure. And my wife would say to you, go Cornell.

OLBERMANN: My regards to her on that regard, too.

Another legal case in progress tonight. The first full day of witness testimony at the Jackson trial. And the ceremonial first he said, she said. It's your tax and entertainment dollars in action. Day 471 of the Michael Jackson investigations. And the 2nd prosecution witness, Ann Marie Kite, a publicist hired by Jackson just days after Martin Bashir's documentary aired. She said Jackson's associates planned a smear campaign against the accuser's family and planned to portray the mother as a quote, "crack whore."

Jackson defense counters, that Kite only worked for the singer for six days. She never met him nor most of his associates. And only dealt with them over the phone. She says she was fired, because he she refused to sign a confidentiality agreement.

There is one less celebrity legal case tonight, as had been rumored since last week. Kobe Bryant has officially settled the civil suit brought against him by an alleged rape victim. Neither side discussing terms of the settlement, although the syndicated series, "Celebrity Justice" reported last week that the accuser was seeking about a million dollars. That 20-year-old women, now married and pregnant, brought the suit three weeks after the criminal case fell apart. It sought unspecified damages for mental injuries, public scorn and humiliation.

Also tonight, remember when schools used to have gym classes, when they served kids only healthy, albeit bland food? We will go to one school where everything old is new again, and the kids is smarter. And another empty class in the baseball hall of fame this year, as empty as the heads of the folks who do the voting.

Those stories ahead. Now here are Countdown's top three sound bytes of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've invaded neighborhoods in Martin County,. Two to five foot animals that weigh as much as 150 pounds, with a distinct sound.

_What would you do if you came face to face with one of these pigs? _


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, two guys were working on car speakers. Then they look across the street to this house, in the yard, they saw this man, completely naked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next thing I know, he was chasing around with that sword.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. Police say, Ray (ph), got so upset when asked to put clothes on. He went back inside. He got dressed, and came back with a two and half foot sword, allegedly started threatening his neighbors.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator, welcome. Good to see you. The only time - I like to see Senator Kerry, except when we're fixing to debate.

_Need some wood? You know what I mean? _


OLBERMANN: Reading, writing and raw vegetables. A school where the first lesson of the day is, a healthy mind starts with a healthy body.


OLBERMANN: It is seared into my memory, possibly because it took so close to my brain. In my high school, we had gym class every day, usually early. There basketball, handball, football, baseball, whatever. And then quick showers and even quicker towelings off. And never enough time to for the walk back from the gym to the main classroom building. So in the winter, by the time we got back to class, many of us would have ice forming in our hair.

Our number two story on the Countdown, this is by way (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to a story, about the rediscovery of exercise and healthy eating as part of a school curriculum. I should point that we may have had ice in our hair back then, but my high school was way tougher than my college.

Countdown's Monica Novotny joins me now with the story of the Chicago health conscious school, where young kids may be getting icy hair too, but also the brains to go with it.

Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening. We know that childhood obesity rates here in the U.S. have more than doubled in two decades. And in Chicago, one of every four children entering Kindergarten is considered obese. So, it's no surprise that this city is now home to a new school where educators are focused on feeding the minds and the bodies of their young students.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What letter is Leo?


NOVOTNY (voice-over): At Chicago's Namaste School, the message is clear, building smarter student bodies by following a healthy regimen to the letter. Teachers here follow a holistic approach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Namaste, means my inner light salutes your inner light. We really emphasize the mind-body connection.

NOVOTNY: Allison Slade, founder and principal of this inner city charter school, opening the doors last September to two kindergarten and two first grade classes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We use health, physical fitness and nutrition as an avenue to get to the highest student achievement possible.

AYN ARGUELLO, PARENT: I was tired of public schools. I looked on the nutritional scale on the lunches, and it would be like 780 calories for lunch.

NOVOTNY: So the first step is the fuel, healthy breakfast, lunches and snacks throughout the day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one has ever tried (UNINTELLIGIBLE) before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We would go to McDonald's before, and it's not even a choice anymore.

NOVOTNY: Good food is paired with fitness. An eight-hour school day allows time for 15 minutes of morning movement, an outdoor recess and a daily hour-long phys-ed class. Compare that to the 40 minutes per week children in Chicago's public schools get.

(on camera): Do you like the exercise?


NOVOTNY: How come?

VILLAREAL: Because it makes me strong.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): The activity doesn't stop when classes start.

VANESSA COTE, TEACHER: Six and 7-year-olds have a very short attention span. And I'm getting them up and moving. It definitely helps them stay focused.

VILLAREAL: It makes my brain think - think more.

NOVOTNY (on camera): Clearly, a good diet and consistent exercise can help to make these young students healthier. But can it really make them smarter? Educators here Namaste say, absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Studies have shown both that children who are healthy and active perform better in the classroom and retain it more.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): A 2000 study of at risk children showed, an increase in physical activity resulted in a 20 percent improvement in school grades. For students like 6-year-old Katie (ph) who lost 10 pounds since September, the correlation is clear.

Exercising is great. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the exercise.

NOVOTNY: Namaste isn't going anywhere, growing with the students through the 8th grade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's smarter. He's more eager to learn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has so much more energy now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the end of the day we see the progress.




NOVOTNY: Researchers at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital will be following the progress of the students over the next seven years to get a better idea of the impact of the program on the children.

OLBERMANN: OK. When I was in the 7th grade, you could not buy Twinkies from the machine unless you were an 8th grader or beyond. I think that's what it was. But how could that have been enforceable if the parents had not bought into the process? The kids are going to try to buy them if they can. What is the parent's situation here?

NOVOTNY: Well, they definitely believe that the parental focus is as important as anything else. So they've got parents coming in every Friday for a morning breakfast, they do the exercises with the kids on Fridays. They also have a parent center that the parents can use every day. And they're allowed to have Internet access, they help them find jobs, resumes. So it's a great program and they feel that the parents are just as critical as all the rest of it.

OLBERMANN: If it keeps them away from the Twinkies, they're critical. Countdown's Monica Novotny, great thanks.

NOVOTNY: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: We move now to our nightly roundup of the celebrity and entertainment news. And there were two actors in it, they had already one child and have another due. They were nearing their third anniversary, so you knew the Charlie Sheen Denise Richards marriage was headed to the ocean floor.

The folks at Celebrity Justice reporting to us tonight that Ms. Richards of the movie "Wild Things" and others has filed for divorce from Mr. Sheen of the TV series "Two and a Half Men" and who has sold me some baseball cards.

The couple has a 1-year-old daughter, and she's 6 months pregnant and she has reportedly asked for full custody of both kids. She cites reconcilable differences. Hurray for Hollywood.

Also tonight, a mini baseball theme. Fitting for this first day of spring training games. And they are howling again in Chicago. Ron Santo was not elected to the baseball Hall of Fame nor was anybody else. As the committee on veterans failed to muster the necessary intelligence to get the former great Cubs third baseman into the baseball shrine.

Santo fell 8 votes shy as did on the day his old teammate Jackie Robinson received the congressional gold medal, former Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman and New York Mets manager Gil Hodges.

Other near misses Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Joe Torre. The new committee on veterans came into being in 2002 because so-called experts said the old one was electing too many players to the Hall of Fame.

The committee has yet to elect anybody and will not vote again until 2007, even though they're about 100 players in baseball history who were better than the worst guy they already voted in.

And here's something you don't see often, the World Champion Boston Red Sox getting the glad hand at the White House. Until this year, it could not have happened since Woodrow Wilson was president. And they didn't do this grandstanding back then.

If the image is not startling enough, as you heard earlier Senator John Kerry accompanied the team to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and then in an embarrassing moment had to be removed from the grounds kicking and screaming and insisting on his right to redecorate the place.

And back towards the entertainment mainstream, baudy television, a new twist coming to the ABC series "Desperate Housewives," one that you and the FCC are probably not going to believe: Bob Newhart.

He will appear as a guest star in a series of episodes in April, playing Morty, the estranged boyfriend of a character played by Leslie Ann Warren. She portrays the mother of the character played by Teri Hatcher. Newhart is 75, Miss Warren is 58. There could be a prosecution.

At the end of the guest starring stint, of course, Newhart will once again wake up from a dream back in his bed from the original Bob Newhart show in Chicago, only this time he'll find himself sleeping to outgoing FCC Chairman Michael Powell. I made the last part up.

From Desperate Housewives to desperate fuel problems. Talk about a project running out of gas. How could you just misplace 2,600 pounds of fuel in a plane? Next.


OLBERMANN: It would be hard to prove this, but intuition tells you that on some kind of per trip basis, people do more dumb things while flying airplanes than almost anywhere else. Our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, evidence of that from two different corners of aviation. And sometimes they forget to bring enough fuel it turns out.

We told you about last week about that L.A. to London flight. Just after takeoff, one of the British Airways jumbo jets four engines shorted out, despite this the pilots continued. But because the missing engines slowed them down, they had just barely enough fuel left to make it over to the Atlantic, they had to land not in London, but 180 miles shy of it in Manchester. A new law had just gone into effect in the European Union 3 days earlier ordering any airline to pay any passenger who does not arrive on time.

If the British Airways flight had been late, it would cost the carrier about $190,000. The airline insists that's not why they kept flying. FAA officials today say they're not sure they believe that. And they are now opening an investigation.

And then there's the so-called global flier. You've seen this thing. It's the custom built plane that looks like two planes were parked too close together. As our correspondent Martin Savidge points out, just like British Air, Pilot Fossett has discovered a slight fuel recalculation is required. He's suddenly about 2,600 pounds short.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Steve Fossett's troubles began shortly after he made it halfway around the world.

STEVE FOSSETT, PILOT: It's been a rather troubling development.

SAVIDGE: Somehow, his experimental plane, a flying gas tank with a wingspan greater than a 737, lost a ton of fuel, 15 percent of his supply.

JON KARKOW, PROJECT ENGINEER: The fuel loss occurred during the first 3.5 hours of the flight.

SAVIDGE (on camera): That fuel was Fossett's safety net. Without it, his dreams of a record-breaking flight could fall short.

(voice-over): It all depends on the tail wind he gets. Fossett needs a constant push of at least 65 miles per hour if he hopes to make it back to where he started.

KARKOW: Steve is now quite literally at the mercy of the winds.

SAVIDGE: But forecast shows the winds weakest when Fossett needs them most: that long, watery stretch between Hawaii and the mainland. The decision to push on is Fossett's alone.

FOSSETT: I'm hopeful that this is all going to work out.

SAVIDGE: Fossett's isn't the only flight in jeopardy, in a building, near mission control, sits a very tired young pilot, 23-year-old Brad Amstetts. Using a flight simulator, he's been mirroring 60-year-old Fossett's journey, hour for hour, and milkshake by milkshake. He knows Fossett's in trouble and as part of the deal with Fossett's sponsors, Brad will also have to end his flight when and if Fossett does.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do relate to him just because we are trying to mimic what he's doing right now.

SAVIDGE: Fossett's out to make aviation history. Amstetts represents aviation's future. Two things entwined in a still uncertain flight. Martin Savidge, NBC News, Salina, Kansas.


OLBERMANN: By the way, they still haven't told the guy in the simulator that he's not really flying. So...

That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Obermann.

Good night and good luck.