'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 12
Guest: Howard Fineman, David Reichert, Howard Safir
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
He's boltin', and so are his Republican supporters. Senator Voinovich calls him "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be." And the committee sends the U.N. ambassador-designate's nomination to the full Senate without an endorsement or recommendation.
Another $82 billion in war appropriations? Some of it goes to wounded veterans caught between today's bills and the veterans' benefits that don't kick in for months. We'll meet one of them.
The car chase debate again. Was this smart television? Was this smart policing?
Turns out this wasn't smart at all. No, the woman is fine. The tigers? We need to talk about the tigers.
And speaking of talking, tonight we go behind the puppets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A peek inside the California courtroom where Michael Jackson is standing trial. And recreate it with Popsicle stick puppetry. Popsicles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on Countdown.
He will almost doubtless go on to confirmation by sheer dint of majority party rule in the full Senate. But even if and when U.N. ambassador-designate John Bolton gets that ratification, it will now have to have an asterisk.
For what is apparently the first time in 11 and one-half years, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has reviewed a nominee, any nominee, for any post, and simply passed the nomination on to the whole Senate without a recommendation to advise and consent.
Bolton's candidacy and his controversy were both guaranteed to live another day or month, thanks to Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio. So unhappy was he with Bolton's conduct that he could have voted no. Foreign Relations would have then been tied nine-all, would have reported to the Senate without a recommendation.
Instead, Voinovich voted yes. But the committee agreed not to recommend. Thus the final score looks like a 10 to eight win for President Bush, even if Voinovich hardly made it sound that way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I believe that John Bolton would have been fired, fired, if he'd worked for a major corporation. This is not the behavior of true leader who upholds the kind of democracy that President Bush is seeking to promote globally. This is not the behavior that should be endorsed as the face of the United States to the world community in the United Nations.
Rather, Mr. Chairman, it is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.
We owe it to the president to give Mr. Bolton an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: If you're keeping a scorecard, the last no-recommendation vote by the Foreign Relations Committee, November 27, 1993, on President Clinton's controversial ambassador to Switzerland-designate, Larry Lawrence. He wound up getting confirmed by the full Senate anyway.
More on Bolton in a minute with Howard Fineman.
First, the current Senate edging ever closer to yet another confrontation, this one over the president's most hotly disputed judicial nominees, the last of four of them sent to the floor today by the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote.
The only recourse now for any Democrats hoping block the nominations from a full vote in the Senate would, of course - say it with me, now - be a filibuster. That is, if Senate majority leader Bill Frist does not follow through on his threat to rewrite the rulebook and ban future filibusters first.
Today's vote, forwarding the nomination of acting appeals court Judge William Pryor to the Senate. The former attorney general of Alabama. In praise of Judge Pryor, Republicans on the committee noting today that he opposed Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore when Moore put a large stone monument to the 10 Commandments in the state courthouse.
In opposition, Democrats citing instead Judge Pryor's record and comments, including his ridiculing of the U.S. Supreme Court after he had had granted a temporary stay of execution in an Alabama murder case. He called them at that point "nine octogenarian lawyers who happened to sit on the Supreme Court."
Speaking of filibusters, it is also possible that that Bolton nomination could be blocked that way, the possibility raised today by Democratic Senators Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut.
The U.S. Senate now on an apparent crash course in multiple lanes of traffic simultaneously.
Here to guide us through safely is our own political traffic cop, "Newsweek" magazine chief political correspondent Howard Fineman.
Good evening, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Firstly, Bolton and the filibuster threat here from Biden and Dodd. Would they? Could they?
FINEMAN: They could, they probably won't. I talked to some of the
powers-that-be in the Democratic Senate leadership tonight. And they said
it's highly unlikely that the Democrats would try to filibuster the Bolton
nomination, the reason being that the Democrats may very well try to do
that, and are threatening to do that, on the judicial nominees. And they -
· even though they love the word "filibuster," they don't want to apply it to every little thing coming through the Senate.
OLBERMANN: OK, back to today, then, Voinovich's vote on Bolton producing 10-8, no recommendation, as opposed to nine-nine, no recommendation. Did that cushion the blow to the president politically? Or did he still get whacked pretty hard this afternoon?
FINEMAN: I think he got whacked. And I think this is all about presidential momentum or lack thereof. I think the Democrats are out for blood wherever they can find it, and anything that makes the president's choices and possibilities in the Senate look less than popular, I think, take away from his political clout around town.
That's what the Democrats were up to. And I think that vote and that very confusing speech by Voinovich didn't help the president at all.
OLBERMANN: But, of course, whatever blood the Democrats were trying to draw, that was not them accomplishing that. That was a Republican. What happens to Voinovich now?
FINEMAN: Well, what happens now is, I think that he will probably survive, for a reason related, again, to the judges. I think the whole judges' situation is helping Bolton because the Republican moderates, who are preparing to abandon the president, perhaps, on the judicial nominations and the whole filibuster thing, probably don't want to have a prelude to that be abandoning the president on Bolton.
So I think some of those moderate Republicans, who would be thinking of voting against Bolton otherwise, are going to stick with him and save their own rebellions for the judicial situation. So I think that's going to help Bolton survive.
OLBERMANN: But in the Senate vote, presuming there is no filibuster against Bolton, it is a 55-45 Republican majority. So we assume it's going to be 54-46, because now Voinovich would be burying himself, wouldn't he, if he voted for him, after saying that he hopes the Senate rejects him?
Are there five, even five other Republicans who might follow him into that no-vote?
FINEMAN: Well, possibly, because I do know that the Democratic leadership also told me tonight that they're going to talk a lot about John Bolton on the floor of the Senate. There are probably going to be two or three days' worth of talk about him. And that may give some pause to other Republicans who are willing to listen to critiques of administration actions.
You could see a John Chafee of Rhode Island, you could see a Snowe or a Collins of Maine, you could see some other people at least willing to listen to the possibility.
But again, I think Bolton is going to survive. He's going to sort of have a black mark against him. The president will be forewarned that he's got other big fights ahead coming on Capitol Hill. But Bolton will probably limp through, in part, again, as I say, because this other battle is about to come up.
OLBERMANN: And let's close on Judge Pryor and the judicial filibusters. Where are the various player on that one as of tonight?
FINEMAN: Well, that sets up the big confrontation because Pryor is basically one of the big four. He's one of the ones that the Democrats and some of those moderate Republicans have the most problems with. Janice Rogers Brown is another one. Priscilla Owen is another one. Meyers (ph) is another.
This guy is somebody that really gets the blood flowing among not only the Democrats but some moderate Republicans. And basically, the Republican leadership in the White House is putting these people forward, maneuvering them onto the battlefield and saying, All right, let's get it on.
And I think there is going to be the big showdown. I don't think any deal is going to stop it, and I think they're going to have that big vote on changing the way judges are chosen in the Senate.
OLBERMANN: Boy, you got me there for a second when you said big show
· down. Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, and once of "The Big Show."
FINEMAN: I still have my mug, by the way.
OLBERMANN: Well, I still have my mug too. Thank you for sharing some of your mug with us tonight, sir.
OLBERMANN: In the politics of the moment, if they strike you as kind of a bloodless civil war, take some heart. This is the 140th anniversary of the last actual battle of the real Civil War at Palmito Ranch, Texas, on May 12 and 13 of 1865. Unknowingly, we have some spirit of reconciliation with which to celebrate it, actual bipartisanship, about shoes.
When the Capitol area was evacuated yesterday during that false alarm when a pilot and trainee wandered to within four miles of the White House, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was immediately removed by her plainclothes police detail, removed so forcefully and swiftly that she was literally lifted out of her shoes.
In the chaos, somebody managed to find and reclaim Pelosi's right shoe. But the left one vanished without a trace.
Or so it seemed. It turned up this morning in the hands of Congressman David Reichert from Washington state, Republican Congressman David Reichert, who presented it to the Democratic leader at her weekly media briefing this morning.
I spoke to the chivalrous congressman earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Congressman, thank you for some of your time today.
REP. DAVID REICHERT (R), WASHINGTON: You're welcome.
OLBERMANN: Is - isn't this how Prince Charming and Cinderella started?
REICHERT: I think you might - the story might closely resemble that, yes.
OLBERMANN: As impressive as the gesture this morning, your detective work, how did you find out that that shoe belonged to Nancy Pelosi? Who did the - forgive the expression - the gumshoe work on this?
REICHERT: Well, you know, yesterday, as we were being directed out of the Capitol, I happened to run across the shoe on the stairwell as hundreds of people were moving down the stairwell being directed outside. I stooped over and picked up the shoe.
And later on that evening, I tried to locate the owner of the shoe. My wife e-mailed me and said that she'd heard on the news that Nancy Pelosi had lost a shoe, was missing a shoe. So the staff called and verified that she was missing a shoe. Staff identified the shoe. And this morning, we walked over to her office, and I presented her with her pink slipper.
OLBERMANN: And it never crossed your mind to sell it on eBay or hold it hostage for some votes somewhere down the road?
REICHERT: No. I hadn't thought about that. But I did think about maybe asking her if the DCCC could remove me from the 10-most-wanted list.
OLBERMANN: And the flip end of that, you know, Representative Pelosi is not exactly the most favorite Democrat among the Republicans. This is dangerous bipartisanship, sir. Do you expect any flak from your own party?
REICHERT: Well, you know, I guess I can't take the sheriff out of me. You know, it's - I just have this natural inclination to - just to be helpful, no matter what party you belong to.
OLBERMANN: And you've even resisted the temptation to say something like, you know, Here the Democrats go throwing another shoe, like a bad horse in the race.
REICHERT: That thought had occurred to me. And, you know, I'm getting a lot of support from my Republican friends for the kind deed that I was able to do today.
OLBERMANN: As she is getting a lot of support from having her shoe back.
Last question. You mentioned back home in King County, you were the sheriff, you were in the sheriff's office before that. I'm sure evacuations are nothing new to you. Other than a lost pair of shoes, how did this one go, in your estimation?
REICHERT: Well, I thought the Capitol police did an outstanding job. There were hundreds of people to be moved out of the Capitol, thousands to be moved off the entire campus. And from what I saw, from my experience, the operation went very smoothly. And I haven't heard of one person who was injured. We all got out of the building safely and were directed to a relatively safe place away from the Capitol and the House buildings.
OLBERMANN: And all shoes have been returned to their rightful owners.
REICHERT: That's right.
OLBERMANN: Representative Dave Reichert of Washington state, who reached across party lines to return House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's missing shoe, and who thus can say, he truly knows how it feels when the shoe - you knew this was coming - is on the other foot.
Thank you, congressman.
REICHERT: Very good, thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And the poster children for bipartisanship were back at it today. The ex-presidents strike again. The improbable friendship of the tsunami fundraisers-in-chief, that would be the first president named Bush, and the one who bounced him from office, named Clinton, giving birth this afternoon to a brand-new comedy act at a charity luncheon in Washington.
This isn't friendship anymore, it's an adoption.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Barbara referred to him, and introduced him other night as "My son Bill." But maybe overgoing it - overstating it just a little bit, but...
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Thanks, Dad.
You know, when we were down in Houston the other day, and Barbara bush referred to me as "son." One of my hardcore Democratic friends on the way out said, You know, that family will stop at nothing to get another president in the family.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLBERMANN: Would that we could get something like that going in Iraq.
More bloodshed today.
While back here, you'll meet the severely wounded vet who made Congress realize that the injured were being devastated by medical bills they have to pay.
And another car chase, another fatality, another round of debate over the ethics of the process and of the television.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The number is staggering, and it just keeps climbing, more than 400 Iraqis killed in the two weeks since the new government of that country was announced. Another 21 lives taken today in six separate attacks. Four of the six car bombs in and around Baghdad, the worst detonating in a crowded market area, witnesses saying that local residents reacted angrily when U.S. troops rushed to the scene, shouting and throwing stones in evident frustration over the lack of security.
Today's violence not limited, though, to car bombings. Also in Baghdad, an Iraqi general and a colonel gunned down this morning on their way to work.
In addition, three American soldiers were killed today, five of a U.S.
· day five, rather, of a U.S. military operation aimed at rooting out militants from their desert outposts.
On Tuesday, Congress passed, and the president then signed, another $82 billion in appropriation for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if your knees weakened at that news, or your politics roiled up inside you, there is something to consider before you protest the war or the money.
Contained within that $82 billion is a long-overdue and eminently human gesture.
Tonight, Countdown's Monica Novotny introduces us to the man, the wounded vet, who had as much to do with it making it happen as anybody else, in government or out.
Good evening, Monica.
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
More than 6,000 American service members have been wounded thus far in Iraq, many of them facing severe, life-altering injuries. Now, there is a dramatic change in how they'll be taken care of financially, thanks to the hard work of one of their own.
NOVOTNY: How does it feel now that the legislation has passed? Is it a big victory for you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a huge victory to help out all these soldiers that we're going to help out (INAUDIBLE)...
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Jeremy Feldbusch (ph) is still fighting for his fellow soldiers, battling to win much-need financial help for severely injured service members, a situation he knows all too well.
After joining the Army to see the world, Jeremy was blinded by shrapnel from a mortar while guarding an Iraqi dam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do see with other people's eyes, but I don't see with my eyes anymore. I see with my heart.
NOVOTNY: Jeremy was transported to a Texas military hospital, spending two months battling brain injuries and blindness. He was in a coma for six weeks. His parents never left his side.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is to certify that the president of the United States of America has awarded the Purple Heart.
NOVOTNY: His mother, Charlene, forced to quit her job, cutting the family income almost in half, adding financial burdens to the emotional ones, and seeing firsthand the challenges thousands of wounded military members and their families face.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your mortgage, your car payment, your utility bills, your taxes, everything has to still be taken care of. And you really don't want to think about those things. Your thought is with your soldier. So it can be very stressful.
NOVOTNY: Jeremy, now 25, continues his recovery at home. And as he's discovered, though military health insurance covers medical bills, before a service member begins receiving veteran's benefits, the cost-of-living expenses can add up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are months, sometimes a year, before they are transitioned into the Veterans Administration. And in that time period, they still have the bills that need to be met.
NOVOTNY: So Jeremy teamed with other fellow veterans traveling to Washington last month, representing the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project. Their goal, to establish disability insurance costing service members just $1 a month, easing the financial burdens for future service men and women hurt in combat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of those big holes that needs to be filled.
NOVOTNY: They soon found the support they needed from Idaho Senator Larry Craig.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: The amendment would pay between $25,000 and $100,000 based on severe - the severity of the traumatic injury.
NOVOTNY: Senator Craig says the soldiers nearly broke records by passionately pushing through legislation in just weeks.
CRAIG: What they said to me that was so profound was, This is not for us. These are for our friends.
NOVOTNY: The amendment, signed into law this week by the president as part of the latest war spending bill, thanks to a young veteran who continues to serve.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm always going to be there for them. Have to.
Never leave a fallen comrade behind.
NOVOTNY: And though Jeremy and the soldiers he worked with in Washington did not ask for this, the disability insurance will be retroactive, which means every service member who was severely injured after October 7, 2001, the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, will receive the full benefit. And that will range from $25,000 to $100,000.
If you'd like more information on the Wounded Warrior Project, you'll find it on our Web site at firstname.lastname@example.org [link].
OLBERMANN: Right. That takes care of the past. What about the present and the future? How soon before this is implemented? How soon before they see the money?
NOVOTNY: The senator says about 180 days. So not quite as quickly as they were able to push the legislation through, but by Washington standards, not bad. They will all get the money. That's the bottom line.
OLBERMANN: Right, yes, by government standards, it's a lightning strike.
OLBERMANN: Countdown'S Monica Novotny. Great thanks, as always.
NOVOTNY: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And we leave the world of politics and war behind for a world we don't want to get caught in alone at night. What the...?
And a Countdown update. This story was weird enough before today's surprising development. The latest coming up.
OLBERMANN: We're back with the segment now that takes a look at real issues facing real people in real communities, most of them real stupid. The issues, not the people.
Let's play Oddball.
We begin on Welcome Avenue in Henderson, North Carolina. Some folks are up in arms over a pair of giant legs in their neighbor hands, that hood, neighbor hands hood. You know, I've had dreams like this.
Ricky Pierce (ph), part-time artiste and full-time backhoe operator - who are you calling a backhoe? - says the legs are art, a sculpture based on Marilyn Monroe, which he crafted out of concrete. Some neighbors say, It's not that we don't love art, it's just that a pair of 20-foot-high naked legs lying spread-eagled between two churches with strategically planted bushes in between is not exactly Raphael's "Madonna's and Child."
Then again, the name of the street is Welcome Avenue. Come on in.
Our legs are always open.
In an absolutely unrelated story, someone has stolen a 10-foot wiener from in front of the Ebenezer Grill in Rockhill, South Carolina.
_Dr. Freud? Dr. Freud?_
Hot dogs chasing Marilyn Monroe through the Holland Tunnel.
Restaurant owner Lloyd Ardrey (ph) says the big smiling hot dog is worth $600, and someone must have climbed on the roof with tools in order to steal it. He's offering a reward for its safe return, and he actually told the Associated Press, "I just want my weenie back," unquote. Thank you for that quote, $50 is on its way.
Finally, to the small town of Lampasas, Texas, where one elementary school is welcoming eight sets of twins into the kindergarten class, five sets of fraternals, two - three sets of identicals. Klein Wittis (ph) Elementary already has a set of twins in the second grade. Then there are the two sets in the first grade, and there's another in pre-K. That makes a total of 12.
Lampasas authorities are said to have been rethinking their decision a few years back to put the heavy-duty fertility drugs into the public water supply.
Also tonight, another high-speed chase ending in death, and the postmortem in police stations and TV newsrooms.
And our puppet eBay auction reaches its puppet climax. You can't bid, you can still win, not just a new edition of Puppet Theater tonight, also behind the puppets, a rare look at the making of this extravaganza. Oh, yes, that's the word, "extravaganza."
Now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day, the three (INAUDIBLE).
It's the birthday today of the great English teacher, Shakespearean authority, who I interviewed here awhile back. He taught us morons at Hackley (ph) School in Tarrytown, New York, for about 35 years, which makes it all the more amazing that today he turned 46.
Number two, Ashanti Black of Colorado Springs, Colorado, walked into an electronics store there, allegedly picked up a 23-inch TV, threw his coat over it, told an employee he had to take it or someone was going to kill his mother, and then asked that employee, Can you give me a 10-second delay before calling the cops?
They didn't. Give me three steps, give me three steps, Mister.
And number one, the KTF mobile phone company in Seoul, South Korea. It is offering customers a new dial-in service. Have your dog bark into your cell phone, and the company, for $1, will translate what your dog is saying into human. You know, I am happy. I am frustrated. Or given what country they're in, I am not as delicious tasting as I look!
OLBERMANN: It was the summer of 1998, and the televised southern California car chase - the nationally televised southern California car chase - was still a relatively new thing. Each ended identically. The fleeing driver crashed and then gave up or was subdued by the authorities. Until that day in 1998. That's when, with half a dozen aerial cameras on him and his actions televised nationwide on this network and others, the crazy driver got out of his truck and shot himself to death. The screams of shock and disbelief rang out through our newsrooms. Seemingly, nobody had realize that car chases could also end that way.
Once again, that stark fact was painfully imparted yesterday. And as Peter Alexander reports from Los Angeles, we are left with a dead suspect and questions about the journalism and the policing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy's as dangerous as it gets!
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The wild ride began like any other in what's dubbed the "car chase capital of the country," mesmerized news viewers in Los Angeles watching on live TV.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having a hard time with these speeds now because he's lost that tire...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER: For nearly 40 minutes, the stolen car weaved around rush hour traffic, topping 100 miles an hour on the freeway, 80 on city streets, blowing through lights, triggering at least two accidents - thankfully, no one hurt - and trailed by patrol cars, the driver twice dodging disaster, first hitting a guardrail, then the gas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not stopping! He's going to keep going!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER: Later, with a flat front tire, barely missing a father and daughter while trying to make a turn. Watch again as Dad grabs her and dives out of the way.
JEFF BENTLEY, WITNESS: When that car turned, the first thing I was doing is I looked back for Jennifer. And that's - when I seen (INAUDIBLE) I went straight for her.
ALEXANDER: Finally, in a fast food restaurant parking lot, the sedan is trapped. The suspect jumps out, and he has a gun. As officers fire, he drops it, then digs into his pocket for a second weapon, police say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're shooting him! They're shooting him!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER: Helicopter cameras quickly zoom out, but too late for viewers who witnessed the fatal shots. The dramatic chase, reality TV with an ending many viewers may have preferred to miss. Peter Alexander, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: This was the second shootout with Los Angeles law enforcement officials caught on camera this week. It unfolded as LA sheriff Lee Baca was apologizing to residents of the city of Compton for the first one. Ten county deputies surrounded the SUV and began shooting like in the final scene of the original version of Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" - 120 bullets. The suspect was hit four times, his injuries not life-threatening. A deputy was injured by friendly fire. Eleven bullets struck nearby homes. One apparently narrowly missed a 4-year-old child.
An initial assessment by the sheriff's Office of Independent Review said the shooting could be a case of so-called "contagious fire," when one officer starts shooting, the rest following suit. But that explanation not good enough for residents and local politicians, who are calling for another inquiry and looking into the possibility of severing the city of Compton's contract with the sheriff's department.
Joining me now to help piece together how police make the decision to shoot and chase is the former police commissioner of the city of New York, Howard Safir. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
HOWARD SAFIR, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: Different situations, obviously, between Long Beach and Compton, but are they instructive about how officers make that fateful decision that lethal force is their only available option?
SAFIR: Well, to make a lethal force decision - you know, the policy is simple. The decision on the street is hard. The policy is, if you believe that your life is in danger or the life of another is in danger, then you have the right to use lethal force. But those are split-second decisions made by officers on the street. It's easy to analyze after the fact. It's much harder when you're facing an armed suspect.
OLBERMANN: When you're at, though, 120 bullets, is it no longer that split-second kind of thing? I mean, the situation, obviously, with the man who jumps out of his car and has a weapon and is producing a second weapon, that one you can understand in terms of split seconds. But What about the case in Compton?
SAFIR: Case in Compton on its face looks like excessive number of bullets, certainly. And Sheriff Baca, who I know very well, is going to investigate it and get to the bottom of it. But you know, as I've said when I was police commissioner and we had a number of shooting incidents, you should always withhold judgment until the investigation is over. You have to know what was in the minds of the officers. And it certainly could be a feeding frenzy of bullets, but you have to get all the facts first.
OLBERMANN: Is the psychology of that, that term, "contagious fire,"
is that akin to this - obviously, it's not the same thing in term of
importance, but the scenario that is so typical in a city when pedestrians
· they're waiting at a crosswalk and one of them decides to go through to the other side, even though the sign says "Don't walk," and immediately, a dozen other pedestrians follow him because they assume he must know what he's doing. Is that what it's like?
SAFIR: It's not like that. I've been involved in shootings. and I can tell that you there's a lot of adrenaline pumping. But you hope that officers are trained to be as restrained as possible. Again, without knowing what was in the minds of those officers or what was not seen on videotape, we got to wait until the investigation is completed.
OLBERMANN: To the car chase then, sir. Statistics in California alone, 7,000 police chases a year. About 1,400 end in crashes. The one yesterday nearly ran over a young child. And annually, the various law enforcement agencies in that state and in some others say, We're cutting back on this. We are letting more people go. And if the crime for which they are wanted is not severe enough, we're not going to put anybody at risk like that. Are they cutting back enough, if you still have 1,400 crashes a year?
SAFIR: Well, I think each situation is different, but I think the policy of not chasing misdemeanors or traffic violators is a good one. I think a car chase should be a last resort. If you have the ability to use aviation helicopters, to use tracks with spikes in them, to track the vehicle without chasing it in a high-speed pursuit, that's certainly the preferable option.
OLBERMANN: And the last question. Two LA TV stations carried that thing live, with the rationale that they widened the camera shot out the moment that the weapon appeared, so there wouldn't be a close-up shot live with kids watching at 5:30 in the afternoon of what happened. And they always talk about cutting back, too. The cable networks - us - we talk about cutting back on this. Do you think there's been any progress in that area, or is the media still flying blind?
SAFIR: I think the media is flying blind. And often, media helicopters are interfering with police ability to bring these to a proper conclusion. I see no journalistic value in what was done in this chase.
OLBERMANN: Certainly, you could hold and it videotape it and play it back later, at least. That might be something that we could learn from. But in any event, Howard Safir, former police commissioner of the city of New York. Great. Thanks for your time, Mr. Safir.
SAFIR: Good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: On the highways of New York today, not drivers trying to get away from speeding criminals but trying, perhaps, to get away from speeding earth. A 50-foot section of the retaining wall above the Henry Hudson Parkway gave way just before rush hour, spilling dirt and trees and boulders onto one of the entrance ramps, and to a lesser degree, onto the parkway itself.
This is a primary artery into suburban Westchester County. The scene is just up from the George Washington bridge. Witnesses report the collapse happened in two stages. First just a minor rock slide, so the bystanders on the street there knew to get out of the way. Cars, too, apparently. Nobody believed trapped in there. Of course, they're not sure. The cars that you may see in some of these shots had been parked along the entrance route.
Then came the major collapse. No injuries reported. An apartment building above the scene has been evacuated. Commuters who use the route frequently say there had been extensive trimming of trees along that region of the parkway lately. It's a parkway that was built 70 years ago, not renovated in the last 30 years, and now possessing its very own big pile of dirt.
And far greater implications for commuters in this scene. It's only getting worse along the beleaguered northeast corridor of Amtrak. This is one of those many train bridges between Newark and Penn Station in New York City. It carries all the Amtrak trains running south of New York. Not at the moment, of course. Authorities in Kearney, New Jersey, say they believe the fendering (ph) system on the bridge caught fire. That's, in effect, the bumpers, the protections around the bridge, pylons at water level. And they don't know what - or looking at this thing, maybe they don't know who caused it or if the bridge will be in any kind of ship to carry trains or when or what on earth Amtrak would do if that bridge's integrity were to be damaged.
Also tonight, the most bizarre ending to the most bizarre story that we first brought you on this always bizarre Countdown. This did not work as well as it first seemed. And what happened to Dave Chappelle's superb comedy show? Dave's - he's doing stand-up for an audience only he can see, if you know what I mean. Details ahead.
OLBERMANN: It started off weird, it turned into disturbingly fascinating, and it ended tragically. Well, you could say that about life. But in fact, we're being specific about tonight's number two story in the Countdown. The tiger cubs who had been breast-fed by a human volunteer have died.
This was the startling videotape that just popped up on the show one night from the Rangoon zoo in the nation of Myanmar, which we used to call Burma. And that was 40-year-old Hla Htay, unless the H's in her name are silent, in which she was actually called Latte. She is a relative of one of the zoo officials, and they were stuck with two of the cubs fathered by the Bengal tiger called Noa-Noa (ph). Well, Noa-Noa's wife was not exactly maternal. She killed one of the three cubs and would not or could not feed the other two. And the surviving two tigers would not accept milk from a bottle, so that's where Hla Htay stepped in, suckling the tiger cubs three times a day for around about a month.
But Rangoon had a heat wave which endangered the cubs' lives to being with, and then it proved that, as a veterinarian at the zoo put it, their livers could not accept human milk. No truth to rumors that after they cubs passed, Hla Htay said, Now you tell me?
In show biz, they warn, never follow kids or animal acts, or worse still, dead kid animal acts. It's not going to matter, though, to the subject of our lead item in our nightly round-up of the celebrity and show biz news, "Keeping Tabs." It's Dave Chappelle and what might be the explanation for the sudden postponement of the third season premiere of his brilliant show on Comedy Central.
"Entertainment Weekly" is quoting an unnamed source close to the situation who reports that Chappelle abruptly flew to South Africa last month and checked himself in voluntarily to a psychiatric facility there. If the story is true - there's no confirmation or denial from Chappelle's people - there are no details on exactly what's wrong. But it noteworthy to remember the story of a similarly intense comedic genius, the British writer and radio performer Spike Milligan. The burden of writing the way-out program "The Goon Show," in which he and Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers starred in the '50s, was such that on several occasions during holiday breaks, Milligan reportedly had doctors put him into a temporary coma so he could just stop thinking for a while.
No idea if that's ever been suggested to Robin Williams, nor what they would use that might have the slightest chance of working on him. Maybe extra-strength elephant tranquilizers. In any event, Williams has another issue to deal with right now, an impersonator. The syndicated series "Celebrity Justice" reports that a performer named Michael Clayton claims to do an impersonation of Williams as an act but that Williams is now going to sue Clayton and Clayton's agent, a man named Michael Pool, claiming they're really impersonating him - not on stage.
The allegations, that Clayton pretended to be Williams to get special treatment from an airline and an airport, and that Pool tried to get 2,500 bucks out of a charity by promising to deliver Robin Williams for its fundraiser. The head of that charity said that not only did Clayton do a flawless Robin Williams voice on the phone, but he also did a perfect Mrs. Doubtfire voice.
Have you ever heard of monkeys imitating maids? It's no joke at the Neverland ranch. The trial, the puppet theater, the monkeys, the puppet auction and our special presentation, "Behind the Puppets." Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Yes, the clock - cue the clock! The clock. Thank you. The clock is ticking down, as opposed to some broken one somewhere that's ticking up. More on the "Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre" puppet auction in a moment. But leading our number one story in the Countdown tonight, the real Jackson trial and the extraordinary nugget of information contained in the outtakes of the Martin Bashir documentary that the jury got to see. Two words: "monkey butlers." Yes, it's your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 542 of the Michael Jackson investigations.
And in that videotape, Jackson explained that he used his pet chimpanzees to clean the Neverland ranch. He had trained them to dust, do the windows and brush the toilets. He said nothing about whether or not they had also been trained to dispose of the evidence.
Testimony today, a former Jackson attorney underscoring what prosecution witness Debbie Rowe had said when she called Jackson's associates, quote, "opportunistic vultures." David LeGrand made that accusation tangible, saying it was about $965,000 worth, LeGrand claiming that at least two of the pop star's closest aides questionably diverted that much - 965,000 grand - from Jackson's accounts. He says he was fired two weeks after questioning those transactions.
Wait. Theft by Jackson's closest aides? The chimps? Damn, dirty, thieving apes!
Perhaps as importantly as the news of Jackson's monkey butlers and chimpanzee housekeepers was the revelation from Judge Rodney Melville that this was jury appreciation week in the California judicial system. Each day, the Jackson jurors have been getting what Melville calls "treats," doughnuts and orange juice Monday, a bowl of fruit Tuesday, chips and salsa yesterday. And today? well, for today, you'll just have to pay attention to the latest edition of our dramatic recreation of courtroom events, "Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
"JUDGE MELVILLE": Today's jury appreciation week treat is carrot cake!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yay!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yay!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yay!
"MICHAEL JACKSON": Oh, no! My chimpanzee housekeeping staff has escaped, and they love carrot cake. They're very smart. Their DNA is identical to humans, when you look under a microscope. And I've been doing that a lot lately. Who-hoo!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Tomorrow, the treat will be a submarine sandwich, so they better make sure Elizabeth Taylor isn't testifying.
When it comes to puppet theater, you better be sure you're bidding on the real thing. We are in the home stretch now, just under four minutes until the complete set of our six authentic show-used "Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre" puppets, each autographed by some guy, is sold for charity on eBay. The amazing total for the Celiac-Sprue Association, at $14,500. We cannot thank you enough.
We do warn you that there is at least one set of knock-off puppets also up for auction. Those are not authentic. You can tell that because we have never made a puppet theater puppet of U.N. ambassador-designate John Bolton.
But we have done just about everything else. Now, as you know, this is the world of media 2005. Whatever you create, be it in a newscast, a film or schlocky satire with popsicle sticks, you also have to create a behind-the-scenes look at its creation. Well, we can follow the herd with the best of 'em. Besides, this'll kill three or four minutes right here. Another inside glimpse, courtesy "Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre."
JIM FORBES, NARRATOR (voice-over): Television. The word itself implies the very elements necessary for this ubiquitous informational media. So when the most important story of the modern age comes along...
DAN ABRAMS, "THE ABRAMS REPORT": Shocker! More drama at the Michael Jackson case!
FORBES:... how does an award-winning news team cover it, when there are no pictures? They call it puppet theater. The idea? Give America what they crave, a peek inside the California courtroom where Michael Jackson is standing trial and recreate it with popsicle stick puppetry.
_UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hmm, popsicles!_
FORBES: But how does something as simple as this become this? The process begins, of course, with a script.
OLBERMANN: I have really bad nightmares. And I just wake up in the middle of the night screaming and write them down, and then we act them out as puppet theater.
FORBES: It's tracked in a state-of-the-art sound booth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love this part (INAUDIBLE)
FORBES: Puppets are crafted by hand, and then they're brought to life
by a crew of 45 and the magic of television.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) and I'll just come up and follow it in, and then she's going to flush.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You thought I liked meeting men in bathrooms?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are there any creative differences ever?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys suck.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, never.
FORBES: Later, the project heads to post-production for sweetening and finishing touches.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How important is the accuracy? How real is puppet theater?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're a news network. Facts are very important to us. The rocks the other day that they were throwing at the lions? Real. Totally real.
FORBES: In the shadow of real news is where television history is being made by the creative geniuses behind "Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre."
_"MICHAEL JACKSON": Woo-hoo!_
OLBERMANN: A staff full of actors. By the way, my great thanks to another one of my old colleagues, the terrific Jim Forbes, the voice of "Behind the Music," who narrated that for us.
That's Countdown. Tomorrow night, the outcome of the puppet auction, plus why they should rebuild the World Trade Center towers exactly as they were, but with one tower precisely 229 feet, 4 inches shorter than the other one.
I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END