'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 16
Guests: Jack Rice, Louise Slaughter
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
After riots, after taking hits from the White House, "Newsweek" apologize, says it's not sure its story about interrogators flushing copies of the Koran down the toilet was entirely correct.
But what about the half-dozen previous media stories claiming that?
And why does a book in a toilet start riots, but a war doesn't?
The Blair memo. Did the British agree to join the U.S. in that war in Iraq in July 2002, with, quote, "intelligence and facts being fixed around the policy"?
Seven hundred thousand homes fixed, or still to be fixed, in Florida. Yet the forecast for the next hurricane season is already out. None of us are going to like it.
If you like Dave Chappelle, good news. He's not crazy. He's not in a psychiatric institution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVE CHAPPELLE, COMEDIAN: I'm cleaning up my act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: He has simply, he says, pulled a Flintstone.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
What would foment more violence in this country and other Western nations, some sort of Muslim group burning down a Bible-publishing plant, killing all the employees, or the same group burning one copy of the Bible?
Our answer would almost unanimously be, burning down the plant.
Not in the Muslim world. There, a report that the U.S. was investigating whether interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet not only preceded rioting that claimed 15 lives, but also led to strained international diplomacy, sharp words from the Pentagon and the White House about the reporting, and today, a retraction from the magazine that did the reporting, even though it was not the first publication to report it.
While the White House attributed anti-American rioting in Afghanistan last week to the revelation, the U.S. military itself disagreed. The violence there caused at least 15 deaths, then spread throughout the Muslim world.
"Newsweek" first apologizing for the report over the weekend, and then late this afternoon, formally retracting the story. Quote, "Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay." The earlier apology added, "We regret that we got any part of our story wrong and extend our sympathies to the victims of the violence."
But did the magazine's report really cause those demonstrations in the first place? General Richard Meyers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, telling reporters at the Pentagon last Thursday that the rioting was related more to the ongoing political reconciliation process in Afghanistan than to anything else, Koran abuse story included.
Not so, says the press secretary at the White House, placing the death count, not to mention media credibility at large, squarely at "Newsweek"'s doorstep.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It has done damage to our image abroad. And it has done damage to the credibility of the media, and "Newsweek" in particular. People have lost lives. This report has had serious consequences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: For the record, MSNBC has a business partnership with "Newsweek," especially regarding the Internet.
That caveat out of the way, I'm joined now by Craig Crawford, White House columnist for "Congressional Quarterly" and, of course, an MSNBC analyst, also the author of "Attack the Messenger: How Politicians Turn You Against the Media," due for release this fall.
Good evening, Craig.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Hi, there, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Something smells funny to me about this "Newsweek" apology, then retraction. Do you sense the same thing? And what the heck are we smelling?
CRAWFORD: I certainly do. I mean, you know, the facts of this case that strike me the most is the lengths "Newsweek" went to to try to vet this story before they published it. I mean, they gave to it two media officers at the Pentagon and at the Southern Command ahead of time. The story was based on the statements of a government official.
And then what happens when all hell breaks loose, the government official, the source, changes his story. And the government officials who'd been shown in advance are now saying that it's (INAUDIBLE), "Newsweek"'s responsible for something just short of murder, I suppose.
OLBERMANN: Crazy theory based on today's developments. "Newsweek" quotes a government source on this, as you mention, then gets blasted by the White House. "Newsweek" apologizes, but won't retract. Then Scott McClellan makes himself available for the networks for interviews, a rare occurrence, in which he blasts "Newsweek" even further. And then late this afternoon, "Newsweek" retracts.
Are these events interrelated? Or am I a victim of my own favorite logical fallacy here?
CRAWFORD: I think the dots connect, Keith. What we've seen is what we've seen before with this administration. Other politicians, Democrats too, saw it in the Clinton White House during the scandal, that when the media stumbles in any way, no matter how insignificant, they try to push them right off the cliff.
And that's what's happening here. I mean, this magazine did get a story wrong. It was wrong because the government official they quoted changed his story after the fact. And they are now (INAUDIBLE) faced with retracting the story. And that will be the lead. That's what people will focus on.
And it gives the administration the upper hand here, in saying that the media screwed up.
OLBERMANN: I am slightly mystified by Mr. McClellan's fervor. I mean, tying these deaths directly to "Newsweek," when last week, as we just pointed out, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Meyers, said that the rioting in Afghanistan was not tied to the story. They did an after-action report in Jalalabad by the Lieutenant General Ikenberry (ph), and he said, and it's official U.S. State Department stuff here that I'm quoting, it's not some news report of it, he said, "The political violence was not in fact connected to the magazine report."
This seems to be something of a disconnect between the White House and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff.
CRAWFORD: Yes, I think the White House is a little more attuned to the opportunities here for the targets of opportunity, this proposed for dealing with attacking the media. And that wasn't the first inclination of the others who talked about this.
Yes, I think we, it's a bit disingenuous. Again, the government had the opportunity to see this report before it was published and passed. This is a pattern we've seen before, Keith. We saw it in the CBS case. As bad as the supposedly fake memorandum that Dan Rather used in the "60 Minutes" report on Bush's National Guard service, bad as that was, they did show it to the administration and ahead of time.
It does make you wonder if sometimes they set up the news media by not taking the opportunity to say, or at the very least saying, you know, Give us some time to look into this. We're not sure if this is accurate or not. But in this case, both the Pentagon and Southern Command had an opportunity to look at this story, and did not raise an objection.
OLBERMANN: Yes, if I'm wrong, and it matters, tell me I'm wrong. But last thing here, in terms of the politics, is this more poorly defined than perhaps the White House thinks it is? I mean, conservatives could say, as you're hearing today, "Newsweek" put this country in a bad light. But they could also say, See, this is what we do to those prisoners at Gitmo. Is it actually a tougher call on the right side of the political spectrum than it would first appear?
CRAWFORD: It may be, because this particular behavior, stuffing a Koran down the toilet, was reported earlier. There are other abuses that have been reported. Now, when it was reported earlier, it was on the basis of testimony from detainees themselves. What was different about this is, they had a government source confirming that it was in a government report.
And so you have kind of a bizarre situation, where it's the government sourcing this report and now attacking the media for getting it wrong when it was the government itself that gave that story to the news media.
OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford, whose new book is "Attack the Messenger:
How Politicians Turn You Against the Media," preorder your copies now, avoid the mad crush later on.
CRAWFORD: Just in time for the holidays, Christmas holidays...
OLBERMANN: Yes, yes, well...
OLBERMANN:... timed, at least.
CRAWFORD: Thank you very much, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Craig, many thanks, as always, sir.
CRAWFORD: All right.
OLBERMANN: As noted at the beginning, the Muslim reaction to the unconfirmed desecration of a couple of Korans seems almost impenetrable to us, especially given the acknowledged problems at, say, Abu Ghraib prison, or even at Gitmo. In Cuba, of course, all manner of deprivations, if not degradations, have been accused, some even acknowledged by the military running the terror detention camp there, including refusing Muslim prisoners Muslim meals.
Abu Ghraib was, from our perspective, of course, something you'd think somebody would riot over, humiliation of males by female guards, a raw nerve in the Islamic world. Forced nudity, forced simulated sex, reports in other detention facilities in the region of water boarding, the near-drowning of prisoners.
So on the list of sins, real and imaginary, committed against prisoners, why is this one that would inspire (INAUDIBLE) rioting, inspire outrage from the U.S. government, and a retraction and an apology from a newsmagazine?
I'm joined now by former CIA special agent Jack Rice, who is now the host of his own radio station on WCCO in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Jack, good evening.
JACK RICE, FORMER CIA SPECIAL AGENT: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: I'm getting a disconnect here. For all we know, the first bombing run in Iraq in March 2003 destroyed a Koran printing plant. Why would the alleged desecration of one or two copies of that book, as holy as it might have been to its owners, engender such a response?
RICE: I think the biggest fear that the United States has is that this is an attack on Islam. It's been a fear from the very beginning. And we've watched it all along the way, the idea that we've done various things in various countries is true. But the idea of using the Koran as a too, and then desecrating that Koran, simply would be illustrative of what people might believe around the world, that we're going after Islam, not we're going after terrorists. And there is a distinction.
OLBERMANN: "The Philadelphia Inquirer" reported this story, as Craig Crawford mentioned, in January, Koran abuse, quoting the attorney for a dozen Kuwaitis at Gitmo. There was a story like it in "The Washington Post" in March of 2003. The British news agencies have reported it. The Russian news agencies have reported it.
Is it plausible that this could have been done at Gitmo? And is there any rule says you can't do it?
RICE: You know, is it plausible? Yes. Under the circumstances, you look at some of the mistakes that we've made in Afghanistan, Kandahar, some of the mistakes we've made in Iraq, some of the mistakes we've made in Gitmo. All of that seems to point to mistakes have been made.
And yet at the same time, if I were interrogating these guys in front of me, these are fundamentalist Muslims. Now, we think of it like that. First thing that I would do is, I would embrace the Koran. I would actually say, What the Koran says is important. What you say is important. Now, let's work through that.
The idea of actually can destroying a Koran in front of somebody strikes me as - how do I use this technically? A knucklehead idea. It's a crazy idea.
So the idea of doing that, maybe somebody has, but the idea of doing that strikes me as foolish.
OLBERMANN: Now, this is not a religion by which you can pick up a book again, no matter how holy it might seem, and put a gun to it and say, Talk, or we'll kill this Koran, is it?
RICE: No. There's nothing like this. This is a totally different game. And the idea that somebody could do something like this shows me that they're not only naive, but potentially stupid. That's the last thing we need to do.
There are certain things that we need to be concerned about. There are a billion-plus Muslims in the world. We need to attract a large number of those to convince them that, in fact, we're right, but we're also working in their interests.
If we do something like this, and this leaks out, which inevitably it will, what we're going to do is convince a great majority of those people that we're not there for them, we're there for us. And we cannot manufacture enough bullets to kill that many people. We can't do it.
OLBERMANN: How do you feel if you're General Meyers tonight, or you're General Ikenberry in Jalalabad, and you said the Afghan riots were not caused by the "Newsweek" story, and today the White House said, Yes, they were, and the people who are dead are basically "Newsweek"'s fault?
RICE: You know what? This smells political on all ends to me. It's the most political on the Bush administration. Let's face it, as your previous guest put it, Clinton did it too. I think we've seen it administration to administration.
But, you know, there is another whiff of political about this. Musharraf said this in Pakistan. Let face it, this guy is not a fundamentalist. Everybody knows it. But he has to act like that too. And there are others in the Middle East who are using this for political reasons too.
So all sides are doing this. That's not to say there aren't those who have heartfelt beliefs regarding this. But a lot of people on all sides are trying to use this for their benefit.
OLBERMANN: From "The Jack Rice Radio Show" on WCCO in the Twin Cities, the former CIA special agent, Jack Rice. Great thanks for your time tonight, Jack.
RICE: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the Blair memo project, the document that alleges the U.S. cooked the prewar intel and got Britain to sign off on it six months before the Iraq war. Now congressmen here are asking questions of the White House.
And as Florida still reels from last year's parade of hurricanes, forecasts out today warn that this summer could be just as bad.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: If you have forgotten those six weeks at the end of last summer, congratulations, or shame on you, depending on where you live. Charlie, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, August and September, almost always on a Friday or Saturday night, four in 40 days, one or the other of them dragging itself across a strip of Florida like a box cutter, Riviera Beach, Pensacola, Jupiter, Punta Gorda. The damage is far from repaired.
And yet, as Kerry Sanders reports in our fourth story on the Countdown, the hurricane forecast for next year is already out, and it's not good either.
KERRY SANDERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The hurricane predictions are made every year.
VICE ADMIRAL CONRAD LAUTENBACHER, NOAA ADMINISTRATOR: The statistics favor more of them striking the United States.
SANDERS: But this year in Florida...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... for the mandatory evacuation order...
SANDERS:... after last year's record four hurricanes in 40 days, survivors say this new forecast is unsettling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's left out there are homes that were destroyed that have yet to be demolished.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's real scary. Another hurricane comes, we've got problems. There's no question about it.
SANDERS: Joe Danks (ph) today watching from his yard in Charlotte County, Florida, as his Gulf Coast neighbor's house, destroyed by Hurricane Charlie, was finally cleared away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think you could get any more scared than you were after last year.
SANDERS: The so-called big four in '04, stacked up with Charlie. then Francis, Ivan, then Jeanne. Left in the wake, 59 dead in the United States, more than 700,000 damaged or destroyed homes, just in Florida, with more than $34 billion in losses.
Despite that damage, and this year's predicted threats, real estate in Florida is not only holding its value, it's more valuable, especially along the water. Before hurricane Ivan hit, the houses on Pensacola Beach sold for $1 million. Today, prices are still $1 million and more.
JENNIFER MCCRARY, PARADISE COASTAL REALTY: There's just not a lot of properties. The supply and the demand is - you know, there's no supply, big demand.
SANDERS (on camera): A demand that may seem even more mystifying, given today's predictions of another above-average hurricane season.
Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami Beach.
OLBERMANN: From the sea to overseas, it's the return of the invasion of the bun snatchers. No one got hurt in the recording of this story, this time.
And Dave Chappelle's disappearing act. He walked away from a $50 million contract and a hit show. Was he crazy? High? Pulling a Rick James? No. In his own words, he was doing a Flintstone. Explain what that means when Countdown continues.
OLBERMANN: If you are playing along with the home version of Countdown, you should wait just a moment before you move your little plastic frog to the number three story lily pad.
First, we've got our nightly segment of strange news.
So let's play Oddball.
And this is strange. We begin in Lithuania for Countdown's first sign that summer is on the way. It's Crazy Flying Machine Festival season. Brave aviators from all around the city of Bakai (ph) showing up for their own version of "Top Gun" competition. First prize goes to whoever's craft could glide the furthest. I believe the winning distance was six feet.
But this was not about winning and losing. This was about playing on the outskirts of heaven on the fragile wings of man.
It's especially beautiful, really, specifically the guys with the toilet-mobile.
Hey, is that a (INAUDIBLE) - Never mind.
To Hong Kong, where there's great news, everybody, bun snatching is back. It's got nothing to do with groping on the subway. We're talking about hot-dog-style buns here. The goal, to climb the Bun Tower, snatching as many as possible. The ones on the top are worth more.
This used to be an annual tradition until it was banned 26 years ago. There was an accident, see, and hundreds of people were hurt. The buns didn't cross their fall. I guess it must be safer now. Then again, what we're learning about carbs lately, I don't know. Maybe it's not.
Finally, to Beijing. No buns in this tower, just a homeless Chinese artist and his indignation over urban sprawl. Fee Yu built his nest, as he calls it, outside a new upscale apartment complex and says he's going to eat, sleep, even use the bathroom up there, until people get the point about rampant over-urbanization in Beijing. Or, until Mr. Fee Yu mysteriously disappears into his exciting new life, being politically reeducated, and they knock down his nest to put up a Starbuck's.
Speaking of reeducation, 88 Democrats and an independent have written a letter to the president. It's all in the aftermath of a memo that claims President Bush and Tony Blair made a commitment to take out Saddam Hussein long before the diplomatic push to avert the Iraq war.
And may the political force be with you. Seeing parallels between the new "Star Wars" flick and the current political situation, or just plain seeing things?
These stories ahead.
But now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Michael Shewman of Muncie, Indiana, going to jail for 20 years for trying to hold up a bank with a vacuum cleaner attachment. No truth to rumors that the teller responded to him, You suck.
Number two, W. Christopher White, real estate attorney of New York, New York, bought a house on Montauk on the water on Long Island there. Didn't like the house, so he let the local fire department burn it down for practice. He gets a tax break. He builds a new house. But his view was obscured by the house next door. So he bought that house too, and he let the fire department burn it down for practice.
Mr. White is either very, very rich, or he is a pyromaniac.
And number one, Peter Gloystein, deputy leader of the German state of Bremen. He has apologized for the incident at Wine Week last Wednesday. You know, the incident, when, with the cameras rolling, he walked up to a homeless man and poured a magnum of sparkling wine over his head. Gloystein says he misinterpreted the situation, and he wants to help out the homeless man, whom he evidently mistook for the winning coach at the Super Bowl.
OLBERMANN: At first glance, a newly revealed secret memo from a secret British government meeting in the summer of 2002 contains explosive revelations. At the very least, it suggests that the Bush administration saw the Iraq war as inevitable, but that because the justification for such a war was thin, the pre-war intelligence was deliberately modeled - or molded, rather, to fit U.S. military plans.
Yet the memo itself obtained and first printed earlier this month by "The London Sunday Times" is not without its share of caveats. Firstly, it is not a transcript, but rather a summary of the meeting between Tony Blair and his top intelligence officials on July 23, 2002. It characterizes what was allegedly said by the cited attendees and thus reflects their opinions of the American intentions at that time. The British government has not confirmed its contents, nor is it disputing the document's authenticity.
Both Prime Minister Blair and President Bush have repeated denied making the decision to go to war in early 2002, but according to the memo, the then head of British intelligence had a different impression based on his meetings with Washington officials. He apparently told the prime minister that, quote, "There was a perceptible shift in attitude, military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action," end quoting.
According to the memo, British foreign secretary Jack Straw acknowledged that the argument to go to war would be a hard sell. The memo says that Straw said, "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided, but the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
We called the White House for comment about this memo. They referred us to the National Security Council. The NSC spokesman, Frederick Jones, told Countdown, quote, "I won't comment on the substance of the document, but our position on the intelligence leading up to the war has been examined by congressional committees, and the administration's view is well known."
As for the view on Capitol Hill, this weekend, Senator John McCain said he didn't agree that the administration fixed intelligence around policy, but he did agree that there were big problems with pre-war information. Quoting him here, "Was it a massive intelligence failure? Should people be held responsible? Yes. But I do not believe that the Bush administration decided that they would set up a scenario that gave us the rationale for going into Iraq."
But 89 congressmen are not so convinced: 88 Democrats, 1 independent have written a letter to the president, asking for an explanation of the so-called Blair memos. Specifically - and the signatories run from Barney Frank of Massachusetts to Jesse Jackson, Jr., of Illinois - they want to know when the decision to go to war was actually made.
I'm joined now by one of them, Democratic representative Louise Slaughter of upstate New York - Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls, et al. Congresswoman, thank you for your time.
REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (D), NEW YORK: It's a pleasure.
OLBERMANN: The administration told us today they have not yet responded to your group's letter. What exactly...
SLAUGHTER: No, they sure haven't.
OLBERMANN: What - if and when they do, what exactly are you hoping to learn from them?
SLAUGHTER: Well, the truth would be refreshing. But frankly, you know, this decision to go to war I think pre-dates even this meeting in London. If Secretary O'Neill, the first secretary of the treasury, is to be believed, the first meeting of the cabinet after the inauguration in the year 2000 dealt with going into Iraq.
And I don't think there's any question, with all the things that've happened since then, that the decision was made to go into Iraq and the justification was then looked for. First we were told that O'Neill didn't know what he was talking about. And then they set about denigrating Richard Clarke. And anybody else who came up with anything to contradict what they were telling us was really - they set upon them and tried to destroy their reputations.
But this is just further confirmation, I think. And the interesting thing in the memo from London is that Tony Blair and the president of the United States decided in April 23 - or April, before the July 23 meeting, that they would go together. Whatever they wanted, whatever Bush wanted to do, Blair would go with them. And I think the fact that everybody said - not only here but in London - that we really didn't have much evidence to go to war on, but they tried to convince people and I think did convince a lot of Americans that it was Saddam Hussein who had attacked the United States.
OLBERMANN: Two devil's advocate questions. Is it not unfair to ask the administration to explain that memo, insomuch as it's a British document, it's got British opinions, British assessment, obviously - obviously leaked out when it did because somebody wanted to influence the British elections earlier this month. There wasn't an American there. Why is the White House responsible for explaining it?
SLAUGHTER: Because ever since the War of 1812, they've been the best allies we've got. We don't go anywhere without them. For heaven's sakes, if we can't trust what the British tell us, we can't trust anybody. And the facts really bear it out. I think there's no question about it. In fact, some of my colleagues had told me about earlier meetings they had had with the president, who talked about the fact that they were in Britain, discussing oil, what they were going to do about it. I don't know of any Americans, really, who are going to be astonished at what's in this memo. We simply want the president of the United States to verify that that's true.
OLBERMANN: All right. The second devil's advocate question. You can argue the justification for the war until the cows come home, and I'm certainly not going to disagree or interrupt you.
OLBERMANN: But if the administration anticipated that there was a chance of going to war in Iraq in February of 2003, as it clearly did no later than Secretary Powell's first speech to the U.N., September of '02, should it not have been meeting with potential allies as of the late summer of '02? I mean, this meeting would have been...
SLAUGHTER: Well, of course.
OLBERMANN:... seven weeks...
SLAUGHTER: And I think they were.
OLBERMANN:... before the secretary's speech.
SLAUGHTER: But remember that according to Secretary O'Neill, they talked about going into Iraq in January, when they were first inaugurated. I mean, this is not anything new. They planned to go to war, and then they tried to find justification for going. Remember all those comments about mushroom clouds and how awful it was going to be and what a threat he was to his neighbors? You remember all that? All of it just absolutely disproved.
OLBERMANN: It might have been literal. It might have been literally meaning clouds of mushrooms.
OLBERMANN: Practically speaking, though...
SLAUGHTER: Maybe he was going to throw mushrooms at people. Perhaps.
OLBERMANN: What, practically speaking, can you do about this? Even if this is, as many critics of the administration contend, a smoking gun, Republicans are in control of both houses. You cannot start an investigation, per se, of your own. How do you proceed...
SLAUGHTER: Oh, yes, we can.
OLBERMANN:... to ascertain the memo's real validity and its meaning, if any.
SLAUGHTER: We can. We can hold our own hearings, even if we have to do them on the lawn of the Capitol, and we can do that. But we owe it to the people who sent us to Congress. Each one of us represents about 650,000 people who want the truth. And I think it is necessary for this country to know the truth so we'll know where we're going to go from here. One other very telling statement in the British document was that no discussion was had about what to do following the war.
OLBERMANN: Representative Louise Slaughter of New York. We're out of time. Our great thanks for your time tonight.
SLAUGHTER: Thank you. Appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: In Iraq itself today, a shocking example of insurgent technique, not surprisingly caught on tape, terrorists using one car bomb to lure in emergency services, then detonating a second device once they'd gotten there. The first bomb went off in a busy Baghdad market. As Iraqi forces rushed in to help victims, a second one exploded, killing nine soldiers, injuring five others. North of the capital, meantime, four more soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on their way to help a fire station under attack.
As for who might be in line to inherit the Iraq issue in 2008, a White House insider is floating a familiar name, the current vice president, Dick Cheney. Bob Woodward, who has had unparalleled press access to the administration's inner circle in its first few years, says Cheney is a serious dark horse candidate for president in '08, Woodward telling Chris Matthews this weekend, quote, "A guy named George might come out and say, What about Dick?"
No response from the vice president today. If he did run in 2008, he would be approaching his 68th birthday, with four heart attacks and three other coronary procedures on his medical record.
And there's no truth to the rumors there's a character called "Chick Daney" in the latest "Star Wars" film, "Revenge of the Sith." That's just about the only political parallel that has not been read into the new Chewbacca vehicle. Some in the industry have their doubts that there's any here, here. "Variety" today described those seeing a connection as, quote, "apparently suffering from politically charged film deprivation."
Nonetheless, as our correspondent, Michael Okwu, reports, in some quarters, the force is being seen as George Lucas versus George Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the much hyped, highly anticipated final episode of a decades-old drama. But this week, the buzz about "Star Wars" episode III, "The Revenge of the Sith," opening in days: it may take shots at the Bush White House.
DAVID ANSEN, "NEWSWEEK" FILM CRITIC: It was clear that there was a parallel between the Bush administration and the rise to power of the empire - the evil empire.
OKWU: It's been major chatter in the blogosphere and beyond. First, the film's theme.
(on camera): In the movie, a war-mongering chancellor of an intergalatic republic asks the senate to give up their liberties and to give him more power under the guise of being under attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are at war, Anakin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANSEN: It appeared to be a reference to the Patriot Act and our sort of giving up our civil liberties in the name of national security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All who gain power are afraid to lose it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRYANT: Many are reading into key lines and their real-life references. This quote from Anakin Skywalker, about to become super-villain Dark Vader: "If you're not with me," he says, "then you're my enemy." President Bush in November, 2001.
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You are either with us or you're against us in the fight against terror.
BRYANT: In an interview, director George Lucas said he was less inspired by the current wartime climate than by the Nixon Vietnam era. "When I wrote it," he said, "Iraq didn't exist." A full-throttle, hair-raising climax now raising eyebrows. Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: From blockbuster movies to blockbuster comedians. Dave Chappelle walked away from his hit show. It turns out "walked" is the right term, not got dragged away under a big butterfly net. And the Countdown Hall of Fame. You have seen the best of the apologies over the years. Tonight we present the stupidest of the stupid traditions. Whee!
Those stories ahead. Though, now here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROB PACKARD, WNWO-TV (voice-over): Wendy's put up the "Free" promise on their signs. They forgot to put up a limit.
(on camera): I'm coming on in for my free junior frosty. My friend and I would like two free frosties, please.
I guess I'll have 10 free frosties.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) on the news. We're selling - giving free frosties.
DOUG "ALRIGHT" FAULKNER: (INAUDIBLE) all right?
BUSH: I'm with you so far.
FAULKNER: OK. You all right?
BUSH: Ready to go.
FAULKNER: (INAUDIBLE) You all right?
BUSH: Go ahead. Keep moving.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Today, fans dressed up and took control of Leicester Square as the cinemas played every "Star Wars" movie back to back.
(on camera): How much of a "Star Wars" fan are you? It's obvious, really, isn't it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is. My brother liked it first, and then -
· so I got into it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The incisiveness, the surgical precision with which the comedian Dave Chappelle cuts up modern culture, especially TV, might best be summarized in a quote from the first explanation he's given of why he suddenly bolted out of his $50 million contract with the Comedy Central channel. Telling "Time" magazine he was stressed out but neither crazy nor smoking crack, he explained he simply needed a spiritual retreat. Our number two story on the Countdown, quote, "Let me just cut myself off from everybody, take a minute, and pull a Flintstone, stop a speeding car by using my bare feet as the brakes," unquote.
Our correspondent, Peter Alexander, now with more on the man who found the man who pull the Flintstone.
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine Jay Leno or David Letterman suddenly disappearing, walking away from millions of dollars, not returning calls from frantic network bosses. Last week, Dave Chappelle, one of television's hot new kings of comedy and one of the best paid, simply vanished. Comedy Central paid Chappelle $50 million to keep producing his hit show. But weeks before the premier of the show's third season, with no fanfare, no announcement, Chappelle was nowhere to be found.
CHRISTOPHER FARLEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: People were saying he's in a mental institution, that he's partying too much, speculating that maybe he's on drugs.
ALEXANDER: Now the first pictures of Dave Chappelle since his so-called disappearing act. "Time" magazine's Chris Farley found the 31-year-old in Durban, South Africa, on what the comedian calls a spiritual retreat.
FARLEY: Dave walked away from the show because he didn't want to make the deadlines. The show was supposed to air on May 31. He's all about quality control. He wanted to make the show - make sure the show was as good as he could possibly make it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVE CHAPPELLE, COMEDIAN: I'd like to take the moment out of the day to address the allegations that this is somehow my fault.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FARLEY: The show deals with a lot of sticky topics - race, sex, politics. And Dave wanted to make sure he didn't make a misstep. He told me, and I quote, that he wanted to make sure he was dancing and not shuffling.
ALEXANDER: Chappelle is Comedy Central's headliner, expected to get big laughs and draw huge audiences to justify that massive payday.
FARLEY: He admitted to me he was stressed out. He admitted to me he did see a psychiatrist. But I don't think he cracked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHAPPELLE: God, if you're listening, help!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER: If the pressure did get to Chappelle, he's in good company.
FARLEY: Chappelle's biggest idols in the comedy world are Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. You know, Richard Pryor, of course, had his own personal problems, which he talked about in his comedy. Eddie Murphy has had his own personal problems (INAUDIBLE) treated. So being the kind of comic that Dave Chappelle admires is tough.
ALEXANDER: Chappelle says he wants to return but didn't say when, for now leaving fans without their favorite $50 million man. Peter Alexander, NBC News, Hollywood.
OLBERMANN: An easy entertainment-to-entertainment segue tonight to our nightly round-up of celebrity and gossip news, "Keeping Tabs." It's a Jackson double feature, starting with your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 546 of the Michael Jackson investigations.
A string of witnesses brought on by the defense today, mostly to discredit prosecution claims that the accuser's family was held captive by the entertainer and his thugs - advisers - and to settle whether or not the accuser's mother had received a body wax or a leg wax. Court (ph) in testimony about this. Answer; Full body wax, according to Carol McCoy, who said she performed it on February 11, 2003, about the time that the accuser's mother claims she and her family were trying to escape.
I'm sorry. I'm broadcasting too loudly for some of the people sitting around the desk tonight.
The accuser's mother had also memorably insisted it was only a leg wax. And an orthodontist, Dr. Jean Lorraine Seamount, and her assistant testified about dental visits by the accuser and his brother and said there was no sign that family members were being held against their will, and nobody was asked, Is it safe?
Also, a housekeeper at Neverland wrapped up her testimony today, Maria Gomez, saying that the accuser's mother had praised Jackson and wanted her children to call him Dad.
And if Jackson and his sister, La Toya, seem to share the same make-up artist, his symbiotic relationship with his other sister, Janet, has now come to this. They are both defendants at the moment, though the lawsuit filed against Janet Jackson is far more pedestrian, a songwriter claiming that Ms. Jackson ripped him off with her 2001 hit "All for You." This according to MSNBC.com's Jeannette Walls. Michael Ortega says that Jackson's Grammy-nominated song was based on one he wrote in 1986, which he later played for Jackson's collaborators, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. They are also named in the suit. There's no suit yet against Jimmy Jam for being named Jimmy Jam.
Also tonight, we begin our week-long tour of the Countdown Hall of Fame. The apology wing you've been to already. To be unveiled tonight in just moments, the exhibition of stupid traditions. Whether you get the bull or the bull, he gets you, it's all bull. Isn't it?
OLBERMANN: It is, as you saw in all the advertisements in the national news magazines and during the massive transcontinental sky-writing campaign today, Countdown "Hall of Fame Week." Each night, we will be brining you the absolute best of our crazy animal stories or our dumbest criminals or our dare-devil stunt sagas, leading up to Friday night's edition of Countdown's "Greatest Story Ever Told."
Tonight, it'll be the "Stupid Traditions" wing of the Hall, and we'll begin the tour shortly. But this isn't just re-edited old videotape. Not by a long shot. Well, actually, it is almost entirely re-edited old videotape, but we've got some new stuff as preamble. It's Houston's Anything That Floats parade - 15 entries, the rules simple. The crafts have to be environmentally sound, float for at least 400 feet, and well, no alcohol on the boats, although nobody checks if you pre-liquored up. Many of this year's entrants, physics students from local Bel Air (ph) high school seeking extra credit. I don't know how. Believe it or not, that was not all the reward to be had. Top prize, 200 bucks for the People's Choice Award going to a float named Blue Man. And you see the connection. An honorable mention goes to this guy. Wait. Who is this guy?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it might be George Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: No. It is, in fact, the good ship Anchorman, and that guy is supposed to be me, but it bears an unlikely resemblance, especially hair-wise, to Sam Donaldson, we thought. Countdown was an event sponsor, proceeds benefiting the Buffalo Bayou conservation and development efforts.
There will doubtless be support for the Anything that Floats parade when the annual balloting comes around in December, but the Countdown Hall of Fame is already pretty darn packed with stupid traditions. That's the part of our shrine in which we begin our week-long tour. Please stay with the group. Don't wander off, especially in this area, because you could get smacked in the head with a ripe fruit lobbed at you in the name of tradition.
(voice-over): It is open year-round, but you want to check your calendar before visiting this exhibit, since you may need a helmet to enter the wing of "Stupid Traditions." Here we celebrate the strange and dangerous things people do year after year all around the world just because, annual events that keep our newscasts filled with interesting video but also make one wonder what is going on in the empty heads of the participants.
Why, for instance, each year in August do the people of Bunol, Spain, engage in Tomatina, a giant, messy tomato food fight? Some sort of ketchup shortage? They do the same thing with oranges in Italy. It signifies an ancient townfolk revolt that had nothing to do with oranges, but hey, orange-ya glad they didn't choose coconuts?
In Galaxidi, Greece, it's flour. They throw flour at each other. Then the spring rains come, and the streets run brown with gravy. The granddaddy of them all, of course, is the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Why, for nine days in July each year, do man and male cow risk life and limb alike in this bizarre spectacle? No one there really knows for sure, especially the bulls. Trust me. If they knew what was waiting for them in the stadium at the end of each day's run, we'd see a lot more bulls' offense on the cobblestones.
But traditions don't have to involve the slaughter of animals nor the waste of food to be stupid. In fact, our favorites usually involve people hurting themselves. Take, for example, the cheese roll in Gloucestershire, England. Only one hunk of cheese is wasted. Of course, all of the participants are wasted. Roll the cheese down the hill, break an ankle, drink some more. It's a formula that has endured for hundreds of years, for some reason.
They have a hill in Japan, too, but they raised the stakes a bit. They've added a big log to the mix. No, not very safe, but safety doesn't get you into the Countdown Hall of Fame, now, does it. It does not. Here we only honor the upper echelon of hazardous traditions, the once-a-year fire walk and belly-flopping, bed-racing, wife-carrying, unsafe-boating, bun-snatching dangers to themselves and others.
Why do they do it? One reason and one reason alone beats in their breasts. Because they did it last year, and the year before that and the year before that. That's not just stupid, that's Hall of Fame stupid.
Tomorrow, it's not just a bear, it's a Countdown Hall of Fame bouncing on a trampoline bear, when we take you on the tour of the Hall of Fame's animal wing. Until then, that's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night, and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END