'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 16
Guest: Jim VandeHei, John Rundle, Richard Willing, Andrew Heatley, Mary Lane
ALEX WITT, GUEST HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Iraq, getting out, and just exactly how we got in, a bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to force the White House to set a timetable to get our troops home.
Meantime, a Democratic effort to get answers out of the president on the infamous Downing Street memo.
Another earthquake hits the West Coast, this time in Los Angeles. This one was moderate, but it's the fourth one in a short span. Is the big one coming?
The Schiavo autopsy, more questions than answers. Today the Schindler family comes out and levels more accusations against their former son-in-law.
Another tragic life-and-death family struggle. A young husband, about to lose his wife, decides to keep her on life support in an effort to save their unborn baby.
And the reporter with a fake bomb gets up close and personal to Prince Harry's military school, and has free reign on campus. More egg on the face of the House of Windsor.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann.
Call it the coalition of the unwilling. Republican lawmakers are now joining their Democratic counterparts to challenge the Bush administration on the war in Iraq.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, how we got into the conflict, and how we should get out of it, beginning tonight with an upsurge of violence against U.S. troops. This week alone, 10 Marines were killed in two separate attacks west of Baghdad, when roadside bombs tore through their unarmored Humvees. U.S. military leaders say the insurgency is changing its tactics, developing new techniques to make each attack even more deadly.
Getting the troops out of harm's way, the top order of business today for four members of the House, two from the far left, two from the far right, announcing they have introduced a resolution that would require the Bush administration to develop a plan by the end of the year to start bringing troops home no later than October of next year.
The political implications of the resolution could be huge for the Bush administration, as could the identity of one of the lawmakers behind it. He is Walter Jones, the Republican Congressman from North Carolina who, at the start of the war, came up with the idea of renaming French fries freedom fries, all in order to get back at France for its opposition to military action.
These days, he is just as passionate about making plans to bring the troops home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded, and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and this discuss. This approach the president the flexibility he needs to reduce our presence in a way that protects U.S. troops and allows Iraqis to defend their country. No one is talking about cutting and running.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Now, whether this is merely a few renegade Republicans on the conservative fringe of the party, or the beginning of a groundswell of support against the war in Iraq is the difference between a nuisance and a serious problem for the White House.
Here to help us figure out where things stand, MSNBC analyst and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.
Pat, welcome back. Always good to see you.
PAT BUCHANAN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, MSNBC ANALYST: Thank you, Alex. Good to see you.
WITT: Poll numbers, as you know, and recruitment shortfalls are suggesting that the public, Pat, that the support there is already turning on the matter of Iraq. Now the congressman who brings us freedom fries thinks the war effort's in trouble? I mean, how big of a problem is this for President Bush?
BUCHANAN: Well, Walter Jones a very courageous congressman from North Carolina, which is a conservative state. It took a lot of guts for him to do this.
Alex, I think the president has to look at his situation the way LBJ was in 1967. The country, 60 percent of the country, thinks the war was a mistake, and 60 percent wants to begin bringing the troops home. The country is moving away from the president.
The president, however, has invested and wagered his legacy, his political - everything he has politically, the strategy of this country, everything's invested in Iraq. And he is pinned to that rock, and he cannot move.
So I think we're facing a very serious situation. We're at the beginning of it, but it is deadly serious.
WITT: All right, now, but Pat, it's a timetable that's being offered there for bringing the troops home. Is that the way to go, as Congressman Jones suggests? Because the administration argues that just won't work, for the simple reason that the insurgencies merely just going to wait for the U.S. military to leave.
BUCHANAN: That's exactly right. And the military - and they could very well step up attacks now, or they could wait and lay back until the American troops start to go, and then attack heavily as we're moving out.
There's no doubt about it, this presents problems. But what the American people are saying, Alex, is, Look, enough is enough, 1,700 dead, 10,000 wounded, over $200 billion in Iraq, and we've got the same number of casualties now as we had a year ago, and the election does not seem to have worked as we had hoped it would and it looked like it would. And therefore, we need a new strategy.
Now, what happened in Vietnam was eventually a colossal disaster. And there's no question that if the United States pulls out of Iraq, and that goes down in chaos or civil war, the United States will suffer a tremendous defeat. The question is, should the president have done it, first and foremost? But now American people seem to be willing to take a wager the president is not.
WITT: All right. So you look at the problem there inside of Iraq, but let's look back domestically, Pat, in term of politics, because if things do not improve significantly, as we get closer to these midterm elections next year, do you think more and more Republicans are going to take a stance against the war, which thereby takes a stance against this president?
BUCHANAN: I think more Republicans will take the stance that Walter Jones did, which is that we ought to start setting a date for withdrawing troops.
But more interesting, I think, Alex, is in the Democratic Party, you're going to see, as we saw in '67, the emergence of a Gene McCarthy candidate. That is going to be an antiwar strong candidate who says, Bring the troops home. He will put pressure on the pro-war Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton and the ones who want to run in 2008, and start to lead this.
I mean, you have 60 percent of the country, and probably a far higher percentage of Democrats want to start moving out. That is wide open. There is a vacuum there, and someone, some Democrat is going to move into that Gene McCarthy vacuum.
WITT: No names spring to mind in particular?
BUCHANAN: No. I - you know, Howard Dean would have been the man, but he broke his pick in Iowa. And secondly, he got himself out of the game by taking this job at the Democratic National Committee. My guess is Howard is kicking himself tonight.
WITT: All right. Very quickly, Pat, a growing number of U.S. military officers on the ground in Iraq, they're saying they have concluded there is no long-term military solution to the (INAUDIBLE) insurgency. You know, what are your thoughts on that? Is it hopeless?
BUCHANAN: Well, it's - here's the situation. It has been my view that the cause of the insurgency is the presence of the Americans. We - they are killing us because we are over there. And if we withdraw, I think a lot of the insurgency will end.
But what happens then? I think you could have a Sunni-Kurd-Shiite civil war if you don't have a strongman. But I think the Americans, officers who are saying that, ought to be listened to. But we also ought to listen to the folks who go over there and come and tell us that good things are done.
I mean, Americans ought to weigh this entire situation before we decide that we have to move out. Because if we do, we're going to pay a hellish price.
WITT: All right. MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, our good friend here on Countdown as well as on Saturdays. We have a date Saturday, Pat, again, on the air?
BUCHANAN: Saturday morning, 10:15.
WITT: Excellent, see you then. Thank you very much.
There are also new questions tonight about how we got into the war. Democrats on Capitol Hill holding an unofficial hearing today to debate the documents known as the Downing Street memos, the top-secret British briefing papers that suggest President Bush and his closest ally, Tony Blair, manipulated intelligence to guarantee the war in Iraq would happen, those called to testify making charges of conspiracy and a cover-up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
JOHN BONIFAZ, FOUNDER, AFTERDOWNINGSTREET.ORG: The recent release of the Downing Street minutes provides new and compelling evidence that the president of the United States has been actively engaged in a conspiracy to deceive and mislead the United States Congress and the American people about the basis for going to war against Iraq.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D), CALIFORNIA: We're meeting that in this little room in the basement of the Capitol because those who are in charge of the Congress are participating in a cover-up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: For more on the possible implications of today's events in Washington, we're joined now by Jim VandeHei, the White House reporter for "The Washington Post."
Jim, good evening. Nice to have you with us on Countdown.
JIM VANDEHEI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Good to be here, Alex.
WITT: Before we talk about the Downing Street memos, let me begin by asking you about what's going on in Iraq. I mean, specifically, Jim, is it getting more difficult for the president to keep on painting a rosy picture? Is this problem he can no longer ignore?
VANDEHEI: It's definitely something he can't ignore any more, and he acknowledges that. The White House is planning to shift its strategy in the next couple of weeks to focus more attention on Iraq, and probably at the expense of Social Security and some other issues.
The president is looking at the same poll numbers that we are, and he believes he has to reengage with the American people, explain the mission, and explain his plan for victory.
WITT: OK. Let's turn now to the Downing Street memos. Is anything in the documents, or anything that we've heard today, as damning as the Democrats on the Hill or liberal bloggers might wish there to be?
VANDEHEI: Well, not really, and the reason would be that the two allegations that are in the memo are basically that the president was planning to go to war long before he was publicly acknowledging it, and determined to use highly disputed weapons of mass destruction information to justify an invasion. Both of those charges, I think, have largely been true - proved by the media, and by administration officials who were there during the war planning sessions.
So what you do have for the first time is, you have it in writing, you have this memo from the British, saying that this is our interpretation of what the United States is thinking. And that's what Democrats are seizing on.
WITT: Jim, how seriously was today's unofficial hearing being taken
by those on Capitol Hill who were not participating in it?
VANDEHEI: Probably not very seriously. I mean, what you had here were antiwar liberals holding a mock hearing, where they had critics of the administration only testifying. Basically, Republicans control all the levers power in Washington. Democrats have very little that they can do to raise issues or to raise investigations.
So what they did is, they held this mock hearing. And I think it generated some media attention, hence we're sitting here talking about it tonight.
WITT: Yes. There has been criticism, though, that the major media outlets have not been paying enough attention to the Downing Street memos. I mean, do you think that's starting to change? Do you think this story is really gathering steam, notwithstanding that we're talking about it tonight?
VANDEHEI: Right. Well, it's interesting, I mean, my e-mailbox has been filled with e-mails from several Democrats who are just angry that the media's not doing enough on the issue. And I think if you look at some of the television programs and the major newspapers over the last couple of days, there's been a lot of stories now about the memo. But a lot of them are about the process, about Democrats being angry that we're not talking about the memo.
Now, our newspaper did have a front-page story in the last week that talked about the specifics of what's in that memo and what is significant about it. But for the most part, I haven't seen a ton of coverage in the United States of the content.
WITT: And what's it going to take to get these memos on the front page of the newspapers? And do you think it should be there in that placement?
VANDEHEI: Right, I mean, I think that's usually an editor's judgment. I think that there's nothing else that's going to come that's from that memo. We've seen the memo, we know the contents. So I don't think you're going to see a lot more coverage of it, other than Democrats saying that there should be more focus on why we went to war, more focus on the fact that the president was relying on faulty weapons of mass destruction information.
But I think a lot of that stuff was really hashed out in the elections. A lot of people know that.
And what they're focused on now is the disconnect between what the president is saying is happening on the ground in Iraq, and what they're seeing on television, with mounting casualties and the insurgency appearing to look stronger rather than weaker. And I think that's where a lot of the focus is. And I know that's a lot of - where a lot of the focus of our newspaper is right now.
WITT: How about historical context for these memos? Do you think - what do you think that's going to play out to be?
VANDEHEI: Right. I mean, I think the historical context is that it's the first time we really have something in writing that proves what I think a lot of people already knew. I mean, we had - our reporters have talked to several officials that have said exactly what's in those memos. But now you have a paper trail. So I think that would be the historical significance of it.
WITT: All right, Jim VandeHei of "The Washington Post," thanks so much for your time here on Countdown. We appreciate it.
VANDEHEI: Have a good evening.
WITT: And you. Thanks.
WITT: Two days after the tsunami alert, California is rocked by yet another earthquake. This one is moderate, but we'll talk to a seismologist about what's behind all the temblors, and if it's a sign of bigger ones to come.
And the Terri Schiavo autopsy, the controversy far from laid to rest. Terri's parents and siblings level more questions against Michael Schiavo and lay down a financial challenge.
You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.
WITT: Our fourth story on the Countdown, three major earthquakes in California in just five days. In a moment, we'll ask a seismologist if there's anything significant in the triple shake.
But first, here's the data. Today's 4.9 quake, which originated in the city of Yucaipa, was felt across Southern California, including in L.A. and San Diego. The quake damaged some buildings under construction near the epicenter, but no injuries were reported.
Last Sunday, a 5.2 quake hit the Southern California desert town of Anza, shaking local businesses there. And on Tuesday, a tsunami warning was briefly issued along the West Coast when a 7-point quake rumbled under the ocean 90 miles off Northern California's coast.
Well, I'm joined right now by John Rundle, a seismologist and earthquake forecast expert with the University of California-Davis.
Thanks so much for your time tonight, John.
JOHN RUNDLE, SEISMOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-DAVIS: Oh, thank you very much, Alex.
WITT: All right. Three earthquakes in five days along the coast of California. Does this say anything about whether the so-called big one is on the way?
RUNDLE: Well, the big one you refer to has been seen several times since people inhabited California. Eighteen fifty-seven, there was a major earthquake, magnitude 8, along the San Andreas fault in Southern California that went from Cajon Pass, which is about where today's earthquake was located, up to about Parkfield, where there was the site of an earthquake last September.
In 1906, of course, there was the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that devastated San Francisco. And that was on the northern part of the San Andreas fault.
WITT: All right, well, then, if you do the math, it's very disconcerting to think it's been a while since the last big one. Does that concern you?
RUNDLE: It does. And it concerns all of us in this field, because the plates are moving in the area of Southern California along the San Andreas fault there at a little over three centimeters per year. So if you multiply by the 150-odd years since that earthquake, there's been about - something like four to five meters of slip that's built up that needs to be released on that fault.
And the interesting part about today's earthquake is that it's the first earthquake in about - since that time, 150 to 200 years ago, that's occurred on the San Andreas fault that far south. So it's some cause for concern.
WITT: John, can this buildup be released in little dribs and drabs, smaller earthquakes, or does it mean it has to build up to a big one?
RUNDLE: Well, unfortunately, it really cannot. A big earthquake like that is so much bigger than the sum of all the small earthquakes that you could have that, in fact, you just don't release anywhere near the amount of energy in the smaller quakes that you do in the big one.
WITT: All right. How about the correlation, if there is any, between these California quakes and then that one that happened in Chile earlier this week? Are they connected?
RUNDLE: Well, that's rather unlikely, because it's too far away. But the interesting part is, it's so - these earthquakes in Southern California, for example, happen about every 200 to 300 years, these very large earthquakes. And so we're sort of in the second half of the buildup to the next big one. We could be well into the second half, or we could be only somewhat into the second half, depending on whose opinion you listen to.
And the interesting thing is, the farther along you get, the more you expect to have these kinds of earthquakes that we had today, and this week, sort of happen, grouped in space and time together.
WITT: John, you talk about opinion. But how good are we at using data and science to predict an earthquake right now?
RUNDLE: Well, I think we can do - we're beginning to develop a science of forecasting earthquakes, which is really rather interesting. I and my colleagues, Christie Tiampo (ph), Bill Klein, John McCreeny (ph), Don Turkot (ph), and some others have actually made some maps that we published about three or four years ago that actually sort of forecast the location of these events that we're seeing today.
So that tells me that there is some process that's building up that will - it is a large-scale process that we're in the early phases of seeing.
WITT: All right, how accurate have you been in your predictions?
RUNDLE: Well, in our map, including today's earthquake, we're sort of 15 out of 17. And if you are interested in looking at that, or anyone's interested in looking at that, the best thing to do is just to Google my name, and you'll be led to it.
WITT: All right. There you go. John Rundle, seismologist at U.C.-Davis, thanks so much for lending us your expertise. We appreciate it.
RUNDLE: Thanks very much.
WITT: Coming up, what exactly is Paris Hilton's expertise? Well, it might not be selling hamburgers, but the spoofs have already started. Oddball's ahead.
And later, this little lady, we could call her Lady or Hey you, because she's 20 months old and still doesn't have a name. Her indecisive parents join us.
WITT: I'm Alex Witt, holding down the fort for Keith Olbermann tonight.
And as always, the coolest thing about this fort is its huge collection of weird news and strange video.
Let's play Oddball.
We begin in the vast cyberspace world you all know as the Internets. And we all remember the controversy a few weeks ago over the Carl's Jr.'s commercial featuring Paris Hilton, a rubber hose, and a cheeseburger big enough to choke a horse.
It never actually aired as a commercial. But the talk shows played so much in outrage that the fast-food chain got what they wanted, free publicity.
Well, here come the copycats.
Oh, God, make it stop.
An online recruiting company, Opelo (ph), has made this spoof ad, hoping to cash in on the Paris Hilton dustup, but we're far too smart for them. We're not going to give Opelo.com what they want. We won't play your silly - Oh, never mind. Too late.
This is better. To Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where one man's decision not to clean his bathroom, even occasionally, is about to pay off big-time, because the hideous mildew stain near the base of his bathtub now looks remarkably like the face of Jesus, or possibly Ronnie James Dio.
Jeffrey Rigo (ph) is not a religious man, but he's thanking the heavens the image appeared in his can, because he's planning to make a fortune selling the thing on eBay. His starting bid is just under $2,000. So far, no takers. Maybe there's hope for mankind after all.
Then again, there's this image that has mysteriously appeared on the back of the fifth-grade yearbook this year in Feasterville, Pennsylvania. "Good luck and best wishes in middle school," the message reads, with a picture of an open locker appearing to contain a big old bong and other drug paraphernalia. School officials say they have no idea how the image got there.
No idea? What are they smoking? Start with the artist, dude.
Well, back to the serious news of the day, and the family dispute that won't end. One day after the Terri Schiavo autopsy, the Schindler family levels more questions and accusations toward their former son-in-law.
And another family dealing with a tragic life-support issue is hoping for a medical miracle. A pregnant mother loses her brain function, and now her husband has doctors doing everything they can to keep her alive to give their unborn baby a fighting chance.
Those stories ahead.
But first, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Jared Gipson of Shreveport, Louisiana. Police say he walked into a Blalock beauty school with a gun and attempted to rob the place. He's now recovering in the hospital after taking a severe beating from the 30 women armed with curling irons. He'll be charged with armed robbery when he can walk again.
Number two, Naked Zorro still on the loose. Doylestown, Pennsylvania, police have released a sketch of the man who has evaded capture for almost six months. He's accused of terrorizing women by jumping out of bushes wearing nothing but a Zorro mask and a smile. Classy.
And number one, the Coast Guard off the shore in Assateague Island in Maryland. They're rethinking their idea to tow a 35-foot dead humpback whale close to the shore today, figure out why it died. Apparently local swimmers were a little put off by the rotting carcass and subsequent shark feeding frenzy. Officials cleared the waters until the whale was towed back out and the sharks left.
They say it is now safe to go back in the water. Yes, right.
WITT: No family should have to face such heart-rending decisions, the fragile line between life and death blurred by medical science, too often forcing loved ones to make a choice between the two.
That choice and the trials that come in its aftermath, our third story on the Countdown tonight. The purpose was closure, the end of a long and bitter 15-year battle between Michael Schiavo and the parents of his wife, Terri, the incontrovertible proof at Terri Schiavo's autopsy that her brain was atrophied, half the size it should have been, that she had no hope of even minimal recovery. Unfortunately for her parents, brother and sister, it was not enough. Today the Schindler family made their first public comments since the release of the medical examiner's report at the National Right to Life convention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUZANNE VITADAMO, TERRI SCHIAVO'S SISTER: In one sense, the IME's report created just as many questions as it may have answered. And the major question for our family that remains now is what happened to Terri? A troubling 70-minute gap appears in the timeline on the day Terri collapsed in 1990. According to Michael Schiavo, Terri collapsed at 4:30 AM. Mr. Schiavo said this on "Larry King Live," and he also reconfirmed it to the IME during his investigation. The 911 call was placed at 5:40 AM. Emergency services arrived at 5:52 AM.
With the IME effectively ruling out bulimia, the underlying basis of the malpractice case appears to now be disproved. Our family would encourage Michael Schiavo to do the right thing and return the funds that were paid by the innocent doctors who were sued for Terri's collapse. Our family stands by its strong belief that Terri was not in PVS, and we appreciate the many noted neurologists, including Dr. Cheshire, who saw Terri just weeks before she died, who agree with our position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Clearly, the Schindlers, and no doubt Michael Schiavo, still in mourning and still evidently at odds. Mark Potter has covered the controversy from the start, and joins us once more. Mark, good evening. Nice to see you.
MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Nice to see you, Alex. Good evening to you. Many had hoped that this autopsy report would answer all the questions and finally end the controversy, but of course, it couldn't happen. There's just so much that an autopsy can say about a 15-year-old case.
As to the most important question, about Terri's mental capacity, the medical examiner said that there was no reason to doubt the clinical diagnosis that she was in a persistent vegetative state. Her brain was severely atrophied and weighed half as much as a normal brain. She was blind, and the condition was irreversible, according to the doctors. But the parents argue that it's impossible to make such a diagnose with a corpse. And they say that when she was alive, Terri Schiavo did indeed show signs of mental awareness, that she was at least minimally conscious.
Now, as to the issue of what happened on the night that she collapsed and that alleged 70-minute gap, the attorney for Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, said that there was no such gap, that that timeline is a mistake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO'S ATTORNEY: As the medical examiner mentioned, you're asking somebody to talk about things that happened over a decade ago, 15 years ago. There's no dispute that in his testimony, he called 911 immediately. I don't think there's any issue - there's no credible issue as to what happened that morning in terms of the timing. There is no hour gap or other gap from the point that Michael heard Terri fall and called 911.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
POTTER: Now, as to why Terri Schiavo collapsed 15 years ago, suffering massive brain damage, the doctors say, despite their investigation, they still just don't know why. But based on records and interviews, they say they do not believe that she suffered physical abuse. They say that she was not strangled. As we heard in the Schindler family news conference, they doubt that she suffered from a potassium imbalance or bulimia, which were at the heart of the malpractice suit filed and won by her husband, Michael Schiavo.
So indeed, some questions have been answered, but many have not. This bitter family feud continues. And for many, this controversy, Alex, just does not end.
WITT: And Mark, very quickly, the Schindler family, they want Michael Schiavo to return some of the money that he won in that malpractice suit, correct?
POTTER: That's exactly right. And that's highly unlikely to happen. They also want him to tell them where their daughter's ashes are. They say they do not know. Michael had the right, under court order, to dispose of her body. He had her cremated. And they say that he has not told them where her ashes are. They want them. They want a proper burial. And again, this bitter, bitter fight continues.
WITT: It certainly does. Mark Potter from Miami, Florida, this evening. Thank you so much.
The same fight that divided Terri Schiavo's family also, you may recall, divided this country, senators rushing to the Capitol for an emergency midnight vote just this past March, shortly before Mrs. Schiavo's death, in order to allow the courts to intervene and reinsert her feeding tube. It was Senate majority leader Bill Frist whose arguments employing his expertise as a medical doctor that may have been most convincing to his colleagues. The courts chose not to reexamine the case, one that Senator Frist now considers closed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: So I never made a diagnosis. I think it's very important - we saw the autopsy today. It does give us the definitive information that we did not have at that point in time. And that's why I think it is big news that she had totally irreversible brain damage. We now have that information. All we were arguing for on the floor of the Senate is to get an accurate diagnosis before you withdraw a feeding tube from a live person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Now, I'm no doctor, but does this seem like a diagnosis to you?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - April 19, 2005)
FRIST: And to my standpoint, as a physician - and I would be very careful before I would come to the floor and say this - that the facts upon which this case were based are inadequate. I've looked at the video footage. Based on the footage provided me, which were part of the facts of the case, she does respond.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Well, they met as students studying abroad in Rome. They were married soon after graduation and blessed with their first child just one year later. Their romance and the life they built in its wake comfortable, ordinary, and blissfully so. Then earlier this year, news that another baby was on the way, and the picture was nearly perfect.
To simply tell you his story could not possibly convey the complicated feelings and devastating emotions that have now become a constant part of Jason Torres's life. On May 7, his wife, Susan, just 15 weeks pregnant, collapsed. Undiagnosed melanoma, the most severe form of skin cancer, had metastasized to her brain, causing a stroke. Neurosurgeons delivered the tragic news just after her arrival to Virginia Hospital Center. Susan Torres would never recover.
Mr. Torres has already made the painful decision to keep his wife on life support for as long as is medically prudent, all in order to give their unborn child a chance at a life outside its mother's womb.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JASON TORRES, PREGNANT WIFE ON LIFE SUPPORT: When you're given the chance, even, you know, a slim chance, that you may be able to save your child, you go ahead and take that chance. And I know that that's what Susan would want me to do.
It's a lot to bear. I mean, I don't think you really can bear it all by yourself. Just lean on your friends and you lean on your family, and you know, you pray and pray and pray.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Jason Torres also spoke about his faith in God to the newspaper "USA Today," saying, quote, "Some days, I am pretty damned angry with him." None of us certainly would blame him.
The reporter Mr. Torres spoke with is Richard Willing. Mr. Willing, thanks for joining us.
RICHARD WILLING, "USA TODAY": Thanks for having me, Alex.
WITT: You were in the hospital room with Jason Torres and his wife.
What did you take away from that?
WILLING: It was a very powerful experience. Susan Torres is - does not look well, as is to be expected. Jason rather bravely, in my view, keeps up the appearance of normalcy, speaking to her, little tender gestures. When we had to leave the room to go have coffee, a little tap on the wrist, letting her know when we were back. I think it's something that helps him stay stable in this very, very rocky world that he's in.
WITT: Now Richard, the aim here is to try to keep Mrs. Torres alive for at least another month or so. So how physically challenging has that become?
WILLING: It's been a very rocky road. You mentioned the start of things, where the decision had to be made by Jason Torres to keep his wife on a respirator. She's had a number of medical problems, seemingly an unceasing array - pneumonia, elevated temperature, infection. It's difficult, I'm told by Jason and his family, to treat her in the ordinary way because of fear of compromising the baby.
WITT: And the risks of this pregnancy certainly are astronomical, to say the least. What are the baby's chances of survival? If she can hold on and if the cancer doesn't spread to her uterus, is there any kind of chance that this baby could live a normal healthy life down the road?
WILLING: I think there is, from what I've read and what I've been told. There's a very elevated risk of disability, particularly with respect to the eyes and the lungs and the neuromuscular development, when children are born at 25 weeks. But there are examples of children born even earlier, 22-and-a-half weeks, with relatively normal lives. It's going to be another tough decision, if it gets there and the child is right on the borderline, the cusp of viability. Again, another agonizing decision for this young man, and interestingly enough, one that he's really anxious to have to make.
WITT: The Torreses already have a young son. Richard, do you know what he's being told about what's happening to his mom?
WILLING: That would be Peter, or Pete, as his dad calls him. It's tough. He continues to ask, quite naturally, Where's mom? Where's mother? And the answer, you know, She's in the hospital, she's sleeping, is beginning to wear a little bit thin. Jason tells me that Pete is beginning to put together her absence and the idea that something's wrong.
WITT: On a personal level, Richard, how hard was it for to you report on this story? Being inside that hospital room and seeing the tender touches and all of that, day in and day out with them.
WILLING: It was very hard. I've talked to a lot of people in the course of 30 years of doing this, and I can't think of a - you know, a braver and nicer one than Jason Torres off the top of my head. That being said, I wish we'd never met because of the circumstances that brought us together.
WITT: And how do you think Jason's holding up through all this?
WILLING: I think, from talking to some other members of his very large family, they say he may be doing, in fact, a little bit better than them. It's a little bit hard to believe. But he's got a routine. He's moved into the hospital room. He's got a routine for taking care of Pete, who's with his grandparents. And he's very focused. I talked to him last night before we both went to bed, and he was in good spirits. He laughs a lot, which is pretty hard to believe.
WITT: Yes. And Richard, you say that he goes in and he talks to his wife. Do you believe that he is 100 percent certain of what is going on, that she will never come back? Has he completely accepted that?
WILLING: Is he certain of it? Oh, yes, he is. This is a smart guy. He knows that she's not coming back. And he and I both struggled with it, whether we talked about her in the present or the past tense, and sort of went back and forth. Whether he's accepted it, Alex, I think is probably another matter. There will be a powerful time, when and if that baby is born, where the first sacrament of the Catholic Church, baptism, will be used the welcome the baby to a new life, and the last one, the blessing of the dead, will send Susan off. That'll be tough.
WITT: Yes. OK. Well, "USA Today's" Richard Willing, thanks a lot for telling us the family's story. Our thoughts and prayers certainly with them and you, as you continue following them.
WILLING: Thanks for having me.
WITT: More undercover tabloid trickery leads to more embarrassment for the royal family, a gaping security hole exposed around Prince Harry. A reporter spend hours roaming around Harry's school while carrying fake bomb. And the secret to Michael Jackson's verdict. Could it all rest in the power of kabbalah? Countdown's coming right back.
WITT: Paparazzi might have originated in Italy, but they've been perfected in Britain. One tabloid reporter snuck into Buckingham Palace before President Bush came to visit. Another drove into Windsor Castle with a fake bomb before Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles. Tonight, in our second story on the Countdown, the target was Prince Harry.
Tom Bradby of our British affiliate ITN explains.
TOM BRADBY, ITN (voice-over): It has been a humiliating day for the Ministry of Defense, but tonight, there may be more red faces down at "The Sun." I could have blown Harry to bits, claimed this reporter, producing pictures and video to prove it. No, you couldn't, said royal officials tonight, because that is not Harry.
It was an unusual step for them to take, and privately, they said they had good reason to be confident they were right. Harry has seen the pictures and has confirmed it's not him. Officials at Sandhurst say he was not there on that day, isn't in that platoon and wouldn't have been carrying a black bin (ph) bag.
It certainly is true to say that when we filmed Harry's arrival at Sandhurst just over a month ago, we were struck by the fact that at least one other cadet looked pretty like him. But "The Sun" still insists it was right.
GRAHAM DUDMAN, MANAGING EDITOR, "THE SUN": Well, the Clarence House denial is an absurd denial. They talk about they're of the opinion that it's not him. Well, I can tell you categorically, dealing in facts, that it is Prince Harry in the tape.
BRADBY: But as this turns into a major row, attention is shifting from security to tabloid intrusion. Was this a serious attempt to expose a problem or just a publicity stunt?
ANDREW NEIL, FORMER NEWSPAPER EDITOR: Well, I think when tabloids are out to get you and they get wrong person, you're entitled to a quiet chuckle. I don't think there's any doubt about that. And it looks like "The Sun" has made a major mistake in the person. However, if I was Harry, I would be a little bit worried about how easy it was to get into Sandhurst. I'm not sure that Prince Harry is high up in any terrorist's scale, but he is a well-known figure and he could be a target.
BRADBY: "The Sun" did demonstrate, though, that security at Sandhurst is pretty relaxed. The reporter was hastened through the entrance checkpoint. He then parked his car and wandered around the campus, past facilities regularly used by the prince, even, apparently, obtaining access to his accommodation.
But military officers said today Sandhurst is vast and would be impossible to completely secure and that the only people really likely to want to break in at the moment are tabloid reporters. It is certainly highly unusual for a royal to be personally drawn into a row such as this. Tom Bradby, ITV news.
WITT: Moving from a popular prince to the "King of Pop," Michael Jackson topping our list of celebrity tales and gossip in "Keeping Tabs." And bad news for his new reality TV show plan, "People" magazine reporting that ABC, CBS, Fox and A&E networks all turned down the opportunity to air a six-part reality-based series with home video showing the Jackson clan rallying around Michael during the trial. A family representative started shopping that deal while the jury was still deliberating.
And perhaps a new insight tonight into their decision to acquit him of all charges. Could it have something to do with this, the signature bracelet of kabbalah clearly visible as Michael Jackson left court a free man on Monday? An insider told MSNBC.com's Jeannette Walls that Elizabeth Taylor got Jackson involved in the mystical Jewish sect, and that, quote, "He's been wearing the red string during the trial, like Winona Ryder did during her trial, because it wards off the evil eye. Looks like it worked," end quote.
Well, maybe he should lend that bracelet to Kid Rock. The singer got a suspended sentence of 11 months and 29 days in jail for punching a deejay at a strip club in Tennessee. He also has to attend eight hours of anger management and pay $180 for breaking the disk jockey's glasses during that brawl. The deejay says that's not enough. He's now suing the star for half a million dollars in damages.
From Kid Rock to the kid, as in, Hey, you, kid. It's not an insult. She's 20 months old, and her parents haven't gotten around to giving her a name yet. They've got some splainin' to do! And they're going to join us next.
WITT: A brief clarification about a breast feeding story we brought you last weekend. Starbucks and Burger King have never had a policy of lactate intolerance. After isolated incidents at their stores, both have said that they welcome nursing mothers.
Which brings us to an entirely different kind of problem for two parents in Tucson, Arizona. When their little girl was born, they decided to wait, get to know her personality before giving her a name. Our number one story on the Countdown tonight: Their daughter is now on this earth 1 year and 8 months and still has no name. Not a Sheila, Molly, Diana, Stephanie or even a Harriet. When Mary Lane and Andrew Heatley couldn't make a decision, they tried to get creative, putting her naming rights up on eBay. And even though the money would have gone to charity, the response wasn't so charitable, so they stopped the eBay search.
But maybe they can do the next best thing, name their baby live on TV!
Joining me now, Mary Lane, Andrew Heatley, and their as yet unnamed baby.
Mary, Andrew, good evening. Thanks for joining us tonight.
MARY LANE, MOTHER OF BABY WITH NO NAME: Hi. Thank you.
ANDREW HEATLEY, DAD OF BABY WITH NO NAME: Hi.
WITT: Hi. So you know, I'm sure there are lots of parents out there who may still be struggling with a name in the first, you know, few days after birth. But for you, how did that turn into 20 months?
LANE: Well, we definitely decided to wait until we got to know her and see what suited her. And the longer we waited, the more difficult it became, and now it's just become impossible.
WITT: So what do you call her when you want to get her attention?
LANE: We call her Baby or Bobo (ph) or Bobey (ph). And her sister calls her Sissy. So I mean, she definitely knows who she is and responds. And she actually knows that she doesn't have a name.
WITT: OK. Is your family starting to get annoyed with you?
LANE: Well, our families have been annoyed with us since, you know, the day after we left the hospital. But they're really supportive after all of the negative feedback we've gotten.
WITT: Aren't you at all worried, at this point, that something like, you know, Bobey or something's going to stick?
LANE: No. I mean, everyone has different nicknames throughout their lives. I mean, my kids barely know that my name is Mary. I'm Mamma. He's Pappa. Her sister is Sissy, and she's Bobey. And that's who we are.
WITT: OK. Now, this eBay idea, it was going to give the money to charity, right? So what happened? Why did that backfire?
HEATLEY: I don't know, really. I mean, a lot of people just had such a negative response to everything. And you know, there's been couples who've sold the rights to name their unborn children or even their teenage twins, to - selling the rights to rename their teenage twins just to get money for themselves. And we saw that, and we thought about it and we thought, Wow, you know, maybe we could get some money from this or something because she already didn't have a name, so it's not like we were going out of our way to do something different, but - then we just decided we'd just give all the money to charity, and that was the best thing to do.
WITT: But it didn't work. So you know, have you tried going through lists of names on, like, Internet sites or baby name books?
LANE: Oh, of course. We have baby name books, you know, scattered throughout our house, on the coffee table, kind of as a joke. But I've been to every Web site, and I mean, the more names we see, the more confusing it becomes.
WITT: OK, now, listen. We've got the top 10 names for you from 2004. Do any of these strike your fancy at all? We've got Emily, Emma, Madison, Olivia, Hannah, Abigail, Isabella, Ashley, Samantha or Elizabeth. And I'm going to throw in Alex or Alexandra just for good measure. Anything there?
LANE: Oh, God. It's - I could never name my daughter Madison or -
I mean, I think there's two ways that you pick your child's name. You either go to that and just pick a name or you - something clicks when you really think about it.
WITT: OK. Like Gwyneth Paltrow naming her daughter Apple. Is that the way you may go, something unique and different?
HEATLEY: I kind of like that, actually.
LANE: I think that's a really cute name. I mean, we definitely don't want anything too off-the-wall. But at this point, we just - after thinking about it and getting all this negative feedback, we realize how really unimportant it is that she doesn't have a name.
WITT: Well, on the heels of that, then, Mary Lane, Andrew Heatley and Baby Girl, thanks to all of you for joining us tonight.
And that's Countdown. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann. "THE SITUATION" with Tucker Carlson is up next. Good night. Good luck. I'll see you back here tomorrow.
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