Wednesday, June 22, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 22

Guest: Mark Klaas, Craig Crawford

ALISON STEWART, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Four days and nights in the Utah wilderness. Thankfully, this 11-year-old kid actually listened to his parents.


TOBY HAWKINS, BRENNAN'S FATHER: Brennan was just rock-solid in everything that he'd been taught.



STEWART: How this story went from nightmare to dream come true. And some news any family could use.

Last Tuesday, he said this.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D): You would most certainly believe this must have happened by Nazis...


STEWART: This Tuesday, he said this.


DURBIN: I offer my apologies to those who were offended by my words...


STEWART: Throwing around the word Nazi, not so good. And now Dick Durbin has made the Countdown Apology Hall of Fame.

The insurgency in Iraq. The vice president says it's in the last throes. A new secret CIA report says Iraq is now a thriving training ground for terrorists in the entire region.

And it's Mrs. Jackson if you're nasty.


KATHERINE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S MOTHER: What happened in Michael's childhood that he feels such an attachment to children?


STEWART: Katherine Jackson, in her own words.

All that and more, now on Countdown.




STEWART: And good evening to you. I'm Alison Stewart, filling in for Keith Olbermann tonight.

Now, when he saw the images of his rescue on television last night, he had one word for his overjoyed parents, "Sweet."

Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, Brennan Hawkins is home, Brennan's parents, Toby and Jody Hawkins, pointing out that the 11-year-old Boy Scout's personality hasn't been affected, quote, "one tiny bit" by his four-day ordeal in the Utah wilderness.

Released from Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City in the wee hours of this morning, he made a brief public appearance surrounded by his family later in the day. And even though his parents suggested the media not question Brennan, the young man did offer up the information that he was, quote, "good."

Found five miles into the mountains into the exact opposite direction of the authorities' search grid, it was a wonder and wonderful that he was found. Looking back, as the search dragged on, the family and authorities were realistic. After four days, the police chief said the search, quote, "was getting pretty grim," a feeling unfortunately shared at one point by Brennan's parents.


JODY HAWKINS, MOTHER: I never felt that he was abducted, that he was in harm's way. I felt peace with the situation. But at that point, I really didn't think he could have survived that long in the wilderness. And so when I got into the sheriff - when I was going to get into the sheriff's car, I knew they were going to tell me that Brennan was no longer with me. And I collapsed before I could get into the truck.

And they put me into the truck, and then they told me that Brennan was still alive, and that he was in good shape. My brain still cannot comprehend that.

TOBY HAWKINS: They tried to shield us from the sun with the blankets over the top of us. Brennan was in the ATV, and we embraced. You know, he was lethargic, and...

JODY HAWKINS: But talking. I couldn't believe when he was talking.

TOBY HAWKINS: Yes, he was talking. And it was just- it was like a dream.

JODY HAWKINS: Yes, it was.

TOBY HAWKINS: You know? It was just like a dream. It was just such a happy moment.

JODY HAWKINS: What we've ascertained is, he had two thoughts going through his head all the time. Toby has always told him, If you get lost, stay on the trail. So he stayed on the trail. We've also told him, Don't talk to strangers. He stayed on the trail. When an ATV or a horse came by, he got off the trail. When they left, he got back on the trail. His biggest fear, he told me, was someone would steal him.

TOBY HAWKINS: We think that it is absolutely critical for parents to understand now that there's two basic lessons that need to be taught. One of them is stranger danger But the other side of it is obviously the rescue side. And this may have all come to much more quick, or a faster conclusion had we talked more. Somehow or another, he drew some courage, some determination, and he had the ability to survive.

I've told Brennan, I said, Brennan, you know what? I don't know how many 11-year-old boys could survive what he went through.


STEWART: A sentiment shared by the volunteer searcher who discovered Brennan in the woods, a man appropriately named Forrest Nunley, Nunley taking advantage of the miracle of the cell phone signal five miles into the wilderness and calling 911, alerting authorities to their location. He described the entire experience as, quote, "out of this world."


FOREST NUNLEY, RESCUED BRENNAN HAWKINS: I guess the first thing that came to my mind is, whether it was real or not, you know, that you're really having hallucinations, or your eyes are not working or something. You just really cannot believe it.

When we finally got him down off the hill - he was way up, five miles up a very steep hill, very rocky, very weathered road - I just wanted to watch his parents hug that kid again. It was the neatest thing to watch them all be reunited and joined together as a family. And it was just amazing to see the look on his mom and dad's face of just utter joy and happiness to have their son back in their arms.


STEWART: Brennan Hawkins told his parents his biggest concern now are his Pokemon cards. And perhaps the way - that's the way it should be for an 11-year-old.

But for four days, he was lost on a desolate Utah trail. He said he was concerned or, in his words, scared of strangers.

And there's no one who understands the stranger danger lesson better than Marc Klaas. His daughter, Polly, was abducted and killed more than a decade ago. He is currently the executive director of the Klaas Kids Foundation, an organization that works towards keeping kids safe.

Marc, thanks for joining us. And thanks for all your work, of course.


STEWART: Let me start by asking you about this stranger danger lesson. Can we teach it too well? As I was doing a bit of research, one Web site I read said telling your kids not to talk to strangers at all is impractical.

KLAAS: Well, it's absurd, and it's absurd and it's unreal, and it could have had tragic consequences in this situation. Listen, Alison, stranger danger is a concept from a time when we didn't have a lot of information on the issue. What we know now is that the vast majority of children that are victimized are victimized by somebody they know, not by strangers.

Here's what happens when you tell a kid, Don't talk to strangers. First of all, you're proving hypocrisy, because children see us talking to people we don't know all the time. Secondly, we're creating paranoia. They're untrustworthy of everybody. And then thirdly, we're limiting their world to a very, very small number of individuals.

So I think we have to dispel that idea and introduce some new concepts that make sense with the knowledge we now have.

STEWART: One of the concepts that people often speak about is this idea of having a password within your family. Explain to people how that actually would work and be successful.

KLAAS: Yes, well, passwords, you know, it's a nice little trick that might work, and it might not work. You know, I do interactions with kids all the time. And I'll say, Who's got a family password? A bunch of little kids will throw up their hands. I'll say, What's your password? And a bunch of little kids will throw out the password.

So, I mean, it undermines it right there.

But what if Brennan had a password, and what if the parents had forgotten to give the password, and, you know, they aren't using it, they're not using the password, they're not representing Mommy and Daddy?

So, you know, it's a little trick. It's not about little tricks. It's about information. It's about knowledge. And it's about arming your children.

STEWART: Yes, something that struck me about this whole story is this young kid saying that he was frightened that someone was going to steal him. And we see all these stories in the news. And you have to realize, kids are watching these stories in the news about these abductions and all. How should we talk to our kids about these news stories that they're going to run into, whether we like it or not?

KLAAS: Well, see, now, the youth is a time of learning. And kids want to learn tools that they can use to protect themselves. So you use this as an opportunity to talk to your kids about those kinds of things. You explain. There are 72 million children in America under 18. And a very few of them are ever kidnapped.

But there are certain things that you can do to prevent becoming one of those victims. And it's not about strangers. In fact, strangers can help. The vast majority of strangers will help. You tell your kids, Always check with Mom and Dad. Always be outside with another person. Use the buddy system. Trust your feelings. If it feels wrong, step away from it.

And you can go to most strangers to help you out of a difficult situation. Any mom, any woman, any kid, any police officer or firefighter in uniform. And quite frankly, although men seem to be the problem, the vast majority of men would help a child out of a difficult situation as well.

STEWART: Sounds like instincts and common sense and communication.

KLAAS: Yes, ma'am.

STEWART: Marc Klaas, executive director of the Klaas Kids Foundation, thanks for weighing in tonight.

KLAAS: Sure.

STEWART: To another young boy alone. Officials in Pierce County, Washington, wondering if there's criminal involvement in the apparent abandonment of a 2-year-old kid there, a sheriff's spokesmen saying authorities are now searching for the boy's parents, telling NBC affiliate King TV, quote, "There's strong possibility exists that something sinister has happened to them."

The child was found clean, well fed, Monday evening in a stairwell of a Baptist church in the Tacoma suburb of Parkland. Authorities discovered his identity after his grandmother called the local crimestoppers tip line.

Officials have only released his first name so far. It's Bobby. His grandmother apparently the last to see her son and daughter-in-law with the toddler after dropping them off at a local market on Sunday evening. Bobby is currently in the custody of the state's child protective services.

And the tragic tale of a once-little boy who's now a young man. His name is Lionel Tate. When he was 12, he was sentenced to life in prison, and now back in a Florida jail for allegedly holding up a pizza delivery guy at gunpoint.

However, an eyewitness to the alleged holdup is changing his story, the witness, a 13-year-old boy, telling private investigators that he only fingered Tate after being pressured by Broward County sheriff's investigators, and under the direct threat of death by what he says is the real perpetrator.

The sheriff's department is standing by its case, a spokesperson saying there is physical evidence linking Tate to the crime, in addition to the testimony of the pizza delivery guy.

The now 18-year-old made headlines last year after being released from prison when a Florida court of appeals overturned his conviction in the 1999 killing of a 6-year-old. That was Tiffany Eunich (ph). A hearing in this case is set for tomorrow morning.

Coming up, the Nazi name-calling on Capitol Hill. Senator Dick Durbin issued an apology for his remarks. So what about everyone else that's been throwing around Nazi comparisons? The politics of an apology. We'll discuss it next with Craig Crawford.

And later, Iraq and a classified document that says it's become a terrorist tutorial, maybe an even more so than Afghanistan. That's what the CIA thinks.

This is Countdown on MSNBC.


STEWART: A Democratic politician says something that crosses a line, gets blasted for it and later apologizes. Business as usual? Not when it revolves around the word Nazi, and when the outcry comes from leaders in the Republican Party, whose own members and supporters have used that word, even made it a suffix, i.e., feminazi, words used to attack the opposition.

You have our number four story on the Countdown tonight. Senator Dick Durbin has apologized for comparing practices at the Guantanamo prison camp to Nazis and other repressive regimes. His comments last week drew condemnation from the White House and in Congress. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even compared Durbin's remarks to Jane Fonda's criticism of U.S. soldiers during Vietnam.

Senator Durbin had been quoting from an FBI agent's memo, describing detainees at Gitmo.


DURBIN: If I read this to you and didn't tell that you it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have happened by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime, Pol Pot or others, that had no...


STEWART: Yesterday, Senator Durbin said he was sorry if he had caused any pain to those with bitter memories of the Holocaust. But his regrets did not end there.


DURBIN: I'm also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military. I went to Iraq just a few months ago with Senator Harry Reid and a delegation, bipartisan delegation. The president was part of it.

When you look into the eyes of the soldiers, you see your son, you see your daughter. They're the best. I never, ever intended any disrespect for them.

Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies. In the end, I don't want anything in my public career to detract from my love for this country, my respect for those who serve it, and this great Senate.


STEWART: But Senator Durbin is not the only lawmaker to attack a practice or policy by comparing it to Nazis. Let's take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

Last year, Republican Senator James Inhofe said the Kyoto climate treaty, quote, "would deal a powerful blow on the whole of humanity, similar to the one humanity experienced when Nazism and Communism flourished."

Republican Senator Jeff Sessions in his opposition to stem cell research last year said, quote, "We certainly have all seen the rejections of Nazi Germany's abuses of science."

And most recently, Republican Senator Rick Santorum said that Democrats' opposition to losing the filibuster was, quote, "the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying, I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me?"

Which prompted Democratic Senator Robert Byrd to return fire, quote, "Many times in our history, we have taken up arms to protect a minority against the tyrannical majority in other lands. We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men."

You get the point.

I'm joined now by MSNBC's political analyst Craig Crawford, our expert on all things congressional, the parries and the thrusts.

Craig, good evening to you.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Alison. I think it's almost time for Seinfeld to apologize for Soup Nazi.

STEWART: I think he had to, didn't he? I believe did he, actually. And we talk about, those are some of the examples of both parties playing the rhetorical Nazi card.

But not all of those examples were followed by apologies. Why diD Senator Dick Durbin have to apologize?

CRAWFORD: Alison, this is planting season for the coming campaign for the control of Congress that's 16 months away, the congressional elections. So both parties are working out themes here, messages. And that's what Durbin was doing. The Democrats are clearly going to run against the Republicans on mismanagement of the war, and Republicans are countering with an effort to portray Democrats as aiding and abetting the enemy.

So here you had an opportunity for Republicans in a television ad, not too far down the road, to use this clip for that charge. And the Democrats wanted Durbin to apologize to hopefully get that off the table.

STEWART: Now, the condemnation started about two days after he made these comments. How does that pick up steam?

CRAWFORD: Well, it's like the old P.T. Barnum rules of marketing. Say it loud, and say it often. The talking points were out. The Republicans were on the march, if that's not too dangerous to say, against the Democrats on this. And the blogs were working on it.

And so it was a real effort, I think a test-marketing of this (INAUDIBLE) this theme that the Republicans will use against Democrats, that they're aiding and abetting the enemy, that they don't really support the war, they don't support the troops.

STEWART: Is that the ace in the hole these days? If you can tie something someone has said to not supporting the troops, then you win.

CRAWFORD: That's it. Yes, that has almost become a form of censorship in our political speech and dialogue. And Democrats have struggled, and not very successfully, to find a way to be war critics and support the troops. And the Republicans have usually been able to get them on the ropes, as they just did with Durbin.

STEWART: Let's talk about Durbin so we can put it in context. Is he someone that usually uses this kind of high rhetoric?

CRAWFORD: No. He's a very genial man who actually can crack a good joke now and then and is not a firebrand, not one of the show senators who gets up there and hurls the hyperbole out there. And I think it's important that you ran the clip, but it is important to focus on what he actually said was that if you read this FBI report, you would get this impression about comparing the prison in Guantanamo to those in dictatorships.

And so, you know, it's a little different than calling the troops Nazis. But that's how it got portrayed. And that's why he ended up having to apologize. The Democrats lost the portrayal of these remarks by Durbin to the spin from the Republican side.

STEWART: Well, let's talk about a congressman who does often use colorful language, Congressman Charles Rangel from New York. He compared the silence about all the terrible things happening in and around the Iraq war to the silence to those who stood by as the Holocaust happened. Not a huge outcry, not the big headlines like we saw with Durbin. What's the difference here politically?

CRAWFORD: I think Charlie Rangel almost has a little more running room because he has a reputation for that kind of speech, and a little bit of hyperbole (INAUDIBLE), a very aggressive style. And Durbin, it looks a little more like call Central Casting for a Senate Democrat and one that would, I think, be a more dangerous target for Democrats if the Republicans used him in, for example, television ads, his comments about Nazis.

STEWART: How much longer are we going to be talking about this, Craig?

CRAWFORD: Oh, it's only to get worse, Alison, the closer we get to the election. I mean, the battle for control of Congress, it's the Super Bowl times 10 in Washington. And the Republicans got to hold the House and Senate. And that election may be 16 months away, which is a long time for regular people. But for political activists, it's right around the corner.

STEWART: Well, I guess that means I'll get to talk to you again, which is always a pleasure.

CRAWFORD: You bet, I'll be back.

STEWART: MSNBC political analyst and senior columnist with the "Congressional Quarterly," Craig Crawford. Thanks a lot.

CRAWFORD: So long.

STEWART: Now, if you'd like to read Keith's blog on this subject, you can go to Always good read.

Countdown's not done with the good senator from Illinois just yet. Mr. Durbin will be a part of a very special induction ceremony later in the show, a spot in the Countdown Apology Hall of Fame.

But up next, it's almost that time of year, the annual running of the bulls. That means it's almost time for the annual protest, the running of the nudes. Yes.


ANNOUNCER: Warning, tonight's Oddball could shock and offend you if you're offended by bare butts. Viewer discretion is advised.

STEWART: Nice pipes.

I'm Alison Stewart, charged with the task of bringing you all the day's gratuitous video and silly stories while Keith Olbermann takes a much-needed day of rest.

Let's play Oddball.

With another two weeks to wait for the running of the bulls in Pamplona, we thought you'd bring (INAUDIBLE) this instead, the running of the nudes. That's the butt part we were talking about.

PITA activists baring it all in Washington in the hope that the sight of them starkers will discourage the town of Pamplona from its annual festival. They plan to do this again in Spain, just before the bulls take off down the streets, though, unlike their bovine counterparts, they'll likely be leaving the bull ring with their bits intact, although you never know.

To New York City, where the streets run red with gooey kiwi strawberry juice. This was the brainchild of the Snapple Company, which decided that the best way to promote its new line of frozen treats was to break the world record for the tallest free-standing popsicle. They shipped in a 25-foot block of sugary goodness to historical Union Square.

But someone did not log on to It was 80 degrees in New York. The giant ice block melted, gushing gallons of pink, sticky liquid across the streets, knocking some cyclists even to the ground. It was attack of the killer popsicle.

Snapple quickly assessed where they could still erect the masterpiece, but as any 5-year-old will tell you, once your popsicle goes squishy, it's over. See, he knows.

It had to be carted back off to the warehouse. And rounding out the debacle, New York City had to call in the New York City Fire Department to hose the pink sticky goo off the street.

A secret CIA report calls Iraq a virtual university for future terrorists. From attack, new attack techniques to training wannabe jihadists, what can be done to finally get the upper hand on the insurgency?

And later, more of Rita Cosby's exclusive interview with Katherine Jackson. She answers some tough questions about her son Michael's childhood and whether he should have custody of his own kids.

Those stories ahead.

But now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Philippe Patricio of Bethel, Connecticut, had a couple of beers with a couple of friends and thought it'd be a really good idea to take them on a joyride on a Cessna.

He took off, got lost, kept flying till he was nearly out of gas, before finally managing to land the plane in the dark with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. Consider his darling award averted.

Number two, Joseph Gallagher of Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania. His wife told him, Eat in the kitchen. He says that I'm eating in the bedroom. So she stabbed him.

Then his wife told him to go to the hospital. He refused, but was finally cajoled to the emergency room three hours later. Turns out his heart was punctured. That'll teach him to listen to his wife.

And number one, (INAUDIBLE) D.J. Tim Shaw, alias worst husband ever. Having already ticked off his then-pregnant wife by telling his listeners that he fantasized about her sister during sex, he then told a "Glamour" model that would leave his family for her, at which point he enraged his spouse, put his most prized possession on eBay, his loaded Esprit Turbo car, for $1, which sold in five minutes flat.

And I'm supposed to be an impartial journalist, but I have to say, Dude, you're so dumb.


STEWART: If you want to learn a new skill, hone it to perfection, you got to know where to go. Steven Spielberg wannabes flock to film schools. Would-be Wolfgang Pucks head to the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America. Well, tonight, another CIA, as in the Central Intelligence Agency, is saying that terrorists in training are taking over Iraq.

Our third story on the Countdown: Call it TU, Terrorist University, as classified intelligence reports say post-Saddam Iraq is serving as a real-life laboratory for the next generation of jihad, a curriculum so complete that it may be an even more effective training ground than Afghanistan was for al Qaeda, car bombings like this one becoming so commonplace that today there were four alone in and around Baghdad, a record 700 bombings against U.S. forces in just the last month.

This form of urban combat may leap across the borders and even across the globe when these student graduate and decide to leave Iraq. Analysts at the CIA are calling it the "class of '05 problem." At the same time, the insurgency itself is getting more sophisticated, changing tactics and making them even more deadly with each new attack.

Joining us now is the founder of, Evan Kohlmann, also an MSNBC analyst. Evan, let's talk a little about this report, the CIA's assessment that Iraq could turn into an even bigger training ground for terrorists than Afghanistan ever was. Now, explain why that would be.


it's actually interesting. Previously, al Qaeda has always sought a base of operations close to the heart of the Middle East. However, they've been exiled to far-reaching parts of the Muslim world, like Afghanistan, like Chechnya, like Bosnia, where they've been forced to fight frontline wars against really mid-level opponents, people that don't use the technology of U.S. military.

Inside of Iraq, we see a much different war. Instead of a frontline battlefield, we see an urban-style gorilla war that really pits these guys in exactly the kind of conflict they want to be in, a conflict that's based out of suicide car bombings, sniper attacks, assassinations, roadside bombs, the kind of conflict that breeds terrorists, that teach the exact skills that terrorists need to have. And these are the skills that are becoming commonplace now for those that are in Iraq, both Iraqi and foreign fighters.

STEWART: So you talk about these folks showing their skills in Iraq.

Are they likely to export the skills, and where?

KOHLMANN: Yes. Unfortunately, yes. And I think the answers are not going to surprise you. They're the same answers we've been seeing for years now. Out of 300 foreign fighters I polled inside of Iraq, I found that over 55 percent were Saudi Arabian nationals, who to a T said that they were going to Iraq in the same spirit as the 9/11 hijackers, who they called heroes. These guys inevitably will return to their countries of origin.

Now, the problem is, we're not just talking about Saudis, we're not just talking about Syrians and Jordanians, we're also talking about increasing numbers of Europeans. At least five Frenchmen and five Italians have been killed so far in the fighting in Iraq, and there are many more that are supposedly going there right now. Now, when these individuals come back to their countries of origin, places like Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom, inevitably, they will go on to carry out terrorist acts or participate in terrorist conspiracies.

STEWART: Well, how do we know that these new insurgents are, in fact, new insurgents and not the ones that have been around for years but held at bay by Hussein's brutal regime?

KOHLMANN: It's actually interesting. We see a mix of different elements here. We have some individuals that are veterans of a jihad safari, who have fought before with al Qaeda in places like Tajikistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and now they've gone beyond those places. They've arrived in Iraq for perhaps their final chapter of jihad.

But we also have younger people, people that have never had an experience like this before, who are bred on stories of the Soviet-Afghan jihad and the legacies of the Arab Afghan fighters, these stories of sacrifice and martyrdom. And now they see this as this - their opportunity, the opportunity for their generation to go out and fight in a jihad, to fight against the infidels. And what better an opportunity do you have here than one that's an urban warfare battle pitted directly against the United States, seen as really the great Satan here?

STEWART: But couldn't - let me play devil's advocate here. Could this possibly, in any way, work to our advantage? One thing, when I've talked to Roger Cressey or any of our other analysts, they say, you know, al Qaeda's a movement. It's - the idea of it, it's not a place. It's so not a warfare that we're used to. You go to someplace and you fight. Now, with the insurgents within Iraq, we're going to someplace and we fight.

KOHLMANN: You know, I'd like to think that was the case, but unfortunately, I think it's wishful thinking. Instability breeds conflict, which in turn breeds terrorism. And that's what we see here. As long as these guys have an opportunity to come together, to fight as one unit, to really have that shared blood, sweat and tears that leads them to be a unified military unit, that's when these guys become terrorists. We've seen it before. This is no mystery. We've seen it before, specific examples, in places like Bosnia and Chechnya and Afghanistan.

As recently as two months after some of these individuals have left their conflicts - in this case, Iraq - they go on to participate in suicide bombings and terrorist attacks on their own home soil. And certainly, as we've seen here, at least one individual tied to the Madrid 3/11 bombings has already gone and blown himself up in Iraq last month. So I think this is a trend that's going to continue.

STEWART: And I have to get your take on this. Vice President Dick Cheney recently said the insurgency is in its last throes. Your response?

KOHLMANN: Again, wishful thinking. I really - you know, I would -

I would hope that would be the case, too. But unfortunately, if you've seen what's happened the last couple months, we've had major arrests of various insurgent leaders, lieutenants of Abu Musab al Zarqawi most recently. We saw the arrest of Abu Tala (ph) up in Mosul. Yet this has done almost nothing to stem the wave of suicide bombings. In fact, the number of suicide bombings has actually increased. The number of attacks has increased. The level of instability in Iraq has increased.

So I really - I'm not sure where they're getting this information from. From my perspective, I can hardly imagine this conflict ending any time soon.

STEWART: Evan Kohlmann of, many thanks for sharing your reporting. We appreciate it.

KOHLMANN: Thank you.

STEWART: Heavy fighting on the other major battleground for U.S. forces in the region, Afghanistan, has led to the death of an American pilot whose U-2 spy plane crashed on its way back from a surveillance mission. The U.S. military isn't saying exactly where the Air Force reconnaissance craft, the one that's like this one, went down. But an anonymous Pentagon official is telling the Associate Press the spy plane crashed while trying to land at its base in the United Arab Emirates after a mission in support of the war in Afghanistan. Investigators are still trying to figure out why it crashed. There were apparently no reports of enemy fire.

The future of the region, especially Iraq, was the top order of business in Brussels today, where representatives from more than 80 countries came together to discuss Iraq's future and what the international community can do to help. But a large part of fixing a problem is acknowledging that there is one. As Steve Handelsman reports, even supporters of the way (ph) many Republicans are starting to demand that the president do more and say more to get the struggling nation back on track.


STEVE HANDELSMAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Secretary of State Rice brought Iraqi government leaders to Brussels to ask European nations who stayed out of the war to help the Iraqis now.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: They are courageous people who are working toward democracy and freedom.

HANDELSMAN: U.S. allies want Sunnis brought into the election process. The Iraqi foreign minister agreed.


This country belongs to all.

HANDELSMAN: Outside, Iraqis made clear that their main concern is terrorism. In Baghdad today, another government official was assassinated. The insurgency is killing more Iraqis than ever, at least 19 today. And more American forces are dying, at least three killed in combat today in Ramadi, many others killed by ever more sophisticated roadside bombs, some even detonated by laser.

Senior Republican senators are reportedly pressuring President Bush to do more for U.S. troops and say more about his plan for Iraq. But he kept to his standard anti-terrorist line today.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:... defeating them in there so we do not have to face them here at home!

HANDELSMAN: Democrats claim the president is not telling the truth about Iraq.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: The American people are losing confidence in our ability to get this job done.

HANDELSMAN: At the U.S.-led Iraq conference, there were sympathetic sound bites.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: The people of Iraq have plenty of friends, and we are determined not to let them down.

HANDELSMAN: But no new plan to end the war and get Iraq back on its feet. I'm Steve Handelsman, NBC News, Washington.


STEWART: You can hear Senator Joe Biden talking about what's going wrong in Iraq. For those who feel Democrats and the media don't spend enough time talking about what's going right in Iraq, this next story is for you, NBC's Matt Lauer putting Senator Biden on the spot this morning by forcing him to accentuate the positive in his first question to the first Democrat to announce he may be running for president.


MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "TODAY" SHOW: Let's talk about what's right there because you've made several trips to Iraq, and I think sometimes there's a fear that in the media, we don't spend enough time talking about the accomplishments. What's going right there?

BIDEN: What's going right there is you have all the confessional (ph) folks of the Shia, the Kurds, wanting very much to put a government together. You've actually had an election that was a real election. It was consequential. You have - we have really good trainers on the ground now in General Petraeus. We're actually really beginning to train an Iraqi army. We've changed the training regime for the Iraqi police that's really under way now. There's a lot of good that's happening. We have really first-rate people there. And so there is still, in my view - I still believe we can succeed in Iraq and we must succeed in Iraq.


STEWART: A mother's love knows no bounds, legal professional or personal. More of Michael Jackson's mother's interview, including more on the rumors the family is shopping around a reality TV show a la "The Osbournes." And the squirt attack seen 'round the world. Tom Cruise and the red carped assault. Is going to go ahead and have charges pressed against those phony reporters?

Those stories ahead, but first here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes to litterbugs, Dr. Richard Bailey is not having a ball, especially when those yo-yos throw this kind of stuff into Lake Mary (ph). He is, after all, the official lake keeper, the one who must pick up their garbage, whether it be styrofoam, plastic bags...

DR. RICHARD BAILEY, LAKE KEEPER: Got something really big.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... or just ordinary trash.

BUSH: I want to thank the president and CEO of Constellation Energy.

Mayo (INAUDIBLE) A pretty cool first name isn't it, Mayo.


BUSH: Pass the mayo!


CONAN O'BRIEN, "LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": A court in Germany has ruled that soldiers in the German army should be allowed to keep their mullets and ponytails. Yes. Yes. That's nice. Yes. In a related story, the German army is now doing most of its recruiting in New Jersey.



STEWART: For 574 days, he went through accusation, prosecution, deliberation before finally vindication. But that didn't stop the swell of rumors surrounding Michael Jackson's lifestyle, and specifically, his love for children. Now our second story on the Countdown: His own mother comes to his defense, explaining through Rita Cosby in an exclusive interview that Michael isn't the only Jackson who feels drawn towards children.


KATHERINE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S MOTHER: All of my children are like that. If a little kid came in the room now, they would gravitate to that child, pick him up, hug him and squeeze him and kiss him and all that. That's what they do.

RITA COSBY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: What happened in Michael's childhood that he feels such an attachment to children? What did he miss?

JACKSON: Well, Michael - if you know, Michael started singing when he was at a very young age. He was in the studio most of the time when the other kids had free time. And then after that, he went on tour, and he had to practice and do all of that. He did miss out on a lot of his childhood.

COSBY: Did your husband push Michael too hard early on?


COSBY: Michael's even sort of said that, though. He suggested that.

JACKSON: Well, Michael said that because sometimes when the kids do something bad, you know, they get spankings.

COSBY: He was acquitted on 10 counts. Are you surprised there are still some people suggesting that his kids should be taken away from him?

JACKSON: Child Services found nothing wrong with the children or wrong with the way he's raising his children.

COSBY: Neverland is the place which was raided, the place where these allegations stemmed from. Some people are saying maybe Michael Jackson should get rid of it because of all the painful memories.

JACKSON: Well, I don't think he should. He worked hard for that.

It's a beautiful place.

COSBY: Do you think the media was out to get your son?

JACKSON: These people out there, the media - people love to hear garbage. They don't want to hear anything good. And this is why the media keep this stuff going. We're nothing like they think we are. And as far as they're saying that we're shopping for a reality show, that is not the truth. We've been offered a reality show and turned it down. We're not like the Osbournes. And I don't think they did them right, but they still worshipped them. But I would never do that.

COSBY: And finally, if your son is watching this interview, what would you want to say to him?

JACKSON: He knows what I want to say to him, that I love him.

COSBY: Will you say to him that you're proud of him?


COSBY: And a mother's love helped him get through it.

JACKSON: Yes. I tried.


STEWART: And you can see more of Rita Cosby's exclusive interview with Michael Jackson's mother on a special edition of "SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY." That's tonight at 10:00 Eastern only on MSNBC.

And taking the eminently logical turn into the world of celebrity news and gossip and "Keeping Tabs," we begin with the latest Cruise news. The actor has decided not to press charges against the four pranksters who hosed him with water during a fake interview.

But this next item is not fake. It's real. Really what is up for to you decide. Guess who he invited to have dinner with him and fiancee Katie Holmes in Spain this week? His ex-girlfriend's parents. Penelope Cruz's father and mother joined Tom and Katie at the ritzy Casa Lucia (ph) restaurant in Madrid. A fellow diner ran out and told "The Sun" tabloid, quote, "Katie was very quiet at the table," end quote, which seems strange. I mean, what could possibly be awkward about dinner with your fiance's former lover's parents? I don't know.

If the producers are going to make me talk about Paris Hilton, at least the story is about her dog. Remember the one that she lost - she said she lost but she actually forgot and left the poor thing somewhere? Maybe that explains why Tinkerbell's in such a bad mood. Here's the story. The pooch was with Paris's mom, Kathy Hilton, while she waited to go on the "Today" show this week. According to "The New York Post," one of show's segment producers came up to give a little pat. Then wham-o! Tinkerbell struck, a source telling "The Post," quote, "Tinkerbell wasn't kidding. She really bit in good. The producer had to shake the dog off. It was a nasty bite. Meanwhile, the entire time this is happening on Kathy's lap, mind you, Kathy is just sitting there, doing nothing, murmuring, Oh, sorry," end quote. No word on whether the unnamed producers will need a rabies shot. We hope not.

No word if there was an apology out of the pup, but it would still take a back seat to the big Capitol Hill apology. When "I'm sorry" hits the headlines, you know it's time for a trip back to the Countdown Apology Hall of Fame. Stand by.


STEWART: Earlier this news hour, we told you about a politician making an apology for something he said. But when it comes to regret, Countdown has an unofficial record. It's getting longer by the day. From a president with a "bimbo eruption" to an entertainer with a wardrobe malfunction, from an anchor in trouble to an actor in lust, from an Aussie and his baby to a basketball player and his sugar, all are joined by the irresistible need to apologize. And when it's done with a dose of drama and a tear or two, it's our number one story.

Countdown's Apology Hall of Fame inducts Senator Dick Durbin, the gentleman from Illinois.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: If I read this to you and didn't tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have happened by Nazis...

Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get crazy, get some coke, hire a hooker. If you agree with this, just look at me and say yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry I did it. I'm sorry it offended people.

And I apologize to the people that this has offended.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it.

Also, I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry.

TERRELL OWENS, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Personally, I didn't think it would have offended anyone, and...

Oh, hell!

You know, if it did, you know, we apologize.

GOV. JAMES MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY: I am sorry, so, so sorry that mistakes...

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: I apologize to anybody that's been brought into this unnecessarily.

ASHLEE SIMPSON, SINGER: I feel so bad. My band started playing the wrong song. And I have no excuse, so I thought I'd do a hoedown. I'm sorry!

JANET JACKSON, SINGER: And unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end. I'm really sorry.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife.

KOBE BRYANT, LA LAKERS: I'm so sorry. I love my wife so much.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: In order to be a racist, you have to feel superior. I don't feel superior to you at all. I don't believe any man or any woman is superior to any other...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But did you always hold that view?

LOTT: I think I did.

TONYA HARDING, FIGURE SKATER: I feel really bad for Nancy, and I feel really lucky that it wasn't me.

JAY LENO, HOST, "TONIGHT" SHOW: What the hell were you thinking?

HUGH GRANT, ACTOR: I think you know in life pretty much what's a good thing to do and what's a bad thing. And I did a bad thing, and there you have it.

STEVE IRWIN, "CROCODILE HUNTER": Sweetheart, who do you want to be when you grow up?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Just like my daddy!


IRWIN: Poor little thing!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me - let me...

IRWIN: You know what? I am...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... jump in here.

IRWIN:... sorry, Matt!

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA:... that I have behaved badly sometimes. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize.

RICHARD M. NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But if some of my judgments were wrong - and some were wrong - they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interests of the nation.

REV. JIMMY SWAGGART: Please forgive me! I have sinned against you, my Lord! And I would ask that your precious (INAUDIBLE)


STEWART: And I'm really sorry that I messed up saying "wardrobe malfunction" before the piece. It's a Hall of Fame you don't want to be part of. That does it for this Wednesday's edition of Countdown. I am Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann. "THE SITUATION" with Tucker Carlson - that's up next. Have a really good night.