'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 29
Guest: Desa Philadelphia, Barry McCaffrey, Richard Wolffe
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The day after the president's speech about Iraq, 17 Americans feared dead, their helicopter feared shot down in Afghanistan.
The math. The president says his military leaders have all the men they need. His critics say his military leaders have all the men we've got.
The movie slump, war of the - whatever. Eighteen straight weeks of declining box office business, one theater chain even offering refunds.
A paternity test for Prince Harry, not now, but when he was born, to make sure the story was true, that he really was the son of Prince Charles.
And it turns out this story really is true. Moonlight Graham, the old doctor from "Field of Dreams" who only got to play in one major league baseball game, it's true. And his game was played 100 years ago today.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
Within 22 hours of the completion of the president's complete-the-mission speech, with its 34 references to terrorism and its conclusion that the war is, quote, "worth it," 17 American service personnel are presumed dead as their helicopter was shot out of the Afghanistan sky.
And the capital and the White House were evacuated again in another false alarm over a plane wandering into restricted airspace.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, first, is it worth it?
In Afghanistan, with recovery crews fighting bad weather looking for the bodies of dead Navy Seals, the Pentagon thinks the chopper was shot down. The Taliban claims it did it.
It was a Chinook MH-47, like this one, part of a four-chopper convoy on a mission to rescue a special ops team calling for reinforcements from the side of an eastern Afghan mountain, 10,000 feet up. The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace, says the Pentagon is not 100 percent certain but believes the chopper was felled by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The incident took place near Asadabad along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. U.S. military officials telling NBC News tonight that a search and rescue team has now reached the site, and there are no signs of survivors.
The Taliban, the fundamentalist bosses who ruled Afghanistan and safe-harbored Osama bin Laden, claim they shot the chopper down and killed survivors on the ground. They also claim to have videotaped the attack, though the plausibility of that claim seems minimized by the fact that they say that they will release that video later.
Regardless, somebody shot the Chinook down, and the doggedness of resistance in Afghanistan is a mirror image, perhaps a glimpse of the future, of the insurgency in Iraq.
That brings us back to President Bush's speech last night, which TV ratings suggest about a third of his customary audience did not even bother to watch. We will discuss that curious statistic, and get the second-day analysis of the speech, in a moment.
But first, the substance of the president's message, in a nutshell, to stay the course in Iraq, Afghanistan as well, and to do it with no additional manpower, because the president said the military commanders on the ground there say they don't need any additional.
Retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey recently returned from Iraq.
He has been kind enough to join us now.
And good evening to you, sir.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Yes, hi.
OLBERMANN: Before I ask you what military commanders in Iraq have been telling you about manpower, let me ask about the chopper being shot down in Afghanistan. That's eight months since we more or less declared the Taliban pretty much DOA. Is there any parallel or lesson in here about the strengths of insurgencies in Afghanistan, or, for that matter, in Iraq?
MCCAFFREY: Well, of course, Afghanistan's a case, a very unusual case. The Taliban are clearly trying to influence the upcoming parliamentary elections. We're trying to ensure that we fight them out on the frontier before they get into Kandahar, Kabul, the big cities, Mazir-a-Sharif (ph).
So I think what you're seeing is an attempt by us to continue the development of an operative Afghan state, to extend democracy. That's what the fighting's about.
OLBERMANN: To focus, then, on this issue of Iraq and manpower, as the president brought it up last night, before my question, let's listen to one of these quotations from the speech from the president last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself, and we can leave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: General, how does that jibe with what the commanders have told you? And is it really a question of how quickly Iraqi forces are going to replace American forces who will be, one way or the other, leaving?
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, my own judgment, this fellow we got in command, General John Abizaid, the CentCom commander-in-chief, is about as good as we've ever had. You know, Arabic speaking, Olmstead scholar, Harvard master's degree, a Ranger commander himself.
I think the bottom line is, we don't want more Americans there right now. We want to build the Iraqi security forces. That process looks to me, Keith, as if it's under way, and likely to continue to produce more and more Iraqi-trained and -equipped manpower.
Having said that, U.S. Army and Marine Corps cannot surge any more troops into Iraq, to speak of. We might be able to produce a brigade or two more for the December elections, but we've shot the bolt. Half that force is National Guard or Reserve. The Army and the Marine Corps are stretched beyond their elastic limit.
And so it's a moot question, at best.
OLBERMANN: So that might also explain what some people may have come away from last night, some confusion that some might have had last night, hearing the president first saying, We have enough troops in Iraq, and then, as this clip that we're going to play indicates, on the other hand, saying, in the wake of the huge recruiting shortfall, he was including a - basically a sales pitch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I thank those of you who've reenlisted in an hour when your country needs you. And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So that's not incompatible with what he said earlier, essentially, we have all we need, but we need more. Is that explained by the need to overcome the attrition? In other words, just to keep current numbers of boots on the ground, we have to reverse the recruiting shortfall?
MCCAFFREY: Well, we got a problem. You know, we got a very high reenlistment rate for units in combat. They're very proud of what they're doing. They're very tough soldiers and Marines and sailors, airmen, Coast Guard, over there, no question.
The problem is the recruiting shortfalls are enormous. And I think we need our political leadership, including the president of the United States, to say, Look, we need your boys and girls to come forward and fight for us.
But Keith, it's not to consider a career in the armed forces. We need 19-year-old young men and women to come in and carry a gun in military police battalions and infantry battalions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So I must admit, I would have liked to have seen a much more direct statement that we're asking you, American parents and educators and pediatricians, send your boys and girls to the color. We're in danger. We need somebody to fight for us.
OLBERMANN: One long, long-term question that comes from a great quote in "The New York Times" today. We've heard all the analogies to Vietnam. But there was a soldier quoted in "The Times, "New York Times" this morning who said she feared that Iraq was turning into another Korea, that we'd be stuck in a no-man's-land of keeping, as she put it, good Iraq from bad Iraq, because the tensions will always be there. Is that a plausible outcome to this?
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, those troops, boy, they sure are astute. You know, they read stuff their moms send them. They're pretty cagey people. That's not a bad outcome. We stayed in Germany for 50 years and created peace and ended the cold war. We went to Korea with a modest force, 50,000 troops, created this giant democratic capitalistic miracle of South Korea.
What's wrong with that? I wouldn't mind seeing us stay in Iraq for 10 years with a modest force and end up with a democratic Iraq and one that doesn't represent a threat to its own people and its neighbors and our national security interests.
OLBERMANN: The retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey. As always, sir, great thanks. And congratulations on the pyrotechnics behind you. Very effective.
MCCAFFREY: Yes, all right, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Last night's speech evoking the inner Yogi Berra in those who could not help thinking it was deja vu all over again, President Bush continually invoking the September 11 attacks. As a strategy, bluntly recalling the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania has proved enormously successful for this White House, and some suggest it got it a second term to begin with, the president returning it to circulation at Fort Bragg.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001.
After September the 11th, 2001, I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult. After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people. This nation will not wait to be attacked again.
... followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania.
... just as they tried to shake our will on September the 11th, 2001.
The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: For the second-day recap, I'm joined now by Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE:
Great to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As the 9/11 references attest, very little new per se in last night's address, at least in terms of terminology, with the exception of the Show Us You Care Web site unveiled for the troops. The president is fond of repeating things until he thinks the message has gotten through, if it has not already. Didn't really work, at least yet, on Social Security reform. Is there anything that would suggest it's going to work in terms of shoring up support for Iraq?
WOLFFE: Well, the numbers don't look good, and they haven't looked
good for a long time. Remember, the president's been saying this for some quite a long period. But the numbers have been bad since April, May of last year. And since September, before the president got reelected, the number of people saying the war wasn't worth it far outnumbered the people who said it was worth it.
So that's why he framed it like this. Yes, 9/11, you've got the subliminal message there. It's what this is all come about. But it's a very tough sell for the president right now.
OLBERMANN: Now the question becomes, how many people did get the subliminal message, or any kind of message? I mean, lord help us if we ever start ranking presidents by their TV ratings. But this statistic tonight was so startling that it seemed to move itself from tangential to relevant. His Social Security speech in April, April 28, had a total TV audience of 32.7 million. The one last night, 23 million, which is a 30 percent drop. It's 27 percent fewer than watched the stem cell speech in August 2001. It's less than half the number who watched the "Mission accomplished" speech in May of 2003.
Does it mean - well, what does it mean? Does it mean nobody wants to hear the argument, or everybody is already decided? Can we tell what it means?
WOLFFE: Well, it means he's preaching to the choir. You know, Gallup was out in the field asking people if they saw it, what they thought. And they found that predominantly, the people who watched it were the president's fans.
So, you know, that's a problem, because these are - he's trying to shift public opinion across the nation. And, you know, you can see why the networks are reluctant to take this. It doesn't make for great TV. And the White House flagged this up in advance. They said there would be nothing new.
OLBERMANN: Maybe he could have worked in the missing woman in Aruba story if he want to get a larger audience.
Last question. It's a visceral one, I guess. When you specifically choose a military setting as your backdrop, and the soldiers are at attention as the president enters so they cannot applaud, and they finally applaud only after a White House staffer apparently starts to clap about 20 minutes into the speech, did somebody make poor choices regarding the politics of the thing, the setting of the thing?
WOLFFE: They were trying to be somber. They were trying to be - they were trying to hit the mood of the people. But it's a very tough balancing act for the president. He is trying to say, I understand, everyone's concerned about the war, but there's this optimistic light at the end of the tunnel.
And it's - I think it's probably an impossible line to tread for this president, given that he doesn't like admitting mistakes, and he wants to portray this as a war that is heading for victory. So it's very tough. I think that's why you saw this awkward applause moment.
OLBERMANN: The senior White House correspondent, Richard Wolffe, of "Newsweek" magazine. Richard, thanks again for your time tonight.
WOLFFE: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, the phrase in Washington late this afternoon might have been, Thanks a lot, again. The Capitol and White House ordered evacuated for the second time in 49 days. Again, just a stray plane in restricted airspace. This was over within a few minutes, even before the White House had been fully evacuated. And nobody seemed in a particular hurry, not in the Senate, where your representatives have moved faster towards free food, and not at the Capitol, where one evacuee could clearly be seen carrying his dry cleaning with him.
Witnesses say a turbo-prop plane could be heard overhead at the Capitol. Authorities say fighter jets escorted that plane and had it on the ground in Virginia within 15 minutes of the start of the incident. The White House says it did go to code red, and, quoting spokesman Scott McClellan, "The president was temporarily relocated," he added, "hurriedly."
But for the second consecutive evacuation, the White House emergency notification system did not sound.
Also tonight, concern about the most popular nonstick cookware. The EPA is doubtless going to touch one off tonight. It's investigating reports suggesting a chemical in Teflon might cause cancer.
And 18 straight weeks of box-office bombs, one theater chain now offering refunds if you hate the movie. To quote the actor Paul Dooley in "Breaking Away," Refund? Refund? Refund?
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Once again, another TV news trip into the bottomless pit of things that could kill you but probably won't.
One part of our fourth story on the Countdown is for certain. After you see Tom Costello's report on the possibility that a chemical in Teflon might increase your chances of getting cancer, your chances of thinking about throwing out your Teflon skillet will go through the roof.
TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With five kids, it seems Barbara Andraconus (ph) always has something cooking in a pan. But it's the chemical compound used to make the pan's Teflon coating that has her and an EPA panel concerned.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anything that isn't sort of the way nature made it has to have some kind of problem with it for us as humans.
COSTELLO: The compound is PFOA. And trace amounts of it have shown up in blood samples taken from people across the country. When rats and mice were exposed to PFOA in far greater amounts, they developed brain tumors.
Now an EPA advisory panel reports PFOA is a likely carcinogen in humans. Activists have been pushing the EPA to regulate it for years.
RICHARD WILES, ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: Our concern is that this is a very unique chemical. It lasts literally for eternity. And now it has been determined to be a likely human carcinogen. That ranks it up there with DDT, PCBs, dioxin as a very serious hazard. Needs to be banned.
COSTELLO: Teflon, and the products that contain PFOA, are everywhere, from those pots and pans to Gortex jackets, carpet coatings, computer chips, engine fuel lines, even pizza boxes.
(on camera): But the manufacturer, Dupont, says it doesn't know why PFOAs are turning up in human blood samples nationwide. And, it says, there are no PFOAs in Teflon-coated pans, because, it says, they've been destroyed during the manufacturing process. It also says its tests indicate PFOAs are not a threat.
RICHARD RICKARD, PH.D., DUPONT SCIENTIST: Clearly, based on our assessment of the science, we do not believe this poses any cancer risk to the general population.
COSTELLO: There are nonstick coatings that don't contain Teflon, but now the EPA must decide whether PFOAs used in Teflon and other processing should be regulated.
CHARLIE AUER, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: EPA's prepared to act. But we do have to have a pretty complete understanding of the risks, the exposures, et cetera.
COSTELLO: Whether a chemical that's part of everyday life is also a threat.
Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: Before you empty your kitchen cabinets, this caveat. A reminder about the aluminum scare of the early 1990s, when an herbal medicine author almost singlehandedly insisted it led to Alzheimer's and ALS. The author was named Michael A. Weiner, Ph.D. He is today better known today as Michael Savage.
Speaking of cleaning out, that's what happened in this pet store.
Holy purloined puppies, Batman!
And a crime in any workplace, a loud talker in the open (INAUDIBLE). Not her. That's unfair to put that picture up there. To say nothing of the eavesdropper. Now one company says it has the answer. It's basically a gibberish machine. Besides what I'm saying. This is a gibberish machine too. Quit working my side of the street!
OLBERMANN: We pause our Countdown of the day's real news for a brief collection of stories that would never even be news without two magical little words - great video.
Let's play Oddball.
We begin in Orlando, Florida, where something is amiss at the happiest place on earth. It appears jihadists are kidnapping puppies. Or maybe they're just ordinary puppy thieves who happen to be wearing towels over their heads as disguises.
This doggie-cage cam captured the theft of some of the 12 animals snatched from the Just Puppies store. The thieves apparently took as many of the things as they could carry out in the bag.
What about me? Yoicks.
The store owner says the dogs are worth about $5,000. But without proper papers, they have a street value of next to nothing. Plus, it's nearly impossible to get high by smoking them.
To Alaska. You thought the old opening to the old TV series "Northern Exposure" was some sort of exaggeration, huh? At Anchorage, a security camera caught it. Greatest invention ever, security cameras. This moose loose in the hoose, (INAUDIBLE), walked into the front door of the place, moseyed up to the counter, and asked to visit a patient named Rocky in the substance abuse ward. Hospital staff could be seen frantically running to grab cameras of their own to record the event for posterity.
Checking Oddball traffic, we've got an overturned beer truck in Newton, Massachusetts. Luckily, the driver was uninjured, and all the beer remained inside the - Uh-oh, that's not good.
Officials spent the entire day cleaning up the mess, cleverly bringing in area inmates to help with the job. And it'll be a big time in the Big House tonight.
Finally, things are finally looking up for Red Sox fan Leo Fitzgerald. The New Hampshire guy traveled seven hours to Philadelphia to see the Sox and Phillies on Saturday. Got himself a foul ball in the fourth inning, at that cost. Everyone in the stands around him got something far more foul, a nice gander at his Fruit of the Looms. The Phillies have since named him Fan of the Game, showered him with gifts, and asked him please, never, ever return to our stadium.
Speaking of stinkers, "War of the Worlds" opens today. But "Cinderella Man" gets the headline. In some theaters, if you see this flick, and you don't like it, you can get a full refund. Are things really that bad at the box office?
And remember when movies were movies, like "Field of Dreams"? Great fictional characters like Moonlight Graham? Only he wasn't fictional. In fact, today is the centennial of the Moonlight Graham Game.
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Gary Moody of Albany, New Hampshire. Arrested for being a peeping Tom, in an outhouse, looking up. He was hiding beneath the seat. You know, to do this, your timing has to be perfect.
Number two, Rodney Tomsha, Spokane, Washington, arrested at his own wedding because his new Mrs. had gotten a restraining order issued against him earlier this year, and had gotten him arrested on a domestic violence charge 12 days ago. I thought could I change him!
And number one, Tramesha Fox of Houston. Hello! Chemistry teacher at Aldene (ph) Senior High School there. Police say she offered to give passing grades to of two her failing students, passing grades if they would torch her car for her for the insurance money. Well, that's a kind of chemistry.
OLBERMANN: It is perhaps the most disturbing part of H.G. Wells' novel, "The War of the Worlds." And there's probably good reason that the previous films and radio adaptations have left it out. But Wells pulled no punch. His invading Martians survived by sucking the blood out of living humans.
Our third story on the Countdown, speaking of sucking the blood out of living humans, there's Hollywood. And if there were ever a place where you might root for the Martians over the native humans, it would be in Hollywood.
In that context, there's good news tonight. As the Tom Cruise version of the War of the Worlds opens tonight, Hollywood has just sustained its record breaking 18th consecutive week of declining box office figures. Revenues for the top 12 films were down from the week before, down 16 percent from the parallel weekend for last year.
Whether "War of the Worlds" will break the streak is unclear. Kim, is it, as my mother would say, they must don't make movies like they used to?
Plus, the early reviews all say, politely, that the film is, quote, "dark," unquote. And several note that it does include Wells' ultimate gross outs, that the Martians like to drain their hosts of the very life essence. You know, just like Hollywood.
But what happens there when suddenly there's nothing to suck on anymore? When nobody is buying your remake of something from the '60s? You know, another Batman movie or a "Bewitched" movie or a remake of "The Love Bug," for God's sakes?
Or even, heavens forbid, a new title. "Cinderella Man" has only grossed about $50 million since its release. Sure, it may simply really be "Seabiscuit" on two legs, but hoping to boost the film's box office take, AMC theaters are offering moviegoers a money-back guarantee. You'll get your ticket refund if you hated the film.
AMC started the promotion last week, will continue through Fourth of July weekend. And now one of AMC's competitors, Cinemark, trying a similar stunt this weekend in selected cinemas to see if it will pay off.
Meanwhile, the distributors of "Cinderella Man," Universal Pictures, considering other possibilities for boosting the film's performance this fall, including possibly re-releasing it nationwide.
In the interests of full disclosure, Universal, like MSNBC, are part of our big happy G.E. family.
So the idea of the decade. The recycling something from 1965 shtick seems to have met its expiration date. The "Living Dead" franchise has finally gotten a fork stuck in it. And if you go to see "War of the Worlds," you may be expecting that the Martians drink Tom Cruise, not because they're thirsty but because they're damned tired of him jumping up and down on couches and explaining how nobody but knows anything about psychiatry.
What's going on here? For some informed analysis, I'm joined by Desa Philadelphia, former - the current movie correspondent from "TIME" magazine.
Miss Philadelphia, good evening to you.
DESA PHILADELPHIA, MOVIE CORRESPONDENT, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: So what happened to the boffo box office?
PHILADELPHIA: Well, you know, frankly, last year was a good year, because the "Passion of the Christ" happened to that box office.
This year, the studios are kind of having to deal with what's been going on for a couple years now, which is that, you know, a lot more people are renting DVD's and watching movies on their computer screen and enjoying other forms of entertainment.
So last year was a very good year because of "Passion of the Christ."
This year is more demonstrative of where the box office really is.
OLBERMANN: But are they now dying by the same sword by which they have lived? I mean, 30 years ago, before "Jaws," newspapers and TV reports and magazine reports almost never mentioned box office. If you saw something about a movie, it was a review. Was this movie good or was this movie bad?
But now, in all mainstream media, it starts with how much money a picture made. Is it possible that moviegoers have finally awoken to the idea that just because a lot of other people wasted their $10 on a certain film, that does not mean that they should, too?
PHILADELPHIA: Yes. And it's - it's sort of - and that's being helped, too, by the fact that DVD's are so readily available. So it's sort of, you know, if people feel like if they haven't seen the movie, they're not going to be out of the conversation forever. You know, they don't just have that one shot to go to the theater to see the movie.
And also, there's so much information on the Internet these days about the movie, that you kind of - you can read that stuff and feel like you've seen it anyway, at least enough to participate in the dinner conversation about the movie.
And for some people, that's enough. They don't have to spend the $10 or, in some places, $12 to see the film.
OLBERMANN: And just incidentally, about "War of the Worlds" specifically, some critics have said it was - the whole thing was detracted from by the Tucker Carlson promo right in the middle of the movie there.
But seriously, how does the AMC Theaters rebate stuff sit with Hollywood? I mean, if you're asking for your money back because you didn't like the James Jay Braddock biopic, that's Hollywood's money that AMC is giving you back, isn't it? I mean, it's not the money that they got from you for popcorn and soda, right?
PHILADELPHIA: Well, at this point, it's not as much Hollywood money as it was a few weeks ago. But the way that the ticket sales are being divvied up between the studio and the exhibitor works is that every week, the studio get a little less and the exhibitor gets a little more.
So AMC is at the point where they benefit more from having people come in at this point from ticket sales. And also, because they make their big money at the concession stand. And for that, you need to have people walk in to the theater.
So even if a few people ask for their money back, as long as they bought that big popcorn and the giant soda, then AMC has made a profit on them.
OLBERMANN: And if they walk out, they might get something to go.
Desa Philadelphia from "TIME" magazine, great thanks for your time tonight.
PHILADELPHIA: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Cutting back on movies? How about cutting back on the eavesdropping at the office? Again we hit this poor woman with that picture.
Is the key to turning all the constant babble off, a new contraption called "Babble On"? "Babble On" and "Who's Your Daddy?" No, there's no joke here. Who is your daddy?
Those stories ahead. But now here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": Also coming up, Dakota Fanning.
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": "The War of the Worlds" is expected to be one of the blockbusters of the summer. It stars Tom Cruise and this 11-year-old extremely accomplished actress.
COURIC: She is incredibly poised and so adorable.
LAUER: We're going to talk to her about that. If she calls me glib, I'm walking out.
CRUISE: You're glib.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Veer to the left for the camera. That was too far left, too.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Can they spot the enemy like we could in earlier wars? Even in the V.C., you could sort of spot them at one point, or is it always these IUD's? IUD's. Not IUD's. Different topic. Some of the women know what I mean here. IED's!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Not to bore you with mythology from my past, excessively anyway, one story I heard recently pertains to our No. 2 story tonight.
Now years ago at CNN, I used to periodically sit under my office desk, and on site no doubt. But absolutely true. You know why?
Because my office desk abutted the office desks of three other guys. And if I wanted to make a phone call without them knowing about it, or if I didn't want to involuntarily join in the conversation when they made phone calls, I didn't really have any choice.
You may have faced this same problem as recently as today. If so, Countdown's Monica Novotny may have brought you the answer. The other answer, besides sitting under your desk.
Good evening, Monica.
MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
Yes, it's true. There might finally be a way to have a private discussion in a public place like work. Now for those of you who have a big fancy office with a door that closes...
OLBERMANN: I can still hear you through it.
NOVOTNY: This may not mean much. But for the rest of us, if they get this right, it could change our lives.
DANNY HILLIS, CO-FOUNDER, APPLIED MINDS: We've all had the experience of dialing up on a telephone and worrying whether our co-workers are hearing, by listening to our side of the station. And wouldn't it be nice if you could just sort of flip a switch and have some privacy in that conversation?
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Now, you can. Welcome to "Babble On." Plug this in to your voice and your voice becomes babble, your office cubicle transformed.
HILLIS: If you look at those people talking right there...
NOVOTNY (on camera): Right.
HILLIS:... you can see them talking, but you can't really understand what they're saying.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Danny Hillis' research firm, Applied Minds, along with Tsunari Technologies (ph), a subsidiary of office furniture maker Herman Miller, created the device to replace walls and acoustic tiles.
(on camera) So how is it working?
HILLIS: It's actually listening to their voices, and it's chopping up their voices and rearranging them to make a kind of camouflage for their voice.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Hillis says it also solves that other workplace problem: hearing your co-workers' conversations.
HILLIS: It's a natural human instinct that when you hear a few words, you want to the rest of the words. And so, even though you don't want to be, you're drawn into other people's conversations.
On the other hand, just the sound of them chattering is actually kind of pleasant.
NOVOTNY: For $400, you'll get chatter and lots of it. Just read the script provided as it records your voice.
(on camera) Spiders, beetles, caterpillars, snakes, turtles, moles.
How did you choose this script?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has balanced sentences in it for all your phone all the core sounds that you have.
NOVOTNY: So right now I'm speaking at a normal level, which means that all of the people in the cubicle surrounding me can essentially make out every word I'm saying.
But when I turn on the device...
GRAPHIC: My words are turned into meaningless chatter.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): It seems to work on quiet conversation but we put Babble to the ultimate test, the Countdown newsroom and one co-worker in particular.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tina is a loud talker, God bless her.
_UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)_NOVOTNY (on camera): What did you think of the babble?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was just a mishmash of loud noise and sounds. And I could still hear everything Tina was saying.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): And for Tina?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I actually found myself trying to talk over the babble.
NOVOTNY: OK. So there are a few bugs to work out. But still, this baby has its benefits.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've just had a revelation now that I'm, like, the loudest person ever.
NOVOTNY: I'm sorry it took this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's an intervention, not a news story, isn't it?
NOVOTNY: Something like that.
Clearly, there is a little more work to be done on this device. In our office, many found the babble sounds distracting, somewhat annoying.
_But consensus was that the only way to use this is at a low level - easy -_for short periods of time while making a quick quiet private phone call.
Still, it sure beats crawling under your desk.
OLBERMANN: No, I don't so. Because remember that dog that the guy, Sam Berkowitz, David Berkowitz, thought he heard before he went and killed people? That's what the dog sounded like.
Is this even expected to increase the number of people going postal in an office?
OLBERMANN: Not a chance.
NOVOTNY: You wouldn't know. You're locked away in your office.
OLBERMANN: Countdown's Monica Novotny. Great thanks. And Tina Cohen (ph) will be suing you later.
Part of office babble to which you would sometimes definitely want to apply that machine, our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs."
There's clearly some sort of upswing in reports about the late Princess Diana. This one about a paternity test to make sure her red-headed son, Harry, was also the son of Prince Charles and not, say, the son of red-headed Army officer James Hewitt.
It's another snippet from Diana, the last word. Yes, right. Written by Simone Simmons, who identified herself as Diana's energy healer. She's the one who put out the story about Diana and JFK Jr.
Simmons says she had to be the bearer of the royal family's bad tidings to Diana to take the test. She also says Charles' paternity was proved both for Harry and for his older brother, William.
No question any longer about who the New England Patriots' football team Super Bowl ring belongs to. But now we're left wondering, did it become a, quote, "gift" before or after Patriots owner Robert Kraft took it off and showed to it Russian President Vladimir Putin?
This happened in Russia Saturday at Putin's meeting with American business executives. It has been widely reported that Kraft took off the new brand new $15,000 ring commemorating the team's championship this year to let Putin have a look at it more closely, whereupon the president pocketed the thing and the Kremlin announced it was a gift, to the supposed surprise of the Patriots.
But tonight, Kraft, still in Europe, has issued a statement that apparently clarifies everything. Quote, "Upon seeing the ring, President Putin, a great and knowledgeable sports fan, was clearly taken with its uniqueness. At that point, I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin. It touched me to see President Putin's reaction to the ring, and I felt emotionally that it was the right way to conclude an exceptional meeting."
So if you meet Mr. Kraft and you're a great and knowledgeable sports fan and you are clearly taken with the uniqueness of the Super Bowl ring, say it to him, and no doubt, he'll give you one, as well.
That's hard to believe. What about the Moonlight Graham story in the movie "Field of Drams"? Well, disbelieve if you must, but it all happened, and it all happened a century ago today. We will show you the whole thing. That's next.
This is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: The scene at the Metrodome in Minnesota today, where an 86-year-old woman and two kids from Chisholm, Minnesota, threw out ceremonial first pitches before the Twins game against the Kansas City Royals.
The team was saluting Doc Graham day. The kids are the recipients of the two Doc Graham memorial scholarships. The woman, you'll meet her presently.
Does that name, Doc Graham, ring a bell? How about Moonlight Graham? Sure, it's been 16 years since the movie came out, but it runs every month on TV. It was on the Women's Entertainment Network the night before last.
Think hard now. Surely you remember Moonlight Graham. "Field of Dreams"? There you go.
It's perhaps the iconic depiction of baseball on film, a magical combination of history, fantasy and innocence, and it's become that largely because of just one of its many characters, that fanciful creation that author W.P. Kinsella called Moonlight Graham.
Graham supposedly played in just one Major League Baseball team, then became the beloved town doctor of the tiny city of Chisholm, Minnesota.
Well, it would have been a fanciful creation, and Moonlight Graham would have been one of fiction's great characters, except for one detail. Our No. 1 story in the Countdown, there really was a Moonlight Graham. He really did become the beloved town doctor of Chisholm, Minnesota. And he really did play in just one Major League Baseball game. And that one game was exactly 100 years ago today.
KEVIN COSTNER, ACTOR: Are you Moonlight Graham?
BURT LANCASTER, ACTOR: No one's called me Moonlight Graham in 50 years.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): Here, in Chisholm, Minnesota, 70 miles from the Canadian border, here they never called him Moonlight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. They stay away from that. You would call him Doc Graham and Dr. Graham in accordance to the status in our society.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never saw any other doctor except Dr. Graham.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he was very, very active in our community, so I haven't lost my remembrance of him, and our community hasn't lost remembrance of him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he loved that town. He loved the town, but it was a two-way street. Because the adults just absolutely adored him.
W.P. KINSELLA, AUTHOR, "SHOELESS JOE": The year I was trying to make the story into a novel, my father-in-law give me a baseball encyclopedia for Christmas, and I was leafing through it. And I came across the name. And it was the name, of course. He was listed as Moonlight Graham. And I thought, "What a wonderful name. This is better than anything I could invent."
OLBERMANN: This movie story really is true. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, a .323 hitter with Manchester of the New England League in 1904 was purchased by the National League champion New York Giants, and he joined them on May 23, 1905.
And for reasons lost to history, he didn't play a game until June 29. That day, with the Giants leading 10-0 in the eighth inning, manager John McGraw finally put him in in right field. Nobody hit the ball near him.
With two out in the top of the ninth inning, Moonlight Graham was on deck. He would have been the next hitter, his first time up in the big leagues. But Claude Elliott flied out to end the inning. Graham never got his chance.
The Giants sold him to Scranton 16 days later.
He never got his chance in baseball. Vida Ponicfar (ph) founded the newspaper "The Chisholm Free Press and Tribune".
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was reading a journal and in there was just a small ad, which said Rude Hospital (ph) in Chisholm, Minnesota, needs a doctor.
Got on the train, came straight to Chisholm, and knocked on the door. And when the nurse came to open the door, he said to her, "I'm your doctor." And he was hired on the spot.
OLBERMANN: Stayed in that spot, too, the emigre from the south whose kid brother, incidentally, would become a U.S. senator from North Carolina.
Dr. Graham stayed in Chisholm right up until his death 54 years later in 1965.
Now you may feel like you've met Vida Ponicfar (ph) before.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello.
OLBERMANN: She, too, is in Field of Drams. The actress Ann Seymour reads the obituary of Doc Graham that Vida wrote.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were times when children could not afford eyeglasses or milk or clothing. Yet, no child was ever denied these essentials...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:... because in the background, there was a benevolent understanding Doctor Graham. Without a word...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:... without any fanfare or publicity, the glasses or the milk or the ticket to the ballgame found their way into the child's pocket.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Found their way into the child's pocket.
OLBERMANN: Bob McDonald was one of the other children. He's been Chisholm High School's basketball coach for half a century, only its third since 1921. Doc Graham's baseball life, his love of sports was important, but it was nothing compared to how important his life was as the town doctor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the big item you see. In baseball, you kind of help yourself and you entertain. Athletics are like that. You entertain people. But he comforted people.
KINSELLA: I think that was one of his assets. I mean, what I was afraid of, was that this was going to be a guy who sat in the American Legion bar and bragged about playing in the major leagues for 40 years. And I'm sure that line that I gave him "would have been a tragedy if I'd only been a doctor for five minutes." I like that. Pretty well summed things up.
COSTNER: Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came - you came this close. I mean, it would kill some men to get that close to their dream and not touch it. They'd consider it a tragedy.
LANCASTER: Son, if I'd only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.
OLBERMANN: In the movie of course, Doc Graham, returned to his youth, doesn't have to pass up anything. He gets to bat against a major league pitcher, and he saves a little girl's life.
Just a dream, right? Not entirely.
There's one more piece to this story, and it is a long way from Chisholm, Minnesota. That single game in which Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham appeared was played at a stadium called Washington Park in Brooklyn, New York.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're just a few yards from where Moonlight Graham played the outfield for the New York Giants in 1905.
OLBERMANN: It strains credulity, but there it is, a century later, part of the Con Edison's electric company's substation, that outfield wall in Washington Park in Brooklyn, the one against which Moonlight Graham would have to measure his entire baseball career, still stands. It is the oldest ballpark remnant in America.
And you can almost see Moonlight Graham in his one moment in the big leagues, still captured in a kind of waking dream.
LANCASTER: And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?
OLBERMANN: When the author, Bill Kinsella, went to Chisholm to research the story of Moonlight Graham, Vida Ponicfar (ph) loaned him that picture of Graham as a ball player with the New York Giants. He says he went out and got a copy made of it immediately. And to this day, 30 years later, Kinsella still carries that photo around with him, magic enough perhaps.
That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for joining us. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END