'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 1
Guest: Kelly O'Donnell, George Burgess, Drew Pinksy
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Live-eight. Not the charity concert, that's the description of the Supreme Court right now. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor quits. Will she be the last to retire? Who will replace her? And just how ugly will that political Armageddon get?
Worse than the Hollywood psych wars? Shields at full power, Captain.
After the Cruise missiles, Brooke babbles back following Tom's shrink wrap.
Ooh, a third shark attack. Guy got bitten on the ankle. Yes, we're covering it. And yes, we're taking the side of the sharks.
And does it sound smart to you for to us shoot 771 pounds of copper at a speed of 23,000 miles an hour into a real big asteroid that's only 83 million miles away from earth? Well, if it doesn't, too bad. We're doing it anyway on Monday.
Blowed 'em up good. Blowed 'em up real good.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
And then there were eight. The weighty and escalating rumors of a retirement at the Supreme Court proved true this morning, only with a terrific twist not even the SCOTUS cognoscenti saw coming. The resignation was not from Chief Justice Rehnquist, but rather, by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, the first woman on the highest bench becomes the first to exit stage right. The implications are overwhelming. Let's get them on the record, and then start asking the questions.
Justice O'Connor sending President Bush her bombshell by letter. He knew yesterday someone at the court was sending him something, but not until early this morning did he know it was a letter, and that it was from O'Connor. In it, she told him she will leave as soon as her successor has been confirmed, her letter giving no reason for her decision. But friends say her husband is in declining health.
Later. Mr. Bush offering praise to the El Paso native when the two spoke by telephone. "For an old ranching girl," he said, "you turned out pretty good," unquote. The old ranching girl, appointed by President Reagan in 1981, becoming the court's first female justice, but despite her conservative credentials, Justice O'Connor could, more often than not, be found at the center of the court, joining liberals on key decisions such as upholding abortion rights, which she had opposed in previous testimony, and then preserving constitutionality of affirmative action, though not in the 2000 presidential election decision.
A few moments ago, I spoke with our justice correspondent, Pete Williams, outside the court.
Pete, good evening.
PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If this was supposedly a surprise, even to one of her own sons, how much of a surprise was to it everybody else?
WILLIAMS: On a scale of one to 10, it was about a 9.7. And I say that only because there had been a rumor going around in conservative circles here for the past 10 days that when the term was over, it was Sandra Day O'Connor, not the chief justice, who was going to step down.
No one who was close to Justice O'Connor thought that was true. We obviously didn't get a chance to ask Justice O'Connor that. And my suspicion, Keith, is that she has been thinking about this, and that it's just been difficult for her to finally come to the decision.
Such an agonizing thing for her, because this court has been her life for almost a quarter of a century. But now, to choose between that and taking care of her aging husband, both of them 75, obviously, we know how that came out. But a very difficult decision.
OLBERMANN: In that quarter-century, is it fair to have called her the perpetual swing vote in this court?
WILLIAMS: You know, it's funny. She never liked that term. But it's
· there's no question that she was. And it reflected today, one of the, I think, surprising things, you know how it is when there's something like this happens, you get sort of pro forma official statements, We wish her well, that kind of thing.
The other statements from the other justices today were clearly written by them and not their clerks. They're very warm. Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative members on the court, who often criticizes her rulings from the bench, nonetheless said, "She came here under extraordinary pressures, and she was star," he said. And more than any other associate justice, she has moved the court's legal decisions, the court's jurisprudence.
So even by the estimation of one of the most conservative members of the court, the answer to your question is yes, no doubt.
OLBERMANN: All right. So to the succession. Is the timeline essential here? The president says he will have a nominee shortly, but not till after he gets back from the G8. So that's another week. Then there are the hearings. If the hearings drag out, if there are filibusters, are there cases coming up before the court that could go one way if she has been replaced, and could go the other if she has not yet been replaced?
WILLIAMS: Yes, I think so. And, of course, the other possibility is, if she decides to leave before her successor is named, which is possible - she says she won't - but that would leave the court at eight apiece. And as you know, a tie vote means no decision, and the lower court - whoever won in the lower court wins.
But sure, that could definitely happen. Although there are no cases in the pipeline, you know, I have to think again about what's on the calendar for October. There are no cases in the pipeline on sort of the huge questions that will come up early, like affirmative action. There is an abortion case on the term next year. But my sense is that would probably not be argued until, like, December or so.
And that's a very key case. What should be the legal standard for judging restrictions that states put on abortion, like parental notification? That is perhaps the critical area of the law where she has been an important vote. But that wouldn't probably come up before the court until, like, late November, early December.
OLBERMANN: Last question, domino theory. Does this increase, decrease, or have no impact whatsoever on whether or not Justice Rehnquist would be considering retirement? Does it make him say, Well, I'm going to stay here until her replacement is settled?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, the simple answer to the question is, we haven't the vaguest, period, paragraph.
But I think two things. And this is just my own thought. Number one, remember that Sandra Day O'Connor and William Rehnquist have known each other since they were students together in law school. They dated briefly. She's the chief justice. She's been - he's been her chief. She would not do this if she hadn't consulted with him.
And I think if she thought he was about to step down, she would defer, and at least wait a while.
As for him, he has to now say, Well, you know, we've got one retirement. Do I want to step down and now leave potentially two seats empty on my Supreme Court? I think - my own view is, this increases the chances that the chief justice will stay as long as his health permits. And how long that is, we don't know. And I don't even know if he knows, Keith.
OLBERMANN: More on the - that Stanford days stuff in a moment. Justice correspondent Pete Williams, staying late with us at the Supreme Court. Many thanks.
WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.
OLBERMANN: And enjoy the political Tong war that is ahead over there.
WILLIAMS: We're going to be talking.
OLBERMANN: That war began within literally minutes of Justice O'Connor's announcement today, the president outlining what's to come with adjectives that you will never hear again used to describe this post-O'Connor confirmation process.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will continue to consult, as will my advisers, with members of the United States Senate. The nation deserves, and I will select, a Supreme Court justice that Americans can be proud of. The nation also deserves a dignified process of confirmation in the United States Senate characterized by fair treatment, a fair hearing, and a fair vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What's fair to say about that is, well before that, the bickering had already begun, very little of it so far dignified. The first shot fired by the conservative group Progress for America, releasing its ad last week, part of a $700,000 media campaign with an additional $18 million left to spend on this issue alone.
On the left, the political action committee MoveOn starting with far less in its war chest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, PROGRESS FOR AMERICA AD)
ANNOUNCER: Republicans never made an honest living in their lives. President Bush is a loser and a liar. So you know what the liberals will Say about any Supreme Court nominee. When past presidents made Supreme Court nominations, some Democrats instantly attacked them. Newspapers called some of these liberal attacks a smear, dishonest, ugly. Democrats will attack anyone the president nominates. But a Supreme Court nominee deserves real consideration instead of instant attacks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON AD)
ANNOUNCER: It was the last place the federal government needed to be, a family crisis affecting the most personal rights of all. And there was George Bush, playing politics with our personal rights once again. Now there's a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Will George Bush choose an extremist who will threaten our rights and support even more government intrusion into our lives?
MoveOn PAC is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And now we'll all talk like this all weekend.
If you think the political fever over a Supreme Court opening can't reach near-civil war levels, consider that 18 years ago today, Ronald Reagan announced his nominee to succeed Justice Louis Powell, Judge Robert Bork. Washington has never recovered.
Joining me now from there, Dana Milbank, national political reporter for "The Washington Post."
Good evening, Dana.
_DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": _
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thank you.
If those ads are any indication, is it safe to assume that we will not need fireworks on Monday, we can just watch the two parties detonate?
MILBANK: You are not kidding. And it's a better show than just Independence Day, because we'll get to do this for three months already. By may count, it took just about an hour for MoveOn to get that ad up and going. It took about 18 minutes to get Bill Frist to the Senate floor. Chuck Schumer caught a flight back to Washington so he could give a press conference.
And within an hour, two hours, it was like Armageddon. They were talking about returning the monarchy on one side, the end of our civil rights, on and on, hundred of hysterical press releases. And we don't even have a nominee yet.
OLBERMANN: Which recalls the last Armageddon. We now have to face the Senate deal to preserve the filibuster. And the Democrats had the one big caveat inserted into it, extraordinary circumstances. Does Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement qualify as an extraordinary circumstance?
MILBANK: Well, the beauty of that is, they didn't define extraordinary circumstance. So each of the 14 lawmakers involved can decide for themselves.
Now, it's extraordinary because we haven't had a vacancy for 11 years. It's extraordinary because Justice O'Connor was the deciding vote on all these hot-button social issues, and particularly abortion.
So you can be sure that a lot of these Democrats are going to consider this to be an extraordinary circumstance. And a lot of the Republicans are going to say, That's not the deal.
OLBERMANN: Dana, the political positioning here, O'Connor may have carried both that Ronald Reagan patina and that image as a moderate. But today, the radio right basically demonized her as somebody just left, left to the, the, the left of Vladimir Lenin. Ted Kennedy said she was a strict conservative.
Is her reputation going to get whacked in the next few weeks by both right and left, because her successor's political credentials will partially be established by where he or she stands relative to O'Connor?
MILBANK: Well, she is in a curious position, because her friends now are the Democrats. And here is a Reagan appointee who is, by most definitions, a conservative. So Democrats, you always got to be worried if you're a conservative and Democrats like Teddy Kennedy are praising you. But that's exactly what they want to do. They say, We want somebody to be replaced in her mold, somebody who can be confirmed 99 to zero by the Senate, and not in the mold of a Rehnquist or a Scalia, which is exactly what President Bush has said he's going to put forward.
Now, the Republicans are going to go after her. Senator Tom Coburn did already today. The interest groups really did, in quite an astonishing way, not even giving her sort of an hour or two to enjoy her retirement. But I guess at least she has some Democratic friends.
OLBERMANN: Any theories yet on - not who, but on how? Does the president throw out a rabid conservative and then let him get chewed up and then pull him back and actually nominate a regular conservative, who then looks moderate by contrast? Or what are we expecting to see as the first move of the chess game?
MILBANK: Well, first of all, we have no idea. But I have seen, from the liberal side, some conspiracy theories coming out that that's exactly what'll happen. In previous practice, we've seen, you know, it's like in tennis. If your first service is hard, and then you sort of hit it in there lightly, if that first one goes out. So it's not unprecedented to try that sort of thing, and we could see it here.
OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post." And, you know, I guess we knew something partisan had to happen after the Zogby poll came out saying 70 percent of voters want the parties to compromise.
MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Before we look at the names of possible successors, one more curious detail. Justice O'Connor's resignation cuts in half, as Pete Williams alluded to, the number of members of the Supreme Court who graduated from Stanford's law school in 1952. Chief Justice Rehnquist finished first in that class. Justice O'Connor was third.
In between, John F. Wells, now retired after 40 years as a civil and commercial litigator, and partner at the firm of Stark (ph), Wells (ph), Rall (ph), Schwartz (ph), and Schieffer (ph).
He tells Countdown he's proud of being number two and of the two classmates who surround him in those rankings, even though his political opinions differ from theirs. In fact, he says, at his 30th class reunion, the year after Justice O'Connor was seated, and while the media was still unsuccessfully trying to figure out who had been number two to her number three and Rehnquist's number one, the party favors at the reunion dinner were gavels, all which of read, "I was number two," except, says Wells, the one they gave to Justice O'Connor. Hers read, "I was number three."
So who is the new number nine? Did you get your application in? Everybody's got a short list. We'll introduce you to the early contenders and share our own list as well.
And war of the mouths. Last week, it was Tom Cruise blasting Brooke shields again. Now Shields are up, Captain. She strikes back.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: To quote the philosopher Homer Simpson, Who made you, Judge Judy, an executioner?
An opening on the Supreme Court bears an extraordinary resemblance to an opening in the Vatican. Dozens of names start flying around. And if you recognize two of them, you are either extremely in the know, or a relative.
Our fourth story in the Countdown, next? Justice Garza (ph)? Justice Olson? Justice Alido (ph)? (INAUDIBLE) the betting favorites, plus our unofficial list of the real long shots.
First, White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell on the process of nomination.
KELLY O'DONNELL, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No instant choice.
BUSH: I will be deliberate and thorough in this process.
O'DONNELL: Speaking in future tense, because the White House says President Bush had not read any of the files prepared for him on possible candidates, but will now that a vacancy is real.
BUSH: I will select a Supreme Court justice that Americans can be proud of.
O'DONNELL: Word came with a cryptic message from the high court yesterday. One of the justices had a sealed letter to deliver. But which justice remained a secret, even from the president, until this morning.
BUSH: Short time ago, I had a warm conversation with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
O'DONNELL: A team headed by the president's lawyer, Harriet Myers (ph), has been compiling names since Mr. Bush first took office. Preparations intensified, knowing a resignation was possible this week.
The kind of choice expected? Advisers describe a constitutional conservative.
Chris Bartolamucci (ph) spent two years on the White House legal staff.
CHRIS BARTOLAMUCCI: The president is not looking for a conservative in the political sense. But he's looking for someone with what might be called a conservative judicial philosophy, that is, someone who's going to read the Constitution according to its text and its history.
O'DONNELL: The talked-about short list, a dozen or more names floating in Washington. Among the most well known...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:... that I will support and defend...
ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL:... that I will support and defend...
O'DONNELL:... Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who has already been through a Senate confirmation.
TODD GAZIANO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Certainly there could be a surprise. Generally, those people who are talking don't know, and those people who know aren't talking.
OLBERMANN: Kelly O'Donnell, mentioning the most prominent possible candidate, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Some of the others thought to be on that short list, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, nicknamed Johnny Boy by a fellow Texan, the president. Before his election in '02, Cornyn served as attorney general of the Lone Star State and a justice on the Texas Supreme Court. There, his reputation was that of a moderate Republican.
Another name in consideration, certainly, Theodore Olson, the former solicitor general, now an attorney in private practice in Washington. Of note, he argued Bush's case before the Supreme Court, the one that decided the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. He was also legal counsel to President Reagan during Iran-contra, and a former partner in Kenneth Starr's law firm.
Well, those are the favorites. But in these times, when pop culture has taken over everything else, the president might want to let it have token representation on the nation's highest court too. Why not nominate Judge Judy? She's a real judge. She decides real fast. She's syndicated, so she's heavily promoted. Supreme Court ratings would soar.
Or Judge Rodney Melville. In the news of late, and in juror appreciation (INAUDIBLE), Michael Jackson could testify at the hearings, woo-hoo-hoo.
Judge Dread (ph). Well, hell, it would certainly keep what's-his-name, Sylvester Stallone, from making another "Rocky" picture.
Mike Judge, the guy who created "Beavis and Butthead." Judge Reinhold. Been a long time since "Beverly Hills Cop." He needs the (INAUDIBLE). Baseball's David Justice. Or, if this really is the first of several retirements, Judges Cal, Abdul, and Jackson. I'll stop now.
Nominations for our favorite government of the day, the Republic of Georgia. Better still, you will never believe what they are fighting about.
While off the coast of Florida, sharks, thousands of them. Well, one, anyway, enough to create the beginnings of yet another hysterical summer of the shark. Someone was bitten on the ankle today. That's no boating accident. For the record, we are siding with the shark.
OLBERMANN: We're back, and for the final time this week, we pause our Countdown for a brief segment of kooky video that comes to us from all around the world. It is what we like to call international news.
Let's play Oddball.
We begin with this reminder from the parliament of the Republic of Georgia. As much as our politicians in Washington may bicker, at least it has not devolved to this. Well, they're off tonight. Give them time. Anyway, a brawl between pro-government and opposition lawmakers, which erupted over the arrest of two champion wrestlers. Yes, I said two wrestlers got arrested.
Look. I could give you all the details, but they're very confusing, and honestly, they merely distract from the much more important issue at hand here, your Georgian tax dollars in action. Go, team.
To Bath, England, where a new record has been set for a formal dinner at 24,000 feet. The British explorer David Hempelman (ph) Adams and two friends set the world record by ballooning to that altitude wearing tuxedos and oxygen masks, don't you know. Then they braved temperatures of minus 58 degrees. They dined on poached salmon and asparagus spears that were hard as rocks by that point.
The feat gave them the official Guinness record for world's highest dinner party. Though Snoop Dog begs to differ.
Finally, to San Diego. Governor Schwarzenegger may have the solution to all of his troubles with the teacher's unions there. It's Ruby the Robot Teacher. Three feet tall and cute as a button, Ruby is being tested at a daycare center to see if she can interact with the little kids and help teach them the basics all without asking for a contract or any sort of health benefits.
So far, Ruby's a big hit with all the children who are not named Sarah Connor. A little "Terminator" joke there. Developers say next year's model will be even better. That one will be able to move around the classroom, interacting with the youngsters, and it'll have 10 time the killing power of the original Ruby.
From Ruby to Aruba, it looked like an actual development in the case of the missing American woman there. Now it just looks like something was lost in translation.
And a really big fireworks display for the Fourth of July, NASA trying to blow a hole in a comet. Nothing could go wrong there, huh?
These stories ahead.
But now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Jack Nicklaus. The famous golfer will reportedly be featured on Scotland's five-pound bank note. Currency. The first living person ever so depicted, save for members of the British royal family. So logically, he must be Prince Harry's father.
Number two, Ross Perot. Former presidential candidate, still a billionaire, fined $300 by a court in Bermuda for speeding in his boat. He was doing 35 miles an hour in a five-mile-an-hour zone.
And number one, Sam. Hands-down winner, third year running in a contest in Santa Barbara, California. Sam is a 14-year-old pedigreed Chinese crested, voted again the world's ugliest dog. Oh, Bolshoi, that's no dog, that's just another picture of Ross Perot.
OLBERMANN: We are four years removed from the original cable TV phenomenon of "the summer of the sharks" and the missing white women. Having learned nothing from that, several other networks have made this the second summer of the sharks and the missing white women.
But our third story on the Countdown: in defense of sharks, and an actual sliver of news about the woman. The Associated Press, apparently confused by the difference in legal terminology, language and customs in Aruba, reported today that three suspects in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway had been quote, "charged with her murder" three weeks ago, but that the information had been withheld out of respect for the family's search efforts. Tonight, it turns out that something may have been added in translation.
Our correspondent, Ron Blome, is in Palm Beach, Aruba, and he joins us now to straighten all this out. Ron, good evening.
RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith. It's not just a mistranslation, it's lost in the translation. But let me set the record straight. The charges against the three key suspects, the boys in this case, are the same tonight as last night, and that is suspicion of kidnapping and murder.
Now, the prosecutor was telling us earlier she didn't want to use the word murder the first few weeks. She didn't want to upset the parents. But what happened today - she's said to be a good prosecutor at that job, she also decided to be the spokesperson, not so good at that, talked to a new AP reporter, and it got a little bit out of hand. But the charges will really come later in a formal court session.
Now, we do have a session on Monday, where (INAUDIBLE) to be detained for another 60 days. Natalee Holloway's family very concerned that the judge in that hearing won't follow through on that and keep all three suspects in.
And just if we need it, one more wrinkle to the story. We now hear that the Dutch government is sending in three F-16 fighter jets - they'll arrive on Monday - with some very high-tech camera gear. They're supposed to be flying over not only the island but the ocean to take some pictures. Where that leads, we don't know - Keith.
OLBERMANN: Ron Blome, reporting from Aruba, great. Thanks for straightening it out for us.
And then there are the sharks. If you don't believe me about this, I'll understand, but an Austrian tourist was bitten on the ankle as he stood in chest-deep water off Boca Grande, Florida, near Fort Myers. This somehow constitutes, quote, "another shark attack," third of the summer. Nobody discusses the degree of injury nor the relative infrequency, nor if that's a place that has a lot of sharks in it.
They just lump 19-year-old Armin Trojer, who evidently didn't even see the shark and wasn't sure what it was that had bitten him, with the likes of 14-year-old Jamie Daigle, who was killed on Saturday. She was attacked by a shark while riding a boogie board near Destin, Florida. That's 530 miles away from where today's incident occurred. Sixteen-year-old Craig Hutto was attacked by a shark on Monday while he was fishing off Cape San Blas, which is 500 miles away from today's incident. His leg had to be amputated. Experts believe both of the teens were attacked by bull sharks.
Possibly because it is the 30th anniversary of the movie "Jaws," to say nothing of the Chevy Chase "land shark" character from "Saturday Night Live," these unfortunate incidents are turned into a frenzy - possibly a frenzy of sharks, more realistically, a frenzy of cable networks.
So tonight, something rare. We're taking a stand on behalf of the sharks. Joining me now from Gainesville, Florida, the curator of the International Shark Attack File, George Burgess. Mr. Burgess, good evening. Thank you for your time.
GEORGE BURGESS, INTERNATIONAL SHARK ATTACK FILE: Good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: Any indication that there's anything unusual in this year's shark behavior?
BURGESS: No. And in fact, I think you hit it right on the head. We've got a full-scale media feeding frenzy right about now. The fact (INAUDIBLE) is that in Florida, we have about 30 incidents a year. And so we're up to number nine now, and we're going to see a bunch more before the year is out. Happily, most of them are like this one, in which there's a quick grab and a release, and the injuries are very small.
OLBERMANN: Your chances of being attacked by a shark are about 1 in 11.5 million. Your chances of getting hit by lightning are about 1 in 4.5 million. Your chances of drowning in pools are about 1 in 500,000. Why do we forget these statistics?
BURGESS: I think we're just plain fascinated with sharks. And our interest in sharks, of course, is fueled by what we see on TV and what we read in the newspapers. And the fact of the matter is, sharks sell, or else I wouldn't be here tonight.
OLBERMANN: A columnist in "The Orlando Sentinel" wrote yesterday - obviously pertaining to the same thing, that sharks sell newspapers, as well - that there's a kind of reverse paranoia here. Get out of the way, Tucker. There are more shark attacks, triple, he says, than there were 10 years ago. He says that's because federal restrictions on shark fishing and Florida state restrictions on offshore fishing and netting of all kinds. Because of this, there are many more sharks in the water, much more food for the sharks, and thus there is more risk for humans. Is he correct?
BURGESS: No, he's way off base. As a matter of fact, the number of shark attacks have increased over the last 100 years, decade by decade, every year higher - every decade higher than the last. And this is largely the result of the increase in human population over the same time period.
The fact of the matter is, is the shark populations are at very low levels. And although fishery regulation has come into place over the last decade, it's going to take another 20 or 30 years before sharks get back to the levels they were in the mid-'70s.
OLBERMANN: What would alarm you? If there were, say, one shark, or there were one area in which 11 people were attacked by a shark over the weekend, would that worry you? Are those the sort of numbers we need before you'd say something really abnormal is happening?
BURGESS: Sure. You bet. You know, we look for trends, and if there's something that's out of the ordinary, we get a little concerned. Certainly, these incidents in the panhandle of Florida have been unusual. In both instances, they were the first in their counties. And I think what we're seeing is that the use of the in-shore waters, particularly in the panhandle of Florida, is catching up with that in peninsular Florida, and they're going through the same sort of growing pains that peninsular Florida went through 20 or 30 years ago.
OLBERMANN: George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File, great. Thanks for joining us tonight, sir.
BURGESS: Good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: And talk about sharks, Brooke Shields takes a few healthy bites right out of Tom Cruise's ankle. Your odds of being struck by Brooke Shields are 1 in 50,000.
And will this be the weekend that the world ends? There's a small chance of that, now that we're going comet hunting. If so, tonight's edition of Countdown's top five of the week will be the final episode in our series. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: A quarter of a century ago, they were in the same movie. She was the star. He was Billy, who got 18th billing. How ironic the title they shared, "Endless Love." Our number two story on the Countdown:
Tom Cruise gets his butt kicked in "The New York Times" by Brooke Shields. It was a month ago that Cruise first attacked Shields for writing in her book that anti-depressants saved her life after she had been overtaken by post-partum depression. With some levity, she replied that he should stick to, quote, "saving the world."
Then Matt Lauer asked Cruise about it all last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM CRUISE, "WAR OF THE WORLDS": The thing that I'm saying about Brooke is that there's misinformation, OK? And she doesn't understand the history of psychiatry. She doesn't understand, in the same way that you don't understand it, Matt.
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "TODAY" SHOW: But a little bit what you're saying, Tom, is you say you want people to do well, but you want them to do well by taking the road that you approve of, as opposed to a road that may work for them.
CRUISE: No. No, I'm not.
LAUER: Well, if anti-depressants work for Brooke Shields, why isn't that OK?
CRUISE: I disagree with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Cruise also suggested there were no such things as chemical imbalances in human beings. And today, Shields stopped replying with mirth. In a 700-word op-ed in the newspaper, she characterizes Cruise's comments as a wild rant.
"While Mr. Cruise says that Mr. Lauer and I do not understand the history of psychiatry," she writes. "I'm going to take a wild guess and say that Mr. Cruise has never suffered from post-partum depression. Comments like those made by Tom Cruise are a disservice to mothers everywhere. If any good can come of Mr. Cruise's ridiculous rant, let's hope that it gives much needed attention to a serious disease."
Who would have thought that getting sprayed in the face with water by a fake microphone held by a fake reporter might have been the high-water mark of Tom Cruise's year.
I'm joined now by Dr. Drew Pinsky, professor of psychiatry at the USC, also host of "Strictly Sex" on the Discovery Health network. Drew, thanks for your time tonight.
DR. DREW PINSKY, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY, USC: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Brooke Shields says she was not only depressed after the birth of her daughter, she said she considered suicide. Maybe of greatest importance, she said she was reluctant to talk to anybody about her problem. Shouldn't she have just snapped out of it with vitamins and exercise, in the Dr. Cruise method?
PINSKY: I wish it were that simple. Wouldn't that be nice? One of the questions I would have would be, well, if you're going to take medicines in sufficient quantity to affect your brain chemistry, aren't you thereby using medication, as well? Whether you call it a vitamin or call it a drug or call it a medication, it's still something, a biological agent to change the biological function of an organ, the brain.
It's unfortunate that he seems confused that the brain is an organ, like any other. It can have dysfunction, and there are medical treatments for those dysfunctions. They're serious. Maybe one in five people with depression will kill themselves. Suicideality (ph) a sign of how severe Brooke's depression was. And not only that, she had a child to contend with, and the impact of the depression on that child could have been profound had she not stepped forward and had the proper treatment.
OLBERMANN: And there are such things as chemical imbalances, aren't there? I mean - I mean, things...
OLBERMANN:... you can prove in a hospital if you brought a notary public along with you or something like that?
PINSKY: Right. Right. There may not be a simple blood test, but absolutely. We have functional MRI scans. The scientific - the accumulation of scientific evidence about the biology of the brain - we are in an absolute sort of downpour of this material right now. It's folly to think about this as nonscientific. The fact is, we have overwhelming evidence about how this affects the biology of the brain and then how it's manifested clinically.
The fact is, though, that most doctors do make the diagnosis based on clinical presentation. One of the interesting things about Tom's comments was he was attacking psychiatry, when the facts are that the lion's share of antidepressant medications are actually prescribed by primary care doctors and not psychiatrists. And one of the things consumers should be aware of, patients, is to make sure that your doctor is, in fact, making a proper diagnosis, if he's using proper screening tools. Has he or she been used to prescribing medication? And should you, in fact, need to see a psychiatrist, is that available to you?
OLBERMANN: Is that the 30-second caveat about the drug that Ms. Shields says she was prescribed for her post-partum? Your doctor, maybe who is not a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist, says, yes, you should take Paxil, and then you should ask him what?
PINSKY: You should ask him, Do you have - him or her, Do you have a lot of experience diagnosing depression? Are you sure I have depression? Have you ruled out medical conditions? Is he or she using a screening tool, something called a HAMD (ph), a simple - simple questionnaire that the doctor can hand to you that increases the probability that the diagnose is accurate.
And if, in fact, you don't feel comfortable, ask to see an expert, somebody who has trained in mental health, who is used to dealing with this on a daily basis, who can render a proper diagnosis.
Again, one of the naive qualities of Tom's is interview was that he didn't understand the nuances of even the different types of depression or the difference between a post-partum depression and a post-partum psychosis. He sort of conceded that the post-part depression might be biological, but then he went on, as you said earlier, to sort of suggest that he has a treatment for that, even though he didn't understand the nature of the nuances of different types of depression.
OLBERMANN: Is there - on that touch, is there a psychological explanation either for the way people are avoiding experts now, or for know-it-all-ism? I mean, does Tom Cruise need a bottle of vitamins maybe smashed over his head or something?
PINSKY: You know, Keith, it's interesting. We live in a time when we sort of - we consider everyone's opinion valid. Everyone's opinion is as valid as anybody else's. But the reality is, there are experts out there in whatever field, and we should be listening to experts as much as possible and maybe taking those into account and drawing our own conclusions. But the reality is that someone that became a movie star when they were 19 and perhaps did or did not go to college and who's been surrounded by people who tell them that they're geniuses and that they never do anything wrong, may not be the right person to be listened to for medical - for very nuanced, complex medical and biological information.
I don't know. What do you think?
OLBERMANN: I don't know. He was jumping up and down on a couch on TV. That's always a good sign, as far as I'm concerned, in terms of mental health!
OLBERMANN: Dr. Drew Pinsky, psychiatry professor at USC and back on TV now with "Strictly Sex" on the network Discovery Health. As ever, sir, great. Thanks for your time.
PINSKY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Should have kept him around for this story. An easy segue tonight to those stories of celebrity and entertainment that we round up nightly in the segment "Keeping Tabs." From mental health, we switch to mental health.
Yes, it's Kenny Rogers, the Texas Rangers baseball pitcher whose manager, Buck Showalter (ph), recently observed is being emotionally trouble by something.
I know what it is. He's troubled by pitching in big games. It's been his problem since he made the big leagues in 1989. Everybody knows this. Say it already!
Major league baseball suspending Rogers for 20 games, fining him $50,000 for having shoved two cameramen Wednesday. One of them went to the hospital and hopes to press charges. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig saying today, quote, "We in baseball are obligated to treat members of the media with respect and civility."
Well, that's a new policy! Are you sure?
Also tonight, more than two years after having suffered a debilitating stroke, the Grammy-award-winning soul singer Luther Vandross has died. Despite the aftereffects, his last album garnered four Grammys. All of his work sold more than 25 million albums, love songs such as "Here and Now" and "Any Love." A hospital in New Jersey would not reveal cause of death, but his mother said his 2003 stroke had been caused by overwork. Luther Vandross was 54 years old.
Remember what happened in the movie "Deep Impact" when NASA blew a hole through a comet? A chunk of it came down and wiped out the Eastern seaboard? Although everybody was watching MSNBC in that movie, as I recall. Well, Monday, NASA is going to blow a hole through a comet for real. Kiss your asteroid good-bye! That story ahead.
First, day two of our new feature, Countdown's list of the nominees for today's "The Worst Person in the World. There's the New York state assemblyman Willis Stevens (ph). He was monitoring one of those on-line discussion groups, 300 of his constituents in the city of Brewster, when he decided to send an e-mail to one of his assistants. He hit the wrong button. Instead, he sent it to all 300 people in the group. The e-mail read, "Just watching the idiots pontificate."
Number two, a hold-over from yesterday, a holdover. Robert Novak, still one of the worst people in the world.
And the winner - oh, it's Tom Cruise! And this has got nothing to do with Brooke Shields or psychiatry or the movie. He has another controversy running. Asked by the German tabloid "Bildt" if he believed in aliens, Cruise snapped at this guy, too. "Yes, of course. Are you really so arrogant as to believe we are alone in this universe?"
Maybe Tom is from another planet. Regardless, that does not disqualify you from being Countdown's "Worst Person in the World"!
OLBERMANN: You can always rely on your government to never take a bold or dangerous step without having clearly thought out the consequences, like the time in the 19th century when they whistled an Army commander on board a Navy ship and greeted him with a 21-gun salute that not only killed him but also blew his body out to sea, or when it was going to let highly blowable-upable dirigibles moor themselves to a platform on top of the Empire State Building in New York. Or when it sent that spacecraft up to crash into the comet Temple One, and we hit it wrong and destroyed the entire universe.
Well, I'm getting a little carried away here, but in our number one story on the Countdown tonight, our correspondent, Leanne Gregg (ph), reports that the first part of that is true. On Monday, we're going to try to blow a hole in a very big comet.
LEANNE GREGG, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): NASA's Deep Impact mission, launched in January, will culminate this weekend when a space probe smashes into the comet that's half the size of Manhattan while traveling at 23,000 miles per hour. Creating this space collision will be an extremely tricky maneuver.
DAVID SPENCER, MISSION MANAGER: Trying to navigate ourselves to hit the nucleus of a comet is a little bit like a baseball player trying to hit a knuckleball.
RICK GRAMMIER, PROJECT MANAGER: When the impact occurs, the impacter spacecraft just vaporizes, and we expect that it'll create a crater that will throw this dust up into the sunlight.
GREGG: Images transmitted will, hopefully, help scientists learn about conditions in the early solar system, including when comets and planets were formed. At the very least, it could help settle the debate about what comets are made of.
DIANE WOODEN, NASA SCIENTIST: That's one of the fun things about this, is we'll learn whether the comet is like a fluffy pillow or whether it's like an iceball.
GREGG: Minutes after impact, 83 million miles from Earth, the mission's fly-by spacecraft, guided by navigation equipment, will attempt to swoop underneath the comet for pictures.
GRAMMIER: We like to equate that to a bullet hitting a bullet and another bullet trying to look at the same spot at the same time.
GREGG: Deep Impact is the latest in a series of unmanned landing explorations to remote corners of the solar system in the quest for answers to some of the oldest mysteries of the universe. Leanne Gregg, NBC News.
OLBERMANN: Remember, in the event that anything goes wrong, stay inside your house, try to avoid any debris that may be plummeting towards Earth from Temple One, the Deep Impact impacter, or if we really screw it up, the planet Neptune. In that event, of course, thanks for watching this program. On behalf of the United States of America, I'd like to forgive all foreign debt. I'd like to apologize to Bob Woodward on the poor timing of the world having ended two days before his "Deep Throat" book comes out, and say that at least this solves the pitching problems of the New York Yankees.
Also, it would mean that this is the last episode of our weekly wrapper-upper of our favorite stories, Countdown's top five, so you damn well better enjoy it while you can!
(voice-over): Number five: the great Orlando puppy raid. Put the doggy in the bag, man! Was it grand theft or a carefully planned escape from the pet store? All authorities can say for sure is that these guys did not leave until every last puppy was taken. What about me? Yoink!
Number four: Get 'em off me. Get 'em off me! Irishman Phil McCade (ph) this week going for the world record with 500,000 bees on his body. He did not get the world record, but he did eat these bees for an upcoming episode of "Fear Factor."
Number three: It's tough to truly appreciate the majesty of Wimbledon unless you speak the language of tennis. So as an educational tool, we present this week's Venus Williams/Maria Sharapova match with subtitles.
VENUS WILLIAMS, TENNIS PRO: (SUBTITLES) Arghhhh!
MARIA SHARAPOVA, TENNIS PRO: (SUBTITLES) Ewaghh!
WILLIAMS: (SUBTITLES) Waggugh!
SHARAPOVA: (SUBTITLES) Ewehu!
WILLIAMS: (SUBTITLES) Uhuhgh!
SHARAPOVA: (SUBTITLES) Wooooh!
WILLIAMS: (SUBTITLES) Wahooah!
SHARAPOVA: (SUBTITLES) Moooooh!
WILLIAMS: (SUBTITLES) Hua!
SHARAPOVA: (SUBTITLES) Waaahhhh!
WILLIAMS: (SUBTITLES) Igiveupugh!
OLBERMANN: Number two: guard Robo D-1, the Japanese wicked cool robot crime fighter and fire extinguisher. Here Guard Robo demonstrates what to do if a game of Jenga (ph) suddenly bursts into flames. Guard Robo D-1 will extinguish this fire, even if we all choke to death in the process.
And number one: Won't somebody think of the mannequins? Look, we're all concerned about fireworks safety and tsunami prevention, but why do so many perfectly innocent dummies have to pay with their lives and limbs? Who's speaking up for those who can't speak for themselves? I'm sure we've learned some valuable lessons, such as to never duct tape an M-80 to your hand, and to always wear a life jacket around the house just in case.
But how many department store models had to die in the process?
Mannequins are people too, you know. Kind of.
That's us, if they screw this comet thing up on Monday, isn't it.
That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Enjoy the holiday weekend, please. Keep your knees loose. Good night, and good luck.
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