'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 25th
Guests: Al Franken, Donn Harper
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Tenet told Cheney. Cheney told Libby. Who did Libby tell? And who did he not tell? The latest leak from the investigation into the leak. David Shuster with the denial from the ex-CIA boss. Howard Fineman on the political blender that is Washington at the moment. And Al Franken on the whole big mess.
Still a big mess in Florida. Still six million without power in the wake of Hurricane Wilma.
Barely a month shy of the 50th anniversary of the moment that changed her life and so many other lives, Rosa Parks has died.
And another Hollywood celebrity embarrassment. First Michael Jackson, then Tom Sizemore, now Elmo arrested. Say it ain't so, Elmo! Say it ain't so!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
October 25th is a bad day in the archives of American political scandals. Seventy-six years ago today, ex-Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall was sentenced to a year in jail for the bribe he took as part of Teapot Dome.
Thirty-three years ago, Vice President-designate Gerald Ford surprised his boss-to-be Richard Nixon by announcing five days after the Saturday Night Massacre, that he not only favored the appointment of a new Watergate prosecutor to succeed the fired Archibald Cox but he also agreed that Congress should keep looking into Nixon's impeachment.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, on what a Washington insider web site reports is the eve of sealed indictments in the case, the CIA leak investigation began to sound like a baseball double-play combo: Tenet to Cheney to Libby.
The 6-4-3 flow of information, if you're scoring at home, or even if you're alone, going something like this, according to a report in today's "New York Times."
Working backwards, Libby first learning about Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA officer at the heart of the investigation from his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney. The vice president getting his information from George Tenet, the then-director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
"The Times" sourcing though ever-helpful unidentified "lawyers involved in the case" - Mr. Libby's lawyer, no doubt, concerned about this apparent conflict in his client's testimony. He may never have testified about his boss's purported role.
Some of those "lawyers in the case" saying that Mr. Libby told the grand jury he had first heard about Ms. Wilson from journalists, but special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, said to be in the possession of Mr. Libby's own handwritten notes in which he writes about his conversation about Ms. Wilson with the vice president, and dates that conversation to June 12, 2003.
In a moment, "Newsweek" magazine's Howard Fineman with more on the impact of the latest report.
First, our correspondent, David Shuster, joins us now from Washington with more on the moving parts. Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
OLBERMANN: One thing that was not made clear in that "New York Times" report today is what the former CIA director, Mr. Tenet, had to say about this. What's his version of the events?
SHUSTER: Well, Keith, according to friends of George Tenet, he has said - he has told them - that he was not a source for Vice President Cheney on Joe Wilson or Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame. Tenet has said that, while he did have conversations with Cheney and, obviously in the roles as vice president and CIA director, Tenet is denying that he ever talked about Joe Wilson with Cheney or that he ever talked about any of this.
What makes it so intriguing, Keith, is that Tenet has also told friends and associates that this did not come up when investigators talked to Tenet a year-and-a-half ago, and that Tenet has never been called to testify before the grand jury.
So, on the face of it, with this contradiction between the Scooter
Libby notes, which suggest that Cheney heard it from Tenet and that Tenet -
what Tenet has told his friends, this discrepancy, one would think, would be resolved by the prosecutors.
We put in a call to say, how come this hasn't been resolved? Why does this discrepancy still seem to be out there? And, of course, we got the obligatory, "No comment."
But it has struck a lot of people, because of the possibility that, if, in fact, this investigation were to conclude and left standing was the idea that Cheney got this from Tenet and Tenet had told his friends, "No, he was not the source," you sort of wonder how that's going to be resolved. But you have to believe that, perhaps, because the prosecutors had this information for some time, but maybe they resolved it to their own satisfaction.
OLBERMANN: As compared to newcomers to this process, the legalities facing both the men we're talking about here, Mr. Tenet and Mr. Cheney, that they both have the highest possible security clearances, how could Cheney be in potential legal jeopardy here but not Tenet?
SHUSTER: Well, the potential liability for anybody is if you make a false statement to a government agent, say, an FBI investigator. Even if you're not under oath, you could still get indicted for making a false statement. Where as if you are under oath, you could get indicted for perjury.
So, regardless of whether it's Tenet talking to investigators or Cheney, it doesn't really matter. Prosecutors have to determine whether the statement was, in fact, accurate and true, and whether, if it wasn't true, whether it was material, whether it was relevant.
But, again, it suggests that prosecutors are not so interested, perhaps, in the source of how this information came up from the CIA and got to the vice president's office as to whether or not, in fact, it went to the vice president first and then got transmitted down to others within the White House.
OLBERMANN: Correspondent David Shuster in Washington, extending the Tenet element of this story greatly. Great thanks, sir.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
OLBERMANN: About timing, our chief White House correspondent David Gregory says the special prosecutor's office was conducting interviews with mid-level White House figures as late as today about contact between Karl Rove and reporters.
And the political blog, "The Washington Note," quoting what it colorfully calls an "uber-insider source," who says, "One to five sealed indictments will be handed up tomorrow. Probably more rather than less. The recipients already know. It will be made public in a news conference on Thursday."
Let us now to call in our own uber-insider source, "Newsweek" magazine's chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman.
Good evening, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, REPORTER, "NEWSWEEK": I'll answer in English. Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Thank you.
Firstly, this note from the "Washington Note," is this more - to use the president's words - background noise, or could there be something here?
FINEMAN: I think it's background noise with some significance. Steve Clemons, who runs that, is pretty well-wired around town through the New America Foundation. He's not a guy who flies off the handle. He's probably got some pretty good sources.
It's as informed a speculation as I've seen. And it makes a lot of sense, because the grand jury is meeting tomorrow. We know that Fitzgerald's coming down to the last moments of this. It does look like - you can't say for sure - but it does look like there are going to be some indictments.
And it would make sense, if he does hand up sealed indictments, that he finally have something to say later this week. This guy has operated in almost complete secrecy. This has been a leak-proof ship, very few attorneys in on all of what's going on. But I think Fitzgerald's getting ready to go public.
OLBERMANN: The last time we spoke about this, it was right after Vice President Cheney's name was originally introduced in connection with this investigation, at which point we were discussing that Mr. Fitzgerald was at least nibbling around the edges of Mr. Cheney's possible involvement.
Does this report in the "New York Times" today change the degree to which he's biting or nibbling or - which chewing description would be the most appropriate one here?
FINEMAN: Well, I'm tempted to hum the "Jaws" theme music, but I won't. I'll spare you. But I think this takes a big bite out of the vice president politically, not necessarily legally, as you and David Shuster were discussing.
The vice president's perfectly entitled to handle the most secret top-secret information, as is Scooter Libby, including the fact that Valerie Plame was a covert agent and so forth.
Whether they knew that or not, in specific, is an interesting question. But I think the two key things here: If, as David is reporting, Dick Cheney did not learn about Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson's wife, she was the covered CIA agent - if Cheney didn't learn of it from Tenet, how did Cheney know it?
What back-channels did Cheney have into the CIA that he was unearthing this information from? And more important, I think, if Dick Cheney is the one who mentioned this to Scooter Libby, as those notes seem to indicate, what was Cheney's purpose in doing so?
Was he sort of saying to Scooter Libby, his chief of staff, and sort of semi-henchman, "You know, it wouldn't a bad thing if some other people knew about what the motivation was here." And if that's what's going on here, then the prosecutor may be looking at Cheney as the guy who kind of wound things up, who wasn't head of a conspiracy, but who may have put Scooter Libby up to the work that he was doing and putting that word out to reporters.
OLBERMANN: Reading that piece, when it was on the "New York Times" website last night, I thought - I had this flash go across my head - that I understood both what might have happened here and what Fitzgerald might be looking at here.
Proofread this theory for me, because there must be a flaw in it if I understand it. Tenet or somebody tells Cheney about this offhandedly. Cheney tells, presumably, Libby. Libby, or Cheney, or Rove, or all of them, maybe not knowing that Valerie Plame was a covert agent, just thinking this was a way to kneecap her husband on a charge of nepotism, begin to disseminate this, whisper this to journalists, in whatever form that took place.
Suddenly, they discover they exposed a knock. They've uncovered an undercover agent. And they begin to figure that maybe they really broken that law and they try to cover that up for that reason.
Now, Fitzgerald invokes the old Richard Nixon motto, that it's not the crime that gets you, it's the cover-up. Does that rhyme or scan well enough to be plausible?
FINEMAN: I think it's more than plausible. It sounds to me what very likely is the theory of Fitzgerald's case.
There may be a surprise here somewhere. I don't think the surprise is going to be no indictments. I do think there are going to be indictments. I've thought that for a long time, because I know people who have gone before the grand jury. And they think so, too.
There may be another character out there lurking somewhere. But I think that's basically the theory. I don't think that Cheney and Libby knew necessarily when they were discussing Valerie Plame that she was at that moment an undercover agent. Had they known it, I think they might have been a little more careful than they were.
OLBERMANN: And it would also explain why, if they didn't know it, and if they weren't guilty of the crime but feared that they might be, why they would to some degree assemble the wagons, in a way that has been seen...
FINEMAN: And I think that's definitely going to be part of what Fitzgerald is going to allege when he does make his charges public.
OLBERMANN: "Newsweek" magazine's chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman. As always, sir, great thanks.
FINEMAN: You're welcome, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We'll also get a read on this from Al Franken of Air America Radio and his new book, "The Truth (With Jokes)," presently in this news hour.
First, a sad marker set today in the Iraq war. The death toll of U.S. troops has reached 2,000. That's from records kept by the Associated Press and NBC News. Each list reaching 2,000 with the death of Army Staff Sergeant George T. Alexander, Jr. Sgt. Alexander died in San Antonio from injuries received from a roadside bomb eight days ago in Samarra, Iraq.
The director of the Armed Forces Press Center, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said, quoting, "The 2,000 servicemembers killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."
Evidently among them the president. His remarks at the Pentagon today came shortly before a moment of silence in the Senate and the announcement of Sgt. Alexander's death by the Pentagon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've lost some of our nation's finest men and women in the war on terror. Each loss of life is heartbreaking. And the best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the long road back from Hurricane Wilma. The devastation left in its wake and the million still in the dark tonight in Florida.
And she was small in stature but a towering, extraordinary figure in the civil rights movement. Remembering the courage and the impact of Rosa Parks. And finding out, incidentally, whatever happened to the Rosa Parks bus? You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: "When I despair," said the pacifist and revolutionary Mahatma Gandhi, "I remember that, all through history, the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers. And for a time, they can seem invisible. But, in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always."
Our number two story in the Countdown, perhaps in the last two years, those who have opposed the war in Iraq or the current administration or both have fallen back on Gandhi's words. Well, his or those of my next guest, Al Franken.
Consider the vice president, the former CIA director now implicated in the CIA leak investigation. Scooter Libby and Karl Rove may be on the eve of indictment, or resignation, or both. And there's a Tom DeLay mug shot and a Bill Frist SEC investigation.
Now here to tell us, "I told you so," is the author of a book officially on sale for the first time, by remarkable coincidence, just today, "The Truth (With Jokes)," by Al Franken.
Good evening, Al. Thanks for coming on.
AL FRANKEN, AUTHOR AND TALK RADIO HOST: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Well, let's dive right in. The way this CIA leak investigation is playing out, it must really have shaken your faith in four men who I know are your personal heroes...
... Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.
FRANKEN: Well, you know, what worries me about this is that - I mean, this does follow a pattern with Rove, which is that he has, through the years, smeared people.
But this is outing a CIA agent, which George H.W. Bush, the president's father, who headed the CIA, said was treason. And what I'm worried about is that that might be the indictments, and that Rove and Libby and others may face - may be executed.
FRANKEN: That's what I'm worried about. And I think that - I'm against the death penalty.
OLBERMANN: But it would be a hell of a story for cable news.
FRANKEN: It would, especially if it got to the president and the vice president. And I think there should be a constitutional amendment that passes as soon as possible that we can't execute either a sitting or a recently impeached president and vice president.
OLBERMANN: Well, I mean, there have been signs of life. We've reviewed the videotapes, and there are clearly signs of life in both of them. So that would just be a horrific thing to have happen.
FRANKEN: Well, it would be demoralizing, don't you think?
OLBERMANN: With the new book, "The Truth (With Jokes)," we already have some controversy. We found a very unusual, and some might say disturbing, video on the web. And I thought you should get a chance to respond to this. But let's play the tape first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a big fan. I gave "Lies" five stars, and I've already ordered five copies of "The Truth (With Jokes)."
FRANKEN: Well, thank you. Now, you must be Scott from Colorado.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
FRANKEN: And how many stars did you give "Lies"?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One.
FRANKEN: Really. You didn't like it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't read it. I'm just a right-wing jerk.
That's what I said in my review, that you want the terrorists to win...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... and that you've never been funny.
FRANKEN: OK, that's it.
FRANKEN: Ah, that felt great. Thanks, Amazon!
OLBERMANN: Now, as one of the blogs affiliated with noted media watcher Brent Bozell, or as he's sometimes known, Redbeard the Pirate, asks, "Is there a theme of violence in Al Franken's work?"
Apart from the infamous scuffle that day on "Jeopardy" with Alex Trebek, is there a theme of violence in your work, sir?
FRANKEN: I don't think so. Brent, I mean, this is great. And what it is, it has steered all these people to Amazon, especially, like, right-wing people who are going like, "Count me out, Amazon, from ever, you know, going into your web site again. Violence isn't" - it's like, I mean, this would be like showing the "Terminator" and saying, "Does Arnold Schwarzenegger like killing a lot of people?"
This was obviously what it is. It's a video that we made for Amazon. And, you know, it's a fantasy of every author who goes on - has a book and is reviewed on Amazon...
OLBERMANN: By anybody who comes along and just has a computer modem.
FRANKEN:... and gives you a one not having read the book.
FRANKEN: So that's why this guy says, "I gave it a one." I said, "You didn't like it?" He said, "I didn't read it. I'm just a right-wing jerk."
And then now we have these right-wing jerks doing exactly the same thing, giving me a - you know, we had - the book came out today. It didn't leave any boxes until today. At, you know, 6:00 a.m. California time, we already had reviews from California, you know, giving me a one, saying, "Communist filth."
OLBERMANN: Well, but, you see, that may have worked last time, because I was thinking about "Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them," that, right after that hit the stands, Bill O'Reilly at FOX News began his actual descent into madness and decided to sue you...
OLBERMANN:... and the book was number one on the best-seller list for, I'm not sure the exact time frame, but about 15 years or so.
FRANKEN: Well, yes.
OLBERMANN: Who are you hoping is going to sue you this time?
FRANKEN: Well, you know, in this one, I decided that I had bigger fish to fry. And the book is kind of prescient, because the guys I'm going after in it are Rove, and DeLay, and Frist, and the president, and the vice president.
And, you know, when I was writing the book, there were actually a lot of people in this country who thought the president was competent.
FRANKEN: And now it's sort of - it's prescient.
OLBERMANN: And that gets us back, as a last point, to where I started this segment. You were good enough to come on this newscast with me late in the summer of 2003. It was August or September.
And by coincidence, either the next day or the day before, Jeanine Garofalo had been a guest on the newscast. And I got called into a vice president's office here and told, "Hey, we don't mind you interviewing these guys, but should you really have put liberals on, on consecutive nights?"
That's just over two years ago. Al, can you believe that the country was actually at that point that recently?
FRANKEN: I can believe that. And I can believe - see, when you hear that there's this liberal bias to the mainstream media, I mean, you're attesting to the fact that a vice president at MSNBC was, you know, two nights in a row, to have two liberals, if you can - and this is a crude way to do it - but if you put divide people into liberals and conservatives, the chances of that are one-half, I mean, essentially, aren't they, or are they one-quarter? I guess it's one-quarter that you would have two of any kind on two consecutive nights.
FRANKEN: But over the span of - how many years have you been on now?
OLBERMANN: This is - we're about two-and-a-half.
FRANKEN: OK. After two-and-a-half years, you'd think that might happen a few times.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Thank goodness we have steered out of that time. And Al Franken's new book is "The Truth (With Jokes)." And the prospect of another FOX lawsuit has been obviated because the cover is one big picture of him.
Thank you, Al. All the best.
FRANKEN: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: From political punch lines to just plain punch lines, strange hobbies, and the Guinness record people who track them. It can only be "Oddball." And Elmo and Mr. Incredible under arrest. The famous Walk of Fame in Hollywood has turned into the famous perp Walk of Fame, ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: We're back. And once again, we pause our Countdown of the actual important news of the day for a brief segment of strange things, and strange people falling from the sky, crawling out of the ground, and generally doing weird things for the camera.
Let's play "Oddball."
Minot, North Dakota, hello. An anxious population awaits word from the Guinness Book of Records, are the home city of the world record for most push-ups in one minute? Why am I talking this fast?
Fifty-two-year-old Mike Burkhard believes he's got it with 141 ups and downs in 60 seconds. And, yes, he's listening to "The Saber Dance," obviously.
If you find this video even remotely obscene in any way, you're the one with the problem, pal. Get help.
To Red Cliff, Australia, where it was Eileen Berg's birthday this week. She celebrate by going sky diving. She's 92 years old and figured it was time to get extreme. All went well on the grandmother of twelve's tandem jump. So why is it news, you ask? Because it reminded us of this sky-diving granny, and we take any excuse we find to play the classics. "I should have used Super Poligrip Denture adhesive!"
To Bowman, South Carolina, where the things falling from the sky are inanimate and far younger. This is from a rather - or rather, it is a pile-on ejector foot from an F-15E Strike Eagle airplane, a six-inch hunk of metal, basically.
What do you think it would do to your house if it fell on it? Whoa, mama, that ain't good. This house is owned by Ms. Cindy Williams of Bowman and is just a couple of miles from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. That was her carport, apparently.
"Isn't this where it used to be?" The Air Force is investigating why that little hunk of metal fell off the plane and why, if that tiny, little thing did so much damage we waste so much money on bombs.
Also tonight, the desperation after Wilma. Tourists at Cancun still trapped and asking when help will arrive. We'll go live to the popular Mexican resort.
And Rosa Parks, a legend in the civil rights movement. She's passed away. How her act of bravery on a bus changed this country. Those stories ahead.
But first, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Gary Megson, manager of the British soccer team, Nottingham Forest. His club trailed Yeovil two-nil at halftime the other day when two fans yelled at Megson that Nottingham's recent slump was, quote, "unacceptable."
Megson told he agreed with them. He invited the two to tell it to the players in the dressing room during halftime. The two did. They even lived to tell about it.
Number two, Elmer Dresslar, former president of the Chicago chapter of AFTRA, a member of several jazz groups, a talented singer, but to forever be remembered in the wake of the announcement by his family of his death at the age of 80 as the man who, in the commercial for Green giant vegetables, sang, "Ho, ho, ho."
And number one, an unnamed Milwaukee stickup man, at gunpoint he held up a passerby on a city street late Saturday night. The driver of his getaway car then backed into position to pick up the burglar and promptly hit him with the car. Then another driver, a woman in a Lexus, saw the hold up man and she hit him with her car, four times. That's when he had enough. The thief pulled out his gun, aimed at the woman and shot himself. The police arrested the man after they finally stopped laughing.
OLBERMANN: It's a graphic testament to the force of nature, a storm that spent less than 10 hours over Florida cost up to $10 billion worth or damage there. Our third story in the Countdown, cleaning up from Wilma. In a moment correspondent Ron Mott on the devastation in Miami. But first, Kerry Sanders just up the road in a city that has not been touched by a hurricane this powerful since 1950: Fort Lauderdale.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day after. And the destruction in Florida covers a much wider area than anyone predicted, 65,000 square miles of this state from Jacksonville to Key West hit by hurricane or tropical force storm winds. Wilma's gusts so strong, the windows on this 16-story building shattered.
(on camera): Today officials say it's fortunate the streets were mostly deserted when the windows began to break. More people could have died. The official death toll in Florida tonight? At least five.
(voice-over): Some of the worst damage on Florida's east coast:
Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, more than 100 miles from where Wilma made landfall, just south of Naples.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's trashed. It's so trashed.
SANDERS: Broward County Courthouse case files are in disarray. A half mile away, the mayor of Fort Lauderdale said he found a judge's memo in his yard.
GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We'll get through to you. It's coming.
SANDERS: In Key West, Florida Governor Jeb Bush promising victims help. But in Miami, those in line complained after four hours of waiting, still nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is unbelievable.
SANDERS: Gasoline also in short supply. Stations with power to pump, rare. This line in West Palm Beach stretched for miles today. Electricity is still out to more than three million homes tonight. Power company officials say it could be weeks before it's fully restore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to last forever, it seems like.
SANDERS: That's made generator a prized item. In Pompano Beach, Bruce Roberson bought one for $1,300, $500 more than they sold for just two days ago.
BRUCE ROBERSON, POMPANO BEACH, FL RESIDENT: I have small children, so, you know, I have to protect them. It's sort of getting a little crazy around here.
SANDERS: Tonight, with five weeks left to the end of the hurricane season, the weary say it can't come soon enough. Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Fort Lauderdale.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't deal with no 'nother hurricane.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been in this line for three hour.
RON MOTT, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Ron Mott in Miami where Hurricane Wilma left a mess, long line and a pile of frayed anybodies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's pretty scary. I think next time I won't be in my building.
MOTT: Scary reminders that Wilma's strength are all around: A downtown office building now a checkerboard of missing glass; huge trees toppled onto roofs; boats where they aren't meant to be. The chainsaws are out, shovels, too.
(on camera): And while there's plenty of physical damage to clean up and repair, perhaps the biggest challenge lies ahead. Keeping tempers in check.
(voice-over): Lines for propane gas to cook a hot meal and gasoline to get the food are long and fueling anger and aggression.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no gas, there's no ATM, no electricity, everybody's bumper-to-bumper, fights, crashing, people are just road raged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today is the day where last guys - where nice guy does finish last.
MOTT: Police promise to quell disorder.
CHIEF VAN TOTH, HIALEAH GARDENS POLICE DEPT: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The moment that it does occur, we nip it in the bud. It prevents that cancer from growing through our community.
MOTT: But most south Florida residents are busy cutting paths to recovery, staying calm despite a mountain of work ahead. Ron Mott, NBC News, Miami.
OLBERMANN: As badly as Wilma battered their homes, at least Floridians are a home. Not so for thousands of American tourists still stranded, among others, in Cancun days after the hurricane leveled that resort area. As our correspondent Peter Alexander reports, tonight, getting increasingly desperate there.
Peter, good evening.
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Keith. That is very much the case here. Understand that the winds that hit this resort area, 140-miles-per-hour for as many as 14 hours, the storm was with us for 72 hours. So, these folks survived Wilma, but now they're trying to weather another storm which is days of uncertainty.
We'll give you a look around. We're inside a hotel that has been turned into a shelter. For many of these people, this is the first time their loved ones and others are having a chance to see them. There is very little communication with home and with their airlines to know when they'll be getting out. They're preparing to spend their sixth night in shelter. We've spoken to many and here's a listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very scary. You know, I'm a first time father here. And he got his first bath today in three days with - the hotel supplied us with some hot water and some clean towels, first time in three days.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are no banks, no ATMs, cash is limited. Hotel is still trying to charge for basic things like water and we're getting to the point of desperation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a diabetic, I ran out of my medication yesterday because I was supposed to be back in California yesterday, so I had no medication.
ALEXANDER: We want to show at the airport in Cancun, looks like. This, of course, is where so many tourists come or all these people are trying to leave from. We were there this morning and the scene is hard to believe. It is truly devastated. In total, there have been some flights that have been able to leave domestically, but only two, we are hearing, from the State Department that were able to leave back to the United States. Those were charter jets. There is very little information, as we say, not to mention very little food and very little water for the folks here.
You may be wondering why, behind us right now, there are lights. Well, this hotel has been able to turn the generator on for a short period of time, but we don't want to disguise the issue. There's next to no light throughout the city here, Keith. And the State Department says they do have 24 people, 24 officials, in Cancun and Cozumel trying to help, but they also say they are between 10 and 13,000 stranded Americans in at least 180 shelters here - Keith.
OLBERMANN: What are the conditions like in that tourist strip along the Gulf itself, Peter?
ALEXANDER: You know, so many people are familiar with that area, Keith, it's the gleaming strip with all the luxury hotels and we were there. There are gaping hole in hotels. We witnessed looting occurring as people were invited by manager to take food and water there, but we saw them leaving with much more. Pretty much anything they could get their hands on. The condition is dire and President Vicente Fox, here, says that it'll be at least two months before 80 percent of the hotels are able to open. Many of the people there question that. But, regardless of what happens, it will certainly be a whole lot longer before tourists decide to come back down here. This is one of the eight most visited cities in the world.
OLBERMANN: Peter Alexander with an extraordinary report in an extraordinary setting right now, Cancun, Mexico. Thank you, sir. Good luck.
ALEXANDER: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: She was a tired seamstress trying to ride the bus home from work. Her refusal to give up her seat wound up sparking a civil rights revolution in this country. Remembering Rosa Parks.
And blockbuster news in the Jackson family tonight. Could there a secret Jackson love child? The details ahead. That's next, this is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: A life that ignited so much change in America is over.
The passing of Rosa Parks and her tremendous impact.
Then later, Hollywood can live or die by the superhero at the box office. So why in Hollywood are they now arresting them on the walk of fame? That's all ahead, this is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: In 35 days, it will have been half a century. Half a century since another one in a series of seemingly small steps turned into the earth shaking march that ended legal segregation in this country. That might have even saved us from some kind of North American apartheid. Small steps, like a white sports executive pretending he was starting a black baseball team so he could secretly interview candidates for segregation.
Like a black woman quietly deciding, 50 years ago this December 1, that that was enough, that she was not going to give up her seat on a bus just because a white man might want it.
Our No. 2 story in the Countdown tonight, Rosa Parks died at her home in Detroit last night of natural causes and with close friends by her side at the age of 92. In a moment, that side story of that bus itself. First, and most importantly, the legacy of Rosa Parks as reported by Brian Williams.
CORETTA SCOTT KING, WIDOW OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: It was a moment in history when the woman and the hour were met.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rosa Parks proved it was possible for a tiny, quiet seamstress to transform herself into a giant with just one solitary dignified act of disobedience.
ROSA PARKS, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: That day was very much like any other day and I didn't get on with the intention of being arrested.
WILLIAMS: It was December 1, 1955. It was also light years ago in American history. When, on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her own seat to a white man.
PARKS: I felt that we, as a people, had endured far too long.
PARKS: What she did broke the law. Then Rosa Parks broke Jim Crow America wide open.
JULIAN BOND, CHAIRMAN NAACP: She is properly thought of as the mother of the civil rights movement because when she sat down, she really stood up for all the rest of us.
WILLIAMS: She was born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama, and raised squarely under the thumb of racism. She attended second rate blacks-only schools. She drank from blacks-only water fountains. And when Martin Luther King, Jr. learned she'd been arrested, he launched a boycott of all the buses in Montgomery. The era of fire hoses and police dogs followed. Laws were changed.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I don't believe that we are ever going back to any segregated buses.
WILLIAMS: She traveled and spoke out against racism from Detroit to Johannesburg. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom by president Clinton in 1996.
BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: We must never, ever forget about the power of ordinary people to stand in the fire for the cause of human dignity.
WILLIAMS: School children will forever learn the story of Rosa Parks. What she started on that bus that day may have slowed a bit in the years since, but has me stopped.
OLBERMANN: Brian Williams reporting. Remarkably, the venue for the moment when the woman and the hour were met will be preserved for future generations. That bus still exists. Montgomery City Bus Lines vehicle No. 2857 remained in service until the 1970s, then was sold off to a resident of the city who used it as an outdoor tool and lumber shed. His descendants realized its significance and put it up for auction. The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan verified the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of bus and bought it for $492,000. The museum bought it four years ago today. It is on display and will remain so, titled simply, the "Rosa Parks Bus."
No segue tonight, we'll simply turn to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. And like there were not enough members of the Jackson family already. Rumors of a secret Janet Jackson daughter have circulated for years. Now it would seem the veil of secrecy has been lifted to reveal an 18-year-old woman named Rene. She, the reported, or purported, product of the union of Janet Jackson and James DeBarge, married briefly in 1984. That according to DeBarge's younger brother, Young. Young Debarge, claiming the girl has been living all this time with Jackson's older sister, Rebbie. No comment from the singer herself, nor from anybody who can do math and realize that an 18-year-old child would have been born in 1987 which makes the 1984 marriage, at best, ill timed.
But these are celebrities in the media, so little details get lost all the time. Ask George Clooney. In an interview with the British paper the "Daily Mail," the actor and perennial handsome guy revealed that during the filming of his upcoming movie, "Syriana," he fell and hurt himself so badly that he thought, quote, "Well, you'll have to kill yourself at some point, you cannot live like this." See that banner headline, "George Clooney, Suicidal?" Not so. In a statement released yesterday, Mr. Clooney clarified those remarks saying, "I was talking about the idea of living for years in that kind of pain. Please don't use my words out of context." Ok. George Clooney living with a big pain. Who is it, George? Is it Paris Hilton? Tell me it's not Paris Hilton.
Gwyneth Paltrow has a bun in the oven, or maybe it's a cupcake or a pear or who knows what. She's already brought forth an apple. Asked recently whether or not she was going to become a grandmother for the second time, Paltrow's mother, the great actress BLYTHE DANNER answered, quote, "Yes, I am," before immediately and awkwardly backpedaling, "Well, I think so. I have not checked lately." Paltrow and musician husband, Chris Martin, already have a 16-year-old daughter - 16-month-old daughter, named Apple.
More news tonight about fictional characters. Police cracking down on superheroes and Muppets in Hollywood. Elmo joins us to explain how he got arrested. That's next.
But first time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for the coveted title of "Worst Person in the World." None has ever been to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, by the way. The bronze goes to Senate majority leader, Bill Frist. That whole scandal about his blind trust selling off stock in his family hospital company just before the stock tanked. It turns out the only blind trust was ours, in his word. The asset managers of the trust were required to notify Frist and the Senate anytime they sold or bought stocks for him. The "Washington Post" has copies of 15 of their letter to Frist since 19 - since 2001. OK, so it's not so much a blind trust as a nearsighted trust.
The runner up? Attorney Jerry Stewart of Benton, Arkansas appealing his second conviction for drunk driving, there. He showed up to court intoxicated.
And the winner? Brian Jackson from Brentwood, Pennsylvania, ordered to pay a fine of $300 for impersonation. To get girls, he pretended he was Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and former Steelers backup quarterback, Brian St. Pierre. Here he's going to - pretending that he's a quarterback for the Steelers who have three healthy quarterbacks, when the New York Jets are 2-5 and their first, second, and third string quarterback are all hurt. Nice work, fella! Brian Jackson, today's Worst Person in the World!
ANNOUNCER: The following segment contains images that may be disturbing to those under the age of nine. Or those of other ages who believe firmly, that Mr. Incredible, Batman, Spiderman, or Elmo the Muppet actually exist, and go home at night and go to sleep dressed that way.
Get the kids out of the room. You have been warned!
OLBERMANN: Children safely out of the way? Good. We first apologized again for the nature of this paraphrase, there is no disrespect is intended here. But, first they came for Tinky Winky and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Teletubby. Then they came from SpongeBob and I did not speak out because I was not a cartoon character. But now, in our No. 1 story in the Countdown, now they have come from Elmo.
In Hollywood USA, it is a one block stretch from the ancient kitsch of man's Chinese Theatre to ultra-modern boredom of the Kodak Theater. It's not much of a stretch on say that on that street of dreams any tourist could meet almost any famous character. Catwoman, Batman, Spiderman, Darth Vader, SpongeBob, Elmo. The performers dressed in these outfits, that's the part you shouldn't tell the kido's by the way, posed for photos and many of the solicit tips, but according to authorities that solicitation has increasingly crossed the line into harassment and thus we arrive at the arrests of Elmo, aka, Donn Harper and Mr. Incredible who's mother knows him as Barry Stockton. They along with Bill Stevens who dresses as the villain from the "Scream" movies were cuffed and charged with misdemeanor aggressive begging as a result of an undercover LAPD operation right there on Hollywood Boulevard.
Joined now by actor Donn Harper who was arrested in character as Elmo.
Mr. Harper, good evening to you.
DONN HARPER, DRESSES AS ELMO: Good evening, how is everybody out there?
OLBERMANN: Tell me what happened last - no, Elmo, tell me it's not true! Tell me it's not true, Elmo!
HARPER: It's not true. It's not true. I wasn't harassing anybody at all. I was - I've been working as a street performer for a few years and we do it - we call ourselves "Ambassadors of Hollywood," and the police called us in for a meeting and they made a lot of strict new rules where we couldn't touch anyone or even show money and, yes, I'm guilty. I showed money. The police portrayed themselves as two French tourists and I was merely trying to exercise my French and talk to them a little bit and I was trying - I made the statement we work for tips and she thought I was talking about chips. So I said, No, not chips, tips." And I showed her $1 which was the no-no and for that I was arrested for aggravated - aggressive begging, they call it and taken to jail in handcuffs in front of all of my fans and everybody else who loves me.
OLBERMANN: To say nothing of the kids. What are the other street performer who appear as characters saying to you about this and also it's probably time we want the public to see the real Donn Harper. Go a head and take the head off as you answer that question.
HARPER: OK, are you ready?
OLBERMANN: Yeah, absolutely.
HARPER: Hey. How are you?
OLBERMANN: So, what are your other colleagues out there on the street saying about this?
HARPER: Well right now because of the bloom of all the media, they are enjoying it, because, like I said we perform a service here in Hollywood and we go out to the public. A lot of people don't get a chance to get to Hollywood and a lot of people can't afford 50 or $100 the price of Disneyland and sometimes they come there with limited budgets, so we are an added thing to the Chinese Theater. We actually bring in the tourists and make a lot of kids happy. I, myself, own a birthday party service and I tend to pass out cards to potential people that want do birthday services. So, I really do it for the children. I really love children and it's been a passion of mine for many, many years.
OLBERMANN: What happens next? Are - I mean, are you going be prosecuted for this?
HARPER: Yes, I have to go to court. And they say there's a misdemeanor charge, so if they're smart, they should throw it away, otherwise they'll have hundreds of Elmo fans all over the world hating them. And it's not cool. We didn't do anything wrong. They said that we were strong-arming the tourist, like I was grabbing tourists and making them - shaking them and making them give me a dollar and I didn't do that at all. If anything, Elmo hugs everybody and he loves everybody, gives you a good hug and stuff like that, but at no time did I grab anybody's money or grab anyone's arm or twist their arm and make them give me money.
OLBERMANN: It's not like a cartoon - in the Bugs Bunny cartoon where the big gorilla holds the guy up by his ankles and shakes all the change loose in one of those Bugs Bunny episodes. Donn Harper also known as Elmo, thanks for joining us. Good luck with this, and see what you can do about getting Oscar the Grouch out of rehab.
HARPER: Thank you. Elmo's innocent, guys! He didn't do it. Believe it.
OLBERMANN: Free Elmo. That's Countdown.
HARPER: Believe it, believe it. You guys believe it.
OLBERMANN: I'm Keith Olbermann, keep you knees loose. Good night and good luck.
Our MSNBC coverage continues no with "Rita Cosby Live and Direct."
Good evening, Rita.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END