Monday, January 30, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 30th

Guests: John Harwood, Guillermo Tellez, Bryan Gamble, Norah Vincent

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Ayman al-Zawahiri on tape, not live, but clearly alive, mocking U.S. attempts to kill him in a bombing raid in Pakistan.

Jill Carroll also seen on a new tape today, apparently still alive.

Bob Woodruff, the "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT" co-anchor, the hopeful signs, tended to in Iraq and now in Germany, headed home possibly as early as tomorrow. We'll go inside the remarkable facility in Iraq at which he was treated, honor his friendship with NBC's late correspondent David Bloom, and respectfully note the sad history of the ABC anchor desk.

On the eve of the State of the Union, the latest poll numbers for the president, worse than he could have imagined, approval 39 percent. And to the citizenry, terrorism only the fourth most important priority.

And the equivalent of man bites dog, or fisherman pulled into lake by fish, a partial score, bull seven, bullfight fans, nothing.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

Ayman al-Zawahiri is still not dead. It is unlikely, if not impossible, that al Qaeda's second in command would or could time the release of his first video since a U.S. attempt to kill him to the eve of President Bush's State of the Union address. Like everything else, it's just another huge coincidence.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, a new taped message, some 32 hours before the president was to speak. Analysis of both the tape and its political implications with Roger Cressey and John Harwood in just a moment.

First, details on that tape itself, the Arabic television network Al Jazeera airing excerpts today, Osama bin Laden's deputy seen sitting comfortably in a studio delivering a message that appears to have been highly produced, in stark contrast to the scratchy audio quality of that bin Laden audiotape 10 days ago.

The tape also in stark contrast in terms of topicality, the video of al-Zawahiri was released last week. In it, he read poetry, seemingly a collection of greatest hits from as long ago as 2001.

In today's tape, he says that the U.S. bombing raid in Pakistan missed him. He calls President Bush a butcher and a failure who will bring only catastrophe and tragedy to the United States. And he threatens a new attack on the U.S.

You will, of course, remember that al-Zawahiri was the primary target of that air strike in Pakistan earlier this month. It killed four other al Qaeda leaders, as well as 13 civilians.

Only two hours after the release of that tape, Al Jazeera airing another new videotape, evidence that Jill Carroll, the young "Christian Science Monitor" reporter kidnapped in Iraq, may still be alive.

The pictures are emotional, and, we warn you, difficult to watch, Ms. Carroll weeping, her head covered, pleading, apparently, for the release of all Iraqi women prisoners, the tape dated Saturday, two days after the U.S. military there released five of the nine or 10 female detainees it had been holding, the U.S. military saying the release was not in response to the kidnappers' demands, American officials saying tonight that they are studying this tape for clues as to where Ms. Carroll might be being held, but that they will not negotiate with her captors.

Let's call in MSNBC terrorism analyst Roger Cressey, former official on the National Security Council.

Good evening, Roger.


OLBERMANN: All right, we have two spins on the Zawahiri tape. Unfortunately, they're both from the same administration. Pick one. A, the official White House reaction is, Zawahiri appears frustrated and angry. B, the unofficial reaction to NBC News from the president's own terror experts, Zawahiri appears more confident than ever.

CRESSEY: I'll choose C, which is defiance. I think it was a very - he was trying to convey himself in a very defiant tone. In effect, he said, You missed me. All that was missing from that was the schoolyard nanny nanny (ph) afterwards.

So he's trying to portray himself as still strong, negotiating, if you will, from a position of strength, and serving a reassuring reminder to his followers that not only did the Americans miss me, but they killed innocents in the process. And yet another example of what they're doing.

OLBERMANN: Other of al-Zawahiri's videos have turned out to include go signals for attacks. Is there any evidence gleaned so far from this one that this could also be the case here?

CRESSEY: Well, there's nothing obvious, but I think we've seen a pattern in the most recent audio and videotapes from bin Laden, from Zawahiri, from other members of al Qaeda , where they're talking about an attack that's going to happen. So even if there's not a obvious go signal that the intelligence community can identify, what we have to be concerned about is that, for a number of months now, they've been saying an attack is coming.

If they do not at least attempt an attack, then they're going to be reduced to truly mere propagandists, and they will suffer in the eyes of their followers.

So what worries me most is that they will try and attempt something, because with all this lead-up, they can't simply say, Oh, never mind.

OLBERMANN: On the other hand, Roger, in some respects, there has been a lead-up, there has been a threat of some attack and there's always the prospect, at least, of (INAUDIBLE) being, taking place within American borders has been mentioned almost continually, from every videotape that has been released since September 11. Why is there some additional sense of urgency implied or inferred from these particular references to an imminent attack?

CRESSEY: Well, the question of whether or not there hasn't been an attack inside the United States, I think, is the most outstanding question in the eyes of al Qaeda's followers. And, of course, we're - I'm mirror imaging here, right? So I'm don't speak for them and don't know exactly what they're thinking.

OLBERMANN: Certainly.

CRESSEY: But there is a requirement on the part of al Qaeda to strike the United States again, and they have failed to do that. Now, thankfully, so. So we can either draw one of two conclusions, that our efforts against al Qaeda to attrit their capability, to strengthen our defenses in the United States, are having a serious impact. Or they are planning a very long attack profile. The timing of it is when they decide, and it may be further down the road.

If the latter is the case, then it gets to a certain point here where if they do not attempt something, then the people who are following them are going to say, bin Laden is just calling, crying wolf now. Zawahiri has no real operational capability.

And the jihad's focus really will turn to Iraq, in the sense that Zarqawi, who is doing a very good job of killing in the eyes of the jihadist community, will be the true focus for their efforts.

OLBERMANN: Relative to propaganda purposes, and we mentioned the timing, and in the question of the timing of this was an assumption that timing it to coincide more or less right before the State of the Union address would be a coincidence. Could al Qaeda be both savvy enough to make that not a coincidence, and yet wholly unaware that every time one of these tapes comes out, regardless of its content, the support for President Bush goes up?

CRESSEY: Oh, they're very savvy. I don't think this is timed to the State of the Union personally. But let's keep in mind, in the eyes of the jihadist community, this president and this administration is very polarizing in the Islamic world. So, you know, some people argue, Well, this just strengthens the president's resolve. From al Qaeda's perspective, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

You know, they view him as someone that will exhort the followers to rise up, that will become - the followers will become greater and more capable in terms of conducting attacks and supporting the jihad.

So from al Qaeda's perspective, those type of poll numbers, frankly, work in their favor.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, the Jill Carroll tape excerpt, the 40 seconds that was released today, should we be encouraged by the release that suggests that she was still alive a week after the deadline regarding her disappearance, her capture? Or should we be disheartened because of how, in the picture, she appears so emotional and disturbed?

CRESSEY: I think any time we can find an example of proof of life, we should be encouraged. But, Keith, this type of situation, it's a race against time. The problem is, we don't know if it's a matter of hours, a matter of days, or a matter of weeks. This Vengeance Brigade has not made any other claims beyond the requirement to release the women prisoners. If that does not happen, will they take action against Ms. Carroll? We simply don't know, and that's why this is a race against time.

OLBERMANN: Roger Cressey, MSNBC terrorism analyst, thank you, sir, as always.

CRESSEY: OK, Keith, take care.

OLBERMANN: As we mentioned, the release of the Zawahiri tape falling on the eve of the president's State of the Union address, heading into that speech, terrorism falling only somewhere in the middle among the issues of most concern to voters.

The brand-spanking-new NBC News -"Wall Street Journal" poll out this evening, showing only 16 percent of those Americans surveyed feeling that terrorism should be the federal government's top priority. You see where it ranks among some of the others here. The war in Iraq tops the list at 21, jobs and the economy 19 percent, and you have no doubt heard talk on this newscast of the apparent lack of outrage for the Abramoff and domestic spying scandals, those issues near the bottom of this list, at 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

As for the president himself, his job approval rating hovering at 39 percent, that's steady from last month, disapproval down a point to 54.

As we mentioned, the poll is a partnership between NBC News and "The Wall Street Journal," so appropriately enough, let's turn to the "Journal"'s national political editor, John Harwood.

Good evening, John.


OLBERMANN: All right. And yourself?

HARWOOD: I'm doing just fine.

OLBERMANN: All right. Well, let's start off where we ended with Roger Cressey just now, the Zawahiri tape. Statistically, it can only mean good things for the president, correct? Even if, as it points out during the tape, You missed me?

HARWOOD: You know, I don't think it's a clear-cut advantage for the president, Keith. On the one hand, it does reinforce the idea that there are threats out there. And that's been a card the president's liked to play. On the other hand, it makes the point that we didn't get him, as we have not gotten Osama bin Laden. We had an audiotape from him recently.

I really think these things are a wash at this point, and the American people are mostly looking at Iraq, and in particular, as you mentioned a moment ago, they want to get some troops home fast.

OLBERMANN: Is the president - I mean, this sounds like a setup question, and it really is not meant as such, but heading into the State of the Union address, is he operating from a position of strength, even in some areas, in terms of job approval, that's still below 40 percent. It can't be a good starting point. But is there anything specific in that working to his advantage?

HARWOOD: Well, I think when you step back, he's really in a significantly weaker position than he was a year ago, when he started his second term. And you could find encouragement, from the president's perspective, in the fact that he has not kept dropping.

But 39 percent is not a comfortable place to be. He was at 50 percent a year ago.

And if you look at the personal characteristics, things that have traditionally been calling cards for him - strong leadership qualities under 50 percent, being honest and straightforward under 50 percent - all of those personal qualities, along with some of the issue problems, the fact that two-thirds of the American people want troops to come home from Iraq, all of that suggests it's going to be a very big challenge for the president to keep control of the political agenda in 2006, as Republicans look to try to save themselves in the fall elections.

OLBERMANN: By this time tomorrow, Judge Alito will be a sitting justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, because the attempt to start a filibuster failed earlier this evening in the Senate.

HARWOOD: Rather dramatically.

OLBERMANN: Rather dramatically, and with a lot of histrionics. But does that help, hurt, or have no impact on the president heading into the speech? Because the fight over the judge seemed to be as polarizing and split down the middle as just about everything else. On the other hand, it did not seem to be an A-one priority for the voters either.

HARWOOD: That's true, but I think it's a step forward. It's positive for the president. It's a win. Anytime you're in political difficulty, a win is a good thing for your team, and you hope it fosters more progress.

Alito is a solid nominee. He succeeded in uniting his party behind it, 77 percent of Republicans want him confirmed, independents are more negative than Republicans, and of course Democrats are overwhelmingly against. But he's clearly got the votes to confirm Sam Alito, and that's a good thing.

OLBERMANN: Last point, again, on these priorities, if the administration might be surprised that terrorism is behind health care and job creation and Iraq in the voters' priorities, should anybody be surprised that the NSA spying and Abramoff stories are so low?

I mean, has the administration wriggled out from behind both of them because, in the first case, people will believe anything it says, nearly, about terror, and in the second, because the assumption of corruption in politicians is universal and timeless?

HARWOOD: First of all, there's a lot of assumption of corruption among politicians. The American people are very skeptical. They tend to look at a pox on both their houses and not see much difference. If you look in this poll, when we asked, Do you think if they passed new lobbying rules, it's going to make a big difference, most voters say it won't make a big difference.

And the president, I think, has played this NSA story pretty effectively. It's a battle to define the issue. When you ask Americans about whether or not you're concerned about civil liberties, they are concerned about civil liberties. But when you portray it as a step in the war against terror, that's a better result for the president.

So he's gotten out front very aggressively and tried to define it that way. So I don't think it's a big plus for him, but it hasn't hurt him, this poll would suggest.

OLBERMANN: John Harwood, national political editor of "The Wall Street Journal." As always, John, great thanks.

HARWOOD: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, after Hurricane Katrina hit, Americans responded by donating $3 billion to rebuild. So where is the rebuilding?

And Iraq coming into the living rooms of Americans, not because of the news, but because of the newscaster. The latest on the condition of "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT" co-anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Five months ago yesterday, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Louisiana coast. In many parts of New Orleans, of Mississippi, of Alabama, it might as well have been yesterday.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, though Americans gave an unprecedented $3 billion to charities in the wake of the storm, for parts of the region, there is no evidence of rebuilding, nor even relief. It looks, in the word of one correspondent, the way the history books described the South the year after the Civil War.

Chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers tonight tries to answer the simple question, Where did your donation go?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the American Red Cross...

LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today in New Orleans, the Red Cross delivers food to devastated neighborhoods.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have ham sandwiches, (INAUDIBLE), and water.

MYERS: Volunteers still are serving 14,000 meals a day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, America. That's from the bottom of my heart.

MYERS: In Biloxi, Mississippi, today, storm victims stopped by a Salvation Army center for free supplies, ranging from infant formula to clothing.

So far, the Red Cross and five other charities that received the largest amount of donations have spent 71 percent of the money collected. The largest single expense, financial aid for 1.3 million families, who received about $1,000 each.

JOE BECKER, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAN RED CROSS: All that money went to the immediate emergency needs of the people.

MYERS: Charities involved in rebuilding have been slower to spend funds. Habitat for Humanity says it has 60 homes completed or under construction.

JONATHAN RECKFORD, CEO, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: We will continue to build as many homes as we can raise the funds for. We are planning to build at least 1,000 homes in the next 18 months.

MYERS: The Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund says its money will go to colleges and universities devastated by the storm, faith-based groups, and foundations dedicated to rebuilding the three states. But so far, little money from that fund has actually been disbursed, because officials say they're waiting for requests.

With all the devastation and so little visible progress, some argue that Americans who gave so generously should have gotten more for their money by now.

RICHARD WALDEN, DISASTER RELIEF ADVOCATE: June 1 is hurricane season. Private charities have got to do a better job and a faster job.

MYERS (on camera): Still, the reality is that the amount of money private charities have to spend on rebuilding, at best a few hundred million dollars, is a drop in the ocean. The federal government has designated $85 billion, and many believe even that won't be enough.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, in Mexico City, funny how bullfighting doesn't seem so indefensible when the bull attempts to defend himself.

And way too much reality TV, a special effects explosion going awry at a network soap.

That and more when Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: The bulls don't begin running at Pamplona, Spain, this year until July 6. We are already rooting for them and against their biped overlords. Thus it is with extreme pleasure, and with a touch of warning not unlike that felt by Alfred Hitchcock when he premiered his movie "The Birds," that we bring you the revenge of the bull.

Let's play Oddball.

Mexico City, hola. Must have been the shoes. A 3,000-pound bull named Pajarito (ph), or Little Birdie, rampaged through the crowd, going - goring at least seven people as spectators scrambled to get out of his way. None of the injuries were life-threatening to the bullfight aficionados, although the birdlike Little Birdie did his best.

The snag for the bull, of course, is that as terrified as the spectators might be, they still outnumber him significantly, plus, there are those preening jokers in the ring with the swords. Little Birdie was dispatched by a bullfighter a few moments later, but not before he got some of the fans to rethink the whole bullfight equation.

How do I know? A Little Birdie told me.

Now to North Platte, Nebraska, and a much gentler form of recreation, 150 folks who figured January's the best time to dress up in silly costumes and run into the water. Nice to see the NBC peacock in there somewhere, yes, the NBC - Oh, there he is, making an effort. Nice hat.

Rastas and rocket men, naughty nurses, and who's a pretty boy, then? Raising money for a local homeless shelter. And others got the opportunity for a little revenge on the missus. Goober may regret that later. You cannot stay awake indefinitely, fella.

Finally, to indoor India. Some quick advice, spend the money, go to Supercuts. Don't go to the hairdresser training college. Pitika (ph) Gupta says she's done more than 800 stylings blindfolded, and her customers say she's much better than her nonblindfolded competition. At least, so say those of her customers who were out of triage when we had to assign our Oddball crew to other stories.

Also tonight, full coverage on the injuries to "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT" co-anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt. Also Bob's friendship with our late NBC colleague David Bloom. And the network anchor, so much a part of our lives, and the run of star-crossed lives at the ABC desk.

Then the murders of a Massachusetts woman and her infant daughter. The husband had reportedly cooperated with police. That apparently was not true.

Details on those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Jessica Morales. She is a newlywed in Midland, Texas. She married her husband, Daniel, on Saturday. You may know her by her maiden name, McClure - Jessica McClure. Or, as she was called in 1987, Baby Jessica. That's right, the infant rescued from the Texas well when she was 18 months old is now married.

Number two, the unnamed dog walker in Viaco (ph), Scotland. His dog befouled a city street. Police gave him a ticket. He ripped it up. So they gave him another ticket for littering.

May not bother you now, pal, but consider number one, Helmut Bleibtreu, who walked into the police station in the town of Herrn in the Ruhr Valley in Germany. He told cops he was the one, he did it, he was the guy who put the firecracker on the railroad tracks. He was having criminal's remorse. The guilt had gotten too much for him. The police, finding no record of such an incident in their records, asked Mr. Bleibtreu when he did that. He answered, Nineteen twenty-six. They sent him home with a stern warning - Don't do it again.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR: We have lost prominent journalists in battle before, from the quintessential World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle to our own David Bloom. But for the co-anchor of a national network television newscast to be a casualty in Iraq is outside our scope of experience as journalists and as viewers. Our third story on the Countdown, the news appears to be hopeful tonight for Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt of ABC.

We have four reports for you tonight, from the ill fortune that one might almost think was stalking. The "World News Tonight" anchor desk, to Bob Woodruff's connection to the family of the late David Bloom, to the remarkable American medical facility in Iraq at which the two men were treated. Beginning with the latest on their conditions, our correspondent at the American base in Landstuhl Germany is Jim Maceda.


JIM MACEDA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Landstuhl Hospital outside Frankfurt, one of the U.S. military's largest. Inside Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt are under heavy sedation in the intensive care unit, in stable, but serious condition.

GUILLERMO TELLEZ, CHIEF SURGEON: These two individuals sustained injuries to their upper chest, neck, and face and brain.

MACEDA: Both were hit by an improvised explosive device or I.E.D. on Sunday while working on a story about Iraqi forces. The attack occurred in the insurgent town of Taji north of Baghdad. Vote was taping Woodruff in an Iraqi armored personnel carrier, the lead vehicle in a joint U.S.-Iraqi convoy, when the roadside bomb detonated, triggering an ambush. Woodruff and Vogt were wearing protective armor and helmets. Doctors here say it probably saved their lives. And they are encouraged by small signs of improvement in the men. Still, the coming days are crucial.

BRYAN GAMBLE, HOSPITAL COMMANDER: Most of our patients will stay here any where from 48 to 72 hours before transport back to the states.

MACEDA: But it's unclear how serious their injuries are. NBC's Tom Brokaw spoke with Woodruff's wife Lee and told the "TODAY SHOW" that the swelling in Woodruff's brain had apparently eased after surgery to reduce pressure on the brain. Vogt had shrapnel lifted from his brain, and according to ABC News president David Westin, is reportedly in better overall condition than Woodruff. Despite the nature of the injuries, surgeons are cautiously upbeat.

TELLEZ: In most cases, whether they're severe or not, many times they do heal.

MACEDA(on camera): And in another positive sign "ABC NEWS" suggested its team could be headed back to the U.S. as early as tomorrow for further treatment, after a brush with death on one of the world's most dangerous stories. Jim Maceda, NBC NEWS, Landstuhl, Germany.


OLBERMANN: And tonight, ABC reported that cameraman Doug Vogt was awake, alert and joking and it quoted Bob Woodruff's brother as saying, "The family was optimistic, but it will be a long road." That they had been taken to the Ballad Medical Base outside Baghdad was the first piece of good news about Doug Vogt and Bob Woodruff.

Our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski was at that facility where the basic message is, if you are alive when you get here, it is almost certain you will be alive when you get home.


JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT(on camera): If a soldier is critically wounded, military officials say that the Air Force Theatre Hospital here in Balad, may be the best medical facility in Iraq, if not the entire region, to receive treatment.

The hospital receives only the most critically wounded and most of them from roadside bombs. The objective here, according to hospital officials, is to save lives, save limbs and save eyesight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the last several months during (inaudible) we have run up to five surgeries simultaneously.

MIKLASZEWSKI: The hospital has an emergency room, six operating rooms and three intensive care units. It also has 30 physicians, including two new neurosurgeons. With the frequency of roadside bombs and serious head injuries, brain surgery here, even in the middle of a war, is almost an every day event. Now, the hospital here is the first battlefield hospital ever to have CAT scanners, critical for the early diagnosis of serious brain injuries.

But besides the technology, the tactics for treatment here are also somewhat revolutionary. The object here is to stabilize the patient and then MedEvac them as quickly as possible, first to Germany and then to the United States for long term treatment. And the record here is nothing short of remarkable. If a U.S. service member arrives at this facility alive, the chances that he or she will survive is 96%. Jim Miklaszewski, NBC NEWS, at the Air Force Theatre Hospital at Balad.


OLBERMANN: And regardless of what the future holds for Vogt and Woodruff, this past weekend will be remembered at "ABC NEWS" and by its viewers, the same way the weekend of April 6, 2003 is remembered at MSNBC and NBC NEWS and by our viewers. That was the weekend we lost David Bloom in Iraq... to many of us, friend or colleague, to Bob Woodruff and his wife Lee, both, here's Matt Lauer.


DAVID BLOOM, FORMER NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We've been rolling with these tanks and Bradleys -

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT(voice-over): Nearly three years ago "WEEKEND TODAY" anchor David Bloom was imbedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, when he died from a pulmonary embolism. At the same time, Bob Woodruff was also reporting from Iraq. In many ways the two men were living parallel lives as rising stars in television news. They both were fathers of twins, plus they had a friendship that extended beyond work. And their wives were also friends. On "The Jane Pauley Show" Melanie Bloom and Lee Woodruff talked about the night David died.

LEE WOODRUFF, BOB WOODRUFF'S WIFE: Somebody at NBC knew that Melanie and I were friends, and for some reason they couldn't get through on her phone, so they called me. It was 2:00 in the morning, and of course my first thought was, what's happened to Bob. And I called Mel, and I said NBC's trying to reach you. I didn't ask what was wrong but they told me to get in the car and start driving to her.

LAUER: Bob Woodruff also spoke to Melanie that night from Iraq. He decided to come home for David's funeral.

BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I called the desk back at ABC and they said Bob, one more thing that we should tell you, is that David tried to call you last night. This was what, 12 hours before he died. And we hadn't spoken since Kuwait, a month earlier before the invasion began, I said tell him to keep his head down and to be careful out there. And they told me this, obviously, a few hours after he died.

LAUER: And just last-month Melanie Bloom was with Bob the night this picture was taken. It was the night that Bob found out he got the anchor job at "ABC World News Tonight."


OLBERMANN: Matt Lauer reporting. Of all the things you and I may not have in common, clearly we share this, an interest in news on television. Short of elective office or appointment to the Supreme Court, perhaps no public position in this country intrigues us, perhaps affects us, more than does that of the anchors of the three nightly network newscasts.

Thus linked with the news of Bob Woodruff's injuries, were the circumstances under which he ascended to that position after the death of Peter Jennings. These are circumstances that were obviously coincidental, are chillingly familiar to those who have worked at "ABC News" and those who have watched "ABC News."


OLBERMANN: Of Peter Jennings' sad end, little needs to be restated. It was just over a year ago that he began to decline assignments, most significantly the Indian Ocean Tsunami and the illness of Pope John Paul II. Although the hoarseness and strain in his voice, the manifestations of the lung cancer that would kill him, would in retrospect have proven to have begun to appear a year or more earlier.

PETER JENNINGS, FORMER ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening from Baghdad, it has been an extraordinary day for Iraq.

OLBERMANN: But Jennings had only ascended to the ABC anchor chair for a second time because of the sudden death of his predecessor.

FRANK REYNOLDS, FORMER ABC NEWS ANCHOR: The trials of a Soviet descendant in Russia are producing a ground swell of descent in Washington.

OLBERMANN: 22 years to the month before Jennings' farewell Frank Reynolds had taken a medical leave of absence as the principal anchor of "World News Tonight." He was being treated he told his employers and they told their viewers for persistent hepatitis. No one knew that Frank Reynolds had been fighting multiple myeloma, a rare and at that time, quickly fatal form of cancer. He had been fighting it for four years.

Less than three months after his last newscast, Reynolds died in July 1983. The original "World News Tonight" had three anchors, the fate of the third no less tragic than the other two.

MAX ROBINSON, FORMER ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Federal court has ruled that unconstitutional and now the Justice Department is asking an appeals court to reverse the ruling.

OLBERMANN: Max Robinson who had broken the news anchoring color barrier, first locally in Washington in 1969 and then on ABC in 1978, would leave the newscast in a cloud of controversy when ABC restructured it in 1981. Seven years later, at the age of 49, Max Robinson died of AIDS.

Prior to their successes at ABC, both Peter Jennings and Frank Reynolds had had troubled first tenures on the job. Jennings from1964 to 1967... Reynolds from 1968 to 1970. But between them, ABC had yet another anchor, Bob Young actually succeeded Jennings, he was removed five months into his tenure, ratings slipping and having sustained head injuries after falling from a ladder while gardening. To be replaced in turn by Reynolds.

Noting that there have been five ill-fated anchors in 40 years is not to suggest a connection nor a curse, nor is it to wish anything but a full and speedy recovery for Bob Woodruff. But it is singular and eerily disturbing that among all the men and women from John Cameron Swayze through Walter Cronkite through Barbara Walters and all the others. Of all who have anchored the three primary newscasts over a span of nearly six decades, only these five have met such jarring, sudden calamity.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, another grim and curious turn in the murder case that captivates parts of two nations. Neil Entwistle apparently is not talking to police and apparently is not going to the funeral of his own wife and daughter. Too much bang for the buck, none of the actors hurt, but it was still way too real for the cast of a TV soap. Those stories ahead, but first your "Countdown's" top three sound bites of the day.

Will Mrs. Alito be the hero that is featured in the grandstand there?

I don't know, but I would imagine that they would pick a, what's called sort of a more regular American if you will.

That's my least favorite part. They always have, it's either an Indian Chief or -

CHRIS MATTHEWS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Tucker it won't be an Indian chief this year.

And in your face. More so when you meet their coach.

KEITH FREEMON: Get in there ball, get in their ball. Stop pointing the ball!

Oh that's brilliant.

FREEMON: Do you understand?

Hold it.

We're not throwing a softball. Don't point the ball. You're worse than the girls.

Head coach Keith Freemon is the Bobby Knight of bowling.

FREEMON: I don't throw chairs, but I do scream and holler. 10 pushups, get that tail end down and give them to me.

JEROME BETTIS, PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Because I'm not going to be in there every down. So if you put the pressure on me, that's even better, because it gives my teammates an opportunity to get ready for the game. After 13 years, I figure my shoulders are big enough to carry a little bit of pressure.

OLBERMANN: At best it just looks bad, at worst it has guilt written all over it. Wife and infant murdered outside Boston, yet this did not appear that the gentleman in question will attend their funerals. What's next, this is Countdown.

Eight days after a woman and her infant daughter were found shot to death in what looked like an almost pristine murder scene in their Massachusetts home, the questions, not the answers seem to be growing. Our number two story in THE Countdown, American police were supposed to have interviewed the sole surviving member of the family, Neil Entwistle in London last Friday, but as Dawn Fratangelo reports, it looks like that did not happen.


DAWN FRATANGELO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: A wonderful wife, daughter and mother. That is how 27 year old Rachel Entwistle was described by a friend who spoke on behalf of her grieving family for the first time.

JOE FLAHERTY, FAMILY FRIEND: The entire family is overwhelmed by the loss of Rachel and Lillian in the events of last weekend.

FRATANGELO: The mother and 9 month old baby were shot dead last weekend at their home outside Boston, shattering an image on a website of a happy family.

FLAHERTY: The family has every confidence that the Middlesex District Attorney's office, (inaudible) office, along with the Massachusetts State Police and the Harkington Police Department will solve this case and bring to justice those responsible.

FRATANGELO: But the investigation has already hit some snags. The husband, Neil Entwistle, described as a person of interest, flew to his native England. He had agreed to a meeting at the U.S. embassy with Massachusetts investigators who followed him there. Now reports are Entwistle backed out of that meting. Then there is the family home. The D.A.'s office now admits police and family members searched the home twice and found nothing suspicious. It wasn't until a third search again by police that anyone found the bodies.

Because so many people passed through the house before the bodies of the mother and the baby were discovered, there is early speculation the crime scene may have been compromised. Meanwhile, Rachel's family has made final arrangements.

FLAHERTY: On Wednesday we will take Rachel and Lillian to rest.

FRATANGELO: Obituaries in a local newspaper name Rachel and Lillian's immediate family, everyone except husband and father Neil, who is not expected to attend the funerals. Dawn Fratangelo, NBC NEWS, New York.


OLBERMANN: Thus, no easy segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news "KEEPING TABS" tonight, so we'll just do it. It's award season in Hollywood, the Oscar nominations come out in the morning and the Screen Actors Guild awards were last night. As an 18-year member of that union, I can say it "SAG" is a dreadful acronym.

Any way, a big surprise in the SAG awards. The 74 actors in the racially charged film "Crash" bested the heavily favored "Brokeback Mountain" for best overall cast. Reese Witherspoon took home the best actress award for her portrayal of Johnny Cash's wife in "Walk the Line" and Philip Seymour Hoffman got the best actor nod for the title role in "Capote." Whether on a stage or in front of a movie camera, or on TV, all actors strive for realism, realism to a point.

No members of the cast were hurt during the taping of the popular daytime series "All My Children." There was a far too special effect for an upcoming episode, which was supposed to include "an explosion that rocks Pine Valley and its residents." It actually rocked the New York City set last week, four stunt people were hurt. The severity of their injuries unknown, but producers say they are expected to make a full and swift recovery.

From soap opera make believe to real-life make believe. A female journalist goes gender bending for a year and a half, to find out how the other half lives. A first time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for worst person in the world? Tonight, the German judge known as Wolfgang W, was about to sentence a robber to 22 months in prison when he met the defendant's girlfriend. They went out to dinner, and whatever her motives were, the next thing you knew Judge Wolfgang was offering to send the guy up the river for much longer than 22 months, whatever his girlfriend wanted.

Tonight's runner-up, Louie Gabriel Cisneros police have broken an international counterfeiting ring because Mr. Cisneros reportedly gave four of the fake $100 bills to somebody who immediately knew that they were fake. The Anaheim, California stripper who had just given him a three-hour lap dance. They know their money.

But our winner, the visitor to the Fitz William Museum in Cambridge, England, an unnamed man who tripped over his own shoe lace, then came tumbling down a staircase into a display featuring three museum artifacts. To paraphrase one of the Inspector Cruso movies, those are priceless King Dynasty vases from China. Not anymore. Be lucky they're not giving out his name, visitor of the museum in England... today's worst person in the world.

OK. Think back over the past few years, think hard. Did you happen to meet a guy named Ned Vincent in New York maybe? Our number one story on THE Countdown. If the answer is yes or even if its maybe, you better sit down. Ned was actually Norah, a woman journalist who spent a year and a half intricately disguised as a fella. Her new book is entitled, "Self-Made Man," and it chronicles the strange journey that the fulltime members of this gender experience on a more or less constant basis.

This was not some quick make-up job nor the reverse of a drag performance. Working with a vocal coach allowing her to drop her voice low enough to be convincing, a make-up artist perfected the appearance of 5 o'clock shadow and time at the gym squared off her physique, all to allow the physical transformation from Norah to Ned. Norah Vincent joins me now, thanks for your time tonight.

NORAH VINCENT, AUTHOR, "SELF-MADE MAN": Oh thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: Of all the things you went through, what made you feel the most empathy for men?

VINCENT: Well I have to say I think it was the emotional diminishment that I felt. I think that women have a much broader range to work with in that regard. And so I thought that I was going to walk into a larger arena and enjoy a lot of privileges. And I did find some of that, the privileges that women don't experience. But, there was a lot that I felt curtailed by. Especially as I say emotional expression, just expression in general. I found the notion of manhood seemed very narrow to me.

OLBERMANN: The emotion, I gathered that the hardest part of this was not carrying it off physically but in fact, this got to you emotionally, it really carved you up?

VINCENT: Yeah, yeah, and I suppose part of that is being a socialized woman. But I think that what I discovered in the men that I met and with whom I discussed this, I joined a men's group, for example I also joined a bowling league. And I talked with my male bowling buddies about this and a lot of other men in between.

It's an old fashioned thing, but you're not allowed to, even in this day and age, to express weakness, you're not allowed to express need. You're not allowed to cry. You're not allowed, a lot of that, that's so, I think, integral to what it means to be human and I think when you are used to enjoying that as a woman and it's suddenly taken away from you, it's a very difficult thing to endure.

OLBERMANN: I can imagine. The actual physical process and the deception is the wrong word but certainly the subterfuge of presenting yourself as a man. Did you ever get caught? Did anybody ever figure you out in the 18 months?

VINCENT: Amazingly enough, no. I think that there were people that I spoke to at the end of it who looked back and they said, oh, that's why you did that. Or that's why you had red lips. Sometimes they were silly things. But, there were things that they could look at that they sort of pasted it over in their minds and put the pieces together for me. It was sort of a psychological illusion that if you suggest it strongly enough, people will fill in whatever might be missing. Whereas, if you're looking at me and you already know the answer, you may see some of the missing pieces.

OLBERMANN: I'm going to preface this next question by pointing out that it was suggested to me by not merely one of the producers but one of the women producers here who said that you went so far to experience the man thing - no just going into a men's room, but wearing a prosthetic penis into a men's room so that you could experience the whole urinal experience, what was that like?

VINCENT: Men's restrooms were sort of an assault on my senses, I have to say.


OLBERMANN: Take a number.

VINCENT: So, you know, in fact I couldn't use the urinal but I always thought it was so interesting, because I think a lot of women think it's so strange. First of all, the sight of five urinals in a row to a woman is just really arresting the first time you see it. But then, you know the way you think well men stand there and they use the urinal, doing something that seems very private.

And yet, I notice that they're not that open about it, there's a lot of covering, there's a lot of sort of, don't be looking at me, you know. But I of course couldn't do that because mine was prosthetic but not that useful, so I had to go into the stall and it was actually rather comic because, you know, I had to find ways to accommodate myself without giving myself away by sound or movement or whatever else I might do. Not to get too graphic on you.

OLBERMANN: Yes, well I think we get the idea there. In about 45 seconds or less, did the whole experience clinch it for you? Are you happier as a woman are women happier than men?

VINCENT: I don't know if they're happier than men, but I think yes, absolutely being a woman is infinitely better in my opinion. I think that men have a role just as women have a role. I think women were liberated in many ways by feminism in a way that men haven't been yet, and I think they're sort of due for a certain amount of change in that respect.

OLBERMANN: Thank God somebody else knows. We've all been living inside this shell, all those men, you may help us get out as well.

VINCENT: I hope so.

OLBERMANN: Norah Vincent's book is "Self-Made Man," thanks greatly for your time tonight and congratulations on the project.

VINCENT: Thank you so much.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown, I'm Keith Olbermann, keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck. Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby "LIVE AND DIRECT". Good evening Rita.


Friday, January 27, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for January 27

Guest: John Harwood, Andrew Goldberg

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Mr. Bush gets his wish. His rating climbs over 50 percent. His newest disapproval rating, 51. But he might not disapprove of this. Cindy Sheehan threatens Senator Dianne Feinstein if she doesn't filibuster the Alito nomination.

John Kerry drops the F-bomb from an economic summit in Switzerland, and the White House makes a funny.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the first time ever that a senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland.


OLBERMANN: Where has the Jack Abramoff scandal gotten the hordes of D.C. lobbyists? Unemployed, and unaccompanied at lunch, that's where.


NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Are you willing to say, No more, to the private jet?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Yes. And I stopped that before I introduced the bill.


OLBERMANN: Norah O'Donnell's special report on the new pariahs of politics, the lobbyists.

His family murdered outside Boston, he went home to England. Today, to the U.S. embassy in London for questioning, amid a swirl of rumors that Neil Entwistle will be returning to the U.S.

And you've written, you've e-mailed, you've asked why we didn't induct Oprah Winfrey into the Countdown Apology Hall of Fame. What's up with that?


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: I am deeply sorry.


OLBERMANN: Yes, me too. We will induct her tonight.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

The F-word. The prospects of a Supreme Court nomination filibuster today roared back into the center political stage from both wings.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, oddly enough, it's the Democrats under pressure here, John Kerry calling for the talking cure and creating a controversy within a controversy as he does so.

And, of all people, Cindy Sheehan so hopped up about it that this afternoon the antiwar protester threatened to challenge Dianne Feinstein for her California Senate seat if Feinstein does not filibuster the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, Sheehan saying she was appalled Feinstein, quote, "wouldn't recognize how dangerous Alito's nomination is to upholding the values of our Constitution and restricting the usurpation of presidential powers."

She was speaking at the World Social Forum in Venezuela, Senator Kerry speaking from an economic conference in Switzerland, although he was back on the Senate floor by the time the White House showed it was not above mischaracterizing the nature of his presence in the Alps.


MCCLELLAN: It was a pretty historic day. This was the first time ever that a senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland. I think even for a senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This is a fight worth making, because it's a fight for the lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court of the United States with a series of decisions that suggest a view. The critical question here is, why are we so compelled to accept, in such a rush, a nominee who has so clearly been chosen for political and ideological reasons? That's the real question.


OLBERMANN: The chances of a filibuster still look small, the Democrats to vote on their intentions Monday, majority leader Bill Frist hoping to give the president a pre-State of the Union gift on Tuesday, scheduling the final vote on the Alito Supreme Court nomination that morning at 11:00, 10 hours before the president speaks.

That address seen as the culmination of three months of nearly nonstop PR by President Bush, trying to sell a wary public on his policies for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, more recently on domestic spying, what appears to be a wash.

For the first time, Mr. Bush heading into a State of the Union address with a majority of Americans disapproving the job he is doing as president, 51 percent, according to the latest poll from "The New York Times." The public also divided over Mr. Bush's domestic spying program, little more than half approving of his authorization of wiretaps without warrants, only one in the four of those Americans surveyed believing that the Bush administration has a clear plan for assisting those victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The president may have changed his tone, if not his tune, on some of these issues tonight, perhaps giving us, in fact, a preview of what might be a surprise if it carries into the State of the Union. He told CBS News this afternoon that on Tuesday night, he will discuss his hopes for calming the political strife of the nation, for, as he put it, "discourse without anger."

Mr. Bush also seemed softer on the fury over the NSA spying, saying he understands the debate about wiretapping without warrants. Asked why he didn't just go to the FISA court and get those warrants himself, Mr. Bush replied, "I asked the very same question," and "It wasn't an easy decision to make," and that he was told the process would slow the hot pursuit of suspected terrorists.

"My dilemma and my problem is," he continued, "I can't explain to you how it works without telling the enemy what we're doing."

Time now to call in "Wall Street Journal" national political editor John Harwood for some analysis of this, and looking ahead to the State of the Union next week.

Good to see you again, John.


OLBERMANN: Let me start with this interview with Mr. Bush on CBS. "I understand the debate," "It wasn't an easy decision to make," "I asked that question." Am I right here, is this not a significant change of tone? Had not the president pretty much dismissed his critics in the domestic spying controversy till now? What's happened here?

HARWOOD: Well, he's done a couple of things, Keith. He's been pretty aggressive in pushing back and casting the Democrats in a position that many of them would say they're not taking, that they don't want to listen to what al Qaeda is up to.

But he's also trying to show that he's not cavalier about really pressing the envelope on presidential authority, and showed that he took seriously the need to consult lawyers and determine whether in fact it was legitimate.

OLBERMANN: Is that going to be seen again, that less of a pushback, is that going to be seen again in the State of the Union?

HARWOOD: Well, you know, the quote you gave from the interview the president had with Bob Schieffer was striking, and it was like a quote the president gave to my colleagues at "The Wall Street Journal" when we interviewed him earlier in the week. He said he was going to call upon the better natures of those in Washington to have a civil debate.

Now, that's interesting, and it's a good rhetorical line. The president's tried to show that he's not insensitive to criticism and he's hearing other voices. But at the same time, you've got Karl Rove and the White House political strategists out there pushing very hard against Democrats, and saying that they have a pre-9/11 view of the world.

So, you know, the question is, can he sell the idea that he's trying to calm the political waters of the country? I'm not sure that that's a very easy thing for him to do.

OLBERMANN: Yes, if he uses better natures again, he's got to bring Lincoln into the discussion.

HARWOOD: Yes, exactly.

OLBERMANN: He better not claim that one for his own.

On the prospect of the Alito filibuster, it opened the door for that cheap shot from Mr. McClellan, it turned Cindy Sheehan around and pointed her back at the left rather than at the president. Have the Democrats lost the battle over that nomination, whether they filibuster or not?

HARWOOD: Keith, they've completely lost the political battle over the nomination, and they're also losing the politics of this. This is a pretty striking display of disarray by the Democratic Party. You've got John Kerry, who wants to run for president in 2008, who's trying to show activists within the party that he's willing to go to the barricades against Alito.

You've got Ted Kennedy in the Senate, who's trying to persuade liberal interest groups that the party hasn't forgotten them and that they're going to stand up and fight.

But they've got no chance to sustain this filibuster. And for Cindy Sheehan to say that, you know, Dianne Feinstein's going to be in trouble if she doesn't filibuster Alito, that's just not realistic.

The bigger risk is that Democrats in some of the vulnerable Senate seats will be put in a bad spot by looking like they're obstructing the president's choice, when even though, you know, there's a lot of division and controversy over Alito, he does have majority support in the U.S. Senate.

OLBERMANN: The blog entry from Nora Ephron this week listed at number nine among her 25 things people have a shocking capacity to be surprised by over and over again, Democratic performance, that they're disappointing. In a week where the Bush administration got really Clintonesque by getting out a stack of dictionaries and insisting that spying done in this country is really international and not domestic, this internal struggle over Alito is the best idea the Democratic Party could come up with?

HARWOOD: Well, I tell you, it is simply not a realization on the Democratic Party's part of the difficult spot the president's in. You know, one of the advantages a minority party has is to say look at the guys in charge, and count on their problems to be their ticket, if you will, in the fall elections.

Look at this president's press conference this week. He was on the defensive over the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, which endangers his whole effort in the Middle East, on NSA spying, on the Jack Abramoff photos, on his response to Hurricane Katrina.

The president, as those poll numbers you showed earlier, has got a lot of problems to begin with, and Democrats would do well to get out of the way and watch the president struggle with those.

OLBERMANN: Yes, they seem to be way too sympathetic towards his problems this week.

John Harwood of "The Wall Street Journal," as always, sir, have a good weekend.

HARWOOD: You too.

OLBERMANN: To one biographer, the president is nothing more than deeply misunderstood. In a 2004 newspaper column, the conservative pundit Fred Barnes described Mr. Bush as an insurgent president, playing by his own rules of engagement.

That columnist expounding on that theme in a new book, theorizing that the character traits, which are making life difficult now for the so-called "Rebel in Chief," might be remembered fondly hundreds of years from now.

Our current White House correspondent David Gregory taking a look at that long view tonight.


DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George W. Bush began the year behind, still hobbled by the mistakes of 2005, the worst year of his presidency. Yet a leading conservative commentator and author of the new book "Rebel in Chief," Fred Barnes, argues that Bush is no less the insurgent leader he's always been.

FRED BARNES, AUTHOR, "REBEL IN CHIEF": He's still snubbing his nose at Washington, he's rebelling against the Washington community and against its conventional wisdom and all its practices.

GREGORY: Perhaps. But with the State of the Union next week, Barnes admits the president needs some new ideas.

BARNES: And he'll return to a greater emphasis on domestic policy, health care, energy, and taxes.

GREGORY (on camera): Let's do some quick takes.


GREGORY: For this year. U.S. troops in Iraq.

BARNES: Well, they'll be reduced, close to 100,000, leaving close to 100,000.

GREGORY: Social Security.

BARNES: That was a part of the disaster in 2005, and won't be much on the agenda in 2006.

GREGORY: Rebuilding New Orleans.

BARNES: The president believes in this, spending a lot of money on it, and will, and conservatives will complain.

GREGORY: Midterm elections.

BARNES: Democrats were supposed to do well in 2002 and didn't (INAUDIBLE) in the midterm. They'll do better in 2006.

GREGORY (voice-over): In "Rebel in Chief," Barnes suggests the Bush presidency has been undermined by myths, for example, that the president's faith dictates policy.

BARNES: But when you go back, and people have gone back and looked to see, has he talked more about his faith than, say, Bill Clinton did, or other presidents? And the answer is no.

GREGORY: Bush, Barnes writes, has helped to create a slim Republican majority in America, with the key being inroads among Hispanic voters, the largest growing voting bloc in the country.

Does the president have a favorite in '08?

BARNES: There's one potential candidate that would be his candidate, or maybe two. Neither one is running. Those are Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is, you know, just like a sister to Bush.

GREGORY: For all Bush has done, Barnes argues his legacy boils down to whether democracy and stability can be achieved in Iraq. The president, Barnes writes, takes the long view, noting three recent biographies about George Washington.

BARNES: He said what's amazing about it is, here are these books, 200-plus years after the Washington presidency, people are still evaluating that presidency.

GREGORY: For Bush, a consequential and controversial presidency, still taking shape.

David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.


OLBERMANN: Thank you, David. We'll check back in the year 2206.

Also among next week's coming attractions, the start of the Scooter Libby trial a week from today. Write that one down in pencil, though. The lawyers for the vice president's former chief of staff still demanding more evidence tonight, Libby's legal team arguing yesterday in a filing to the judge that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald should surrender much of the information he has gathered from news organizations and their reporters.

You know, stuff like the identity of all of the reporters who knew that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA, who they learned it from, anyone else they might have told afterwards, in a perjury and obstruction of justice case pretty much asking the prosecution to tip its entire hand.

Stay tuned for the outcome as details become available.

Also tonight, as reporters search for those elusive Abramoff photos, lobbyists search for anybody on Capitol Hill still willing to meet with them. Norah O'Donnell's special report on the chilling effect of the Abramoff scandal.

And new developments today in the murder of a Massachusetts mother and her infant, the husband facing questioning at the American embassy in London.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Forty-eight visits to golf clubs and resorts, 100 flights (INAUDIBLE) company airplanes, 200 hotel stays, $200 dinners for two, all of them over a six-year period, all of them attributed to Representative Tom DeLay or his associates in a report last December based on public documents.

And every bit of it may have been legal, but all of it, and all of its kind, is under far greater scrutiny now through the lens, or the looking-glass, of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, though it may take some time to sort out what was illegal and what merely stank, there is a chill descending over Washington, and the lobbyists are locked outside without parkas.

Our special report tonight from MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell.



For a rare glimpse of how Washington really works, take a look inside Charlie Palmer's Steak House, just steps from Capitol Hill, where lobbyists regularly wine and dine lawmakers and their staff.

BRYAN VOLTAGGIO, CHARLIE PALMER'S STEAK HOUSE: A good amount of our business does come from the Hill.

O'DONNELL: But executive chef Bryan Voltaggio is worried that's about to change, because of what many now call the Jack Abramoff effect, and regulations that may now restrict lobbyists from picking up the check.

It can be devastating in a town where there are 50 lobbyists for every one member of Congress.

VOLTAGGIO: For the restaurant industry, I think that, you know, it would definitely have an effect.

O'DONNELL: Even as Congress debates new ethics rules, many in Washington say the Abramoff lobbying scandal has already created a chilling effect.

JON DOGGER, NATIONAL CORN GROWERS ASSOCIATION: Some folks that we've taken to lunch that said, Well, this may be the last time I'm going to have lunch with a lobbyist.

O'DONNELL: Jon Dogger is a lobbyist for the National Corn Growers Association.

DOGGER: I think it's interesting that there are some proposals, you know, in the Congress saying that we can't buy a staff person a $10 hamburger, but we certainly can go ahead and take that same member of Congress out for a meal, as long as we have a $2,500 PAC check.

O'DONNELL: It's true that ever since Jack Abramoff struck a deal to tell all, Washington has been in a kind of funk. Golf, especially in Scotland, is a big no-no. Luxury skyboxes around town are suddenly empty. And all those private jets supplied by corporations are grounded.

(on camera): So are you ready to say, No more, to the private jets?

MCCAIN: Yes. And I stopped that before I introduced the bill.

O'DONNELL: Yes, even the leading advocate for reform, John McCain, admits to some belt tightening as lawmakers promise to play by the rules while they debate how far to go to restrict how Washington has done business for decades.

For Countdown, I'm Norah O'Donnell in Washington.


OLBERMANN: Norah, great thanks.

His wife and baby were murdered in their home in Massachusetts. Instead of staying to grieve or to rage, he instead fled to his home town in Great Britain. Today, Neil Entwistle was questioned inside the American embassy in London.

And a bizarre scene caught on a dashcam. Nothing to see here, officer. These kids in the trunk? They're mine. They wanted to ride back there.

Ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Back now, and we pause the Countdown. Look, I'm going to give this to you straight. I'm just not all here tonight. It's Friday, it's nearly Chinese New Year, and just bought a new car. I mean, I'm really psyched about this new car. It's a white 2006 Ford Taurus, and they're delivering to me right after the show tonight, right out here. So I'm pretty much mailing it in until I get my sweet new ride delivered to me here tonight.

So, let's play Oddball.

Taking a look at Oddball traffic, well, it looks like a major backup on the Countdown (INAUDIBLE). Hey, isn't that the Jersey Turnpike? Hey, it's Secaucus, that's right outside the building here. Wonder what could be caught - My car!

Actually, six cars went up in smoke before the firemen could extinguish the blaze, it says here. Traffic was snarled for three hours because of the fire. And I guess I'm walking back through the Lincoln Tunnel tonight. Yeah, NOBODY saw that gag coming. I don't even drive.

Well, at least it is almost Chinese New Year, so fire up the dog circus. In Hong Kong, they commemorate the Year of the Dog by forcing dogs to entertain humans. Thanks. Ten dogs wowed scores of onlookers with some tightrope walking, neckerchief wearing, and some nifty trapeze work. Whee. Wow, dogs on trapezes, only seen that about a million times. Let's see you do it blindfolded, huh?

All right, now they're going to make them to it blindfolded. It's a trick they learned in the old country. All right. Big whoop. Let's see you now stop soiling the rug.

Finally, the stuff we found on the Internets. This is a giant robotic elephant. We're calling him Robostampy (ph). All we know about Robostampy is that he was part of a parade in France last year. He's pretty slow. There are a bunch of guys riding on him.

And Monica Novotny's father discovered this videotape. Seriously, the reporter gene is inherited. Every once in a while, Robostampy sprayed some (INAUDIBLE) water into the crowd, then lopes forward, perhaps on his way to destroy the rebel base on (INAUDIBLE).

Happily while this glorious piece of Internet bliss will immediately fade from your memory, we all know a robot elephant never forgets, unless you spill a Diet Pepsi on its motherboard.

Also tonight, Oprah Winfrey's little mess, James Frey's perfidy. We'll follow the trail of the investigation. We'll induct Oprah into our Hall of Fame, the one and only and original Apology Hall of Fame. And we'll tell you something, after all this, that you will not believe about James Frey's book that is still true tonight.

And car-chase school, for the police, but for the sake of the bystanders.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Sharon Dunlap, pulled over for DUI in Jacksonville, Florida. Sadly, nothing unusual in that kind of story, except that Ms. Dunlap was driving the local Bloodmobile.

Number two, Virginia state delegate Jack Reid. He was trying to unload his handgun at his office at the Capitol when the gun fired and sent a bullet across the room right into a gag gift he had hung on the back of his office door, a souvenir bulletproof vest. Nice aim.

Number one, a newsmaker update. Remember Hirohito Shibuya, the 57-year-old Tokyo man who said he'd had a dream in which he was told about an incantation he could say that would make young women attracted to him? Police went to his home, where 11 such young women lived with him. And they discovered something. The incantation was apparently, Sa iwoo-i yasu tostondon okau (ph). Loosely translated, that means, Buy a stun gun and tear gas.

He was holding the women hostage with a TASER.


OLBERMANN: Our third story on the Countdown, a trio of very different crimes with very different conclusions. In a moment, how a stranger's intuition rescued two kids. How a mother's stupidity put three of her children in a trunk and in danger. But we begin now with new developments in a murder mystery in Massachusetts. Rachel Entwistle and her nine-month-old daughter Lillian found shot to death in their, the husband, Neil Entwistle surfacing thousands of miles away in England.

As Paul Davies of our British affiliate, ITN, reports, even though he is now talking with detectives, he's still not considered a suspect in the murder.


PAUL DAVIES, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The team of detectives who traveled from Massachusetts to London to talk to Neil Entwistle about the murder of his wife and child leave the American embassy tonight with the first part of their mission accomplished. Thousands of miles from the scene of the murder they met the 27-year-old Briton and spent the afternoon questioning him.

Mr. Entwistle is seen here leaving his parents home in Werksop (ph) heading for that meeting, accompanied by police officers, though Nottinghamshire police say he is not under arrest. They've already said he could be a potential witness to the murder of his wife Rachel and baby daughter Lillian.

Their bodies had been found at the family's luxury home in Boston last weekend. They had both been shot. It's not known when or why Neil Entwistle left the United States, but American detectives said he made contact with them after his return to Britain.

(on camera): A police spokesman in Massachusetts tonight said Neil Entwistle may now return to America to help them but it would be his own decision. He remained what the spokesman described as a person of interest to their investigation but he hadn't been charged. There is in cause to arrest anyone at this stage.

Paul Davies, ITV News, at the American embassy.


OLBERMANN: As that story unfolds on and puzzles the instincts of two continents, the gut of one eagle-eyed woman in Alabama saved two allegedly abused children. Our correspondent there is Ron Mott.


RON MOTT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As general manager of an automobile leadership in Atlanta, Tracie Dean is used to closing deals.

TRACIE DEAN, HELPED IN SEX ABUSE CASE: I just knew something wasn't right. I just felt it.

MOTT: That's why she pushed hard to find the story behind a troubling look this little girl gave her at this convenience store in rural Alabama.

DEAN: It was a look to me that I consider lacking love. Know what I mean? There's no connection there.

MOTT: She felt uneasy enough about the older man who left with the girl to jot down his license plate.

DEAN: The suspicion was that she didn't belong with that man.

MOTT: And for a week she obsessed. Checked missing kids Web sites and called several law enforcement agencies, contacted "America's Most Wanted" but nothing happened until she drove back to the store to look at surveillance video. At 1:00 in the morning while watching that tape, someone finally bought her story. A sheriff's deputy walked into the store. Now 58-year-old John Wiley and his 40-year-old wife Glenna Fay Cavender are charged with multiple sex crimes against a three-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy in their trailer.

TOMMY CHAPMAN, D.A., CONECUH COUNTY: A three-year-old girl to have this done to her is unthinkable. And I know we're not going to tolerate it.

MOTT: But why did it take anyone so long to get anyone to believe Tracie's story? Child welfare advocates say it's a good thing this whistleblower kept trying.

GEORGIA HILGEMAN-HAMMOND, VANISHED CHILDREN'S ALLIANCE: Sometimes they have to be persistent until something happens. Because that squeaky wheel could save a child's life.

MOTT: Or in Tracie Dean's case, two children. Ron Mott, NBC News, Atlanta.


OLBERMANN: And more apparent criminals and more video cameras. This time in Thurmont, Maryland, looking like a routine traffic stop until police pull up behind Lenora Lucas, she pops the trunk, and out of her trunk climbs three children. Her nine-year-old and her three-year-old daughter and her son's eight-year-old friend. Ms. Lucas said the kids asked her if they could ride in the trunk so she let them.

She's now been sentenced to probation and community service but unfortunately, no parenting classes.

Dash cams also bringing us inside the ever present car chase. A new wrinkle in that tonight. Police going back to school in hopes of making innocent bystanders remain bystanders during the manhunts. And a close call on the road for an Oscar favorite. Details ahead, but first, this special edition of Countdown's top three soundbites of this day. First it was "Saturday Night Live" for Janet Reno, now she's singing it up at the a Florida fundraiser. So to the former attorney general and all politicians with a penchant for performing, we salute you.



COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The president came to me and said, Colin, I'm sure you'll agree .


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I've been watching you do that on television and would like the demonstrate for you the Al Gore version of the Macarena. Would you like to see it again?



OLBERMANN: Those high speed police car chases keep coming as well as warnings by experts that most of the time that chase is not worth the risk to innocent life. So in our number two story on THE Countdown tonight, when the L.A. Police Department comes up with a car chase school it should be met with wariness, especially if recruits are talking about how exciting it is to go fast and catch a bad guy at the same time. Our correspondent is Peter Alexander.


PETER ALEXANDER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are high speeding, sideswiping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at this. He's hitting all sorts of cars.

ALEXANDER: Wrong way running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he's going now the wrong way. He's going westbound now in the eastbound lanes.

ALEXANDER: Car chases that turns roads into race tracks and mesmerize audiences watching the old game of cop and robbers play out from home. But these spectacles are not without real risk. Police in Texas released this dashboard video of a chase that reached more than 100 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) the fire department he just hit a van.

ALEXANDER: The suspect slammed head first into a minivan. Amazingly no one was seriously hurt. A police pursuit in Houston ended in another head-on collision involving a car with an infant inside. Again no one was hurt. In Los Angeles, the so-called car chase capital of the country, these rookie recruits are learning to drive fast safely.

KELLIE OUISPEL, LAPD RECRUIT: It's exciting. It's exhilarating. You get to go fast and catch a bad guy at the same time.

ALEXANDER: Forty hours of training and a series of behind the wheel challenges like surviving a skid on extremely slick pavement. In the last year LAPD officers have added a new maneuver to their arsenal, aimed at putting an early end to potentially long and dangerous chases. It's called PIT, Pursuit Intervention Technique.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They PITed him! They PITed him.

ALEXANDER: Where a patrol car bumps the runaway vehicle from behind spinning it off track.

(on camera): On this course, recruits train for short chases, because even though on TV high speed pursuits seem to go on for hours. In L.A. last year nearly 2/3 ended within the first three minutes.

(voice-over): But it's the epic police pursuits that grab our attention and raise safety concerns. The vast majority of people the cops chase are not wanted for serious crimes. LAPD recruits are taught the balance test.

OFFICER BOB ORGAN, LAPD INSTRUCTOR: When the pursuit is going on it's a constant assessment. And when the danger becomes to great to the public or to the officer, you have to call it off.

ALEXANDER: The final exam? Circle the test track, casing an instructor in a simulated pursuit. Recruit Gary Parker just passed.

(on camera): The dos and don'ts. The dos of driving her are what?

GARY PARKER, LAPD RECRUIT: Drive fast. Drive safe, catch the bad guy.


PARKER: Don't crash, don't injure yourself or others or property.

ALEXANDER (voice-over): Still, instructors remind students all of their training occurs on a controlled course.

PARKER: Out in the field, the unexpected happens unfortunately much too often.

ALEXANDER: These recruits are confident the next time it happens to them, they'll be ready. Peter Alexander, NBC News, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN: It's an unfortunately easy segue tonight into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs." The actor Joaquin Phoenix both unlucky and lucky. He crashed his car but walked away uninjured. He was driving on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, or near it in any event in L.A. in mid-afternoon when he realized his brakes were not working and lost control of the car on a canyon road, it overturned, it hit another vehicle moving in the same direction but Phoenix was wearing a seat belt and a passerby helped him out of his car. He exchanged information with the other driver in the accident. But no police report was filed. No reports of injuries.

Phoenix won a Golden Globe award for portraying Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line." If he goes to the Oscars, though, he may want to consider a limo.

And another former "Friends" star going back to TV. Matthew Perry on NBC but it's not a comedy, Perry will join a one hour drama written by "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin. The story is set behind of a long-running sketch comedy series. Like a "Saturday Night Live." A drama about a comedy show. The as yet untitled program will cast Perry as a genius comic writer who is forced out of his job as executive producer after a fight with his fictional network called UBS, an homage, perhaps, to the movie "Network."

Sorkin wrote the part with Perry in mind. As for Sorkin, this is his first non political series since "Sports Night." A behind the scenes look at an all sports cable network and its two lovable but complex star anchorman based on Dan Patrick and - what was that guy's name that worked with Dan Patrick?

After the James Frey experience, Oprah Winfrey may have wishing that she had forgot how to read. Let around should have forgotten to form a book club.

We'll try to make up to her by inducting her into the Countdown "Apology Hall of Fame" and we'll piece together how the "Smoking Gun" took "A Million Little Pieces" out of the fire and into the James Freying pan.

That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

The Ford Motor Company, as of next Wednesday only employees that will be able to park in the lot next to its truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, will be the ones driving Fords. Can't imagine how that company got screwed up.

Silver tonight, another, quote, "joke," unquote, from Ann Coulter, told an audience in Philander Smith College in Arkansas last night that, quote, "We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee." Then added, quote, "That's just a joke for you in the media."

OK. Here's another one. I'm not sure Ann Coulter doesn't work for Osama bin Laden. That's just a joke for you in the media.

Speaking of jokes, tonight's winner. Him again. He walked right into another propeller. He's ripped us here on MSNBC on the air for not supposedly covering the case of Judge Edward Cashman of Vermont, the guy who sentenced a serial child rapist there to 60 days in jail initially. Here's the thing, Bill, the Judge Cashman story, we covered it here on Countdown on January 6 of this year. You didn't start covering it until January 9. By the way, in the when does he have his actual nervous breakdown pool, I bought the month of November. Bill O'Reilly, once again, today's "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: As you know, we never waste your time with references to other newscasts or networks, not more than once every 15 minutes or so any way. But we need to note that last night former colleagues of mine in another cable news outfit actually assembled a report called "The Art Of The Apology" placing Oprah Winfrey's mea culpa in the great sorries of all time.

Yes, it was the Countdown "Apology Hall of Fame" without the Countdown part.

Our number one story on the Countdown tonight, the real thing proceeded by the equivalent of the induction speech for Ms. Winfrey and for the still not too apologetic James Frey. How on earth did this book ever get published as nonfiction in the first place? Especially insomuch as it was first submitted as fiction, rejected 17 different times. Doubleday's publisher Nan Talese said on Winfrey's program she read the book and never questioned any of it because she believed the author. Even though as is now quite apparent there were so many unbelievable exploits in there. She said it was legally vetted it was never fact checked which is par for the course in publishing these days.

You can be all righteous and moral in all of that, turns out, simplest thick not to make stuff up is that as smart as you think you are, somebody else out there is probably smarter and may catch you. Somebody like Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of, the online publication that found and detailed the proof of James Frey's fabrications. Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Well, congratulations on this expose. Obviously, if they ever did, nobody fact checks memoirs anymore. I'm assuming you don't do this for every book in comes down the pike. How did you happen to find out that there were problems with this one?

GOLDBERG: We don't want to become the book police at all. Basically

it started very simply. We were just looking for a mug shot, when that

didn't come up, look that started the ball rolling. And we spoke to a

prosecutor. We showed him a few pages from the book where they should have

been. He said, look some of these charges weren't even on the books at the

times you say these probably happened if this book is true. So just for us

· then we decided to read the book closely.

OLBERMANN: Did Frey himself have a lot of evidence that would have helped your investigation along or anyone from a publisher who might have wanted to bother to vet this thing?

GOLDBERG: Well he told - he had said a number of times including to Oprah Winfrey on her show he had 400 pages of documents that he had written this off, including legal records. We asked him to see those records. They didn't exist. All he was willing to offer up to us were people who were going to come forward and vouch for him. But that doesn't really serve much of a purpose to us because if we don't trust you, why should we trust those vouching for you?

OLBERMANN: When you started your investigation, you were threatened with legal repercussions from Mr. Frey and now he has to go on national TV and say, by the way, you guys did a good job. What was the emotion watching that show yesterday for you and the people you work with?

FREY: He threatened a legal action actually after we'd laid out our story to him, just a day or so before we published. We said this is what we've gotten and he came after us with this lawyer's letter threatening millions of dollars. For us, look, we had absolute faith in the story and seeing him say it was a true story, he was the only one questioning us. There was no legitimate outlet out there that said "The Smoking Gun" got it wrong. There was a debate of how relevant that he was that he was the wrong.

So we felt good.

OLBERMANN: He has this other book that's on the best seller list here. "My Friend Leonard." Is anybody checking that?

GOLDBERG: I would say there are probably people out there, maybe some people you're talking to right now who are still looking at the book. You continue looking because you want to end the story and you want to end by solving all your own personal question. Look, I'll tell you, in that book there are dates that don't make sense. He calls himself younger than his girlfriend Lily in that book and then you see her tombstones and - he calls himself younger and suddenly he's older if you look at the dates that he puts in the book and so it doesn't work basic factually.

So there are problems there that should be looked at as well.

OLBERMANN: Oh here we go again. Is anybody else suddenly scrambling to cover their own memoirs do you suppose? Suddenly "fact" is going to be back in in nonfiction?

GOLDBERG: I think the publishing industry may want to look at itself and figure that out. We're not going to become the memoir police. I think we're done reading memoirs after this one.

OLBERMANN: But the impact I'm sure that it's had on your Web site must make it palatable to do this occasionally. Will you have like a book of the month club?

GOLDBERG: We're going to get a stamp which says "Approved by the Smoking Gun" at the end of all of this.

OLBERMANN: Like the "Good Housekeeping" thing or the Oprah thing. In fact, you could get one, couldn't you that would go over the Oprah seal? How about that?

GOLDBERG: Right across like a ribbon or a sash maybe.

OLBERMANN: Is it simply in your opinion that everybody else had gotten away with this before that led him to try to get away with this time?

GOLDBERG: I just get the feeling with him that the ball started rolling. You get publishers involved, you start promoting it. And people are patting you on the back and talking about your story. Then Oprah steps in. And suddenly the dollar signs are there. What are you going do? Back away? That doesn't seem reasonable for most people to do.

OLBERMANN: Maybe now it will. Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of Congratulations again. Great thanks for the effort and thanks for joining us.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Only one other person smelling merely soiled here, never mind clean. Oprah Winfrey herself, the "New York Times" editorial page today saying, quote, "Winfrey gave the audience including us what it was hoping for, a demand to hear the truth."

And her shows hometown paper, "The Chicago Tribune" saying, "You have to hand it to Oprah after digging in her heels to defend a liar. She got up in front of the whole world and said, "I was wrong."

That's right. We're so not used to straightforward apologies in this country that we're gushing over somebody just doing the right thing for a change while getting herself covered in big, fat TV ratings. Then again look at the Countdown hall of fame into which we're inducting Ms. Winfrey tonight and the contrast is extraordinary.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: I feel about "A Million Little Pieces" although some of the facts have been questioned, that the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me. And I know that it resonates with millions of other people.

I regret that phone call. I made a mistake. And I left the impression that the truth does not matter. And I am deeply sorry about that.

JAMES FREY: I - I - I - I wrote it from memory. I .

WINFREY: Let him speak. Please let him speak.


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

And I apologize to people that this has offended.

DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS ANCHOR: It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it also, I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Personally, I didn't think it would have offended anyone.

Aw hell.

If it did, we apologize.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. So, so sorry that the mistakes .

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I apologize to anybody that's been brought into this unnecessarily.

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

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

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife.

KOBE BRYANT, BASKETBALL PLAYER: I'm so sorry. I love my wife so much.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you always hold that view?

LOTT: I think I did.

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

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

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just like my daddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve, Steve. Let me .

IRWIN: Poor little thing. I'm sorry, Max.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGAR, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: Yes, I have been behaved badly sometimes. To those people that I have offended, I want to say that I'm deeply sorry about that and I apologize.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Some of my judgments were wrong and some were wrong. They were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the nation.

JIMMY BAKKER, FORMER TELEVANGELIST: Please forgive me. I have sinned against you, my Lord. And I will ask that your precious blood .


OLBERMANN: By the way, despite all of this, tonight, the "New York Times" bestseller list paperback division nonfiction category is still topped by "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey. That's Countdown. Keep your knees loose. A reminder to join us again at midnight Eastern, 11:00 p.m. Central, 9:00 Pacific for the late edition of Countdown. Until then, a special presentation of MSNBC INVESTIGATES, "Lockup, Inside San Quentin" is next. Do enjoy that.

I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for January 26

Guest: Maureen Dowd, Seth Mnookin, Dana Milbank, Derrick Pitts

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?


JAMES FREY, AUTHOR, "A MILLION LITTLE PIECES": I have, you know, essentially admitted to...


FREY:... that I have been...

WINFREY: To lying.

FREY: To lying.


OLBERMANN: Oprah does a slow burn as James fries. "A Million Little Pieces," one big confession, one even bigger apology.


WINFREY: To everyone who has challenged me on this issue of truth, you are absolutely right. I am deeply sorry about that.


OLBERMANN: As Frey gets book-clubbed, the live telecast preempted in Chicago by an unscheduled presidential news conference.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's domestic calls (INAUDIBLE)...


· it - we will not listen inside this country.


OLBERMANN: The president kind of got lost in that sentence. Why?

Perhaps he's been hypnotized. The saga of the swinging camera.

And when and how to apologize, what it all means. Our special guest, Maureen Dowd.

Perhaps the CIA should eavesdrop on our conversation. The picture on this Wanted poster for one of al Qaeda 's most notorious chemical experts, that's not the guy we want. It's a picture of somebody else.

Maybe the guy we want is on earth's big brother. Astronomers say they've discovered a new planet, the closest thing to our planet yet. And no, James Frey did not do any time there.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

See, this the way to do it, in this time of spinning and insisting spying in America isn't domestic spying because one of the two people on the phone call isn't in America, in this time of spinning and insisting you tested positive for steroids because a teammate gave you tainted vitamins, see, this is the way to do it. This is the way you apologize.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, it's more than just an Oops about a book. Oprah Winfrey apologizes for James Frey's novelized memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," James Frey confesses he lied, and while they are doing this, on television, live, they get preempted in parts of the country by an impromptu news conference from the president of the United States, who again insisted the NSA wiretaps he authorized, but no court authorized, were legal, and seemingly more importantly, were OK because they happened to deal with communications that fit the literal dictionary definition of the word "international."

More on that news conference with our guest, Maureen Dowd, columnist of "The New York Times," in a moment, she herself happening to also be in on this weird nexus of political and literary controversy, Ms. Dowd appearing on today's Oprah Winfrey show, suggesting that Ms. Winfrey's only correct option now is to remove her endorsement, figuratively and literally, from Frey's book.

We'll ask Maureen Dowd about the meanings of both fiction as fact and international as domestic.

First, portions of the Winfrey and Frey comments today, including why, even after the Web site The Smoking Gun produced evidence that Frey had embellished his jail time from a few hours to several months, she still defended him by phoning in to another talk show on which he was appearing.


WINFREY: I regret that phone call. I made a mistake, and I left the impression that the truth does not matter. And I am deeply sorry about that, because that is not what I believe. I called in because I love the message of this book. And at the time, and every day, I was reading e-mail after e-mail from so many people who had been inspired by it. And I have to say that I allowed that to cloud my judgment.

And so to everyone who has challenged me on this issue of truth, you are absolutely right.

I have to say it is difficult for me to talk to you, because I really feel duped. I feel duped. But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers.

FREY: I made a mistake.


OLBERMANN: Subtitle, do not piss off Oprah.

There are two stories here. First, the tabloidy one, the book still atop the "New York Times" list of best-selling paperback nonfiction, endorsed by the broadcaster still atop the country's list of television nonfiction, turns out to be plenty fiction.

Second, the bigger-picture story. How it fits into what humorist Stephen Colbert has defined as "truthiness" in American society.

Joining me now to try to figure out both, Maureen Dowd, columnist of "The New York Times" and author of, among other works, "Are Men Necessary?" and "BushWorld."

Thank you for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Is this the way to apologize for something in public, take a big club, beat up the person you trusted, and then hit yourself in the head a couple of times as well?

DOWD: Well, it was interesting, because I was walking through the "New York Times" newsroom, and I have never seen the "Times" newsroom so riveted. Every single reporter was watching a television set. And it was jut amazing. You know, it made you shiver, because it was the ultimate trip to the principal's office.

And you momentarily felt sorry for Frey until you realized he's still going to be raking in money, because people won't care, they'll still buy the book. But it was fantastic to see Oprah stand up for truth, as opposed to truthiness.

OLBERMANN: But there is the practical or - practical elements to this. Oprah's endorsement is still on the book, the book is still at the top of the nonfiction list of that very newspaper that you mentioned, the one for which you write. What about those things?

DOWD: Well, I think that we should not put books where the author has admitted that some of it is fiction on the nonfiction list. We should have a separate list for those books, maybe spurious nonfiction, spurless (ph) nonfiction, make a new category.

OLBERMANN: And what about Oprah's - I mean, you referred to this in the clips that they showed of you on Oprah's show today. But what exactly does she need to be doing besides making another high-rated television show out of it today?

DOWD: Yes, no, well, I said she should kick his bony, lying, nonfiction butt off of her - off of the Kingdom of Oprah. She should take that endorsement off of the book, of course.

OLBERMANN: And what happens to the two careers here? What happens now to Oprah Winfrey's credibility? What happens to what's left of James Frey's credibility?

DOWD: Well, Oprah Winfrey, who I think probably already had more credibility than the president, her credibility goes up, because unlike the president, she's willing to admit that, you know, she made a mistake, and face up to it. And she's the man (ph).

And Frey will do fine, because I don't think anyone cares, including, you know, his publisher, whether it's truth or fiction.

OLBERMANN: Does this, in fact, matter to us as people, as a society?

And why would it, if it does?

DOWD: Well, that's why, you know, Oprah said she was inspired to do this by the brilliant essay of our brilliant book critic, Michiko Kakutanu, who said this was really important, because it is about whether our society values truth or not.

And I think that, of course, that the government has been undermining truth for five years. So, you know, publishing, journalism, government, they have all been involved in this, you know, lack of respect for truth. So I think it was a big moment and a good moment for that.

OLBERMANN: We're not done with the topic of the book. Seth Mnookin of "Vanity Fair" coming up on the impact of James Frey's deceit on those trying to break addictions.

But Maureen, right now, we want to look at a live televised event today in which nothing close to an apology was even hinted at. So if you would stand by for a second, we'll get your reaction to this.

But let me first give the headline, the president unexpectedly stepping up to the White House press room podium today in day four of the high-intensity push to tamp down the controversy over the warrantless domestic spying, or, as the White House calls it, the international spying, on phone calls and e-mails that either began or finished inside this country.

The program is legal, the president said. It's designed to protect civil liberties, and it's not domestic - not, not, not.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Members of your administration have said that the secret eavesdropping program might have prevented the September 11 attacks. But the people who hijacked the planes on September 11 had been in this country for years, having domestic phone calls and e-mails. So how (INAUDIBLE) can you say that?

BUSH: Well, Michael Hayden said that because he believes that had we had the capacity to listen to the phone calls from those from San Diego, elsewhere, we might have gotten information necessary to prevent the attack. And that's what he was referring to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But they were domestic calls (INAUDIBLE)...

BUSH: No, domestic outside - it - we will not listen inside this country. It is a call from al Qaeda or Qaeda affiliates either from inside the country out, or outside the country in, but not domestically.


OLBERMANN: And we will analyze the president's entire news conference at length later in the hour.

But first, again, Maureen Dowd.

The president will never know that he writes part of my newscast for me every night. But their - but right there, it sounded as if the burden of his version of what the definition of "is" is got to be too much for him today, and he was just ready to punt on that one.

DOWD: Well, it's simply already been proven not to be true. The "Times" did a fantastic story, where they interviewed, you know, FBI agents involved in the case. And already there have been a lot of domestic, domestic calls and innocent Americans swept up.

And, you know, I know a reporter who the FBI showed up at his door, and went in to interview his son, and it turned out that, in connection with his work, he had called Al Jazeera headquarters in Qatar. And he was being swept up. And the FBI didn't even know that the name of the person they were looking for was an official of Al Jazeera.

So you're dealing with the FBI and CIA, who have bumbled so badly in everything in the last six years. We want to give them more unlimited powers? I don't think so.

OLBERMANN: On several occasions in the last few years, this White House has seemingly defied this idea that a lot of societies have been held together by, that no man can hold back the tide. They're going to stand there, they're going to try to do exactly that.

If it doesn't really work, they'll say, Well, yes, it did work, you're wrong. And if you question them about that, they'll get you in a semantical discussion. Is not the whole idea of that - this definition, international versus domestic, is this not by itself a red herring? I mean, you could call it intergalactic spying, and the issue is the legality, not the name, right?

DOWD: Don't give Cheney and Rummy ideas. They're going to be doing intergalactic spying.

It's all a red herring. What this is about, Dick Cheney wants to throw off all of these rules. He wants to go to war without permission, he wants to torture without permission, he wants to snoop without permission, because he and Rummy were Ford officials at a time when presidential power shrank. They felt emasculated. They did not like it. They stewed about it for 30 years.

Now they are trying to do everything they can to expand presidential power. So they're doing exactly what they want to.

OLBERMANN: Who has enabled this? I mean, in a perverse way, is it almost necessary to say that Bill Clinton paved the way for George Bush to conduct a kind of fingers-in-his-ears, shout La-la-la-la-la, presidency?

DOWD: No, they're two entirely different things, because when Bill Clinton would deceive, he would throw in a semantic clue that let you know he was deceiving. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," we knew what he meant by that. You know, I did not - about Doe (ph) - I didn't break the laws of this country.

So it was sort of poignant and endearing. He would let you know he was lying, and then the right wing would come down so hard on him and overpunish him.

And in the case of Bush, he's just in a completely different reality. You know, they call us the reality-based community, and they create their own reality. And so Bush is just in a bubble. And when you're in the bubble, you don't know you're in the bubble.

OLBERMANN: If you would be so kind, wrap this up, tie this story of Mr. Bush's current conundrum with the Oprah Winfrey-James Frey thing. Is there something the president could learn from Ms. Winfrey, or even from James Frey?

DOWD: Well, Tom Skokin (ph) did a brilliant piece in "The New York Observer" where he said when Oprah was clinging to supporting Frey, she was doing it for the reason of emotional truth, that millions of people could be helped by his story of redemption. And Bush, with Iraq, said that we - even if it turned out not to be true, the reasons we went to war, it was right, because millions of Iraqis would be liberated.

But you cannot, you know, do things that start with a lie. And they just lead to trouble down the road.

OLBERMANN: Well, maybe he can get a book out of it. Maureen Dowd, author herself and "New York Times" columnist, great thanks for so much of your time.

DOWD: Thanks a lot, Keith.

OLBERMANN: We've only begun to scratch the surface on both of these stories. Tough questions to the president about the NSA eavesdropping, and why Mr. Bush would be sitting on those Jack Abramoff photos, figuratively speaking, of course. Dana Milbank joins us.

And tough questions also about the impact of the James Frey publishing scandal on those who had been trying to follow his supposed example, to break free of the scourge of addiction, when you're listening to somebody who doesn't know what he's talking about.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: First, he was a recovering drug addict. Now he's recovering from the unnamed syndrome in which a nonfiction writer is not addicted to the facts.

In our fourth story on the Countdown, the headlines may be grabbed by Oprah Winfrey's virtual on-air caning today of James Frey, but the longest-term impact is probably on those who saw in him a role model for their own recoveries from addictions to drugs or alcohol or anything else.

In a moment, the insights of author Seth Mnookin, himself a recovering heroin addict.

First, James Frey's confessional in Chicago this morning.


FREY: I feel like...


FREY:... I came here, and I have been honest with you. I have, you know, essentially admitted to...


FREY:... that I have been...

WINFREY: To lying.

FREY: To lying. And I think that...

WINFREY: Which is not an easy thing to do.

FREY: No, it's not an easy thing to do in front of a audience full of people and a lot of others watching on TV. I mean, if I come out of this experience with anything, it - being a better person and learning from my mistakes and making sure that I don't repeat them.


OLBERMANN: And, of course, keeping the money.

As promised, I'm joined now by author and "Vanity Fair" contributing editor Seth Mnookin, himself a recovering heroin addict who recently wrote a critical essay on Mr. Frey for the online magazine "Slate.

Thanks for your time tonight.

SETH MNOOKIN, "VANITY FAIR": Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: So that's it, no I'm donating 10 percent of my profits to real rehab programs, not even something like, I made up this self-rehab thing, whatever you do, don't try it at home?

MNOOKIN: Yes, I think it would be too much to expect that from James Frey at this point. One of the things I found interesting was, even today, on "Oprah," he was still lying about experiences in his past. According to The Smoking Gun, he actually spent no time in jail. He spent a couple hours in a police station.


MNOOKIN: But he told Oprah, Yes, I only spent several hours in jail, not three months. So he still seems like he has a ways to go.

OLBERMANN: You pointed out in the analysis of the book that you wrote, the excellent piece that you wrote a few weeks ago, that it sent entirely the wrong messages about addiction, that, for instance, you don't need to get treatment, you can do it yourself, it's somehow easy to spot an addict just by looking at them.


OLBERMANN: Do you think the confessional here today will help, to some degree, dispel some of those myths that he perpetuated?

MNOOKIN: I don't know. I was really surprised by the number of people who read the book that seemed to have the response, after this news about the veracity of it started to come out, that it didn't matter, because the central truths still resonated with them. And that was one of my concerns.

I think that the reason that the central truths resonate is because it's a book in which almost every character is a cliche. So it feeds into people's preconceptions about what treatment is like, what a drug addict is like, what those type of people are like. And I'm not sure that James Frey now coming clean and saying it didn't happen is going to change those people's minds.

OLBERMANN: Ironically enough, though, something that happened today, and you just referred to it, might, in fact, be one of these cliches proven true by Mr. Frey's conduct. As a recovering addict yourself, do you buy his contention that those embellishments in writing this process were in part a, as he put it, coping mechanism?

MNOOKIN: It's really hard for me to say. I'm not entirely sure what he would be coping from at that point. He, from everything we know, at age 23, he was sent to one of the most respected and expensive rehab programs in the country, got out, wrote a book, and sold it.

So I'm not entirely sure, when he talks about needing to cope with his problems at that point, I'm not entirely sure what he's talking about. But that could be true. I certainly have no idea what he's going through personally.

When I saw him, it didn't feel to me like someone who was confronting the truth. It felt to me like someone who was running a little bit scared, understandably. But again, I'm not a health professional.

OLBERMANN: Right. About the publisher, Random House rushed out its own apology.


OLBERMANN: It says it's going to put stickers on current editions and notes in further ones. But how much responsibility does the publisher have here? I mean, Frey was offering solutions the way somebody might write a book about their experiences juggling nitroglycerin. Should the publisher not at least have verified something of this story on the public benefit angle, at least?

MNOOKIN: I think they should have. I think undercovered aspect of this story is the degree to which publishers do not feel a responsibility to the truth. I thought Nan Talese said something very telling, and there was this whole exchange where she and Oprah were talking about whether the book had been vetted by lawyers, legally vetted.

I think what Oprah was talking about was some form of fact checking. What Nan Talese of Doubleday day was talking about was making sure that Doubleday couldn't get sued. That's all the publishers care about. They don't have concern for whether the book is actually accurate.

OLBERMANN: Nan Talese vetted it herself, because she had had a root canal in 1957 without anesthesia, so she assumed the rest of it was correct, apparently.

Seth Mnookin, a contributing editor to "Vanity Fair," has been very blunt about his own experiences as they have related here to the James Frey controversy.

Great thanks for joining us tonight.

MNOOKIN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Also, the struggle to get that perfect news photograph is never ending. Up here, Mr. President, just follow it with your eyes, sir. Up here.

And there's nothing exceptional about this image until you realize that this moose only shows up on Wednesdays, because he's figured out that's when they put out the garbage.

Dinnertime, next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Back now, and we pause the Countdown to bring you a serious development. I don't want to alarm anybody, but I'm afraid the sky is falling. How do you know? you ask. Well, because we have videotape. OK, wise guy?

Let's play Oddball.

Let's join today's presidential news conference at the White House, already in progress. Now, pay close attention. Let me know if you see anything that might lead you to believe the NSA spy program is getting a little sloppy.


BUSH: We want to give you some thoughts about what I'm thinking about.

First, I recognize, you know, we live in a momentous time, And for those of you watching, we seem to have a mechanical flaw.


OLBERMANN: Or, perhaps you said the magic word.

(INAUDIBLE) somebody in the White House AV Club did not tighten a clamp that fastened a still camera positioned above the press gallery. You will watch MSNBC. You will watch MSNBC. You will watch...

After a brief giggle, the president stayed the course, continuing the address, while the clamp dangled in front of our NBC cameras. Eventually a disembodied hand, Thing from the Addams Family, perhaps, came and removed the clamp on the camera, which belonged to the Agence France Presse news organization, and the president was able to resume doing whatever it was he was doing up there.

Anchorage, Alaska, sorry, folks, park's closed. Moose out front should have told you. Every Wednesday, this moose shows up in the neighborhood near Hanshoe (ph) Middle School. Why every Wednesday? Because he has taebo on Tuesdays. Actually, because Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day in the north end of Boston, and Angelo Martinier (ph) -


Wednesday is garbage day in Anchorage. First the moose knocks over a few garbage cans, then he digs around trying to find some spaghetti. Locals get a kick out of watching old Marty munching on their junk, as you can see by the many camera angles they've shot here. Local officials say it's not healthy for the animal, not safe for the peoples.

Luckily, Alaska's senator, Ted Stevens, has promised to appropriate taxpayer money for a build, building a bridge for the moose to take to himself even the bigger garbage supplies over there on Gravina Island.

Besides the camera that was left dangling, the president himself left a lot of reporters in a similar situation. The news conference in depth with Dana Milbank.

And an embarrassment for the CIA. One of the most-wanted terrorists, a $5 million bounty on his head, of course, that's not his head in the picture. The CIA had a picture of the wrong guy.

All that ahead.

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

Number three, Rasamee Vistaveth, secretary general of Thailand's consumer protection board, who has warned sellers of the latest teen fashion trend that they can be sent to jail for six months. Girls in Thailand think the coolest thing to wear is actual braces on their teeth, even if they don't need them.

Number two, Stuart Brody, psychologist at the University of Paisley in Scotland. He says his research has found a sure cure for you if you get nervous speaking in public. And what is that cure? Intercourse, high volumes of intercourse for the week preceding your speech.

Number one, Seton Hall University, specifically its office specializing in admissions applications from international students. For at least a year, maybe longer, the number printed in the brochures for the toll-free help line for international applicants was actually off a couple of digits, and it was actually the number of a phone sex line. The good news on this is all of the applicants have been extremely relaxed during their public speaking class.


OLBERMANN: Hard to say when critics of the current presidential administration wore out the treads on the tire of the novel "1984" but frankly the White House could not have created more parallels to that book if they named George Orwell chief of staff.

Our third story on THE Countdown, in his book, propaganda was written at the Ministry of Truth, torture conducted at the Ministry of Love. In the Bush administration emails are scanned and phone conversations audited in order, quote, "to protect civil liberties." That's what the president said today. The domestic spying program front and center at today's news conference. And yes, I called it the domestic spying program. You get your own newscast and you can call it something else.

That story and the Jack Abramoff scandal were the key themes for the questioning why if he does not like the law requiring him to get warrants Mr. Bush doesn't simply work with the Republican-controlled Congress to change that law.


BUSH: But you know I want to make sure that people understand that if

· if - if - if - if the attempt to write law - makes this program - is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it. I mean - and I think the American people understand that. Why tell the enemy what we're doing? If the program is necessary to protect us from the enemy? And it is. And it's legal. And we'll continue to brief Congress and we review it a lot. And we review it not only at the Justice Department but with a good legal staff inside NSA. Yeah?

QUESTION: The FISA Law was implemented in 1978 in part because of revelations that the National Security Agency was spying domestically. With is wrong with that law that you feel you have to circumvent and it as you just admitted expand presidential powers?

BUSH: Well - May I - May I - May I - If I might, you said that I have to circumvent it. There - Wait a minute. That's a - There's something - it's like saying you are breaking the law. I mean, I'm not. That's what you have got to understand. I am upholding my duty and at the same time doing so under the law about the Constitution behind me. That's just important for to you understand. Secondly, the FISA Law was written in 1978.

We're - we're - we're having a discussion in 2000 - and six. It's a different world. And FISA is still an important tool. It's important tool. And we still use that tool. But also - and we - I looked. I said, look, is it possible to conduct this program under the old law? People said, well, it - it - it doesn't work in order to be able to do the job you expect us to do. And so that's why I made the decision I made. You know, circumventing is a loaded word. And I refuse to accept it. Because I believe what I'm doing is legally right.

QUESTION: What do you fear or your staff fear about releasing the photograph with Jack Abramoff with you, Mr. President? You don't fear anything, tell us why you won't release it.

BUSH: You are asking about pictures. I had my picture taken with him evidently. I have had my picture taken with a lot of people. Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that I'm a friend with them or know them very well. I have had my picture taken with you. I'm also mindful we live in a world in which those pictures will be used for political purposes and they are not relevant to the investigation.

QUESTION: How many pictures?

BUSH: I don't have any idea.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you talked about Jack Abramoff in the context of pictures but it may not be about pictures, he also had some meetings with some of your staff. You remember. You ran on the idea of restoring honesty and integrity to the White House. Why are you letting your critics attack and taint you with maybe a guilt by association? Why not throw up your books and say, look here's .

BUSH: There is a serious investigation going on by federal prosecutors. And that's - that's their job. And they will - if - if they believe something was done inappropriately in the White House, they'll come and look and they are welcome to do so. There is a serious investigation that's going on.

QUESTION: Do you want to tell the American people, look, as I promised, this White House isn't for sale and I'm not for sale?

BUSH: Look. I - I - I - It's hard for notice say I didn't have pictures with the guy when I did. But I have also had pictures with thousands and thousands of people. The man contributed to my campaign but he contributed either directly or through his clients to a lot of people in Washington and this needs to be cleared up so people have confidence in the system.


OLBERMANN: Time now to call in the man I have confidence in on all occasions, "Washington Post" national political reporter Dana Milbank. Good evening, Dana.


OLBERMANN: When you were the "White House" correspondent for the "Post," did you ever know how dangerous sitting in that briefing room really was? When there could have been - at any moment something could just appear in front of you and all of it saving you from possible stitches and a concussion was good luck?

MILBANK: I was worried about all the things that might hit me but generally they are things lobbed from the podium, not coming immediately from the ceiling. But I think you could say what happened - it was really 30 seconds into the press conference, a dangling metaphor. The unexpected occurs. It's very much like they have a vote in the Palestinian territories and who knew that terrorist group Hamas wins? That was not expected. It was that sort of day for the president.

OLBERMANN: By the way, whoever was operating that hook failed to grab you by the scruff of the neck and pull you right out of the studio. But on a serious level here, the president certainly did chafe at the use of that word circumvent. The first dictionary definition of the word "circumvent" being to "get around restriction" the second being "outwit somebody." We'll skip the second definition for this time. But is the first one in any real doubt? Did he not get around the restrictions presented by the FISA law?

MILBANK: Well, he said so himself later on in that same answer. He said that the law didn't work in this case so he therefore went in and pursued this matter anyway. It's sort of an interesting question. It's never really been tested. It's never come up before. The president clearly had this sort of power before 1978. It's not clear whether that law in 1978 was constitutional because it was never really challenged so everybody assumed it was the law of the land but he said wait a second I have got another idea.

OLBERMANN: The use of 1978, as you mentioned it, as we heard him say, we all know the White House divides history into before 9/11 and after 9/11. But the law is written in 1978 and the president treated that as if it made it irrelevant. How does that then apply to the Constitution, which, if I am remembering correctly was written in 1787?

MILBANK: I think the better analogy is to the tax code which was last amended in 1986 and I'm going to tell the IRS that that was 20 years ago and I don't think that should apply anymore. But look, he is the president and can say this sort of thing because it hasn't been tested. One of the questioners today, Jim Gerstunzeng (ph) from the "L.A. Times" said this sounds Nixonian in a way. You are saying it's legal because I say it's legal. Presidents can do that in the area of national security because of the commander-in-chief power unless somebody in the Congress challenges it and wins in court.

OLBERMANN: The other main topic today, the president gave an indisputably straight answer on why he's not releasing the photographs with Jack Abramoff because as he said they would be used for pure political purposes. The White House holding on to the photos makes sense but we do know why Mr. Abramoff hearing the president say he never a discussion with him, that he's one of the thousands upon thousands, do we know why Mr. Abramoff has not just taken his own copies of those photos off the wall and made photo copies and just flung them out toward the press corps?

MILBANK: Or sold them for $25 million to pay that settlement. There is one very big reason. It's not because he worried about offending the president or anybody in Congress, but there is a judge there and he has a plea deal and he's going to get significantly less than 30 years they could sentence him too. But the judge has discretion in that so you don't want to do something that runs afoul of the judge and suddenly you made this plea deal and you wind up with 30 years in prison anyway.

OLBERMANN: That would explain it. Dana Milbank of the "Washington Post" who brings his own skyhook with him to these sessions. Great thanks, sir, and thanks once again for playing the game.

MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, in a blunder, you can call it at least that in the war on terror, how did the CIA manage to put the wrong picture on the wanted poster for one of the most wanted of terrorists?

Speaking of blunders, a British politician learns firsthand why it is not a good idea not to do a celebrity reality show. He's in the red. He's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Some days it all starts to make sense. For a year and a half now the U.S. government has been asking for help finding a dangerous al Qaeda operative. Why hadn't the CIA found him? Perhaps because they were using the photo of the wrong man had something to do with it. Our number two story on THE Countdown, are we positive the folks in Langley know what this fellow bin Laden looks like? Senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers has our exclusive details on the mix-up and the mea culpa.


LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A government Web site lists him as one of the most wanted terrorists, Abu Kabab al Masri, allegedly al Qaeda's top expert on chemicals and poisons. A year and a half ago, the U.S. government asked the world to help find Abu Kabab, posting this photo and putting a $5 million bounty on his head.

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC TERRORISM EXPERT: That photo would have been distributed around the world.

MYERS: Last week Pakistani officials said he been killed in a missile attack the photo aired worldwide. Some noticed the picture bore a striking resemblance to this man, Abu Hamsa al Masri, a militant imam now on trial in London. NBC News then found in old television interview with the imam and compared it to the wanted poster. Notice the similarities, the white patch of hair. The fold of the shirt collar and the strip of white over the shoulder.

We shared our findings with the CIA.

(on camera): A CIA spokesman now admits the government has been using a photo of the wrong man for a year and a half. He said due to human error, the wrong photo was posted on the Web site and no one caught it.

CRESSEY: It's embarrassing and it reflects a certain level of sloppiness and lack of attention to detail.

STEEV EMERSON, NBC NEWS TERROR ANALYST: The CIA is supposed to check these things out. Somebody should be looking at a second time and a third time before posting it worldwide.

MYERS (voice-over): Last night the photo on the Web site was replaced with a silhouette. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

OLBERMANN: Why does that term Photoshop suddenly fly through my head? An odd segue, then, into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs," to a politician with a penchant for exhibitionism. George Galloway, controversial 51-year-old member of the British parliament and cast member on the British TV series, "Celebrity Big Brother." He was evicted from the "Big Brother" house by a public vote in the U.K. but not before on-air antics pretending to be a cat and wearing a skin tight body suit, all of it igniting heavy criticism.

Upon leaving the house, Galloway said, quoting, "I represent a different kind of politics." Ya-hah. And he said the public voted him off the show because they wanted him back on his day job - or at least back in less embarrassing pants. Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 for controversial criticism of the war in Iraq but he ran as a Respect Party candidate in 2005 and won.

And to more of a class act, Nicole Kidman will take on a global role for women's rights. The Oscar-winning actress agreeing to become a goodwill ambassador for the UN, specifically its a Development Fund for Women. The focus, to advance women's rights around the world and to end violence against women. The UN has a long history of enlisting support from celebrities. Audrey Hepburn was a UNICEF ambassador in the final years of her life even after she was diagnosed with cancer.

More recently, Angelina Jolie has traveled on behalf of the UN's refugee agency. Kidman said she was honored. As for the bevy of reporters greeting her at the UN, she said compared the Cannes Film Festival, this is a sedate crowd.

Also tonight, the headline read, "Astronomers find Earth's big brother." You might have heard a little something about that, huh? You will. The new planet that looks surprisingly like our planet.

That's ahead but first time for Countdown's nominations for the "Worst Person in the World." The bronze, John Patril (ph) chairman of the Bucks County Federation of Young Republicans, he's objecting to the sign in the front window of the county Democratic headquarters which reads, "We honor our fallen heroes." Mr. Patril bothered by the fact that the Democrats use the sign to update the number of American fatalities in Iraq, he says, quote, "It ignores all the accomplishments we made in Iraq, such as eliminating the torture rooms, we overthrew Saddam Hussein." Next time you read that list, you might want to skip the "eliminating torture" part.

Our silver tonight. To an unnamed flight attendant from Northwest Airlines arrested at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee after screeners discovered something in her carry-on bag, a hand grenade. It was real although it was inactive. She explained bought it at an army surplus store as a present for her son. Well, as long as she had a good reason.

The winner Mr. Bill. His latest triumph, a TV interview with Ms. Georgia Pain, identified as a professional dominatrix. Their topic, the pressing urgent problem of those dominatrices whose clients die on them, so to speak. He explained that the risks of kinky sex made him worried for Ms. Pain, though, quote, "If it were just you discussing whatever you want to discuss, there's no problem." This rings a distant bell. Bill O'Reilly about women just talking dirty with some guy and it would be - Oh, yeah!

Talking dirty. No problem at all. As long as you can pay that surcharge:

$10 million.

Loofah! Bill O'Reilly, today's "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: When we and the 10,000 generations before us have looked up into the night sky, some of us claimed we were wondering how different the places we see must actually be. But it's a good guess that what we're actually looking for is not difference, but similarity. To find a speck of light, a place somewhere out there where others like us might live or have lived.

Our number one story, a place like OGLE-2005-BLG-390-LB. You haven't heard of it? Possibly because astronomers hadn't seen the planet until last August and then it was only a fleeting glimpse. But some call it "Earth's big brother." It's better than calling it Planet Ogle, I suppose.

A ball of rock and ice. So far the closest thing to another earth. Not all that close either in distance or similarity. Five and a half times as big as earth and 28,000 light years from her, 27,999, by the way, if you avoid the heavy traffic around Trenton.

So why is it being hailed as earthlike? Because other planets detected outside ours solar system have been too gaseous like Jupiter or too close to suns to their own suns, too hot like Mercury. Because discovering one of these small rocky planets could mean plenty more are waiting to be found out there.

Joining me to discuss this, the chief astronomer that the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Derrick Pitts. Thanks again for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: Is it really this exciting, is it really the first true evidence of something even remotely similar to Earth?

PITTS: The cool thing about this is that this is one of the exo-solar planets that is small enough to begin to approach the size of something like earth. So we are looking for other planets even smaller. But this is a good step in that direction.

OLBERMANN: Why does discovering planet, let me call it Ogle, for the sake of brevity mean that Earth might have other cousins out there?

PITTS: Well, what it means is when we look for planets orbiting other stars, we typically find them much larger. This one being smaller really leads us in the direction that we could find one about the size of Earth. Now if it's in the right proximity to its parent star, that small enough planet will have the conditions that is could possibly harbor life.

OLBERMANN: The way it was discovered? How the astronomers found it, this also matters in terms of its relevance?

PITTS: It does. Because typically the other larger planets orbiting other stars are found using a method that actually measures the wobble of the star. The smaller planets that might be associated with that star are much harder to see. This particular way of doing it called gravitational micro-lensing uses an intervening object, something between the earth and the actual target. The gravity of which can bend the light from that more distant object and make it possible for us to see these smaller planets.

OLBERMANN: The really layman stupid question here. What thought up the cool name? Was there a contest?

PITTS: I don't know, but I would like to get my hands around their neck whoever did because it's a mouthful for everybody.

OLBERMANN: All right. Can we try something else like Earth Jr. Or .

PITTS: Sure. That sounds fine.

OLBERMANN: Call it Planet Derrick. I'm good with that. How about you?

PITTS: I'm fine with that. Sounds great to me.

OLBERMANN: What happens now seriously next. Did we just improve the odds of finding anything even more similar to earth?

PITTS: What we did was we did is improved our techniques for being able to find the planets of the right size. And that's the real big key here, Keith, is this new technique. This particular method of doing this, I should actually say that the technique is not new. It can be done using galaxies to see more distant galaxies.

But this particular application of using it to find small planets is really what's important and we can continue to use this in the future to find these smaller planets that we hope will be more earth-like.

OLBERMANN: That leads us to the concluding big question. Did the odds change on the biggest of the big questions? Is it likelier today than it was a year ago that there is human-style life out there somewhere?

PITTS: Ordinarily I would say I'm a betting guy and I will take the bet. But in this case the mitigating factor is that the universe is so enormous. There so many objects out there. We could say in some sense it has increased that, but not a tremendous amount because of the scale, the distance, and the size and the numbers. All those things. We still have a long way to go.

OLBERMANN: Do we know, has the author James Frey ever been there? I guess that wouldn't be your area of expertise.

PITTS: I'm out of the ballpark on that.

OLBERMANN: But it is exciting and that would be the final conclusion on this.

PITTS: It is exciting to use this technique and as we continue, who knows. One day we will find somebody out there that will be waving back at us.

OLBERMANN: And they probably will have cable. Derek Pitts, the chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute, great thanks for your time again, sir.

PITTS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby, LIVE & DIRECT. Good evening, Rita.