Thursday, January 12, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 12th

Guests: Dana Milbank, Thom Geier, Mo Rocca

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

The Alito confirmation hearings continue, without the confirmation, and now, without the Alito.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIR, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You've been questioned for 18 hours, the number of questions approximating some 700.


OLBERMANN: But how many of those did he answer?



It is not my practice to just express an opinion...

I think it would be irresponsible for me to say...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Answer my question! The question, jerk!


OLBERMANN: Analysis without the jerk part.

Topic of the day, New Orleans. The city gets the president back for a day, and maybe of more importance, it looks like it will get its football team back for good.

Will author James Frey get his reputation back? Accused of broadly embellishing his heart-rending memoirs, he issues a nondenial-denial, his publisher issues a nonretraction-retraction, and endorser Oprah Winfrey issues a nonapology-apology.

And speaking of book controversies, a kids' book now by Senator Ted Kennedy. Senator Ted Kennedy and his dog. Senator Ted Kennedy and his dog, Splash. Senator Ted Kennedy and his dog Splash, the Portuguese water dog. No, no, I'm just not seeing any jokes here. No, no jokes. No, no Chappaquiddick jokes, none, none. None.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

It is one of the headlines of the hearings. Senator Arlen Specter today complimenting Judge Samuel Alito on his patience for having survived what the senator calculated as 700 questions during 18 hours on the witness stand.

Hang on. Eighteen hours times 60 minutes is 1,080 minutes. One thousand and eighty minutes divided by 700 questions is approximately one minute and 32 seconds per question, plus answer.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, given all that the nominee didn't say, 92 seconds per answer is theoretically possible. But given all that the senators did say, something would seem to be wrong with Senator Specter's calculator.


SEN. TED KENNEDY (D-MA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Frankly, it'd be more comforting if Judge Alito gave individuals the same benefit of the doubt in his courtroom that he's asking from this committee, on Vanguard, CAP, the unitary executive, and women's privacy.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), JUDICIARY Committee: Bringing up Vanguard or the Princeton matter goes beyond the pale at this point.

So I think it's just wrong to keep bringing these phony issues up. And you have to ask them, well, why are they doing it? Because they're so phony.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Unfortunately, by refusing to confront our questions directly, and by giving us responses that really don't illuminate how you really think, as opposed to real answers, many of us have no choice but to conclude that you still embrace those views.

The evidence before us makes it very hard to vote yes on your nomination.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: They predicted you would serve on the Supreme Court one day, and I think that's going to turn out to be a good prediction.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: All of us agree the president's not above the law, anymore than you are or I am. But it takes more than that, especially if we're giving the president the power to unilaterally to redefine the law, an issue that's going to eventually come before you.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Number one, to make a point that I hope would put a lot of my colleagues who have raised questions about some theory you might have about this or that, that whatever political science theory you might have about the executive branch of government, I don't worry about that.

And I would hope my colleagues wouldn't worry about that, because you could have 100 theories, and they could be all crazy.


OLBERMANN: There is your 700 hours right there, all senators.

The spectacle on Capitol Hill this week raising the question, is this any way to go about picking a justice for the highest court in the land?

One member of that Judiciary Committee weighing in with a definitive no, Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware, the man in the baseball cap, suggesting on the "TODAY" show this morning that if nominees are not going to be forthcoming, the senators' time might be better served debating the nomination amongst themselves.

While we really would not want to watch that either, we concede it would be a lot less frustrating than hearing a lot of this.


ALITO: I have not studied these authorities, and it is not my practice to just express an opinion on a constitutional question.

That's not a question that I've given any thought to before this minute, Senator, so I don't know that I could answer it.

I couldn't begin to say how I would decide any of these issues...

I don't recall making a promise that I would reach a definitive conclusion...

SCHUMER: I didn't - no, I asked you...

ALITO:... on the issue (INAUDIBLE)...

SCHUMER:... to think about it, you said you would. That's it.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), JUDICIARY Committee: Which school of thought do you fall into?

ALITO: Different issues are presented in different factual situations.

BIDEN: That's why I didn't give you a specific issue.

ALITO: And there's this debate, and it has not - it's not something...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you taken part in that debate?

ALITO: Pardon me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you taken a position in that debate?

ALITO: I have not taken part in that, and I've read...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like to?

ALITO: Not at this time.


OLBERMANN: "Washington Post" national political correspondent Dana Milbank, sitting through most if not all of Judge Alito's testimony this week, although we don't know if we can get him to confirm that, doubtless, though, getting combat pay for it if he did.

Good evening, Dana.


Keith, it is not my practice to respond to your questions.

OLBERMANN: Oh, good. It's - as a senator, I'll ask them anyway.

Firstly, did anybody else blanch at Arlen Specter and the 700 questions in 18 hours number? I mean, that would be 39 questions per hour. If they were that brief and that thorough, wouldn't Alito be getting a unanimous confirmation and all the senators be getting pay raises?

MILBANK: Well, we can't say he answered all these questions. He responded to the questions, in that he opened his mouth and said something back. And as you point out, about two-thirds of all those hours were occupied by the senators themselves talking, you know, Joe Biden talking about his Grandfather Finnegan, about his son's application to Princeton, about Dianne Feinstein's eyewear, and he apparently disapproves of that.

We didn't learn a great deal of anything from this. And I think there is an argument to be made that we need a lot less of this. The man had 15 years of opinions. Just put the opinions on the table and debate it. Instead, we have Arlen Specter talking about how we saw Ted Kennedy in the Senate gymnasium. Now, does the nation need to picture Ted Kennedy in the Senate gymnasium?


Is there, though, some impetus to address that problem? Is there any suggestion that perhaps these hearings will be, next time around, if that's 30 years from now or 30 days from now, that they'll take some other form? Or maybe, I don't know, maybe take the camera out of the room so the senators don't have any reason to go on these spiels?

MILBANK: You might as well take the oxygen out of the room. The senators need them there.

This is how it was done. The nomination was sent up, the nominee did not appear until sometime in this - in the last century. There is no reason why they couldn't go back to that, except the senators want the airtime.

OLBERMANN: Any sign yet of what the Democrats plan to do next? I mean, what we might, unfortunately, from a political point of view, describe as the interesting part? Could we be looking at the F-word here, in this case, of course, being filibuster?

MILBANK: Well, it seems clear that the Democrats have lined up against him pretty much unanimously on the committee. It also seems clear that Specter is joining the other Republicans.

Going ahead with a filibuster would really be not a very useful exercise at this point, because the Republicans have promised to squash it with the nuclear option. And the Democrats don't really want to get out there and - this is not necessarily a winning issue for them. And basically, all the other issues right now are.

OLBERMANN: But obviously, (INAUDIBLE) the banner headline on the front page of your paper today read, "Alito Leaves Door Open to Reversing Roe." That is a major concern for the Democrats and their constituents. Don't they have to do seemingly do something about it between now at the confirmation, to at least suggest to their constituency that they put up a fight?

MILBANK: They have to seem to do something. I mean, look, we are going to be talking about Justice Alito unless something, you know, the extraordinary circumstances come out. If we find out, yes, in fact, he is a polygamist, or, yes, in fact, he has appeared multiple times on Countdown, something really devastating, that could certainly change the picture.

But really, the Democrats made the noise, they need to vote against him, and then let him move on, and let's all start talking about Abramoff again.

OLBERMANN: No, that's Karl Rove's attorney who has appeared multiple times on Countdown.

If the Democrats decide not to touch that live wire of abortion, and say instead, We do not know enough about this guy to make him a judge, does that work politically for what they need to do?

MILBANK: Well, they have laid out all the predicates for opposing him, that's on abortion, that's on executive power, that's on the conservative group he belonged to at Princeton, that's on not recusing himself on cases involving the Vanguard mutual funds.

They have all the excuses or reasons they need to satisfy people to vote against him. But so basically all that means is, we need to go through another round of debate in the Senate to actually let that occur.

All the body language from the senators and what their staffs are saying is, they can't wait for this to be over with.

OLBERMANN: Indeed. Well, "Washington Post" national political correspondent Dana Milbank, who just answered 7,000 questions in his 180 hours of appearance here on Countdown tonight. As always, sir, great thanks.

MILBANK: Good night.

OLBERMANN: If all that we have not heard from Sam Alito this week leaves us with an incomplete understanding of the judge, imagine the impact of all that President Bush did not see during his tour of New Orleans today.

The president's route took him to the Garden District, one of the tonier areas of the city, one that was not flooded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. No surprise, then, that Mr. Bush now thinks New Orleans looks a whole lot better than it did the last time he visited in October.

A recovery reality check tonight from our White House correspondent David Gregory, traveling with the president to the Gulf Coast.


DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mr. Bush came to New Orleans determined to avoid the growing debate over how to rebuild this storm-ravaged city. During a meeting with the mayor and small business leaders, the president was upbeat, insisting New Orleans has made dramatic progress.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It may be hard for you to see, but, you know, when I first came here to today, New Orleans (INAUDIBLE) it reminded me of the city I used to come to visit.

GREGORY: But the president's tour of the city today was limited, motorcade passing through areas largely spared by Katrina. And Mr. Bush's peppy invitation to tourists...

BUSH: It's a heck of a place to bring your family. It's a great place to find some of the greatest food in the world and some wonderful fun.

GREGORY:... seemed rosier than reality, in a city still unable to deliver basic services, and whose airport is running at less than half its capacity.

Throughout the city, reaction is still raw to yesterday's proposal that could limit how much of the city would be rebuilt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not happening.

GREGORY: Areas shaded in yellow on this map are the hardest hit by Katrina, now subject to a building moratorium. Neighborhoods in green could become parks or other open space.

Many have begun to wonder whether the costly reality of recovery will match the president's lofty promises four months ago.

BUSH: There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again.

GREGORY: Touring coastal Mississippi later in the day, Mr. Bush highlighted the federal government's commitment to the region, $85 billion in aid. The president urged those in areas flattened by the storm to persevere.

BUSH: There's going to be a building boom down here. There just is.

It's going to be an exciting time for people.

GREGORY (on camera): But throughout the storm zone, the big question is, will residents return home? Here in hard-hit Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, whole neighborhoods are still littered with debris, and 30 percent of the people in this small town of 8,200 are still gone.

(voice-over): Four months after Katrina, with recovery still a long way off.

David Gregory, NBC News, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.


OLBERMANN: The president may have sped straight past most of New Orleans, but what is more doubtless much more important to many more of the area's residents, the New Orleans Saints are marching back into the city. Football team turned by Katrina into nomads who had wandered from their Superdome home to Baton Rouge and San Antonio was rumored to be moving out permanently. The franchise had been shaky long before the hurricane hit the stadium.

Instead, National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and owner Tom Benson (ph) say not only will the Saints be returning to New Orleans long term, but they really think they'll have the Superdome repaired and ready to go for the home opener, the middle of this September. That would be just a year and a few weeks after the cataclysm, and just about as long after many experts believe the stadium might have to be razed.

Also tonight, all the buzzwords are there, nuclear weapons, international concern, U.N. Security Council. The buildup now to some sort of reaction to Iran's nuclear program.

And Oprah's program, her reaction to James Frey's admission that he exaggerated his memoirs. She is standing by her author, sort of. Is that sigh of relief in the publishing world a little bit of premature jocularity?

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Just what we would do about Iran, what with most of our troop strength still committed to Iraq and Afghanistan till further notice, is unclear.

But in our fourth story on the Countdown, we may be faced with doing something, military or otherwise, in the near future. The new president of that nation has not only repeatedly called for erasing Israel from the map, but now, as Andrea Mitchell reports for us from the State Department, he has shaken the international community anew by throwing the nuclear power switch back on into the On position.


ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iranian exile groups in Berlin today, protesting Tehran's decision to defy the U.N. AND resume nuclear research, as diplomats from Europe and the U.S. called for the U.N. to punish Tehran.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I would hope that now seeing the very powerful reaction of the international community, that Iran would take a step back and look at the isolation that it is about to experience.

MITCHELL: (INAUDIBLE), Iran is now on a path that U.S. intelligence experts say could yield a bomb in five years. The U.S. COULD push for U.N. sanctions on Iran's biggest export, oil, but American consumers would pay a heavy price.

Iran produces 5 percent of the world's oil, and even the talk of sanctions today pushed prices up to $65 a barrel, up 11 cents.

JAMAL QUERESHI, OIL ANALYST: Realistically, Iran is in a very powerful position to dictate how it wants things to go.

MITCHELL: But China depends on Iranian oil and might try to block sanctions. And even though Iran is the second member of George Bush's famed axis of evil, with the U.S. tied down in Iraq, officials say there is no military option, forcing the U.S. to rely on the U.N., a big change for the president.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No one could imagine that a president would trump this up as an artificial crisis, but it does give him an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the world.

MITCHELL(on camera): Tonight, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan talked to Iran's nuclear negotiator and is searching for a way to avoid a confrontation.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, at the State Department.


OLBERMANN: No avoiding this domestic confrontation. Why you should never, ever try to hold up the same convenience store more than, say, four times.

And possible blockbuster exclusive video, which we hope to be bringing to you before this news hour is over. You've heard the story already, Lindsay Lohan and Kate Moss meeting at a strip club in New York and gathering around the nearest strippers' pole. We are awaiting the exclusive video feed. We hope to have it for you ahead here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: We're back. And as part of our continuing effort to make a difference in the community, we set aside one segment a night as a public service to cover the weird news and goofy video that's important to you, the viewer.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin at the Exxon station in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where this guy is accused of having robbed the place four times in the last month. His fifth attempt did not work out so well. Mr. Leonardo Vergas (ph) brought a knife to a bat fight, and store clerk Kuldit Singh (ph) had clearly had enough of being stuck up, so he grabbed q wooden Louisville Slugger, and he hit the thief real hard.

Thank you, come again. Thank you, come again.

Singh hit Vergas multiple times before the robber escaped and fled the scene. He was later picked up by police nursing a couple of bumps on his head and admitting the attempted robbery, which was a good thing, considering that the Louisville Slugger logo was imprinted backwards upside his head.

The clerk, meanwhile, just signed a three-year contract as an outfielder with the Baltimore Orioles.

To Amsterdam, new home of the world's largest Champagne cascade pyramid thing. There's this man Gertiane Stolk (ph) and a team of students spent three solid days stacking the more than 30,000 glasses, to set the record that only poured in about half a bottle of champagne.

What's up with that, cheapies? I'm beginning to think this may have had less to do with building something beautiful and more to do about one guy's beautiful power trip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We break the records or (INAUDIBLE). We break the record of new clothes in Holland. We have got the new "Guinness Book of Records," standing. We have got all the people over here who are witness this record. I'm very, very, very glad, very glad. Thank you.


OLBERMANN: Not a loser at all, that guy.

Finally, to Taiwan, where researchers have announced that they have successful bred three fluorescent pigs. Why? Don't ask silly questions, they're scientists, damn it. It's a stem-cell kind of thing. They're putting lipstick on pigs, literally.

And the docs say there are other fluorescent pigs out there, but these pigs glow all the way through, even their hearts and organs are fluorescent. Now all that's left to do are the green eggs.

But personally, I would not eat that in a boat, and I would not eat that with a goat.

If James Frey's book is still nonfiction, can the same be said for Dr. Seuss? Frey says he never claimed it was all true. Oprah Winfrey stands by Frey. This one has "ongoing mess" written all over it.

Speaking of writing books, Ted Kennedy and his dog are writing a book. The dog has a really unfortunate name. The idea, we'll have the analysis of the political pet expert, Mo Rocca.

That's all ahead.

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

Number three, Jonathan Sharkey, who will launch his campaign Friday as an independent candidate for governor of Minnesota. He says he's a vampire, and his platform consists of impaling terrorists. Laugh or cringe all you want, but Minnesota did elect Jesse Ventura to that job.

Number two, John Howard of Corham, Long Island, New York. He's under arrest accusing of - accused of robbing a post office after passersby noticed this large bulge up his sleeve. That's where he'd stashed $10,000 in cash. Bullwinkle lives. Look at me, officer. Nothing up the sleeve.

And number one, Jane Anne Pilley, incarcerated at London's Holloway prison, but soon to be relocated after her sex change. Jane Anne Pilley will become John Pilley, which will not be that strange, except for the fact that she's already undergone a sex change. Seven years ago, Jane Anne was John. That's right. He got a sex change from man to woman, and is now going back to man.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!


OLBERMANN: Many times before great moving works of nonfiction have turned out to be non-nonfiction. A heartbreaking book from the '90s, "The Wisdom of a Teenage Boy Dying of AIDS" turned out to be the work of an insurance scammer. And as our third story suggests, in few other industries except maybe big time art dealing are such controversies and outright frauds more universally protected than in the publishing world. Consider the accusations against James Frey and his memoir, "A Million Little Pieces." Researchers at the Web site "The Smoking Gun" have found wide disparities between Frey's stories and police versions of them.

He has himself in jail for three months in a case that could have gotten him three years and they have him in a police station holding pen for five hours. Now has come Mr. Frey's response and his publisher's and his endorser's, Oprah Winfrey's. As you watch Lester Holt's report on them, if you hear a clear denials or outrages on the one hand or acknowledgements or apologies on the other, send me a telegram.


JAMES FREY, AUTHOR: This is my recollection of my life. A lot of the events I was writing about took place between 15 and 25 years ago. A lot of the events took place while I was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. I still stand by my book.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Embattled author James Frey didn't exactly come out swinging in his first public defense of "A Million Little Pieces.

FREY: I don't think it's necessarily appropriate to say I've conned anyone.

HOLT: Speaking to Larry King, Frey went out of his way to call his gritty best-seller a memoir, neither fact nor fiction.

FREY: It's a memoir, an imperfect animal. Memoir, the word literally means my story. A memoir is a subjective retelling of event.

HOLT: Frey now claims he's always admitted that he embellished some things in his book.

FREY: I've acknowledged that there were embellishments in the book, that I've changed things, that in certain cases things are were toned up, and in certain cases things were toned down.

HOLT: But back in 2003 Frey insisted everything in the book was accurate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you take any poetic license with some of the stories of what happened to you in that clinic?

FREY: No I cut out all the boring stuff. But I didn't invent anything. Everything I wrote about happened.

HOLT: Frey's book made Oprah Winfrey's book club last year, leading to a 15 week run atop the "New York Times" bestseller list, outselling every other book in 2005 except Harry Potter. Frey's publisher Random House is standing beside its author, releasing a statement that reads in part, "Recent accusations against him notwithstanding, the power of the overall reading experience is such that the book remains a deeply inspiring and redemptive story for millions of readers."

A point Winfrey echoed who she called in Wednesday night for her first comments on the controversy.

WINFREY: Although some of the facts have been questioned. The underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me and I know it resonates with millions of other people.

HOLT: As for Frey, he says the latest experience has changed his writing forever.

FREY: I'll absolutely never write about myself again.


OLBERMANN: It doesn't necessarily mean he wrote about himself before.

Lester Holt with that report.

Now let's turn to Thom Geier, senior editor of "Entertainment Weekly" magazine. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: All those reactions, especially Oprah Winfrey, made me think of the great line from the great Alec Guinness TV miniseries, "Tinker Tailor" in which he asks a colleague, "Ever bought a fake picture? The more you pay for it the less inclined you are to doubt its authenticity?"

GEIER: Well, it's true that this is a phenomenon that has exploded for them, but it's worth bearing in mind that exactly 30 years ago, in 1976 there were two huge books published, both as non-fiction books, that turned out to be less than that, Alex Haley's "Roots," and Forrest Carter's "The Education of Little Tree." And both are considered classics and taught in school today.

OLBERMANN: Not necessarily in history class.

GEIER: Not necessarily history class. That is true.

OLBERMANN: One of Winfrey's comments to Larry King quoting, "Whether or not the wheels rolled up on the sidewalk or whether he hit the police officer or didn't hit the police officer is irrelevant to me."

But it's not as detail oriented is that, is it? It's about turning a few hours in a police station into three months in jail, or a casual acquaintance into a dear friend whose death who was his fault. Is Oprah Winfrey actually so invested in this book or in this book's relevancy to her reputation that she has to keep up at least a semi stone wall? And what does she do if this investigation continues and the picture continues to look worse?

GEIER: I think no one is arguing that the central story of this book, the story of his treatment for drug and alcohol addiction actually happened. And that is the main thrust of the story. But James Frey seems to be suffering from what a lot of young male writers suffer from, which is how much more of a sort of badass macho guy can I be? Therefore, if my few dalliances with the law can be inflated into this huge criminal history, that will make me look tougher. And I think that's what he's fallen into in this case.

OLBERMANN: Obviously, for Mr. Frey's point of view, it's not just a question of pride here. There are economic issues still in play, right? What is the situation relative to a movie version of this? Is it going to be affected by it in either eventuality here?

GEIER: Well, James Frey has apparently written the first draft of a screenplay for "A Million Little Pieces." It's for Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B, and the film is still in development. There's no director attached, there's no star attached, and the truth is Hollywood has an easier time of conflating the truth and telling these stories and putting the disclaimer right up front and saying based on or inspired by a true story. So we've seen, you know, multiple lives of Ray Charles who disappear in the movie "Ray" and we see Cole Porter becoming straight in the first biopic of his life - Hollywood has a long tradition of this sort of thing.

OLBERMANN: And to that point, less about Hollywood and more about publishing, the story I told at the start of the segment about the dying boy author who wasn't. A marvelous example about the terms of how fiction or nonfiction are really just marketing divisions in publishing. HBO was buying the rights to the book to make the film but nobody at HBO had met the boy. They just relied on the book editor. The book editor had never met the boy because the boy was too sick to see anybody and get any germs. But the book editor was convinced the story was true, because he met the boy's godfather. Then it turned out the boy's godfather had never actually met the boy. And there are still people 10, 15 year later who still think this story is still true. Except sometimes in publishing history there is not vetting in publishing, is there?

GEIER: There's not the same vetting that you have in journalism. The standard for publisher seems to be will we be sued? Is it libelous and not necessarily, is it true. It's incumbent upon the author or historian to check and make sure the facts are right. Usually publishing houses don't have the teams of fact checkers that some newspapers and magazines do.

OLBERMANN: We'll see how the public responds to the continuing fact checking after the fact of "A Million Little Pieces." Tom Geier, senior editor of "Entertainment Weekly," great thanks for your time tonight.

GEIER: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, one company's efforts to help its entire workforce to kick the habit or get a new job. And Lindsay Lohan and Kate Moss reportedly jumping on stage to perform at a New York strip club. We're just getting in - we will have exclusivity video of this edition of dancing with the stars. Those stories ahead. First, here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PA: Judge Becker, thank you for your service to the United States in so many capacities. I don't intend to bang the gavel on any of the judges, and not because you're judges, but because my gavel is almost broken.

CONAN O'BRIEN, TALK SHOW HOST: "People" magazine - they are on the cutting edge. "People" magazine is reporting that Angelina Jolie is pregnant. Jolie's doctor says it's the first time he's ever seen lips on an ultrasound.


Especially on top of my son.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Alice Snyder is talking about a bizarre incident that happened on her Nokesville farm. On Saturday morning a plane flew over her property and her son Raymond came running into the house covered with what looked like mud. He was scared.

SNYDER: He said it came down on him, and he was from head to toe covered in whatever it was - whatever it is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A representative from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality came to collect samples.

SNYDER: It's a brown substance. You can see that - It looks like poop.


OLBERMANN: Another installment in our antismoking series "I Quit" came close last night. Wanted a smoke. The cigar store was closed. Sometimes it's just better to be lucky than good.

Or as suggested by our number two story, better to work for a hard ass employer, something of an irony that says the most prominent company will fire you for smoking is in the business of making non-smokable plants flourish. Scott's Miracle Grow. From our sister network CNBC, here's our correspondent, Diana Olick.


DIANA OLICK, CNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the smoke free campus of Scott's Miracle Grow, the wellness center is parked with a lunchtime crowd.

JAMES HAGEDORN, SCOTT'S MIRACLE GROW CEO: We're trying to improve the wellness of our associates.

OLICK: With a $5 million gym, free health screening, counseling and a promise to most of its 5,300 employees, you smoke and you're fired.

HAGEDORN: We give them a year heads up, in a state where we have a choice, which is about 60 percent of our people, we'll he a give them pharmaceuticals, we'll give them counseling - whatever they need, we'll give them. And there's no expense on what we'll do to get people to quit.

OLICK: One third of Scott's employees admits to smoking. That's higher than the national average, which is one in four. Firing workers who smoke is illegal in 30 states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds insane that somebody could be fired or not hired because they smoke.

OLICK: But Ohio isn't one of them. Skyrocketing healthcare costs and some cold hard facts pushed execs at Scott's to the extreme. Nationwide, annual health care expenditures caused by smoking-related disease are at least $75 billion. Lost productivity, $82 billion a year. Add it up and smoking costs the nation over $150 billion a year.

LEWIS MALTBY, NATIONAL WORKERS RIGHTS INSTITUTE: You can't help to sympathize with the employer, but allowing employers to take over people's private lives to improve the bottom line is just not legitimate.

OLICK (on camera): So what about states where this policy is illegal, like New Hampshire? Well, one manufacture there, Kimball Physics, says if you even smell like smoke, you can't come in the building. In other words, these ladies couldn't go back to work.

(voice-over): Some companies such as General Mills are charging smokers more for health care and one medical benefits company itself is even going after smoker's spouses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what's going to be next, people that overeat?

OLICK: Perhaps, because as corporate America chokes on the cost of health care, where there's smoke, there will be firings.

Diana Olick, CNBC, Washington.


OLBERMANN: For more tips on how you can kick the habit and keep your job at the same time, go to our Web site at and click on the "I Quit" icon.

It's here. From not smoking to smokin', our segue into the news of celebrity entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs," troubled actress/models Lindsay Lohan and Kate Moss reportedly going into a New York City strip joint Tuesday night, accepting lap dances from the professional women in the place and then reportedly jumping onstage and dancing, ultimately, according to a purported witness, swinging on the pole with their arms around each other's waists, kissing each other, caressing each other.

It's the "New York Post" with the bombshell story but we can top it. Countdown has obtained the exclusive video of Ms. Lohan and Ms. Moss at the Scores strip club, getting lap dances, bumping and grinding and making out. Here it is.

Sorry. It was just too easy. And credit where credit is due. "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," they did that joke a couple months ago after that Carolina Panthers cheerleader story.

Anyway, the rest of the saga here, Lohan and Moss along with a few other female friends headed straight for the champagne room, where before the dancing they were allegedly the recipients of several cocktails. Lohan's latest movie is still called, "Herbie, Fully Loaded." Evidently, he's not the only one. From one odd pairing to another, it seems the rapper M&M and the former Mrs. are getting hitched again. A representative for the hip hop artist picking up a marriage license this afternoon from the clerk's office in McColm County (ph), Michigan just north of Detroit.

Kim Mathers was the subject of her once and future husband's 2000 hit "Kim" in which he rapid about killing her. Months after its release, Mrs. Mathers tried to commit suicide and was charged with felony cocaine possession in 2001, again in 2003. We are waiting for her comment about hubby, to the affect of you don't know him like I know him. I can change him.

More strange matches. Ted Kennedy and his dog writing a political book for kids. Unfortunately, there are some impossible to avoid jokes. Because of the dog's name. We will make them and get the inside scoop from presidential and political pet expert Mo Rocca.

First, time for Countdown's list of nominees for worst person in the world. The bronze, Tracy L. Mayfield (ph) of Jackson, Missouri. Police went to her house because her dog was making too much noise. They say she threatened them with a knife and stun gun. Then she started taking off her clothes. And finally, naked, she threatened them with a sex toy, naked. They found pipes for crystal meth and pot, also Klonopin and Librax. And the walls of the house were melting.

The night's runner-up, Kathleen Rice, the newly elected district attorney of Nassau County, New York. She has hired as her executive assistant at a salary of $95,000 a year a woman named Cheryl Rice. They happen to be sisters-in-law. Well, so? Kathleen Rice's campaign platform had been merit-based hiring. Whoops.

But the winners tonight, Jamie Chumas (ph) of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and the unidentified contractors who refinished the drywall in a room in her house earlier this month. None of them, none of them apparently had the common sense to remove Ms. Chumas' cat from the house before they began work. Several days after the wall was closed up, Ms. Chumas began to hear faint mewing sounds from the construction area. They finally punched a hole in the new drywall and her cat Mary Poppins came staggering out from where she had been trapped for five days.

Jamie Chumas and her drywall friends, today's worst persons in the world.


OLBERMANN: In these vexed and turbulent times a political book seems to emerge from some press or another every 13.7 seconds. Only rarely is one of them not dedicated to telling the expected audience exactly what it wants to hear thus only rarely is one of them worth your attention like tonight in the number one story on the Countdown which will merit the presidential pet expert and historian Mo Rocca.

Senator Ted Kennedy will author a kids book to be released by Scholastic Press in May ostensibly co-authored with his pet dog. The premise? Explaining to young readers how a senator spends his day - just stop with the jokes for a second - and also how the government works. Wait, the government works? This dog's tale will be entitled "My Senator and Me a Dog's Eye View of Washington, DC."

Stand. Stand. Stand. Very good, senator. One small problem here, when he received him as a gift, Senator Kennedy's dog was already named and Champion Amigo's Seventh Wave nicknamed Splash. And Splash's breed is Portuguese water dog. Why not just take out a big ad in the cover of "Newsweek" reading "If any of you forgot about Chappaquiddick, here is a trunk full of cheap jokes about it."

We would never accuse our next guest expert of cheap jokes. Mo Rocca is not only one of the nation's few television personalities. He is also an authority of presidents and the pets. Author of the book "All the Presidents' Pets." good evening, Mo.


OLBERMANN: Wouldn't you think someone would say to the senator that let's pretend Splash's name is good driver and he's not a Portuguese water dog? He's a golden retriever.

ROCCA: Of all the scandals associated with Senator Kennedy, this dog's name brings up the worst. Chappaquiddick. Kennedy would have been better off naming the dog sangria or William Kennedy Smith even. The breed is a problem too. Why not a collie or pit bull. Even one of the froofie French Bichon Frises. Anything that doesn't make you immediately think of July 18th, 1969.

OLBERMANN: The term retriever would have really worked out. How many dogs wrote political books not including Bill O'Reilly and Anne Coulter.

ROCCA: There have been many. Barbara Bush's Springer spaniel Millie, of course, wrote a best seller. And it was released, sort of a collection of observations about dogs outside the White House. There was one really wonderful passage I just want to quickly read here.

She writes about how, quote, "Things worked out very well for Old Yeller. He would have been run over eventually so being bitten by a rabid wolf and then shot by its owner was really very lucky." End quote. That's one of my favorite passages in the book.

OLBERMANN: Then he got relocated to the Astrodome.

ROCCA: Exactly right. James Buchanan's Newfie Laura wrote how difficult it was living with an owner that didn't pay attention to her. Things to remember here is that the subjects of these books didn't actually write the book.


ROCCA: Of course not. Splash's book is going to be written by Ted Sorenson's Yorkie, Bud. It's expected, though, that Splash will sit for an interview with Roger Mud. We hope that splash will undergo quick media training.

OLBERMANN: As to this book, in the press release it also says "Splash is always at Senator Kennedy's side in his office, at press conferences in meetings in the Capitol and even right outside the Senate chamber." Which does that make him, Mo? Guide dog or lobbyist?

ROCCA: I'm not sure it make him either because Splash also claims to have spent years in rehab with Senator Kennedy and three months in jail for peeing on a Capitol security guard. So I guess that makes splash a memoirist. It's Senator Kennedy who actually peed on the Capitol security guard.

OLBERMANN: Is this the .

ROCCA: It's all subjective though.

OLBERMANN: Yeah. And Oprah likes it so that's all that matters. Is this the politician and his dog story as you'd like to read or is there a more compelling such story elsewhere out there?

ROCCA: Oh gosh, I'm not sure. Well, maybe - well, mind book, "All the Presidents' Pets" is still available in book stores and Amazon.

OLBERMANN: And now gone paperback.

ROCCA: Of course, it is on paperback now. "All the Presidents' Pets." Log onto and put my name in there. Seriously, if anyone doubts my story about LBJ's beagles and the role in the Gulf of Tonkin incident, beware, I have got Oprah on speed dial.

OLBERMANN: The issue though of going back to the original thing with Kennedy, can you imagine this actually coming out? This book actually coming out with the words "Kennedy" and "Splash" on the cover? Is there not going to be something - is something not going to stop this between now and May?

ROCCA: Well, I think if Splash ends up biting Arlen Specter or maybe biting Judge Alito which looks likely right now that might take attention away from the fact his name is actually Splash. I - you know, hopefully something will intervene. Obviously Senator Kennedy is in a bubble somewhere right now.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, I just don't know. There's - there's - he's not drinking anymore. He can't use that as an excuse for this. Something horrible has happened public relations-wise.

ROCCA: I say rename the dog Cujo. Anything but Splash!


ROCCA: Osama. Osama.

OLBERMANN: Osama works.

ROCCA: Hitler. Hitler had a sheep dog named Blondie. Name your dog Hitler it still would be better.

OLBERMANN: It still would be better. The one and only Mo Rocca.

ROCCA: Thank you. I'm getting mileage out of this whole presidential pet thing.

OLBERMANN: You thought this was a lark and in fact it turns out to be You're get a doctorate out of this too.

ROCCA: That's great.

OLBERMANN: Mo Rocca, author of "All the Presidents' Pets."

ROCCA: I hope impeachment proceedings begin against Barney.

OLBERMANN: Now in paperback. Always a pleasure, Mo.

ROCCA: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir. That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann.

Splash! Keep your knees loose. Senator, good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with RITA COSBY LIVE AND DIRECT.

Good evening, Rita.