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.