Tuesday, February 14, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 14

Guests: Paul Burka, Dana Milbank, Soumitra Eachempati, Michael Musto

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

The accident at Armstrong Ranch. The tone changes as the 78-year-old victim of the vice president's stray shot suffers a minor heart attack and is placed back in intensive care. How is the incident seen now, politically and legally?

News management-wise, no change. The White House press secretary says he knew, he was notified of Harry Whittington's heart attack before his daily press briefing, but he didn't mention it. It wasn't his place to, he says.

And happy Valentine's Day. What, amid the gambling scandal, Wayne Gretzky might be saying to his wife, Janet Jones.

And a story that my producers are forcing me to cover, the one word Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are reportedly saying to each other, Goodbye. They deny it, but a magazine report says Tom Cat has been neutered and spayed.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

As the Web site Slate first noted 12 years ago, then-Governor George W. Bush inadvertently killed a deer during a dove shoot. "Karen Hughes and I looked at each other," he wrote in his 1999 autobiography. "What now? We confess, we both said, almost simultaneously."

The future president then described himself calling every reporter who had been with him on the hunting trip, giving the details at a news conference. The lesson he gleaned from this event? "People watch the way you handle things. They get a feeling they like and trust you, or they don't."

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the book was called "A Charge to Keep," and perhaps somebody needs to rush a copy of it to the vice president. The dynamics of his hunting accident changed 180 degrees today, when some of the birdshot Mr. Cheney put into his victim moved to the man's atria and caused a minor heart attack, hospital officials saying today that a shotgun pellet in Mr. Whittington's chest traveled to his heart, causing what is called a silent heart attack, obstructed blood flow, no pain, no pressure.

The 78-year-old Houston lawyer immediately moved back to the intensive care unit, where doctors say they will watch him closely over the next week to make sure more of the tiny metal pellets do not reach other vital organs, the same doctors who moved him out of the ICU yesterday.

We'll check the medicine of all this with a trauma surgeon straight ahead.

First, how many pellets of birdshot are we talking about here?

Anywhere from six to 200, the man who shot those pellets into Mr. Whittington laying low again today, this the only public image of Vice President Cheney today. Did you see him?

A few new details, though, about the incident found within the accident report released by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in conditions that were, according to the X's in the boxes, flat, fair, light, sunny, and clear. Mr. Cheney, quote, "swung on a bird and fired, striking Whittington in the face, neck, and chest at approximately 30 yards. Immediate medical attention was rendered from Cheney's staff."

One man we turn to from time to time to explain Texas and its ways, Paul Burka, the executive editor of "Texas Monthly" magazine, who's also a member of the Texas state bar.

Paul, good evening. Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Calling on your skills as an attorney first, yesterday, Mr. Whittington appeared to have minor injuries, moved out of the ICU. This was all ruled an accident. Now he's had this heart attack. They think he'll recover. Of course, everybody hopes he will.

But do the changes in his health alter how the event is viewed legally? And under the worst-case scenario, could negligent homicide actually come into play?

BURKA: Well, I would doubt it, because hunting accidents are very seldom treated as homicides. They are regarded as accidents. You take guns out into the countryside, and there are going to be accidents. I believe there were 89 fatal accidents in Texas last year, I read this afternoon.

So this happens. There are thousands of hunters. But I would not think that the vice president would incur any legal liability. He was not cited for negligence. He was simply given a warning by the game warden.

OLBERMANN: The sheriff's office, though, issued a statement last night, in the conclusion that there - this was an accident, also said no alcohol had been involved in it. But how would they know that? The sheriff's office did not interview the vice president for 14 hours after all this happened. And the lower-ranking sheriff's officers who did not know about the scheduling of that interview for Sunday morning had been turned away when they tried to talk to Mr. Cheney on Saturday night.

BURKA: Well, obviously, that question - that's one of many questions that we don't know the answer to. But, you know, guns and alcohol don't mix. But they have been known to, on hunting trips. Usually the alcohol is after the hunting trip, not before.

OLBERMANN: There's a whole lot of insider stuff to this story, the hostess, the co-owner of the ranch, Mrs. Armstrong, used to be on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. To make the news public, she was trying to reach out to a longtime family friend who's a reporter on the Corpus Christi newspaper staff.

The public was not, nationally, anyway, notified for 18 hours, and except to address Mr. Whittington's heart attack and the warning about this upland bird stamp, the vice president still hasn't issued a statement. We are all assuming this was, for whatever reason, an attempt to delay the news, or at least not prioritize in getting the news out quickly.

Are we looking at it wrong? Could this have been a badly fumbled attempt to actually conceal what happened Saturday night?

BURKA: Well, it could have been. I wondered why, in the first place, they moved him by ambulance to Kingsville, which is a small town, which would not have the medical facilities that Corpus Christi had. And if you were a suspicious soul, you might think that they brought him to Kingsville because they would be more likely to be able to conduct things out of the light of day than they would be in Corpus Christi.

But, of course, the same might have happened in Corpus Christi if the ranch owner had - Ms. Armstrong had decided, not decided to call.

But certainly, you're going to get better medical treatment in Corpus Christi, you would think, I don't want to denigrate Kingsville, but it's a much smaller town.

And that raised my eyebrows, because they were starting from the middle of a ranch, so they had to drive through some pretty rough country, probably unimproved roads, to get there, and it took quite a while.

OLBERMANN: You mentioned suspicious minds. Are there - are they in the...

BURKA: Heaven forbid.

OLBERMANN:... majority - Yes. Are they in the majority or the minority in Texas? What is the view of this there? Is there - is something not adding up there that perhaps the rest of us don't see?

BURKA: I'll tell you what really doesn't add up here. It's the 30 yards' distance. And that's - when I talk to friends of mine who are avid hunters, a .28-gauge shotgun is not a powerful weapon, unless you happen to be a quail, or you happen to be very close.

And I think that there's just a question of whether, at that distance, those kind of injuries could occur.

OLBERMANN: I guess we'll be checking distances in the days to come.

Paul Burka, the executive editor of "Texas Monthly" magazine. As always, sir, great thanks for your time tonight, and your insight.

BURKA: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: In a moment, more of the national politics with Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post."

But first, the White House is getting pounded over this, and not just by the usual suspects. "It's news, and it reflects an attitude this White House of holding back information, of being too clever by half, and being secretive," so says Robert Novak on Fox News Channel.

"The vice president ignored his responsibility to the American people. I am appalled by the whole handling of this." That from Marlin Fit water, press secretary to President Reagan and to the first President Bush, speaking to the trade publication "Editor and Publisher."

And one more. "It would have been better if the vice president and/or his staff had come out last Saturday night, or the first thing Sunday morning, and announced it. it could have and should have been handled differently." That from Ari Fleischer, the predecessor to the current White House press secretary, Scott McClellan.

Et tu, Ari?

And the beat goes on. Mr. McClellan's Tuesday timeline. One, learned that Harry Whittington has had a heart attack. Two, hold daily White House briefing. Three, do not mention that Harry Whittington has had a heart attack. Four, only mention afterwards that you knew he had, but you didn't say anything during it.

What follows is from event number two on that timeline, the news briefing which did not include the news.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think what happened has been explained. The vice president's office has talked about it. I've talked about it. And I represent the president, speak for him.

We went through this pretty thoroughly yesterday.

I think that I've expressed my views, and we went through this yesterday.

Again, that's what I've - I indicated to you yesterday what our views were.

And I'm trying to provide answers to the questions.

You're welcome to continue to focus on these issues. I'm moving on.

If you want to continue to spend time on that, that's fine.

But we're moving on to the priorities of the American people. That's where our focus is. I think we went through this pretty thoroughly yesterday.

And I worked to answer the questions to the best of my ability, and in a forthright manner, based on the facts that I knew.


OLBERMANN: P.S., Mr. Whittington had a heart attack.

We turn again to "Washington Post" national political correspondent, former White House beat man, Dana Milbank.

Good evening, Dana.


Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Robert Novak, Marlin Fitzwater, Ari Fleischer are all saying that the vice president and the administration mishandled the news management on this story. That's pretty much unanimous.

How did they all get themselves in so deep here? And why did they keep doing it today?

MILBANK: It really is extraordinary, and it's - a lot of people are asking this. And I think people aren't really leveling that criticism, obviously, out of any malice. But very obviously, when these sort of things happen, you want to get out in front of the story. And at every turn here, as you point out, most recently with Scott today having this information before the briefing and not putting it out, at every turn they made the same mistake over and over again.

It's even worse, really, because Carl Cameron, from Fox, was asking, saying, You must have a real sense of relief now that we know that the shooting victim is doing well. That would have been a fine time for Scott to jump in and actually say what he knew.

So he's doing a whole lot of damage to his own credibility as well, which is why he's hearing it from friend and foe alike.

OLBERMANN: Take us into the alternative universe here. If the vice president's office had followed, say, Ari Fleischer's advice and, you know, Get this out Saturday night, Sunday morning, preferably with the vice president speaking, or at least in quotes, in a statement, how would this news story have changed? I mean, would all the stories today have been solely about Mr. Whittington's health?

MILBANK: Yes, I mean, even the statement coming out today, talking about prayers and thoughts for Whittington and his family, was done in the third person, The vice president said this is how he feels.

I think there's no question that we wouldn't be having this discussion tonight. Scott would not be getting bombarded by these questions if he came out and said, Look, immediately, there was an accident, here's how it occurred, here are all the details. (INAUDIBLE), once again, you always need to get out in front of these stories.

And I think they were gambling, as indeed it appeared, that the whole thing would blow over. But obviously with the deterioration in Whittington's health, this fundamentally has changed the story.

OLBERMANN: Most of what has been said in Mr. Cheney's defense, has included some blame for the victim, that Mr. Whittington didn't announce his return to the shooting area, other fairly sophisticated shooting and hunting terminology, which might have seemed plausible and completely relevant when it seemed that Mr. Whittington was not in anything approaching a life-threatening situation.

But surely, with the new developments, that line of defense looks callous, doesn't it?

MILBANK: Well, it does. In fairness, I'm not hearing that coming from the White House right now. Certainly Scott McClellan wasn't doing that sort of thing. You could see his tone change today. He started out this morning joking that the University of Texas Longhorns visiting the White House would be wearing orange, in case the vice president were there. That tone changed very dramatically.

I'm not any expert on hunting, but the people who have looked into this suggested that in the first place, that that - the blaming of Whittington wasn't entirely plausible anyway.

OLBERMANN: And regarding the timing of how this story got out through the Corpus Christi paper, and the woman who runs the ranch, Mr. Cheney's unofficial spokesman, in effect, on this shooting, the hostess was Katherine Armstrong, there seems to be two variations of this story. In an interview with your paper, Mrs. Armstrong said that she and her family made the unilateral decision Sunday morning to go to the media.

Let me quote it from "The Post." "It was my family's own volition, and the vice president agreed. We felt - my family felt, and we conferred as a family, that the information needed to go public. It was our idea."

But in "The Los Angeles Times," she said the decision was reached Saturday night at Mr. Cheney's urging, because, quote, "We knew that word would get out."

I mean, both these things can't be true, can they?

MILBANK: No. When in doubt, always go with "The Washington Post"'s version of the events.

Actually, in this case, it makes a bit more sense. Look, the vice president has a large press apparatus, and the protection of the White House. If he wanted to get that information out himself, he had a very good way of doing it. I mean, this is pure speculation here, but the vice president is a man who would like to keep just about everything in his life private. So his first instinct would not be looking around for ways to get this out to the press.

OLBERMANN: We have anything better on this one that is still hanging around from yesterday, the idea that all that mattered to Mr. Cheney was Mr. Whittington's health and his medical treatment, that he (INAUDIBLE) thus delayed meeting with the sheriff until 8:00 the next morning for Mr. Whittington's sake, that he prevented some sort of White House announcement of this till the following afternoon for Mr. Whittington's sake? Has that been clarified at all?

MILBANK: No, and in fact, one of the reasons Scott's having so much problem in - many problems in the briefing today is, he's saying, I answered all your questions yesterday, we're moving on now, using the same sort of rhetoric from the old McCurry-Lockhart days. But people are saying, Look, you didn't answer the question in the first place. So, no, they have not filled in the details of this. So once again, he gets the hit with it again tomorrow.

OLBERMANN: Yes. The echoes continue.

Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post," as always, thank you, sir.

MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the questions surrounding the medical condition of Harry Whittington. A trauma surgeon on this odd medical storyline about the shooting victim.

And is one of the nation's most popular crime shows actually teaching the real crooks how to get away with murder? The "CSI" effect on crime scenes and in jury rooms.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: A quick correction on the anecdote from then-Governor George Bush that we told you about at the start of this newscast. The animal that he inadvertently and improperly killed, and confessed to doing so during a hunt, during his tenure as governor of Texas was a killdeer. That's a migratory bird. I apparently said "deer" rather than "killdeer."

My apology.

The medical headlines from the Cheney hunting accident next. How does the victim go from laughing in a private room back to ICU? Is someone managing the message we're getting about Mr. Whittington's health care?

That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: It seemed like the definition of luck itself, a 78-year-old man peppered in the head, neck, shoulders, and chest, with as many as 200 pellets from a shotgun, had only minor injuries, was improving, and had been moved out of the intensive care unit and was looking forward to his release from the hospital.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, and then came today's heart attack.

In a moment, the insights of a trauma doctor.

First, the symptoms described by Mr. Whittington's physicians in Texas. doctors at the Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital said it started at about 6:30 local time this morning, when they noticed Mr. Whittington had an abnormal heartbeat caused by inflammation, when one of the pellets from the gunfire brushed up against the muscle of Mr. Whittington's heart.

Doctors did a cardiac catheterization, figured out that his arteries and the chambers of his heart were clear. They then decided not to do surgery, but instead to keep him in the hospital for a week's worth of observation.

To assess just how serious this condition is, I'm joined now by Dr. Soumitra Eachempati, a trauma surgeon with New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: If the doctors leave that birdshot in Mr. Whittington's body, is that not also leaving a continuing risk that he could have another minor heart attack?

EACHEMPATI: Certainly. Well, it's actually kind of uncertain where exactly the pellet is. By reports, it's actually around the heart and the muscle of the heart, and probably the lining of the heart, called the pericardium. This contributed to the condition called atrial fibrillation, which is abnormal heartbeat, which the doctors down there detected. If the pellet doesn't migrate any more, it appears to be a safe and treatable condition.

OLBERMANN: But Mr. Whittington had been in their care for more than 48 hours when this happened. And at least publicly, they had given no suggestion that he was at risk for this. Can we be confident, as far removed from this case as we are, that the doctors have correctly assessed the risk posed by the rest of the birdshot in his body, or that we're getting the full and accurate picture of his condition?

EACHEMPATI: That's an excellent question. We have to be uncertain, because they're clearly not releasing all the information available. At the time of the shooting, when it first hit the press, we had no idea that there was actually pellets lodged in his chest, let alone adjacent to his heart lining. So we all - we have to interpret any subsequent information with certainly some agree of caution.

OLBERMANN: What about those other pieces? I mean, we now know that there are other pieces of birdshot in the body. If there - one migrated to the heart, could there - others moving around to other parts of the body, or is a brain at risk, lungs, any other problems that you can conceive of?

EACHEMPATI: Well, there's different types of migration, and actually there are some migrations that can actually embolize from the veins into the heart and cause arrhythmias of the heart. The - or in this case, the one actually appeared to be lodged in the surface of the heart, is what we think now. Now, ones that can be in the chamber of the heart, if we remember Teddy Brusky (ph), he had a clot go from the left side of the heart through what's called the Framano (ph) valley, to the right side of the heart, (INAUDIBLE) from the right side to the left side, and then caused that stroke.

So it's certainly plausible that pellets can cause strokes. However, in this case here, it seems that most of the other ones, at least by reports, are fairly superficial, and they would not be at risk for this type of embolization.

OLBERMANN: In the logistics of this, we had Mr. Burka from "Texas Monthly" at the beginning of the show. I don't know if you, if you've heard that part of the interview. But the thing he said resonated with him and other Texans, that they're finding it hard to believe that this much damage could have been could have been caused by birdshot at a distance of 90 yards. Does it add up to you, from your experience?

EACHEMPATI: There, there's almost no way this could have been at 90 yards. At 90 yards, the birdshot would almost certainly have scattered to such an extent that he would not have had these type of injuries. More likely scenario, it seems to be probably somewhere in the order of 15 to 30 yards.

OLBERMANN: That's an extraordinary difference. If you got a report from the people who were witnesses to this who said to you, This happened from 90 yards, and you saw damage that might be 15 to 30 yards, what, what do you do as a, what are your legal responsibilities as a doctor in that situation?

EACHEMPATI: Right. Well, my legal responsibilities as a doctor are to report the injuries as they are, and probably not try and speculate on the forensic nature of them. However, at 90 yards, again, without knowing the precise type of gun involved, and I'm not a ballistics expert, it's very unlikely to penetrate his clothes and his skin at that distance.

OLBERMANN: Extraordinary. Dr. Soumitra Eachempati from New York's Presbyterian Hospital, great thanks for your insight tonight, sir.

EACHEMPATI: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Also this evening, the Entwistle case gets grimmer still. Court documents contending that the husband was on the Web in the days before the events, researching ways to kill people, including himself, and browsing escort services.

And is television helping to keep criminals on the street? How shows like "CSI" might be making the jobs of detectives and prosecutors that much more difficult.

That and more, ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: The idea was a little vain, perhaps, but it seemed innocuous. Preserve all the president's conversations from which to draw a fully accurate picture of his administration. So 35 years ago today, White House aides installed the automatic taping system in Richard Nixon's Oval Office. Oops.

On that note, let's play Oddball.

We begin in South Korea, and attention anyone who's ever hopped on board a public bus and had the overwhelming urge to lick the seats. Now you can, and with only half the usual risk of contracting hepatitis, the Dove Company dispatching a very special love bus in the city of Seoul this February 14, with an interior made entirely, or nearly so, out of chocolate.

Passengers and their very special someones can make the commute simply sweet, surrounded by the finest chocolates and Valentines. Yes, it's always very sweet till some guy decides to eat the brake pedal and the thing goes flying out of control. In the interim, Ride the chocolate bus this Valentine's Day is no longer just a greeting card dirty slogan.

Tokyo, more chocolaty goodness, this time in the shape of the score to Mozart's "Turkish March." It's a sonata in white chocolate, crafted by a South Korean master chef named Jiang Hin Yung (ph), and it went on the market this week for the low, low price of just $5 million. Five million dollars?

The seven-figure price tag might have something to do with the more than 100 individual diamonds carefully placed on each of the notes in the score. What better way to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the "Turkish March" than with the most expensive choking hazard ever?

Finally, to Minneapolis, for the 24th annual Battle of the Jug Bands. Huge event in the Twin Cities. How huge? Well, a local news guy went and covered it, so there you are.

As you can see, at least one jug band showed up to do battle on the washboard, the cowbells, the booze jug, and one string bass. Dozens more combed out their beards and donned their finest overalls to witness the battle firsthand. In the end, we still don't know for sure who won, or if a second band even showed up to compete. So we'll go ahead and give the award to the Wild Stallions. Pray for you guys.

But bad news for them. Their gig playing the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes wedding, looks like it's been canceled, along with the wedding. (INAUDIBLE) analysis ahead from Michael Musto.

And more good news on Valentine's Day. If Wayne Gretzky sent a poem to his embattled wife, Janet Jones, today, what might it sound like?

That's all ahead.

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

Number three, American speed skater Joey Cheek. He says the key to his victory in the men's 500 meters at the Olympics yesterday, he watched a videotape of the movie "Dukes of Hazzard," it relaxed him so much, quote, "I skated out of my head." We're assuming this was because of the presence in that film of Jessica Simpson and not the presence of Johnny Knoxville.

Number two, Marvin Hackworth of Gillette, Wyoming. He bet $40,000 on the Super Bowl on the Seahawks. Police say he was reported missing the day after the game and now they say he staged his own disappearance. Might have something to do with the bet.

Speaking of which, number one, betcris.com, a gambling Web site in Costa Rica now offering wagers on whether or not former Enron execs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling are convicted. Right now if you bet 50 bucks that Skilling is found guilty, you will only win 51 bucks in return. You only got a dollar. Ah, but what Ken Lay could do with that dollar.


OLBERMANN: During television's high stakes game show phase, everybody was saying, "Is that your final answer?" and "You are the weakest link." During television's reality show phase, nobody was fired nor broken up with. They were invariably voted off the island. And now during television's crime scene phase, everything is "CSI", fill in the blank.

Our third story on the Countdown, "Is that your final answer?" and "Vote them off the island," were annoying but they were not dangerous. The "CSI" phenomenon, it may actually be inducing crimes and making it more difficult to convict people of them.

That surprising development in a moment. First what had been a seemingly mysterious crime in Hopkinton, Massachusetts is coming into clearer, more mundane, yet no less cold-blooded focus. Investigators say that before his wife and child were murdered Neil Entwistle searched the Internet for prostitutes and for methods of murder and suicide. The grim details from correspondent Lauren Przybyl of our Boston station, WHDH.


LAUREN PRZYBYL, WHDH-TV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 200 documents are providing us with new details. Investigators reveal that Neil Entwistle was so evasive about family finances and his work in England that his in-laws thought he was a government agent. Investigators say they discovered in the days before his wife and child were murdered, this out of work computer wiz looked over an electronic document that describes how to kill people by various methods and that he typed Internet searches about how to kill yourself.

The documents also revealed that police fund found gun residue in the family car that Neil left at Logan airport before flying to England. The new documents also outline evidence police say they found on Neil's computer of a seedy side, evidence that just two days before his wife and daughter were murder, the Hopkinton husband visited "Adult Friend Finder," a Web site dedicated to finding sexual partners through Internet chat rooms and that Entwistle made attempts to contact persons on that site.

The alleged murder weapon is also mentioned. Seven News have learned that her stepfather used the gun at a shooting range the day after police believe Neil Entwistle used the gun to take the life of his wife and little girl.


OLBERMANN: Lauren Przybyl of our Boston station, WHDH with the report there.

There is nothing to suggest that Entwistle or whoever his wife or child was influenced by the "CSI" effect, but the ramifications are being felt around this country. Peter Alexander reporting for us tonight from Los Angeles.


PETER ALEXANDER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Television crime dramas may provide the perfect entertainment but what if they are also providing lessons on how to carry out the perfect crime?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe he was expecting us. He cleaned up.

ALEXANDER: Authorities say this suspect in an Ohio double murder allegedly cleaned up the crime scene, collecting anything that might have his DNA, then burned it along with the bodies of his victims and cleaned the area up with a chemical bleach. Police say he is not a forensic expert, just a fan of "CSI."

CAPTAIN RAY PEAVY, L.A. SHERIFF'S HOMICIDE BUREAU: The "CSI" factor is very definitely real. The criminals are learning what not to leave behind at crime scenes.

ALEXANDER: Homicide investigators say they are not finding like hair, clothes and cigarette butts as often as they did before the era of "CSI" and "Law & Order." And while criminals are picking up new techniques from TV, the public is demanding more and more from its local cops.

PEAVY: They expect us to do magic, quite frankly, and the magic they expect us to do is brought on by what they see on television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey Rick, remember the time you said you could get a print off of air?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Check this out.

ALEXANDER (on camera): In real life, crimes are not solved in an hour or less as seen on TV, of course, but the shows are affecting the way some cases play out in court. Many jurors are now walking in with higher expectations.

(voice-over): Expectations that experts warn aren't realistic and that pose too high a burden for prosecutors to over come.

LARRY POZNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: "CSI" creates an aura in which every cop is an expert and every clime lab technician is sitting at home waiting for a phone call to go to the lab at midnight. That isn't real.

ALEXANDER: Most experts believe the "CSI" effect works in favor of the defense with jurors demanding high tech scientific evidence in order to convict. That attitude may have helped actor Robert Blake win an acquittal for the murder of his wife. Despite enormous circumstantial evidence, some jurors said they head expected more of what they're used to seeing on TV. Some kind of hard proof.

TOM NICHOLSON, JURY FOREMAN: There was no GSR. There couldn't trace the gun. There was no blood.

ALEXANDER: Unfortunately for cops and crime labs, real life is messier than fiction. Not every criminal leaves a trail of DNA and police departments don't have the time or resources of their TV counterparts.

PEAVY: The general public now has the expectation that policemen can do undoable things.

ALEXANDER: Still, even if they can't solve every crime before the final commercial break, investigators say they are just determined to stay one step ahead of the crooks.

Peter Alexander, NBC News, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN: News tonight of other make believe crime fighters, Batman will be taking a pass on the Joker and the Riddler to instead go after, who? And now Britney Spears may have just saved the lives of countless kids in cars by putting heir child in the wrong place at the wrong time. That story is ahead but first here are Countdown's top three soundbites.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cooks at the Old Country Buffet get a bigger work out than usual every Valentine's Day. That's when the restaurant offers free meals to folks who have been married 50 years or longer. Harris and Neola Hills have been together for 58 years. Harris jokes that the marriage wasn't his idea.

HARRIS HILLS: I was bullied into it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chrissie England and George Lucas. The 2004 National Medal Of Technology is awarded to Industrial Light and Magic.



OLBERMANN: We just told you of the nefarious influence of the part of the television world, "CSI" inspiring criminals to cleanup their crime scenes. Now, how a notorious moment from the celebritysphere might have actually shined a much needed bright light on an unpublicized crisis.

Our number two story on the Countdown. You saw images of Britney Spears apparently driving around Southern California with her infant son on her lap instead of safely in the car seat. It's not just a laugh at a pop star's expense. As our correspondent, Tom Costello reports, it's an epidemic.


TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a Wichita intersection, five -year-old Santiago Cerna died in a car accident. He was in the back seat but not in a booster seat and his lap belt caused severe internal injuries. One of 400 children between the ages of four to eight who died in car crashes last year. Another 70,000 were injured.

Today the AAA said booster seats would have made most of those deaths and injuries preventable.

PETER KISSINGER, AAA TRAFFIC SAFETY FOUNDATION: Way too many parents are not using booster seats when their children grow out of child safety seats.

COSTELLO: While 90 percent of parents use car seats for kids under four, only 40 percent use booster seats for kids between four and eight. Thirty-four states require them, 16 don't.

(on camera): And experts say kids should stay in the booster seat until they are 4'9 tall, that's about eight years old, nor riding shotgun. Kids should stay in the back seat until they are 13.

(voice-over): Another study finds one-third of the eight to 12 year-olds who died last year and half of all 12 year olds surveyed rode in the front seat. But 12-year-old Josh MacDonald doesn't need convincing. Four weeks ago his parents suffered broken bones and bruises in a car accident. Buckled in the back, though, he wasn't hurt.

JOSH MACDONALD, WALKED AWAY FROM CAR ACCIDENT: If I was in the front in that accident, I would have been seriously hurt.

COSTELLO: From booster seats to backseats, a parental obligation that doesn't end with car seats. Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: A tough but much needed segue now to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs." And the war on terror just got a new good guy to go after the evil doers, Batman. Veteran comic writer Frank Miller revealing at the annual Wondercon comic convention over the weekend - that would be Wonderconcomcon, that he is midway through writing the new tome titled, "Holy Terror, Batman." Oh great.

In it the Caped Crusader takes on Osama bin Laden after Gotham City is attacked. Miller says the comic is going to be a piece of propaganda, likening it to the comic traditions of the '40s. "Superman punched out Hitler he said, so did Captain America. That's one of the things they are there for. They are folk heroes. It just seems silly to chase around the Riddler when you have got al Qaeda."

"Holy Terror, Batman" not expected to hit stores until 2007.

Speaking of fighting crime with superheroes, the Incredible Hulk is now tackling criminals in Los Angeles County, or rather Lou Ferrigno, who played David Banner's green - you can switch the tape any time now - and angry alter ego on CBS from 1977 to 1982. The 54-year-old actor was sworn in as a county sheriff's department reserve deputy last night. Ferrigno will serve 20 hours a week helping the special victims' bureau and recruiting new deputies.

And embattled by the media, if not by the fact, hockey legend and Canadian Olympic team managing director Wayne Gretzky arrived today in Turin with the rest of his squad. Yesterday at his last news conference in North America, Gretzky saw more than 100 reporters waiting to ask him about the scandal that has touched his team and his family and heard to mutter under his breath, quote, "Jesus," unquote.

He met similar questions about gambling and presented similar answers about how the gambling really did not involve him, upon his arrival today at the Olympic Village. Given the purported wagering up to $500,000 on football by his actress wife Janet Jones in a gambling ring run by his own assistant coach, Rick Tocchet, we thought it might be appropriate to read a Valentine's Day poem that could be from Gretzky to the Mrs.

"We married in sickness and health, for better, for worse but you never mentioned that you carried half a mill in your purse. I saw you in that movie when you looked like a teenager, who knew the best of your moves was placing a wager? No matter what, I will take you to my clubs and my joints, even though you bet on the Colts and surrendered the points. My dearest Janet, though some thought they were gold diggerish, I always bet on you and to hell with the vigorish."

What is the betting line on the possible truth of this headline. "World exclusive, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, it's over." Hey, kids, Michael Musto and I will decide when it's over. That's next.

But first, time for Countdown's list of top three nominees for "Worst Person in the World." The bronze tonight to the administrators of the Municipal Zoo in Shanghai. It has about a dozen tigers at any given time. What happens to the old ones? According to a state investigation, they get turned into a popular medicine treatment for arthritis and rheumatism at $25 a bottle. It's called tiger bone wine. Nice.

Runners up, Johnny Kamath (ph), the spokesman for the Air Canada Center, the hockey and basketball arena in Toronto. Security officials there refuse to let the nine-year-old Brody White (ph) bring with him to his first Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game a cardboard sign reading "Number one Maple Leafs fan" because the sign was attached to a small stick the size of a paint stirrer.

Mr. Kamath explained, "In the present global climate we live in, these changes are necessary measures." Yeah. The terrorists are disguising themselves at nine-year-old hockey fans named Brody.

But tonight's winner, former independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Prosecutors in California say he and other lawyers for an inmate on death row sent faked letters to Governor Schwarzenegger, fake letters which were supposed to be from jurors asking for clemency for the inmate. No jurors ever wrote such letters. Mr. Starr will not say who did. Ken Starr, today's - I have been waiting to say this for eight years - "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: Let me close out this segment with a clarification regarding our top story. Paul Burka of "Texas Monthly," commenting on the shooting of Mr. Whittington by Vice President Cheney said there were some in Texas who doubted the distance that had been given by witnesses and authorities that the buck shot - or the bird shot was from 30 yards. It seemed too far to Mr. Burka.

I then asked the trauma surgeon, Dr. Soumitra Eachempati, about whether or not the distance of 90 yards was correct. I meant to say either 90 feet or 30 yards. I got my numbers transposed. He then said that the likeliest distance was 15 to 30 yards. So the mistake was mine. The doctor said 15-30 yards, Mr. Burka said he thought 30 yards was too far. So they were in agreement, I was the one who had the yards and feet confused.

Speaking of which, tonight we have a TomKatastrophe. It's also our number one story on the Countdown, and of course, it is also a story my producers are forcing me to cover. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have reportedly called off their wedding, but agreed not it until she gives birth to his not-so-much anymore lovechild. And they'll live near each other so Tom can always visit the kid.

Happy Valentine's Day. Michael Musto joins me in a moment. First, the details of story number 783 of TomKat. The tabloid weekly "Life and Style" claiming a world exclusive, quoting sources close to TomKat saying, quote, "Their relationship is basically over."

Not so says the publicist for both Cruise and Holmes telling one of our producers, "The story is 100 percent not true. There is nothing more to say."

Again, we'll be the judge of that. Regardless, there is a baby on the way - or maybe not depending on which celebrity blog you frequent. If it is a baby and not a pillow, the couple, again according to unnamed sources, plans to stay together for appearance's sake until the child is born, after which they will share custody.

"Village Voice" columnist Michael Musto who is perhaps the first to proffer that pillow theory joins us now to clean up that whole mess. Good evening, Michael.


OLBERMANN: Well, from 90 yards, 90 feet or wherever you are, this is a touching, warm story for Valentine's Day night, isn't it?

MUSTO: I think it actually is touching because if this is a breakup and they were a totally fake couple, wouldn't there have been longer contract involved. Maybe there is something there after all, but more likely, Katie's dad got in the way and raised some serious ethical and legal problems and they never signed a contract. So you're right, it's not too touching for Valentine's Day.

OLBERMANN: Could be a tax day. Tomorrow is February 15th. That's like a month and a half into the calendar year.

MUSTO: You're so cynical.

OLBERMANN: To paraphrase Claude Rains from "Casablanca," are you shocked, shocked to discover there's grumbling going on here?

MUSTO: I'm shocked that it took so long. I'm also shocked that "Life and Style" says that they're going to live in separate bedrooms. Already living on separate floors. I'm kidding. But in "Casablanca," the movie you cite, the big line for the parting couple is, "We'll always have Paris." Katie's from Ohio. We'll always have Toledo doesn't have a ring to it but maybe, I don't know, "Play it again, L. Ron."

OLBERMANN: The publicist denies this. Both publicists. But of course, the story has been pre-denied. The story itself says they've also agreed to keep you the appearances of being a couple until after the baby is born. That's genius, isn't it?

MUSTO: That's foolproof, it's like if I wrote Paris Hilton is going to become a nun, eventually, and she'll deny it. You can't go wrong with the story like that and in fact every year I run a list of 300 celebrities that are going to die that year and inevitably one of them, at least, does, except Abe Vigoda. So I'm always right. But in this case, I believe that the denial of the denials. I believe the magazine, not the denials themselves. Though I can't deny that they're exciting.

OLBERMANN: So you're the one that did that to Abe Vigoda. Been trying to figure that one out for a while.

That baby, the rumor that she is not pregnant at all, did you in fact

start that

MUSTO: Thank you for giving me credit. The pillow looks like it's shifting sometimes. Sometimes it's bigger than other days. Sometimes it's more of a hand bag or scarf. But let's give TomKat credit. They're honest people. And I say that they did strap a real, live baby under her blouse. Let's give them that much. They don't lie.

OLBERMANN: And the sonogram proved to show what, down feathers or what? The home sonogram that Tom had bought.

MUSTO: The sonogram found a receipt from Ikea.

OLBERMANN: Stake your claim on the final score of this ballgame. Make the predictions. Marriage, no marriage? Baby, no baby? How is this one ending up?

MUSTO: No marriage. He'll get the couch, she'll get the sonogram, the baby will go straight to Angelina, cheaper by the dozen, and Katie at least has a movie coming out, "Thank You for Smoking," which I just saw, Keith, and she plays a sleazy, opportunistic reporter, who gets sexually aroused when the man she is with is on TV and they say she doesn't draw from personal experience.

OLBERMANN: Let's change topics because we had another one here that got preempted by Holmes and Cruise. This Janet Jackson story that she's reportedly being forced by her record company to lose 20 pounds by September or they won't release her new album? What do we have to do, send her bon-bons?

MUSTO: Well, she's the Jackson 5 now. Her right breast alone could fill a whole stadium. Michael moved to Dubai, Dubai can now move to her.

But I think jokes are inappropriate. Let her be fat. I think her record label is way out of line here. Look, let's face it. She's a one person Victory Tour. "Control," she has none at the fridge. "Rhythm Nation," that's her brownie eating routine. She's doing a reality show called "Fat Blactor" (ph). Should I go on?

OLBERMANN: Did we have a dim sum malfunction or what occurred here?

MUSTO: Dim sum covered about chocolate sauce. God bless her. America is so hypocritical. These are the same people that want to watch half clad cheerleaders, and then she took to the brownies and here she is in this condition and now her record label is turning on her.

OLBERMANN: Her hips pop out, and we're all over her. The one and only Michael Musto. Many thanks. Happy Valentine's Day.

MUSTO: You, too.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this, the 1,020 day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.

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

Good evening, Rita.