Wednesday, April 19, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for April 19

Guest: Richard Wolffe; Dana Milbank

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

We're not going to have Scott McClellan to kick around any more. And Karl Rove gets kicked sideways. Big changes for Bush's brain and the White House's mouth.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our relationship began back in Texas, and I look forward to continuing it, particularly when we are both back in Texas...


MCCLELLAN:... although I hope to get there before you.


OLBERMANN: Well, one never knows, do one?

Who's next? The first three rumored candidates could carry conflicts of news interest with Fox, with CNN, with NBC.

Conflict between the president and the secretary of defense. Would the decider-in-chief see firing Don Rumsfeld as the equivalent of firing himself? Are our troops caught in the middle of a political firefight?

Then the fight to be first in line to see the stork. Tom Cat's kitten, day two. Katie Holmes and Brooke Shields, both with baby girls, on the same day, in the same hospital, on the same floor. Did somebody say switched at birth?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the things that required getting used to is literally the things that go bump in the night.


OLBERMANN: If you move into an old building that used to be a funeral parlor and a sanitarium, and you've had a dose of a freaky ghost, who ya gonna call? Ghost hunters? There's a copyright problem, I gather.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening from New York.

The president loses his press secretary and part of his brain.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the White House shuffle continues, and Karl Rove is shuffled off to another wing.

But first, Scott McClellan's not going to be not answering those questions any more. Loyalty apparently with its limits, even for the president. The press secretary, who first asserted that Mr. Rove and Scooter Libby were in no way, not, nuh-uh, involved in the CIA leak scandal, then refused to comment once it was revealed they most certainly were, all but ousted from his job, his credibility, to the degree any press secretary can have any credibility, having preceded him out the door by a couple of months.

The announcement, however, high on the hunky-dory meter, just two good old boys before one of those boys gets gone.


MCCLELLAN: You have accomplished a lot over the last several years with this team. And I have been honored and grateful to be a small part of a terrific and talented team of really good people.

Our relationship began back in Texas. And I look forward to continuing it, particularly when we are both back in Texas.

BUSH: That's right.

MCCLELLAN: Although I hope to get there before you.

I have given it my all, sir, and I've given you my all, and I will continue to do so as we transition to a new press secretary over the next two to three weeks.

BUSH: One of these days, he and I are going be rocking on chairs in Texas, talking about the good old days of his time as the press secretary. And I can assure you, I will feel the same way then that I feel now, that I can say to Scott, job well done.

MCCLELLAN: Thank you, sir.


OLBERMANN: The biggest change today, though, absent of any fanfare, tougher to see, tougher to diagram, Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, stripped of some of his duties, but not his tile as deputy chief of staff, giving up his responsibilities as chief policy coordinator, a job he assumed at the start of the second term, to focus solely on the upcoming midterm elections, officials denying that move was a demotion.

Before we assess the state of spring cleaning at the White House with Richard Wolffe with "Newsweek," the rumor mill has already produced three names of possible successors for Scott McClellan. And al of a sudden, the job of White House press secretary seems to be like that of coach of a high-profile pro sports franchise. The first place you look for a candidate, among the network TV analysts.

Fox News reports the White House has already talked to Tony Snow, which figures, since he works for Fox News on radio, sometimes on TV, and, as critics would suggest, as such, he's already an unofficial White House spokesman.

Also mentioned by a series of news organizes, Victoria Torie Clarke, the former Pentagon sports - spokesperson who is, as of right now, an analyst for CNN.

And just to round it out, the only candidate thus far rumored without a direct network TV news connection is the former spokesman for the Provisional Authority in Iraq, Dan Senor, who just happens to have just become the husband of NBC's own Campbell Brown. Is that what they meant when they wrote for - in the vows, "for better or for worse"?

Get out your scorecards and your pencils. Rove reassigned, McClellan quitting, Card quitting, Rumsfeld definitely not quitting.

To help us make sense of the latest shuffle, time to call in Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Richard, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: We'll get to the Karl Rove part of the switcheroo in a moment.

But first, is this merely coincidental, that the White House chose to announce the press secretary's departure while most of the press corps itself was on this charter flight to Alabama for Mr. Bush's speech later in the day?

WOLFFE: Keith, I can tell you're getting withdrawal symptoms already for Scott's briefings. Don't worry, there'll be a couple more weeks of it, so you can pore over that for a while.

You know, what they tend to do when there's big news is to not have a briefing, not have a - what they call a gaggle, the early-morning thing, and travel is a bit of an escape. And you can forgive Scott wanting to get out of town a little bit here. I mean, who'd want to be in the cess pit of the briefing room on a day like this?

But, you know, Scott, to his credit, still went to talk to the press on Air Force One. You know, it's one of those things. It's a way of managing the news on a big day.

OLBERMANN: Was he pushed? Did he jump? Was he either rewarded for all that creative truth-stretching by being fired, or was he rewarded for all that creative truth-stretching by being allowed to go home and finally leave this job?

WOLFFE: Well, this is a tough one. It's, I'm going to say, a bit of both here. And there's an explanation. Scott had made it pretty clear to some of us reporters that he thought this was a burnout job, and, you know, two years was enough, and he'd done more than two years. So, you know, maybe he'd be considering leaving sometime soon.

But I don't think this timing was of his choosing, and he said himself today that when Andy Card quit, he started thinking about it seriously.

Listen, there's no secret, these guys have been under fire from their own supporters on the Hill. And I think he was - he jumped a bit, and he was pushed a bit.

OLBERMANN: Does some of the bad news go with him? Will his successor not carry the weight of the misstatements about the CIA leak, or about the bad handling of the release of the information about the Cheney hunting accident, or anything else?

WOLFFE: Well, everyone gets a fresh start, and clearly the White House is looking for a fresh face. And so, again, are congressional Republicans. So, you know, they do start from a better position than poor old Scott.

I - you know, I think in this job, it is a tough job, but, you know, you are defined by your context. And the context here is of a war that's going badly, a domestic agenda that ran out of steam very quickly in the second term. And the new press secretary is still going to have to deal with those problems. And, of course, they may even - well, we don't know what the results are going to be, but the November elections look like they're tough.

OLBERMANN: For a White House that prides itself on promoting from within, why are the rumored names outsiders? And if you go with Tony Snow of Fox News, are you not saying, We're only talking to that increasingly smaller group of people who believe Fox News is the sole source of truth in the world?

WOLFFE: Yes, that is a problem. But then they need to work with someone they trust. One of the problems for Scott was that reporters didn't think he had the access or the throw weight to get good information, and then give good information to the press.

So, you know, one of the requirements of the job is going to be someone they trust. And I guess people are thinking they trust Fox News, you know. I don't think it's a done deal yet. There are insiders that they're also thinking about. But it's all at the level of rumor right now.

OLBERMANN: The Karl Rove part of this story is not at the level of rumor any more. Was it deliberately buried behind Scott McClellan today? And what is the story here? Did he want to do this?

WOLFFE: I don't think anyone wants to give up power inside the White House, especially when it's an acknowledgment that the job is too big for you. You know, Karl, for all his irrepressible nature and his boundless energy, has limits to what he can achieve. And clearly, his aspirations to be a policy guru and a strategic guru, you know, they don't stack up to what he can achieve in one day.

And Josh Bolten knows that. The new chief of staff did this job before on the policy side of things. So did they want to bury it? Probably. But then this is one of many changes that are coming through at the same time.

OLBERMANN: How are the Republicans reacting on Capitol Hill, how are the Democrats reacting?

WOLFFE: Republicans happy. They've been beating up on this communications team for a long time. Democrats, I don't think they really know how to deal with it. Yes, they're happy to see Karl being moved around. But this guy has been pretty good at elections so far, so it's a mixed bag for them.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe, the senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek." As always, great thanks. And good luck with the new guy, whoever it turns out to be.

WOLFFE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That we soon won't have Scott McClellan to kick around any more giving us just a brief window of opportunity to keep kicking Scott McClellan around. As press secretaries go, he has been as loquacious as he has been opaque. Never before has a political flak used so many words to say so very little.


MCCLELLAN: And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.

Yes, this is getting into where someone engaged in a blame game. And I'm just not going to engage in the blame game.

What you're doing is trying to engage in a game of finger pointing, the blame game.


MCCLELLAN: Yes, you are. You...

GREGORY: Scott...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a question about judicial (INAUDIBLE)...

GREGORY: Scott...

MCCLELLAN: If you want to continue to engage in finger pointing and blame gaming, that's fine.

No, everybody that watches this knows, David, that you're trying to engage in the blame game.

GREGORY: I've been trying to engage...


GREGORY: I've been trying to engage...

MCCLELLAN: That's correct.

GREGORY: That's a dodge.

I have a follow-up question, since you dodged that one. If the vice president of the United States accidentally shoots a man, and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who had witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper, and not the White House press corps at large, or notify the public in a national way?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think we all know that once it is made public, then it's going to be news, and we'll let those - the legal process proceed in those instances.

The president's view is that we need to let the legal process work.

That's what the legal process will proceed to address.

We need to let the legal process proceed, and that's what the president believes.

This is a different circumstance, and we're going to let the legal process, we're going to let the legal process work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think this is politically motivated?

MCCLELLAN: We're going to let the legal process work.

JOHN ROBERTS, CBS NEWS: Some conservatives have suggested this week, or speculated, that while President Bush would never withdraw Mier's nomination, that she might decide that she can't weather this storm and withdraw. I mean, what can you - can you give us just some idea of her tenacity to be able to withstand all this fire from the right and the left?

MCCLELLAN: This should be based on the person's record and qualifications and their judicial philosophy, and I would encourage you, I know you don't necessarily wouldn't want to do this, but to look at her qualifications and record.

We are fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them here.

September 11 taught us...

HELEN THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This has nothing to do with -

Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

MCCLELLAN: Yes, well, you have a very different view of the war on terrorism, and I'm sure you're opposed to the broader war on terrorism.

Yes, I said it's possible that they would have met at a holiday reception or some other widely attended gathering. The president does not know him, nor does the president recall ever meeting him.

Providing the answer, can I not say what I want to say?


MCLELLAN:... my right to talk and say what I want to?


MCCLELLAN: You all, you all want to focus on side issues like religion. We've said from the beginning...


MCCLELLAN:... we've said from - no, we have always publicly talked about...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... side issue.

MCCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jeff.

JEFF GANNON, TALON NEWS: Doesn't Joe Wilson owe the president and America an apology for his deception and his own intelligence failure?

MCCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jeff.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Go ahead, Jeff.

(INAUDIBLE), I'm glad, I'm glad you brought that up, Jeff.

Jeff, go ahead.

GANNON: The president said Thursday in his press conference that he was reaching out to the press corps. Why - what did he mean by that? Why would he feel the need to reach out to a group of supposedly nonpartisan people?

MCCLELLAN: I'm not even going to dignify that with a response.

Go ahead, Jeff.

GANNON: First of all, I hope the grand jury didn't force you to turn over the wedding card I sent to you and your wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have said you personally went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Elliott Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened?

MCCLELLAN: I spoke with them so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying categorically, those three individuals were not the leakers, or did not authorize the leaks?

MCCLELLAN: That's correct. I've spoken with them.

Our policy continues to be that we're not going to get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation from this podium.

ROBERTS: When did you change your mind to say that it was OK to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it's not?

MCCLELLAN: Those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be their - or said that it would be their preference.

GREGORY: Did Karl Rove commit a crime?

MCCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to an ongoing investigation.

Again, you're continuing to ask questions relating to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Again, these are all questions coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation.

(INAUDIBLE), I'm simply not going to comment on an ongoing investigation.

This continues to be an ongoing criminal investigation.

Again, you're asking questions relating to an ongoing investigation, and I think I...

Do you have questions on another topic?UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) credibility problem?

MCCLELLAN: I think you all in this room know me very well, and you know the type of person that I am. You and many others in this room have dealt with me for quite some time, and I'm someone who believes in dealing in a very straightforward way with you all as well, and that's what I've worked to do.


OLBERMANN: What's next for Scott McClellan? That's an ongoing personnel matter. We can't comment on that. Next question?

OK, how about this one? Why won't the president fire Don Rumsfeld? Because that would be tantamount to firing himself - so says a Bush insider.

And there are a lot of dead soldiers for that to be an acceptable answer.

And does this defy the acceptable limits of chance? Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields have their respective babies on the same day, in the same hospital, on the same floor of same hospital. Another day of another story my producers are forcing me to cover.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: If President Bush was destined to have ever fired Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it would be hard to believe he would have waited until now to do so. The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, to the most recent and escalating calls for the defense secretary's resignation, from seven retired generals. But Mr. Bush has kept Mr. Rumsfeld in place through all that.

And in our fourth story on the Countdown, the most telling explanation about why has now surfaced, that the president believes that firing Donald Rumsfeld is the equivalent of firing himself, that according to someone close to the chief executive who spoke to NBC's Tim Russert, who also got another big tip, that when Congressman Jack Murtha began calling for a timetable on Iraq last November, some of those in agreement were inside the Pentagon.


TIM RUSSERT, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS" (on phone): I knew something was happening when I had John Murtha on several months ago, when he talked about his plan for a timetable. And I got several calls from people at the Pentagon and others. And they said, you know, Murtha's right. And I was stunned, because you don't usually get those kinds of calls. They were obviously people who would not allow me to broadcast their names.

So the last couple of weeks, as I talked to people, one former general said, We have the equivalent of a civil war going on at the Pentagon. The generals are trying to reclaim control of the war, because they do believe that serious mistakes were made. And that's a very serious statement.

And then, someone very close to the president said to me, you know, He won't fire Rumsfeld, because it would be the equivalent of firing himself. He can't acknowledge that it was such a big mistake in so many ways. And so Rumsfeld will stay.


OLBERMANN: For analysis on this, let's call in the political reporter and columnist for "The Washington Post," Dana Milbank.

Good evening, Dana.


OLBERMANN: He won't fire Rumsfeld because it would be the equivalent of firing himself. Does that the nail on the head? Is that what this is all about?

MILBANK: It's certainly a big piece of it. It's sort of like the too big to fail argument.

But I think there is more to it than that, and that is, Bush never wants to be seen to giving in to critics. So you see this happen again and again, that in quiet times, it's OK to push somebody out the door. But when everybody's demanding his head, it's not going to happen. You see it happening with Treasury Secretary John Snow right now.

So every time there's another call, it pushes back the timetable under which Rumsfeld could actually withdraw himself from the Pentagon. I think this episode on your show tonight probably gives Rumsfeld another two days.

OLBERMANN: It's a - well, given the nature of this show, I would scale that down to about 12 minutes. But thanks for the thought we have any influence at all.

That dovetails into this. If, as someone, the source, whoever that was, suggested to Tim, there is a civil war at the Pentagon, is that not also a huge factor here, that Mr. Bush would see Rumsfeld's leaving as the result of unwarranted encroachment, specifically by those dissatisfied retired generals?

MILBANK: Yes, it's a potential problem. In fact, my newspaper editorialized on this, they said many good reasons for Rumsfeld to go, but a lot of kvetching by the generals is not one of those reasons, because you have to have civilian control of the Pentagon.

I wouldn't say - you know, certainly, from what I've seen, that we're talking about a civil war at the Pentagon, because you have General Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was yesterday practically sycophantic in his defense of Secretary Rumsfeld. His predecessor, Myers, very much the same way.

So at least the very top brass now, and the soldiers know that they just have to follow their orders.

OLBERMANN: And yet in the context of all this, we have had, in the last two weeks, three weeks, we've had Andy Card resign, Scott McClellan is going as of today. The clock is ticking there. And this, this - not shuffling offstage, but certainly subjugating to a lower role of Karl Rove. That, that, that - where is the, where is this balance? How did these things happen? Because this is not a quiet time, yet these three people have been either allowed to leave or pushed out.

MILBANK: It - but note that there was no clamor for Scott McClellan's head, none necessarily for Andy Card. So that made it possible to do that.

You're correct that there is a balance. There's a need to clean house or be perceived as cleaning house. A lot of what's this doing is a reshuffling of moving old aides into new positions here. So that's how the president seems to be doing this, is by doing a little bit of rearranging the chessboard.

OLBERMANN: How do we jibe what Tim Russert was talking about there with Mr. Rumsfeld's - if you want to call it ducking and weaving at the Pentagon briefing yesterday, including his relative mildness, as you pointed out in your column? Why did Mr. Rumsfeld not make more of a point about saying there, Well, look, I have the president's full confidence, not, I serve at the (INAUDIBLE) the pleasure of the president?

MILBANK: Yes, it really was fascinating. We thought he'd come out swinging, and instead, I'd like to call what we saw yesterday Zen Rummy. He was so mild, and I think that's in part because Pete Pace was next to him, essentially serving as his lawyer or his PR agent, and also because he doesn't want to be seen as getting riled, doesn't want to let the critics be seen getting under his skin. Respond mildly, suggest that you're not being fazed by it.

That seemed - that's certainly the strategy, and he was determined not to get angry with us.

OLBERMANN: And lastly, with the worry lines that are in your forehead, earned in the White House press room, we cannot let today's announcement about Scott McClellan go without your input on this. If the president really is pursuing Tony Snow from Fox, would that be frying pan and fire? Would the entire Fox News bias issue suddenly become connected at the hip with how the administration handles truth versus propaganda?

MILBANK: I'm not sure it would necessarily be bad for the White House, but it does raise some questions. We first have to ask if Tony's going to get back pay, and we then have to ask, is this just the beginning of a trend? Does Sean Hannity replace Rumsfeld at the Pentagon? Does Bill O'Reilly get the FBI? Then the man is really going to have some cops, Keith, and your viewers are going to be in some serious trouble.

OLBERMANN: I'm screwed.

And we know it's not - it wouldn't be precedent setting, because Ron Nessen went from NBC to become Gerald Ford's press secretary. But that didn't work out. The familiarity did not breed anything but contempt there, correct?

MILBANK: Yes. (INAUDIBLE), what this would do, having a high-profile person come in there, could help increase the visibility. But what a high-profile person also does is, has the power to demand more information from the president. That's what weakened Scott McClellan is, Bush wouldn't necessarily give him enough information to share with the press corps. He might have more tension if he has a high-profile guy like Tony.

OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post," who has now put this idea of Bill O'Reilly leading the FBI in our ears. Many thanks.

MILBANK: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And if we're a little squirrely about that idea of Bill O'Reilly, FBI boss, head of the G-men, what about these guys? When good squirrels go bad.

And ghosts, screams, mysterious lights. Again, this is not another White House story. Real life ghost busters, only they can't use that, because there's a trademark.

Ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: He's done everything in the movies and theater and music, from playing Jerome K. Jerome in "Three Men in a Boat," to portraying Shakespeare in a miniseries about the Bard. But actor Tim Curry will always be best remembered as Dr. Frankenfurter from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." He's 60 years old today. If there's a patron saint of strange video, it could well be him.

Happy birthday, Tim Curry.

And let's play Oddball.

We begin in Mr. Curry's own London, where finally a little excitement in a soccer game. Course, it was the numerous squirrel-related game stoppages that had the crowd at Highbury Stadium entertained for hours. It certainly wasn't the actual game between Arsenal (ph) and Vio Reale (ph). Boring. The fuzzy little football fan disrupted the champion's league semifinal over and over again, until he was finally whacked in the head with a whiskey bottle thrown by a soccer hooligan. Arsenal went on to crush Villarreal one mill. You'll never walk alone.

To Gayatri, India, where the painting of Artist Edwin Parmar is on display. Features depictions of some scenes from the Bible, actually features depictions of every scene in the Bible. From Adam and Eve straight through to Suri Cruise. The painting is more than 470 feet long. Mr. Parmar says he hopes the mural will get his name into the real good book, the book of records.

And lastly, more weird stuff we found on the internet. The luckiest race fans on earth, Ole. That's the great thing about these European road races, you get so close to the action, that's terrific. Of course the best seat in the house is behind a really strong tree. It will shield you from flying cars and it can save you those tedious trips to the men's room.

Speaking of hiding behind trees, I may do just that as we go back to the Tom Cruise's baby story and the apparent extraordinary coincidences relating to Brooke Shields' baby story. And passengers suspended over New York's east river felt like they had enough time to meet, date, conceive and deliver last night. Why did their rescue take 12 hours? Those stories ahead.

Now hear Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day. A theme tonight, banishment. Number three Tim Platt of Arden in England, he had been drinking at his favorite bar, the Whit Lion Pub, for 30 years, but the owners redecorated, he didn't like it, he told them so, so they banned him for life. So he showed them. The White Lion Pub has a new owner tonight, him, he bought it.

Number two, John Williamson, also in Great Britain, sentenced to14 months in jail drunk driving and he's been banned from driving ever again. Again? This is his ninth lifetime permanent driving ban. Number one, Cynthia Fraley of Lookout Valley, Tennessee. Five years ago she was banned from ever again entering the local Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart accused her of shop lifting. This week she was fired by her employers for allegedly shop lifting with her father then returning stolen items to her store for a refund. The name of her store, the Wal-Mart in Lookout Valley, Tennessee where she was on the ban from shopping at Wal-Mart list, she was not on the ban from working at Wal-Mart list. Is Wal-Mart run by the Department of Homeland Security or is it the other way around?


OLBERMANN: In Hebrew, it means princess, in Persian red rose, it means pointy nose in Hindu, pick pocket in Japanese and a very furry breed of alpaca in the circles traveled by llama lovers. Our third story on the Countdown, Suri, as in Suri Cruise, as in the spawn of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, as in the story my producers already forced me to cover to death last night. A day old and the girl's already one of the most talked about human beings on the planet, in part, as our correspondent Keith Morrison explains, because of who Suri now shares her birthday with.


NAT SOT: Tom Cruise and Kate Holmes welcome their new baby girl, on

the same day as Brooke Shields and her husband also welcome a little girl -


KEITH MORRISON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You know you couldn't make these things up, who would believe you. That Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise would have their baby girl on the same day as Brooke Shields gave birth to her baby girl. Of course this was a delicious coincidence only if you'd been paying proper attention. Here is a brief review. Brooke Shields writes a book about post-partum depression, praising anti-depressants that helped her out of hers.

BROOKE SHIELDS, ACTRESS: My hormones and my body was out of my control.

MORRISON: And Tom, after announcing his love for Katie, in a scientology condemnation of anti-depressants goes after Brooke Shields through Matt Lauer.

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: She doesn't understand the history of psychiatry.

MORRISON: And then Brooke calls that a ridiculous rant, a disservice to mothers. Before Brooke retired to a comparatively quiet pregnancy, while the now oober famous Tom and Katie telling everyone they're planning a quiet birth as encouraged by scientology, dodge paparazzi darn near everywhere. Then, the announcement practically shrieked with exclamation points.

NAT SOT: The Tom kitten has arrived. The quiet birth heard round the world.

MORRISON: And within a minute, Suri, Hebrew for princess, Persian for red rose, was a famous name, too. Breathless stuff. Breathless. But the quieter birth goes to Brooke Shields, with her new daughter Grier Hammond Henchy. Her publicist politely refused to confirm where that birth occurred. Though most everybody knew that both girls were seven pounds, well all right, Katie's was 7-1/2, and both were 20 inches long and well somehow those things seem to matter at the moment.

It's just a guess that Brooke Shields and Tom Cruise might not choose ever again to be mentioned in the same sentence. But children do have a way of revising things, don't they. Keith Morrison, NBC News, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN: You might think that's all you could ever want to know about Tom and Katie's little bundle of scientology, but no, let me call in Katrina Szish, contributing editor for "US Weekly." Thanks for your time again.


OLBERMANN: So the publicist would not tell Keith Morrison anything about where the birth occurred, but I understand you have some guidance about exactly where both of these babies were born, the child of Cruise and the child of his arch nemesis Brooke Shields.

SZISH: We're still, no one has officially confirmed it. I have some sources in Los Angeles who were telling me that not only were the births on the same day, they were also in the same hospital on the same floor, talking about juicy ridiculous coincidences you couldn't make up. Again, that has yet to be confirmed, but people seem to think that it's a likely possibility.

OLBERMANN: And the children were not switched at birth, correct?

SZISH: As far as we know, no.

OLBERMANN: Is this part of it true, that the family Cruise is back home already? Is that too soon, it's less than or about 24 hours after the birth?

SZISH: Again, we've also had reports that within hours, Katie and her new baby Suri were back at the Cruise Beverly Hills mansion, but again, nobody really seems to stay in hospitals as long as they should these days, so that wouldn't be a surprise if both mom and baby were healthy as they were.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, the folks from the HMO threw them out.


OLBERMANN: Threw out Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

SZISH: Get out.

OLBERMANN: The $64,000 question, did they follow any of the scientology rules about the birth, the silence, the drugs or non drugs or as our expert on scientology said Monday, were they just going to stick to the celebrity scientology rules about the birth, which is a brass band if you wanted it and any drugs you could name?

SZISH: I think they went with the epidural for sure, as Tom had said, "If Katie wants one, she's going to have one." The epidural is confirmed. In terms of the actual silent birth, they have not denied that, so, you know what that usually means.

OLBERMANN: We have confirmed the epidural.


OLBERMANN: Where is the breaking news sounder when we need it? All right, we've already heard the official explanation of the name, it means princess, it means red rose. The other meanings that are out there too, include the idea that it's a partial anagram for Cruise without the "C" and the "E." But specifically, does the name Suri have any scientological connection as well?

SZISH: We'll speaking about lots of coincidences tonight, here's another one that I think is pretty juicy. Suri, if you spell it S-U-R-R-E-Y is a region in England, which sounds fine. But then when you consider that that is actually where the home of scientology founder Elron Hubbard is, and also that it just happens to be the U.K. center of scientology, it doesn't seem like that much of a coincidence. So, Suri, S-U-R-I could be in place of Surrey, S-U-R-R-E-Y.

OLBERMANN: He's really far gone isn't he? He needs an injection in his brain.

SZISH: Or we are, whoever's making that connection and thinking it's true.

OLBERMANN: Or if that's a coincidence, I'll buy you a new wardrobe.

SZISH: Fabulous.

OLBERMANN: While we have you on this, next, the Brad Pitt Angelina Jolie birth and the birthing in Numibia(PH), so the lions could protect them against the media. And tonight there's the story from the website TMZ that one of the paparazzi was so desperate to get a photo of Brad Pitt and Maddox the adopted son, that the guy dug a ditch to get on the grounds. But before he could get the picture the bodyguard spotted him and according to a source, literally beat the crap out of this guy. Why did they bother with that when they had the lion option? Why didn't they go straight to the nuclear option?

SZISH: Exactly, yes. I mean release the lions and tigers and bears and whatever else they may have. It's just one of those whacky stories and it's not surprising somehow.

OLBERMANN: Release the lions. Katrina Szish from "US Weekly," many thanks.

SZISH: Thanks Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, here in big town last night it looked like we needed Tom Cruise's character Ethan Hunt from "Mission Impossible." Men women and children left dangling in two disabled trams, all night, how come? And Brittany Spears got a visit from the authorities after her baby's accident. Now La Spears may be visiting the inside of a courtroom. Can't get enough of that celebrity guff, here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: 12 hours to rescue commuters trapped in two aerial trams in New York City. Brittany Spears trying to save kids from high chair accidents. And special huggers saving you from ghosts, not goats, ghosts. Rescues and saves ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: For all intents and purposes it might as well have been a remake of the 1981 Sylvester Stallone bomb "Night Hawks," in which terrorists take over New York's aerial tram line from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island and hold the passengers hostage. Our number two story on the Countdown, there were no terrorists last night, but for 12 hours, the passengers on two trams, stuck 250 feet above the city, might as well have been held hostage. It took seven hours just for the city to come up with a rescue plan. So much for all the emergency preparedness here in fun city. Our correspondent is Ron Allen.


RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The tram offers commuters and tourists breathtaking views of New York. But Tuesday night the best advice was don't look down. Brian and Robin Mayer raced from work because their son Dax, 12, and his babysitter taking the boy to tennis practice, were trapped.

ROBIN MAYER: At this point, he's just waiting it out and hopefully he'll get through this without too much.

ALLEN: Fortunately, they and others could talk to the passengers by cell phone.


DAX MAYER: Hi Mom, are you worried about me?

ROBIN MAYER: Of course I'm worried about you.

ALLEN: Hours ticked by while rescuers figured out what to do. Two cars were stuck near opposite ends of a half mile run that usually takes about five minutes, crossing from Manhattan, 250 feet over the east river to Roosevelt Island.

ROBIN MAYER: I love you too much.

DAX MAYER: Love you too much too.

ALLEN: That said, he tried to stay calm as rescuers slowly rode a basket like gondola to the tram, then lifted the passengers out and carried them to safety in groups of 10.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (R) NEW YORK: What we are going to do is make sure that we do it the right way and the correct way and not rush to take any more risks than are necessary.

ALLEN: Eventually, seven hours later, Dax arrived with his nanny.

DAX MAYER: I felt like I was kind of like a movie stunt man a little bit.

ALLEN: Later, rescuers used a large industrial crane to lower the rest of the passengers down. Dax said he learned a lesson.

DAX MAYER: I believe that sometimes when you're stuck in a really bad problem, it can be solved if you just wait a little bit.

ALLEN: Ron Allen, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: Moving from rescued kids in New York to injured kids in Los Angeles and Sean Preston Federline topping our list of celebrity and entertainment news in KEEPING TABS. His mother, you know, Brittany Spears, now threatening to sue after the seven month old fell out of his high chair and hit his head. The baby is fine now, but according to's Jeanette Walls, Spears is now investigating the prospect of legal action against the manufacturer of the high chair because the back purportedly broke when the nanny went to lift Sean Preston. No word yet on how much she might be looking to get from the company and no word yet on whether she plans to sue herself for having driven around with her baby on her own lap instead of in a car seat.

And that we're moving from a story about children to one about Michael Jackson, just a coincidence? The reclusive prince of pop has apparently kept himself busy since his molestation trial by making music and his now ready to unleash his efforts on an unsuspecting world. The brand new album set for next year, Jackson's first since his last record. He teamed up with a label based in his new home of Bahrain to make this one and apparently he is quote, "Incredibly excited about it." As he is no doubt for his hurricane Katrina fundraising song that should be out any century now.

Unexplained screams, bizarre lights, ghostly figures, no not a visit from Michael Jackson. If these things are part of your nightly routine, who are you going to call? Novotny. Monica on real life Peter Bankman's ahead. First on Countdown'S list, three nominees for worst person in the world. The bronze tonight, Robert Silverman already the owner of "American Idol," should be in the position now to put an entire industry out of work. He's bought 85 percent of Elvis Pressley Enterprises which controls the King's name and likeness. But he can't afford to buy a good pair of sunglasses obviously. He's going to open an interactive Elvis exhibit and cabaret show in Vegas, and says, "If we were going to do a show that was based on Elvis impersonators, then obviously it wouldn't make sense to have unauthorized Elvis impersonators." 30,000 unauthorized like Elvis impersonators are thus not saying, thank you, thank you very much.

Runners up tonight, the good old Department of Homeland Security, which has awarded a $385 million contract to the Halliburton subsidiary KBR, to provide quote, "Temporary detention and processing capabilities here in the U.S." A plan to prepare for, according to them, an emergency influx of immigrants or to support the rapid development of new programs, in the event of other emergencies such as a natural disaster. Concentration camps, right? Am I reading this wrong? Immigrants, new programs, temporary detention capabilities.

But the winner, our national scold, Bill Bennett, reacting to the Pulitzer Prizes, the one Dana Priest got for the secret CIA gulags in Europe story. The one James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the "New York Times" got for exposing NSA domestic spying. Mr. Bennett says they should not have gotten Pulitzers, they should have gotten jail time. Now Bill, there's no need to get catty. We know you're just upset because you didn't bet on the Priest recent Lichtblau trifecta on any of the Pulitzer wagering books in Vegas. Bill Bennett, today's worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN: Ghost heads, which is what you call over the top fans of the 1984 film "Ghostbusters." Know all the trivia, the parts were originally written for John Belushi, John Candy and Eddie Murphy and not Bill Murray, Rick Moranis(ph) and Ernie Hudson. Murray only agreed to replace the late Belushi if Columbia Pictures financed his remake of the Summerset Long classic, the Razor's Edge. And of course, the trivial fact, that anybody who actually chases ghosts or spirits and dreams of calling their company ghost busters would get laughed at by their clients and sued at by the copyright holders. That's our number one story in the Countdown, ghost hunters. Yes, they're real, the hunters that is, the ghosts, we'll let you make up your own mind. Countdown'S senior ectoplasmic correspondent Monica Novotny went along to watch them work in the ghost-riddle towns of the east and appears to have returned safely with this report. Good evening Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Just barely. Keith good evening. Before you start thinking that this is a group out to scam innocent victims, keep in mind these ghost busters are all volunteers and they do their work in their spare time for free. But, that doesn't make it any less creepy.


ARTY COLE, WILLOWBY HOUSE: Without a doubt it was the Sansotor Sanitarium. When I purchased it, it was a funeral home. One of the things that required some getting used to is literally the things that go bump in the night.

NOVOTNY: Welcome to the Willowby House, here paranormal investigators are hunting for a haunting. A 100-year-old home that locals say has a few uninvited guests.

DON VALELA: Some people think that they have either spirits or some unusual activity in their house and we're the people who you would call in a situation like that.

NOVOTNY: Don Valela started this all volunteer group three years ago.

Their day jobs range from stay at home dad to actor.

VALELA: Good morning, everybody, it's a really spooky basement.

NOVOTNY: Valela, a student of parapsychology is a believer, but says it's most important to be a detective first.

VALELA: Most of the things we find are non paranormal, but occasionally you get that one investigation, and it'll be something really interesting.

NOVOTNY: They found mysterious red lights in David Letterman's Ed Sullivan Theater. And say this moving light is a ghost caught on tape. Here at the Willowby House they are hoping for more success.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am like a child, I can see things clairvoyantly. .

NOVOTNY: The team tests all the rooms for activity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm picking up some kind of energy right here on this spot. When the rods separate like that, that's how I know.

NOVOTNY: Checking electromagnetic frequencies, even attempting to converse with the other side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If somebody is here, please give us a sign.

NOVOTNY: A low tech tactic they say has worked here in the past.

VALELA: We ask that first question and all of a sudden from that area back over there, we heard a woman's voice answer us. She sounded like a frail woman.

NOVOTNY: But the ghosts aren't always old. Remember the child they sensed? After the team finished for the night, they left their cameras rolling.

Listen carefully, see if you hear a child scream.

Here's what I would think, okay, two houses down -

VALELA: No, there's not even a house, I mean, probably about 50 feet between houses.

NOVOTNY: Still, these investigators know skeptics will always be easier to find than spirits.

VALELA: We fear people walking around the streets a lot more than we fear spirits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are very business like and professional. And the bottom line is, you know, when they're done, you're afraid.


NOVOTNY: We also followed the team through another allegedly haunted house, now a museum on Long Island outside New York City. And those stories have been passed down for decades there about the ghosts that supposedly live in that former home. The guys attributed the activity to copious electrical wiring in the basement, which they say can cause hallucinations. Keith?

OLBERMANN: Yeah, and the red lights in Letterman's studio are the ones on the camera, I could have told them that without spending all that time and money. Let's say they find one, what do they do with it, do they have those vacuum cleaners like Bill Murray did in the movie, do they get rid of them?

NOVOTNY: Interestingly they say that even people who are living in private homes who call them don't want the ghosts to be removed and they couldn't do that anyway. They say that people actually just want confirmation that they are not crazy. Although as you heard, most of the time they can't give them that. They've really only rarely, or at least they say, they've only rarely found things.

OLBERMANN: So what, do the ghosts have like tenants' rights here or something, do they have rent control? They can't get rid of them?

NOVOTNY: They probably have more rights than you and I?

OLBERMANN: That's for damn sure. Countdown's Monica Novotny, great thanks. And woo to you too. That's Countdown for this the 1084th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq, I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose, goodnight and good luck.